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Behind the Screen : Year in Review 2018

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Behind the Screen : Year in Review 2018

 

With a long reflection on the X-Plane year in 2018, it was certainly an interesting one. 2017 was a mega year, so could 2018 be bigger, better or just more of the same? In fact it all went slightly sideways in being different instead as more external factors came to bear on the simulator, but one fact was totally overwhelming in that as simulation goes it is still a very strong and growing market, there are no doomsday forecasts coming anytime soon as simulation is still very much in demand and new users are still overwhelmingly discovering this excellent online flying world.

 

The year could be very easily split right down the middle, with extremely busy for the first six months and then a more mature quieter second half. Part of the reason of the bedlam of the first part of the year was the expected conversion or crossover of Ex-Flightsim users and developers... the FlightSim crowd (even the hard-core) users realised that X-Plane was a better product, a better simulator and to a point had better value per flying buck. So they came, and came in droves to the new and pleasant land seeking new experiences. And most liked and loved what they saw and flew. Obviously with the flock of users converting then came also the FlightSim developers, almost begrudgingly, in an almost a really "I don't really want to be here, but I have to if I want to keep my customers" way. The data supports the shift with X-Plane now reaching the 50% point of users compared to FlightSim (Primary Simulator Software - Navigraph 2018 Survey) and 19.8%  of current FlightSim users are also considering X-Plane as their primary simulator in the future. To put those numbers into perspective, in the last survey X-Plane was listed as only 10% and that was only two years ago in 2016 (but the survey has to be noted as more FlightSim centric and focused).

 

Some developers dabbled (Fly Tampa, Hi Fi) but most just tried to adjust their FlightSim model to fit X-Plane with various results. The FSX opportunists, tried to bring on already outdated and way past their used by date products and hoped to make more quick cash in X-Plane, they failed, we hated them and didn't buy any of the crap presented to us, and as a result more promised releases went deathly quiet as the year went on. But that is not to say all FlightSim developers didn't convert well over to the X-Plane model, as Just Flight produced some of the best aircraft of the year via the work of Thranda, which proves if you get the model right, then you can make an major impact in the simulator. But the trick is not to shoehorn your way in, but just to become part of the normal background scenery and produce excellent products.

 

With the X-Plane11 version settling down and being stable around the middle of 2017, then early in 2018 the results of the work of developers started to appear and kept on coming in an avalanche of products in the first quarter of the year, then they barely broke for a breath in the 2nd quarter. And what emerged was was an excellent view of the future, and an excellence in the actual product with the new X-Plane 11 features being highlighted, and again with so many quality products it was a full time occupation just to keep up with it all. One very much the presented feature was two things, a seriously never ending packages of updating which was all consuming, and that developers became very creative of the making of upgrades and turning the ideas into revenue streams. To a point this not a bad thing as we shall see, as the bottom line sometimes was really just survival.

 

Another distinction was between the established stars (developers) and everyone else. With the outstanding but now maturing features of X-Plane11 in their armoury, the developers simply came of out firing with all guns blazing, everything that was everything that was on the table, and boy did they use it. I wrote a detailed account of this in last month's Behind the Screen : Nov 2018. And the scale and detail was stupendous stuff. Realism 101 was the buzz word for me this year, but the quality was and is off the planet, another step higher and another huge advance forward for the simulator, but the scenery developers were just as good, with ultra detail and that word again "Realism 101", but everything was also slightly side swiped by the X-Plane's simulator's user data release June mid-year.

 

If there was a horror moment for X-Plane then this was it. Basically it said "61% of all flights in the simulator are with still with and only includes the basic default X-Plane aircraft, and default and simple is the word to be noted here. Next down and by a long way at 4.5%  is the Boeing 738x Zibo mod aircraft which is again free and a development of the same aircraft as the default Laminar Research B738 version, and the ToLiSS's A319 was not even registering on the list?" in other word's the aircraft's use was registered below the required 0.1% for activation... frightening stuff.

 

In plain English it noted that the simulator is basically by the majority is only being used at a very basic level...  with even the very most popular aircraft the Zibo 738x which was down there at 4.5% usage, worse was the activity of payware scenery, it was not just low... it was low, low, low? As most users just flew within the scope of the Global airports (default) provided by the simulator...  worse again was that, no one wanted to even try to or want to get a better simulation experience for themselves.

 

The point is that the simulation I am flying in, is quite different to the one most X-Plane users are flying in...  in the same simulator? You could point out that X-PlaneReviews receives a lot of free payware as part of the reviewing process, but only part of that is true, in that I do invest in aircraft and scenery well beyond the test and review packages. X-PlaneReview's has always taken the point of view that what I use and feel, then you should do as well also to get the very best experience out of the simulator. And that is based not totally based on cost but totally for the best experience. I rarely fly the default aircraft, although the default Boeing 737 is very good, and I rarely use the global airports, but usually networking between a small selection of tried and true payware sceneries... In reviewing or out of it then my investment in X-Plane would be exactly the same, it is not the cost factor that drives that aspect, but in the return experience.

