ATCC Controllers' Read Binder...
NOTAMS, FAQs and other info for users of ATCC
#1: Status on New Sectors
An add-on pack containing six new sectors
for ATCC, along with printed sector maps and documentation has been
officially scheduled for a Fall '98 release. It is expected to be priced
around $20, and available by internet and mail-order. The new sectors
(as mentioned in previous newsletters) were selected to be along the
lines of sectors 66 and 97 (i.e. challenging), though one of them is
more straightforward like 82, but compressed into about a third of the
#2: Weather "Thrashing"
In certain sessions with scattered storm cells around, the sector can become "unplayable" due to too many aircraft deviating all over without even requesting or notifying you. The pilots then have the nerve to comment that you should have "worked something out" earlier. How were you supposed to know, with the crude weather radar you have that doesn't even show all the storms or where they are? The problem is that in some cases, the computer AI starts "thrashing" (getting caught in repetitive 'thoughts') when searching for a non-existent "best path" through the storms, then when it can't find one defaults to turning on its own and blaming you, the human. It's really not your fault, just the luck of the random distribution of storm cells that create impossible paths the computer can't solve. It may make the sector "unplayable," but there are many real-life controllers who are forced to run "unplayable" sectors, too, so you are not alone. Exit and restart the sector, to simulate "going home sick!"
#3: Deviations Prior to the Sector
If an aircraft headed toward your sector is off course, it is because he has requested and received deviation approval from the previous computer controller. You are not told about this, you just have to notice it. In real life the previous controller would call you on the interphone and tell you (or get your approval if you have already accepted the handoff), though sometimes they call after the fact or just forget. In any case, the strip should be marked with "DV8" in black, or in red if a deviation has been requested but not yet granted. If there is nothing on the strip, the aircraft should be turning back on course, but don't always count on it. Re-issue the "cleared direct" command if you're unsure where they're going.
The best way to handle deviations with aircraft that you aren't talking to yet is to get on the interphone and have them come over to your frequency early (even if you don't have the handoff). When they check on, first clear them back on course (or to the first fix outside/across your sector). Quite possibly they will turn toward the fix right away, but if they can't they will say something about going there when they are "finished deviating." Sometimes you can keep repeating the .. command to get them to turn back sooner, which somewhat simulates "negotiating" with pilots in reality (as in "Do you think you can turn east now? Or at least as far to the right as possible?").
It may also be necessary with some large deviations to click up the range a notch or two, to be able to keep watching your aircraft even though they are flying into another sector. This happens in reality as well, and of course makes things in your sector even more crowded (smaller). Normally if an aircraft is deviating too far outside your sector you would just hand them off to whichever sector they are in, but you can't do that in ATCC because it only accepts handoffs to the "correct" sector along the aircraft's original route.
#4: Running ATCC in the Background
One way to leave ATCC running while doing something else in Windows (like while letting the sector warm up before plugging in) is to press ALT-ENTER from within ATCC, which puts it in a regular Window instead of full-screen. Then drag the window off to the side and use another program while ATCC slowly fills up with aircraft.
However, the default mode with the ATCC program is to "always suspend" if you try to minimize the window or use ALT-TAB to switch out of ATCC instead of ALT-ENTER. Suspending ATCC may cause aircraft to overfly their checkpoints, and other wierd things, because it will look at the clock when you come back to the program and see it is way behind where it should be. To fix this, open My Computer, then the ATCC folder, then find the ATCC16 icon shaped like a little window (there are two, one looks like a computer and the other like a little window). Right-click on the ATCC16 window icon, go to Properties, then the Misc tab, and uncheck the box called "Always suspend" (then OK). This will allow you to ALT-TAB out of ATCC to another application, without ATCC freezing, or to switch to windowed mode with ALT-ENTER and later minimize the window without problems.
It is not advisable to plug in and run the sector from the Windowed mode (ALT-ENTER), because the ATCC cursor will lag behind the normal Windows cursor and it looks awkward. To return to full-screen from the Windowed mode, single-click the ATCC window to select it, then ALT-ENTER again.
#5: ATCC Web Sites and Mailing Lists
An ATCC user has started an ATCC mailing list , at www.onelist.com . To subscribe, go to that site, select Search and search for atcc. Then select subscribe.
Mailing lists are somewhat similar to newsgroups, in that if you "post" a message (by emailing it to email@example.com), everybody who subscribes gets a copy. You can post questions, comments or problems for everyone to see and respond to.
There is also a mailing list at the same site for ATC sims in general, named atc-sims. Do a search at that site again for atc-sims and subscribe to that too!
For Japanese users, there is a user's ATCC site at http://www.tokyo.xaxon-net.or.jp/~goat/atcc. If you know of more ATCC sites, let us know and we will put them on a links page or in the next newsletter!
#6: Interview with ATCC Project Leader
Straight from the source, a grilling interview with Christopher Coon, programmer and project leader for ATCC:
Read Binder: What's up with Speech Recognition?
Chris: Well, it's done, it works, but it sucks up all available CPU power and still likes to chew on it awhile before spitting out the recognized phrase. What that means is you need a 266MHZ Pentium or better, to make it at all playable. That's just the nature of speech recognition, that it needs a lot of number-crunching to recognize things. Since most users don't have 266MHZ machines yet, it's not a high priority item on the list. The new sectors take priority before that.
