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Behind the Screen : July 2018 - X-PlaneReviews 5th Anniversary


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Behind the Screen : July 2018 - X-PlaneReviews 5th Anniversary


This edition of "Behind the Screen" coincides with X-PlaneReviews fifth year Anniversary. A big deal, well in any industry to survive is foremost the general idea, but in this very modern fast moving world as many others can come and disappear in simply a blink of an eye, as usually (mostly around the New Year) up a new site pop's and it is totally full of enthusiasm and to be honest you do get overwhelmingly overwhelmed by the sheer output they are able to quickly generate, so you keep your head down and do the best you can, keep the faith (family motto) and plug on ahead. Then usually they start to falter, and within months they have either collapsed and mostly disappeared, or then finally the odd old post then pops up now and again, but mostly the dragon storm has run it's course and blown itself out.


Personally I don't mind these sites as any new viewpoints in X-Plane can always be welcomed, you can always learn something new as well or see a different approach to what you are doing. But the worry is when in the unbridled enthusiasm of the getting so much attention in that the actual facts get well...  a bit lost in the message or with the messenger, as this is of course the age of instant news, or "fake (internet) news" and then every email, message or text is taken as gospel when it is actually isn't and then then the post is out there, and the damage is done, and sometimes mostly the damage is irreparable.

X-PlaneReviews is a bit, well shall we say old school... more city newspaper than instant TMZ, but the one thing we do is check is our facts, and so we know what is really going on in the industry (even if sometimes we can't tell you about it), that goes for our reviews, yes the reviews are a few days and even sometimes a few weeks older than the release date, but we would have flown the real aircraft, landed at the real scenery and tested those plugins. No heresay, no passed on information, we have checked it out and verified the product is what it is.


Like most work, then what you see is only the top of the iceberg, a lot of what we do is behind the scenes, working with developers and helping with ideas, testing...  a lot of testing, helping users, the list goes on, and the pop up sites then very quickly realise, that to run a site like this requires a lot of hours of work, the idea of just posting, posts is actually very different from reality, spend a few days away and the landscape has already changed, the funny thing about running websites is that you actually work far harder and a lot longer than you did with manual work and it takes up a vast amount of your time, this is the one area that the budding bloggers also don't see, but they soon quickly find those facts out.


So what has changed in X-Plane in those five years, well a lot, but a lot is still the same. In detail then X-Plane is way and above and beyond with what what had back then, in fact most aircraft and sceneries from back then would simply be laughable today, but that is not to say they weren't good, they were what they were for the time and the computer power, and to think back then we really had only one virtual cockpit (a nice B757), as all the panels were only 2d...  all 2d, and just think about that.


The quality in design in X-Plane11 is now jaw-dropping, you think it couldn't get any more realistic, and then it does some more, but in also being far more efficient as well with the latest tools. We certainly loved our aircraft five years ago, as we do today, but the range we have to choose from now is getting overwhelming, but from a FlightSim point of view of X-Plane that would seem laughable, but the choice is now there for every taste.

So the change in reviewing has grown substantially as well. Overall we still do the same in detailing the aircraft or scenery, flying the aircraft or testing out the scenery (mostly for framerate efficiency)...  but it is in the depth of the aircraft and to a point in the scenery in detail, that is where we have had the biggest changes. I was able to review five years ago, because basically the aircraft were quite simple... but that is certainly not the case today. The hardest challenge in reviewing is simply making the same feel different, and saying the same facts over and over about the same thing in 1200+ reviews, and even making it entertaining.


The main point of the five years of the journey of this X-PlaneReview site is the extensive work of learning. and even more so in the last few years. The skills required are now high, and I would say even real world capable. You could say I was getting above myself, even a so called "big shot know it all". But I disagree. Five years of constantly flying and practically in pretty well everything from hang-gliders to A380's, and I mostly fly when doing with reviews 2hr to 4hrs a day that is converted to 28 to 30 hours per week, yes a day and even if I averaged that out with sceneries. The one area I have had less time to do is long haul which is my favorite form of flying, because I constantly need the computer for the reviews, but I will sneak one in now and again. Mostly when doing reviews the flying computer is usually still running, flying or testing or like it is right now with a new aircraft to review doing a 350 nm flight. And then is the actual physical study with manuals and a lot of Googling for the areas that are not covered in manuals or specific instrument items, lingo or just plain aircraft information. The last year instead of the study becoming less with time, it has actually stepped up significantly with far more heavily detailed study aircraft now coming into X-Plane, this year has been an Airbus year with the deep systems ToLiSS319 and FlightFactor's A320 Ultimate, then there was the extensive depth of the Boeing twins of FlightFactor's B757/B767 and FJS B732, I mean even a real pilot learns and flies only one airframe at a time... for god's sake!