 

Several scenery developers have come out this year to note that they are not surviving at these extreme low levels, no names or the quality of their work was revealed to discuss the validity of their work to returns they deserve... onward with this aspect, then it has or will create a significant impact on the simulator as it goes forward, because at it's core there are still a lot of people that are invested and their livelihoods are very dependent on the simulator. Ultimately if this altitude does not change then the consequences are very grave for the X-Plane simulator, you can only take for free for so long before things start to go the other way, another point on this is that if the growing PC crowd are the ones paying the money, then the business will obviously focus on them and that will be another negative for freeloaders...  so 2019 will be an interesting if significant year on that aspect.

 

Laminar Research

X-Plane thankfully has always had a very solid base of development. Laminar Research is now a very different commercial operation, even from a few years ago, I mean they even have PR person (Jennifer Roberts) as their profile and firewall. The days of shooting off an email to Ben Supnic are closing fast, now you have find the right department and the right person to communicate with... that is all very un-Laminar. 

 

If the hobbyist element is being phased out at Laminar, then it also doesn't mean they are becoming more distant and are still highly innovative in response to trends and changes. Again Laminar Research really delivered with some great updates and features in 2018.

 

As promised the VR (Virtual Reality) roll out started the year, obviously for most the high outlay on the VR technology is still a is major barrier into the promised land. But there slight benefits of the delaying of the VR purchase and the user numbers are growing quickly. Not only in the cost, but maturity of the technology, and not only from X-Plane's aspect, but from the VR industry as well. For Laminar it still a roadmap rollout... VR demands huge computer efficiency for it's use.

 

So the roadmap that was set out in 2017 was reinforced at the mid-year simulation Expo in Vegas, which was a huge success for Laminar. And continuing that development vein in that a total rewriting of X-Plane from the inside out would secure it's future. Laminar is wanting the removal of the original elements and replace them with far more modern ones, and yes a lot of things may be lost in the transition, but this is classic Laminar (Supnic) thinking... "take the pain today, for a bigger better tomorrow".

At the forefront of that is the new API changes of Vulkan and Metal, in the last beta 11.30. Already a lot of these new elements are already in place, and expect a lot more in the new 2019 year with the next major 11.40 update, and the changes will go on right through the X-Plane11 development cycle till the end, but note that X-Plane12 will be a very different internal engine from 11, and it's past original roots will all be finally buried or replaced.

 

Two updates throughout the year with 11.20 and 11.30 were both excellent. v11.20 was a tweak and touch update to clear up the lasting bugs of the introduction of X-Plane11, you could call it a maturing version but mostly it will be remembered as the "VR version". v11.20 also brought in a new aircraft with the excellent Aerolite 103 a brand new ultralight aircraft, a lot of new LEGO elements for the global airport developers to access and use, and Sydney got the "Landmark" Treatment with the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. It was the v11.25 update that was the real surprise for being not a major update per se (a sort of Vegas giveaway special), but delivered some excellent elements, with a full Las Vegas and Chicago landmark packages and excellent European industrial autogen that was a real quality experience in excellence.

 

v11.30 was to be the showstopper of the year and it didn't disappoint. Promised for early or mid September the update was six weeks late, in landing late October on the 25th, but deliver the version did. Particle Effects that were promised for years finally had arrived, and again were excellent, with fire, smoke, haze and god knows what else that brought your aircraft to life again. The shader system was completely overhauled (For Vulkan and Metal) in the first of the API changes. Autopilot (heavy and GA) systems were also highlighted with brand avionics, better anti-and de-ice systems, oxygen systems and propeller governors with vacuum gyro and caging are also included. A nice surprise was the new ATC voice system not announced earlier (only noted as a WIP) with realistic A.I. voices. More industrial autogen and this time covering the US, was also part of the update.

Austin Meyer introduced a whole host of aircraft flight model improvements, from some very bizarre experiments with a Tesla car and sound looking aerodynamic boom out of it's fully automated-driving roof, obviously there is no expense spared for X-Plane development. All users noted a nice framerate improvement, but they were in areas neutralised by the particle effects generator, but overall the whole update was a significant step forward.

 

Like with most updates and changes the effects of the release of v11.30 will not be felt until well into next year, as the developers take advantage of the new dynamics and deliver them, but they are all quite substantial. All round it was another very good, if brilliant year from Laminar Research with 2019 delivering more of the Vulkan/Metal efficiency, which is now only just waiting in the wings.

 

Aircraft

With X-Plane11 development, most developers lost half of most of 2017 waiting for the system to settle down, and this becoming a new pattern, in the version updates it brings on in the changes, then the lull before the effects of the changes on the simulator is released. Before most developers would have easily grabbed the best or the most dramatic features and update their products to get user reactions in an instant, but they seem to be taking now a more mature and longer approach to the whole simulator in the way of using the new features within their products. To highlight this was the very first release or "spectacular" bang of the year with the release of FJS (FlyJSim's) Boeing 737-200 TwinJet.

 

Yes it was an update of an already released aircraft. But in reality the two releases were extremely very different. The release of the B737 TwinJet was a different approach in the fact it is a fully completed update to take advantage of all of X-Plane11's extraordinary effects and features... you simply got the whole lot here all in one go...   better PBR, better Hi-Res 4K quality, photographic imagery, highlighted textures, reflections and shines (glass was excellent as was real life mirrors), updated menus and that...   "Cabin"! 

