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Behind The Screen : February 2019


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 Behind The Screen : February 2019


The question is always going to be asked in why some products are reviewed on this site and not others and why does some very obvious releases don't get the exposure. The first point is that X-Plane is always very fast moving in this day and age, with a lot of products being released simultaneously, and sometimes even three to four releases a week. In the past years you could drop one this week and pick it up again in the next to cover the release period. but mostly you would still cover most if not all of them. But in those high release periods in say the noted start of the year, holiday periods of say Easter and the American Thanksgiving points then the releases can overwhelm even the best of us. So you have to pick and choose of which reviews you would want to read and want the information from to see if you want to purchase the aircraft or scenery (which is the reason why review sites like this exist), or in parlance say "check it out and it's features". Overall most of the significant releases are always covered.


Reviews can take time as well because you have to check all those features and research the aircraft or the airport, if it is a plugin or an add-on, you also have to work it all out and make sure it works correctly and break it down so both pro and novice readers can see how it works or explain the certain features in detail. I see this site as a sort of translator in helping most users to use the aircraft, plugin or scenery to their uttermost highest level.


An example of what I mean by that is say the starting procedure on the Supermarine Spitfire. Yes the procedures were noted in the manual, but the many items required in the starting procedure were also not totally defined or completed in the manual...  for a novice or even an experienced reviewer like myself you have to work it all out... and that takes time, sometimes for the hours that you don't really have in completing the review.

But it is a necessity as well, in that when the procedure is defined and can then be followed by users in a step by step basis and it is that can then get them past that blank area (saves you the hours of time) were they struggle to just get the aircraft to fly and enjoy the simulation. In other words it is a short cut, but that short cut took hours and hours to do and relate to the review, so I took all the pain out of the procedure and that aspect is not transferred on to you when you purchase the product. So hints and tips cut a long story short and a full flight should convey the reality of the simulation of the product.


So if a plugin or product hits the download, your faced with a choice. Spend hours or even days trying to work it all out, and for most or a lot of cases you will pass because you don't have days and days to assemble the layout or set up and spend days working through manuals or talking to the developers on how it all works, so in a look over if the plugin is not a completely defined product (or messy in my parlance) then you are going to have the same issues and nightmares using it.

Don't get me wrong, in that anything significant to simulator will not get a pass and the time will be spent in making the new idea or feature work as it should and the information then passed as quickly on to you. These gamechangers are important and X-PlaneReviews will cover them. But any products still have to be well set up or have the documentation to allow you set up correctly and use the product without pulling your hair out or screaming at the computer screen.. what works easily for the developer that assembled the idea and product, does not mean it translates easily to a new user in the same capacity.... or worse it is a github code in code to insert into your simulator.


But most plugins fall into a really odd area. X-Plane is experimental by nature, we love to try great ideas and create brilliant new features...  but plugins really are a world of their own, and many of these external tools can have some of the biggest impact on the simulator. But in this area I am extremely conservative and within good reason.


Many plugins are by nature created from the same code as the core code of X-Plane and code in one plugin can affect another. So the result is what we call "Plugin conflict". In most cases the developer can resolve those conflicts, but there are many cases when the code has to live side by side and not affect the other in the conflict scenario. Certainly a really good coder can fix most if not all the conflicts, and when the plugin reaches that stage then it is noted as "clean" or safe to use consistently without it being a notable source of crashes or conflicts with the other plugins or even the X-Plane simulator itself.


FlywithLua is a great example of this, on it's own it is quite brilliant, very clever and adaptable. But it was a plugin that was in and out of my plugin folder with more conflicts than any other plugin I can remember. The main reason is that the lua in Flywithlua is the also the main aircraft and now scenery code as well, as most payware aircraft fly or use the Lua code in their plugins (SASL). In the end the out of my plugin folder became final, even though I loved the XPRealistic plugin that used it... and FWL was just all too much of a headache and was costing me far too much fixing time to worth the insertion... Gizmo has legendary status in ruining most users lives, but to note it has been far milder since it's last full rewrite, but I avoid it like a plague.


