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  1. Behind the Screen : January 2023 This monthly review of "Behind the Screen" was created to communicate what was going on in the X-Plane world. To give you the user information on the state of the simulator, that we use in a day to day capacity. What we process, in not only X-Plane products, but in the way we use the Simulator, can be explained here in giving information for other users to absorb. Since my early days of using X-Plane I have had the uncanny knack of seeing or having events happen to me before it happens to anyone else. That is good, but head bashing as well, as I have had to work through the problems in fixing it, hopefully in passing on that vital information, so you the user don't have to go through the same torment. Behind the Screen is also here to mirror the health of the X-Plane Simulator as well, a sort of grounding on the current reality. In the forums, many can be a bit self-absorbed, but most of the X-Plane community thankfully believe in the old world style of helping others to get around the difficult problems of running an extremely complicated Simulator program. Pray they are there, and thank them for their generosity So the old adage "You can never tell what is going on beneath the surface. Even the most regally calm swan is paddling furiously below the water", can and be also certainly adhered to X-Plane Simulation. Hence again Behind the Screen. I was determined to have a good break over the Christmas/New Year period, resting (meaning no computer work), just the annual equipment cleaning (keyboards and dust) and filing away all of the last years completed content... clean ready computers all done, and also ready for the exciting new 2023 year ahead, I was fresh as well after the rest, all ready to go... it lasted three days. The one thing X-Plane is very good at, I have found over the years, is it that it has the uncanny knack of finding your weak spots, then throwing them directly or blowing them up into your face. More confusion is created when I have easily used X-Plane 12 (beta) from it's introduction back in September 2022. Yes I had to adjust the graphic settings, but otherwise I was able to use the newer version Simulator overall perfectly fine. Then things started going seriously wrong when I started an early in the year 2023 review. After the initial confusion, it came down to three areas. Crashing or the freezing of the simulator caused by the continuous Vulcan device loss errors, weird things happening to aircraft when flying, like the liveries would change every few minutes, the undercarriage had a mind of it's own, dropping then coming back up, ATC alerts popping up consistently, flaps changing position, and finally airbrakes deciding to also activate also on their own. Finally the screen was going dark and the saturation was going off the scale. Absolute madness... just ONE of these areas alone are hard to decipher, but three or four at the same time was simply overwhelming... Biggest argument here is why? perfect before Christmas, then a total horror show after it, I hadn't done anything, or changed anything between the two events... the only one I had done was to update X-Plane to v12.01r1... nah really? I will bring up that v12.01r1 update, did it start a chain of events that sent me bonkers? it is a big question... Laminar put out all the version changes in their X-Plane 12.00 Release Notes... but what of the areas of changes you don't see, mostly in the core X-Plane.app. I am not going to blame Laminar Research or X-Plane, as it may even be just circumstances that things happen, but one thing is for sure. One area had certainly changed to create a cascade of other issues. My work and time went down the toilet as well. The problems are a result actually of Hardware issues? HARDWARE? Thanks to user "Tom", I worked out that my Saitek Hardware was underpowered, the USB was not pulling enough power from the computer, the result is an area called "Ghosting", were the (in this case the switches on my Saitek throttle) decided to activate the set switches by themselves, or ghosting themselves. Honestly I had never heard of "Ghosting" before even though it is quite common with Saitek addons. So you learn something, even after over a decade in Simulation. One down three to go... Still I had the "Vulcan device loss errors", and they were becoming evidently worse, to the point the Simulator was crashing now consistently. I pared the simulator back to a fresh clean X-Plane 12 application install. No plugins, Only default Scenery, Only default aircraft... the result was still loads of Vulcan device errors, but not as consistent. A investigation of the forums said it was my Graphic Card a GTX 1080 8Gb that was not powerful enough to cope with the API, odd as it coped very well for four months last year, I don't or didn't over stress my Graphic Card either, but it was showing signs it was burning out (BTW, X-Plane burnt out my last Graphic Card as well in my Mac), hence all the Vulkan loss errors. I was now looking at a new (expensive) Graphic Card. Hard to get at this time in Australia (Summer Holidays) and in very short in stock availability. I could throw 2K or AUS$1700 at one, but I don't have 2K to buy one, remember I have already spent 3K last year upgrading my Board and Processors... for a game, sorry simulation X-Plane is an expensive business. I found a card, a RTX 3080 10GB even on sale (if for only $50), but still far more than the 1K that I wanted to pay... remember when you could buy graphic cards for $600 and they felt expensive, today you can double that, or even treble that. Good news it was local so I got it the next day... Yes it is a powerful RTX 3080 card (for it's price). But powering it is like hooking up Hoover Dam to Las Vegas, two heavy cables are required, some cards now need three. Lucky last year I also upgraded to a 1000w Corsair Power Supply, so I already had enough power to power this internal nuclear reactor... It works. You can do anything with computers, but if you are into Simulation, then Graphic Card power is always the way to go. You can get very intoxicated by it all, jumping from below 30 frames to over 60 frames in an instant, nothing abruptly happens either, no CTD (Crash to Desktop), no flickers, no waiting, and absolutely no Vulkan device errors! It just all works... and smoothly. Huge headroom, and the space to absorb the things that can drive you mad, do I recommend selling items of furniture or your car to get a magic graphic card, sadly yes if you are serious about Simulation. But now with my system is now finally completed or 100% overhauled, it is seriously frightening on how much power you really do just need to run X-Plane 12 efficiently. Seriously those who think they can get away with the basic specifications set out by Laminar Research are not going to make it, I wasn't even close to the absolute basic requirements, as I got burnt out, other users have simply got no chance. I know, because I tried to beat the odds, and failed. So if you are in it for the long haul with X-Plane 12, you have to have the gear to run it as well. That brings up another question? Does a simple simulator program expect or demand too much investment to just to run correctly, remember X-Plane 9, I ran that on a Mac-Mini at the time, and it flew very well, now I need Colossus and the power of the Hoover Dam just to get a decent framerate? In other words, X-Plane 12 found my weaknesses, exploited them, and brought me crashing down. Did the hidden changes in v12.01r1 push my systems boundaries beyond what they are capable of? That is big question... Yes X-Plane 12 or as currently noted as officially released, it is however in reality still deep into a beta, and things are still changing, even under the hood... you are starting to wish it would be all be over and sooner than later. I have been through beta's like this before, but never have they burnt out my computer? I still have an issue, my Monitor looks perfect with the set Nvidia settings, (even with the default settings), but the images coming out of X-Plane 12 (screenshots) are anything but, dark and with very heavy shadows (yes I do have Ambient Occlusion set to zero), at night you can't see anything? Graphic Card or X-Plane 12, take your pick, as they say in Houston "Work the problem". _______________ I mentioned in my end of the year review 2022 and roundup, that this year 2023 would be one of the most interesting and important years in the history of X-Plane. Basically it is a sink or swim year (the above situation does not help). But I did expect a load of upgrades that came to pass with X-Plane 12 going official, they came or are still coming and they are all very good, but it is the add on scenery aspect that is the most worrying. In the first month I was very uplifted by the release of a lot of cross platform scenery (MSFS and X-Plane12), basically the same scenery released for both platforms, and both of the same high quality. Thankfully not the glut over at MSFS and the few trinkets for X-Plane. Supporting both platform simultaneously is good business for both sides, the Simulators and the developer houses. In fact delivering more scenery products for X-Plane 12 will of course drive more business in users wanting to fill out their landscapes with decent product. Better was shown with Orbx and their Brisbane City pack release and YBBN Brisbane International Airport packages (I give a small preview of both in the Thranda 337F Review). My argument (for years) was always to produce City packages or City Icons, with the connected Airports. Then let the X-Plane autogen do the rest. The Orbx dual package shows how well this aspect works for X-Plane and why I push for as many City Packages (and for you to buy them) to fill out the X-Plane world as possible and make it far more realistic. A lot will note that X-Plane still needs a far better photo based underlay, to which I totally agree, but flat photos are not the answer either for total realism. Even though Austin Meyer as an aversion to photo textures, I still think X-Plane will still get a hybrid system during the X-Plane 12 run to counter the MSFS style of Simulation... good city scenery also proves it can work for X-Plane and it is also well worth the users investment, as the Orbx combo shows... that aspect alone makes it a brilliant, even relived start to the 2023 Simulation year, just hope the same quality and products are continued to be released as the year progresses. It will be an area I will comment on frequently, because it is vital to expanding landscape of the X-Plane 12 Simulator and it's future. See you all next month (barring another computer meltdown) Stephen Dutton 3rd February 2023 Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews
  2. Behind the Screen : Year in Review 2022 When in writing up my review of the X-Plane 2021 year, there was a fear of 2022 for the X-Plane Simulator. In 2021 X-Plane was holding it's own and well against the onslaught of Microsoft's MSFS simulator, mostly through a lot of very high quality aircraft releases, but I knew the toy box was becoming increasingly empty coming into 2022, the feeling was not good. To a point that anxiety was very much well founded, transition years usually are. Worse the world now is not the same world pre-pandemic, as everything is now different, and getting worse month by month. As our blessed lives are being turned upside down by shortages, rising inflation, crypto failures, extreme weather temperatures and God knows what else, so who cares about Simulation? Well we do, and to a point it is our salvation from all the mess outside the home. Everything pointed to and relied on Laminar Research on to how the 2022 year went. It went good realistically, but also bad for all the other reasons. My prayers were for an early 2022 Easter X-Plane 12 release, but it didn't happen. Overall the non-release dragged on lower and lower throughout the Northern Summer, even Laminar Research ran out of promotional video's waiting, so they just made more, ten in the end. This also created a blackhole of content, nothing was going to be released pre-version, even after the release of X-Plane 12 on 6th September 2022 as an "Early Access" Beta. Developers still kept away except for the odd few, even the Upgrades to X-Plane 12 were slow in coming, but in a few cases it still allowed you fly your current aircraft in the new simulator version. Taking no chances this year, developers have been waiting for the "All Clear" of a full X-Plane 12 release before this time committing to releasing projects, rare, as in the past with any X-Plane version releases they usually went bonkers straight after the version release, in other words you now have to write the whole year off. That said the outlook going into 2023 has to be the best for years. Now X-Plane 12 has gone final... the simulator will thankfully settle down and Laminar will still be also adding in new features, better scenery is also promised for X-Plane 12, even orthophoto, but don't expect that feature for a few years until the mid-version run, but for now thankfully the changes are done, welcome to X-Plane 12. Laminar Research 2022 The 2022 year for Laminar Research was dominated by the public release of X-Plane 12 on the 6th September 2022. Released as noted as an "Early Access" Beta, it was expected to go Final just before Christmas, and in RC6 form it did, 17th December 2022. X-Plane 12 was late, really late, and by a whole year to be exact. This aspect was compounded by the Vulkan/Metal (11.50) version of X-Plane11 in the required overhauling of the core basics of the simulator, with changes over to the far more efficient APIs (Application Programming Interface) Vulkan/Metal from the original OpenGL, in other words they "ripped the guts out of it". So nothing could be done as everything in X-Plane 12 is built on or over these foundation core blocks of code, worse for Laminar was the fact that most, if not all of the major features in X-Plane 12, Environmental, Water, ATC, lighting et all, were also areas that had not been touched for years and were left in the "Too Hard" basket for far too long, mostly again related to the API construction. But Laminar had to eventually face the problem. In doing so it took a huge amount of time and effort to engineer all the ideas into a working simulator. Laminar are also not a big development team compared to most high-profile software developers, but they are thankfully seriously talented. Noises were made late February 22 that maybe an early release before the (northern) Summer was actually possible, but continuous issues with the water (meeting the land) and other niggles put paid to that. Overall all the elements were not ready even as late as August 22, a few rare viewings showed a Simulator that came with major elements that were still missing, then Austin Meyer went into full PR mode to cover the shortfall, he is good at it, but it didn't help with the crawling development speed. Personally I was expecting the worse by the release point. But the surprise was X-Plane 12 was, or is actually very good, thankfully far better than any of my expectations... everything now has a modern real life glow and feel. But it was notably still buggy through the Beta cycle, and a few new announced features are still not present at the final release like the A330 FMS, a lot of the new objects and the announced scenery features, and I am not at all impressed with the night lighting, and don't get me started on the over the top windy weather system. So after all the trials of the year, X-Plane in it's new X-Plane 12 guise is actually looking very good for next year 23, and a lot of things should fall back into place again, so basically all the upheaval was worth the end result. More good news awaits. As X-Plane 12 does cover so many outstanding aspects that have now been implemented. For the first time since the start of the Vulcan/Metal project and even far earlier, Ben Subnic finally has a clear table coming into the new year. Obviously for a fair amount of the time early on in 23 or for the first few months it will require more fine-tuning of X-Plane 12, but then a new focus will turn to better VR (Virtual Reality) via OpenXR, better Networking and the already mentioned better Ortho images. But I still think Supnic will have something new up his sleeve, something unique, clever, ideas missing from X-Plane over the last few years during the API onslaught. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2022 By it's standards Microsoft's MSFS Simulator had a quiet year. Things quietly improved on all fronts via consistent regular updates, certainly in the dynamics, as that then allowed the former FS big guns to finally ship their products, notably PMDG and their Boeing 737 Series. Regular World Updates also kept everyone happy, in areas like the USA, Canada, Italy and Malta, Iberia, Australia. It's an impressive list, and notably challenging to X-Plane in it's frail transition period. Microsoft also celebrated it's 40th Year celebration and ever since Bill Gates gave the world Flight Simulation, but still counted in also a decade of no updates and even a longer period of not actually being on sale on the market, until it was revived by Asobo only two and a half years ago, 30 Years is more realistic. The 40th Year celebration bought up the year's 2022 biggest controversy in INI-Builds. 12th June, Microsoft announced a partnership with inibuilds to release free the Airbus A310-300 as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations. A notable X-Plane 12 Developer then did a fire-sale, and cut instant ties with the X-Plane platform. To say this was a very nasty thing to do was an understatement, but not unexpected by INI-Builds, who already had an questionable history in the PR department. But users that had heavily invested in their products was to find out that basically the aircraft was going to soon outdated and relegated only to a former X-Plane (11) version, in other words any INI_Builds aircraft were unflyable in X-Plane 12 and then the "Shit hit the fan". Didn't INI-Builds realise that users that buy in X-Plane also buy their same products in MSFS, obviously not with major consequences and a reversal in late October that (Only) the A300 would now be updated to X-Plane 12 and will also be free, it is anyone's guess as when it will actually be updated, it is certainly is not going be a priority by INI-Builds. The big aspect of the whole debacle, was did Asobo buy or throw huge amounts of cash at INI-Build's for a market share grab? Like kicking X-Plane while it was down or at it's weakest point, it was all round a messy affair, that did far more damage to the whole of Simulation than help it. Aircraft 2021 was a huge year for X-Plane aircraft, as most of the big developers had releases (except FlightFactor) with Felis (B742) and FlyJSim (Q4XP) leading the pack and a big update to Colimata's Concorde FXP. So as noted I was quite fearful coming into 2022 and that aspect came to pass. New developer AD Simulations released both a CRJ700, then the larger CRJ 900 a few months later, both very good, but newbie under-developed and required the services of DeltaWing to get them both up to scratch, this was a common theme thoughout the year, with good new talented developers coming into the X-Plane Simulator which is very good thing, but still on the steep learning curve. Another annoying aspect of this was releasing the aircraft in very under-developed states. All these developers are extremely good, but ticking off the i's and t's can give you a good reception or a poor reception to the marketplace, thankfully they were very good at quickly following up the fixes, but doing serious fixes for months in the open market is not overall a good look. The biggest most anticipated release of the year 2022 came in March with Rotate's massive McDonnell Douglas MD-11. My first flight in this extremely complex aircraft was "oh my God". And it's complexity nearly did it in early. But once all the noise died down and with a few updates later, most saw through the pain and realised it for what it actually was, or is a masterpiece, or the best release of the year. Although a late 2021 release, I finally was able to review Colimata's Concorde FXP in v2 guise, again a very complex (but hugely rewarding) aircraft to fly, but after the MD-11 it brought up the question of how to cope with these ultra complex aircraft and their systems (I still have nightmares about the Felis B742), brilliant in one aspect, but overwhelming in almost every other. FlightFactor resurfaced in July with another variant of the Boeing 767, this time it was the -400ER version, I totally loved this larger B767, it works in every area. One other new heavy release was part of Laminar's X-Plane 12 fleet, with an excellent A330-300, but it didn't have the promised Airbus MCDU, but still the basic default FMS. As that aspect is (still) coming and hopefully very soon but not even with X-Plane 12 Final. All other default heavies including; B738, MD-82 were also significantly updated. But with that it put releases for heavies done for the year, the worst I can remember. Thankfully a star developer of the year was ToLiSS, with consistent (and clever) updates to the A346, A319 and A321, their extraordinary feature of excellent aircraft condition saves, was for me the absolute tool of the year. Magknight (B787, weak) and SSG (B748, strong) did a few updates throughout the year, and all the important updates came along after the X-Plane 12 release for compatibility, but that was about it for major metal. General Aviation After a very quiet 2021, General Aviation was a little bit brighter in 22. Mostly the main difference was coming from Thranda Design, now moving away from pure utility aircraft to GA Cessna's. First was the excellent Cessna 208 Grand Caravan in April, then they followed that up with the Cessna U206G Stationair in September, then to finish the year on a high came the announcement of the sensational 337F SkyMaster, the 208 and U206G also came with Amphibian/Floats variants. Their strong ex-association with Carenado, would mean far more in this vein to come in 2023. Although a late 21 release, the C172SP NG DIGITAL by AirfoilLabs was simply sensational in it's X-Plane 12 conversion. No new releases from vFlyteAir in 22, but their excellent PA28R Arrows G5-E1000 had a lot of attention with major updates in Jan, Mar and June, but to date no X-Plane 12 version, but I expect that version to come in very early Jan 23. Aerobask had a busy year. First there was the Diamond DA50RG, then the twin Diamond DA-62, and a major update to the ViperJet eX. All currently are X-Plane 12 compatible. The Dassault Aviation Falcon 8X from Aerobask was still not released again in 22, but will now be with certainty an X-Plane 12 aircraft, I have simply given up on a release date with the consistently delayed 8X... Okay sometime Q1 2023, if not then Q2. Aerosphere could be classed as a "Classic Style" developer, but two releases this year were very good, in the PA-28-180 Cherokee C and the PA-28-235 Charger / Cherokee 235. The Cessna Citation 560XL by AirSim3d was another Citation Jet, very good, sadly being only released in X-Plane 11 and that aspect it clipped it's wings a little, but one to checkout and love in X-Plane 12, as I found it a great aircraft to fly and it very quickly became a favorite. 2022 also finally gave us a decent Gulfstream in the Gulfstream 550 by AKD Studio's. Like AirSim3d, AKD are both newbie's to aircraft development, both are very to brilliantly good, but still in missing the finesse that comes with extensive experience, but both well worth watching in the future. The "Hotstart" Challenger 650 was a notable release in 2023, but at AUS $171.30 Australian Dollars (US$116), it is in silly money territory, certainly way, way out of my budget, and them some. SimSolutions had two releases, the AMD Alarus CH2000 and the Diamond DA40NG XP12, both very capable aircraft. vSkyLabs had three aircraft on cycle in 2022. The Maule M-7-235B Project XP12 (The first X-Plane 12 aircraft released), the Rutan Model-158 Project that was updated for X-Plane 12, and another X-Plane 12 aircraft with the Aeroprakt A22-LS Project XP12. Notable were the default fleet aircraft for X-Plane 12. All aircraft received significant upgrades for the new simulator version including the: Cessna 172 SP, King Air C90B, Cirrus Vision SR22, Super Cub, L-5 Sentinal, ASK 21 and Aerolite 103. New entrants included the excellent Citation X, Van RV-10 and the sensational BETA Tech ALIA-250 EVA (Electrical Vertical Aircraft) aircraft released in Beta 8. Classic Aircraft Virtavia dominated Classic Aircraft releases in 2022. Both then were upgraded old modeling only (no texture) aircraft in the Handley Page Hampden and the Short Stirling Mk1-4, but both aircraft were highly likable and fun. The Piper J3 Cub by SimSolutions was well done, but a real pain to fly without Rudder Pedals, it put me off taildraggers for life. Late 2022 was the release of C-47 conversions; The DC-3 Airliner and the coming TT-3 Turbine conversion and all for X-Plane 12. Worrying for Classic's is the departure of classic developers like Flying Iron to MSFS, will they come back to X-Plane? and the much desired Vickers VC10 conversion to X-Plane project by JustFlight was abandoned. Military The Lockheed Martin F22A Raptor from AOA had a big update in July, and AOA also released the T6A Texan II in November (X-Plane 11 only), a X-Plane 12 version of this aircraft will be very nice. vSkyLabs also released the abstract F-19 Stealth Fighter, a service design that was never to be past the prototype flying stage, but you can still fly it in X-Plane 12. Helicopters Helicopter releases were huge and plentiful in 2021, and that wasn't expected to continue into 2022... and it didn't. We started the year with the Bell 47G-2A1 by FlyInside, a great solid design, but only a modeling version of the famous bubble cockpit. CowanSim had two releases this year with the 206L LongRanger, and the excellent but extremely difficult to fly CowanSim H125 (AS350 B3e). The update to X-Plane 12 of the SA 315B Lama by Philip Ubben and Khamsin Studio showed what to expect in the future in X-Plane 12 Helicopters, I'll give you a hint, it's going to be brilliant. Scenery The report at the end of 2021 for X-Plane Scenery was not good, so it could only get worse, and it did. Notably is the loss or migration of flocks of scenery developers to MSFS, they are simply piling them out over there, too many, and all at a very low cost. Nobody knew if X-Plane 12 would actually change the landscape (no pun intended), it didn't, but nobody cared anyway. But a late release during X-Plane RC5 meant a revamp of existing scenery tiles noted as v2.1.1 Scenery Update does change your very old (decade old actually) tiles for a fresher set to incorporate X-Plane 12 elements. But you have to totally re-download the full 54.6 Gb of scenery to update. More annoyingly about this scenario is that with the new X-Plane 12 lighting, as any 3d scenery looks brilliant in the new simulator, also the added seasonal effects are sensational as well, so you just hang your head. A few noises in that some developers are creating both platform scenery MSFS/XP12, but will we or would we buy it? We are so adverse to it, in they simply won't care about X-Plane now at all, as the developers are very vocal in telling us so... so it is a very odd situation, they sell below the price rate in MSFS (or simply give it away), but don't care about us either? Doesn't look like a great business model to me. So 2023 will be a very decisive year for X-Plane Scenery. Either with X-Plane 12 now released, developers will come back with their wares, or the migration to MSFS will continue. The horrible thought here is that the market for good quality scenery, and huge scope of it to compete with MSFS... is wide open, more so in that by default MSFS already delivers most of it by default... you can see the problem. But in all the gloom there was some very good bright spots. Nimbus finally delivered a big delayed scenery in March, KIAD - Washington Dulles, one I love, but it's very (extremely) heavy on your framerates? One scenery developer I labeled in 2021, "Worst of the year : Any Taimodels airport sceneries, a lot of ambition but absolutely no talent.", but what happened in 2022! Four extensive sceneries were released by TaiModels with; YSSY - Sydney International Airport in May, OMDB – Dubai International Airport in July and the first scenery released for X-Plane 12 in OOMS - Muscat International in October. But there was more... as EGLL Heathrow, the biggest and largest scenery yet from TaiModels was released a week before Christmas 22. More shocking is that they were all very, very good. Quite brilliant in their cores, but most still weak on the boundaries... they were however a huge step forward and a most wanted collection of all four. A side note for TaiModels was the update of their earlier LFPG - Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport to X-Plane 12 in that it was glorious, shockingly good, and as mentioned if showed on how well or how good X-Plane 12 is for scenery, or could be. Globall Art released SBGR São Paulo/Guarulhos International Airport in June, so I added in the full monty with the São Paulo Mega Scenery package of three airports, well worth checking out. Another big package was the Genova COMPLETE 5 by Grifo Creations. Basically Aerosoft were quiet in 2022, but the one airport released was the excellent DGAA - Accra XP, in Ghana, exotic and worth your while. We expected it to be good, but KSFO - San Francisco Airport Definitive by ShortFinal Design was simply outstanding in August, head and shoulders above anything else, this year and even past years. Big, complex with clever lighting effects it had it all. A new developer called Airwil Sceneries gave us three Philippines based sceneries with Davao International Airport, RPVE - Boracay Caticlan Airport and RPSP - Bohol Panglao International Airport, all nice to explore. NorthernSky Studio's were quite busy with very small but very highly detailed regional airports in Hawaii and Alaska. PHNY - Lanai Airport, Hawaii, PAWD - Seward Airport, Alaska, PATK Talkeetna Airport, Alaska. Another Alaskan scenery was PACV - Merle K Smith - Cordova, Alaska in X-Plane 12 from DC Sceneries. Notable is that NorthernSky has moved on to MSFS, hopefully not permanently. Helsinki Metropolitan Area v3 by FA Simulations gave you another nice city skyline, and a welcome (for me) destination of LROP - Bucharest Otopeni International Airport by Chudoba Designs was also in X-Plane 12 guise. But in areas LROP was a slight disappointment in being so under developed. One scenery not covered by X-PlaneReviews but very well worth checking out was YBBN-Brisbane by Orbx, my local airport is a sensational scenery, and in X-Plane 12 guise as well, yes we would like more of this please Orbx. lastly to round off the year, FlyTampa released Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (EHAM) and for X-Plane 11/12. The first or the last scenery for X-Plane 12, as the big boys are not looking our way anymore. It is not a new scenery, Alps UHD XP12 by Frank Dainese and Fabio Bellini was an extended and a repackage of four previously released Alpine scenery packages for X-Plane 12, so it's sort of new, but excellent As noted, 2023 will be a very important year for scenery with X-Plane 12 being Final. I will say that a lot of the scenery going into MSFS is still old stock (highly upgraded), and even a lot of ex-X-Plane stock. Going forward, hopefully, and scenery released will be cross-platform, as we noted with Orbx and FlyTampa, we will see. Plugins I will state upfront that I am not a huge plugin connoisseur, so I only run what I call essential plugins in my simulator, running the VRAM profiler (Menu/Developer) can give you the horrors of how much these little monstrous tools can gobble up your framerate and their overall efficiency, I took to taking out as many of these laggards as possible. Again as a rule Plugins were also quiet in 2022, but the simulator's hatus in waiting for X-Plane 12 was the biggest cause this time around. Classic Jet Simulations (Now called "Ascend Tech Simulations") released another banner v3.5 update to the WorldTraffic 3 Plugin in April (a XP12 compatibility release was also done). Traffic Global had several updates (again upgraded later to XP12) throughout the year and more aircraft were added. Both XPRealistic and WebFMC Pro both went X-Plane 12 compatible. xEnviro released v1.17, but for X-Plane 11 only. they noted that they couldn't do X-Plane 12 development because Laminar wouldn't help them, but an announcement at the start of the RC release cycle noted that Laminar will now give limited 3rd Parties access to the environmental model, so maybe that will change the situation in 23. Dark Space (xEnviro) have also released a version for MSFS, but with the average development in X-Plane over years I can't see it as being any better than the current X-Plane situation, and the high price remains. One tool I did like was ProCam XP by Aerosoft, a viewpoint tool, tricky to learn and not as flexible (or as complex) as say X-Camera. It fills in a niche for users that want a simplistic tool over a complicated one to get good views and saved views, it was a lot of fun to use. After purchasing SimBrief in 2021. Navigraph did a complete and total overhaul of their main product to Navigraph 8, plus a price increase. But the extra cost is well worth this now very expansive Navigation tool. New features include; Worldwide VFR Charts, Drag and Drop Route Construction, Seamless Zoom, 3D Globe Projection, Autopinning of Procedure Charts, Airport Crosswind and Weather Information and Vector Charts... its very impressive. X-PlaneReviews Not only in 2022 did we have expansive simulator changes, but X-PlaneReviews has also had a very revolutionary year. With the coming X-Plane 12 revolution, we had to think hard about hardware updates. If we wanted to get the best out of the new simulator version, then an (expensive) upgrade was required. I documented my journey, which was interesting, and hopefully helpful if you are faced with the same investment, notably I still will need a newer Graphic Card in 2023, but overall the foresight to upgrade was a very worthy one. Another part of the journey was also replacing my decade old iMac (2009) with a Mac Mini (M1). A forced update because of an old computer trying to run new software (Photoshop), when suddenly and abruptly Abobe made my machine obsolete. Obviously it totally blew my carefully created budget, but the final result was a total revamp of all my systems... it sort of summed up the year. X-PlaneReviews also took on a fresh look in new reviewers, six in fact. Most of the new reviewers in Dominic, Felicity, Stuart, Nick, LPNils and Joshua came over from the old FlightSim site with a few from Jude as well, so that gave our XPR site a much more varied look and feel, plus we can do far more reviews, so a big win, win. And finally we added in a new banner (header) system for more review details... it was a big year for changes, and overall for a far better site going into 2023. _________________________ It gets hard to predict a new coming year, so you go for your gut and in 2022 it was unfortunately pretty spot on. It was a major transition year and a slow one at that, as the slow release (delay) of X-Plane 12 really didn't help the simulator, but you can't right off 2022 completely. Were now done with X-Plane 12 going Final, so we can now get back in 2023 and to do some serious flying, it also means that the heavy full table is now done for Laminar Research as noted. How do I feel... It's a big question isn't it and a marked one for the X-Plane Simulator as a whole. It was easy going into 2022, but going into 2023 not so much. The huge positive is X-Plane 12, it's brilliant really, better than anything Laminar Research have ever done, their proud of it, and we love it. But how much ground has X-Plane lost in getting it all to the table, to be honest here. Momentum is my most favorite word (after Critical Mass). It's an important word here in relating to X-Plane 12 in 2023. As the simulator will need momentum and a lot of it. X-Plane certainly has a lot of aircraft waiting to be released (Upgraded), including two mega aircraft in the Boeing 777 and 787 from FlightFactor, and Thranda have noted they have also have created a substantial list, The Falcon 8x is also well past it's due date. And almost every developer will need to update their aircraft or products to X-Plane 12. It's going to be a very, very busy Q1, even a Q2 of 2023. But that word momentum is critical here, X-Plane needs to build and build quickly, and with a whole new batch of developers and users. we need a lot of both, needed to break away from the niche and embrace the mass audience out there. Those that will sample MSFS, should also try out X-Plane. As the niche is now currently too small, worse it could relegate X-Plane to just a few. Many would like/love that promise, but it comes with a deadly caveat as the serious interest will go elsewhere, and in the end the simulator will simply dry up. Dramatic, maybe, but X-Plane needs the momentum and a lot of it to go far more the other way in 2023. Laminar Research knows this. They are hiring, mostly in Public Relations or to run the X-Plane site, not coders or content developers (well two), but mostly in expanding the simulator out to a wider audience. Personally it's about time. 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 and complexity in the last few years, and to a point I was very proud of the work they have produced, it is world class if not the very best in simulation product ever produced, and they are all top notch and very clever. To the X-Plane.OrgStore who supports this site with review products, service and updates, a really big thanks, this site just would just not function without that outstanding support. _________________________ We will finish off with X-PlaneReviews famous best of the year awards… So I will now list my Best of the Year 2022🏅 (note the awards are given to only products I have seen and tested and the only ones I can vouch for) Overall Best of the Year : KSFO - San Francisco Airport Definitive by ShortFinal Design 🏅 🏅🏅 Best Aircraft : McDonnell Douglas MD-11 by Rotate.🏅 Complex and a total brute of a machine to fly, everything a great simulation should be Honorable Mention : Boeing 767-400 by FlightFactor, a great variant of a great aircraft Best General Aviation Aircraft : Cessna Caravan 208 and Cessna U206G by Thranda Design 🏅 Not one but two winners in this category, but both from the same developer. Innovative with buckets loads of clever ideas and waterbourne features, nobody else really came close. Honorable Mentions : Both Aerobask DA50RG and DA62 are exceptional quality, great to fly as well. Best Classic Aircraft : This category was poor this year, and the much desired Vickers VC10 conversion loss killed it completely. Honorable Mention : Concorde FXP by Colimata is excellent and highly complex, the X-Plane 12 version should be off the planet. Best Business Aircraft : Cessna Citation 560XL by AirSim3d It's a winner by default as in being for X-Plane 11 only, but will be totally brilliant when in X-Plane 12. Honorable Mention : Gulfstream 550 by AKD Studio's, great potential, but still really in development. Hotstart Challenger 650, too expensive. Best Military : T6A Texan II 🏅 Not the absolute best for the category, but reviewers loved the Texan and note it will be very good in X-Plane 12. Best Helicopter : Aérospatiale SA 315B XP12 Lama by Philip Ubben and Khamsin Studio 🏅 It nearly won in 2021, but in it's revised X-Plane 12 guise it is simply sensational. Honorable Mentions : Bell 47G-2A1 by FlyInside. It is very good, excellent to fly, but by only being modeled (but well done) and no textures the 47G just doesn't quite live up to the quality required today. Best Landscape Scenery : Alps UHD XP12 🏅 Their back, and with a revamped Alpine package by Dainese and Bellini, Briliant as usual, this time with X-Plane 12 effects. Honorable Mention : Helsinki Metropolitan Area v3 by FA Simulations, X-Plane desperately needs more city scenery. Best Airport Scenery : KSFO - San Francisco Airport Definitive by ShortFinal Design 🏅🏅🏅 A scenery the "best of the year"? yes absolutely, it is a mega scenery and by a genius. Honorable Mention : It has to go to Taimodels airport sceneries for being the most improved for YSSY, OMDB, OOMS and even EGLL, but Orbx YBBN and FlyTampa EHAM are brilliant (if expensive) X-Plane 12 filler releases. Best Plugin(s) : Navigraph 8 🏅 They asked for more money, but you got a brilliant new concept in return, essential. Special Mention(s) : None really, with no exceptional ideas released. Person(s) of the Year : Ben Supnic and the X-Plane coder team How the guy does it I just don't know. A magician that consistently just pulls rabbits out of the hat, not seen at all much this year, but the work is all there to see in X-Plane 12, no Ben Supnic, no X-Plane, simple as that, also less Austin would be a better thing all round. Best Moment of the year 2022 : Obvious, 6th September 2022 and the X-Plane 12 release, then relief as it was far, far better than expected... then came the beta. Worst Moment(s) of the Year 2022 : Austin Meyer's was up there again with his antics, but the INI-Builds, and Asobo debacle left a bad taste in my mouth, personally my Adobe software lockout? Biggest distractions of 2022 : ... Updates, and more updates... more updates! Biggest overall feeling of 2022 : Under developed aircraft... released far to soon, with the development being made in public and in not using beta testers anymore, new developers need to lift their game if they want our money. Personal Favorites of 2022 : Any ToLiSS (the save system allows ultimate flexibility), Q4XP (Dash) brilliant, FlightFactor A320U, good but badly needs updating, Rotate MD-80 still awesome, Thranda C206G, IXEG 737 Classic (until X-Plane 12 put it in the hangar). Notable is I really love the Rotate MD-11, Colimata Concorde and the Felis Boeing 742, but their high complexity (mostly in setting up the aircraft) limits flying time. Routes... Copenhagen, Copenhagen and Copenhagen, Dublin, Dusseldorf, Edinburgh, Vienna, Brussels, Barcelona, Roma, Helsinki, Oslo, Munich, Tel Aviv, London Heathrow and Dulles. Notable is that with the newer scenery, Brisbane, Amsterdam will come on-line in 2023. That is X-PlaneReviews for 2022, and we will be back after a very much needed recovery and the review site returns again early into the New Year on the 4th January 2023. So Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year 2023 Stephen Dutton 19th December 2022 Copyright:X-PlaneReviews 2022 (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)
