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Behind the Screen : August 2018

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Behind the Screen : August 2018

 

In many ways 2018 up to date has been a slightly frustrating one. It is X-PlaneReviews coda to checkout any new releases before publication in either "News!" or "Reviews". Other X-Plane news outlets proclaim new products, but they don't actually see them, so in reality they don't know really what sort of product it really actually is being released, but as in reality the detail is not very good.

 

We (as in you) and I (as in X-PlaneReviews) expect and accept a certain leeway in new releases or new developers coming into X-Plane. That fact is a given because at it's heart X-Plane is quite complex. Even the very best developers have issues, bugs and items that need attention after the main release, you even expect that and understand that complexity, and usually the areas and items are corrected quickly and professionally.

 

But in 2018 we have had a bounteous of new product and new developers coming into X-Plane, and certainly the more on board the merrier. They come in two segments with crossover products from the FlightSim world, or someone starting out as a apprentice developer. Nothing wrong with either of those approaches, but they do all have one major thing in common, in badly incompleted projects. In many cases the really "totally obvious" areas that are not covered before releasing their work for sale and to the expectation of users buying it.

 

Downloading a lot of scenery this year I have been appalled at the so called "finished state" of the projects, some of my correction lists are quite long and detailed on why in reality this scenery shouldn't be on sale in this state... other projects are in similar positions, but are ruined more by poor installation details, and manuals (mostly plugins).

 

The major point here is that, why not have the work checked and corrected before publication? the i's dotted and the t's crossed...  and don't get me wrong here in that I want all the time the absolutely perfect product on my download, but if a user is faced with a poor scenery with a half completed layout or a plugin they can't install or use then the developer is in trouble, and if they are new to the X-Plane system then that reputation is going to get hammered from day one. So the point is you can't save someone that isn't going to listen in fixing up even the basic requirements.

 

Once the product is up on the store and a review is done then the excuse that the "review was hard on the product, and affected the sales" is to blame the messenger and not the developer that didn't get it checked out correctly in the first place. We are very mindful here at X-PlaneReviews on how our reviews are presented, but we still look at the released product in the context of it's release sale presentation. In many cases we have delayed a review till the v1.2 release to clear up some items, but the reality is once the review is pinned and is then now out there warts and all once we post it, and then Google will stamp it up there on their servers as well. The problem is the situation is getting worse and worse and not better as the year goes on.

 

Three items downloaded together this week for potential reviews were all rejected in one form or the other because they were quite bad in the same one form or the other aspect...  so instead of doing reviews I am actually doing my monthly notes instead...   all were worthy reviews, but all were not worthy of attention because of the various areas that are not completed or the installation was not achieved, and X-Plane users deserve far better and more so if you are paying for it.

 

Worse is the point that there is a little war going on at the moment in trying to get "freewarers" to open their tight financial fists and to support developers and X-Plane in creating a more quality simulator than just being a "Global Airport" simulator that seems to be doing a far better job than the so called professionals lately. And deep down the crux of the issue is poor release product, that is simply incomplete or not up to the standard that payware requires, but overall the points that get me really annoyed is the fact that most areas only needed to be looked over and corrected before release, and in most cases there was only minor fixes and changes required, and maybe only a few weeks more work required.

A small note on the FS crossovers as their issues are slightly different from the apprentices in the fact that their products don't take advantage of X-Plane's features to promote their product. I have already mentioned about the dumping of mostly FS product in X-Plane to make a quick dollar, but this is mostly quality product that misses out on some excellent tools (i.e. animated airbridges) to make their product (even if old) far more attractive for X-Plane users, again this track record has not been very good to downright awful.

 

But the attitude of "we will fix it up later is after release" is not going to make you like Apple a trillion dollar company even if that system works for them, they do still beta testing and try to make sure their products are in a certain quality frame before putting them up for sale.

 

This is in the school report of "must try harder" or at least to get your work checked out by a third party (and with someone actually familiar with X-Plane), and correct the glaring mistakes or issues before publication.

 

Environmental Products

September or the Q3 period of 2018 is going to an an interesting and even a very exciting time for X-Plane in first the release of v11.30 (see below) and the battle for your skies with environmental products from Xenviro and Active Sky.

