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Behind the Screen : April 2018

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Behind the Screen : April 2018

 

The title of this month's "Behind the Screen" should actually be "The Good, the Bad and the very Ugly". It is all related to scenery of course as all there was this past month was scenery, scenery and more scenery as there was earlier in the year there was just aircraft, aircraft and more aircraft, who says that things don't come in three's, fours and even sixes.

 

There was one major constant between every scenery, the good, the bad and even the ugly and that was that developers are not understanding the finer points of the way their scenery is intergrated into X-Plane. In fact this aspect started earlier in the year, but for some reason the issues just got worse and had me going to the point of frustration. Don't get me wrong, many developers are very good at this, but it is amazing how many are really rubbish at it as well.

 

My biggest beef is with Ground Routes and the ATC layouts set out in the apt.dat data. First of all the minute is a little complex, but it also needs to be correct in making sure all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed. Mostly this is for the WT3 (World Traffic 3) generations, but it goes far deeper than that.

 

The issue is that developers layout the ATC routes in WED (WorldEditor) and give them a once over and then move on to the rest of their scenery development. initially the ATC ground routes look perfect and even a few tests will prove that they work, but they don't. WT3 requires far more information from the built in ATC data to function correctly in creating ground routes but more importantly data for running the airport in locations and runway use. Now you would say that "so what" my A.I. aircraft work now "so what is the problem"...  The problem is that to a point WT3 is a bit ahead of everything else in X-Plane in this area and for the reason we use (or I do) WT3 than the built A.I. system, as WT3 in its design layers itself as to NOT be burdened by the inadequacies of the native systems, but it is still burdened by the native ATC system if it is not set up correctly. So the issue is that when the native ATC is refined and then working as it ACTUALLY should, then all the issues that is now hindering WT3 will then surface later in the native A.I. and ATC as well.

 

The issues are really just the minute, but they have large impact on making the ATC and A.I. system work effectively. For one most developers don't set even their basic settings like Gate type or Category, or even make sure the actual aircraft will fit in that actual gate. (note how many GA's appear at a airbridge gate? a lot) You can even set the airline code as well. For GA's there are tie-downs and the operation type. The routing to the gates from the main taxiways are mostly always missing as well (just the runway and taxiways are laid out), so if you even DO get an aircraft appearing at the gate, then it either has nowhere to go or has to cheat to get to the nearest path to get to an active taxiway or runway. Believe it or not most scenery developers don't actually even number their gates or stands? A point on this is that at one scenery airport there was five "Gate 1" locations noted? And if you looked at the airport chart there was yes, five "Gate 1's", but they were actually listed as 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E, but the developer had noted them all the same as Gate 1? and on it goes...

 

The biggest and most annoying point is the end of the runway disappearing aircraft, they land but then just disappear, or just appear and then takeoff. This is caused by the wrong ICAO codes on the gates so the A.I. is unaware of any parking spots so it vanishes once it comes to a stop. And that leads into another point in the way that most developers also make the full runway the active part of the ATC layouts. Not all runways are created equal in that most have blast pads (usually noted with arrows pointing to the ACTUAL start of the runway) but developers don't consider this, no they lump the whole runway in from beginning to end...  Access points to runways need to be correct including hold points and then some runways have turn circles, and this a tricky one is this one for all of the ATC ground routes to get right, but it can be laid out to work correctly.

 

My point is that a good 80% of the scenery released lately have most of these issues installed and that is not good enough when you are paying good hard earned cash for quality. There are many good developers who do it right like Justsim and any airport associated with Omar Mansoor (Aerosoft), but most developers are really terrible at ATC networks. I admit a lot of ground networks are very complicated and may need a professional like Brian Navy (Captain K-Man) to lay them out or supply the corrected ground routes and airport info. So if developers note in their sceneries feature list "ATC Ground Routes" it doesn't mean they actually DO work, and in most cases they ACTUALLY don't. A nice feature would be for the developer to supply the WT3 routes and Airport info as part of their scenery package, and in that way you would know they work and most of all they have been tested so they DO actually work as they should or have been advertised to do so.

 

Another beef is the placement of custom textures. In most cases custom textures work really well, but in many cases drowning out the autogen and creating a void around the scenery (usually an airport) is a lazy and not very professional approach to creating visually appealing scenery... this is one area I rallied about for years, but still it continues, and the wrongly coloured mesh textures don't look good either? It is supposed to blend in all together like it does in the real world, or don't you get out much from behind your computer screens.

 

95% Rule

Still on scenery but also applicable to aircraft or even plugin's is my 95% rule...  First of all I have been there, working on a project for a long period and you just get to a point where it is all just a blur, and you are just "Simply over it" as the issues just keep on coming and coming and the end (or money) is still a long, long way from coming, so yes, I get it.

 

But like Apple more and more developers are now using users to fix their issues, in other words release it and fix it all up later... hence the 95% rule. So more and more (mostly scenery) is coming onto the market not complete and even not finished, and still WIP. Is this situation good enough? Not really...

