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Flight Simulation: Where are we NOW


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Some of you know me and probably more of you don't, my full name is Wycliffe Alan Barrett Jnr but I mostly drop the Alan and Jnr and as some of you know I am a reviewer here at Xplanereviews. I have been around flight simulation in some form or another for the past 20 years and my first experiences of flight simulation where mostly confined to space based games and then military sims. I moved to commercial flight with FS5 but didn't really enjoy commercial flight simulation until FS2002 upwards. I stopped using FSX last year 2012 and finally removed it from harddrive in MAY2013 having made my full conversion to Xplane, I have never looked back since.


It occurred to me that with any luck some readers of this site might actually be new to flight simulation and perhaps a short essay on flight simulation and where we are, at the present  time and what is happening might be of some help.


Flight simulation as a hobby can be a quite a lonely pastime, we sit in our studies, mancaves, sheds, spare bedrooms, garages with our computers humming away sometimes in the darkness trying to suspend our disbelief in attempts to capture the magic of flight whether it be in a Glider, Cessna 172 or a leviathan of the air in a Boeing 747. What ever we fly on whatever types of systems be it a single monitor PC or a full scale replica 737 NG cockpit for a brief short time we are the masters of all that we survey and are in total oblivion to the rest of the world until of course we land, the wife/girlfriend/partner/mother calls us for dinner or in my case my cat jumps up on my desk and walks across my keyboard as I am on final approach and dispels the moment.


I do quite a lot of work here in the UK promoting flight simulation and Xplane whether it be in forums or at Flight Sim shows like last months RAF Cosford, PC Pilot, Flight 1 sponsored show and I can honestly say that the buzz around Xplane is growing steadily and in many respects in a  better and more interesting way than ever there was with FSX. Why do I say that you ask, well when FSX first came out it was designed for machines that didn't exist and in the tens years since machines have progressed to a appoint where they have surpassed the best that FSX can do and are ready for something else. That something else is XPlane.


Frooglesim over on You Tube has released a high level detailed review of Xplane and he comments why he thinks that Xplane is the simulation of choice right now. The first and most compelling statement from Frooglesim is that Xplane is designed for the high end machines available now, right now and for the foreseeable future. His second most compelling point was in his assertion and I agree is that FSX is dead, it is not being developed further and will not ever be.


That doesn't mean that Xplane is the be all and end all, but it is the only 64bit flight simulation platform in the market place at the moment and that does bring some benefits with it. I do find myself explaining what 64bit means an awful lot but it's worth repeating here. Having a 64bit application such as Xplane means quite simply that it can access all the ram on your PC whereas a 32 bit application is restricted to 3gig of ram no matter how much you have.


What does this mean in reality and with Xplane, well, it doesn't mean that you will see frame rates increasing hugely beyond what your main CPU or GFX GPU can deliver but it does mean that you can increase your settings to a far greater extent without losing those frame rates. I comfortably see FPS in the 50/70 range no matter what aircraft I am using.  Xplane also ustilises all of the cores of a multicore machine which means it is spreading the load across all of the cores rather than on a 32 bit application it using only one core to drive everything.


Aircraft as we have seen from some of the recent reviews on this site are getting better and better with each new release, developers are pushing themselves to the limits in terms of what they can put in their products, as to whether Xplane itself is being pushed to the limit is debatable and many of us are awaiting the much heralded 10:30 update of Xplane.


As recently reported on this fora Xsquawkbox64bit pilot client has been released which means we can now fly our 64bit Xplane on VATSIM online with other pilots and real ATC. This has been something that many VATSIMmers have waited several months for and at first it seemed no one was interested in progressing this important aspect of flight simulation even to the point of it having a detrimental effect on sales, but all that is a distant memory and as of a few weeks ago is no longer an issue. All of my flights are conducted online in the 64bit environment which is to be frank really quite wonderful.


Finally I would just like to make a comment about the demographic of flight simulation, I am one of the founder members of The Bristol Flight Simulations Group and last week when we met for our monthly meeting I had a good look around the room. I was quite shocked because what I saw was a group of predominantly white middle class older men from a  particular income bracket, mostly retired. Myself and one other member are what you might call visible ethnic minorities and there were trwo young people in the room, one 15yr old and a 13yr old. Of course not a woman to be seen. The recent PCPilot Flight1 sponsored show at RAF Cosford was one of the best shows I have ever attended in terms of numbers, it was very busy indeed, but once again predominantly visited by men although the age range was a lot better than the monthly attendance at Bristol.


Flight simulation, as gaming is predominantly male, and this it would seem is a simple fact of gaming law, of course there are some women but pitifully few, somehow we have to change the demographic of flight simulation if we want it to grow as an entertainment platform, although thankfully I think this is a problem for the industry rather than just myself although I do try my best. There is only one factor that I can see in the way here and that is cost, those young people who do fly seem in the most part have o rely on the good graces of parents to either provide the hardware or to let their children use the family hardware, not always the best practice. I know of one young aircraft developer who had all his work deleted by his mother because she doesn't like him playing Xplane. If she only realised he could become and aero engineer or even an aircraft designer of the future.


I do think all of us involved in flight simulation in whatever way have a responsibility to this community even in a small way, mine is to create relatively reasonable sceneries free, and to offer help and advice where I can, I also promote flight simulation at every opportunity I get, perhaps we could all do the same. So what does all this rambling mean, well IMHO Xplane is the only flight simulator of choice, that it is a system that can provide you with the most realistic flight model to date and in a 64bit environment. That any commercial developer of aircraft has to really step up their game if they are going to join the party, and that the demographic of flight simulation does need to change to keep what was a niche pastime moving forward


I hope this short essay has been helpful in some way, I'm always about somewhere on the net so your sure to see my name pop up.


Blue Skies



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