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X-Plane 12 : State of the Union


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X-Plane 12 : State of the Union


It is really hard to believe that even at this point in time, that when X-Plane 12 was finally released, or as it was labelled as in it's "Early Access" and "Beta" release form. Such has been the developments of the last twelve months.


Last year around June 2022 there was still a lot of speculation mixed in with a bit of fear. The X-Plane 12 development was seriously dragging on, and even a Dev Deep-Dives series with FSElite (10 episodes) didn't quell the uneasy feelings. And Austin Meyer the X-Plane Simulator founder, by then also became more and more outrageous in his broadcasts to cover the waiting. We tried to look between the cracks, but mostly the development process was kept very close to the chest.


Almost a year on and the 2023 FlightSimExpo in Houston was in progress, Laminar Research was there and competing with Asobo Studios/Microsoft, now with an announced version of the next installment or version of MSFS, called "Flight Simulator 2024".


For Laminar Research it had already been quite a journey. Starting not with the development of X-Plane 12, but to overhaul completely the core of X-Plane Simulator's API to the more modern Vulkan/Metal standards, to note, X-plane 12 could not even existed on the older OpenGL platform. But developing both the API and a new X-Plane version together has been an enormous task for the very small, but tight core Laminar development coders.


We expected Laminar Research to bring their latest version of X-Plane 12 to the Expo as well (X-Plane 12.06, even if in parts), so maybe it was a good time to see what has transpired since the original "Beta" release, then the formal release in December 2022, and the current state of were we all are now a year on. In a way the XP12.06 release was to be a highly anticipated significant one. For one it will end the development and release update phase of the X-Plane 12 release. Certainly not all the fixes and bugs would have been covered, but the majority of the changes should now be behind us. Going forward means not spending time fixing, but maturing and developing the simulator to a higher degree.


But again it was not to be the case, if v12.06 was shown at the Expo it is was in a raw form, and certainly Laminar didn't crow about it as both Austin Meyer or head developer Ben Supnic were notably absent. Oddly or more important is that for the first time X-Plane 12 was being scrutinized directly against Microsoft's Flight Simulator, both are interesting as this as X-Plane 12 in it's current refined form, and MSFS in already promoting it's next upgraded version in MSFS 2024. Significant also was the factor that neither were noted doing seminars, just floor demonstrations, but Microsoft turned that aspect on it's head at the last minute and did a "Lite" seminar session. The truth is Microsoft stole a lot of X-Plane related ideas for the release of MSFS 2020, and X-Plane replied with a lot of MSFS ideas in X-Plane 12. MSFS 2024 as announced in that seminar, now goes even further in stealing more X-Plane features in helicopters, SARS, water and fire particles, oil rig scenery and landing pad, crop dusting, wildfires and even animated skydivers (yes X-Plane does have animated skydivers).


One important point to make though at the 23 Expo, was that almost every demonstration stand was running X-Plane, not streaming MSFS 2020. Why, because it is still a simulator in the box, not relying on a internet connection, a change of the times from earlier Expos, when almost every single vendor was using Flight Simulator to show off their wares, and when back then X-Plane was in the small minority.


But first we will look back before looking forward. As always I explain details to anyone coming into simulation for the first time, yes it goes over a lot of old ground to regular users, but it also puts the simulator situation into it's proper context.


X-Plane 12

The X-Plane Flight Simulator was originally released as X-Plane 1.00 back in 1995 which is now 26 years ago. Basically around every 4-5 Years, Laminar Research the X-Plane's developers releases another numbered upgrade version of the Simulator, the current version is X-Plane 12 that was released originally back in September 2022. The earlier version was X-Plane 11 (v11.53 was the final version) that was released originally back in March 2017.


Each release is a new version, and to use it, it has to be repurchased. The cost of X-Plane 12 is US$59.95. But the initial cost also covers all development and any new features for that full version run, up until the next version is released in the development cycle in approx another 4-5 years.

The "Beta" release was a public purchase test version, so everyone can now access the new simulator and it's new features. But it's not a final release, as it was still noted only as an early development release or "Early Access" Beta. The X-Plane 12 Beta ran from the 6th September 2022 (called alpha 38) and it was expected to go "Final" just before Christmas, and in "Release Candidate" RC 6 form it did, 17th December 2022.


My first impressions of the "Beta" release were very favourable, X-Plane 12 on it's release was actually far better than we had expected. Early indications showed it was a major leap forward than X-Plane 11, of which it should be. Lighting was excellent, as was the weather and seasons, also the fauna and trees. Grass was left out of the XP12 because of it's very high framerate use, or in my guess the limited development time. ATC had a huge revision, and again this was highlighted with another three major updates at later dates thoughout the year.