So when and how will the speech recognition driver be released?
We may put it on the disk with the new sectors, and/or on the web site for free download. It will certainly be implemented with any future ATCC versions, but you will always be able to disable it, or just type instead of talking if it causes problems.
What kind of problems?
Well, for instance "American 250, fly heading 280" sounds a lot like "American 255, heading 280" because five and fly are similar enough for the speech module to see a match. There are other similar-enough sounding phrases, like a slurred Skywest and Southwest just to name a couple, combined with variations in accents, microphone placement and other factors that can make misrecognized phrases somewhat of a problem. You can say "correction" and re-speak it, but because of the 1-2 second lag you may not see it is incorrect until you have spoken the whole command. So it can get a little frustrating at times, but when it works it is great.
What else is in the pipeline for ATCC, the new sectors, new version?
The new sectors are on the way, and as the newsletter mentioned before [last month] there is a design document going around with new features the next version of ATCC should or will have. Coding hasn't actually started on it, though, so it's hard to say when besides 1999 sometime.
ATCC is a niche product, meaning there isn't enough of a market to attract mega-production budgets and staff like you see in today's games. I wish! The big companies aim for 100K+ sellers, though only about 3 percent of released titles sell that many. Most end up in the 20-40K range, and big failures might only sell 10K units. Niche titles like some hardcore flight sim add-ons or ATC products you're talking under 10K, so it's a little hard to get resources for bigger and better sims without giving in to "things crashing and exploding" to boost game sales and attract funding. But because I myself am a programmer and ATC fanatic, I will continue with realistic ATC products, ATCC add-ons or new versions just because I myself want to use them. That's how ATCC started. I thought originally by doing real-life controlling I would get non-stop challenge, but as it turns out you only get to do the challenging sectors maybe once or twice a day, and even then there are long periods of slow traffic. The rest of the time you're watching two commuter props drone along on their way to Fresno. So I designed ATCC to be able to always work busy traffic, and in some of the most challenging sectors in the U.S. Forget about Fresno, ATCC is better than reality, so I didn't need real controlling anymore and now get my ATC fix just from ATCC.
ATCC is better than reality?
That's right, to me at least. You get more busy traffic, challenging situations and more action in a one-hour ATCC scenario than in an 8-hour day working at a Center. In the Center you get a lot of breaks, which is fine, but it brings your work down to about 5 or 6 hours. Out of those 6 hours you might spend 2 just delivering strips, maybe an hour at somebody's D-side, a couple hours at the boring sectors, then an hour at a fun sector but it is only busy for maybe 20 minutes. And that's at busy centers. They like to divide workload and make things simpler as much as possible, for safety, but it takes away from the fun a bit. So that is why I began ATCC, to compress it all together in a sim that is just as real as the real thing. You get all the fun in a one-hour session. The "they're just computer blips, not real planes" isn't a factor for me, because honestly in real life you just see them as blips to be separated, and disembodied voices in your head that all sound alike, so it's the same.
Let's talk about the upcoming film Ground Control , a drama about the unseen world of Air Traffic Control. The main character (Kiefer Sutherland) in the beginning quits ATC and writes a computer ATC "game" with box graphics suspiciously identical to the ATCC box, before being coaxed back by his old supervisor who asks why he prefers playing ATC sims over real ATC. How did they ever come up with that concept??
I don't know.
You actually appear in the film for a second, about 15 minutes into it, as "Man #3 pointing to the right." Tell us, how did you prepare for such a demanding role?
Well, I didn't have much preparation or study time, like to practice different ways of pointing, because they pulled me in at the last second when they ran out of extras. When they yelled action, at first I pointed "too quickly" so they had to redo it. In the next take I couldn't even point in the right direction, so in the final film they flipped around the negative to reverse it. This made me "Man #3 pointing to the right" instead of "Man #3 pointing to the left." I guess I'm not much of an actor if I can't even point correctly--I'll stick to software.
When will the film be released?
I don't think it can compete with the blockbusters out there, so apparently it will go straight to HBO or Showtime, then to video, later this year.
Henry "The Fonz" Winkler as the computer technician??
It turned out really good, with funny moments and serious moments. I mean, how many movies can you do about Air Traffic Controllers?
Hmmmm, back to ATCC. When will we see ATCC II: Chaos in the Skies?
It's funny you should mention that... again. I don't know, some time in 1999? I'm really into general flight sims too, and combat sims, so my latest is programming on the European Air Wars project (for Microprose, not Xavius), due out in Fall '98. As an ATC fanatic, though, I will always be doing support, new sectors or versions for ATCC. Curiously, Microprose also did the old Kennedy Approach game back in the '80s, so maybe I can talk them into a realistic Kennedy Approach II, or people can email them and demand they make it. Or better yet, email 10 times with 10 different names...
The Read Binder is updated at the beginning of the month. All information is for use with Xavius Software's Air Traffic Control CenterTM only, is the opinion of the author(s), and does not necessarily reflect the policies or practices of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration or Federal Aviation Service. Send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll be glad to help!