Supremely detailed aircraft interiors are well known on GA aircraft, but are very rare on commercial, but this cabin was just beyond the imagination of detail and features. With details like opening overhead lockers, window blinds, adjustable full cabin and area lighting switches and animated switch controllable front and rear built in stairs. It was gob-smackingly overwhelming, it still is, but it was also a pointer to the year to come in the way that developers are now using new tools to create extremely authentic aircraft. FJS's other Boeing in the Boeing 727 Series Pro v3 was noted very early on that it was not going to get the same extensive cabin treatment, and it was missing on the release in August, very good as the v3 B727 Series is, but it could have been one of the greatest releases in X-Plane if it had come fully completed with it's internals. The point is that the B737 TwinJet is the most complete airliner in X-Plane history, because that word "complete" sums it all up... the complete perfect fully rounded aircraft you will ever use and fly...   shame about the B727.

 

One top notch release was a great start to 2018, but within weeks the slow grinding FlightFactor Airbus A320-214 Ultimate was also released from it's long and difficult birth and the countless betas. The reason was the unique separation from the X-Plane simulator itself, with a CEF (Chromium Embedded Framework) plugin doing the work and interfacing with X-Plane. The sheer depth of the simulation does take the aircraft well into a study grade simulation. The aircraft did require a different approach in flying in X-Plane though and it had a price to match, but once you felt the depth and the really excellent system's, then this Airbus really puts X-Plane up there as a quality simulator, an BSS Soundpack released for the same aircraft a month or so later was the total icing on the cake.

 

In a reaction to the A320 Ultimate's release, the ToLiSS (the old QPAC A320) then their released their A319, so in a week you went from one good A320 to three aircraft all fighting for the same market. The ToLiSS319 was to a point not as highly developed at the time of it's release, but the systems were highly regraded and created by the best Airbus expert X-Plane has ever had, I flew like a dream, certainly the very best handling commercial jet aircraft in X-Plane, but the extensive development path continued right up the end of this Christmas period, and what a development path it is. Clever and highly detailed with great features, the ToLiSS319 deserves to be the most popular aircraft in X-Plane, and personally in time it will be a classic. The point must be taken that both either the FF A320 Ultimate and the ToLiSS319 are not direct competitors but in reality they really compliment each other depending on the route or network... it is like flying for an airline and you fly the required aircraft that is best suited for that service. 

 

Rotate's MD-88 also had some significant updates throughout the year in all areas, and to a point matured to another level of maturity, but the focus is now on the coming MD-11 that was expected in 2018, but certainly now it will be coming in 2019, hopefully in the first quarter. Both the FlightFactor Boeing Twins 757/767 both had significant upgrades with the B767 achieving "Extended" status with a -200 and a Freighter variant, joining the original -300 version.

 

One aircraft that did standout in 2018 was Magnight's Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This started out a freeware project, that went payware, then professional payware with a step up in price to match, mostly to cover the move to a SASL plugin environment away from the basic restricting original PlaneMaker system. It will be again a very interesting aircraft to watch throughout 2019.

 

Both SSG and X-Craft's updated their E-Jets, with the SSG now ahead with a more comprehensive, or sorted FMC, but both are certainly great aircraft. SSG's Boeing 747-8 was a surprise in how good it was, as any aircraft that has had a difficult birth it is the B748. The default Laminar Boeing 737-800 in it's Zibo disguise wasn't as active as in it's frenzied development as in 2017, yes a lot of updates went through the aircraft and it came with a new sound pack, but it was the Laminar's v11.30 update that added in an amazing cabin that sent the aircraft a few notches higher. The development of the Boeing 737-900 ultimate in my mind was a bit of fizzer, the release version was quite buggy and the cabin average... I haven't even bothered to check up on it's latest progress.

 

General Aviation

As usual the GA area was a rich one, with loads of releases and some really great aircraft. Carenado/Alabeo spent the year mostly updating it's huge fleet over to the higher X-Plane11 quality and dynamic standards, you feel like once the transition is completed, then they will have to start all over again for XP12. But there was also some fresh new releases, with the 690B Turbo Commander that was sensational as was the later C340 ll and the excellent S550 Citation ll. Alabeo produced the surprisingly excellent M20R Ovation and C177 Cardinal twin set.

 

Thranda was also very busy with Just Flight aircraft as well. Their PA28R Piper Arrow IIl took out the top prize of the GA year in 2017, and early in 2018 it was followed up by the more faster and more powerful twinset PA28R Piper Turbo Arrow III/lV, then the French TB10 Tobago & TB20 Trinidad with the excellent Cessna 152 ll, the perfect trainer following..  then it all then went quiet at Just Flight with a change of genre.

 

VflyteAir started off the year in grand style with an update to their PA-30 Twin-Comanche, The Cherokee PA-28 140C followed in March to rave reviews, again an in house design of an aircraft known to the developers. Mid-year vFlyteAir then delivered the unusual but highly innovative Comco - Ikarus C42 C VLA, with those amazing canvas wings and tubing fuselage.

