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Behind the Screen : June 2019

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Behind the Screen : June 2019

 

The June 7th/8th/9th FlightSimExpo in Florida was a great success, a lot of simmers showed up and had in house a lot to see and hear, for any simulation enthusiast that has to be a good thing. Again Laminar Research dominated with three seminars with one on the Friday covering WED 2.0 (WorldEDitor), The main Seminar on Saturday and a landing competition on Sunday.

 

But the overwhelming announcement at the Expo was the new 2020 Microsoft Simulator, and a mind boggling video to go with the announcement. Yes it came out of nowhere and even the FSX stalwarts were taken aback and was then thanked god in all his mercy in saving them from a Laminar induced hell... more on that later.

 

Obviously the focus X-Plane wise was on the development of Vulkan/Metal API's, but overall the seminar felt a bit short compared to past presentations, with a huge block devoted to X-Mobile and Austin Meyer's new pet project of a full scale electric drone aircraft, there wasn't much time or anything else left for announcements, in other words it all felt a bit short changed after the huge lists of features from the past, so are we now getting into the same situation as the Apple Seminars, good but nothing like the huge announcements and features of the past events. X-PlaneReviews did a full analysis of the seminar here: Laminar Research : FlightSimExpo 2019

 

My own interest was like most on the Vulkan/Metal API, but for the reason of future proofing my simulation needs. Most however thought of only one thing, in "will the new API's give me a faster computer". The answer as it always was is and still is no. As you will still need a pretty modern setup to benefit from the new API's and for the very reason they are going in there in the first place, these APIs have been created for a more different type of era computer chip in multi-threading and multiple cores.

 

The interesting thing about the Laminar seminar was that how the new API's allow you change or allow you to assign certain functions to certain chips, in either the processor or the graphic card. Currently the OpenGL API really set these processing actions in stone which is inefficient as many processing actions that are really very low in the order of requirement when others like say the processing of many objects are in the wrong chip area to be processed. So the non-important functions are getting all the attention, where as the important ones are assigned to a function or chip area that really slows down your simulation, but the Vulkan API allows you to change that, so moving forward it will be very interesting on how that all layers out. Interesting as well was the note that Ben Supnic made was that in the first place he didn't see much real change, yes we will get 30% or so better processing, but in time these more assigned areas can be brought more on line (i.e.) multi-threading and multi-core functions plus the fact that any new features yet to be developed then the new APIs will or can also take advantage of those features. Overall though don't expect a pure Vulkan/Metal API based simulator until X-Plane12 as OpenGL is still part of system, but X-Plane12 will be the start of a totally new era, and X-Plane will certainly change a lot or be in transition over the next few years, if not on the surface, but in it's basic core functionality.

 

Like I noted I put off upgrading my processor chips and new motherboard in march until I saw what would be the best options, I want to as I said future proof my computer, and to a point those specifications are still a bit of a muddle even after the expo of which I was expecting at least some ideas of what would be the best components, but that now is not going to happen until the time that X-Plane v11.40 is released in beta...  hopefully as noted now by the end of the year by Laminar, it will however give us another year (to save up) and run the next generation of processing chips, in reality nothing really will move forward until those Vulkan/Metal v11.40 version is running fully on our computers, and it finally does look like another (again) complete change for all 3rd party addons, and for aircraft like with the 64bit transition... which means a lot of updates (again).

 

Microsoft 2020 simulator

The interesting point to make is that as X-Plane12 will gets closer to X-Plane's next version release will be the release of the now announced Microsoft 2020 simulator. My guess is that in many ways they will be very much alike. both extremely modern and use modern API's. Microsoft noted it was a "simulator", but the video showed a very highly complex simulation and very highly detailed visuals. As great as it was, I do doubt that such highly complex detailed scenery could be delivered worldwide by the MFS 2020, both the original Microsoft Flight Simulator (MFS) and X-Plane have had decades of development and also a huge contribution from both communities to get to their current situations we are now currently at. So a simple clean sheet start even with a lot of the available modern tools are not going to cover those decades of work in two years. I still see the MFS 2020 simulator as a area focused simulation and focused on bringing in gamers into the simulation world, the real money is still in gaming not in simulation.

