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X-Plane 12 : Las Vegas FlightSim Expo 2024


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X-Plane 12 : Las Vegas FlightSim Expo 2024


Every year the FlightSim Expo comes around, and it is a sort of Simulation's WWDC (Apple) in what is new and coming in Flight Simulation. This year it was a very good Expo, a solid one actually, even very interesting. Yes Microsoft and the Flight Simulator FS brigade dominated the Expo, that was to be expected, but 2024 was a more even event for X-Plane users as well.


For a start Laminar Research were there, all the major people in Austin and Ben (Supnic) were also in attendance this year, Ben as we shall see did the Announcement Seminar and spoke for 9 minutes or so, and that is always a good thing.


Of the 2024 Expo itself, there was a lot of interesting aspects...  A.I. is big, mostly in trying to bring a real life communications to the simulator cockpit, a lot was focused on that, but the cost (US$20 a month) and on how really good it is always debatable with hype, but that fact A.I. is coming is very exciting as well. Certainly with the profusion of highly VAT noted on-line attendees, of which they promoted a lot of their building of the popular expanding on-line networked communities.


Force feed joysticks, by flitesim was announced and created a lot of excitement, and these chunky rudder forces are coming soon as well in Q4.


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"Cyber Taurus" by WinWing was another Force Feed product, and a Haptic Feedback Joystick was another, both for X-Plane mid-July 2024. MCDU's both for Airbus and Boeing were great quality and value, as were the loads (and loads) of B737 Yokes.


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There was also loads of really great rigs, but a small star of the show was the excellent "Altimeter Motives" instrument panel set ups, they were amazing in detail, but look at those realistic prices.


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Flight Simulator and Asobo obviously dominated the Expo as noted, and their two hour Seminar was full of the details of the coming (November 2024) next edition in Flight Simulator 2024, FS 2020 will be supported until 2028. The announcement of which there are 15 Million subscribers to the platform was very overwhelming, but in this business, signing up and consistent use is another thing (core users). What it does speculate is the size of the Simulation market (if true), and again that the focus of the coming 2024 Simulator is more about "Experiences" than pure Simulation, the biggest call of the day was for the new default aircraft in the Boeing 737 MAX, I mean does it come with a faulty MCAS and door plugs that blow out... 


X-Plane was always a minnow compared to the FS Whale, that aspect has never, or will ever change. But it does bring up the question that in awareness, Laminar Research and even X-Plane in general could do far better in getting the message across, but overall they did very good at the 2024 Expo.


Laminar Research Seminar

The actual X-Plane Seminar was as noted only 14 min long, usually these things go for an hour, even longer in the past. And even then 5 min of the presentation was for the coming (controversial) Laminar X-Plane Store, of which nothing new was announced, not even a release date (noted as sometime in Q3 24). The rest of the development announcements was from Ben Supnic.


First comments were on the size and benefits of the latest X-Plane Release in 12.1.0, with the most changes and updates since the initial X-Plane 12 release in September 2022. With the solid advancements in the Weather, Particles (FX), Graphics, Professional Use, Systems and Avionics. Overall there was 2,858 commits (the size of both 12.0.6 and 12.08 releases combined) 480 bugs were resolved and 326 pull requests done.


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Sit back and think about the changes since the release of XP12, and you will realise on of how much X-Plane has actually changed lately, and on how much better the Simulator is today... "it's come a long way folks", so for that you have to give Laminar a big accolade. Yes I'm praising them, and not throwing brickbats at the team for a change.


X-Plane 12.1.0 really is very good, they even fixed the minecraft clouds (yes they did) and the lighting (almost, see below), but the important thing to remember is that this 9 min announcement is short, really short, and for once that is a good thing. As it means that Laminar have finally broken through the massive Vulkan and Metal wall, in totally rewriting from the ground up the X-Plane's Simulator's basic coding that has taken up so much of Laminar's time and resources for the last 4 years. This was noted by the current third party development.


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With all the focus on the big picture, the Avionics have quietly had quite a lot of attention on the X-Plane default avionics in X-Plane 12, most of that focus has been on the G1000 installation, as the G1000 is the most common instrument pack in the simulator.


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The announcement showed off the coming "Synthetic Vision" for the G1000, with features of Terrain/Water, Obstacles, Navigation Aids and better performance. It looks very comprehensive.