 

By their standards, Aerobask had a quiet year with just the sensational Diamond DA-62, with the rest of the year dedicated to updates of their fleet. They however did also a release a personal project in freeware with the quality of their payware aircraft in the Robin DR401 CDI 155 

 

The most underrated aircraft of the year was the Piper Aerostar 601P by Avia71. It is a sensational aircraft but different from the normal, I think it was a approached in the wrong context, and as a pure and fast flying machine the Aerostar was very much like it's real life counterpart as it is a great machine to use. A FlightSim stalwart in MilViz debuted in X-Plane late in the year with the Cessna T310R, but the aircraft was up against a lot of the same sort of GA designs and choice, so the impact was minimal, it was also an odd choice for a mostly military aircraft developer. AeroSphere Simulation's lifted their quality and produced some nice GA's thoughtout the year, like their lovely Piper PA28-161 Warrior II, but they are no vFlyteAir...  yet.

 

Military and Classic

vSkyLabs churned out every thing to every thing with updates coming on every thing to every thing in quick succession. The DC3 progressed well with VR capability, but the promised remodeled v3 cabin for passenger and freight variants didn't arrive in the year. The Rutan Model 61 Long - EZ pretty well summed up the output, quirky but interesting aircraft to kill country singers in (vale John Denver). The vSkyLab's system is clever one, but hard to follow update by update, so a lot gets lost in the constant transitions "which version or update is that?".

 

For the bushies, Soul Made updated their DH-2 Beaver to X-Plane11 and AeroSim released their very nice Piper PA-18 SuperCub. Unlike 2017 the military aircraft was this year a collection of nice warbirds, and some interesting trainers and fighters. For the warbirds there was the Mustang P-51 from a new developer (one to watch) called Skunkcrafts, and another newbie was FlyingIron with their beast of an aircraft in the Republic P-47N Thunderbolt

Two very interesting trainers was the early conversion of the Cessna A-37 Dragonfly/Super Tweet, which was amazing to fly, and the overwhelming and incredible far late in the year release from JRollon with a partnership with SimCoders was the SIAI-Marchetti SF.-260. Outwardly the Marchetti looked normal even bland, but inwardly in systems, depth and quality wise it set a new higher ultra standard and level in X-Plane... it is an extraordinary aircraft!

 

Just Flight/Thranda were back later in the year with their BAe Systems Hawk T1/A Trainer. And again a new higher level of quality and detail was released and devoured. The Hawk was quite late, as the initial announcement was early in the year, but when absorbing the aircraft when finally released you could see why it took a lot of that required development time. Watch out for the next update with the Hawk with the v11.30 effects fully realised, that aspect will take the aircraft another even higher level. No doubt JustFlight/Thranda made a big impact on 2018 with their high quality (and with the prices to match) aircraft.

 

Helicopters

As in 2017, then 2018 was again a very slow output of helicopters, even the ever reliable Dreamfoil Solutions was again absent, Dreamfoil did however update to X-Plane11 the excellent Embraer EMB 110 Bandeirante fixed-wing, and announced the coming Embraer 120 for 2019.

But the only rotary machine for the year was vFlyLab's Guimbal Cabri G2, a small two-seater machine that was nice to fly.

 

Scenery

If any area of X-Plane that has had a controversial year it has to be scenery, and to be honest it is an unfair label. To a point scenery has always been controversial, mostly because... well why pay for something that just sit's there. Scenery will always be the misunderstood area of X-Plane.

 

Users would like nice fancy scenery, but really don't want to pay for it or if pushed to the limit on a really opportunistic moment then to try to buy it with a heavy unhealthy discount, or In most cases just use the excellent default Global Airports of which they do.

 

There are some rules with scenery, don't waste your money on poor quality scenery, and why would you as the Global Airport version is better anyway. I personally totally hate photo textures, unless they have been professionally intergrated into the scenery for the total natural effect, oversaturated or burned in photo textures are always unrealistic and and totally crap to look at... but payware developers still insist on using them? But, but but....

 

Get your scenery portfolio set up correctly and it will lift the realism factor of X-Plane many levels higher... yes payware scenery is still FAR better than the Global stuff, far better if you are willing to pay for it.

 

FlightSim Migration

With the migration of FlightSim users escalating at the start of the year to X-Plane, then the FlightSim scenery developers (as noted begrudgingly) finally decided to develop X-Plane scenery, not the new fresh stuff, but just mostly quick dips into their huge back catalogues. Orbix and FlyTampa led the charge, but again you were left wondering how they ever became so successful in their FlightSim domain with their initial efforts in X-Plane, again the same mistakes came to the fore. First was the noted "I'll grab my old crap FSX scenery and try to make a few more bucks off it in X-Plane"... "are you serious?", a look at Montego Bay, Jamaica by LatinVFR/Skyline was enough to make even laugh out loud and the sheer nerve of the developers, it is outdated crap.

 

Then there was Orbix. No doubt Orbix are finally serious about our X-Plane simulator, as they have announced that fact mostly monthly throughout the year, with a big splash at the Vegas Expo. But you were still left wondering where it really was going by the actual releases they presented. First was Meig's Field that actually does not exist anymore, Barton Airport by Manchester, that I never even visited even when I lived only a few miles from it?, The second release was their forte in Australia in Broome WA, as that place that is about as far from normal civilisation as you can get, Broome is nowheresville to absolute nowhere to connect to, more recent releases have started to get more serious, with Southampton and Cardiff UK, which are nice but are still minority airports?

