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Behind the Screen : Winter is Closing in : November 2015

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Behind the Screen : Winter is Closing in : November 2015

The title is rather odd in the fact I live in Australia, it is spring here going into summer, extremely hot, moody, cataclysmic weather events and not your Northern Hemisphere yule tide freezing cold and blanket snow. I have lived in Australia since my teens (1973) to be exact, but still use the Northern Hemisphere seasons as my guide, why?  Well as a weird twist of fate our winter in Queensland, Australia is like an English Summer in beautiful balmy days and clear blue skies, odder is that in the hot summer months you barely go outside but live under freezing air-conditioning conditions, leave the house and you get into a freezing air-conditioned car to go to another freezing air-conditioned shopping centre? odd isn't it, but perfectly normal. I went to Hong Kong in August once and was greeted by hotel staff in ski jackets and frozen over windows in the height of an 40º Asian summer, odd world.

Winter Textures

So I am looking forward to winter this year as I am prepared for some real Arctic conditions, X-Plane seasonal Arctic conditions that is. When the excellent Winter_Package 1.1 mod by Xflyer was released last year it was a great step forward in creating a better seasonal conditions to fly in. But it was also a bit messy to change over to the winter textures? that has been fixed by the MOD texture exchange tool Generic Mod Enabler  (Mac users use Wine) that allows you to switch root files in X-Plane, and since then Laminar Research in v10.40 has done a seasonal fix by allowing developers to use data-ref seasonal textures, like here by Enstein with his Seasons - dataref-driven libraries 1.3.

It is still all very new, but there is still one component missing in that a lot of payware built scenery have standard textures as part of their package. Some developers do include winter textures like EFRO - Rovaniemi by DAI Media, to see the astounding winter results then read the review Scenery Review : EFRO - Rovaniemi by DAI Media.

This vista created a desire to be winter ready next year, but a lot of winter textures are missing. The Austrian Crew at AT X-Plane have full sets that cover most Austrian airports and that includes WIEN LOWS (Vienna) here: Winter in X-Plane and they are exceptional, but still winter textures are in the minority X-Plane wise.

So that left to do for winter sets for airports I required myself, batch processing can be the only way in Photoshop to cover the sometimes 500 or so textures that make up a top professional scenery today, but the results are worth the effort.

Noted here are the results of converting Aerosoft's EGCC Manchester...

EGCC_1.thumb.jpg.d0674d15c011bb30e3c2489EGCC_2.thumb.jpg.71efa5042c66662385d6139

EGCC_3.thumb.jpg.b6058f26fa8cb8adf210c6fEGCC_4.thumb.jpg.2bc2767a58f0ec9f3e27f81

Sadly copyright requires I can't distribute the files, there are a huge amount of them anyway and the size is 700mb. But if anyone wants the photoshop action to do the conversion then I have added the action below to download. But it works, and I have over the last few months converted the main airports that I want to use over the winter season, and is astounded by the results. I am winter ready.

World Traffic

Another great addition to X-Plane has been Greg Hofer's amazing World Traffic plugin. Released in April 2013 it has to be honest had a difficult birth, but it was also extremely complicated as well to create. But something gelled later this year to turn the plugin into something really special. It reached a sort of "Critical mass" as the many elements came together to make the whole thing work. The major one was the release of v2.0 but it is the huge range of aircraft and tools available that now takes out a lot of the confusion and setup work that was once required. To be fair to Greg Hofer a review on X-PlaneReviews has been in the works since early 2014, but I felt it had to reach a certain position to deliver the plugin to the masses, we have reached that point and yes I have been working on a review to capture the WT experience at its best, but WT has also dominated my personal time in the last year because I believed in the idea and the concept, when it works, you will be amazed as it turns boring airport scenery into buzzy busy places (watch out for those takeoff and landing aircraft!)...  brilliant.

Preferences

Since I started in X-Plane Reviews I have a bit of a difficult relationship with my iMac 27" desktop computer in framerate. I even burnt out a graphic chip last year because of this problem, but in all cases every care was taken in Reviews to give the correct information on how your computer absorbs the X-Plane Simulator. The issue is compounded by the fact is the problem an X-Plane Laminar Research issue or a physical Apple Mac related one, to a point in this case it was both.

