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Behind the Screen : June 2024

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Behind the Screen : June 2024


Can you believe it is already half way through another year? Yes the months do seem to be passing quicker, and the years too. It was only two years ago we were waiting for the X-Plane 12 (beta) release, TWO YEARS, man it's gone quickly, and here we are nearly half way through the XP12 run, yes halfway already to X-Plane 13, Laminar Research will be soon dragging out the white board again to list the next set of exciting features!


But that is for another day.


Those two years were also very disquieting in the process as well...  don't worry I'm not going down THAT road this month. So this created a bit of nervousness as the Fight Simulator Expo in Las Vegas approached this year. Laminar Research only sent two people last year to Texas, one the PR (Public Relations) guy and Phillipp Ringlar, so basically there was really no visibility from X-Plane, except for a stand and a few demonstrations...   were as Microsoft basically took over the Expo with the Flight Simulator 2024 announcement.


Your always looking for a base line, and the situation of knowing where you stand. To be honest that has been hard with X-Plane 12. It had all the excellent ingredients, and in the many times the power of X-Plane 12 sort of shone through, but somehow it didn't all come together for one reason or another. Last month in BtheS I noted the level of excellence now being shown via X-Plane 12 aircraft, most notably the X-Crafts E-Jet Series, X-Trident AW-109SP, and now we can add in the FlightFactor Boeing 777v2. Levels above in about what we expect with quality Simulation. But what of the X-Plane Simulator itself?


But the 2024 Expo sort of gave us a better understanding of the current Simulation situation. For one there is a lot of competition out there, but overall it still comes down to FlightSim and X-Plane. After last year and the announcement of FS 2024 (coming in Nov 2024), I was expecting this year's 24 Expo to be "nail in the coffin" sort of scenario coming from Seattle. Oddly it didn't happen, but it did sort of showed were and where the situation is going.


I will be honest, and I think I mentioned this at the time last year. I thought the new features for FS 2024 were quite disappointing, no seriously. Except for the continuing focus on the 3d landscaping, it didn't really deliver anything new except for presenting "Experiences", scoff you might...  but even this year's 24 Expo was really a rerun of the same as last year, adding in only the Boeing MAX as an aircraft release. The only highlights were the "Vertical Obstacles", in creating thousands of infrastructure in pylons, weather towers, power stations and the clever world shipping. I do admit that over the course of the FS 2020, Microsoft did a brilliant job in filling in the world with their consistent "World Updates", 16 in all and the last World Update XVI, focused on the Caribbean region.

The huge mass of 3rd party developers did the rest, releasing tons of aircraft, and far too many sceneries that were so nondescript, that I had google a lot to find out where they actually were. New developers were coming out of the woodwork by the hour, and if you could even think of buying even fraction of all these releases, then certainly my bank balance says absolutely not?


Which comes to my favorite word "Momentum", that word gets things done and builds huge audiences, 15 Million users in this case, but to be honest I don't totally subscribe to that number. X-Plane has just over a million, but the core number of users is probably only around 200,000...  So what is the true number for FlightSim, say 4, maybe 5 million, still a big, big number compared to X-Plane.


X-Plane 12 has a huge amount of new features, including; Photometric Rendering, Enhanced Weather System, Seasonal Effects, Dynamic Water, Improved Flight Models, ATC Improvements and a new User Interface. You could say that most are in relation to the release of FS 2020, there is some truth in that but not all of it. These features were groundbreaking, but issues in getting them refined took far too long, and some took development of nearly two years on from release, you could call it behind the "8 Ball". But the release of the Newly numbered version 12.1.0, you finally had all the components working together in harmony, and the results are really quite amazing. But in the same time as noted FS 2020 had gained a lot of users and a far bigger audience.


But putting them side by side as Simulators the differences are more even handed. Again you may scoff...  but I was very surprised that FlightSim, didn't even have a replay function? but are added it into 2024 via a 3rd party, and a cheap fix at that?


So two major things came out of Expo 2024. The first is the obvious neglect of the scenery. First I will note that scenery requires a huge amount of processing power, and something we didn't have a decade ago. Also Microsoft processes their scenery off your processor and delivers it to you in packages, a clever way of doing it, but that aspect also puts you at the mercy of your internet connection and speeds. And the hoards over there are always complaining of the problem.