With the huge jump in quality over X-Plane 11 we expected our systems to groan under the sheer weight of the more excess demands of X-Plane 12. To a point the new version did require a substantial upgrade in hardware to cater for it, but oddly not initially, as XP12 ran quite nicely on most lighter cards. Several areas on release however became controversial. First was the "Black Hole" of the internal lighting. Heavy shading made it impossible to work in most cockpits. Now it must be said that early aircraft were configured to X-Plane 11 lighting, not the new X-Plane 12 dynamics, but there was clearly a problem. Even as the early configured X-Plane 12 aircraft were released the internal lighting didn't work, more so was the time it took (keeping developers waiting) in finding a fix. Another early problem was high winds at altitude, this one was a nasty issue, and it even flowed down at lower altitudes, aircraft active surfaces twitched very badly to the wrong wind information, so clean flying was almost impossible.


Beta Phase

Early beta releases fix updates also focused mostly on 3rd party items like the excellent upgraded X-Plane 12 default fleet of aircraft, all were very highly well received, except for oddly the AirbusA330-300. Here the promised custom MCDU was not available on release, all round the A330 felt a bit underdeveloped, why odd? because the aircraft was X-Plane 12's major default focus aircraft feature, and it was the worst developed in the release.


Personally I found the first few months with X-Plane 12 quite nice, even if it was in a beta development, even with the dark cockpit and wind issues. It had smooth framerate wise and the lighting was very good as it had this nice 3d effect, even MSFS in look. In fact as the beta's focused on the extra elements and not the core of the simulator there was not many changes to the sim with the early beta process. There was however the nasty emergency hot fix for broken draped polygon textures, which sent your scenery blank, or with grey walls...  but it was fixed very quickly in about five days. In the Beta 8 release there was some significant additions. One new default item was in cockpit pilots. A male and female quality styled pilot's were added to all the default airliner aircraft, and 3rd party developers snapped them up quickly for their own use. The second major addition was the excellent ALIA-250 eVTOL aircraft.


Altogether there was 14 Beta releases for X-Plane 12, a lot less than the 17 Beta releases for X-Plane 11, then you went into 6 "Release Candidate" (RC) updates. These high density filled RC releases showed that Laminar was on a mission to get the Simulator into a major release before Christmas 2022. They did it...  on releasing X-Plane 12 to the general public 17th December 2022.


In reality the full X-Plane 12 release was a false dawn. In any form users know that no Simulator is finished, as they are all in a constant forward development, but in X-Plane 12's case that shorter beta period run was or should have been a warning sign of things to come. In the RC3 release it came with a warning "the auto-exposure system is still being modified", and Austin also changed the flight model considerably, both these areas would have serious repercussions later. My question at this time was "Why are Laminar still messing around and changing the Flight Model, three months after the introduction of the Simulator?". In reality items like these should have been refined and done before any release at all, as they would impact highly on X-Plane conversion development in progress. In a bonus Laminar had come up with a solution for the dark cockpits, now as you glanced downwards into the murk, it would artificially lighten the lower view. It worked, I liked it, but a lot of users didn't, but it was a nice solution.


X-Plane 12 early release

Something went seriously wrong with the v12.01r1 release, the second one in the New Year 2023. Before this release we had a capable working Simulator (even in a beta form), what we had now was a disaster. My guess is that in trying to get more efficient framerate out of the Simulator, Laminar messed it up, suddenly we had serious "Vulcan device loss errors", and the high winds were also now more nasty than ever.

On the "Vulcan device loss errors", a lot of users actually had them even from the initial beta release, but these were users that also had very weak computer systems anyway. Now the goal posts had changed, even mid-powerful machines (meaning me) now didn't have enough Graphic capability to run X-Plane 12. The already very heavy demands of running X-Plane 12 had now suddenly gone even higher, from this point on you would need a pretty powerful chip and card combo to do even the basic of simulator flying, and it cost you serious money to get an upgraded card into your machine just to do basic X-Plane Simulations.


Around this time (probably related) I found the lighting went a bit awkward as well. Basically duller under cloud conditions. In clear conditions it was fine, but add in a bit of cloud cover and everything underneath it went all dull and flat, internally in aircraft it was also dull and hard to see and the external lighting disappeared. Another lighting condition that changed was the lighting reflections in the daylight, say glareshield dropdown lighting, this lighting effect also disappeared, external views (from the cockpit) went brighter (glary) as well.


