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  1. Behind the Screen : June 2024 Can you believe it is already half way through another year? Yes the months do seem to be passing quicker, and the years too. It was only two years ago we were waiting for the X-Plane 12 (beta) release, TWO YEARS, man it's gone quickly, and here we are nearly half way through the XP12 run, yes halfway already to X-Plane 13, Laminar Research will be soon dragging out the white board again to list the next set of exciting features! But that is for another day. Those two years were also very disquieting in the process as well... don't worry I'm not going down THAT road this month. So this created a bit of nervousness as the Fight Simulator Expo in Las Vegas approached this year. Laminar Research only sent two people last year to Texas, one the PR (Public Relations) guy and Phillipp Ringlar, so basically there was really no visibility from X-Plane, except for a stand and a few demonstrations... were as Microsoft basically took over the Expo with the Flight Simulator 2024 announcement. Your always looking for a base line, and the situation of knowing where you stand. To be honest that has been hard with X-Plane 12. It had all the excellent ingredients, and in the many times the power of X-Plane 12 sort of shone through, but somehow it didn't all come together for one reason or another. Last month in BtheS I noted the level of excellence now being shown via X-Plane 12 aircraft, most notably the X-Crafts E-Jet Series, X-Trident AW-109SP, and now we can add in the FlightFactor Boeing 777v2. Levels above in about what we expect with quality Simulation. But what of the X-Plane Simulator itself? But the 2024 Expo sort of gave us a better understanding of the current Simulation situation. For one there is a lot of competition out there, but overall it still comes down to FlightSim and X-Plane. After last year and the announcement of FS 2024 (coming in Nov 2024), I was expecting this year's 24 Expo to be "nail in the coffin" sort of scenario coming from Seattle. Oddly it didn't happen, but it did sort of showed were and where the situation is going. I will be honest, and I think I mentioned this at the time last year. I thought the new features for FS 2024 were quite disappointing, no seriously. Except for the continuing focus on the 3d landscaping, it didn't really deliver anything new except for presenting "Experiences", scoff you might... but even this year's 24 Expo was really a rerun of the same as last year, adding in only the Boeing MAX as an aircraft release. The only highlights were the "Vertical Obstacles", in creating thousands of infrastructure in pylons, weather towers, power stations and the clever world shipping. I do admit that over the course of the FS 2020, Microsoft did a brilliant job in filling in the world with their consistent "World Updates", 16 in all and the last World Update XVI, focused on the Caribbean region. The huge mass of 3rd party developers did the rest, releasing tons of aircraft, and far too many sceneries that were so nondescript, that I had google a lot to find out where they actually were. New developers were coming out of the woodwork by the hour, and if you could even think of buying even fraction of all these releases, then certainly my bank balance says absolutely not? Which comes to my favorite word "Momentum", that word gets things done and builds huge audiences, 15 Million users in this case, but to be honest I don't totally subscribe to that number. X-Plane has just over a million, but the core number of users is probably only around 200,000... So what is the true number for FlightSim, say 4, maybe 5 million, still a big, big number compared to X-Plane. X-Plane 12 has a huge amount of new features, including; Photometric Rendering, Enhanced Weather System, Seasonal Effects, Dynamic Water, Improved Flight Models, ATC Improvements and a new User Interface. You could say that most are in relation to the release of FS 2020, there is some truth in that but not all of it. These features were groundbreaking, but issues in getting them refined took far too long, and some took development of nearly two years on from release, you could call it behind the "8 Ball". But the release of the Newly numbered version 12.1.0, you finally had all the components working together in harmony, and the results are really quite amazing. But in the same time as noted FS 2020 had gained a lot of users and a far bigger audience. But putting them side by side as Simulators the differences are more even handed. Again you may scoff... but I was very surprised that FlightSim, didn't even have a replay function? but are added it into 2024 via a 3rd party, and a cheap fix at that? So two major things came out of Expo 2024. The first is the obvious neglect of the scenery. First I will note that scenery requires a huge amount of processing power, and something we didn't have a decade ago. Also Microsoft processes their scenery off your processor and delivers it to you in packages, a clever way of doing it, but that aspect also puts you at the mercy of your internet connection and speeds. And the hoards over there are always complaining of the problem. For X-Plane and for processing the scenery on your own machine, means that the size or detail of the scenery is restricted to what you can personally process, that aspect also restricts on what Laminar Research can also deliver in detail. But to be honest, even with all the issues around the scenery, Laminar still missed the ball completely in leaving the changes for so long at over a decade. The release in November 2011 of X-Plane 10, is now nearly 13 years (12 years and 222 days), although great at the time, that length of time in lying dormant in a simulator is simply backward thinking. I know I go on about this aspect, year after year, but the fact remains it has caused the biggest divide between the FlightSim and X-Plane, and the way that the users have preferred one Simulator over the other, great aircraft withstanding. Laminar in not being more vigilant on this aspect in every scenery area, has put the Simulator into a precarious position, that even lesser known, mostly battlefield Simulators, leave X-Plane and Laminar in the dust in quality background scenery. It is the "glaringly obvious" of the differences between the FS and X-Plane Simulators, and also why developers are trending and are attracted to the boards in FlightSim and not X-Plane. Give Microsoft their due, they looked at X-Plane's biggest weakness and totally exploited it. Then FS pushed the knives in deeper with their excellent World Updates, on how could you still keep on missing the vital messages coming at you, but Laminar did. Somehow the mantra of, we only do aircraft, not a whole simulator was even obvious when the old school FlightSim was around, users were wanting to pay huge sums to collect scenery and city vistas, they were already world building, aircraft were diabolical and unrealistic to fly, but it still made FlightSim a huge money earner in add-ons, plus it added numbers back then that X-Plane could only dream of. The problem of processing these huge sceneries is still the biggest barrier to creating a real world X-Plane. Notably at the 2024 Expo, Laminar finally revealed that they were now looking at the scenery in question, they even said they would fix the green spaces around custom scenery... But just thickening up some tiles with more density is not the option either. X-Plane needs to become a "World" Simulator in detail, it is obvious the 3rd parties are not going to come to the party unless you are going to give them something unique or clever to want to develop for X-Plane... If you are of a certain age when X-Plane 9 rolled into X-Plane 10, you would remember the incredible transformation of the release, sadly Laminar didn't follow that aspect up. The point here is that the visual and effects in X-Plane are very, very good, but the main character of the Simulator is critically missing. If Laminar Research can and do fix this scenery aspect, then X-Plane will have better or even chance of being a premier Simulator, even then also attract back developers and scenery creators to get some momentum back into the Simulator. Going for once where the user wants them to go, and throw away the clubby atmosphere that has restrained the Simulator, what was once X-Plane's biggest strength has become it's biggest liability, in wanting a cheap Simulator (meaning free) is disintegrating it from the inside out... 15 Million users if you believe that number or not is proof of what Simulation wants out of Simulators, game quality visuals are now required to create "Experiences", not just very, very complicated aircraft. The second point that where X-Plane has also done badly is in selling itself. Again that small clubby little world didn't want anything to upset their view or take on Simulation. Microsoft sold Simulation big time, to anyone who wanted to try it... X-Plane over the last decade did absolutely nothing, not even an advert in PC Pilot. I tell everyone within earshot how great it is, and have created fellow users in the process, many having seen my set up and wanted one for themselves, but I was a small voice in the wilderness... If they don't know what you are using or selling, then how are you going to grow? X-Plane did have momentum, but at only a snails pace, Microsoft showed what Simulation was all about with the huge expansion of FlightSim 2020 and took the users with them... the money as well. Till next month, see you then Stephen Dutton 1st July 2024 Copyright©2024 X-Plane Reviews
  2. Behind the Screen : May 2024 I've got to admit I am enjoying X-Plane at the moment, in that the X-Plane 12 experience is now cutting and creating a higher level of immersion you could never believe could ever have existed before. Certainly the long awaited X-Plane v12.1.0 update pushes the Simulator further down the road with a very realistic experience, missing however is still a more naturalistic scenery, its now eleven years old and more, so it's showing it's age. You always had to have a very vivid imagination when flying the X-Plane Simulator, as when I came in it was in the middle of the X-Plane 9 run, you had to have a VERY vivid imagination back then. But that gap has now become very small. The v12.1.0 update does however do something in closing the illusionary line between imaginary and realism. It could be a lot of things, but overall I think it is the lighting effects, the shadows and everything in between. But it has taken a long time to get here... the refinement process of X-Plane 12 has been too long and even a bit painful. And that may be the point, as before it wasn't noticeable, but it is now in the age of photorealistic gaming. But as I have several times over that long decade or so, I saw a jump, a movement forward in April. This aspect started actually last year with the release of X-Craft's excellent E-Jet Series. The realism factor and depth of the Simulation was a credit to the developer. But it was the X-Trident AW-109SP that really changed the goal posts. In doing so it also brings up a few questions on with which way Simulation is going? Over the years in Simulation Reviewing I have had a technological journey as much as a simulated one. In that time through learning I was able to keep pace with the changes and the new features presented. But mostly at the very sharp pointy end of Simulation, in the need, even in the wanting for aircraft to be as close to being the same as a real aircraft in it's functions and systems. The level of detail is now getting down to a profusion of characteristic levels that can start to be overwhelming. Notably anything can be learnt or studied, but in doing so it takes longer and more to absorb, as the hidden depth and detail is revealed. Time, is against you in this aspect. As a reviewer, the time from a release to having the review visible is paramount, in days, if possible. A few years ago, you could post a review three to four days after receiving the product, mostly a day for looking into and first flying the aircraft, a day to do the details, and a day to do the flying segment... that aspect has significantly grown over the last few years, in most cases now it takes a week to cover the review, but a few and more and more newer simulations are now stretching you even further. Your researching more, testing more, working your way through the complicated 500 or so page manuals... getting down into the nitty gritty of the core of the simulation before you. In the same is acronym hell. This is where the AW-109SP comes in. It was a marvel of developer detail in recreating the Genesys Aerosystems IDU-450 EFIS (Electronic Flight Instrument System). The realism and use of that feature was simply (out-of-this-world) stuff, brilliant. And Simulation beyond the realm of the usual believability. But learning it, then trying to explain the complicated systems was reviewer hell. There was so many different aspects and arms coming out of the system, that it took days to work out and understand, then transferring those insights into a review was a daunting job. Don't get me wrong, I loved single every second of it all, and in reality would have loved to have kept on doing the review for another week or so. I was in there and soaking it all up, the incredible experience that I was immersed in every day. But that aspect of a ticking clock, to wrap the review and get it out there was also a very daunting experience. So here is the problem? As these Simulations now go so humungous even for an experienced reviewer, then think of the humble simulator user? The complexity and acronym hell could thwart, even create a boundary between the user and the simulation. I thought about this aspect