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Behind the Screen : Year in Review 2021


Stephen
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Behind the Screen : Year in Review 2021

 

There was a lot of fear around the X-Plane Simulator as it stumbled into the 2021 New Year. MSFS (Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020) was gaining immense ground and stealing away developers (mostly in scenery). Covid 19 was now closing in tighter and taking away not only lives, but work and income. For the Simulator was that there was no signs or even any details on the next version of X-Plane, and the new version was now even past it's usual four year development cycle, and pretty well everywhere you looked it was just grim...  you were worried and you had every right to be.

 

But something very odd happened as the X-Plane Simulator crawled through the long year... it survived!  Oddly it also came up fighting and to a point it is still spoken in hushed tones as the "Simulator" of the best of the simulators currently available, and in context that is quite a major accolade. So how did the simulator actually achieve this miracle.

 

In one area it is X-Plane's long history with it's 26 Years of development, and the quality aircraft and addons that kept us very immersed into the simulator all through the year. That quality will be explored as we go through the releases of the year, but it was the extraordinary overall level of the quality that gave the Simulator depth and the deep levels of simulation. To a point that X-Plane12 as it was later announced will be an another extra layer of quality still to come in enhancing the detail again to another level. To a point though everyone else stumbled with the surrounding chaos around the year, and even Laminar Research had a real bum moment, and just when they didn't need it. But overall 2021 was simply all round a very challenging and exhausting year to survive.

 

Laminar Research

Even by the end of March 2021. Laminar Research was still tinkering with the Vulkan/Metal (11.50) version of X-Plane11. The earlier September 2020 beta release required more and more resources just to get the comprehensive core change to the simulator to work cleanly, this aspect was significant because it took Ben Supnic, Laminar's head programmer away from the day to day challenge to work on the newer and now urgent next X-Plane version. First dubbed "New Generation", then later X-Plane12 the first signs of the simulator came in an interview in July with Austin Meyer (head X-Plane honcho) at the annual Oshkosh aviation extravaganza. The reveal was an interesting one, but didn't go as far as showing the whole concept to see what X-Plane12 was really all about in delivering a response to Microsoft and MSFS 2020.

Behind the scenes though Laminar had earlier in the year brought in new programmers and lost one to a current body count of 15 plus a few commissions. Which is a significant increase of personnel over the earlier tight far smaller group that had been the central development core of X-Plane for over a decade. It also created a scenario of wanting a lot more not only in quality but also in features from the in-development new simulator version.

 

The focus would then quickly turn to the announced FlightSimExpo (Sept 24th-26th) in San Diego. First signs was that something was not right was when only two Laminar representatives went to the Expo (and one of those was a PR representative). With unexpectedly no MSFS presence on the floor either, and when Laminar had a totally open goal...  they missed.

Laminar ran a poorly and rushed created release video, that did indeed show the elements of the new version (X-Plane12) and formally announced the title, but as there was actually still no completed running simulator version (The version running at the show had major missing elements, and none of this cobbled together version was shown to the on-line public) it was in a public relations terms a "Stinker".

 

You could say at this point after a very low paltry northern summer it was the low point of the year. But things went to the better very quickly after the pressure of meeting the Expo deadline had passed. In October Laminar finally had an amalgamated running XP12 version, and images and developer posts sprang forth to see the next revolution of the X-Plane Simulator, by November the full context was now more available... and indeed X-Plane12 "New Generation" really is looking very good. But that version release will now flow over into 2022. 

 

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

In 2021 Microsoft won "Game of the Year", for their Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. But that was about the heights of achievement for the Simulator. In the actual aspect of MSFS 2020 actually of being a simulator it was a mess of a year, when they had absolutely everything to gain. No doubt Asobo built upon the basic platform of shiny new picturesque montages, and developers threw in as much re-mined old FS/P3D scenery they could find, but something deep down was not working with consistent total 75Gb reloads.

 

Aerosoft (finally) released their high profile CRJ 550/700 in April, it looked amazing, but it was no quality simulation in detail. Hence all aircraft are hobbled by a poor Software Development Kit (SDK), laments late in the year from PMDG said a "late 2021/early 2022" release for their B737 in that finally the development was "beginning to look and feel like a product rather than a science experiment gone awry".  Then oddly mid-year MSFS was completely realigned to work on the X-Box Game Pass platform, to the tune of taking a chunk out of it, and you having to totally reload and configure the Game from zero.

As noted the MSFS related non-show presence at the San Diego Expo was also very noticeable. Building a simulator from scratch is not easy, just ask Asobo. The debate still rages on if MSFS is a Simulator or a game (hosting it on X-Box Game Pass certainly does not help in the clarification). In flying both simulators the differences are stark, and X-Plane (even in it's late X-Plane11 form) is a clear winner. Personally I think the scenery developers have also bet on the wrong horse, but it also shows that Laminar Research also need to get serious and more professional about the way it does it's Public Relations and Promotion.

