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Behind the Screen : February 2023


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Behind the Screen : February 2023


Behind the Screen in January 2023, laid out the start of X-PlaneReviews year in X-Plane 12. It was of course a strange mixture of optimism and being faced with the challenges that X-Plane 12 brings to Simulation. Oddly it was partly software, but mostly hardware (Saitek Throttle and Graphic Card) related. The full story is here; Behind the Screen : January 2023


The basis as noted a month ago, is that Behind the Screen is a look behind the website, basically what we are faced with in hardware, addons and software, can also affect you, so the idea is that by us sharing what happens in our world, can hopefully help you in your  Simulation. I run X-Plane on average 6-8 hours a day, 6 days a week, which adds up to a huge amount of simulator time, I cover a huge selection of aircraft, scenery and plugins (But I will note I don't use a lot of experimental plugins, because with reviews, you need a basic standard level (base line) to configure the aircraft correctly).


After the trauma of January, I was looking forward to a more routine stable month in February, and it got off to a good start. In Simulation as noted you have to have a base line. That is the point were the simulator is running smoothly and the settings are compatible with your hardware. From this line you can see if the aircraft is performing or it's performance is correct. To do that you use aircraft that are very well known to you, and are very stable in their flight and performance envelope. Data in one flight should mirror the next flight and so on, if anything is knocked out of kilter, then you go back to these standard base settings to get or to set your bearings again. Certainly as the Simulator matures you have to reset your baseline, but that is okay if things are running normally. So what happens if you lose your baseline?


After all the rigmarole of January. The safest thing to do was to find the new baseline. I did this by using one aircraft in the Rotate MD-11, and I flew the aircraft solidly for six flights, comparing notes and data, then moving to another (ToLiSS A319) and compared the sets of data. I found that yes indeed X-Plane 12 was better, except for in one area...  weather.


The Weather factor was so bad, you could never find any base line with the huge turbulence/gusting changes, and the aircraft were performing very abnormally... basically it was impossible to review any aircraft in this situation. A side note was that the turbulence actually created in the "Real" weather, also affected (bled into) the "Manual" set weather... so setting the manual settings made no difference (which is crazy), as what you set, should be the same settings that you should get in the simulator...  oh and it rained all the time, even with bright blue skies?


Laminar Research certainly knew of the problems with the new X-Plane 12 weather engine, and have been working on the situation since the start of the New Year.


12.04b1 release was a biggie. (note this is still a "beta" release, not a version release). As the problematic turbulence (since the start of the release of the X-Plane 12 betas) was finally fixed and so was the "XPD-13715 – Manual wind layer altitudes were ignored" factor, we finally had a stable Simulator... not.


Then something really strange happened to X-Plane 12, the .dds files started to fail? .dds is the format used in textures (.PNG is also used , but PNG is not as efficient as .dds), the result of this aspect was that most of your scenery and ortho textures turned grey? and absolutely nothing related to the weather issues. This one really shut me down, for a week...  as Laminar fixed it. The problem was probably related to installing Zink, and if you want to know what Zink is, then Sidney explains it all here; Addressing Plugin Flickering. Both new items were introduced in v12.04b3. The Zink problem was it created a fail backup to the loss of the OpenGL API, the AMD users out there got a lot of flickering and CTD, if Vulkan failed...  which it does quite often.


You are probably shouting, "Why didn't you have a backup?". I do in a core basic X-Plane 12 version, but in my excitement on the weather being fixed, I updated at the same time both my main X-Plane version and my backup version v12.04b1, there was no point in downloading a fresh X-Plane 12 either, as that was tainted in 12.04b1 blood as well, so I was trapped, or had trapped myself.


So v12.04B3 is good...  not, again. But this issue is not related to the others, in fact it is an external issue with the "GRIB_get_field failed", in other words the NOAA or "NOAA Operational Model Archive and Distribution System", has pulled the GRIB Files that X-Plane 12 uses for the Simulator for downloading Live Weather. (Actually the file location/address was changed). GRIB by the way stands for "WMO standard for encoding gridded fields".


You thankfully you could get around this one, by setting the weather to "Manual", so at least I was flying again. And yes the Gribb fix is now also done from Laminar Research, and your live weather is all working again, actually far better than before.