a lot when reviewing the AW-109SP. And was even worried that the review would create a systematic line that many couldn't cross. Thankfully the review was very well received, and that showed the highlighted awareness of X-Plane user in being able to absorb complexity of this scale. Well folks, you "haven't seen anything yet". FlightFactor's coming Boeing 777 v2 will expand that concept beyond anything you could imagine, but thankfully the developers have provided a quick setup and quick flight options, making it accessible to most, it is even beyond a "Study" simulation, as I call it an "Airline Study" simulation. As the aircraft is so deep into the real world experience with clever interaction at the core of the aircraft, it also comes with loads of 500 page manuals to study and adsorb. But all credit to the developers in what they have created in a very deep and very detailed simulation. It will be interesting on how the B777 will be received, as it is a new era in simulation. We are used to "Study" aircraft were as the simulation is in the need of mirroring the real Manuals and Crew Operations of the aircraft. That every item that is noted in the manual has also the same action in the simulation, and that is ultimately the aim of Simulation, in replicating that complex environment on a computer. But I grew with the decade or so of the changes in the detail and these new features as they were implemented along that long journey. Every new idea and feature could be absorbed, dissected and learnt on the same journey, as simulation grew, then so did myself. So the question I am asking here is a what if. What if I was just starting my Simulation journey and was being faced with the current complexity of the developers deep designs. We know that starting out in Simulation, you do go for the more simple aircraft, but what of me, as right back then at the start of my Simulation journey and the reason I wanted to do Simulation, was to fly the Boeing 747. This was a time of 2d panels and basic controls, there is no way to compare the B777v2 to this earlier minimal simulation. I learnt and could say I'm now a bit of an 747 expert, so has been my journey. But could I have flown a B747 today of the B777v2's complexity? Deep dive there. To be fair Flightfactor do provide a simplified setup, so the aircraft can be flown from a novice's point of view, but when alerts keep popping up and have to be dealt with on the flightdeck, then this still is not as a simple Simulation as it was back then. I do know that new users are very adaptable and have the skills to adapt to these very complex simulations, as they do astound me with their knowledge. The point is that, if I am head down, with the occasional help from A.I. in working out the myriad of acronyms and how they work, then what of someone new to all this new level of complexity? It's good, so don't get me wrong on the level of detail and complexity we now have in Simulation. We can all learn to understand how it works and better our flying skills. It is the absolute goal in Simulation to achieve this level being presented to us. So we certainly can't to be seen complaining about that aspect. It is just will that continuing drive for deeper, more complex systems and features, then start to create different levels of the way you use and access simulators, the trick is not like the real world, you only have to learn the aircraft and fly it. But in Simulation there is another dimension as well, the knowledge and use of the computer and Simulation software as well. That is just as complex and bug ridden as you could ever imagine... obviously that is in time the ultimate challenge, not only to learn and fly the aircraft, but to house-keep and keep in order the simulator correctly to do so, this is to bring both the experiences together. Like said at the head of this BtheS. I'm deeper into Simulation now more than ever, and yes also totally enjoying the onward journey. The tools provided in this day and age, not only in the power of the computing, but also with the 3 party addons. gives you an almost unlimited experience that you never thought of existing in the past... however we must not also lose the sight of why we fly in the mist of all this technology, flying is still at the core of what we do, and at the end of the day, there is nothing more soul satisfying than just cruising along at a flight level and wondering on how you got here, with all this. Notable in June 21-23, 2024 is the FlightExpo 2024 in Las Vegas. After the last few years Laminar Research will be there in force this year, with X-Plane 12.1.0 under their arms, and the FlightFactor Boeing 777ER v2 in their arsenal. It is a considerable combination, plus all the other X-Plane developers wanting to claim ground back from MSFS. This is after MSFS dominating the last two Expos, it will be interesting to see how this year's event eventuates. Time to strike back against the Empire! We will soon find out. See you all next Month Stephen Dutton 6th June 2024 Copyright©2024 X-Plane Reviews
  3. Behind the Screen : April 2024 By of Easters past... it was a very quiet month this April 2024. X-Plane again played the game of each other waiting for the other. The worst was the extended X-Plane 12 development period, until the beta release in September 2022. Then things moved forward, if in only dribs and drabs. In fact X-Plane 12 wasn't actually of what you would call completely "usable" until v12.0.8 (rc-3). Here we are again... in waiting. This time it is the newly numbered or categorised v12.1.0. This version was publicly given a performance at the FS Weekend in Lelystad, the Netherlands, then a week ago another windowshop was done at the "Fun and Sun Aerospace Expo" in Florida. All very nice. Of course the current simulator is usable, you can still fly your beloved dream machine anytime you want to, so what is the problem you ask? The problem is that this latest v12.1.0 version is the most important since the release of X-Plane 12. In some ways more important in that it will finally bring all the threads together, and FINALLY fix problems that have gone on too long. Remember X-Plane 12 was 16 months late, v12.1.0 will be to date over five months late... and yes I am going on about this again. Easter is the big release month of the year. You would think Christmas was the biggie, but it's not from a sales perspective, not counting Black Friday (does X-Plane count as cyber Monday?). But the problem for Christmas is that if you have some saved cash to spend in this holiday period, it is not going selfishly to you now is it? You may get away with a great sale purchase on Black Friday, but honestly that spare cash is going to have to go towards lavishing presents on your loved ones and covering the costs of a thanksgiving turkey, or Christmas dinner. Worse is that any available free time is also in being wanted to be with your loved ones, extended family loved ones or stuck at the airport in waiting for the snow to clear. Christmas is like that, as you simply have no time and absolutely no money for yourself. Now Easter is perfect... You have already worked your guts out hard for over three months, so are wanting a little reward for all your hard earned efforts. There is usually a nice sale on at the Store, but more importantly is that after Easter there are two perfectly clear weeks with no commitments, plus besides opening an Easter egg, you can selfishly hide away and fly to your heart's content, no commitments, pure unabated freedom... two whole weeks of flying, and no guilt! Although you will find something nice on the Store for this unconfined period, the really nice, nice thing to have is something new, even better is something really special to learn and fly. You can then spend all that time delving through manuals and learning those complex cockpit tasks to your heart's content, the most committed will even do a really long haul, a 12 hour crusade from one part of the world to the other... So where is the problem? Snazzy developers know this. So they are in wanting to put their bright shiny (usually expensive) new project right there on the Store for you to absorb, usually make it wanting in those precious few weeks leading up to the Easter holiday period. The only annoying thing is you are faced with is usually which of the biggest of the glittering projects are you going to purchase for those available spacious two weeks. So what could go wrong? Top level developers usually get an advanced Alpha copy of the latest X-Plane version from Laminar Research. This is a two way talkfest to find mostly the hidden bugs and if the newly inserted simulator features will work correctly on the current aircraft. Here is a hint in the rain feature on aircraft windows. Originally it was Librain, then the rain was internally converted into the actual X-Plane Simulator. Laminar should do more of these outsourcing of ideas, for two reasons, it speeds up development and a lot of these third-party gizmos are very clever. To their credit Laminar have finally absorbed a few of the better ones with X-Plane 12. So in the Alpha, you can see or test if the new feature works as required, the bonus is that the developer can then also incorporate the same feature on their incoming latest release. v12.1.0 has a lot of lighting changes, so it is a lot of work to refine all those lights to match the newer requirements of the coming version release. But from the developers point of view, you can't release the new project with all the latest wizz-bang features built in, if the Version release is not released to the general user public. You have a choice, put out the current model, then update later with the official release when finally out there. But that is releasing two different projects within weeks of each other, plus you can't take advantage in your marketing of those new features that will all be bright and sparkle on your aircraft (even scenery has a load of lighting effects)... second choice is hold off for the v12.1.0 release, then put the project up for sale. The ongoing delayed release then creates another problem? If every developer holds off for the imminent release, then they are all piling up together behind the V12.1.0 intergration... so once that is implemented, then you get a rush too the store. For most users you only have a set allowance of disposable funds, yes you might buy one top level aircraft ($70-$90) range, maybe even a lighter release ($30-$40) range, but if you have four or five big releases coming at you at the same time, your not going to, or be able to purchase them all. In most cases releases are staggered, usually two to three weeks apart so the market can absorb these disposable income funds. So the release date for a developer is extremely important to get right, for a maximum return on their work. Even if Laminar Research release v12.1.0 in the next few weeks, then the developers have spread out their wares as well. We saw this with the over long X-Plane 12 release itself, and it took ages to sort out, mostly six months... but that was a different time and story. So there is a queue building out there, but it does give developers a little more time to fine tune their project, make them better, and when they do arrive they will also have the latest X-Plane 12 v12.1.0 features available as well. And they are certainly worth waiting for. But that queue is a problem, go with the others put up the product on the store and compete hard for your disposable dollar, but in this aspect you will lose, certainly if FlightFactor releases the Boeing 777v2, everyone will want that. Your other choice is to wait, spread out the release date, and it is a better deal for you... in the end. So at this point you have nothing, then you will be faced with everything all at once? In looking at the now X-Plane 12 defined aircraft. You do get this highlighted quality that is head and shoulders above the last X-Plane versions, users have had some excellent and quality releases over the years, but nothing can even come close to what X-Plane 12 can really deliver to Simulation... both the maturing of the X-Plane 12 Simulator, and the ever advancing quality from developers is colliding together to create amazing experiences, and many of those incredible experiences will be released in the next few months and over the Northern Summer. It is a very exciting time to be in Simulation, but everything also depends totally on Laminar Research delivering the next step in v12.1.0, and soon? To drag on the release slowly again will cause a lot of headaches, even a few getting out of the simulation business, and you can't blame them at all. So as Astronaut Alan Shepard remarked... “I'm cooler than you are,” he barked. “Why don't you fix your little problem and light this candle?”. See you all next Month Stephen Dutton 3rd May 2024 Copyright©2024 X-Plane Reviews
