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Behind the Screen : September 2020


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Behind the Screen : September 2020


First up that happened in September is the X-PlaneReviews site refresh, after four years you needed a new paintjob for the site and that with Invision then released more tools to allow you to do more ideas and add in more more features, then gave us the opportunity to bring out the ladders and paintbrushes.


The old look was actually still quite good, but we felt we needed a more dynamic look and interaction. The results are nice on the eye, and easier for reading the reviews. I have always liked a clean if simple design (less is more) attraction (the graphic design training in me), and we think we have achieved that goal. We also felt it was too static as a site, but the problem with adding in flashy adverts and big banner images is that they can distract more than help, worse is that they come with huge image download times that will make most click on through the site. We did add in an animation banner, that was badly needed to highlight current reviews and news items, as one single banner in a way was not enough, and that works nicely...

Another new feature is the addition to add in your own images at the bottom of the main page, this again gives users a more visual interaction with the site. All ideas are tested on not only all desktop browsers (Mac and Win), iPads, tablets (I test by going to my local store and downloading the site on to their numerous display units!) and iPhone/Android... so the site works for everyone. Again banners are nice, but not when they don't work. We may tweak it more yet, but for now it works, a note is that when we do certain image sizes and layouts it may look simple to the eye, but it has to work now across a multitude of browsers and gadgets, and has to be effective in all situations and not just on the usual wide desktop application (a big mistake in site creation).


X-Plane 11.50 Final

September was also the month that X-Plane v11.50 went final. So we are now in the era of Vulkan/Metal... modern times. Certainly processing speeds have been highly refined and you can now run far more features than before. But I am not completely happy with the transition.


In most cases Laminar always usually over-delivered in features and ideas, and this is actually the first time I think they just didn't quite get there. I see a few areas the performance that are not as great as everyone expected, and in fact I am back running at my same numbers that I was using in the OpenGL environment... so is that progress?


Don't get me wrong v11.50 is a big if massive huge step forward, smooth and far faster than anything we had previously, and like noted I can now use features that were off limits before like reflections, but I do sometimes get stutters (not the previous type, but processing stutters) and in the various areas it feels still a bit unrefined like with the slow texture processing.


A lot of comments noted, say that it should be better, but the issues here are various, complex and users are not known for their patience. Number one thing to understand is that the process conversion to be fully Vulkanised or Metalised is really only about half completed. The changes already done only complete the shader changes and processing channels, but a lot of the older OpenGL areas are in there and still present...


The beta process showed this up and it was an odd one, the process bounced from one side to the other in that one set of users ran far better at some settings, but others got worse results in the same version, swap the numbers around and you got the opposite effect in that another set of users got the advantage were as the others went completely the other way, it was like a Forrest Gump moment it that you "didn't know what version was the good one" for you until it actually came out. At in the end Laminar settled for a midway "sort of pleasing" everyone, but a pleasing no one either sort of situation. So that left the final edition of v11.50 in a bit of a mid-ground quandary


Core of the problems are the textures, or the global tiles that makes up X-Plane, they are very old as is the ideas around the weather (a really big framerate killer) and other various left overs that came with X-Plane10, yes the Vulkan processing is fast, but these older elements are not, and so until X-plane has a rework to the modern elements and methods on having better more efficient global (high and low) textures and a complete rework of the weather engine, add in using not the current single pipe of process, but multi-core and multi-threading processing then the nirvana we are seeking and then and only then will the full effects of using Vulkan/Metal will come to the fore... in truth is we are only about halfway through the transition, and it may even take another few years to totally get there.


From Laminar's  point of view it was getting nowhere trying to please everyone, but the pressure to deliver X-Plane12 was also growing louder in the background. So this puts again so much importance on the next X-Plane release... no pressure there, and why try to fix something that is going to be changed again soon anyway, and so in the end we were left with a compromised release.... not certainly a failure in any context, but we have to consider the actual context we are sitting in. On saying that I still think that Laminar will twiddle with it in the background and find more performance for everyone before the year is out.


One tool that has caused a lot of issues over the beta and currently with the final of v11.50 is Navigraph's "Simlink" tool. Loading times are horrendous (as it connects to the Navigraph servers), and now it is causing serious stutters in v11.50, it had to come out obviously, but it is a brilliant tool that is seriously missed, but it is also highly inefficient as a plugin and has been for awhile and has got seriously worse with v11.50... the concept needs a rethink, and very unlike Navigraph.


The above is comment is interesting because all stutters outwardly look the same, in this case it was a plugin created stutter and not a simulator created stutter, but you can actually see or feel the differences between them, you can also switch off the offending plugins to see the differences (in the case of SimLink it was quite significant), but it shows how complex and interwoven the simulator really is, and how good your Sherlock Holmes detective work has to be in finding out and resolving conflicting issues, again the most simple one is to reset with a clean (or vanilla) X-Plane setup and work yourself upwards from there for the really big issues.