Laminar's focus however was somewhere else. It was called Zink. With the change to the Vulkan/Metal API, a lot of the original OpenGL plugins didn't work. So Zink was installed to convert (or to be a bridge) between the old OpenGL and newer Vulkan/Metal API's. I don't use Zink, mainly because I don't have a big library of plugins, but a lot of users also needed the fix as AMD users out there got a lot of flickering and CTD (Crash to Desktop). Then the.dds files started to fail? .dds is the format used in textures, a more efficient system than say the bulky .png format, that was another hot fix from Laminar.


Then another when the "GRIB_get_field failed", in other words the NOAA or "NOAA Operational Model Archive and Distribution System", pulled the GRIB Files that X-Plane 12 uses for the Simulator for downloading live global Weather. And Laminar had to do another quick fix on that. It is still problematic now, as NOAA still has a habit of shutting down (or shutting out) at crucial times.


12.03b1 then delivered a lot of new DSF files, these delivered more data on the tile and in a lot of the areas better detail, a few more autogen items were delivered as well, but not the huge feature list noted in the pre-release videos, of say port infrastructure.


12.04b1, late in February was a game changer (no pun intended). It fixed (finally the high winds problem), the clouds and the sky got a lot better as well (not perfect as you still had those horrible pyramid shape clouds, and zebra-stripes at high levels). To a point the .04 beta did allow developers to get their aircraft into a more stable condition relating to X-Plane 12, so you got a load of aircraft conversion releases around Easter. Also important was the release of the SASL 3.16.1, which (finally) provided native plugin support for Mac M1/M2 arm64 architecture. In English it means users on Apple systems could finally fly X-Plane 12 aircraft. However for most of .04 beta, it was used to fix loads of Zink bugs.


Then at the end of March 2023 came v12.05b1, and Laminar finally delivered the update for their A330-300. Here included in this release was the custom MCDU for the aircraft, but again oddly it still had initially a default FMS feel to the system. And the followup v12.05r1 had another significant load of changes and fixes that came for the A330 as well.



Which brings us to the significant v12.06 release. It comes with a noted VRAM re-architecture, claims improvements for performance and reduces the risk of blurry textures. The biggest improvement is up high in the sky. Here those nasty pyramid shape clouds, and zebra-stripes have finally gone, and have been replaced by major improvements to the flexibility and the visual quality of the clouds, including adding in the missing cirrus clouds. The the development roadmap for this crucial version went on for months, and right on past that crucial Expo date, you thought it was ever never coming. It finally came on the 20th August 2023.


But the version v12.06 did live up to it's gamechanger forecast...


SotU X-Plane 12 23_Clouds 1.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_Clouds 2.jpg


...   with the beautiful and wispy the new Cirrus high level clouds, and they are a major improvement. My test area is the North Atlantic, in flying long haul you can usually cover all the range of clouds, and yes finally in v12.06r1, they are looking gorgeous after more tinkering through the 06 beta.


SotU X-Plane 12 23_Clouds 3.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_Clouds 4.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_Clouds 6.jpg


But we are not out of the woods (or clouds) yet...  There are still too many elements here that are straight lined, or open space rectangles, they are plainly seen, another element are what I call "Cliff Faces" or clouds in long blocks that go straight up? But after the earlier pyramid shape clouds, and the zebra-stripes, I'm willing to accept these elements as a huge step forward.


SotU X-Plane 12 23_Clouds 7.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_Clouds 9.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_Clouds 8.jpg


SotU X-Plane 12 23_Clouds 10.jpg


But two images are interesting, if excellent. Seen at dusk, they were very, very good in highlighting the X-Plane weather system when it all works together, the slight bands of light, in a rather gloomy night sky is simply sensational.


SotU X-Plane 12 23_5.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_6.jpg


Another translation of dusk, it works, very nice...  but I still wish for more moon light (It is a full moon at this point), as when it goes dark, it goes black with almost no highlights, those clouds should be bouncing with light.


SotU X-Plane 12 23_Clouds 11.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_Clouds 12.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_Clouds 13.jpg


With the early V12.06 betas the lighting was still poor. everything under the cloud, was dull and flat, a brief moment you saw the sunlight break though the blue patches in the sky (noted as XPD-14318 – Cirrus need to allow more sunlight to reach the earth) and the weather not matching the METAR (too many clouds, too much rain). This has made the biggest impression on me over the last eight months, dark aircraft and blacker cockpits, made reviewing hard work in translating the visual aspects of X-Plane to the reviews, it is better, in fact far better in v12.06... but not what I would still call naturally realistic, I would like more control (graphics/menu) if Laminar can't get it right, at least give us some options to twiddle the lighting, rather than none.