  4. Behind the Screen : January 2024 It's a fresh new year! Like I mentioned going out of 2023, I was going to do a complete clear out of my current X-Plane Application setup. It's a brave decision to be honest. The last month or so of November, and into December, then X-Plane v12.0.09rcWhatever was running famously really well. So do you upset the "apple cart", "ask for trouble" and "can set you back" with loads of more quotes that could cause you problems and issues, and ones you just don't need when you hit the heavy workload of a New Year. But the problem is that, X-Plane can get very grubby, fill itself up with tons of useless files and even files that fail. I'll explain that one. I found, that if a file is written over so many times on your storage, then slight bits of it's data can be lost. This goes back to those platter hard drive disks, in rewitten data being damaged, or the platter itself being worn by overuse. You of course do a defragment run and clean it up. I don't think it matters so much now with SSD drives, being the data is now hardwired. But if drives are saving multiple fragments across the drive, then sometimes bits, (pun intended) do get lost, things that should work, then don't I do, over the year, usually do a new "vanilla", or clean install of the X-Plane Simulator, but move only large portions of the segments. I just transfer from one install to the next one. Like the main content folders; Global Scenery, Aircraft, Custom Scenery and the current Plugins. But several transfers are the settings, like the X-Plane/output/preferences of "Keys" and "Joystick Settings"... why, because my keyboard and aircraft preference settings are complex and the layouts are numerous. But the problem is both settings are year on year old, transferred from one installation to the next, even from one computer to another. The data within them is tired, and I noted several times last year that the settings (preferences) were failing, mostly singularly, but still noticeable, in that I had to keep resetting the preferences. And this is where I get to the nervous bit, I needed to throw these tired old preference files away and do them all fresh from scratch, It sounds simple, but it isn't... there are a lot of hidden key tools set out in those settings, like swapping from a fixed wing aircraft to a helicopter, refined over the years to perfection. So I was contemplating doing a the full "Vanilla, Vanilla" reinstall.... the absolute clean slate one. Laminar Research has since added into the "X-Plane Installer" application, an option to "Install a Second Copy of X-Plane", which makes creating a new version easier. The old way was to download the "Demo" version, and add in the Global Scenery to make it a full Simulator version. This new way is not actually much different with a Second Copy, as you still transfer over the Global Scenery and main Aircraft, Custom Scenery and Plugin folders to create the running full version. But that original X-Plane Application was still very old, running nicely or not. You want to get the process done in a quiet time, as between reviews or content creation, then that is not the best time to start fixing and getting a non-working Simulator. So the down week between Christmas and New Year was the only option to get the rebuild done... so I pressed the "Install a Second Copy of X-Plane" and started the Download. The point to make in this article, it is not the main downloads that can cause you the heartache, actually it is the easiest part of the process. When I install a new X-Plane copy, I then run it, in it's basic form. Yes I transfer over the Global Scenery folder to make it a full Simulator, but I run it from scratch, with only loading in a default aircraft, usually the Cessna 172. First job is to update the New copy to the latest X-Plane version, which can take as long as the copy download... ... then test the framerate (usually off the scale) as the graphic settings are also set at their default settings. First things were to set up is my hardware, Joystick, throttle and rudder pedals. In the past I had just transferred the "Joystick Settings" prefs, and it was usually set ready to go. But here I was setting the prefs from a clean set of preferences. Part of the new installation is to find out if my Throttle hardware is playing up? 2023 was a difficult year with the Saitek X56 Throttle system. First it had a "Ghosting" issue (fixed by using a more powerful USB port), but from the middle of the year, the second throttle lever was not holding it's settings, but switching to the first throttle lever in the left lever, in then setting both throttles together. To separate them you had to pull out the throttle hardware USB plug, and move it into another (live) USB port, and it reset itself back to the separated dual levers. My thoughts were if the worn preferences were the cause of the issue (they weren't). With the hardware setup, I then reset my Graphic Settings. I always have a screenshot of my most efficient graphic settings, as if I want to experiment, I know how to get back to my best efficient setting layout. Running the new "vanilla" version is interesting to note the framerate (gains or losses thoughout the year), usually a gain. But it's also "fun", the return to your very first moment you flew the X-Plane Simulator, basic, but a fulfilling flying experience, with no distractions. Then you start adding in all the external extras, Plugins, Aircraft and then the massive Custom Scenery folder. Run it again... The trickiest part was after the main install. You have to calibrate all the external factors to the new installation. In fact this was the hardest part, resetting addresses to go to another destination. Navigraph, Charts, Skunkcraft's updater, Traffic Global, ToLiss data. Some were a pain, like Aerosoft (One) which wouldn't recognise the new install, and kept installing in the older one... the only option was to redownload every single scenery to the new location, time consuming, and in reality it shouldn't have needed to be done, as all the old stored scenery then had to be thrown away. In the New Year Laminar also did a overhaul of the dsf scenery, it was a big one, but not the full install. But the new install would not accept the partial update, only the full reinstall... 64Gb of it, but I pressed the "Update Scenery Online" and did it in three hours, but when running X-Plane, it noted it still required the new scenery install, so I did it again, with the same result, then I pressed it again and it did the full install again, now nine hours and 192 Gb of the same scenery three times over... thank god I have an unlimited download limit on my internet account, and unlimited patience... finally it registered it was installed. Then came the slow work of authorising all the aircraft in the new install, this adds up to around the 30+ aircraft plus plugins that needed to be reactivated, then the slow work of resetting the FMS Data Manager to new addresses... and on and on it went, two weeks into the New Year and I was still activating or changing addresses to the new install... haven't finished yet? My keyboard settings were all blank, that took a few hours to reinstall all the commands, then my Joystick slider and switch settings, another hour for that one, and the tons of small fixes like my FMS flightplans, Screenshot destinations, WebFMC..... agggh! Finally it was all done, a clean sweet install, and all new. Even now a month after there is still the odd address or aircraft to be reset, it's fix, fix, fix... I love X-Plane, but it is now so horribly complex, on how it all works is a miracle, but it does. Would I do this sort of extreme reinstall again, I'll be honest and I would think twice before I pressed the download button, but last year's version was burnt out and full of debris, it's what you have to do every few years. This Behind the Screen Edition is a little late, but reviews don't wait. Over the last weekend there was the announcement from Laminar Research at the Montreal developers conference, is that in the new X-Plane series (v12.1.0), Laminar they are inserting a store directly into the Simulator, a la MSFS. The ramifications of this change are quite significant. This will not be just a new added store to the X-Plane Universe, as the current set up is that the .Org (Store and .Org forums) are one planet revolving around the parallel Laminar Research planet of development. In the past Laminar didn't do the commercial side of the Simulator, except for selling a few cups and mugs, but are now moving into the commercial aspect, and one that could seriously upset the natural balance of the past... we will see how this significant aspect plays out, but my gut says Laminar has underestimated the complexities and the demands of users in running a store. I know, I have seen it first hand for a decade. There will be no "Behind the Screen" article posted for February 2024. I'm going on a well earned break for two weeks (floating around the Pacific), so the next BtheS edition will be posted on the 1st March 2024. Bon Voyage! Stephen Dutton 6th February 2024 Copyright©2024 X-Plane Reviews
  5. Behind the Screen : Year in Review 2023 Optimism, loads of optimism. After the late release of X-Plane 12 in 2022, compiling the last Year in Review 2022, I was in an optimistic frame of mind, the worst had to be behind us after all. At that point X-Plane 12 had finished it's beta run and had gone final 16th December 2022, just clear up the few issues and by Easter we should have a very stable Simulation tool to do our flying in. I was ready for a better year and so was everyone else... then it all just as quickly fell apart. Laminar Research Within days of the New Year with a new release in v12.01r1 it was not a great start to the New Year, in hindsight, there was even a mention of it in the November Q&A, as Laminar wanted more framerate, a better smoother none dropping frames Simulator. But what we got was massive "Vulcan device loss errors", odder clouds and the high winds which were also more nastier than ever, lighting was now even darker and harder to use as well. It all felt like very backwards jump... a mess really, and costly in my case with the immediate requirement of a new graphics card. It didn't end there. GRIB Files that X-Plane 12 uses for the Simulator for downloading live global weather went wonky, .dds files also started to fail. Admittedly a lot of these spot fires were quickly fixed, but the GRIB took a few days as they were on a American national holiday weekend. So for the first time on a few occasions in the year, my X-Plane Simulator was actually non-working for a few days, the .dds files and the GRIB blackouts (yes there was two blackouts, with another later in the year) causing most of the damage. Laminar's focus however was somewhere else. It was called Zink. With the change to the Vulkan/Metal API, a lot of the original OpenGL plugins didn't work. So Zink was installed to convert (or to be a bridge) between the old OpenGL and newer Vulkan/Metal API's. I don't use Zink, mainly because I don't have a big library of plugins, but a lot of computers also needed the fix as the AMD users out there got a lot of flickering and CTD (Crash to Desktop). It was not a very good start to the year, and X-Plane 12 thoughout the next few months was a not a bundle of fun either. First relief came in 12.04b1, late in February. That release fixed a lot of the New Year problems. At the end of March 2023 came v12.05b1, and Laminar finally delivered the update for their A330-300 . Here finally it included in this release was the custom MCDU for the aircraft, which was due on the original release of XP12. v12.06/7 in Mid-August did live up thankfully to it's game-changer forecast. It fixed the weather (not completely, but far better) and came with Cirrus high level clouds and now none of those hideous pyramid shape clouds, the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford class in X-Plane now had a full complement of static aircraft, cranes, tugs and more, on deck and below in the huge deck hangar. ATC also got a huge makeover. There was another big advancement update in v12.08, this release covered Landing Gear Physics, and made aircraft easier and more realistic to land (takeoff as well). An annoying X-Plane anomaly for years was finally fixed and the flight model got improvements to the way that X-Plane simulates engine performance, projector warping/blending was also totally revised, as was networking and the “totally out of VRAM” crashes. Biggest announcement with v12.08 was that X-Plane was having an increased price of from the 1st of November 2023 to US$79.95, from US$59.95, the first in a decade, and that a new X-Plane version numbering system would be coming (after v12.08) to v12.1.0, adding in an extra digit for more frequent updates. That aspect will certainly change the way we resolve issues quicker in 2024. X-PlaneReviews started an annual new roundup review in September called "State of the Union", this was to fully detail the changes of X-Plane 12 from it's public release date, and there is a lot here to browse on the fully detailed on the X-Plane 12 changes to that yearly date. In reality 2023 ended far, far better than it started for Laminar Research. There was some magic hidden in X-Plane 12.08 that made the Simulator smoother, easier to use... finally the tool was maturing. But with X-Plane 12 already a whole year late, then another year in limbo, the Simulator per se had taken many many hits. This aspect shows below, delaying projects and keeping developers away to consume MSFS 2020, the impacts on the Simulation landscape was all to see. But X-Plane did actually and finally get there, the Simulator feeling now more better and cleaner than ever before, being more benign and thankfully usable. I have had the best six weeks flying for a long time, the relief is in my relaxed view of 2024. It might even tempt those still on X-Plane 11 to come on over? Microsoft Flight Simulator 2022 First is "Why is this here in an X-Plane site?". Because it is a reference between the Simulators, and the gap between them grew immensely wide over the year 2023. February kicked off with World Update XII New Zealand, In April Oceania, June France and Texas, July Central Eastern Europe, August Western Europe, November Nordics and Greenland, the Caribbean, and the last of the year is European Cities 1. Development updates were on average two, to three a month. Added aircraft included Antonov An-225 Mriya, Model 307 Stratoliner, Aero Vodochody Ae-45, MU-2, Dornier Do X, Saab B 17A and the Carenado 207... At the FlightSimExpo in Houston, Laminar Research was there, well sort of with just the PR Guy and Phillipp