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Behind the Screen : November 2023


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Behind the Screen : November 2023


Looking back through the "Behind the Screen" edition of 2023. One repeatable thing came up, I was always rallying against Laminar Research. Angry is not the right word, neither is enraged...   frustrated maybe, but you can't really get antagonistic to a body of people that just has it's own course to run. I suppose that if Laminar Research did react to all the naysayers moaning including mine, that nothing would actually get done.


But a frustrating year it has been (and it's not over yet). Looking back I will agree that Laminar got through a load of major issues, the timetable when followed, does actually cover most of the biggest issues at hand. There was also a few major turning points of the year, 12.04b1, late in February and certainly the 12.06 release in August. But in my over the decade with X-Plane, it was one of the hardest years I could remember, yes generally life has been hard in 2023, but along the way X-Plane 12 became a grind.


Don't get me wrong here. X-Plane 12 is levels above X-Plane 11, going back there it feels flat and boring. So no doubt the sheer vibrancy of the upgraded Simulator is a something of a marvel. But why is it so hard to use?


Having progressed in a timeline from X-Plane 9 to X-Plane 11, it was a nice progression of new features and overall a better simulator. Yes there was those bumps in the road, but it is nothing at all like X-Plane 12.


The new version numbering system will probably bring in a reset of X-Plane 12, in v12.1.0, due on the anniversary of the release of the X-Plane 12 Simulator 17th December 2022. This version release should be the final roundup of the outstanding issues, those Minecraft square clouds, real weather improvements, bloom effects, cloud shadows, Contrast Adaptive Sharpening (CAS), Anti-Aliasing improvements, but looking at that list a full year on, it is actually quite long?


After that going into 2024, certainly the Simulator will be finally in a stable form, with further actions in more of new (if small features) and upgraded avionics. So are we there finally, a stable and mature platform to do our flying on. Maybe, or I hope so. But for me in many ways it has been a wasted year has 2023, a long waiting period for things to get better, and more waiting until it did, but even at this late December date, X-Plane 12 is not quite, even a itsy bitsy still not quite there is it. Yes again we are again waiting for v12.1.0 to get the Simulator into a proper form and shape, a year on from it's release.


We are always aware the X-Plane is always a work in progress, I accept that as part of the journey of being in Simulation or on any computer based game, but there is a difference between progress, and the basics not actually not working, and at the core of my rants, this has been the problem or my quandary with a certain Laminar Research.


For years I couldn't land an aircraft, yes I am a Simulation content reviewer and I can't land aircraft? I practised, and I got very close, but over the years it all just felt just wrong? In X-Plane 12 I found the landings had just got even worse, in fact it was like landing on ice (it felt like taking off on ice as well). The complex conclusion was that maybe, just maybe I was "Shit" at it...  honestly I have never flown a real aircraft in my life, but then again, that is why I jumped at this Simulation lark, to have a go, and hopefully to get good at it.


After a decade or more of practising I though I was actually good at it, but too many of my landings were still laughable, with screaming tyres and weaving all over the runway...  the real pilots don't do that (a few in training do), but overall they usually make a really good fist of the landing. Yes I blamed myself, thought that my skills were actually not good enough.


Then something happened. Messers Austin Meyer, grand poobah of X-Plane was having a conversation with Jan, an airline pilot, who flies for Lufthansa, and noted that in X-Plane the aircraft when landing would slam the nose down...  now anyone that has flown X-Plane as long as yours truly, I have witnessed what I call the "Extreme Gravity Yank", when at a certain height (no matter how light you are on the approach and in the flare), the "Hand of X-Plane God" would grab your aircraft and drag it quickly down and bang it into the runway, crashing it down, leaving you to control a wayward aircraft. It's not realistic, and have rallied against it for years and years, also it is "Bl**dy Obvious, to every one except Austin Meyer's and anyone at Laminar that it did this abnormal behaviour. Anyways he has fixed it, fixed the inertia of the landings.


I put myself in a very nice little GA, did a clean takeoff, and went into a landing pattern, then came around to do a perfect landing, PERFECT, a totally sweet landing, on the centreline with clean braking...  and have done so in flights ever since v12.08 was released.


The point is, this is a basic action in aviation, in fact the most important action at the point of a landing, and Laminar has "only" just fixed it, JUST FIXED IT. You get my point, for years and years I have been thinking my landings (and takeoffs) were "totally Shit", and it wasn't me. And this comes back to the point of the X-Plane 12 release. The basics should have been resolved first, the focus should have been on the minute, not the big ticket items, and the shit weather and lighting should have been top of the list in being fixed.


It has been a total roller-coaster year, admittedly the second half was far better than the first, but it has cost X-Plane a lot of momentum, mostly in delaying developer projects and transitions to the new X-Plane 12 platform. Am I happy with X-Plane 12?


