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Behind the Screen : January 2021


Stephen
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Behind the Screen : January 2021

 

Another year in 2021, after 2020 it has to be better, change and a whole lot of it dominated the year, even in our little virtual corner of the world in Simulation. Did we mention Microsoft's new flight simulator release of last year, of course we did.

 

The reality was that X-Plane didn't actually get atomised by MSFS on it's release, or anything else, in fact something interesting happened. According to the Navigraph Flightsim Community Survey which is always interesting reading, is that the mostly rejected FSX/FS9 and Prepar3D users didn't jump ship directly to MSFS 2020, but to X-Plane11 instead? in fact 41% came from FSX/FS9 and 24% came from P3D, that is only actually 4.8% of actual simulator platform switching in context, but still they chose to come to X-Plane11 and not over to the newer simulator of which 11% MSFS new users switched over to X-Plane as well, rather than going to another Simulator.

The answer there is quite simple in the fact that MSFS actually still does not support study grade aircraft, certainly if you want to VFR (Visual Flight Rules) your way around the landscape then MSFS is the way to go, but for heavy operations and even with still the very light choices of even good and detailed General Aviation aircraft (no fighters or Helicopters either), then X-Plane is currently only your simulator of choice if you want to do some serious procedural flying. Overall it is difference between real simulation flying and playing a game. No doubt MSFS will throw off that tag as it develops more better SDK's, or will it, does it want to? That aspect is in the fact that in simulation there actually is not any money to be made, the customer focus is overall on the huge gaming market.

 

And this is were it gets interesting in the target market. If MSFS wants the big massive gaming market, then how can it also be a deep level simulator? Yes MSFS will develop and add in deep study aircraft, but the reality is will the average gamer "Actually" want that style of aircraft? and the total current perception that these loaded up gamers will buy up or hoover up anything or everything placed in front of them...  these are gameboys with attentions spans of minutes (unless they are deep in the gaming market to make money) and they are only going to be really interested in that for the entertainment factor or to make money.

 

I admit there will be a crossover factor, but in reality Simulation Users and Gamers are really very, very different animals, as they approach simulation in their own very different ways as well.

 

First what is Simulation and it's main objective. Mostly it is to learn to fly aircraft, even now any serious simulator is based on reaching out to flying schools as a teaching aid to learner pilots, for professional pilots to learn their own skills and systems. Then there is the airmanship aspect. This is learning the flying skills to do the procedures and navigation in an aviation capacity, besides the professional fliers, the rest of us in Users are people that love aviation and want to be a part (or older pilots that want to continue flying) of that environment, but don't have the resources or in most cases the health to be part of the real world aviation business.

 

To cover all this then you are required to study. Not only the aircraft and it's systems, but also the aviation system itself and all it's procedures, do you see where this is all going...

 

I personally have been in Simulation for Eleven years, eight and half years writing about it. But still I am learning the intimate details of aviation. Take for example last week...  I didn't know until I studied the procedure of doing a Cat IIIa dual-channel approach and autoland. Yes I usually pressed the twin left and right AP1 and AP2 autopilot channels on landing an Airbus A3 something, but not on how you actually do the procedure on a non-fully automated aircraft. You would be either thrilled about this (being a devout Simulator User) or find it really boring to even nonsense because all you want to do is get your jollies by divebombing your house. 

 

As I said a lot of gamers will love this new aspect and start to take this Simulation lark quite seriously, and that is a great thing as it builds simulation with a whole new group of newly converted Users. But how many are actually willing to under go a decade of learning and actually do the consistent practising of their skills in a controlled aviation environment, because that is in reality of what Simulation really is.

 

And this were it gets even more interesting. In Simulation we like to build our Aviation environment around us. We select the aircraft we want to fly, add in the effects we want to experience and collect scenery to reflect our personal destinations. To do that aspect we have to spend money, but the money spent is worthwhile because of the experiences that we want to acquire. It also requires dedication and the building up of a skill base. Can MSFS deliver all this, well in time absolutely, but not totally because it's foremost aim is still in entertainment and not in skills...  If MSFS does go too far or get too complicated it will lose it's most important gamer market, as in reality Microsoft really doesn't want serious Simulation Users or obviously us, and certainly not with them messing around within the guts of the coding.

 

Another factor of the Navigraph survey points this out as well. Although the user use of MSFS is approaching 60%, and X-Plane11(50) is 45%, however the main points of dedicated users is almost neck and neck, in that the difference between the 60% and 45% (or 15%) are just "Infrequent" users or "Never" used, so the core users between the two platforms are only 3% of each other, what the survey does not ask, is what is your "preferred" Simulator, or on how many actually switch between the two, or what are the casual (gamer) users or the dedicated Simulator users as that could very much change the numbers around.

 

At no time do I want any article in X-PlaneReviews to become the "Our Simulator is better than your Simulator" argument, but the need to put into perspective the real and current Simulation world.

 

This brings us to the ludicrous situation now going on with Scenery Developers. Barely an hour goes by without another scenery being released for MSFS in the gigantic Gold Rush of 2020/2021 for as much real estate by per virtual runway meter that we can achieve. If you do look closely, most releases (not all, but most) are just a revamped and retextured version of their current scenery, in either any platform (ie FSX or X-Plane) to MSFS. You can almost feel the rubbing of their grubby little hands in making money from already produced scenery and wanting to quickly fill up their coffers. Most of it does look good, but it is still mostly already released work that is just tarted up.