  3. Behind the Screen : November 2022 When Laminar Research declared that X-Plane 12 will go final and will be out of beta by Christmas 2022, I almost choked on my coffee. "No way". There just seems still too much work to be done, too many areas and details to be crossed off the whiteboard list. And then to go and present the new Simulator version to the finicky hoards and masses in a few weeks. It all felt like a bit of a stretch to me all round. Testing Beta 14 was however a huge step forward towards the goal of a release, but there are still some big issues to be addressed, mostly the square clouds and ridiculous winds that never seem to change day to day, I'm not going to mention VR. Laminar say a fix to both is coming very soon, VR probably not until 2023. That fix will be an important one in making the final release actually believable. Stutters? I didn't get that one, what are your settings, being too greedy as usual... Laminar Research are quite confident they can achieve the Christmas target, my personal feelings say more to the middle-late Q1 before the Simulator is a more totally refined and stable Simulator. So what to expect in the New Year? Well quite a lot actually. Laminar have released a list of areas they will be working on, including; 3d Rain shafts which is very, very nice, 3d volumetric low level fog of which I really expected to be in the release version, but it is coming. God rays are planned. This is an area in being the one thing I was a bit down about in losing, by moving my simulator environmental needs from xEnviro in X-Plane 11 to the default weather in X-Plane 12, as I badly miss those rays (It makes images pretty!) and lens flares. And that they are now coming cheers me up no end (A Christmas Present!). Laminar has also announced that the weather engine will also be open to 3rd parties but there will be limit on what they can and cannot access, which is another interesting aspect, fine, even great as long as we don't get loads and loads of similar shader apps again. Notable is that there is better wind and turbulence improvements coming. This one is a no brainer, it is stupid to have aircraft reacting badly to abnormal weather conditions, and it is the one area that is severely currently restricting my flying. I mean winds and turbulence of 97 knts? you would break up and fall out of the sky if you encountered that in real life, I flew once at 12,000ft in 63 knt winds, I won't say my swear words at the controls, as my GA (and me) was being thrown all around the sky. Yes I'm not saying 63 kt turbulence at 12,000ft has not been encountered in the real world, but not every day since September? I went to manual settings to land. Laminar admitted that getting data for the NOAA GLIB files from the Laminar Research central server has not been going to plan, but again are working on a fix, it works but not as efficiently or as well as promised (actually I don't see it changing much day to day), but a fix is as promised in really (hopefully) coming soon. Overall in this Beta I have been flying on the "Manually" set weather, I just can't rely on the "Real World", settings, a shame as I want to try out the real world Winter Wonderland that I expect to be brilliant (I've seen shades of what can be presented by messing around with the settings), but you shouldn't have to do that manually. Before X-Plane 12 came out. Ben Supnic (Laminar) noted as a comment that they would look into better satellite imagery even against Austin's wishes, even in streaming it à la MSFS. But Supnic noted at the time it was not a top priority. Again Laminar has recently again noted they are actively looking at satellite imagery so it looks like it is back on the table or whiteboard. Now having used X-Plane 12 for a few months I have a few comments on that. Over most countries of flying in general X-Plane is very good in replicating the real world (Night lighting aside). However when in the departure, landing or VFR phases it is certainly not as detailed to be called authentic, as texture tiles in areas are just not good enough to reproduce a complex planet. Streaming is not good either, no matter how powerful your internet connection is you are always going to get lag, worse for me as I can change location quite often while doing reviews. So waiting ages between loads for scenery to load would be a backward step. However I do feel that finding quality satellite imagery as a base, but still keeping X-Plane a closed system is still a great step forwards in fixing the realism ground texture problem. The trick is still making it look very good, while still keeping efficiency in the Simulator. Can we have the best of both worlds, well I think so, but don't expect anything soon, but in a year or even maybe two. Many say X-Plane 13, but I very much doubt X-Plane as a Simulator could last that long in say waiting 4-5 years in this competitive (MSFS) commercial world to fix the problem. Austin Meyer has also been making a lot of noise about Networking X-Plane, and is even actively looking for staff to create the dream. Really when using On-Line ATC you are now already networked, but I suppose he wants to connect us all, and together... which creates a bit of a problem? "Have you seen other users fly". By personality I'm a very procedural pilot, all very by the book. I do actually like the idea of other pilots doing their work around you, but then comes the cowboys, the F4 jockeys who just feel that the airspace is their airspace and not yours, or the wandering GA pilot, who is not sure which runway to pick to land... It's all a personality thing and I'm not saying who is right or wrong in the way they want to fly.... but I don't really want to do it all together ATC aside. What I have learnt is that many users are Gamers in flying and not Simulation users, obviously our styles are going to clash, probably in mid-air. Another item on the table is that Laminar are actively investigating is OpenXR (Not to be confused with OpenGL) by The Khronos Group, a member-driven consortium of over 150 industry-leading companies. OpenXR is a newer VR standard for Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). And already OpenXR API is standard on Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) and HoloLens 2 headsets. Most will be adopting it as native support, and even previous APIs like OculusSDK and SteamVR are also moving to it as an open standard. MSFS is already native to OpenXR, so expect X-Plane 12 to be native or it to be in development once X-Plane 12 is in it's basic form completed. Bottom line it will make a lot of VR users very happy, more importantly it will create a standard across the board. If you want a job then Laminar Research are hiring, but oddly only a few of the new positions are actually related to the Simulator development, mostly the jobs are in marketing, customer support and website support... get your CVs out now, Laminar Research is going Global. This conversation has been visited quite regularly in BtheS. Austin has made noises he wants to bring in more gamers (obviously for the money) into the X-Plane Simulator. I have noted quite often in the time required to set up an airliner for a flight, even a short bounce of say under an hour. Earlier you set up and could fly under ten minutes, but now the quickest you could set up a flight from cold is around twenty minutes, as its a lot of work if you do all the correct procedures. Its even over 30 min if you want to set up the MD-11 and B742 for a flight. I don't mind it, as it is totally realistic simulation to it's core, and you now have a lot of great tools now to help with the set up. At one point, programming in a route of say 25 waypoints across the globe was tedious, but extremely satisfying in that you were mirroring one of them (professional Pilots). That is what Simulation is all about, I seriously love it, why I do it. Put a full cold up sequence under a Gamers eye and they would freeze over... they want instant gratification, oddly to get the ultimate gratification out of Simulation is doing the full experience from cold to shutdown, but as noted it takes time, too much time sometimes. Is there a middle ground? There is actually. The excellent save system on ToliSS Aircraft has to be the best overall tool in our toolbox. As the system is so complete when resetting up an aircraft, on the ground or in flight, it really does open up your world to instant gratification when you don't have a lot of time to do the complete main course. Many times I have wanted to fly, but was restricted by time or work. Pull up a ToLiSS and I can be ready and waiting to depart in a minute... ditto wanting to practise a landing, or even a takeoff, and with all the correct settings is just at a touch of a menu selection. Yes the X-Plane Simulator comes with a save system, but to be honest it is very if extremely poor in resetting up your flight at the point you saved it. You will never ever get it back the way you left the aircraft state, but you can do that with the excellent ToLiSS system... I don't don't know if this could be done, but could we swap ToLiSS saves for instant setups between us. That would allow non-experienced users (hint Gamers) to access the detailed setups of the Pro-Users, obviously for instant gratification. I don't mean for users (Gamers) not to be being able to just forever glide along on the backs of the Pro's, but to see and learn on how they do it, it is a consistent learning curve to get it all right. But many a time my reverse engineering of (mostly FMC's) has opened the "Ah ha" door to learning on how it all works. They are bloody complicated (Flight Management), they need a lot of study to get right. But it is how you get from there (dumb) to being here (guru). I don't know that if the basic X-Plane save and situation tool can be improved. The roadblock is the aircraft plugin architecture, and a few developers do actually include good save systems, but they never make it as a priority feature as ToLiSS does. But the ToLiSS system proves without doubt how extremely versatile it makes your Simulation experience when it works so perfectly, developers need to take note, this for me would make and break a sale, as it is the number one feature I would want in an (every) aircraft, because it translates to you flying that aircraft more, because you can. There will be as usual no Behind the Screen December 2022 issue, but our full yearly round up of the year review is to be published on 16th December 2022, so watch out for that. Stephen Dutton 1st December 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  4. Behind the Screen : October 2022 Back in the June 2022 issue of BtheS I noted the story of INI-Builds. Basically as developers INI-Builds are quite new to the X-Plane Simulator universe. They came in with a flourish about three years ago expounding a lot of noise on how they were going to change Simulation, usual stuff. In this case they did make an impact with their excellent A300-600R (F). It was extremely expensive, but actually lived up to all the hype. It was at the time the most popular aircraft in the X-Plane simulator, so kudos to them. The point here is that price point. Above US$80 in price, then any product moves into an investment category. At that price you expect, or even demand service being at least as long of a simulator version life of flying for your hard earned money, this is a silent deal between the developer and the purchaser. Yes developers come and go, that is also a given in Simulation. But again rarely not in this upper category as we still expect extended service for their expensive products. The worse thing about this whole situation is not just the investment financially in the product, but for most with their hearts as well, most users became very attached to the A300, and two other INI-Builds aircraft in the A300 Beluga and the A310-300. But the A300 was the significant aircraft here. Then came the announcement back in June that basically INI-Build's were going to close up their X-Plane shop, and move everything "Lock , Stock and complete Barrel", in a foundation deal with the Microsoft's Flight Simulator (MSFS). As noted in the June article this was more than a developer just swapping Simulation platforms. One was the point that all X-Plane development was being discontinued, worse and only a few months out from release was that the A300 was not going to be upgraded to X-Plane 12, for some who had just invested (abet many at a heavily discounted price), basically in a few months your expensive purchase was worthless. That was a slap in face for the many devoted users of INI-Builds products. As again I noted back then that INI-Build's in all their wisdom, did they really expect that users were so platform dedicated that they don't use MSFS and other Simulation platforms. In that if they are going forward to totally not be then trustworthy of not only their money, but their commitment to INI-Builds and their products in the future, being slapped in the face this hard is not going to wash and no matter how much they jingle on about how great MSFS is going to be, this is a PR exercise that would be surely not going to win them any faith back. X-Plane has it's devotes as well, and a lot of it is the old guard. Over the next few months INI-Build's were steadfast, no X-Plane 12 development was ever going to be forthcoming. Funny how things turn out doesn't it. Because on the 29th October 2022 INI-Builds announced that, yes the A300v2 will NOW be updated to X-Plane 12. "confirm that the A300V2 compatibility will be coming to XP12 for free. What does this mean? If you own the XP11 version, you get the XP12 compatible version for free.", Or finally they have seen common sense, and I am sure there will be a lot of relieved users out there. The point is why did it get to all this, and it really shows on how delicate the relationship between a developer and a user is. But ultimately it comes down to the aircraft being an investment here more than just a purchase... developers need to aware of that aspect when pricing their products in these higher categories. The timing here didn't help, INI-Builds aircraft were only first released over halfway through the X-Plane 11 run, the "Knock down" sale only accelerated that aspect of how short a time you had with the aircraft. You would say, "well it flies in X-Plane 11", seriously, I haven't used XP11 in weeks, and even then it took me twenty minutes to reconfigure it to make it all work again, once moved on, I rarely do I go back to the old. I admit as I did then that X-PlaneReviews never had a decent relationship with INI-Builds and their curt replies, so I was never encouraged to promote them or their products on this site. This article is not about that aspect, but users getting a fair deal for their money, as many, users did really love their products, those same users are also valuable customers no matter which platform you use, and at least last Saturdays announcement will help in the matter, but it is still a warning of how you deal with these situations that counts as well, as you will never know if you may need to count on their loyalty again in the future. I think in October I reached a critical point in my life as a Simulation user. The balance between flying aircraft, was tippled over more into the time and effort required to just keep X-Plane updated and tuned. Spending days just reconfiguring, updating, downloading, emptying, shifting, fixing, refining everything and not just the internal software, but X-Plane external software, aircraft, scenery, plugins, Beta updates, OS updates (both Microsoft, and don't get me started on Apple). Flying! seriously I don't have any time at all to ACTUALLY fly aircraft anymore... it's not funny either. I was worried about this a few years ago, but now it is a reality, I'm now a sub-servant to the machines, and not the other way around, they tell me what to do now all day and it is me not telling them what I want to do. Then don't add in the external data attacks on your personal personality data for to be sold to highest bidder in Russia (Optus data breach), actually it was a local hacker that did the damage this time. But the damage was massive in having to replace all my important personal documentation, running around after computers. I am seriously getting withdrawal symptoms approaching September now every year which I was already calling "Sept Update month", but it's now September AND October, the total relief when the calendar clicked over and into November was palpable. But you also have to take stock. After a review I looked at a view of an airport, not noting the actual aircraft behind me, and the visual aspect that built up the scene in front of me was actually confronting. When you stop and really look at the visual diorama, you can see how really complex it all really is. There are millions of objects and shaders creating all of this, looking hard at recreating the real world around us on computers, it is a serious miracle it does work as well as it all does as this machine has to do billions of computations alone to recreate the complex scenes. Do we expect too much from our simulations? We complain about any small little fault, but fail to see the incredible big picture we are seeing consistently. We always want more and more, but I think finally with X-Plane 12 and when it is finally sorted and refined is going to be something special. Not withstanding the MSFS and it's over the top expectations, I think that X-Plane 12 is truly revolutionary in the way we do or will do our simulation flying, it's not perfect and even I admit that, but the realism before you is quite exceptional if you look at it closely. Which brings us to the thread lately of someone trying, and trying is the word here to use a 900 Series Graphic Card with X-Plane 12 and complaining it won't work completely, it (shaking my head) won't work mate... just look at what it has to compute, but they will still try and still complain that it is not good enough effort from Laminar Research. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st November 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  5. Behind the Screen : September 2022 Finally on September 6th 2022 Laminar Research released (I hate the word "Dropped") X-Plane 12 "Early Access". The trick on noting it an early access was that currently it is only available as a "Digital Download" download version, and all of the new version in size was exactly what I expected it to be at 80 Gb. To speed up my download I only downloaded in 40 Gb by leaving out Africa, Russia and S. America. Then later that night I downloaded in the rest. Disks and hard copies will come when X-Plane 12 goes final. Tricky start was as the payment system wouldn't work, it crashed then crashed again, but then I got my authorisation key that works with both the new X-Plane 12 and the older X-Plane 11. The download (about three hours) however went smoothly. Then the big moment came... apprehensive! I covered the details of the new simulator in a full overview here; X-Plane 12 - Next Generation X-Plane Beta release "Early Access" One advantage that MSFS (Microsoft Flight Simulator) had over X-Plane (11 and earlier) was that lovely glossy sheen. Comparing X-Plane it had a very matt and even bland feel to it, and this was very obvious if you look at the older XP11 images to the newer XP12. xEnviro sort of helped in its lighting effects, but looking at and seeing MSFS aircraft in their realism appearance and you had to feel jealous. The first impact XP12 had on me was that X-Plane now had that same quality glossy feel (If in areas still a little over glossy). But the visual differences are stark and the photo realism of X-Plane 12 certainly comes over in the images we create now. Like everyone I'm aware this is a Beta phase (probably for a few months until America's thanksgiving, again like I predicted in last month's BtheS) so anything and everything could change in this period. I set my expectations for X-Plane 12 low, as after a decade or so you certainly don't believe all the hype, in fact anything hyped I usually run the other way. As you know I review and write about this simulator and have done so for over a decade. Would that aspect make me very circumspect, even quite delusional in foolishly believing and even deceiving myself it is really good when it isn't. LIke trying to convince yourself this film is very good and well made, when it is actually crap. But you could easily do this if say your current circumstances depend on it and for X-Plane 12 to be successful, you would be surprised how many livelihoods out there actually depend on a simulator (or even shall I say the word in Game). I am going to be honest about that. Not only myself, but more importantly most Simulator users have been very flattering if even highly praising towards the newly released version. I'm in no doubt that if X-Plane 12 had have not been a quality upgrade the punters would have easily like hungry packs of sharks and ripped it apart. There were the usual nasty comments from the MSFS crowd doing their two fingered salutes, but the simulator purchasers are overall the real assessors here and everyone gives X-Plane 12 the thumbs up. And I don't disagree with them in their comments. Several things stand out. Framerate is still well within the bounds of X-Plane 11 without any major blowouts, of which we had when we switched over to X-Plane 11 and it back then needed a lot of refining in its Beta run. X-Plane 12 was also instantly flyable with the excellent available default aircraft. The simulator looks brilliant, it really does, and has a very good foundation for going forward. The features are also exceptional, but to be honest I haven't yet first had the chance to use them all or even to start exploring the seasons and weather effects, but I'm very impressed by what I have already seen. So out of the box X-Plane 12 was and is very, very good. I hate "Update September", worse we now have a major simulator update and upgrade to cover as well. And its a BIG job, certainly if you have an extensive simulator setup. With experience I know to bring in the elements (usually from X-Plane 11) one piece at a time, if not you could get yourself quickly and seriously into a complicated mess. If it works so in it goes, if it doesn't work then no it doesn't go in, plugin by plugin, aircraft by aircraft, setting by setting. It will overall take months to do, but at the end of the process the new X-Plane 12 will be in a good and refined shape. To a point a major switch like to a new X-Plane version is a very good time for some serious housekeeping, and time to throw a lot of the old debris away. You would be amazed on how much non in not being now required stuff is actually living in there, and doing in nothing but clogging up your system. The positives here are overwhelmingly good, but there are a few negatives as well. First X-Plane 12 hits your Graphic Card with a hammer. I know already I'm up for an (expensive) Graphic Card upgrade, it currently runs and fine, but my GTX 1080 is seriously under load now most of the time. I will need more graphic computing space there. If I'm feeling the pinch then a lot of users out there will not be in a good position. Secondly is the lighting. If an aircraft has been refined to the new X-Plane 12 lighting model, then they are pretty good, but far too many are very dark inside, almost black coal faces. Even some aircraft that have been even refined have been a bad nightmare in getting any sort of light to take review images from, I did one review section five times and I'm still not at all happy with the images as it was just impossible to get any sort of light into there. On night scenes, then any older scenery are very brightly washed out from the airport's lighting. Again adjustment will have to be made, but how do you correct a decade of collected scenery to fit? That is an impossible job and I'm certainly not in wanting to throw a full custom scenery folder away? So hopefully Laminar will come to the party here and somehow fix it. Still on the night aspect. We expected with the new lighting engine in X-Plane 12 to have better lighting at night? In fact I think it is worse than X-Plane 11, another black hole. You are getting absolutely no reflective light, or moonshine, and I am quite disappointed by that, and even to the point I think it is not good enough for a modern simulator. As you know I have rallied over the last few years on the scenery aspect of X-Plane. We knew that X-Plane 12 was not going to have any focus on this area at all. In fact some scenery aspects have been refined and quite nicely (that extra 20 Gb of scenery). Europe comes across very well, but oddly America is and always was a bland place to fly around unless you were in the mountainous areas, don't get me started on Australia, it is bland from one side to the other. X-Plane 12 upped the infrastructure, but it is still very dire in context. Use any quality custom scenery and it really shines in X-Plane 12, just look at Paris's Charles de Gaulle LFPG on our header image and it looks and feels magnificent. Move away from custom and it all goes downhill very quickly. Yes I'm very disappointed with my local area (Gold Coast AUS). I was not expecting any improvement with the new X-Plane version, but I was just not at all happy on just how little has changed here in a decade? This is not a MSFS factor, this is an X-Plane factor and we need to get serious about fixing it. Quality custom 3d in X-Plane shows you what can be done as matching it within X-Plane is really, really good now... bubble Global Airports are too limited, but that is not the real problem here, it is the real world infrastructure that is really missing. One last aspect was that a lot of aircraft are being rejected because X-Plane 12 will only recognise XP12 aircraft and rejects X-Plane 11 or older aircraft. XPD-13001 in Beta 4 should have fixed this, but it is still a lottery if the aircraft will work or not... Gripe over. Most developers have currently only done XP12 compatible aircraft, not upgrades. They work in the new simulator but that is about it, but they have delivered in getting them out there and flyable. 2023 will be interesting when X-Plane 12 is then final and the real version upgrades start coming through, but even on the current developments you are going to have a lot of choice on what you can fly in the new simulator. In value I think X-Plane 12 delivers, in fact at US$100 for what you get here is great value, so US$59.95 is an absolute bargain, and the basics like the weather, ATC and water are exceptional, yes all round more refinement is needed and that will come like noted over the next few months. What happens next will however be even more interesting from Laminar Research. The features in X-Plane 12 have cleared the table so to speak of a lot of the past niggling problems of the simulator and the Vulkan/Metal upgrades now covered. In fact for once they won't have a huge to-do list sitting on the table, so maybe it is time to focus heavily just on a few areas to give X-Plane even more of a competitive advantage, for me it is two... Night lighting and Scenery, and in time if those aspects are addressed it will then show the real power of the excellent X-Plane 12 release. Note, if you see the new X-Plane 12 logo on a review, then that will denote it is an X-Plane 12 product! See you all again next month. Stephen Dutton 4th October 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  6. Behind the Screen : August 2022 You know the cartoon image. It is the one with the guy in rags that is crawling through the very hot desert to see an oasis, a few palm trees and water in the middle of nowhere... is it real or is it a mirage? It looks real but you know it could disappear or fade away in an instant.. At this point Laminar Research's X-Plane 12 beta release feels very much like that, real or not. Well it is coming and very, very soon, but you still have the feeling that any moment it could be taken out of your grasp... again, just fade away for another promised day, like NASA shooting for the moon... the point is when do you start to feel it is not worth it all? August was a desert month, reviews were very thin on the ground because all or any new releases are now so far and in-between. There are two causes for that. One is the Northern Summer holidays, or six weeks of extreme heat, no water and bush fires, again welcome to our usual Australian climate, only we are just used to it year after year, and here it just goes up in temperature a few clicks every year because of the climate change. Second is of course the long draw out drama of X-Plane 12, and it's beta release. Your a developer right, you have a big project bubbling along, but that will be only a X-Plane 12 release and slated for say the end of the year or early 2023 (yipes 2023!). The rest of your current X-Plane 11 fleet are ready and converted to X-Plane 12, but remember X-Plane 12 is still only a beta and changes could still be coming... But anyway the fleet is done and ready for the release of the next generation of the Simulator because you had a testing Alpha since early March, that will at least have you ready, well sort of. Then the X-Plane 12 development drags on and on? You can't switch to release the new project early as it is slated only for X-Plane 12, and you can't do anything anymore with the old fleet either because they are all up to date as well, so in reality you have nothing to release. So you just go to the beach! So do expect a profusion of quick releases of upgraded aircraft (that is the ones you have to pay to upgrade) because it will make quick money for the developers when the Beta is released, but it will also give you a full featured aircraft in X-Plane 12 to fly quickly. Important to note is that these upgrades are not just for the new X-Plane 12 features, but they also include updates for the next four years or so of the X-Plane 12 run, or the regular servicing of the aircraft you use... well regularly. This upgrade caper crept in at the X-Plane 11 release with a few developers taking the plunge, and considering that X-Plane 11 ran for just under 6 Years, it was in hindsight good value for your US$30 or so. But this time around with X-Plane 12 there are certainly many times the X factor in top quality aircraft and developers, as to the few that switched over from X-Plane 10 to X-Plane 11, so there will be far more to upgrade (or expense) this time around. I can see the roadmap for X-Plane 12. September means that everyone will be finally back at their desks, including the Laminar Research staff, then three clear months to work though the Beta problems for a "Final" release just before Christmas, and then you are ready for another "Happy Holiday's", it is all too well thought out really, so you really wouldn't want a spanner thrown in the works would you... I yet don't have (to this article date) X-Plane 12 (beta) because I want to see the whole complete package and installation, mostly to compare the same with X-Plane 11. The Alpha download would always be the minimum set up, and even with components missing, so you can't put them side by side. Another difference is that the loading size will this time have to include the "Global Scenery" at 61.6Gb. In X-Plane 11 you could just switch it over directly from X-Plane 10, or load in X-Plane 11 without the global tiles (Update Scenery) for a quick basic (Demo sized) up load, then move the Global Scenery folder across to the new version (along with your Custom Scenery, Aircraft and Plugin Folders). I am hoping the tiles if not changed in the landscape visuals, do have however more significant data built in (a sort of HD by alpilotx version as default), but anything better than the current 11 year old mesh? but I am not hoping for much there. Let us be clear. I'm not getting my hopes up for a significant change from X-Plane 11. Yes there will be areas of "Wow", but nothing like we had in X-Plane 11 and certainly not like the massive changes we had back in the X-Plane 10 release. In testing the XP12 Beta, Laminar (bravely) released a testing video: Ten Hours of Flight in X-Plane 12 – Timelapse Unlike images that can be creatively angled and lit, video can be very stark, the same difference between live television and film, although more modern television drama is now more quality than film. But you know what I mean, in television it has that stark feel to it. X-Plane is like that as well. I have very rarely used X-Plane in it's basic form. the one with 130 framerates, basic default aircraft and virtually never with the Global airports. It is a stark world there. But that is the one I was watching in the video. Oddly most users fly like this as well, because it is free, but it's actually not very realistic either. And flying just over Texas for ten hours is very boring as well, as there is not a lot of visual change going on here or there. So here come the comments, just from that video. "I hate those clouds!", and "It's black at night!". One THOSE clouds were run in real time in one area, so they won't change much in 10 hours, and two THOSE clouds were running in a timelapse video... "Duh". But I am going to note the night blackness. If this is the case with X-Plane 12, then I hope during the Beta run that the night environment is addressed. If correctly Laminar boasted that the lighting in X-Plane 12 was configured to real world lighting conditions, and that SHOULD include night time lighting seepage as well. So I'm with the hoards on this one, and also because more importantly to me, is that I do a lot of overnight long-haul flying. If this is the case then I would be quiet vocal about that in wanting that night lighting feature addressed and quickly. However you could note it could be just a feature currently switched off for testing. MSFS (yes I know) does have light seepage at night effects, and another reason to quickly fix it, that night lighting would be top of my Beta list Ben. So my conclusion of X-Plane 12 will be only after all my do, da's and effect tuning is done, and that will be interesting. I truly hope to drop a few plugin's as well, certainly xEnviro which has been a pain for the last year, but also a nasty framerate killer as well. But I am also wondering or fear which plugins and aircraft I will lose in the changeover process as well? Download size, I think we will soon find out, but my bet is on 80Gb more or less. Most users will say, "Oh I will fly my past aircraft in X-Plane 11 anyway". But how long will that last, a few months? I found once the new shiny, shiny one is out, then the former version is very quickly made redundant, rarely do you want to go back there or even use the old version, as you will quickly convert over to the new, better new. We'll keep you updated on what we feel is the best and worse of the release, but I know in a month it will still be basically X-Plane, and not the new MSFS as many are expecting. Thoughout August as well X-PlaneReviews lost our header animation. Invision did an update that did more damaged than solve old ones, including the image formatting, so it looked sadly broken for the whole month or was it months. Anyway it's (finally) fixed with a 3rd party plugin. Because it is a custom plugin you now have more options and features, so we will work with them and see what we can do to make access more intuitive. Also because the X-Plane 12 is coming (or now here), there is also now a dedicated X-Plane 12 thread on the banner, so for anything new and related to X-Plane 12 it will go in there. Finally we had a site failure, or server failure after a particularly nasty electrical storm on the past weekend, and "crack", and everything went down for a few hours. The X-Plane.Org went down as well for the same period. Obviously we are back, but these things still make me nervous as there is nearly a decade of work on this site, all could have gone in a puf in a single brief moment, but we have a mirrored back up don't we? We do don't we! See you all again next month Stephen Dutton 5th September 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  7. Behind the Screen : July 2022 Basically it was another fizzer. I was up at 7am on a Sunday Morning (in Australia) to watch the "Loveathon", between Austin Meyer's and Orbx in a promoted special event by the FlightSim Association, but you very quickly realised the live stream going to go only over old ground again, even with the same old video clips in the background. Would Meyer's finally announce a release date for the X-Plane12 "Beta", and are Laminar Research going to do a collaboration project with Orbx to create a fancy if clever way to update those very outdated ground textures for X-Plane12, Nope and Nope... in fact absolutely nothing at all, but you only got a notice that Orbx had (already) released YBBN - Brisbane for X-Plane11, and well worth your dollar if you want really good Australian X-Plane scenery. In fact it was an hour and a half of our time wasted listening to rubbish, and the fact that rowing is a very big deal in Simulation... the question is "Why Bother?". Orbx have never really given X-Plane it's full due worth, but I do admit some sceneries are worth the download, but why all this do,da