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Behind the Screen : March 2017

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Behind the Screen : March 2017


March 2017 was such a turbulent month that you knew it wasn’t going to end passively or easily, and it certainly didn’t disappoint on that account. Already 2017 has been a signature year for a huge amount of change and disruption in that every month that goes by it just goes that level higher. But March took the absolute cake as it ended with not only the sudden of release of X-Plane11 when we were already resigned for a few more weeks of Release Candidate (RC) bug walloping, but no then suddenly there it was…  released.


The moment of release was not to be forgotten for a long time either as I was also hunkered down waiting for our god on high to try to kill everyone on the east coast of Australia with the most devastating cyclone (Debbie) for a generation. The general feeling lately is not if but when it is your turn on the planet to be walloped hard by the almighty, and if you will actually survive the event. Thankfully I did, you learn to pray a little better for not wanting to go through it all over again.


I personally don’t mind beta testing. It is however a bit like being teamed up with a bad dance partner in that it is one step forward, one step back and the two steps… oh, and then one step back…  you sort of get the idea. But nobody helps when they start screaming… I “lost frame-rate, this totally sucks” and ‘I paid for…” yes a beta, you paid for a beta not a full finished product. But the shrills became more and more annoying and even louder and more diverting from the business at hand.

Here is a point. I never once had bad framerate, not once, yes some betas went wonky but Laminar updated those within 24hrs to fix that, but overall the constant changes was pretty good throughout the whole process.

The major issues however was that late in the process Austin Meyer decides to make the fundamental basis of engine performance more realistic, which is a very nice feature to have, and it does work extremely well, clever too. But from an aircraft developers perspective it was a very different situation as it goes to the heart of their very complex thrust ratio algorithms. In other words it buggered it all up, or everything up. It was the same issues as when Laminar Research moved to 64bit, it damn well hurts because it deals with the really deep fundamentals of the simulator, it will take awhile to get everything of this sort of development perfect again and expect a few more updates before the performance data figures are all correct again, but the results are totally worth the pain.


No help was the fact that the attraction to fly aircraft in X-Plane11 was simply immense. Once you sampled the sheer delights of PBR (Physical Based Rendering) and the brilliant totally realistic misty focus of the new sim, you wanted those outstanding aircraft to immerse yourself in with all the glories that behold you. So the MD88 from Rotate, any Carenado, JARDesign or Flightfactor was an absolute must and most developers and some reluctantly for the fear that their aircraft were not up the complete full quality and design specifications that their highly regarded reputations are built on.


I didn’t help either, sampling the Rotate MD88 as I wanted everyone to fly this aircraft and many more as well. I was (forcefully) told that they (the developers) were not willing to compromise their products, and rightly so. So the answer was “X-Plane10 only” for now, but even for me X-Plane10 is so yesteryear, it’s gone baby… I’m now in the (buggy) new one, but “hey, we can live with all that buggy mess can’t we”. Some if most developers relented in creating “Flyable” or “Usable” aircraft for X-Plane11, mostly because the beta process was looking more and more like a longer phase than any beta run has been in the past.

To be fair everything was double-checked in X-Plane10 in any review, but the differences in mostly sound and engine performance and some features were mostly insignificant if you knew where the differences were, in reality X-Plane11 excelled in every area, and god these aircraft are simply outstanding, awe inspiring in their new environment. My latest X-Plane11 review images say it all, some images are extremely photographic, incredibly realistic, welcome to the new age of X-Plane11.


But the beta longevity also had other side effects. This has caused a backup of releases, as to release for X-Plane10 and then maybe only a week or so later you then have X-Plane11 coming to release then that is two releases in just a few short weeks, it is all very confusing, so most held their precious wares back and of course that then created a lack of new goodies in coming into the stores. And the confusing side effects of what is actual update version or the currently correct one, it is all very confusing and even to the experts.


Now with X-Plane11 going to release the heavens will open on product and a huge (I mean colossal) amount of aircraft will have to be updated, Carenado and Alabeo have around 33 aircraft, I think as I lost count somewhere around 28…  and a load of new releases will finally hit the stores. So it is going to be a really, really busy Easter in 2017.


Easter 2017

So you are going to be one very happy bunny this Easter. In fact Easter is now fast becoming the new, new period for X-Plane releases. There are several reasons for this. First the classic Christmas season is so crowded out with a huge amount of product, but not for X-Plane, but for your loved ones and you only have so much credit to go around. Then there are now the huge Black Friday sales that causes you to buy loads of great product on the cheap, and to release just before the Christmas Holidays is a death zone, because if that aircraft has a few issues or bugs, it is sayonara for all that until the New Year.