Once we have the final done and completed, then came all the updates, to be fair most aircraft and plugin updates have mostly been already done, but still developers put out final, final updates... I found that September is turning into update month, not only for simulators but browsers, iPhones, operating systems, even my fridge got an update!

But with the Vulkan/Metal transfer a few plugins have not returned... one is the Librain "Rain" plugin, and the usual xEnviro, who noted even when (or if) they do an update in v14 then it will still only be for OpenGL only, I mean who wants an OpenGL version?...  I am going to die before they get something out that works with the current X-plane version, worse it that the xEnviro plugin is the one most significant plugin for the simulator, in creating at least some realistic weather.


Oldies are still goodies

A few blasts from the past appeared over the last few months and it was very welcoming to have them back. A lot of the scenery and certainly aircraft date horribly in the simulator, but many that were really advanced for their time can still also be very relevant today.

A lot of life has been returned to the IXEG with thankfully a few updates for the Boeing 733 this year, it was still quite flyable before the changes, but the updates have certainly given the aircraft a lot more years service in the simulator, a "Classic" act with no pun intended. Second aircraft was the JRollon CRJ-200. For it's time it still really delivers an excellent simulation, even in X-Plane v11.50. Yes in areas in the cockpit and the cabin it feels dated, but it still performs outstandingly well. The amazing BSS soundpack that was added in a few years ago, that really totally changed the aircraft into something else, and nothing internally seems to have been affected. The v1.6 of the excellent WebFMC plugin now adds in the CRJ-200 (the reason it was pulled out from the back of the virtual hangar) and allowed me to revisit the aircraft again, and a return to service for the foreseeable future.

Both of these aircraft were very, very well advanced on their releases and showed how sometimes we get the future delivered in front of you without actually understanding it, and the accolades have to go to the developers on the foresight they saw back then, and to survive two complete X-Plane versions is really an outstanding effort. Even though we have some outstanding current aircraft to fly in, they still totally deliver the goods in satisfaction. A v2 of the CRJ-200 was being developed, but the project went quiet (mainly because co-developer Philipp Münzel nee Ringler is not available) and if at anytime the aircraft will now be produced, but if it it ever did that would be something else.


Another blast and totally unrelated to the update I did this week was the excellent Beti-x CZST Stewart and Bella Coola. I used Stewart as a basis for a review of Thranda's Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter a few months back, and to also mainly see how it lived up to its status as an award winning (2014) scenery, it was a sheer total coincidence that the scenery has been picked up by the X-Plane.Org and updated, but even in it's original form it showed the future of X-Plane in scenery development, with brilliant realistic ground textures, great if perfect modeling, and the VFR replication of a complete township that is still unrivaled today, yes we get completely replicated walkaround airport sceneries, but not of a whole settlement. The update filled in a few missing new features that were not available six years ago, but otherwise this outstanding scenery is as per original, and it is a scenery every user should savour in their custom scenery collection.


It was a waltz through the X-Plane past, but these amazing products are still also totally relevant to today's simulator as well, they all still perform well and deliver brilliant simulation, so you have to be very careful in not to throw them out, there are certainly far more gems out there and most all of them are sitting in your aircraft folder and custom scenery folder, so seek them out and give them a visit, if they have dated or or not relevant, then yes the time has come to delete them. but you would be surprised how many do hold up to the current stands of still giving and delivering an extremely good simulation experience.


See you all next month


Stephen Dutton

1st October 2020

Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews


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Thank you another interesting piece. I must admit Vulkan met my expectations and The performance is noticeably better in my rig. I also am a big fan of Navigraph but I’ve not seen the stutters or the delays. Having said that Simlink isn’t always perfect and there have been many updates to it over the past few months.


On Vulkan I’ve seen my RTX 2080 much busier in particular in overcast and heavy weather. I use Activesky and I’ve reverted to their default clouds which seems to help significantly and with the temps. But in terms of how few problems there seem to have been since the release I think Laminar deserve a lot of credit.


Totally agree with you on the IXEG 733. It’s not only a good piece of software but also a pleasant blend of automation and manual. Personally I prefer it to Zibo although I am sure many will disagree.


On the CRJ I’d always discounted purchasing it, one its so long since the last update and secondly because there are a fair few negative reviews, although again many of those are now three years old. One issue is with pricing. At $60 (including the sound pack) that seems expensive for something that’s fairly old in the tooth, and unlike the IXEG 733 not getting active updates. Your review has made me wonder if I’m missing out though.


Personally I’d highly recommend XOrganizer. One it’s great for managing scenery but the plug in management - the ability to turn a plug in on or off for any session - is I think useful in helping have a stable platform. If nothing else it makes testing performance issues (which plug in is causing this) very easy.


One question I’ve been thinking about it the impact of real world aviation on flight simulation. Unfortunately we’re likely to have less flights and less airlines for the foreseeable future. What does that imply for products (like Traffic Global) that contain scheduled flight representations? Updating those schedules would mean a lot less traffic. Should we keep to a representation of a pre Covid world?



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