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  1. Behind the Screen : September 2018 Most online fliers don't really care about scenery, it is all about in the way the aircraft flies, handles and feels. To a point they are correct, but if the aspects of the way you use and fly an aircraft is not accurately represented in it's correct environment then without that reflection you are seriously missing something else in the dynamics of simulation. Almost all of the early simulators certainly followed this aspect, as scenery or the replication of the real world environment was not back then a high profile item on their feature lists, obviously detailed aircraft were not available either, but if the general view of the land (ground) and sky was represented then the focus was on the flying of the aircraft. Even when I came into X-Plane with v9 nearly nine years ago the scenery mesh was still quite primitive, you accepted it because it was the best it could be at the time, even if the mesh and objects was still basic, airports were a little better but were mostly converted early FlightSim 2004, because they were the only objects that would sorta of convert over to the X-Plane's initial OBJ8 format. If you wanted some sort of a realistic environment what you really needed was a very good if warped sense of imagination, thankfully I was equipped with such a heightened awareness. X-Plane10 came in with a focus more on the environmental aspect than the actual aircraft. the base mesh came now with complex mapping built in, which replicated better water areas and most importantly included the OSM or Open Street Map data that replicated real world traffic and street layouts, it wasn't perfect in that it relied on real data, and so if you flew to say China, it looked like the Chinese were still back in the water paddy era (it still does to be honest). With X-Plane10 also came "Autogen" which was a set of library objects built in to the simulator to replicate housing and urban infrastructure, it worked and it didn't, because at first there was too few art assets of which then basically consisted of SoCal houses (South California) and a few factories... The idea of X-Plane autogen was to not totally replicate absolutely real world objects, but to sort of create a generalisation of what a urban areas looked like, the plus is that the objects were highly refined and extremely efficient, if a little samey compared to the real world, worse was the fact that the SoCal minority objects severely restricted a worldly view and to a point even se in their own American landscape as well. Secondly is that when X-Plane 10 was released all of those 6 years ago, as then computer power or graphic card power was still quite small anyway and if you had 2K of graphic power you were in the top order of trendsetter of gamers, and even with that title then full maximum object settings were just within your reach and not in to the full capacity you really needed to create a realistic urban world around you. The last aspect of X-Plane10 that made a difference was the extension of the area tiles, from a meager 50nm outward to 100nm or . From any altitude the small tile footprint was dismal in the early X-Plane environs, but the 100nm extension did make even a horizon look plausible, but still and even today some mountainous artifacts can still creep into the visual extreme boundary. The odd thing was that X-Plane11's focus was not on the environmental areas, but in some ways X-Plane11 has had an even more larger impact on the realism factor of X-Plane. PBR (Physical Based Rendering) with reflections and it's better shadow and lighting effects now brought the objects to life, and scenery and mostly airports became a much more real place to work of fly into or out from. Then more autogen objects in the form of Germanic style housing really changed the outlook of areas, as the German feel is more representative of areas not only in Europe (including the UK) but even in Asia, Russia and even Japan than the restrictive American architecture. Other areas have changed significantly as well, mostly in graphic power. In 2018 you should have at least a 4K graphic card, a 6K is better, but in reality a 8K card is now required, with a 11K card as a target soon. The line should level off around 15K of which is still a generation of graphic cards away. the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is the current champion of the best of the best with 11K, but even with this monster installed then you will still not get every setting slider set to maximum, as the killer here is the texture quality. So why the X-Plane history lesson? Well it is important to note that In 2018 a line was crossed, an important line on several points. One was that more European urban (meaning industrial) autogen was added now into the mix (which was covered here) and the American set of the same medium industrial autogen is coming in the 11.30 beta. Also scenery developers finally got the message that using the autogen to your advantage can create a better product, in that if the gaps between the autogen and the custom scenery was reduced it made a huge difference to the overall scenery. That aspect is also covered even in a larger picture in that if you create city sceneries with using the autogen as a major fill around your city central items. It is important to note that to get the full effect now, you do need your object slider set at full maximum, in the past this was really never possible, but autogen efficiency is getting better, but obviously there has to be a trade off, even for me. That comes with dropping down your texture quality slider to "high", and yes you lose a little quality, but not as much as you would expect in this age of high quality textures. But find the balance and you can get a high object count and still have a quality custom scenery and still mostly use or get through with the settings on a 4K graphic card. The current effects of all this is that now X-Plane11 scenery is getting mind bogglingly good, the images created for the reviews shows those aspects on how far X-Plane has really now come. There is no way even a year or so ago you could get the scenario of Florence, Italy or the mega Seattle size sceneries to deliver the sort of full visual impact that they are now delivering, in airports with ShortFinal's KLAX and Nimbus's KORD they are not now islands in the landscape, but part of the landscape in a whole. I have always championed the use of the efficient autogen coupled with custom scenery to get the best visual representation and efficiency out of X-Plane and the current development certainly bears that out, yes I accept the Ortho4XP route is very popular, but expensive with hardware and not very efficient. But to date you can see the effects of just have one artist doing the work, as very good and talented as it is, it is just too slow a progress, ditto the excursion for city landmarks as only a few can be produced for each city, leave landmarks to the custom payware addons and add in more regional autogen for more impact, that fact has now been proven. But I am not denying that in areas the autogen model is still wanting and many blank areas do still show uncomfortably in your eyeline. And in another aspect it also now shows the limitations of the X-Plane autogen spread as being now very severely limiting. Certainly the Seattle scenery made that very obvious, with if you sit at Sea-Tec airport and turn your viewpoint to the Seattle city, then the autogen stops about halfway into the scenery, and from above it shows the spread limitations quite badly, and that is not to get started on the limitations of the traffic/road night lighting. But the x square of adjusting the autogen spread like with the earlier load of mesh tiles maybe more of a backward step at this point than a forward one. But that ultimate of nirvana is now getting extremely close as well. Views of horizon to horizon autogen and full city landmarks will soon create a full vista of reality. Helped by (hopefully) the huge efficiency of the Vulkan/Metal api's and the next generation of computer power, then the doubling of current processing power should get the deed finally done, and all should come together around the time of X-Plane12's release. This is also very prominent in that the Laminar Research road map (hint X-Plane12) will mean a major focus on efficiency, so the biggest changes will be internal and not visual, with all the expanded updates and versions over the last decade, and that is not overall a bad thing, as it is a clearing out of the dated aspects of X-Plane that are holding it back and not allowing the simulator to move forward, and obviously we will lose some very cherished areas, which is very Apple, but we know that the benefits will always highly outweigh the losses. The point is that finally X-Plane is starting a new era in realistic visual simulation, yes there is still a way to go, but finally the blocks are now falling into place, and it has been a very long difficult road to get to this point... but we are getting there. Ground Routes Many new airport payware scenery releases are featuring and including WT3 - WorldTraffic3 ground routes and airport operations as part of the package. The included routes are excellent in a drop in and get instant perfect traffic activity at the airport. These provided routes have a load of advantages, mostly in saving you time in either waiting or generating the said routes and then getting on with this flying business. Get it right and it is an instant high satisfaction rating. But many if most scenery releases with this new feature now being released, is this aspect really not what it really seems at all, and in some ways it is a total backstep to the sceneries benefits. In most cases those so called provided "custom created" ground routes are just a generation of WT3 application, packed up and packaged. And in most cases they are not even tested. The issue really goes far deeper than this. Most developers understand the creation of the ATC ground route system in WED (WorldEDitor), but only on a superficial level. So yes they create the ground routes and what is done is done and expect the routes to be perfect, but the problem is that all traffic applications and certainly in the far more clever and more complex WT3 application, in that it requires the far, far more detailed and correct flow information in taxiway and runway routes, correct stand information (open stand or bay stand), and more so in the state of the stand (correct stand information). I admit is it very complex layout to understand and can take a fair bit of time to configure correctly and yes only a few brave souls have gained this specialised skill, and the very best is Brian Navy or K-Man. And to a point that is the problem. Start up a newly installed scenery with these so called provided custom routes inserted and they either work perfectly or worse horribly in they simply don't. The thing is here you are paying for them to be honestly perfect. But too many sceneries lately have been totally horrible, with traffic aircraft running around in circles, running across the grass, departing right through terminals and the list goes on, in fact they are worse than the generated versions in the first place... the worse issue is the landing connection to the gate or stand. This is actually caused by the stand information not being the correct data wise, but the results are when even an aircraft lands correctly it will simply disappear instead of taxiing off the runway to the gate. That is fine but in over half an hour and all the ground aircraft will have then departed and then with no resupply of arriving aircraft, the airport then empties out to a complete blank or a wasted few. Worse this month was LEAL - Alicante Airport by VirtualDesign3d, followed by KORD - Chicago by Nimbus, and the list this year has been extensively long, and do you yet see any reviews on these pages for the said scenery, no, and that is because the traffic systems just don't work, and if you haven't see a review for a released scenery, you can always guarantee it is always this same issue. Thankfully Brian Navy has fixed up KORD, as he fixed up KSEA and KLAX as well and a mountain of others, so we should send him some nice fat food parcels or slabs of beer. But that does not fix the problem? The thing that really annoys me! is that to get the ground routes checked out for these mistakes is not THAT hard to do. I certainly don't want K-Man overloaded with fixup issues to save us all, but obviously he and a few others could advise on what is wrong the ground routes and where to fix them. Developers think that the scenery highlights are the 3d buildings, great animations and specialised glass and as much clutter as you can fill in there... but if the traffic activity does not work, then for everything else it is a dead airport, or a flat simulation, or worse a lot of wasted purchaser's time in getting it all fixed up to the point that it should have been done in the first place... ground routes and airport activity is the No1 feature of every scenery, not the bottom of the list feature, if the traffic does not work correctly you won't use the scenery, buy another one from the developer or worse just bin it... and worse still I won't review it, because the punters deserve better. X-Plane11.30 It is almost here... The next X-Plane11 update in beta 11.30 is due imminently, and my guess at the UK Cosford FlightSim on October 6th. A note that the speaker at Cosford for Laminar Research is not Ben Supnik or the Grand Poobah himself in Austin Meyer's but Philipp Ringler. That denotes that Ben is staying back to cover the XP11.30 beta fallout, of which means the release will be the same time as the presentation and not a delayed release date.... excited, you should be. This update is full of features, but it will still be the small fixes that will have the biggest impact on your day to day flying. Obviously it will be the new particle effects that will create the most drama, and the game is on in that who will get their aircraft out first with the effect feature? Or will we get the same deal as when X-Plane11 came out in that many developers will wait until v11.30 goes final before updating? personally I don't think so, as the effects have been in development for a very long time and also they should be be very well tested by now. One thing will be for sure, there will be a lot of updating to do, and it will be very busy until at least the USA Thanksgiving day 2018 marker. The update will of be covered in detail by X-PlaneReviews as per usual, and by the time the next "Behind The Screen" comes around in November then v11.30 will have been released and all the results will be in... so until then, just keep on downloading and updating! Stephen Dutton 1st October 2018 Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews
  2. Behind the Screen : August 2018 In many ways 2018 up to date has been a slightly frustrating one. It is X-PlaneReviews coda to checkout any new releases before publication in either "News!" or "Reviews". Other X-Plane news outlets proclaim new products, but they don't actually see them, so in reality they don't know really what sort of product it really actually is being released, but as in reality the detail is not very good. We (as in you) and I (as in X-PlaneReviews) expect and accept a certain leeway in new releases or new developers coming into X-Plane. That fact is a given because at it's heart X-Plane is quite complex. Even the very best developers have issues, bugs and items that need attention after the main release, you even expect that and understand that complexity, and usually the areas and items are corrected quickly and professionally. But in 2018 we have had a bounteous of new product and new developers coming into X-Plane, and certainly the more on board the merrier. They come in two segments with crossover products from the FlightSim world, or someone starting out as a apprentice developer. Nothing wrong with either of those approaches, but they do all have one major thing in common, in badly incompleted projects. In many cases the really "totally obvious" areas that are not covered before releasing their work for sale and to the expectation of users buying it. Downloading a lot of scenery this year I have been appalled at the so called "finished state" of the projects, some of my correction lists are quite long and detailed on why in reality this scenery shouldn't be on sale in this state... other projects are in similar positions, but are ruined more by poor installation details, and manuals (mostly plugins). The major point here is that, why not have the work checked and corrected before publication? the i's dotted and the t's crossed... and don't get me wrong here in that I want all the time the absolutely perfect product on my download, but if a user is faced with a poor scenery with a half completed layout or a plugin they can't install or use then the developer is in trouble, and if they are new to the X-Plane system then that reputation is going to get hammered from day one. So the point is you can't save someone that isn't going to listen in fixing up even the basic requirements. Once the product is up on the store and a review is done then the excuse that the "review was hard on the product, and affected the sales" is to blame the messenger and not the developer that didn't get it checked out correctly in the first place. We are very mindful here at X-PlaneReviews on how our reviews are presented, but we still look at the released product in the context of it's release sale presentation. In many cases we have delayed a review till the v1.2 release to clear up some items, but the reality is once the review is pinned and is then now out there warts and all once we post it, and then Google will stamp it up there on their servers as well. The problem is the situation is getting worse and worse and not better as the year goes on. Three items downloaded together this week for potential reviews were all rejected in one form or the other because they were quite bad in the same one form or the other aspect... so instead of doing reviews I am actually doing my monthly notes instead... all were worthy reviews, but all were not worthy of attention because of the various areas that are not completed or the installation was not achieved, and X-Plane users deserve far better and more so if you are paying for it. Worse is the point that there is a little war going on at the moment in trying to get "freewarers" to open their tight financial fists and to support developers and X-Plane in creating a more quality simulator than just being a "Global Airport" simulator that seems to be doing a far better job than the so called professionals lately. And deep down the crux of the issue is poor release product, that is simply incomplete or not up to the standard that payware requires, but overall the points that get me really annoyed is the fact that most areas only needed to be looked over and corrected before release, and in most cases there was only minor fixes and changes required, and maybe only a few weeks more work required. A small note on the FS crossovers as their issues are slightly different from the apprentices in the fact that their products don't take advantage of X-Plane's features to promote their product. I have already mentioned about the dumping of mostly FS product in X-Plane to make a quick dollar, but this is mostly quality product that misses out on some excellent tools (i.e. animated airbridges) to make their product (even if old) far more attractive for X-Plane users, again this track record has not been very good to downright awful. But the attitude of "we will fix it up later is after release" is not going to make you like Apple a trillion dollar company even if that system works for them, they do still beta testing and try to make sure their products are in a certain quality frame before putting them up for sale. This is in the school report of "must try harder" or at least to get your work checked out by a third party (and with someone actually familiar with X-Plane), and correct the glaring mistakes or issues before publication. Environmental Products September or the Q3 period of 2018 is going to an an interesting and even a very exciting time for X-Plane in first the release of v11.30 (see below) and the battle for your skies with environmental products from Xenviro and Active Sky. Environmental plugin products for X-Plane have had an interesting history. The first was SkyMaxx, the plugin was a breakthrough weather engine but suffered early framerate issues, but with development and great features it is was certainly a big step above the native X-Plane weather, with crepuscular rays and lens flare for realism. xEnviro was in my mind though the real breakthrough environmental engine, expensive at US$70, however I still think it delivered that promise of realism and the excellent framerate that it promised. The product itself is very good, but the activities behind the product are going straight into the situation of on how to really stuff up your customers and your own credibility in one go with manual 101. On release there was a foray of updates till Dec 2016, that initially made the plugin really good, great performance and quality weather was a bonus that was v1.06, and it had only one itsy-bitsy issue in that if you lost the internet connection to xEnviro's servers it would simply crash, it was a small one, but a big issue in the day to day running of the simulator... a fix, not on your life. The fix finally came in v1.7 in September last year (nine months late) and xEnviro plowed on with the more coming "great features" that finally came with v1.08 in January 2018. Only it didn't as that version had a huge amount of bugs, then came v1.09 that had even more. To put things into perspective a member of the xEnviro team was involved in a life threatening incident that required some time away to recover and hence the mess and quick release of v1.09, fair enough... but a bug fix, again not on your life, and we are still waiting six months later. So the full bug fix list since Dec 2016 or 20 months ago is just for that Internet connection bug, as I am still running on v1.07. The really annoying thing is that the v1.09 had so much promise, it is SO very good, but you can't actually use it, and the framerate use now stinks? I will note that xEnviro are also tied in with the Laminar Research X-Plane changes, so a lot is not actually their fault, but even a few bug fixes, just to keep the customer happy after paying over US$70 dollars while you develop forward, not on your nellie. And so most users have already pulled their expensive plugin and gone back to the now more better refined but still heavy framerate Austin Meyer puffs of cloud. To be balanced is that in the last few months the xEnviro team have been more supportive with better support and forthcoming information, but like I said, I am still running v1.07 (really v1.06 with one bug fix) and so this version is still actually 20 months old. If your a Mac user you didn't have all this palaver because you never got the plugin option in the first place, like I said... customer relationship manual 101 (look under failures). So why all the above customer report... Well in September and now in beta is HiFi's Simulations Technologies ActiveSky, a Flightsim product coming over to X-Plane11. The points are that ActiveSky has a pretty good if with an excellent track record in Flightsim, its been around for ages in fact since 2002. On one side is the fact that FlightSim product ported over to X-Plane can have a pretty fickle record, but HiFi do have the numbers on the board and the product is to be priced moderately at around the USA$50 mark Are you starting to get the full picture between xEnviro and ActiveSky... If ActiveSky delivers then do you expect users to still be faithful to xEnviro? as you can only push your punters so far, and this is noted in the aspect that xEnviro is a brilliant product, and has coming some even more brilliant ideas and features... like snow on the ground or mountainous areas, so if the METAR report says snow then you will get that without then changing to a seasonal texture, that feature alone is worth the entry cost, and deep down xEnviro has delivered some exceptional and realistic weather. My gut wants xEnviro to be the premier environmental tool for X-Plane, but the story so far means it has it's very difficult (and wholly avoidable) past to overcome before creating or pressing on with any new forthcoming features... their past luxury development time and user patience is now very quickly running out. v11.30 I covered a full analysis of X-Plane's immediate future in both the Expo 2018 roadmap report and the last Laminar Research Q & A session over the last few months. Overall you got a pretty excellent picture between these two sessions on where X-Plane is currently going. Certainly v11.30 is going to be an absolute blockbuster, in the fact I have nicknamed it X-Plane11 v2.0. But like I noted in my Q & A notes is the fact that these ongoing progressing features are now taking a significant toll on my system. Anyone one will tell you that simulation is always going to be an unending battle with hardware vs software and the hardware usually loses, as you think you have won that battle and then a new one starts, but when your framerate count is starting to run in the lower 20's you start to worry, and I have my settings set at only in moderate positions and not at full max, then the worry is more fraught than ever. My position is always that if can run this then you should be able to as well. My hardware is not the full blast power house, but not quite also the "so old" as it still uses Windows 7, and in that it is positioned very much in the middle to reflect the balance of X-Plane's current requirements. The odd thing is that I am in the frame of mind that I am not yet in the next upgrade cycle. My graphic card is 8gb and should be powerful enough for most (yes I know that higher is better) but my board and processors are now starting to feel their three year old age, and so are due to be replaced next year. But overall I should still be in that middle ground of being able to negotiate a balance... but I have this terrible gut feeling that v11.30 might just do me in? My savior is hopefully going to be the new APIs of Vulkan (in my case and Linux users) and Metal (for the 36.9% of you that are Apple users), but they are not due until the end of the year, if the API doesn't fulfill its promises then the board and chip upgrade is going to have to happen even sooner, but my reasoning is that Vulkan will deliver and does in the areas I require it to really deliver in and that is in processing the smaller stuff even quicker. The one major aspect of the Q & A was that Laminar are going forward in one major area and that is in efficiency. So the biggest new features coming are not now the visual showy ones but the hidden engine parts of the simulator and the fact you may not be able to twiddle with the X-Plane internals as much as you could in the past, see the Dev Blog post on shaders. And in fact I think there will be a lot of ongoing internal engine changes right up to until the end of the X-Plane11 run, and not much of the original X-Plane engine will be in there by then as you move into X-Plane12, a bit like when Apple moved over to Mac OS X from Classic MacOS. Killer Simulator users There was the New York Post article about the guy Richard Russell that stole a Dash Q400 and flew it around and finally crashed it in the middle of Seattle's Nisqually Reach on Ketron Island. The article notes is that yes in "you and me" as simulator users are now the biggest danger to the public since ISIS or Al-Qaeda (and yes they also used aircraft as well for terror). More to the point we are a fast rising source of danger because we have already done this threat already before as from the evidence created by that "rogue" pilot that flew with training on "a simulator" into stealing and crashing the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that flew to "god knows where" and crashed and killed so many innocent people.... you are now walking around with a "Killer" or "Terrorist" written on your back because of your association with flight simulation. So be careful folks as they are on to us! The article is poorly written, X-Plane was noted originally but that section has been deleted (maybe at the deference of Laminar Research) who were also noted in the original article for comment. But some points are quite ridiculous, notably the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Air Safety Institute spokesman that quoted "A pilot would also need endorsements from flight instructors for certain skills to fly a Q400"... hello Mr AOPA, Russell stole the aircraft and didn't ask for permission? But the article did say (originally to the quality of X-Plane's simulation dynamics) that are home based simulators now getting too realistic and now almost too lifelike for their own good. Obviously this is the main goal of simulators in trying to be as realistic and as close to real world flying aircraft as possible, to note that real world pilots do brush up on their skills on home based computers before doing so in training in real world simulators, and we them call "Study" aircraft for a reason, in to replicate the real world aircraft and ground based simulators for cross training. Let us be realistic in the fact that all home simulators were all mostly created originally to help in and for real world training, not for home user histrionics. The inevitable point or discussion on if a simulator user could jump in (in this case a Dash Q400), start it up, taxi, takeoff and then do aerial aerobatics is highly debatable and certainly every simulator users ultimate dream. One thing for sure was that it wasn't the X-Plane simulator that Russell flew and learnt from (if he did anyway). X-Plane only has one graded Q400 from FlyJSIm, and very good as it is, but it is certainly not certainly deep enough of systems and avionics to be a base for starting up a real Q400. The only simulation of depth is the MJC8 Q400 from Majestic and it comes with and wait for it... a training edition! Maybe that is why Laminar Research ask the NYP to delete their references to X-Plane. But anyway you look at it, then the guy could startup, taxi and fly the aircraft, and so could he have also landed it... I think so (Dashs are notoriously hard to land) as he didn't want to or need to as he selected (the point is he selected) a barren empty island to finish off not only the aircraft but also his own life. The debate that experienced flight simulator users could transition to the real aircraft will forever rage on, but my experience is that I transitioned to a real B737 simulator and that was from a being a behind a monitor and using a keyboard flier and flew it from YBBN to YSSY and all with the nodding approval of my right seat flying instructor. In the account of my own abilities and with that experience in mind I am quite sure I could fly the real B737. So that must make me now public enemy No.1! Stephen Dutton 1st September 2018 Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews
  3. Behind the Screen : July 2018 - X-PlaneReviews 5th Anniversary This edition of "Behind the Screen" coincides with X-PlaneReviews fifth year Anniversary. A big deal, well in any industry to survive is foremost the general idea, but in this very modern fast moving world as many others can come and disappear in simply a blink of an eye, as usually (mostly around the New Year) up a new site pop's and it is totally full of enthusiasm and to be honest you do get overwhelmingly overwhelmed by the sheer output they are able to quickly generate, so you keep your head down and do the best you can, keep the faith (family motto) and plug on ahead. Then usually they start to falter, and within months they have either collapsed and mostly disappeared, or then finally the odd old post then pops up now and again, but mostly the dragon storm has run it's course and blown itself out. Personally I don't mind these sites as any new viewpoints in X-Plane can always be welcomed, you can always learn something new as well or see a different approach to what you are doing. But the worry is when in the unbridled enthusiasm of the getting so much attention in that the actual facts get well... a bit lost in the message or with the messenger, as this is of course the age of instant news, or "fake (internet) news" and then every email, message or text is taken as gospel when it is actually isn't and then then the post is out there, and the damage is done, and sometimes mostly the damage is irreparable. X-PlaneReviews is a bit, well shall we say old school... more city newspaper than instant TMZ, but the one thing we do is check is our facts, and so we know what is really going on in the industry (even if sometimes we can't tell you about it), that goes for our reviews, yes the reviews are a few days and even sometimes a few weeks older than the release date, but we would have flown the real aircraft, landed at the real scenery and tested those plugins. No heresay, no passed on information, we have checked it out and verified the product is what it is. Like most work, then what you see is only the top of the iceberg, a lot of what we do is behind the scenes, working with developers and helping with ideas, testing... a lot of testing, helping users, the list goes on, and the pop up sites then very quickly realise, that to run a site like this requires a lot of hours of work, the idea of just posting, posts is actually very different from reality, spend a few days away and the landscape has already changed, the funny thing about running websites is that you actually work far harder and a lot longer than you did with manual work and it takes up a vast amount of your time, this is the one area that the budding bloggers also don't see, but they soon quickly find those facts out. So what has changed in X-Plane in those five years, well a lot, but a lot is still the same. In detail then X-Plane is way and above and beyond with what what had back then, in fact most aircraft and sceneries from back then would simply be laughable today, but that is not to say they weren't good, they were what they were for the time and the computer power, and to think back then we really had only one virtual cockpit (a nice B757), as all the panels were only 2d... all 2d, and just think about that. The quality in design in X-Plane11 is now jaw-dropping, you think it couldn't get any more realistic, and then it does some more, but in also being far more efficient as well with the latest tools. We certainly loved our aircraft five years ago, as we do today, but the range we have to choose from now is getting overwhelming, but from a FlightSim point of view of X-Plane that would seem laughable, but the choice is now there for every taste. So the change in reviewing has grown substantially as well. Overall we still do the same in detailing the aircraft or scenery, flying the aircraft or testing out the scenery (mostly for framerate efficiency)... but it is in the depth of the aircraft and to a point in the scenery in detail, that is where we have had the biggest changes. I was able to review five years ago, because basically the aircraft were quite simple... but that is certainly not the case today. The hardest challenge in reviewing is simply making the same feel different, and saying the same facts over and over about the same thing in 1200+ reviews, and even making it entertaining. The main point of the five years of the journey of this X-PlaneReview site is the extensive work of learning. and even more so in the last few years. The skills required are now high, and I would say even real world capable. You could say I was getting above myself, even a so called "big shot know it all". But I disagree. Five years of constantly flying and practically in pretty well everything from hang-gliders to A380's, and I mostly fly when doing with reviews 2hr to 4hrs a day that is converted to 28 to 30 hours per week, yes a day and even if I averaged that out with sceneries. The one area I have had less time to do is long haul which is my favorite form of flying, because I constantly need the computer for the reviews, but I will sneak one in now and again. Mostly when doing reviews the flying computer is usually still running, flying or testing or like it is right now with a new aircraft to review doing a 350 nm flight. And then is the actual physical study with manuals and a lot of Googling for the areas that are not covered in manuals or specific instrument items, lingo or just plain aircraft information. The last year instead of the study becoming less with time, it has actually stepped up significantly with far more heavily detailed study aircraft now coming into X-Plane, this year has been an Airbus year with the deep systems ToLiSS319 and FlightFactor's A320 Ultimate, then there was the extensive depth of the Boeing twins of FlightFactor's B757/B767 and FJS B732, I mean even a real pilot learns and flies only one airframe at a time... for god's sake! ... and worse I want to keep everything as real or as close to the real world as possible. Then comes X-Plane itself. I started with X-Plane9, with X-Plane10 changing the environmental aspects of the simulator, the focus there was in taking the basics of X-Plane9 and then making the world around the fundamentals of just flying an aircraft, and to making a far more realistic world to actually fly the aircraft in, and the change to 64bit was a very important step as well. At the time X-Plane11 didn't seem to be the huge step in simulation that X-Plane10 was, but looking back from this position today then X-Plane11 has changed the simulator more than X-Plane9 and X-Plane10 put together. Many of you would disagree with that statement, but I believe that X-Plane11 has more depth now globally than any other simulator out there (and yes many will also totally argue that case) but here are the facts. PBR or Physically Based Rendering has totally and absolutely changed the way we see and feel all the areas in simulation, PBR makes the simulation world realistic, and you only have to compare the X-Plane10 version of an aircraft to a X-Plane11 version, in other words... dull or alive. X-Plane was known for it's highly realistic aircraft performance and handling, that is nothing new. But since X-Plane11 was released the basics of the flying have also again fundamentally changed, You however need the tools to access this area, as a throttle system is now invaluable. In reviewing the biggest challenge now is simply landing an aircraft. Every single aircraft has a totally different feel and performance, before X-Plane11 there was a sort of barometer between most categories of aircraft and it was quite easy to adapt between them, but that is simply not the case now in X-Plane11. The simulator now is very much more fine tuned to the aircraft's performance and the challenge of finding that absolutely correct timing and throttle adjustment that separates lift from stall has become crucial, and every aircraft is now very different in this area, and it is very highly challenging to get it right, and then do it again. The point is the skills required are now also seriously high, challenging as much as it is in the real world, and in fact the real world is actually probably a little easier as you have real metal around you with a real feel from the machine, just like when driving a car compared to a car racing game. Of all the areas over the last five years this one has been the most difficult, the most demanding area of all, because I simply can't get it wrong as the review counts on these factors. I do admit that in reviews (mostly with GA aircraft) I do put a lot of emphasis on this area in X-Plane11. As noted the basics of X-Plane haven't really changed but everything else has. I would have never dreamed of the gate to gate experience I can achieve now with say the ToLiSS319 and a few quality addon sceneries and that I was so aghast that so many users in X-Plane are not taking advantage of the quality of the aircraft and scenery now available to them to make their flying as authentic as it can actually be. Most changes over the years have been incremental, but the simulator has changed fundamentally, but two areas have made the biggest differences, in Laminar Research's change it was the switch to 64bit, as that allowed the explosion of space to expand out the simulator and make it more relevant. In addons it was the release of Classic Jet Simulation's World Traffic, that filled up your airports and made X-Plane a far more dynamic world around you, and for all the clever ideas over the years X-Plane still doesn't come close to choice of addons that the FlightSim users have available. And weather is a great example, with the still bulky native weather system, the SkyMaxx series and xEnviro, all have positives, but none really absolutely covers the workable system X-Plane requires and what that FlightSim has had for years, and the less said about X-Plane's ATC the better. No one bores quickly than me, and I don't have time in my life to waste it around on trivia, so what has held my attention for nine years by keeping me here in computer simulation. That huge learning curve for one, there is always something to learn, practise or do better, or try that again, aiming for perfection and to be as good as the real guys. The development of the simulator, in ideas, genius moments and seeing developers up their game with every release, pushing the boundaries, seeing the dream come true in front of you of flying almost the real aircraft, landing at an almost real airport, the development cycle simply never stops and I have a slogan in "X-Plane - Building the world around you at one airport at a time". I actually gave myself four months in X-Plane before the so called then "fad" wore off, but here I am almost eight years later and still enjoying it, loving it actually and knowing on how much more there is still to come, and X-Plane leads in online communities, users and people all over the world from every nationality that all have the same goals, aspirations and share their same love for online simulation, there are no barriers here, not race, not age, not gender... stupidity maybe, but then that is universal, but overall we share and do the same together, learn, dream and push X-Plane forward, we get a lot of things right that most humans on the planet get wrong. I have made a few speculations this year, but one thing that is very apparent is that these next few years are going to the most significant for the simulator, where and in what direction will it go, good or even bad... but we are still growing, still adding in the numbers, but X-Plane is still at a very critical point in its history... and even I couldn't forecast the future right now, but like in the real world it is not X-Plane itself per se that is the question, but the events outside and surrounding it that will bring the questions and the changes, the problem with every business is that people and things change, many like myself who have been in simulation