Easter is very different. You have time off to actually fly what you buy (and not be bothered by family Christmas outings by either them coming or you going), updates can still come out to keep you in the air, and a thankfully you should have few credit points on the card if you have finally paid off the Christmas outgoings and all the expensive bills in January and February to finally splurge a little love on yourself. This year is even a bigger event as you now have a brand new exciting shiny simulator to fly in as well (funny that Laminar Research releases X-Plane11 just before Easter), but besides the XP11 event then what sweet Easter has most of all is free time… lots of time to fly.

You are going to find that Easter will in the future become the bigger event time for important releases as it simply makes more sense for the developers to have the time to get the product just right, instead of rushing it out just to try and catch the Christmas dollar which is in short supply anyway. Diabetes will kill off our Chocolate fetish and we are too old to hold on to our bunnies anymore…  but a lovely new aircraft might be right up there in our happiness zone.


Bonanza F33A

Slowly and thankfully with X-Plane11 now fully standard, your old favorites are coming back and can be flown again. The Carenado F33A is a lovely aircraft that was grounded with the conversion to X-Plane11. The gear doors stuck open and the lighting was wonky. I took it for a few desperate flights but the drag from the gear doors just took away too much of the speed. Worse you couldn't start it again from hot or cold, so if you went somewhere you couldn't fly back home unless you did a full aircraft restart...   of which I totally hate to do.


But one of the benefits of being a reviewer is that you get options to help out with testing, and Carenado (okay I begged) to help out with testing the X-Plane11 updates (coming very soon) and will be known as v3.4. Changes are remarkably small but essential for correct X-Plane11 flight. There will be a review for Carenado updates soon, but I will note it is a huge difference in the flight model and engine performance. Aircraft are now becoming so incredibly realistic, this one of the huge benefits of X-Plane11 in the future. The little Bonanza was very special before, now it is absolutely amazing with the update in X-Plane11 with it's in your face features. As they say...  living the dream.


Long Haul in X-Plane11

One still waiting for the complete X-Plane11 makeover is the FlightFactor Boeing 777F series. I will make the point that this note point is a few weeks old and the new updates now available have no bearing on this flight. I like like to run X-Plane long haul. Time being constrained will mean that flying more than three hours means taking the computer off grid for a day or so. But I do like to run with the Formula One season in flying the "Flyaway Races" to all the various racetracks around the world. First race is in Melbourne, Australia 23rd - 25th March. So that means a huge two day set of flights from EGNX - East Midlands to Singapore, then refuel and then on to Melbourne. Nothing new in that, but this was a test for X-Plane11 in long haul and if the new version stood up to a full long two day simulation. Well it failed? It was a beta sim running a beta aircraft, and it showed. I will make it very clear that neither X-Plane11 or Flightfactor are at fault here, as both are still in development but the route was worth the try.


In fact I flew as far as the east coast of India (which made it all the worse in the crash) The night sky still had that bad banding in the sky which made 6 hours in the dark painful (now fixed) and fuel performance was terrible (I had former fuel numbers or fuel burn notes), but I reset via the local map and flew on to crash again at Changi WSSS in Singapore. The ILS runway alignment was way out and I had no brakes to stop with once I was on the actual runway after a go around! this is a lot of fun to be had at 2am in the morning when you are dead tired... 


Flying long haul with X-Plane even when working fine is like looking after young babies. They will happily fly on quietly for hours if you keep an eye on the aircraft, but boy do they quickly get into trouble if you leave them for even a few moments, just leave the screen for five minutes and I can absolutely guarantee an alarm will go off or the aircraft is going off course somewhere in the wrong direction...  plane sitting it is, just babying the damn thing all the whole way to the destination.


Flying on to YMML Melbourne was not as bad as I did not crash to the desktop this time, but still high winds and another poor runway alignment, caused a very shaky landing, I was ready for the brakes this time by over using the thrust reversers, which worked but failed to retract correctly... not the skill and perfection I usually have but another way of looking at it, as it was a test of my skills to get the damn thing down and on the runway in one piece and god knows what condition the cargo in the back was in.


But the whole point of this was to test X-Plane11 to its limits. Long haul is very good for that. It is good for X-Plane as well. To most that point would sound like a folly, but it isn't. Running the simulator over long periods is very good for settling in all the hundreds, even thousands of components that make up your simulator and it is that you are mostly always changing things around, adding in here and updating something there and my system has to withstand the demands of constant reviewing a zillion things in the process.


So a long haul is a really great barometer on where you actually are in the process, it shows you what does work well and what does not, but more importantly it refines the simulator within itself. X-Plane will always feel far more fresh and faster after a really long run, or show you where there is issues and where areas need addressing, nothing beats a full long haul flight to get the right perspective on the condition of the status of the X-Plane simulator. Shanghai in China is next on the F1 calendar 7th to 9th April. X-Plane11 is now released and the B777 from flightfactor is updated, so it will be another interesting test flight...  But do more long haul, it is very good for your simulator's overall health and condition.


So happy April Fools Day and see you all again after Easter in May


Stephen Dutton

1st April 2017

Copyright©2017: X-Plane Reviews


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