with Laminar? it was just all so stupid, and left a bad taste in your mouth for the rest of the day. And people in X-Plane Simulation are now just sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for something to happen, or go and fly in MSFS. The "Last Straw", well no, but it is stretching your composure and patience a bit to the limit, now another wait, more maybe's... when ever? There was the general feeling by Meyer's that Laminar had hit another roadblock. Remember this X-Plane12 release has a lot of different elements. In the past releases it was usually two very big elements and a few surrounding smaller elements. But here it is a load, if even a large amount of small elements in all wanting to being synchronised together into some sort of whole. It IS difficult to do, even impossible. Earlier it was the translucent effect of getting the water to meet the land, a bit like two continental drifts at the point they ride up onto each other, somehow it had to work. Laminar have said they have pulled the idea off, and look at the amazing water effects in the X-Plane12 seaplane video, not at the water itself, but the way the floats and the water in being translucent flows around the pontoons. It's all damn clever, but taking oodles of time to perfect. Truth be told, nobody has seen X-Plane12 as a whole, personally I don't think Laminar even has one yet. Well Meyer's again noted again at the AirVenture promotion (Friday 29th July) that, yes that he wanted X-Plane12 out before the end of the US Summer and that date is now only four weeks away, so yes it could now happen, my guess is a release in three weeks, and usually it will be released with a whimper and not a bang, like anything it could also all just turn on a dime again. One thing it has been, is a very long drought of a summer 2022, or my case a long winter. FlightFactor however kept us very happy with the release of another variant of the Boeing 767, in the -400 version. And I have to say it is simply a brilliant aircraft. It comes basically from an old linage of Boeing 767 variants from FlightFactor, so outwardly there is a lot of similarities. But there is also a lot of future detail and quality in there that was missing from the earlier aircraft, it had a more completeness to the machine, brilliant to fly from the off. The release though was hard from our reviewing point of view. The early release version was absolutely full of bugs, and some a major hindrance to doing a real feasible review, including the visual missing of important aircraft parts. It was fixed quickly, and well, and we have had since three more very good updates in succession. Flying the B764 to Ghana was a real treat, lovely machine. But again it threw up the usual question. One week? If the aircraft had had a beta run for just one more week, then the release would have have far more smoother, certainly from X-PlaneReviews perspective. I know that developers are not going to do it just for us. But the point is that, that one week would have made a significant difference to the release, and to the reception of the people buying the aircraft. We know that developers at the standard of FlightFactor will deliver a very high quality aircraft, of which they have. But in the old days they would have beta tested the brain's out of it, and covered theses anomalies (some were very, very noticeable). But the rush to market again has seen a stunted release (memories of Rotate's MD11). It was notably only a few days, and now becoming the normal, but it causes havoc when it didn't need to, it could also affect a review quite badly as well if the bugs are really quite as noticeable as this. A week? We understand that in today's extremely complicated aircraft simulations, they will certainly not be perfect on release. But the "Bloody Obvious", does really and absolutely annoy me, "a lot". It will also damage the brand, and how many times can you get away with it before it sinks in, and a week was all that was needed for a far cleaner release. Thank God for X-Updater. SAM Another item I will bring up is the SAM3 Suite by Stairport Sceneries. Now this is a great plugin, like BetterPushBack in doing the same thing and then well... doing it better. That was SAM or Scenery Animation Manager. When the SAM plugin came out it was to replace the decade old Marginal animated airbridge tool. Brilliant in it's day, but with no development of over a half a decade, it is feeling very, very old and dated. The SAM came in to X-Plane to change that, and gave you control of your gates as well. Land and you could select which bridge you wanted to connect up to the aircraft, with up to three bridges being used on a A380 or B748. I loved it. But then Stairport Sceneries added in the "Seasons" an optional addon, and a very big and bulky addon, then the "Follow Me" truck, then the World Jetways, and finally the pièce de résistance, the "Ground Service". The idea is to do a full service from when you land, to when you depart. The full idea is clever... but does it really work? Because users like me like control... we want to add on the airbridges at the time WE WANT to move the airbridges, ditto the service vehicles, of which I still use the more flexible JARDesign GHD of which you have complete control, and the control of when I want to use which service vehicle and when. And here is the problem now with SAM. The interface is HUGE, massive and sits right across your monitor screen, also finding the gate manager (third screen in I think) is hard. If you use the service vehicles they don't arrange very well around the aircraft and in the order you want, or when you want... In truth it's a bit of a mess and overwrought, personally I hate it, and worse most gates don't still line up correctly with the aircraft doors, even though they are set up manually by Stairport. SAM3 is now of too much, of too much in one application. All I want is a simple tool to connect my doors on the aircraft to the airbridges, better still one that works in the background with only a small interface to select, or deselect the doors... now how simple could that actually be. Then if I want to use the Follow Me truck, or use the Service Vehicles, they should be available in simple interfaces and even separately. This shows that more, or in this case excessively more is not always better. I think the SAM portal needs to be broken up to be more effective, but that is just in my view. If I didn't have to use that outsized portal I wouldn't, but I have to, and to just get access to those animated gates. There is a lesson in here... Happy Birthday Yes today 1st August 2022 is X-PlaneReviews birthday, and it is now nine years and counting. The Site was launched 1st August 2013, with a little fanfare. But I see success is in longevity, certainly on the internet as many commentators in the genre have now come and gone. The trick to surviving on the net is two fold, first is consistency, putting reviews and news up regularly, content being uploaded, so basically every time you come to the site there is something new to read or review, which can be hard to do when it is only you. Secondly is change, keeping the core, but changing with the times (and that includes a lot of bad Invision updates) and I think we have done that very well. This year has been especially significant for changes on X-PlaneReviews. We have had our reviewers over years, and we thank them for their immense contribution to the site. But this year we have had a whole new group join, with Dominic Smith being the coordinator between them. This has allowed myself to be more flexible in doing reviews, and obviously it has generated far more content for the site. It is exciting, and that change allows X-PlaneReviews to grow and be more flexible in it's arrangements, may even help that I don't get burnout, the number one problem with Net work. it also gives the site a far more better foundation to move on forwards into the future. The thanks are of course to the people who support the site. The X-Plane.OrgStore and .Org, without their support then the site could not function as well as it does. The developers for supporting us with their incredible products, they have certainly changed simulation beyond even my own expectations, even beyond anything I could imagine those nine years ago, and now we have X-Plane 12 on the horizon, and perfect for a lead up to our decade old anniversary next year 2023. Overall it is thanks to you, the X-Plane Community and the consistent site visitors. See you all and with X-Plane 12 (beta) next month Stephen Dutton 1st August 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  8. Behind the Screen : June 2022 This edition of "Behind the Screen" notes that we are already halfway through the year of 2022, yes six months are already gone and we are hurtling already towards another year gone. The last six months could be divided into two quarters, the first three months of the usual X-Plane activity and solid releases (including the immense Rotate MD-11) and the last quarter in being a long drawn out waiting period... for guess what, well X-Plane12. As noted in the last few editions of Behind the Screen I took the opportunity to upgrade my "Whole" as it turned out Computer hardware to be ready... for guess what, well X-Plane12. I don't regret the timing, as prices now (In Australia) have increased, not that much but I did save quite a few dollars in context. There is never ever a good time to do this, but 2022 is one of the most unnerving years I can ever remember (and I don't even have any Crypto Currency). So timing in reflection is all about using your superpower, or simply good luck. And for that I still used my superpower cautiously and is still thankfully on the right side of good. But also sitting on this side of the upgrades it is a satisfying feeling, not perfect yet as I still need an upgraded Graphic Card, but still good to welcome into my world... well X-Plane12. Before I move on from the upgrades, I found the Hardware side changes very enjoyable, even fun... but resetting and reinstalling all the required software (actually not including X-Plane itself) but everything to support the simulator was a nightmare. Resetting things back to normal took an immense amount of time to do, worse was the recalibrating required to get things to behave correctly again, worse was the monitors in finding their ideal matching settings again, and I am still not happy with the results, but is finally getting there. The point is on how really time-consuming it all is, if also on how frustrating, change is really good, but also seriously hard work. Laminar Research have been pumping out all sorts of X-Plane12 tit-bits and the extensive Dev Deep-Dives series with FSElite, which is a long series of videos including the important developers behind the new X-Plane12's development (noted to be a series of 10). There is a lot in there, but there is also really nothing new being revealed either that we haven't already seen since the original X-Plane12 reveal back in September 2021 at the San Diego Expo. Even the Development blogs have petered out, so it is all feeling a bit-long-in-the-tooth. The aim was for an X-Plane12 release around the last weeks of July, that is in just three weeks now folks, but rumors are circulating the beta release could now be as late as September. No matter which way you look at it, it is still a long wait of maybe still months not weeks. The point is, is that pushing the boat out too far, and far too long. The simulation world is not waiting around for Laminar to perfect it's next generation of X-Plane simulation, the worry creeping in is that with the long, long wait, and the extended hype, you may get a let down of massive proportions. As noted last month, I have realistic expectations of the new simulator version upgrade, but many users don't of the coming version. Fears of the Rotate MD-11 hype could come back to haunt us all over again the longer this story goes on (and on), that aspect may happen anyway. Everything in June was heightened by the story of iniBuilds. Back last year on the 1st of October 2021 iniBuilds announced the iniSimulations A310-300 for Microsoft Flight Simulator. No big deal there as you expect a lot of cross-platform aircraft transitions. But on 12th June, Microsoft announced a partnership with inibuilds to release the Airbus A310-300 as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations in November, and that the Airbus A310-300 would also be part of the MIcrosoft Flight Simulator default fleet, or free to users that currently use the MSFS Simulator platform, still nothing of a deal there either. But it is a bit of pain in that if you had spent £69.99 on the aircraft, and you could soon get it for free if you move to MSFS. Then came the BIG news, all current X-Plane11 iniBuild aircraft would not be updated to X-Plane12. That is the A300-600R(F), A300 BelugaST and the A310-300 will be X-Plane11 only, odd was the strange fire-sale of all the aircraft early June at a heavily discounted price of £9.99, or 20 bucks $US, the sale gave X-Plane users no indication of the coming bad news, but took your money. Let us be straight. iniBuild's were always a rogue company to deal with from the start, very hard to deal with commercially and X-PlaneReviews was refused early on for any review aircraft point blank. Although extremely successful in X-Plane, I really didn't see the what all the fuss was about. Their aircraft are good, and have a lot of features (if some are quite quirky). But there are far better simulations out there for the same money, and the products were quite to very expensive. And this is the point. If you have spent that much money investing in an aircraft or aircraft's, you do to a point expect a fair amount of service and support from the developer. But basically, with the cancellation of any (even paid) upgrades to X-Plane12, it will leave you with a very bitter taste in your mouth, and certainly if you are currently getting a happy experience from your iniBuild's simulations. These aircraft have only been on the market for a few years from August 2020 starting with the A300-600R. that is not even a third of an X-Plane version (11) development run, and now already if X-Plane12 is released soon, the aircraft is already outdated, did I mention expensive at US$85 an aircraft (yes you did get a discount deal if you bought another iniBuilds aircraft). If you had bought the fire-sale aircraft, you would get maybe a few months of simulation before parking it in the old X-Plane11 hangar, at even $20 bucks that is still expensive. So if Microsoft are doing a promotional deal, by throwing a shit load of money at a X-Plane developer, then saying "Hey folks, if you still want your iniBuilds A310, you can and for free!... if you come to Microsoft Flight Simulator", stinks of poaching of the worse order. The problem with all this is that Simulation is still basically a very niche form of entertainment, many who fly in X-Plane, also fly in MSFS, and even a lot of the other aircraft simulators available, there are really no boundaries except financial. So here is the bite. If you have spent a lot of your hard earned cash in supporting iniBuilds for the X-Plane Simulator, then your getting a very shitty deal. Even if you smile and note that the A310 will be free over in MSFS, then it is not going to have the features and the flying performance of X-Plane and neither either will the coming A300-600R and A300 BelugaST MSFS versions of which you will have to pay for (again). But seriously besides a worse performing aircraft could you or should you actually trust iniBuilds again with you cash and their extremely poor service. If they have bunged you here, then they won't care about bunging you again over there. The word here is trust, and that aspect has been seriously broken. You could say I'm being platform defendant (X-Plane). But I'm not, it is the overall aspect of trust in Simulation that is accountable here. Purchasers in X-Plane also purchase in MSFS (or any other simulator). Being royally screwed in one is not going to help you gain monetary on another platform, as you are talking to the same customers. Core simmers are the ones that pay for expensive addons, not the fly in, fly out gamer crowd. Personally there is no way I would buy another iniBuilds product, if they treat their customers with such indifference for their loyalty. The really odd thing about all this saga, is that to update their (only) three aircraft to X-Plane12 is to a large development house like iniBuilds here is a very minimum aspect of keeping everyone (including future customers) happy (or the MSFS deal doesn't allow them to do that). Plus then is the monetary loss of future aircraft sales in X-Plane12, and the upgraded aircraft would also deliver upgrade fees (or money) to the coffers. In the business case sense it is a disastrous outcome for everyone involved... but the worse outcome is still that loss of customer trust and cash by not "doing the right thing, by everyone" and upgrading to X-Plane12, that just leaves a sour taste in everyone's mouth, and a lot of very disappointed customers. It certainly won't attract customers to MSFS, if the opposite in this saga... most won't care, but they should, it's your precious money going to the wall here. If iniBuilds were poached, then with Laminar dragging out their own slowly, slowly release saga for X-Plane12, then could other developers be targets for easy MSFS money. Most would say absolutely not. But in this world of stretched resources and bills to pay, then even the most stoic of developers could waver if enough cash was thrown at them, every Simulator is built on it's unique developers of products for the platform, lose too many and the platform is in trouble. A year ago Laminar had a unique situation as MSFS failed and faltered in it's early first year development, certainly in the performance and dynamics areas, but has that advantage situation now been seriously squandered in being too far to under resourced and with poor public relations from Laminar Research, and with just expecting the faithful to just keep on accepting the same as, time and time again. As times people have moved on, and Laminar needs to move on along with them and even use or need it's own superpower, the next few months until the end of this unnerving year could be quite significant for the X-Plane simulator in more ways than one, and one way or the other. See you all next Month Stephen Dutton 4th July 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  9. Behind the Screen : May 2022 On 19th May 2022, Laminar Research did another "Development Update" for the upcoming X-Plane12, and a new version of the X-Plane Simulator. "drip, drip, drip", and that is the way you usually get the formation of the new version. You take a bit here, and a bit from there and sort of build a picture of what to expect of what the build of X-Plane12 will be when released. Notable is that from Laminar Research's viewpoint is that the release is when X-Plane12 goes final, but that release, and which becomes final is usually months and months after you are using the new version is actually a bit odd, but normal for X-Plane users. First then will come a public "Beta", as X-Plane12 is currently in a "Alpha" release, which is a limited working release for developers and qualified testers (i.e. pilots). Any current view of an Alpha will include only a piecemeal running simulator, so it is not the best version or even a realistic version for the public release. But the Alpha can be used for testing the various components including scenery, aircraft and of course plugins. Last week we had the first release of the SASL 3.14.5 which is X-Plane12 compliant. SASL is the major component that gives developers the tools to bring the aircraft alive and create custom commands from everything like animations or the reproduction of aircraft systems, it is THE major important connection between the fully systematic custom aircraft to the basic X-Plane commands (PlaneMaker), it brings the life to the simulator. So with SASL now being X-Plane12 compliant it is a huge step forward in bringing X-Plane12 to your desktop, and there will a huge amount of updates/upgrades between now and Christmas 2022 to intergrate all the aircraft (or to intergrate SASL 3.14.5) to the new simulator and that includes changes to the SASL tool itself until the final release. Developers are already deep into the intergration process, and even a few SASL 3.14.5 aircraft have even been already upgraded and released, like the MagKnight Boeing 787 -8 and -9, and the AOA F-22 Raptor. These aircraft are already X-Plane12 compatible, but still expect another update or so even before X-Plane12 is exposed to the public. Obviously the X-Plane12 features can't be used or can even be seen? or can they... the Magknight B787 PFD and MFD are already quite different from their earlier default based ones, the B787 "feels" ready for X-Plane12 and that is exciting. It will be update hell for a few months after the X-Plane12 Beta release, as I am expecting a lot of aircraft to be sent to the boneyard, and some previously very personal loved simulations included. So X-Plane12 will be a very pared back simulator in this case, you will lose a lot of your past world, but that is not a bad thing, as some collections are already really outdated. And that aspect also opens the door for a more modern version of an old favorite. The "Beta" release is the first "Public" exposure of the new simulator, so is this the actual release version? To most X-Plane users, even myself this IS the release version, officially it isn't, but in reality it is, if you can accept that there is still developmental work to be done... but in reality X-Plane is ALWAYS an ongoing development, so what is the difference there anyway. Many users won't fly in a new simulator version until it goes final, they want the bugs and problems all fixed before they will do a deep dive, fair enough, I can see that perspective, but why wait months and months to get all those new features and tools in your simulation environment, and then you will miss out the learning process, as there is nothing like a buggy simulator to learn on how it all works. Buy one simulator and get one free... Laminar has already noted that if you buy X-Plane12 you will get X-Plane11 free of charge, that is if you don't like the new version then you can use the older one, or take your fun both ways. And if X-Plane12 is too buggy and annoying, then go fly in X-Plane11. Obviously there will not be a many takers on this, and why? Well for most hard users they already have X-Plane11, so why would we want it again. All it does in reality is support two simulators under the one authorisation key, it makes it easy of course, but I have usually never wanted to go backwards again once a new version is out, it is old outmoded by the way, and not new, clean and shiny like X-Plane12. There has been a huge amount of debate about the price, from (the usual free) to US$100, of which many actually thought was a worthwhile price. But in the end X-Plane12 will cost the nominal US$59.95 or 60 bucks, which cheaper than most quality X-Plane aircraft, or as I said "Buy the Airbus A330, and get a simulator for free!". It feels like that sort of deal. DVD's will still be available, and so will there be the early Steam access. Personally I think Laminar have under cut themselves here, $79.95 would have put more value in their bank account. But for the rest of us it is a brilliant deal, and certainly the price is focused on gamers to which would even try a "real" simulator for that price. Laminar are price wise more focused on having a "less price, more sales" scenario than delivering to the converted. Hopefully the extra sales will come, if not Laminar will be stuck with a lower income which translates to less resources and no future expansion of personnel. They are already very long and overdue in the new simulator's delivery and the still the list of still to-do items before release shows already the serious lack of resources, no matter how committed or how talented the current Laminar team of developers are. There was no subscription model, or even a new "era" name change either, just X-Plane12 with a "60 buck price". That should at least keep the hoards happy, but for me it signals more of the same in that Laminar Research whom are not moving forward very much in a very fast paced industry. How this plays out over the next few years will be interesting and if Laminar got it right or wrong. I always thought Laminar Research was a more forward looking company than that, but overall this feels of "playing it safe". Although there are a lot of features in X-Plane12, there is actually really nothing new? Most items known as features are really what the hoards note at the weaknesses of the current simulator in that needed (seriously) upgrading. Notable is that Laminar always do when updating is giving far more than your bucks worth in ideas. But the focus here is just ramping everything thing up that we complained about for years. Better Weather, better ATC, better Water, Seasons (finally), better Effects, better Lighting, better Trees, better autogen, but there is nothing really new in a dominant overriding feature like there was in every past new X-Plane version releases. I am not saying that is actually a bad thing, because it will deliver a "Better Simulator", but don't expect a knockout idea or monster feature to send you into a serious "wow" moment, even if the Laminar PR spokesperson noted it as "yeah Cool", not "Brilliantly Cool" or "Knocked Out Cool", just "yeah Cool"... but then again every answer to any question from him was "Yeah, Cool!" So will X-Plane12 be received as lukewarm, without that "Killer Feature", that is a big, big question. Personally I think it will be somewhere in the middle, a very good modern update, but not that much of a massive landslide of change or a really significant move forward. The good news there is also now there is a clean and empty Laminar desk top as all of those decade old niggling problems are finally cleared away. And with that Laminar can now also focus more on the "Big Picture" items. Hopefully yes. I have totally given up on the speculatation of a release date, but even Austin Meyer noted he needed the income coming in sooner than later. The latest public beta release date rumor is noted as EAA AirVenture Oshkosh week of Monday 25th July and that ends on Sunday 31st July, with a Final release noted around Thankgiving 2022, that looks like a very nice timetable, and in reality it is only seven weeks or so away. Notable is that the 747, Blackbird, KC10 and Space Shuttle have all been dropped from X-Plane12 and so won't be upgraded to X-Plane12 spec either, but expect a very highly updated fleet to replace them, so they weren't dropped for a reason. Coming in are; SR22, R22 (skids/mariner versions), Citation X, RV-10, PA-18 and the F-14. The A330 banner aircraft had the news that it is to get a custom Airbus FMS, which is a huge surprise, but a very welcome one. Two interesting X-Plane12 areas now reaching completion is the Water, or specifically the water edges. Images shown in the last week, displays, is that yes you can have your water flowing onto a beach as the fluid to mass shows, and implementing geographically-aware water colors (tropical) are also now being finalised. The results are stunning and fixing that is a huge step forward towards a public release. Another area that has rumors is that to cover over extensively the remaining (boring) default textures, the degree, depth of detail has been extremely maximized, mostly by using the more modern OSM (Open Street Map) data, in other words "cram in as much as you can to hide the shit". I don't think this aspect was on the original X-Plane12 release radar, but pushed through to counter the MSFS graphical onslaught, hence more of the public release delay. Problem is with code is, "push more in here and it pushes more problems out there", more density will create far more processing, requiring far more framerate to you the loser. So you can see why Laminar hesitated in bringing it forward to X-Plane12 than tackling it at a later update, but MSFS visual demands have changed the picture, Laminar "had to do something". Personally It could be a surprise element of X-Plane12 that has not yet been shown, the "wow" factor could depend on this aspect. Mr "Yeah Cool" PR spokesperson noted that X-Plane12 does not require much more processing power than X-Plane11, but I have still spent heavily in upgrading my computer anyway as all these new features are extremely processor heavy. Noting that you should too, and not expect to get through with X-Plane12 with what you already have, it is also a simulation security for the future as well. Hopefully Laminar will give us an announcement on the X-Plane12 Beta release in June, or at least early July, we have waited long enough, and a lot of the remaining refinement and performance tuning can actually be done under the "Beta" banner. My note is to "Light this candle", and get X-Plane12 out to it's very patient audience, a lot will complain anyway, as they usually do, but I think it is time to take the covers off a shiny new updated version of the X-Plane Simulator. The site is slow at the moment, sorry about that but there are (again) a few factors. In March it was Hardware, In April it was Software, In the past May it was medical, or I had the Flu badly. But I am now recovering. But also May brought in a few new factors in that X-PlaneReviews now have a few new reviewers with Dominic Smith and Paul Mort also doing reviews for the site and a few more are coming to join us as well. Overall though the 2Q brings a dearth of not much to actually review, or the opposite of Black Friday, you could call it "Black Quarter". We had hoped that an X-Plane12 release would have filled in the gap this year, but that now has not happened either. And that means developers are also getting themselves ready for the same X-Plane12 release, but you know like the sun shines the next day, it will go again from nothing to full manic in a few days... Cheers, See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st June 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  10. Behind the Screen : April 2022 "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry" (Robert Burns) and he goes on to say "No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it". This saying is adapted from a line in “To a Mouse,”. April was like that... In my last March "Behind the Screen" edition I documented the overhaul of my main X-Plane Windows computer to a new (faster) processor, and in readiness for X-Plane12, and the upgrade OS move to Windows11. The whole process was worked out, costed and put into operation with a military zeal, it came out as a perfectly executed plan in the transition from the old to the new, perfect and done well in time before X-Plane12 could hit the downloads. We only had to do a little (overclocking) tuning to hit the sweet-spot a week later, and I was as "Happy as Larry" as the system was operational ready and totally perfect in it's timing. My set up comprises however of not one computer but two. The Brutal Windows runs X-Plane uncompromisingly, that is all it has to do, a sort of pure Simulator engine. My second computer does all the rest, the site editing, image editing,downloading, filing, storing, email, and general browser work, and the two computers are connected together by an ethernet cable. Press in the Simulator for an X-Plane screenshot and it pops right up Adobe's Bridge Application for editing in Photoshop on the other one, I am very proud of the idea and the system. It is also extremely and highly efficient when you are editing between 300 to 500 images a review. The machine that does all this background work is a trusty workhorse in a decade old (2009) Apple Imac 27" the one in the Behind the Screen header above... and you now have probably already guessed where this article is going. It is not like the Windows upgrade had broken the bank account, but it was designed not to put much financial pressure on the ongoing year, as the problem with 2022 is summed up in one word "Chaotic". What with currently in that we have just come out of a pandemic (sort of), Mr Putin has decided to invade Europe, and almost everything is going up in price as you watch the prices change as dramatically as you watch the change of the prices on a daily occurrence, with the petrol prices... well just don't go there. So again I was feeling smug in that I had done a perfect upgrade to a very good value price, and with not a lot of over due credit sitting on the system. When you have a 12 year old computer they are like a 12 year old car, they still run very well, but they have their odd moments of idiosyncrasies, in the IMac's case it is the dropping out of the WiFi (at the wrong moments), slow, won't connect to your bluetooth mouse all the time, dropping out the connection to the bluetooth mouse all the time, dropping out of keyboards, even if the keyboard is connected by a wire and not airy fairy bluetooth, and so on. I know the IMac is getting old and yes it was getting tired in it's own way, but for the day to day work it was perfect and believe it or not very reliable. To believe that how much better value you got 12 years ago from Apple, it had even for back then a 2560x1440 display which was impressive, certainly not in today's 8K era, but the quality is still very good. Apple Computer in their extinction ethics however had written the machine off years ago, So I was stuck on 10.11.5 or El Capitan, with no further upgrades. If you have used a computer for years, you keep them because the applications will still work with that same era OS System, I have some old (2000 era) FCP (Final Cut Pro) software that works fine on the same computer (with the older but far better timeline version), which is far more efficient for editing on... as sometimes the newer software will mean a worse workflow because they add in far to many helpers or duplicate too many of the same actions that counteract each other out. So sometimes a clean and simple interface is faster in the busy work place, and not have a load of "bells and whistles" that you would barely use any. Okay I admit it is old school, but a lot of the modern software could learn from some of the great software ideas of the past, newer is not always better, certainly in Software. Feeling my age... in the old days you bought the software which even today was seriously expensive, but you owned it lock, stock and barrel. Once purchased it was yours to use, and for as long as you wished, which again is good for computers with old OS Systems. The subscription model has been around since the 1600s by newspaper and book publishers, so nothing new there, but in the computer age software companies want to make more money by selling you more software. As noted the purchase of good quality software is (or was) extremely expensive, so the subscription model actually sells you the same software, but monthly in subscriptions, which is good as it is in affordable chunks, but they also throw in any new upgrade free (back then you had an upgrade price). It is a good model, but it also has one very serious cache, they also own and control the software and not you, and bit like Spotify. I have a bundle deal with Adobe, mostly for Photoshop (with Lightroom) and the free Bridge, I used to have the full Creative Cloud series of tools, but the prices went stupidly expensive, and for to have all the tools I mostly didn't use. Adobe force you to take (for greedy more money of course) to have only all of the applications (Creative Cloud) or just very expensive separate packages of their software, which means you can't bundle the only applications you actually want to use and subscribe only for them alone, it is a totally unfair system, and it is designed to pull the most money out of their customers. Before you say, "there are free cheaper versions out there". I have used Photoshop since CS was commercially released in October 2003 (version 8). The tools are my trade so to speak, but Photoshop does have one tool that is extremely important to processing 300 to 500 images in a review session. The "Actions" tools. This is a tool that can set up a set of actions, say crop, lighten, resize, brighten or darken an image with just one press of a button, so that means not doing the excessive repetitive single actions for each image... it is an indispensable tool. Without the Photoshop Application and the action tool the X-PlaneReviews site just can't function... end of. If you wanted bad timing, then this was the "Almighty god" of bad timing, on the 30th March Adobe pulled the subscriptions on Photoshop (my version was CC 2018) from older computers, Adobe were not going to support the software any more, even though I was still paying for the software that I now couldn't actually use... worse was the software still worked perfectly on my IMac, but no I was out. I actually got in an extra weeks activity by using a "Trial" of Photoshop (on four year old software?), but once the 7 Day trial was up, my software died or then became extinct, and in reality so was the time of the usefulness of my trusty IMac. The only (expensive) option was to upgrade my Mac System, I Iooked at the new Mac Studio, but hey at AUS$3,000 that idea died on the spot, and at this point the site was not operating, sorry about that... but my perfect system was now half-broken in two. Yes I can use the Photoshop software on the Windows, it is installed on there, but it also required flipping screens around consistently to process images. No the fix had to be long term and not a short band-aid solution with X-Plane12 sitting on the immediate horizon (no pun intended). Option was a Mac Mini. I had already had one a decade ago, and actually it was the first computer I ran X-Plane9 on when I first started in X-Plane. Second hand iMacs also were the same price as a new Mac Mini but were already five years old, so I didn't want to get clobbered by the same out-of-date problem again, and "ew" someone else had already pored their horribleness all over that computer. The Mac Mini it was, but I would also need a monitor as well, I found one for AUS$200, the same model as I had on Windows, brilliant, but I was faced with a financial blowout of AUS $1200, on top of all my Windows expenses. The Adobe timing had stank, truly at the worst time. I got the Mac Mini... but it took two weeks to sort, as it wouldn't work well with the monitor? The problem is that it is a 1920 x 1080 monitor, yes it worked on the Mac Mini, but everything was like a child's toy set, Photoshop was scaled huge! and totally unworkable, my older iMac had the screen resolution fixed in, no problems. So that monitor was sold (more time) to buy a 4K monitor to get back the correct 2560x1440 display scale I had before, the cost? you don't want to go there... but it really hurt the bank balance no end. The system was thankfully now up and running again, I had Photoshop "yeh!", so I was back in business or reviewing. But ten years of working on the older Mac also mean't I had built up a large number of tools (font's and so on) and settings like my preset .psd actions and other Photoshop presets to move over, plus there was the huge amount of work of just setting up the Mac Mini to be a working computer with all the required applications with new really annoying Photoshop features (so everything had to set back to "Legacy Settings"), and their internet settings... worse problem was recalibrating the monitors to work with both computers. I had refined the settings on the Windows for X-Plane over years of twiddling. There are two settings. Nvidia is a global adjustment, but xEnviro can be also adjusted for just the lighting with-in the Simulator, so you really have two sets of settings fighting each other for the same output. The balance between the two applications has to be totally correct or you can get really shitty images coming out of the Simulator. Again there