You could note this as all the trials and tribulations of sorting out a new X-Plane version, but it is happening AFTER X-Plane 12 went Final, two months after...  the baseline should have been more solid at that point of release, and that is the point of the story here, the so called "Stable" release was not stable, yes we are using "betas", but there was no point at all in going back to the "Final" which should have been a stable release either as there was no baseline to work from? So something is amiss here.


So you have to feel for the developers in wanting to update or upgrade to X-Plane 12, how do you find a baseline of on such shifting sands, well you can't. Hence the slowing of X-Plane 12 releases.


In between of all of this X-Plane 12 is actually getting better with each update, although tainted by the .dds scandal, v12.04b1 was a very good release, everything felt better, from the lighting to the clouds, not perfect yet, but better...  so big progress IS being made, and we may be finally getting there.




I had to move to a fresher drive, or more so from a platter drive to a NVMe M.2 SSD for most of my storage files, meaning aircraft and scenery and the various odds and bobs. I'm not a big fan of platter drives, as I have had various nasty encounters of them failing on me and taking a large portion of my life with them, you can only have so many backups of the same thing. Yes SSD's can fail as well, but nothing bothers you more than a thin consistently spinning disk with a needle poised above it, you just know it it is someday going to rip it to shreds.


Then moving from the old drive to the newer one was a big task, over 2Tb of files, most going back now a decade or so. There is a lot of history in there, a lot of flying elements as well. So it makes you take stock of the current situation.


These changes do usually happen between X-Plane version changes, a sort of "out with the old, in with the new" house keeping, but like going through old photographs when moving house, these movements in life can make you stop and think of your journey to this moment.


Like again photographs, there are a lot of memories there. Aircraft that created memorable events, even the hard ones you had to master. Can you really associate the current highly detailed X-Plane 12 cockpit to a 2d instrument panel of a decade ago...  well not really, and that is why you don't use them anymore (but you still do a short flight now and then to see of where, and how far we have come).


The next batch of aircraft are more interesting, we are talking X-Plane 10 era machines. Now we had 3d virtual cockpits, and that changed the game (so to speak). It was the era when Carenado also came into X-Plane, well renowned in Flight Sim, Carenado aircraft in X-Plane 10 were and are still a revelation for X-Plane. Sure if you jump into a lot of them now they have a dated appeal, but a lot still have a glowing quality that makes you miss the quality of the detail and textures of the era, or mostly of the feel the aircraft created. Don't get me wrong here before we go too far, X-Plane 12 aircraft are a very high on the quality and features scale, even past the modeling stage and more like a miniature version of the real aircraft...  but, but, these aircraft were gems...  the PA34 Seneca V, PA31 Navajo, Cardinal ll, C404 Titan, A36 (V Tail) Bonanza, CT210 Centurion ll, PA46 Malibu Mirage, Archer ll, S550 Citation II and I could go on and on. A few are more precious...  the B1900D, the SAAB S340 and the Fokker F50.


For X-Plane 11 most if not all Carenado aircraft were upgraded to the new simulator from X-Plane 10, or created for X-Plane 11... in all there were 42 Carenado aircraft of various designs, one thankfully has survived, my F33A Bonanza as you can get a REP package to allow it to fly in X-Plane 12, but it's not a full upgrade revision, but it survived and will live to fly another day, like it does in the header here and in an X-Plane 12 environment.


Obviously we are in the early days of X-Plane 12 aircraft conversions, so we really don't know of what aircraft will survive or will be left on the drive platter. And that conversion process will maybe take a year and a half, but there will still be hundreds of aircraft left behind in the churn factor. Yes a lot do belong in the past, and are to be left back there. But a lot don't...  they also don't deserve to disappear from our Simulator.


Many designs will be re-imagined, like with Thranda and their C206 Caravan, C208 Skywagon and lastly the C337, but they won't be able to replace all of them.


So the general aviation market, so heavily dominated by Carenado is going to be quite decimated with no replacements, worse is the loss of the B1900D, S340 and that for me the heavily flown F50. 


If these machines are not going to be upgraded, and Carenado have no interest in X-Plane going forward, then why not release them to freeware, then users can then patch them up for use in X-Plane 12. This goes for other now gone developers or abandoned payware aircraft. A lot of developers have switched to MSFS, as has Carenado, so again this is creating a very different scenario from the transition of X-Plane 10 to X-Plane 11 for X-Plane 12.


