Stephen

X-Plane11 : Look, Feel and Visual Features

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X-Plane11 : Look, Feel and Visual Features

 

In the first two months of the year 2017 as X-Plane11 rides it's way to release through beta after beta, it is a lot of pleasure and pain. The pain is to be expected as the simulator forms itself into the future, which will be soon be part of our everyday flying.  But the pleasure is seeing what we actually have in this new step version of X-Plane in it's new coming form. The notes here are in the frame of "coming soon" than more of "here it is right now" so don't expect the points made here to materialise in their complete form at the time of X-Plane11's release, as we know X-Plane is always a work in progress.

 

What you get here are the building blocks that you get with every new X-Plane step release, but it will be only in time and through updates (betas) and the collaboration of developers and the X-Plane community that we will see the full implementation of the ideas and features built into the 11th interpretation of X-Plane.

 

I am going to note that through the X-plane11 phases of this review, is that I have the xEnviro environmental plugin running and not the default weather. This plugin is also still in a beta phase, but my (personal) view is that the plugin delivers a fundamental difference and in the way it interacts with the standard default X-Plane weather system to create a look and feel (and a breathable framerate) that is the future of excellent simulation. So both items together will create the perfect environmental vehicle to get the very best out of your flying.

 

To see the steps of progression of X-Plane then let us go back to X-Plane9® and to the year 2009.

 

X-Plane9®

This was our world back in 2009 with X-Plane9.

 

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These images will no doubt send a lot of you very misty eyed. These were the days of 5.6gb custom folders and 100+ framerates, but it all showed on the screen. It is surprisingly how good the x737 by EADT was then and still is now.

 

Back then the mist was paramount, but mostly there to cover the jagged edges of the tiles and the limitations of the scenery. But it looked good unless you got the flat slate of grey when you had a whiff of a cloud.

 

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2d Panels were de-rigueur of course and the light shading was good but not exceptional, only the exceptional single Boeing 757 had a VC or virtual cockpit back then.

 

X-Plane10®

The release of in beta form of X-Plane10® was in November 2011, with a full version in 2012. The focus visually with X-Plane10 was to get the ground textures to a higher quality and the use of Open Street Map (OSM) to create a plausible ground focused autogen.

 

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Your synthetic world certainly looked less bare, and the advent of 100nm visible distances opened up your visual aspects, and HD (High-Definition) textures add in a lot of ground information and you finally had a quality depth to the landscape.

 

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3d virtual cockpits are now of course the normal and shading has also become quite good.

 

X-Plane10 also brought in the feature of HDR or "High Definition Rendering".

 

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I personally was not a big fan of HDR. It made X-Plane very bright and contrasty, so reviews and images were still done mostly with the HDR switched off and I only had HDR on at night as were it had great night lighting effects. If you compare the above two images with the higher HDR off images and the lower HDR images are far more washed out.

 

X-Plane11®

Basically X-Plane11 does not change the foundations of the landscape (textures) of X-Plane10, just a few of the textures and the tile data is a little higher, but out there really nothing has changed between the 10 and 11 versions.

 

X-Plane11's features are more really focused on the shading, the minute of the detailing more than the larger canvas like with X-Plane10, but in a strange way the differences are very much more pronounced.

 

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It is the definition of the detail that now stands out at you. X-Plane11 comes with a new visual tool in PBR or Physically-based rendering that has the accurate simulation of photorealism as the ultimate goal. HDR really didn't work as well as it should have done in X-Plane10 as noted, but with its companion in PBR it now shines and works extremely well.

 

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We will get on more with PBR in a minute.

 

Mist

Another big aspect is that the mist is back and big time in X-Plane11. In X-Plane10 everything was sharp and clear, but with X-Plane11 it is anything but, with everything here visually is in that quite soft and well very...   misty feel.

 

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A certain "What the..." on release, but when you use X-Plane11 the soft effect quickly becomes the normal and it is very highly realistic, almost completely believable. Altitude flying now is "SO" real and go and look at any old images taken out of the window in any real aircraft and it looks just like this.

 

It is of course a "feel" thing, but the feel here is unbelievable good.

 

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Definition

There is more going on here than with just a out of focus background to get the full X-Plane11 effect...

 

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...   PBR is bringing out the harder definition of the aircraft, as the shadows and shading is glorious. All aircraft now have a distinctive shine, but PBR works its magic in a lot of different contexts.

 

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PBR brings metal surfaces alive, as developers can adjust the correct effects to get the shine or the correct dullness feel quite perfectly.

 

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Chrome is now perfect also, and in all of it's different types of metalness of the different gradients.

 

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Realism is now paramount and the realistic is now very photographic real, but it also puts a lot of pressure and the need for perfection on the developers as any imperfection is magnified and highlighted...  but when it is good, it is now simply glorious.

 

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Inside the cockpits in X-Plane11 they are all very highly dramatic.

 

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Light cascades around you as it changes as you move. All the aircraft's features are highlighted and defined... it is like being in another world.

 

Cockpit textures come alive and every instrument is highly realistic and defined.

 

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Just how real do you want your vinyl glareshield or metal based instrument panel, it can just not get any more realistic than this.

 

The devil is in the detailing and this is why X-Plane11 is such a huge step forward in realism...  the game has certainly moved on.

 

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...    as with the lighting effects which are just sublime, note the changing sunlight on the metal wings.

 

These effects are not just restricted to aircraft.

 

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A few months ago I took these images of a wet runway, and most said they were not an X-Plane11 feature? but they are.

