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Behind the Screen : November 2020


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Behind the Screen : November 2020

 

Here at X-PlaneReviews we do the reviews as we see them and in the moment. The idea is that what we see, you see warts and all, in other words "being honest" and overall the results are usually pretty close to what the product or addon on really is. That is important to you in making decisions on the product and how it will fit into your simulation aspect.

 

I will admit I don't like ongoing development products, yes we know that most released aircraft (or even scenery for that matter) are not completely 100% completed (except maybe for Aerobask), because the sheer variable nature of the X-Plane simulator does not allow for that, and then throw in major simulator update like Vulkan/Metal and it can really put you out of context.

 

But I mean aircraft development, that is always ongoing, like the Magknight Boeing 787-9, Colimate's Concorde FXP and most of VSkyLab's "Test Pilot" Series. Yes you get early access, but also a very disjointed simulation, as a rule I don't review them unless I feel they are quite stable and are ready to deliver your value for money.

 

But I did something in November that I rarely do, I went back and re-edited an original review, and that was of the MagKnight Boeing 787-9.

At the time I did the original update review for the B787-9 it was a hellish update month. For some reason September has become "Hell" month for a tsunami of updates, computer updates, simulator updates and product updates...  then add in the before mentioned Vulkan/Metal 11.50 final release...  another update. It does something to computers and your workflow, plus you have to sort out all the nasty little issues they create, like this works, but now that does not, and then add in a few odd weird failures from the actual computers themselves, it slowly burns you out. I note that everything noted here had nothing to do with the issues with the B787-9, but it didn't help in your mindset either.

 

The update review of Boeing 787-900 v1.6.0 by Magknight didn't really get off to a good start, as I got more confused in trying to sort out the significant changes to the EFB (Electronic Flight Bag) and totally missed a major nose-wheel feature change, or got completely confused by it. But it was that nature and in reality the very reason I don't review ongoing development aircraft in that I missed a vital setting.

 

When I came to flying the Dreamliner from Brisbane (BNE) to Melbourne (MEL) in the review it was quite a frustrating disaster, but I was willing to show the mess for what it was, but in that aspect it was not good for any readers of the review and certainly not good for the developers either, but a nagging aspect was that if the B787-9 flew as badly as I had covered it to be (odd wing angles and terrible takeoff performance) then why wasn't the X-Plane forums not lighting up with loads of aggravated pilots...  it didn't make sense, I did post my findings on the forum, but no one answered? but the point was if there was no other complaints, then it had to be me...  and that point nagged at me for weeks.

 

More oddly was that I had already flown the MagKnight B787 from Hong Kong to Melbourne, it was quite a passive flight, but there was still a few odd, no a lot of under developed areas, but in that case I was able to fly around them, but not in the v1.6.0 review, the aircraft was simply terrible to fly. So when an expected product was late and needed more development, I suddenly had a free day to re-fly the Boeing 787-9 from Melbourne (MEL) to that very nice new Perth (PER).

 

Maybe there was less pressure or my mood was better with no corroding computer issues, or simply whatever. Anyway I went through the Magknight systems this time in far more detail...  first fixed was the odd nose-wheel steering feature. It is a first that you can use your joystick in a "Roll" and also a "Yaw" setting, and going between the two settings of "Use Roll for the NWS"  and "Use Tiller Axis", all great features, but complex in understanding the right combination to get the nose-wheel steering you wanted, but once you understood the idea and the use of the Roll in taxiing the aircraft the more I liked it...  but I could also see why I got so lost in the first review (it also didn't help that setting for the Roll is reversed). But the handling aspect of the Magknight B787-9 was not really my fault, but still made me look like an idiot or in being very incompetent in being a Pro reviewer.

 

The Magknight B787 aircraft is still basically two aircraft in one, it's roots stem from it being a completely X-Plane Plane-Maker design, so the PFD, MAP and even the FMS is all still basic Laminar designed and default installs, but part of the ongoing development allows for a custom plugin interaction and mostly by that now very good EFP. But the two worlds are not yet connected, because Magknight are still developing a custom FMS and primary flight display system to install into the aircraft, FMS or Boeing's FMC - Flight Management Computer are very complicated beasts that are quite hard to design and use.

 

The problem was simply setting the aircraft's Takeoff trim or setting the Centre of Gravity to balance the aircraft on takeoff. The Boeing 787 is a heavy aircraft, not a General Aviation aircraft were the trim is set manually, and In most cases you set the Takeoff trim in the FMC, usually on the performance page in a Boeing, or the INIT page in an Airbus (mostly the INIT 2 page). But the issue with the Magknight aircraft is that it is still stuck in a twin hybrid world of a basic FMS and no auto trim adjustment via the electronics.

 

The way Magknight gets around this discrepancy is to put the TO (Takeoff) Trim setting in the MAP/NAV window, and you set the TO Trim manually, by the CoG percentage computed in EFP ("CALC") settings, it is however not done in the usual fashion via FMS...   so I completely missed it.

 

Once the correct TO Trim and CoG was set, the Dreamliner flew...  well like a dream. Still not perfect though, because the aircraft still had a slight leaning roll, this was also corrected via using the keyboard X-Plane setting "Rudder Trim Centre" to over-ride it, and fix it, or still using another basic X-Plane command.

 

So you can see the dilemma, I flew the aircraft like the Pro I am, but it's systems are still quite basic and workaround. That is the downside of these so called transitional aircraft, they are neither one thing or another, and in simulation you want authenticity, because you are flying the aircraft in a professional manner. It may suit the "wanna be" pilots because they love their eye candy first and even at the expense of quality and authenticity.