for years will move on, and new people and business's will replace them with their own agendas, change happens... for the good or for the bad,and if I am here in another five years time in will be interesting of where we will be then as now... if the changes are as big and as significant as they have been in the last five years, then that will certainly be interesting and exciting time. Payware Clutter Earlier this month came the "cease and desist" notice to a developer, in this case it was Rim&Company that produced the scenery "Ayers Rock" and "Ushuaia Malvinas Airport". If you look you will see that both sceneries have been pulled from sale. The issue is that the developer used clutter or objects taken from other sceneries without their permission, most notably here is Cami De Belis and Richard G. Nunes our South American specialist, and at least in that context Rim&Co had their pick of quality objects. But this is a no, no in X-Plane or any simulation platform, as if you use items or objects you must have permission if it is a payware product, mostly just as a notice to the ownership and copyright of the original material or work, some developers will ask for a small fee, but most will allow for free in respect to where the original items came from. Some rumors even stated that Rim&Co actually doctored the objects to claim them as their own (copyright), which if true is even worse than just stealing them in the first place. Personally I thought something was wrong while reviewing Rim&Co's "Ayers Rock" as there was extensive over clutter that I mentioned in the review, and believe me there is nothing like that much in quality detail anywhere in Central Australia... In context though it is hard for Payware developers, but not enough to actually steal items. If you are a freeware developer you have a very wide selection of libraries, hence the output of say tdg, and a lot of these libraries are very high quality ones at that, like the misterX library. For the payware developer they have to create every single custom item from scratch to build up their own library selection, and in context is that not actually fair. The bonus of this is that the library is all custom and can be used as a feature to sell the scenery, but a lot of clutter is just that in basic airport clutter, and if another quality scenery developer has some really excellent items that is perfect for your scenery and also give X-Plane itself a sort overall consistency then should that option be actually available to them? In my reviewing in scenery, then still most developers are still single dev's and they are still not in the larger teams or groups like you find with aircraft development, although this scenario is currently changing. The problem is that with a single developer although in many areas they are very good in creating the actual scenery, that in some areas they can also be quite average or not even that bothered to create high quality clutter objects. And so in far too many sceneries I have seen many an excellent work ruined by really average baggage carts, aircraft stairs and other clutter that look like they have been created in the 1990's era of 3d modeling. So even then the very best developers can have their weak spots in a single developer scenario unlike were as in a team, in that if one developer can then compensate for the other developer's weaknesses. But is it fair that for someone trying to build a business creating custom payware scenery to have freeware quality clutter at a far higher and in far more abundance than with their own work? I asked mister6X this and he noted it up to the developer to create his own high quality custom scenery, and again as a feature for users to purchase that custom high quality scenery, and for all of that it makes it a reason to highlight the quality of Payware over Freeware, but the issue here becomes more confused in the fact that mister6X also has an extensive high quality library available for freeware developers as well? The overall point here is that if X-Plane is trying to build a business model to attract talented developers to create scenery for the simulator, the first point is "why bother", because the freeware market is just going to ruin any chance of the developer actually making any cash out of it, never mind a living. The X-Plane mindset is already "its free!" so why pay for the same thing, and for one the freeware developers have all the advantages and even sometimes a donation button on their work as well, this is why X-Plane is lagging behind in this area, with the chance of the payware scenery business even collapsing completely altogether. It is also being seen that even high quality scenery can very quickly go on to the "Sale" market and priced well below it's worth just to sell the scenery to cover costs, again the user will get into that "sale" mindset and will know that soon any scenery release they will be able to pick it up at a very low cost, again why would you do it, and why spend months of work just to give it away at below cost... it is a model that just can't survive. So the debate is should developers have access to their own high quality clutter libraries, for a fee? It works both ways... the developer can save months of work in just creating clutter objects that come with a high quality already built in and give X-Plane a consistency of design. And the developers can also make money off the fees for their developed libraries so that is another income stream for their business, plus it gives the developers far more options in the way they can fill out their scenery as they would now skimp on those areas because filling them out is going to take a lot of time for no real return. One way or the other, the current business model for payware scenery has to change and quickly, and so does the altitude towards such practices. So would have Rim&Co paid a fee for those objects instead of stealing from Cami and Richard, probably not... but at least the option would have been there for them to do so. Preview In July X-PlaneREviews introduced a new category called "Preview". Full reviews can take time to cover all the very varied aspects of a scenery or even an aircraft, like the KLAXv2 by ShortFinal as the scenery took nearly four days to review and then there was an extra added on segment for changes. Problem is there are now as many as 4 to 5 new scenery releases a week, and in that I realised I was simply falling behind. Users want facts and usually want them quickly when they want to purchase products, so I could see it was getting to be a problem if even becoming very stressful in just covering every aspect of every releases. So "Preview" was created to give you a comprehensive overview of a release, if the release is significant to X-Plane then of course the full review will still be completed. But "Preview" will allow us to cover the product far more quickly without still missing out on the main important details that are made up in purchase decisions. Again I thank... The site is as always reliant of the many other people to function. First thanks goes out to all the developers that give out such outstanding work, they all have created this amazing intimate world with their creativity. I spend a lot of time with many of them, and although they wonder why I am there suddenly 100% then disappear only to reappear again later and it is that because there are so many projects ongoing, and I try to follow all of them, but time is of course limited. Overall I try to see for the benefits of X-Plane on how the work is going forward. Laminar Research is always a foundation we constantly complain about, but in reality they have really delivered and again this year. It is a far more professional business today than certainly when I entered X-Plane. Give them a another round of applause I think they have deserved it. The X-Plane.Org and the X-Plane.OrgStore is the centre of our X-Plane universe, take both out of the equation and would X-Plane be where it is today, and would this site even exist? I would doubt it. A lot of users note it is a monolith, but I see it as a steady hand in allowing the simulator to thrive as passionate people give a lot of their free time to help and give service to so many others, both Laminar Research and the X-Plane.Org are two binary stars orbiting each other that keeps that balance and the X-Plane engine running, surviving, so it is important that we support both. I have no problem in saying X-PlaneReviews supports the X-Plane.OrgStore because they do supply a lot of the releases for reviews, it allows us to cover a far larger area than most review sites, but my real reason for supporting the X-Plane.OrgStore is because it supports X-Plane in the best way it can in service, and developers trust it and the users do as well, in other words it is a sound and solid foundation you can rely on time and time again and that is a rare thing in this day and age.  See you all next month in our sixth year in X-Plane Stephen Dutton 1st August 2018 Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews
  4. Behind the Screen : June 2018 We ended the last Behind the Screen edition in May 2018 with the coming FlightSimExpo 2018 in Las Vegas. And I covered the overview of the event here Laminar Research : FlightSimExpo 2018 X-Plane Roadmap. The Expo was everything we expected it to be and even more, and the more interesting background of the Expo was just as interesting as the announced upfront details and the following roadmap from Laminar Research. In the short version Laminar did a really great seminar, and in fact were the highlights of the Expo, but that was also the underlying theme of this Expo as was the changes with the overall simulation genre as a business. There was many highlights to the Expo. First being was that simulation although dwarfed by online and video gaming is not as many predicted dying a thousand slow deaths, but coming from the FlightSim World perspective it may seem that way. In fact simulation and as this Expo showed that simulation is quite healthy in new members and participation, but it is still is a small niche area that is simply not advertised enough as to how good simulation really is today... in other words not many people out there actually know that simulation actually exists and how good or how great it is. Secondly is the fact that simulation is going through a major seismic wholesale change, and this year in 2018 will be remembered as one of the most significant moments for the whole of the many simulation platforms, yes this theme has been current for a few "Behind the Screen" editions this year, but it is extremely important to understand why and how this situation is unfolding and then as quickly as it is. This was highlighted even more by the Expo in Las Vegas, yes all the big guns were there in PMDG, Aerosoft, Orbix, Quality Wings, Rex Simulations, Goflight and more. But there was a significant change in the air as well, as in the past FlightSim Simulation business totally and dominated the expos and seminars, but here the mood was very different. And the only company that had the biggest and over-riding presence at the Expo was X-Plane's Laminar Research, and not only on the stage, but in the event hall as well. Daniel Klaue (Thranda) summed it all up nicely in his comments of his visit to the Expo and he was certainly active in finding out of where everything was standing in this current simulation business. His notes that Lockheed Martin's P3D was or is never going to be a community driven sim is highly significant and that the platform's user base is sectioned into areas that in reality is not good if Lockheed Martin's funding (military) is suddenly reduced (Although a pro-Trump defence buildup will not see that in the immediate future), but so If Lockheed Martin decided that a small side simulation business is not worth throwing cash or resources at and again it mirrors the Microsoft decision of a decade ago, then the complete current FlightSim business model and even the user base around it is totally and completely over and in effect the Microsoft platform days are then well and truly over as well. And as Dan Klaue notes.. "if the funding for the development of the sim comes from a 51-billion dollar military industrial complex, interested in the sim primarily for its value in training military personnel, it seems pretty detached from the market forces that could make the sim a better sim for end-users and hobbyists. interested in the sim primarily for its value in training military personnel, it seems pretty detached from the market forces that could make the sim a better sim for end-users and hobbyists." Yes FlightSim may survive the loss of Dovetail Games and FSW, but it certainly won't survive the loss of P3D, and is the Lockheed Martin philosophy and business model one to invest in a five year or more business plan? Dan does note that Lockheed Martin don't even know what to do with P3D themselves, either keep it in the military theme or go public and compete head on with Laminar Research, but overall they are not a private commerce based business but a giant aerospace company. So you can easily see the working of the worry beads by even the most entrenched FlightSim developers and although their smiles and thumbs up said "Everythings OK" the reality is however very different. But Laminar Research and X-Plane is still a very different platform as well. Built by hobbist's and run by hobbist's it is very community driven and that is very good. But X-Plane is also still very different from the user and business likes and not's of the FlightSim community, so hence the real hesitation of the major FlightSim business to come and develop for X-Plane. This fact is highlighted very well or even very badly for X-Plane in the latest user data from Laminar Research.. "Usage Data as of June 2018". As 61% of all flights in the simulator are with still with and only includes the basic default X-Plane aircraft, and default and simple are the word to be noted here. Next down by a long way at 4.5% is the Boeing 738x Zibo mod aircraft which is again free and a development of the same aircraft as the default Laminar Research B738 version? So currently 65% of ALL fights in X-Plane are only with freeware aircraft, and just think about that. My real horror at those numbers was that the two new Airbus aircraft with the FlightFactor A320U and more so with ToLiSS's A319 were not even registered, they are noted as something like a percentage of 0.09%. Yes I will admit they are in a high price point, but the numbers are not good at all if you want to base your payware business model on X-Plane and certainly in the heavy aircraft genre that most of these FS developers have most of their investment. In fact it destroys any chance of any business model at all, and this point is very significant for the future of the X-Plane platform in the simulation business. If the hobbist twiddlers are wanting to keep out the monster FlightSim community out then they are certainly doing a very good job about it, but that sort of mentality is also very, very detrimental and even fatalistic for the future of X-Plane as a simulation platform and certainly as a payware business. This leads to two very different future scenerios for X-Plane and both are not good for the simulator. The first one is that the FlightSim developers group together and create a new simulator in their own image and business model or even buy out the Lockheed Martin platform. This is not hypothetical either as they already have once before as a group tried to buy the original Microsoft Flight Simulator licence, but Dovetail Games put in a higher offer... but that is not saying it will happen again as desperate times create desperate measures. The reflection on X-Plane in this case will be that it will go along on it's merry hobbist way, but there is a significant issue in that even X-Plane devoted current developers will slowly disappear as the returns for the amount of development time will widen and top quality products will gradually become scarce, and in fact innovation instead of going forward in the payware features will slowly disappear. In other word X-Plane will be PlaneMaker based again (Like the Magknight B787) with only a few developers willing to produce aircraft for a very small market as only freeware or a minute share of if any payware aircraft will dominate the simulator. And to be honest even I would abandon my beloved X-Plane if the high quality product stopped coming or decreased, as I hate to go backwards for a minority view of even for a few hobbists. Second scenerio is that the FlightSim developers change X-Plane into their own world view, a sort of migration issue in that in time the immigrants change the nature and soul of the simulation platform to suit their own conveniences and in that yes they would probably make it actually better, but it wouldn't be the X-Plane in the eyes and feel that we know it today. This is already happening in the way that Orbix is already creating their own hub and universe, as you can buy only from them and only them or you either don't get it or be given any choices, worse is the fact they are hoovering up all the best scenery X-Plane developers like no tomorrow with wishes, good tidings and mostly the chance to earn real money, but note that money all goes back only to Orbix and not into X-Plane, is that really the X-Plane way, certainly it is the FlightSim way... So if all these major FlightSim developers do decide to come and eventually run X-Plane as their new universe then the hobbist's will certainly very quickly be outnumbered by the immigrants because they are willing to open their wallets. But then the current miserly user base is very much to blame for their own loss and more so the high loss of a group of very highly talented developers that are only trying to make a living and at least get some sales for their hard work, in reality you just can't blame them going to a market to sell their great ideas and innovation and being rewarded for it, as certainly X-Plane users are all turning their noses up at the work because it is going to cost them a few hard dollars to invest into the X-Plane platform and even then at it's own or even their own survival. And you can also see why FlightSim Developers are not going to come to X-Plane either, why would you for such minuscule returns on your investments and resources and a user base totally disinterested in what you are provided for the simulator... why should you as it will always be free or will it. The excellent and even ground breaking aircraft released already this year with FlyJSim's excellent Boeing 732, FlightFactor's Aircraft A320 Ultimate and most notably the ToliSS319 deserve far, far more than a 0.3% or the noted 0.09% share of the X-Plane market and believe me when this sort of quality stops coming then you will only have yourselves to blame in not investing in the very best, not only in X-Plane but in simulation overall as a platform as well. And don't even get me started on payware scenery. The problem here though is that X-Plane is like buying an Apple Computer, as when you buy the simulator you get everything you need with it as well, from good (not great) default aircraft and basic but still very good autogen scenery, so why buy any addons. From my perspective you are then only doing yourself your own disservice. Yes I loved my original X-Plane, but if I run my current X-Plane version at a basic level then it does feel even quite basic and even then far removed from the environment that has been created around it with quality addons, yes it costs money to build this more comprehensive world, but to me it is an investment, and not just in paying out dollars to get the very best return from the simulator, but it does not have to cost an absolute fortune either, but an investment it still is and an investment that is certainly worth doing and also doing something far better in supporting not only the talented developers but the future and the quality of the simulator itself. PMDG Everyone at the FlightSim Expo where there waiting for a big announcement from their CEO of great importance Robert S. Randazzo. But I do admit he is a funny guy. Would PMDG go (back) into X-Plane... No nothing announced on that theme, "boo hiss". Next was the announcement of their next aircraft release in the Boeing B748.... "Is that all?" was the response when even a few years ago such an announcement would have been a big huge extravagant big deal, with great in-depth features delivered here that had me thinking "what if this B748 WAS in X-Plane and... wow), so is PMDG getting like Apple who over delivered for years and any new announcements are now noted as "lukewarm" at any events. But PMDG's big product announcement was for a Global Flight Operations addon which was quite clever even if it took PMDG ten years to actually build it... but again the response was "You have got to BE kidding me?" with a lot of "OMG's and the total disbelief that this product was the worst ever and "I mean just like just like.. EVER" Global Flight Operations is nothing in the way we haven't already seen, but it does bring all the simulation operations together, and the intergration of ACARS certainly adds into simulation another level of real aircraft/airline immersion, and the fact it is not restricted just to PMDG aircraft and open to any quality payware is another bonus, and consider the FF A320/Toliss319 being used, or the Rotate MD88 or the B757/767 twins. I think it also overall showed PMDG's biggest issue, as this Global Flight Operations would actually work very well strangely enough more in X-Plane because of the higher and more committed, intergrated and connected community base, it is actually more suited to US than their main current FlightSim market... so they are pitching it to the wrong user base. And that is a very interesting point in many ways, not only for X-Plane but for the FlightSim user base as well. Expo But the FlightSim Expo in many respects was the best yet and Laminar Research again really delivered and the particle effects were certainly the highlight of the event for X-Plane as was the ongoing and promise of the development of Vukcan (nee Metal) and the announcements of new the systems and avionics with GFC-700, KFC-250/Century and rate-based S-Tec 55, KAP-140 and the Piper Autocontrol brand autopilots, new oxygen systems, and anti-ice and de-ice systems and better autopilot systems by Phillipp Ringler, and with not too many sleeps either before beta v10.30 with all these goodies enclosed will hit our simulator, with my guess that will be around late August or early September 2018. A small apology in the fact the X-PlaneReviews site was a little slow in a few periods in June, I again came down with a small virus, so that made me a bit of say "unwell", but overall thankfully X-Plane releases were also a little slow... but as they say "life happens". So until the the next edition of "Behind the Screen' at the end of July, then 99.01% of users can look at the excellent ToLiSS319 on this month's header image and wonder out loud what they are really missing out on... but for a full 0.09% rest of us it is heaven in simulation. See you next month. Stephen Dutton 1st July 2018 Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews
  5. Behind the Screen : May 2018 Every year the Flightsim Expo has grown, from a humble 40 attendees (FlightSimCon) in 2013 to the extravaganza of this year's 2018 Expo in Las Vegas on June 9-10, 2018 at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel. Will I be there, well I doubt it as I live in Australia and I really don't think I would get a ESTA visa, In other words I am the sort of person Prez Donald Trump is trying to keep out. But I will keep trying, maybe next year... The thought though of Ben Supnic (Laminar Research) and Las Vegas in the one and same moment is got to be worth any trip to the Expo, Ben can create a massive party in a small time back street bar, so god knows what he will do with the resources available to him in Vegas... it doesn't even bear thinking about, but anything could be on the table post expo... as a side note, there is a notice for users down-under/Oceania for the "Ozflightexpo" in November in Sydney, there is a good chance I will be at that one. But it is the shear volume of users now that makes this SimExpo interesting, in the past then all these of these simulation flight conferences were totally and absolutely dominated by the FlightSim community, X-Plane was usually relegated to a small stand or a minor demonstration slot that got a few nosey punters at the back of the room... how things have changed. This year the Expo still has the FlightSim developers, so no change there, but their wares are now very much more focused on X-Plane and now even to the point that some of the FS punters are announcing their new product for X-Plane more than their traditional markets, I certainly doubt the group from Laminar Research will again be relegated to the back of the room status this year. There will be announcements for X-Plane, but that is not the really important aspect for X-Plane users at the expo. Every year these FlightSim conferences are usually used for the focus on the X-Plane future roadmap, where the simulator is going and what Laminar Research (LR) are focusing their (limited) resources on next. There is a lot of praise to be had in what Laminar have already delivered over the last few years, all that they have announced at FlightSimCon's in the past years they have always been implemented and Laminar have mostly delivered far more in features than they actually promised in the first place. There will always be the groans on that in say the ATC, or the weather, and now Vulcan and their current spiel of "when!" or "if ever". But I personally I have always kept the faith in that when Laminar does deliver a significant and usually for a very problematic key area of X-Plane, then their results or solutions are usually far more better and very elegant for the advancement of the simulator as a whole as like with the delivery of VR (Virtual Reality), so yes key areas are under development, and yes they will be delivered, so let's just "have a little more faith". So a lot is again going to be expected from Las Vegas 2018, but my guess is yes there will be some very nice surprises, but mostly the roadmap will be a more slimmed down but a more focused agenda than what has been presented in the FlightSimCon past. Certainly Vulcan, Metal and multithreading are always top of the wish list, so certainly expect a few notes and powerpoint slides on those items. The X-Plane ground effect is really the simulator's current and most prominent and annoying issue, expect a few notes on that or at least when a fix is coming, it was noted already to be included in the 11.30 beta, but we might find out actually "when" 11.30 might be put into beta. One note to make is the announcement (in a podcast) of the way Laminar Research are wanting to update certain aspects of the simulator, say in this case the engine performance. In the past LR set the performance settings in X-Plane and the developers then went to their own performance models and reset the aircraft engine performance to the new criteria, so far so good. But the problem with that approach was that as LR kept changing or fine tuning performance areas and in some cases even weekly or monthly, the developers just couldn't keep up with all the extensive changes, some tried but most failed (mostly in the jet engine performance) but many then just waited it all out until the changes were finally locked in (end of beta), but this took with X-Plane11 last year a full six months from the introduction of the new simulator version and that made a lot of the aircraft unflyable or just plain awful to fly during that waiting period, and think of the problem is then made worse by say the fleet of over now nearly 40 aircraft that are now produced by Carenado for X-Plane alone. The idea is that if Laminar reset or retune areas of the aircraft performance model, then globally the changes are then transferred to every X-Plane aircraft, so all are updated instantly, no lag and no huge task for the developers to edit every single aircraft to match the changes. It all sound's wonderful and simple, but from the start I had my doubt's, that in theory it would work, but again like with Carenado, you also have the 40 different flight models that are in fact very different from each other, a one set for all to me looks like it would cause more confusion than what it actually solves, again it will be interesting on if Laminar do address this item or bring up the subject at the FlightSim Expo. I would be really surprised if one of the areas that is not addressed or shown at Expo is the ATC. Tyler Young has been hacking away at this for quite a long time now and even asked us what we wanted from the ATC as well. The real problem is that a lot of users like me now use the WorldTraffic plugin extensively, so even if now Laminar do find a solution, then it still won't intergrate into the WT3 scenerio? I understand that Classic Jet Simulations is doing their own updated ATC system and I will admit the current built in version although very simplistic is not that half bad compared to the native ATC. A really interesting point is that if the native LR ATC is flexible enough, it could be used in or with WT3 as well? if the running traffic can give feedback to the native ATC then the idea gets interesting, even if you have to edit all those WT3 aircraft data files to make it all work. The built in ATC ground routes have come a very long way from the original layout, to the point that scenery developers are not using them effectively or setting the layouts up to the correct standards, as noted in last month's "Behind the Screen (April)" that they are certainly going to have to finally get their acts together and more so if the updated ATC is coming within the next batch of betas. One point about the Expo this year for Laminar is the fact that most of the roadmap they have promoted over the last few years, as like I have already noted have been covered and are now active, ATC and Vulcan (Metal) aside. So this year's Expo will give us a newer roadmap that the ones in past that mostly covered the known features, so it will give us a glimpse of what to expect from the rest of the X-Plane11 run, but don't expect a lot or a load of new features in the seminars, it will be more as a "steady as she goes" approach than the recent past's "all guns blazing" repertoire. But the importance of this Vegas Expo for Laminar is not to be underestimated either, this is certainly the most significant event that Laminar have ever rocked up to. In the past X-Plane was mostly a sideshow at these SimCon's, but in the last year and with the demise of Dovetail's Flight Sim World and now with the more mature X-Plane11 platform, then a significant crowd of FlightSim/P3D developers will be watching and inquiring on the X-Plane simulator's future roadmap, and that is all in their own interests and for their investment plans for the future. Many have already announced or released product for X-Plane, but aside from JustFlight, there still feels that there is still a reluctance to think of X-Plane as their main platform for the future in simulation. Laminar are certainly aware of this, so you may get a sort of Steve Jobs's... "and there is just one more thing" to highlight the platforms future direction and leave everyone gasping, but if Laminar do announce something significant, then their aim is not towards you and me, but directly at those CEO FlightSim developers that are still sitting on the X-Plane fence.... so it is certainly going to be a very interesting FlightSim Conference this year in Vegas, if only for the Ben Supnic show, both on the stage and probably off it as well. X-PlaneReviews will of course bring you all the full highlights and details of the 2018 Expo as soon as they are available. Internal Scenery Detail I am going to bring up the point of internal detail in airport terminals... now I love detail, and the reflection of real world realism when you are at a scenery, and to me arriving or departing a scenery that reflects what I have felt and seen in real life is the ultimate deal here. But I really don't see the point of internal terminal detailing unless it is seen or is in partnership with the external details. There has however been some outstanding details like the excellent Cormac Shaw EICK - Cork, terminal and the excellent terminal building at Turbulent's MBS but the differences here are the huge glass walls that reflects in on the internal details, in this case it is that I am overwhelmingly in favor. But what about the rest. In reality I would never ever really go inside a terminal, X-Plane doesn't allow you walk the hardened surfaces, so you get this cut off and half floor view point, the outside aircraft are not usually visible either so the ramps outside are blank of aircraft including the one you are flying, and the visual effect from the external view doesn't usually look very realistic either? Only a very few developers have really pulled the internal realism effect off, as glass is one of the really, really hard things to get right in X-Plane and in most cases it looks bland or even grey. But what I am seeing lately is a lot of wasted development time and far too much focus on these internal structures to the detrimental point that external areas are unfinished or not given the same extensive attention, and for what really? JustSim's UUWW - Moscow Vnukovo showed only what was actually required in day and night time terminal textures to make a terminal very realistic, and my point of view down on the ramp in turnaround is to me the most important aspect of realism, the main point here is that in most cases the idea and execution of internal detailing just don't match or live up to the real world same view point, in other words it looks like the model or modeling it is and not a realistic looking terminal building, but overall it is the wasted time for so little gain and in so much to the detriment of what they are actually trying to achieve with the scenery. May Airports/Aircraft May was all about scenery (again), and some in Turbulent Design's IDA - Idaho and MBS - Michigan were excellent, even if a few areas certainly highlighted the FlightSim approach more than the X-Plane Dynamic approach, but as scenery they are solid additions, I really liked KDAB - Daytona as well, but there was a few areas (mostlt buildings) that needed more realism and wear and tear. Certainly JustSim really delivered the scenery of the month with their excellent UUWW - Moscow Vnukovo as this is what most scenery is now supposed to deliver in price and quality, and major kudo's to JS for also providing the WT3 ground routes as well for instant activity. But with the very good, there was a lot of quite average if only freeware grade quality, the level in payware is now high, and even average scenery is just now not going to past the credit-card now no matter what the price, and again a lot of the scenery was released well before it was meeting the grade of even the basics, again X-PlaneReviews do filter it out, the best is noted here, but the sheer volume of releases lately means we can't cover them all in the release period, MBS by Turbulent is still coming and so are two Polish airports. Aircraft in May was focused on mostly GA and trainers, with my beloved Carenado Bonanza F33A getting the full XP11 treatment and the JustFlight/Thranda's release of their excellent C152 ll, both of which are exceptional. So a fair percentage of my flying this last month was in this GA size category. One longer route aircraft I flew in May was the veneable JRollon CRJ-200. There is no doubt the aircraft is really feeling it's age now, even for the ground-breaker it was on it's release, the heavy outdated textures do show and the system dynamics are now also feeling quite limited. But one thing it did show me was that the requirement to keep the aircraft up to it's current version status, I set it up early in the X-Plane11 release with that update, but when I flew the aircraft (from SLC to IDA) it was amazing at what didn't actually work with the later X-Plane11.20 version of the simulator, just small things, like a non-starting Engine 1 that drove me simply spastic in trying to depart, but with the only one engine starting and running, even when an X-Plane11 restart didn't fix it, I simply gave up... In my mind the aircraft was up to date, but actually it wasn't, there was a one added to the v1.40 to v1.41 that needed to be installed, and the excellent CRJ-200 BSS soundpack was also out of date( by a month). Both packages now installed and the CRJ-200 finally winged it's way to Idaho. The motto of this story is that even the smallest updates need to be covered to use any aircraft correctly in the simulator, even if it takes afternoons of your life away updating in doing so. FlightFactor A320-214 Ultimate I have covered the basics of the FlightFactor A320-214 Ultimate but not yet done a full on review of the aircraft. Is it still in beta or is it not? Well it is released but the continuing beta test pattern even with the sometimes daily or weekly updates still continues. I thought that I finally was in a position to give the FF Airbus A320 it's due, but then a full modelling update was released, this aspect is very rare as most released aircraft are very rarely changed from their initial 3d work, as to change this aspect later can also affect a lot other things and mostly the textures (liveries) aspect, but no the bus now had a new forward underside and reconfigured nose, no doubt the bus is now far more bussy, and the changes are excellent as are a few other areas that were touched up, this was no doubt for the hoards of comments on the shape of the bus's nose, but even I will admit it looks far, far better, but overall major adjustments like this are usually very rare, so that shows the commitment by FlightFactor to the aircraft. I liked the idea of the IAE V2500 engine option as most of my local Jetstar (JQ) A320's are powered by that engine variant, but overall for me with such an in depth simulation from this aircraft the different performance was or is as important as the visual aspect, hopefully FlightFactor will add in the IAE V2500 option soon in the future. It is certainly becoming a very in-depth A320 simulation, but as noted earlier, my hours on the aircraft this past month were very low, and I actually only flew one flight (EDDL - ENGM), but I have several if more planned for the next few weeks. The little time in the cockpit however didn't mean I was not still learning as much about the A320 as I can, through the real manuals, but mostly watching YouTube videos of real cockpit A320 flights, there is some good videos out there and some really appalling ones as well (why can't they just hold the camera still) but this month there popped up a great series of videos by Graham called Reflected Reality Simulations. The really brilliant thing about these series of videos is that you have a real world pilot, now flying the simulated version of the same FlightFactor A320 Ultimate as you fly. The detail uncovered here is well worth the time spent watching them (and making notes) to be transferred to your own flying skills in the airbus, it is very detailed, but Graham covers a lot of aspects you never even knew about in the various system functions and FMC settings and it is simply invaluable information in getting the full and immersive quality out of the simulation, this is real world information on how real pilots fly this machine, and as much as I have studied and learn't over the years in X-Plane this series takes you to a totally whole new level of engagement with your A320 flying, highly recommended. That was May, another big month in X-Plane simulation, as noted with the coming FlightSimExpo in June then certainly the coming month will be just as busy and full as the month just gone... So see you at the other end of the month and already the start of the second half of 2018. Stephen Dutton 1st June 2018 Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews
  6. Behind the Screen : April 2018 The title of this month's "Behind the Screen" should actually be "The Good, the Bad and the very Ugly". It is all related to scenery of course as all there was this past month was scenery, scenery and more scenery as there was earlier in the year there was just aircraft, aircraft and more aircraft, who says that things don't come in three's, fours and even sixes. There was one major constant between every scenery, the good, the bad and even the ugly and that was that developers are not understanding the finer points of the way their scenery is intergrated into X-Plane. In fact this aspect started earlier in the year, but for some reason the issues just got worse and had me going to the point of frustration. Don't get me wrong, many developers are very good at this, but it is amazing how many are really rubbish at it as well. My biggest beef is with Ground Routes and the ATC layouts set out in the apt.dat data. First of all the minute is a little complex, but it also needs to be correct in making sure all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed. Mostly this is for the WT3 (World Traffic 3) generations, but it goes far deeper than that. The issue is that developers layout the ATC routes in WED (WorldEditor) and give them a once over and then move on to the rest of their scenery development. initially the ATC ground routes look perfect and even a few tests will prove that they work, but they don't. WT3 requires far more information from the built in ATC data to function correctly in creating ground routes but more importantly data for running the airport in locations and runway use. Now you would say that "so what" my A.I. aircraft work now "so what is the problem"... The problem is that to a point WT3 is a bit ahead of everything else in X-Plane in this area and for the reason we use (or I do) WT3 than the built A.I. system, as WT3 in its design layers itself as to NOT be burdened by the inadequacies of the native systems, but it is still burdened by the native ATC system if it is not set up correctly. So the issue is that when the native ATC is refined and then working as it ACTUALLY should, then all the issues that is now hindering WT3 will then surface later in the native A.I. and ATC as well. The issues are really just the minute, but they have large impact on making the ATC and A.I. system work effectively. For one most developers don't set even their basic settings like Gate type or Category, or even make sure the actual aircraft will fit in that actual gate. (note how many GA's appear at a airbridge gate? a lot) You can even set the airline code as well. For GA's there are tie-downs and the operation type. The routing to the gates from the main taxiways are mostly always missing as well (just the runway and taxiways are laid out), so if you even DO get an aircraft appearing at the gate, then it either has nowhere to go or has to cheat to get to the nearest path to get to an active taxiway or runway. Believe it or not most scenery developers don't actually even number their gates or stands? A point on this is that at one scenery airport there was five "Gate 1" locations noted? And if you looked at the airport chart there was yes, five "Gate 1's", but they were actually listed as 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E, but the developer had noted them all the same as Gate 1? and on it goes... The biggest and most annoying point is the end of the runway disappearing aircraft, they land but then just disappear, or just appear and then takeoff. This is caused by the wrong ICAO codes on the gates so the A.I. is unaware of any parking spots so it vanishes once it comes to a stop. And that leads into another point in the way that most developers also make the full runway the active part of the ATC layouts. Not all runways are created equal in that most have blast pads (usually noted with arrows pointing to the ACTUAL start of the runway) but developers don't consider this, no they lump the whole runway in from beginning to end... Access points to runways need to be correct including hold points and then some runways have turn circles, and this a tricky one is this one for all of the ATC ground routes to get right, but it can be laid out to work correctly. My point is that a good 80% of the scenery released lately have most of these issues installed and that is not good enough when you are paying good hard earned cash for quality. There are many good developers who do it right like Justsim and any airport associated with Omar Mansoor (Aerosoft), but most developers are really terrible at ATC networks. I admit a lot of ground networks are very complicated and may need a professional like Brian Navy (Captain K-Man) to lay them out or supply the corrected ground routes and airport info. So if developers note in their sceneries feature list "ATC Ground Routes" it doesn't mean they actually DO work, and in most cases they ACTUALLY don't. A nice feature would be for the developer to supply the WT3 routes and Airport info as part of their scenery package, and in that way you would know they work and most of all they have been tested so they DO actually work as they should or have been advertised to do so. Another beef is the placement of custom textures. In most cases custom textures work really well, but in many cases drowning out the autogen and creating a void around the scenery (usually an airport) is a lazy and not very professional approach to creating visually appealing scenery... this is one area I rallied about for years, but still it continues, and the wrongly coloured mesh textures don't look good either? It is supposed to blend in all together like it does in the real world, or don't you get out much from behind your computer screens. 95% Rule Still on scenery but also applicable to aircraft or even plugin's is my 95% rule... First of all I have been there, working on a project for a long period and you just get to a point where it is all just a blur, and you are just "Simply over it" as the issues just keep on coming and coming and the end (or money) is still a long, long way from coming, so yes, I get it. But like Apple more and more developers are now using users to fix their issues, in other words release it and fix it all up later... hence the 95% rule. So more and more (mostly scenery) is coming onto the market not complete and even not finished, and still WIP. Is this situation good enough? Not really... First point is that no product in X-Plane is finished, the simulator is too fluid for that, but there is the line between being completed to date and ongoing development. Like the above comments the developers are just too much in a rush to get the product out there, X-Plane features that are missing or don't actually work is the biggest area of complaints (its called research!), but smaller items that like lately in the trees and ground textures that are not matching the native mesh textures, many are completely different in feel and look... but the list goes on. So the scenery is downloaded to my desktop and on a first look I usually can't believe how bad it is... so why didn't the developer get the scenery checked out before releasing it? It is called "beta testing" but no, you get it it first in this uncompleted mess... and then the developer is annoyed that you list out a long list of the "Obvious" and call his or their work average? And don't forget once that review is out there, you are stuck with it.. forever? the Good the Bad and mostly the Ugly... and this is the same review that users go to buy and assess your product, to see the evaluation and that is done over and over again... Yes I accept and so do users that items can be overlooked, and still there are areas that still need attention, but a few products like this and you quickly going to get a reputation, and its not a good one, and you are then stuck with it, so don't blame the messenger. Mostly it is only an extra few weeks or a month to complete it, and like I learnt, and that was to simply walk away from the project for a week or so and do something else, then when you come back to the table nice and fresh, the obvious is right there to be fixed and wrapped up. Aircraft Update Some notes on aircraft. I have flown FlightFactors A320 Ultimate a lot over the last few months, and yes it is now coming to the point of a very nice but far more polished aircraft. Constant updates, mostly weekly or even daily has tightened the aircraft a lot up since it's public release. Now I can be confident of a total block to block service, and a highly enjoyable one at that, the release of BSS sound package has now made it even better (Same for the ToLiSS319 would be a nice, nice please) but I feel the BSS sound package is not yet totally complete, but it really is a nice environment in the cruise. Negatives are still the "Failures" or issues, that are still too common and can ground you, and with no way of fixing them, then that is very frustrating... overwise brilliant. Yes the ToLiSS319 is getting a lot of attention as well, mostly because of the unique "save" feature, very hard to get your head around that when you activate a save (saved situation) of the aircraft it is simply ready to go... go. Everything is done and all you have to do is the pushback, it saves me hours on doing reviews... totally worth buying for that aspect alone. Jumping into the FlightFactor Boeing 757 Series was interesting in seeing where the aircraft was in relation to all the newer Airbus equipment and was expecting the Boeing to now feel very outdated, but it came up very well overall against the competition, certainly the cabin updates shows how to keep an aircraft modern and relevant. Interesting was my first flight in an aircraft I knew so well, I crashed, well I actually had a bad landing, but it took three flights in the various versions before I got my full professional wings back... NOTAM, you still need constant practice to stay on top of an aircraft, even if only out of the cockpit for a few months and the skill set is not as sharp as you think it is, but I soon focused back in again... with practice. Like most I was looking forward to the release of the djdragon737, Boeing 737-900 Ultimate. First yes I know it is a beta, but overall I was disappointed. Yes it is also a freeware, so who am I to complain? but after all the ho, ha it came across as a bit of a let down... and after four months of the extra development maybe I expected more (yes I know again it is not payware) but most of the features were still blanked off. No doubt the Zibo B737 core is exceptional, it flies very well thank you very much. But I was seriously confused as well.. If the default B737-800 is the basis of the simulator and zibo's work? then why do the -900 version? Yes I understand the -800 version is coming? But all we really all wanted was the zibo mod with an excellent cabin and opening doors and all the nice features? Instead was that we got a totally different half-cast aircraft version? Is that just me... Dovetail Games This year it has been a cascade of announcements and releases for X-Plane, and a significant amount of those announcements and releases have been by Flight Simulator's most prominent developers, in Orbix and FlyTampa to note two of the best. So suddenly X-Plane is the flavour of the month as Orbix for one noted "never, ever" but always "maybe" for years and years that they will develop for the X-Plane platform. Don't get me wrong I welcome such influential developers to our universe, but why now with the sudden change of heart and why so many? The news that Dovetail games was abandoning development of their "Flight Sim World" simulator was a shock, but not to most in the simulation business. The story is one of a big promises and the reality of hard core business. Dovetail bought the rights to from Microsoft for the original rights and base code for "Flight Simulator", which was then Bill Gates's hobby when he was at Microsoft and to sell a few computers on the side for the company. But Bill wanted to save the world and collect a Nobel Prize in the same breath so a simulator was the least of his things to worry about, not that the size of FlightSim was nothing by that point but enormous and a huge business on its own standalone standards. Originally the major legacy development players in FlightSim wanted to buy and run FlightSim together and put together a deal to buy the rights, but Dovetail a game developer (but does create a pretty good Train Simulator) out bid and got hold of the FlightSim rights with a promise to build it into basically Flight Simulator 2.0. Ultimate. In reality it was the perfect set up, someone to develop the core and a new modern simulator and the developers providing the goods to make it all into the one huge business plan that you could imagine, as the idea of the developers developing the simulator together just wouldn't work because each to their own they would want certain things that the others didn't, a bit like why Formula One Racing Team's shouldn't run their own sport, as they would just fight to much over it. So what went wrong? The name Dovetail Games gives it away as they wanted to run FSW the way most games business are set up and with Steam, and noted that all products either went though Steam or their own system or nothing. Then the FS developers turned around and withheld their products on a business model that is very different to theirs and starved FSW of product, the results are going to be obvious. So many saw early this coming disaster writing on the wall early and as a lot of users were already raving about X-Plane11 then X-Plane was suddenly a 'sort" of a better business plan for the future. But what now? Is FlightSim in it's original core now finally in its death roll? The problem all the time was the 32bit core? FSW and P3D have changed to 64bit (X-Plane moved to 64bit years ago) but now FSW is a dead end, P3D have gone from strength to strength but is still hampered by its management style and user interaction, but will again the developers pick up the pieces of FSW at a fire sale price and redevelop it again in their own image, that answer is of course in the future, but the vast amount of those users are now coming to X-Plane and so developers have noted that the X-Plane simulator base is one of the best right now, for all it's quirks... now suddenly they all want to be our best friend. The benefit's are of course enormous if most of the FlightSim stalwarts move into X-Plane, and to a point we may not want such a wholesome change to our simulator as the core of the user base is very different to the core of the FlightSim community as our basic philosophies are actually quite different, and we certainly wouldn't want to become Flight Simulator 2.0. in their eyes. That is where the sceneries released over the last few months and mostly this last month are very interesting as they covered all the different aspects of the way FlightSim see's X-Plane as a business and a simulator. The Three ways of Scenery The way you approach X-Plane, can make the difference between being accepted and creating a market within it, and to a point this has always been the difference between the core philosophies of the platforms. First is how to get it wrong. No doubt we welcome new product to X-Plane, but we are far more discerning in what we purchase or invest in to add into our X-Plane experience. To a point we have a high standard or that we could be known as even mean! That is because X-Plane at it's core would rather build and share than purchase. But if you want to build a very high quality experience then even the most stinginess of us will pay to get that addition no matter what, this is known offically as the "Gotta have that" syndrome. So if you release a (in this case) a scenery in X-Plane that is basically a very old and an outdated FlightSim product and throw in a few X-Plane badly set out features in there and then ask a high price, then that is really dumping old crap into our simulator to make a dollar... and believe me we are going to see a lot of that sort product over the next few years. The forums and the reviews are not going to be kind to you, and I doubt you are going to sell a lot your outdated crap over here in X-Plane either. The second approach is the gated community approach, which is very FlightSim. Orbix has arrived and we welcome them, but they are very much this is our way and not your way approach which of Aerosoft also adheres to, and I don't know if X-Plane users in being very community minded and share the love all around would want that approach even if it works for them really well in FlightSim. If you notice there are no Orbix products on the X-Plane.OrgStore and there probably never will be, but the problem with that is that X-Plane views the store as one their filter but mostly their security in service and reliablity, and many users just won't purchase product if it is not listed on the .OrgStore and anyone not on there, then they must be considered an outsider. And that aspect is justified with the collapse of the "let’s sim store" last month, you could say that Orbix is certainly not in the same league of the underfunded let’s sim store, but we are still investing in products and we love the security of where our money goes. For X-Plane it is a community approach which is rather like shopping at the local store rather than going to Costco with all their rules. Third approach is like the one by FlyTampa. The one thing that really impressed me with the introduction of FlyTampa and their FlyCorfu! was the willing to understand and deliver what X-Plane users want, I mean really want. They spent the time and the resources to work out the features of our style of simulator and made sure there was the correct mixture of both with the best of their original FlightSim scenery, but also in the way X-Plane has unique features and tools that make our simulator the way we understand and use it... the result was a sort of hybrid of the two platforms, and no doubt admittedly the actual scenery was not the latest but still a few years old, but that didn't matter at all as the full results are simply spectacular and FlyTampa got a lot of credos coming their way on what they delivered and they also delivered the scenery at a reasonable price. This is the model for success in X-Plane for any budding FlightSim developers in that we understand that you are going to deliver your original and quite successful product and we accept that, but we also expect that you take our tools and features into consideration to make the original version more X-Plane like than just the same but crossover work with a few badly installed animated airbridges and a few thrown in lighting effects, and you would think that after all the years of being in X-Plane that Aerosoft and their newly release Rome XP would certainly by now deliver far better than this very old and outdated work, and would they really have the nerve to ask money for the same ancient scenery in 2018... and that at the core is the issue, in that X-Plane is not FlightSim, so don't treat us like FlightSim or even try to sell us their old outdated crap as I doubt even in this condition that FS/P3D users would pay out for it either. Bobby Dylan twanged "For the times they are a-changin'" and yes they are, and a lot of this change is for the overall good, but we don't have to accept everything that comes our way, X-Plane has always created its own feel and direction and that is the way it always should also be. See you all again next month... Stephen Dutton 1st May 2018 Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews
  7. Behind the Screen : March 2018 It is hard to get your head around the fact that already three months or a quarter of this year has already gone, harder still is the realisation in that only in eight months time and then if Laminar Research keeps to its normal release timetable then X-Plane11 will be already halfway through its development run. So soon Laminar Research will looking to start X-Plane12. So it is frankly shocking how quickly the time goes by. In my eight years in X-Plane and seven years doing reviews I have never had a year start like 2018. Chaotic is one word that comes to mind, but more in just the simulator is really, really busy. Aircraft and Scenery are coming at a phenomenal rate in upgrades and releases and not to mention all the plugin and effect downloads you can get your hands on. X-Plane lately is exploding and to be honest it is hard to keep up with it all sometimes. So you do need to focus on what is worth catching and using as well as flying and to a point that is what this site is all about. But with all the huge amount of changes coming through it is also bringing in other elements that need users need to be aware of. Most older based X-Plane users are quite wise and switched on to these elements, but the newer cross-platform (i.e. Flight Sim/P3D) and new simulator users are a bit more detached on the way that X-Plane goes about it's business. They are used to a no boundaries or even the credulous use of simulation, that aspect has positive areas, but also negative areas of the way of flying on-line. With the success and the huge in-flow of new users to X-Plane these elements are also bringing in the good and the bad as well. In no period previously has X-Plane had more announcements and new or old if you even count in the introduction of both Orbix and FlyTampa into our sphere of downloadable product, and it is certainly exciting to welcome of such well known names. But we need to be wary as well as many businesses and individuals are now eyeing the gold marked cash cow that is X-Plane. I will note that X-Plane is still in reality a growing platform, and in product it has a long way to go to compete with the of the FS/P3D market, but one point is that X-Plane product is far deeper and more varied and certainly has better quality than other platforms than many users actually take for granted. That said the very top level of the say PMDG, Majestic or Captain Sim is still a "Study Grade" niche area that remains to be filled with more choice. The worrying aspect is the devious types now eyeing the cash. It is easy to set up a checkout store and start selling product, in fact it is far too easy. The sudden demise or closure of the let’s sim store is a reminder that not everyone out there plays the game well, in going down they took a lot of money with them, but worse the users are now out of the update loop that doesn't allow them to update their purchases in the future. To a point there was always bad noises around the site from the start with gullible developers (whom should know better) and starry eyed users going along with it all. The problem comes from a fact of life, is that everyone or anyone can start these stores, but can't actually run them. In X-Plane we have been a bit mollycoddled by having the X-Plane.OrgStore. Efficiently run and very reliable with brilliant service, and no I am not saying that because they give this X-PlaneReviews site a lot of access for reviewing purposes, but that is a well known fact in the X-Plane universe. But overall you know if it is available on the .OrgStore site then it is backed up by service and your money is safe and more importantly the developers trust it as well. And trust is the word here, and you are going to have work out if any new store on the game is worth your investment. I have a few sayings and they always hold true... one... "if it is too cheap then there is either something wrong with it or you are being done" and two... "at the end of the day if you want quality, you have to pay for quality". A twist on that is not to be extorted either, in that knowing "what you are buying is worth the value" You can easily pay too much for an average product. That is what X-PlaneReviews is mostly about in dissecting the best from the rest. Not only will the expanding of the X-Plane universe bring dodgy punters, but also more dodgy trouble-makers. "Fake-News" is a modern day mantra, but the dangerous ones who only want to bring attention to themselves, again it is very easy to set up a site to throw venom and crazy thoughts, but these actions can have repercussions that can hurt. Many a so called "Breaking News" sites are also opening up and they are mostly in the "cut and Paste" new variety, I welcome these sites, but these "cut and pasters" don't do the hard yards either in cross-referencing their news sources and can mostly broadcast false information more than correct information. The effects this year already are obvious in the so called "News" sites the amount of false information that is broadcast is not good, they "cut and paste" but don't think either as they want "eyes" on their sites and the too feel good with all that attention, they don't care about the damage they can do to a developers reputation or to the X-Plane Simulator itself, it is all about them in the end and "Just about them and getting that attention". ditto their reviews, poorly constructed but also missing crucial facts of the aircraft or scenery they are reviewing, I'm not against anyone doing reviews and in fact I will encourage them to have a point of view, but in not simply delivering the correct information or the correct features of a product is simply a "no, no" from my point of view, as you the users deserve the right information and correct facts about that product. Already we have had one developers reputation severely damaged by this nonsense, and that is not good. 90% of reviewing a product is mostly research or cross-referencing to get your facts right, you deserve the correct information above everything else. There will always be trouble and mischief makers or just the plain idiots, but uninformed publishers can do real damage, and if anything is dominating this year already it is that aspect of poor checking of facts, so do yourself a favor and if you find a site that the facts don't add or stand up them give them a miss, if they can't be smart then you can. Orbix and FlyTampa The introduction of Orbix and FlyTampa is a big moment for X-Plane and will go a long way to fill out one of the biggest blank areas of the simulator. We need seriously good scenery and too a point it has been flowing quite nicely over the last few years. JustSim scenery deserves your support, I admit it is basic scenery, but they do deliver and also use all of the X-Plane11 features and at a low cost price, support them as they are delivering the goods as with their excellent LCLK Laranca which is already on my high rotation for flights. ShortFinal (mister_x) is another brilliant scenery developer as his KABQ-Albuquerque and it is simply the very best. But Orbix and FlyTampa are still a very unknown quantity in X-Plane. Aerosoft hasn't exactly helped with their successful FS/P3D crossovers working correctly in the X-Plane environment. Some of Aerosoft's scenery is excellent, and I use them to a very high level, but a lot of scenery are badly transferred and some of the old FS/P3D scenery that is frankly crap for the money you are paying and uses non of the X-Plane features to even help out their case along... so in reality Aerosoft's casebook is very contradictory of poor consistency. I know now they will say that "X-Plane is unprofitable and so the scenery has to be produced to a cost factor" but that is defeating the point? Sell us crap and then wonder why we are not buying it? The really annoying thing is that to bring these sceneries up to a good standard costs them almost nothing but using the right developers to do the job, and worse is that Aerosoft are not new to X-Plane, but have been in the simulator for years now and yet nothing at all has changed in their approach, and my point is "Don't blame us for not delivering the expected profits" until you get more consistency and quality in your own products right and treat X-Plane with the same quality you expect from our market as from other markets. And that brings us to Orbix and FlyTampa. Both can have huge market share in X-Plane, but the point is they have to deliver quality X-Plane scenery as well, if a small development house like JustSim can, then why not these juggernauts. But the same question is still valid. "are you going to deliver cheap crossover titles from FS/P3D" or deliver quality X-Plane featured scenery? That answer is in the future. The main effect of both Orbix and FlyTampa is the sort of scenery they deliver. They are not constrained to the US/Europe axis, although a lot of their product is still in those regions. But Orbix has a lot of exciting "Oceanaia and Australasia" scenery that will certainly expand out the use of X-Plane as does FlyTampa with their excellent OMDB-Dubai and YSSY-Sydney. FlyTampa are exciting as well because they just don't deliver the scenery, but the complete surrounding areas as well with the excellent Dubai city as a hallmark of great scenery and the most (I won't say bootlegged) but transferred scenery from FS to X-Plane in the simulator's history. Their FlyTampa-Hong Kong Kai-Tak also comes with a full Hong Kong city vista as well and that is what makes these guys special, yes both Orbix and FlyTampa can make a huge difference to X-Plane, so yes we must support them, but like with Aerosoft above it is a two way deal, how this will play out will be interesting but it is overall exciting and the start of a new era for X-Plane.. Monthly Notes A few monthly notes on my ongoing battle of the Airbuses, with the A320U (Ultimate) and the ToLiSS319. At this point the ToLiSS319 is ahead on points, I fly it far more often and enjoy the sheer dynamics of its systems. It was very hard not to hit the forums a few weeks before the release to scream "This is bloody brilliant" because the ToLiSS319 is absolutely brilliant to fly as you now know. I noted that the ToLiSS319 will be the most popular aircraft in X-Plane by the end of the year and that title is fully deserved and as the developer is bringing out updates and bug fixes at a right click and the bus will easily be so very good by the years end. But I do hope some time is also devoted to the FF A350 with the same (ToLiSS) MCDU set up installed, and that would be a real top off a brilliant year for Airbus flying in X-Plane. So where does that leave the FlightFactor A320U? Very high up there "Thank you very much" and as the nautical miles now slip by it gets better by the moment, as it is a brilliant simulation. But one in area that puts the A319 the notch above it is in the area of system failures, as I find myself constantly stuck flying with failures or even being grounded by issues (Flap jack fail?). Yes I like the realism of failures but not to the point that they can't be rectified or switched off, small areas of failure yes, but grounding me after twenty minutes of setting up the aircraft is only going to send me sparse and only a restart and a re-input is going to get me flying again, that is a "no, no" and I will simply go and fly something else (mostly the A319). That area needs attention to be a little more versatile which is shame because I really do like this aircraft. A full review on the FlightFactor A320U is still coming in X-PlaneReviews, but I want to get it totally right before putting letters to the screen, this is a deep aircraft and it deserves a deeper understanding to deliver the correct review. The news of Andrey Sheybak and his family that were in the building of the "Winter Cherry" mall in the Siberian city of Kemerovo was shocking as is the fact that it was on how it is so easy to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fire took 64 lives and it could have easily have been Audrey and his family, to say that X-Plane "missed a bullet" is not to be dwelled upon, but the loss of xEnviro to the simulator would have been a great loss. The plugin development is at this point on hold at v1.08 until further information is forth coming. Overall March 2018 was another chaotic month, but with some really great releases. The Matterhorn Park 3D was a spiritual journey back to one of the most important places I have ever visited, and this scenery really delivered in that look and feel of Zermatt, really well done and the genius of the developers. The Alabeo Ovation XP11 was a really big surprise on how good it really was, a really lovely aircraft that went very quickly into my rotation for constant use hangar, loved it... a lot. And the Aerobask DA-62 was as expected another brilliant and fully rounded release from now one of the very best developers in X-Plane, there is always a proud moment when our own developers deliver a world class product, well Aerobask does... well done guys. See you all next month.. Stephen Dutton 1st April 2018 Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews
  8. Behind the Screen : February 2018 There is no doubt that X-Plane is powering its way into the year, already there is two months used up and there has been already so much come past our screens in announcements and releases. The big release was of course the FlightFactor A320 Ultimate and the ToLiSS A319 of which we will get to both in a moment. Expensive Hobby We are still most in X-Plane11 upgrade status as he developers keep on refining their past catalogue of aircraft to meet or mostly exceed the conditions and meet the requirements and features that X-Plane11 provides, so this last month you have seen a parade of the rich and famous to all vie for your attention. This includes the excellent Ddenn Challenger 300 Bus Jet, Pilatus PC12 HD Series XP11 by Carenado, Piper Twin Comanche PA30 v1.3 by vFlyteAir, Quest Kodiak v1.6 by Thranda and a zillion releases and updates from vSkyLabs. All excellent and all top notch aircraft to fill your skies. For me it was Airbus, Airbus and more Airbuses, in the FF A320 Ultimate, ToLiSS A319 and the beta release of JARDesigns Airbus A330v3. Same concept but different aircraft and almost daily, but in an interesting thing is in that one aircraft's performance and settings was useful on flying the other, you learnt something interesting on one Airbus system to find it useful on another, certainly between the FF A320U and ToLiSS's A319 and also the other way around. they don't compete with each other but more dovetail together depending on how you want to fly them on routes. The A319 is just perfect on some routes, and the FF A320U on others, and in most cases the choice can even come down to something like the sort of mood your in. The FlightFactor A320U release was actually a surprise? I thought at the last batch of beta purchasers it should have been released there and then as it was by and far mostly a complete simulation from block to block, but then FlightFactor started to do another round of bug fixing and tuning and doing daily updates and there was still a list there to work though, but mostly it was really new beta testers going over old ground, and I think the developers realised the same at the same time and released it... another factor was that the ToLiSS A319 went into RC status, so was FlightFactor just reacting and thinking that the A319 was going to have an imminent release and pull away a lot of sales? In reality it was far from the situation as there was at that point still ongoing work to be done, and the release came later as promised on the last day (even hour) of February. As you watched the final tuning of both these Airbus aircraft you could see they were going to clash or be released in a very short time of each other. My fears was the situation was that to have to put X-Plane users in a very difficult position on choosing which aircraft to purchase if your funds are limited. My position as a reviewer is always in this context, yes I do purchase aircraft and scenery, but more importantly every review is in that very important frame of you getting the best investment for your money. To a point I don't whip up cut and paste announcements on this site unless it is really important and everything that is listed or reviewed on X-PlaneReviews is seen in their right context on my computer and running in X-Plane. That means you don't get here everything that is published or announced. My feeling is that this site is a filter of what is the best and worthy of your attention and of course that important cost factor. But even this period early into the new year 2018 most of the releases have been very much in very high end cost factor. With FlyJSIm's amazing Boeing 737-200, the Ddenn's Challenger 300, Carenado's Pilatus PC12, the massive FlightFactor A320 Ultimate and now this A319 from ToLISS... it all and can be too much, were as in the past you usually had a significant major release spread out to mostly only two a year and we haven't finished yet with an update coming for JAR's A330 v3 and Aerobask's DA-64... all are more than worthy, and all are excellent high class aircraft... and your hard earned disposable income is not going to cover all of those bases. So all these brilliant aircraft are screaming "Buy Me!" and in your heart you are screaming as well, and I feel your pain I really do as these latest aircraft are really the best X-Plane has ever seen and it is not going to get any easier as more developers want to spread their wares to the simulator. And originally X-Plane was based on that more freeware and and share the love around basis, so has it all gone commercial. Can this huge change ruin the basis of the simulators core and is money replacing its heart and soul. X-Plane's Market A couple of developers vented their frustrations Support our Developers or prepare to say Goodbye! in noting the X-Plane payware market is too small to be viable. First point is that we can't debate that issue because we don't know who they actually are or what products they are are offering but they are noted as "big-name developers". I am first to admit that X-Plane was always a sort of hippy community of love and peace and paying almost for anything that was beyond their reasonable scope of thriftness. "Free" was always the first word that they expected and any commercial realism in that benefited them without reaching into any sort of pockets and never mind deep ones was always going to a priority. The downside of that mentality was that X-Plane's market stayed small and certainly was not as a viable business case, a few made pocket money to have a beer on a friday night or invested in a new joystick. It also hindered the simulator to what the dark side (FlightSimulator) was enjoying in bucket loads. The X-Plane market however did begin to stir a few years ago with the arrival of FlightFactor and JARDesign, but it was the brave coming over of Carenado that really changed the game. I have mentioned a billion times on this site of the failures of other FlightSimulator crossovers that failed to understand our market, but wanted to change it to their terms or make X-Plane the FlightSimulator Mk2 in their names because at that time FlightSimulator was a dead duck left by the side of the road. To its credit X-Plane stayed true to its form and rightly so. So yes the cash didn't flow to their coffers in bucket loads because in reality they tried to bamboozle X-Plane users with easily converted FlightSimulator crap, there is one thing that you don't do is take X-Plane users for granted or even as a bunch of airheads, if anything we are really far more smart and intelligent than that. Carenado was brave to try to understand and actually see the potential of our market, but smart enough to understand that X-Plane has to be and use X-Plane features and not be FS MK2. They found the most brilliant X-Plane developer and basically gave him an offer he couldn't refuse, and results is that I will bet my house that not one of the developers noted in that article is from Carenado. But what about the X-Plane market? Well the sheer volume of the above releases say developers are willing to develop for X-Plane and give us quality products. The point is that X-Plane users have light pockets and FlightSimulator pockets are deep is not going to wash with me, the point is that all simulation users all have the same sized pockets, the difference is in the actual market size. There is no doubt that the release of X-Plane11 will be seen as a total watershed moment for the simulator. New users and FlightSimulator users are finding that out and want in... X-Plane in the last twelve months added 100,000 users to its base in twelve months, more than the last three years put together, go through the forums and they are certainly liking what they are seeing and using. To a point X-Plane is still a small market compared to the mega FlightSimulator market, but that is changing and very quickly. The problem for the developers noted is that X-Plane is in that major transition period and a bit like Apple before they released the iPhone, they were an innovative company but "hey" their Mac market share is nominal compared to Microsoft... and today? When people see a great thing they will want it. The real issue for developers is quality, X-Plane is now very demanding of quality and features. Once a developer could get away with a very good product, but as I note through review after review that the quality and features are going through the roof but users will pay for that quality if it delivers, and the really heartbreaking part of my job is seeing great past developers and friends being left behind as their work is just not going to cut it anymore, once brilliant but now their ideas and skills are simply of another era. It has always been the "Chicken or the Egg" situation for X-Plane and that hasn't changed at all and the developers are stuck right in the middle of that, but the reality is that to make money you have to deliver high quality product, even change your way of thinking in that you may have to collaborate to cover the quality and detail that is now required, because that is what this developing business now is a "business" and not a hobby, but as they say "If you build it they will come" and that rings true here as well, the more the developer deliver then the bigger the market they have to sell to, but also another major factor is still that X-Plane clubby mentality... we develop and stay within the X-Plane universe and hope to sell to that small market.. The one thing that the FlightSimulator market does really well is sell "FlightSimulator market" to anybody that will buy anything, so developing is more than just creating great product and releasing it, it is the bigger awareness of the bigger world out there to not only sell your products but to also promote the X-Plane platform as well... When I go out and meet people I sell them X-Plane because in reality most future customers don't actually know that X-Plane actually exists! Most of my local friends are people I have converted to the cause and guess what they buy... product, lots of product... and still better they tell me "How really great this all is", and "I'm loving this" but X-Plane is also loving their cash that wasn't there a few years ago... God that was a big busy month... see you next month at Easter. Stephen Dutton 1st March 2018 Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews
  9. Behind the Screen : January 2018 The start to the New Year in 2018 was with a bang, and with an extraordinary aircraft. The release of FlyJSim's Boeing 737-200 TwinJet to version v3 was far more significant than most X-Plane simulation users realised. The aircraft was expected just before Christmas 2017, as per the usual release period from FlyJSim, instead the aircraft release came into the New Year which in many ways was a far more better time to release without the distractions of the Christmas Holiday period. So why was the aircraft so significant? It was to a point the first of the new-generation of X-Plane11 aircraft, as it used all the features and tuning that came with the X-Plane11 simulator version. You thinking would be, "well we had X-Plane11 aircraft all last year, so it is not that much different or special", but it is in that most of the releases or mostly the upgrades that came out last year were mostly conversions of existing aircraft and to bring them up to the X-Plane11 level of compatibility, and although on the surface that also seems the same approach from FlyJSim, it is in reality a very different aspect in the fact the aircraft was created to include the X-Plane11 features from the ground up after X-Plane11 went final and not converted. Yes a lot of the original v2 design's were used, but even those were reconfigured to the X-Plane11 specifications. So the FJS 737 TwinJet is the first true X-Plane11 aircraft, in other words it is the future of X-Plane11 aircraft airline design. At first sight or flying you then knew this was something different, an even more deeper immersion of simulation flying. I will make the comment here that X-plane11 changes the basics on the way you absorb a new design. In the past any aircraft could and would be easily summed up within a few flights and its visual clues. X-Plane11 really does change all of that, and I realised that factor once the simulator had gone final. Flying aircraft is now a very deep subliminal activity, in the feel and the way you interact with each machine now is very, very different and you have to peel back the layers to get down to the core of the aircraft, the words "it comes to you" is based on the real world feel of the way we interact with our machines and how their personalities come out with time to interact with their deeper being. That aspect plus the really now extremely deep systems noted as "study" aircraft, means these aircraft are not now a simple circuit around the airport and "you get it" factor, it now goes far more deeper than that. It also buries the "First Impressions" factor, as you have to go a far more longer way around and spend a lot of time to get down to real aspects of the aircraft, pro reviewers do have the experience factor on their side, but looking over an aircraft like the FJS Boeing 737 v3 TwinJet is now like looking straight up the side of glacial mountain and wondering how to climb it. So this splits users hard into two separate camps. The ones who are willing to spend the time and work through the constant procedures to get to simulation nirvana, and yes the work is worth the rewards. But also the other camp that in letting the developer give them a hand in filling in a lot of blanks and short cutting systems to give them the feel and fun but without the dread of the depth, in other words "Start up and fly". But even the second approach of the helping hand, can be also be a far deeper simulation than it was only a few years ago. This was the time of the Aerosoft ATR 72-500 with most of the systems blanked off, and simple simulation was the go, even the most basic aircraft released today make that aircraft feel like the toy it was. The amount of work now required to set up the aircraft (and you haven't seen nothing yet folks) is substantial, in almost real life programming and loading factors. This is now a period required of even up to twenty minutes before you fly, if you want the FMC data to perform correctly and to be realistic then the effort is required, but it adds in a lot to a quick flight (to somewhere) and adds on time to any serious simulation. The split is certainly required so don't also mock the "basic" aircraft approach. To experienced simulation flyers these aircraft are just that to their minds in being "Simplistic", but remember you were once a simplistic flyer, the novice, the "where is that?" idiot. It can take years to really, really fly today's excellent simulation aircraft and don't throw at me the "Oh X-Plane's not still a deep simulation in any form, because of this or that", because it isn't and you are really working far harder in there now than ever lately and certainly far more than in those ATR 72-500 days. The release of the Boeing 737 TwinJet from FlyJSim also came with a warning.... "Make sure you have flown this aircraft a lot of times before doing a review", which was very good advice, not great for getting a review out to the waiting hungry hoards that wanted to get their hands "On it". But still good advice and I passed it on in the review of the aircraft. In other words don't go blabbing out on the forums unless you understand what you are ACTUALLY talking about, because as noted these so called "First Impressions" just don't work anymore. In this day and age even the experts can be caught out and badly by not fully understanding the aircraft that is presented to them. For the record it took me seven goes or landings to land this v3 Boeing 737 TwinJet from FJS in the absolute perfect manner, and in one landing it was actually quite a mess? But that highlights the subtle changes and differences you are faced with now of these very different XP11 machines and in the way you are required access them, if your not feeling that, then you are not doing it right. The FJS 737 TwinJet delivered also another masterstroke. It was in a strange way the first of what you would call a complete aircraft. Yes we have had aircraft cabins before, but not to sheer immersion of how complete this aircraft was from the cockpit and right down to rear of the cabin. In most aircraft of this genre the cabin is an afterthought, a space to be filled in... not really that important in the whole scheme of things. But here you were in the cabin, in the seats and if you moved around (and in flight) you were as in the moment as flying the aircraft from the front seat. It felt "Complete" if what complete is? but you knew it was a new era of X-Plane simulation, of what is to come and where in the high standard of the new line we are now flying in. The FJS B732 will of course in few years appear nostalgically to seen be in the same light as the JRollon CRJ-200, but in the current time is the FJS B732 best aircraft in X-Plane right now? and in that complete sense, personally I think so. On a side note. The FlyJSIm Boeing 737-200 v3 was also a slightly proud occasion. The aircraft was not done by a large development team, yes there is outside elements in the aircraft, but mostly it was mostly the work of one developer in Jack Skieczius. Jack is an X-Plane original and to create an aircraft of this extremely high standard is a reason to laud his efforts, not only in the design of the work but also advancing X-Plane to another level. Bonanza 2018 In that vein I have some very bad news for you. In 2018 it is going to be an expensive year, and your hands won't be out of your e-commerece site all year. In 2017 with the X-Plane11 introduction, most of the releases were mostly the reconfiguration of current aircraft and airports to the X-Plane11 specifications, and in most cases you had to (re)pay to access the new X-Plane11 version. This clouded the market in the fact that your hands were always in your electric wallet to get back the same aircraft (but still better) that you had the year before in X-Plane10. Many opted out and just stayed in X-Plane10, but that was not a great idea at all as the changeover or cost has to be faced one day, and every day you stay out then the more expensive the crossover will be for you. But back to the bad news... So all of the projects that were ongoing, they were then put on hold to clear up the upgrades to X-Plane11 because users wanted to use them in the new simulator. Once the decks were cleared it was back to the grind of completing the shelved projects for release, and you guessed it right for in... 2018. So expect a huge amount of new projects being released this year, a bonanza you would say, but also a lot of the projects that are going to released in a short and expensive time. They are already coming thick and fast, and the year hasn't even really started yet, so start saving for a bumper Easter period, as it is going to get really expensive folks. Two aircraft on the short list are both Airbuses, in the FlightFactor/SteptoSky Airbus A320 Ultimate and the ToLiSs Airbus A319. Both are coming very soon and both (as in both aircraft) are going to stretch your budgets. In some areas they are remarkably similar and mostly in the FMC programming and use, this is Airbus after all and their philosophy of "Fly one and fly them all" and that is very relevant here with both these aircraft. But they are fundamentally different as well but not in the way you think they would be. You are going to be happy flying either aircraft, because they both deliver great experiences, but the choice is going to be more on routes than actual aircraft differences. The A320U is better for this and the A319 is better for that, "eeny meeny miny moe" and that creates the problem, purchase one aircraft and you will certainly want the other one. VR - Virtual Reality Laminar Research has put out its first betas of it's VR (Virtual Reality) integration with X-Plane. Your thought's would be that X-PlaneReviews have not mentioned or reviewed VR in X-Plane much, but that is not of because we are not aware of VR or not previewing the technology. I have used VR and mostly in a helicopter scenario and will note it is an amazing experience. But and here is the "but" question... VR is still very new technology and there is that high cost factor in that currently Laminar at this point only supports the most expensive headsets of Oculus rift and VIVE. Overall it is the gap between the current and the future VR manipulation of the simulator in X-Plane that is the barrier. The advent of hand VR controllers are very good, but there is still that wave in the air feel of no physical contact. For those of you that haven't yet experienced the VR feeling, it is the immersion in a different 3d world, but it is also like standing in a dark room with your hands out not touching anything and your hands can and do go through walls, almost ghost like. The next phase as noted by Ben Supnic is to give you access to your current add-on tools in your joystick, throttle and keyboard in a more physical aspect that will create a better interactivity with the simulator. In my case I was using VR in a frame that replicated the Helicopter's controls and the immersion factor in that sense is very good for the flying aspect, but with the interaction with the finer aircraft controls even in as something simple as turning on the aircraft's landing lights was problematic, you can't hold a Collective and a Cyclic and then a VR handset all of the same time in a physical sense, and that physical feel and touch is very important when flying helicopters. There was another aspect that was an issue as well, the current VR headsets are extremely hot and tiring... with twenty minutes of flying I was already seriously sweating like nothing else and was simply buggered, and I don't really face the prospect of using the VR headsets for longer periods of time like 3 to 4 hours, which is a standard simulation flight. But one point I will make is that while I was waiting my turn to fly in the VR mode, a real helicopter pilot was putting the system through its paces, and he was extremely interesting to watch at work, a lot of movement in the seat and very minute movements on the controls, but when I copied his flying style (interesting to say the least) it was a very much more easier but a far more involved simulation, it made sitting in front of a computer screen quite boring after. So on that note VR is or will be a very exciting and very immersive next step in flying on computers. In five or ten years it will be as normal as what you do now, but you will be really in there and intimately flying the aircraft and not just operating it from a slight distance, a realism you can only dream of only a few years ago will be reality, but at this point VR for X-Plane is still in it's baby steps... but it will quickly grow and mature. BetterPushBack I am quite steadfast when it comes to plugins, my philosophy is that the less plugins in the plugin folder the better as they can compete with each other or mess up the basics of making X-Plane run as efficiently as it can. My biggest hate is the fact when the simulation is stuttering or pausing for something that is effectively a barrier and not an enhancement to the experience. But we all need plugins, as they can and do enhance simulation in ways that are beyond the boundaries of Laminar Research's basic approach. Once found (and tested), some plugins become default that I will defend with my life, so adding or changing plugins is a big deal to me. Take the pushback... I was a great fan of JARDesign's iTow or Tugmaster Deluxe. But after years of virtually no development or upgrades it became a bit of a pain to use on all aircraft. Then I switched to the X-Plane11 native pushback, which is actually very good, now there is "Stop" button. But the native pushback has one fault... call the pushback and then just sit there waiting forever for it to arrive? I have sat a full ten minutes waiting for that damn truck to arrive, very realistic, but "hey, I have a flight to run, and airline time is money!". I tried the BetterPushback plugin in August last year, and to a point it wasn't very impressive as it was at the time quite buggy. But the above FJS Boeing 737 TwinJet actually uses the plugin as part of its feature set and so I redownloaded and tried it. It is excellent, but still has a few quirks in the fact the setting of the initial pushback alignment is still a little buggy, and you have to be very careful setting it up correctly... but overall it works extremely well with every aircraft I have currently used it with, and so it comes highly recommended. My New Year started off with whimper and not a bang, another bout of flu sent me to the doctor's and a week in bed. This did set my agenda back a week, and a lot of catching up to do. Most of what I wanted to cover has been done, but a few are still on the list, but will get around to them soon. As usual great new releases can also ruin any well made plans as... X-Plane stops for no one or anything. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st February 2018 Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews
  10. Behind the Screen : Year in Review 2017 This time last year I felt like I was in the dream of "X-Plane, A Christmas Carol" The Charles Dickens story of your humble simulator. There was first the "X-Plane of Christmas Past" or in layman's terms X-Plane10. The X-Plane10 version was now almost complete after its journey of four years, this was a breakthrough version of X-Plane that finally brought the visuals up to the standard of quality flying that was in a complete contrast to the basics of X-Plane9, better weather, better autogen, better avionics had created a simulation that was really good, realistic and throughout X-Plane10's odyssey the payware add-ons of aircraft and scenery had also become the higher power of quality that we now all take for granted. "X-Plane of Christmas Present" was last years hybrid of newly released X-Plane11's beta, new, clean and very different from X-Plane10. We though really didn't know the true depth of what we really had yet in the new version? was it good, brilliant or just a nice upgrade as the then jury was still out on all of that. But at the same time as X-Plane11 was released and so was xEnviro, an expensive but very interesting new environment engine, but again it was in its really early development stage. Another fact of "Christmas Present" was WorldTraffic. Another add-on of considerable complexity but hopelessly lost in its own brilliance and the work was already ongoing for the next version in the "user friendly" version of WorldTraffic3. But here was the promise of "X-Plane of Christmas Present". X-Plane11 was running, xEnviro also looked really good and you could at certain airports run WT2 and get a sort of an wide broad idea of what all three together would look like in a vision of "X-Plane of Christmas Future"... In twelve months time what of a real sort of simulation would we then have, it was exciting but also sort of disconcerting at the same time. Obviously three sort of betas or not so full versions were going to be not very reliable or gel together in the sort of fusion that you required for a good simulation, but the future was there, it worked (sort of) and it all looked very promising. So here we all are now in that promised "X-Plane Christmas Future"... the future is here and did it all work, did the dream happen as wished and more importantly are we happy with the results? As with any changes and certainly with a significant step like this, it was certainly an interesting mix, but the overall result was that all those three areas in X-Plane11, xEnviro and WorldTraffic3 are all now fully compatible and running together as one pure simulation. And so did they all deliver on the advancement of X-Plane as a whole as a simulator. The answer is an astounding yes, in fact the future as it stands now is that if you run the full system together it does feel like you have stepped right over a full version of X-Plane to X-Plane12, that is the sort of monumental step that X-Plane simulator took in 2017, a significant year? Yes certainly and the vision more than fulfilled the promise. It is however not a complete score card for everyone as we shall see, and that significant jump also came with a small cost as well in hardware. So let us go through these significant areas to see how it all came together as our "X-Plane of Christmas Future" and the addition of more one extra element that made the active side of the simulator come alive as well, and remember VR (Virtual Reality) is just around the corner as well. X-Plane11 I will put out the debate in that was X-Plane11 really ready for release even in this beta form. Was the simulator released to meet a target date (Thanksgiving 2016) and not a development date? My personal go on that question is that really the software wasn't ready for release as it was about two months short. Don't get me wrong because the Laminar Team pulled lots of rabbits out of hats to get it a more viable running simulator and quickly as the simulator wasn't half bad by mid-January. Myself I didn't even run the X-Plane11 version seriously until early January except for that earlier look and test, but as for using the simulator then that wasn't actually possible and for many reasons, the main one is that I am now always very wary of new software straight out of the box, I learnt that in the very hard way. So now I am a follower and not a frontliner, but it has saved me a lot of pain and frustration. And in reality and certainly with X-Plane11's case it was the right approach to take. It also allows you to make a better informed analysis of the software than the disjointed one of what was in reality a very incomplete or unrefined release from the start. A secondary reason was that in reality there was no actual aircraft to fly with X-Plane11 anyway. By three weeks in and we are at beta 8, and that was finally the update beta release to see the new simulator version in its much better cohesive form. I also did a huge clean out between XP10 and the rehoming of the all the elements (Scenery, plugins and aircraft) to the newer XP11. A lot, in fact a huge amount of debris was either filed away or binned, it was like a new home and a far better place to be in at that. X-Plane11 was certainly the far different place to be in. Leaner, cleaner but more importantly by far it was a more efficient in the fact that the interface was all new and that made navigation a far better idea, go back now to XP10 to see how hard it really all was, and how long it really took everything to load. It was and still is a huge step forward. Laminar also took away our toys... settings were far more generic and a lot of them were now set for the best framerate and efficiency, you could still fiddle with them through a back door, but I quickly realised that the settings provided were the best you could use and any backdoor fiddling was more to the negative than the positive, and one area that also came back was the visibility mist like you had in X-Plane9. Many hated the mist and still do, but I warmed to it's incredible realism and spending more than a few hours over the year comparing my real life aircraft window images to the simulator's version, then the conclusion is that the mist is as real as it gets. That was the basic first impressions, but the sheer power of X-Plane11's features then started to be revealed in a more slower longer process and not the directly into your face over the year, it is a deep simulation is X-Plane11 and far deeper than it looked on the surface when you first flew in the new simulation world. The biggest barrier to early X-Plane11's use was aircraft. Laminar had done a lot of basic fundamental changes to performance and developers needed to get their heads around the significant differences, then to make it more difficult as Laminar in their wisdom did a complete revise of the aircraft performance and months after the release in March, so developers were basically back to square one. Laminar will note "well it is still a beta" but in reality it was a bit unfair and Laminar should have had at least this area covered before the initial release. This performance issue split developers into two camps... the first group did a semi X-Plane11 release that covered the XP11's new features and performance, but it at least gave you the aircraft to fly in the XP11 simulator. The second group just sat it out (for months) and waited till XP11 went final before tackling the changes and both camps were in reality right in their approach. But the wait and see approach did cause those developers to get a lot of "when will you update to XP11" calls. They also didn't want to update either because if you wanted one of their shiny new upgraded aircraft to fly in X-Plane11 then you were going to have to pay an upgrade fee or repurchase the aircraft. This was a contentious issue and in some areas unfair to a few that had only just purchased their addons and now they had to repurchase them again with the same aircraft or scenery to just fly in X-Plane11. Personally I think this could have been handled better and fairer, and was a big barrier to many users switching over to XP11 and most stayed then only flying on in XP10 as they still do because of that significant upgrade cost factor. But the other side of the coin was that developers now have to deliver upgrades for the full duration of XP11's run and for free, that is four years of non-payment until the next version upgrade, and so it goes both ways and the features that X-Pane11 brings to the upgraded addons are also significant. The sad thing is that these non-switcher users are still not seeing or using the immense benefits of XP11's features and this was brought home to me very early in the year. One of the most appreciable benefits were again the visual aspects of PBR or "Physically-Based Rendering". This feature created excellent light reflections and unbelievable texture reflections that brought the realism of real to life, add in the new "metalness" feature and sitting in an XP11's cockpit was now a revelation of almost touch like existence, VR (Virtual Reality) will highlight the feature more to the "amazing" level of reality we now have available in simulation. I spent most of the early months of 2017 with my jaw on the floor and my eyes wide as one after other of aircraft and sceneries spellbounded me with their extreme realism and that revelation has not left me even at the end of the year. In my point of view PBR was the best feature that XP11 produced and the images in our reviews are certainly a huge step more realistic and real than the same images in XP10 to highlight the differences. Other X-Plane11 features were slower to emerge over the year. FMOD sound is a huge step forward for X-Plane as the sounds in reality except for 3rd party addons were quite basic. But it has taken time for developers to get their heads around it, but once they did, then the feature quickly became the normal... but it took time or the second half of the year to get there. The GNS G1000 GPS system was also in a longer period of gestation and was only released in v11.10 and very late in the year, but the wait was well worth it. Other areas that were XP11 features like autogen and aircraft I will cover in those areas later, but again although small in comparison it all added up to significant changes to the simulator as a whole. Overall X-Plane11 introduction was more a slow burn than a wham in face hit, but on a deeper level a lot of ground was covered and so was the bugs and refining of the new version. Laminar Research have changed a lot in their approach to releasing and updating the simulator over the last few years, but this more methodical approach is covering more areas and turning out a far more professional product and even if I may say it, it is a far more mature simulator. xEnviro environment engine In X-Plane11 the weather did get a welcome refinement and thankfully a better framerate hit and is now good from average. But 3rd Party tools will and can do a better job on focusing solely on one area than the extremely wide range of areas that Laminar has to cover. There are far to many shader changers that adjusts the XP default weather, when in reality it is the basics that need the treatment. Skymaxx was a great release in finally a 3rd party addon that had a go at doing X-Plane weather in realistic way. But xEnviro was a revolution in the way it totally and completely created a different and realistic environment in X-Plane, use it and then turn it off to understand the total game changer it is. I know I have harped on about xEnviro all year, but my points are significant in what it delivers, yes it is extremely expensive, yes it is not perfect and full of artifacts, but in the right areas it delivers in creating a mood or a scene that is beyond perfect for simulation flying. Anyone who does purchase it then kicks themselves in "why didn't I do this earlier and stopped instantly complaining about it". As noted the product is good, but the service was dismal throughout the year. To succeed in any business then the product has to be good but so then does the support as well. In a note the support has lifted its game towards the end of the year, but in other areas it still leaves a lot to ponder. The worrying thing about all this is that fixes via a few updates throughout the year was all that was required as any good developer does. The first update was nine months after the initial release in September and finally fixed that bad crash to desk top issue, and in reality the differences between v1.6 and v1.7 were minuscule. Worse was the main areas where not addressed. Clouds still have bad lines in them, horizon lines and circles under aircraft... biggest misdemeanour is the fact that after after twelve months there is no Mac version? But "hey" they are bringing you wet runways in the next version, but still anyone who adores Steve Jobs can't run xEnviro? It is crazy stuff you can't make up... priorities!. And worse the Maccers are not even on the current list yet, but way down at the bottom.... it is so crazy it makes you cry. The reason I hate this point is the fact that they can't use one of the very best addons in X-Plane, the Maccers are missing out on something really great... complain now to your local xEnviro thread. WorldTraffic3 Oh how difficult was WorldTraffic2... It was for diehards only. The idea was great, but translating the idea to the simulator was hard. The only way to fix the plugin was to gut it and change the foundational aspects that made it all work. In other words it was a big job, but a necessary one. I was a beta tester on WT3 and it wasn't pretty earlier on but finally the basic principles were right, and ease of use was finally in reach of everyone's fingertips. I was excited about WT3 all year but couldn't tell a soul, if you look carefully at most reviews this year it is running in the background, the clues were there if you had looked hard enough. At it's release back in September, WT3 was not still a fully rounded plugin, the basics are done, but now it was the turn of the community to give WT3 its legs. As the changes are based on the upgraded functionality of X-Planes ATC ground routes for that ease of use. It also is highly reliable on those ground routes being perfect to get the very best return out WT3. If there is no ATC ground routes or poorly created ones then WT3 would function badly as well. The older WT2 ground routes did still work, but not in every aspect if you wanted to edit certain gates or features, again WT3 totally relied on those ATC ground routes being perfect. It will take a few years for WT3 to be totally and fully immersed with X-Plane11 as this area is filtered out, but some brilliant work by Chopinet and K-man has shown how to do it well, as fully completed routes are simply a marvel to behold. If the ATC routes are well done like at the sensational Aeropsoft - EDDF, Frankfurt by again another good XP designer in Omar Masoor then you can see the huge difference that WT3 has brought to the X-Plane simulator this year. The promise was always there, but now WT3 certainly delivers on that promise in spades, as WT3 is not just a choice but an essential aid for the simulator. So there we have the three cornerstones to the current X-Plane step to immortality. But one more interesting addon was added and created another new fundamental corner to this years serious advanced change... XPRealistic. XPRealistic Movement in simulators is nothing new. We already had "shake" or Headshake by Simcoders that gave you basic movement, and a few addon aircraft had those landing shakers to make the landings more realistic. But the difference with XPR(ealistic) was that you could set the movements and actions for different types of aircraft which in the real world move or fly in vastly different ways, a GA is very different in movement to A380, and so this plugin reflected that and you could save that aircraft's profile to use or change aspects of that in the future. The only downside was that the plugin used the "FlywithLua" (FWL) plugin as a host, nothing wrong with FWL as a plugin, but it does sometimes conflict with other plugins on several levels as I painfully found out. But here was another very different dynamic to compliment the other changes above, and all four together is an X-Plane experience you could have only dreamed of a few years ago. The vision of "X-Plane Christmas Future" came to pass, but it was far, far better and superior than the vision of "X-Plane Christmas Present". Graphic limitations Of course you don't get these huge changes and and visual overload without a penalty. Most users complained that the changes to X-Plane11 required a major updating of their hardware, which was in effect completely wrong. X-Plane11 could easily run and in fact is far more efficient and faster than X-Plane10 was. There was no huge step required in hardware like there was between X-Plane9 and X-Plane10 to cover for those extended texture tiles and OSM data. Certainly X-Plane11 had grown significantly from the start of X-Plane10 run. But the main penalty was in the usual area of graphic processing and created mostly by those huge 4K textures that had a more bigger footprint by the way that PBR rendered the textures. Aircraft and their systems are far more deeper and complex compared to most of the earlier XP10 aircraft and the weather as usual did its job in overloading the graphic engines. So the requirements jumps easily from a minimum of 1gb to 2gb then quickly went to 4gb in basic rendering power. But then this year a minimum of 4gb is now required and mostly another step to either 8gb or 11gb is going to be the normal. Thankfully Graphic card costs are relevant, but these have become the basic requirements to run the X-Plane11 simulator in its current form. And so all the above is highly conspicuous of the changes over the 2017 X-Plane year, so it is to your own impressions if these aspects do create that significant and even extreme aspects that the X-Plane simulator in its current form, is now vastly superior than it was in the past. Aircraft With the release of X-Plane11, then Laminar included new aircraft to the line up (and took a few older ones away). The main new aircraft included was the Boeing 737-800, the Mcdonnell Douglas MD-80 and the Sikorski S-76. A Cessna Citation was promised but it has even to date not been released. All the remaining aircraft got updates, but most were average. The Boeing 747-400 was unflyable for most of the year and still needs a little more attention, but some aircraft had loads of attention lavished on them with especially the King Air C90B and the Cessna 172SP. The Cessna 172SP was also upgraded to use the G1000 GPS system in the release of X-Planev11-10, so overall it was a mixed bag. The native Boeing 737-800 became one of the most interesting aspects of the year. Someone fed up with the basic aircraft decided to upgrade it significantly and so was born the words of the year in "ZIBO Mod". The ZIbo modifications were and are quite extensive with other users also throwing in their modifications in FMOD sounds 5.1 by AudioBird XP, the TerrainOnND by DrGluck and many others. This also spawned another project on the same native aircraft called the "Boeing 737 Ultimate" that will add in a full cabin, opening doors and various winglets or scimitars and that is due for release any time soon. I doubt any aircraft in any period of X-Plane has offered as much discussion and excitement as these projects on the Zibo Mod ideas. The results was and is a payware grade freeware aircraft, but to note it is experimental (which puts it certainly deep into the X-Plane coda of design) but it is actually very good. I came to it about the middle of year and it was interesting but with still a few rough edges (mostly with the very detailed FMC) but it does raise a lot of questions in that will more aircraft like the Boeing 747-400 or the DC-80 also get the Zibo Mod treatment, or if Laminar is smart enough to bring the projects in house and make them official... we shall see, but the result was one of the most interesting aircraft of the year. Payware A large percentages of releases in 2017 in aircraft were all mostly upgrades to the X-Plane11 version. A lot as noted were released as "new' versions, but in reality they were mostly the older XP10 versions with a lot of new features and the alignment with the X-Plane11 performance changes. So 2017 was notably "The year of the Upgrade". Some aircraft had a lot of revisions, some even close to monthly in releases which made sometimes a lot of confusion on what version or what even the release aircraft version actually was. First out of the box with XP11 conversions was the Challenger 300 and CRJ-200, both are flyable at years end, but need attention. Most notable in that category was Rotate's MD88 and JARdesigns A320/A330. X-Crafts and SSG did a huge amount of changes to their E-Jets and often tack to tacked each other on features or updates, both are great but overall the SSG had more of the edge with their latest releases in the excellent E170/E195LR by the end of the year. The Boeing 777 and A350XWB were both upgraded by FlightFactor but only to "keep them flying" grade. In fact in new releases FlightFactor was very quiet with only the Boeing 757 having a significant upgrade to the "Pro Extended" version with three variants of a -200, -300 and a Cargo. Like a lot of the significant X-Plane developers most were only visible for the X-Plane11 upgrades and most decided only to concentrate on new X-Plane aircraft or a totally revising of their older designs, so expect a lot if not a huge explosion of classic X-Plane developer releases in 2018. Including FlightFactor with a A320 Ultimate, FlyJSim with all his products in the B727,B737 and Q400 having extensive upgrades, QPAC under a new name called ToLiSSs with a A319, Ddenn with his Global 6000, Harrier VV8b by Trident and the biggie with the McDonnell Douglas MD11 by Rotate. My main guess is that the developers wanted to have a more of a completed and stable X-Plane11 before releasing anymore "banner" aircraft and then having not to update and change monthly or even in some cases this year weekly. The Boeing 787-9 that was originally developed by Heinz Dziurowitz has had a lot of updated development by Maglight, but is still not a really dedicated study level simulation of the aircraft. That is one of the biggest holes in the X-Plane simulator currently, and yes there are a few scores of developers doing their 787 designs, we will see on how that one turns out in 2018. The oddest to really strange development in 2017 easily went to the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 by ATS. The aircraft came out early but right at the intersect between the change from X-Plane10 to still in late beta X-Plane11. It fell really through the cracks as it didn't fit in either camp. Plus it was odd in the fact that it didn't or you couldn't use the even basic of X-Plane commands to fly the aircraft, so you had to every time you wanted to fly the aircraft reset your basic keyboard and inputs to get the right commands in datarefs, and then switch them all back again to fly everything else? It was still highly buggy as well, and as the year went on it slid away into obscurity. The thing is, when you did sort everything out and sort of got some control over the aircraft it was quite nice to fly and was a good simulation, but its strange abnormalities easily outweighed its benefits? As usual the General Aviation arena of X-Plane delivered a lot of gems in 2017, in fact even some so brilliant that they are best aircraft for X-Plane in a while. Aerobask was brilliant with their excellent Pipistral Panthera, Eclipse 550NG and Velocity V-Twin. All these aircraft had excellent new GPS systems with the Dynon SkyView and GTN750/GTN650 instrument systems, but the overwhelming factor was their use of X-Plane11's PBR tools that brought in a new high benchmark in textures and interior quality, breathtaking was the word. Another huge quality delivery was from vFlyteAir with their excellent PA-30 Twin Comanche that was simply an incredible aircraft with outstanding menu features. Their Sirrus SR20 G1000 was very good as well and there is no doubt now a serious player in the GA stakes of high quality aircraft in X-Plane. There was a few new serious GA players as well with PicusX and their Aqulia A210 & A211G, and AeroSphere Simulations with their Cherokee Warrior ll, Arrow IV and Archer lll and Piper Seminole a developer to watch in 2018. Another few developers came on board as well with Auctusdelineations and his very interesting EV-55 Outback and Avia71 for his skilled aerobatic machines. One of the biggest new developers to come into our orbit was VSkyLabs. The developer runs a site dedicated to creating various interesting aircraft as projects, and the are all very good, even if a few are of the obscure design school. His Tecnam P2006T was a great utility machine, but it was his rendition of the Classic DC-3/C47 that has brought him fame and fortune in X-Plane. The initial release was basically sound and good, but with poor textures and no exterior rivet work, it was brilliantly great and average in one package. But the development process was furious and the DC-3 grew quickly into the classic aircraft it is that X-Plane has dreamed of for years. Before your eyes it became something else and no aircraft this year has given me more exhilaration and a smile on my face than this exceptional machine. It is of course nowhere near perfect, but it is excellent to fly and must be used with the XPRealistic plugin to get the most alive flying experience in X-Plane today. One of 2017's must have aircraft. Carenado had their usual busy year, but releases were restricted mostly to getting there huge 35+ aircraft up to X-Plane11 standard, it is a lot of work... and those upgrades will continue well into 2018 to cover all the range. The highlight from Carenado was the absolutely incredible Dornier Do 228 that hints of more greatness in the future. The Carenado connection with Dan Klaue was also evident in one of the year's GA masterpieces. Thranda teamed up with Flight Simulations JustFlight in their first release for X-Plane in the Just Flight PA28R Piper Arrow IIl It showed that the combination of a great FS quality developer and a brilliant X-Plane designer can produce something that not only pushes the quality and features to another level, but deliver a flying experience that is second to none. The Arrow lll is not perfect as the menus are average and the price sets a new higher barrier for a GA in X-Plane, but all in the right places it is quite simply an extraordinary aircraft. Scenery X-Plane scenery had an extraordinary year in 2017 in X-Plane as well. The introduction of X-Plane11 brought with it some excellent new features that would transform scenery at an fundamental level, mostly in PBR and certainly with the metalness textures in glass and reflections. X-Plane11 also brought in better basic WED rules with far better ACT routes (important) and great native ground traffic. There was the impact of Laminar's "Global Airports" or WED airports that delivered hundreds if not now thousands of quality 3d scenery, they do range from the basic to excellent, but now it is that WED as a scenery tool is extremely powerful, but it has certainly delivered to fill in a weak area of X-plane's simulations visual aspects. But another aspect was the regional areas finally also getting attention. German (or European) autogen made a huge, massive impact in any European or even anywhere away from the usual South-Cal feel of X-Plane autogen. Laminar added in some landmarks to Las Vegas and London as well, but overall the new euro autogen changed the whole landscape for flying around the continent. We expected some 3rd parties to bring in some dedicated regional packages (the system is in place for them?) but nothing happened and neither did say the same autogen idea for the UK or Italy. So it all ended the year in quite an odd way. Something that can fundamentally make a huge difference visually to your X-Plane experience has sort of been left to ponder, we hope (no pray) that 2018 will change that scenario. The year for scenery in 2017 started off with a huge bang as CYBD - Bella Coola BC by Beti-X which was a masterpiece of intimate scenery, the game seemed over before 2017 got even started. But this was an exceptional year on all levels for great scenery and finally scenery started to develop to a quality point to point flying in that the quality was there when you departed, but the same quality greeted you when you landed, in other words you got the full total gate to gate experience. The main players in this was JustSim and Aerosoft. JustSim just churned out quality software for months, sometimes two sceneries a month, and you scrambled to keep up with them all. On top of that JustSim was sensational in using the new X-Plane11 features for glass and reflections on both buildings and runways. Some packages were updated from X-Plane10 to X-Plane11 but overall there was a lot of new airports to devour as well. EDDH, Hamburg was excellent, ELLX - Luxemburg was a sensational surprise, LOWS - Salzburg and LOWI - Innsbruck were good as well and updates to their LFMN-Nice and ENBR-Barcelona were great as well. However JustSim has gone very quiet in the second half of 2017... Aerosoft had a banner year in X-Plane. The main change was the use (finally) of a decent X-Plane scenery developer to do their upgrade work, and boy did that show. Omar Mansoor (KRSW - South Florida/KDFW-Dallas Fort Worth) did the bulk of the work and the results were simply sensational. ENGM - Oslo was and still is one of my real favorites now in X-Plane, as is the companion ENBR - Bergen. WADD-Bali was the exception of the year in a dropped game, as Aerosoft used an average FS developer to do the conversion and it was really a straight over movement from FS to X-Plane and with poor or no X-Plane features in place, so Aerosoft returned to their past average form, which is shame as the scenery is excellent, just the conversion is very poorly executed. Omar was back for EIDW - Dublin and LSZA - Lugarno and everthing went great again, but Omar's "pièce de résistance" of the year was the simply sensational recently released EDDF - Frankfurt... MisterX went pro in 2017 under the name of ShortFinal Design. The past master of freeware scenery like KBOS, KLAX, KSFO and a long list of free great airports delivered even more greatness and another level of quality with two sceneries in KSLC (Salt Lake City) and the remarkable KABQ - Albuquerque International Sunport, he may have gone over to the darkside, but you couldn't simply fault his work or live without it. Ninbus Simulation Studios (Butnaru) had a busy year as well with three sceneries coming out of the studio. With KMCO - Orlando, the excellently featured TFFJ - Saint Barthélemy Airport and an recent update to KATL - Atlanta. Drzewiecki Design delivered the excellent Washington XP but by their standards it was a quiet year. Other highlights included a great update to KLAX v2 by FunnerFlight and a new and talented developer in KHAF - Half Moon Bay by Rising Dawn Studios. And the if very interesting YAYE - Ayres Rock - Connellan Airport by RIM&Co that didn't know when to much is simply too much of everything, but the Rock itself was excellent. Overall it was not just one thing that brought scenery to a extremely higher level in every area in 2017 for X-Plane. It was the fusion of many parts that combined to give you an exceptional canvas in which to fly. The X-Plane11 