Now I don't know if this is related to Windows application of the simulator, but certainly it relates to large screen Mac users. My issue was that as I was using the simulator the framerate would drop down to a usual running of around the base of workable framerate of 19 frames (fr), but in many cases it would drop down into the sluggish area of 15-fr to 17fr, trying to fly in these conditions is simply frustrating and not very realistic, so you pull back on the simulator setting to almost the basic render settings on X-Plane, point is it made no difference?

The other point to consider was the fact you know that a certain position (place/airport) and certain aircraft does give you a certain framerate output, but when the same settings of place/airport and same aircraft can give you wildly different framerate numbers their is another element at work in the system.

The problem is compounded by the fact the framerate drop is slow and small over a period of time, so suddenly you realise the computer is simply unworkable, reset the settings and it makes no difference. And it is really hard to get the machine out of its funk, worse was the fact was you could not actually see why the computer was doing this. And this annoying scenario has created havoc for two years and lost me countless hours in frustration and work time.

This all came to a head in early August 2015 in the computer was simply unusable. Early in the year I had with my new faster and larger graphic 2g chip had seen some boundless framerate and revelled in the fact I could run features and special effects that I thought was never possible with my older 500mb graphic chip, yes it was a great feeling to have a machine that could deliver the X-Plane Simulator at the sort of performance it deserved, but by August I was in the deepest of deepest struggles of despair in just doing simple tasks.

So I cleaned it all out and reset everything from the very bottom (which was not a bad idea anyway), I got my machine back and then it was quickly in the funk again?  clean it out again and it works, then back to the dregs... 

Lovely Chris K of Sydney gave me a hint of the issue, because he runs a 27" Mac like me. And the culprit was pointing to the "Preferences".

Chris had the same problem and noted it is caused by the way X-Plane saves the information relating to the size of your computer monitor, or what I would surmise doesn't save?  X-Plane is very clever in adjusting to your machine (or refining) its settings to maximise your framerate or you could call it efficiency. But in my case it was working against me instead of for me in the way it calculated the pixel area of my Mac's screen.

Chris K would adjust this by switching off his full screen and then switching it back on again so X-Plane recalculated the correct pixel area, it worked of course but in fact then didn't stay there.

What I found was that every time I was saving my "Preferences" when I came back to the computer it was resetting up the simulator with the wrong settings, worse it was adding in pixels I didn't have on top of the pixels I did have creating the situation of the computer then processing thousands and millions of pixels that didn't exist, so hence the very poor framerate and my Mac slugging its way all the way through the processing dogmire.

The fix was simple, set up a set of refined and efficient set of "Preferences" and don't save over them. And the problem went away. This does mean you can't update your current settings of X-Plane if you change things around in the render setting panel. But I found a better solution there, I created different sets of X-Plane "Preferences" for different jobs, like I have my default set of "Preferences" that if I stray to far away and the computers starts recalculating my pixel count, so at anytime if I put those default "Preferences" in my "Output" folder I am instantly back at my perfect default settings, If I want to run very heavy scenery I have a set of "Preferences" set to do that, HDR heavy settings, I have a set for that also and on it goes and to the last count I have 8 different sets of "Preferences" for different jobs. Want instant night time conditions then throw in at X-Plane startup the Night HDR render setting "Preferences" and in one startup you are set to go... and everything is already adjusted, and there is no need to then start up, go to your render settings panel and adjust, then you wait for the reprocessing of the settings before flying, it is all done at startup in one go.

If you need to keep a certain set of settings to continue the next day then by all means rewrite over your "Preferences" to save them, but in most cases when I have finished a task they go two ways. if they are updated and are good and running efficiently then they are then saved in my "Preferences" filing to use again, if not I throw them away...  One thing I don't do now is overwrite them at the every ending of an X-Plane session and keep using the same settings and then always rewriting them over and over again.

So the results are great in knowing that if my set default "Preferences" are installed I can easily calculate the frameweight (My definition of the framerate absorption of certain scenery or aircraft on the simulation) to see how the scenery or aircraft relates to a basic set of settings.

Since the change I have had no framerate issues with my Mac, and I am off the stress medication.

