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Behind the Screen : February 2022


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Behind the Screen : February 2022


The current feeling is of being a mountaineer. You climb one difficult mountain only to find yourself facing another massive challenge in another cliff face to climb and digest. This is the life of a Simulation reviewer today.


The forward expansion of deep systems and Simulation detail is now getting seriously complex, and it was never quite like this. You always enjoyed the challenge of a new aircraft, delving into it's systems and features with glee. But now you need a University Aviation degree to work through it all, this is now total real world stuff, and you are earning your grades by one book and manuscript at a time.


Usually even a couple of years ago. You most did an extreme airliner review in about three days, four at the very most. That spread to six days, but now I am finding I am working through 14 days or TWO WEEKS in just doing one review? That is crazy stuff, and it leaves the site with not much turnover to note what other releases or changes are going on in the world (a lot apparently), we would never abandon the front page news, but for your reviewing pleasure it is not coming out as fast as we would like. But what do you do...  these incredible Simulations also deserve their full attention as well.


Our X-PlaneReviews philosophy is just to not only show or review a new aircraft, but to do an intergrated tutorial as part of the review. In other words we do the hard stuff and find all the intricate details (tips in other words) so you can get down and deep quickly to enjoy the aircraft, than spending the time and frustration wading through all the ditty stuff. But that is where it is now getting seriously complicated, because these aircraft are now also seriously complicated, as they are in real life.


Developers lately have been working on these complicated beasts for three and even over four years in development. That is a very long leadout time, we seemingly now have to wait and we wait for a release, but to get this sort of extreme development takes time, bucket loads of time, then it is our job to sort all out that complexity when it does arrive, and quickly to get the review up. It is all about the developer pushing the boundaries of what they can achieve, lately over the last few years it seems nothing if the ceiling is even yet visible.


It is the same for the user. Once a release is out there, you are now faced with a choice...  Fly short and happy, or devote yourself to the deeper more engrossing project. I have found over these last few years that the wide broad choice of aircraft that I fly, is slowly being condensed down to only six or seven focus aircraft. Yes I get a lot of review aircraft as choices, but my core flying is being converged down to now only a few.


I have a notebook to detail a certain aircraft's attributes. So when I fly that aircraft I can go back over those notes to remember the details I need to know, a lot of the notes and data came from the original or updated reviews. But a also lot comes from manuals or taking notes of real life cockpit videos. That small A5 book and it's page notes is now being set into Folders per aircraft, I now need a filing system to cover the modern releases in their aircraft details and flying oddities.


The reviews are also getting extensively long...  MEGA we call them, but there is just so much ground in features and system detail to now cover... I tried to do a shortened review version of one aircraft, but felt it was so underwhelming of not only the aircraft, but on what it represented to the user...  problem is I hate giving you pages and pages AND pages of review to work through, are we boring you, is it all starting to blur in front of your eyes, it is in the need of going back to a simpler time of just publishing the basics? All big questions, but after four years of hard yakka by a devoted developer, they certainly deserve to have their dedication rewarded as well.


Modern aircraft are quite easy to cover, because they have a lot of automated systems. But still developers are drilling down to the smaller details hidden behind the automation. Pressures and pumps deep within aircraft systems are now being simulated, an aircraft's idiosyncrasies are being also developed as are the increasing amount of failures, showing the complexity behind the automation. The most difficult to review are the late analog aircraft, were systems have one foot in one era and are progressing into another. These are the most and complex aircraft to learn and fly in Simulation.


The Felis Boeing 747-200 is a benchmark, and it fits right into this category. Another is the regional turboprops like the FlyJSim Dash Q400, again a very analog aircraft in a modern era. Both are exceptional Simulations, but they have learning curves like no other. The Felis Boeing 742 is a particular interesting review...  It took FOUR weeks to review the aircraft, admittedly while doing other reviews around it. No manuals and a buggy beta(s) caused everything (computers) and human to be pushed to their absolute limits. It was an absolute nightmare to review, but still a fascinating journey into the soul of these iconic aircraft.

Look...  I wouldn't do this unless I totally enjoy it, which I do... but sometimes it can very much overwhelm you... or with the external bugs that can cause days (or weeks) of pain, as did the Global Traffic bug that hit during the vFlyteAir Piper PA28R Arrow III G5-E1000 review, a magnificent aircraft ruined by an external issue.... it is all simulation.


But the steepest slopes to conquer, are the complex systems. You have to Download/Google tons of information to work it all out, pages and pages of notes are now required, not so much in the moment of writing the review, but for later when you come back to the aircraft, as you need the mental switches in the notes to unlock all that was learnt and to go back through the procedures. "Triggers" for the brain I call them, and so you can see why I culled my fleet down to just a handful to operate these aircraft at the top of my ability. Truth be told, that is what real world pilot's actually do....  they don't fly 40 or odd aircraft in the real world like you can do in Simulation, but progress usually through only four or five types in their flying career. 


Another thing I learnt over the last few years, also mirroring the real world is flying the aircraft again after even a short (say a few months) break. The first flight back is absolute shit!, the second one better...  then by the third flight your back into the groove again. It was never like that a few years ago, as you usually slipped straight back into the seat and flew it perfectly... but now it just does not seem to work out that way. 