In some parts it is absolutely brilliant, but in others I'm not. The aircraft feel is not the same, but fine line jiggly in areas, and I am consistently messing around with my settings in trying to get a decent baseline. Go back to X-Plane 11 and that baseline is easily there, so it is not me, it is X-Plane 12.

Lighting has been my major bugbear all year, with extremely dark cockpit screenshots, even external images sometimes need a very healthy 20% to 30% brightness. My job is to show you how things have changed or the details of the systems and instrumentation. But in many cases this year, the images coming out of X-Plane 12 are just not at all workable. And Laminar have taken away all our earlier lighting sliders that could make a difference, in fact you basically have no control of your graphics at all in X-Plane today, it's a sort of Supnic (slap) to keep your hands off. Yes there are 3rd party tools that you can use to change X-Plane, but the premise is that it should be in there anyway. Please don't tell me to change the Nvida settings, because it doesn't work, makes your monitor brighter or more colourful, but not the screenshots coming out of the simulator. Playing with X-Plane's lighting is a load of tricks to get the required images, and I'm very good at it, but I can only twist the lighting so far. Hopefully that the v12.1.0 release will finally give us more options with the lighting. Don't mention the rain, and I loved the mention of not making it look like a Star Wars "Hyperspace Jump"...  that one had me rolling on the floor.


Annoyingly looking at the images coming out of X-Plane 12 as they are all quite sensational, so real world realistic, they in many cases have taken my breath away... the flipside of X-Plane 12's brilliance.


Laminar has also finally admitted that the DSF scenery is now almost 20 years old? twenty years, that is 2003, two years after the Twin Towers fell, and they have replaced them with another one since then. First they are going to fix the bugs in DSF and what can we do but put then put more stuff into DSF? but those DSFs are still decades old, its like piling shit on top of shit to make it look better.

But Laminar have finally admitted that also looking at what comes after DSF, and finally reckoned they have reached a point where they have ideas of stuff we'd like to do that goes beyond the current scenery system, well "yay Bl**dy hey".


Like the transition from OpenGL to Vulkan/Metal, changing the DSF's it's a(nother) big core change to the Simulator, so it is not going to happen soon, but at least it is finally up there on the "to-do" list, but is it high enough on the list that says "priority", again this is Laminar Research and they have a tendency to not focus on the fundamentals, they also admitted to spending more time in chasing the Professional Training Market, getting rid of stutters and giving you the required smooth Simulation. So will that mean that again the more important issues will go on the backburner while trying to satisfy a very minority market. Yes the Pro market does have great accolades in selling a Flight Simulator, a sort of "Stamp of Approval" on the certification of the software, but it's also a bit of a double-standard when the weather is not at all realistic and when you couldn't land a plane realistically, you see the point, without the basics right (which to be honest was always Laminar's forte), you are never going to catch the attention of the big boys.


The problem is with Laminar Research is they mean well, they really do, and have always punched well above their weight. But sometimes a bit more focus on the basics would help not only themselves, but for us the users as well. I never wanted to berate them, not every month on month, certainly when like most they are "really trying their level best" to deliver a sensational Simulator, one that everyone can afford and use.

But their priorities need to be more focused, not so widely scatterbrained, I mean am I really interested in Austin's N844X, or a replacement propeller for his Lancair Evolution. Someone noted I should lighten up on this, go with the flow more, but after this 2023 and all the painful struggles throughout the year, I'm not laughing at all. Sadly it comes out here in my thoughts on each month and that became the tone of the year.


So could 2024 become a reset for X-Plane 12. If the v12.1.0 does deliver it does have the potential to create a new starting point, and that totally depends on Laminar getting the weather elements finally right, not just the clouds. It's certainly come a long way in six months, but the wind elements are still there, snow with the Northern Winter is now important as well.


For me I am going to take this attitude over the (short) break. I usually service the computers, and do my annual year file and backup...  but more so this year, as I'm going to totally clean out X-Plane, throw away the current version, and reload in a totally fresh copy, even dumping my years old keyboard and joystick prefs, a hard one as they are time-consuming to reset. But I want a totally vanilla clean setup to start 2024, totally fresh, get rid of all the junk and hubris that build up in the files, you would be surprised on how much waste you accumulate over a year, then sing at the top of my voice "Auld Lang Syne" and let 2023 be long forgotten.


As usual there will be no December "Behind the Screen" 2023 issue, but our full yearly round up of the year 2023 review is to be published on 22nd December 2023, so watch out for that.


Stephen Dutton

5th December 2023

Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews


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Given Laminar’s size wasn’t it always obvious that getting XP12 sorted out was going to a journey? A lost year? Personally I cannot think of a single area where XP12 is not better than XP11. I will admit to upgrading my hardware as I could see that the coming winter weather would eat into my FPS reserve. Not cheap, but then flight simulation rarely is if you take it seriously.