For X-Plane and for processing the scenery on your own machine, means that the size or detail of the scenery is restricted to what you can personally process, that aspect also restricts on what Laminar Research can also deliver in detail. But to be honest, even with all the issues around the scenery, Laminar still missed the ball completely in leaving the changes for so long at over a decade. The release in November 2011 of X-Plane 10, is now nearly 13 years (12 years and 222 days), although great at the time, that length of time in lying dormant in a simulator is simply backward thinking. I know I go on about this aspect, year after year, but the fact remains it has caused the biggest divide between the FlightSim and X-Plane, and the way that the users have preferred one Simulator over the other, great aircraft withstanding.


Laminar in not being more vigilant on this aspect in every scenery area, has put the Simulator into a precarious position, that even lesser known, mostly battlefield Simulators, leave X-Plane and Laminar in the dust in quality background scenery. It is the "glaringly obvious" of the differences between the FS and X-Plane Simulators, and also why developers are trending and are attracted to the boards in FlightSim and not X-Plane. Give Microsoft their due, they looked at X-Plane's biggest weakness and totally exploited it. Then FS pushed the knives in deeper with their excellent World Updates, on how could you still keep on missing the vital messages coming at you, but Laminar did.


Somehow the mantra of, we only do aircraft, not a whole simulator was even obvious when the old school FlightSim was around, users were wanting to pay huge sums to collect scenery and city vistas, they were already world building, aircraft were diabolical and unrealistic to fly, but it still made FlightSim a huge money earner in add-ons, plus it added numbers back then that X-Plane could only dream of. 


The problem of processing these huge sceneries is still the biggest barrier to creating a real world X-Plane. Notably at the 2024 Expo, Laminar finally revealed that they were now looking at the scenery in question, they even said they would fix the green spaces around custom scenery...  But just thickening up some tiles with more density is not the option either. X-Plane needs to become a "World" Simulator in detail, it is obvious the 3rd parties are not going to come to the party unless you are going to give them something unique or clever to want to develop for X-Plane...  If you are of a certain age when X-Plane 9 rolled into X-Plane 10, you would remember the incredible transformation of the release, sadly Laminar didn't follow that aspect up.


The point here is that the visual and effects in X-Plane are very, very good, but the main character of the Simulator is critically missing. If Laminar Research can and do fix this scenery aspect, then X-Plane will have better or even chance of being a premier Simulator, even then also attract back developers and scenery creators to get some momentum back into the Simulator. Going for once where the user wants them to go, and throw away the clubby atmosphere that has restrained the Simulator, what was once X-Plane's biggest strength has become it's biggest liability, in wanting a cheap Simulator (meaning free) is disintegrating it from the inside out...  15 Million users if you believe that number or not is proof of what Simulation wants out of Simulators, game quality visuals are now required to create "Experiences", not just very, very complicated aircraft.


The second point that where X-Plane has also done badly is in selling itself. Again that small clubby little world didn't want anything to upset their view or take on Simulation. Microsoft sold Simulation big time, to anyone who wanted to try it...  X-Plane over the last decade did absolutely nothing, not even an advert in PC Pilot. I tell everyone within earshot how great it is, and have created fellow users in the process, many having seen my set up and wanted one for themselves, but I was a small voice in the wilderness...  If they don't know what you are using or selling, then how are you going to grow? X-Plane did have momentum, but at only a snails pace, Microsoft showed what Simulation was all about with the huge expansion of FlightSim 2020 and took the users with them...  the money as well.


Till next month, see you then


Stephen Dutton

1st July 2024

Copyright©2024 X-Plane Reviews


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Aged global scenery was a bottleneck for a years.


The complexity of the current DSF system was a real pain for many developers. I'm just a bit shame of how many empty effort of enthusiast developers was spent on attempts to create a solution to inserting local patches into an existing mesh. A lot cool stuff was done, nothing really solve the issue because DSF is just old.


I really enjoyed that we're finally expecting a new terrain system, Laminar doing a great job and I have no doubts it will be a huge step forward.

The sad thing that it's happening only now, they could have been focused on this much earlier. This bottleneck was obvious years ago. My 2 cents.

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