 

Environmental plugin products for X-Plane have had an interesting history. The first was SkyMaxx, the plugin was a breakthrough weather engine but suffered early framerate issues, but with development and great features it is was certainly a big step above the native X-Plane weather, with crepuscular rays and lens flare for realism. xEnviro was in my mind though the real breakthrough environmental engine, expensive at US$70, however I still think it delivered that promise of realism and the excellent framerate that it promised.

 

The product itself is very good, but the activities behind the product are going straight into the situation of on how to really stuff up your customers and your own credibility in one go with manual 101. On release there was a foray of updates till Dec 2016, that initially made the plugin really good, great performance and quality weather was a bonus that was v1.06, and it had only one itsy-bitsy issue in that if you lost the internet connection to xEnviro's servers it would simply crash, it was a small one, but a big issue in the day to day running of the simulator...  a fix, not on your life.

 

The fix finally came in v1.7 in September last year (nine months late) and xEnviro plowed on with the more coming "great features" that finally came with v1.08 in January 2018. Only it didn't as that version had a huge amount of bugs, then came v1.09 that had even more. To put things into perspective a member of the xEnviro team was involved in a life threatening incident that required some time away to recover and hence the mess and quick release of v1.09, fair enough...  but a bug fix, again not on your life, and we are still waiting six months later. So the full bug fix list since Dec 2016 or 20 months ago is just for that Internet connection bug, as I am still running on v1.07. The really annoying thing is that the v1.09 had so much promise, it is SO very good, but you can't actually use it, and the framerate use now stinks?

 

I will note that xEnviro are also tied in with the Laminar Research X-Plane changes, so a lot is not actually their fault, but even a few bug fixes, just to keep the customer happy after paying over US$70 dollars while you develop forward, not on your nellie. And so most users have already pulled their expensive plugin and gone back to the now more better refined but still heavy framerate Austin Meyer puffs of cloud.

 

To be balanced is that in the last few months the xEnviro team have been more supportive with better support and forthcoming information, but like I said, I am still running v1.07 (really v1.06 with one bug fix) and so this version is still actually 20 months old. If your a Mac user you didn't have all this palaver because you never got the plugin option in the first place, like I said...  customer relationship manual 101 (look under failures).

 

So why all the above customer report... Well in September and now in beta is HiFi's Simulations Technologies ActiveSky, a Flightsim product coming over to X-Plane11. The points are that ActiveSky has a pretty good if with an excellent track record in Flightsim, its been around for ages in fact since 2002. On one side is the fact that FlightSim product ported over to X-Plane can have a pretty fickle record, but HiFi do have the numbers on the board and the product is to be priced moderately at around the USA$50 mark

 

Are you starting to get the full picture between xEnviro and ActiveSky...

 

If ActiveSky delivers then do you expect users to still be faithful to xEnviro? as you can only push your punters so far, and this is noted in the aspect that xEnviro is a brilliant product, and has coming some even more brilliant ideas and features...  like snow on the ground or mountainous areas, so if the METAR report says snow then you will get that without then changing to a seasonal texture, that feature alone is worth the entry cost, and deep down xEnviro has delivered some exceptional and realistic weather. My gut wants xEnviro to be the premier environmental tool for X-Plane, but the story so far means it has it's very difficult (and wholly avoidable) past to overcome before creating or pressing on with any new forthcoming features...  their past luxury development time and user patience is now very quickly running out.

 

v11.30

I covered a full analysis of X-Plane's immediate future in both the Expo 2018 roadmap report and the last Laminar Research Q & A session over the last few months.

 

Overall you got a pretty excellent picture between these two sessions on where X-Plane is currently going. Certainly v11.30 is going to be an absolute blockbuster, in the fact I have nicknamed it X-Plane11 v2.0. But like I noted in my Q & A notes is the fact that these ongoing progressing features are now taking a significant toll on my system.

Anyone one will tell you that simulation is always going to be an unending battle with hardware vs software and the hardware usually loses, as you think you have won that battle and then a new one starts, but when your framerate count is starting to run in the lower 20's you start to worry, and I have my settings set at only in moderate positions and not at full max, then the worry is more fraught than ever. My position is always that if can run this then you should be able to as well. My hardware is not the full blast power house, but not quite also the "so old" as it still uses Windows 7, and in that it is positioned very much in the middle to reflect the balance of X-Plane's current requirements. 