So where is their YMML - Melbourne, excellent YBBN Brisbane, ESSA Stockholm, Dubrovnik, Palm Springs, San Diego, Queenstown... you know "actual" scenery we really want and actually do want to purchase!". Fly Tampa released their excellent "Fly Corfu XP" then nothing....  And do you know what will create fit's of laughter in the fact that they will note in various media outlets and forums "well X-Plane is not a great simulator to invest in, because the returns are too small?" and yes, it will of course continue to be going on that way until you deliver scenery X-Plane users actually want to buy?

 

Orbix did release at the end of the year for X-Plane11 their "TruEarth" Great Britain South and Central with obviously North that is coming soon... this is finally scenery X-Plane wants and is useful, but at 110gb per area it is a huge download and it comes at a high cost for the full UK experience, but at least it is starting to get somewhere.

 

Quality scenery on the whole in X-Plane in 2018, was outstanding... even to the point of a creating a landmark shift in the way you used the simulator. It was the first year I could fly from one quality scenery to another and up to four to five sectors in a day and to different destinations and stay within the quality scenery boundaries, it now creates a seamless simulation of high quality, with not one global airport object in sight. This aspect is carefully created by planning and purchasing scenery to fit your network, with branches outward to the newer quality scenery as it is released. Certainly there are still major holes in the network...   CPH - Copenhagen is one, CAI - Cairo is still very absent as is surprisingly there is still no quality MXP - Milano Malpensa either. But the network has filled up very nicely thank you in 2018. Asian airports are still very much non-existent, even with a few appearing in Singapore and Hong Kong getting the freeware treatment, but overall the long haul quality scenery network is still absolutely dire.

 

Eastern Mediterranean

One area that had a lot of attention and focus in 2018 was the eastern Mediterranean. First off was LCLK - Laranca International, Cypress by JustSim, then JustSim followed that up with LTAI - Antalya International Airport in Turkey, and then LGRP - Rhodes, all great budget but nicely detailed sceneries. Fly Corfu of course and Chios Island National Airport by Descent2View Simulations gave you a nice network around the Greek Islands.

 

JustSim also delivered the excellent EBBR - Brussels and a jewel of a scenery in of all places Putin land, Moscow with UUWW - Moscow Vnukovo, that also seamlessly fitted in with Drzewiecki Design's Moscow City XP scenery, and then in creating a huge landscape of objects and a great destination. Frustration is in that users don't reward JustSim for their high value and quality work, picking up their work in sales is defeating the purpose, and heads of shame must hang low when you do so, because the scenery is still well priced and great value at recommended prices. Yes they deserve your support.

 

The Big Ones

Drzewiecki Design from Poland also had a very productive year. With New York City XP and their astounding Seattle XP extravaganzas and in finally creating real city landscapes that we had for years dreamed of. Matterhorn Park 3D and Everest Park 3D by Frank Dainese & Fabio Bellini was also quality scenery overload, Patagonia is next. Richard G Nunes & Nielsen (Global art) updated their SBRJ - Santos Dumont scenery in Rio, but also delivered CYYZ - Toronto Pearson International that I loved but my computer didn't with a framerate overload to single digits, so a review was never completed, but Global Art's CYUL Montreal was a little lighter but still heavy on the processors, but thankfully passing the post for a quality review. Florence - Firenza Italy by X-Urbi was a rarity in X-Plane as being a simple landscape city scenery, but get the scenery set in the right light and it was simply divine and shows off the power of the X-Plane simulator.

 

For sheer size then the almost movie titled "TNCM - Princess of the Caribbean - Part 1- SXM by AWD" was an internet download backbreaking 14.71gb, and certainly a record in X-Plane downloads for scenery outside of the default Global textures. But the outer island scenic flying was astounding. 

 

Aerosoft

Compared to earlier years Aerosoft was quite low key in 2018. As usual a lot of the Aerosoft sceneries released in 2018 are reworked Ex-FSX sceneries with miserly X-Plane11 features in dressing mutton up as lamb, and that they are still old with a capital O. LIRF - Roma XP was an absolute huge disappointment, Genoa XP the same, Friedrichshafen XP, Stuttgart XP, Dortmund XP was just passible and with just a few more I don't really care about. But there was some interesting sceneries packed in between the debris, and mostly these sceneries usually had X-Plane developer connections and all had great updates.

 

KDFW - Dallas Fort-Worth was a huge update and is now the very good, LSZH - Zurich which had the SAM treatment, and again it is a highly polished scenery. And so there is always a severe frustration with Aerosoft sceneries, when good they are excellent, but when old they are poor and outdated, but don't get me wrong, as I use many of the good ones extensively thoughout my network.

