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Behind The Screen : Oshkosh Webinar Review "X-Plane - Past, Present and Future"


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Behind The Screen : Oshkosh 2021 Webinar Review "X-Plane - Past, Present and Future"


Laminar Research promised an on-line "Webinar", at the Oshkosh 2021 Flyin EAA AirVenture. The first broadcast was cancelled (probably by bad weather, as the event has been effected by summer storms (welcome to Australia!)), but the second webinar went ahead as planned with Austin Meyer, Martin (Marty) Arant and Philipp Ringler in attendance.


Over the last few months Laminar Research have been putting out their so called "Next Generation Previews" videos, but that nitty gritty detail of the coming X-Plane version change was always hidden away in the blurbs. Don't get me wrong there is a lot of detail going on here, and all of it is to the very good. If you expected a full run down of the currently noted "X-Plane12" then that aspect was not noted, if it will become X-Plane 12 anyway as Austin Meyers noted that the "Focus was on building the next generation of X-Plane", and that the "Next Generation" moniker was thrown around a lot in the broadcast. Austin also didn't commit to the X-Plane12 serial number either, as that version numbering would come at a later date, or if at all... so how does "X-Plane Next Generation" sound to you?


Laminar noted that these details in marketing, titles and even a release date will be announced at the upcoming San Diego, FlightSimExpo on September 24-26, 2021...   plus a running visual copy of the new X-Plane version could also be shown if Ben Supnic can assemble one in the next seven weeks.


This does also open again the door to a subscription model for Laminar Research. When I announced such an idea on the X-Plane forums, it was received with a fireball of crucifying reverberation of anguish. But as a business model it makes a lot of sense for Laminar and building up a consistent professional team that required now to create a world class simulator...  Monthly income, can create consistent revenue, and not the waiting of every four or five years for a payback, the monthly figure will be low, but it will also allow Laminar to grow significantly, the old model like everything else in the 2020s, is just too outdated to run a modern business on, oddly it will also attract more users and even the huge numbers to the simulator, as gamers are used to subscription high turnover models, with low entrance fees.


That point is a significant one here, and strongly reinforced in the webinar. The Next Generation X-Plane simulator will leave behind a lot of the older or even current X-Plane11 staples. Gone will be OpenGL, the new simulator also will be very heavily loaded with a lot of quality art, or quality autogen, and the announced new items are going to hit your framerate, that is a given...  not so much if you have already a modern computer with a fairly powerful graphics card, but those users are still consistently hanging on to their very dated hardware, are certainly going to be the very hard losers in the version change over, sounds a bit also like the current Windows 11 all over again. So it all sounds very much like the decade old X-Plane9 change to X-Plane 10, but a least back then, you could sort of run X-Plane10 on a wheezing old intel, but most to keep their old hand in stuck for years with X-Plane9...   that will certainly be the same scenario, but with X-Plane11 now being the default for the older processors and cards, to the front will be the New Generation leaving it all behind.


So a lot of the old guard my not like or even revolt at the coming changes to the X-Plan simulator, but remember to survive, and certainly to compete with MSFS (Microsoft Flight Simulator) then in reality X-Plane has to move forward, so you should just really get used to that factor now, and not expect anything else otherwise...   as Austin in reality over hinted that very fact.


Themes rising from the webinar and the promo videos are interesting and very Laminar Research in context... take what you have and then revision or re-engineer them to be far, far better than the current aspects and deliver big in quality and clever ideas. That theme was very, very strong here...  so don't expect a big, if huge difference in change to the X-Plane Simulator as we currently know it, but oddly expect a very different feel and quality as it moves into it's next version phase... this in context is very similar to the X-Plane10 changeover from X-Plane9. One area that will remain is that the interface and user layout will stay the same, yes the art and look will be revised... but the base menus, configuration and settings will be very much the same, of which is no surprise to me as the interface was totally overhauled only a few years back in early X-Plane11. However Laminar do plan a complete minor overhaul of the tools such as PlaneMaker, which are still actually X-Plane10 based


Current aircraft and addons should also not be affected, as the Vulcan/Metal transformation is now also mostly completed. Austin also noted there will probably be currently no MSFS "Marketplace" as the current system already works very well. In reality it would mean that Laminar would have to set up a whole new department and hire staff to cover a "Marketplace Store", and at their core that is not what Laminar are about, as they would be setting themselves up against the already entrenced; X-Plane.OrgStore, Orbx, SimMarket and even Aerosoft at a push. I have no doubt that Laminar has looked at the MSFS set up, but in reality Austin won't want more business work to take him away from his real world projects.