X-PlaneReviews usually also ignore plugins that are the current rage. Take the latest craze with the librain plugin. This is a plugin that creates rain effects on the windows of aircraft, and yes it is very good, but also no where near good enough to be noted as "clean" or "sorted" or even finished close enough to be a usable tool, as currently you can look around your cockpit to see raindrops running down your instrument displays, rear panels, windows you don't have visually and even suspended in mid-air around you and scaring you half to death... what it must be like in VR would amuse even Jamie Lee Curtis.


librain is created by the same person that created the brilliant betterpushback,(BPB) which was a brilliant better push back that changed the way you departed the gate, so most certainly librain will also get to the same position of being as brilliant as the BPB tool.

I promote BPB with a vengeance, but if you remember it didn't appear in the reviews until it was finally sorted and was an efficient clean plugin for your use. librain will get the same attention, I will test it regularly and use it regularly, but it won't be promoted or shown until I feel it is worthy of your attention (or the bad bugs has been addressed). I not being arrogant or restricting your use of the tool as you can download it anytime, but it has to reach a certain standard (mostly in the crashing of the simulator) to be useful to your overall simulation experience. I personally don't like compromises in my simulation flying as many will put up with waterfalls on their instruments, but that to me that is simply not realistic...  and a lot of plugins will be binned for that very reason, even if they do bring a certain new idea or tool to the simulator, it still has to fit in and work cleanly and be fully authentic to the full simulation environment.

In most cases users will bin it as well in time if it is buggy or not practical enough....  I usually do that within a hour if it does not fit in with my overall vision of the what the simulator can be. And yes your choices maybe quite different to mine, but I have a saying in that "the best always rise to the top and only use them", if they are consistent and bug free then the chances are they will quickly gain global acceptance.


So in reality we at X-PlaneReviews only promote the tried and tested plugins that will not crash or conflict with the simulator and so in that case their appearance can be months or even longer before they appear regularly in the reviews or in the simulator, and yes they are simply months out of date by the "new great feature" factor, but at least they are sorted and safe to use. Some which work straight out of the box like the excellent WebFMC plugin went straight into a review, because it was a pro plugin, and it worked brilliantly and it was a huge advantage to you users. Another is the new SAM - Scenery Animation Manager plugin that is also very clean and now a major feature to any new scenery... if it is good it will be reviewed and promoted.


Most usually end up the trash bin, a few crashes is all it takes to throw it out, and even if it contains the even the best ideas and if you can see down the line if the plugin is not going to reach any sort of reliability then it goes, gone.


Another area X-PlaneReviews have noted consistently is any plugins or uses changes that affect the basic X-Plane (items and code) simulator itself. Not only for the overwriting every time X-Plane is updated, but also messing around in the central engine is just simply asking for trouble. You just don't need to, and then complain loudly when your framerate goes south.


Other point on the choices of doing reviews is when a developer releases an aircraft and notes "this is a pre-release version', and the aircraft will be finished in a few updates. Yes great for you to get your mitts on to this great new product, but you can't review an aircraft that is only 85% finished? And in reality you are all being used as lab rats to fix up the issues that should have been completed on release. Yes I admit that with the wide variety of computer systems and operating systems then there will be bugs and issues to be refined... but the reality is the product is not "actually" finished, and in that case we also can't make a good assessment about it for you.


So after four weeks or a month or so then the aircraft is noted as a "Final" current release. But by then in reviewland we are all looking at another or in the middle of a series of releases that is of a more current interest to the users, and that pre-release is now very old news. So the review is then put on hold of until a point of finding a break in the schedule to fit it in, and mostly we will wait until the next update is then issued to then finally review it.

The X-Trident Harrier is a good example of this, as it is still on the ever growing list, as it was released as a "Pre-Release" around Christmas 2018 but when can we get actually around now to doing a review.... with a full release the review would have been done at that time of the release period as it was well worth of the attention for both the review site and the users wanting the release information and critical assessment.