features of autogen, ground traffic and better WED tools then combined with better features and the sheer higher quality of the scenery. Certainly the aspects of WorldTraffic on scenery had another huge milestone impact, in this area then X-Plane had a that banner year of fusion. As the payware sceneries deliveries this year was so highly strong, I didn't use (or download) as much freeware as I did in the past. The person I totally admired in the past was tdg, and his exceptional work. But I couldn't and neither could a few other serious scenery developers try to understand why he refuses and still does to not insert WED ATC ground routes into his sceneries, yes it is as they say a "bone of contention" but a huge swath of (300 hundred) sceneries of his great if brilliant work and now unusable scenery is now either (in my case) not being used or even downloaded, why is totally beyond belief, but true. unfortunately as WorldTaffic3, X-Life builds as does the native A.I., then his work will diminish in non-use, I hope tdg sees the light in 2018 before it is too late. Plugins For third party plugins they had in 2017 to be more than just become a special feature you could access. In the past they now had a very direct and active influence on to your actual screen but more significantly and in the way you used X-Plane, in a few cases the plugins have now become a vital component of the X-Plane system itself, and in 2017 it was the plugins that were the major highlights of the year. I have above already noted above the huge impact the major plugins with xEnviro, XPRealistic and WorldTraffic3 have already made to X-Plane this year so there is no need to repeat the facts again here. Only two items to note... Flightfactor delivered their AVS or Airport Visual System, that the review didn't make the post before Christmas because there was only so much time and it is big review. Another plugin point is that developers are starting to use plugins as a means of delivering their products not related to plugins themselves but other aspects of the simulator and for later product updates. One or two is fine, but I hope they don't start to clog up our plugin folders with these product designed tools and even keeping a watch on your use of your simulation uses, this current friendly backdoor helper could quickly get too invasive for their own agendas even if the developer is currently only saying it is not the case. I am sure we will talk about this more in 2018. ___________________________________________ And so we come to the closure of another X-Plane year in 2017. And every year it is usually noted as a "milestone" this and "best year ever' that, but what of X-Plane in 2017. Even the diehards would have to admit it was a significant year for the simulator, and a maturing year. With so many elements coming together and in a surprisingly more efficient simulator than we ever expected then certainly this was a defining year in so many ways. We did see and now have the "X-Plane of Christmas Future", and how good is that. The X-Plane community also welcomed in 2017 an unprecedented number of new users to the simulator and many are enjoying X-Plane for the first time. Numbers don't lie, the proof that X-Plane is still growing and is still moving forward is one of the greatest Christmas gifts you can have, more people are enjoying what you enjoy and the significantly more users are also contributing to the simulation only means they are giving up their valuable time to contribute and that does mean that X-Plane as a community is a gift that keeps on giving all year round. Without them, then the software is nothing, X-Plane is not only a great piece of software, but more importantly X-Plane is in the end of the only about the people that contribute and use that software. Again this Review site cannot function without all the great and exciting work by the tireless developers that give us all this exciting product to fly and use, as I mentioned earlier X-Plane has come a long way in the last few years. To the X-Plane.OrgStore who supports this site with service and updates, a really big thanks. Of course X-PlaneReviews wouldn’t exist either without you the users and your contribution to both the simulator and to reading this site and your comments, so thanks and tune in again in 2017 for even more in-depth analysis, great detail, inside and future product news as X-PlaneReviews heads into its 5th landmark year. We will finish off with X-PlaneReviews best of the year awards… So I will now list my Best of the Year 2017: Best Aircraft : Boeing 757 v2 Extended Pro by FlightFactor/Steptosky Yes they win again, but it was a really excellent upgrade. Honorable Mention : A320 Ultimate by FlightFactor/Steptosky If it had been formally released it would have won easily, overall a poor year for top end airliner releases. Best Classic Aircraft : McDonnall Douglas DC-3/C47 by vSkyLabs An experience to be fully appreciated at 4000ft and just rumbling along at 200kts... Honorable Mention : Mudry CAP 10C by Avia71 A great aerobatic aircraft to have fun in. Shouldn't totally love but do : That DC-3! Best General Aviation Aircraft : PA28R Piper Arrow IIl by Just Flight/Thranda Takes GA flying to a completely higher level again, including the price! Honorable Mention : PA-30 Twin Comanche by vFlyteAir Incredible features and a if perfect great flying machine 2nd Honorable Mention : Any Aerobask aircraft For the incredible texture realism and outstanding features The GA category was full of great aircraft in 2017 Best Helicopter : There was no new Helicopter releases in 2017 A lot of upgrades but nothing new, next year should be better. Best Scenery : CYBD - Bella Coola BC by Beti-X Yes CYBD still won, and mostly because of both the great detail and summer and winter textures Honorable Mention : EDDF - Frankfurt by Aerosoft If you want the best working and exceptional airport scenery for Europe then EDDF is your best choice Again a huge amount of choice of great releases. Person(s) of the Year : Greg Hofer Delivered the impossible and has completely changed the look of X-Plane airports at the same time with WorldTraffic3, oh and WT3 is actually easy to use. Honorable Mention : Laminar Research Delivered what they promised and more, VR is coming soon as well. Best Plugin : WorldTraffic3 by Greg Hofer The Impossible made possible, now your airports are active and really alive. Honorable Mention : XPRealistic by rk Apps Shakes you, moves you and brings your aircraft alive from the inside, a plugin developer to watch. Best Moment of the year 2017 : Watching the dream finally all work... WorldTraffic3 in all its glory at 3am in the morning at EDDF. Worst Moment of the Year 2017 : Not one aircraft that would actually fly in X-Plane11 Biggest distraction of 2017 : Finding no ATC ground routes at an airport I really wanted to use for WT3, and yes it was usually a tdg airport! Personal Favorites of 2017 : Rotate MD-88 (awesome), vSkyLabs DC-3 (way too much time flying this aircraft to nowhere), Carenado Beechcraft 1900D (just so good), PA28R Piper Arrow lll by JustFlight/Thranda (so good, so challenging), A320 JARDesign (point to point), Native X-Plane11 B737-800 its basic but great to fly. That is X-PlaneReviews for 2017, and we will be back after a very much needed break and rest early into the New Year on the 3rd January 2017. So Merry Christmas and a great New Year 2018 Stephen Dutton 22nd December 2017 Copyright:X-PlaneReviews 2017 (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)
  11. Behind the Screen : November 2017 October and March are the demon months in X-Plane. You look forward to them immensely but there is also the dread of the huge workload and the sheer amount of detail that you have to work through. Of course late October is the release month for the Christmas holiday period, and late March is now becoming a very large release period for the Easter holiday period. In fact Easter is now really the most interesting period for X-Plane as users don't have the usual hang ups that usually comes with all the expensive Christmas present giving and worse the "You have to be here to celebrate together" issue... For Easter you have more cash available and more importantly you have far more time for relaxation and X-Plane flying. Last year in November 2017 X-Plane was overshadowed by the release of X-Plane11 with the usual Laminar Research thanksgiving present, but this year we won't have that event, and so it is really mostly the usual back to business releases like the final of the release of X-Plane11-10 but there are still a nice load of gifts in this -10 release to keep you well and happy for going into the 2018 New Year. So October 2018 was a blockbuster month with two major releases with the FlightFactor/SteptoSky Airbus A320 Ultimate and the JustFlight/Thranda Arrow III of which I noted in the October edition of "Behind the Screen". Both releases are significant to X-Plane but a lot of users were very annoyed that it was a beta version of the A320 and most were not allowed into the beta process which to date of this edition is still ongoing. On this FF A320U subject I will make one thing very clear and that is the beta process with this aircraft is the one thing you really just don't need in your X-Plane life. Obviously you want to experience the aircraft and devour its incredible features, but... You just don't really want to go there no matter how capable you really think your abilities are. It is a seriously complex aircraft, daunting is a word I will use and very buggy at the point of the beta release and your only return for your initial experience would have been lots of frustration and for the sheer out of your depth feeling on how to fly the aircraft. It is brilliant and it will be one of the foremost experiences in X-Plane by the time of its formal release. So enjoy it then when it is all sorted. Boeing 757 On the subject of complex releases is that in November FlightFactor/SteptoSky also released the B757 Professional Extended v3 aircraft. My relationship with the FF/StS B757 has been a bit disconnected in the last year because of a strange password issue that wouldn't unlock the aircraft that even the developer couldn't fix, which means I had very little flying time on this fine aircraft all year. A new version fixed the password issue and I was then a B757 captain again with now three variants to fly with a -300, Freighter and of course the original -200 version. Back in the B757 cockpit I found myself slightly floundering. I knew the aircraft inside out, but did I? It has been over a year since I last reviewed an update on the aircraft and flew it perfectly back then. I soon got my act together but it took three flights before I had become fully accustomed to the aircraft again, once more tuned in then the aircraft came back easily to me and I got the performances that I expected not only from the aircraft but from my own flying abilities. I will make the point that in reality nothing had actually gone wrong, but I simply had lost the feel and flow of flying a complex aircraft, and yes I will admit to this. Like I have mentioned in the past in the ability to "Check" yourself on an aircraft every now and again so you don't lose that flow was certainly brought home hard with this situation. I had been locked out and it showed. There is another point to make on this theory in that it was I think more the underlying changes that was significant than the actual aircraft itself that had changed. Basically the B757 was the same machine, but over the year it had also had improvements, but more so it had been tuned differently for X-Plane11. "ahh" you will say and that is the point. Even though the aircraft was actually the same, in another way it was very different with all the very different aspects of flying now under X-Plane11 dynamics than the other older X-Plane10 parameters. With most aircraft throughout the last year the changes were significant but also subtle as well so you adapted as you went along. What the B757 brought home to me was in reality how much of X-Plane under its new guise was really different and like anything else you had to adapt with the changes set for you. Overall the X-Plane11 dynamics are quite extraordinary in their feel and obviously very different. Carenado Do 228 The Carenado Do 228 release was a blockbuster. These short-regional aircraft are always very versatile, but this one was very nice to fly as well. Now between the Beechcraft 1900D and the Dornier, you have a really have a hard desicion to make on which one is the one to fly, detailing is "open mouth" and can you actually believe "how good is this" territory, but it shows how good the add-ons now are for X-Plane. It was a very hard aircraft to move on from to do another review. X-Plane Demographics and X-Plane11 I am a big fan of demographics, and so Laminar Research's X-Plane collected data which is published periodically is always going to interesting. But this last release was more shocking than you could reasonably expect. The main thought is that, who is just a casual user and who is the diehard user. Are most users just flying in X-Plane as another distraction like playing video games and watching You Tube, or are they really into X-Plane... X-Plane. I will always note that the core users will always be a lot smaller than the overall size of people that have purchased the X-Plane simulator and to a point the data points this out. Originally the core group was around 30,000 out of 300,000 registered users, so about 1 in 10. But back then simulator users were very divided in what simulation platform they used. The fence was very high between the Flight Simulator hot shots and the X-Plane twiddlers, in other words X-Plane users were and still are very much involved in the mechanics and creation of the X-Plane world, were as the FS groups preferred to buy and build their world in components or packages. To a point both worlds have now merged a lot, and over the last few years a huge amount of diehard FS/P3D users have sampled X-Plane but still went back to their original offerings, but with the release of X-Plane11 last year the few then became a torrent as the walls fell and X-Plane became their primary simulation platform. X-Plane users have finally embraced the add-on market as well, as product gets better and this has pleased both camps. But that Laminar Research data is very bewildering. For General Aviation flying then X-Plane11 is the place to be, but many or most airliner pilots they are staying in X-Plane10? Why... well most probably it is the cost of upgrading those expensive add-on airliners, as at an average of US$50-$70 it is certainly a large replacement investment. Another point is that large aircraft users are waiting for the aircraft to be fully upgraded to X-Plane11 before taking the plunge, but in reality that case is now mostly closed as if not all the aircraft are now X-Plane11 compliant. On the RAM front it seems you need far more X-Plane11 than 10. 2Gb of RAM today is ridiculous as is 4Gb and the minimum now should be 8Gb. X-Plane on average with everything running with a heavy textured aircraft, large payware airport and a few plugins in using RAM is around constantly 6Gb, just under the 8Gb margin, so 16Gb should be the norm to not let the artificial RAM takeaway too much performance. In VRAM which is not listed in the data, then that is the the most developing important item with X-Plane11. I am at this moment updating my VRAM card from which I thought was a very safe headroom of 4Gb to an 8Gb card, even a 6Gb will be out of date in a year or so. So yes X-Plane11 chews up graphic cards like a hungry cookie monster. The reasons are mostly in the far more heavy aircraft 4K textures and the sheer scale of payware scenery we can now access. Weather was always a graphic card killer and although you will now slide through light weather event, but come to a stormy weather event and your frame-rate goes south. Add in WorldTraffic, X-Enviro and a box full of plugins and you can see why the graphic card is bulging. I noticed through out of the year my rendering options sliders were slowly going backwards, textures was were the biggest slips that moved, but mostly overall all sliders slid a full notch down, so even with my rendering options adjusted well down I am STILL always on the 4Gb limit or just under it or mostly over it. "aahh the cookie monster..." Biggest surprise in the LR data was that a quarter (23.4%) of X-Plane users still only use the mouse for flying aircraft. I will attribute this to the fact that most of these users fly on laptops, but seriously... mouse input? a quarter of you? I lasted I think seven minutes flying with my finger... I am moving on from that fact. No doubt the biggest barrier to X-Plane11 is simply cost. Not only the actual simulator (which in reality is the cheapest part), but the hardware and the cost of updating the payware aircraft is a cost to overcome. I feel your pain, but the sheer benefits of X-Plane11 certainly bear out the upgraded cost factors, Yes you can buy X-Plane11, still put in a 4gb graphic card (around US$200) and update the aircraft PASYG. At least you are upgraded and flying, go on treat yourself for Christmas... oh and go and buy yourself a cheap joystick as well. Christmas Presents (I won't be getting this year) On the "What would I like for Christmas" angle then I won't certainly be getting it this year, but I can hopefully put it out there for 2018. There is no doubt that in 2017 the rate of excellent add-ons have been the best yet, as we will cover in my regular end of the year review. But there are some holes I would like filled. In aircraft it is a head shaking in disbelief that there is still no decent top quality B787 Dreamliner? Yes there are a few out there, but not a deep level sim version, and "God knows" even Boeing will have sorted allthe the problems out of the aircraft before X-Plane gets one? A -9 would be very nice thank you.. A great Boeing 744 deep sim would be nice as well, but by the time we get around to that release all B744's will be in the scrapyard, you hear that PMDG? In General Aviation I would like a nice Britten Norman Islander, a nice aircraft that somehow X-Plane forgot. Another I will get down on my knees moment is for Carenado to cross over their currently in development F-27, yes that Fokker F-27 Friendship, at least it does have a chance of making it into X-Plane. In scenery a very nice payware EKCH - Copenhagen would make my Europe a better place... and I am still waiting and waiting for a very good HECA - Cairo to fly to... But still 2017 didn't again deliver much from the East either so anything from out there in 2018 would be a nice late Christmas present Oh and my cruise that I went on in the first week of November? Well I did trivia, pass the donkey, the samba dancing, name that tune (very good at that), cookery competition and won a chef's hat, bingo, zip lining over the top decks, disco dancing every night, got lost on an island beach and eat myself sick with all the free food, I needed a holiday after all of that. See you with my Comprehensive "End of the Year Review 2017" just before Christmas... Stephen Dutton 1st December 2017 Copyright©2017: X-Plane Reviews
  12. Behind the Screen : October 2017 I rounded off September's "Behind the Screen" entry with a bit of frustration with plugin issues. A loss of a mouse input on the main screen and only a working menu bar is going to drive you mental if there is no becoming fix. These plugin issues are very annoying and can be really and sometimes impossible to fix... Your thoughts are to just pull out all your plugins and find the offending traitor. Well that was the very first thing I did with no change and that was when it went from maddening to down right just frustrating and after three weeks of pain I was getting a bit bothered about the whole thing and not to say of all the lost time in doing reviews and testing. But I knew and it pointed to that it was still an plugin issue. First point is that it only affected me? As if it was a global issue it would have been all over the forums. Secondly it was the thought that it could be the new X-Enviro v1.07 as it was released at that point in time, thirdly I had run close to 30 betas of WorldTraffic3 and all those plugins were just not talking to each other? You could run one but not both together as they simply hated each other? Then there was the X-PlaneRealistic plugin that became corrupted as it it ran through the FlyWithLua plugin and so the imposter simply ruined that with a "Nil value". And so there is a big thank you to both the developers of FlyWithLua and Roy from X-PlaneRealistic who both put in a lot time trying to find the cause and fix the issue... so how the damn do you fix it? The Nuclear Approach... The Nuclear approach involves a complete X-Plane rebuild by downloading a second X-Plane version (or demo version) and rebuilding the simulator up from scratch. The X-Plane basics stay the same in that you move over only your larger folders including your Global Scenery, Custom Scenery and Aircraft folders. The rest is all new and clean, It is like a huge moving house clean out and this cannot be unstated as a bad thing. As you go along adding in hundreds of downloads this and beta that, then a lot of junk can and does build up in all the various folders and worse in different preferences spread away from the main preferences stored in your output folder, It is in the really small stuff that really clogs up the simulator. So a three hour download of Gb's of X-Plane, one hour to reset everything and add in all my settings again and I restarted my ultra clean X-Plane11 and guess what?... the damn issue was still there?... So it was time to get creative? I knew the X-Plane download was clean? and I tested it next with the original demo scenery, default aircraft folder and demo custom scenery folders installed... and the issue finally and thankfully went away? So it was now the Sherlock Holmes approach to elimination in trying each default folder separately then concluded that the issue was in my custom scenery folder... more elimination concluded that any scenery installed in September had to come out and do a retest after retest until I narrowed the villain down to a scenery that I had been given to review, It was a nasty piece of bad problems right from the start, but it also contained a folder with a SASL plugin installed... and there was my master villain... a rogue SASL plugin that consistently conflicted with all the other plugins.... pulled out the offending scenery and my life suddenly went back to normality and my X-Plane simulator suddenly began worked like clockwork again and has done ever since. So if your X-Plane application starts crashing and behaving oddly you can guarantee it will mostly always be a plugin, but the motto of the above story is that it is not always the ones in the actual plugin folder that is causing the issues. I totally recommend to "Nuclear" your X-Plane application at least twice a year and even every quarter if possible and that is even if X-Plane is running perfectly. This house clean is in just that, it is a clean out of all the hidden stuff you can't see. Then to save this current newly downloaded copy of the initial download (before you add in the Global Scenery/Custom/scenery/ Aircraft folders) on an external hard drive for a quicker download of a clean edition in the future, you can then easily run the updater to bring it up to the current X-Plane version. Another bonus is that if X-Plane goes batty or isn't running correctly then that clean version is always there to put everything back running and correctly very quickly. vSkylabs DC-3/C47 Another version to v2.5 for vSkylabs DC-3 dropped in also in October. This is only after weeks since the last revision of the last release and you were really expecting only a few nips and tucks but not the excellent load of new features on the aircraft... It is absolutely a work in progress, but the aircraft has become one of my go too's if I want to just fly to particularly nowhere at all but end up flying for hours and hours to well particularly nowhere. It is that sort of aircraft in the sheer delight in just rumbling along at a 200mph speed and 6000ft and loving every minute of the experience. You see the aircraft grow before your own eyes and become just better and better, and so its journey becomes your own, it has been one of the aircraft of the year to date. X-Plane11-10Beta X-Plane11 v11.10 beta hit the download and it was an excellent update. I do admire the way Laminar are getting that efficiency into X-Plane and my framerate did improve around 15-20 frames on average. Laminar are aiming for a 60 frame average and if you had told me that number last year, I would have thought it was some sort of a Halloween prank, but no, now I think it is possible and achievable. Of course disregard the nutters that say that the framerate is worse than ever as they are the ones not checking the defaults in settings or worse not using the same scenery or aircraft to find a cosmic balance... It is good and even great and believe me on that. The G1000 was excellent as it was expected to be. Laminar do create basic versions of these GPS systems without any frills, but they are very solid as well, very impressed.The new Version 3.0 of the X-Plane SDK (XPLM) was very interesting as well. These sort of new additions don't really change anything at their time of release, but certainly the effects will be very quickly realised and then the changes will be huge and have a significant impact on the way we use the simulator. The clever points with tools like these are the ideas that come out of nowhere but then change everything with a new direction of an old way of doing something, so you should be very excited about a simple thing as a new SDK, it can change your world... no pun intended. October is always the big month for big new product or final beta testing of aircraft and this year was no different, mostly it is aimed at the coming Thanksgiving/Christmas seasons. This year is slightly different in that there won't be a Laminar Research release... X-Plane11 is now last years highlight, and it will be quiet on that front this year after v11-10 goes final. Arrow III and Airbus A320 Ultimate So the usual late October releases were both very significant aircraft for X-Plane in the Arrow III by JustFlight/Thranda and Airbus A320 Ultimate from FlightFactor. For being very different types of aircraft they both had some remarkable similarities. They both lift simulation another notch up in quality and expand out the sheer breadth and scope of their designs. Outwardly they look very X-Plane familiar, but both aircraft require another level of skill and learning to get down their real depth of the expanded experience that they can deliver. Ask me the same in six months and I will say maybe "oh that, yeah easy" but in reality there is a bit more going on here than that. We do take are simulation flying very seriously (maybe too seriously sometimes) but simulation is getting extremely complex, not in the broad sense but certainly in the details. The Arrow demands a lot of practise and the far more higher skills to fly it. It makes it hard in a review sense in that you want a review up there quickly but also in a very complete form in its analysis and interpretation. But in a few days with aircraft like the Arrow it is very hard to do that because with every flight there is far more to learn and far more absorb, even with a hard flying five flights to understand it, I then get the overall shape, but is certain it will take a far longer period to really be a full master of the machine, that is with a lot of practise and lots of hours flying the aircraft. Ask me again in six months what I think of the Arrow and in some areas I will counterclaim my own review. But that I think is normal as well as you go through the learning process, it is a totally brilliant aircraft is the Arrow III but it also lifts the game a few notches higher as well and with that we have to adjust upwards as well with our newer required skill levels and knowledge on how good aircraft like these are now represented on a computer screen. The A320 Ultimate is exactly the same as the Arrow III. Another huge download file, another huge learning curve and a depth of a simulation that goes deeper than the grand canyon. There is no doubt the A320 Ultimate will be a landmark aircraft for X-Plane, but don't expect that straight away. With this huge step forward there is also a learning path not only for the developers but for us the users as well. Another point on these two aircraft is they are pushing computer power and X-Plane limits as well. A 4gb VRAM graphic card is a requirement for both aircraft, but in reality they both require an 8gb VRAM graphic card to give you the expanded graphic head room to work with, and how quickly did we get to that line and limitation. Yes computer power is still staying close to Moore's Law and still we need more. Thankfully the foundries of Intel and current new kids back on the block with AMD's Vega and Ryzen Threadripper's multi everything will help out the cause, but they are not cheap and you have throw in a new motherboard as well to add in to the next step cost changes. It will cost you as much now as it did with purchasing the whole computer in the first place, and so it better be worth the step cost. And sadly as always many will be left behind or be restricted to certain aspects of online flying. 2017 is become fast a significant year for X-Plane with X-Plane11 showing its muscle and with huge new addons that push the boundaries further than the Starship Enterprise and its five year mission, it is exciting, I just hope we can keep up with it all... The site will be quiet for about ten days as I head off on a cruise around the South Pacific, "oh lucky you" you will say, but there is sort of madness in the equation. I decided that only a complete disconnection from the internet will relax me, and once 5 miles out into the Tasman Sea and my iPhone connection will then be severed until I come back 8 days later... will I cope, not on your life but I need a break, a rest... so total boredom beckons and a few games of Bingo, I am sure I will have any aviation questions covered... lucky legs 66! See you all again after I get disembarked. Stephen Dutton 1st November 2017 Copyright©2017: X-Plane Reviews
  13. Behind the Screen : September 2017 You get great months and then you get those really hard draggy months and guess which category September 17 fell into, yes the second one. Part of the issues is that there is a lot of betas flowing around and September became the update and rerelease month par excellence. The two biggies came out with xEnviro finally coming out with their v1.07 and finally is the word here. And then there was WorldTraffic3 in release as well. Secondary was that a lot of airports scenery (mostly Aerosoft) was also updated to X-Plane11 and so much was updated X-PlaneReviews found it all a bit overwhelming, but as they say when it rains it... All these plugin releases also created a bit of a issue on the system side that has severely slowed the site down over the last few weeks. Plugin conflict is one of the worst things to fix, and far worse when you can't see the actual cause? I actually don't have a lot of plugins running, but three I think are essential in using X-Plane11. One is xEnviro, Two is WorldTraffic3 and last but not least is XPRealistic the excellent motion and effect plugin... I just can't run X-Plane11 with any of those excellent addons running alongside me in there. But here is the sudden issue in that none of the plugins above suddenly like each other, even if they have all been very good friends all year. Every time I run two or more of the plugins together now I lose my mouse pointer and screen input, menu bar works fine, but not in my main screen, and this issue has caused havoc for weeks now? Your point of view is that why bother and just do the reviews? That is all and good, but that will give you less of the full experience and and very visually with xEnviro and WT3, but underlying is the fact that you need to find the cause and because if it happens to me then it is not going to be before too long before you start being mouseless as well. You expect plugin issues while there is a beta program running and I was running a few side by side, but not with releases? So it is all very confusing. WorldTraffic3 I have been a big part of the development of WorldTraffic3 from the start. But don't get me wrong this is all Greg Hofer's work and not mine, I can only help or encourage where possible and add in ideas on how to make it all work as best as possible. First to note is that the plugin is totally and absolutely horribly complex, that it works at all is simply up to Mr Hofer's genius, but it does work and extremely well, but there are a few comments that have to be laid out to understand that the release of WorldTraffic3 does not mean it is a completed project and that point is actually very far from reality. Mr Hofer can only do so much in making the plugin as efficient and durable as possible, but overwhelmingly WT3 does totally rely on outside layouts being correct and set to being totally effective. If you have any issues with WT3 then look inward at X-Plane11 far more than the actual plugin itself, yes there will be bug fixes and more refinements to come and quickly, but 90% of WT3's issues are not residing in the actual plugin itself but in the X-Plane11 framework that it now uses. Even though the tools to create a really good ATC and ground route structure at airports with WED (WorldEDitor) has been available for awhile, and even if the released airports and mostly with the default Global Airports that reside in your custom scenery folder it doesn't mean that these ATC structures are all created equal. In fact of the many I checked, they were all really quite average with most missing parking position lines and traffic flow lines that are not completed or simply missing. And then WT3 has to interpret this poor layouts and try to make your airports look busy and exciting. When you have a correctly set up ground route structure and I use Aerosoft's ENGM - Oslo scenery as a benchmark, then WT3 is simply astounding in it's operations, but in most cases the layout even if it says on the packaging that the scenery is ATC- Traffic flow is WED compatible is that they usually are not, and this is the biggest hurdle that WT3 and to a point X-Plane itself has to climb over, and not just for WT3 either as these ground routes are becoming more and more important to the effectiveness and general everyday use of the simulator. Then there is the factor of many sceneries and mostly freeware that don't have any ground route layouts at all, and yes I am poking an stick at tdg here as although he makes simply excellent scenery and does astounding work, this one little oversight will cause for most of his work to be totally unusable in the WT3 universe and I am quite angry about that because to insert ground routes for someone as talented as he is at WED is just simply astounding as well. So the point is for WT3 to be a major and important part of your X-Plane experience is that a very significant focus will have to go on and be made on the WED ground route layouts... then and only then will WT3 deliver the incredible return on the investment you require, in other words don't blame WT3 but fix the fundamental basic issues of WED first and make the whole system work together. I have also noticed that some users are generating auto ground routes and posting them up on the X-Plane.Org. This is really a waste of time and actually a big diversion in the fact these ground routes can for one be very easily generated within WT3 quickly and easily anyway, but worse are they actually "Corrected" or refined ground routes with the sorted correct parking assignments completed and in most cases the answer is no. Again you want fully well defined or completed ground routes and not just quick and nasty setups that users will take for the real thing and only they make your airport sceneries totally functional with the WT3 plugin, this is an IMPORTANT point to understand, in that the layouts required by WT3 need to be the best we can distribute and fully setup for instant use and be secure in that they will deliver the required standard that we require to make X-Plane the excellent simulator it is. Over the last few months in checking most sceneries we do fall very short or if anywhere near the mark to make WT3 effective at this point. But what I love about X-Plane is that as a collective clever set of tinkerers and changers we do have the skills and talent to fix this ATC WED layouts for the better and quickly, and then distribute the changes for everyone else to benefit from, that is the promise of not only X-Plane as a simulator but for WT3 as well. From this point forward this WT3 icon will tell you in a review of the WT3 layouts and notable points on what does or doesn't work, or if that scenery even does not have the required layouts to generate ground routes. To a point I found most good payware scenery released recently are doing very effective ground routes or at least acknowledge that well set up WED ground routes are now as big a major feature or is a major feature on selling their product. I would like to thank everyone who participated in our fourth anniversary competition in August, of course X-PlaneReviews would like to pick many winners but we have to settle for just five, it was very hard in the end but the final choices were the worthy winners. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st October 2017 Copyright©2017: X-Plane Reviews
  14. Behind the Screen : August 2017 Thanks to everyone that entered our 4th Anniversary Competition. You may think we do these competitions to give ourselves a bit of a pat on the back when in reality that is very far from the truth. It is actually to gather feedback on what users love and use in X-Plane. There is no bigger waste of time than reviewing or focusing on items that users basically have no interest in, we want to give you information of what affects you as a user so you know and can use your aircraft, airports, plugins to the best in X-Plane. So two aircraft stood out. The JARDesign Airbuses and VskyLab's DC3/C47. The JARDesign Airbus will soon be joined with the release of FlightFactor's A320 and so that will be a significant observation between the most popular Airbus in X-Plane with the newcomer, no actual release date is forthcoming but soon would pass the developers lips at this moment. My flying month of August was dominated by two aircraft, one the above mentioned VskyLab's DC3/C47 and the second the Zibo MOD Boeing 737-800. First the DC3. There is an update review coming for the just released v2.1 of the DC3, but everything has been on hold for the week because "yes" I have had another (four this year!) flu bout this last week and that has absolutely ruined all the plans. So sorry the site has been slow. So back to the gut buster. VskyLabs released their DC3/C47 around late July 2017, in fact only weeks ago. First impressions were impressive, but in areas it was a little bland and hence the low price. Biggest visual negative point as there was no mapping or that raised riveting and lines set out on the bodywork. Personally at that point in the review I thought that X-Plane users deserved a little better than this and with this iconic aircraft at that, but I liked it, so don't get me wrong here. We will note the Leading Edge DC3 version, but that is a very old version now, and again X-Plane users deserve better. In most cases after a release the developer will disappear for about six months and then pop up again with an update unless there is something urgent to correct with the release version, but that is not what happened with the VskyLabs DC3, in only weeks there has been a significant upgrade to the aircraft in version v2.1 including the noted mapping, so full and absolute credit to the developer, and I will cover those updates in the review. But the aircraft was also very significant. I did the review and moved on to another release, but in my spare time had a few flights including getting lost over the North Sea (It was a long story) but I flew from Aerosoft's ENBR - Bergen but ended up in EGPH - Edinburgh (I said it was a long story), but along the way I totally fell in love with the old bird. The aircraft brought back the reason we all do this flying thing, sheer fun and delight. To get the full effect you do need rk Apps XPRealistic Pro excellent realism shaker and a lot of time as the DC3 is not the fastest aircraft on the runway, but that is the whole point as well. You don't fly in the DC3 but trundle, shake and grin a lot. I can see why the aircraft is so beloved by everyone. So yes I am addicted to the DC3 like it seems is now everyone else, an amazing aircraft and the current version is simply outstanding, not perfect as it is still a project in progress, If you don't have it then you are outside the class and you need to get with everyone who has, it is becoming an amazing aircraft. Zibo MOD Boeing 737-800 Another aircraft that has dominated my flying time has been the Zibo MOD Boeing 738 which is based on the X-Plane Laminar Research default Boeing 738. This is an interesting development in X-Plane as most X-Plane default aircraft are mostly off limits to changes, but this ZIBO version may change that area significantly. In most cases the developer is the owner of the copyright, so unless with permission outsiders can't mess with it, and in reality you shouldn't because it will mess up the basic fundamentals of their systems and settings. It is fine to do liveries or an external modification (MOD) but on the aircraft stuff then that is a no, no. But there are a few items that do need attention in this area. Some aircraft are allowed transfer copyright wise as they are leaving the game or in most cases usually have sadly passed off our mortal coil. But what of developers just leaving us all in the lurch like Virtavia and Dawson Designs and their C-17 and SeaKing aircraft? Mostly they just need a few touchups to keep them X-Plane11 happy, but there is nothing we can do? I totally love the Seaking but the glass doesn't work in X-Plane11 as it is blacked/blanked out and Virtavia is saying nothing, is that good enough... no not really. But the default Boeing 738 is a very different deal. Laminar Research commissions developers to create aircraft (and scenery) for the simulator. Mostly they are externally very good, but system wise very basic. They usually only have updates only when absolutely required like with a new feature or version of X-Plane, noted is the fact they are really quite good with X-Plane11, but overall they are still basic. So along comes the Zibo MOD Boeing 738, which takes this basic model (with permission I would think) and changes most of the systems and adds in a lot a great features, and this project has become THE really big attention-getter in X-Plane this year. Modifications (MOD) can be one of the great areas of X-Plane, but it can send you down dead end paths that experienced developers do avoid. I mostly stay away from MOD's unless there is an outcome worth noting, so yes my involvement with the Zibo MOD B738 has been fleeting, but I have kept an eye on it if only from a distance. But there was also the time I needed to see where it really was in development and see what all the fuss is about. So I deep dived and loaded in all the elements noted like the base MOD, Terrain Radar (works with other aircraft as well!), AUDIOBIRD sounds and mashed them altogether to create a B738 that is quite frankly amazing, but not perfect. A test flight from YBBN - Brisbane to WADD - Bali shows that the Terrain Radar and the sound pack are excellent, and the basic flight systems are very good as well, but the FMC is still very buggy with SID - STAR insertion and editing not very good at all, but then again it is another project in progression and FMC's are the hardest areas to develop as even the best have struggled with making them efficient. When the project is more polished I will of course do a review or cover the aircraft because of its significance to X-Plane, I just don't think is is still quite there yet. But it is a significant project and an interesting one? So do Laminar take all the mods on board and add them into the default version? That is an interesting question because it would quickly elevate the X-Plane default aircraft from good to very good , my personal take is that if the original developer says yes (or authorises) the changes then all I see a big beneficial to the simulator as a whole, but problem is the MODs are out of the developers designs so what if he want to update and update, you can see how it gets complicated? A bigger question is will the same MODs be done for the default B747-400 that is dire need of attention, just think of the same changes to that long haul bird and I am sure a big smile will come to many of your faces, wishing is one thing, but maybe pushing that agenda forward would be a great idea... Certainly in time most default aircraft will get the same MOD treatment and for that then everyone benefits. But it is feeling like there is change around with this MOD business and the success of the Zibo MOD B738. Don't get me wrong we don't need a load of conflicting MOD's on the same aircraft, but it is a very interesting development this year. FMOD Sound Another huge area now also emerging is the new FMOD sound engine built into X-Plane11. Now as the developers have started to get their heads around it, very quickly the updates to FMOD sounds are now coming thick and fast, again an easy and very brilliant advance to an area neglected for far to long in great sound. And like with the above Zibo MOD B738 the sound package from Audiobird was to just an add on FMOD pack that you just dropped in to the aircraft file and that quickly and totally changed the aural aspect, can it be just that easy? Well yes and it works, so you are going to see a lot more of that in the future, brilliant sounds at just a click and drop. xEnviro and WorldTraffic3 September is shaping up as a brilliant month as two projects that have been in extended development has been xEnviro and WorldTraffic3 (WT3) which are both finally coming into their end games. xEnviro weather engine in v1.07 has had a few issues along the way, but finally the developers have noted that it is now in beta. There are a ton of new features and the dreaded disconnect server issue has also been addressed, if history (recording and using past weather history) is not going to in there and there has been no mention of a Mac version either, which I think is a major issue and should be a priority and not a new feature. From an income angle alone it doesn't make sense, but then a lot of what these guys have done over the last few months doesn't make much sense either. WorldTraffic3 is also in the last throes of beta testing. I have noted before that WT3 was coming soon, but this is one complicated plugin, and it is amazing how something has to be so complicated to make the user interface far more easier and accessible to use. Clean out the old desk and usher in the new... WT3 will blow you away with its ease of use and the sheer dynamics it will bring to your simulation flying, plus it is the very best animated computer screensaver and timewaster ever! As noted earlier the FlightFactor A320 is still in development, but there is as noted is a bigger sniff in the air that it could be coming in September as well, if not then early October, but this is one project you don't bet on as the development period has been long and detailed. So September is going to be an interesting month and we will see how it all rolls out. Certainly 2017 has already been a huge year for X-Plane, but my guess it is all going to end with a lot of great developments and brilliant releases rather than whimper out, its been a great ride till now, but as they say "You haven't seen anything yet"... see you all next month. Stephen Dutton 1st September 2017 Copyright©2017: X-Plane Reviews