 

Newcomers

There were a few new budding developers popping up throughout the year and generally they were all quite promising with a lot of talent. NorthernSkyStudio with their PAKT - Ketchikan International Alaska was clever and great scenery, with a few patches on the mainland side, Descent2View and the Chios Island National Airport was a brilliant effort as well. KDAB - Daytona Beach by Stairport Sceneries was a great effort as well, and one airport I use now use quite regularly. NKdesign's showed a lot of promise with Shoreham - Brighton City Airport, but there is still that gap to payware to be crossed. Turbulent Designs came and left with a deal with only Orbix, which was a shame as their work was very good, but still very heavily focused on FlightSim design, and didn't really embrace the dynamic X-Plane elements...  but they had massive potential in X-Plane?

 

The old hands

The devoted X-Plane scenery developers also had a good year and like their aircraft developer counterparts also embraced the X-Plane11 dynamic features with gusto, and lifted scenery into another quality level, the "clutter" count is getting excellent and with very good quality.

 

Leading the charge was ShortFinal Design (misterx6) with a biggie and LAX!, and brilliant it was even for the exceptional framerates it produced to object count and detail...  FunnerFlight updated his LAX to v2.5, it is just as good, but it is still very heavy on the processors. The expected new scenery from ShortFinal in EDDM - Munich didn't get the expected release before the end of the year, but expect that mega facility very early in 2019, again it is brilliant with full SAM intergration as only misterx6 can do..

 

Pilot+Plus was quiet but updated his EGKK - Gatwick extensively and noted he was working on EGLC - London City Airport. Nimbus/Butanru released a very heavily updated KORD - Chicago O'Hare to v3, and it is quite spectacular. Cami de Bellis released VQPR - Paro International Airport late in 2017, and as a follow up this month released the NWWW La Tontouta Noumea scenery  in New Caledonia. In quality and detail then La Tontouta was a huge step forward than the earlier payware work.

 

tdg however didn't see the light in 2018 on the fact of installing WED ground routes in his sceneries... so I rarely now use his work, the point in X-Plane is that you can pick or overfly scenery that doesn't reflect the current status of what X-Plane can deliver as a simulation, no doubt tdg's airports are as good as ever, but unless they are active with WT3 traffic I don't really want to fly there so don't.

 

Rim&Co and legal ramifications

Rim&Company's first foray into X-Plane payware scenery was a spectacular one, for all the wrong reasons, and in their second release they shot themselves dead. YAYE - Ayres Rock (Uluru) - Connellan Airport in central Australia was a brilliant choice, and was in areas brilliant as well, with the ancient monolith and the distant Olgas looking sensational. But landing at YAYE was then suddenly problematic as there was simply nowhere to park the aircraft with the extreme number of objects that made Sydney airport at peak rush hour look quiet. I mean what scenery do you buy where you have to edit objects beforehand with the scenery down to park the aircraft? Their second release (the St Helena scenery was not full payware) was SWAH - Ushuaia Malvinas Airport was as expected again a full highly object orientated scenery, problem was those objects are not legal... in other words they stole them, which explains a lot of the over clutter... so it was "bye, bye Rim & Co".

 

To a point this was for a X-PlaneReviews a big discussion in 2018 of just this subject. For all freeware developers they have a huge if obscene selection of quality libraries and objects to choose from to create their scenery projects with no legal ramifications. For payware developers they have to create everything in the scenery to be legal, and from scratch... and is that really fair? That aspect can be taken two ways in that the developer sells his work in the fact that everything is custom, which is fair enough as a selling point. But the other side of the issue is that a lot of the say "clutter" can be an after thought and ranging from excellent (ShortFinal) to totally dire, or mostly everyone else. So how can the paywares compete with the freeware juggernaut, the obvious answer is that they can't? plus you get very uneven quality between the different payware sceneries. Rim & Co thought the payware business was like the open freeware business..  it isn't, and you will get sued, and in this case in an German court.

 

Plugins

From a reviewers point of view then plugins are hard to review as there are zillions of them and every user then adapts their sets to match their systems and tastes, and to be honest I only run the hard and tested reliable plugins that don't screw up my workflow, so one's brilliant plugin may not match the desires of another.

 

The main story of the year was that Laminar switched out the default shader system and effectively killed every single slide show of addon shader effect packages, not a bad thing as every one was really just a personal variation of the other. The Vulkan changes killed the coming payware xVision stone dead, so the developers put it out as a freeware... sad thing was, was that it was very good, but with the same internal messy installation, but most users loved it...  until v11.30 came out. The new shader system can't not be manipulated like old one, so that means an entire shader industry is now dead as well. To which really it is not a bad thing.

 

WorldTraffic3

My Plugin of the year in 2017 was WorldTraffic3 by Greg Hofer and in reality WT3 didn't get much developer attention thoughout the year (an update is finally coming), but that does not mean that WT3 didn't have an impact on 2018. Scenery developers (finally) included the ground routes and Parking prefs as part of their feature list, so it was a "open and drop" to a full WT3 experience. That feature saved monsters of time and gave you instant activity. But developer involvement in WT3 was also still very patchy as well... some developers still don't do the required ground routes? Others did, but mostly made a total hash out of it.

The guardian angel was K-Man or Brian Navy, who has also in most cases single-handedly saved most from ruin, and a big thank you to ysfsim for his huge contribution as well. I am not saying to get these ground routes correct is easy, but more are presented messed up than correct. Scenery developers tried to get clever in supplying just internal generated (not modified) ground routes and prefs from a generate run as authentic WT3 routes, but they were usually totally crap, with the hidden mistakes highly noticeable...  "do it right".

