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Behind the Screen : May 2020

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Behind the Screen : May 2020

 

The month of May had a bit of everything, but the biggest overwhelming point was that how far we have really come in simulation. This aspect comes in, in various ways, but the march into the future just continues. One aspect that I loved in May was actually an old X-Plane feature, this was reflections. Reflections got sidelined for me about five years ago as the processing pressure built and the complexity came in...  framerate rules!

 

You couldn't have this processor intensive feature running as it sucked too much computing power away from the simulator, was it really a significant requirement in the simulator, no not really compared to the other required default effects you wanted running, so the slider went to zero and stayed there. Vulkan changed all that.

 

Suddenly you had all this extra processing power and it turned into an absolute field day of options, nice options. Notably I have never been a greedy user, more than willing to accept a more benign simulation than a slideshow, but there are some options or features that I can not have running, hence the above acceptance of a certain loss of what the Americans call "Eye Candy", and that is okay.

 

So when Vulkan gave your graphics a huge new working space, then the sliders went up and the results are really good, the only compromise has been the shadows on scenery feature, that option was just one expense too far, a very much a nice to have, but the framerate loss is just not worth it....  but back to reflections.

 

I was doodling about in the Italian Dolomites for the ever expanding "Dolomite 3D" series from Frank Dainese and Fabio Bellini, all are worth visiting and the concept is now with this third installment and now covering a significantly huge area, but the Belluno pack had something else I didn't have in the earlier two packages and that was reflections.

 

It felt so much more different, at first I couldn't understand what was actually different as the Belluno pack is not that much in context any different from the first two Dolomite packages, but then I realised the mountains were reflecting into or onto the lakes and rivers.

The extra effect now is mesmerising and much more highly realistic as that just this one extra feature could produce such a significant change to the visual look of the simulator...  flying low over the lakes the mountains reflected below, then moving to the newly released (excellent) Copenhagen XP scenery you also got a lot of bonuses, mostly from the Øresund Bridge of which at dusk created some really amazing images, and brought back to me such earlier X-Plane scenes of lights set around harbours and reflecting into the water.

 

It was at this point I suddenly really realised how much I missed the feature, a small thing no doubt, but an important one to create that full visual aspect of realism, and yes I know that I over use the words "Realism" and "Realistic", but that is the constant goal in recreating the real world on a computer screen. I marveled at the port reflections last month in Barcelona, and now most coasts have a reflection boundary that just nicely smooths out the edges, so if you can go that extra processing mile then put the slider up and you won't be disappointed.

 

Notably Vulkan will change that realism aspect, and give you more power for less. But it is in the dynamic areas it will have a bigger impact, how much so is to wonder if the changes we have seen since X-Plane9, that in five years you can't even compare the visual dynamics of a fully featured X-Plane 11 visual scene, not only in the cockpit with its extraordinary light and shadows, but the complexity of light shading on scenery. Again the FlyTampa Copenhagen's use of metal and glass was simply awe-inspiring and the same excellent visuals are replicated in many a review. Not all shading works though, notably are some trees that come across as one dimensional, light on one side but dark on the other you don't get any realism but the cardboard cutout effect. Obviously a hard one to fix because trees with their sheer numbers have to have a very minute footprint, so they can't be complex. However I still think it is worth investigating why some work extremely well in the light and shadow effect but others trees look simply awful, worse is when the scenery developer is too lazy to match them up.

 

To a point Vulkan has given us some breathing space. The "Turing" Raytracing graphic cards are out of most but for only the hardcore users in cost, and so is the Radeon RX 5700 series which a little cheaper... the coming Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 is said to be also thankfully cheaper. So the question is what is the next step, or with the extreme changes we have already been through put us into a position were we are already at a high point. Don't send me comments on how games are going to be more extreme, more detailed and come with more lighting effects... because simulation is a very different engine than the boxed in world of a game, anyway the word around is that even gaming is reaching a point that you must not soon expect the same huge leaps in graphic power that has been done over the last ten years, as it is like running the four minute mile the closer you get to line then the harder it is to make a bigger difference on the clock. Yes there will be advancement, but the changes will be slower and longer.

 

Again in Vulkan the Graphic Card is now not the be and end all of your computer visual power either. As you used to have spent months dissecting graphic card specifications in relation to your hardware, there now comes the issue of having the right processing chips as well, because in Vulkan they now both count big time, and finding the perfect running mates will bring you benefits, and so having odd processor combinations will of course mean one is working far harder than the other. I think there needs to be some guidance here in that aspect, as even my eyes blur at the specifications and overwhelming details of processors and the fastest set up for "Tour of Duty" is very different for the current single piping of X-Plane.

 

But what of the future now with Vulkan almost in vogue...  all Laminar's focus has been on this one absolute goal, sadly the Vegas Expo has been called off, so there will be now no announcements from Nevada. My guess is that Laminar will give a huge sigh of relief on that one, as time is not in their pocket, but I do think they have a few things interesting in coming.

 

On that note it is surprising in the comments is that how many users are running their X-Plane simulations (mostly with the sliders at max) at or in a lot of cases below the 19 frame threshold, some are even doing their simulations in single digits, just so they can have the full visual impact! Now that is just simply crazy, worse is the grind on your graphic card, as it will burn out if you continue with that high cost of grinding through frame after frame and that is an expensive fix, what are they doing?

 

The new VRAM Profiler (Menu/Developer/Show VRAM profiler) gives you now a view into this processing world, and how much processing is taken up on items that have absolutely nothing to do with your current simulation? In mine I have the B777 taking up 1.35mb of processing power by just sitting in my aircraft folder? you work that out, so that came out, as did five other aircraft using up processing power for doing absolutely nothing either? go on look at your own profiler, you will be really shocked at what you are non-running? It is going to be interesting on how developers are going to have to make their products more compliant to the simulator in this aspect.

 

On the Vulkan Beta it is now getting there and even close to a RC or Release Candidate. Most of the aircraft and plugins have also been adjusted including the ToLiSS A319/A321 series, I personally really missed the Airbuses and was very excited to get them back, the FlightFactor A320 Ultimate is still MIA and waiting for the final v11.50 release of which I makes me want it more. As is for the most missing aspect of my simulation package and that is xEnviro, I can't even use my usual fallback v1.07 in Vulkan and that is a real pain as the default weather look is very bland (meaning boring) no matter which way you look at it, but I am not holding my breath for xEnviro to update either, but I really miss it...  a lot.

 

A note that June is X-Plane birthday month, not the actual simulator itself but for the X-Plane.Org, which was started 20 years ago, yes you read that right in twenty years ago. Would X-Plane as a simulator still be a going concern without the .Org? Personally I don't think so, as one without the community behind it would not have expanded or been so involving without the huge contributions the .Org contributes, one large star revolves around the other in creating a total X-Plane universe. Another milestone was that the X-Plane simulator itself past 100.000 files as it's basic installation, when I started 10 years ago that number was 28,000 files, but I will note a few of those files are Global Airport files, but it is still a huge growing number of files to update the simulator.

 

So sitting here at the end of May it seems we have come through a storm, but seem to be better for it on the other side (a bit like the coronavirus in passing)...  like everything around us June will be interesting, but I will take for once boring, even normal and just to have a non-eventful month.

 

Stephen Dutton

1st June 2020

Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews

 

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