  15. Behind the Screen : June 2017 If anything then June 2017 was about debates, this about that. Like last month there is always the constant opinion makers sprouting their advisory thoughts on various matters. Mostly their poor frame rate (which I addressed last in last month's Behind The Screen) and of course in that X-Plane11 is far much worse in running on your computer than X-Plane10. Both are myths, and as big as like a certain Scottish Monster that lives in a big lake and eats children at night. I was there when the changeover from X-Plane9 to X-Plane10 became official. In that case most of the very basic scenery tiles were replaced to take in the changes to OSM (Open Street Map) and the opportunity to make the basic mesh textures into a much more higher resolution. Add in the new weather system, HDR lighting and other processing sapping features then X-Plane10 was a totally different setup from the very light X-Plane9. The step was huge, even by today's standards and it really killed off the notion of using a 512mb graphics card to do your visual processing. I know because I burnt mine out. 1gb Graphic cards were then basic requirement if you wanted to do X-Plane Simulation and although over its full run with X-Plane10 and the many refinements it was never ever going to a lite simulation were as your computer was concerned as a 1gb Graphics card did get you over the line then a 2gb card was the basic requirement... today a 4gb card should be your normal, but an 8gb card would be very nice. Like X-Plane10 over X-Plane9, then X-Plane11 is a very different animal in the way it uses your processing, but better threading with the coming Vulcan/Metal API tools will be a huge bonus to the great. But back to the current. Yes X-Plane11 does require more processing power than X-Plane10, but not in the case of the X-Plane9 to X-Plane10 changeover. In fact the point is if you can run X-Plane10 efficiently, then there should be absolutely no problems in running X-Plane11 with the same specifications. If you were trying to blow out a 512mb graphic chip in X-Plane10 then the same chip is not going to transform overnight into a sparkling efficient framerate champion in X-Plane11. Like I mentioned a 4gb graphic chip and a modern processors is still going to be the basic requirements for running X-Plane11. The basic requirements for X-Plane11 are noted as: CPU: Intel Core i5 6600K at 3.5 ghz or faster Memory: 16-24 GB RAM or more Video Card: a DirectX 12-capable video card from NVIDIA, AMD or Intel with at least 4 GB VRAM (GeForce GTX 1070 or better or similar from AMD) Laminar Research do note you may get away with a 1gb graphic card and even 2gb, but I doubt that anywhere now. So if any of the unwashed out there are telling you that X-Plane11 is a far poorer relation to X-Plane10 then they are talking hogwash, or more to the point they are uninformed and have no credibility. Like with the framerate debate it is in their set up that is actually wrong and in mostly being too greedy in what they are trying to process. Even myself I run X-Plane11 with room to spare in the features and effects department and unless you can save up Apple's new Pro Mac at a killer US$5000 you won't be able to run X-Plane at anything near the full settings you would love to do. Laminar Research has gone a long way to make X-Plane11 far more efficient than its predecessor in not only restricting the twiddlers in messing up the graphic settings and with the last update (v10.02) in getting better efficiency gains from the simulator. If you are not getting the required replay from X-Plane11 and you meet the basic requirements, then you need to take a long hard look at your setup. The problem with the damage the unwashed do is to give the wrong advice to users that need good concise advice on how to run, buy and move up to the much far better environment of X-Plane11. Too many times I have read that a user thinking of moving to X-Plane11 only to be given poor advice and them turning away is bad for X-Plane and its forward momentum. Debate two Another debate that is important but was actually not main stream but involving the coming WorldTraffic3 plugin. Mostly the debate was around tdg sceneries but the implications are far more wide ranging. It is not the WorldTraffic plugin that is at the centre of the debate here but the underlying engine that will power the new WT3 version in the default built in ground routes. In earlier times X-Plane suffered because it had no traffic system built in. Most Aerosoft scenery came to you blank or empty and you were required to quickly hit the OverlayEditor for hours (and hours) to filling in the huge empty spaces with static aircraft and ground equipment to give you at least some sort of a realistic look when you arrived or departed from that airport. In 2017 that scenario is now completely the other way around. We are now required to delete our statics and areas that are now active. Over the last few years Laminar Research has built in to X-Plane specialised ground routes for its own built in ATC system. But the ground route system is a bigger and becoming a more important system for animated ground traffic systems. The built in A.I. system by all accounts is still quite basic and to be honest doesn't work that well either. X-Life by JARDesign is far better but the interesting system is WorldTraffic. To be honest the earlier built in ground route system by Laminar Research was quite basic and that resulted mostly in why the A.I./ATC systems didn't function as good as they should have. But over the last year a lot of work has been done on the networks and more importantly in the way you create them in the WED tool. They are now easy to set up, but also complex in what they can do to help in the visual and animated aspects of the scenery. World Traffic got around the poor default ground route system by putting in its own ground route system over the top... it worked but was heavily complex and hard to create and edit. Using auto code programmes to create the routes was not perfect either as they created far too many and are still to hard to edit. The newer coming WorldTraffic3 still uses its own ground route system for the extra features and for editing various areas for personal choice. But the creation of the routes will now default back to the built in default ground route system put in place by the WED tool. The new WT3 ground generation works and far better than you can imagine, but it also creates other important points in the fact that in how much in the future that ANY sceneries ground routes are going to need to be fundamentally correct and more importantly be inserted in the scenery. Any scenery with out these routes correctly inserted is going to be ignored, and no matter how good the scenery is created... which brought us to tdg's sceneries. There is no doubt that tdg has had a huge impact on X-Plane with his revolutionary brilliant small file sceneries. Without tdg's input and hard work, X-Plane scenery would be a far, far less usable place. But tdg won't steadfastly and even stubbornly will not insert the required ground routes into his WED sceneries? Users have offered help in the cause, but the issue remains that every current tdg scenery won't be active in the coming revolution of animated scenery. This situation is also connected to any payware scenery developer as well? No ground routes then no sale could start to filter through as the usability requirements become more of a standard requirement in every scenery, certainly I will severely downgrade any review scenery without built in ground routes in the future, if you are paying then they should be a standard installed feature. Thankfully most developers have got on board, but there are a lot out there that don't see the importance of the feature, they will soon. When you use WT3 with and without the built in ground routes, the differences are striking and even confronting. No ground routes will mean not using that scenery in the simulation, it becomes very quickly a black and white choice. There are options of course in first hitting the WED editor and creating the ground routes required, and for a few very important sceneries I use constantly that may be my only option. The second option is that other users create the required ground routes for WT3 (it already has a substantial collection), but simply inserting the required correctly laid out WED routes solves all the problems from the start. I can already hear the constant complaining of not having the correct routes inserted as I have already sampled the problems on airports not correctly configured in WED, not being able to use a favorite scenery without the traffic animations is a big disappointment and the choice is to always to find another scenery that is correctly configured, I am one, but soon there will far more in the same situation, hence the frustration and debate directed at tdg. The importance of the correctly configured WED ground routes in scenery can not be over overemphasized here. Not just that they are inserted, but there is a very broad constancy that they are all of the same quality and inserted into every scenery in a standardization of the format. In the past in X-Plane a lot of important items were available only in an ad-hoc situation, but to get a more cohesive flight simulator we have to start getting a few areas more standardised, we can start right here with ground routes. 2017: The Year of the Plugin From when X-Plane allowed external plugins to be part of the simulation you knew that they would have a big effect on the way you fly in the simulator. Over the years there has been some really clever ideas and innovation in the way that plugins can enhance your flying experience. But for all their excellent contributions they also do come in shapes and sizes and the worst aspect is a badly written plugin that can cause you a lot of issues and constant CTD's (Crash to Desktop). Overall you have to very picky on what you allow into that golden plugin folder and what not to use. I have always sided on the side of caution than to try anything or everything, more so since you are a reviewer and the need to differentiate the differences of the actual item you are reviewing and if the plugin is affecting the process. So most plugins are tried and tested over long periods to a fail safe position. But this year in 2017 it has already been a simulator shapeshifting movement in the way that plugins are directly changing the way you visually access and fly in X-Plane. So what makes a great plugin. For me it is the one that is always there, that it isn't seen or heard but doing its job efficiently in the background. I will instantly dismiss and even some of the really great plugins if they start interfering with me in the foreground, I will tolerate a start up situation as the plugin does its loading sequence, but after that I don't want to see it or hear of it unless I need access to it, which again has to be easy, quick and efficient. And efficiency is another factor as by its standalone position it is efficient, but you are going to add on a few more in the same environment and then the plugins efficiency comes to be a major factor as it competes for space with the other side by side processing elements and that can start to take away some of your overall simulation processing power. In plain English that means your nice framerate buffer goes south. But why now? Most of the plugins coming into X-Plane now have mostly always been around anyway, so how is that new. We have had weather engines, effect engines and animated effects before so why the difference. The major difference is that they are more a commercial aspect than the even the brilliant creations of the past. They have to create and reach a certain standard to cover their purchase. This means the new breed are a much more professional product and have to meet the requirements of that significant position to justify their purchase. Not for a moment are these products totally perfect, anything in X-Plane to the simulator itself is an ongoing experiment and is constantly evolving as we live in the world of adjustable software and not wired in hardware. There are thousands of plugins that you will remind me that should be listed, but these three are significant. xEnviro; Yes there has been weather engines before and some very good ones, yes it is very expensive, yes xEnviro have the very worst PR and feedback to its customers that can be astounding and yes again that many users can't yet access this plugin either and mostly on the Mac. But you ask any current user if they would want to not use it anymore and my guess is they would defend it to their deathbed as would I. xEnviro's biggest factors is that it fills some big criteria areas, It is visually amazing (as I have bored you with now for months) but just look at the outstanding images in this site and in the reviews to prove my point. It runs totally in the background (unless your internet connection goes down) and it is very efficient in its operation and it doesn't totally destroy your framerate every time you have some nasty bad weather. Most significantly it changes the total look and feel of X-Plane but too the great, once run and savoured you can never ever see X-Plane and like an older simulator version go back again to the average. XPRealistic; A new plugin and again on an old theme and this time in effects. I loved my Headshake by SimCoders, but rk Apps simply blows it out of the water with their XPRealistic effects. Again once used you never want it out of operation in your day to day simulator interaction. Clever, very realistic, very versatile and simply great fun. My only apprehension is that it is based on the FlyWithLua plugin, which by all accounts is excellent. But the FWL plugin can have the odd side effects that brought has me to grief already by damaging other lua scripts in the simulator, only losing a day and half and replacing not only the master FWL plugin but replacing a few aircraft could I get back to reviewing, it was lost time I couldn't and still am trying to catch up even with this Behind the Screen entry being late as are a few of our latest reviws. I never wanted the FWL in my plugin folder, but I am still willing to use it because the XPrealistic plugin is so good. WorldTraffic; Classic Jet Simulations "WorldTraffic" plugin has been around for a few years. For a few diehard souls it has become almost an addiction to the cause. There are X-Planers and there are the WT obsessives. I am sadly one of them, but that is a requirement to get the shear realism out of the plugin's brilliance. The problem with WT is that it is very, very hard to access on a normal basis because it demands very tight editing in ground routes and layout, but get it right and your airport scenery looks just simply outstanding. Now in final beta is WT3. The latest coming version has gone back to the basics to be like X-Plane11's new interface in giving you the access to the plugins power without the stress or the complicatedness of the original and for current users you will have to throw out a lot of the way you currently have WT setup and the way you actually use it. But the results are certainly worth the effort. For current users the upgrade to WT3 will be free, but for the users that have been a little standoffish of the use of WT then I would say start saving. Currently all the three plugins noted above are not in their final form. XEnviro requires (badly) an update to X-Plane11 and the v1.07 is due whenever. XPRealistic in its current v1.0.9 version is excellent, but it is not in its total completed form and WorldTraffic3 has still in a little beta work and fine tuning mode still to be done. But by all accounts that later in the year then all the three of these outstanding plugins then will systematically change X-Plane in the way you access it and use it as much as the way that X-Plane11 has done this year also... and that can't be a bad thing. As the French say I will wish you "adieu" till next month. Stephen Dutton 2nd July 2017 Copyright©2017: X-Plane Reviews
  16. Behind the Screen : May 2017 The constant change and the barrage of updated releases came to a shuddering halt during May. Once the Easter holiday's were over and done with then the X-Plane world went into a semi-shutdown that left you exhausted from the overwhelming changes that has been so huge since November 2016 and the release of (even in beta form) X-Plane11. For me it was more than welcome as I had for two weeks during the month a soul sapping head cold (Thank you a late Northern Winter), and the strange head feeling and hacking cough didn't help my mood, but thankfully X-Plane wasn't for once to blame. Certainly with such major changes and the sheer thrill of the ride of the X-Plane11 release with the huge amount of updates that was required to switch a lot of the earlier versions to be able to operate in their new surroundings was simply overwhelming, I loved it don't get me wrong, but it was very draining as well. That is not to say that the ride is completely over yet either, there is certainly more updates and releases to come but not in the context of the changeover period. We all want and relish these periods, but sometimes a bit of a slower more sedate period is good as well. The problem with this huge constant change is just that in it does create a certain style of instability and even in areas of chaos in that in one period that nothing was interacting well will another piece of the system to give you a clean running simulator. That is part of the deal of course but at a point where you were running a beta, with a beta and a beta aircraft then your computer is going to throw the wobblies and you are going to get enough CTDs (Crash To Desktops) to make you want to throw the towel in and just go to a nice quiet place to jabba to yourself in a monastery high in Nepal somewhere. Let me put it this way I cursed a lot. So the May slow down was a sheer relief, but more than that as it gave you time for consolidation. The biggest mistake people make in life is that they just want more, and then even more or if you are onto a great thing then stick to it. The problem in life is that you can't just keep having more and more as something somewhere has to give (mostly the money first) but your health can't take it either. In others words "having everything all the time is bad for you" I mean even The Beatles and One Direction had to give it away eventually and poor Elvis fell off his toilet. So the word "consolidation" is an important one. I do X-Plane computer housekeeping about twice a month, but the biggest problem with X-Plane now is just its sheer size. Many Flight Simulator users will of course fall off their chairs laughing at that X-Planers are complaining that their simulator is overloaded, but it can get now seriously very unwieldy very quickly. X-Plane itself has doubled in size in just a few years from around 36.000 items to around the current 82,500 items and that is in less than just TWO YEARS. In reality X-Plane11 has doubled in the size of the simulator. Add in the size of the HD Global scenery, then the monster of your "Custom Scenery" folder and the sheer amount of aircraft now available for the X-Plane platform. There is a lot of choice now, a huge amount of great aircraft and if you have a period of huge simulator version changes like lately then you will have to cull some of them and even lose some real old favorites in the march of forward progress. So just updating and realigning aircraft and scenery can be and is a huge task, it can take days and lately even weeks and you hope your download bandwidth can handle it all. But the final result is hopefully a better more leaner running simulator than the gargantuan monster you had been wrestling with for years. With the X-Plane11 release these tasks are multiplied with some aircraft developers releasing updates almost fortnightly. If one thing I have learned with X-Plane11 is that to have a better simulator is to keep lean and mean, less is more and that statement is important as it is very easy to fall back into nasty old habits and start overloading the simulator with things you will never use or actually need. Seriously will you ever land at CYUB - Tuktoyaktuk if you are not either flying a Canadian wilderness adventure or are a local bush flyer, certainly no, but every time you start up X-Plane or fly over the northern pole then X-Plane will load that scenery for your convenience. Then multiply that by the size of your custom scenery folder and you can see the size of the problem. Most certainly if you love bush flying then collect all the great remote Alaskan strips and have your fun, but if your main routes are mostly A320/B737 services around Europe or North America then it is a bit of a waste of a resource. My main aim with X-Plane11 is to produce a pattern of the best of the great scenery that I will use constantly and consistently to get the best return from the simulator, then everything else is just waste. Don't get me wrong in that nobody more than me loves to visit an old friend of a scenery or explore a new one. But it is highly important to keep your networks clean and free of the dreaded pop-up dialog box that notes that "error loading the scenery package" pain that you can't leave your computer screen even for a minute or two without it popping up. Europe seems the worst of this for some reason. Then we get to "plugins". If any area of X-Plane that can give you the most pain it is an overflowing plugin folder. I have always been vigilant with my plugins from the start, but will usually try something new now and again to see if it add another dimension to the simulation experience. Personally I have kept away from lua scripts although I don't doubt their great ideas and features they can bring you. Ditto is scenery enhancement packages as with anything that adjusts or changes the basic internal root X-Plane based items. My reasons are purely that I can't stray too far from the basic X-Plane package so the reviews are realistic and the feedback correct on the what the simulator is reacting to that particular aircraft or scenery. It also became too hard to keep on replacing the internal changed items every time there was an X-Plane version update that replaces these internal items automatically. But overall I found that they didn't really make that much of a difference as Laminar's original concepts were usually right or better in the first place. But some "Plugins" I will defend and have become standard installs. Simcoder's Headshake is great at giving the simulator some movement at crucial times you require it, like takeoff or landing. DiscreteFPS is a gem in showing you your current framerate in the top left of your screen. Marginal's Autogate is of course a basic requirement as is his Sea Traffic. JARDesign's exceptional Ground Handling Deluxe and Tug Master Deluxe are great for giving you a lot of action around the gate, although I will admit that Tug Master is in badly need of an update, it has become very slow and doesn't turn very tight. The two big plugin concepts that I love are WorldTraffic and xEnviro. It is a personal choice on if to use the much upgraded built in X-Plane A.I. system of providing airport traffic and I know that many users love X-Life. But both are very reliant on the X-Plane A.I. system that gives both restrictions in that only twenty aircraft can be assigned (with the corresponding framerate hit) to X-Plane. Many users will note that lite aircraft are available for A.I. in usually 1.5mb sizes so this is not an issue, but you are still restricted. WorldTraffic doesn't have these restrictions, but it also very complex and extremely complicated to set up, but when it works it is sensational. I can get around WorldTraffic's current restrictions because my main airport network is not too large and I can refine each port correctly to work with WT, so in this scenario it works very well, a new totally updated WorldTraffic3 is currently in the works but Greg Hofer's computer has done a meltdown (or cratered) and hence a delay. But early testing rumors note WT3 is sensational and it will be a free update to current users. xEnviro is another huge step forward for X-Plane. Sadly Mac or Linux users still can't currently get access to xEnviro, and I feel your pain, but will note the wait will be worth it. The funny thing for me is that as noted above I don't use plugins like this with X-Plane because I need the sim to be a basic layout for reviews, hence the far few plugins I do use, also as noted I don't like to change the basic rules of X-Plane either, but with xEnviro I break both of my own laws in one go. I won't bother to bore you again in another month with another "wow" or "amazing" but even six months after its release it still totally blows me away with what it creates visually and it totally changes the feel and in the way you use the X-Plane simulator. If I have to turn xEnviro off for some reason I think life is totally boring until I can switch it right back on again (okay I know I am boring you again) but it should be stock standard tool for X-Plane by every user. In saying that the developers haven't exactly redeemed themselves to their customers. There has been no updates since late December 2016 and plugins like this should put current performance before new features. A single performance update and a plugin for the Mac (I don't know if Linux will be able to run xEnviro) and that should have been top of the work list more than any nice new 3d clouds or Rayleigh scattering, but I will note that the long X-Plane11 beta run and Xenviro's own local disconnected internet connection caused a few issues, but this plugin is an important release for both X-Plane and the developers in question, if the plugin wasn't so good or really buggy then that approach could have had bigger ramifications. But to date we are still waiting. Which brings us to to that X-Plane11beta run. Yes X-Plane11 has gone global, and yes we are still getting betas as well. "Enough you may cry", but the end of the road is finally in sight (oh thank god for all that). Laminar is finally doing Performance Optimizations for X-Plane11 and the results are in. X-Plane's 11.02 release is sensational, and so now is X-Plane11. Finally the "light at the end of the dark tunnel". All the pain of the above last few months is finally clearing to what we really have now in the X-Plane simulator in X-Plane11 form. So the results of months of beta pain are in and the point of this article. Running X-Plane11.02 with the updated JARDesign 3.1r2 (with the new excellent BSS v4 soundpack) and Xenviro v1.06 and with WorldTraffic 2.1.3. it was time to see something for all the changes. Flight was from MAN (Manchester) to OSL (Oslo) and it was a wonder to behold. no crashes (CTD) framerate touching even 100fr over the North Sea, beautiful fluffy clouds and great scenery at both ends. To top out the feel the flying was perfect, pure routine, hit every number in speed and altitude perfectly, could simulation get any better? For the moment no, but X-Plane will still move forward. So was all the pain worth it, yes definitely, and to top it all off I just reloaded the aircraft with more fuel and passengers and went straight back to Manchester... bliss. A few notes in that in May helicopters came to X-Plane11 with both the Bell 407 from Dreamfoil and the S-92 from DMO and it was great to fly both again in the new simulator version. Sceneries have also been highlighted this year as X-Plane now feels it is starting to fill in. Oslo by Aerosoft I really liked as with JustSim's ELLX - Luxembourg that I covered in April. Another note is that the FlightSimCon is coming around again soon on June 10-11 at the Sheraton Hotel at Bradley Airport, Windsor Locks, CT, USA. Last year X-Plane's Laminar Research released the details for X-Plane11, so this year they will be going back with the fully tested and refined version. I think personally there will be a few surprises for the users that have ignored X-Plane in the past and a few developers will note that they maybe also wondering if they are also missing out on the future and where the real money is going to be made in what they once they sniggered as a so called "hobbyist sim". I hope Laminar run a lot of large screens showing off their latest baby, and usually they always pull something new out of the magicians hat for us... it will be an interesting few days. So till next month... Sayonara Stephen Dutton 1st June 2017 Copyright©2017: X-Plane Reviews
  17. Behind the Screen : April 2017 Although the official Laminar Research X-Plane11 release before Easter was done and completed. I wasn't that endeared to it, as It felt slightly rushed and still of wanting of a few more bugs that needed to be addressed. It ran and ran well, but not to the level you expect from an official release. History has primed me now for these software pre-releases. Back in the day no business would fear to release none or incompleted product. But in the age of the instant download it is then if you screw up then a patch or redownload quickly fixes the issues. Apple was the worse at this and to a point uses its own customers as benign beta testers. But today the sheer complexity of software means that not all the issues are fixed and the details can be lost on release, but in this case the X-Plane11 release was done with a to-do list still on the whiteboard and so is that fair to its customers? In this case the release time-line came first and the product came second. But this is common software and to a point even a hardware standard business practice today. The wait for the first update was a while as well as everyone enjoyed the Easter Break, but the long wait overall was worth it as X-Plane11beta1 was a what the release version should have been in the first place, the release XP11.01rc1 - release candidate 1 was even better and you have to admit the simulator is now beginning to show the brilliance of what X-Plane11 is all about. My only current gripe is the on the thrust reversing action on jet aircraft. On prop aicraft there is a beta zone behind the throttle idle position that turns the propeller thrust in the opposite direction by twisting the propellers into the opposite position... I'm fine with that. But in Jet aircraft there is no beta zone and you activate reverse thrust via a set of levers (for the number of engines you have). In X-Plane10 you used the key command "toggle thrust reversers" to do this lever action and used the throttles normally. But with the XP11 beta zone in that area you get a really confused jet engine and a zone between the forward and reverse thrust segments that is almost impossible to find? Worse in that my new (and excellent Saitek x56 joystick system) is very sensitive with duel throttles in these zones. So even in the final landing phase you are mostly likely in trying find your idle in that barely a few feel above the runway... go totally into reverse, or on the runway go totally into forward thrust. It is not a fun ride either way. You can of course fly around the problem, but that is not the point as it needs to be addressed and quickly. X-Plane11 Brilliance But back to the brilliance. Without doubt two new features in X-Plane11 have changed the game for Laminar Research. One is the new interface which is the more you use it, then the more you absolutely love it. It still needs a few more areas of attention, but the sheer flexibility on accessing not only setting up the simulator but in changing your settings to a new situation (say helicopter collective) is just brilliant. Go back to X-Plane10's menu system and I guarantee you will be frustrated within minutes on how long and how complex it is just to set up something simple, because it is all that waiting and going though all the long winded motions to get there that will drive you bonkers... it is certainly relief to get back to the XP11's interface system and get on with your flying. Second new X-Plane11 feature was PBR (Physical Based Rendering) and yes I have mentioned this effect before, probably countless times. But you must be made aware of how important this feature is to X-Plane. HDR (High-dynamic-range rendering) was of course a step in the right direction, but it is in the minute detail of PBR that is transforming our simulator. In fact over time it will be the PBR factor that will be the biggest attraction to new users wanting the sheer realism it delivers. PBR still totally blows me away on the detail it can visually create. It gets better. As noted by Laminar Research's developer notes there is more fine tuning to come. One area has already had attention in that of night reflections in "Let's get physical at night". In the past night flying was quite average and boring, and yet it should be one of the most exciting times to fly aircraft. But the look of the night in X-Plane visually was quite average. First the actual night sky has had a (finally) makeover and the new moon is simply excellent. However the blinking on and off traffic flows below still needs some attention, but with the new PBR fine tuning as noted in the developers blog, your aircraft now looks excellent flying in the dark inside and out. Come early dawn and dusk and the realism is spellbinding and this makes the simulator far more perfect than ever before, you actually now look forward to flying in the dark and not try to avoid it. Mostly the main areas of X-Plane11 are now set, but the fine-tuning will continue for quite some time yet, so that means there is still more to come, certainly not in the huge jumps of the past, but in small incremental changes that will bring the simulator to a whole. X-Plane11 Aircraft April was dominated by re-releases of aircraft for X-Plane11 so your inventory or hangars were slowly filling up. It was wonderful to experience many old favourites again in their new shiny X-Plane11 clothes and their new misty environment. But it is hard work to note what is updated and what is not as many developers just revised and delivered the new version. But overall it is an exciting time. Of top notch developers then this year then Aerobask certainly have produced two amazing aircraft. The Pipistrel Panthera v3 put X-Plane another level higher in features, but they followed that experience with the Eclipse 550NG only a few weeks later... both are well worth flying and experiencing, but again the main point is that X-Plane has some of the best developers in simulation, we should all be proud of their work. April Sceneries It was scenery in April that overall dominated reviews however. Misterx6 went pro with his excellent KSLC (Salt Lake International) that was above and even bettered his usual high quality and was loaded with features. Butnaru under his Nimbus banner delivered a great KMCO Orlando which was a great follow up from Washington XP by Drzewiecki Design in march. So you finally get the feeling that X-Plane is filling in all the scenery gaps that have been another area that X-Plane was criticised for in the past. But I personally don't see with a current trend on creating new scenery when you have an already good one and payware or freeware at that already available, we already had a NAS KMCO (although the Nimbus one is far better) and another scenery released in KDFW by Aerosoft when we have a Tom Curtis KDFW version? There is another KORD coming as well? Why replace or compete with established scenery? I am all for making scenery better, but overall I think resources are better spent somewhere else that is required.... hello a HECA Cairo would be a really nice addition and don't get me started on Asian airports like WSSS (Changi) and VHHH (Chep-Lok, Hong Kong). But one that did really did surprise me was JustSim's amazing ELLX - Luxembourg. I was only going to do quick overview review and that quickly turned into a full review of this excellent piece of work. Every few months JustSim churn them out and they are all simply top-notch sceneries and for prices you can afford. I was sad to move on from ELLX for another review, but it was a great experience while reviewing it, but I will be back soon as I can. What differentiates JustSim and the really good scenery developers is the full use of X-Plane's and certainly X-Plane11's great features in scenery. You now EXPECT such detail and effects as per normal in all scenery that is payware, but when it is not done you do feel a little shortchanged, the level of quality has gone up, and in a big way. But metalness, glass effects and shiny runways are great visually and add a huge amount to the realism. If you are not using these tools then you should be as the advantages to your work and return sales are worth the extra effort. JustSim are the current masters, so developers learn and take notes. So like every other month in Trump's first 100 days in office, April was a full and varied cosmopolitan month in X-Plane. I doubt the rush will abate anytime soon, but it is a very exciting time to be in the X-Plane simulator world. See you all again June Stephen Dutton 1st May 2017 Copyright©2017: X-Plane Reviews
