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Behind the Screen : November 2019

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Behind the Screen : November 2019

 

It is great and even a relief to be back behind the computer after a very demanding house move, actually we moved just 150 meters, but it was a difficult transition. So thanks for all your patience. And then we hit the keys hard in trying to catch up the lost ground, and covering the new releases, and boy what a big month it was in November, and so much going on and even a few mis-steps as well. In another note is that we will again be missing again a few weeks in December also as with the move holding everything up a family situation was put on hold, now we have to travel to sort that out as well, so the dates 3rd Dec to 14th Dec will again mean the site will be quiet, but we will try to fill in everything happening before and after those dates.

 

And a big end of 2019 it is. Obviously the release of X-Plane 11.50 is the BIG one and ditto the Q&A session from Laminar Research on Tues 19th Nov (or 20th Nov here in Australia). A trainwreck dosen't even come close to the session... I watched it live (the broadcast timezone actually for once worked for me) and it wasn't pretty. It was nothing that really Laminar have not done in the past, but this one was more of a group get together at the bar after work sort of affair, a lot of fun for them and not for anyone else...  the video was pulled for the obvious reasons.

 

The problem is Laminar are still actually just a very small group of developers, highly talented mind you, but still an extremely small team. So any development and certainly a very extensive change like with the API (Vulkan/Metal) can mean very few resources are available for anything else. Vulkan/Metal has been a total complete year worklog, everything in resources at Laminar has gone into translating these API's, and the benefits are huge like with the 64bit changeover...  but the overriding situation now is of course Microsoft's new 2020 version of "Flight Simulator".

 

In most cases Laminar could have just gone on in their own merry way, but the explosion of MS2020 has totally changed all of that, and that is why the Q&A session was such a debacle and why it didn't look good on Laminar Research. Overall they are trapped, as noted everything is focused on those API's but the discussion is showing all the other fatalistic areas of X-Plane that have not been covered, or have been simply left to long on the "Too Hard" development hell list for too long, devotees wanted answers and what they got was hi-jinks and waffle, but overall it just looked like Laminar are simply not prepared for the coming onslaught.

 

Personally I will disagree with that aspect to a point. First no simulator developers have been as forward looking than Laminar, in fact most of the main features being promoted by MS2020 are the very things that X-Plane users have used happily for years, and even years, including flight modeling and dynamic PBR/HDR, but in areas like the ATC and weather Microsoft has had it far better than X-Plane. That is why over the last few years X-Plane has soared with crossover MS devotees in suddenly finding a far better simulator, now most will go back to their favorite home and X-Plane will again feel and look like the hobby outfit they all labelled us all in the first place, there is simply no loyalty in today's market.

 

Most X-Plane leaders including Laminar are noting that "This is really good for X-Plane" but in the way of attracting more gamers or users to simulation, and yes they have a major point there as Microsoft will spend a fortune promoting their new simulator to the world, so yes X-Plane will also get a nice slice of the new action.

 

MS users are of course all wide-eyed and fist pumping the ceiling as all their desperate prayers and that their frantic rose bead rubbing has actually paid off. But their confrontation with the new MS2020 simulator will actually be more confronting than their begrudgingly move was to X-Plane, and probably even more expensive. For one in that only a small part of their huge legacy systems will actually work in MS2020, certainly all the aircraft will not work until they are updated to MS2020 standards, and no doubt the money desperate MS developers want serious payback in delivering the new (if same) products to the users... in time yes a lot of the 3rd party MS machine will move to MS2020, but a lot if not mostly will also be totally discarded if MS want to keep to a more gamer style environment, so if you want that total experimentation and huge add-on experience then actually X-Plane would actually still be for the hard-core users the better versatile option... 

 

Hype is also everything. I will note that yes the MS2020 promo's of MS2020 are simply outstanding and yes I am seriously impressed. Calls of "hundreds" of developers are working on MS2020 and millions and millions of dollars are being spent to create it, so you can stop there in believing the truth... the team is realistically about 100 (110 was mentioned) but I would even say it is far less than that (still a huge number against three or four developers at Laminar) and not halve of the Vancouver population as recorded, but the team has had the huge advantage of creating the simulator from scratch (and stealing all the best ideas at the same time). But if you understand simulation that in reality it is one of the most complex multilayered coding than most computer programs, even if the code only runs on one type of operating system. What MS2020 will be out of the box is still covered in hype, yes the few that have access are claiming it is outstanding, but the only test is the one were we make the ultimate choice of use and not the view of a corralled few. I still think it will be subscription based, and again that will still keep many of the one payment and fly for years in X-Plane devotees stay the course, a big percentage of simulation users are also the meanest with their cash.

 

Which brings us back to X-Plane and realistically X-Plane12, due this time next year. Ben Supnic noted that the beta 11.50 will be a long and never ending rollout, well Ben I don't think that can really happen now, in reality Laminar need to have the API beta wrapped up and done by even March, all hands on deck, move the API off the table as it has already has spent out too much time and held the focus at Laminar.

 

I have noted over the last few BtheS about X-Plane's shortcomings, but now the points are now more obvious. Weather, that damn ATC, traffic, water and terrain are all very tired or simply out date by two versions of the simulator.... actually all can be easily fixed. Chris Serio and Tyler Young have been banging away on the ATC for years now, so there has to light at the end of this painful tunnel. Weather needs actually xEnviro? The actual X-Plane cloud formations are not too bad, but need more types of formations... xEnviro's trick is to create the highly realistic weather feel and environments, the conditions created are exceptional, but their heavy 3d cloud system is simply a mess... you can see the idea here, both systems need each other to fix both their weaknesses and to take on the MS2020 system. Realistic water has also been on the cards for years, and shown in demos. Another area to be finally fixed and released and that leaves the outdated terrain textures, certainly the orbital textures need to be seriously updated...  and with the loss of alpilotx and no updated mesh for a few years now, and so that is another critical area with a need to be filled. Can all that be done in a year...  personally yes I think so, certainly if Laminar bring on board a dedicated person for the terrain and mesh revamp, do that and the the differences between MS2020 and X-Plane12 will actually be quite small with X-plane actually having the advantage of the current large range of current aircraft, plugins and scenery.