 

So going into 2022, both of the platforms have not used the past year to their benefit. Certainly Covid, and it's far reaching effects has had a major impact, but oddly going into 2022, it is X-Plane that actually comes out of the complex mired mess the better with X-Plane 12 now also raring to go, the crucial reasons are laid out in detail below.

 

Aircraft

Coming into 2021 there was a huge expectation for releases. Some big projects were overdue and over the course of the year most were delivered. But oddly it was also a year of the unusual minority releases that took a centre-stage that are usually...  well, the very minority based categories.

 

The early Quarter Q1 was very slow, which is very unusual for heavy aircraft releases, but oddly we ended the year 2021 with a nicely changed landscape for those who love long haul aircraft, with a lot more to come in 2022.

First sign of activity was big update for the SSG Boeing 748i/F Anniversary in early February. This added in the much wanted full passenger deck and a lot of detail. SSG would do two more updates to the B748 in both August and again in early November, so the aircraft had a lot of attention from SSG thoughout the whole year.

 

X-Crafts came out with their Embraer ERJ Family v1.4.0 update in April, the five aircraft package is very good, but still hindered by a default set of instruments and the hybrid Tekton FMS system, both areas with better custom systems are promised (again) for this coming 2022 year.

 

At the very end of April came the really first new aircraft release of the 2021 year with the British Aerospace 146 Professional by JustFlight, but it was missing the custom FMS that came later in September. Did this hinder early sales, it looked like it. The introduction of the BAe146 also foreshadowed the coming new level of complexity and a bewildering array of variants with simulation aircraft (certainly in it's later custom FMS guise), was this again another barrier to it's acceptance. In time though it will be seen as another step forward in X-Plane Simulation.

 

INI-Builds released their A310-300 in mid-July with also a MRTT version of the aircraft, and again everyone applauded it like the earlier successful A300. But INI-Build's divides as much as conquerors, high prices and with no review aircraft available it can also shut out the punters, including X-PlaneReviews.

 

The first of two Airbus A340's came from JARDesign with their Airbus A340-500 came out early August. Most users don't go for JARDesign's slightly old-fashioned take on their aircraft. But the A345 came with a load of features that I actually like to fly and they are (A330/A340) very good long-haul aircraft to spend long, long haul time in.

 

In Mid-September there was released the granddaddy of all aircraft in the Boeing 747-200 from Felis. An aircraft that has been in development for years and it was a huge release. Coming in with a huge feature package it is a massively complex 70's era aircraft to fly.  The Jumbo was also a significant point marker for detailed systems par-excellence. It was and really sensational is a aircraft to not only look at, but to operate as well.

 

In most cases the Felis B742 would have easily dominated the years releases, and deservedly so. But late in the year the releases were not winding down, but winding upwards instead. ToLiSS in October released the second Airbus A340 of the year in a -600 version. This is now a full in house development, and this was another step upwards in system detail and procedures that ToLiSS does so well. More welcome was the aircraft's fabulous save feature which after the complex Felis B742 was a godsend from high.

Then there was the Airbus A300 Classic B2-200 by ASSP, nicely done but felt very outdated and old fashioned by INI standards, and even overpriced at half of INI's A300 cost.

ToLiSS also kept their excellent A319/A321 in service with very good and consistent updates throughout all of the year, and right into the last month of 2021.

 

Late October brought us another long term development in the highly anticipated Q4XP (DHC Q400) from FlyJSim. Still rolling from high complex releases earlier in the year, the exceptional but tricky to fly Q4XP now sent the ball soaring out of the stadium. An aircraft that simply had everything, in insane detail, brilliant clever features and as noted a complex aircraft to fly. Another few notches of higher detailed X-Plane aircraft was showing why X-Plane as a Simulator is also soaring so high at the moment... nothing currently or anything in the foreseeable future can compete with this high level of aircraft simulation, even if currently the best simulation in our genre.

 

The last notable aircraft release of the year was the CRJ-700 from AD Simulations. Once a SSG project the aircraft was paired off to become a AD Sim only product. modeling detail is exceptional and up there with the best, but systems and buggy details shows why you need strong partners to bring an all round quality aircraft to market, overall though the CRJ-700 will in time become a quality and staple X-Plane aircraft. A side note on the CRJ-700...  a review is almost done, but is waiting on an update, AD Sim said three days, but now it is three weeks and no update, if completed the review will be hosted during the Christmas/New Year break.

 

FlightFactor were very quiet in 2021 with only a small update to the Airbus A350 v1.6.16, but announced not one but two aircraft coming in development for 2022. One already announced was the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the second was finally an extensive redoing of the Boeing 777 Worldliner in v2. Both are promised to again lift the detail and add in even more features and bring quality to another new level (i.e. very complex), so 2022 should be a big FlightFactor year.