Then there is the alternative. All of us will admit to having had a peek online at MSFS. After all those lengthy Youtube ‘review’ videos must have some purpose in the Universe. In a couple of minutes you will be wondering how MS hide the rails the aircraft seem to be flying on. You can see your house but as a Flight Simulator but is MSFS more immersive?
Now, for developers this year must have been a nightmare as Laminar tweaked (sometimes one suspects with a digital chainsaw) the flight model. But several of them have ended up with some quite impressive add ons. Compare X-Crafts E-Jets in XP11 and now in XP12 as just one example.

Presumably the worst of the changes are behind us and upcoming releases will eliminate issues like the Minecraft clouds. Or as a MSFS user I could be anticipating the release of landmarks of Antartica or preparing the digital rescue of the digital crew of a digital oil rig.

The development of XP12 has been very Laminar. Austin is the Elon Musk of the Flight Simulation world - without the questionable tweets and the large numbers of children. Sometimes the rockets blow up and the gaps between the panels look suspiciously wide.

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That is why I protested getting in more coders, X-Plane has grown beyond itself and a small intimate group, like bringing in Jim Keir on the ATC, it made a huge difference because it brought new resources and fresh thinking to the Simulator, the transition problems of Vulkan/Metal were huge, and it cost Laminar a lot of time in fixing it, then everything else got shifted along and X-Plane 12 suffered, so we suffered, a year okay, but an important year in maintaining users to the Simulator.

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Not many expected MS to reenter the Flight Simulator market. When they did, that changed the whole Flight Simulator landscape and for me Laminar have been playing catch up ever since. Imagine a world where MS had not gone down that route and where that would have put X-Plane now. In reality Laminar’s biggest problem is trying to figure out what the MS plan is in the longer term. Will they lose interest again? Is the MSFS community large enough that the product can live without MS?
Laminar in supporting multiple platforms and operating systems made their lives difficult, and its a model that hardly points to fast development. Almost the kind of strategy that leads to failure. But what happens now if Apple does become a more viable gaming platform, perhaps even the platform of choice? In that case the questionable strategy might look like genius. 

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Well, that was depressing - I didn’t realize I was enjoying such a flawed simulator this year.  Is XP12 perfect? No.  Has it continually improved since release? Yes.  Does Laminar have a plan to keep improving it and address the areas that many users are still unhappy with?  Yes.

This is an extremely complex piece of software that simulates one of the most complex human activities.  We use it for entertainment and training.  It costs us what?  Well under $100 with free updates between major versions.   Yet we’re supposed to be despondent due to an imperfect but wholly functional, and improving, product?


I love your reviews Stephen, but it may be time for a break from reviews for a while. 

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I always read your reviews before buying a new plane. You've been with X-Plane for a long time and I thought I would write to give you another perspective as a new user and former commercial pilot. I finally thought about getting MSFS at the end of the summer after being out of general flight simming for a long time (been into DCS the last few years), but I read many posts from users who are switching to X-Plane from MSFS because of the better physics, etc. So, I downloaded the free trial at the end of Sept. and was completely blown away. DCS has great maps and blowing stuff up is a lot of fun, but it's really just a small sandbox. X-Plane gives you the whole world with both VFR and IFR.


It took weeks to understand scenery, plugins, the directory structure for airplanes and fms files, LittleNavMap, Simbrief, etc. But I have to tell you, it's been an extremely rewarding experience. AutoOrtho is a game changer and will only get better. It's hard to put into words how impressed I am with it combined with Simheaven. For example, I flew low over my old university, UBC in Vancouver, in the C172 and there's a cairn on a small grass area between buildings that has a red engineering E on it. Simheaven knew there should be a small structure there, and while it didn't have the engineering cairn in its object database, it put a small monument instead. That's still incredible being computer generated from satellite pictures. I'm sure that level of detail can be found for most of the world - can't get that in DCS. 


The next day I took off to Alaska in the Toliss A340 and with the save situation feature I first practiced the approach in good weather then repeated it many times with worsening weather and at night. Tons of fun. There's something for everyone.


X-Plane 12 isn't perfect, but to somebody new who is willing to put in the time with scenery and addons, you can't get a better experience flying VFR and IFR in study-level airplanes. Yes, everything should be fixed quickly by Laminar and we shouldn't need plugins to fix things like dark cockpits, but if you can download and install a fix in minutes then I'm not going to complain. Luckily, I didn't have to go through the initial teething process the first half of the year, but now it's ready for mainstream and I'm sure more and more users will be making the switch.  


Keep up the good work and hopefully you'll be refreshed in the New Year.

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Thanks for the comment CJC We need users perspectives on how they absorb Simulation. What is they like and don't...  battles thoughout the year can wear you down, and I admit that, and it came though in this BtheS edition, but I'm only relaying the journey, overall I am far more confident in the New Year 24 for X-Plane. My feelings are that if you do have a rugged year, then that should be communicated as much as a positive year, honesty is important to get things fixed and shine a light on issues, overall Laminar did a magficent job, but they can get sidetracked sometimes. This is a very critical time for X-Plane...

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