But it is working...    it suddenly looked wonderful, in v12.06b7 as these images attest, but currently is X-Plane 12 still overall missing that magical something?


Interesting is comparing images from the release v12.01 (beta) and current V12.06. The top two images I took at the beta release twelve months ago, the lower four images are current.


SotU X-Plane 12 23_old 1.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_old 2.jpg


Earlier the lighting is very soft, but the haze is very realistic...  below everything is now harder, clearer and any cloud will dull out the aircraft, the ground is always very harsh, sharp. The debate is if it is in the real way you look at the environment. As you might like the look of a more open solid feel, rather than the more softer one, to you the lower images will look more dynamically realistic, were as I prefer the more romantic view, to me the lower is more monochrome. My guess the real look and feel is somewhere in the middle.


SotU X-Plane 12 23_New 1.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_New 2.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_New 3.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_New 4.jpg


But X-Plane 12 is night and day better than X-Plane 11 in it's look and feel factor.


OpenXR support, this will translate into easier access to the X-Plane VR system for 3rd parties. This will increase the variety of VR headsets compatible with X-Plane over time.


The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford class in X-Plane now has a full complement of static aircraft, cranes, tugs and more, on deck and below in the huge deck hangar. These additions include also a fully animated SH-60 Seahawk, that is constantly patrolling the vicinity.


SotU X-Plane 12 23_1.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_2.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_3.jpgSotU X-Plane 12 23_4.jpg


Notable is that now the water is still not translucent below the surface, I loved looking at the hulls of ships, but honestly it is not at all realistic. In v12.06 and a year on, this aspect still has not been fixed.


ATC has had a lot of improvements in v12.06, including that the ATC is now aware of TCAS (but only the X-Plane A.I), and the controllers can now use multiple available channels, reducing radio contention in the cockpit. Generated flows now align to the longest runway instead of always cardinal directions, and generated calm flows now only use one runway. Wake separation is also now taken into account when issuing line-up or takeoff instructions. A big one for me is the option to allow editing of basic flight data if something required is missing, even if the flight is already under way, the fixed flight data is thankfully in the past, now you can change it on the line.


LOD (Level of Detail) has not been great either, you can see grass being added as you went down the runway, or the blank areas on the horizon, the poor horizon line didn't help either? Its noted (XPD-14364 – XPLMInstance LODs do not cull object at max LOD), also the Anti-Aliasing, is still tooth saw visible on the higher settings.


V12.06 is certainly the breakthrough version that the promise of X-Plane 12 is starting to shine though (no pun intended), it is more stable and even better refined, framerate is now also better. But this point is twelve months on, or a whole year of development, Laminar are still fixing things, not fine-tuning things?


More atmospheric scattering improvements, and exposure recalibration and even bloom Lighting Effects are coming later with X-Plane v12.07. In other words even more refining with the sky and lighting. Other notes for v12.07 include Turbine Engine improvements, avionics and OBJ restructuring, networking.


So this all adds up to a very bumpy first year for X-Plane 12, so are we through the worst? Personal experience says absolutely yes, but this has been one of the most unpredictable X-Plane Releases I can remember, I thought the beta was very good, then it went seriously wonky at the start of 2023, only now is X-Plane 12 getting back to somewhere reasonable. But eight months is a long time to repair the damage, less said is in that you still don't actually close X-Plane 12 after a session, but rather "Crash...  freeze" out of it?


But overall you have to look at the benefits of X-Plane 12. The photometric lighting engine is absolutely sensational (when it works) and so now are the cloud formations (I say better, not the best). Seasons are also sensational, but again you have to manually get the effects you want, not the real world current environmental situation. Aircraft are better at flying, one through the better dynamics, look far better in that 3d effect. Water is also sensational (probably the highlight), and lives up the hype. 3D forests and vegetation are also very good, but let down by the poor texture mesh, just a higher texture mesh resolution would help. Provided default aircraft are also excellent, as good as payware in many instances, even the Airbus A330 is now up to standard that would also pass as payware.


The problem facing X-Plane or any simulator. Is that the standards in this decade are now extremely high, gaming (not really related) but a significant parallel in what users expect from visual quality and framerate. Obviously MSFS raised the bar, but not totally, in many areas it is quite poor to X-Plane. Any updates to MSFS 2024, are more in the external (fun) features than to the basic core Simulator.


Overall we have to understand the full complexity of the X-Plane 12 release. This was not a simple version release. As noted the Simulator was already into a very deep internal engine change, but it was only halfway through the process. To a point Laminar are now at the end of that huge overhaul of the API, and X-Plane 12's release was also a big part of it, we are now on the other side.