 

Another aircraft that had been anticipated for 2021 (again) was the Rotate MD11. It went in to beta testing late into the year, so expect that aircraft to be one of the first major releases for 2022, if the first big release to be X-Plane12 compliant.

 

Finally two areas of aircraft development that were extremely quiet in 2021. One was the usually noisy zibo737 (has it hit full conversion), and the MagKnight Boeing 787 which had a small update, but nothing else. Notable it was announced in the X-Plane12 coming fleet there is an Airbus A330, but how detailed and deep the aircraft is we won't see until X-Plane12 is released.

 

General Aviation

By the usual noisy standards. Then 2021 was a very, very quiet year for General Aviation aircraft, and even then the releases were not the usual Cessna, Piper or Beechcraft, but more the oddities and Private Jets. That means no VFlyteAir or Carenado, very late in the year was finally the only genuine GA release from AirFoilLabs with their sensational Cessna 172S NG Digital.

 

Flying the GA banner in 2021 were oddly two Private Jets. One was the gorgeous Embraer EMB-505 Phenom 300 by Aerobask, and still not the highly anticipated Falcon 8X, which still didn't see the light in 2021. Having said that the Phenom 300 was a huge success and a great aircraft. The other Private jet was more of an oddity. Netavio released the Citation CJ4 Proline21 which was focused totally for Citation training but ported over to X-Plane. Slightly buggy on release it was (and still is) a very interesting aircraft that is focused totally for training build setups, but shows the X-Plane Simulator's versatility of what it did best... training.

 

vSkyLabs delivered two aircraft in the lovely Aeroprakt A22-LS and the PAC CT/4E Airtrainer, both very competent aircraft, but short of out and out features. The surprise of the year was the TAF Sling 2 by Rusky Group, a lovely little aircraft that came with a lot of nice ideas and features. Thranda Design brought to the table another of it's utility aircraft in the Polish PZL-104 Wilga 2000, an odd looking but interesting machine that later received a great floats option.

 

AeroSphere Simulations Piper PA-32-260 Cherokee Six B was a really nice aircraft released in late August, and AeroSphere Simulations turn them out regularly for the punters who want these genuine basic aircraft to fly, AeroSphere also updated their PA-28-181 Piper Archer III to v4.0 later in the year. vFlyteAir did note early in the year an Arrow III and Saratoga II update for later in the year (Q4), but both were not released (waiting for X-Plane12?), but expect both very early in 2022. Last but not least was the release of a Diamond DA40NG by SimSolutions in November.

 

That is a very short list for General Aviation aircraft. But more worrying is that as time marches on is that a lot of the original GA fleets are now starting to look seriously old, the coming X-Plane12 won't help matters either. The focus will be on the huge Carenado stable as since Thranda is now not associated with the aircraft. Earlier Thranda did the major upkeep and updates to keep the 40+ fleet flying in the X-Plane simulator. Will Carenado walk away from the X-Plane platform, even overall in actual releases they seem to be a former shadow of this once great developer house with only a few options in MSFS as well.

 

Classic Aircraft

Early in the year NKDesign released a real miniature aircraft in the Cessna 140 v1.1, and a taildragger as well. It was very entertaining in the wrong way with no rudder pedals to steer it. But it was a brilliant effort from NKDesign for a first aircraft release. In March came the ferocious Rutan Model-158 Pond Racer a Test-Pilot Project by vSkyLabs. A twin over-engined death machine on steroids that somehow I survived flying.

 

In July came the sensational Let L-200D Morava by PWDT&NHAdrian. The Let L-200 Morava is a four seat light twin created by the Czechoslovakian State Aircraft Factory (Let) from the mid-1950s. It came with sensational modeling and some really clever features, and an aircraft that you would want to proudly own, it was the surprise best in quality of any GA aircraft of all the year, until the AerofoilLabs C172SP.

 

The Legendary Ford Tri-Motor Model 4-AT by Ted Cook got a nice makeover mid-year, modeling is quite (shall we say quaint), but these aircraft are interesting to fly for a time period reflection of aviation.

 

Another VSkyLabs Flying Lab Project in the DC-3/C47 Skytrain had another large update to v4.0r4 in October. The focus this time around was on a complete cockpit detailed makeover, and the changes were quite significant...  but still the feel of moving away from the WW2 war period to a more modern conversion DC3 continues, a three engined Conroy Tri-Turbo-Three is coming as well to seal the modernistic box.

 

The Concorde FXP by Colimata was released in v2.0, a project that completed most of the cockpit and it's myriad complex systems, part of which is baulking me into a review of this most famous of aircraft. I need a lot of time to get my head around it, and time is just one thing I don't have...  maybe next year, but then I said that on the Colimata Concorde last year, "Oh dear".

