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Behind the Screen : July 2021 - 9th Anniversary Issue


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Behind the Screen :  July 2021 - 9th Anniversary Issue


This Behind the Screen (BtheS) dispatch is a bit late, well a lot late, sorry about that but X-Plane certainly had a few very busy weeks... we will get to that aspect in a moment. Significantly it was also another milestone on the 1st August for X-PlaneReviews as well, as the site passed it's ninth year of publication, and went into it's tenth year of doing reviews and analysis of the Laminar Research X-Plane Simulator, yes nearly a full decade of pounding the keys and editing billions of images, and all about just a Simulation program (never ever say it is a game).


In X-PlaneReviews ninth year then X-Plane itself is also under going a huge transformation, as is of all of Simulation itself.  The Simulator is going through a very revolutionary period that will transform the way you see, feel and operate in it's complex world. This does happen at various periods thoughout any significant platform history, it has to evolve, change to the current different era and situations, as if it doesn't then the platform and in this case simulation itself, will fall behind and become insignificant and even outdated to other forms, of may I say entertainment. The newer generation don't watch television or follow music via the Top Ten hits anymore, as they have it all on instantly any screen or phone...  so is there really any hope of them watching an airliner fly though the sky for six hours.


So that is the point, "change". But although this is another revolution, it is different in many respects from any other major changes in the past, as it is not only just a technical change, but also a cultural one as well, and even add in a medical virus related panademic era on top of everything else. You may think no to that last aspect, but several developers as part of teams have actually died of the Covid Virus.


This last year was quite a really anxious time in more cases than most crisis of the past. For one the Microsoft Flight Simulator was going to absorb like a vortex almost everything around it...  I'm not going to bore you with MSFS ramblings again, but you still have to understand were we are now situated in our little if closed X-Plane universe compared to last year. There was actually a genuine fear for X-Plane on the release of MSFS nearly a year ago, and that point cannot be underestimated, yes X-Plane has always been in a David vs Goliath tussle with the Flight Simulator universe, but in the last few years even the most diehard FS fans and developers found that X-Plane does delivered a brilliant Simulator experience, it has it's holes and negatives, but as a real world mirror simulator it is certainly one of the best.... or could I say the best?


But the past year has been a huge surprise, since that August last year 2020. Considering that X-Plane11 is now four and half years dated, and that the replacement version is still now another five months away (actually a year late) we are all quite happily bubbling along quite nicely thank you all very much, in fact release wise things are really not much different at all...  so the point is,  it is actually more to the normal lately than whatever the normal actually is.


Core to current situation are the X-Plane developers in turning out really exceptional products, in immersion and features. Their products are breathtaking lately in their scope and quality, and there is still a significant list yet to come for this year. Yes MSFS now have good add on aircraft, but read the reviews to see the real differences between a simulator and what is really a gaming platform. Yes the question is now arising in that what is MSFS, and can they be a real simulator or simply an area where gamers can fly good aircraft... it is THE question babbling away on the MSFS forums, but the commentators are starting to realise that is also a question that has to be asked, now that the hype is starting to clear itself away...   I watched a extremely good games player try out Microsoft's wonderkind sim, and it was so diabolical that I fell off my chair laughing out loud, and to think that these are the people that are the focus of millions of dollars in development and advertising, yes the rewards are huge of course...  but a year out and I think the boundaries are finally being drawn. The point of those of boundaries are that they are also highly significant to the future of the X-Plane Simulator.


Finally last Friday at the annual Oshkosh EAA AirVenture was that Laminar Research or Austin Meyer gave a Webinar to discuss the future of his created simulator. Not the first glimpses of the noted, "Next Generation" that could or not be called X-Plane12, I'm going for actually a none numbered version, so "Next Generation X-Plane" will be, or could be the official title, as Austin himself noted it was now time to move on. No more waiting four (or five) years for another version, from now on it will be only a one continuous development, but does that also move the Simulator to a yearly subscription model as well... well I said that here first. The punters say "Absolutely no way!" throwing down the gauntlet to Austin to confront them with his new vision of the way X-Plane is accessed and ran. Change...  "oh my god they will really, really hate that".


Well the changes are coming punters, even if you like it or not, the ones who adapt will move forward, but maybe this time the changes will be maybe a step too far for too many, a decade on from when I started reviewing here, this will be the biggest changing of the guard in the history of the X-Plane simulator we have yet to be seen...  and many, many of the diehards will leave, throw away their authorisation keys, or mostly just keep on flight simming on an Intel Core 2 Quad processor and Windows 98.

This change is like with the Windows OS itself, update your computer or you won't be able to use Windows 11, for us it will be exactly the same, but not only for the X-Plane Next Gen but also for an operating system. "Not fair" you say...   well nothing is fair in change, it is what it is.... hell go over to MSFS and you are still faced with the same problem.... Simulation has moved on a long way in ten years and those 2d cockpit paper aircraft.


