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Behind the Screen : October 2021


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Behind the Screen : October 2021


About mid-October the X-Plane world finally started to move. A few then a double developer blog entrees appeared and we finally got a realistic glimpse of X-Plane12. Finally it seems that Laminar Research had a running version on their computers, how much depth in the version was still unknown. But the main aspect was that the vital important components where now actually running together.


Important is the weather. Environmental effects is the really hard area to get right in a simulator, in fact no one has really got it all right. It is just too complicated, too complex to get completely realistic. You may get one aspect, say the actually look and feel of the clouds and shaders. But then you can't actively move it around as a real weather system which is constantly evolving from one state to another. The MSFS version is like this, in being very accurate visually, but not dynamically. Although ten years ago the basic three tier X-Plane weather system was back then very good, but looks totally bland today.


Laminar Research have asked a lot of themselves into delivering X-Plane12 in creating a very different type of weather system. On the surface it certainly looks good, but at this stage not exceptional in a few areas. but under the flashy front, is very clever coding at work.


First the system does away (finally) with place cards, or art based tools to go fully mathematical. To the abomination of all the shader repeaters out there. So there will thankfully in XP12 be no more shader tools or packagers that give you even worse over looking deep blue skies and those odd sunset colours. The maths also allows for the new environmental engine will work in a 4 dimensional space and most cloud types are covered, as art is only effective in a 2 dimensional space.


One big advantage over mathematical systems is that because they are not pushing around all those art cards, is that the weather will be far more framerate friendly. Not weather lite, so to speak because the weather is still going to be too big and too complex not to use up a lot of your processing power, and that aspect is also important. Before the weather was very dependent on your Graphic Card, the bigger the better. But in X-Plane12 it will move all those complex calculations to the processor.


Add in the photometric renderer calculations and it starts to get interesting. Again a mathematical model will create realism by using actual real world light levels (specified in real physical units) in its internal calculations, again in discarding the art aspects, and better for us is that the extremely dark cockpits and light/dark line jaggies will disappear and be replaced by something far more in lighting terms of a more realistic nature, or at least a perfect realism of our own world and it's lighting conditions in a simulator.


Again it is important to note that if you play a video game the skies and weather are not actually dynamic, but it is just there so it looks good. That is why it does look so good, but those aspects don't work in a dynamic simulator. In reality for all the extreme quality graphics that they give you visually, then dynamically video games are not really very cutting edge. But the weather in X-Plane12 will be extremely cutting edge technology.


That is two aspects, but the third is a new environmental system that has still another dynamic. X-Plane12 will use the NOAA Grib Models to forecast the weather globally to make sure the weather changes are smooth and seamless when flying. The system couples four separate models (atmosphere, ocean model, land/soil model, and sea ice) that all work together to accurately depict and forecast weather conditions, the local METARs are however not forgotten, but now overlaid the Grib data to create a more realistic model by combining the two elements. So you will have soon all these three areas working together...  the visual, the lighting and the global dynamic elements, and all combined together into a single processing mode.


There will be some missing elements at first, as this is ground breaking tech, and just getting it all working together as a chorus will be a huge feat in itself, the fine tuning will come later. But working it does seem to be, and a very big reason to get very excited.


Important to note was that Laminar noted (most forum comments are all around the technical specifications required for X-Plane12). That Laminar did not buy or use any more updated or more recently purchased computers to build and run X-Plane12. Translated that means what computer you now run X-Plane10 on, will also run X-Plane11. But here is the cache. If you have a weak processor, then you are still going to struggle but in a different way, so hence my need to update my 7 Series processors for something more powerful. (I was due for an upgrade anyway). Important that your processor choice is also a good one. Not only to process the very different elements of X-Plane12, but to have the options later to do multi-threading as well.


As we know X-Plane is currently a single big processing hole, that will change as we get deeper into X-Plane12's run. Multi-threading will become more and more important to use these new current 12 and 16 core processors to their maximum advantage. That is the trick of Vulkan/Metal. Certainly with the option to process the various aspects of the environmental system, but you can see where this is all going for older computers, mostly to the tip.


So you can see the big picture and the huge wall Laminar have had to climb. Not only in installing Vulkan/Metal, but in now also taking the huge advantages of these APIs benefits, as noted OpenGL will be gone in X-Plane12, and you can now easily see why.