Personally I don't even know if the X-Trident Harrier is actually completed? or even in a full release situation, so these pre-release ideas do also muddle the waters in situ of what or where the real full release situation actually lies while sandwiched between lots of fixing updates, so if I don't know then how can the developer expect the user base and customers to know either, and is that overall a good business sense.


That point also comes to developers that love to do multiple small updates. A four line feature update is not going to get an update review, the feature list is just too small to fly the aircraft and check out the small list of changes, especially if we know in a another week or so that another set of updates will also be quickly coming along. What we tend to do in these cases is to combine three or four small releases into one review and then covering those updated versions all in one go. This works well in the idea of getting a lot of combined information together in one update review and have a worthwhile look at the current release situation of the aircraft or product. Yes we love constant updates fixing our issues and it looks good for the developer, but unless it is a required major fix (like an update to a final of an X-Plane version) or a major feature that needs to be sorted or released quickly, then a lot of these updates can be bundled together to make a more significant update.


But this aspect works very hard against very talented developers like VskyLabs that does loads of multiple quick updates, but also loads of releases of various different and new aircraft designs, we simply just can't cover that wide a spread of changes that these developers in their own working system on their weird patterns of release schedules, you would simply do or get lost in all the multiple version numbers of what version is which, and even we get confused on the current status of the developments and versions as we did with VskyLabs, so you will have no chance.


This is not of course to be confused with the stream of updates that come out after a major release, in most cases when doing the review we will see the issues and mostly if the developer is already aware of them and that update is coming within days, the point is that the actual aircraft is complete in a sense to warrant the review. If there is a ghastly area that needs to be highlighted and to a point make a strong statement to the developer to fix it, then it will be included within the review... as some developers just won't simply budge on some really dumb or obvious ideas or even major mistakes. In most cases the forums will usually vocal the same point of view, but it can take a fair bit of persuading sometimes for the developer to see the shining light of the er er absolutely  er "you know" obvious.


You have to also pick through what is known as commonly "vaperware". Many review sites grab the news and megaphone that "this is sensational" or "wow" for the project to as quickly disappear as quickly as it appeared, there are the obvious signs, but in most cases the so called developer has zero talent to match their lorded ambitions. Developing is hard work, and mostly in the areas you don't see in the coding and animation... go and count the half finished 3D hulls of aircraft the X-Plane.Org Aircraft development forums to see the huge Games of Thrones CastleBlack giant ice wall of the problems building when confronted with the complex coding aspects of the aircraft. The coming Rotate MD11 is a classic case of the sheer detail and the hours and hours of work that goes into the detail and serious depth of the systems to be recreated and have it all to be perfectly realised to be authentic. But then again that is what you pay for.


So what you see in the glittering news bursts will not be mostly what you will get in reality, many a really tempting idea or scenery is quite average when you are finally faced with the final product, and that can be a real letdown after months of bits of development leaked and some times from dubious sources. The gushing needs sometimes to be tampered with a bit of reality, but more than anyone I also love in being totally surprised... in say the extended development of the Zibo mod Boeing 738, and Magknight's amazing Boeing 787 and both projects started off in a very basic and underrated way to the major talent behind both aircraft.


So overall we have to edit, filter and assess the new aircraft, scenery or any new addition to the simulator in it's own credibility factor, and that means not shouting banshee from rooftops until the project actually has some credibility and then usually vanish into vaperware, and that is why there is not the volume of announcements on this site that are lorded around on most of the others and in most cases we don't get too far from the truth... and don't get me wrong as when something really insanely great comes along you will still see it in here first, because our core mantra of this site is still that "If I really love this, then you will also" and I want you to enjoy simulation par excellence, that is and always was the main objective of this X-Plane site.


See you all next month


Stephen Dutton

1st March 2019

Copyright©2019: X-Plane Reviews


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