 

There is no doubt that the Magknight Boeing 787-9 will soon have full custom systems, and probably very good it will be, because even now you can see that in the ideas and features in the aircraft, but in reality, they have developed the aircraft the wrong way around as many developers going after a market share have a habit of doing, it is all features and at the cost of the basics first, were as the FMC and correct Flight displays should have been the first priority...  the problem for Magknight is that FlightFactor will certainly not make that mistake in their version of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

 

Which brings us to xEnviro created by Dark Space. In November Dark Space finally released another update in v1.14 for X-Plane of the xEnviro environmental weather engine. First don't get me wrong, but I am a devoted user of xEnviro and do promote the plugin, because at it's heart it is a very good (if a very buggy) replacement of the now quite dated and boring weather engine that comes with X-Plane11.

 

The history of Dark Space's development of xEnviro could be best served as a series for a comedy show, it's roadmaps are quite bizarre and it's development paths are as weird, and even the results in the different versions can be a bit hit and miss, in a good one, then an average one and then a whatever version, in reality the only really good version was v1.07, the rest were a bit wonky in one form or the other, but xEnviro when it worked in the right conditions was awe inspiring, so you held the faith (our family motto).

 

Again the development path of bringing consistent new features, but never really getting the basic engine right has cost Dark Space years of development and users just a load of frustration, yes this sort of program is hard to do, yes it it is an intensive tool to create, but somehow their mindsets create more confusion than what they could help themselves with, in most cases instead of fixing the obvious they have a habit of completely changing around the features that already worked very well, and they wonder about why users kept on arcing up at them. They say it is hard and even impossible to do, yes it is, but Microsoft with the new MS FlightSimulator have done just that in the impossible, and in half the time that Dark Space have been banging away on this.

 

But here we are now in another of their bizarre mindspaces. In with the release of v1.14, xEnviro will currently only still work in OpenGL, or not with the new Vulkan/Metal v11.50 dynamics...  who wants to use OpenGL in v11.50? it is only a fallback situation if Vulcan fails, and too a point who wants to actually use X-Plane only in the older OpenGL mode, I think I have only about twice used OpenGL, and that was to test an older plugin situation.

 

So all the advantages of using Vulkan/Metal are all lost on the plugin, and here is the thing, if any plugin has huge advantages in Vulkan/Metal it is a complex environmental engine like xEnviro. Dark Space has or had a lot of reasons to delay the start of change over to Vulkan/Metal, and note from now on it is "Vulkan, Vulkan, Vulkan", but...   I think it is too late this time.

 

Why on earth in that the moment Vulkan went final, didn't Dark Space start Vulkan development, or even a month or so before, so there has now been already three or four months wasted. They do note a major personal issue (again) also affected the v1.14 development, fine you accept that, but still development was started far too late and again the canvas has to now be totally redone from scratch.

 

V1.14 took a long eleven months to do, for what is actually nothing or for something the majority of users can't actually use, Dark Space note that v1.15 (Vulkan) won't take as long, but to be honest I think we have already dialed out of these idiosyncratic development cycles of this product, I know I have. If Laminar deliver the expected new environmental engine to rival MDFS's version in X-Plane12, there will be only the need to put the cross on the grave of what was once a wanted great tool and even the loss of the enormous promise an exceptional plugin in the name of xEnviro.

 

In several ways, both Magknight and Dark Space are very similar in the way they approach their development with their products, but both also are guilty of chasing features over making their products perform in a basic and credible way, both are in their ways incredible products, but have been let down by not doing the important boring areas, unfortunately, it is boring bits that make them a brilliant product when using them in the simulator.

 

X-PlaneReviews will deliver a final 2020 "Behind the Screen - Year in Review" with a roundup of 2020 in the next few weeks, until then...

 

Stephen Dutton

1st December 2020

Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews

 

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On your reviews I do find them very useful and often they influence my buying. I believe that there is a real lack of useful reviews available. Maybe it’s an age thing but I find the long rambling video reviews less that useful. Increasingly those reviews seem to get longer and longer perhaps I guess to earn revenue from more advertisements. I also find that many of the reviews have some bias or deliberately look for small issues to make big.

However i think that the larger problem is that the development community does a very poor job in promoting their products. Expect me to drop $30 on a scenery or $70 on an aircraft and all you can offer is a few screenshots, a list of features and a short video with a banal soundtrack? After all that development work you can’t put some time into promoting the product? Some of the scenery developers seem to go out of their way to choose screenshots that make their wares look worse than most freeware.

Most developers are small shops but few take any real steps to engage customers or provide decent feedback on forums. Three notable exceptions for me xOrganizer, Stick and Rudder Studios and Vertical Simulations. Some like Orbx can be really bad. Where they sell third party products they then pass questions to those developers who then provide no response. Want to know why I didn’t buy your scenery? It wasn’t because my question wasn’t answered it’s why you’re ignoring two other forum participants who are asking why, near the terminal, your scenery runs like a slide show.

And if you are a developer having a web site about your product that has little information or even worse broken links doesn’t enhance your chance of selling to me nor give me a lot of confidence in your capabilities.

Perhaps if the industry spent less time complaining about poor sales and focused more on promoting their wares things would be different. Or perhaps it’s just easier to ride on the coat tails of something like MSFS and hope that increases sales numbers?

 

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Well written, interesting...  It is a fine line in doing these reviews in that I don't want to bore the reader, but in most cases the details are the same. Hopefully I find the right balance, and yes I agree, those long droning videos are very self-indulging, and in most cases just from the fliers perspective (or showing off), I personally hate them.

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