 

In time MFS 2020 might spread out and cover the whole planet in that great detail, but as X-Plane in computer power and resources is at this point, then I just can't see the MFS 2020 version matching it, as there has to weaknesses somewhere. Then there is the other factor of the flight model? will the new MFS simulator have a realistic flight model, maybe and I even hope so, but that would make the simulator more closer to X-Plane, but in the same breath it will also discount all the required current FS/P3D third party aircraft in one swipe, as noted in the same conversion currently from any FS/P3D aircraft to the X-Plane flight model, in my estimation then MFS 2020 will not go for a revolutionary flight model change if it wants to take advantage of all the current 3rd party FS/P3D aircraft, plugins and scenery addons available. If MFS 2020 just turns out to be another Flight Sim World (Dovetail Games) in another if far better reincarnation, then still it would not be in the same situation as X-Plane in its XP12 guise.

 

The situation of which would be a better simulation platform is still mute until we see MFS 2020, but what if it is that good, that brilliant. Would X-Plane then return to it's secondary role for clubbies and hobbists. Myself I can't see that as X-Plane has progressed a long way since those eras, but two high quality simulators would actually thrive rather than start WW3 against each other. One point is that MFS 2020 would attract a lot of gamers over to simulation, and most (not all) would certainly like what they see. So the effects of MFS 2020 could be highly beneficial to X-Plane as much as MFS 2020, if MFS 2020 is limited in scope then X-Plane would certainly benefit from that, and it certainly won't be the "us" vs "them" factor of the past, it would be good for simulation as a whole if both simulators are level in their features and quality.

 

For X-Plane and XP12 it would be then crucial to get a lot right. No doubt the Vulkan/Metal API factor is very important. In many areas the older OpenGL API situation has put some very heavy limitations on the simulator, take those limitations away and it gets very interesting, certainly if Laminar redo the whole planet with better mesh and ground/earth textures, better ATC  and the elephant in the room factor of weather, another subject area wanted is better networking - Multiplayer/Multicrew of which there is now a very vocal community demanding it's insertion, but there are still a lot of very small areas that need to be cleaned up as well.

 

But if X-Plane12 can deliver those factors, then certainly the differences between Microsoft's new simulator and X-Plane will not be as large as you may think so and more so that X-Plane12 is now coming due next year in November. And that will also explain the now limited feature list at the Expo 2019...  as the newer features are now all going to be packaged into X-Plane12.

 

xEnviro v1.1

I did a review on the release of xEnviro v1.10 and again it came with many major areas of issues, but there is a slight difference this time around in that at least you are able to finally store that old stalwart v1.7, well I have. Of anything in X-Plane then xEnviro is the most frustrating aspect.

Limited in many ways of features, years of development and you are still not seeing the full development and other newer contenders are now coming along as well... the bottleneck though strangely seems to be Laminar, as even Active Sky XP from Hi-Fi was a compromised addition.

 

xEnviro now called by the weird coder terms "Dark Space FZE" took up the situation with Austin Meyer at the Expo in Florida, and he promised to look at the issues and find solutions, the secondary side of the situation is just pure processing power. Weather engines with volumetric clouds, or 3D clouds are extremely hard on your machine, and even Laminar have not entirely been able to fix that and that is even with many valiant efforts over the years. Certainly the new revolutionary Vulkan/Metal APIs are extremely important here, for using them for efficient processing could maybe be finally the holy grail that we are looking for. But still the poor artifacts in xEnviro are the biggest challenging v1.10 visual issue, as you can sort of always fly around the framerate issue. Still the reviews here will always bare testament to the power of this environmental engine.

 

You always get just those awesome jaw dropping views and that full immersion and currently or thankfully they still outweigh the negatives, again so close so near.

I still advocate Laminar Research buying xEnviro up or to bring the studio under their wing to make xEnviro the default simulator weather engine, with the in-house experience the issues could be refined and it would jump X-Plane far forward and give MFS 2020 an even bigger run for it's money, a side note is that the snow feature in xEnviro v1.10 is up to now the main "whoa" moment of the 2019 year, it is breathtaking and extremely good, shame it is a hot summer. (I am in Australia but snow is rare here as I live in the tropical higher band), so I can't wait for the northern winter to come around this year to just fly in those conditions. Overall v1.10 xEnviro is still in there, we will see again if it stays or lives in operation in the long term. 

 

See you all next month

 

Stephen Dutton

2nd July 2019

Copyright©2019: X-Plane Reviews

 

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