It does keep the brain sharp though. The one thing I have learnt is that flying an aircraft is devastatingly tiring. I can now easily see why airlines or the aviation industry has severe hour protocols on how many hours a pilot can fly before the fatigue sets in. Current simulation is just as fatiguing, certainly if you do everything by the book, and block to block.


I set myself a challenge. I followed a real world (Jetstar JQ) aircraft on it's one day roster, four flights around Australia, and I wanted to fly the A320 aircraft by the book, in full departure times and turnaround times (you have 23 min to refuel, reset the route and deplane/board), real takeoff and landing times and to follow the real aircraft (FlightAware) on it's real time route. You think it is easy...  it isn't. I was totally buggered by the fourth sector, seriously tired. It was also seriously good fun, but hey "Respect" for the crews who do this day in and day out.


Another fun challenge if you are up for it, is to simulate in flying from one point or airport to another point or aircraft using real world aircraft and timetables, not short hops but as a ticket holder to get from point A to point B and to a remote destination (add up the cost it would cost you as well in real world tickets) and across several types of aircraft...  it is fun, but again surprisingly harder than you think it is.


The context of all this is that Simulation is now reaching a completely whole new level of complexity and detail. Worse it is not going to stop here, it may as we reach the limits of systems slightly level off, but the detail with more computer power is still going to evolve.


There is much more also coming in that the Rotate's MD-11 is due soon, and is said to be the most deep and complex simulation for X-Plane yet...  then the FlightFactor Boeing 777, which will be another deep and complex aircraft that again is noted to be (oh god) another level of systems complexity again...   and FlightFactor still have their Boeing 787-9 in development.


It all never ends in the quest of Simulation perfection, obviously there is no endgame or even a final goal here, the ante just gets set slightly higher and higher as the years progress. It is exciting of course as in the last decade's journey has been an unbelievable one, and one I could not simply dream of ten years ago when I got into the genre.


But are we hitting the point of splitting Simulation into those that want simple aircraft to fly, or these complex deep system creature simulations... I think it splits the same into those two camps of "Gaming" and "Simulation", and developers will obviously cater for both.... but for me it is the consistent challenge and the mastering of the real life duplication and no matter how hard it gets, that is the attraction to what the core of Simulation really is, the progress towards an ideal replication of a real pilot's work, that is why (and I) got into Simulation in the first place...   so the journey continues.


Enjoy your flying, and we will be back at the end of next month.


Stephen Dutton

1st March 2022

Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews


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I feel very well informed after reading your reviews. However one question is often still unclear, that is if an aircraft/helicopter requires an activation.

There are many aircraft that require an activation and lots of aircraft that do not rquire an activation.

Unfortunately it is often difficult to find that information before purchase so it would be very helpful if you could add it to your future reviews.


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Complexity = money and these mega-detailed aircraft are pricing themselves out of the market.  All of them have similar flight capabilities - limited by what's in the simulator so the more super accurate simulation of the 'push button' cockpit environment is justifying the asking prices.  As one who has a fair amount of actual 'time' but none in a tubeliner (an hour in a C82 🙂), none of this detailing of ways to avoid actually flying has much appeal.  Your idea of simulators aimed at aircraft types (groups, whatever) has merit.  

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The difference is that aircraft with Plugins (SASL) can then be set to be authorised, the ones without the plugin can not. Usually the difference is very evident in the detail of the features...  I find the choice of an aircraft by having and not having authorisation a bit of a weird one to be honest? The choice should be made on quality, features and realism, surely...  


I don't personally think that the top tier aircraft are pricing themselves out of the market, certainly considering the sheer extra detail, features and quailty that is now included in the same price. Only a very few are outside the usual US$69 - $79 dollar market pricing, and those prices have been steady now for a good many few years, certainly not yet pushing or being over the US$100 barrier, that other simulators regularly do... so I see great value for the return of the extensive quality. I do think that will change soon with X-Plane12, the level will go up and so will the price...  but for now I would enjoy the value experience.

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>>"I find the choice of an aircraft by having and not having authorisation a bit of a weird one to be honest?


I often change the hardware of my computer or try out different keyboards, joysticks... 


Anyways THE POINT IS is when you are writing a review YOU KNOW IF the aircraft needs an activation, so why not mention it in your reviews?

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What does changing computer hardware and using different keyboards got to do with aircraft authorisation? this just gets even weirder 😵 

The only annoyance is if you have to change your X-Plane storage... I just changed to a larger M.2 and had to reset all the authorisations, but that is a given, nothing to do with a review, but a normal system restart.

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>> "I just changed to a larger M.2 and had to reset all the authorisations"


If you do this often enough with some Aerobask aircraft you will run out of activations and have to contact them for a reset.

I bought Aerobask planes in the past and I do not like this type of activation. (There are other types of activation that do work differently which are acceptable to me.)

I do not like to find out after buying, if a an aircraft uses an activation. Instead I want to make informed purchases.


The POINT of a review is to learn about the product before purchasing.

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This issue seems something of a red herring to me. i’ve bought plenty of payware aircraft and I can’t think of ANY of them that do not require  some form of activation. It is a minor inconvenience but as it helps prevents the piracy of software I think we understand why its there. Running out of activations sometimes (if rarely) happens but the vendors tend to handle the problem without issues.

Actually for me the activation of scenery packages is more interesting. In the past more sceneries seemed to need activation but increasingly that seems less common. Perhaps its difficult to achieve but I am surprised it is not a more common practice.



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