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Behind the Screen : February 2020


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Behind the Screen : February 2020


Anticipating the release of Laminar Research's v11.50 or the Vulkan/Metal Apl in the last few days of the last decade 2019, I did what I usually do in creating a completely new and clean X-Plane application, now already into the first days of March and with still no v11.50 release, I now realise that I shouldn't have wasted those last few precious days of 2019 of having a restful break than in hunched over a computer.


But creating a new and clean X-Plane application is not something I do only when things go wrong, but it is also usually a regular maintenance update anyway and usually at six month intervals....  so why do I do this.


First and foremost you would be seriously amazed on how much clutter and debris is accumulated over that six month period, and on how your simulator application has the sucking power to hoover up so much unwanted and mostly framerate destroying items. This is in a way demonstrated in this aspect is that X-Plane is a content sucker that is on par with a Kansas Tornado alley blockbuster and leaves behind a mess as big as the sway through the American Mid-West.


Fixing it is easy as you will never ever clean up all this used code, as once the stuff that gets in there it is mostly hidden, so the only way is to simply get rid of all this debris is to just clear out the lot. Thankfully X-Plane has the option on the "X-Plane 11 Installer" to "Install a Second Copy of X-Plane", but you need to switch-out on the installer in downloading all of the "Global Scenery" or Earth Tiles in the "Select Scenery" phase, if not you will spend the next few days in downloading all of X-Plane and the full 60gb of it. Download size of the basic X-Plane application is only 4.2gb, which with any good internet connection should not take very long or in my case 20 odd minutes downloading after Laminar checking out my authorisation code.


This is what I call a clean copy of the simulator, brand new and very efficient, but remember to give the new version a different name than the older one, in this case I called it "X-Plane11-Vulkan" or XPVulkan.

The trick is then to move your "Global Scenery" folder over from your old X-Plane App to the fresh version so X-Plane will now work correctly...  You also have to reset all your settings which sometimes is not a bad thing, but complex saves like the X-Plane Joystick and X-Plane Key settings are better copied and pasted into the new Output/Preferences folder, on that one or two cut and paste selections it will save you hours of resetting all the various joystick and keyboard selections.


On startup you will now have a very basic X-Plane simulator running... and look at the framerate as mine was blisteringly fast at over the 100fr and with all the graphic sliders to the right, brilliant, and so the simulator in it's basic form is very fast and extremely efficient...  it is actually a shame to mess with it.


Move your Global Scenery folder back into your original X-Plane App folder and the grind comes back in, and the churn is back, and the difference is totally shocking, remember I'm not even running the new Vulkan (in my windows case) ApI yet, so god knows what the basic simulator will be like when it gets that transformation!


In it's basic X-Plane form I flew a few routes in my "XPVulkan" App, and believe me it was simply amazing what with your computer running at 100+fr can do for your soul, even the startup was extremely fast, stutters and loading was basically eliminated, it really is a Beautiful Thing.


But, but and but...  this is not my X-Plane either, and it IS very basic and you sort of miss all the items that go together to create the X-Plane experience I love, but as a note in this edition they also come with a serious penalties. So can you have both worlds?


To a point you can, but you have to sacrifice some items to get close to that nirvana, but also the differences can also highlight what areas and items are also causing the biggest grief and the heavy pulling on to your X-Plane processors.


As I was expecting a Vulkan release very early in January, I also wanted to compare the basic current X-Plane App with the new Vulcan App, but as the month or months dragged on I really wanted to move on from the older very poor original drag slow X-Plane App. It is still in there, but this was a good time to rebuild X-Plane into a more efficient simulator and try to have the best of both worlds.


First to go over to XPVulkan was the "Custom Scenery" Folder, so yes I now had all my lovely and realistic scenery back (yes it also really helps to go through the Custom Scenery folder and take out any scenery you don't actually use or will never fly to). Second was my "Aircraft Folder".


A pared back Aircraft Folder is a really beautiful thing, X-Plane will load far, far faster if it doesn't have go though hundreds of aircraft. To be honest I don't usually have a lot of aircraft in the folder anyway, but my Carenado folder is simply outrageous. Again you can keep a separate folder (or hangar) outside of X-Plane to do this and it makes a huge difference to the simulator, I found that I stick with one or a few types of aircraft over a period of time anyway, and except for a few non-debatable aircraft that I will always want available, but then most can really easily rotated in and out of the simulator as required, the downside is that when putting them back in again you have to redo the authorisation key, which is a bit annoying, but otherwise not a hard thing to do for all the benefits it gives you. Review aircraft go one or two ways, if it is very good it goes into secondary hangar, if not it goes into storage on a backup hard drive


With both of these items back in XPVulkan and depending on your aircraft and scenery selections then X-Plane will drop down by about a third in framerate clout, it hurts, but you should still see 50fr to 60fr and that is still a pretty smooth simulation.


Plugins... are the devil is in the detail, and plugins are the real nasty buggers of simulation. The problem with plugins is that they are all not created equal, and they are also created by 3rd parties and not intergrated by Laminar into the basic simulator and that is the main part of issue as in some they are a sheer elegance in their concept and code and have a featherweight effect on your simulation, but others can be also be badly written, buggy and are highly inefficient or worse in causing major conflicts within the simulator.