I covered the EAA AirVenture Webinar in an analysis here; "X-Plane - Past, Present and Future", but Laminar were teasing us weeks before with some showy preview videos including a; Lighting model and a Airbus A330 default aircraft...  but with the ideas presented at Oshkosh you finally saw a glimpse of the coming real "Next Gen" of X-Plane, glimpses is still the word here, as for the full monty of art, cost and release date won't be shared until the FlightSimExpo in San Diego in late September (24th-26th).


Putting the published elements together, I was certainly very excited on what is coming, but also was very aware of what we will actually get come release time, hopefully on Thanksgiving day November. As everything you see, will not come to you straight away, and it could be even two years before we get everything featured or promoted on the release announcement. That is to any X-Plane user really no surprise, and basically used to the continuous development of the simulator, and it depends on what will actually be (sort of) finished by the release date, or still has to be done ongoing. To new users it maybe a bit of a let down, they will want everything shiny and new as promised... and right now.

But remember that Laminar is not resourced like Microsoft is, hell nobody except Apple are as resourced as Microsoft is, so they will have to lower their expectations...  but Laminar to their eternal credit, have always hit well above their belt weight, this time however they will have to break a few Olympic records in doing so.


But putting my prediction hat on, then these elements will be in the main core when released. Certainly the new photometric lighting effects will be front and centre, as will be the new seasons model. The exceptional Forestry feature will also be included... although promoted heavily at the Webinar, the new autogen objects are not that relevant to the major change, just really a lot more of the same as we have now, but the new PBR ground textures will go hand in hand with the lighting effects to bring your X-Plane world to life. That is the core aspects...


ATC is Laminar's problem child...  to be honest no one has really created an authentic ATC model. As noted in the Webinar, in that both Chris Serio and Austin Meyer has had a go at it, and Chris is good, I mean really good (as mentioned in the analysis), years behind and now new outside resources have also been brought in...  The problem with the ATC, is that IF and it is a very big IF, Laminar can get it to be authentic, it would be certainly a major feature killer for X-Plane, against MSFS...  yes MSFS has an ATC, but a very realistic A.I. driven ATC would attract a lot of pro users in all camps magnetically to the X-Plane Simulator... and so the financial rewards would then be also be very high, so not only Chris, but Ben and pretty well any one of the coders in Laminar could work on this feature to get it through the door, we will get an idea at the Expo if that it could be successful outcome, but my gut says it will actually be in the release package in November, it will not be probably perfect, but a workable ATC version.


Another gut instinct is that Laminar also have some big super feature hidden, a blockbuster "Wow" feature to "take your breath away"... Austin hinted again several times that he was not going to show you all of his box of tricks right now, in no doubt keeping his cards very close to his chest...   It could be that working ATC, but I think as that was mentioned a few to many times to be a "out of the box" surprise, I think it will be something else very unexpected...  I think the Weather will also be far more advanced than Austin is letting on as well. In that area the new basic weather engine (going on past the current restricted three level system) to in being a completely new environmental system, but it will be however one area to be updated and refined over a periodic long time during the version run... or simply within the new ongoing development phases.


On past releases, the new version "Next Gen" will be more X-Plane10, than X-Plane11...  in being more a visual than a technical (i.e. Vulkan/Metal) advancement, but then again a requirement to compensate at least something towards MSFS in creating a more realistic environment...   honestly in the actual deep technology of systems and physics, then X-Plane has already the important basics covered, but I really do like the coming introduction of the currently being developed drone based "Rotor" craft, they however may not be the most interesting to actually fly, after say a Boeing 737 Classic, but the aspect of all the wonderful ideas and weird designs will get a lot of developers very excited indeed and in being very X-Plane experimental in context, as they are the future currently for aviation, and this fast moving mode of transport that will transform our world around us... and X-Plane "New Gen" will be at the very centre of that journey...  and so will you.


So overall it was an exciting episode to discover our somewhat glimpse of our future, yes we have waited (and extremely very patiently) for these moments to reveal themselves, and we still have a few months waiting yet again to actually see and use "Next Gen" for real. That is also part of the journey as well.


I could wax on lyrically for paragraphs on the differences of the nine years of X-Plane development and innovations, but I will leave that all to next years decade old anniversary publication. As the "Next Gen" will be then also be part of the evolution...  but I am sometimes quite taken aback in when checking out say an old 5 or 6 year old review, in relation to a current review, and is quite astounded in the shear differences of the in between periods...  to the point of how the older reviews and content are even quite dated and notably basic in their simulation. Going forward to double that period again, will we have the same huge advancements and visual effects to get even closer to that highly realistic aviation environment we all seriously crave. It is with all the right elements in place extremely good now? God knows what technology will deliver in the future...   a brilliant A.I. ATC perhaps?  That aspect may not be as far into the future as you would expect or even imagine...  but actually in a coming revolution called the "Next Generation".


Happy 9th Birthday X-PlaneReviews...   See you all next month.


Stephen Dutton

7th August 2021

Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews


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  • Stephen changed the title to Behind the Screen : July 2021 - 9th Anniversary Issue

Stephen - nicely curbed enthusiasm in this one.  It appears Austin has decided to give MSFS a run for their money and we'll be the beneficiaries - and not a moment too soon.  For some reason I get the impression you're not telling all you know but 'machts nichts' - at my age any suspense is enjoyable.  

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