are apologies.... sorry, but the problem was that the images coming out of the Simulator were almost black or darkened contrasty out, and you can feel the problem with the Thranda Caravan review, my skills dialed out most of the nasty lighting issues, but it was again a very drawn out process to make the images look even half-way realistic, and the all wasted time in between spent in twiddling settings to get better images out of the Simulator. I'm still twiddling, but I feel I have got the settings now closer to the earlier look and feel before the complex changing over the computers. Overall I now have a complete new computer system(s), not only the flying Simulator machine (Windows), but the new not planned site and editing computer as well (Mac Mini). Nice to have but I still yearn for my old IMac, as the screen colouring is far better than the new starker 4K Monitors, and they really are harder to gauge the colour and brightness (I still check the images coming out on the old IMac via WiFi, wonderful thing is WiFi), but don't ask me about the total blowout of it all, once everything was finally under control, to myself to now be totally and absolutely burnt out by the past months events. It was a wild ride, as April 2022 is simply a month I don't want to relive again. Life is like that... everything is at once "Hunky Dory" then it is not, but it affected the X-PlaneReviews site no end for the whole month, it is nearly two months with the Windows upgrade thrown in as well, but life happens and you have to deal with it. See you all again next month. Stephen Dutton 1st May 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  11. Behind the Screen : March 2022 Back in my Behind the Screen January 2022 edition, I talked about upgrading my main X-Plane workhorse computer ready for X-Plane12. Now I am on the other side of the upgrade and the process has been very interesting. Everyone at sometime or the other are faced with this nasty dilemma, unless you are still flying X-Plane9 on a Windows 7 OS (and you would be surprised how many out there still are) the problem is you are going to be looking secretly at your bank balance account. Mostly the upgrade situation is created at a new X-Plane version release or realistically about every four years, however most of my changes have been forced upon me, for the late X-plane 10 and forthcoming X-Plane 11, I literally melted my Mac's graphic card (yes X-Plane can melt or burn out graphic cards). But I needed to also move up to a Windows based system anyway, because I could then access more (mostly plugins) applications that are created only for WIN based machines and that aspect was required for reviews. In being a decades old Apple acolyte. It was a significant moment to move to the opposition's or over to the medieval Microsoft system... I loathe WIN 7, still do compared to the elegant Mac OS. But since the messiah of Steve Job's moved on and died. I feel that Apple, although still makes great products, has moved away from the Job's "insanely great" products to Mr Cook's inventory leading leadership in replicating more of the same and adding on even more money in asking for the same glossed up products. In saying that I think the new line of M series processors are very good, but paying Aus$3,000 just to get one in a computer is criminal. Windows does give you one major advantage, separate or separated components. Buy a Mac and it is a locked box, even upgrading the memory is a major exercise, and even mostly all the memory is soldered directly on to the motherboard, a new graphic card... forget about that. So Windows does give you immense flexibility in upgrading components, and that saves you money. With a Mac, upgrading means usually a completely new computer, meaning expensive (now far more expensive). I have even come to love the Windows interface, in many areas it is now even better than the Mac OS, far better since Microsoft got rid of Steve Ballmer, and became a far more progressive company. It was a big deal for me not only to move to the Win OS, but also buy a Windows Surface laptop (No touch screen on any Apple laptops is another deal breaker). As noted in BtheS in January. The flexibility of components in a Windows box means I started my "Tick, Tock" system. Buying both major components in both a chip/motherboard, then also a graphic card is seriously expensive. You just can't afford both at the same time. I did my Graphic Card (Tick) update about three years ago to a Asus 8Gb VRAM board, to be honest it still runs very well, so it is not really ready for a overhaul (maybe next year when the prices are even closer to back in being some sort of realistic)... but my chip and board (Tock) was now getting seriously outdated and it showed via my mid-20s framerates. In reality I had put myself into a corner with the chip a Intel i7-6700K CPU, good in it's time, but coupled to a very budget Gigabyte motherboard, you felt the slowness and it's lack of features and slow buses. I also came to really hate that board (Gigabyte Z170-HD3). The Gigabyte board was another issue in that to upgrade to a new processor, you also have to replace the motherboard. So with not only with the daily dynamic realism of fighting low framerates, Microsoft also deemed my chip now too old for Windows 11, then add in then the coming requirements of X-Plane12, in that coming change a lot of the processing is moved from the graphic card over to main processor. I was faced with the inevitable, a major surgery of my computer if I wanted to gain the best from the coming (exciting) X-Plane12. The process was interesting and hopefully very helpful to other users facing the same situation. My system is totally X-Plane focused, I don't do anything else on the computer (not even games) on the Windows (site image and editing work is still all done on a 12 year old Mac). There is an immense (insane) amount of choice for users in upgrading their main components, but basically it all comes down to easy choices. I think actually the pandemic actually did me a favour, by making me wait longer to do this upgrade, and in that aspect I found myself at the front of a release of a step generation of new powerful processors (Intel 12th Gen). I did consider at first a AMD processor, but I found too many performance issues and stutters. I am sure AMD devotees will put me right on that matter, but I just was not comfortable with changing to AMD, but the 12th Gen Intel chips are a serious step up in power anyway. As you know I earlier went mad and only wanted only a top of the line Intel 12900KF, but installing this nuclear power station created a lot of problems and at a far higher cost (availability is also problem here as well). I do really thank a lot of users for their advice in comments, and yes I actually in the end used their advice, but overall the item that changed my mind was the video by Michael Brown on XForcePC, if you watch this video it will explain the differences between all the 12th Gen processors, and why the i7 is the pick of the bunch price wise to performance for X-Plane users. The Intel 12900KF is nearly a grand in X-Plane money (all prices here are in Aussie $), but the blowout was the things required to go with the chip to actually run it. I settled for a Intel S1700 Core i7 12700K 12 Core 3.60 GHz CPU (That can be overclocked to 5.0 GHz), it is the top processor of the i7 12th Gen range, it saved me $300 over the i9 12900K. The motherboard I selected was a ASUS S1700 ATX PRIME Z690-P WiFi DDR4. Debatable is the fact I didn't move up to DDR5 memory, but cost would have blown me out to an extra $500 for the DDR5 memory which not only currently expensive but also hard to get here. As a chip and board combination I think it is about perfect on features and price. I spent a bit more on the board for the features it provided, as the spectre of the budget Gigabyte board still looms badly over why I did that choice. In selecting any 12th Generation Intel chip, you hit what became the biggest debate of them all... cooling. Picking the chip/board was the really easy part, the hard part was picking a good cooler. I spent countless videos and going through tons of spec details for weeks in trying to choose anything to fix the cooling issue, it can get seriously expensive as well, even more than a motherboard. But the trick is to find the right cooler for your processor, in the end it came down to two, a Noctua or a Be Quiet! The Noctuas are expensive, but oddly it also looked horribly old fashioned (brown?) as well, but the cost as which was astronomical was the real deal breaker here, even if it was the best. My choice was the Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4, still not cheap, but very good for the 12th Gen chips. That cooler choice then created another problem, it is such a huge massive cooler, a real monster of a thing? that when if installed in my case it would stick out right of the door with the glass panel also needed to be off to fit it inside. So I would need a new case or another extra expense above my carefully considered budget to accommodate just that XXXL cooler. My choice again was another Be Quite!, a Pure Base 500DX case, WIDE but it also came with modern ports including USB-C inputs, and some nice RGB fancy lighting effects, the only thing it was short of was USB ports? X-Plane uses a LOT of USB ports, three for the Saitek joystick, throttle and rudder pedal combo, then your keyboard, mouse and external storage? with only five USBs on the Pure Base case were simply not going to cut it, so I installed a Orico 7 Port USB 3.0 PCIe card as you can do that with a Windows box, and that fixed another issue, I also upgraded my power supply from a 750w to a 1000w pack, not really needed but a nice to have (it is second hand). The rebuild took a day, but a second day was required to reinstall and rebuild my Samsung 970 EVO Plus SSD 2TB - M.2 NVMe storage with X-Plane and all the other software required, including now a OS upgrade to Windows 11. And that completes my Windows system rebuild. My original self created quote for the upgraded system was around Aus$1,700 or US$1,300 ($1,271) with the (Tock) rebuild and choosing the i7 and not the i9 it came in at Aus$1,350 or nearly US$1000, even including the case and USB port extras, it was all up not bad for a load of extra performance, and a nice fancy case. So what did I get for my money. I was always jealous of users having 70fr to 100fr X-Plane power, but realistically I never expected that sort of headroom, 50fr, with hopefully 60fr was to me a good upgrade result. Realistically I gained 20fr, what was 25fr is now 45fr, 30fr is now 50fr. But that is not the whole story power wise. xEnviro is simply a major excessive power sapping application, the more power you seem to give it, the more it takes, and I have a lot of the settings set currently to be very economical, but still it is guzzling up 20fr... yes "twenty bloody frames" and also gives me slight stutters. In light weather it is not too bad, but in cloudy conditions it just sucks down the frame rate like no tomorrow, it is not a very efficient application? Switch it off and I have 60fr-70fr, but then looking at a very bland panorama. But if you want to, you can currently average it out at 45fr, X-Plane is still very snappy and with headroom to easily absorb even the heaviest aircraft (Felis B747-200) and heavy scenery (Barcelona). But other benefits are also very welcome, 60% faster X-Plane loading times are a really big boon to me in that I do a lot of restarts per review, and the computer in dealing with mundane tasks is extremely quick and far easier to use. Far quicker also are buses than with the Gigabyte board means that now big files can be moved around far, far more quicker (rebuilding X-Plane with 1Tb of data to move only took a hour, not hours). The processor and board upgrade was done with X-Plane12 in mind, and the main reason to upgrade at all. If X-Plane12 will take say an extra 10fr (by my estimation), then using it's default environmental benefits, I can then remove xEnviro, I should see a balance of 55fr to 60fr, with that I would be extremely happy to have done the upgrade. Certainly a (Tick) upgrade of the Graphic Card would give me more framerate and power, but that was not a consideration of this upgrade. When after running several flights, and pushing the new system we found it was not even breaking into a sweat. CPU numbers were around only 40ºC, motherboard temps around 31ºC while still running a flight at full throttle. I'm not usually a big fan of overclocking, but in this case it may be actually warranted to make the chip work a bit harder, so we are going to do a slight overclock and hopefully gain around another 10% performance. limits are 5.4 MHz for some P-cores and 5.1 MHz for all active P-cores. I am certainly not ever going to do that, but I think I want it to get itself off it's 2.6 MHz backside and do some more work. Those numbers also vindicated our cooling choice, the system has five fans (three in the cabinet and two on the Dark Rock Pro), but the system does not get even close to hot (or even warm) at all, not even feel any heat if you put your hand over the rear fans. Overall it was in this aspect a sensational upgrade. Simulation is one of the absolute most ferocious users of processor power, it demands far more than most games on the market. To make gains within a budget is very hard, but still a necessity to keep up with the constant changing demands of even more realism and complex aircraft. This was my upgrade story, I hope it helps in your decisions and choices in getting the best out of not only the current X-Plane version (11) but to be also ready for the next step in X-Plane12. See you all next month. Stephen Dutton 1st April 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  12. Behind the Screen : February 2022 The current feeling is of being a mountaineer. You climb one difficult mountain only to find yourself facing another massive challenge in another cliff face to climb and digest. This is the life of a Simulation reviewer today. The forward expansion of deep systems and Simulation detail is now getting seriously complex, and it was never quite like this. You always enjoyed the challenge of a new aircraft, delving into it's systems and features with glee. But now you need a University Aviation degree to work through it all, this is now total real world stuff, and you are earning your grades by one book and manuscript at a time. Usually even a couple of years ago. You most did an extreme airliner review in about three days, four at the very most. That spread to six days, but now I am finding I am working through 14 days or TWO WEEKS in just doing one review? That is crazy stuff, and it leaves the site with not much turnover to note what other releases or changes are going on in the world (a lot apparently), we would never abandon the front page news, but for your reviewing pleasure it is not coming out as fast as we would like. But what do you do... these incredible Simulations also deserve their full attention as well. Our X-PlaneReviews philosophy is just to not only show or review a new aircraft, but to do an intergrated tutorial as part of the review. In other words we do the hard stuff and find all the intricate details (tips in other words) so you can get down and deep quickly to enjoy the aircraft, than spending the time and frustration wading through all the ditty stuff. But that is where it is now getting seriously complicated, because these aircraft are now also seriously complicated, as they are in real life. Developers lately have been working on these complicated beasts for three and even over four years in development. That is a very long leadout time, we seemingly now have to wait and we wait for a release, but to get this sort of extreme development takes time, bucket loads of time, then it is our job to sort all out that complexity when it does arrive, and quickly to get the review up. It is all about the developer pushing the boundaries of what they can achieve, lately over the last few years it seems nothing if the ceiling is even yet visible. It is the same for the user. Once a release is out there, you are now faced with a choice... Fly short and happy, or devote yourself to the deeper more engrossing project. I have found over these last few years that the wide broad choice of aircraft that I fly, is slowly being condensed down to only six or seven focus aircraft. Yes I get a lot of review aircraft as choices, but my core flying is being converged down to now only a few. I have a notebook to detail a certain aircraft's attributes. So when I fly that aircraft I can go back over those notes to remember the details I need to know, a lot of the notes and data came from the original or updated reviews. But a also lot comes from manuals or taking notes of real life cockpit videos. That small A5 book and it's page notes is now being set into Folders per aircraft, I now need a filing system to cover the modern releases in their aircraft details and flying oddities. The reviews are also getting extensively long... MEGA we call them, but there is just so much ground in features and system detail to now cover... I tried to do a shortened review version of one aircraft, but felt it was so underwhelming of not only the aircraft, but on what it represented to the user... problem is I hate giving you pages and pages AND pages of review to work through, are we boring you, is it all starting to blur in front of your eyes, it is in the need of going back to a simpler time of just publishing the basics? All big questions, but after four years of hard yakka by a devoted developer, they certainly deserve to have their dedication rewarded as well. Modern aircraft are quite easy to cover, because they have a lot of automated systems. But still developers are drilling down to the smaller details hidden behind the automation. Pressures and pumps deep within aircraft systems are now being simulated, an aircraft's idiosyncrasies are being also developed as are the increasing amount of failures, showing the complexity behind the automation. The most difficult to review are the late analog aircraft, were systems have one foot in one era and are progressing into another. These are the most and complex aircraft to learn and fly in Simulation. The Felis Boeing 747-200 is a benchmark, and it fits right into this category. Another is the regional turboprops like the FlyJSim Dash Q400, again a very analog aircraft in a modern era. Both are exceptional Simulations, but they have learning curves like no other. The Felis Boeing 742 is a particular interesting review... It took FOUR weeks to review the aircraft, admittedly while doing other reviews around it. No manuals and a buggy beta(s) caused everything (computers) and human to be pushed to their absolute limits. It was an absolute nightmare to review, but still a fascinating journey into the soul of these iconic aircraft. Look... I wouldn't do this unless I totally enjoy it, which I do... but sometimes it can very much overwhelm you... or with the external bugs that can cause days (or weeks) of pain, as did the Global Traffic bug that hit during the vFlyteAir Piper PA28R Arrow III G5-E1000 review, a magnificent aircraft ruined by an external issue.... it is all simulation. But the steepest slopes to conquer, are the complex systems. You have to Download/Google tons of information to work it all out, pages and pages of notes are now required, not so much in the moment of writing the review, but for later when you come back to the aircraft, as you need the mental switches in the notes to unlock all that was learnt and to go back through the procedures. "Triggers" for the brain I call them, and so you can see why I culled my fleet down to just a handful to operate these aircraft at the top of my ability. Truth be told, that is what real world pilot's actually do.... they don't fly 40 or odd aircraft in the real world like you can do in Simulation, but progress usually through only four or five types in their flying career. Another thing I learnt over the last few years, also mirroring the real world is flying the aircraft again after even a short (say a few months) break. The first flight back is absolute shit!, the second one better... then by the third flight your back into the groove again. It was never like that a few years ago, as you usually slipped straight back into the seat and flew it perfectly... but now it just does not seem to work out that way. It does keep the brain sharp though. The one thing I have learnt is that flying an aircraft is devastatingly tiring. I can now easily see why airlines or the aviation industry has severe hour protocols on how many hours a pilot can fly before the fatigue sets in. Current simulation is just as fatiguing, certainly if you do everything by the book, and block to block. I set myself a challenge. I followed a real world (Jetstar JQ) aircraft on it's one day roster, four flights around Australia, and I wanted to fly the A320 aircraft by the book, in full departure times and turnaround times (you have 23 min to refuel, reset the route and deplane/board), real takeoff and landing times and to follow the real aircraft (FlightAware) on it's real time route. You think it is easy... it isn't. I was totally buggered by the fourth sector, seriously tired. It was also seriously good fun, but hey "Respect" for the crews who do this day in and day out. Another fun challenge if you are up for it, is to simulate in flying from one point or airport to another point or aircraft using real world aircraft and timetables, not short hops but as a ticket holder to get from point A to point B and to a remote destination (add up the cost it would cost you as well in real world tickets) and across several types of aircraft... it is fun, but again surprisingly harder than you think it is. The context of all this is that Simulation is now reaching a completely whole new level of complexity and detail. Worse it is not going to stop here, it may as we reach the limits of systems slightly level off, but the detail with more computer power is still going to evolve. There is much more also coming in that the Rotate's MD-11 is due soon, and is said to be the most deep and complex simulation for X-Plane yet... then the FlightFactor Boeing 777, which will be another deep and complex aircraft that again is noted to be (oh god) another level of systems complexity again... and FlightFactor still have their Boeing 787-9 in development. It all never ends in the quest of Simulation perfection, obviously there is no endgame or even a final goal here, the ante just gets set slightly higher and higher as the years progress. It is exciting of course as in the last decade's journey has been an unbelievable one, and one I could not simply dream of ten years ago when I got into the genre. But are we hitting the point of splitting Simulation into those that want simple aircraft to fly, or these complex deep system creature simulations... I think it splits the same into those two camps of "Gaming" and "Simulation", and developers will obviously cater for both.... but for me it is the consistent challenge and the mastering of the real life duplication and no matter how hard it gets, that is the attraction to what the core of Simulation really is, the progress towards an ideal replication of a real pilot's work, that is why (and I) got into Simulation in the first place... so the journey continues. Enjoy your flying, and we will be back at the end of next month. Stephen Dutton 1st March 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  13. Behind the Screen : January 2022 I came into the X-Plane Simulator in the last few months of X-Plane9, so the next version of the Simulator was only a step away in X-Plane10, the next update was X-Plane11 (the current version), and then like now, in just over a decade ago the next edition in X-Plane12 is now due. In reality in that intermediate decade I have only been introduced to two new complete X-Plane versions. It actually doesn't sound like a lot of change, but there has been also huge landmark changes during each X-Plane version run in HDR (High Dynamic Range) and Vulkan/Metal API (Application Programming Interface), which are actually more significant revolutions than the new release versions themselves, they also both came to the fore with X-Plane11. The change from X-Plane9 to X-Plane10 was the most significant period ever for the Simulator. The changes were quite extensive in mostly the environment additions in new mapping ground textures and "Plausable world" autogen, that in reality changed the whole face and feel of the simulator. Back then XP10 came in a metal box (Aerosoft) of nine CDs and took up around 80Gb of space on your limited hard drive. Another indirect change was the movement from 2D to 3D cockpit environments and different if early ideas on non-art clouds (Austin's little "Puffs"). A lot of users at the time stayed devoted to X-Plane9, mostly for it's very extremely light framerate use, X-Plane10 was at the time framerate heavy with it's now far more advanced scenery aspects and that demand took it's toll on the sort of graphic and processing limits of the period. In hindsight X-Plane9 was the mid-point between the early basic 2D stick drawing simulation, and the more complex 3D world simulators coming after. I still check it out... mostly for nostalgic reasons, but to mostly see those 100% framerates (they are a beautiful thing). X-Plane11 feels like it has been here forever, in reality the change to X-Plane12 is also a year late, so half a decade with one version feels like an eternity and it is no wonder we are all biting at the bit for something new. Noted that X-Plane11 could have been in reality two versions, before Vulkan/Metal and after the API upgrade, so the timeline there is also a bit screwed up in context. That brings to mind the changes the new version will create. Most find that a new X-Plane version is also not a just a software update. Your hardware is also a consideration for an upgrade as well as X-Plane10 changed that aspect. A lot of users year in and year out change their computer configurations with the seasons, to them X-Plane12 will be just another simple upgrade. I use the Tick-Tock system... in one year a Graphic Card (Tick) update, the next a Board and Processor update (Tock). But that aspect went awry with the prices of Graphic Card prices going through the stratosphere with the move to real-time ray tracing and bit-coin mining. Three times the price currently of my old card means I will have to stick with my current one for still a while yet, but it is still very good. The "Tock" aspect however is a problem. Far older (five years) since the last update means I am in trouble. In reality I should have updated my board and processor three years ago, but like with everything Covid got in the way... to be honest until recently I was not really bothered as the system coped really well, helped along the journey with the mid-release Vulkan upgrade. But now I am seriously feeling the pressure, in that most of last year it was getting to be an ongoing struggle to keep my stutters at bay. So you were always in dialing your graphic preferences back, but I was never greedy there in the first place. But the pressures now required of X-Plane means I am feeling the growing wall of it all getting closer and the requirements getting higher, and everything is now also closing in on me every day to X-Plane's 12 release. I am already in trouble as I can't upgrade with my current processor to Windows 11 either (boo to Microsoft), which seems a dumb scenario as my current chips are not actually THAT old... but no. (Most users will say "stick with Win 10 as Win 11 is shit anyway), but I like to be current in system areas like that. The last time I did my "Tock" it was quite a simple choice of board (Gigabyte) and Intel i7-6700K CPU, not the most powerful at the time, but very efficient (and not too hard on the bank account), and they have performed well over the years. I have already fixed one other pressure of the last year in Storage. One of the statements of the last version upgrade was to an SSD drive... back then it was a 500Gb Samsung, that quickly turned in to an upgrade of a 1Tb Samsung, only months later... The growing size of files soon found me again in fast diminishing space, cascading past my 300Gb marker with only 250Gb of space left. You think that 250Gb of space is a lot, but it isn't in today's storage terms with consistent 3Gb to 5Gb scenery files and even now big files with some aircraft, and I don't have or use the large ortho sceneries either. Around Cyber Monday or with the Christmas sales there were deals, and a Samsung 970 EVO Plus SSD 2TB - M.2 NVMe was secured and installed on my board. "Is that it?" It is weird at the minute sized board compared to some of my older 12GB (yes only 12GB) drives I use to prop up my monitor, and for the minute size it is a little powerhouse of M.2 NVMe storage... so is the advances of computer hardware. Installing was the easy part... recompiling X-Plane and every required windows application to the new drive is a BIG job. It is amazing on how or much or how many applications work in the background to make X-Plane function correctly. Every aircraft (and even now sceneries) have to be also reauthorised back in one by one... it was a huge job that took weeks to get to a refined running situation of a transferred, if slimmed down clean X-Plane install. Bonus is that I now have a spare 1.3TB space to fill, that alone feels good... or last at least I'm safe for another 12 months. But my main dilemma remains, a new board and processor. The earlier mentioned Intel i7-6700K CPU was good but not the top of the range in power, so I never had "Tons of Power" at my disposal. I was always okay with that as it was a good benchmark for reviews. But sometimes you really missed that grunt, I also have what I call a few "Bleeders", the worst is xEnviro at around 10 fr to 15fr, which really is at the current core of my problems, bigger problem is that I can't switch it off for the bonus environment it creates against to almost everything it ruins, it is a real love-hate application. Being slow or late updating my processor has oddly brought me a significant benefit. 12th Generation Intel processors. Super powerful and heavily multi-core, they are Intel's reaction last year to the decades dominance of AMD Ryzen in huge power and speed. The desirability factor goes through the roof "POWER" all that power, but a 12900KF comes with a significant cost, many in fact. The problem is not just buying a new expensive board (you need a new motherboard to run the new 12th Generation chips in a LGA 1700 socket), but other factors as well. The i9-12900KF chip requires more power (It sucks down power like running a small country in electricity), secondly the i9-12900KF is like having a mini nuclear reactor sitting in your desktop computer... it runs seriously HOT, Cray computer hot!, this makes my current processor arrangement look benign. So it is not just as simple as installing the new board and chip, but giving it more power and keeping it some how cool (or cooler) is going to cost... a lot. So what was just a simple upgrade is turning into a megalomaniac scenario, but just the thought of X-Plane running with all it's bells and whistles flowing can only bring anyone to dream of well.... megalomania. Your answer is maybe then just buy a cheaper but less demanding processor like last time, but I have been down that road for the last four or more years, jealous of others having it all, plus there is the actual practical side of having power to do what I want for reviewing, I am also tired of compromises, fighting applications and stuttering framerate to just do simple jobs, I just want the tools to do my work. Thankfully I have time... try to buy an Intel i9-12900KF and you are faced with "Not in Stock" or the currently high blackmarket prices. There is a computer chip shortage going on out there as well, again thanks to Covid. Here starts the mind games. Will dropping xEnviro and a few other power hungry applications cancel out the extra power requirements of X-Plane12, in other words "come out even". Tricky one isn't it. If not I'm in trouble as I have nowhere else to currently go. Laminar Research did note that X-Plane12 will run fine on current computers, they themselves have not bought any new hardware for the new X-plane version, but the requirement specifications released early in the month puts me on the side of the lower and not the "Recommended" requirements required to pass the banner. X-Plane12 will obviously run on my current system, but how well I don't know, or I'm in the dark. X-Plane 12 is also an unusual Simulator update version. Most numbered updates have had very significant banner features to get you to upgrade to the next version... X-Plane12 is nothing like that at all. Basically it is a fix it all up upgrade, more of the same but just done far better, and in the fixing all the things we have wanted (or should have been) fixed for years. It would have interesting what sort of different Simulator upgrade it would have been if Microsoft had not brought back their original Simulator last year. There are a lot of changes in X-Plane12 relating directly to MSFS 2020, the non-fixed abandoned elements, that suddenly got attention because MSFS 2020 highlighted them. Environmental, ATC, Lighting, landscapes, Seasons... even down to the newer and better ground service vehicles that all reflect on the highlights of MSFS 2020... and the very areas we have all moaned about for years. Did Laminar's roadmap get highjacked? or how different would have X-Plane12 been if Laminar had in fact just been their usual selves. No doubt MSFS 2020 was a serious wakeup call in the X-Plane Simulator's weaknesses, is that to our final benefit or to the loss of other innovative ideas. Personally I think the changes are to our benefit. My coda is that if the basics are running right then the rest will follow, and the basics to be honest are currently a mess... left there languishing far too long in the "To hard to do basket". So the release of X-Plane12 may on the surface look like more an update than an upgrade, deep down though it will be a significant change to the Simulator... another benefit is that now that crowded list of problematic issues have been finally addressed and fixed, the table has been finally and thankfully cleared up. So Is X-Plane12 the upgrade we all had to have. This also then allows Laminar to get back to what it does do very well in innovate again. X-Plane12's single aim however no matter which way you seriously look at the release is just to counter the effects MSFS 2020. This is not for the Gamers out there (but that would be nice). But with the hard core Simulator Users. These are the ones that spend and build up their collections. And where the money goes, then follows success and activity producing for that platform. X-Plane has a serious advantage in the high quality of it's aircraft and tools, it is in the experience that MSFS 2020 gets to do better. Balance that effect better and X-Plane will become the more serious (even competitive) Simulation platform. For years I have noted that core city areas, followed by autogen surrounding areas is the most effective way to run a Simulator. In reality X-Plane12 again misses this aspect, and that is where our biggest concern is... A few token city objects was always going to fail in context. Over the last six weeks or so Laminar have been tempting us with X-Plane12 previews in images, videos and even waterbottles. The focus has been mostly on the Airbus A330 that will be the leading new default aircraft, but it is in the smaller revels that we get a glimpse of what X-Plane12 will be. Because there are no extravagant tentpole features coming in X-Plane12. Then our expectations are not extremely high this time around either, but that may also be why X-Plane12 may will be the most interesting release for a long time. It will change the way we will do Simulation again, but not in the usual way, but in the nuance of the changes it may change our Simulator to the far, far better simulator, and in that aspect it is very exciting, and getting more exciting day by day to the release of the beta. When will that release be? Most say Easter, but I think still it will be way before then... hopefully soon, very soon. Stephen Dutton 1st February 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  14. Behind the Screen : November 2021 I am amazed really on how much knowledge I have accumulated with flying X-Plane in over more than a decade. Laughable was the fact that I was doing reviews at the turn of the decade without really any flying abilities at all. That is not totally true. As I always had an extremely good eye for detail and what makes something good, even brilliant from what is basically crap. So it is not the difference in something in being actually good than crap in every aspect, as it is what is in the lines between that sometimes can be very fine. I could quite well fly an aircraft, that is take off, fly around and sorta land... In most cases back then I still cheated by using the ILS to bring me back to the ground. But it is in the lower contexts that you learn to "Really Fly an Aircraft". The art of aviation and the point that everyone has to learn... first the basics (If going straight into flying a Boeing 747 is notable as basic aviation, but then you could do that in a Simulator), then the real learning the complexities of moving around in a 3d space. This was the motivation for doing simulation in the very beginning as I wanted (still do) in the learning, mastering, and achieving the skills to fly an aircraft. Which brings you back to the old simulation adage, that could a "simulator user actually fly a real aircraft". In most cases this scenario has been disproved, mostly by a clown called Richard Russell after he stole a Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 airliner from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) and then died after crashing it on Ketron Island in Puget Sound. If you would put me in an aircraft a decade ago, and said "Go Fly", there is an extremely good chance I would not be writing this article right now. Same could be said of most gamers, who think they can fly, but would really only end up in Puget Sound like Mr Russell. But what about now, could I fly an aircraft (and survive). My gut says "Absolutely", that is not being obnoxious or macho posturing. But having faith in my learned abilities and refined skills. I mean if you watch Austin Meyer's simulator skills, then certainly I could do far better than that and he flies and owns a plane. So what does make the differences between then and now. As I have admitted, I really didn't know how to fly an aircraft back then, but I took each separate component and learned and refined the skills to acquire the knowledge to master them. My interest was picked up via a real world transfer flight from Proserpine Airport (ICAO: YBPN) in Queensland, Australia to Great Barrier Reef Airport (ICAO: YBHM), also known as Hamilton Island Airport in a Cessna 172. In typical laid-back (She'll be sweet) Aussie Style in the barefoot only shorts wearing pilot (nice sharktooth necklace though), bundled me and my two cases into the very tired Cessna for the short hop over to the Whitsundays Paradise resort. Simple. The pilot took off from Runway 11 and headed east towards the Conway National Park. No I am not at all a nervous flier, I understand aircraft, but this pilot set up the Cessna 172 at around 3,000ft and as we trundled towards Hamilton Island at around 90 knots, and I was scared beyond death that I was going to die... The reason was the pilot wasn't at all flying the aircraft, in fact he was leaning back over the seat trying to get at his lunch sitting on the back seat, worse the Cessna was NOT on automatic pilot either, he retrieved his lunch and then proceeded to eat a variety of fruit and a cold meat pie, swigged it all down by water in a bottle. Any interaction with the little Cessna was only via the slight movements of the rudder pedals, otherwise we both serenely motored on. On arrival at the Hamilton Island Airport, he did a wide masterful curve around the airport and went directly into Runway 14 absolutely flat (no nose down pitch) and into very nice three-point landing. It was thrilling and terrifying in the same instance... no doubt he was an excellent aviator (If with a casual attitude). And the point of the story? Well how did he do that, in fly the aircraft without actually holding of any of the controls, and with no autopilot functioning as well. "was it "Magic", but it served to fire my mind on how and why he did that, as there is no way I could take my hands of my car's steering wheel in the same way without ruining my very lovely car and me ending up in hospital... how did he do that, and the answer is how you fly aircraft correctly. That small flight has always been in the background of my memory when learning to fly correctly. The trick or tricks he used are obvious, first as I was too obsessed at looking at the instruments as he had adjusted the trim, but not only had he finely adjusted the trim of the aircraft for pitch, but used (most of the time) slight touches to the rudder to trim the aircraft to go directly forward, even in a slightly angled flight to compensate for the wind direction. Set up correctly like this the little Cessna was perfectly balanced, to note he also loaded my cases behind us in the front seats and not in the rear baggage hold, but to keep their 30 kg weight centred, a small but clever loading idea. So first if I wanted to be really good at the "Flying thingy", I needed to learn how to trim, but trim well. Not only in pitch only trimming the aircraft (like in the 172), but how to balance a big airliner correctly with no auto servos doing the job for me. Watch any good landing of a DHC-8 Q400, one a very, very tricky aircraft to land nicely (I have watched loads of YouTubes Q400 lately on flying the Q4XP better), and watch the pilot's left thumb on the electric trim buttons on the yoke, they are constantly moving the trim on the descent into the approach, adjusting and adjusting consistently to keep the aircraft balanced and which could be fatal if you get it wrong, but this is how the Pro's do it. The Q4XP is a very interesting aircraft to fly well, a simple bugger to land well, so you have to know the tricks to master it, trimming is one, and certainly getting the balance right on approach and landing. As a side point I have been moved seats quite a few times on a Qantas Q400 to set up the balance of the aircraft. Once I learnt to trim better or master it, it totally changed the way I fly aircraft. Secondly is not using pitch in landing (unless for a slight final flare). The trick again that I missed on the fateful Hamilton Island flight, was that the pilot was using his throttle (power) to go up or down and not the yoke. Less power and you descend, more power and you go upwards. It is a total feel thing between you and the aircraft, and you have feel the lift to keep the aircraft airborne and land it correctly... I personally don't think you can fly in X-Plane via key input (up and down throttle power), I think the inputs have to be more minute than that, and you need that touchy feel to get it absolutely right. I also cheated with landings... Back then I usually set my weather wind settings at below 5 knts or mostly zero to make perfect landings. That is another area I explored to master, severe crosswind landings are always a challenge, but I can now pull off a realistic landing in any conditions, to a point you have to with xEnviro as you can't turn off the wind direction or strength. Another area I had to master was taking off with heavy weights on board. X-Plane is very good in creating aircraft at different weights, and how aircraft react in different loads, so I fly consistently at both ends of the spectrum of flying very heavily loaded aircraft to very light to understand the feel between the two conditions. A point is that it is good to fly older aircraft. 