  18. Behind the Screen : March 2017 March 2017 was such a turbulent month that you knew it wasn’t going to end passively or easily, and it certainly didn’t disappoint on that account. Already 2017 has been a signature year for a huge amount of change and disruption in that every month that goes by it just goes that level higher. But March took the absolute cake as it ended with not only the sudden of release of X-Plane11 when we were already resigned for a few more weeks of Release Candidate (RC) bug walloping, but no then suddenly there it was… released. The moment of release was not to be forgotten for a long time either as I was also hunkered down waiting for our god on high to try to kill everyone on the east coast of Australia with the most devastating cyclone (Debbie) for a generation. The general feeling lately is not if but when it is your turn on the planet to be walloped hard by the almighty, and if you will actually survive the event. Thankfully I did, you learn to pray a little better for not wanting to go through it all over again. I personally don’t mind beta testing. It is however a bit like being teamed up with a bad dance partner in that it is one step forward, one step back and the two steps… oh, and then one step back… you sort of get the idea. But nobody helps when they start screaming… I “lost frame-rate, this totally sucks” and ‘I paid for…” yes a beta, you paid for a beta not a full finished product. But the shrills became more and more annoying and even louder and more diverting from the business at hand. Here is a point. I never once had bad framerate, not once, yes some betas went wonky but Laminar updated those within 24hrs to fix that, but overall the constant changes was pretty good throughout the whole process. The major issues however was that late in the process Austin Meyer decides to make the fundamental basis of engine performance more realistic, which is a very nice feature to have, and it does work extremely well, clever too. But from an aircraft developers perspective it was a very different situation as it goes to the heart of their very complex thrust ratio algorithms. In other words it buggered it all up, or everything up. It was the same issues as when Laminar Research moved to 64bit, it damn well hurts because it deals with the really deep fundamentals of the simulator, it will take awhile to get everything of this sort of development perfect again and expect a few more updates before the performance data figures are all correct again, but the results are totally worth the pain. No help was the fact that the attraction to fly aircraft in X-Plane11 was simply immense. Once you sampled the sheer delights of PBR (Physical Based Rendering) and the brilliant totally realistic misty focus of the new sim, you wanted those outstanding aircraft to immerse yourself in with all the glories that behold you. So the MD88 from Rotate, any Carenado, JARDesign or Flightfactor was an absolute must and most developers and some reluctantly for the fear that their aircraft were not up the complete full quality and design specifications that their highly regarded reputations are built on. I didn’t help either, sampling the Rotate MD88 as I wanted everyone to fly this aircraft and many more as well. I was (forcefully) told that they (the developers) were not willing to compromise their products, and rightly so. So the answer was “X-Plane10 only” for now, but even for me X-Plane10 is so yesteryear, it’s gone baby… I’m now in the (buggy) new one, but “hey, we can live with all that buggy mess can’t we”. Some if most developers relented in creating “Flyable” or “Usable” aircraft for X-Plane11, mostly because the beta process was looking more and more like a longer phase than any beta run has been in the past. To be fair everything was double-checked in X-Plane10 in any review, but the differences in mostly sound and engine performance and some features were mostly insignificant if you knew where the differences were, in reality X-Plane11 excelled in every area, and god these aircraft are simply outstanding, awe inspiring in their new environment. My latest X-Plane11 review images say it all, some images are extremely photographic, incredibly realistic, welcome to the new age of X-Plane11. But the beta longevity also had other side effects. This has caused a backup of releases, as to release for X-Plane10 and then maybe only a week or so later you then have X-Plane11 coming to release then that is two releases in just a few short weeks, it is all very confusing, so most held their precious wares back and of course that then created a lack of new goodies in coming into the stores. And the confusing side effects of what is actual update version or the currently correct one, it is all very confusing and even to the experts. Now with X-Plane11 going to release the heavens will open on product and a huge (I mean colossal) amount of aircraft will have to be updated, Carenado and Alabeo have around 33 aircraft, I think as I lost count somewhere around 28… and a load of new releases will finally hit the stores. So it is going to be a really, really busy Easter in 2017. Easter 2017 So you are going to be one very happy bunny this Easter. In fact Easter is now fast becoming the new, new period for X-Plane releases. There are several reasons for this. First the classic Christmas season is so crowded out with a huge amount of product, but not for X-Plane, but for your loved ones and you only have so much credit to go around. Then there are now the huge Black Friday sales that causes you to buy loads of great product on the cheap, and to release just before the Christmas Holidays is a death zone, because if that aircraft has a few issues or bugs, it is sayonara for all that until the New Year. Easter is very different. You have time off to actually fly what you buy (and not be bothered by family Christmas outings by either them coming or you going), updates can still come out to keep you in the air, and a thankfully you should have few credit points on the card if you have finally paid off the Christmas outgoings and all the expensive bills in January and February to finally splurge a little love on yourself. This year is even a bigger event as you now have a brand new exciting shiny simulator to fly in as well (funny that Laminar Research releases X-Plane11 just before Easter), but besides the XP11 event then what sweet Easter has most of all is free time… lots of time to fly. You are going to find that Easter will in the future become the bigger event time for important releases as it simply makes more sense for the developers to have the time to get the product just right, instead of rushing it out just to try and catch the Christmas dollar which is in short supply anyway. Diabetes will kill off our Chocolate fetish and we are too old to hold on to our bunnies anymore… but a lovely new aircraft might be right up there in our happiness zone. Bonanza F33A Slowly and thankfully with X-Plane11 now fully standard, your old favorites are coming back and can be flown again. The Carenado F33A is a lovely aircraft that was grounded with the conversion to X-Plane11. The gear doors stuck open and the lighting was wonky. I took it for a few desperate flights but the drag from the gear doors just took away too much of the speed. Worse you couldn't start it again from hot or cold, so if you went somewhere you couldn't fly back home unless you did a full aircraft restart... of which I totally hate to do. But one of the benefits of being a reviewer is that you get options to help out with testing, and Carenado (okay I begged) to help out with testing the X-Plane11 updates (coming very soon) and will be known as v3.4. Changes are remarkably small but essential for correct X-Plane11 flight. There will be a review for Carenado updates soon, but I will note it is a huge difference in the flight model and engine performance. Aircraft are now becoming so incredibly realistic, this one of the huge benefits of X-Plane11 in the future. The little Bonanza was very special before, now it is absolutely amazing with the update in X-Plane11 with it's in your face features. As they say... living the dream. Long Haul in X-Plane11 One still waiting for the complete X-Plane11 makeover is the FlightFactor Boeing 777F series. I will make the point that this note point is a few weeks old and the new updates now available have no bearing on this flight. I like like to run X-Plane long haul. Time being constrained will mean that flying more than three hours means taking the computer off grid for a day or so. But I do like to run with the Formula One season in flying the "Flyaway Races" to all the various racetracks around the world. First race is in Melbourne, Australia 23rd - 25th March. So that means a huge two day set of flights from EGNX - East Midlands to Singapore, then refuel and then on to Melbourne. Nothing new in that, but this was a test for X-Plane11 in long haul and if the new version stood up to a full long two day simulation. Well it failed? It was a beta sim running a beta aircraft, and it showed. I will make it very clear that neither X-Plane11 or Flightfactor are at fault here, as both are still in development but the route was worth the try. In fact I flew as far as the east coast of India (which made it all the worse in the crash) The night sky still had that bad banding in the sky which made 6 hours in the dark painful (now fixed) and fuel performance was terrible (I had former fuel numbers or fuel burn notes), but I reset via the local map and flew on to crash again at Changi WSSS in Singapore. The ILS runway alignment was way out and I had no brakes to stop with once I was on the actual runway after a go around! this is a lot of fun to be had at 2am in the morning when you are dead tired... Flying long haul with X-Plane even when working fine is like looking after young babies. They will happily fly on quietly for hours if you keep an eye on the aircraft, but boy do they quickly get into trouble if you leave them for even a few moments, just leave the screen for five minutes and I can absolutely guarantee an alarm will go off or the aircraft is going off course somewhere in the wrong direction... plane sitting it is, just babying the damn thing all the whole way to the destination. Flying on to YMML Melbourne was not as bad as I did not crash to the desktop this time, but still high winds and another poor runway alignment, caused a very shaky landing, I was ready for the brakes this time by over using the thrust reversers, which worked but failed to retract correctly... not the skill and perfection I usually have but another way of looking at it, as it was a test of my skills to get the damn thing down and on the runway in one piece and god knows what condition the cargo in the back was in. But the whole point of this was to test X-Plane11 to its limits. Long haul is very good for that. It is good for X-Plane as well. To most that point would sound like a folly, but it isn't. Running the simulator over long periods is very good for settling in all the hundreds, even thousands of components that make up your simulator and it is that you are mostly always changing things around, adding in here and updating something there and my system has to withstand the demands of constant reviewing a zillion things in the process. So a long haul is a really great barometer on where you actually are in the process, it shows you what does work well and what does not, but more importantly it refines the simulator within itself. X-Plane will always feel far more fresh and faster after a really long run, or show you where there is issues and where areas need addressing, nothing beats a full long haul flight to get the right perspective on the condition of the status of the X-Plane simulator. Shanghai in China is next on the F1 calendar 7th to 9th April. X-Plane11 is now released and the B777 from flightfactor is updated, so it will be another interesting test flight... But do more long haul, it is very good for your simulator's overall health and condition. So happy April Fools Day and see you all again after Easter in May Stephen Dutton 1st April 2017 Copyright©2017: X-Plane Reviews
  19. Behind the Screen : February 2017 "It was the best of times and the worst of times" lamented Charles Dickens in his novel the "A Tale of Two Cities". And February in X-Plane certainly lived up to that quote. As the X-Plane11 beta quest kept on grinding on, you had it, then lost it, then got it back and then... totally lost it. But will possibly get it back again working soon. It is of course just the building process but this one has been very... well grinding. It reminds me in a way of the move to 64bit a few years ago, because it goes directly to the heart of the simulator, in very deep changes that completely messes it up. X-Plane11 As a reviewer your job is too probably just ignore all the mess and just stick to items released for X-Plane10 and that is a fair comment. But that is also putting your hands over your eyes and saying" I can't hear you!" because looking straight at you and towering over you is just that... X-Plane11. Once X-Plane11 goes to v1.0 release you will want it, use it and believe me you will really absolutely love it! As already going back to X-Plane10 is like going back to the middle-ages of simulation as it is boring and flat, just as X-Plane10® was the quantum leap over X-Plane9® then is X-Plane11 over its predesessor, and yes there are a few (okay a lot) of fine tuning still to be done, but the grit and basics built in here are astounding when it all comes together. There is however one item that lifts and work along side with X-Plane11 that is in my eyes essential in getting this quantum leap and that is also running as part of the deal is the xEnviro environment engine. That is tough at the moment because only windows users can access xEnviro and in parts it is also buggy, but the effects with the environmental engine working together with Laminar's new version are simply out of this world. No doubt in the last month I have had simulation highs I could only dream of a few years ago, and the lowest frustration when aircraft just don't work, hence the title sentence. But that is also the process of progress. As we will see as the situation settles down is that X-Plane11's new features do amazing things to our already great aircraft, and the effects on scenery will be just as pronounced but they will take longer to thread into the simulator as updates are not as forthcoming or as regular as with aircraft. But as you will get a lot of new high's there are few items in X-Plane11 that will cause a few heartaches. Ben Supnic is on a massive crusade with X-Plane11 to make it as good, lean and as efficient as possible. We have already seen that he took away our twiddling tools, a few users have cheated and put them back with Lua scripts? But the biggest change is that there will be very little backward compatibility with earlier parameters with earlier aircraft, and that means a lot of aircraft you have savoured and loved over the years are going to the great hard drive in the sky. In other words there is another big clean out is on the horizon like we did with the 64bit transfer, and this one will be worse, and it is going to hurt folks. And that brings us to the pain, or developers pain. You wouldn't want to be a developer lately as it hasn't been much fun. And I am a part of their pain. I want their products to be what I call "Flyable" or "Usable" in X-Plane11, because of the great differences that X-Plane11 brings to them and to fly them in their new exciting world, so I want something that is just in something usable, and so does almost everyone else that is running the X-Plane11beta version. But X-Plane11 is just a beta and with that comes constant changes and most developers don't want to over work and keep on constantly changing their work to fit a beta. A lot of the top notch machines are now extremely complex and require a lot of very task full set of algorithms to do the calculations to recreate an authentic engine representation for that particular aircraft. You don't want to mess with that too often as it may send you down a road you may not get back from, or requires a restart or complete blank page scenario. But with X-Plane11 Austin Meyer has this time decided to go a little, or okay a lot deeper in the way that turbine or jet engines operate on a more realistic model, you could call it his sort of "Blade-element theory" for engines. And for a more realistic simulation of engine power and thrust outputs that is certainly great from a users point of view, but it also changes a few parameters that was the deal before X-Plane11 into a wide set of parameters to addressed now in the new simulator, and worse it goes right to the core (no pun intended) of the basis of engine operation. The developers job is now to interpret those huge amount of changes on their products and create the realistic operation and thrust outputs for their aircraft... so you see the problems. A lot of the changes were introduced in the earlier beta's, but as the beta numbers got higher they came more and more comprehensive, until beta 12 were they came with a really big set of changes, and killed virtually every aircraft that used the old system, there will be a step back of course as there was a few bugs in the system and came with the beta13 update. But one thing that is very clear is that their is no compromise on the parameters to cover older aircraft in older X-Plane versions. A small compromises will be made of course, but Ben Supnic and Austin Meyer have made it clear it is only this way or no way in the future. So those aircraft that can be updated and adjusted to the new parameters will be, but the rest are quite now really... history. Unless you run them in your older X-Plane10 version. This doesn't mean that every single aircraft will be compromised, but a lot will... all in the name of progress. But get an even "usable" running aircraft in X-Plane11 and you will be glad to embrace the future. As I said for the few that did claw their way into the air it was a great experience, and hence my wanting more of these aircraft available so users can enjoy their impressive delights, as the point is X-Plane10 is now almost dead, and long live X-Plane11. But you do need a lot of patience in the process of making the aircraft X-Plane11 ready, and it is not the big in your face changes but the hidden easter egg ones, that are buried in a hidden closet. Take brakes as an example. They were once very simple in 50% regular (braking action) or 100% full (locked brakes) but now that is all changed and you have to adjust your aircraft to the changes, and that is just one single item. For most developers it is just a wait and see, a few have gone half way and given us usable aircraft in X-Plane11, but there is still a way to go before we will be fully X-Plane11 compliant... and it may be awhile before we finally get there. But one big thing is that the beta12 changes maybe the final parameters or a final lock down of the engine thrust changes, and so that a forward momentum may be finally available from now on, if not then expect a few developers to take up another occupation altogether. Framerate inanity Another factor during this beta phase that got really annoying this month was the constant notes on the forums in "My framerate is up!" or "my framerate is stuffed!" or "Running in single digits!". Every beta release brought loads of these comments and I know they have been coming out since the start of the new millennium. Most experienced users usually ignore such inanity, but I really feel for the newer and more inexperienced users to the X-Plane simulator in thinking it is a normal process, it is not. Unless Laminar make a real stuff up as they did with beta12 they will note it, and quickly correct it like they have in beta13, and yes there are common major changes that will effect your simulator through the beta process. But major framerate changes are usually not one of them. Most framerate fluctuation causes are usually your X-Plane preferences, as the new (beta) update is still interpreting the older settings on the new changes, which makes perfect sense. So first rebuild your main X-Plane preferences. Secondly is that where you start up in X-Plane and what aircraft you start up in can have a big impact on your framerate as does your weather settings. I always use KLAL - Lakeland Linder Regional as my base setting. It is an interesting position because it has a lot of autogen on one side and just countryside on the other and that allows you to gauge the framerate impact on both areas, of course the weather is set to CAVOK (Ceiling and Visibility OK) and you use the same aircraft on loading. In most cases Laminar Research don't touch or fiddle with framerates until the RC (Release Candidate) or Alpha or a final tuning of the completed version that is then ready for release, only then will you usually see an improvement with the overall simulator as well as the framerates. So noting constant framerate fluctuations during a beta run just shows your cluelessness and gives out the wrong impressions and worse on the fact of where we actually are in the beta process (which is usually to the very good and not the very bad). But the high's over February were very high. I certainly had my most memorable (if sometimes frustrating) flying in X-Plane that I can ever remember. The simulator is moving into another golden era of almost a pure realistic simulation of flying aircraft, not perfect as X-Plane still does have a few limitations, but certainly a completely new level of experience of flying aircraft on a computer. It is a very exciting future that is coming soon. To reflect the coming of X-Plane11, we here at X-PlaneReviews have done a little twiddling of the site. The masthead menu now has an "X-Plane11" forum for X-Plane11 related articles, and that will be filling up soon, we also took the chance to add in a direct menu connection to the "News" forum and added in a place for these "Behind The Screen" posts as there are now quite a few of them and a resource of what is going on in X-Plane away from the direct review aspect of content and the mast image which is a little bigger because it looks very nice. We would also like to note the X-PlaneReview site is laid out and has full functionality on your smartphone and iPad, for mobile access on the move. Thank You See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st March 2017 Copyright©2017: X-Plane Reviews
  20. Behind the Screen : January 2017 Well, rested and a head full of ideas, you are ready to take on another year of X-Plane madness and an exciting one at that with X-Plane11 now becoming uber reality… well once all the bugs are finally worked out. But just days into 2017 and most of your enthusiasm has already been burnt and your are rolling your eyes around your head in pain and despair and by the end of the month you can’t believe how hard a month could have been and all that new energy is now already long exhausted. It wasn’t a bad month per se. In fact it was totally contradictory to the statement above, but it was certainly trialing and energy busting… ... so welcome to 2017. I hit the boards and came back to the computer days early with the release of beti-x’s sublime Bella Coola scenery in Canada. It was just to good a scenery to not tell you about it, my feeling is that the best scenery of the year gong has already gone and in the very start of 2017 at that right now and not at the end of it, it is so brilliantly good and at that price a real bargain as well. But my best intentions was that I wanted to start out with X-Plane11 with a totally new and clear slate. With X-Plane10 it had to a point became very unwieldy and totally messy system and that was not without trying to keep some sort of organisation about the whole package. But just too much over the years had been just thrown into the “Custom Scenery” folder and there was plugins galore and a read of my log.txt then you would have banished me to a place just south of the North Pole for complete years of isolation on being able to do any messing up of anything ever again. So X-Plane11 was to become a clean sheet, a new start and a lighter log.txt of beautiful efficiency and professionalism… well that is the general idea and to a point I have already kept to that mantra and to the time of refining my main X-Plane organisation layouts (meaning folders) to the best and clearest definition of a purest of systematic structures… in other words “keeping it all very simple”. X-Plane11 in the folders already looks lovely and organised but how long will it all last, for not for very long is my guess but I will try harder this time as the need for my own efficiency and the loss of time tracing bugs. The updates came quickly and already three weeks in and we at beta 8, and it is all looking quite remarkable. I waited patiently until the New Year before starting to configure and use the new application because there was no point in doing that earlier, and that was a wise thing to do. You do want to look around your new home and settle in but reviews are required and X-Plane10 was the work horse still to get the correct results, but once the later beta’s kicked in I was drawn ever closer to the newer sexier way of flying. xEnviro I noted at the end of 2016 that 2017 was going to a really different look and change for X-Plane, and yes certainly the new X-Plane11 application delivers that look and you feel that in spades but it was a fate situation that at the same time that X-Plane11 came newborn into our world another seismic shift happened as well with the release of a new environmental engine in xEnviro. Let me be clear in that I have never been a great fan of addon environmental aids. I like the default system to be as basic as Austin and Ben’s newborn code. And when running xEnviro for the first time I was not completely taken with it either and almost disregarded it as another maybe also ran and a big cough at that price. But something this time just made me give it a few more tries and then you get the spine tingling feeling that this was going to be something beyond really special and in our X-Plane world it would be life changing. First let us be completely evident on somethings about xEnviro. It is in a way a backward step, in that the system is 2d and not 3d (there are 3d objects in there, but not the main cloud formations). It is still buggy as it caused a lot of stress over the last month, and restrictive in ways when you create reviews with only the current local weather available. It crashed a lot early on as well with JARDesign plugins causing havoc (I updated the wrong ones or simply put the same unadjusted ones straight back in again). It crashes badly if your internet is not connected or if xEnviro goes off line (I live in Australia so update midnight time in Europe is midday working time for me), and this last one brings up the question of what if xEnviro does go off line or they simply close down, we would need a backup just in case or even a connection to the current X-Plane weather data to keep it running. You also have to set the settings panel to work for you and not against you, winds need to be adjusted and so does the cloud darkness and a lot more twiddling. But the advantages with running xEnviro and the effect it has on X-Plane and when certainly paired with X-Plane11 is simply remarkable. Personally I think Laminar Research should buy the lot and make it the standard weather engine in X-Plane and simply be done with it. And I really feel for the Mac users that can’t access it’s charms yet, I hope that situation changes soon. Once used xEnviro; it is very, very hard to go back to the basic X-Plane default clouds and weather engine even with the X-Plane11 misty soft focus look. It all feels bland and basic after the wonderful formations you have now adjusted used to, and in a bonus it turns X-Plane10 into soft focus X-Plane11 and X-Plane11 with that soft focus already in there is just another world again. Then there is the biggest salvation… framerate as the plugin is completely separate from the X-Plane engine and there is no effect on framerate, okay a little in high-density periods but nothing that crucifies and fries your GPU until it begs for mercy like the current default cloud system does. Although the so called “mist” look of X-Plane11 made us divide into two camps, it soon became very apparent it was a very realistic look, and this effect combined with X-Enviro really lifts the look and feel to a whole new level of involvement and realism and that is the aim of the game. So yes within a very short time our X-Plane view of the world has changed quite significantly, xEnviro brings real world weather to your flying and you are also expected to to up your game in matching real weather situation, either with bad crosswind runway approaches/departures, fog (fog is really good) and changing enroute weather patterns. Because the weather is this close to real you do need another feature built in to the plugin to give you weather details for departure and arrivals. You are a bit blind of the weather conditions and can be caught out as you don’t know what those conditions are until you are faced with them. Winter Textures But for atmospheric flying and views then January was simply overwhelming in it’s delivery. I added in with XP10 my winter textures as well and that just added in more to the ride. Winter textures are great but there is a hole in a few sceneries that need fixing. In most payware sceneries the ground ortho textures are part of the scenery, so with Winter Textures activated you get a green patch in the middle of the whiteness. I do wish more scenery developers would provide winter textures with the scenery as an option, but they don’t so you find a fix. I created a batch action in photoshop to process the hundreds of texture files, you have to convert to png from dds, to use it in photoshop, but can’t convert it back again to dds. You can with Laminar’s Xgrinder tool, but you can’t automate it to cover the hundreds of files but only with a one on one process which takes too long (even the batch auto takes 20 minutes) but the results are worth it. Putting the adjusted winter files up on the X-Plane.Org is also a no go as it contravenes the developers copyright. I started this process last year, but this year reorganised the file structure and in the way the MOD (JSGME) tool does the replacement work of the files, and fine tuned the process to create the winter style files efficiently. It works very well but it is restricted to only the ground textures and not the buildings, but it looks and works very well. Another slight with Winter Textures is that the ground textures for the default autogen is still in full spring bloom, so you get patterns of green in the background white. In time of course X-Plane will intergrate the seasons better into the simulator with X-Plane11, but the developers will still have to provide the extra winter textures to make it work. When done like with beti-x’s remarkable Bella Coola which has replacement textures it is a winter wonderland spectacular. So it works when done well. X-Plane11 But back to X-Plane11… Like I mentioned my adoption of X-Plane11 was rather slow and you would think doing what I do that I would be the very first one in there to pull it apart. But the world today is a very different place than in my youth as with software the first out version is never completed, I rarely now buy any new Apple iPhone on release but a year behind as then it is all sorted and fine tuned and that most certainly is the case with X-Plane except with sceneries, and that is absolutely certainly the case with X-Plane11. This is highlighted even more because getting in first would be giving out the wrong information and the least everyone needs right now is well the latest buzzword in “Fake News”. But some impressions are worth noting. First X-Plane11 is good, and to the point of being very good. You are seeing a sort of professionalism now coming into the simulator. X-Plane was always early on a clubhouse enthusiastic experimental sort of occupation and the idea that anyone can come and build and then fly their own aircraft. And certainly don’t get me wrong as that is still the foundation and heart of the simulator as it’s name reflects that vision. But this aspect can also create a problem in that these clubby people don’t really like things to change and although they highly welcome new people you still have to conform to their old fashioned out of date ideas. Tradition is to be respected but mostly in any area of life or business is that if you have that out of date mentality you will wither and die. As a human race we hate change, we like things the way they are “thank you, very much”, and I am one of the worst one for that. But we live in a world of change and if not our world will die or in this case the one thing we love the most is in our own simulator. Could you really live with Flight Simulator or an X-Plane that stopped evolving now ten years ago, yes the fringes of FS are still very vibrant but the core is static and very, very old. Many users see X-Plane11 as the dumb down of the simulator. A flashy intro with wizz-bang graphics to select our aircraft and sceneries, and the real horror of taking away our detailed settings that kept us twiddlers happy and contented for hours. But use the new simulator and those early disquiets quickly disappear. In reality the old x-plane set up panel was a mess or just plain pre-millennium basic. In X-Plane11 you really now have a lot of choices and the quick drill down for more of the more detailed choices in the interface to quickly and speedily do the set up of what you want. The really annoying thing with the older version was that you mostly had to start the simulator to make the changes and then reset everything for what you actually wanted, were as the X-Plane11 version is a one stop shop, go then fly. There is no doubt a lot of time, money and research into how to make the very best interface for X-Plane has been done by Laminar Research and beyond those flashy graphics it is a solid system. My horror like most to the dumbing down of the graphics page menus was to simply want it all back. But again use it. My twiddling was usually to the negative and not to the positive in most cases, in other words my efficiency went backwards and not to the better with my constant to and throwing of the settings, and in most cases I kept a preference copy to get me back to the default point I should not of changed in the first place. But the totally overall point of both areas changed above is the sheer change in the speed of not only the loading and starting of X-Plane, but the efficiency of how it runs. As Ben Supnic notes, just to have one setting of the very inconsequential settings like traffic and trees is that they can be really be made to be more focused and aligned for ultimate processing and in other words better processing with your computer and that results in a far better framerate. Speed is the key here and not the dumbing down of the simulator. Speed to start up and select what you want and to get you flying more quickly and the efficiency of the simulator working for you and not fighting you is what X-Plane11 is all about. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st January 2017 Copyright©2017: X-Plane Reviews
  21. Behind the Screen : The Year in Review 2016 How do you gauge if there has been a significant moment in a year. Even with large events like Brexit and the U.S. election of Donald Trump for President in that the consequences of the dramatic change won’t be felt for years or even for a decade. But you know things have changed and for significant reasons. And that the world we lived in before 2016, is not going to be the same place that we will leave as we move into 2017. The same feeling is there with X-Plane. Yes I won’t even try to compare a simulator to important international events on the effects of our lives, but in a way it is smaller things that are closer to us, closer to us personally that we feel the changes more. Yes going into 2017 is very different in X-Plane than when we moved into 2016 just under twelve months ago and of course that is related to the release of X-Plane11. Certainly it is an exciting time to be in X-Plane, I noted last year that we may be in a “Golden Period” that highlight’s the changes and quality that is notable in the simulator, if you think I have “rose-tinted” glasses on then you are wrong, as just a recap of all the extensive features, ideas and speed of the changes that we have lived through the last few years highlights the current position of how far we have come and no doubt this new coming year we will cover even more ground and have more of the realism that we only really dreamed about only half a decade ago. From Laminar Research’s point of view, 2016 was about only one thing. That was tying up all the loose ends of X-Plane10 while at the same time building the future in X-Plane11. The release of v10.50 back in the Q2 of 2016 didn’t help the nerves because the first three beta’s where very buggy, but the version soon was sorted and settled down. So from Laminar Research’s point of view it was a huge and a very hard year of mostly keeping your head down and getting through the huge amount of work to be done, but right now and certainly from Laminar Research’s perspective X-Plane10 is done, finished… completed. At the time of writing this article X-Plane11was still in beta, but I expect it to be in release final by New Year. To a point it hasn’t shown yet on how good it really is going to be. Certainly all the building blocks and features are built in there, but with so little converted aircraft and the huge amount of “Global Scenery” to download, it will take time. If not a few months before it becomes our default application up from X-Plane10. There is so much area to cover, not only in the change of aircraft features, but checking out custom scenery and most of all getting the plugins to work with the new simulator. Bugs aside then Laminar will also have its books full getting the efficiency of the simulator running well (or better) and generally making the simulator as good or as stable as it has to be. My early thought’s are in keeping with the current situation and that to be honest with not a lot of flying in X-Plane11 until it is more sorted and stable, and with a load of reviews on the table to cover in X-Plane10 before Christmas I don’t have the time anyway. But that will change over the Christmas Holiday, going into 2017 then certainly X-Plane11 will come to the fore. Aside from the X-Plane v10.50 update it was the fringe items more than the core simulator that made the biggest changes in 2017. Yes aircraft got more complex and more clever features were added in, but the biggest movers and shakers were in sound and weather. BSS or BlueSkyStar Simulation’s sound packages were a revelation, with first the JARDesign A320neo and then their A330, but you really saw the power of the package when it lifted the ancient JRollon CRJ-200 up to heights that it didn’t really deserve. But the differences were on another planet and shows that great sound is now a major element of flying in X-Plane that has been left out far too long from our flying environment. Laminar Research has also got into the audio act with the addition of FMOD Sound into X-Plane11, or the tools to create great sound, so no doubt you will start to see the results of this new audio era in 2017 but if it is anything like the BSS impact then it will transform even the most basic of aircraft to a new level and that includes 5.1 surround sound. The year is closing with another element to X-Plane that is changing big time… weather. If you want to note one of the less favoured headline features that didn’t make the grade in X-Plane10 it was the weather system. Yes Laminar Research wrestled with it and got some sort of efficiency out of the engine over the years, but they spent so much time allocated to that then not much was done in actually improving the weather system to the sort of level it really should be at by now. So it is down to the 3rd parties to fill in the gap and do something about the problem. A lot of people had a throw at the problem, but in most cases it just made it worse and messed up your root X-Plane files in the process. A breakthrough came with Sundog's Sky-Maxx Pro series and it was that in being finally a breakthrough in creating a decent weather engine. But it was dogged in the early days by poor framerate problems that were sorted, and the plugin did become a standard for better weather in X-Plane and is now in v4.0. But a newcomer developer to X-Plane in Commercial Simulation Systems could really change the weather game with their product called xEnviro. I have to date only used it for a few weeks, but it has totally changed my X-Plane flying environment. I am very excited about this plugin going into 2017, updates have been coming thick and fast (already v1.05) but it creates a world around you that has to be used to believe. Yes it is expensive, but I would note you will very quickly forget about that investment once you use it (make sure you give it time to settle in)… certainly a new era and with no large framerate hit, that is a Christmas present worth having. In aircraft the year started out with a lot of heavy debate for a few months about Rotate’s MD-88, and most of it was nasty, and it made me quite angry. A first time developer created a great product, not perfect, but great. But most users stripped strips off the product and most of it was totally unnecessary, then as now I really love the aircraft and have flown it consistently all throughout 2016, it was updated frequently and new features were added so what is your problem, but the outpouring of vile was not needed and could (or still might) cause the developer any other wanting to give X-Plane and it’s community a miss, and I wouldn’t blame them either. As I noted too many times within the year is that any purchase in the simulator is an investment, so buy wisely. And that investment is over years and not just the first few minutes of downloading it into the simulator, a few well used good investments is far better than loads of product you will never use. Aircraft Late March and early April is now the really busy period for new product for X-Plane, and now not actually at Christmas. It was chocker this year, with Colimata’s F/A 18F “Rhino” Hornet, then MLADG’s Messerschmidtt Bf 109-G2 and also Khamsin and he finally released his magnificent North American P-51D Mustang and while we had a great year for fighters then don’t forget X-Trident’s very good Tornado and RW Design’s Spitfire. Aerobask had a big year as well with his Viperjet, Epic Victory and Epic 1000 all with that new “Skyview” interface. The Piper Cherokee PA28 from vFlyteAir was a little gem. Carenado was quiet early in the year, but then released the Cirrus SR22, TBM 850, PA31 Navajo (which I really loved) and the excellent AeroCommander “Shrike” 500s straight after Butnaru’s AeroCommander. Both were good, but I do prefer the Carenado version. There was a lot of REP (Reality Expansion Pack) packages this year for a few Carenado’s and they are very well received. Helicopters... what helicopters, only one release with the Schweizer S300CBi Helicopter from Dreamfoil Creations, but at least it was a good one. The personal Jet got a boost with RW Design’s and the Hawker 4000 and it was great to see Dan Klaue back with the enigmatic but very clever Quest Kodiak. Two long term projects finally came to light with EADT’s Boeing 737-800 v5, which brought you that amazing virtual cockpit and it was free. IXEG finally also got their Boeing 737 Classic out of the door with glowing reviews, but it was still missing a lot of features that should have been as part of the expensive deal, for me over AUD$100+ was a money stretch too far after spending all my life savings on a new computer. Felis Planes put out his excellent TU-154M, but with no English manuals to fly it, it stayed grounded, a lesson there. PMDG released their DC-6 Cloudmaster mid-northern summer, and surprise, surprise it was very good, if not excellent, no word on if PMDG will release another product in X-Plane, but the DC-6 was so very niche it certainly didn’t give them the sort of feedback that was really worthy of the simulator. Both X-Craft’s and SSG put out v2 aircraft of their E175/170 designs, both were very good especially the SSG E170, but both were let down by fatal flaws. One serious favourite was Wilson’s Aircraft DC-8, I simply love the aircraft besides it’s obvious flaws, just brilliant to fly and it looks excellent, the Boeing 707 is getting the same treatment, so roll on more of the sixties. And then there was another aircraft trend in 2016, the Version 2! FlyJsim updated the Boeing 727 Series to v2 with the “Study”, Both X-Craft’s and SSG brought out v2 versions, and at the end of year FlightFactor/VMAX realigned the excellent Boeing 757 to v2 status (carbon copy of the Boeing 767) and all aircraft were new purchases with discounts for earlier buyers… it will be interesting to watch this trend continuing into 2017. Scenery JustSim was the most prolific developers this year of scenery. LOWL-Linz, LEGE - Girona Costa Brava, LOWK - Klagenfurt, LOWI - Innsbruck, LBWN - Varna, LOWS - Salzberg, LFMN - Nice and LEBL - Barcelona and you needed a diary to keep up with them all… all are excellent for their prices, and are really good scenery fillers, but LFMN Nice was a favourite. So was Aerosoft’s excellent update to LSZH - Zurich that finally made the scenery usable again to another v2 title. Aerosoft’s earlier in the year release for KRSW - Southwest Florida was also excellent, and has seen a lot regular visits for reviews because I really like the scenery and its position. As it was an Olympic year and in Rio and there was a focus on the scenery there. SBRJ - Santos Dumont Rio de Janeiro by Richard G Nunes & Nielsen Scenery was the great release and compliments their excellent Galeão Rio de Janeiro Intl, but be warned you need a lot of computer power to use them… Pilot+Plus had a change of direction in size this year with LSGG - Geneva, EGKK - Gatwick and the smaller LEIB - Ibiza, but you missed the more intimate and detail of their original work. Drzewiecki Design released a great Baku and an excellent Moscow City. One area that X-Plane still really suffers is in is city skylines, Moscow City proves it can be done and my wish is that scenery developers or the community will start to put these skylines on high their agendas in 2017, nothing fancy, but anything is better than the nothing we have now. Plugins I loved and totally used JARdesigns excellent “Ground Handling Deluxe” all year, a favourite and X-Life Deluxe was an interesting package to make airports alive. It is brilliant, but I don’t like the reliance on X-Plane’s limited A.I. System in aircraft and framerate and a second issue is another reliance on X-Plane’s built in ATC ground-routes. Granted Laminar Research is putting a lot of resources into both items, certainly the ground routes, so that might finally make them reliable. But I still use Classic Jet Simulation's, World Traffic. It is still slightly awkward and time intensive to use, but once you get the idea it works very well and like xEnviro it is easy to switch off by being totally separate from X-Plane. CJS in 2016 abandoned the rest of WT v2.0 development and has moved directly on to v3.0, but time is catching up with WT as Laminar Research is putting a lot of effort into the same area, so it looks like 2017 will be a year to breakout or sink for WT, I hope v3.0 soars as it is a great plugin. I made the Sundog's Sky-Maxx Pro series weather plugin the best of the year in 2015, but I think it has competition for the title this year. The biggest success for me was just completing the “Behind the Scenes” article each month in 2016 and I hope they give you a sort of commentary of the things we don’t mention in the reviews and what goes on behind the scenes in X-Plane. We are also always looking for reviewers for our site, and it is a great way to get involved closer to X-Plane and contribute more to the simulator. 