So the next twelve months are interesting...  refinement will need to be the buzzword, but I also think that Laminar also need to pull something special out of the box, a sort of reward for all the pain we have gone through, attract the punters back, make X-Plane desirable, and not just to be an alternative Simulation option. 2024 needs to be a solid year, a positive year, not just in attitude, but in the Simulator actually been reliable in using the software, in other words quality software...  we will see the answer to that question at the State of the Union 2024.



Review System Specifications

Windows  - 12th Gen IS1700 Core i7 12700K 12 Core 3.60 GHz CPU - 64bit -32 Gb single 1067 Mhz DDR4 2133PNY GeForce RTX 3080 10GB XLR8 - Samsung 970 EVO+ 2TB SSD

Software:   - Windows 11 Pro - X-Plane 12.06r1 (This is a release candidate review).

Plugins: Traffic Global - JustFlight-Traffic (X-Plane.OrgStore) US$52.99 : Global SFD plugin US$30.00

Scenery or Aircraft

- Airbus A340-600 XP12 by ToLiSS (X-Plane.OrgStore) - US$89.99

- Airbus A319-100 XP12 by ToLiSS (X-Plane.OrgStore) - US$89.99


State of the Union by Stephen Dutton

6th September 2023

Copyright©2023: X-Plane Reviews


(Disclaimer. All images and text in this review are the work and property of X-PlaneReviews, no sharing or copy of the content is allowed without consent from the author as per copyright conditions)

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An excellent review of the first year of Xplane 12 Stephen.

Some great information too, as we punters never realise quite what's involved before we start whining.

I use XP12 / MSFS and DCS, and know the strengths and weaknesses of them all,

but I see in future Xplane and MSFS getting closer to each other in terms of what they offer, as MSFS works on improving the flight model,

while Xplane works on improving ground visuals more.

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This certainly helps explain the "payware lag" that developers have had to contend with to upgrade v11 acfs to the brave new world of v12. Imagine having someone work for months fixing lighting/flight model or whatever, only to find it changes again? 


*** Message to developers - I DON'T MIND PAYING FOR UPDATES - keep at it 🙂 ***

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Excellent recap. It's been my experience that the SOTU focuses a lot on aspirations. Sadly, I didn't see a lot there in this article. Nevertheless, I agree that XP12 needs that umph to re-attract the 'punters.' Even if the punters never return, a new generation of simaviators will discover X-Plane. Compared to its direct competitor, Laminar Research will not become a "Netscape browser" story.

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Thank you for the excellent post. As a developer myself, I must come to the defence of the small and dedicated x-plane team. I fully support their slow and careful release process. In stark contrast to what's going on in MSFS 2020, where instability is king and where bugs don't get fixed for years, new releases break addons constantly, and the game itself often even fails to start, let alone that they force the updates - with x-plane, the officil release is incredibly stable, I can open the simulator every time with confidence that it would work as expected. The company listens to its users and responds to their inputs. While they don't always agree with some of the community members - they explain exactly why, and you cannot satisfy everybody all the time. But there is transparency. There is a clear log (MSFS has no log)


I highly value the stability, clarity, and transparency provided by the team. I value their careful release process, however long it takes. I abandoned MSFS and moved to X-Plane 12 exactly because of the low quality and instability experienced there. It's been a huge positive experience for me. Sure, I have my wish list - everybody does. But I'm a happy camper.


As for paying for upgrades. This one I really don't understand. Flight simmers are happy to pay thousands of dollars for their hardware. So why when it comes to the core software that this hardware is for do they get cheap all of a sudden. $60 once every 5 years? No subscription BS? This is nothing? What's there to complain about? Do people expect developers to work for free? I think that what the X-Plane folks charge is more than fair. It's cheaper than the competition for a better product. It's cheaper than some of the most popular add-ons. Paid upgrades are huge steps forwards and they don't force you to upgrade. You don't what to - you permanently own the previous version, and no one stops you from using it forever. Best deal in the world in my book.

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  • 1 month later...

I'm now about a month or so into Xplane 12, and for the most part I'd say it works about as well as Xplane11 though the graphics are a step up - but the controller doesn't work as well as before, so that's an issue.  Fixable, no doubt just needs adjusting.  


But the one thing that sucks?  "Don't transmit while the channel's busy".  


You have GOT to remove this idiotic comment from ATC on the next upgrade.  For one thing, no real-life ATC would ever say that (NY pilots, we have one candidate but he retired recently).  For another, we don't hear anyone else; how would we know it's the channel is busy?  And three, this notice is given when repeating an instruction.  Without a doubt, this is the dumbest thing you have ever inserted into ATC on Xplane.  Remove it.  Now.

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