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Behind the Screen Special Edition : Laminar Research... X-Plane 4Ever!

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Behind the Screen : Laminar Research... X-Plane 4Ever!

The Coronavirus killed a lot of normal events that post out your X-Plane year. In this case was the Expo Simulation FlightSim event that was set to be in Las Vegas in June 12-14 2020. With the event cancelled you also lost the exposure of the main yearly Laminar Research demonstration but worse was their forward announcements on the future or the roadmap of the X-Plane Simulator. The timing couldn’t be worse as the simulation community is now also getting closer to the FS2020 simulator release from Microsoft, due around the third quarter of 2020.

Would the Expo have brought on a FS2020 vs Laminar Research first shot of conflict in on how each of these currently dominant simulators will be ongoing in the future of the best simulator experience, a lot of users have already made their minds up in that camp, but have they? But certainly at the Expo, would have then Laminar Research had to face up to the inevitable questions on how their roadmap going forward was compared to the coming FS2020 onslaught…  we will probably now not know because the event was cancelled.

But a podcast just recorded recently had X-Plane’s founder Austin Meyers finally put in the hot seat on those very future of the simulator questions and the answers were not as you would have expected, which is typical Austin Meyers.

Overall, his comments on which direction and the expected confrontation with FS2020 are actually not very dissimilar to my own feelings which come as a relief and my thoughts were closer than even than I actually expected. But the results are extremely interesting and finally some sense from Laminar since their silly drunkgate debacle back in December late last year.

Overall Meyers was quite upbeat about the future of X-Plane and didn’t feel the threat of the coming Microsoft product, that to a point is to be expected. But there was some extremely interesting comments on the where and in what direction X-Plane is now going to go, obviously nothing noted here is to be seen as gospel as Austin Meyers noted that everything is still “on the table” and not locked down yet, which is understandable considering the ultra-long Vulkan/metal beta program that is still in motion.

But the main points put forward were still solid…  There will be no photorealistic scenery mesh? An interesting one in that the new FS2020 system is built upon that very basis, Austin Meyers doesn’t like photo scenery and personally I can second that after reviewing a thousand or so airport and city sceneries and their horrible burnt in buildings, offset buildings and vehicles.

So, the current detailed mesh system will be retained but totally updated from it’s initial X-Plane10 format with better autogen. It is a very big risk to do this direction, but also an interesting one, and a bunch of new Eastern-European scenery artists have been brought on board to achieve this high goal, which is something I have campaigned for simply years in that Laminar needed a much more larger art department as one or two artists even if they are talented artists are simply not going to cover that much detail in a year or even a decade.

To be honest the whole mesh system was highly constrained by the processing power, but more so via OpenGL, the API was great thirty years ago, but that is a point as the it was based on a application of THIRTY years ago and the newer Vulkan/Metal API changes that game completely, and so will the systems and the detail of the mesh can be significantly more detailed with far more modern and powerful force of better processing behind it.

So once the current Vulkan/Metal conversion is installed then Laminar can then move in the directions it was restrained by before. The prospect of the new direction of staying with the current mesh is certainly an interesting one to deliver than a more photo-realistic rendition of the world, and a hard one to pull off than just using Landsat photographs, but Laminar has surprised us a lot of times in the past in this aspect as well.

I have even with our current mesh in place with good foliage coverage, great weather interaction and great lighting effects that this photo-realistic look and feel can already be achieved, some images coming out of X-Plane currently are already breathtakingly good, so it is not overall an impossible goal. The tough angle is the reproduction of the actual man/woman-made context in 3d cities and infrastructure, this is an advantage that Microsoft has via their Bing mapping, but I am still going to say it will be more restricted than mapping the whole actual globe and restricted to certain high-visible zones. How Laminar covers that 3d mapping equation will make or break the idea between the simulators and just creating far more Global Icons is just not going to cut that immersion realism factor.

Multi-player online flight is coming soon to X-Plane-mobile (now in beta testing), but also it is a big target feature for the desktop version as well, yes we do sort of have a multi-player experience, but not in a fully connected and detailed one with a high mass appeal online presence in that everyone is totally connected together, seeing each other and interacting with each other. It is an interesting dynamic area to be explored, but personally I don't want a thousand other X-Plane users flashing around my nice approach path, but I also know that a lot of users love the interaction of others in their world and yes I would be likely to even give it a try...  for a while.

Austin Meyers also noted large changes to the weather, as he wants a more dynamic moving weather and a more realistic representation in what Meyer notes as “location and time”, in changing or challenging dynamics between your departure point and your arrival destination, my point would be the same aim as exciting dynamic weather changes are also important to that factor in feel and for the visual look of the simulator...  we always want and need better weather.

Although not actually set in stone yet is the subscription factor for the X-Plane simulator, personally this is going to be a change we will have to “subscribe” to..  as in the pun. X-Plane will go to subscription for several reasons, one the cost of $US80 to buy X-Plane and yes there are more free demo users out there than more than they will actually admit, as the cost factor against say a US$5 a monthly subscription to FS2020. But mostly it is the bigger factor for Laminar in the fact that the ongoing income is restricted to the same one off payment (although a large one initially) which is then spread out over four or five years of ongoing development, as a monthly subscription then changes that aspect in that it delivers income consistantly for Laminar and with that it was noted we may see the disappearance of the current X-Plane versions to say a subscription version of “X-Plane-Global” or as Meyers noted “X-Plane-Forever” in a subscription model.

The reveals here do not cover all aspects of the future of X-Plane as a simulator as for like for still where still is our ATC system? But it does sort of give you a sort of a few glimpses of the direction X-Plane will take in the shadow of the coming release of FS2020.

As Austin Meyers noted is that X-Plane as a simulator goes to the core of what the real dedicated users actually want in a simulator, in true flying dynamics and the availability to test your own theories of any aircraft you personally want to create, even established aircraft manufacturers also use the simulator to test out aerodynamic theories and that is still basically the core of what X-Plane is and still does well. Meyers does not even with it’s newer dynamics in seeing FS2020 in becoming an experimental application like X-Plane is, as ultimately FS2020 is and always will be a game based simulator more than a pure one.

Yes FS2020 will move a lot of users to it’s platform, but how many will come back to X-Plane and the more deeper and fundamental basis for realism in flight, more so is the factor of doing actual personal changes to the simulator as a whole, the tinkerer will soon bore of the constricted game world of FS2020, and that is what Austin Meyer bases his beliefs on and to a point his business...   but it is also what I feel also deep down. However X-Plane as a simulator still has to develop and match any competition in features and more importantly in the realism experience…  in that area it still up to Laminar Research to deliver and expand their product to and match the expectations of users demands.... but now soon it will be on a monthly basis more than a multi-yearly basis.

Stephen Dutton

24th June 2020

Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews

 

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