 

The odd thing is that I am in the frame of mind that I am not yet in the next upgrade cycle. My graphic card is 8gb and should be powerful enough for most (yes I know that higher is better) but my board and processors are now starting to feel their three year old age, and so are due to be replaced next year. But overall I should still be in that middle ground of being able to negotiate a balance...  but I have this terrible gut feeling that v11.30 might just do me in?

 

My savior is hopefully going to be the new APIs of Vulkan (in my case and Linux users) and Metal (for the 36.9% of you that are Apple users), but they are not due until the end of the year, if the API doesn't fulfill its promises then the board and chip upgrade is going to have to happen even sooner, but my reasoning is that Vulkan will deliver and does in the areas I require it to really deliver in and that is in processing the smaller stuff even quicker.

 

The one major aspect of the Q & A was that Laminar are going forward in one major area and that is in efficiency. So the biggest new features coming are not now the visual showy ones but the hidden engine parts of the simulator and the fact you may not be able to twiddle with the X-Plane internals as much as you could in the past, see the Dev Blog post on shaders. And in fact I think there will be a lot of ongoing internal engine changes right up to until the end of the X-Plane11 run, and not much of the original X-Plane engine will be in there by then as you move into X-Plane12, a bit like when Apple moved over to Mac OS X from Classic MacOS.

 

Killer Simulator users

There was the New York Post article about the guy Richard Russell that stole a Dash Q400 and flew it around and finally crashed it in the middle of Seattle's Nisqually Reach on Ketron Island. The article notes is that yes in "you and me" as simulator users are now the biggest danger to the public since ISIS or Al-Qaeda (and yes they also used aircraft as well for terror). More to the point we are a fast rising source of danger because we have already done this threat already before as from the evidence created by that "rogue" pilot that flew with training on "a simulator" into stealing and crashing the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that flew to "god knows where" and crashed and killed so many innocent people....  you are now walking around with a "Killer" or "Terrorist" written on your back because of your association with flight simulation. So be careful folks as they are on to us!

 

The article is poorly written, X-Plane was noted originally but that section has been deleted (maybe at the deference of Laminar Research) who were also noted in the original article for comment. But some points are quite ridiculous, notably the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Air Safety Institute spokesman that quoted "A pilot would also need endorsements from flight instructors for certain skills to fly a Q400"...  hello Mr AOPA, Russell stole the aircraft and didn't ask for permission?

 

But the article did say (originally to the quality of X-Plane's simulation dynamics) that are home based simulators now getting too realistic and now almost too lifelike for their own good. Obviously this is the main goal of simulators in trying to be as realistic and as close to real world flying aircraft as possible, to note that real world pilots do brush up on their skills on home based computers before doing so in training in real world simulators, and we them call "Study" aircraft for a reason, in to replicate the real world aircraft and ground based simulators for cross training. Let us be realistic in the fact that all home simulators were all mostly created originally to help in and for real world training, not for home user histrionics.

 

The inevitable point or discussion on if a simulator user could jump in (in this case a Dash Q400), start it up, taxi, takeoff and then do aerial aerobatics is highly debatable and certainly every simulator users ultimate dream. One thing for sure was that it wasn't the X-Plane simulator that Russell flew and learnt from (if he did anyway). X-Plane only has one graded Q400 from FlyJSIm, and very good as it is, but it is certainly not certainly deep enough of systems and avionics to be a base for starting up a real Q400. The only simulation of depth is the MJC8 Q400 from Majestic and it comes with and wait for it...  a training edition!

 

Maybe that is why Laminar Research ask the NYP to delete their references to X-Plane. But anyway you look at it, then the guy could startup, taxi and fly the aircraft, and so could he have also landed it... I think so (Dashs are notoriously hard to land) as he didn't want to or need to as he selected (the point is he selected) a barren empty island to finish off not only the aircraft but also his own life.

 

The debate that experienced flight simulator users could transition to the real aircraft will forever rage on, but my experience is that I transitioned to a real B737 simulator and that was from a being a behind a monitor and using a keyboard flier and flew it from YBBN to YSSY and all with the nodding approval of my right seat flying instructor. In the account of my own abilities and with that experience in mind I am quite sure I could fly the real B737.

 

So that must make me now public enemy No.1!

 

Stephen Dutton

1st September 2018

Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews

 

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