 

Military

Not much in the Military aspect this year, if one of the quietest. Just three aircraft were released in one from FACO Simulations in a very nice F-15C Eagle air superiority fighter, which was extremely good for a first release. The second release was the Lockheed Martin F22A Raptor by AOA Simulations. An aircraft that astounded you with it's incredible capabilities and automatic systems. The third military release was another version from DeltaWing in this time a F-16D Block 52+ Interceptor but the D variant and not the earlier C.

Again as I checked through my older military aircraft collection I found a lot of aircraft now in being very tired, or in the case of the Virtavia C-17 Globemaster III in barely hanging on. On that theme another Virtavia in the Handley-Page Hampden which was originally developed by AlphaSim/Virtavia was redeveloped and released later in the year, it was the only war-bird rescued from oblivion.

 

Helicopters

The biggest surprise of the year was the Helicopter category. In most years you were lucky to get a few if any releases, but this year in 2021 if you were a vertically trained pilot you had a smorgasbord of aircraft to choose from...   and they just kept on coming almost to end of the year.

 

I started off the year with a review of the SA 341B and SA 342J Gazelle by JRXDesign. A tricky to fly but very highly developed machine that was excellent in quality. That was followed by the two CowanSim's aircraft in the Bell 222B + UT, and the exceptional CowanSim 500E or Hughes 500 of P.I. Magnum television fame.

 

Then came the long anticipated heavy Boeing CH47-D Chinook by X-Trident in May. Sensational in detail and features, the "Chinook" is relatively easy to fly (for a chopper), because of it's twin-rotor design and with some great testing by the X-Plane maestro Brett S that made the aircraft handle like a dream. The long wait and massively long beta run was well worth the final effort.

 

Nimbus Simulations then released in July a Bell UH-1 in a Civilian role, after the "Huey" version the year before. The Civilian version came with a huge "Configurations" menu that is quite extensive, and it came with even an active "Fire Fighter" role...  a lot of fun, but very tricky to fly in it's role capablity.

 

In late August there was released an Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama by Philip Ubben and Khamsin Studio. The Lama is a relative of the earlier in the year Alouette/Gazelle. But this was another very high quality and great flying machine, with tons of features that complimented each other helicopter almost side by side. A great duo to have.

 

Then the most interesting vertical flight machine of the year arrived in a signalling the future, not only for X-Plane but for aviation in general. It was a Multicopter from the same NHAdrian (L-200D Morava) in the six bladed NHRacer. It is a fascinating glimpse into the future, and it was a seriously interesting aircraft to use and fly, and being all electric in the same. Another type in the same mode by NHAdrian was released mid-December with the NH Acro-Manned Acrobatic Multicopter, with this time with four rotors and a single rear tail vertical rotor..  strange?

 

The future beckons and there are rumors that another Multicopter machine will be part of the X-Plane12 release package. Not withstanding there will be a category just for these machines alone in future X-Plane fleets as for now they are called VTR's, but the scope of these futuristic twirly-whirly birds is exciting. And you flew them here first in X-Plane.

 

Do autogyros count as Helicopters? they are double-bladed, but not really vertical flying machines, but anyway we got two of them in the Magni M-16 and M-22 Gyrocopters by 3DReal.

Just in time for Christmas 2021 then came the last of the fleet of choppers for the year in the form of a Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm Bo 105 DBS-4 and from again JRX Designs, so in a way JRX bookended the year with two excellent quality machines to savour.

 

Notable for vertical pilot's was a scenery dedicated to Helicopter training called ROTOR CREEK by XBlade, clever and an interesting idea if you want to refine your skills.

 

Scenery

As predicted in late 2020, scenery got hammered in 2021. Yes there was still some great if even brilliant releases early, then releases trailed off as the year went on, so the category has developed major problems. 

First is in users not investing in quality scenery, and two most of the big scenery (ex FSX/P3D) development houses have all decamped back over to Microsoft's MSFS 2020...   both problems go hand in hand. Worse for the future is that X-Plane12 is not going to do a major overhaul of the already decade old ground textures, and another aspect for payware will be the highly upgraded quality of the default "Global Airports" built into the Simulator in X-Plane12...    it just doesn't look good in this payware scenery department for the future folks.

 

We started off 2021 with another sensational Frank Dainese and Fabio Bellini scenery in Banff National Park UHD, and later the fascinating Peruvian Machu Picchu National Park UHD, but then that was it in releases for the year from the climbing duo, until an upgrade of one of their first classics Val D'Aosta + 3D Matterhorn Park to v2.0 and again just in time for some Christmas 2021 flying over the Alps.

 

The MYNN - Lynden Pindling International Bahamas by RWY26Sim scenery caused a few controversial comments. I really liked the scenery, but the developer was a bit lazy on the Landside, not everyone agreed, but my case is that (and repeated throughout the year), you can't do half hearted work in this category, but it did highlight a common theme coming through of using photo images to replace detail and mostly on the Lansides, and that aspect was again highlighted by Boundless in they released a ton of airport sceneries that used this very method to the extreme, some were really, really good like EINN Shannon Airport, but others like EGSS Stansted in being really, really average, in the second half of 2021 Boundless went oddly extremely quiet after all the earlier frenzy.