That is not to devalue the huge impact that WT3 has had on the year, my point is no WT3 or if the plugin is badly set, then the scenery suffers, get it right and it is one of the best features of your scenery.

 

Environmental

Laminar Research plugged away at the default weather engine, but with mostly this time for bug fixes and fine-tuning, more than a major makeover, their focus is on other areas this year, but it did create see-though clouds and more improvements, the truth is now that the default weather system in X-Plane is now not half bad, but it still lacks that major something that say xEnviro does really well, the moody feel and immersion.

 

Weather system plugins overall had a very interesting year. SkyMaxx Pro came out with update after update thoughout the year, with the release of a new addon called "TerraMaxx" that added in seasonal weather. Both are really great and are well priced, but not polished.

 

xEnviro

I am a devoted follower of xEnviro, and devoted is the word, because if the developers wanted to really push your limits of your devotion then they did a great job of it. Early in the new year out went v1.08... a buggy mess with v1.09 which was even worse. To define the situation though is that v1.09 was a reaction to a real life event that effected the main developer, as he and his family almost died. But the reality was if you wanted to run xEnviro (and it is still running xEnviro currently) is that you have to still use the original v1.07. More annoying was the fact that only a small update was required that would have fixed v1.09 and it's overcast greying out to save in waiting for the next big update that could have been fixed very early in the year.... "ta da", to a point we are still waiting... and waiting.

 

With all the calls for a mob lynching at least mid-year xEnviro got their PR department up and running and at least gave you a running commentary of the ongoing development. Another ground up rewrite is supposed to be the fix to everything, and a new feature promoted will be snow! and it looks brilliant, but so did v1.08 this time last year, and look how that all turned out... v1.10 is in reality xEnviro's last chance saloon, if it dunks as bad as v1.08... the devotees will finally walk away or worse could even demand a class action to recover the expense of the extremely high entry cost.

 

Hi-Fi and Active Sky

xEnviro now also has another problem in competition from a FlightSim stalwart, in Hi-Fi. Active Sky is a very popular environmental engine for Flightsimmers, and early in 2018 they announced they were coming to X-Plane in September, that release point passed, but the Active Sky XP release did happen just a few weeks ago.I personally have not looked at the plugin yet as I ran out of time with deadlines. But a statement at the release point was that Active Sky XP uses the X-Plane default cloud system as part of the effects features, 3D custom clouds will come next year, and that is reflected in the lower pricing. My guessing is that Hi-Fi are waiting for X-Plane v11.30 to go final and even waiting the next Vulkan update to run the custom effects effectively.

 

FlightFactor AVS

Early in the year FlightFactor released the "Airport Visual System" to navigate around airports. It was very clever but of limited application, because the local map can do the same thing, but it is handy.

 

WebFMC Pro

Highlight plugin of the year was GreenArc's WebFMC Pro (there is a free demo version for the default B738). That allowed FMC programming via a web browser on another computer, tablet or even (if you had very small fingers) a mobile phone. Certainly my most used plugin of the year, as it is very handy for the speed loading of data and the use on aircraft that did not have 2d popup FMC units. And works very well with the SimBrief route builder.

 

BetterPushBack

The excellent BetterPushBack plugin received almost universal status in 2018, with aircraft developers even adding it into their systems as part of their feature sets, and that was even with their own custom trucks... such is the popularity, but it is brilliant.

 

Plugin Updates

Both SimCoders REP expansion packs and BSS (BlueSkyStar) sound packages produced numerous new packages with the BSS packs including the FF A320 Ultimate and the FF Boeing 777GE. the ToliSS319 has a similar built in package that can be purchased and activated internally.

 

The XPRealistic plugin had a small (turbulence) update mid-year, and so did JARDesign;s Ground Handling Deluxe with a widget. But the GHD, now feels a bit dated and slow.

 

A final note on plugins that affected the 2018 year. Scenery developers have started to install SASL plugins into the mail plugin menu, and mostly to control "Key Authorisation" or protection of their scenery. But this has had two side effects in one: Loads of plugins filling up your main plugin folder to do basically one activity? but it also triggered a bigger more substantial issue in two: I use very few and only then tested plugins with X-Plane, but very quickly hit the  “error 1114” of plugins overloading the dlls... the culprits are the loads of "traffic" plugins in the installed custom sceneries. I hit the 40 dlls limit and it is not pretty... more on this issue next year.  I complained of nonsense plugins clogging up your plugin folder last year, so in reality nothing has changed, but the situation is getting worse.... now we at the overloaded critical point.

 

What 2018 will be remembered for would be for mostly two items... the word "Clutter" to represent the placement of (usually hundreds of scenery objects to fill the airport or buildings environments), and the profusion of the built in aircraft "Updaters", It is starting too feel like Apple is taking control of your computer by remote.