There was this churn between X-Plane 10 and 11. But my feeling that it is going to be very different this time. We didn't worry of the transition from X-Plane 9 to 10, because of the revolution of the changes in X-Plane 10, X-Plane 11 grew huge and capitalised on X-Plane 10....  X-Plane 12 however feels very different, and I think we will have to adjust to accommodate the changes. Like I said it is early days yet, but the feeling already is more of the new this time around, than the same of the past.


See you all next month


Stephen Dutton

1st March 2023

Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews


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Underwhelming is a word I use for XP12 - be interesting to have been a 'fly on the wall' during the meeting which decided the release.  Having been a pilot for most of my life, I realize the sim is simply close but no cigar but I do really enjoy making screenshots.  With XP11 the rendering was good enough to only require simple edits to make it more presentable - now, with '12' the edits are bordering on surgical to overcome the rendering glitches.  Don't get me wrong, I'll never go with MSFS but I'd sure like Laminar to get a handle on this and maybe talk to the customers a bit more.  

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I thought it was a good month for the Sim. The weather is moving towards resolution and its a big improvement on 11. Several aircraft are now updated to 12 and even the Deltawing CRJ700 is now quite good, a huge improvement over their initial 12 attempt. What is noticeable is that several developers are providing multiple updates, Toliss, Thranda, Flight Factor take a bow.

Less progress on the scenery side. I used to buy a lot of scenery in 11 but now I’m finding that many of the stock airports in 12 are pretty good and no doubt the community will make them even better. Some of the smaller airports need some work but perhaps that where the market will be in the future. 
Two months ago my mouse was hovering over the ‘buy’ button for MSFS. Now 12 seems to be very much headed in the right direction.

Shout out to Navigraph and Simbrief as well. When Simbrief was ‘taken over’ there was justified concern. But that new Simbrief interface? Very nice and combined with Navigraph charts an excellent end to end solution.

One issue, SAM. Some scenery developers need SAM for their work to show, but why do we need SAM in 12? Any idea what Stairpoint is up to because at the moment SAM feels like legacy software that life would be better without.

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Wow, absolutely agree...  X-Plane v12.04b3 is a gem (with the Gribb files fixed), DONT TOUCH IT! it works, but yes there is still room for improvement. Scenery is as mentioned quite dire, even worrying, both Navigraph and Simbrief are top notch tools, and yes even your notes about SAM are correct, bloated, non-working... I don't like it either, all I want is something to put airbridges on doors after arrival.

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Having been around desktop sims since wireframe I have personal knowledge of the "Oliver Twist Syndrome".
To be fair to Laminar, I believe they knew they would need to make some drastic changes for this new version, not least to begin steps to replace the decades old OpenGL which has served from the initial X-Plane 1. Vulkan and now Zink is their chosen path for us Windows users.
We're now used to buying partially complete simulators, think Asobo. The Laminar "Early Access" option was taken up by many, who immediately copied all their favourite XP11 aircraft, sceneries and utilities across and then wondered why the thing was failing. The bug reporter was swamped with problems which had everything to do with compatibility. Bona fide bugs hard to find amongst all the flack.
X-Plane 12 went Gold on the 17th December, a little over 2 months ago. In that time there have been 8 updates and fixes. Each, in my mind has improved the sim in some way.
The Global default scenery is modified Gateway submissions originally designed for XP11. Many will be re-drawn to take advantage of the new layering and effects available in XP12. The Laminar scenery library has been updated to exploit these new elements and we can look forward to independent libraries to be similarly updated to encompass these new features. Ortho awaits a specific tool to maximise coastlines and 3d wave behaviour, bathymetry. Animated Jetways now default.
Users should not be fooled by the similarities to past versions, as the groundwork for serious expansion has been laid. All it needs is it's community.

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And Xplane has always had community. I would not have been alone in expecting the early releases of 12 to be bumpy (quite literally with the weather as it turned out). Five minutes of watching any video with Austin in it would have convinced you of that. Tinkering, experimentation, new ideas popping up. Xplane is a journey, not a destination like MSFS. 

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