Ringlar in attendance, and they were competing with Asobo Studios/Microsoft, who arrived to announce the next installment or version of MSFS, called "Flight Simulator 2024". Austin Meyer or head developer Ben Supnic were also notably absent, as Asobo read off a load of X-Plane features including helicopters, SARS, water and fire particles, oil rig scenery and landing pad, crop dusting, wildfires and even animated skydivers... on top of that they also threw in a Ford 4-AT Trimotor for good measure. But it is the sheer gargantuan absolute volume of releases coming out on to the MS platform in 2023 that was simply gobsmacking, every person and their dog is doing something to cash in on the goldmine, but oddly they are not only mostly middle-regional scenery and odd flier classic aircraft, at really low prices. The worry as a layman with a normal income, was how could you simply buy all this? even picking the low hanging fruit, it would have a serious impact on your bank-balance... it is a marketplace that is currently creating more questions than it answers? as hundreds of brand new developers are getting in the game, they all can't survive. Trend of the year In most areas over 2023 it was divided significantly into two categories. New products of which there were few, and the main market which was the transition market of products created for X-Plane 11 being reimagined for X-Plane 12, most were upgrades (pay), but a few were also updates (free). These products dominated the year, and currently most of the quality transitioning product is now mostly all transferred to the X-Plane 12 platform. As noted last year, as a lot of product became obsolete, a majority of X-Plane 10 aircraft and even scenery that crossed over to X-Plane 11 now finally succumbed to their fate, so the results are a much more smaller scale of aircraft and scenery available for X-Plane 12, that said these products in X-Plane 12 are of a much higher quality and have far better detail than their earlier counterparts, but your hangers are certainly more than empty than a few years ago. Aircraft As major releases go, then 2023 was very, very quiet. In fact only two major releases covered the whole year, the biggest and best was the X-Crafts Family E-Jets in May. Four different variants (with the Exec still coming) it was a great vision into the X-Plane 12 dream of extreme quality and features, the ERJ Series is also coming from X-Crafts in 2024, another one to look forward to with the same high quality standards. ToLiSS was extremely busy in 2023, not only releasing an Airbus A320-271N NEO in March, but also introducing not only a new menu interface, ground vehicles, ice clearing features, many, many more circuit breakers, but then spreading the good word over each of the other ToLiSS Airbus products to the same standard. Their flag bearing certainly climbed higher in the year, consistent with brilliant features and products, they are at the top of their game at the moment. Supercritical Simulations Group (SSG) merged into Flight Procedures Simulation, and released their own version of the E-Jet. Unlike the X-Crafts, this E-195 was not totally new, but a very highly redevelopment of the earlier SSG Embraer E-Jet, it was very good, and at a much more lower price, so it was in reality an E-Jet year if you loved these regional hub-spoke busters. In reality, that was all that was new in airliners this year. For X-Plane 11 aircraft, that was transitioned to X-Plane 12 it was a bit of a feast. Early Colimata did another excellent update to the Concorde FXB v3, and the SSG Boeing 748 had loads of incremental upgrades all year. The most notable was the Rotate MD-11 with several updates and the revised Rotate MD-88 Pro was also very welcome in May. The Felis Boeing 747-200, also had many an update right throughout the year, and some quite considerable, it is a complicated Simulation but highly rewarding. The DeltaWing Simulations CRJ 1000/900/700 was always having numerous updates, and the series came to a far more better quality Simulation, as a first ever developer release it was commendable, but there is still far more refining required to be truly great. INISimulations did hold up their promise to update the A300-600, who would have thought, not a spectacular X-Plane 12 revise, but at least users were happy to see the aircraft actually available. IXEG also finally updated the Boeing 733 to XP12, and it came with a new cabin as well for your US$15, still a great Simulation, if not one of the best. FlyJSim had a very quiet year, but at the end the Boeing 732 and 727 upgrades still didn't make it into X-Plane 12, both are to be worthy additions to the Simulator, expect early 24 . FlightFactor were also nowhere to be seen in 2023. The Boeing 777 v2 was previewed a few times and a rough cut was shown at the Expo, but the promised release again never happened in Q4, but now a noted certainty for a public beta in March 2024, the still in development FF Boeing 787 Dreamliner also had a few sneak previews as well, but don't expect anything there until late 24. Notable in another release for 2024 is an ATR 72, in fact two with one noted from Deltawing, the regional prop is well overdue for the X-Plane Simulator. General Aviation Generally the trend was the same with General Aviation, a few new aircraft, but the majority were transitioning aircraft from X-Plane 11 to Twelve. Aerobask started of the the year with the Diamond DA-42 NG, to follow up their Katana DA20 late in 2022, also the Epic Victory G1000, Lancair Legacy RG and the Epic E1000 G1000 Edition all had revisions to X-Plane 12. If you like your Diamonds, the SimSolutions upgraded the DA20-C1 Eclipse and DA40NG. COWS also announced a DA-42, later to be also ported to the MSFS platform, this was August, and yet to see the light of day (a lot of promises). At the end of the year Aerobask also released the Shark UL, a genuine release for X-Plane 12, it was excellent with the custom Skyview Touch Avionics. There was the cute Van's RV-8 /8A Duo by AOA Simulations, but most of the year in GA belonged to Thranda Design. They started off early with a brand new (XP12 only) Cessna 377F Skymaster, then another new design BN-2A Islander XP12 in June. Then they upgraded in succession the Daher Kodiak 100, then weeks later the 172M Skyhawk to XP12. In October it was the turn of the XP12 upgrade of the classic DH-2 Beaver. There was also another Cessna 337G pressurised version from Skytouch of which I really liked. AirfoilLabs upgraded both the KingAir 350, and the 172SP, and later the 172SP with an Analog cockpit (again just lately). vFlyteAir only upgraded their Piper Twin Comanche PA30 to X-Plane 12, and again nothing new in 23 from these premier GA developers. Considering their backlog catalogue, JustFlight had a quiet year, the upgrades only covered the Robin DR400, and Piper PA-28-181 Archer TX/LX to X-Plane12, there seems to be a waning interest to continue to support X-Plane from this English developer. NhAdrian did the excellent cheeky Rand Robinson KR-2S, and X-Hangar updated a lot of their aircraft, mostly from as early as X-Plane 10, and finally we wrapped up the GA segement in 23 with an upgrade to the Aerostar 601P from Avio71, and a nice way to see in Christmas. Classic Aircraft Since dividing into three separate variants the DC-3. vSkylabs updated the C-47 Skytrain and the DC-3 Airliner significantly, though the analog and glass instrument versions moved them even further apart. Late in the year Khamsin and Skunkcrafts updated the P-51 Mustang to X-Plane 12. Business Aircraft This category was very quiet this year with nothing new released. Aerobask surprisingly didn't release the much vaunted Falcon 6X, it was expected, even now well overdue for release, so we will move on again to 2024 for that one. The winner of the 2020 best Bizjet the Citation C-560XL by AirSim3D was upgraded to X-Plane 12 with the serious results, really it was the only significant release of the year. The AKD Studio GulfStream 550, had almost monthly updates throughout the year, and yes the detail and quality are now showing, but it still needs that something extra to give the aircraft the polish it needs, I liked flying it though. Military This Military segment was quite busy this year. Highlight was of course the release of Colimata's supreme F-104 Starfighter, only released for X-Plane 12 later in the year, certainly a landmark release for all the right reasons. Another oddity was the He-162 Project from Vskylabs 'Test-Pilot' series. The rest were transition aircraft from X-Plane 11. MLADG revamped three aircraft for XP12 in the MiG15, Aero 29 Delfin and the Messerschmitt bf109. AoA (Angle of Attack) had three revision aircraft released, the excellent T6A Texan II, the F22 Raptor and a completely revamped T-7A Red Hawk for X-Plane 12, all great value, AoA are also releasing a V22 Tilt-rotor for 2024! There was FACO's F-15 package, and the Grumman F7F Tigercat was converted to X-Plane 12 by Virtavia. Helicopters After a few very productive years it was a quiet one with no helicopter releases in 2023 for Cowansim, he went to MSFS with his aircraft conversions, and there was no announcements if any more X-Plane 12 aircraft will be released or converted in the future. Back in full flight though was the master himself... Dreamfoil Creations, with the transition of his Schweizer S300CBi to X-Plane 12. It was a brilliant comeback, and all the rest of the Dreamfoil fleet in the AS350, B407 are all following in succession in 2024. Talking of 407's, then on the brink of Christmas Eve, JRX released their excellent Bell 407 for both X-Plane 12 and 11. Excellent also was the Eurocopter EC130 B4 for X-Plane 12 by HSF. This modern machine came with loads of options including a Medivac version, HSF also released the Alouette III as a freeware, and it is well worth the download. vSkyLabs released the Hungarocopter HC-02 in October, and it was an interesting mite of a machine. The X-Trident CH47D Chinook had a quiet update to X-Plane 12 in June. There was a few of oddities this year 23 in machines. One was the Gerry Anderson inspired Vskylab Skyscenders 76, three very different orbital bodies to master, a lot of fun as well. VSkyLabs also released the boatlike ICON A5 as well. NHAdrian produced two very different concepts in the AirCar Project, and yes it is a real flying car... the highlight though was the amazing LLTV - Lunar Landing Training Vehicle, an amazing concept to try, and fly like a Lunar Lander. Scenery I have already mentioned the colossal amount of scenery being released for MSFS 2020. It is simply mind-boggling and even overwhelming... overall even a bit silly. How much of this scenery can you actually use? Yes X-Plane scenery will never be on par with Microsoft's Flight Sim, but at least what we have released is actually usable. Sadly the cross-platform (except for a very few) pollinations between the Simulators has not emerged either, but let us see what 2024 delivers before saying the last rites. The biggest scenery story of the year was AutoOrtho or streaming ortho imagery. Some bright spark wants to recreate the Microsoft ortho steaming system in X-Plane. To a point it is very successful, but a fast internet connection and a powerful computer is required. The trick is downloading the tiles as you need them, not storing the tiles on your computer, but I'm not a fan of flat photo images, or jerky simulations. To add on top, another success this year has been SIM HEAVENS X-World scenery Series. Now far better coordinated and comes with better realism, it does start to deliver the sort of visual requirements X-Plane desperately needs. But ultimately they are both clunky additions to the simulator, requiring a lot of wasted power to work. But the enthusiasts swear by them. In the Laminar Q&A. Austin Meyer finally acknowledged that after a year or even years of consistent griping. That X-Plane does need a newer and better scenery system, and that Laminar are now evaluating ideas and theories to up the visual content. More highly (data) dense tiles are coming short term, but a complete new system to replace the DSF limitations is also finally on the white board. You would say X-Plane 13 for this, but I don't think that Laminar have that a long wait time in three years to meditate around the problem... one story to follow in 2024. There was a few gateway dumps, one in the first quarter, then another later in the year, and both were comprehensive. Suddenly we had Golf Courses everywhere, and then shipping became more realistic, but overall the promised ports and even more autogen buildings failed to materialise in 2023. They noted to be part of v12.1.0. Again like everything this year there was many conversions to X-Plane 12 from X-Plane 11, but still even quite a few good sceneries were released. Like mentioned there wasn't a lot, but the few we had were very good and highly usable. X-Codr was very, very busy. He updated his mammoth KDEN with everything you could name, it was complex but a serious statement of what X-Plane can deliver, even moving escalators and people. More importantly it was the sheer quality of the buildings that stood out. Other smaller sceneries from X-Codr also stood out, KMMH-Mammoth Yosemite, KSEZ-Sedona, Grand Canyon West - 1G4, KTEX-Telluride were all excellent. Maps2XPlane (via Aerosoft) delivered not only an (XP12) update to their sensational Faroe Islands XP, but added the even more extravagant remote Svalbard XP in July (a personal favorite). Frank Dainese and Fabio Bellini spent the year updating their earlier sceneries over to X-Plane 12, we started off with the Alps UHD package at the start of the year, Dolomites in March, Banff National Park UHD in August and finally Everest Park-Nepal 3D in late November. We left 2022 