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Behind The Screen : Expo 2021 - X-Plane12 or is it X-Plane11+


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Behind The Screen : Expo 2021 - X-Plane12 or is it X-Plane11+


Bleary eyed, early morning Australia and I am seeing waxing images of Austin Meyer floating around in front of me....  Am I dreaming or having nightmares... The FlightSimExpo (Sept 24th - 26th) in San Diego is here and I am in expectant mode, but it all looks like another bad time and a place, even the presenter was unfamiliar with his totally but false cheerful Apple inspired "Great Question" replies...  agggh I'm in hell, I need to wake up!


Only I wasn't dreaming or even asleep, it was all very real and I was really watching all of this...  The Covid induced the virus strikes again with a masterful vengeance and Laminar Research pulls together quickly a video presentation, and sends only one Laminar staff member to the Expo (Philipp Ringler).

The announcement comes that it will indeed be X-Plane12, lob off 11 and replace it with a 12 and that was about it, no new exciting branding or any "NEXT GENERATION" booming out of the speakers...   and it went all downhill from there, and my first reaction is that the new X-Plane12 felt more like X-Plane11+


So what is X-Plane12, honestly I don't think even Laminar Research can currently answer that question, but there is a form and even a context coming out of what the new version is, but as to what it will actually eventually look like, it wasn't actually shown, or it didn't feel that way because the elements of the new simulator were not pulled together in time to do a real live demonstration...


Even as a marketing machine it all looks very amateurish (even to wearing X-Plane11 T-Shirts) and hastily pulled together, and Laminar Research has usually done very well in that marketing aspect in the past. And sadly it was all at a venue where it had a very valuable situation to exploit as the expected MS crowd kept away from the Expo...  Laminar had the whole ball in their hand, but in reality Covid induced they dropped it when they really needed a big catch.


A X-Plane12 release date is also not on any current road map either, or neither is there a price. The pathway is to release an Alpha working version (but not with everything included) to the 3rd party developers to evaluate and see what else needs to be refined as the API's (Application Programming Interfaces) are affected (again)...  then a beta release for the users and finally a full working X-Plane12 version sometimes in the never, never. In other words the usual rigmarole of a new X-Plane version.


X-Plane12 is a new upgrade version of the simulator, so that means you will have to repurchase it to use it, but it was noted that one authorisation key will cover both the current X-Plane11 and the new X-Plane12 simulators if you want to run both simulators side by side.


To the core, and X-Plane12 has been created to cover the all biggest items on the complaints list, as all or most of the new features featured are basically there to fix what we have moaned about for years...  fixing them however has left no room for any imagination or really bold new features that could take the fight or anything to Microsoft's venerable Flight Simulator MSFS which is very unlike Laminar Research, so the current feeling is that at first it feels more like a very big X-Plane11 update, more than a completely new X-Plane(12) version...  hence the X-Plane11+ moniker.


To be fair overall though, there are some actually really significant and even evolutionally changes going on in X-Plane12...   so lets take all the very different announced elements over the northern summer and try to form out what X-Plane12 actually is with the complaints list items noted.



Weather: The weather is the biggest code change going on here in X-Plane12. Finally we are getting away from the art based clouds to a proper 3d volumetric clouds system, these volumetric effects are not something new in X-Plane as I have used them for years with 3rd party xEnviro and Skymaxx Pro. Austin Meyer announced he had wrote the new weather code alone in 45 days? to the total displeasure of Ben Supnic who seemed surprised of that announcement...  3rd party developers as noted have been working on 3d volumetric clouds for years and YEARS, and don't yet have a clean if very efficient application. But it is a move away from art based visual forms to a more (physics) mathematical form, and the very few current visuals of the new XP12 weather system says there is far more is yet to be done. The trick here is to get a high efficiency out of the maths, (i.e. framerate) as a default extremely efficient environmental engine can be a real winner on all accounts.


However, the new environmental engine will work in a 4 dimensional space and most cloud types are covered, which are cirrus, stratus, cumulus, and cumulonimbus, and internally the engine can blend between them to grow a cumulus cloud to a cumulonimbus cloud, "Towering" can be created by making the cloud layer(s) taller. No one has yet created "Towering" clouds in X-Plane. It is the very important aspect if the most important aspect of the simulator.