 

First point is that no product in X-Plane is finished, the simulator is too fluid for that, but there is the line between being completed to date and ongoing development. Like the above comments the developers are just too much in a rush to get the product out there, X-Plane features that are missing or don't actually work is the biggest area of complaints (its called research!), but smaller items that like lately in the trees and ground textures that are not matching the native mesh textures, many are completely different in feel and look... but the list goes on. So the scenery is downloaded to my desktop and on a first look I usually can't believe how bad it is... so why didn't the developer get the scenery checked out before releasing it? It is called "beta testing" but no, you get it it first in this uncompleted mess...  and then the developer is annoyed that you list out a long list of the "Obvious" and call his or their work average?

And don't forget once that review is out there, you are stuck with it..  forever? the Good the Bad and mostly the Ugly...  and this is the same review that users go to buy and assess your product, to see the evaluation and that is done over and over again... Yes I accept and so do users that items can be overlooked, and still there are areas that still need attention, but a few products like this and you quickly going to get a reputation, and its not a good one, and you are then stuck with it, so don't blame the messenger.

Mostly it is only an extra few weeks or a month to complete it, and like I learnt, and that was to simply walk away from the project for a week or so and do something else, then when you come back to the table nice and fresh, the obvious is right there to be fixed and wrapped up.

 

Aircraft Update

Some notes on aircraft. I have flown FlightFactors A320 Ultimate a lot over the last few months, and yes it is now coming to the point of a very nice but far more polished aircraft. Constant updates, mostly weekly or even daily has tightened the aircraft a lot up since it's public release. Now I can be confident of a total block to block service, and a highly enjoyable one at that, the release of BSS sound package has now made it even better (Same for the ToLiSS319 would be a nice, nice please) but I feel the BSS sound package is not yet totally complete, but it really is a nice environment in the cruise. Negatives are still the "Failures" or issues, that are still too common and can ground you, and with no way of fixing them, then that is very frustrating... overwise brilliant.

 

Yes the ToLiSS319 is getting a lot of attention as well, mostly because of the unique "save" feature, very hard to get your head around that when you activate a save (saved situation) of the aircraft it is simply ready to go...  go. Everything is done and all you have to do is the pushback, it saves me hours on doing reviews...  totally worth buying for that aspect alone.

 

Jumping into the FlightFactor Boeing 757 Series was interesting in seeing where the aircraft was in relation to all the newer Airbus equipment and was expecting the Boeing to now feel very outdated, but it came up very well overall against the competition, certainly the cabin updates shows how to keep an aircraft modern and relevant. Interesting was my first flight in an aircraft I knew so well, I crashed, well I actually had a bad landing, but it took three flights in the various versions before I got my full professional wings back...  NOTAM, you still need constant practice to stay on top of an aircraft, even if only out of the cockpit for a few months and the skill set is not as sharp as you think it is, but I soon focused back in again... with practice.

 

Like most I was looking forward to the release of the djdragon737, Boeing 737-900 Ultimate. First yes I know it is a beta, but overall I was disappointed. Yes it is also a freeware, so who am I to complain? but after all the ho, ha it came across as a bit of a let down... and after four months of the extra development maybe I expected more (yes I know again it is not payware) but most of the features were still blanked off. No doubt the Zibo B737 core is exceptional, it flies very well thank you very much. But I was seriously confused as well..  If the default B737-800 is the basis of the simulator and zibo's work? then why do the -900 version? Yes I understand the -800 version is coming? But all we really all wanted was the zibo mod with an excellent cabin and opening doors and all the nice features? Instead was that we got a totally different half-cast aircraft version? Is that just me...

 

Dovetail Games

This year it has been a cascade of announcements and releases for X-Plane, and a significant amount of those announcements and releases have been by Flight Simulator's most prominent developers, in Orbix and FlyTampa to note two of the best. So suddenly X-Plane is the flavour of the month as Orbix for one noted "never, ever" but always "maybe" for years and years that they will develop for the X-Plane platform. Don't get me wrong I welcome such influential developers to our universe, but why now with the sudden change of heart and why so many?

 

The news that Dovetail games was abandoning development of their "Flight Sim World" simulator was a shock, but not to most in the simulation business. The story is one of a big promises and the reality of hard core business. Dovetail bought the rights to from Microsoft for the original rights and base code for "Flight Simulator", which was then Bill Gates's hobby when he was at Microsoft and to sell a few computers on the side for the company. But Bill wanted to save the world and collect a Nobel Prize in the same breath so a simulator was the least of his things to worry about, not that the size of FlightSim was nothing by that point but enormous and a huge business on its own standalone standards. Originally the major legacy development players in FlightSim wanted to buy and run FlightSim together and put together a deal to buy the rights, but Dovetail a game developer (but does create a pretty good Train Simulator) out bid and got hold of the FlightSim rights with a promise to build it into basically Flight Simulator 2.0. Ultimate.

 

In reality it was the perfect set up, someone to develop the core and a new modern simulator and the developers providing the goods to make it all into the one huge business plan that you could imagine, as the idea of the developers developing the simulator together just wouldn't work because each to their own they would want certain things that the others didn't, a bit like why Formula One Racing Team's shouldn't run their own sport, as they would just fight to much over it.