X-PlaneReviews site

As you may have noticed X-PlaneReviews have done a gradual if glacial change to this site. Yes the house looks different and has new paint and layouts. Most of the changes are behind the scenes which have been gladly received in making X-PlaneReviews a better more efficient place to produce what we do. We are powered by the excellent "Invision Power Board" software also known as IPS and the change over was created by the release of IP.Suite 4.0 which was released in April 2015 although the first in house release was in November, 2014.

We updated in late July, but a lot of bugs were evident and that has transferred over to our slow makeover. Another update in early Oct 2015 fixed most of the issues and now we only have some fine tuning left to do, so yes it was slow and we thank you for staying on board as we did all the changes, but if you don't change and update, then you risk the issue of being left behind. Overall it is a great new look.

What I am flying

Personal flying time is like gold sometimes in X-PlaneReviews, yes we fly everyday usually but that is in the parameters of the review or testing, in many ways the flying is very different, long hauls which are my favorite type of flying is very rare now as you can lock up the computer for a whole day going from London to Singapore, and the review site can't wait that long for you to just get a few jelly babies of fun and some serious long distance flying in. But computers like the long distance simulations more than the constant changing settings of review or testing simulations, It allows the computer to absorb the software on a better scale.

But my love at the moment is the first General Aviation payware aircraft I ever bought, the lovely Carenado F33A Bonanza, which has just had an update to v3.1. The strange thing about this story is that when I first bought the F33A years back, I flew it then pretty well left the aircraft in its hangar for years. Yes I pulled it out for a few various reasons but mostly it just gathered dust under the groundsheet.

Then I updated the machine for some reason which I think was it just needed updating and you haven't been able to drag me out of the cockpit since.

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There is something super right about the F33A for me, I love the old style gauges and great variety of VOR navigation tools and in the v3 you have the excellent GNS 430 GPS. I think the biggest reason is that my flying skills have also caught up with the aircraft over time, now I use the course and NDB directions for navigation and in circuits and have also learnt how to really utilise the tools you have at your disposal and the F33A ticks all the boxes in these features, it flies really well and the lovely BlueHawk Training livery is extra special, both the aircraft and myself have matured to come together to really enjoy GA flight at its best, love it to death. Note check your X-Plane Store accounts as most Carenado aircraft have been updated quietly to v3 (Oct 2015), they are really good clean updates.

FlyJSim's great B727 (Boeing 727 complete series) is a great simulation, I have been routing around Australia to get the best out of this challenging aircraft.

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I have been bouncing into most major Australian ports (and a few over the Tasman in New Zealand) with my Australian Air Express liveried B727F, and have been having a great time of it, It is a complex, hard working aircraft that is a real handful on approaches...  but great simulation.

This naturally lead into the great Boeing 707 update from Mike Wilson.

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Again another aircraft I bought as a birthday present to myself and I promptly hangared it. It was good but was missing the complex simulation I desired. This 3D cockpit update really changed all that and so I went on with my 1960's devotion to the era. My aim was and still is to rerun the global routes of the sixties, running out of the UK to the States or the round the world staged routes that were the order of the day, it really was the time of the great global expansion of aviation.

Top of the season

In the X-Plane world like in the real world the Thankgiving/Christmas season (sorry I am not a "Happy Hoilday" person) is almost here, where did 2015 go? gone that quickly. But don't doubt the end of the year is chockablock of really great releases, I think it is going to be an expensive Christmas with so much coming on offer, but I would rather have it that way than a few slim pickings.

The strange thing is and the above aircraft prove the fact that the very best or most expensive aircraft don't always deliver the best love and affection, but the big ones will always draw a crowd and a hunger for more features and experiences. There are some special ones coming this 2015 Christmas, so we could be looking at a very lonely Christmas and New Year, It will be just you and a computer and a lot of nice shiny toys to fly....

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This action was created in Photoshop CC 2015

Snow Action.atn.zip

Unzip and load action by clicking on the Actions Palette menu button (located in the top-right of the Actions Palette. Select “Load Actions” Select the downloaded .atn files

Different sceneries may require fine tuning of the action, but it should cover a majority of the textures, batch processing is certainly required to process the huge amount of textures and test one texture to make sure it converts correctly and you will need to convert the textures from .dds files to .png files to process them.

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Stephen Dutton
 
16th November 2015
 
Copyright©2015: X-PlaneReviews

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