...   and worse I want to keep everything as real or as close to the real world as possible.


Then comes X-Plane itself. I started with X-Plane9, with X-Plane10 changing the environmental aspects of the simulator, the focus there was in taking the basics of X-Plane9 and then making the world around the fundamentals of just flying an aircraft, and to making a far more realistic world to actually fly the aircraft in, and the change to 64bit was a very important step as well.


At the time X-Plane11 didn't seem to be the huge step in simulation that X-Plane10 was, but looking back from this position today then X-Plane11 has changed the simulator more than X-Plane9 and X-Plane10 put together. Many of you would disagree with that statement, but I believe that X-Plane11 has more depth now globally than any other simulator out there (and yes many will also totally argue that case) but here are the facts. PBR or Physically Based Rendering has totally and absolutely changed the way we see and feel all the areas in simulation, PBR makes the simulation world realistic, and you only have to compare the X-Plane10 version of an aircraft to a X-Plane11 version, in other words... dull or alive.


X-Plane was known for it's highly realistic aircraft performance and handling, that is nothing new. But since X-Plane11 was released the basics of the flying have also again fundamentally changed, You however need the tools to access this area, as a throttle system is now invaluable. In reviewing the biggest challenge now is simply landing an aircraft. Every single aircraft has a totally different feel and performance, before X-Plane11 there was a sort of barometer between most categories of aircraft and it was quite easy to adapt between them, but that is simply not the case now in X-Plane11. The simulator now is very much more fine tuned to the aircraft's performance and the challenge of finding that absolutely correct timing and throttle adjustment that separates lift from stall has become crucial, and every aircraft is now very different in this area, and it is very highly challenging to get it right, and then do it again. The point is the skills required are now also seriously high, challenging as much as it is in the real world, and in fact the real world is actually probably a little easier as you have real metal around you with a real feel from the machine, just like when driving a car compared to a car racing game. Of all the areas over the last five years this one has been the most difficult, the most demanding area of all, because I simply can't get it wrong as the review counts on these factors. I do admit that in reviews (mostly with GA aircraft) I do put a lot of emphasis on this area in X-Plane11.


As noted the basics of X-Plane haven't really changed but everything else has. I would have never dreamed of the gate to gate experience I can achieve now with say the ToLiSS319 and a few quality addon sceneries and that I was so aghast that so many users in X-Plane are not taking advantage of the quality of the aircraft and scenery now available to them to make their flying as authentic as it can actually be.


Most changes over the years have been incremental, but the simulator has changed fundamentally, but two areas have made the biggest differences, in Laminar Research's change it was the switch to 64bit, as that allowed the explosion of space to expand out the simulator and make it more relevant. In addons it was the release of Classic Jet Simulation's World Traffic, that filled up your airports and made X-Plane a far more dynamic world around you, and for all the clever ideas over the years X-Plane still doesn't come close to choice of addons that the FlightSim users have available. And weather is a great example, with the still bulky native weather system, the SkyMaxx series and xEnviro, all have positives, but none really absolutely covers the workable system X-Plane requires and what that FlightSim has had for years, and the less said about X-Plane's ATC the better.


No one bores quickly than me, and I don't have time in my life to waste it around on trivia, so what has held my attention for nine years by keeping me here in computer simulation. That huge learning curve for one, there is always something to learn, practise or do better, or try that again, aiming for perfection and to be as good as the real guys. The development of the simulator, in ideas, genius moments and seeing developers up their game with every release, pushing the boundaries, seeing the dream come true in front of you of flying almost the real aircraft, landing at an almost real airport, the development cycle simply never stops and I have a slogan in "X-Plane - Building the world around you at one airport at a time".