Second avionics announcement was for "Airliner Weather Radar", not just ahead, but the weather radar is fully functional with terrain and "targeting" or the ability to focus the radar at different directions or altitudes. Features include; Sweep, Ground Reflections, Stabilisation and it has High Performance (meaning not chunking down your frame rate). It will also be available to Third Party developers to include the system into their own aircraft's avionics.


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Dark Cockpits

One of biggest gripes in X-Plane 12 since it's release has been the "Dark Cockpit" controversy.


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Dark Cockpits are really an anomaly. The clash between the real world lighting and looking at the world in a Simulator. Yes the current X-Plane lighting model is actually correct to the real world, but it doesn't work very well on a monitor screen. So you get high exposure through the windows, and then the blackness internally in the cockpit. What you are getting here is extreme contrast and exposure.

Laminar has from the start created three objectives to overcome the problem. First was to fix the colour issues, oddly it is not the darkness that is the problem here. Then to measure the real world (lighting) to match it to the lighting model. The result of a fix is "Exposure Fusion", a tool that takes the areas of lighting and automatically adjusts them to be a better description that you see on a screen, it works like that on your phone camera, here it is doing the same thing on a monitor. Ben Supnic gave six examples of the bad and good (on or off).


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Images shown here (Innsbruck) show the different shades of a bad lighting scene with the sun behind the mountains. The aim (second right image) far right, is to blend or Fuse the lighting to give better external lighting, but in also highlighting the different internal shading aspects of the cockpit, a sort of compromise really. Laminar notes it is still working (hard) on the "Exposure Fusion" concept, so no time for release was announced.


Graphics Road Map

Ben Supnic also laid out the current "Graphic Road Map", and there are some interesting ideas in here.


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Performance is always the root core of any Simulator, happy frame rates means happy users. But there is more going on here. We already know that Laminar want more highly detail or higher density detail on the tiles. But by looking at these details, the Tiles will be doing far more than just delivering better ground detail. "Tile-Based Lighting" will keep the processing more local, meaning in higher density areas, you will get better performance by saving GPU power, same with Static Descriptor Sets, which bind into specific “slots” on a Vulkan pipeline. When creating a pipeline, you then have to specify the layouts for each of the descriptor sets that can be bound to the pipeline. This is commonly done automatically, generated from reflection on the shader, and doing this will save you CPU power, again great for high density areas.


Finally we are getting "Multi-Cores" or using multiple cores for doing the main frame rendering, look at your processor numbers, and one is in overload while running X-Plane, the rest are usually doing nothing...   time to share the workload.


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Better ground textures means new "Terrain Rendering". It is fine to cram in more and more stuff on a tile, but the current system is a decade old, not very efficient either...  so it looks like what Laminar are working on is a completely new and different approach in creating better Ground detail, so they will be soon "Streaming Friendly". The interesting aspect of this "Tile Streaming", is the "streaming" is a reference in how the data gets into the sim engine. This could come from any number of sources including also the data installed on the hard drive.


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But it does show that finally Laminar are going into a direction of creating better Ground and Landscape detail, and the biggest drawback currently between X-Plane and FlightSim.


X-Plane will obviously never, ever be the same scale of FlightSim, but X-Plane has a talent for fighting below it's weight and succeeding. One feature that did impress me with the FS 2024 announcement was the "Vertical Obstacles", in creating thousands of infrastructure in pylons, weather towers, power stations and god knows what else. You can have the most sparse ground textures (tile) in the world, but if you fill them in with great clutter, then you can cover over the crap.

Which brings us the the biggest annoyance I get when reviewing scenery. Those plain green empty bands of nothing around custom airports or scenery (cities). Yes this big X-Plane anomaly is finally being fixed! in that soon going forward developers can or will be able to "Allow overlays and custom scenery to "Correct" the mesh locally"... hallelujah!


All these Graphic Updates are targeted to be released in Q3, or at the very least Q4.


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Austin Meyer, Ben Supnic, Thomson Meeks and Philipp Ringler, all gave a five minute Q&A at the Expo. They covered a few items, but noted that efficiency and getting more stuff out to (us the) users quicker, and being more precise was the currently top priority, obviously as a response to Microsoft's FlightSim.


