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Around the traps : What is on our radar


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Around the traps : What is on our radar

 

X-Plane can feel like a relentless monster sometimes, you can at times just barely breath as one thing after another just keeps coming out. There used to be the quieter times of slow development and spaced releases that you could get a breather or two to reflect on the past or take a view of the future. As like all beasts X-Plane can seem to be standing still, but when you look back only over the last six months then Christmas 2013 feels like a lifetime away and the changes since then are profound, go back a year earlier and X-Plane in as much (certainly in the scenery department) has certainly changed in a significant way.

 

For releases X-Plane used to have two big windows that revolve around holidays, One is the northern summer in that after a few weeks at the beach they huddle around their computer screens because they want to finish off that scenery or project sitting on their hard drives, and so in the late August and early September will bring a lot of finished work to our simulator before most head back to the office and few more months of the hard grind. The Christmas holidays create a double whammy in that most heavy payware developers will want their aircraft or add-on under your X-Plane Christmas tree to fly on Boxing day and in the free work period just straight after, so the releases will start coming in around late November right up to Christmas Eve. After Christmas it is another "finish the project" period and you will get a lot of finished scenery coming in January. Easter is an interesting one because people either blow caution to the wind and go away somewhere and blow everything bit of cash because they just want freedom from routine or otherwise they will simply hunker down to save the cash and worry about the world.

 

But the periods between these two windows are now becoming just as busy as payware and scenery designers are not restricted to career work hours, as for many now X-Plane is their work. Still most can have a secondary job to pay the weekly bills and keep the wolf from the door. The great news is that as X-Plane add-ons have lifted high in quality, then so has the purchase price. Most top end add-ons now are in the $50 and higher dollar/euro bracket up from the $20-$25 bracket means it can be a way to survive the economic costs of just living, so the more we buy these top end add-ons will certainly mean that the developers can have more time creating them (It moves from being a hobby to a full time occupation) and working full time will also means shorter development times and more product coming into a store near you.

 

All this is great news for our simulator, because it is growing faster and better all the time. One of the biggest hindrance within the simulator is that X-Plane was looked on as a sort of hobby, a man shed for simulation (It certainly was when I joined up) but like everything else it has to go either forward or simply die because it won't attract new blood that brings in the new ideas and innovation.

 

PMDG Simulations

Over the last year or so PMDG Simulations which is a major FSX/P3D stalwart has toyed with the idea of creating a product for X-Plane (a test the waters, sort of thing), Mr PMDG in Mr Robert Randazzo has always noted that he wanted to be in X-Plane and has had a lot of discussions with Laminar Research in which direction the simulator is going. The problem is that Laminar Research can be a bit slow in going in that direction (They always do get actually there and you usually get a far better simulator when they do) but for a commerce business like PMDG or other big FSX/P3D businesses it is very hard to that fit into their business model. However working with Laminar Research is also a great interaction as well in the fact that you want a certain element that does not exist, then Laminar Research can and usually does oblige and usually very quickly, Ask Microsoft for the same help and your email will go to a large empty building with a "For Lease" sign on it.

 

But with everything it comes down to numbers or bank accounts. And here X-Plane is in the cart or the horse situation. X-Plane is growing, but the amount of return for an investment is still low compared to playing it safe like staying in FSX/P3D. But that creates the other  situation in that other users won't use X-Plane because they don't want to lose their expensive add-ons that they love because PMDG are not in X-Plane for them to fly their investments in.

 

Many a comment is "I really love to try X-Plane but I would lose my PMDG B737NGX" is a big issue and it works the other way round, would you want to lose your FlightFactor B777/B757 or Peters Aircraft A380 to move on to another simulator?  The answer for me is no and so it works both ways.

 

But adapting to another code can not only increase your business but also your overall share of the simulation business. in this case we are talking about Carenado. No one company has influenced X-Plane more than Carenado, in not only creating a higher price point for its aircraft and finally broke that $20 price ceiling. But also bringing into the simulator a very high quality of product that is still being chased and overwhelmingly admired. In the GA category in X-Plane then Carenado simply now own it lock stock and barrel. And their products are better in X-Plane than in the other sim areas because of X-Plane's better dynamics and lighting features. So if you are a learner pilot or trainer then what would be your simulator of choice in the GA market with an aircraft model that suits your flying skills...  X-Plane and Carenado would certainly be at top of your list and the gap between the FSX release and X-Plane release of the same model of aircraft is getting more and more closer.

 

So finally PMDG decided to jump off the fence and announced an announcement in Mid-June that they were finally coming into X-Plane and the details were to be announced in Mid-August, and that there will be not one but two X-Plane projects (to still just test the waters!).

 

Many users are noting that PMDG in the simulator is a significant change for X-Plane. As in Carenado's prophecy they where right, but PMDG will be going into an area that is already very competitive in X-Plane and that is in the big heavy aircraft category, but it is also the area of the biggest rewards as users are now already used to investing in the $50-$100 American dollar range, and PMDG's products are not cheap as they sit more towards the $100 mark than the $50 mark on the scale, and when you are investing that sort of cash in an add-on investment then it had better deliver.

 

Success or failure however in X-Plane is really based on how well you can transition from one platform to the other. Carenado uses one of the best and a genius in the transition and geniuses are not thick on the ground, most can be counted on two hands. Most transitions between FS and X-Plane that have used a good developer however have been very successful like with Virtavia & Dawson Designs with their excellent Seaking and C-17 transitions, so it can be done.