But remember that even with a load of these featherweights it can also all add up to a very heavy pull on your processors, so use only as many you really need and not really want...  my plugin folder has always been as light as I can get away with and even then if you don't use that effect or tool very often, then the plugin can simply come out...  90% of all simulator problems can come from plugins.


Part of the trick is finding the good ones from the nasties, and even if that plugin is invaluable, if it is pulling down your simulator to the point of using too much framerate, then it has to go, no matter how hard it is, it has to come out, the JARDesign GndHanding plugin is sadly in this category, heavy, slow, it even gives up completely sometimes. FlywithLua is another serious nasty, it conflicts with everything, mostly because all aircraft use the same Lua plugins to run.


We now also have the latest trend of scenery developers now inserting plugins into your plugin folder. This a trend that has to stop...  for one they take up a lot memory and in only to be used very infrequently, for me if a scenery uses a plugin in the plugin folder, then out it comes in both the plugin and the scenery as well, no matter how good... sorry developer, but it is simply only your own fault for doing that.


Loading in and testing your various plugins can give you great results, so much so that you may have to pull out a significant favorite that is just too much pull on your simulation...  which brings us to the two biggest offenders.


I seriously love WorldTraffic3, but efficient it isn't, and the pull on your simulation is maybe sometimes as high as 10fr, Global Traffic is however a dream to use with virtually no framerate hit, but GT is not even close to a perfect animation in the realism as WT3 gives you. But that almost zero framerate clout can also make a serious difference to the overall simulation as well.


Environmental effects or the weather is the most biggest offender in killing your frame rate and giving you a sluggish simulation. Refinements in the X-Plane built in weather generator has brought it a long way since the early days of those single digit framerate black storm clouds. But as a realistic representation of our weather the default system it is still pretty poor in both look and efficiency, but as a fall back it can actually currently gain you in your framerate hit compared to the others addon plugins and effects.


xEnviro is currently the main plugin offender of reducing your framerate to a slugfest of a slideshow. This is version v1.13. So why use it if it is causing so much framerate pain? Well nothing generates a rendition of of real world weather and that sublime feel of the atmosphere than xEnviro, as some moments can actually make you gasp on how incredible of what it does, and credible is the word here...  it changes X-Plane into a world like no other plugin in X-Plane and yes the app should be the environmental default for the simulator.


But and it is a really big but, it is still also very inefficient, not to bad if the clouds bases are light, but sometimes it just grinds you right down. Obviously xEnviro are working very hard to fix this aspect, but they can also be slow in bringing the updates to you, but they have got seriously better than in the old days.


When really bad the fallback is v1.07 with it's 2d clouds is at least a get out, that version still at least gives you some realism. But in switching between the two you can also see the huge benefits of the current v1.13 and its 3d aspects, the atmosphere effects are far superior as well, but that framerate crunch is still a real absolute killer.


In reality the XPVulkan Apl is still my fallback option (waiting for v11.50), but it is night and day better than the main original X-Plane app in being very clean, extremely more efficient and fast, as it is very hard to believe it is still EXACTLY the same simulator as my earlier version.


As a test I used XPVulkan for a review (SSG - Boeing 748i) and with the pared back version and set up also with the older v1.07 xEnviro version, Global Traffic and limiting the aircraft to just the Laminar defaults and the host aircraft, my only full detailed folder was the Custom Scenery folder, but again it had been revised and refined. Plugins were highly limited to just what I needed and not what are the nice to have, or to the very basic tools I could get away with.


The reason is that the SSG Boeing 748i could be a very heavy load on the processors, it still is, but with this custom lite version of X-Plane and some moderation of the Graphic settings I got a very efficient running simulator of around 60fr, and the result was a perfect simulation, a very long one at that from SIN - Singapore to FRA -Frankfurt and 11 hours flying time. Better still it all ran smoothly without any stutters, annoyances and distractions and was an extremely rewarding flight and simulation, more so in that I relaxed more than anticipating the next thing that could ruin the simulation in motion or that perfect flight.


The above simulation was not everything that X-Plane could deliver and yes I really missed all my toys to play with, but the compromises were also well worth the efficiency, and over the last few months the toys have gradually seeped back into the XPVulkan. And yes XPVulkan  is now being used more and more as my default simulator version, and yes I am also feeling the effects of all those extra goodies going back in there.


But the moral from this post is that it shows that all X-Plane applications as a simulator are not created equally, the same application can be as good or as bad as you make it, but the basic application is sound and very fast. It is in reality what you add in or clutter it up with that will make for the best or worse of the simulator, and it is certainly well worth your time and effort to refresh the simulator on a regular basis, to go through and refine your folders on what only you do actually use and not the clutter it up with too much waste, and seriously check and weigh your plugins, they may give you a lot of tools and fun, but they can also be seriously ruining the consistency of your simulator's efficiency and the resulting experience. The new Vulkan/Metal Apl's with do miracles for your processing, but the real culprit is actually you in allowing the simulator to run badly in the first place and allowing it to be cluttered it up with just too much clutter and debris....  and so it maybe a time for some simulator housecleaning.


See you all next month.


Stephen Dutton

1st March 2020

Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews


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