with the Taimodels EGLL-Heathrow, and we had some great experiences with Taimodel's scenery in that year, and in 2023 they didn't disappoint either. It started rather slow with KSMF-Sacramento, then VHHH-Chep Lok in Hong Kong followed in April. Another smaller scale airport with Newport News / Williamsburg, with then another biggie with Oslo Gardermoen Airport in August. Closer to home turf we had YBCS - Cairns International Airport in Australia in November. A pretty impressive output, all great value. Cami De Bellis was back after a health break to update her particular style of scenery. All projects got the X-Plane 12 treatment with both first La Tontouta Noumea and Dolpa Nepal in June, quickly followed a few weeks later by Kathmandu Tribhuvan Intl and Paro Intl Airport, Butan. New from Cami however was the excellent FHSH - St Helena Airport, the place in the South Atlantic were Napoleon ended up. HSimulators converted his FlightSim pole landscapes to X-Plane 12, with both the Grand Arctic Scenery and lower Antarctica Mega Scenery XP12 adding landmass to the X-Plane Simulator. NorthernSky Studios heavily upgraded PAJN-Juneau International and PAEN-Kenai Municipal Airport, and added in the new PAWG - Wrangell Airport, all in Alaska. His focus is now on both XP and FS Simulators, this showed in the lower release output for the year. As he broadens the mix, ShortFinals Design only up dated the magnificent EDDM-Munich to full X-Plane 12, but there are a lot of projects coming in 2024 from ShortFinal, including a completely new revolutionary bigger scale autogen system. There was two new releases from Aerosoft with Airport Marseille XP (Brilliant) and Menorca XP (not so brilliant), and Dortmund XP12 was upgraded later in the year. Sadly considering the considerable amount of Aerosoft scenery for X-Plane, very little, if any are being updated to X-Plane 12? If 2024 doesn't deliver, we could be seeing a lot quality Aerosoft scenery being abandoned in the future. Orbx did deliver a brilliant YBBN Brisbane and an addon Brisbane city scenery very early in the year... but nothing else. Other standouts included the KJAX-Jacksonville International by FS Designs, Montauk Airport by Skytitude, and two airports I used a lot in 2023 with ESGG - Göteborg Landvetter Airport by Chudoba Designs and the great effort of KPHL - Philadelphia International Airport by StarSim. So what's the summary of 2023 for scenery? Again the numbers are far better than what you expected, and a far lot of it is seriously quality scenery. X-Plane 11 turnover to X-Plane 12 is say just above the average, I expected more, so again 2024 is going to interesting to watch. Plugins I will state upfront that I am not a huge plugin connoisseur, so I only run what I call essential plugins in my simulator, running the VRAM profiler (Menu/Developer) can give you the horrors of how much these little monstrous tools can gobble up your framerate and their overall efficiency, I take out as many of these laggards as possible. Again there were a a lot of tools to adjust your skies, but the best was VisualXP Extreme, it is well worth the money. The biggest noise of the year was the new Skunkcrafts Standalone Updater Client v3.0. Moved from your plugins folder to your desktop, it was an excellent highly fast new tool. There was the Scenery Enhancement tool X-Oil Rigs Vol 1, Vol 2, and X-OilShips Vol 1, that filled up the oceans, and it gave a little more activity to your water views. Navigraph was again the king of the tools, now they added in Weather Layers to Charts 8, plus later also added Flight Telemetry, ATIS, OFP. The companion SimBrief also had a major layout overhaul, and was present directly now in a lot of the most advanced aircraft simulations. WebFMC Pro, WorldTraffic 3 and Traffic Global all had updates throughout the year. But I found major conflicts with the JustFlight tool in 2023, with time and replays that went past annoying and creating desktop crashes. X-PlaneReviews X-PlaneReviews as a site in August passed the decade busting 10th Anniversary of providing quality and detailed reviews for the X-Plane Simulator. Yes we have been here for ten and half years and in this year 2023 have delivered even more consistent reviews than any year before. The team has grown as well... besides the dynamic Dominic Smith, who also contributes immensely to the X-Plane.Org Weekly Roundups and Developer Interviews, is a major contributor in X-PlaneReviews as well, plus the extra talented reviewers of Alan Ashforth (alpeggio), Peter Allnutt, Dennis Powell, Nick Garlick, Stéphane Tolédo-Paul (Tieman68), David York (datadave), Stuart McGregor (Scottish Wings), DrishalMAC2, Michael Hayward and Joshua Moore, all genuine talented and contributors to not only X-PlaneReviews, but to X-Plane in general. Passing a major Anniversary always makes you look back, but also forward. Certainly we have met our goals in providing invaluable information and details on the X-Plane Simulator. Again this review site cannot function without all the great and exciting work by the tireless developers that give us all this exciting and incredible product to fly and use, as they and X-Plane has come a long way and created leaps in quality and complexity in the last few years, certainly in the jump to X-Plane 12, and to a point I was very proud of the work they have produced, it is world class if not the very best in simulation product ever produced, and they are all top notch and very clever. To the X-Plane.OrgStore who supports this site with review products, service and updates, a really big thanks to Nicolas Taureau, as this site just also would not function without that outstanding support. _________________________ We will finish off with the X-PlaneReviews famous best of the year awards… So I will now list my Best of the Year 2023🏅 (note the awards are given to only products I have seen and tested and so the only ones I can vouch for) Overall Best of the Year : E-Jets Family Series by X-Crafts 🏅 🏅🏅 Best Aircraft : E-Jets Family Series by X-Crafts.🏅 A look into the future of X-Plane 12 quality and design, it jumped off the screen at you in the incredible detail. Honorable Mention : Any ToLiSS aircraft, just delivers on any level. Best General Aviation Aircraft : Aerobask Diamond DA-42 NG Aerobask were very consistent with quality aircraft and interiors, almost every release was perfection, but the DA-42 NG just nudged above Honorable Mentions : All Thranda Design output was excellent with clever ideas, but lately they have become incessantly dark, externally and internally. Best Classic Aircraft : A tie here, Felis Boeing 747-200 and Colimata Concorde FXB v3 Both the B742 and Concorde FXB are not new, but seriously improved over the year with X-Plane 12, both seriously complex as well. Honorable Mention : P-51 Mustang from Khamsin and Skunkworks, glad to see new fresh blood in the water. Best Business Aircraft : Cessna Citation 560XL XP12 by AirSim3d We said it would be great in X-Plane 12, and it is, but the category overall was below par this year. Aerobask Falcon 6X anyone. Best Military : F-104 Starfighter by Colimata 🏅 Insanely clever and insane to fly, it is X-Plane at it's Skunkworks best. Honorable Mention : AoA T-7A Red Hawk, certainly the most improved of the year. Best Helicopter : Eurocopter EC130 B4 by HSF 🏅 The talented Frenchmen made a big impact on Helicopters this year with the EC130, and with the freeware Alouette III Honorable Mentions : Dreamfoil Creations, with the XP12 transition of his Schweizer S300CBi, the master was back! Best Landscape Scenery : Svalbard XP by Aerosoft Maps2XPlane🏅 Sublime and distant, all the Svalbard Islands were covered in detailed landscapes, just make sure to see them in the Summer. Honorable Mention : Dainese and Bellini condensed all their packages to make better products, brilliant in X-Plane 12, but nothing new on the shelves. Best Airport Scenery : KDEN - Denver International by X-Codr 🏅🏅 Not a new scenery, but KDEN was a totally revamped project that had everything, it was spellbinding in detail and clever animations. Honorable Mention : Taimodels delivered the most and detailed sceneries consistently, filling in areas that have been wanting for years. Best Plugin(s) : Skunkcrafts Standalone Updater Client 🏅 A plugin... it was, but still the biggest standout tool of the year, it's so fast! Special Mention(s) : Navigraph for their excellent navigation tools, and seriously clever new additions. Person(s) of the Year : ToLiSS The developer that just consistently delivers outstanding authentic ideas and systems, yes my vote goes to person that saves me days by reviving crashed or loading aircraft back to life perfectly, with the SAVE feature Best Moment of the year 2023 : Nothing really stood out, but the first viewing of X-Crafts E-Jet was mind-blowing. Worst Moment(s) of the Year 2023 : Not the worst, but the most embarrassing moment was the Asobo Studios/Microsoft reeling off the new features for FS 2024, they were almost gloating. Personally, when my Graphic Card expired because of an overloading X-Plane 12 vulkan device error, it was expensive to replace. Biggest distractions of 2023 : ... It was very dark in there.... pitchblack! Biggest overall feeling of 2023 : Tough hard year, but the outlook towards 2024 felt far better towards the end of 2023, X-Plane 12 was finally starting to shine, but it took a long time to get there. Personal Favorites of 2023 : Any ToLiSS (the save system allows ultimate flexibility) and they got the most hourly flying time, Q4XP (Dash) brilliant, Rotate MD-80 still awesome, MD-11 bigger awesome, Thranda C206G, IXEG 737 Classic returned with a cabin. Routes... Copenhagen, Copenhagen and Copenhagen, Dublin, Dusseldorf, Edinburgh, Vienna, Brussels, Barcelona, Roma, Helsinki, Oslo, Munich, Tel Aviv, London Heathrow and Dulles and Sydney. Notable is that with the newer scenery, Brisbane, Amsterdam finally came on-line in 2023. That is X-PlaneReviews for 2023, and we will be back after a very much needed recovery and the review site returns again early into the New Year on the 3rd January 2024. So Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year 2024 Stephen Dutton 23rd December 2023 Copyright:X-PlaneReviews 2023 (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)
  6. Behind the Screen : November 2023 Looking back through the "Behind the Screen" edition of 2023. One repeatable thing came up, I was always rallying against Laminar Research. Angry is not the right word, neither is enraged... frustrated maybe, but you can't really get antagonistic to a body of people that just has it's own course to run. I suppose that if Laminar Research did react to all the naysayers moaning including mine, that nothing would actually get done. But a frustrating year it has been (and it's not over yet). Looking back I will agree that Laminar got through a load of major issues, the timetable when followed, does actually cover most of the biggest issues at hand. There was also a few major turning points of the year, 12.04b1, late in February and certainly the 12.06 release in August. But in my over the decade with X-Plane, it was one of the hardest years I could remember, yes generally life has been hard in 2023, but along the way X-Plane 12 became a grind. Don't get me wrong here. X-Plane 12 is levels above X-Plane 11, going back there it feels flat and boring. So no doubt the sheer vibrancy of the upgraded Simulator is a something of a marvel. But why is it so hard to use? Having progressed in a timeline from X-Plane 9 to X-Plane 11, it was a nice progression of new features and overall a better simulator. Yes there was those bumps in the road, but it is nothing at all like X-Plane 12. The new version numbering system will probably bring in a reset of X-Plane 12, in v12.1.0, due on the anniversary of the release of the X-Plane 12 Simulator 17th December 2022. This version release should be the final roundup of the outstanding issues, those Minecraft square clouds, real weather improvements, bloom effects, cloud shadows, Contrast Adaptive Sharpening (CAS), Anti-Aliasing improvements, but looking at that list a full year on, it is actually quite long? After that going into 2024, certainly the Simulator will be finally in a stable form, with further actions in more of new (if small features) and upgraded avionics. So are we there finally, a stable and mature platform to do our flying on. Maybe, or I hope so. But for me in many ways it has been a wasted year has 2023, a long waiting period for things to get better, and more waiting until it did, but even at this late December date, X-Plane 12 is not quite, even a itsy bitsy still not quite there is it. Yes again we are again waiting for v12.1.0 to get the Simulator into a proper form and shape, a year on from it's release. We are always aware the X-Plane is always a work in progress, I accept that as part of the journey of being in Simulation or on any computer based game, but there is a difference between progress, and the basics not actually not working, and at the core of my rants, this has been the problem or my quandary with a certain Laminar Research. For years I couldn't land an aircraft, yes I am a Simulation content reviewer and I can't land aircraft? I practised, and I got very close, but over the years it all just felt just wrong? In X-Plane 12 I found the landings had just got even worse, in fact it was like landing on ice (it felt like taking off on ice as well). The complex conclusion was that maybe, just maybe I was "Shit" at it... honestly I have never flown a real aircraft in my life, but then again, that is why I jumped at this Simulation lark, to have a go, and hopefully to get good at it. After a decade or more of practising I though I was actually good at it, but too many of my