I actually gave myself four months in X-Plane before the so called then "fad" wore off, but here I am almost eight years later and still enjoying it, loving it actually and knowing on how much more there is still to come, and X-Plane leads in online communities, users and people all over the world from every nationality that all have the same goals, aspirations and share their same love for online simulation, there are no barriers here, not race, not age, not gender...  stupidity maybe, but then that is universal, but overall we share and do the same together, learn, dream and push X-Plane forward, we get a lot of things right that most humans on the planet get wrong.


I have made a few speculations this year, but one thing that is very apparent is that these next few years are going to the most significant for the simulator, where and in what direction will it go, good or even bad...  but we are still growing, still adding in the numbers, but X-Plane is still at a very critical point in its history...  and even I couldn't forecast the future right now, but like in the real world it is not X-Plane itself per se that is the question, but the events outside and surrounding it that will bring the questions and the changes, the problem with every business is that people and things change, many like myself who have been in simulation for years will move on, and new people and business's will replace them with their own agendas, change happens...  for the good or for the bad,and  if I am here in another five years time in will be interesting of where we will be then as now...  if the changes are as big and as significant as they have been in the last five years, then that will certainly be interesting and exciting time.


Payware Clutter

Earlier this month came the "cease and desist" notice to a developer, in this case it was Rim&Company that produced the scenery "Ayers Rock" and "Ushuaia Malvinas Airport". If you look you will see that both sceneries have been pulled from sale. The issue is that the developer used clutter or objects taken from other sceneries without their permission, most notably here is Cami De Belis and Richard G. Nunes our South American specialist, and at least in that context Rim&Co had their pick of quality objects.


But this is a no, no in X-Plane or any simulation platform, as if you use items or objects you must have permission if it is a payware product, mostly just as a notice to the ownership and copyright of the original material or work, some developers will ask for a small fee, but most will allow for free in respect to where the original items came from. Some rumors even stated that Rim&Co actually doctored the objects to claim them as their own (copyright), which if true is even worse than just stealing them in the first place.


Personally I thought something was wrong while reviewing Rim&Co's "Ayers Rock" as there was extensive over clutter that I mentioned in the review, and believe me there is nothing like that much in quality detail anywhere in Central Australia...


In context though it is hard for Payware developers, but not enough to actually steal items. If you are a freeware developer you have a very wide selection of libraries, hence the output of say tdg, and a lot of these libraries are very high quality ones at that, like the misterX library. For the payware developer they have to create every single custom item from scratch to build up their own library selection, and in context is that not actually fair. The bonus of this is that the library is all custom and can be used as a feature to sell the scenery, but a lot of clutter is just that in basic airport clutter, and if another quality scenery developer has some really excellent items that is perfect for your scenery and also give X-Plane itself a sort overall consistency then should that option be actually available to them?


In my reviewing in scenery, then still most developers are still single dev's and they are still not in the larger teams or groups like you find with aircraft development, although this scenario is currently changing. The problem is that with a single developer although in many areas they are very good in creating the actual scenery, that in some areas they can also be quite average or not even that bothered to create high quality clutter objects. And so in far too many sceneries I have seen many an excellent work ruined by really average baggage carts, aircraft stairs and other clutter that look like they have been created in the 1990's era of 3d modeling. So even then the very best developers can have their weak spots in a single developer scenario unlike were as in a team, in that if one developer can then compensate for the other developer's weaknesses. 


But is it fair that for someone trying to build a business creating custom payware scenery to have freeware quality clutter at a far higher and in far more abundance than with their own work? I asked mister6X this and he noted it up to the developer to create his own high quality custom scenery, and again as a feature for users to purchase that custom high quality scenery, and for all of that it makes it a reason to highlight the quality of Payware over Freeware, but the issue here becomes more confused in the fact that mister6X also has an extensive high quality library available for freeware developers as well?


The overall point here is that if X-Plane is trying to build a business model to attract talented developers to create scenery for the simulator, the first point is "why bother", because the freeware market is just going to ruin any chance of the developer actually making any cash out of it, never mind a living. The X-Plane mindset is already "its free!" so why pay for the same thing, and for one the freeware developers have all the advantages and even sometimes a donation button on their work as well, this is why X-Plane is lagging behind in this area, with the chance of the payware scenery business even collapsing completely altogether.