Personally I think that Laminar are being very clever here. So what was revealed in detail...   Like I mentioned the significant idea is to change the even now quite outdated core X-Plane assets, and mostly all those files sitting in your Resources folder. So the clever bit is that by changing over these core assets you get suddenly a complete change of look in the simulator itself, a plus is that the already built Global Airports, will also get a sudden, modern and more realistic update as well. This may even be like runway surfaces and as shown on the Webinar taxiway and apron areas, with a lot of grunge and realistic ragged edges...  there will be a huge choice of new surfaces as laid out below.


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Wet surfaces are also coming and the effects are built in...   you have to admit, they are great water effects!


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.. and even ice and snow. Obviously most of these assets are focused on the WED core building tools, like more gate variations and fuel depots


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But a lot of new elements will be landscape fillers, like Golf Courses and (above) Tennis Courts.


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The autogen industrial assets were a great success, mainly through the quality of the buildings, so more elements are to be added.


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And even graveyards for your post X-Plane eternity... is your name on a gravestone? They will make for interesting reading.


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Docks and shipping are also very much highlighted, and the detail is excellent.


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Long desired for X-Plane are lighthouses, so long no more as they will be included...


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... and so there will be a far more varied and quality control towers.


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As notable and brilliant as all this is? Is it enough to hold off the MSFS onslaught, it feels a bit X-Plane+ more than a comprehensive scenery revision...   Austin also noted that new textures were not a priority or 'down the list" of priorities... but are Laminar holding back new ground textures for a "Ta Da!" moment later, he did note that a lot of items are still not going to be announced or shown yet, so we do get some "Wah!" moments at the release announcement stage...    but one video did certainly make you sit up and go "Wow!" in the "Next Generation Forestry Preview".



The trees (and fauna) will all be 3d and finally a real quality 3d tree it really is (no more cardboard single or cheap crossed art trees), but not only are the trees brilliantly good in detail, but they move with the wind and change with the seasons as the seasonal rendering is dynamic and driven by the already installed (X-Plane11 updated) shader system, to which the shaders are controlled by local data in latitude and time...   and Austin announced that yes "Seasons" are finally coming to X-Plane (whateveryoumaycallit) New Gen. New seasons in; Summer, Autumn (fall), Winter and Spring must also mean new ground texture assets? hopefully yes. But to watching those trees change seasons will be worth the entry price to X-Plane Next Gen alone.


After spending a decade of reviewing scenery, I have learnt one thing... you can't cover all the globe and expect quality detail everywhere, as there has to be a balance. It is a bit like a magicians trick, the base is very basic, but it is what you use to cover (or illusion) over the bad, with using something dense and pretty on the top, MSFS actually uses this same slight of hand, but not very well.


Austin noted that no, never will X-plane go down the photo ortho based texture route or do streaming scenery. No doubt the photo base is sometimes realistic as from the air, but it looks simply horrible on the ground with it's burnt in cars, building and dark shadows, for again the main reason I hate them in custom scenery, being perfectly flat is also horrible... so I see and support Austin's point of view there, but getting around that aspect is not at all easy either.

As Austin quoted that "crisp, clean, modeled buildings and trees, a believable and plausible world trumps an approach where approximate data driven, streamed scenery is relied upon, a set of high quality art assets that are intelligently applied to construct a believable world will produce more believable results", and a big yes to that. A sub note on believable scenery is the current use of the "OpenSteeetMap" data...  this data system came in on X-Plane10, and was certainly a huge step forward in realism, but that was also now nearly a decade ago or old, and in areas that the OSM data is not very dense either (China or Russian anyone) it now actually fails the simulator dismally. My wish for the future is for a more modern and detailed world data map, and that aspect will certainly go a long way in recreating the dense world that MSFS does so well.


Austin stated which he believes that different thinking drives a different approach, which in turn delivers diverse products that benefit the consumer in choice and features, meaning MSFS and the differences to the X-Plane Simulator, and certainly you have to note his approach is very different from the Microsoft aspect.  


Those trees will however go a very long way in creating a realistic landscape, MSFS went one further and created grass as well, so I hope that aspect will be also part of the Next Gen simulator, as the idea works extremely well in MSFS. Also is the lighting effects. Laminar have already previewed their (or Ben Supnic's) new new photometric lighting mode and also Austin has noted that a new weather system is also on the cards with a move again away from art based clouds to volumetric clouds... 