Realistic lightning was already shown and very good it is as well, with better atmospheric sounds, and the new rain, puddles and snow effects that will be very realistic, even if to counteract directly the MSFS lauded feature (fixed )


Meyer also announced the use of NOAA Grib Models to forecast the weather globally to make sure the changes are smooth and seamless when flying. The system couples four separate models (atmosphere, ocean model, land/soil model, and sea ice) that work together to accurately depict and forecast weather conditions, the local METARs are not forgotten, but now overlaid the Grib data to create a more realistic model by combining the two elements. So overall there will be no more pauses or resets for the weather changes as it reloads in another METAR report because they are now built in, but on a global scale and with forecasts created up to 48 hours ahead.


Lighting: As we know there is also a new, photometric lighting mode in X-Plane12, that will take out (finally) the blandness of X-Plane, but this aspect is very important in reference to the weather system as they work hand in hand, plus with the reflections on the ground and clouds, as Ben Supnic noted with making puddles of water and even the popping of the rain on the water is possibly to be wholly realistic. But the main aspect of the new photometric lighting is in bringing that hyper realism along with the already PBR effects into the simulator, or creating another system that is based on physics and not art based. In a way these separate elements are all highly dependent on each other to create a new whole. Like snow is actually not a weather area, but in a simulator they are done by using physics and again not with art.


The Weather and Lighting components are obviously the new central core to X-Plane12, and to reduce the massive impact they will have on the simulator, most of the physics computing has been moved to the processor (via Vulcan/Metal), and away from the graphic card, or moving the art base over to the physics base. So a bigger monster graphic card in the future is not going to give you more power and speed, but a bigger faster processor will...   that is a good thing considering the absurd graphic card prices of late.


The above has been two years in the making at Laminar Research, and still the working W+L model is not yet completed, but they are getting close...  hence a lot of the current videos and images are showing very little of the whole Weather and Lighting combination in actual operation.


Autogen: A lot of effort has been done to create better autogen. From the colossus of coming main actual art (objects) to the better rendering of the objects and even the hinted points of color correcting and enhancing of the autogen. OpenStreetMaps/NASA/ESA are also going to be better intergrated to get better (tighter) formations for more realism.

In time as was noted that better ground textures would be incorporated to make the visual aspect more realistic, and as seen in the Webinar the runway, taxi and area surface textures, have all been fully updated to a more quality Hi-Res look and feel.

Austin notes that photo images would never come to X-Plane, but to a point it is an area that can only be ignored for so long as long as MSFS is out there. I am still sure that Laminar are trying out for a compromise, ditto grass, that Ben Supnic notes won't be coming anytime soon either because of the high LOD on the processor...  but once the main elements of X-Plane12 are completed, I am sure that Ben and Co will revisit these two areas as they are essential to the simulator in moving forward.  (Box ticked )


Autogen covers also those incredible trees (and fauna), 3d and animated, and they will be also made available to 3rd party scenery developers to intergrate into their sceneries better to fuse in better with the main simulator, also in the autogen realm are the sounds...


Sounds: "In the forest if a tree falls will you hear it" well obviously in X-Plane12 that answer is now, yes...  Daniela Rodriguez Careri the new sound expert for Laminar Research has created "Ambient Sounds" to cover better aural interaction within the simulator. Winds (and depending on the wind strength) will blow and rustle the trees and the leaves, cars will make sounds while moving, birds tweet, crickets chirp and all of those and more aural messages are coming to XP12. Airport ambient sounds are going to be more realistic as well (mostly diesel engines) hydraulics, moving baggage carts, pushback tractors and weather atmospheric sounds, and you will be able to audible hear and see the Jetways connecting...   and all these sounds are in there to create a realistic environment, and coming also is the use of FMOD 2.0 for more expansive sounds and a better workflow. A side note includes that the airport ground service vehicles have been upgraded as well, with real 3d people (a la MSFS) and better movement animations.


Seasons: We knew already that seasons were coming, but the depth of the seasons is a lot better than we had earlier anticipated. The seasons have been created to flow...  meaning that moving north to south (or vice-versa) and the seasons will change with you below (so no hard tree lines were they change seasons). X-Plane12 uses bio-data on where and when the seasons evolve and changes the fauna appropriately to the period and area, even with the latitude and fauna elevation. (Box ticked )


Water: Flow is also important in the better water engine... after years on complaints, Laminar has finally remodeled the water, to create more realistic 3d waves (including different wave heights out at sea to say the rivers and lakes), but to also to show depth and colour (tropical) of the water itself. The graphic card that creates the water is also now handed off to the processor to marry up the flight dynamics of the interaction between the physical water and the aircraft's aerodynamics in it's relation to the combining of the two areas... in other words in the way the aircraft reacts to the fluid moving water dynamics...  this aspect will be an interesting one, certainly with the new lighting engine. (another box ticked )