 

Drzewiecki Design created a sensational RJAA Tokyo-Narita XP, and later updated their homeland's airports in EPKK Krakow XP, but lately like most have now switched their attention to MSFS 2020, for them it was a quiet year.

 

Focused on North American Canadian scenery is Airfield Canada, and this year they released the excellent CYHZ - Halifax Stanfield Intl, and for two more Canadian releases was CYEG - Edmonton International and later in the year CYXU - London Intl Airport by Canada4XPlane, and both were excellent. Global Art also did a large update to their already large CYVR - Vancouver International Airport to v1.5. Moving to their home country. Global Art also released SBSP - Congonhas Airport in Brazil, a really great scenery that was caught out from a well deserved review because of the loss of time covering the immense/complex Felis B742 in August.

 

NorthernSky Studio focused a lot on Hawaii in promoting loads of small but highly details airports dotted around the islands. Alaska was another locale they specialised in with PAEN-Kenai Municipal Airport although released in 2020 was a brilliant scenery, and NSS added on to Alaska in 2021 with a very nice PATK-Talkeetna Airport and a complete upgrade of PAKT-Ketchikan International to v2.

Another Alaskan scenery was the sweet Cordova (CDV), Alaska by DC Scenery that is well worth checking out.

 

There was two standout North American sceneries that focused on the eastern Rockies, one was KGPI - Glacier Park Intl Airport by YD Design and the other was the sprawling KWYS - Yellowstone Airport and National Park by X-Codr Designs that created exceptional special effect Geysers. KSTL - St. Louis Lambert Intl Airport by StarSim was also a great first effort late in the year.

 

Aerosoft hosted a load of sceneries this year from their various cache of developers. Tromso XP was updated to v1.3 early in 2021, and Split XP  (Croatia) was released soon after. A much wanted scenery was Airport Madrid XP, but it was too much of a mixed bag of quality to really stand out and Madrid still feels wanting. To reflect the real world operations Berlin-Brandenburg XP was upgraded to v2.0 and moved finally to the new airport (BER) in June. LDZA - Airport Zagreb XP followed in July with an almost double release with LTFM - Airport Istanbul XP from Stairport Sceneries. A mega airport of significant proportions, LTFM is important for your X-Plane network, the scenery was good, but it could and should have been far better on how significant it is... v2.0 will be interesting.     

If you wanted big spread sceneries then the Society Islands XP - Bora Bora & Leeward Islands was another Aerosoft hosting for Maps2XPlane in September, with EDVK - Airport Kassel XP coming in late September.

 

In October Aerosoft released LLBG Airport Ben Gurion XP, an Israeli airport I really, really liked, maybe because it was nicely different. Another release in October was Saint Croix XP, another Maps2XPlane scenery, an island style they do really well. Sim-wings and Windsock Simulation released Airport Menorca XP in early November with the last Aerosoft release of the year was with Stuttgart XP.

 

VerticalSim had a very busy year. They started off with an update to Tampa International Airport to v2.1 in January then an update to KMSY New Orleans International Airport v2.0 in March. then both KFAY - Fayetteville Regional Airport and KMYR - Myrtle Beach International Airport was released in May with BWI - Baltimore International in a Pro Edition released in August. KOMA - Omaha-Eppley Airfield followed in October and VerticalSim rounded up the 2021 year with the sensational KBOI - Boise Air Terminal in early December. A solid effort there.

 

Chudoba Design had three releases with LKPR - Václav Havel Airport in Prague in Czech Republic, and released on the same day  LBBG - Burgas Airport in Bulgara and then a middle-eastern scenery with HEMA - Marsa Alam International Airport. Digital Designs just did updates in 2021. With both GCTS - Tenerife Airport and LOWS - Salzburg going both up to v2 quality. With JustSim now separated from Digital Designs the output was far lower in 2021, but the single release was a very good one with a very nicely updated EVRA - Riga International Airport v2.

 

One developer that was quiet in 2021 was ShortFinal Designs, after their amazing Best Airport Scenery of the year 2019 with EDDM - Munich. However there was previewed thoughtout the year a Payware version of KSFO - San Francisco and promised before Christmas, it has still yet to surface, but it will be as usual well worth the wait.

 

Another load of promises in 2021 didn't come true either for Nimbus Simulation... Dulles was promised for release in April, "nope", Memphis the FedEx cargo hub in June, "nope", and Charlotte again promised for July, "another nope". Dulles has been on the cards for release for years and going into 2021 we are still waiting.

 

A new developer was FeelThere, first with KLGA – La Guardia International Airport 2023 a revisioning of the famous La Guarda Airport in New York, then FeelThere followed that up with KRDU - Raleigh Durham International, then TIST - St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and late in the year (another) KLAS - Las vegas McCarran International Airport.