2017 is obviously going to be even bigger and far better than last year as X-Plane settles into its new version with X-Plane11, and one of the great things about X-Plane is that sometimes you have absolutely no idea what may drop into your download box next, and mostly it is something really great and exciting. Again this Review site cannot function without all the great and exciting work by the tireless developers that give us all this exciting product to fly and use, as I mentioned earlier X-Plane has come a long way in the last few years. To the X-Plane.OrgStore who supports this site with service and updates, a really big thanks. We will finish off with X-PlaneReviews best of the year awards… So I will now list my Best of the Year 2016: Best Aircraft : FlightFactor/VMAX : Boeing 757 v2.0 Yes they win again, but it was a excellent upgrade Honorable Mention : IXEG Boeing 737 Classic It is a great aircraft, but not complete for the money. Best Classic Aircraft : DC-6 Cloudmaster by PMDG Just completely different, and a very interesting aircraft to use and fly. Honorable Mention : Boeing 727 - 200 Study Series v2 - FlyJSim Just great, a significant upgrade to a great aircraft Shouldn't totally love but do : DC-8 by Wilson's Aircraft Best General Aviation Aircraft : Piper Cherokee PA 28 140C/O by VFlyteAir For basic GA flying at it's very best you just can't go past it. Honorable Mention : AirfoilLab's 172SP It is brilliant, clever but the feel is slightly quirky. Best Helicopter : Schweizer S300CBi by Dreamfoil Creations Easy, the only one released for the year, but still very good. Best Scenery : SBRJ - Santos Dumont Rio de Janeiro by Richard G Nunes & Nielsen Scenery So detailed and very realistic, but it costs you a lot in framerate. Honorable Mention : LSZH Airport Zurich v2.0 by Aerosoft Finally as good as it should have been in the first release. Person's of the Year : Austin Meyer and Ben Supnic They delivered both the 10.50 update while building X-Plane11, and taking X-Plane to a totally new level, it breaks you just thinking about it. Honorable Mention : JARDesign JARDesign really delivered a lot this year with frequent A320neo and A330 upgrades, brilliant clever plugins from the Ground Services to X-Life Deluxe it was a bumper year. Best Plugin : xEnviro by Commercial Simulation Systems The Environment Engine plugin is brand new and just kills it... Brilliant! Honorable Mention : Sound Packages by BlueSkyStar Simulation Lifts the ordinary aircraft into the extraordinary, gives you the aural detail that was missing. Best Moments of the year 2016 : Getting off an A380 freezing at Heathrow at 3.40am in the morning, oh and the xEnviro kicking it with all its glory... .... X-Plane11, and don't forget that. Worst Moment of the Year 2016 : Ugly diatribe on the forums that was unwarranted against developers that didn't deserve it. Biggest distraction of 2016 : Users jumping on the forums without checking out the details. Personal Favorites of 2016 : The CRJ-200 with BSS, 1900D Carenado King Air, MD-88, Boeing 727 Study, Boeing 757, JARDesign A320neo with BSS, DC-8, PA31 Navajo and AeroCommander "Shrike". That is X-PlaneReviews for 2016, and we will be back after a very much needed break and rest on the 9th January 2017. We of course wouldn’t exist either without you the users and your contribution to both the simulator and to reading this site and your comments, so thanks and tune in again in 2017 for more in-depth analysis, great detail, inside and future product news as X-PlaneReviews heads into its 4th year. So Merry Christmas and a great New Year 2017 Stephen Dutton 22nd December 2016 Copyright:X-PlaneReviews 2016
  22. Behind the Screen : November 2016 X-Plane11 Release It happened and yes the world around you did actually change! Right on cue X-Plane11 debuted on the U.S. Thanksgiving Holiday as predicted and it was also as noted a “beta” version, that is not the full release version folks but a beta and that gets Laminar Research out of the “well it is not finished yet… but it is coming” excuse, which in other words means yes it is not finished, and secondly we can now see how many bugs we really have to sort out before it actually is. But it was always going to be a beta anyway… As with X-Plane10 the visual feel is totally different as was the feel back to X-Plane9 was different again, but considering the size of the project and the wide variety of versions required the first beta (quickly followed by 11.01b) was actually quite good and stable, but wait for the next version to get a really good base to work from as most of the outstanding bugs would have been addressed. You can download the X-Plane11 demo for free… at 6.90gb for the full download and that gets you the full X-Plane11 application, the default Seattle (tile) area and 15min flying time. To get the full “Global” version it will cost you US$59.95 and you get a key that accesses both X-Plane11 and the older X-Plane10 versions. But there is more to consider? Once you have that full version installed, you then have to redownload all the areas in the world at around 60+gb, and like me that is going to a hard one as I am only limited to 50gb downloads a month and a pipe so small that even a mouse can’t crawl through it, so the only answer may be only load a small area and to then wait till the DVD’s come out? I am testing the theory of using the XP10 tiles as a stop gap, but you won’t get the updated data in the new tiles until you fully update the new XP11 package. My first impression was the very light gamma and how many of the adjustments have been taken away on the “Graphics” page, this new X-Plane version is none adjustable in lighting, so you have to adjust your monitor to the lighting and not the usual X-Plane to your monitor, but that adjustment then makes my monitor to dark too work from? Laminar Research have noted the lighting is not yet locked in and that may change, hopefully yes, but when users are changing the basic datarefs to make it darker then obviously it is too light. On the “Graphic” page adjustments the horror of losing control of the “twiddlers” or as I call it “refining” like me is going to be hard, but there is a good light to this idea. Ben Supnic is try to make this version the best yet with a really good efficient processing as the end game, and that is just not possible with so many different areas conflicting with each other. So many areas are going locked off at their best (most efficient) settings and then refining the rest to that engine, and the first running of the simulator seems to confirm that that is the best way to go, although I will miss that fine tuning to my system it will allow more users to find that optimum setting far more quickly and easier. So the power has been taken away from the power users for the sake of efficiency and a more ease of use for new users and those that don’t have the in depth skill at running X-Plane. So is that dumbing down the simulator? No not really as if you still end up with the best running simulator in the end no matter the interface then it doesn’t matter, and it may also take away some of the frustration in trying to adjust to get the very last frame out of your processing with a situation that if it runs well here then you will have a better benchmark on how your computer is actually running at the definitive settings and not with the constant adjustment of robbing peter to run paul, and then have to readjust to get peter back or what you had in the first place… It will be interesting once X-Plane11 is sorted and how good it really can be, my first impressions are that it is going to be very good indeed. Visibility has become the number one topic on X-Plane11, or the distance mist effect. My first thoughts were that it is a little too over wrought, yes you need mist in the distance but with no real clear air directly below and closer to the aircraft looked a little unrealistic, but fly in it and it is very realistic, again just a fine adjustment to this mist area with the gamma would make it close to perfect. Yes I like the X-Plane11 look with the excellent effects with the "Physically Based Rendering" or "PBR" now working, again PBR needs a little refining but the idea is very good, and the aircraft look brilliant. I also really love as the sharp light cuts across the panel as you turn onto the runway or bank away from the sun, very realistic and make you even more immersed into the simulator. The default aircraft are also excellent, certainly the Boeing 737NG is a huge addition to the simulator, the older Boeing 744 has scrubbed up nicely as well, but all aircraft are not what you would call in depth in systems and adjustments as you expected, but they are far better than anything Laminar have included in with the simulator the past. The Cessna Citation is currently a no show, so it is obviously not finished, but everything else from the B737, B744, MD-80 and the Sikorsky S-76 are great additions. Many add-on aircraft don’t transfer over to X-Plane11 as easy as we thought they would, most if not all will need tweaking in some area or another, but give a thought to Carenado and the amount of aircraft that have to be adjusted, don’t expect them all soon or even in early 2017… it is going to be months more like it. Last note on X-Plane11 is the new interface, and yes I really love it, huge advancement from the older original version in ease of use and more in the speed and smoothness of the operation. A lot of items look like they have been dropped, but are in fact in there if you look for them, like the replay mode that puts all the Situations, Replays, Flight Data and Xavion all on one panel and ease of use. So an early impression of X-Plane11 is very impressive, by Christmas a few updates will get you closer to a stable version, but out of the box (bright gamma aside) it is going to be a great 2017 for flying in the simulator, exciting yes. I was in two minds about going away for three weeks to the UK (from Australia) in early November. Obviously X-Plane11 was coming out and November is always a very busy month with new releases and changes coming up to the holiday season. But in some ways it help close the gap from the X-Plane11 announcement and it’s actual release on thanksgiving day, so there was no sitting around for weeks fretting over what we will get and how good it it will be. There is simply no quiet time in X-Plane anymore to plan times to have a break and in fact the most busiest time this year in 2016 was in March and before and after Easter, overall after all the big releases in early November it was unusually quiet, or was that just the coming X-Plane11 effect? Flying the routes… for real So a bit of reality flying and nine hours in one seat and then follow that with thirteen hours in a smaller seat that can give you plenty to think about, but one thing is true… Flying in X-Plane compared to the real world is a far, far better deal and not as time wasting? For instance there is no… - Dragging yourself to the airport with luggage (mostly by rail) and walking three miles from the rail station to the check-in (multiply that four times over the trip) and that takes half an hour plus an hour to recover per sector. - Checking in and in Australia they make you do that twice, once electronically and again for the baggage, why I don’t know as you don’t get your boarding pass until you get to second check-in? Two hours per sector in queues to complete this process. - Immigration! They take your photo, and match it with your current photo, but I have aged eight years since my passport has been issued, loss of half an hour verifying I am the same person in both photos? - Security! I didn’t know that bottled water and small can of shaving cream (below the required 100ml) was as dangerous as a fully loaded weapon and enough plastic explosive that can bring an airliner down, obviously they are, two strip searches (and some very intimate) and the upending of all your contents that are deemed a total threat to the aviation industry will take you two to three hours to queue and clear and you will feel far less safe when cleared through than when you started. - Customs, yes another check of all the nasty things in your bags, but declare that you are insane and you will walk straight though, but older the generations of 70 years plus are deemed a real threat for terrorism or carrying fruit, an hour lost through here is fast, but Hong Kong customs is amazingly fast as they have order and if not then they create order out of chaos. - Finally getting onto the aircraft… but another security check and god help you if the person in front of you has left their passport in a coat that is buried in their luggage and can’t find it, loss of another fifteen minutes…. All of this drama and years off your life also costs you an arm and a leg and you are left with just mince pies for Christmas and no presents. Now add all that up and in X-Plane all you have to do is turn on the computer, select your aircraft, livery, place and time of day and your ready to fly… oh and you can look out of the front windows as well. Another small benefit with X-Plane is that you don’t have queue then on the taxiways for half an hour to get your turn to take off or be put in a holding pattern for an hour to land at an overcrowded Chep Lok Airport in Hong Kong, twice! And landing at Heathrow at 3.45 am in the morning will mean a breeze (and not to mention the -2º cold either) through as you end up on the Piccadilly Line straight to your hotel to find it closed till 7.30 am. Certainly X-Plane beats the real thing… You just fly! X-PlaneReviews would like to wish you all and for all your great support in 2016, a Very Merry Christmas and a sensational New Year 2017. Stephen Dutton 5th December 2016 Copyright:X-PlaneReviews 2016
  23. Behind the Screen : October 2016 The overriding event of October has to be the announcement of X-Plane11 at RAF Cosford in the United Kingdom on the 8th of October. These major version changes only come around every four years or so, but they are of course very significant to the future of the simulator. X-Plane10 was without doubt a very successful version of X-Plane. It visually changed the look of X-Plane and there was the time that we could have expected it to maybe run even longer than most versions because there was a lot of ground to cover and a lot of features to refine, but that didn’t happen of course and X-Plane11 is now coming. The other reason is simply economics as any new version is payday for Laminar Research, because every update or changes during a version run is free. So How would you like to be paid only four years or so? I was there on the threshold between X-Plane9 and X-Plane10, and still very green. Problem was my machine struggled with the new simulator because it needed a nuclear powerplant running by the side of the computer to push through all those numbers. I upgraded as did everyone else over time and that is the expensive side of this hobby, but even over the run of X-Plane10 I was still marginal on framerate and finally only this year and a move to windows and I finally have X-Plane10 running at full throttle. For those of you who are still sitting on the fence it is a beautiful thing, but thankfully X-Plane11 won’t require you this time to mortgage the house or find a part time job to run it efficiently. I went through the details in my review, but it is as usual the understated areas that you will come to love the most. Yes that fancy new interface looks excellent, but the real advancement is the way you will actually use it and not what it looks like. I doubt that through the many conferences and meetings that Laminar Research went through and with the sheer amount of hours in planning and code writing in that they really thought this one through, right through because it is very clever and it it is a lot harder to play all these different areas and match them all up to work seamlessly. And it was that, this new way you move from one area to the next and how you will set up and operate X-Plane on a new and wholey totally different level that is the biggest step forward in your simulator lives. The main reason of this X-Plane11 feature is actually not us the X-Plane users, but it is to be still to be aimed at the usual crowd, those ExFlight Simulator users that are still waiting for their Jesus moment that the simulator will rise again phoenix like to fly the routes again with a modern simulator. I am not going to get into the augment of which simulator is the best, but X-Plane is very much alive and moving forward and that is certainly a big benefit in the name of a dynamic simulator. But the biggest gripe from the FS crowd was that old fashioned drop down menu system, they sorta suffered the rest of X-Plane because it was so good, but funnily enough an old windows style interface sent them all into such a bother. Bother no more with X-Plane11, it will be good… Amen. But the reveals on October 6th that really excited me was the ones as usual you didn’t expect. Really good aircraft, top notch machines with an FMS system that is the best in the business. A brilliant Boeing 737NG, MD-82, Citation Jet and the original X-Plane10 show pony has also had a makeover in the Boeing 747-400. A nice S-72 is not going to go to waste either, and just this collection is worth double the entrance fee that X-Plane11 will cost you, so you could say that Laminar Research are throwing their wizz bang flashy new interface in for free. And like I said in the review roundup. It is not the banner features or the ones that come with the new box that will have the biggest impact. It is also the features that come along during the X-Plane11 run that will change the way we use the simulator more that what we will download later this year. For X-Plane10 it was the move to 64bit and the brilliant Garmin GNS430/530 that made the bigger impacts than any of the announced release features and in X-Plane11 there will be some great and good surprises coming in there as well, but not in the first year or so. So it is now time to do something nice for your partners and families, they won’t be seeing much of you over the Christmas holidays, and I wonder why… As October moved on then X-Plane went into an early hibination period, it went quiet and empty. In most cases you are running at an hundred miles an hour and always behind the ball, but when you are patching up and fixing scenery to pass the time you know it is far too quiet. I think part of the reason was actually X-Plane11, in that developers didn't want to spend time doing to many changes before the new era, and then to do them all again after the release. So you will certainly get a real rush of upgraded aircraft early into 2017, as they get to grips with the changes. but that is not say there won,t be some great new releases before Christmas to put under the tree, because there is and sorry I can,t yet say what they are, but to note there is some surprises in there. And there is few good upgrades coming as well like JARDesigns excellent A320neo that is actually now going to be a real NEO and it looks amazing. And SSG has done a great update to their E-175 Evolution to bring that aircraft up to spec and make it one of the best regional aircraft in X-Plane. So why a bit of a future tense when noting all of these releases and events. Well for three weeks I won't be near a computer, in fact I will be a very long way from any of my X-Plane aircraft and the simulator as I will be in the UK. It was a last minute decision to go, in fact I had three hours to do the numbers and book a load of real world flights. But the chance to be with family and very old friends for my 60th birthday (yes they are holding a surprise party) and other personal reasons was a moment of "aw what the hell, let's just do it" which is about as far as my boring routine based life can get... I will be back right on the cusp of the release of X-Plane11 on Nov 24th, and there is a few excellent exciting reviews set up for releases while I am away, so have fun, do a lot of flying and I'll let the professional's do the piloting for a while, while I'll sit in the back and put my feet up... Because there is no doubt that this Christmas it will be me again doing a lot of flying myself, and I just can't wait for that.... See you all soon. Stephen Dutton 2nd November 2016 Copyright:X-PlaneReviews 2016
  24. Behind the Screen : September 2016 Like August, September seemed to go on forever and ever. The releases after the Northern Summer trickled to down to a few as well. Like Hollywood movies the pair of E-Jet's from SSG and X-Crafts had been released within weeks of each other so it was from one E-Jet directly to another (I also did some beta testing before the X-Crafts release), both are very good, but both don't quite hit the very marks high they should have done and each was for basically for only one or a few reasons. In the SSG it was that average FMC and poor menus (location) but otherwise it was a brilliant update, but the these two items were enough to keep them out of that extremely level we expect now with quality (and expensive) payware. I have always been a big fan of X-Crafts E-Jets, but the panel (displays) and mostly that really old red line in the nav/map was another small detail that made the design look and feel older than it really is, and took away the advancement of the brilliant FMS by Steve Wilson. That same Textron FMS is also installed in the now announced coming Hawker 4000 so it will be interesting how the same FMS system is incorporated into a different design. The benefit of another great Biz jet will only help to keep us happy in the last quarter of 2016. As of writing this BtS it is only a few days to the RAF Museum Cosford 8th October 2016 "FlightSim 2016" event. Laminar Research have announced a big announcement for X-Plane at the show and there will be two presentations at 11:00 until 12.30 & 14:30 until 16:00 and noted is that Austin Meyers is first and Ben Supnic in doing the second presentation, and they will be in the and guess where the.... Cold War Room! Ultimately the overall feeling about September was about finishing up and tying up loose ends. X-Plane 10.50 was now final and then at the end of the month WED 1.5 went final as well. Although the X-Plane WED (WorldEDitor) app on the surface looks very much the same, it is now really a full blown editor and airport scenery building program in one, it is powerful but it is still 2d layout does make it hard to create 3d objects and placing them is awkward, but the 2d interface does make it very quick as well, and you will always have the Overlay Editor for that job which I still prefer to use anyway. But WED 1.5 does have a huge amount of new tools to use like the excellent new airport sign builder, and after my comments for X-Plane 10.50 Laminar have tightened up the taxiway requirements to get that area of confusion in to a more working model, you now can not release an airport unless the taxiway routes are correct, and so it should have been earlier. But it is the feeling of closing the door on X-Plane 10.xx. There will be no doubt in the history of the X-Plane simulator that this version was the subliminal version that changed the simulator from being a niche product to one of the best simulators you can buy. There is the question that if Flight Simulator itself had continued its progress and updates of which would have been the better overall sim, most would have still noted FS, but it is X-Plane's underlying creativity and versatility that makes it as good as it really is today. As to value I have already reflected that there are not many products you buy that can deliver not only what was promised on the package (even if it did take four years to get there) but give you outstanding extra value and twice or more as many features that you had originally paid for, with that are the highlights are 64bit processing and the excellent Garmin GNS 430/530 gps system, which means that Laminar Research are willing to change in the moment to insert great ideas and not just tick items off a bucket list, and that deep down is what makes this simulator really great. Yes I have been reflecting the journey from my start in X-Plane from around X-Plane 9.50 to the current 10.50, that is just 7 steps of releases to get to where we are now (final X-Plane9 was 9.70), but there was a lot of smaller updates in between. I was excited about my entrance into X-Plane, but to compared to my current experiences to what I flew then is just overwhelming in the fact that thank god I have a great imagination, because you really needed it to create a believable world around you, and to a point you don't need that now, with Heathrow looking like Heathrow and hopefully the future is full of more great city scenery like Drzewiecki Design's excellent "Moscow City" to fill in the only realistic scenery gaps that the simulator requires. We are finally getting there and closer than ever to that realistic simulation nirvana that seemed so impossible back in X-Plane9, yes there are still many areas to be addressed, but overall the progress throughout X-Plane10 has been outstanding. Aircraft as well have come a very long way since X-Plane9.50. Then there was just one really good virtual cockpit Boeing 757, now we rarely look at any new aircraft unless it has a 3d virtual cockpit and more as standard. In systems and functionality you only have to use the Boeing 767 from FlightFactor to see how close we are to real world simulation, and as I just flew a local B737 simulator (iFly Flying Experience!) it was simply very outdated in it's graphics and only a real world set of physical controls made it better than the the simulator I use every day. In most cases I missed the functionality of X-Plane and the versatility of the simulator and it costs far, far less to purchase and gives more satisfaction on a dollar to dollar basis. As one door closes then another will open. Very soon at RAF Museum Cosford we will see the next step in our simulator evolutionary future. One thing will be evident is that X-Plane11 will nothing like X-Plane10 in it's goals and features, as that job is now completed. X-Plane11 will go in another direction from X-Plane10 and what you will get also is another very different feel as X-Plane 10 was from X-Plane9 and X-Plane8 before that, but that is an exciting future as well... _____________________________________________________________________________________ Stephen Dutton 8th October 2016 Copyright©2016: X-PlaneReviews
  25. Behind the Screen : August 2016 August felt like an eternity, it went on and on, but a lot of flying and good flying can be done waiting for eternity to end. After my average earlier forays into X-Plane beta 10.50, it was time to see if it was as good as it should be. The result was a full review of the updated version in X-Plane Version 10.50: What is new and the results were surprising in the end in that how refined it all felt. The most significant thing that came out of the review was in how much extra value you got from Laminar Research in more than they had originally promised at the release of the 10.00 version. Value you certainly got from the simulator, and a lot of refinement in the process. In saying that though, you have to make a significant investment in hardware to unleash all that power, yes X-Plane will run on a machine even now a few years old, but to get the full effects you have to have a pretty big graphic card (4gb minimum) and high chip processing power to feel the great and the very good. The requirements in the end in the jump from X-Plane9 to X-Plane10 were very high and in that many still swear by X-Plane9 being still the best as to convince themselves that their 2007 era computer is still at the forefront of computer technology, no offence and nobody more than me understands the costs involved in upgrading the hardware to meet the requirements that modern simulators demand, now X-Plane11 is just around the corner and do you want to miss out on those great new features as well, it will be like running X-Plane8 expecting it to be like X-Plane10. One thing I think will be helpful though (and no I don't have any sort of X-Plane11 beta version) is that the upgrade gap won't be the chasm that it was between XP9 and XP10 to X-Plane11. All those updated scenery features and processor gobbling clouds won't be coming this time, and the new startup and menu layouts will actually be more efficient and better than the system we have now. Ditto the new "Physically Based Rendering" or "PBR" which again was noted as very efficient by Laminar, so if you do have a pretty reasonable running system now, then you should be fine with X-Plane11. But August was really all about the flying. And it started straight out of the blocks with Mike's Aircraft huge DC-8 release. This is where the gap between the professional and the personal feelings show in simulation. In the review you have to be very clear headed and note the short comings of the aircraft, that is where you (the customer) can make a clear well informed decision if you want to own the aircraft, and any review has a second objective as well and that is directed at the developer of the areas they can improve their hard work to advance not only their aircraft or sceneries to a higher level. Criticism is not throwing the knives at you but wanting the product to be as good as it really can be for everyone to share in what is a great aircraft or scenery. The DC-8 really fell into that category, it is by and large a redeveloped earlier X-Plane aircraft from the start anyway. But the really exciting thing about these redeveloped aircraft is the fact that these aircraft that won't have the full developer team treatment and high price factors thrown at them, can also be available with also great features and quality and a very good price. But in simulation, strange aircraft and even incomplete ones can be your favorite for flying as much as the huge complex JARDesign's and Flightfactor's that are pushing the boundaries of brilliant simulation frontiers in your flying life. Sometimes it is nice not to have all that huge amount of setting up and flying parameters that certainly do reward you with amazing experiences, but to just fly simply for the sake of enjoying what simulation does offer in simple flying pleasures. In other words I love these aircraft, for all their imperfections (not like the DC-8 is not great because it is) but for the sheer reward they deliver. So the quirky can fly alongside the great, and in my top ten list many of these aircraft do provide as much of my flying time as the expected top of any list in X-Plane can do as well. We also have our personal preferences, a list which is interesting is also really nothing like I would have expected it to be when I entered X-Plane, so there is a big surprise there. The real test is that the aircraft on anyone's top ten list is that it is a stayer, it is there years after it is acquired and so you are not flashed by the next best thing. Then I finally got around to reviewing the latest Carenado twin in the PA-31 Navajo. If there is love at first flight then I believe in it. It was the most perfect Carenado yet, but I did find the VOR-NDB pointer instrument hard to use on the other side of the panel. In small increments Carenado keep on bringing the quality bar a little higher and and all round it was a total class act. But strangely I find the small things that should be a common past features missing in the rain effects and baggage, these are scratch your head moments, small things yes, but noticeable here... But overall the Navajo will certainly now coming into my Top Ten list and will get some serious flying hours under it's new role. With that I have decided to do a full "Top Ten" list of the aircraft I use and why they are in that list. And no doubt I could open that out to a "Top Thirty" list of aircraft and still want more to be included, but the "Top Ten" are the ones that usually fill either a role in reviewing of most just for the pleasure of flying. Most important point to make is the list is not a reflection of the quality of the aircraft but by the sheer pleasure and reward that they give in return. X-PlaneReviews "Top Ten" 1. Carenado F33A Bonanza The crazy thing about my relationship with the F33A was that I bought it for my birthday and never flew it much for two years? Then it clicked, and it became an totally invaluable tool for learning VOR - NDB based flights, then with the honing of the basics of flying in circuits, landings and general flying training. Never ever fails in how it brings out the best in X-Plane for me, but those really excellent navigation instruments and their layout makes the aircraft a technical flyer the best there is. To switch off with a "flight to somewhere" on a Sunday afternoon the Bonanza is always my perfect aircraft of choice, flying back to base or an early morning start always brings out the best of this great little gem of a GA. 2. Carenado B200 KingAir A powerful big Twin is always desirable, but this B200 is the best of them all. It can cover huge distances (Living in Australia that helps a lot) but it is also the practical side of learning how to fly a big twin really well, the practise of single engine failures and landings can really hone your skills, but it is it is the B200's multi-airport runway hopping abilities will have me scouring the outback for small towns with baked runways. Overall my preferred Twin. 3. Carenado Caravan C208B Another Carenado!.. Yes I love my Caravan, it is a commuter machine par excellence. Island hopping of just getting the customers from a lonely airstrip to the larger regional airport, nothing comes close to the Caravan. It sounds glorious! with that higher-powered PT6A-114A engine, gives you goosebumps. But this a great aircraft to fly no matter what the weather and the optional cargo version gives you a great variation on the same routes. 4. Flightfactor/VMAX Boeing 777 Extended No aircraft clocks up more nautical mileage on my computer than the FF Boeing 777 Cargo. I follow the Formula One circus around the world and the B777F is my cargo-hauler of choice. Flying the aircraft a lot will get you almost intimate with every nook and cranny of its flying abilities and the aircraft always delivers in pure satisfaction return from block to block. 5. Rotate MD-88 Challenging but extremely rewarding is the MD-88. I watched hundreds of YouTube of MD Series video's and I wanted to fly the "MadDog". No doubt Rotate's MD-88 had a difficult birth in X-Plane, but it still delivered one really great aircraft to use and fly. Now very sorted the MD-88 is my regional hub and spoke hopper of choice. Oh and it looks absolutely amazing as well. 6. Carenado Beech 1900D The big Beech demanded a powerful computer or just did not agree with the way my iMac processed it. But I loved it and now with the powerful Windows giving the 1900D a big tailwind, it really came into its own. A great short regional flyer par excellence. 7. FlyJSim Boeing 737 Series "Retro Rules Ok" The B727 was my entrance into continental VOR flying and lots of maps and notes to go from the east to west coast airports. The B727 is a total drama queen and it is quite hard to fly, but highly rewarding when you get it totally right. This bird really delivers, and recent upgrade to "Study" made the Tri-Jet even better but I really miss a cabin view and opening doors, if they don't come soon it may fall out of this list. 8. JRollon CRJ200 The JRollon CRJ200 was another birthday present that sat undisturbed for years until it became active. This classic X-Plane aircraft is a very hard aircraft to fly really good, and I couldn't fly it very well at all. Over the years and (lots of) practise have brought us together as my flying abilities caught up to the aircraft's quirks and now we make sweet love together. The recently released excellent BSS sound package transformed the aircraft yet again... old! never, still really great and the best regional. 9. JARDesign Airbus A320neo I fly on JQ A320's more than any other aircraft around Australia, so familiarity with the aircraft is very high. JARDesign's version is very good, very immersive as a simulation, but two external factors lifted it higher this year. One JARDesign's excellent Ground Handling Deluxe add an extra dimension on the ground, and another the BSS Sound package lifted the A320 beyond great in the air. So why isn't the A320 higher in this list. Mostly it takes a lot of time between turnaround times to reprogramme the aircraft for the next sector, no route saving just loses you too much time and overall the aircraft needs a freshen update. 10. The Avroliner Project Avro RJ100 More of an national cause than just an aircraft. The Avroliner project keeps on going on, but the Avro is a great aircraft to fly right. There is a lot of love here and it goes both way from the developer and myself. Quirky, and endearing, you get great flights out of flying around the country, another one for that lazy Sunday afternoon when you just want to fly somewhere. And yes it is still available on the X-Plane.OrgStore in the RJ 85 variant. _________________________________________________________ There is a pattern to these aircraft and that they are mostly regional in their abilities. No doubt the FlightFactor B757/767/A350 and also the JARDesign A330 are brilliant and yes I fly them a lot, but I don't have the time that is required to set them up and fly them on a more constant basis. I came into X-Plane for long-haul flying, but as the list shows I don't do as much of that anymore or as much as I would like to do. As noted it is more of a time thing than a "I have moved on from that" feeling, but to not help in the cause are two aircraft that were very high on the top ten list that have fallen badly from grace. One is the default X-Plane Boeing 747-400. This is an aircraft flew a lot as I came into X-Plane to fly the Jumbo Jet. I love 747's but this aircraft is now without any update for years and it is now just crappy really in today's quality environment. A recent flight from London To New York confirmed the worse and I was bitterly disappointed that the 10.50 update didn't include the aircraft. Second Is Peter Hagers A380. The huge A380 is a magnificent beast, and challenging to fly really well because of the sheer weight and size of the aircraft. I really love the A380, but years of neglect means the aircraft is now feeling very, very tired, my versions are hopelessly out of date. A another recent troubled flight to Rio De Janerio will mean it will be hangared until it has a new airworthy certificate... sad. Another aircraft that just doesn't just make the list that was a firm favorite is the EADT x737. Nothing wrong with the brilliant v5 update, but the FMC is a tale of woe and the framerate required is high, don't think I don't fly or use the x737 as it is magnificent and I fly it a lot. Last but not least the top ten list shows the latest is not the best. Most if not all are quite old and have been released for quite some time. But great updates and revisions have kept them relevant, and this list can change at anytime with the Navajo and DC-8 now firmly getting more flying time. In tribute to... Joseph Frederick "Joe" Sutter (March 21, 1921 – August 30, 2016) One of the Immortals _____________________________________________________________________________________ Stephen Dutton 7th September 2016 Copyright©2016: X-PlaneReviews
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