Rain: When Vulkan/Metal (XP11.50) was released we also lost the Librain a plugin by skiselkov that created realistic rain effects on your aircraft windows... "Where did it go?"...   well it looks like to Laminar Research, whom has taken the plugin and intergrated the rain effects into the actually simulator with the original developer (skiselkov) rewriting the application as a default effect, the results are stunning...  and it will be very nice to have back again (I will note that Laminar should do more in intergrating clever external application such as "BetterPushBack" and Librain directly into the simulator, as they can enhance the realism and experience for everyone.)


ATC: Ahhh the ATC! or Air Traffic Control. At first glance the new ATC (finally coming) has been completely rewrote, then rewrote again then a very nice Englishman by the name of Jim Keir has rewrote or modified the ATC model again, and the result...  not so much different than the original layout?

Personally I think the devil is in the detail here...  on the surface it may not look that much different, but the way you interact with the ATC (via a "Push to Talk" mode) is highly different and very much more (joystick) realistic. A hat-switch is then used to navigate the menus (options) with better access for HOTAS and VR (Virtual Reality) users.

The UI is on a second glance is actually quite different from the simplistic original, with selections and frequencies more easily selected with sub-menus... the idea is not to be distracted when interacting with the ATC, and the "proof will be in the pudding" when we use it.

It was noted that the actual A.I. behind the ATC is now far more forgiving and more realistic, so it won't guide you into mountains or get angry at you if you don't follow their unrealistic instructions, and actually now knows your position in relation to the airport. There are 30 different commands with requests and interactions with the VFR flight rules, and the aircraft and terrain proximity alerts.


Another aspect is that the ATC is also localised, in that there are now different accents or languages used in the different parts of the ATC world network (Australia will be interesting, "g,day" is very frequent on the "Live ATC.Net" app that  listens into the ATC networks).


The new ATC is like an Iceburg, small on the top but huge and flexible under the water (A very big box ticked )


Avionics/Systems: X-Plane 12 will also have a pilot and co-pilot dual control system, this will allow separate controls to be used while in flight, whereas currently we are used to connected or synchronised controls. The new dual control system was shown in the new Citation X, where the pilot was able to split the controls and can move a certain control surface. Hydraulics have also been improved by breaking up and assigning the flying surfaces to the different hydraulic commands. The two aspects of that, is that developers will be able to assign the different control surfaces to different hydraulic systems and then create (realistic) failures within those separate systems.


Anyone who has been around X-Plane and it's default instrumentation will know of the dire minute lineage on the navigation displays. Here is another common complaint that has been fixed with now scalable symbology and (bigger) text, mostly for the default Boeing 737-800 (default B747-800), but can also be used on any aircraft that uses the X-Plane default navigation systems...  (another biggy fixed ).


New avionics include a remote GCU keyboard control panel for the G1000 system, and a Honeywell Primus FMC and Primus 2000 PFD system. I also noticed in the Expo presentation by Philipp Ringlar on his "FMC and Systems Operations" session that the default Collins FMC also seemed to be upgraded (don't take my word on that), but there was a substantial amount more detailed information on the FMC facia images than what I am used to).


Default Aircraft: there will be five new default aircraft with X-Plane12

  • Airbus A330
  • F-14 Tomcat
  • Cirrus SR22
  • Austin "Lancair Meyer" (N844X)
  • Citation X


Austin Meyer is fawning over their new Airbus A330, but honestly we have been flying study level Airbus aircraft for years (Does Austin actually know what is flying on his own actual simulator?) It looks really good, but let us see the system depth before going overboard and no a default FMC is not an Airbus native, but to note it will still be a great introduction for anyone to Airbus flying on X-Plane as a default aircraft. Both the Cirrus SR22 and Citation Bizjet have been promised (and promised) for years, (so two more boxes ticked )


If any of the current aircraft have had any upgrades (except the B738 and maybe the B744 instrumentation) it has yet to be seen. It was announced in the July Webinar that coming for X-Plane12 was drone based aviation. So if a (basic) Drone is included in the default lineup, then don't be surprised, overall the quality of the new default aircraft feel and look far better than the earlier X-Plane version default inclusions.