Another new scenery developer was StarSim with the KSTL - St. Louis Lambert Intl Airport that was a great first effort scenery.

In 2020 we had our first scenery from a Chinese developer in Star-Atlas and the ZBAD - Beijing Daxing International which had a few updates throughout 2021, their only release of the year was ZYCC - Changchun Longjia Intl Airport in May, and the quality is slowly improving. Another Chinese developer house appeared in 2021 with Taimodels...  releases came almost weekly with a very, very prolific release schedule, but seriously I soon stopping even looking at the sceneries with the absurd quality and outragously bright textures. Shame because some of the releases where of destinations that were very attractive destinations.

 

There was a lot of really good quality scenery released in 2021, but not a lot of it was absorbed into the X-Plane simulator. Were as most of the focus in MSFS 2020 was just only on the scenery to match in with the scenic vistas, notable was that huge amount of the scenery was just rehashed earlier scenery with prices to match, but the biggest gnaw was the excellent city sceneries that X-Plane desperately wants and even needs, but the products go where the money goes and that is not into X-Plane. It will be very interesting to follow this aspect when X-Plane12 is released.

 

Plugins

I will state upfront that I am not a huge plugin connoisseur, so I only run what I call essential plugins in my simulator, running the VRAM profiler (Menu/Developer) can give you the horrors of how much these little monstrous tools can gobble up your framerate and overall efficiency, I took to taking out as many of these laggards as possible. Even in that aspect, 2021 was an extremely quiet year for plugin additions.

 

In fact there was nothing really exciting from the Plugin domain all year but a few updates, but the year started off really well with the xEnviro v1.16 (v1.15) by Dark Space and being reactivated after the Vulkan hibernation. It was great to have back the superior lighting and cloud effects, but "oh my" it is buggy and still a huge framerate killer even with the newly acquired Vulkan efficiency. Coming in 2022 are Spherical Buffer effects and the current released images say that v1.17 is due early in the new year.

 

But here is the now the huge weight sitting over (really any) of these environmental engines. The X-Plane12's built in lighting realism effects and highly upgraded weather system will seriously effect these addons. The biggest interest will be focused on framerate... if the new weather system is only a few framerates in a power hit, then it will become quickly the default engine. Dark Space would have to pull something seriously out of the box to counter it or even for me (or anyone else) to keep using x-Enviro. I use it because it is the only option, not because I actually like the product, and in that aspect it is the developers long and complicated system of faults in not focusing on elements (like the required history or the saving and reusing of current weather conditions) make it seriously hard work when doing reviews, that aspect alone will make me simply walk.

 

There are loads of view systems in X-Plane and with RealView Next by HST Simulations it was just another one, a very good another one, but still another one all the same. There was just one update from JustFlight with their Traffic Global application to v1.0.9997. It fixed a lot of bugs, but a few very visual aspects still remain in the application and it needs more attention and upgrades than what JustFlight are currently doing. WorldTraffic3 was also extremely quiet but the developer changed their name to Ascend Tech Simulations. The plugin has also evolved into a multiparty application.

 

One of big stories of the year was that Navigraph acquired SimBrief and integrated the tool into the Navigraph universe, still free however, but it will be interesting on what cross-application ideas will come in the future. Steam Deck by the Valve Corporation will be running the X-Plane Enhanced Flight Models by Xaero when released in February 2022, expanding out the mobile versions of X-Plane (is it a game... still no!).

 

Since X-Friese's departure in 2019, FlywithLua has limped along, but a few (required) updates have been done in the background. I am not personally conversed with FWL, I found it always a conflicting app with aircraft in ruining simulations, so I can't really comment here.

 

The excellent SAM (Scenery Animation Manager) was now released in almost every airbridge based airport scenery in the year. An update to SAM 3 however mid-year was a really big backward step, too many ideas and now a very slow loading interface created a irritation and the fact that "keeping it simple to do a simple job" was the better application before.

 

WebFMC Pro  a favorite plugin added in dual FMS systems and most currently active large aircraft for remote access, again excellent.

 

Skiselkov plugins were also generally quiet in 2021, but the year came with a real twist. On the X-Plane 11.50 Vulkan/Metal update LibRain wouldn't work anymore and disappeared with no update from developer skiselkov. Then in the coming X-Plane12 features list comes a default LibRain feature! So Laminar had brought the plugin in house and working with skiselkov made it a future X-Plane default feature... The one release from skiselkov in 2021 is a confusing one in LibRadio? Every new released aircraft in the last six moths has it built in...  but what does it do, how do you use it. It is a very confusing tool with no notes or forum patter to work it all out. (it apparently allows multi-channel radio messages to create realistic radio backgrounds.)