 

So what went wrong? The name Dovetail Games gives it away as they wanted to run FSW the way most games business are set up and with Steam, and noted that all products either went though Steam or their own system or nothing. Then the FS developers turned around and withheld their products on a business model that is very different to theirs and starved FSW of product, the results are going to be obvious.

 

So many saw early this coming disaster writing on the wall early and as a lot of users were already raving about X-Plane11 then X-Plane was suddenly a 'sort" of a better business plan for the future. But what now? Is FlightSim in it's original core now finally in its death roll? The problem all the time was the 32bit core? FSW and P3D have changed to 64bit (X-Plane moved to 64bit years ago) but now FSW is a dead end, P3D have gone from strength to strength but is still hampered by its management style and user interaction, but will again the developers pick up the pieces of FSW at a fire sale price and redevelop it again in their own image, that answer is of course in the future, but the vast amount of those users are now coming to X-Plane and so developers have noted that the X-Plane simulator base is one of the best right now, for all it's quirks...  now suddenly they all want to be our best friend.

 

The benefit's are of course enormous if most of the FlightSim stalwarts move into X-Plane, and to a point we may not want such a wholesome change to our simulator as the core of the user base is very different to the core of the FlightSim community as our basic philosophies are actually quite different, and we certainly wouldn't want to become Flight Simulator 2.0. in their eyes.

 

That is where the sceneries released over the last few months and mostly this last month are very interesting as they covered all the different aspects of the way FlightSim see's X-Plane as a business and a simulator.

 

The Three ways of Scenery

The way you approach X-Plane, can make the difference between being accepted and creating a market within it, and to a point this has always been the difference between the core philosophies of the platforms.

 

First is how to get it wrong. No doubt we welcome new product to X-Plane, but we are far more discerning in what we purchase or invest in to add into our X-Plane experience. To a point we have a high standard or that we could be known as even mean! That is because X-Plane at it's core would rather build and share than purchase. But if you want to build a very high quality experience then even the most stinginess of us will pay to get that addition no matter what, this is known offically as the "Gotta have that" syndrome.

 

So if you release a (in this case) a scenery in X-Plane that is basically a very old and an outdated FlightSim product and throw in a few X-Plane badly set out features in there and then ask a high price, then that is really dumping old crap into our simulator to make a dollar...  and believe me we are going to see a lot of that sort product over the next few years. The forums and the reviews are not going to be kind to you, and I doubt you are going to sell a lot your outdated crap over here in X-Plane either.

 

The second approach is the gated community approach, which is very FlightSim. Orbix has arrived and we welcome them, but they are very much this is our way and not your way approach which of Aerosoft also adheres to, and I don't know if X-Plane users in being very community minded and share the love all around would want that approach even if it works for them really well in FlightSim. If you notice there are no Orbix products on the X-Plane.OrgStore and there probably never will be, but the problem with that is that X-Plane views the store as one their filter but mostly their security in service and reliablity, and many users just won't purchase product if it is not listed on the .OrgStore and anyone not on there, then they must be considered an outsider. And that aspect is justified with the collapse of the "let’s sim store" last month, you could say that Orbix is certainly not in the same league of the underfunded let’s sim store, but we are still investing in products and we love the security of where our money goes. For X-Plane it is a community approach which is rather like shopping at the local store rather than going to Costco with all their rules.

 

Third approach is like the one by FlyTampa. The one thing that really impressed me with the introduction of FlyTampa and their FlyCorfu! was the willing to understand and deliver what X-Plane users want, I mean really want. They spent the time and the resources to work out the features of our style of simulator and made sure there was the correct mixture of both with the best of their original FlightSim scenery, but also in the way X-Plane has unique features and tools that make our simulator the way we understand and use it...  the result was a sort of hybrid of the two platforms, and no doubt admittedly the actual scenery was not the latest but still a few years old, but that didn't matter at all as the full results are simply spectacular and FlyTampa got a lot of credos coming their way on what they delivered and they also delivered the scenery at a reasonable price.

 

This is the model for success in X-Plane for any budding FlightSim developers in that we understand that you are going to deliver your original and quite successful product and we accept that, but we also expect that you take our tools and features into consideration to make the original version more X-Plane like than just the same but crossover work with a few badly installed animated airbridges and a few thrown in lighting effects, and you would think that after all the years of being in X-Plane that Aerosoft and their newly release Rome XP would certainly by now deliver far better than this very old and outdated work, and would they really have the nerve to ask money for the same ancient scenery in 2018...  and that at the core is the issue, in that X-Plane is not FlightSim, so don't treat us like FlightSim or even try to sell us their old outdated crap as I doubt even in this condition that FS/P3D users would pay out for it either.

 

Bobby Dylan twanged "For the times they are a-changin'" and yes they are, and a lot of this change is for the overall good, but we don't have to accept everything that comes our way, X-Plane has always created its own feel and direction and that is the way it always should also be.

 

See you all again next month...

 

Stephen Dutton

1st May 2018

Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews

 

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