 

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Scenery developers can now adjust the feel of the wet look to give surfaces a distinctive feel and look, and if you want a rain soaked runway you can have that as well, and when you want one as they are on a dataref. 

 

This opens up a lot of areas for scenery developers, and glass in their reflectivity is another feature of X-Plane11.

 

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JustSim used the effect in their Hamburg scenery and it is excellent when used in the right context. Glass can now also be transparent, but in the density of transparency you require.

 

Autogen

Justsim used another new feature of XPlane11 to create an environmental regional feel around their EDDH - Hamburg Airport.

 

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Quality autogen was included with X-Plane10 from the beginning, but the feature was neglected from the start with only a few efficiency touches covered during the run. Regional autogen placement was actually placed in the code during the last v10.50 update, but was never used until the art was ready with X-Plane11. Even then it is only Germanic in style but very high quality. JustSim used this Germanic autogen to add feel to not only their Innsbruck scenery but also to Hamburg to great effect.

 

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And that shows the quality and versatility of the autogen system when used correctly as it has huge potential to cover all the very and various different regions of the world as Chris K has done an AustralianPro version (below). Here it shows in how a third party regional autogen can and does work although it is still a work in progress, but work well in its current form it certainly does as you now have a great Aussie feel all around the country.

 

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But this third party autogen system is still in its very early days, the important point to make at this time is not to let it become neglected all over again with X-Plane11, in fact it should be put at the top of the list for attention by both Laminar Research and any third party as it can make a significant and profound contribution to the look and feel of the new simulator.

 

xEnviro

The inclusion of xEnviro in this review is because of the way it dovetails into the X-Plane11 features and uses them for it's own uses and highlights X-Plane11's uniqueness for the future. The same effects do work in X-Plane10, but not to the extent they work for you in X-Plane11.

 

It is the X-Plane11 mist feature that combines to create the best effects for xEnviro. The same effects do work without xEnviro, but they don't have the same impact or those totally visually stunning visuals.

 

These excellent fog images are the approach to EGCC - Manchester...

 

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...    It is stunning stuff and you work hard to land in such soup as well, it is exhilarating flying.

 

Manchester again on approach, and this time with the amazing ground cloud shadows and aircraft shadow on the wing making it a very realistic view for the passenger.

 

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It is also in the way the PBR light reflects up from the ground as well...

 

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Look deep at the mountain folds in both of the above images. That below is just standard X-Plane10 scenery, but you wouldn't know it by the way it reflects the light and gives a higher more stronger definition to lighter and dark sides of the elevations as the folds become highly realistic.

 

X-Plane11 turns the ordinary...  into the extra ordinary!

 

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It is very good but

Many people will point out that first person shooters or car games are of a higher quality than what we have here, and they are correct, and most of the features and ideas used in X-Plane are directly from the video gaming industry. But the video game is a closed box and created to run within a very strict set of boundaries, were as X-Plane is a very open platform with a lot of very different elements and contributions, that works for the simulator but also against it. So there will always be a compromise between what we see in the video gaming environment and the simulator world unless it is a closed region and finely tuned aircraft to fit totally within that region's boundaries as with say a Formula One game were as the cars are perfected to run within the the racetrack's boundaries. With X-Plane we have to cover the whole world, literally.

 

Many of you would also point out that we had reflections and shadows in X-Plane10, and too a point that is correct, but it is in the fine detailing that that makes the complete difference in X-Plane11, use it and X-Plane10 suddenly looks dull (and old), it is all in the move forward and it is very hard to go back again just as it was with X-Plane9 over X-Plane10. X-Plane11 feels new compared with X-Plane10.

 

But one of the biggest achievements is that these lighting features don't come with the heavy penalty of X-Plane10. You will see the difference of course, but Laminar Research has made a huge effort to contain the efficiency of the processing to keep these great effects within the confined parameters that bridges that gap. Older processors will struggle of course and drop out of the bottom, but most users if they are honest with themselves will know that X-Plane10 was already pushing their boundaries there anyway. For most users the change over to X-Plane11 will be seemless if they can manage their habits of not having all the settings in the full on position all the time, as even for myself I have to use some discretion in the settings for more to the efficiency and smooth running angle than the total visual impact angle. But X-Plane10 was that way as well so nothing has changed in that area, but you do get more visual impact for the same numbers.

 

All the points here are created in a beta in a beta, as there are no current set final situations and we won't be won't be for a while either. But the features noted above will be soon be the everyday normal and sadly it will be quickly just all be taken for granted. It will be also a while for developers to use these features to their advantages, and so you won't get a sudden complete change to this feel overnight, but at a time in the future you will suddenly realise you are now flying in a totally different X-Plane environment than you were only a year ago. 

 

I have transitioned through many phases of X-Plane's development, what was once brilliantly great can look ordinary now, as does your ten year old Apple computer. But the transition to X-Plane11 on the surface may not look as up fronting as the new user interface, but it has the potential to completely change the way you fly and feel in a simulator. More than anytime than in the past over the last few months have I been taken by the sheer visual magnificence of what I am interacting with, more "wows" and "brilliant" as I absorb in the new world around me, and X-Plane11 is not even out of it's beta phase yet and I admit it still has a few limitations in a few areas. But the biggest vote for X-Plane11 is already in...  your going to totally love it...  a lot a real lot.

 

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Stephen Dutton

3rd March 2017

Copyright©2017: X-Plane Reviews

 

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