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Behind the Screen : April 2020


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Behind the Screen : April 2020


April was Vulkan month, and Vulcan month as well. You had to believe that the extraordinary Avro Vulcan cold war bomber could come out the same month as the Vulkan (that of Star Trek fame) API in the actual same month, sheer coincidence but still mind-boggling in get the spelling right for either, and how many times I spelt Vulkan instead of Vulcan in the review and then had to change it.... the brain is wired in a certain way to do the daft way.


Well Vulkan finally hit the simulator. In a way we didn't know what to expect except for Vulkan to be good...  right. It is as I covered in my Analysis Review, I was pretty impressed, but this was still an early beta, so the show got on the road as a beta and the usual theatrics. A good one, a crash one, a brilliant one, a withdrawn one and so on, we are currently just worked up past the withdrawn one in beta 5, now fixed and beta 6 is now also with us. Beta 5 although it failed initially was the big one. It is the update that goes to the heart of the beta, and not because it was a large update, but because it it dealt with the core issues...   It should be now more relatively easier from beta 5 onward in Laminar now just refining and fixing the minor bugs. In relation and to the complexity of the changes then the Vulkan switchover has gone very well, like the coronavirus, it came quickly and our simulation life will never be the same after it's impact.


The final bottom line was that Vulkan is quite brilliant, but as telegraphed by Laminar before release it was not to be the Holy Grail of everything, in fact my framerate is now pretty much the same as before Vulkan was released, but my settings are now mostly at a full throttle notch, I now have as noted in the analysis in that I now have shadows and reflections and a far higher texture resolution for the same framerate hit, but then switch back to OpenGL in same settings and the computer hammers on down to single framerate digits, so that is showing a huge improvement in reality. Add in then the supreme smoothness, no stutters at all... and with every simulation is clean and totally smooth. The quality is shown in the reviews with crystal clear images that are sharp and quite beautiful. So Vulkan is certainly a huge step forward.


I had more issues loading in Aircraft (mostly in restarting with the authorisation done) that resulted in a Vulkan crash or screen blackouts, yes some plugins crashed, but overall most are now working absolutely fine with developers (except xEnviro as usual) doing fixes to get their products running in Vulkan, and already WorldTraffic3, Traffic Global, SAM, BetterPushBack... etc are all working fine, so at this point the transition is working out very well, and if in the final refinement Laminar can give me back some framerate as well then that for me is a total Vulkan win-win.


But it is the sheer smoothness of the simulator in Vulkan that really gets my googles going, in that every flight is now so good, but you do still however feel the unrefined elements that still need attention, so Vulkan at this point is not perfect and there is still a fair way to go. Problems with beta's are that they take one step forward, then a step backwards, step two forward and then take another a step back again, you feel the movement and then something that worked, suddenly does not work anymore.


One tool I really love is the new "Plugin Performance" tool. This was made for Laminar and developers, but it is now an essential tool for your own use in seeing what plugins are doing you the most damage, or worse even running while they have no actual use and using up a lot of your valuable framerate (and yes we now know who you are?) Your choice is quite simple, pull theses nasties out unless you are actually using them, but how was this allowed to happen in the first place?


The tool will reform your plugin folder as developers will now have to face you if their plugin is not at all efficient, and so they should, as you can't simply have these monstrosities doing this much damage to your simulation while hidden away. Well they are now all lit up in the glaring bright light of exposure and there is now nowhere to hide.

I have always been aware of very bad performing plugins and mostly with their badly written code, now you can now see the actual results, but some do surprise you as well. Take Rotate's MD-88, which by all context is a very complex and detailed aircraft, but it's plugin is one of the most lightest and refined plugins in your system... "who would have thought?". Mostly you would have thought it would have been one of the heaviest and draggy on the system, but in fact it is as light as a feather, kudo's to Rotate. And there is surprisingly a lot of surprises still waiting to be found but buried in that performance tool, and a few more to still on to make you aware of on how your system is really operating, and also now rather differently than you thought it was.


Except for those blackouts and a few related crashes then v11.50 Vulkan has been for me has been pretty smooth as Beta's go. But what silly users there really are out there. There was the do-dah about "reshade" last week in that idiots were complaining that the "reshade" was not working anymore and threw their rattles out of the Bassinets when told not to use it...  babies. The core of Vulcan is actually the new shaders, or new Vulkan is in the fact that the complete shader system has been completely redone for Vulkan, it had to be for the new memory allocation. But still they insisted on using the old shader system...  why, because the new shader system is far better now anyway, in fact it is really, really good, certainly not as good as xEnviro's shaders as they are brilliant, but as a default you can't really fault them, and our skies at dawn or dusk are now magnificent, clean and very efficient.


You really do wonder were their heads are and the damage they caused as the crashes caused by Reshade sent the Laminar reporting system into meltdown, Laminar had to come out tough and say "Stop this nonsense" but also shows the difference between on how to do a Beta run and how not to do it.

As noted my v11.50 Vulkan app is basic, that is BASIC in what I have in there and what I put currently into the Vulkan world. Each aircraft and plugin is carefully tested and installed one by one, I certainly don't throw in the toybox of everything and then wonder why the App goes crazy and crashes all the time, but you would be really surprised on how users did just that...  the worst effect on doing that is that you have simply now idea of what or if in what area is causing the constant crashes, or even why either and it totally confuses the Laminar bug reporting system, yes we would love (and to a point after Beta 6 we are now getting there) to have a fully functioning v11.41 as v11.50, but this is again like that nasty virus out there in sorting it all out will be a "one step at a time".


Another strange debate in April was between the Flightfactor Airbus A350 and their Boeing 777. I got daily (sometimes hourly) comments and messages on which aircraft was the better to buy. Well basically neither at this point because both are ancient in X-Plane terms, neither are good simulations that reflect the state of the current simulator, but still users wanted to know. There sounded like a desperation out there for some decent long-haulers to fly and I really share that pain, but both aircraft are (well overdue) for updates and both should happen this year, with the A350 very soon and the Boeing 777 hopefully towards the end of the year... but it was a weird debate that went on and on.


X-PlaneReviews has a new reviewer on board by the name of Bernardo Pierdona Casa or Casa so look out for his reviews. He took up the challenge to do a comparison review on the above A350 and B777 debate so check it out: Aircraft Comparison : Boeing 777 vs Airbus A350. Overall I love other peoples point of view on a review. No matter how many years you have done this reviewing palaver, another point of view on any area of the simulator is welcome and not as one sighted or from one perspective and yes you learn something when it is pointed out from another total point of view, we welcome that new vision.


See you all in a post-virus world next month


Stephen Dutton

1st May 2020

Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews


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