1960's machines are very good with no or basic automation and have under powered engines, so you have to work harder to fly them well in trimming and navigation. I once spent days trying to get a fully loaded Boeing 747-200F off the runway and into the air, or grabbing the air, then getting the aircraft up to altitude with a consistently falling speed. It was a challenge. But I learnt well in how to fly heavies really well, and how they respond to marginal limits. I was quite proud of the way I mastered (finally) that challenge. Another target was to understand my 3d space. I spent a lot of time adding in and using correctly the course pointers on the Rose Dial. The HSI (Horizontal Situation Indicator) is a very valuable tool when used correctly. If flying off a flightplan, or General Aviation, these tools are essential to understanding where you are in relation to the airport and the runway angle. Important in getting your approach position in height and distance right. The tools are there with the Navigation pointer arrows and the revolving Course pointer, and that is why I rally even rant quite high when a developer does not include Nav Pointers on the HSI, as they are essential tools. I wrote in Behind the Screen : April 2021 of the challenge of arriving at your destination airport at the right speed and altitude. It is still the one area that can still bug me from time to time, in being too high at the arrival point having to do a dreaded "Go Around". And yes I did that annoyance just the other day on approach to London, worse I did the Go Around three times as it was in very poor conditions... Epic Fail. Watching videopilots is interesting. They are exceptional at throwing all the right switches and finding their way around cockpits, but a fair share of them have very poor piloting skills (which probably killed Richard Russell). The real life pilots are certainly far better to watch, but you won't learn a lot of good aviation skills by following most deskbound videopilots. Real world videos are a far better learning tool, just keep to the ones that show the instrument panel numbers to learn what they do and when. In fact you would be shocked on how violently they control the aircraft on approaches for a smooth touchdown. I am forever shouting out errors to the videopilots of what they are not doing or of what not to do in flying aircraft... They do have a responsibility to show you the right way, and not get off on their own"Jollies". I understand I say or describe things in over detail or repeat points review after review in X-Plane-Reviews. But everything described has a reason to be there. From a new layout of a FMS (Flight Management System) to a new addon tool you can now use. We provide a tutorial and review in one, to get you very quickly up to speed on that aircraft without all the head desk bashing I have gone through in trying to work it all out. (The Felis Boeing 747-200 was a NIGHTMARE). But overall it ups my own skill set in working through it all. That above point was worn in a decade ago... you were back then pretty well on your own to work it all out, no videopilots, no tutorials and everything was page by page manual learning, but you learnt it well, and and I will make the point the aircraft were quite simple to learn back then... not today. This year 2021 has been a complex level raising year for simulation complexity, good in one way, but far harder to work though in another. But the exceptional level of releases has certainly raised the standards of both developers and pilot's alike. So here is the big question, could a good experienced simulator pilot fly a real world aircraft, I personally think yes, if they are of a certain grade of experience. There is only really only one way to find out, fly a real world aircraft and find out... in 2022. There will be as usual no Behind the Screen December 2021 issue, but our full yearly round up of the year review to be published on 17th December 2021, so watch out for that. Stephen Dutton 2nd December 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  15. Behind the Screen : September 2021 It is very hard to ignore the announcement of the next version of X-Plane12... at least the name is now official, so we can move forward on that aspect. But what of the announcement itself. FlightSimExpo 2021 in San Diego (24th-26th Sept) as it was forecast to be a huge affair with the massive fanfare the new simulator version deserved. Laminar Research had an open goal as well as the big MSFS (Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020) in the developer (Asobo Studio) and 3rd party developers (PMDG... et all) all staying away from the Expo. Covid of course created an environment of chance, but I think that the MSFS crowd stayed away for the more personal reasons, no doubt they will be back there in full force next year. So Laminar had nothing to lose, and absolutely everything to gain... but it all went so wrong. A rushed presentation, a particularly poor new branding... was it all Covid created in hindsight, personally I think not, worse was the fact that under it's skin X-Plane12 when put into it's full context is very good, it will be very good as well... but that aspect didn't show through, so haphazard was the presentation... at the core here is that simply the new simulator wasn't finished, there was a running version at the Expo, but nobody except a chosen few saw it, not even images or a video emerged to show it off, because quite simply is that X-Plane12 is not ready in context to show off. The hard Expo date and the announcement coming at Oshkosh created a monster problem for Laminar Research, it had no time nor the resources available to get that Alpha version running for that due date, I really think they tried, mercilessly so to meet the deadline, it showed on every face in that video, but it will be now just weeks late, it will come together, and very soon and X-Plane12 will finally come to light. What was the core of what was really going on here. X-Plane users and all people closely involved in the Simulator are usually very used to all of this, to the most older X-Plane sim users this is all actually nothing new, in fact it is all so normal that we shouldn't have been surprised at all of the eccentric release show... it was at it's core Laminar Research at it's most buccaneer moments, only this time we just didn't get the joke or feel the fun. Overall we know Laminar and it's motley crew will deliver an exceptional simulator as they have repeatably in the past, and this time in coming with all the areas we have moaned about for years in now actually fixed. So why are we feeling the opposite than what we should be feeling... the problem is, this in 2021 and not 2011 (early X-Plane10 era). The world of Simulators are at a critical stage and now out there on the world stage in full view, X-Plane doesn't have it's own cosy little world anymore, it is up there and is noted as one as the "Premier" simulators, because deep down it is a Premier Simulator, and this next evolutionary step was a very crucial one, in fact the most crucial step for X-Plane in it's 25 year anniversary life. So in the full glare of publicity did X-Plane actually blew it? and do we know that X-Plane blew it... the effects of that will be felt maybe like Covid for many years to come. For many X-Plane users they will simply in private rejoice, they never wanted the limelight in the first place, it will to them in their minds, return the simulator to the good olde days of clubby nonsense... and they can reclaim the Simulator to their particular paradise. They hated the intrusion of the Flight Simulator thinking, the monetary aspect of the Simulator... the numbers and the spending to 3rd party developers is not their vision of a Flight Simulator, but in a complete selfish reversal... put a good product out there and they squeal with delight, ethos be damned. For most of us we dream the dream, and over the last decade that dream has soared beyond and higher (pun intended) than we ever expected, that of course put even more focus and illumination on the next version of the Simulator, and not to forget the MSFS aspect that now "expects" yes the word "Expected" to compete with Microsoft... you could even say that this is "what this is all about?" Unfortunately it is far more than that... Punters deep down will rally the point that they don't want X-Plane to change, they don't want X-Plane to become a MSFS clone, but that is really missing the point entirely. X-Plane does not have to sell out it's soul to move forward, but it has to be also a business to survive. MSFS opened up simulation to a world that didn't know that such depth of flying aircraft and realism in airports actually existed, they watch the simulation videos with awe, and they simply can't believe the depth of the systems we are used to... but to do simulation on this level is not a game, it isn't just tootling around the sky, as it requires years of learning and study to perfect the perfect flight service. Flying is and will always be complex, but that is the ultimate attraction and the challenges to overcome. So X-Plane12 is the next evolution, it covers most of all the areas that we need to be covered to take the Simulator up to that next level and in most areas be even better than MSFS or any other simulator out there. But part of the disappointment was to at least address the area of the visual component. You are never going to complete with all that MSFS bing mapping and come off better, you can't even try. But the Laminar direction is to fix the areas that can be fixed and no doubt Laminar have done that, but you are also seeing the other critical area being totally ignored. Mostly this is about internal Laminar resources, worse is that since Alpilotx moved on a few years ago, there was no replacement, and a huge hole in the scenery aspect has been created in that Laminar in it's own wisdom didn't feel it needed filling to their own detriment. Remember in the early days the core of Laminar did the central work, and most of the other areas were dialed out to talented enthusiasts, again in that clubby innovation... but if a Simulator has to grow, compete and be a business, then soon you need talented people to cover the various critical areas... you could try cloning Ben Supnic, but my guess they would just argue amongst each other, but it is a great idea... Certainly Laminar are aware of the problem, you would be an idiot not to, but the comment here is to let us fix the most obvious and return to the scenery later, in reality their should have been a person put into place to do that aspect actually earlier. My personal view on this is that a rejuvenated scenery component in X-Plane12 would have attracted back FlightSim developers to bring their products with them... the current scenery textures are a decade old, and scenery developers struggle to make their scenery (and cityscapes) look authentic in the current environment, the look of X-Plane just does not help, but I will admit the new lighting model will go a long way in creating a far better environmental feel... but that aspect may now be lost, at least for a few critical years. The current mesh tools are horrible and difficult to use (hence only Alpilotx was the only one skilled enough to do it), and Laminar won't give access to them anyway, unfortunately Ben Supnic would need to rebuild the system from the ground up to do it justice... you can see why it was a project shelved in another current too hard basket... fix what you can and visit the other problem later, but to attract back those scenery developers in this critical area, then updated scenery mesh should have been a major part of the X-Plane12 feature list. Most of all X-Plane12 didn't feel different this time around, I called it initially X-Plane11+ and it felt like that, but studying all the new components together and it does deserve the X-Plane12+ moniker, however Laminar Research at least should have rebranded it, "At least make it feel new(er)", and the better new, and they started off really well with the "Next Generation" feel, they just didn't follow the branding through on to the actual product itself. Again was that not to look like X-Plane was feeling the MSFS promotional onslaught and "we better rebrand" to compensate towards MSFS... "Sail steady and true" was always Laminar's motto in the past, but like I said at the beginning of this article, this is 2021, not safe 2011 anymore, the one thing above all else was that Laminar really needed to do this time was to refresh the branding to say "This is a Premier Simulator" and "Come and see how great it is", but in reality it will now just be seen as the same X-Plane brand it has always been in either X-Plane11 or even X-Plane12, ditto in the fact that X-Plane will still be viewed the same old X-Plane as well... just at the very point it could have made it's real impact felt in the wider context. The lost missed open goal... I should and will always support the best Simulator out there, the one that has brought me over a long decade a lot of immense pleasure, and that is X-Plane. Covid has without doubt created a lot of confusion, ruined markets and businesses... In time the moment will be forgotten, in a year X-Plane12 will be part of our lives as much as X-Plane11 is now... "who cares" will be the memory, but you have to record the moment for what it is, and in what it actually could have been. See you all again next month. Stephen Dutton 4th October 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  16. Behind the Screen : August 2021 There was another anniversary in August (Besides our own X-PlaneReviews 9 Years), and this was one for the X-Plane Simulator itself, for it's 25th anniversary since version 1.0, released in August 1996... a user posted some early X-Plane images here A Quarter Century of X-Plane. There obviously has been a lot of simulators released in the intermediate years, the Microsoft Flight Simulator is the most obvious and popular one, but X-Plane had one very distinct advantage from the start, actually a hidden advantage in the inclusion of "PlaneMaker", and looking at the earlier designs it was very, very basic back then... but that is not the point. As most simulators were sealed, in the point that you could only fly aircraft created by their own artists and developers, it sort of created a boxed environment, in that if they didn't upgrade or release any new aircraft, then you were restricted by what you could actually fly. The inclusion of "PlaneMaker" changed those dynamics, that is that anyone in fact (if talented) could create aircraft for the Simulator and distribute the aircraft though portals like the early X-Plane.Org. Yes MFS had the same sort of loaded content and portals, but X-Plane attracted the more technical or real world pilot aspect, the far better real world (Blade Element Theory) dynamics also helped a huge amount as well. It was these interaction elements that really allowed both MFS and X-Plane to thrive and still be extremely active today, were as most of the other Simulator platforms are marginal at best, or simply now extinct, sad as some like iFly were very good. The user participation is an important aspect here, if the most important area of everything. In early X-Plane development it was the single user, but also later the clubby joining of a few talented people that got together to create mostly all back then freeware aircraft, to a point they created and built the X-Plane Simulator, or were the founding members on what we have today. MFS went in the other direction in going commercial almost from the start, in other words you paid for absolutely everything. Both dynamics have their positives and negatives. Certainly the commercial angle attracted more developers to MFS, it created more addon product earlier as well, but it later became a curse, because it locked in the development to a lost and very poor basic application. it was a curse that ultimately faulted to the point of being a ridiculousness, even now with the newer Microsoft Flight Simulator MSFS, the old guard are trying to (and badly failing) to redevelop their products to fit a more modern dynamic engine, they complained feverishly that X-Plane was too hard to convert to, but they are now having to do just that, and to a far worse platform. X-Plane created their own curse... "Freeware" and a sort of hippy leftover that the love should be free and available to everyone. The mechanisms come from the right place, of giving and sharing, all very noble... but it has also it's own drawbacks. The biggest drawback would be that "Free" does not drive innovation and ideas... a few however do stand out, like Zibo's Boeing 738, but even here it was based on an original default aircraft... if you want to attract the very best then they have to make a living from the work. That is not to say that X-Plane is not innovative, because it is... and hugely, but in a small code capacity... if you want the big and better stuff, in reality you have to pay for it... the distraction I hate is that why you would put up with an average simulation in both aircraft and certainly in scenery, just because it is free, in a way that is a serious backward thinking, but about 60% or more of X-Plane users are seriously devoted to the cause, and it feels in many ways that not much has changed in those 25 years. But what is the core of a simulator... certainly the original developers of the Simulator in Laminar Research are extremely important in keeping the Simulator relevant, and considering their very small development team, have produced miracles in creating the tools we have today, but certainly now with the mega MSFS onslaught, currently X-Plane is feeling it's age, but in context it is also at the end of it's last version cycle. But a decade ago a small gang of freelancers decided to go commercial in X-Plane, stalwarts like Danial Klaue, Jack Skieczius (FlyJSim) Khamsin and JRollon created the first commercial X-Plane product, others from the period soon joined and the commercial side of X-Plane was created. Later the single developer was joined by teams, with FlightFactor Aero being the first developer to create product with more than one or two people doing the work... or a team effort. The problems facing single person developers is simply time, with two to three years the leading time to create their aircraft (Scenery is a bit quicker at say twelve months). With a team split mostly into three people, then you can or should turn out an aircraft a year, or at least every 18 months, it is now a business... but that is not the biggest aspect of the single developer to the team angle. A decade ago simulated aircraft were actually quite simple in their construction, mostly a hybrid and still based in the PlaneMaker" environment. But "PlaneMaker" basically is still a restricted medium, so to get around it's restrictions, then we introduced the "Plugin" format, mostly SASL (Scriptable Aviation Simulation Library) with the LUA code as it's foundation. Others are Chromium Embedded Framework (CEF) and the latest in Xjet. These plugins changed the whole concept on what developers could do in creating a specific areas in say animations, avionics, but mostly in replicating real world aircraft systems... they also created the "Authorisation" system to stop blackmarketing (or the stealing) of commercial product. In doing reviews there is an issue facing single headed developers. Basically there are three areas in creating product. Modeling, Texturing and Systems. the problem is that a brilliant modeler can create an almighty and excellent visual aircraft, but is hopeless in the coding aspect and this creates a weak area, or the opposite is true, were as the aircraft systems are first rate and the modeling a bit or really average. There are a very few (mostly the really older developers) that can cover the full triangle. This aspect makes it very hard to review, because the product is brilliant in many areas, but quite basic in one or others, it isn't actually the developer's fault, it is just a personality weakness as the three areas demand the very different skills to achieve a whole goal. Obviously being a team can easily overcome this critical aspect, as the perfect team has a member that covers a certain significant area, plus they have the huge advantage of each member working just within their own field alone, then combining their efforts at the end. And speed is the key here, so where as a single developer has to switch in each period to each state of separate development, that development can then go on for years. The biggest deceiving area is when or if you follow an aircraft's development on the forums... almost magically it is created very quickly before your eyes, but in reality it is only the pinnacle of an iceberg, in that the system coding can take three times as long as the quick reveal of the modeling... most observers just don't understand this aspect, with the full modeling completed, they simply can't understand why it is taking or going on so long to release their personal favorite aircraft. Abandonware is usually big as well at this stage... what looked very easy early on, then becomes a nightmare when faced with the coding and animation reality. If the product does get through this stage then most of the observers are well gone and have abandoned the product, worse then usually two aircraft of the same design are released at the same time... or even worse another aircraft of the same design comes along and whizzes past you to be released first and is far, far better than your own development, that is simply heartbreaking, and the worse of the worst is the never to be released but always in development aircraft... a Comet 4 anyone. The coming through of plugin architecture also created a major shift in development. The clever "PlaneMaker" developers (mostly single headed people) were then left very quickly behind as development accelerated massively and very quickly past them, and sadly they could not adapt to the new aspects of creating ultra professional products, as in their hearts they were only clubby amateurs, their hearts were big, but their skills were not, and one by one they fell aside of progress. One other interesting aspect of development is a cruel one... on the purchasers. You put your money down for a product and it is indeed extremely good (for it's time) and lot's of times it is a crossover product from Flight Sim, very rare the other way around. In that an X-Plane developer has ripped the guts out of an FS product and recreated it in "PlaneMaker" to work or fly in X-Plane... and it is very, very good, and you love it, purchase it. Then the developer either gets bored, wants to move on with their life and we are left with a very good but now quickly aging product. The original host FS house won't or can't update the aircraft, so it gradually ages and soon won't work at all. This happened to me lately with an odd situation on the last update from Laminar (v11.53) that in the background the aircraft systems in the original X-Plane FMS was discontinued as were a few very old aerofoil profiles. This had the effect of simply shutting down a huge amount of well loved product in my "Aircraft" folder, mostly the Virtavia products (C-17, Seaking, B-29A), Peters A380 and the unsupported PMDG DC-6, which was not very supported from the beginning... all broken and now unflyable. Is that fair? do we expect products to be supported over a longer period? (as a note I did get the C-17 flying again, but my beloved Seaking is now very sadly broken as is the DC-6. Should their be a system were if a developer wants or has to leave (or in some actual cases die), then why can't other developers support the products, which in a lot of cases only need updating? Yes we would pay for the updates (or upgrades) and just to have our machine workable again, but it is a real shame that they leave the simulator broken? Obviously not everything can or should be saved, but is it possible to save the better ones, and are we owed that aspect at least in purchasing it in the first place. Copyright is one of the biggest hurdles, as is the ownership of the rights. When Microsoft released MSFS last year. Most current X-Plane developers noted that they were not going to switch over to the Wunderkind Simulator, Surprisingly JRollon did display his SIAI-Marchetti SF-260 in MSFS (a sort of traitor to the cause feeling), but overall most developers did not want or actually want to move over. It is an interesting aspect, and the one very important element to X-Plane going forward. The on year situation is that X-Plane has delivered already some pretty astounding product this year... and like they say "You haven't seen nothing yet". As the coming Fall/Autumn releases are simply spectacular, if also going to be very hard on your bank account. X-Plane developers will deliver another level if not "levels" of detail and system intergration. But let us be clear, if they go, we all go with them... so it is very important to support these brilliant products... with the developers staying here in X-Plane, it is one of the most important points X-Plane of how will survive moving forward, certainly if Laminar increases their quality with the next revolution of X-Plane (12/Whatever). One, let us be clear that the underlying engine to MSFS is still not great, but getting there, but the loss of this monetary aspect, in that could you make far much more money in MSFS, than here in the tightwad X-Plane environment. Current noise coming out of MSFS is also interesting to developers, is that most of the current products are being priced well below value and more importantly only generating very slim or even low profit margins, to increase the Flight Sims awareness. Notable is that a lot of this cheap product is actually reworked product from the original Flight Sim FSX or Prepar3D, so they are getting payment for old stock (again). But even new product is being priced extremely low at 40% below other platforms, in fact PMDG priced their NewGeneration 737 at the (absurd price) $140, have now realised that the market will not support such greed, in fact any above US$100 products will not get the sales expected, except for a few, most X-Plane top product is better priced in the more realistic US$60-$80 range. But still a lot are not happy, remember they expected a bonanza of profits, worse is that they don't at all like the new changed format to focus the simulator platform more to the (gamer) Playstation/Xbox crowd. To a point X-Plane is a pure Simulation platform, with an option to play the handheld mobile app... the problem is you can't have it both ways... in being a simulator and a game, it has to focused as one or the other, worrying for the big FS developers is that Microsoft is picking the other and bugger their profits and roadmaps... could you fly a deep simulation aircraft on a games console? probably, but will that also bring a lot of dumbed-down product. This edition of BtheS is focused on developers. Why because they are the most essential aspect of the Simulator... if they walk as mentioned, then basically X-Plane will simply fade away. And why would you want that to happen, with the product slated to arrive soon and now being announced for 2022 is the reason you would want them here and not walking away, hopefully the same product will enhance even the old school FS simmers to come back to X-Plane because of the excellent product, and the FS developers they want the support from (do I hear "Kicking and Screaming") One other aspect to finally note is the sheer complexity now of X-Plane. Reviews are getting ridiculously long, you may wonder why reviews are getting more sporadic, but actually we are working harder than ever, and in context one review currently is three times longer than one of say three years ago, and that one was the largest review ever done in that particular year... so much is the complexity and detail of the systems. Quality is also off the charts and so are the feature lists. I went back to a few aircraft of a decade ago, and it is like going back to the prehistoric era, you want it, well people you are getting it... simulation on steroids, and these people and teams make it all happen, so you don't want these vital developers to disappear like a dinosaur now do you... as they are a very special species. See you all next month And watch out for the X-PlaneReviews indepth coverage of the FlightSimExpo September 24-26, 2021 Stephen Dutton 7th September 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  17. Behind the Screen : June 2021 Boom! and we are already half way through 2021, that is a full six full months... gone already. So what are the patterns, the feel and the flow of the year. First off it has been a real stop-start year, great highs with some really great product coming out, and seriously low, slow lows when everything just grinds to a stop. June 2021 was like that, it was if the aircraft had pulled into the gate, shut all the systems down, and locked the doors and walked away from an inert machine... it was as they say "deady dead". The missing June Expo, in being moved to September 24-26, 2021, didn't really help at all either, most the users just then turned off their computers and headed for the beach or the mountains, and can you really blame them, as with their vaccinations done, they were now free in not spreading the deadly Covid virus, or either being infected... freedom. Laminar released a video teaser in compensation of the non Expo. The coming new HDR effects for the (We are not announcing X-Plane12) announcement. An odd situation, but I think a big welcome relief from South Carolina as they were granted even more time to work on their pet project, so the Expo in September is going now be it (again), so put it on your calender, right next to the already notable crossed out past dates, that Laminar may have already missed on announcing X-Plane12 or whatever they will call it. Yes I am again going over old news, but in case you missed the memo, it is a very big deal, hence the excitement over just this a single video called X-Plane Technology Preview One. If you use already the xEnviro environmental application, it isn't as a big deal as you would think it is, as xEnviro does most of this clever HDR stuff now, for a high cost of course, but the revelation, is that X-Plane will do the same HDR effects at the default level and thus saving you the frame rate hit of xEnviro on your system, and probably do it better than the exclusive application, so it is all a coming bonus there... I had xEnviro sidelined for a few months last year because Dark Space had not upgraded the application to the Vulkan/Metal 10.50 level... and yes I seriously missed the exceptional effect generation the plugin creates, in fact I really hated, but had to accept the bland vistas of the basic X-Plane application for months on end, and I also had to work twice as hard to get the same level of quality into the reviews. So yes the coming HDR effects are certainly going to have a huge and even massive impact on the look of the simulator (and even lighten up those cockpits, no bad thing there), so what looks as even a small announcement from Laminar is a really a very big deal, and I am not saying this factor, just because I am trying to make something as small as the HDR effects announcement to say a lot to compensate for so little or even the trickle of news coming out of South Carolina, but that it is actually IS an important step forward, that said, as the announcement was noted as "Preview One', then expect more of these trickles or drips of news from Laminar over the northern summer. That said, there was (another) announcement from the hosts of the 2021 FlightSimExpo of the main exhibitors coming to the Expo in Sept... This is of course only the initial list, but it was a big surprise in any shakes. For one the list is very one-sided towards X-Plane... Laminar Research (of course), Orbx, Navigraph, Thrustmaster, virtual hosts and surprisingly even our own X-Plane.Org are going to have a booth. But what of Fiight Simulator, the only presenter here currently is Lockheed Martins Prepar3D and that is the older FS standard platform, not the wizz-bang new one... so do you notice something really odd here? There are no MSFS or Microsoft Flight Simulation or partners on the list... no Microsoft, PMDG, QualityWings Simulations, AEROSOFT GmbH (not really expected at 2021), but remember on how at Orlando back in 2019, in how the FS crowd dominated everything, including prep talks from Robert S. Randazzo of PMDG with his strutting around, and Laminar were reduced to the bottom of the list in appointees, but still however stole the whole show with their landing competition. Yes it is very days early yet, and anything can change between now and September... but for now it looks like Expo 2021 in being a one sided X-Plane dominated show. I am not going to hide the reality check of this same time last year for X-Plane. There was some serious worried faces behind the scenes on how much disruption the MSFS release and to a point the ongoing Covid effects on the X-Plane Simulator would have been. Yes Laminar had (and still does have) X-Plane12 up it's sleeve to pull out that new defining extra level on the simulation platforms. But even yours truly spent some time reflecting the worst case or of even the best case scenarios and what they would be (collated into one important post "X-Plane and in the future the new world order") of which I thought was an important statement. But now one year on and mid-year 2021 the pattern has somewhat evened out, so you can see a much more realistic visible future for the X-Plane simulator as the year continues to pan out. For one the simulator didn't at all lose momentum, the X-Plane.Org is as busy as ever, if slightly busier, so no change there or even a significant drift to MSFS. Aircraft releases and their updates have not been affected either, a few are being released a bit later than expected (mostly Covid releated), but all the same they are still rolling out periodically and all great in-depth releases they are to. The only odd pattern is that in the first six months of 2021 it has been full of Helicopter releases, in the past one or even two releases of a helicopter was a lot, but this year it has already been a gut of vertical flight or related to it. After two or even three years of almost nothing, it appears they are all making up for lost time... but it is odd. Scenery as noted last month in BtheS is where it was a noticeable drawdown. A lot of the FS scenery developers decamped back MSFS and that certainly showed a slow down of converting FS scenery to X-Plane and moved on to converting the same scenery for MSFS. But here again there has been some good scenery still released, and also soom great custom freeware and Global Airport scenery as well, so it is again not all bad news, in perspective X-Plane as a simulator has been tootling along quite nicely thank you, so the huge significant threat we all feared this time last year has not yet initially appeared, certainly the doom and gloom clouds have moved away, but we are however still in the transition era of Simulation. But as earlier noted, June was deathly quiet and oddly so was MSFS, I was out of action as well with a bad head cold, so reviews were a little slower this month than usual, but I suppose the timing couldn't be better, maybe we all need a breather from our addiction some time or the other anyway... but overall as the land lies it is far better mid-year than everyone actually expected. Developers are the significant key to simulation, and I will be doing a future BtheS post totally designated on that aspect soon, but the biggest fear last year was the movement of key developers over to the new MSFS platform, a few dipped their toes in and few unexpected developers at that, but most stayed very loyal to the X-Plane platform, and the ongoing key of why X-Plane is in the brighter situation that it is expected to be... but let us not forget. That the X-Plane simulator's past long history is also a significant part of that particular factor, from a developers point of view, X-Plane does deliver and provides the tools they need to create their creations, only the market doesn't live up to the size of the returns they truly deserve, I am hoping that the coming changes brought through X-Plane12 will also change that aspect. But I also think that as a simulator X-Plane and its community also needs to do better marketing to get the message out there of what simulation is and the depth of flying these machines (and what we) can do... one thing Microsoft is very good at is marketing, so the next twelve months and once X-Plane12 has been settled in, then let us get us more serious in attracting more committed souls to the brethren, we can't keep our little intimate world to ourselves forever, one thing MSFS has put out there is that simulation is out there and brilliant entertainment for those who want it, the only issue is, most don't know in what or in how we spend our time... so as we now live in the 2020s, we are also to understand that are also not still in the older dark ages, but competing with other larger forms of entertainment and that is even the pivotal point of MSFS, as they know that aspect and I am not just talking of gamers here (as they make lousy pilots) but for everyone who wants to learn about aviation and fly,and about in depth aviation and flying. In that vital aspect X-Plane is a world leader, when X-Plane12 is released, it should also be a world class leader in that forum... we just need to tell everyone else out there about our little world as well, Laminar can only do so much with their resources, the rest is up to the X-Plane community and it connected services to market simulation and show off the best simulator to the world. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st July 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  18. Behind the Screen : May 2021 Noted it is already 1st June... 5 months of the year 2021 have already passed, and where are we? Non-Covid then later this week the FlightSimExpo on the 4th June to the 6th June would have been running in San Diego, but that date has now been moved to September 24-26, 2021. The FlightSimExpo 2021 this time around after the no-go of 2020, was a huge focus on the state of play in simulation and of the whirlwind of the changes surrounding simulation, a sort of "touch base" scenario or to see where we are all relative to all the significant changes of late. But mostly the focus would have been on Laminar Research... would have they released or at least previewed X-Plane12 (or what ever XP12 would be called) this weekend? My gut says they would have certainly previewed or announced the new up and coming simulator version with a razzmatazz do-da at the Expo, right under the noses of Microsoft and their full on desire to show off their own do-da Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS). In other words a head to head battle for users for a certain specific platform or for the cash they deliver, but that extreme clash of the simulation titans will now not happen, or not yet anyway. So the obvious question is? Will Laminar Research still announce the new X-Plane version as per the old SimExpo dates (this weekend), or now wait until the rescheduled Sept SimExpo. It gives Laminar even more time to refine the details and make even more of a announcement splash further on up the road. It is a big question. Laminar has a few options, because historically the northern summer is a very quiet time in Simulation, users are more interested in the beach or fishing than sitting behind a computer, oddly I am in the Southern Winter, but the weather here is just as pleasant as the Northern Summer (If not as perfect) so you want to be outside more than inside with the glorious weather... so would an announcement now from Laminar go simply nowhere? Or if Laminar did announce the new X-Plane version, then they would still have months to refine it and get a beta release under way for the same Sept Expo date, announcing does not mean delivering, but it does start the countdown clock to a reveal or beta release. I left my calendar clear for next week either way, and why? The first five months of 2021 (Covid-19 restrictions aside) it has been in Simulation terms very quiet, they all bubble along nicely, but not certainly with the extreme vigour of the past few years. Again has the Covid aspects been a factor in that, and not in just the health aspects but the actual monetary characteristics as well, personally I don't think so, but much is so out of whack with the virus. But there are aspects that need exploring, and in reality the main players in both MSFS and X-Plane are actually still in a state of transition phase. In the case of MSFS, it has certainly lost a lot of it's release thrill. No doubt the scenery developers are still bowing to the great god for financial salvation, but look closer and the releases are still mostly well rehashed versions of the earlier released FS/P3D product, nothing new to see there, but earlier the volume was absolutely overwhelming and all or mostly it was released at bucket low prices. In X-Plane quality scenery has also gone through the floor, with very little released and mostly only the small regional or just basic airfields to purchase (the quality however is really, really good), certainly there are no mega ports or cityscapes... we are now certainly being punished heavily for our lack of investment in quality scenery... all the big boys have certainly gone, the question is will they come back, and I told you so, mostly in every monthly BtheS edition I did last year. But is the forecasted deal actually or really working out? No doubt the MSFS developers are in it for the really long haul, but will MSFS actually really deliver the bonanza they are expecting or the high returns they expect to build a long term business model on, personally I am already thinking they might already have realised, that the cash cow they were expecting is not actually going to be there or even materialize, gamers are still a very different breed than Simulation users in that they hop-in and hop-out at will, they are certainly not going to spend money to build up long term portfolios of aircraft, scenery or addons like the dedicated Simulator users do. Lately the early year's absolutely full on MSFS release stream of scenery has already dropped to down to a trickle? On aircraft MSFS is still very much in nowheresville. The release of Aerosoft's big bang and expensive CRJ 550/700, was of actually burst balloon proportions, reviews are horrible, but JustFlight have just released their (in X-Plane excellent) PA-28R Turbo Arrow III IV, so there might be finally a decent machine to fly in the MSFS Simulator, but overall the deeper MSFS architecture is just not there for deep grade simulation, as with the original Flight Simulator series it will depend on if the developers can work around this crucial aspect in a 3rd party design, rather than depending on the actual simulator itself. To a point most important X-Plane aircraft are now also independent of the core Plane Maker tools to operate and a few with CEF (Chrome) and xjet are standalone plugins from PM. But I still think the MSFS architecture is again far to different to workaround as it is again based on gaming engines, more than a flight modeling engine to achieve the required depth and dynamics. Yes I actually have MSFS, but I rarely fly it? I have also not even bought a single product in the platform, and that is not because I am being an X-Plane devotee. I am very much in wanting to experience the best in simulation, but to be honest (except for the visual aspects) it leaves me stone cold, I find the flight model very artificial (what is with the bouncing?) and the visual controls are simply impossible, and I certainly don't feel comfortable in the aircraft, but get the feeling of being set removed or distanced from the dynamics... and it has crashed in one form or the other almost every time I have used it, would that overall experience make you want to actually invest in it? I found Q1 2021 frustratingly slow in X-Plane. There was a few nice and very good helicopter releases, but at times I was actually looking for things to review which was very rare activity in the last few dynamic years, I expected the year to bounce off hard, but it never happened, it just stumbled and groaned. In Q2 2021 X-Plane suddenly felt normal again, with three exceptional aircraft releases, Aerobask with their excellent Embraer EMB-505 Phenom 300, followed by the very much anticipated JustFlight BAe 146 Pro, and finally the mind-blowing X-Trident CH47-D Chinook. The really odd thing about those last few X-Plane releases, was the actual sheer depth of their systems and the flight dynamics. Again another level of Simulation, that to be honest pushed my reviewing skills to the absolute limits. So much to learn and so much to operate in the way you fly each of these aircraft, and personally, I know and is still flying all three consistently to trying to get up to each of the aircraft's extreme level of study and skill bases. That is of course great and the aspect of the Simulator still pushing you upwards in your skill base, but it is also highly fulfilling, satisfaction wise. But here is the point. Without those extreme aircraft simulations you don't have a Simulator, and you don't even have a viable Simulator if the developers didn't develop these amazing products, and overall that is the huge chasm between MSFS and X-Plane right now, if you are a serious sim-user then where do you have to be to do deep immersion simulation, the answer is simply of course X-Plane. So the question to Laminar Research is that, can you afford to waste the time to wait till September 21 to get the next version of X-Plane out to an eager audience. Their answer maybe in that "well X-Plane11 is moving along quite nicely", but that is not the point here, push your luck too far and you could lose the overall game, and money. To those MSFS developers in the fact that if X-Plane12 (or whatever) is really, really good, then where should your talents go to. "Look the deal is guys, give us the same quality and scenery as you are giving to MSFS, and we will buy it" but don't try to screw us, were as currently you are giving MSFS better quality and diversity, and at a far cheaper price" That is not fair... if like X-Plane or not, the Simulator delivers where it really counts in Simulation, but the X-Plane12 aspect and Laminar's fancy long-winded roadmap can change the game (so to speak) significantly, because the point is if Sim users can get the realism in aircraft and plugins they require, then the only thing missing is the visuals (and the weather), that is what X-Plane12 in context should finally put right... do you see where I am going! Again I am not going into bat for just for X-Plane, but for the full overall experience of Simulation. If Laminar Research want to face off the might of Microsoft and their wonderkind product in Sept, then build up the momentum before you get to San Diego, than then just trying to overwhelm them (or announce) on the day will not work, because MSFS have a lot to lose, and work the MSFS developers to say that X-Plane IS worthy of your attention, because believe it or not, we do as users actually buy portfolios of your product. After the last August release of MSFS, we are in an interesting place, but actually it will be this coming Northern Summer that will be a setting to the future of Simulation as we know it. Yes FlightSimExpo 2021 in September will still be the epicentre to the clash titans of Simulation, but most significant battles have always been won not on the field, but before and well away from the day itself... it is your call Laminar Research. See you all again next month... Stephen Dutton 1st June 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  19. Behind the Screen : April 2021 What do you consider the hardest thing in a procedure to fly in the X-Plane Simulator... put your hands up! Most will say the landing, and that would be a good answer, as getting the landing right will give you a huge satisfaction and a smile on your face, get it wrong and your faced with a huge X-Plane particle fire and usually a broken aircraft. But the landing procedure is not the one thing that can totally ruin in a simulation... in let us say a perfection "block to block", absolute "Nailed it" getting it all right scenario. On landings they can range from the very tricky (i.e. windy), to bouncy wouncy... "lucky there" and then getting away with it jumpy or hoppity hop landings, but those sort of flight elements are natural as well in the real world as the loads of YouTube video's show. The hardest procedure I think and the one that can totally ruin a simulation as per a reflection on real world flying, is the descent from your cruise altitude to the circuit phase... tricky, that "you must be joking". But it can be a horror if you don't get it right and it also can make an absolute and total fool of you, and even worse, actually make you have to do the dreaded "Call off" and circuit back around to a landing. Here is the problem. Get the descent wrong too early and you will spend an eternity at a low cruise altitude and flying at a slow speed before you (finally) enter your landing circuit, the opposite and the worse is the about face situation, is coming into the last tight turn too high and you are simply "up there" and the runway is "way down there", so you are faced with that dreaded go-around, and having to accept a very embarrassed about face of having poor piloting and judgement skills. Most will be shaking their little know-all heads and saying things like "Know the 30 nautical mile, to 10,000ft rule" for the correct descent, or use the Altitude Target Marker in the Primary Flight Display. But both those aspects are quite and actually still ambiguous when deciding your descent profile. First the Altitude Target Marker. the ATM is a brilliant tool to set your altitude right at the entrance marker of starting your approach circuit, and usually correct of being correct at the point of altitude. But annoyingly a lot of the ATM's will consistently move or mostly stretch as you descend if your speed changes, so you are required to readjust to the marker, there is a change in speed to still reach the correct height at the right time... above all though it is the perfect descent tool.... but the ATM tool is only available on certain aircraft to use. The 30nm by 10,000ft rule is however correct if you get your descent speed precise, but there are many other factors. Wind and the type of landing circuit you are entering... the best is a full complete landing circuit that mostly allows you to fly past the airport in a parallel course with two 90º turns into the final approach. So your aim is to get to the correct altitude, either 8,000ft or 6,000ft along the start of the parallel circuit. These approaches are also good for flattening out the altitude corrections and speed changes, because you have the time and space to adjust the aircraft (flaps and speed) to enter the final approach, so they are always my pick if possible on any airport approach phase. The hard ones are the direct in approach were as you don't have the time to do these procedures, and sort the aircraft out. Obviously most users would prefer the direct in and land approach pattern because it shows off their flight jockey skills, but they are seriously hard work in a busy cockpit, and worse you have no backdoor if you get your descent calculations wrong. On most approaches you can't trust the flightplans or STAR (Standard Terminal Arrivals) approaches either. A lot of STAR approaches put you in far to close in the final turn to the start of the ILS beams to make a decent connect, plus your altitude BETTER be absolutely spot on or you will simply miss, flyover or not connect to the beams... a trick that I do is go well below the beam at say a 1800ft height into the start at the usual 3,000ft height at the start of the beam and this will give you time (and space) to readjust the aircraft's heading after the tight turn-in to the ILS cone, and then connect later to the beam more than usual down the slope. Also to make that last tight turn in, then reduce your speed to at least the most second last or even the full flap settings, this reduces the going out too wide on the turn with a tighter and slower turn. Another trick is to use the RNAV approach charts to readjust your approach. If you look at RNAV approaches they usually start the approach phase further out than the tighter STAR approach, and then add in a few more extended waypoints to the flightplan, to make the final turn (to the runway) and put you a bit further out from the ILS approach cone. I don't think this is actually cheating, because if you are doing the RNAV approach, then you would follow these waypoint procedures anyway. In most cases I do "always" edit these final approach waypoints to get my approach totally correct, certainly when there are two tight parallel runways that are set too close together, as again get the final turn wrong and you are flying down the wrong chute (oddly Johannesburg OR Tambo approaches always do this). But the calculations from TOD or "Top Of Descent" to the start of the approach phase are critical in getting that absolute perfect "Block to Block" experience. First, I never use the noted flightplan TOD marker, it is usually wrong if you want a real life profile landing... most would say "what, what... and what!". But following, I found most marker TODs required a very steep descent of excess way of 2,000fpm, plus the express speed that steep descent causes. I accept that my TOD is usually about 20nm before that official descent point, but I will wear that aspect to get it totally right in coming down realistically at the right descent rate and hitting my altitude marker. Another trick is using the Airport VOR effectively. If you reach your TOD point and check your flightplan distance it may show something like 93nm to the runway, but check the airports actual VOR distance position and it may say a completely different story in say the airport is in being only 50nm away, in other words you can actually see the airport out of the window (usually at night) and you are flying at a speed that is far higher and you are closer to your runway than you actually think you are. Get it wrong and you will certainly reach the airport sitting too high or go too long. Then comes the difficult descent speed... remember the speed in any long approach is absolutely critical to get right, and again I veer to the safe side. When changing to a descent speed I usually set the Mach down to m.63, which should translate to 250knts when at the transition altitude. The aircraft should hold the mach number until you switch it over to the knots at the correct speed you want, although a lot of Airbuses switch from m. to knts as high as 30,000ft... but most of the numbers of say m.70 will cross around 25,000ft. Okay it does look like I am a total control freak, and real life pilots may totally abhor these sort of flying skills. But you are looking at a changeover position speed of around .70, or slightly higher depending on the size and weight of the aircraft. Obviously I abhor using Airbrakes, but they are sometimes required to meet the required altitude and at the correct speed. You know if you are on the right altitude and speed if you start the STAR entrance point at around 12,000ft-10,000ft (officially it is 10,000ft in the US),If you get your calculations right, and you should hit the numbers spot on to get that perfect set target of position and speed at the right place at the start of the approach phase, once there, I then reduce the speed and then start another 500fpm descent down usually to 5,000ft to 4,000ft before the last two final slow turns or follow the approach charts just on the money, if it says 8,000ft then be at 8,000ft, but change height the moment you leave that sector and get down to the next official altitude. Most of the notes here would say that I fly slow, certainly you could hold a 300knt speed on the start of landing circuit phase, and even stevens and go for 280knts, of which is the initial approach speed I use quite regularly, but slower also means more time to react, and more time to get your procedures correctly, and more importantly if something goes wrong you then have the time and space to fix it. Oddly when I compare my gate to landing times with real world times, I am usually within a very close margin, even only around 3-5 min each side of the real service times (so I must be doing something right), Once I flew LON-HKG and landed just 2 min ahead of the real BA service, something I still let everyone know about... The tricky ones can be the turbo-props, you set a slower speed and then the descent rate, but then the aircraft simply won't descend past say 500fpm, so you are simply not going down to the plan, in most cases you override the automation and set a negative trim pitch to "get that nose down", but in the time you have been wasting or wrestling with the aircraft, you are now too far past your descent point and now have to take a steeper dive to meet the altitude target (way)point. I hate that, I really do. So I am not afraid of flying slow or say 250knts or even as slow at around 200kts (say a B737/A320) along the parallel circuit, it gives me time to adjust speed and height to get into the position of the final approach perfectly. A lot of this descent planning goes on even before I even leave the departure airport, I check the approach charts and my assigned approach (STAR or RNAV) and make sure every waypoint is covered and correct. You would be surprised how messy (I.e. Rome) the approach waypoints are situated and following them can not guarantee a perfect approach path, and even if flying a manual approach circuit. So any FMS flightplan that can't be checked at the final approach phase can cause havoc when you get there... this is why I rile so much against the poor Laminar FMS tool, because it is so out of date and too hard to check or fix your flightplan at "that end" of the flight. Obviously the calculations are Distance x Altitude x Speed x Current Weight x Wind Direction, you can adjust (Speed and Vertical Speed) on the descent phase to keep yourself on the numbers, but the vital point in the flightplan is the TOD, and of when to descend in making sure you don't go to long or too short... it is a very tricky procedure and even an art form, but totally fulfilling to get absolutely perfectly right and the need to do your homework before you depart to make it perfect the other end. This months Behind the Screen is a few days late, sorry about that, but the exceptional JustFlight BAe146 review was a huge one to cover and complete for the review. There was a lot of ground to cover, not only working out all the systems, but on how they actually work, then put that into actual flying practise. There is no doubt on how really complex simulation is today, or the real depth of the systems. I will be very open and say I doubt I could actually cover everything on this or any these high grade study aircraft in the very short period (say a week) on from a release, the 146 will take actually a few months to get my full ticket on the aircraft, but that is part of the deal, and part of why simulation is so very appealing and gives you the huge satisfaction when you master it... it was like cramming in for an exam, did I pass? See you all next month. Stephen Dutton 5th May 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  20. Behind the Screen : March 2021 On the Laminar Research Facebook page in early March the announcement suddenly came up in... "Something BIG is coming". Immediately the one BIG thought that flashed into your mind was X-PLANE12 or whateveritwillbecalled in X-Planesomething. Now we know or very quickly some sleuths worked it all out, that it was not anything to do with X-Plane12 or even with Laminar Research, but the formation of the Flight Simulation Association, that was formed by the same people Reiter and Coyle that brings you the yearly FlightSimExpo. The association was to bring in all the diverse elements of the main Simulation platform creators, third party hardware and software suppliers and all the different aspects of simulation together into one hub for Simulation flight Sim Enthusiasts, and to get access to all that you paid a membership fee that cost US $30 per year, although a 30-day free trial was then available. Well that went down in a firestorm of hate and bile and the chair throwing, and even so was the full dinner set was thrown against the wall... "oh why pay for something we can get for FREE", they bawled... the poor guys from the FlightSimExpo, just ducked and dived and were naturally horrified at their misconception of what a terrible, terrible thing they had all done, into to try and get the FlightSim community to come together and have a association to represent the niche (meaning very small) segment of what we call our simulation world. Let us be clear, the membership fee was obviously for cover the administration and site costs, and yes even a little profit for the work required to run the site and do the work of running an association. But hey, you HAD to PAY for it! I seriously doubt the project will survive, as the FSA will linger on for a while, but with no income, then for how long can you do a volunteer volume of work before throwing in the towel. My perspective was it showed the real nasty side of simulation users, even if the FSA was a bit inept at the start, and was filled only with some average deals and products, didn't we really miss the whole point of why we desperately need something like the FSA. In the long run the nasty rebuff could also sink the FlightSimExpo (already suffering badly with last years virus cancellation, and the same virus could even could still sink this years event, of which actually is extremely important to the FlightSim community. So would you expect two guys in just trying to "have a go" and then to walkaway from a community that does not really want anything but for anything that will only satisfy their own selfish needs. There was something very nasty about it all. Maybe it is the pent up frustration, created certainly by Laminar Research in announcing "something" in the New Year and here we are months later with no details on any future roadmap or not even a sweet/candy wrapper to show for our devotion. Yes Laminar will always be Laminar and will walk to their own time and space continuum that even Einstein would have not been able to work out. That frustration was and still is out there, still bubbling away and building, so the announcement of the FSA was certainly badly timed, the FlightSimExpo in early June would or should have certainly been the better timed event for the announcement. Instead of solving a lot of the FlightSim community issues, it overall just showed us all the real problems within it. In a culture were everything is free, Music, News, Entertainment and Simulation, many people don't realise that behind every keyboard is a person, creating the product and the abundent information. It is a shock to anyone that we actually have to pay rent, buy food and clothes... just like you do, worse is the fact that with no income to attract talented people, then the services and product is now getting more and more second rate... so why bother with Simulation when an App can make you millions, even a video game can make you rich, and "hey", Microsoft has also now a great income stream started, so why not go there, and they have in their hundreds... but the one thing that can be harder to create is an income by doing something that is not going to bring you in any rewards for your talent and hard work, and why, because it has to be eternally and always free. Yes this is becoming a constant theme in these monthly utterings, because again what has happened with the FSA, and it shows that if you "have a go", but then rock the boat on the free gravy train... you will be lambasted and ruined back into extinction. The events have worried me in that the reaction to the FSA was the most nasty I have seen in a long time, and believe me there has been a lot of this nasty venom stuff thrown around in the past. The point of Flight Simulation Association, was to bring the community together, to give us a bigger voice out there in the bigger world, to expose the ideas and fun associated with Simulation as a serious hobby, to even give us a chance to survive as a community and as a cohesive one. FSA certainly was not perfect, but it was certainly a starting point in going in the right direction. And to survive and have clout, it needs real funding, not venom... I did note in the announcement news post that; "so (here is) a body to do serious promotions is seriously welcomed, the point is will or can they actually promote Simulation other than say a jazzy website and yearly Expos, that for me is the big question, but if you invest in the body, then you would also expect results... on that aspect we will see if FSA will deliver, as I want to see Simulation promoted to people that don't know it exists". We will now certainly never know if the FSA would have or could have made a difference, most would shout that aspect down anyway... the truth is we will now never get the chance to find out unless the partners get together and save the FSA. Certainly they will have a lot to talk about at the FlightSimExpo in early June, and that is if that event now actually happens again or if forever in the future. The WIP debate Over the last year there is the comment that no aircraft (or scenery to that matter) is ever finished in X-Plane, and there is a lot of truth in that statement. Everything is a so called WIP, or Work In Progress, and I totally respect that aspect. But the declaration of Work in Progress has taken on over the last few years a much more very broader spectrum. The traditional developer approach was that the developer worked on the product until a release candidate, it should at this point be about 95% complete with a lot of feedback from qualified betatesters, in other words it should be a pretty refined product that you buy. Yes there will always be a few post-release updates to cover small glitches and bugs to cover the users wide variety of systems out there, plus that users are actually a finicky lot and want certain other aspects covered. Then from then on, there is only the odd yearly update would cover the aircraft to keep it up to current standards and X-Plane version changes. But the overall point is that when you buy that product it is a quality product. X-PlaneReviews will do a review of the release product and the summation of the value of what you get and what you are actually paying for in quality. But developers have been sort of fiddling the system in the last few years, or even manipulating it to suit themselves. The aspect of Work in Progress is still a very wide range that could be assumed still to be anywhere within the original framework. The question is "what is not" finished or completed when the product itself will never ever be a completed entity? A developer noted to me that my review is unfair because the product is still a "WIP" or work in progress, but that is the whole point... it is not ACTUALLY finished is it? The debate is the line the product reaches a quality release point, not what is going to added in later over the next year, or so. There is always the price point line were as a product is made to that price and that is a developer's choice. But I personally see product released basically half-baked, were as only a few months of development can not only clear up the final errors, bugs and refinement, but can grade the product into the quality product it can actually be. The one thing that makes me simply mad is that the work and the talent is all in there, but the product is shortfalling itself on not only the quality, but also the price returns for the developer in reward for all their hard work... "Why do that", literally sabotage your precious work and good returns, for the sake of just a few more weeks or a couple of months of development. The attitude is simply "put it out" and I'll fix it up later. Many other developers do what I call "cash up front" developing, as you pay now to access into the development, and enjoy the experience of being involved into the full development process... personally my thinking is that the developers get early cash up front to to fund their development, and in that aspect it is good idea, and a sort of Go-Fund me. Because an aircraft can take up to two years or even three with a large project, before they get any remuneration for their work. Certainly not fair to the developer, but is that also not fair to the purchaser? Yes you get access to the product, but this is also a pretty early representation of the product, and mostly with a lot of systems missing and even early average textures and no detailing... things can change a lot as well, engine modeling might change two or three times before a final decision is made on the correct profile or design... yes you do get to input and even have a say in what you think is the correct profile and have an involvement in the entire development process, and many users relish that aspect. So is there a right or wrong way with the "Work in Progress" debate. Certainly the early access is a great thing to many users, but that development can drag on for years and years. The Magknight Boeing 787 is a good example of that early access system, and to be extremely fair in that to date Magknight has certainly delivered of what was promised, but there is however still a huge WIP feel of the project, or will it ever be actually finished or ever be a fully rounded simulation. To counter that project, currently FlightFactor are already beavering away on their own Boeing 787 project that you can assume that will be mostly fully 95% or more completed on release later in the year, so which one would I like to fly, certainly a fully formed and system ready aircraft, and undoubtably far more so than an inconsistent WIP aircraft, even if I did have a personal involvement in the earlier development process. I have also noted a trend in developers lately in using just plain modeling items with colour, rather than texturing the item. Done cleverly the developer can get away with this aspect, but too much of this practise and the aircraft or scenery can suddenly look incomplete or not very realistic... I can be very discerning about this area, but to the developer they could just be trying to keep the product under a certain price point which is a fair point, or just plainly shortcutting in detail to get the product out more quickly, however I tend to always say it is in the second aspect, in simply cutting corners to get product out quicker... And the one red flag that comes up very obvious, is that if a developer is putting out a lot of product very quickly, then they will certainly have to cut corners to do so... myself I would rather have a far more quality (finished) product at a higher price, than a lot of products at a WIP low cost price, because at the end of the day, quality is the key to making money, and not releasing a lot of average product. But far too many developers lately are doing more the secondary approach than the first. Worse is if the developer pushes out a lot of average product they will be then also be labeled on being an average developer, or as I note a "B Grade" developer, and once the stigma sticks, it is very hard to remove. You could call me "Old-Fashioned", or even an "Old Bugger" if you want to. But my motivations are in being realistic is in that if X-Plane is to attract money to developers and more users to the Simulation platform, then only quality and fully rounded products can do that... yes X-Plane itself was founded on the hobbiest approach to aviation simulation and yes experimental aircraft and ideas are it's foundation. X-Plane is now however now a far more highly graded simulator, but it is only as good as the products you install into it. So yes we admit, we will be even ruthless in accessing new product that is introduced into the simulation system, and with half-baked releases, that just don't cut the grade will be called out, and for more than one reason, but overall you do deserve a quality product for your money, but helping the developer to achieve their goals is a great thing as well. This month showed the quality system at work. Early work by Aerobask was very good, but the developers still had a long and steep learning curve to climb. They did so and the results now show of what is a product, that is both on release is of a very high quality product with excellent features, but above all a great investment and also gives you a high return in maximum enjoyment for your simulation... that is the constant goal, for everyone, for the developer, the reviewers and also the users of the X-Plane Simulator. See you all next month, and a very Happy Easter Stephen Dutton 1st April 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  21. Behind the Screen : February 2021 In most past years X-Plane has come out of the box at the start of a New Year, in 2020 for instance I was already doing big reviews, even before I had restarted after the Christmas/NewYear break, head down... a New Year and a time to get on. Easter has now become the bigger purchasing period for X-Plane add-ons... the maths are simple, as with even Black Friday sales, most cash is focused on loved ones or spending up big over the holidays, not on simulation. Easter though is different, except for a few Easter Eggs, then you have the spare holiday break and more importantly a few free weeks to do nothing but fly in your favorite simulator, so why not buy yourself something new and shiny to fly or get a few new destinations to fly to. So over the last few years developers have not tried to crush in their last minute releases in to the Thanksgiving/Christmas period, but to now aim for the lucrative Easter sales, where you can ask full price and still get the sales, still do a discount after Easter and pick up more sales, but more importantly take your time refining the aircraft/scenery in the space of the New Year ready for Easter But in early 2021, the state of the X-Plane union is very quiet, very quiet. Yes there has been a few nice releases like Banff National Park, and Manchu Picchu, and a very nice RJAA Narita from Drzewiecki Design, but most of the 2021 new year has been focused on strangely helicopters, mostly you get one a year, but there has been almost none for a couple of years lately. I admit the JRX Design Gazelle is a 2020 mid-year release, but a slow period allowed me to cover the aircraft with a worthy review, same with the newly released and popular CowanSim B222, another interesting new developer for the helicopter genre. As you could guess my helicopter skills have improved enormously already this year, but I am ready to move on. There was a lot of serious indicators that the start of 2021 would be a blockbuster period of big releases for X-Plane, but in reality nothing actually happened? Now two months into the year and it is all still deadly silent? There are maybe a lot of external reasons, Covid 19, Weather (Northern Winter), No Money, or your life is messy because 2020 was a messy and unpredictable year throughout... Could Microsoft's new 2020 Simulator be having a major effect and taking the developers focus to the land of milk and honey and eternal riches. Not by the comments on the forums, the hard core users are still not buying the sales pitch, because the MS2020 is still feeling like a bad beta version, a few aircraft have popped up, but a fully functioning aircraft are not yet even close to being the sort of quality simulation that was advertised... but still the overwhelming majority of releases in 2021 has been the