As we get closer to X-Plane12's release, another aspect I have mentioned before will be the loss of main favorite aircraft in your virtual hangers... I only see a fraction current aircraft being updated to XP12, most X-Plane10 era aircraft will be finally vintage. Carenado will be the big test, in with the departure of Daniel Klaue, the old custodian of Carenado aircraft. Will the 50 odd aircraft in the Carenado cache be actually updated. Currently I doubt it, but the cull will still be very wide. If even if to the point that you may have to rebuild up your virtual hangers with a far less but fresher fleet.


Another interesting aspect that came out of the Laminar bunker lately was the realignment of the mesh. Ben Supnic asked for some preferences on the mesh order, in wanting to relocate the (in some cases) the mass collection of overlay scenery packages, or put more lightly the addon custom photographic textures.


In reality if you have a significant large collection of these (mostly Orbx) packages, you would have an instant photographic world a'la MSFS. The weakness is the non photo-covered areas of the far weaker default mesh.


The idea is to create a more resource based sub-folder to hold these mesh files, in that they are currently overwhelming the already totally overwhelmed Custom Scenery folder. The trick is in the scenery loading order, so the photo mesh is positioned correctly in the right place, in place below the scenery folder and above the default base mesh, benefits would be a far quicker loading speed and no cross-referencing with other resources in default or custom.


Is it a quick and even cheeky way to counter the MSFS onslaught of photographic imagery. "Hey Presto" and you have an instant photographic world!

It is however an interesting take on the idea, and one that would have Orbx shares going through the roof. Interesting though is that it might bring some of the lost scenery developers back to X-Plane if it could deliver a more realistic world, even if it is against Austin Meyer's personal preferences. My guess this new feature even in a raw form may even be included in the X-Plane12 release. 


The problems still remain though...  flat photographic plates at ground level, and the sheer storage volume and bank balance required to acquire them. But we are not looking at an instant all round fix here but one that covers the issue over the X-Plane12 run.


One thing that has emerged over the last few weeks, is that the X-Plane12 environment is really, really good, and exciting (Finally). It has took sometime to get here obviously, but the signs are finally looking good. And yes even I had my doubts this time around.


As we get closer to the end of the year, one thing does stand out. No matter what the world threw at the X-Plane Simulator, A pandemic, Microsoft and a brand new simulator, loss of peoples income and even work...  and even yes Climate Change. X-Plane not only survived, but even flourished throughout the whole series and sets of events...   now we finally have X-Plane12 also to look forward to.


But keep your expectations low on the beta release. The beta will be basic, to just run only. It will be only later that the layers of features will be added in or refined, like with any new simulator version release. And expect some jolts as well, change can be jarring, and you can lose as much as gain going forward initially, but the benefits will be huge, and very exciting.


I'm still punching for a American Thanksgiving 2021 beta release, if not, then certainly the early first quarter of 2022...  we will all know by the time of the next "Beyond the Screen" edition in December if that 2021 release has happened...  Excited, now you should be.


Yes I'm late again with the October edition, but big, big October aircraft releases needed to be covered first!


Stephen Dutton

9th November 2021

Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews


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  • 2 weeks later...


Great writing as always.

I have one issue with your prediction and its the "streaming textures" feature, if I understood you correctly.

What I understood from X-Plane blog, is that they are trying to make the Custom Scenery more hierarchical and better organized. I don't think they decided what is the "new/old" format going forward but they probably want to minimize the scenery conflicting issues etc.

Regarding streaming textures, I don't think this is what they are going to implement, even as a feature, since as far as I understand (after few e-mails with Ben Supnik) this feature, if not used by LR, might seem as an opening door for illegal usage of that streaming feature. But if LR would have used this technique it might not be the case.

Overall there is a legal issue and complexity of implementation.


What is interesting is that many years back, I think there was a plugin that did the same for X-Plane 9 or 10, but it was banned  by google for the texture usage, so it should be possible but maybe not as a built in feature.




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I don't think I mentioned "Streaming Textures" like what MSFS 2020 are doing, that was never a way Laminar wanted to go either as you mentioned, but Ben is caught. It is the one area in MSFS 2020, that X-Plane just can't compete with, the option in downloading the photographic tiles are worse in cost and storage space,and it also creates a patchwork of terrains so I am not personally a big fan. The answer is a real hard one, but my guess over the next few years Ben will find a solution, or new photographic developments may come along to fix the issue, but overall I think a new set of textures are still required as the current ones are now a decade old, that was a big disappointment with XP12, but like I said I think a half-way texture solution can still be done...  lets just get X-Plane12 out first.



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