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Behind the Screen : January 2012


Happy New Decade and here we all go again. I have already noted several times the significance of this first year of the 20 twenties of simulation. MS2020 will arrive soon and X-Plane will be back in it's usual place as the clever underdog rather than the front-runner of simulation of which we have had a taste of these last few years, and were we will be at the end of the year will be the story of the year. The rule is just don't get too overconfident.


Over the Christmas/New Year period though I have sat back and thought of why X-Plane is suddenly in this place. It must be said first though that the progress and changes over the last few v10/11 versions of X-Plane have been astounding, and you can't take that aspect away from what X-Plane has delivered as simulator and in the sheer mass it has grown, but suddenly it finds itself in crisis.


Add to the fact that someone else (plus the huge financial investment) can start with a clean sheet and design a simulator from scratch instead of building upon building the last version to keep the punters happy, the first aspect that MS2020 users will face is that not how much of their olde world will actually be in the new simulator, so it won't be FSX+, and it will also even kill off Lockheed Martin's Prepar3D® which will have a harder battle to survive than X-Plane will and probably won't. A new modern simulator will be different, because it has to be, so the big decades of old titans of the original Flight Simulator and X-Plane platforms will now look at just in being old fashioned.... but back to the point.


Currently X-Plane has three major areas of issues that have to be addressed to compete with the clean sheet design.


The First is simply cash. X-Plane struggles to a point because the platform users will simply not invest into their own simulator, the dismal numbers put out by Laminar Research support this accusation, and so yes it is actually your own fault for the situation X-Plane is in.

The numbers don't lie, X-Plane users are a mean scrooge lot with their cash, but they want the absolute best as well and you can't have it both ways, worse is that without that investment it is no wonder the developers are packing up and heading back to FS2020 La La Land because that is where the cash or survival money will be... X-Plane's major current failure is to generate a profit for the investment in the time and effort required and put in to the simulator, if free was a profit maker, then X-Plane would be the richest simulator by miles, I have said it before and will say it again, you are killing slowly your own golden egg.


In reality the product range currently being created for the simulator professionally is dismal (what, what, what... you say) but the truth is that we have too few professional developers trying to survive, as the SSG B748i review noted it is that currently X-Plane has in reality no decent long haul aircraft at all (the new SSG B748i is now an exception) and Aerosoft won't touch our aircraft market with a barge pole, but the rest of our heavy long haul aircraft is of course dismal in their current offerings, in short and meduim range of aircraft is quite good, but not comprehensive. In GA the choice is actually very good, with Carenado, Just Flight and vFlyteAir all at the top of their game, but two of those are FSX developers are converting to X-Plane. Helicopters are nothing zero except for a few light heli's from vSkyLabs and a single Huey UH-1 in over three years, is an appalling situation for a so called high quality simulator, and you can see where we are going with all this. First I am not saying that all the offering from Ex-FSX developers was good either, because a lot of it was crap, and that our developers are not delivering truly brilliant products because they are.


Third is the X-Plane simulator itself. Again I will note the extensive development over the years, but in reality in lots of ways the simulator although highly innovative, is failing badly in many crucial areas. The annoying thing about this is that they are the basic's, and the general feeling is that we are spending too much time chasing the wow factors and in that the main (the boring) but important areas of the simulator are not getting any attention, and yes Laminar are as guilty of this as much as developers.


Flying the SSG Boeing 748i across the world from Singapore to Frankfurt, gives you a lot of time (nine hours) to observe and think of what is right and mostly what is wrong with X-Plane currently.


Stutters, well we have a fix coming for them and soon hopefully with Vulkan/Metal, but that fix has also been a long time coming and the API has been in development for far too long. But the biggest issue (eyesore) is simply the Global textures. When X-Plane10 came out the landscape compared to X-Plane9 was a major change, and it looked at the time absolutely realistic. But forward to 2020 or eight years into the now and they look worse than X-Plane9 did back then, I'm not going to mention the water, high earth textures, restricting lighting areas or poor quality mountain ranges, yes there are 3rd party products, but the reality is that fly over any country and it currently looks simply awful and I flew over a lot of the planet on that route simulation, and this appailing aspect will soon have to compete with the mega FS2020 and it's bing world 3d texture maps. An average weather engine and of course the ATC.... always the ATC are also non-gracia. So in the past ten years the progress needed in these vital areas have been almost negligible.


So the pressure in 2020 is now really on Laminar Research to finally address the simulator's real basic issues, even pull in the required resources to do so, and this is not certainly because of FS2020, although it is a major wake up call. But because these issues have not been addressed or have been left languishing for far too long anyway, yes it will cost money, yes it needs resources, but one person doing the art is simply (no matter how good his work is) too slow at this level, same with coders, yes the current crop of Laminar keyboard warriors are excellent, but they can't do everything currently that is required for the simulator. So to a point the current situation is down to not putting in resources in the good times and may be Laminar focusing more on the current than pet projects and buying up half of the Tesla dealership.


Is this a rant, no not really but an assessment of the current situation X-Plane is really in, if we can be honest with ourselves then things will change as success can also bring in inertia, and change can be left behind. Change does also rely on technology as well, areas move forward only when the technology allows it to, but we currently now have had fast and powerful computers, graphic cards and cheap storage for about four years, so it is the simulator that is stuck behind the times and not the technology, but this also brings us into another important question, and that is the wide spread requirement to cover all users is also a question in that is it also in holding the simulator's forward progress back.


It is a fair question. The minimum graphic card now required for simulation is 4K+, but X-Plane wants to keep the 2K and even the 1K users happy as well, this aspect means that those heavier dense global graphic textures are not going to come too soon, because maybe a third of users can't simply process them, and can the most of the above deflecting decisions be also related directly to graphic and computer power and so not to offend a certain portion of the Laminar simulation market. 


Vulcan/Metal is chasing efficiency, and that is a good thing, but not at the expense of just for the lower powered users who can't or mostly simply won't upgrade to a more powerful system. Yes I feel for them as I have been there with a 600mb graphic card (it blew up), but can the simulator continue to support a proportion of users trapped in systems that are simply out of date for any of the simulator's modern current requirements...   I think that, in that question is the biggest one of all to answer if X-Plane as a platform is to move forward this year, it has to now let go of it's past and move forward in many aspects...  2020 and the coming decade is going to be very interesting, but more importantly it has to be about change, and finally addressing the difficult areas that are simply currently taboo, and that is even in many areas for the very survival of the simulator platform itself.


On that happy note, we will see you all next month.


Stephen Dutton

1st February 2020

Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews


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