___________________________________________

 

2018 marked mid-year the anniversary of X-PlaneReviews 5th year in producing content for the X-Plane simulator, and it was a big year, full of huge growth and again higher levels of quality and dynamic simulation. Yes there were points were we were even overwhelmed by the sheer number of releases and the changes going on around you, and a few reviews just didn't hit the site that they deserved to, but that is a very good place to be in having too much than rather too little... growth is certainly the buzzword that relates to X-Plane this year, and maturity is another, not only do I think and know so, then so do all those new users that have joined the X-Plane universe over the past year, significantly they are more users that are also contributing to the simulation only means they are giving up their valuable time to contribute and that does mean that X-Plane as a community is a gift that keeps on giving all year round. Without them, then the software is nothing, X-Plane is not only a great piece of software, but more importantly X-Plane is in the end of the only about the people that contribute and use the software. Overall the users are X-Plane, and represent the simulator.

 

Again this Review site cannot function without all the great and exciting work by the tireless developers that give us all this exciting and incredible product to fly and use, as they and X-Plane has come a long way and created leaps in quality in the last few years, and to a point I was very proud of the work they produced, it is world class if not the very best in simulation product, and they are all top notch and very clever. To the X-Plane.OrgStore who supports this site with service and updates, a really big thanks, this site just would not function without that outstanding support.

 

We will finish off with X-PlaneReviews best of the year awards…   So I will now list my Best of the Year 2018:

 

Best Aircraft : FlyJSIm Boeing 737-200 TwinJet
Simply superb inside and out and "that" cabin, outstanding
Honorable Mentions : A320 Ultimate by FlightFactor/Steptosky : ToLiSS319
Both brilliant Airbus system aircraft, you need both and to fly both.

 

Best Classic Aircraft : P-51D Mustang XP11 by Skunkcrafts

A first class first effort, and skunkcraft's are a developer house to watch
Honorable Mention : Republic P-47N Thunderbolt by Flyingiron Simulations
Another new developer entrant, and it was hard to choose between the two classic warhorses

 

Best General Aviation Aircraft : PA28R Piper Turbo Arrow III / lV by Just Flight/Thranda
Takes GA flying to a completely higher level again for the second year running, but with a faster aircraft and two versions.
Honorable Mention : Cessna 152 ll by JustFlight/Thranda
The perfect trainer for any learner pilot taking his flying licence.

2nd Honorable Mention : Comco - Ikarus C42 C by vFlyteAir

Just really clever in design realism

3rd Honorable Mention: Diamond DA-62 by Aerobask

Highly underrated was: Piper Aerostar 601P by Avia71

Note the TBM 900 is not in the list because I couldn't access the aircraft.

 

Best Military : BAe Systems Hawk T1/A Trainer by JustFlight/Thranda Design

Not a lot of competition, but it would have won anyway... Brilliant!

Honorable Mention : SIAI-Marchetti SF.-260 by JRollon and SimCoders

Is the Marchetti a military aircraft? Well it is military trainer... totally gobsmacking in detail

 

Best Helicopter : There was only one new Helicopter releases in 2018

vFlyLab's Guimbal Cabri G2... overall an absolute shocking year for X-Plane helicopters
Will it get better in 2019 as the only way now is up.

 

Best Scenery : Seattle Airports XP and Seattle City Scenery by Drzewiecki Design
With both segments installed it was the most comprehensive city scenery area filled with quality yet

Honorable Mention : KLAX HD Los Angeles International v1.1 by ShortFinal Designs

If misterx6's sceneries was voted the most popular he would win easily... but with brilliant work.

Special Mention: JustSim Sceneries for consistent quality and value


Person(s) of the Year : K-Man, Brian Navy
Made my X-Plane world active, by fixing poor ground routes and righting so many wrongs "I prayed to god for K-man all year and he always delivered".

Honorable Mention(s) : Daniel Klaue, Jack Skieczius, JRollon and Torsten Liesk
All developers par excellence

 

Best Plugin : WebFMC Pro by Green Arc Studios
Clever and highly usable to programme aircraft FMCs

Honorable Mention : BetterPushBack by skiselkov

Just brilliant, clever and very X-Plane

Special Mention : SAM by Stairport Sceneries

Will have a huge impact on 2019

 

Best Moment of the year 2018 : Starting up the PC, after installing a larger 1TB SSD...  with consistent 1gb downloads and more, they fill up quickly.

 

Worst Moment of the Year 2018 : The mid-year user data dump...  the details sent shivers down my spine.


Biggest distraction of 2018 : Updates, updates, updates....   updates, oh and more updates!

 

Personal Favorites of 2018 : ToLiSS319 (Brilliant), FlightFactor Airbus Ultimate (Yes it is the ultimate simulation), Rotate MD-88 (still very good), BA Hawk (As real as it gets), Cessna Citation ll (Uber Flying), Bonanza F33A (Even better in XP11), Native X-Plane11 B737-800 its basic but still great to fly and now with a cabin. Scenery : Dusseldorf, Barcelona, Oslo, Laranca, Manchester, Gatwick, Dubin, Zurich and Linate (Milan).

 

That is X-PlaneReviews for 2018, and we will be back after a very much needed recovery and the review site returns early into the New Year on the 7th January 2019.

 

So Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2019

 

Stephen Dutton

21st December 2018

Copyright:X-PlaneReviews 2018

 

(Disclaimer. All images and text in this review are the work and property of X-PlaneReviews, no sharing or copy of the content is allowed without consent from the author as per copyright conditions)

 

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