bucket loads of existing scenery for MS2020, Sour grapes! Well a little bit... if scenery developers had delivered the same sort of detailed cityscapes they are delivering currently for MS2020, for the X-Plane simulator, then how different would our world be, obviously the returns are not there with X-Plane, but it is a chicken and egg scenario, overall we obviously only got the scraps that they can actually deliver, FS developers never wanted to get behind the X-Plane simulator in the first place anyway, but still stole wholeheartedly from it's ideas. Laminar Research noted in their 2020 Christmas email, something about sharing all the new features coming to X-Plane early in the New Year, in other words... X-Plane12. Well two months into 2021 and the sim house is still quieter than a closed up Disneyland. Ziltch! Laminar even advertised for a new coding developer to join the team... great, but still no announcements. One thing I have always found is that when Laminar are deathly quiet, then they are working hard, being impatient is certainly not going to help any situation, but I still think we need to know where our simulator is going, in the face of the MS2020 onslaught, and then currently more so for the sake of X-Plane and Simulation in general. My guess is on the 2021 FlightSim Expo in San Diego in early June that is going to be a focus, but still I think an announcement is required before hand to see the balance between the Microsoft marketing overwhelming the picture well before the middle of the year comes around, people need to see choices, and currently Laminar is not even currently in the game (so to speak). In reviewing you need space to cover a large release, mostly four days with the current sort of extensive menus and feature lists, that will sometimes take up almost a week, so there are only a few very large releases you can cover in a month, the list out there are imminent large scale releases is now getting large, the secondary issue is that most simulation purchasers only have a certain budget to buy these big feature and expensive releases, they may absorb one, or even two $70-$80 products, but that would be the limit for most punters, no matter what other great projects are put on the table, so most users would have to choose between one or the other. Most certainly with time they will purchase the other releases, but once the immediate "Gotta Have" moment wears off, then they are then willing to wait for the sales, and that means then the developers lose that immediate release sales punch. So you will have to choose. and what will soon be on offer. The biggest attraction is certainly Just Flight and their Bae 146 Series (with refining by Thranda), it is not going to be a cheap package as the P3D version is priced at US$85.99, but you will get eight, yes 8 variants, plus a feature list you can dream of, there is a lot of functionality and detail to be had here, and in my mind this aircraft goes straight to the top of the list in desirability. Just Flight also announced last year their Vickers VC10, for X-Plane, but the trail has gone cold for a while, mostly because the Bae 146 is the priority release. This is another US$70 ($69.99 P3D) aircraft, but does not have the attraction of the Bae 146, as it is in reality a nostalgia aircraft, nice to have, but certainly not a high seller. There has been a lot of noises around X-Trident's Chinook CH-47F, as a lot of testing and refining has been going on lately, so the aircraft has to be close to release, and a big feature list does this aircraft have. The testing has shown what a brilliant aircraft this will be if it is up to the standard of their excellent AB412, the AB412 is priced at US$35.95, but expect the Chinook at around the US$50-$60 dollar mark, but it will be well worth the high investment. Q4XP, or the new Dash8 Q400 for X-Plane. This is from FlyJsim, whom created the original Q400 now called the "legacy" version, this aircraft is now actually 10 years old (how time flies). This completely new Q400 version is certainly going to be of a very high quality and detailed aircraft, and thankfully the FMC is a custom version modeled on the aircraft's OME Universal UNS-1e v1000, again it won't be cheap at around the Mid-60s dollar mark, but will be well worth the investment. Time has gone on a long way since any announcement with the aircraft, with the trail again going cold around August 2020. The Q4XP has to certainly be close to a beta or release phase after a nearly a three year development. Another aircraft that has had a very long lead development is the McDonnell Douglas MD-11, coming from Rotate. Development spoilers and videos pop-up every few months, but again the extensive lead time (May 2017) now has to be showing benefits. If the quality is as good as their MD-80, then this will be an exceptional simulation from Rotate. It won't be cheap either, with my estimation in the Mid-$70's to $90's price range, but again you will get great value, no information if the aircraft will be a package of the two variants of Passenger and Cargo together or as separate purchases. Aerobask are known for small modern composite aircraft. So the announcement of Dassault Aviation's Falcon 8X was a surprise. It is an official product, but also a very different type and scale aircraft than what Aerobask have done before, and a step up in the type of aircraft than they usually deliver. The price will be higher as well around the US$50 mark, but you will get quality detailing and authentic systems (FMS is custom), and Synthetic Vision for a good deal. The Falcon 8X was initially proposed for Q4 2020, so that release timeline has now certainly slipped, and the recent announcement of the release of the Embraer Phenom 300 - EMB-505 from Aerobask, will certainly push the Falcon 8X back down the list again, but for how long? Felis, Boeing 747-200 Classic is another project coming to fruition. Felis is know for his classic Russian aircraft, so a big American Boeing 747 is certainly a big departure from the past for him, but a Classic B747-200 has to be an interesting aircraft to relive the Jumbo's classic years when it was changing the airways and also the airlines in a significant way. Felis notes "I want to do a variant with fully analogue gauges with LTN72 or LTN92 INS. Probably will do AF1 variant also, as it was in 1970's", Engines modeled will be the P&W JT9D-7J version, the early ones that blew up, the -7J had a power output 48,650 lbf (216.4 kN) and was installed in the B742 from 1976. Price? The TU-144 was priced at US$45, so the Boeing 747-200 should be around the same price. Note that Just Sim has also announced a Boeing 747 Classic version for X-Plane in the 747-100 and -200 passenger variants and the 747-200F cargo variant. VFlyteAir have also been deathly quiet, which is not like them, as they usually release two aircraft a year, but one that is slipping way off the radar is Carenado, once highly prolific, their output has dropped to a trickle since the departure of Thranda, with nothing at all announced, or even updated for months. Looking further and into the second half of 2021, there are several projects also worth mentioning. The ToLiSS A340, is a great expectation of genuine long haul flying and another dimension to flying ToLiSS aircraft (Although the A321 NEO LR/XLR are medium range aircraft), the A340 is more of a real long range machine, I hope ToLiSS do a A330 as well. The biggest announcement for X-Plane in 2021 in a significant release is certainly the FlightFactor Boeing 787-9. Noted under the FF "Professional" series like their B757/B767, the Boeing 787 will be levels again in detail and of course deep systems, slated for Q3/Q4 later this year, it will be certainly the release of the year for X-Plane. A final note for 2021 goes to X-Crafts. They announced an all new remodel and design of their E-JETS Family, which will include all variants of the E170, E175, E190, E195, and Lineage 1000. Significant will be the inclusion of (finally) a real authentic Flight Management System (FMS), however X-Craft's mentions three FMS units. A new "authentic" FMS (yet to be named more specifically), the Tekton FMS, or the X-Plane default FMS. The same custom FMS will also be transferred into their current ERJ Family, and in so making that aircraft also much more authentic. Overall a lot of the above projects are already quite overdue, you can blame a lot of reasons why, and mostly on the Covid-19 situation, but there is no doubt that most of these projects in one form or another will be released in the late Q1, Q2 period, so there is a lot to look forward to and fly in all these high quality aircraft. Going Nowhere Time to "fess" up. Embarrassed but X-Plane can do that to you sometimes. I decided to do a service from BNE (Brisbane) to CNS (Cairns), Australia, in the updated FlightFactor/Airbus A320-214 Ultimate, to checkout if the nasty framerate issue has be fixed (It has). Restrictions of using both the FF A320 Ultimate and xEnviro both together means a big even huge downpull of your framerate, and no matter how light the rest of your simulation set is in the scenery. I manged to fly both earlier in the v1.14 xEnviro and A320 Ultimate settings, but it was a close call on the numbers before I slid down into the slideshow situation, overall I could use the aircraft if I picked the right airports that didn't put too much strain on the framerate. First up the new 1.1.19 version of the FF320 Ultimate and it felt like the old days and thankfully now with a lot more usable headroom. But here is the funny point... I set up the aircraft and pushed the Airbus back with the "BetterPushBack" tool, and everything was normal, until I rereleased the park brake and lifted the throttles a bit to move forward into a taxi speed. Nothing moved... more power and the Airbus was solid, and no matter how much power I applied to the engines, this Bus was going absolutely nowhere? I started checking out problems.... Flightfactor have a very sensitive fault system on the A320, so that was my first call, no it was turned off, then the X-Plane fault system and again it was clean? Brakes are also sensitive on the FF A320, so I rechecked them, about 30 times? nothing as the A320 was still solid as a rock? I was now seriously confused and was resetting everything and searching everywhere, but nothing worked? Time was clicking on and I was going nowhere, 20 minutes of head scratching and now even with a load of swear words, nothing was not making this Bus move. My earlier review had been of the Cessna 140, a sensitive little thing that required this taildragger steering by using your rudder pedals as toebrakes, I don't have rudder pedals yet (expensive in Australia), but tried to steer the C140 via a set toggle switch (C) on my X56 Rhino joystick (That was not very successful either), but the point was the braking response setting affected the A320 Ultimate to a big degree... I reset the settings both to "None" and the Bus finally moved, and with applause from the passengers as we were finally all going to Cairns Obviously you can set a "Profile" for a particular aircraft in X-Plane, but I never really use that as I go through with reviewing a lot of aircraft and need the basic default settings, the FFA320 Ultimate also uses the hands off CEF (Chromium Embedded Framework) system anyway so it is not reliable, but overall it was a fluke I found the problem, the real problem is that X-Plane requires a lot of very different settings to fly some very different aircraft (Taildragger to an Airbus A320), but for about thirty frustrating minutes I was simply going nowhere! See you all next month. Stephen Dutton 1st March 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  22. Behind the Screen : January 2021 Another year in 2021, after 2020 it has to be better, change and a whole lot of it dominated the year, even in our little virtual corner of the world in Simulation. Did we mention Microsoft's new flight simulator release of last year, of course we did. The reality was that X-Plane didn't actually get atomised by MSFS on it's release, or anything else, in fact something interesting happened. According to the Navigraph Flightsim Community Survey which is always interesting reading, is that the mostly rejected FSX/FS9 and Prepar3D users didn't jump ship directly to MSFS 2020, but to X-Plane11 instead? in fact 41% came from FSX/FS9 and 24% came from P3D, that is only actually 4.8% of actual simulator platform switching in context, but still they chose to come to X-Plane11 and not over to the newer simulator of which 11% MSFS new users switched over to X-Plane as well, rather than going to another Simulator. The answer there is quite simple in the fact that MSFS actually still does not support study grade aircraft, certainly if you want to VFR (Visual Flight Rules) your way around the landscape then MSFS is the way to go, but for heavy operations and even with still the very light choices of even good and detailed General Aviation aircraft (no fighters or Helicopters either), then X-Plane is currently only your simulator of choice if you want to do some serious procedural flying. Overall it is difference between real simulation flying and playing a game. No doubt MSFS will throw off that tag as it develops more better SDK's, or will it, does it want to? That aspect is in the fact that in simulation there actually is not any money to be made, the customer focus is overall on the huge gaming market. And this is were it gets interesting in the target market. If MSFS wants the big massive gaming market, then how can it also be a deep level simulator? Yes MSFS will develop and add in deep study aircraft, but the reality is will the average gamer "Actually" want that style of aircraft? and the total current perception that these loaded up gamers will buy up or hoover up anything or everything placed in front of them... these are gameboys with attentions spans of minutes (unless they are deep in the gaming market to make money) and they are only going to be really interested in that for the entertainment factor or to make money. I admit there will be a crossover factor, but in reality Simulation Users and Gamers are really very, very different animals, as they approach simulation in their own very different ways as well. First what is Simulation and it's main objective. Mostly it is to learn to fly aircraft, even now any serious simulator is based on reaching out to flying schools as a teaching aid to learner pilots, for professional pilots to learn their own skills and systems. Then there is the airmanship aspect. This is learning the flying skills to do the procedures and navigation in an aviation capacity, besides the professional fliers, the rest of us in Users are people that love aviation and want to be a part (or older pilots that want to continue flying) of that environment, but don't have the resources or in most cases the health to be part of the real world aviation business. To cover all this then you are required to study. Not only the aircraft and it's systems, but also the aviation system itself and all it's procedures, do you see where this is all going... I personally have been in Simulation for Eleven years, eight and half years writing about it. But still I am learning the intimate details of aviation. Take for example last week... I didn't know until I studied the procedure of doing a Cat IIIa dual-channel approach and autoland. Yes I usually pressed the twin left and right AP1 and AP2 autopilot channels on landing an Airbus A3 something, but not on how you actually do the procedure on a non-fully automated aircraft. You would be either thrilled about this (being a devout Simulator User) or find it really boring to even nonsense because all you want to do is get your jollies by divebombing your house. As I said a lot of gamers will love this new aspect and start to take this Simulation lark quite seriously, and that is a great thing as it builds simulation with a whole new group of newly converted Users. But how many are actually willing to under go a decade of learning and actually do the consistent practising of their skills in a controlled aviation environment, because that is in reality of what Simulation really is. And this were it gets even more interesting. In Simulation we like to build our Aviation environment around us. We select the aircraft we want to fly, add in the effects we want to experience and collect scenery to reflect our personal destinations. To do that aspect we have to spend money, but the money spent is worthwhile because of the experiences that we want to acquire. It also requires dedication and the building up of a skill base. Can MSFS deliver all this, well in time absolutely, but not totally because it's foremost aim is still in entertainment and not in skills... If MSFS does go too far or get too complicated it will lose it's most important gamer market, as in reality Microsoft really doesn't want serious Simulation Users or obviously us, and certainly not with them messing around within the guts of the coding. Another factor of the Navigraph survey points this out as well. Although the user use of MSFS is approaching 60%, and X-Plane11(50) is 45%, however the main points of dedicated users is almost neck and neck, in that the difference between the 60% and 45% (or 15%) are just "Infrequent" users or "Never" used, so the core users between the two platforms are only 3% of each other, what the survey does not ask, is what is your "preferred" Simulator, or on how many actually switch between the two, or what are the casual (gamer) users or the dedicated Simulator users as that could very much change the numbers around. At no time do I want any article in X-PlaneReviews to become the "Our Simulator is better than your Simulator" argument, but the need to put into perspective the real and current Simulation world. This brings us to the ludicrous situation now going on with Scenery Developers. Barely an hour goes by without another scenery being released for MSFS in the gigantic Gold Rush of 2020/2021 for as much real estate by per virtual runway meter that we can achieve. If you do look closely, most releases (not all, but most) are just a revamped and retextured version of their current scenery, in either any platform (ie FSX or X-Plane) to MSFS. You can almost feel the rubbing of their grubby little hands in making money from already produced scenery and wanting to quickly fill up their coffers. Most of it does look good, but it is still mostly already released work that is just tarted up. My own annoyance is that if these same developers had given X-Plane the same volume and discounts as they are doing for MSFS, I am quite sure that the platform would have attracted many more users, and would have created a better sales market, but then again X-Plane does have a particular problem with that aspect, but the point is if they had have done or have had the same greedy exuberance then it could have made a difference, certainly in the cityscapes and landscape sceneries for them and for the whole of the X-Plane platform. Which brings us to the biggest and consistent issue in X-Plane, payware scenery. Again back to Navigraph survey in that the sections of (3.8.4) notes that Payware scenery is finally catching up to Freeware, in fact the freeware in "Equal" and "Mostly" are finally lower than the overall Payware useage... not noted is the difference in simulator platforms in these grades, of which I would expect X-Plane to still lean far more heavily to Freeware, but it is finally getting better. So the chicken and the egg situation still abounds.... would X-Plane users buy more scenery if it was of a high quality? But the line between Payware and Freeware in a lot of cases is still only really quite a fine line in the context of Laminar's Global Airport tools. Where as the FlightSim world depends more on the Payware and no matter the quality model... so has Laminar hindered the progress of it's own simulator in a commercial aspect? The problem for scenery developers is the worst in commercial angles of anything in the X-Plane simulator, basically they can't sell rubbish, which is a very good thing... but the extremely high line of the quality they have to deliver to get over the Freeware barrier to sell can only restrict the quality to a few and very experienced developers. As a review site I can and will admit to being quite harsh in my reviews on many aspects on scenery. Why?, because the only way a scenery developer will survive and compete is too deliver extremely high quality product... I admit that is not at all fair, but it is also the reality of creating Payware product. The days of waltzing in and doing some cheap 3d modeling and throwing under the objects a badly tinted orthophoto layer is just not going to get you any sales any more... again noted in the Survey is that (3.14) "Detailed Airports" are 67% of importance of creating a sale. A lot of my comments are actually based on the basics being missed. Fencing is a really big annoyance to me, or the lack of. In any commercial field fencing is mandatory and mostly for security and safety reasons. But for some reason many developers just don't seem to understand this. Any scenery missing vital fencing looks and actually is only half completed, and I have rolled my eyes far too many times while opening a scenery to find just wide open spaces between the carparks and aircraft aprons... or Landside to Airside, and in the real world that just does not happen. The biggest issue are our old friends "Orthophotos" images or ground textures, or "patchworkers" as I call them. Most are ugly and either far too light (washed out) or far too dark, and in all cases actually don't matchup to anything around them either, so the scenery sticks out like a sore bum. I except two facts, in that one is that consistent orthophotos are hard to find, and two X-Plane's default textures are totally out of date. The one thing that MSFS has in a big way over X-Plane is the consistency of it's landscape, so the inserted custom scenery fits in very well to its default surroundings. For X-Plane I have never really liked the texture model Laminar uses, it was a step up for X-Plane10 from X-Plane9, but the feel was not quite right either, it looks overall artificial, certainly from an altitude or at ground level. That said, using good lighting and environmental system like xEnviro can make the landscape look quite realistic. But in context to the ground they are dated and in fact slightly the wrong bright tint. I have (grudgingly) come to accept the Lo-Res photo textures beloved by FS developers on the landside, mostly because they get the rest right, but they give out overall too many ground burnt in aircraft, vehicles and you can see that flatness in what that flat photo plate actually is. The problem is that were is the solution between overpowering photo textures and standard gradient textures, is there one version that can or could actually blend in all? But overall you can see why scenery developers have such a hard time getting it right, and with that aspect X-Plane can come across like a patchwork quilt more than a complete landscape and fixing that aspect is the biggest question and the biggest challenge facing X-Plane12. And for X-Plane12 taking the ball back from MSFS as a primary simulator (note I say Simulator not gaming). To date no release information on X-Plane12 has been announced by Laminar Research That important aspect is the underlying point in bringing back the majors in scenery, and their customers. Overall I don't think that Laminar understood this area in their simulator, their aim is always at the hobbyist angle, the point of giving you the tools to build your own world. But in fact X-Plane has come a long way with that coda, but you can't also cut out the important commercial side, and this aspect is really showing currently in X-Plane as a lot free does not mean completely brilliant and detailed. So if you want that totally realist world, then you have no choice but to bring in the experts and high quality detail... that is what the punters also want, and also what they are willing to buy. Catch up again next month Stephen Dutton 1st February 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  23. Behind the Screen : Year in Review 2020 Even coming into the year 2020, you knew it was going to be confronting, and certainly the year did not let anyone down in that regard. But from a simulation aspect it was the introduction of the Microsoft Simulator in a completely different form and this time from game developers Asobo Studio's that was the major significant impact of the year, released on time August 18, 2020 it certainly got everyone's attention. You can argue about the new simulator's ramifications for years, but one thing was for sure was that the MSFS release was certainly not the exaggerated death-knell for X-Plane and the Laminar Research simulator, in quite a contrast it brought a lot of perspective into our coveted world, and a genuine needed perspective, of course those FlighSim devotees didn't see it that way, until they were faced with reality and then they were confronted with far more than the X-Plane context. In an odd interpretation, the X-Plane simulator had an extremely good year, not it's very best as the COVID 19 and MSFS effects certainly affected the simulator, but it was still highly productive and had some major advancements, so it wasn't all that bad in the current circumstances. Laminar Research For Laminar Research it was a particularly quiet year, more so without the exposure of the San Diego Simulation Expo which was Covid cancelled, at least that thankfully allowed Laminar not to be constantly bombarded about the coming MSFS and the "What are you going to do about MSFS" questions", in fact Laminar in Austin Meyer only appeared once in a podcast in June, in only noting a few ideas, but was still very relaxed about the mega new flightsim sitting on his doorstep. No Q&A chat from Laminar later in the year was also unusual, but expected after the messy drunken videocast of 2019 and of course the still rampant Virus in the States, the expected X-Plane12 announcement on America's Thanksgiving (almost a given event in the past), was also non-grata either. One other item to note was that Laminar also created a forum to post ideas of what you wanted in a forthcoming X-Plane release, this was an especially interesting development, because Laminar in the past rarely ever asked it's devotes what the time of the day it was, never mind what they "Actually" wanted in the X-Plane simulator... the forum could be seen in two ways, short of ideas (I doubt that), or just to confirm that what they were doing in development was this time what the hoards actually wanted. 2020 was really just about one Laminar Research X-Plane release, v11.50 or the Vulkan/Metal API update. It was a long, lengthy, and up and down release, that even in it's final incarnation in mid-September was still not a complete final solution, mostly because the Vulkan/Metal internal changes still require more development, including multi-core and multi-threading processing. But it is in it's new elements now installed of what now is left of the olde world X-Plane that will bring in the true change in the future for the simulator of the power in the Vulkan/Metal API. But there was the significant new v11.50 benefits, smoother running, higher object count, better shaders and the option to run the long forgotten reflection feature were all great steps forward, but the development process did take a very long time and at the end was even then four months overdue, this affecting the future of X-Plane in also deferring X-Plane12's longer time in development. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 We have to address the impact of the return of "Flight Simulator" in it's new 2020 incarnation on X-Plane or overall in simulation as a whole. The problem was the huge hype surrounding the release, but earlier reports even under a strict NDA or Non-Disclosure Agreement it was noted as incomplete and was also dialed in firmly into a deadline release date. From X-PlaneReviews and note the "X-Plane" in our title is the fact that any response to the MSFS release would come across as in a "our simulator is far better than your simulator" context, or just plain resentments. One thing I am proud of is that I have never been a black or white person, but could always see the grey in the middle or that everything has two sides of every story. I was lucky I also had a few days off when the MSFS release actually happened August 18, 2020, and spent time to understand the ramifications, and I came back to do a though research and analysis of the changes, the result was I think one of the very best descriptions of current simulation and it's future in that X-PlaneReviews have ever done, I am immensely proud of that article "X-Plane and the future in the new world order" and believe the analysis is certainly correct, certainly even now looking back five months hence. But overall the results also shocked me in what could happen in the future of simulation in the context of the MSFS release. There will always be multiple platforms in simulation, but the current four will be quickly reduced to two in MSFS and X-Plane, more so was the surprise that how similar unlike before the main current popular platforms now are actually almost a mirror in design and features, more important is that product for either can be easily ported to either simulator unlike the wide gulf there was before in the FSX/P3D to X-Plane chasm, in fact most of the large (scenery) product that has already been ported to MSFS is already mostly the X-Plane versions. The truth when finally seen was that currently MSFS is really only a game, and I called it "Hollow", not out of spite but out of fact. MSFS is immensely pretty visually, but hollow in the fact that as a simulation you have in reality no aircraft of any depth of which you can currently fly in, so if you want to fly a really quality aircraft with a huge depth of systems on multiple operating systems then X-Plane currently is the only platform to do so. Yes in depth simulation will come to MSFS, but I currently see years of development before it can reach the intimate detail of X-Plane and if ever in aerodynamics and it's in-built system depth, this aspect simply can't be done overnight, as so it has been developed in X-Plane over decades. Another point is simply the quality of X-Plane developers, most on the MSFS release put their hands up and swore on oath that they had no desire to swap platforms. For the current MSFS developers they are sitting in a waiting game, some note it could take twelve months (PMDG) before releasing product worthy to fly, Aerosoft have been reduced to show images of empty content aircraft to keep the punters interested, it will be a long twelve months. For X-Plane we are in our own waiting game. That is for the release of X-Plane12, and no matter which way you want to position the release, it will always be Laminar Research's response to Microsoft's Flight Simulator 2020. Does it matter for it to be viewed in that context, certainly it does, if for the platform's survival, not that the simulator would die overnight, but would certainly start a long slow decline... strong words, maybe, so for once Laminar cannot be their usual laid-back selves, it is in a very different context this time than within the FSX/P3D era, but the details are also quite clear on what has to be delivered in X-Plane12 to compete with MSFS, surely they in Laminar couldn't mess this one up? Aircraft Overall it was a quieter year for the release in aircraft for X-Plane in 2020. v11.50 (Vulkan/Metal kept most updates or releases in limbo, so what was supposed to be released never happened in the usual Q3/Q4 quarters. The big developers were also overall very quiet anyway with FlightFactor, Rotate, FlyJSIm even SSG was quiet except for a few updates to their now exceptional Boeing 748 v2.0, the first was really the updated release of the aircraft in early January, the second update later in the year added in the exceptional cargo version, and the final act of a full passenger cabin has now also been shown. ToLiSS was really the only new release with X-Craft's ERJ Family that were the only notable releases in aircraft in the whole of 2020. The ToLiSS A321 built up on the reputation of the excellent earlier A319, before Christmas 2020 we got an early Christmas present of an NEO engine upgrade for the same aircraft. For X-Craft's the ERJ 135/140 series Family was a huge step up in quality than their earlier E-Jet 170 and 190 LR aircraft, but still had the default instruments and custom FMC, but you got a lot of variants for your money. FlightFactor did update their Airbus A350, but not to a full and complete expected v2.0, but it did finally have an excellent working MCDU, and some nice updates, not perfect but certainly far better, as noted the v2 of the A350 and expected total redesign of the Boeing 777 series never materialised, but FlightFactor did announce a coming Boeing 787 Dreamliner with the works. Again the promised MD-11 from Rotate was not released either, and information was scant, ditto FlyJSim and their coming Q4XP (Dash Q400). iniBuilds Released a A300-600R(F) with now both a passenger and cargo versions, "Expensive" it needed a mortgage to buy, it is indeed however very good, but X-PlaneReviews will never know as any review version(s) was simply "verboten" and what we can't analyse, then we can't recommend or include in our yearly lists, sadly.... Both Magknight and Colimata continued their long development time lines with the Boeing 787-9 and Concorde, both had a load of significant updates throughout the year and can be both safely said to becoming (finally) quality simulations, but the MagKnight B789 is still weighed down by it's basics in instruments and FMC, both a requirement at this level, the Concorde is forever on my list for a decent review, but I felt it just was not developed enough to warrant one, but with the latest update to finally fill in the engineers station, may finally get it past the post. IXEG did also do some very nice updates to the venerable Boeing 733 Classic, and was more visible throughout the year, still an amazing simulation, and that pretty well summed up airliners in 2020. General Aviation The biggest influence on the General Aviation market was the separation between Thranda (Dan Klaue) and Carenado in the middle of 2019, but the changes didn't come into effect until the start of 2020. Problem is Thranda is Carenado in X-Plane and the effects were all to see once that aspect was removed, and you felt the reverberations all throughout of 2020, there was only a few updates and G1000 conversions (SR22 GTSX Turbo) and for the few aircraft that was released they felt buggy and feeling old fashioned, the brand is not the scaling premier development house it once was, could Carenado withdraw from X-Plane? that is now not an impossible thought, but what about all those updates, 38+ at the last count. But the reality is Carenado feels old and tired and maybe Thranda got tired of fighting into wanting to make the brand more modern and relevant... I can see only MSFS calling. With the Carenado shackles released Thranda went full throttle on finally working on their own aircraft, with just only JustFlight as a partner. The results were the two masterpieces of the year in the Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter with an added in extra "Adventure Pack" released later, second was another paragon in the DHC-2 Beaver, and it was easily the best release of the year in quality and features. In the same theme of bush aircraft VflyteAir took over the development of the departing MilViz aircraft of the DHC-3T Turbo Otter, otherwise VflyteAir was also in 2020 unusually quiet after the bonanza of 2019. JustFlight only added in one GA in the year and even then it was another PA-28, this time in an Archer TX/LX with another G1000 avionic conversion. Aerobask did two releases, and again both were, yes you guessed it, both G1000 avionics, one was a prop in the Lancair Legacy RG and the other in a jet with the Epic Victory, again the high quality shone with amazing detail, but the big expected release of the year still didn't happen with their still coming Dassault Aviation Falcon 8X. The AirFoilLab's Kingair 350i had a few and even one major updates in the year, but it is an aircraft that is hard to warm to, even with it's huge feature list, the new plugin is still quite not getting the X-Plane feel right and the flying performance feels lackluster and even arcade in feel. Digital Replica's VAN's RV-10 was the only real GA revelation of the year, a small but high quality machine that was nice to chuck about the sky, Nimbus brought us (finally) a BN-2 Islander, first the aircraft on release was far too underdeveloped, but constant updates did get the aircraft back on track, but still not perfect by the end of the year. The inclusion of the "Shortest scheduled flight" scenery from Westary to Papa Westary was certainly a bonus feature, and TorqueSim also released a BN-2 not reviewed here. Military Like helicopters military aircraft are not high volume releases, but we had a few interesting ones this year, highlight just had to be JustFlight's complex and totally overwhelming Avro Vulcan B Mk.2, K.2 and MRR, and the warbird Lockheed P-38L Lightning from Flying Iron Simulation's was also very well done, the T-7A Red Hawk v1.1 by AOA Simulation's was an really interesting aircraft, and nice to fly as well. In the classic category the DC-3/C47 from VSkyLabs Flying Lab Project went to v3.0 with finally a cargo cabin, but it was a strange mix of modern and old, and a loss of that DC3 vintage feel that oddly changed the focus of the aircraft away from why you wanted it to be in the first place, i.e. a vintage classic airliner... Helicopters The vertical flight machines were kept to just three in 2020 and the two from VSkyLabs, were both lightweight machines in the Dynali H3 and Robinson R44. The only decent aircraft was the excellent SA 341B and SA 342J Gazelle by JRXDesign. We were finding the helicopters becoming quite outdated through the year, with mostly in being of Dreamfoil MIA, but at the end of the year he did update the Bell 407 to Vulkan standard, X-Trident were also very quiet, but their Chinook CH-47F is looking finished and in beta testing, certainly now ready for an early 2021 release. In decent freeware, the the Zibo B748 was quite quiet considering the barrage of updates in the past few years, the Ultimate Boeing 737-900 and other variants went discontinued, but was picked up by LevelUp 737, and promised (the word here is "promised") five variants in the -900, -900ER, -600, -700 and -800 (which is the zibo) version. The default Laminar Boeing 747-400 got picked up for the same Zibo treatment by "Sparky", and is now adding in some custom features on top of the basic vanilla B744, but it is early days yet. Like most, aircraft activity was pretty low in 2020, but there are a few gems in there. Scenery Overall scenery in X-Plane passed a threshold this year, and not in the huge number now of built in Global Airports (14,451 at last count). Finally we could fly from one quality scenery to another and not step out of that quality realm, in quality scenery it is has been a great few years... that said it was annoying that MSFS scenery developers released so much content for the new simulator in the last few months, the same content created for X-Plane would have certainly helped in making the simulator more attractive to new fliers, and certainly the city packs that we desperately needed, maybe a cross flow with X-Plane12 may eventually change that. I had a huge list of required scenery for X-Plane as long as twelve years ago, but these last few years is that many in the list that was finally being ticked off. We kicked off the year with a nice update from SFD with their excellent KSLC-Salt Lake City and SFD also updated his KLAX later in August (an EDDM update is noted as coming in the New