 

A lot of the forward movement currently is from Laminar's point of view restricted by the API itself, all or any new features require a lot more better and efficient processing power and the now completed API X-Plane will be finally be able to breath again and run these very heavy processor intensive features, perhaps that was the overall feel at the end of the year Q&A party, but it again came across the wrong way, either way...  2020 is shaking up already to be a huge and very interesting year for simulation, exciting as well.

 

The release of SSG's v2 Boeing 747-8 Inter was one of the most perplexing of the year. I am always totally in full support of any developer, and certainly developers that wear their hearts on their sleeves and are simply trying their very best. But their B748 release in version 2 was simply an odd one all round.

 

Over the years I have had my run ins with a few very inflexible developers, they have a single vision of the way things should be and will give not one knot of space to changing anything, ego is a very big part of this stonewalling inflexibility.. they are always absolutely correct and that is simply the last word on the matter....  the problem with this attitude is that some say 80,000 users see it another way, and a lot if not most of them are quite vocal with that. My job is to warn the victims in the case of the developer before they do a lot of damage to their brand and reputation, most obviously they ignore the comments and usually end up in going to into oblivion anyway, but the greatest developers are the ones that listen, tune in and fix the issues, they go on to usually being the greats and survivors in simulation and SSG have always done this.

 

The original release of the Boeing 747-8 was a very ambitious project from the start and maybe it was a bit too ambitious for a new and fledging developer crew, but they did sort the aircraft out through the numerous updates through the years, the last (legacy) version is not actually that bad overall. But a clean page and a completely new design from the ground up was promised to be all round the things the older version wasn't. 

 

The oddness of SSG is that they have been around X-Plane for years now, so they are not an inexperienced crew, and they have been there before. The aircraft however didn't feel like a completely new design from the ground up. It was heavy frameweight wise (I found it to be 4K heavy), visually externally it didn't have the dynamic impact of more current X-Plane large aircraft releases and the most bewildering factor of all was the 3d (virtual) cockpit.

All through the original versions of the B748 the virtual cockpit was the most biggest issue. It is an odd place in there, dark, no light dynamics and very dull textures. You got used to it, but it wasn't one of the most nicest of places to do 10 or 12 hours of flying. So everyone wanted a better 3d cockpit...   SSG did redevelop that cockpit, but it came out exactly like the old version...  you looked around you and it didn't feel or actually look any different in there... very odd. The truly sad thing thing is this factor hides all the really great work done on the systems and features, but again a 3d upper deck and no lower deck was another odd matter as well, and then considering that the doors opened out onto a missing deck? but my thoughts were that with another full 3d deck that would have put the frameweight over 6K, so it was actually a good job it was missing...  final note was that all the manipulators touch zones were totally out by miles, so you were operating buttons in areas that didn't have the actual switches or buttons and the new tablet menu wasn't finished or again actually touch zone usable... no doubt SSG will fix up this Boeing 747-8 and they already have released the first v2.1 (or service pack 1) that covers a lot of the issues including the touch zones, but after years of users noting the issues, then why ignore them? And yes it maybe all new, but the aircraft didn't actually feel new, or the more forward modern design we have probably been overindulged with (or expect), and certainly not in it's complex design and weight. Like Apple with their iPhones, every year we just expect more and more from developers, but there has to be a ceiling (no pun intended).

 

But that has also been a constant issue all year really, developers releasing aircraft as a sort of (Early Access) or beta version, in reality it is money grab and selling you an unfinished project disguised as a "enjoy the ride of development" or to beta test the hell out of it, and Colimata's lovely Concorde is a case in point, it has now finally gone to the full release version v1.10. Personally the aircraft was unfinished to fly in it's "early access" incarnation, and problems are getting worse with more and more aircraft now being released unfinished in this fashion, and if I can't fly it, then how are the new users going to be expected to sort it all out. But this sort of business deal can also seriously ruin your brand.

 

If you read BtheS often you will know I have my beefs, mostly I repeat them often and again here I go again...  the one overriding annoyance this year and was particularly bad in November is in scenery or there is actually two of them, or first in particular the "Ground Routes" or those ATC route thingys that most scenery developers have absolutely still no idea on how to do them correctly?  I have had countless new sceneries this year and last year, and with most they were delivered with very poorly inserted ATC routes in WED. Yes the developers insert the ATC routes, but don't actually a) connect them up to the gates (or even b) label the gates most times) and certainly never ever complete the route flows and AirportOperation files. Yes I know they can be a) hard, b) extremely laborious to do all of these ATC points, but the scenery is crap without these items sorted correctly.

 

A few developers have done a brilliant job with the ATC routes and their work comes alive directly out of the box, but most are downright feeble in traffic action (meaning WT3 and now Global Traffic), and of all the features this one is THE most IMPORTANT.... I hope 2020 is far better in this department, and don't get me even started on poor mismatched brightly coloured photo mesh textures...  aggggh!

 

As usual there will be no Behind the Screen December 2019, but the usual 2019 total round up of the year including our best picks of 2019 in the week before Christmas, so look out for the years grand finale post then

 

Bye for now Stephen

 

Stephen Dutton

1st December 2019

Copyright©2019: X-Plane Reviews

 

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