landings were still laughable, with screaming tyres and weaving all over the runway... the real pilots don't do that (a few in training do), but overall they usually make a really good fist of the landing. Yes I blamed myself, thought that my skills were actually not good enough. Then something happened. Messers Austin Meyer, grand poobah of X-Plane was having a conversation with Jan, an airline pilot, who flies for Lufthansa, and noted that in X-Plane the aircraft when landing would slam the nose down... now anyone that has flown X-Plane as long as yours truly, I have witnessed what I call the "Extreme Gravity Yank", when at a certain height (no matter how light you are on the approach and in the flare), the "Hand of X-Plane God" would grab your aircraft and drag it quickly down and bang it into the runway, crashing it down, leaving you to control a wayward aircraft. It's not realistic, and have rallied against it for years and years, also it is "Bl**dy Obvious, to every one except Austin Meyer's and anyone at Laminar that it did this abnormal behaviour. Anyways he has fixed it, fixed the inertia of the landings. I put myself in a very nice little GA, did a clean takeoff, and went into a landing pattern, then came around to do a perfect landing, PERFECT, a totally sweet landing, on the centreline with clean braking... and have done so in flights ever since v12.08 was released. The point is, this is a basic action in aviation, in fact the most important action at the point of a landing, and Laminar has "only" just fixed it, JUST FIXED IT. You get my point, for years and years I have been thinking my landings (and takeoffs) were "totally Shit", and it wasn't me. And this comes back to the point of the X-Plane 12 release. The basics should have been resolved first, the focus should have been on the minute, not the big ticket items, and the shit weather and lighting should have been top of the list in being fixed. It has been a total roller-coaster year, admittedly the second half was far better than the first, but it has cost X-Plane a lot of momentum, mostly in delaying developer projects and transitions to the new X-Plane 12 platform. Am I happy with X-Plane 12? In some parts it is absolutely brilliant, but in others I'm not. The aircraft feel is not the same, but fine line jiggly in areas, and I am consistently messing around with my settings in trying to get a decent baseline. Go back to X-Plane 11 and that baseline is easily there, so it is not me, it is X-Plane 12. Lighting has been my major bugbear all year, with extremely dark cockpit screenshots, even external images sometimes need a very healthy 20% to 30% brightness. My job is to show you how things have changed or the details of the systems and instrumentation. But in many cases this year, the images coming out of X-Plane 12 are just not at all workable. And Laminar have taken away all our earlier lighting sliders that could make a difference, in fact you basically have no control of your graphics at all in X-Plane today, it's a sort of Supnic (slap) to keep your hands off. Yes there are 3rd party tools that you can use to change X-Plane, but the premise is that it should be in there anyway. Please don't tell me to change the Nvida settings, because it doesn't work, makes your monitor brighter or more colourful, but not the screenshots coming out of the simulator. Playing with X-Plane's lighting is a load of tricks to get the required images, and I'm very good at it, but I can only twist the lighting so far. Hopefully that the v12.1.0 release will finally give us more options with the lighting. Don't mention the rain, and I loved the mention of not making it look like a Star Wars "Hyperspace Jump"... that one had me rolling on the floor. Annoyingly looking at the images coming out of X-Plane 12 as they are all quite sensational, so real world realistic, they in many cases have taken my breath away... the flipside of X-Plane 12's brilliance. Laminar has also finally admitted that the DSF scenery is now almost 20 years old? twenty years, that is 2003, two years after the Twin Towers fell, and they have replaced them with another one since then. First they are going to fix the bugs in DSF and what can we do but put then put more stuff into DSF? but those DSFs are still decades old, its like piling shit on top of shit to make it look better. But Laminar have finally admitted that also looking at what comes after DSF, and finally reckoned they have reached a point where they have ideas of stuff we'd like to do that goes beyond the current scenery system, well "yay Bl**dy hey". Like the transition from OpenGL to Vulkan/Metal, changing the DSF's it's a(nother) big core change to the Simulator, so it is not going to happen soon, but at least it is finally up there on the "to-do" list, but is it high enough on the list that says "priority", again this is Laminar Research and they have a tendency to not focus on the fundamentals, they also admitted to spending more time in chasing the Professional Training Market, getting rid of stutters and giving you the required smooth Simulation. So will that mean that again the more important issues will go on the backburner while trying to satisfy a very minority market. Yes the Pro market does have great accolades in selling a Flight Simulator, a sort of "Stamp of Approval" on the certification of the software, but it's also a bit of a double-standard when the weather is not at all realistic and when you couldn't land a plane realistically, you see the point, without the basics right (which to be honest was always Laminar's forte), you are never going to catch the attention of the big boys. The problem is with Laminar Research is they mean well, they really do, and have always punched well above their weight. But sometimes a bit more focus on the basics would help not only themselves, but for us the users as well. I never wanted to berate them, not every month on month, certainly when like most they are "really trying their level best" to deliver a sensational Simulator, one that everyone can afford and use. But their priorities need to be more focused, not so widely scatterbrained, I mean am I really interested in Austin's N844X, or a replacement propeller for his Lancair Evolution. Someone noted I should lighten up on this, go with the flow more, but after this 2023 and all the painful struggles throughout the year, I'm not laughing at all. Sadly it comes out here in my thoughts on each month and that became the tone of the year. So could 2024 become a reset for X-Plane 12. If the v12.1.0 does deliver it does have the potential to create a new starting point, and that totally depends on Laminar getting the weather elements finally right, not just the clouds. It's certainly come a long way in six months, but the wind elements are still there, snow with the Northern Winter is now important as well. For me I am going to take this attitude over the (short) break. I usually service the computers, and do my annual year file and backup... but more so this year, as I'm going to totally clean out X-Plane, throw away the current version, and reload in a totally fresh copy, even dumping my years old keyboard and joystick prefs, a hard one as they are time-consuming to reset. But I want a totally vanilla clean setup to start 2024, totally fresh, get rid of all the junk and hubris that build up in the files, you would be surprised on how much waste you accumulate over a year, then sing at the top of my voice "Auld Lang Syne" and let 2023 be long forgotten. As usual there will be no December "Behind the Screen" 2023 issue, but our full yearly round up of the year 2023 review is to be published on 22nd December 2023, so watch out for that. Stephen Dutton 5th December 2023 Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews
  7. Behind the Screen : October 2023 Developers have been in my thoughts lately. Those creative souls that disappear for a year or two, then reappear with something amazing, something you can immerse yourself in, also to look at the incredible detail and wonder how it was all created and designed. I have also come to a conclusion. Developers are the soul of a simulator, the life blood as well. Not the simulator developers, although obviously they are important, but the aircraft and scenery developers that produce a constant stream of products that keeps you flying. What would happen if they didn't produce their work, add to the vitality of the Simulation, the answer is that very quickly the Simulator would wither and die, most would point out there is still enough in there to keep on flying, the free stuff, so why worry about that. But I do and sometimes at night. The reason for the worry beads is that if you look over the last decade of development of the X-Plane Simulator, and it was always the developer pioneering aspect that drove the Simulation forwards. Every great step forward and innovation came from their agile minds. Set yourself in 2013 and in X-Plane 10, and then look at your X-Plane 12 universe now. The differences are very expansive, it is really is a totally different environment, the feel and the detail. I have rode that explosive development trail, wondered at the marvels the developers have created and shared, a good example will be the original Boeing 777 from FlightFactor, totally overwhelming for it's time, but below average today... soon the new v2 B777 will be released, and you won't even begin to compare the two. But the new version will be more expensive, maybe even over that barrier of US$100. Yes a few aircraft are already priced above that $100 barrier, but soon will it become the normal? There are several problems facing developers, a weakening market and inflation. But before we go there, there was another big debate around Upgrades. First let us note that Upgrades are for payment, and Updates are for free. When X-Plane 11 was released, the word "Upgrade" was barely visible. Then developers gradually crept in these financial changes. Obviously there was an uproar. X-Plane users expected with a purchase the updates were to be there for life. Another source of income for Developers, was extensions, in buying a basic package, but then to get a different variant or extra features you had to pay to get access. FlightFactor took both to the extreme, certainly with the extensions, with so many packages and options, they even outnumbered the size of the review. Both options are now the normal. As the X-Plane 12 revolution came around, you found that most developers did do a "Upgrade" transition with this version change, so you got a fair discount on the newly updated aircraft or scenery. The few just updated X-Plane 12 products however were mostly just basic X-Plane 12 changes with no new features or even aircraft revisions. Again most complained that it wasn't fair to pay for something they had already purchased with the Upgrades, but that isn't fair to the developers which either way you looked at it. The X-Plane 12 metamorphosis is in reality a bigger change for the X-Plane Simulator than any in the past. Yes we have new features and better dynamics and now amazing weather options. But the change is bigger than that of what it looks on the surface. As long as I have been in X-Plane of over a decade, the Simulator went in a certain direction, but basically the old (in my case the huge collection) of aircraft and scenery would be passed over from one X-Plane version to the next. But X-Plane 12 is different, as that phase really came to an end. Yes a lot of the collections of scenery do still work in X-Plane 12, but for the first time, it was also showing their very dated age. Also the default WED Gateway scenery is improving year on year, but it would never ever replace a well modeled 3d custom scenery. Also this time was that X-Plane aircraft were also affected, only really the best of the best have been transitioned to X-Plane 12, so again a lot of decade old aircraft are now retired. A few survived by MODS, in users fixed broken areas of X-Plane 12 functionality, they work, but not as complete as they were in X-Plane 10/11. Sadly a lot of these early developer projects are now also gone or retired, but most really couldn't keep up with the exorbitant changes to the modeling quality and features required to compete in today's market. Was it best to completely remodel and design a new aircraft or to walk away, a lot bit down and recreated a better product, like X-Crafts with their sensation E-Jet Family Series, but a lot of developers just don't have the talent or the time to go to such extremes. Thankfully there are new Developer entrants, creating new aircraft, but their learning curve to high quality products is very long, and a still really a Work in Progress, but that is okay, as at least they are in there, creating a future for X-Plane and a reputation for themselves. This is the trick. Once a developer created aircraft and scenery (even plugins) as a sole output. You could learn PlaneMaker or WED (WorldEditor) and create a product. The only things you needed was the basic skills and a bit of talent. But today that era is very much gone. Only teams or a group of developers can create product, most specialise on a particular area of the design, say Modeling or Systems, but the basic number you require now is usually around three developers on a project. The sole developers time was expanding out as well, an aircraft that could a decade ago could take two years, became three then four as the work required escalated, again a team can split off portions and reduce the development time back to a reasonable 18 months to two years. But if you have invested in a team. Then the product has to be more expensive to cover the returns to distribute a fair share to each team member for their input. Prices to be honest in