We started this analysis on the back of the San Diego Expo announcement of X-Plane12, but that aspect is certainly the wrong place to start...  it added in the features, but did not context the whole X-Plane12 experience, in fact trying to unsee (once seen) Austin Meyer's bizarre UFO moment is not in really helping the cause of anything for Laminar Research in any one tiny little bit.


In a summary, you can see the evolution of the X-Plane Simulator in it's raw form to X-Plane12. In reality Laminar Research has done two things at once. Ticked off the boxes that users wanted fixed or have been outstanding over the years, and two addressed the features on Microsoft's Flight Simulator that it can address, but also to make them even better than what MSFS has done...   the one thing missing is the shiny sheen that MSFS has to attract new users, ex-FlightSimmers and even gamers to the fold, and in that aspect Laminar currently has not created anything that is the new feel of something new and revolutionary in the new version (of which we felt with the rollovers of XP9/10/11... 


And I think that aspect to a point has created this semi-backlash of X-Plane being at least a prominent if even the best Aircraft Simulator out there.... In other words Laminar has done itself no favors, considering all the sheer work put into creating X-Plane12...  and that is part of the problem, we thought it would be a revolution against MSFS, but in fact we got the usual low key even folky, and not the revolution announcement, when it was needed the most.


The competition between MSFS and X-Plane cannot be ignored, but it comes at a seriously wrong time for Laminar Research. The biggest problem is that X-Plane has to evolution from the inside out, were as MSFS is basically a clean sheet of paper. Worse is the internal evolution from the old (OpenGL and Art based) simulation to the new (Vulkan/Metal and processor based physics) simulation is only half way there, and worse Vulkan/Metal was a problem child from the start that has runover in it's development and made resources late for the second phase (X-Plane12 features) even later. At this point X-Plane12 is about 12 months longer in development than both of all X-Plane9, 10 and 11 with their four year lifespans, and with that runover time used again you expected more.


But to look at the feature list of X-Plane12, and when it is all meshed together the earlier long term vision will finally start to work. The core Weather+Lighting+ ATC combination is very, if extremely important here, as they are all are the main tools you need to interact into an aircraft simulator, a side bonus is that it will change the feel and the immersion of flying via a computer to another higher level again. Again to note the dynamics of all three W+L+ATC are just that in dynamic and changing...  MSFS has visually good weather, but it is not actually very good dynamically, ditto the ATC system, do you see my point here. And these changes are going to core of the revolution that will be X-Plane12.


Add in the more highly realistic water (including standing water and rain/snow), hi-res trees and dynamic seasons and you can see the interaction will be also far more different as well, sounds will also switch on another level of immersion, but to what point do they become brilliant to the annoyance factor is yet to be seen and heard, if we have control over those factors then that aspect could define them.


Technically these immense changes will change over the balance from the Graphic Card back to the Processor, before it was the bigger the more powerful card the better, but with the Vulkan/Metal transfer becoming more relevant in X-Plane12, then your processor will become even more important, and to the point that the older systems will just not cut it anymore.


Laminar Research was on the right path with "Next Generation", but lost the momentum with a dower "X-Plane12" moniker, our wish was to remove the generalisation of four year numbered versions and let X-Plane become just become one long road of development, that aspect to modernise the simulator has been also lost here in the Expo announcement as well.


Obviously the beta version will show us the scope and revolution of the next X-Plane Simulator...  but overall by putting everything into context, there is a huge amount to look forward to, and very exciting features they are certainly built in there as well, and the main point is that X-Plane12 simulation is now actually coming, it will hopefully make a great Christmas present (even in beta form) and even take away most of the trauma of the Covid last few years.


X-Plane11+...   no it is really more like X-Plane12+ and the "Next Generation" of Aircraft Simulators out there.



Analysis by Stephen Dutton

26th September 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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  • Stephen changed the title to Behind The Screen : Expo 2021 - X-Plane12 or is it X-Plane11+

Why do I get the impression that it's 'Austin's way or the highway'.  They basically revealed what could have been done already to help XP11 but instead withheld to generate income through a new version.  Good business strategy - I think not.  In spite of all the little whistles and bells, the scenery will remain basically shoddy.  Austin doesn't like photo scenery and that's that, so there's no attempt to blend it (a la Orbx).  Trees and water look good but not enough to overlook the rest.  Perhaps and island with trees and a lake in the middle of an ocean - like when you currently load an airport in a section of default you haven't yet added.  May of '22 is still a way off so we can watch and wait.

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