 

In hardware there was only one new item on everyone's list and that was the Thrustmaster TCA Yoke Pack Boeing Edition... but the cost was also as astronomical as if Boeing themselves had made it.

 

The one big feature everyone wanted in commercial aircraft this year was the "Controller Pilot Data Link Communications" (CPDLC), or for communication between pilots and Air Traffic Control. the requests were constant, and most developers are working on it, but will it work with the X-Plane12's new ATC system would even more interesting. Last but not least was a cyber attack on the JARDesign site on the first day of February. Considering the sheer number of cyber attacks lately, it is a wonder we don't have a lot more... it was a very bad year for Ransomware attacks, and how immune will the X-Plane be going forward into 2022, as we are a big on-line community target from attacks in the future.

_________________________

 

The "Coming Soon" factor of X-Plane12 will dominate the first few quarters of 2022. Certainly extremely exciting. Hopefully we will have a beta version early in the year, then a full release version towards the middle.

Like every evolution of the simulator, it creates major strides forward in ideas and features, but can also bring in changes to your personal simulator set up. Computer upgrades will be the normal (I will require a new chipset and board) and so in areas also costly. It is noted that most aircraft currently in X-Plane11 will transition over to X-Plane12, but not without a few modifications, so expect a few quick updates to cover that aspect. But a lot of older X-Plane10 or earlier aircraft will now probably be non-flyable. (hence the building dated situation with Carenado). And the race is on on which will be the first all X-Plane12 aircraft released.

 

Trying to look into a crystal ball of simulation is currently complex. the worlds of the different platforms are getting muddier, there is now no clear distinctive line between any of them and nothing like there was between the FS Flight Simulator platform and X-Plane a decade ago. Developers are sharing their wares and again are not distinctively for each in FS or X-Plane, but overall because of the confusing aspects of 2021 and no X-Plane12 release that is where we all sit right now. Will 2021 see that dividing line again become larger and the groups separating again.

 

On thing is for sure, is that Simulation in 2021 will be a very interesting period after the stagnant progress of 2021, and how will we all look back on it all in another 12 months time.

 

Again this review site cannot function without all the great and exciting work by the tireless developers that give us all this exciting and incredible product to fly and use, as they and X-Plane has come a long way and created leaps in quality in the last few years, and to a point I was very proud of the work they produced, it is world class if not the very best in simulation product ever produced, and they are all top notch and very clever. To the X-Plane.OrgStore who supports this site with review products, service and updates, a really big thanks, this site just would just not function without that outstanding support. To our reviewers this year in Jude, he added in a different dimension to the site, and to note we are always looking for reviewers to show off their skills and devotion to the X-Plane simulation platform.

_________________________

 

We will finish off with X-PlaneReviews famous best of the year awards…   So I will now list my Best of the Year 2021🏅

(note the awards are given to only products I have seen and tested and I can only vouch for)

 

Overall Best of the Year FlyJSim Q4XP 🏅 🏅🏅

 

Best Aircraft : FlyJSim Q4XP 🏅
Extraordinary aircraft, with extraordinary detail and systems. A benchmark for the future of simulation
Honorable Mention : Boeing 747-200 by Felis, again a hugely complex but an aircraft with a huge presence in the simulator.

 

Best General Aviation Aircraft : Cessna 172SP NG DIGITAL by AirfoilLabs 🏅

Finally a well sorted aircraft and plugin system from AirfoilLab's. Exceptional detail and a list of features as long as your arm, a huge step forward from the development house.
Honorable Mentions : A nice surprise on how good it was, was the TAF Sling 2 by the Rusky Group. Overall the GA segement was dismal.

 

Best Classic Aircraft : Let L-200D Morava by PWDT&NHAdrian 🏅

A really interesting aircraft with an extremely high quality design and... er, interesting features.

Honorable Mention : Rutan Model-158 Pond Racer by vSkyLabs, if you dare! and finally the Concorde FXP by Colimata as it is finally getting to be a full simulation worth reviewing.

 

Best Business Aircraft :  Embraer EMB-505 Phenom 300 by Aerobask

Aerobask delivered again with a sublime Phenom 300, great detail (as usual) and also brilliant to fly. Aerobask will also win the same category in 2022 as well, as the still in development promised Falcon 6X was not released 2021, but better still than the Phenom 300!

Honorable Mention : Netavio Citation CJ4 Proline21. In a reversed concept. But a great effort.

 

Best Military F-16D Block 52+ Interceptor by Deltawing  🏅

Really another variant of the earlier Block C, but it was a newer and different model and very well done.

 

Best Helicopter : Boeing CH47-D Chinook by X-Trident 🏅

An impossible choice this year as there was so many brilliant helicopters released in one year. But the Chinook is the grandaddy of them all, and the aircraft had some seriously clever animations and systems in there. The detail was exceptional.