Throwing money at the issue is not the answer because a good X-Plane developer may be good and fresh and thinks they are ready to work in that higher level that top payware demands, until they realise that in that level their skills have still a long way to go in the ever fast moving developing development cycle. Pressure can come from above and all that money has been spent and the product is stinking at the store, another leading developer has found that just rolling out products that are years old in FSX and worse are not adjusted to the demands of X-Plane will not find instant returns coming into the bank and their future X-Plane release sheet is now blank. But certainly PMDG will be smarter than that and will deliver quality aircraft that will be tuned ready for the X-Plane simulator.

 

There is a lot of speculation as just what PMDG will (test) out in X-Plane. Most users will want their excellent B737NGX and no doubt it would be a huge seller and a defining moment in X-Plane if it was released on the platform. Not only for X-Plane users, but as if it was available in the simulator it would bring many "sitting on the fence" FS users to the X-Plane platform. However that is also the whole point. The B737NGX is just too big a step for a first release as it would be more of a commitment than a test. It may be the second release noted in the announcement, but certainly not the first release. I also think that PMDG are going to be smart and release an aircraft on two platforms at once to gauge the response and that will also mean the aircraft would have been developed up from scratch for X-Plane and not just a conversion of old stock...   and that aircraft will be the "Douglas DC-6B Cloudmaster". 

 

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No I don't have inside information on any releases, but this is my choice of the release because it makes great business sense. It will be a new product, It will be in a better cost point between $50-$75 US dollars, It has the attraction of an iconic status and as a thundering four engined fire breathing piston-engine airliner that you would certainly want it in your hangar.

 

Helicopters

For vertical flight aircraft X-Plane has some of the very best available. In quality we lead the pack not only in just the shear equipment they deliver but also in the variants and ways you can set the aircraft up. Very rarely do you have a poor helicopter released in payware, the standard is always simply overwhelming and if you are not interested in vertical flight then you are really missing out on a major dimension of simulation that is available in X-Plane.

 

I myself was also cautious when approaching these spindly unwieldy machines. But I persevered (Okay I swore a lot and crashed even more) and now I would say I was reasonably competent, but I still practise at least once a week if not flying them in a review.

 

But this year has been a banner year, last year was also good with the a simply brilliant machine from Dreamfoil Creations and Nemeth Designs and the by Virtavia & Dawson Designs in December, The update to the earlier this year brought the DMO Flight Design into the realms of greatness and of course there is the again from Dreamfoil Creations that was jaw-droppingly good.  A note still to the older by ND Art & Technology that still causes users hearts to swoon in flight and operation.

 

Many now have trainer-wheels with an arcade game approach to learning how to fly them, but still practise makes perfect. But at least you can start somewhere with these aids and get into the club...  you will be glad you did.

 

Two new aircraft are due soon that will make you finally want to take that vertical flight plunge...

 

Bell 412

First up is the Bell 412, it is a Huey, but not a Huey in the sense of the double-blade Vietnam War, Peace and 60's and all that, but the more modern twin-engined four-bladed version that plucks idiots off mountains and sinking boats.

 

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The B412 is a serious bit of kit, and sounds like no other with a great chop-chop suey noise when changing the angle of attack. It is coming soon.

 

Sikorsky UH-60L / S70A Blackhawk/SH-60 SeaHawk

It is amazing that X-Plane does not have the Blackhawk/Seahawk in the simulator. It is one of the most iconic choppers of the last 50 years. Well wait no more as the Brazilian Flightsim Development Group is going to make your dreams come true.

 

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Multi-role versions and the Naval Seahawk version to practise those carrier landings is going to keep you happy for a very long time.

 

VHHH - Chep Lok, Hong Kong

Another item that caught my eye and made my heart go a bit faster was a scenery/airport from Aerobridge Studios. VHHH or Chep Lok airport in Hong Kong is a huge gateway to the East, and finally a payware developer is willing to do an airport out of the USA/European circle. Most users love their long hauls and myself included, but there is nothing out there when you get there in a real big quality scenery. The Far East is just that..  Too far out. This airport in Hong Kong should hopefully change that way thinking and allow us to start and end a long haul at a decent gate.

 

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Quality is astoundingly good, as is the tiny detailing in closeup.

 

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The very last image shows you how very far along in development VHHH is. And how quickly Aerobridge have recovered from losing the whole VHHH project to a hard drive meltdown.

 

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I hope that VHHH will change the course of the far east being off our radar in terms of really great scenery, because there is a gold mine in great Asian airports waiting to be created and discovered. No release date is yet noted from Aerobridge Studios.

 

So is simulation slowly dying? Many development houses are saying that investment is slowly disappearing, as that is in the FS realm as the lack of FS development is now starting to kick in. products have very long development periods and a short shelf life and most developers have to look years ahead to plan for now. X-Plane may be a far smaller pond, but that may be also our saving grace as X-Plane can adapt and change (as we have done over the last few years) to accommodate these huge changes. Our developers are now as good as anything else on the market and in some cases far better, and they still have a lot of product gaps to fill.

 

Deep down many people love flying and even more the huge challenge of flying an aircraft that is never ever possible in real life. The world today provides so many more distractions, but there are still more than ever more enthusiasts piling in with pride their work for many other X-Plane users to share, like I said at the start of this post, X-Plane is busy, busy...  busier than ever and with so much coming in the future it is an exciting place to be.

 

Stephen Dutton

 

8th July 2014

 

Copyright©2014 : X-Plane Reviews

 

DC6B_Classic images are courtesy of PMDG

Sikorsky UH-60L / S70A Blackhawk/SH-60 SeaHawk images are courtesy of Brazilian Flightsim Development Group

VHHH-Chep Lok images are courtesy of Aerobridge Studios

 

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