 

My own annoyance is that if these same developers had given X-Plane the same volume and discounts as they are doing for MSFS, I am quite sure that the platform would have attracted many more users, and would have created a better sales market, but then again X-Plane does have a particular problem with that aspect, but the point is if they had have done or have had the same greedy exuberance then it could have made a difference, certainly in the cityscapes and landscape sceneries for them and for the whole of the X-Plane platform.

 

Which brings us to the biggest and consistent issue in X-Plane, payware scenery.  Again back to Navigraph survey in that the sections of (3.8.4) notes that Payware scenery is finally catching up to Freeware, in fact the freeware in "Equal" and "Mostly" are finally lower than the overall Payware useage...  not noted is the difference in simulator platforms in these grades, of which I would expect X-Plane to still lean far more heavily to Freeware, but it is finally getting better.

 

So the chicken and the egg situation still abounds.... would X-Plane users buy more scenery if it was of a high quality? But the line between Payware and Freeware in a lot of cases is still only really quite a fine line in the context of Laminar's Global Airport tools. Where as the FlightSim world depends more on the Payware and no matter the quality model...  so has Laminar hindered the progress of it's own simulator in a commercial aspect?

 

The problem for scenery developers is the worst in commercial angles of anything in the X-Plane simulator, basically they can't sell rubbish, which is a very good thing...  but the extremely high line of the quality they have to deliver to get over the Freeware barrier to sell can only restrict the quality to a few and very experienced developers.

 

As a review site I can and will admit to being quite harsh in my reviews on many aspects on scenery. Why?, because the only way a scenery developer will survive and compete is too deliver extremely high quality product...  I admit that is not at all fair, but it is also the reality of creating Payware product. The days of waltzing in and doing some cheap 3d modeling and throwing under the objects a badly tinted orthophoto layer is just not going to get you any sales any more...  again noted in the Survey is that (3.14) "Detailed Airports" are 67% of importance of creating a sale.

 

A lot of my comments are actually based on the basics being missed. Fencing is a really big annoyance to me, or the lack of. In any commercial field fencing is mandatory and mostly for security and safety reasons. But for some reason many developers just don't seem to understand this. Any scenery missing vital fencing looks and actually is only half completed, and I have rolled my eyes far too many times while opening a scenery to find just wide open spaces between the carparks and aircraft aprons... or Landside to Airside, and in the real world that just does not happen.

 

The biggest issue are our old friends "Orthophotos" images or ground textures, or "patchworkers" as I call them. Most are ugly and either far too light (washed out) or far too dark, and in all cases actually don't matchup to anything around them either, so the scenery sticks out like a sore bum. I except two facts, in that one is that consistent orthophotos are hard to find, and two X-Plane's default textures are totally out of date. The one thing that MSFS has in a big way over X-Plane is the consistency of it's landscape, so the inserted custom scenery fits in very well to its default surroundings. For X-Plane I have never really liked the texture model Laminar uses, it was a step up for X-Plane10 from X-Plane9, but the feel was not quite right either, it looks overall artificial, certainly from an altitude or at ground level. That said, using good lighting and environmental system like xEnviro can make the landscape look quite realistic. But in context to the ground they are dated and in fact slightly the wrong bright tint.

 

I have (grudgingly) come to accept the Lo-Res photo textures beloved by FS developers on the landside, mostly because they get the rest right, but they give out overall too many ground burnt in aircraft, vehicles and you can see that flatness in what that flat photo plate actually is.

The problem is that were is the solution between overpowering photo textures and standard gradient textures, is there one version that can or could actually blend in all? But overall you can see why scenery developers have such a hard time getting it right, and with that aspect X-Plane can come across like a patchwork quilt more than a complete landscape and fixing that aspect is the biggest question and the biggest challenge facing X-Plane12. And for X-Plane12 taking the ball back from MSFS as a primary simulator (note I say Simulator not gaming). To date no release information on X-Plane12 has been announced by Laminar Research

 

That important aspect is the underlying point in bringing back the majors in scenery, and their customers. Overall I don't think that Laminar understood this area in their simulator, their aim is always at the hobbyist angle, the point of giving you the tools to build your own world. But in fact X-Plane has come a long way with that coda, but you can't also cut out the important commercial side, and this aspect is really showing currently in X-Plane as a lot free does not mean completely brilliant and detailed. So if you want that totally realist world, then you have no choice but to bring in the experts and high quality detail...  that is what the punters also want, and also what they are willing to buy.

 

Catch up again next month

 

Stephen Dutton

1st February 2021

Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews

 

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Interesting as always. The X-Plane community does love the freeware. I made the mistake, on another forum, of welcoming the new payware Narita that’s just been released. There isn’t much good payware for Asia at the moment and the developer does have a decent record. My post instantly attracted negative comments. Why welcome this new scenery when there was a good freeware alternative - which there is? The temerity of the developer in releasing a product in competition to a liked freeware!

On the MSFS gold rush it seems that everyday four or five new sceneries are released. But the choice of subjects is usually interesting. I’ve a good knowledge of geography and the world’s airports but often the choice of subject elicits the response where or what part of the community is that aimed at. Panning for gold is one thing. Choosing a location where you will find enough to pay for your dinner is another.

 

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RJAA Narita is very good, but yes there is a very bad (you could call it a anti-MSFS) feeling in that we can do the same thing but for free. That is bad for the business, you need quality in the simulator and no matter how good the Global Airport tools are, they are still not a complete reproduction of the airport...  this is damaging the simulator on many levels.

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