Yes X-Plane already has a sort of "cloud puff ball" system, but this is a full volumetric cloud system, but could also come with realistic winds and hopefully towering clouds. My gut says, in don't be too hopeful on that a new and complete weather system will come with the release of the Next Gen simulator on release. Weather is a complex and very time consuming addition to perfect or get right as many 3rd party developers have already found out, expect this addition as more part of the Next Gen version run, more than a new feature, but Austin went to great lengths to explain his vision in creating realistic and immersive flying, by being a mosquito as a light plane, confronted by huge tower head clouds, violent weather and flying realistically or around such common air-bound dangers, but noted he is actually currently working on dynamic weather transitions... certainly a grand vision worth pursuing, but it won't as noted come overnight.


Austin was also highly effused by the new coming drone based aviation era. Drones are not aircraft, but not model flying machines either, but sort of mixed together hybrid to create a completely new type of vehicle that flies...




...  so certainly expect these new vehicles and their very different style of flight dynamics to come to X-Plane, and even expect a drone type vehicle or two as part of the release announcement (not the Airbus one shown above, but it would be a great simulation). Austin noted an involvement with a new startup called Beta, who is developing a VTOL electric powered air vehicle that is not a flying car or drone; with capabilities to eliminate the use of fuel and runways, and the ability to drive on roads, which is very Austin Meyer.

On aircraft coming in the New Gen, only the announced A330 was noted, and more default aircraft were coming with the release, but no elaboration of what was in the pipeline, but Austin did note they were all very good...  Notably Javier Rollon (JRollon) the mainstay aircraft default developer for X-Plane has moved on, or is not this time noted as a developer, but a new developer team has been assembled to do more and better system realistic default aircraft for the simulator, the noted previewed A330 is the first to evolve out of these changes.


A story came out of the Webinar about the X-Plane ATC system...  I have noted repeatably that a good ATC was (well) overdue for X-Plane, it is certainly a problem child to deliver. Chris Serio has worked on the ATC at Laminar for years (and Chris is no slouch coder), but when he presented his version to the group, it didn't go down very well....  Austin thought he could do better and did his version, and that ATC system went down even worse, so Austin went and hired the "very" best developer in ATC...  he is currently working on the earlier Chris Serio ATC version, with additions to bring a realistic ATC to life.

Austin's vision is however to do away with the text aspect, and make the ATC much more AI (Artificial Intelligence) realistic, but could the current AI be advanced enough for such a step forward at this time, that will be the interesting answer, but if Laminar can pull it off, then the ATC system could or would be certainly a major drawcard to the Next Gen simulator. An interesting side note was that Philipp Ringler noted that part of the new ATC system includes air traffic areas (zones) and FIR (Flight Information Region) zones, and that would certainly transform international and even local flying in the three tier ATC system.


Philipp Ringler also pitched in to note that Laminar are working on a single, and not multi display system. Laminar's thinking is that one well co-ordinated display is far better than many separate ones, as offset settings for each of the three monitors means a lot calibration and each display can be colour co-ordinated. So one massively powerful system of one instance of X-Plane displayed is certainly beneficial on computer rendering and the quality of the images, but pulling all those complex variations together as one, can be very hard to do, interesting though.


Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG, or more commonly known as MMO) for X-Plane created a “yes, but no” response from Austin Meyer. Certainly not in the current aspect, but  Austin envisioned a future where, when you get online, you get connected to all other copies of X-Plane, regardless whether it’s mobile or desktop, as Austin personally wants to build a virtual world where all X-Plane users, regardless of the X-Plane edition and device, that they can connect and all fly together at the same time. Personally in theory it is a great idea, certainly from a gamers approach, as they like to compete with each other, myself to fly next to or with a gamer approach to simulation fills me with absolute horror, but that is to my own personality traits... 


Sound or sounds have never really been a top priority for the X-Plane Simulator, But for the South American based Daniella Careri, now Laminar’s main sound engineer that will significantly change in the future Next Gen version, By sounds, Austin mentions not only aircraft, but the surrounding environment too. Austin noted a blank or black screen promo video and only an aural soundscape to showcase Daniela’s work, “sounds are something easy to forget” but Laminar  are seriously committed to deliver a stunning sound environment, brought to you by Daniela Careri's genius...   can't wait or to hear that one.


Other areas in the Webinar were basically noted as "No Comment" for now...  Performance and VR (Virtual Reality), performance areas were address earlier, but personally it is an area even Laminar don't currently know until they build a working version of the Next Gen Simulator, even then it would need to refined, especially for VR... but as noted above, if you get the same numbers as you currently do, then it would be a bonus not a negative, but older setups are going to finally be put to rest. For VR, Austin noted that again it was a technology race in that the current addon equipment is still not perfected or advanced enough for it to be really fully accessible (I.e. on it's expensive price).