Honorable Mentions : Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama by Philip Ubben and Khamsin Studio with brilliant detailing, and the Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm Bo 105 DBS-4 from again last year's 2020 winner JRX Designs

 

Best Landscape Scenery : KWYS - Yellowstone Airport and National Park 🏅
With nothing to compare with Dainese and Bellini's Dolomites, it felt a little empty in the landscapes. But there was the huge Yellowstone National Park and it's active Geyers to explore, with a timed Old Faithful to watch with a crowd of people...  clever.

Honorable Mention : Society Islands XP - Bora Bora & Leeward Islands by Maps4XPlane, and again by Dainese and Bellini Banff National Park UHD

 

Best Airport Scenery : RJAA Tokyo-Narita XP by Drzewiecki Design 🏅
There was a lot of scenery released, but not much in many airports in being really memorable, but the sprawling Tokyo Narita was a great scenery of a great desperately desired airport.

Honorable Mention : Two sceneries in CYHZ - Halifax Stanfield Intl by Airfield Canada and LLBG - Airport Ben Gurion XP by Aerosoft were both excellent and great destinations...  Everything noted that I am also looking more and more off the usual track for destinations.

Worst of the year : Any Taimodels airport sceneries, a lot of ambition but absolutely no talent.

 

Best Plugin(s) : WebFMC Pro 🏅

Not a new release plugin, but very, very good and consistently updated and being highly usable.

Special Mention(s) : None really, with no exceptional ideas released.

 

Person(s) of the YearJack Skieczius and the FlyJSim Team 🏅

Certainly the developer of the year, in a year of great development work. But to bring another level of immersion above an already a very high standard of even their own making, then deliver a product that elevates the whole simulation genre is high accolades, the post release service was exceptional as well.

 

Best Moment of the year 2021 : The "Oh my god" complexity of Felis's Boeing 747-200.

 

Worst Moment of the Year 2021 : It could have been the same above Felis B742, but watching half-asleep Austin Meyer's swooning swirling face at 5am (Australian time) in the Expo presentation was certainly the most bizarre.


Biggest distractions of 2021 : ... Covid (again), and the consistent Ransomware and Cyber Scams... oh and a billion crypto emails. It was a bad and nasty year to be on-line.

 

Biggest overall feeling of 2021 : The sheer complexity of the high quality Simulation aircraft, the systems are deep and there was a lot to keep learning, with the consistent learning taking up a lot of precious (reviewing) time.

 

Personal Favorites of 2020 : The IXEG B737 Classic is still my goto prime personal favorite, but the Q4XP became an almost personal addiction from once released...  : Routes...   Copenhagen, Copenhagen and Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Vienna, Brussels, Barcelona, Roma, Helsinki, Munich, Qatar and Tel Aviv.

 

That is X-PlaneReviews for 2021, and we will be back after a very much needed recovery and the review site returns again early into the New Year on the 4th January 2022.

 

So Merry Christmas, and a Happy (virus free) New Year 2022

 

Stephen Dutton

20th December 2021

Copyright:X-PlaneReviews 2021

 

(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)

 

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Agreed a great summary of the year and much to agree with, in particular how the IXEG 737 still remains a great go to aircraft. The remarks on Boundless and Inibuilds are right on the mark as well. On the Hampden any chance of a review? Taimodels, as you say they are tackling some important subjects that have been ignored and where in some cases the stock airports are not great. To me they are at least  upgrades on stock, and friendly on disk space unlike many sceneries these days. Your reviews of Taimodels airports really did not go into any great detail on your concerns, perhaps a longer and more detailed review of their Paris CDG or Bangkok might be useful.

Anyway seasons greeting and thanks for all the reviews over the year. Like many your reviews point me towards things I might be interested in and sometimes allow me to take a massive swerve away.

 

One last thought why give MSFS the excuse of Covid? Yes there may have been some impacts on development teams but presumably gaming revenues have soared during the pandemic which would have suggested investment. Like Boundless, busy and churning out sceneries during the worst of the pandemic.

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hi Steven, thank you for the long review.  yes the simming scene is developing. maybe a little harsh with Laminar and the Expo Event in Sept ?

Orbx was not mentioned with Spain south TE. hope they continue with x-plane development.

 

and.....

before the year closes there will be one more thing.

the Hostart CL650.

will blow everything out of the water.

 

best regards Franz

 

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Yes Orbx Spain South was a mega release, but it was not available to review from Orbx, I can only vouch for what I see and can recommend. I have always been very amused by Laminar's antics, but X-Plane is not a amateur application anymore. If the Simulator is to taken seriously, it must also start to be more professional in it's media and PR. And let us face it, that moment was really very, very amateurish (horrible at 5am), and we are still trying to forget the very boozy Q&A debacle. I wanted Laminar to shine as good as they really are as a brilliant company, they deliver way above the marker with a small but highly talented team..   it was a perfect moment...  to show the world of what we love and do so well, and we got that UFO nonsense!

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