Year), KATL-Atlanta (nimbus) and KDEN-Denver by X-Codr Designs both had a very good updates, and EBBR Brussels by JustSim also got a sensational upgrade. LFSB - EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg also by JustSim was completely mindblowing with their night textures. In February we kicked with with probably the biggest scenery project in X-Plane, maybe the biggest ever for the simulator, Frank Dainese and Fabio Bellini released five, yes l to V Dolomite sceneries that all interconnected (except the Benta Dolomites, but that was still situated close by), the scale is simply enormous, and it is a very significant area to explore. Not content with that they still had time to again visit South America and the Torres del Paine National Park, but also released the excellent K2-Karakorum scenery... my god it was all so much mountainous area to cover in one year. Seychelles XP by Maps2XPlane was another wide area scenery, that captured in the Indian Ocean feel (but not quite as good as their Faroe Islands winner last year), in the same area we had three African airports HKJK - Nairobi Airport by FSDG, FALE - Durban XP by FSDG and another African airport in the northwest in Casablanca XP by FSDG, and all three are worthy destinations, and also welcome was VNKT - Kathmandu Tribhuvan Intl Airport by Cami De Bellis which was another exotic scenery released. I was extremely excited for the release of EKCH-Copenhagen XP by FlyTampa, and it certainly didn't disappoint, the dynamics were absolutely jaw-dropping in it's metal and glass detail, then the added on Copenhagen vista and THAT bridge was also excellent. FlyTampa also released KLAS - LasVegas later in the year and again in doing a great sceneraio of the bright lights of that Nevada city.... but FlyTampa noted that for now that was that for their X-Plane sceneries as their focus was now all on MSFS, I cried... a lot on that announcement. Also was the (very heavy) CYVR - Vancouver International Airport by GloballArt, brilliantly done, but hard on your frame rate as GloballArt sceneries are, and there was a nice KTPA Tampa International Airport by VerticalSim, another airport that filled out a big hole in Florida. Then came a real feature rich scenery with even a working airshow from Rising Dawn Studio's in KRAL-Riverside Municipal, it took years to compile and detail, it was a really great scenery, that was only let down by X-Plane's very poor surrounding default textures (why are the LA basin textures so bad?), but I still love using it, if only for the flying birds. LXGB - Gibraltar International Airport by Skyline Simulations was well done but let down by the average mountain side textures (I was in the middle of doing brilliant Dainese and Bellini sceneries as a comparison) but the rest of Gibraltar was in detail very good including the extreme short landing challenges. Two sceneries by Gaya Simulations are noteable but not reviewed on this site, EGPH Edinburgh Airport, and LOWW Vienna International Airport are not cheap, but are excellent sceneries. Two sceneries in CZST Stewart and CYBD Bella Coola created originally by Beti-x were acquired by the X-Plane.Org, CZST-Stewart was updated to current standards and both are still highly realistic and not at all dated, still both are very worthy additions to any scenery folder. There was a significant drop in scenery releases after the MSFS release for a few months, then in November there was a load of really great scenery flowing again... YPPH Perth International by renamed Axonos, was simply sensational and ticked off a huge hole in my network, then came another with EFHK - Helsinki Vantaa International by JustSim, another huge hole filled, and then recently a surprise superb scenery of EGGP Liverpool John Lennon Airport by DigitalDesign, a very good quality effort that deserves attention... A side note for a freeware release from MisterX6/SFD, with a payware quality was RJCH Hakodate Airport for nothing, everyone downloaded it. With a large amount of scenery holes filled in, I certainly felt that noted difference within the simulator, I was now living in a completely object based quality world within a quality scenery to fly between, there will always be another hole to fill... that is a given, but I was very content with my lot this year, a point is you don't have to have a low-res simulator full of Global airports, as when even for a slight investment you can live in another more higher detailed and realistic world. In the scenery aspect then 2021 will be interesting in if the more bigger development houses abandon X-Plane (remember we are not profitable to them) or we double up the same scenery with MSFS. Plugins I will state upfront that I am not a huge plugin connoisseur, so I only run what I call essential plugins in my simulator, running the new VRAM profiler (Menu/Developer) can give you the horrors of how much these little monstrous tools can gobble up your framerate and overall efficiency, I took to taking out as many of these laggards as possible. If your favorite plugin is not included in this list, then there are a huge amount of choices, some very clever, but most a replica of each other. Most will note FlywithLua as indispensable, but I found it just intruded into the aircraft systems too much (crashes), but then again that is part of what FlywithLua is for, messing around where it shouldn't be, so FWL is not represented here. A side note of a wrist slap in that "please leave the shaders alone" They are not to be messed with, then complain your simulator doesn't work anymore. The most interesting and most expensive was JustFlight's release of Traffic Global in 2020, a traffic (aircraft) simulation filler. It is very good, but buggy at release and twice the price of the outstanding favorite WorldTraffic 3. But Global Traffic did have two huge advantages over WT3, for one it didn't need a refresh every time you started up the simulator, and two it's framerate footprint was or is extremely low, and in laying out traffic in airports without set layouts it is excellent, but I do hate the steep takeoff and landing angles and the very fast taxiing speeds, in reality WT3 is far better overall (and far cheaper) but not as the better background tool, stutters are still a major problem, and so is the slow setup is another, but framerate has been refined. JustFlight also released AirHauler2 for X-Plane, but time constraints didn't allow me to test it out or review the application because of it's complexity, I'll try again in a quieter time. XPRealistic Pro v2.0 by rk Apps for Realism effects (shakes and sounds) was back, but this time in new code and not using the FlywithLua as a host. I had to abandon this plugin because of it's association with FWL, but thankfully it is back and very welcome, as it does add in a very dynamic effect to your flying. Another essential tool is the WebFMC Pro, a remote FMC that uses browsers for input, plugin was updated twice in the year in adding in more aircraft and even the default Laminar FMC, dual FMCs are also now available. A clever plugin very similar to the WebFMC system was SkyScout, a web based EFIS - PFD/MFD/EICAS by XPlane Aviator, it was very clever and a very interesting tool, certainly for training, but I found the release version a little too complex and buggy, but interesting. SimBrief is of course still a valuable tool as is the Navigraph subscription, but I had a lot of issues with the Simlink app after Vulkan was released, stutters and disconnection is now very common, it needs an update. BetterPushBack had a few updates, as did AviTab, SAM added to Seasons, with WorldJetways (brings Global Airports to life), Global Trees, Airport Vehicles (payware) and Follow Me car (Payware) and everything is now controlled via the SAM2 Suite, an invaluable tool that is a requirement if you use payware airports. ApSoft Airplane Toolbox was updated to calculate either the Takeoff or Landing Performance of many aircraft, as is SimToolkitPro that brings a lot of different aspects of flying under one single tool, there is a basic freeware and Pro version, but the April 2020 update was huge in new features. XPUIPC the equivalent to FSUIPC for FSX/P3D, is for creating internal datarefs has also had a few updates and only really for the nerds. xEnviro was basically sidelined all year, first with a poor heavy application in v1.13, that I returned (again) to the only viable version in 1.07, but once I had to run Vulkan, even in beta form then xEnviro became persona non grata. Very late after again another personal event and eleven tedious months of development the application came out in v1.14 form, but still only for OpenGL, and then the announcement was "Vulkan! next", seriously, I felt like just going "awwh what, so why bother"... A brilliant concept ruined continuously by bad management and no updating, expensive and not reliable, then Dark Space is just simply becoming a lot of empty space. The odd plugin of the year was librain(rain) by skiselkov. Vulkan rendered it non-viable, but was it fixed? or what has happened to this valuable tool... an odd business. In hardware, Thrustmaster TCA Officer Pack Airbus Edition brought a credible Airbus feel without the price to your desktop, for what you get it is good value, but Covid19 made stock scarce. To sum up 2020 it was most aircraft delayed by an API release with only a few notable releases, then Covid19. With scenery in releases it was huge early in the year then collapsed after MSFS release, then recovered again at the end of the year, MSFS went global mid-year and then just whimpered along. _________________________ 2020 marked the anniversary of X-PlaneReviews 7th year in producing content for the X-Plane simulator, and it was another year even a third larger in content than the year before and X-PlaneReviews passed the 1800 milestone of published reviews and 300 posts coming in this last year alone, and that shows the sheer amount of quality add-ons that was again added to the simulator. In September we did a site refresh and added in some animated banners, you have to find the balance between not ruining a clean interface with creating a more modern look and feel, and I think we achieved that aspect. 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 review products, service and updates, a really big thanks, this site just would just not function without that outstanding support. To our reviewers this year in Casa and from Jude, they have both added in a different dimension to the site, and we are always looking for reviewers to show off their skills and devotion to the X-Plane simulation platform. In a tropical storm you get a lot of turbulence from the howling winds of force, then suddenly in the central eye it gets super quiet and you can even see the stars in the calm sky, but you know that soon those huge forces of the the outer swirl will return with their destructive force. To a point that it is like that right now in X-Plane, we have had a huge disruptive year in 2020, and not only in simulation but all over the world, the fallout from all that energy will be as bad as the actual event itself. For simulation it is the Microsoft Flight Simulator that has been the biggest disrupter of all, but sitting here in the middle of the eye, then 2021 will bring back those destructive forces of change, so enjoy it while you can. In 2021 Laminar Research will present their response to MSFS in the form of X-Plane12, when is a release coming is very good question? as we have already passed one thanksgiving announcement milestone, Easter, maybe, or even at the FlightSimExpo 2021 currently scheduled for early June, that event is my guess currently, unless cancelled (again)... but we should have a beta version running earlier. To a point the June Expo is going to be an interesting event not-withstanding, Asobo will certainly want to dominate the show, so Laminar has to be expected to have something to counter the onslaught. More short term then the start of 2021 should be very exciting in Q1 and Q2. There are a load of aircraft currently reaching their beta states and almost ready for release. The biggest events will be from JustFlight with two products, A Vickers VC10 and a very exciting Bae 146, Dassault Aviation Falcon 8X, Chinook CH-47F, FlyJSim Q4XP (Dash Q400) and even at a long bet the Rotate MD11, all quality aircraft and most overdue for release. _________________________ We will finish off with X-PlaneReviews famous best of the year awards… So I will now list my Best of the Year 2020🏅 (note the awards are given to only products I have seen and tested and I can only vouch for) Best Aircraft : Airbus A321 NEO by ToLiSS 🏅 Certainly the best flying Airbus in X-Plane and now in NEO form, and all from a master Airbus systems craftsman. Honorable Mention : INIDesigns A300-600R(F), debatable if it was the best of the year, but we will give it a mention of the quality of a first release. Best General Aviation Aircraft : Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter by Thranda Design 🏅 Simply a huge feature set, and clever tools in creating your own instrument layouts and liveries, extra "Adventure Pack" brought Floats and Skydivers! Honorable Mentions : Both Aerobask's Lancair Legacy RG and Epic Victory in both have huge detail quality and instrument features Overall a really dismal year for such an competitive category, but TorqueSim did also produce a nice SR22 and SR20 Best Classic Aircraft : DHC-2 Beaver - DGS Series v1.1 by Thranda Design 🏅 Actually a no brainer, probably the best overall aircraft released in X-Plane in 2020, again it comes with the same clever tools in creating your own instrument layouts and liveries, and a float option thrown in as well... awesome machine! Honorable Mention : Lockheed P-38L Lightning by Flying Iron Simulations, Flying Iron do these warbirds very well, and this was another stunner. Best Business Aircraft : Vacant Award Zero, nothing in particular, the Carenado Cessna 208 Grand Caravan EX XP11 was executive by nature, but a bit to lackluster for an award. Best Military : Avro Vulcan B Mk.2, K.2 and MRR by JustFlight 🏅 Easy choice, but complex and hard to fly... but highly rewarding Best Helicopter : SA 341B and SA 342J Gazelle by JRXDesign 🏅 There was the only one notable releases for Helicopters in 2020 and that was the SA 341B and SA 342J Gazelle by JRXDesign, as the only releases other were from vSkyLabs, and both were very light (and on features) helicopters. No review was done at the time of the Gazelle because it required an update (coming in August), but I did fly the machine(s) and so it can be nominated here. Best Landscape Scenery : Dolomite Series l to V by Frank Dainese and Fabio Bellini mountain group 🏅 Just a huge landscape of a significant Italian Mountain area, you can explore the valleys for months and not cover it all Honorable Mention : K2-Karakorum scenery, again by Dainese and Bellini, another extraordinary area to explore Best Airport Scenery : EKCH-Copenhagen XP by FlyTampa 🏅 We award on the technical as well as the overall vista, and the metal and glass detail in FlyTampa's EKCH is extraordinary, and of course THAT bridge, and all done very well here Honorable Mention : KLAS-LasVegas was also very good, with the Las Vegas vista lighting up the desert Special Mentions : For all the ballyhoo, there was still some outstanding new entrants in scenery, Axonos... YPPH Perth International was a brilliant debut scenery, and FSDG widened out the world with some great exotic airports Worst of the year : KOAK-Oakland International by Departure Designs, was just plain awful, a bit too much ambition and no talent. Best Plugin(s) : Stairport's SAM2 🏅 Clever ideas and great tools, the whole concept was this year now gathered together under one application. Special Mention(s) : Traffic Global, XPRealistic, WebFMC Pro and Navigraph Charts All noted applications were highly used throughout the year and in Navigraph Charts/SimBrief both are simply invaluable tools for route creation. Person(s) of the Year : Ben Supnic, Chris Serio and Tyler Young 🏅 We do forget what brings the simulator to our computers, worse this year was the shear complexity of porting the new API's to X-Plane, it was a long and drawn out project, and fraught with considerable obstacles. So you didn't hear much of any of them in 2020, but quietly the coders at Laminar are changing the face of the simulator into a new era product, now they are faced with the monumental challenge of creating X-Plane12. Best Moment of the year 2020 : First run of Vulkan, sliders went up and so did the framerate... winner, winner chicken dinner Worst Moment of the Year 2020 : FlyTampa telling me they are not going to do any more scenery for X-Plane for the foreseeable future Biggest distractions of 2020 : ... Covid19, oh and the still never ending constant updating! Personal Favorites of 2020 : Updated IXEG B737 Classic (my favorite aircraft overall this year), ToLiSS A321 NEO (Brilliant), FlightFactor Airbus Ultimate (Yes it is now the ultimate simulation), SSG B748F (SSG finally got there), Bonanza F33A (Even better in XP11)... notable was the X-Trident AB412 Helio, it was a godsend this year for all the mountain scenery reviews : Routes... Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Barcelona, Roma, Helsinki, Munich, Malta, Perth, Atlanta and Denver That is X-PlaneReviews for 2020, and we will be back after a very much needed recovery and the review site returns again early into the New Year on the 6th January 2021. So Merry Christmas, a Happy (virus free) New Year 2021 Stephen Dutton 22nd December 2020 Copyright:X-PlaneReviews 2020 (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)
  24. Behind the Screen : November 2020 Here at X-PlaneReviews we do the reviews as we see them and in the moment. The idea is that what we see, you see warts and all, in other words "being honest" and overall the results are usually pretty close to what the product or addon on really is. That is important to you in making decisions on the product and how it will fit into your simulation aspect. I will admit I don't like ongoing development products, yes we know that most released aircraft (or even scenery for that matter) are not completely 100% completed (except maybe for Aerobask), because the sheer variable nature of the X-Plane simulator does not allow for that, and then throw in major simulator update like Vulkan/Metal and it can really put you out of context. But I mean aircraft development, that is always ongoing, like the Magknight Boeing 787-9, Colimate's Concorde FXP and most of VSkyLab's "Test Pilot" Series. Yes you get early access, but also a very disjointed simulation, as a rule I don't review them unless I feel they are quite stable and are ready to deliver your value for money. But I did something in November that I rarely do, I went back and re-edited an original review, and that was of the MagKnight Boeing 787-9. At the time I did the original update review for the B787-9 it was a hellish update month. For some reason September has become "Hell" month for a tsunami of updates, computer updates, simulator updates and product updates... then add in the before mentioned Vulkan/Metal 11.50 final release... another update. It does something to computers and your workflow, plus you have to sort out all the nasty little issues they create, like this works, but now that does not, and then add in a few odd weird failures from the actual computers themselves, it slowly burns you out. I note that everything noted here had nothing to do with the issues with the B787-9, but it didn't help in your mindset either. The update review of Boeing 787-900 v1.6.0 by Magknight didn't really get off to a good start, as I got more confused in trying to sort out the significant changes to the EFB (Electronic Flight Bag) and totally missed a major nose-wheel feature change, or got completely confused by it. But it was that nature and in reality the very reason I don't review ongoing development aircraft in that I missed a vital setting. When I came to flying the Dreamliner from Brisbane (BNE) to Melbourne (MEL) in the review it was quite a frustrating disaster, but I was willing to show the mess for what it was, but in that aspect it was not good for any readers of the review and certainly not good for the developers either, but a nagging aspect was that if the B787-9 flew as badly as I had covered it to be (odd wing angles and terrible takeoff performance) then why wasn't the X-Plane forums not lighting up with loads of aggravated pilots... it didn't make sense, I did post my findings on the forum, but no one answered? but the point was if there was no other complaints, then it had to be me... and that point nagged at me for weeks. More oddly was that I had already flown the MagKnight B787 from Hong Kong to Melbourne, it was quite a passive flight, but there was still a few odd, no a lot of under developed areas, but in that case I was able to fly around them, but not in the v1.6.0 review, the aircraft was simply terrible to fly. So when an expected product was late and needed more development, I suddenly had a free day to re-fly the Boeing 787-9 from Melbourne (MEL) to that very nice new Perth (PER). Maybe there was less pressure or my mood was better with no corroding computer issues, or simply whatever. Anyway I went through the Magknight systems this time in far more detail... first fixed was the odd nose-wheel steering feature. It is a first that you can use your joystick in a "Roll" and also a "Yaw" setting, and going between the two settings of "Use Roll for the NWS" and "Use Tiller Axis", all great features, but complex in understanding the right combination to get the nose-wheel steering you wanted, but once you understood the idea and the use of the Roll in taxiing the aircraft the more I liked it... but I could also see why I got so lost in the first review (it also didn't help that setting for the Roll is reversed). But the handling aspect of the Magknight B787-9 was not really my fault, but still made me look like an idiot or in being very incompetent in being a Pro reviewer. The Magknight B787 aircraft is still basically two aircraft in one, it's roots stem from it being a completely X-Plane Plane-Maker design, so the PFD, MAP and even the FMS is all still basic Laminar designed and default installs, but part of the ongoing development allows for a custom plugin interaction and mostly by that now very good EFP. But the two worlds are not yet connected, because Magknight are still developing a custom FMS and primary flight display system to install into the aircraft, FMS or Boeing's FMC - Flight Management Computer are very complicated beasts that are quite hard to design and use. The problem was simply setting the aircraft's Takeoff trim or setting the Centre of Gravity to balance the aircraft on takeoff. The Boeing 787 is a heavy aircraft, not a General Aviation aircraft were the trim is set manually, and In most cases you set the Takeoff trim in the FMC, usually on the performance page in a Boeing, or the INIT page in an Airbus (mostly the INIT 2 page). But the issue with the Magknight aircraft is that it is still stuck in a twin hybrid world of a basic FMS and no auto trim adjustment via the electronics. The way Magknight gets around this discrepancy is to put the TO (Takeoff) Trim setting in the MAP/NAV window, and you set the TO Trim manually, by the CoG percentage computed in EFP ("CALC") settings, it is however not done in the usual fashion via FMS... so I completely missed it. Once the correct TO Trim and CoG was set, the Dreamliner flew... well like a dream. Still not perfect though, because the aircraft still had a slight leaning roll, this was also corrected via using the keyboard X-Plane setting "Rudder Trim Centre" to over-ride it, and fix it, or still using another basic X-Plane command. So you can see the dilemma, I flew the aircraft like the Pro I am, but it's systems are still quite basic and workaround. That is the downside of these so called transitional aircraft, they are neither one thing or another, and in simulation you want authenticity, because you are flying the aircraft in a professional manner. It may suit the "wanna be" pilots because they love their eye candy first and even at the expense of quality and authenticity. There is no doubt that the Magknight Boeing 787-9 will soon have full custom systems, and probably very good it will be, because even now you can see that in the ideas and features in the aircraft, but in reality, they have developed the aircraft the wrong way around as many developers going after a market share have a habit of doing, it is all features and at the cost of the basics first, were as the FMC and correct Flight displays should have been the first priority... the problem for Magknight is that FlightFactor will certainly not make that mistake in their version of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Which brings us to xEnviro created by Dark Space. In November Dark Space finally released another update in v1.14 for X-Plane of the xEnviro environmental weather engine. First don't get me wrong, but I am a devoted user of xEnviro and do promote the plugin, because at it's heart it is a very good (if a very buggy) replacement of the now quite dated and boring weather engine that comes with X-Plane11. The history of Dark Space's development of xEnviro could be best served as a series for a comedy show, it's roadmaps are quite bizarre and it's development paths are as weird, and even the results in the different versions can be a bit hit and miss, in a good one, then an average one and then a whatever version, in reality the only really good version was v1.07, the rest were a bit wonky in one form or the other, but xEnviro when it worked in the right conditions was awe inspiring, so you held the faith (our family motto). Again the development path of bringing consistent new features, but never really getting the basic engine right has cost Dark Space years of development and users just a load of frustration, yes this sort of program is hard to do, yes it it is an intensive tool to create, but somehow their mindsets create more confusion than what they could help themselves with, in most cases instead of fixing the obvious they have a habit of completely changing around the features that already worked very well, and they wonder about why users kept on arcing up at them. They say it is hard and even impossible to do, yes it is, but Microsoft with the new MS FlightSimulator have done just that in the impossible, and in half the time that Dark Space have been banging away on this. But here we are now in another of their bizarre mindspaces. In with the release of v1.14, xEnviro will currently only still work in OpenGL, or not with the new Vulkan/Metal v11.50 dynamics... who wants to use OpenGL in v11.50? it is only a fallback situation if Vulcan fails, and too a point who wants to actually use X-Plane only in the older OpenGL mode, I think I have only about twice used OpenGL, and that was to test an older plugin situation. So all the advantages of using Vulkan/Metal are all lost on the plugin, and here is the thing, if any plugin has huge advantages in Vulkan/Metal it is a complex environmental engine like xEnviro. Dark Space has or had a lot of reasons to delay the start of change over to Vulkan/Metal, and note from now on it is "Vulkan, Vulkan, Vulkan", but... I think it is too late this time. Why on earth in that the moment Vulkan went final, didn't Dark Space start Vulkan development, or even a month or so before, so there has now been already three or four months wasted. They do note a major personal issue (again) also affected the v1.14 development, fine you accept that, but still development was started far too late and again the canvas has to now be totally redone from scratch. V1.14 took a long eleven months to do, for what is actually nothing or for something the majority of users can't actually use, Dark Space note that v1.15 (Vulkan) won't take as long, but to be honest I think we have already dialed out of these idiosyncratic development cycles of this product, I know I have. If Laminar deliver the expected new environmental engine to rival MDFS's version in X-Plane12, there will be only the need to put the cross on the grave of what was once a wanted great tool and even the loss of the enormous promise an exceptional plugin in the name of xEnviro. In several ways, both Magknight and Dark Space are very similar in the way they approach their development with their products, but both also are guilty of chasing features over making their products perform in a basic and credible way, both are in their ways incredible products, but have been let down by not doing the important boring areas, unfortunately, it is boring bits that make them a brilliant product when using them in the simulator. X-PlaneReviews will deliver a final 2020 "Behind the Screen - Year in Review" with a roundup of 2020 in the next few weeks, until then... Stephen Dutton 1st December 2020 Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews
  25. Behind the Screen : September 2020 First up that happened in September is the X-PlaneReviews site refresh, after four years you needed a new paintjob for the site and that with Invision then released more tools to allow you to do more ideas and add in more more features, then gave us the opportunity to bring out the ladders and paintbrushes. The old look was actually still quite good, but we felt we needed a more dynamic look and interaction. The results are nice on the eye, and easier for reading the reviews. I have always liked a clean if simple design (less is more) attraction (the graphic design training in me), and we think we have achieved that goal. We also felt it was too static as a site, but the problem with adding in flashy adverts and big banner images is that they can distract more than help, worse is that they come with huge image download times that will make most click on through the site. We did add in an animation banner, that was badly needed to highlight current reviews and news items, as one single banner in a way was not enough, and that works nicely... Another new feature is the addition to add in your own images at the bottom of the main page, this again gives users a more visual interaction with the site. All ideas are tested on not only all desktop browsers (Mac and Win), iPads, tablets (I test by going to my local store and downloading the site on to their numerous display units!) and iPhone/Android... so the site works for everyone. Again banners are nice, but not when they don't work. We may tweak it more yet, but for now it works, a note is that when we do certain image sizes and layouts it may look simple to the eye, but it has to work now across a multitude of browsers and gadgets, and has to be effective in all situations and not just on the usual wide desktop application (a big mistake in site creation). X-Plane 11.50 Final September was also the month that X-Plane v11.50 went final. So we are now in the era of Vulkan/Metal... modern times. Certainly processing speeds have been highly refined and you can now run far more features than before. But I am not completely happy with the transition. In most cases Laminar always usually over-delivered in features and ideas, and this is actually the first time I think they just didn't quite get there. I see a few areas the performance that are not as great as everyone expected, and in fact I am back running at my same numbers that I was using in the OpenGL environment... so is that progress? Don't get me wrong v11.50 is a big if massive huge step forward, smooth and far faster than anything we had previously, and like noted I can now use features that were off limits before like reflections, but I do sometimes get stutters (not the previous type, but processing stutters) and in the various areas it feels still a bit unrefined like with the slow texture processing. A lot of comments noted, say that it should be better, but the issues here are various, complex and users are not known for their patience. Number one thing to understand is that the process conversion to be fully Vulkanised or Metalised is really only about half completed. The changes already done only complete the shader changes and processing channels, but a lot of the older OpenGL areas are in there and still present... The beta process showed this up and it was an odd one, the process bounced from one side to the other in that one set of users ran far better at some settings, but others got worse results in the same version, swap the numbers around and you got the opposite effect in that another set of users got the advantage were as the others went completely the other way, it was like a Forrest Gump moment it that you "didn't know what version was the good one" for you until it actually came out. At in the end Laminar settled for a midway "sort of pleasing" everyone, but a pleasing no one either sort of situation. So that left the final edition of v11.50 in a bit of a mid-ground quandary Core of the problems are the textures, or the global tiles that makes up X-Plane, they are very old as is the ideas around the weather (a really big framerate killer) and other various left overs that came with X-Plane10, yes the Vulkan processing is fast, but these older elements are not, and so until X-plane has a rework to the modern elements and methods on having better more efficient global (high and low) textures and a complete rework of the weather engine, add in using not the current single pipe of process, but multi-core and multi-threading processing then the nirvana we are seeking and then and only then will the full effects of using Vulkan/Metal will come to the fore... in truth is we are only about halfway through the transition, and it may even take another few years to totally get there. From Laminar's point of view it was getting nowhere trying to please everyone, but the pressure to deliver X-Plane12 was also growing louder in the background. So this puts again so much importance on the next X-Plane release... no pressure there, and why try to fix something that is going to be changed again soon anyway, and so in the end we were left with a compromised release.... not certainly a failure in any context, but we have to consider the actual context we are sitting in. On saying that I still think that Laminar will twiddle with it in the background and find more performance for everyone before the year is out. One tool that has caused a lot of issues over the beta and currently with the final of v11.50 is Navigraph's "Simlink" tool. Loading times are horrendous (as it connects to the Navigraph servers), and now it is causing serious stutters in v11.50, it had to come out obviously, but it is a brilliant tool that is seriously missed, but it is also highly inefficient as a plugin and has been for awhile and has got seriously worse with v11.50... the concept needs a rethink, and very unlike Navigraph. The above is comment is interesting because all stutters outwardly look the same, in this case it was a plugin created stutter and not a simulator created stutter, but you can actually see or feel the differences between them, you can also switch off the offending plugins to see the differences (in the case of SimLink it was quite significant), but it shows how complex and interwoven the simulator really is, and how good your Sherlock Holmes detective work has to be in finding out and resolving conflicting issues, again the most simple one is to reset with a clean (or vanilla) X-Plane setup and work yourself upwards from there for the really big issues. Once we have the final done and completed, then came all the updates, to be fair most aircraft and plugin updates have mostly been already done, but still developers put out final, final updates... I found that September is turning into update month, not only for simulators but browsers, iPhones, operating systems, even my fridge got an update! But with the Vulkan/Metal transfer a few plugins have not returned... one is the Librain "Rain" plugin, and the usual xEnviro, who noted even when (or if) they do an update in v14 then it will still only be for OpenGL only, I mean who wants an OpenGL version?... I am going to die before they get something out that works with the current X-plane version, worse it that the xEnviro plugin is the one most significant plugin for the simulator, in creating at least some realistic weather. Oldies are still goodies A few blasts from the past appeared over the last few months and it was very welcoming to have them back. A lot of the scenery and certainly aircraft date horribly in the simulator, but many that were really advanced for their time can still also be very relevant today. A lot of life has been returned to the IXEG with thankfully a few updates for the Boeing 733 this year, it was still quite flyable before the changes, but the updates have certainly given the aircraft a lot more years service in the simulator, a "Classic" act with no pun intended. Second aircraft was the JRollon CRJ-200. For it's time it still really delivers an excellent simulation, even in X-Plane v11.50. Yes in areas in the cockpit and the cabin it feels dated, but it still performs outstandingly well. The amazing BSS soundpack that was added in a few years ago, that really totally changed the aircraft into something else, and nothing internally seems to have been affected. The v1.6 of the excellent WebFMC plugin now adds in the CRJ-200 (the reason it was pulled out from the back of the virtual hangar) and allowed me to revisit the aircraft again, and a return to service for the foreseeable future. Both of these aircraft were very, very well advanced on their releases and showed how sometimes we get the future delivered in front of you without actually understanding it, and the accolades have to go to the developers on the foresight they saw back then, and to survive two complete X-Plane versions is really an outstanding effort. Even though we have some outstanding current aircraft to fly in, they still totally deliver the goods in satisfaction. A v2 of the CRJ-200 was being developed, but the project went quiet (mainly because co-developer Philipp Münzel nee Ringler is not available) and if at anytime the aircraft will now be produced, but if it it ever did that would be something else. Another blast and totally unrelated to the update I did this week was the excellent Beti-x CZST Stewart and Bella Coola. I used Stewart as a basis for a review of Thranda's Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter a few months back, and to also mainly see how it lived up to its status as an award winning (2014) scenery, it was a sheer total coincidence that the scenery has been picked up by the X-Plane.Org and updated, but even in it's original form it showed the future of X-Plane in scenery development, with brilliant realistic ground textures, great if perfect modeling, and the VFR replication of a complete township that is still unrivaled today, yes we get completely replicated walkaround airport sceneries, but not of a whole settlement. The update filled in a few missing new features that were not available six years ago, but otherwise this outstanding scenery is as per original, and it is a scenery every user should savour in their custom scenery collection. It was a waltz through the X-Plane past, but these amazing products are still also totally relevant to today's simulator as well, they all still perform well and deliver brilliant simulation, so you have to be very careful in not to throw them out, there are certainly far more gems out there and most all of them are sitting in your aircraft folder and custom scenery folder, so seek them out and give them a visit, if they have dated or or not relevant, then yes the time has come to delete them. but you would be surprised how many do hold up to the current stands of still giving and delivering an extremely good simulation experience. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st October 2020 Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews
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