Notices were made for more in-house beta testers, very good beta testers are very hard to find, as it can be a frustrating repetitive job... but the problem is X-Plane is complex, and also has a very wide demographic, certainly far more than FlightSim, which is really only a single platform in being Windows based, plus the fact that users use a huge variety of setups and computer specifications. Programs running perfectly in-house, then becomes a convoluted situation when put out to community testing. It is in focusing the details down, in that you can solve the problems and issues quicker.


Next noted was coming features, as we have already covered above, it is now official that Ben Supnic is working on that "NextGen" scenery, and that has huge if massive implications for the X-Plane 12 Simulator, but it will be a big project (nothing like the Vulkan/Metal project), this aspect can change the X-Plane concept into the current required (even gaming) standards. Meyers is working on Flight Modeling (his speciality) for rotorcraft in lift and vibrations, including for newer VTOL electric aircraft.


There was a lot of discussion with the introductions of a API (Application Programming Interface) called "Websockets". X-Plane was created and based on user/developer interaction, or "Tinkerers" that allows you to interact with the Simulator. It works very similar to #Datarefs, but it will write the code for you, making access to the Simulator more accessible. It is a real-time, event-driven communication tool between clients and servers. Websockets are particularly useful for building software applications requiring instant updates, such as real-time chat, messaging, and multiplayer games, in X-Plane's case, interaction from a web-browser, or an external application for instructor stations or to do missions. The documentation for WebSockets is coming soon...


Nimbus Studios

There wasn't a lot of X-Plane developers at the show doing seminars, but there was one that did a great presentation, and that was Nimbus Studio's Santiago Butnaru. They went though their current products, both aircraft and scenery. Then Nimbus announced the next aircraft release for X-Plane 12 would be a "Classic" airliner in the Boeing 707... 


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Boeing 707? from Nimbus Studio's, you certainly didn't see that one coming? But the quality is overwhelming, this is an X-Plane 12 aircraft, and that will be a far cry from the old XP9 Planemaker 707 versions. There was no release date as the Boeing 707 from Nimbus is still a WIP.


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Another announcement was for a new scenery release in KCLT- Charlotte Douglas International Airport UHD for X-Plane 12, details here


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Nimbus seems to be also doing other ideas, besides aircraft and sceneries. They presented two situation based products. The first was in collaboration with Bridger Aerospace, a company which provides aerial firefighting and wildfire management services in the USA.


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You can set up fire fighting missions from huge forest fires to small burning tree areas, and then create drop zones with both a Bombardier CL-415 and L-1011 shown, these mission scenario's were set up for Bridger in a real world simulation, but will be available for X-Plane. The quality of the trees and fire smoke is excellent.


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The second situation shown was the "Nimbus Pilot Challenge", again a more MSFS based "Mission" style product. Here you can create a mission or have them created for you....


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You can create a new missions or jobs in nine different categories; SAR (Search & Rescue), Rescue, Search, Medical, Transport, Cargo, Tours - Jobs include Log Transport and Construction, with more coming...  then you can create your own specific scenario.


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If on duty, the system chooses your task, when completed, you maybe then called to do another mission...  It's early days here, but it is an interesting idea than in say doing just pure aircraft flying simulations.



But the overall feeling after the Expo 2024, and for all the load of announcements coming out of Microsoft. Is the differences between the Simulators is not as ocean wide as you think they are, some like intergrating a third party add-on replay mode for FS 2024 was a surprise considering the resources of Microsoft, so was the simBrief imposter feature. so you do still get the odd add-on Microsoft/Android vs Apple intergration feeling between the Simulators.


One thing the Expo did express that Laminar Research can not do, is not sitting on it's laurels anymore, go at it's own pace and just expect everything to perfectly fine. That aspect in commentary from Laminar Research was very strong, in wanting the X-Plane Simulator to be lean and mean, but very efficient in performance, but also delivering a quality experience.


Quality add-ons for X-Plane 12 this year are already showing the high merits of the Simulator, and in the X-Plane 12.1.0 release it has already shown that the Simulator is now also progressing far better and further.


But with all the aspects of the announcements at the 2024 Expo, it shows that we should see a lot more updates and more quickly as the year goes on, that Ben Subnic is working on the ground textures, gives the future another big step towards X-Plane becoming back into the Simulation arena as a solid alternative to just Microsoft's vision of what Simulation should be. 



Analysis by Stephen Dutton

26th June 2024

Copyright©2024: 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) All Rights Reserved


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