On physical objects crash damage, or buildings and trees, or even other aircraft, “not in my flightplan” as Austin noted and added “I’m here to make a flight simulator, not a crash simulator.”, but he did like the idea of Helicopter rotor blades being damaged.


On the question would there be wind, valleys, mountains, terrain effects in clouds, is a point Austin found Interesting, But noted the team hasn't gone down that road that far yet (Which also notes in the light development of the whole weather system at this point of the simulator development). But they are working on it, and noted that when you enter the weather in the UI, the rendering and simulation is being constructed as accurately as possible and currently modeled by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) model, which likely also may not be able to replicate all the current data features. But Austin noted the question for future reference.


The final question was "Would there be raindrops on windshields?"...  Austin replied that "we don’t want to take away the fun".


A final word goes to Philipp Ringler, whom was quite disappointed that question of no one this time mentioning or texting about the map symbols on the default 737 NAV map, he noted gleefully he has finally fixed them... bless.



Laminar Research have put out now a few promo videos to promote what the called the "Next Generation X-Plane", and that theme was very strong through out this webinar from the Oshkosh 2021 EAA AirVenture.


Finally however we do get an admission that the version (not yet named, noted as currently as "Next Generation") will be after five years of X-Plane11, a new version of the simulator. And that the marketing, titles and even a release date will be announced at the upcoming San Diego, FlightSimExpo on September 24-26, 2021, with hopefully a running version to view.


Laminar Research are going in a different route to the MSFS simulator, but that is not a surprise here as Austin Meyer dislikes the photo based, streaming model. In a lot of cases a lot that has been shown is basically the true X-Plane elements. Far more art elements and far more Autogen art...  biggest reveal was the excellent Forestry and Fauna video that 3d trees move with the wind and change with the seasons, so that brings the announcement that seasons are coming to X-Plane as well. But there was a bit of distancing of if the actual base textures would be all new or replaced? To be competitive with MSFS that is certainly a major requirement, as the current textures are a now a decade old? Also out is OpenGL and dated or feeble computers, it will be finally time to upgrade if you want to use the Next Gen Simulator and all it's features.


ATC is also coming, noted as problematic, Austin has brought in house the best ATC coder there is to finally fix it, notable was the air traffic areas (zones) and FIR (Flight Information Region) zones will be included. Weather is also changing from art based to a volumetric cloud system (it is a sort of hybrid now), but that aspect feels it won't come at the release date but later in an major update, as Austin's ultimate vision was still more a vision than actual reality. The already announced photometric lighting effects will make a huge impact and certainly change the feel of the simulator, and better Daniella Careri created sound elements are also to be included. New types of Hybrid flying Vehicles or Drones (even flying cars if you want) are also coming with their very unique aerodynamic forces to be replicated realistically, that should create a very new flying experience in the simulator, and even expect a few of the hybrid vehicles included in the Next Gen Release. And finally Laminar want a single display model for multiple displays for home built cockpits, but creating such an co-ordinated display and it's difficult calibration, is a challenge to do so.


Out of al the elements that Laminar Research have now revealed, you are sort of getting an overall view and feel of what this "Next Generation" of the X-Plane Simulator will be, but my feeling is that for everything already announced, and it was noted a few times in the Webinar, that there is also a lot that has not been said or revealed, for those answers, then the FlightSimExpo in late September will be a final overall revealing of the coming new X-Plane version, and even a move to a controversial subscription monetary model...


As usual anything could or will change, but at least we are now moving forward into the new era of the Next Generation of X-Plane Simulation.



Analyse by Stephen Dutton

30th July 2021

Copyright©2021: X-Plane Reviews


(Disclaimer. All images and text in this review are the work and property of X-PlaneReviews, no sharing or copy of the content is allowed without consent from the author as per copyright conditions) All Rights Reserved


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Great analyze,


If I may add, Austin did say they are ditching OpenGL, but this is just for the main world renderer and not for the plugin (confirmed with Ben Supnic).

My concern is with the ground textures, although personally it is not a priority for me, I think that if they won't ramp up these textures they would be mocked although their other efforts in other areas.


I guess only time will tell. 

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Thanks... I am seriously worried that the decade old textures will also get a miss, and that effect will have big repercussions on the whole simulator, and as you noted, that one aspect will overwhelm all the very good presented. The better and higher quality global textures are required for far better airport fit into the scenery, for intergrating the 3rd party city addons, and for good VRF flying, plus the overall look while flying high... they are essential for X-Plane to step forward to it's Next Gen title, we hope, or pray that they are coming in a big surprise feature....

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