It is also being seen that even high quality scenery can very quickly go on to the "Sale" market and priced well below it's worth just to sell the scenery to cover costs, again the user will get into that "sale" mindset and will know that soon any scenery release they will be able to pick it up at a very low cost, again why would you do it, and why spend months of work just to give it away at below cost...  it is a model that just can't survive.


So the debate is should developers have access to their own high quality clutter libraries, for a fee? It works both ways... the developer can save months of work in just creating clutter objects that come with a high quality already built in and give X-Plane a consistency of design. And the developers can also make money off the fees for their developed libraries so that is another income stream for their business, plus it gives the developers far more options in the way they can fill out their scenery as they would now skimp on those areas because filling them out is going to take a lot of time for no real return.


One way or the other, the current business model for payware scenery has to change and quickly, and so does the altitude towards such practices. So would have Rim&Co paid a fee for those objects instead of stealing from Cami and Richard, probably not... but at least the option would have been there for them to do so.



In July X-PlaneREviews introduced a new category called "Preview". Full reviews can take time to cover all the very varied aspects of a scenery or even an aircraft, like the KLAXv2 by ShortFinal as the scenery took nearly four days to review and then there was an extra added on segment for changes. Problem is there are now as many as 4 to 5 new scenery releases a week, and in that I realised I was simply falling behind. Users want facts and usually want them quickly when they want to purchase products, so I could see it was getting to be a problem if even becoming very stressful in just covering every aspect of every releases. So "Preview" was created to give you a comprehensive overview of a release, if the release is significant to X-Plane then of course the full review will still be completed. But "Preview" will allow us to cover the product far more quickly without still missing out on the main important details that are made up in purchase decisions.


Again I thank...

The site is as always reliant of the many other people to function. First thanks goes out to all the developers that give out such outstanding work, they all have created this amazing intimate world with their creativity. I spend a lot of time with many of them, and although they wonder why I am there suddenly 100% then disappear only to reappear again later and it is that because there are so many projects ongoing, and I try to follow all of them, but time is of course limited. Overall I try to see for the benefits of X-Plane on how the work is going forward.


Laminar Research is always a foundation we constantly complain about, but in reality they have really delivered and again this year. It is a far more professional business today than certainly when I entered X-Plane. Give them a another round of applause I think they have deserved it.


The X-Plane.Org and the X-Plane.OrgStore is the centre of our X-Plane universe, take both out of the equation and would X-Plane be where it is today, and would this site even exist? I would doubt it. A lot of users note it is a monolith, but I see it as a steady hand in allowing the simulator to thrive as passionate people give a lot of their free time to help and give service to so many others, both Laminar Research and the X-Plane.Org are two binary stars orbiting each other that keeps that balance and the X-Plane engine running, surviving, so it is important that we support both.


I have no problem in saying X-PlaneReviews supports the X-Plane.OrgStore because they do supply a lot of the releases for reviews, it allows us to cover a far larger area than most review sites, but my real reason for supporting the X-Plane.OrgStore is because it supports X-Plane in the best way it can in service, and developers trust it and the users do as well, in other words it is a sound and solid foundation you can rely on time and time again and that is a rare thing in this day and age. 


See you all next month in our sixth year in X-Plane


Stephen Dutton

1st August 2018

Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews


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So, Happy Birthday and congrats ! 😉


Nice words as always Stephen.


Just a side note on the .org store: I agree with you that their forum and store are indeed the centre of the X-Plane universe but I think the store should be revamped in urgency.

If we let aside the really basic look and stick on the features, there are some major lacks to fix quite quickly:

  • the data quality: the menu to navigate through the product is built manually I guess, there are many flaws and missing items.
  • the basket checkout process is annoying (your address changed, please ... dammit!)
  • the cookie management is hillarious: logged in, click on a menu and you could be unloggued as-is, not funny at all when you want to check something just before be annoyed by the basket checkout process.

I could change the store, there are others... but not with this content.

As you said, the store is the center of the XP universe but it must be upgraded ASAP to stay at this center...


I sent a mail to offer a (free) offer to help them to at least categorize the products but they don't seem interested.


So, they know they are the corner stone... for now.


My 2 cents :)

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