X-Plane have been very gradual, most X-Plane 11 $25 aircraft are now $35 to $40, the middle sector between $50 to $65 has been steady for years, then the upper sector of between $65 to $80 has also been very steady if rock solid. But the amount of detail and features delivered has gone through the roof, in fact tripled in the last five years, and the system depth is extraordinary, but expected in the higher cost categories. Significantly today the X-Plane 12 Simulator price has gone up US$20 to $79.99 from $59.99, after a long decade at the old price, so we have now arrived at an impasse. Can we still expect more for the same, and the ongoing accumulation of even more features and quality for the same cost? If you want these features and depth of systems, then you will have to pay more for them. But what of that price barrier, can products be priced higher and not lose sales... the problem is that developers with their time and resources are getting closed in from both sides. The freewheeling past is being confronted by the mid-twenties inflation reality, and something will have to give. One point maybe that we will have less to choose from, but at a far higher quality, because we always expect the better, better with each release. Aerosoft tried with their ATR a hybrid cheap aircraft, with restricted systems. That idea didn't fly well (Pun Intended), personally I hated it, it felt under developed, and we are still waiting for a decent ATR Turboprop Series years later (yes there is finally one in development), but as you can see, you can't cost cut on features and systems either. The worry is that current great developers would walk away. Expectation can be a terrible thing, "I want more for the same or less", will not work now going forward. Being a Developer is also being a businessman, at the top of list is profit, or to at least get a remuneration for the years of work put in, or to a least keep the team together to create more products, developers are the unsung hero's of the Simulator world, but they also have their own realistic real world limitations. In X-Plane 12 going forward we have to change our attitude. If we want expansive clever products then we will have pay more for them, plus if a developer asks cap in hand for an Upgrade cost, then you should be willing to pay for the extra work and service provided of what that upgrade cost will deliver. It goes the other way as well, the developer has to deliver a high quality product and deliver updates over the required time of the new version of the Simulator, then don't bunk out and say sayonara when ever it pleases them, but let the product be ongoing in development by another developer. The X-Plane Simulator has over the years created it's own doctrine, what was expected, will always seem to be. But I think that the change to X-Plane 12 will be a more significant change as the earlier attitudes and the use of the Simulator, will have to accommodate the more realistic changes this time for the future, to allow the Simulator to not only thrive, but even to survive. Expectation is a horrible word, and that attitude needs to change... so let us see T-Shirts with the slogan "Support your local X-Plane 12 Developer", and wear it with pride, but also to put your money to where it counts, for X-Plane's future, or they may just walk away. See you all next month. Stephen Dutton 1st November 2023 Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews
  8. Behind the Screen : September 2023 The one thing I'm not is in being a negative person. I always see the light, even beyond the darkness. But I understand and accept that for the first half of 2023, my outlook has been continually dismal towards X-Plane and Laminar Research. I expected a lot of 2023, I had cleared my system totally out and ready for the 2023 year, but the first two weeks of January, it set a precedent for the year. A major hardware restriction, as my extremely good and loyal graphic card was suddenly now not being powerful enough to run X-Plane 12, in causing "Vulkan device loss" errors, and it was an expensive upgrade to fix. I'm not going to go on about this, but in reality the impact highlighted Laminar's non-communication of what X-Plane 12's requirements really were. Yes they put out as they usually do the minimum requirements for the new version's specifications. But looking back from this point of the now current relative stable running conditions, in reality the specs were way out. Lets not get too excited on that X-Plane 12 could or should of stayed the same performance wise. Every simulator update has classically required upgrades to your hardware to run the more feature loaded new version, certainly were weather or effects are concerned or to the more processor power that is always required, it is a given. I knew in early 2022 that X-Plane 12 would need or require a more powerful computer, or better hardware performance and invested as such into the system, with a new Asus motherboard and expensive (for then) new Intel 2th Gen IS1700 Core i7 12700K chips. These choices were in context with information that Laminar at the time were noting that a lot of the processing currently being done on the graphic card would be moved or shifted over to the processors to take the pressure loading off the graphic cards, and to put more power into the more modern and efficient multi-threaded processing chips, in other words, to even out the overall processing to be more balanced than just weighted heavily on graphic cards, plus the faster processing on the chips meant more systems were accessible to X-Plane 12. In X-Plane 11's later years you almost needed a separate computer with a mega graphic card and a factory sized cooling system installed just to run the simulator in full settings mode. The idea that X-Plane 12 could be a more efficient simulator by taking and using the newer Vulkan/Metal API capabilities, and then using them to their full potential was very encouraging, if even a help on the wallet costs. In July last year just weeks away from release, the Laminar conversation mood then suddenly changed (or flipped back), as powerful Graphic cards were noted as being still needed for the heavy processing with the new simulator version. More oddly with the beta "Early Access", I had absolutely no issues or restrictions of computer power in running the early beta versions of X-Plane 12 on my old card, as everything ran like an effortless bird in flight. But with the X-Plane 12 formal release in mid-December on 17th December 2022, which I missed with the Christmas/New Year break, when I had returned in early January the updated X-Plane 12 release it just didn't feel right, the computer was sluggish, weather was horrible, winds were off the scale. My theory (mine alone) was in trying to get more framerate to satisfy the complainers, Laminar had pushed the boundaries too far. I went from framerates (with my old graphic card) of 35 fr, suddenly they were down to a lineball 20 fr, with no menu graphic changes, the computer started slurring, then the inevitable "Vulkan device loss" errors started popping up, in that I had never had them even once before the X-Plane 12 official release. Did I burn my graphic card out? a good question, but X-Plane 11 at the time still ran perfectly and well under the limits and exactly like it had before the X-Plane 12 release on the same card and settings. To run a review site, I had no choice but to upgrade my graphic card to meet the higher requirements of X-plane 12, in other words I had to do a complete system upgrade to cater for the new Simulator version, my point is I was always middle field before on system requirements, but suddenly I was at minimum requirements with no headroom. The hardware changes were worth certainly worth the effort, but my unexpected bank balance was also seriously feeling the pain. Another element in the weather was also then causing pain. High winds proved you couldn't fly normally at altitude. Aircraft compensated via flickering aerodynamic surfaces, so in flights you were bounced around for two or so hours at a time, and it all looked very unrealistic. Worse was that you couldn't dial it out, and reviewing aircraft like in this state was absolutely useless. Switching to a manual weather mode caused the high irregular winds to still stick around at ground level, so you were faced sometimes with offset 35 knot winds on side when in trying to land. If you could lock in a calm day, you took it, then used it for many a review until it failed again, but that was unrealistic as well... then you lost the weather altogether when the "GRIB_get_field failed", in other words the NOAA or "NOAA Operational Model Archive and Distribution System", shutdown, mostly on public holidays where simulations loads were at their highest usage. Lately in the Development blog, Ben Supnic has finally noted that NOAA is a unreliable source and a secondary backup source is being created to cover the breaks in the service, which should have been noted and implemented well before X-Plane 12 was released. But overall my biggest struggle in X-Plane 12 has been the lighting, or the complete lack of it? X-Plane 12 is dark, very dark to work with. We are and I have noted often here the issues with "Dark Cockpits", and the later fix of lighting up the view lower instrument panel to compensate. But it goes far deeper than that. My problem are the images coming out of X-Plane 12 to create reviews. All X-Plane images from time immortal are darker coming out of the simulator via the screenshot function, usually an 10% brightness is required to adjust them back to normal. But X-Plane 12 is requiring 30% and + more brightness to make them look even credible, that sort of brightness obviously blows out the other light, say the windscreen light when looking at a dark cockpit. It doesn't look natural, and a lot of the adjusted images get a washed out black and white look, even normal flying creates a whited out windscreen, to which I have been using the Sunglasses feature lately to tone it down a little. Worse darkness was created by the light in not shining between the clouds, in other words everything was dull, except for using an absolute clear sky, which is again unrealistic, and the aircraft and even scenery were all very dull in view, and you couldn't get any life into the modeling or show off the detail. Thranda Aircraft react the worse to this effect. Their excellent industrial process creates an effect that reacts to the look of the object in the simulator, “Diffuse Light”, “Diffusion”, “Subsurface Scattering” are all aspects of Physically-based rendering or PBR, but here it totally works against you. Creating black holes of nothing with no detail, and you can't dial it out either. I know I have tried. Most users would note to change the settings (in my case) Nvida graphic settings... but that is not the way it works. Yes you can adjust the graphic settings to create the perfect image on your monitor, but those graphic settings don't actually affect the simulator, it still takes the same (darker) images no matter what it looks like on your monitor, and the internal simulator lighting is only affected by your weather, season and time settings, except for a totally clear sky. In the old days in X-Plane you could actually adjust the simulator brightness via the graphic sliders (gamma), but that option was taken away years ago, adjusting the Ambient Occlusion Quality to zero will reduce shadows, but will still not give you light into the simulator, so basically you hands are tied because the images screenshot is taken at the basic level of the simulator. There are visual tricks you can use to create light on an object (or aircraft model), a lot work, but doing all these adjustments per image for doing a review is time-consuming and not very work-flow friendly, so I have seriously struggled for the first six months of the year with all these complications... in other words, I wasn't a "Happy Bunny". Which brings us to the v12.06 release. First of all, don't think I don't like the X-Plane 12 lighting engine, because it is really good, excellent in fact. Images coming out of X-Plane 12 have a realism we only dreamed of only a few years ago, it looks and it is sensationally gorgeous. The lighting engine creates a reality of real presence in the aircraft and it's place in the world, this is a simulator, but the changes to your artificial environment here is quite spectacular, in other words, when it works it really does "blow you away", and big time. It makes X-Plane 12 a real serious contender as a great realistic simulator. It dragged on, but the (very) late v12.06/7 release has fixed a lot of the woes. Mostly the fix to the top level (Cirrus) clouds were a godsend, because they finally let the light flow (filter?) down to the lower levels, plus the light also flows on now between the clouds and thankfully lighting up the aircraft (model) below... it's not perfect yet, as you can still be greyed out even with a clear sky, but overall the lighting model does finally work. With the better reflective light, it now gives you more options in the cockpit to get the images you want, again it is not perfect, but the lighting is far, far better than we had six months ago, even two months ago. My initial reaction that the gains of X-Plane v12.06/7 would not last long (which shows my faith in Laminar), but to be told, six weeks after it is still shining nicely, and the test flights taken in between have been excellent, now I'm finally a "Happy Bunny", even a smooth simulation from "block to block" is now actually available in the Simulator, and with no damaging inbetween CTD's (Crash to Desktops). But it's been a very long road to get here, almost twelve months after the initial release of X-Plane 12beta and eight months after even the official release of X-Plane 12. So is that aspect still too long to get to a reliable running simulation. Yes you expect changes and "bumps in the road" with any beta process, and yes as noted any Simulator is a consistent work in progress, I get that, lived that aspect for a decade or so. But nine months after an official release to get a relatively stable flying platform is just simply too long, not fixed, and only now are Laminar Research looking at the refining stage and fixing things that should have been done months ago. It's great to have a stable simulator running up to Christmas, the promise now completed. ADD-ons in Aircraft and Scenery can now be completed and released in time for the holiday season, all can be enjoyed without another massive change coming along, although the Dev Blog notes... "flight-model and systems, plus external-visual networking and some ATC features"... flight-model changes? again? what to do if your a developer, sit it out or release and react, dumb... these areas, like the lighting, weather and everything else, should have been stable from the version release point, or nine months ago? Good news is that Ben Supnic is making pirate jokes again, always a good sign, as he has been missing lately for long periods of time, so has his humour, and that aspect shows everything was not all "Hunky Dory" behind the scenes either. I'm not saying perfection, but you do require a stable base to build up on, the X-Plane simulator in X-Plane 12 form deserves that at least, everyone from users, to developers, and to everyone that supports the Simulator deserves that as well... See you all next month Stephen Dutton 2nd October 2023 Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews
  9. Behind the Screen : August 2023 As you are aware, there was no "Behind the Screen" edition for July 2023. Two reasons, one it was the X-PlaneReviews 10th Anniversary, or 10 years of posting reviews on this site, and we are pretty proud of making that significant milestone. It is hard to do that in this really fast electronic environment, change is massive, coming at you all the time, then throw in a pandemic, and everything goes really screwball. More on that in a minute. Second reason for a no show, and for me being non-posting for nearly two weeks was... I had to move house, and quickly. It's not fun to move house (or unit here in Australia), so the system was packed down, then rebuilt again 5 km away. Nothing got lost (well maybe a bit of my sanity), but an odd thing happens on that life changing journey. You sort of clean away the old, and let in the new. If you want to dwell on circumstance, that moving home on the very day the site was started exactly a decade later, should be considered significant. Overall it makes you take stock. Interesting was the fact that the Ten Year Anniversary post was done on a laptop, in an almost cleared out empty room, and not like this post, at my usual position at the same desk, with my usual iMac and massive 32" monitor, with a completely different view out of my open doors (four floors up and now looking over a lake). The Laptop post was also the only post in a decade that was different from the usual. You can dwell on it, surmise the situation, but overall it denotes change. The other change is significant as well, for Simulation. If you wanted again to be very critical of circumstance, then the last few years in Simulation were just as big as a total upheaval for our surrounding Simulation environment as well. Basically we hate change, but also want to move forward, the next big thing or that new, new... which is a total paradox, not wanting anything to ruin what you already have, but also wanting it to change, obviously to the better. But the last four years has been a complete upheaval. Massive changes, and not just to Simulation, but also to the complete world around us as well. My best friend said, "It's not the pandemic I fear, but what comes after it", and she was absolutely right. We sat through the pandemic, but the shear colossal changes ongoing currently are far more consequential, certainly we will never be the same, some good, but also a lot bad, in time we will note this point in history as an upheaval of the world, there would be before the event, and now after it. And everyone in some way got affected by it, and really nobody got away unscathed. X-Plane also turned on a dime. No doubt the reintroduction of MSFS or Microsoft Flight Simulator has changed the landscape (no pun intended). But the timing for X-Plane didn't help either. At the end of one version run (X-Plane 11), and a very late development cycle for X-Plane 12, it fell into a hole, but the external real world Influences didn't help the situation either. Money is not as free-flowing as it was four years ago, wallets are now tight, so pick and choosing product becomes even a more important situation... value and quality is now more than ever the important questions for a long lived investment, so X-PlaneReviews reporting is also now more important on making sure the money goes to the said value and quality. Users will say "Most stuff I get is free, anyway". To a point they are right, but not totally, as doing "Free" always comes with compromises. Unfortunately I don't personally like compromises. I like it right, realistic and it adds value to my Simulation experience. If I have ever had to go "Free", it always comes with those compromised conditions, say a non-completed (meaning non-working) aircraft or scenery that is sort of like the real one, but also in not being photo looking like the real environment I'm supposed to takeoff and land from. That aspect totally ruins (for me) the whole idea of what I am ultimately trying to achieve, meaning real world flying in a Simulator, or as close to a real world environment that I can get... nothing annoys me more than having an aircraft in not to doing what it should do, mostly in the basics of flight and the controls, or crappy airports made of blocked facades. There was released an Airbus A220-100 recently, a model really with no cockpit? "Why?" really what is the point of releasing (yes a very pretty external model) but with no cockpit? That is just stupid or dumb. I at least want an aircraft I can fly or can use out of the box, yes there maybe bugs, even downright obvious ones, but the basics are there, working and useable. A small note on this conversation is in the fact of older aircraft, or classics. As we move forward to another X-Plane version, in most cases a lot of beloved simulation gets left behind. Hopefully developers will update their aircraft and scenery. But in a lot of cases we loose important pieces of our X-Plane world... a few come to mind, Carenado obviously, Aerosoft sceneries (still crying over the lost Aerosoft Bergen). In fact 12 months on and Aerosoft haven't updated one scenery to X-Plane 12, that's poor business, and hell it's probably why Mathijs Kok left Aerosoft for PMDG. It's now nearly twelve months since the X-Plane 12 (beta) release, and nine months into 2023 after the X-Plane Release in December 2022. And although this massive version change has happened, X-Plane 12 is now only starting to move again (or say Takeoff, yes pun intended), I want to show the full impact of that year, and that post will be coming on the year's anniversary of the X-Plane 12 release on 6th September 2023, called "State of the Union", it sums up the full year's development. So change is coming, accept it, the new, new, but there are still things I don't want to lose from the past, they were important then, as they are now... so not everything should be thrown away with change, and a lot of people should take stock of that aspect, when it's gone it is gone... like forever. Then in time they realise that in doing those immediate selfish actions, they also lose a bit of themselves. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 3rd September 2023 Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews
  10. Behind the Screen : June 2023 The FlightSimExpo in Houston June 23rd-25th 2023, in a way dominated June 2023. Basically it was a waiting month, waiting not only for the promised new v12.06 release, but also for the expo itself, and in what would be announced and shown off at the annual American event. It was interesting as well, because for the first time both Microsoft with their recently announced FSMS 2024, and Laminar Research also attending with X-Plane 12, now starting to mature, it was the clash of the Flight Simulator titans... or was it? Neither platforms were listed for a seminar, which changed last minute with Microsoft taking the moment to expand more on the their 2024 release features... Laminar, well nothing, as that Austin Meyer nor Ben Supnic were not even present in Houston, just the PR guy, and wonder boy Phillpp. The X-Plane presentation stand however was very successful, as the event had the highest attendance ever for a Flight Simulator expo. Microsoft were throwing around early Christmas presents at pretty everyone who had a MSFS account, with a very nice Boeing 307 Stratoliner to add into your hangar... the amount of releases currently for MSFS is staggering, but also getting a little silly. Coming soon are Pandas, some Lions as well? I mean unless you want a real dumb co-pilot (what about monkeys for X-Plane), what on earth are Pandas doing in a Flight Simulator? or what connection are these animals (except for the odd very low pass) in having them in there and taking up your valuable framerate? Microsoft are also promising to take more of your simulator away from you as well. They want to reduce more on what you download to your computer, and stream more from their cloud network. You can see where this is going. As MSFS will be in time just a cloud platform with your addons kept in folders, it is all very game like, and to hope you have a wide and fast internet connection. It was interesting that almost every exhibitor at the Houston Expo was running at their core X-Plane, not MSFS, why because it is far better to have the simulator in a box running your wares, streaming in another simulator to the expo would have been hard, so to mention that all the "Hard Core" Flight Simmers, are actually using X-Plane and not MSFS is a very good sign of where the platforms are performing. It really didn't help at all though that Laminar were again well behind the 8 Ball, I waited (very patiently) for the release of version v12.06, Laminar told us it was coming very, very soon... but nothing was released, to date it is still not released, and Laminar even now playing down the version as not one to get truly excited about? Honestly I was not very happy about this one, and yes Laminar may have hit a snag on the release, but "come on", if it's not important then put the "damn" thing out, it wasn't a great look at the Expo or in the world of Flight Simming. Basically Laminar are now missing every target set, okay I admit in the grand scheme of things it is not a big deal, you are always waiting for an update or change to any simulator, but it feels we are still in beta, not a final released version of X-Plane 12, I won't mention the wonky bulky clouds if you won't. I recommend to read Dominic Smith's (of X-PlaneReviews) interview with Austin Meyers. It was an excellent piece of interviewing in not getting thrown off by the usual PR fluff from Austin Meyer. He notes there are 25 people now at Laminar, but most work on the site or in PR, Laminar has greatly increased there behind the site team, and yes there has been a few new coders, but the core team still does 80% of the heavy lifting. To be fair X-Plane is a much more varied Simulator than MSFS. That in the box element is important, but the platform has to support a bigger range of users and elements. MSFS is a single pipe (Windows), were as X-Plane is three, plus for support for VR (Virtual Reality), Over at Asobo the VR team they have actually been disbanded (VR) to work on other aspects of the game (note the word game). For home builders with multiple screens, the X-Plane is still the place to go to. So Austin emphasized how hard it is to cover all the different aspects of all the different elements that makes up the X-Plane Simulator. But the complexity is showing on how hard they are struggling to keep all the different elements working together, this is not the old Xplane9 days, but X-Plane 12 complexity. Size and scale are actually quite important aspects to the simulator, but you need to cross continents, while being aware of the minute stones and gravel on a runway, that is of course an immense scale, and very hard to get right But to be honest with you... sitting around at 38,000ft and looking at weird clouds and strange formations, I wasn't particularly impressed six months out from the official release of X-Plane12, then with the no show up at the Expo, and I wasn't a very happy bunny... expecting too much? Well in this case no. Because I believe the basic fundamentals should be fixed first, in this case the sky and clouds elements. When I first looked at MSFS 2020 the one thing that really blew me away was the weather system, it looked not only totally realistic (even if the clouds didn't actually move) but it looked like a real sky. On the X-Plane beta release, I didn't have the same feeling about the X-Plane clouds or the sky colours, it looked... well slightly off or not very real. But laminar are keeping very much to the set program with their updates and versions, the patterns are easy to see, 12.01 was mostly a clean up of the leftover details from the release, 12.02 was for Memory leaks, 12.03 brought you the extra DSF files or better scenery fill missing in the release, 12.04 another minute fill in, plus the introduction of the Zink mode, 12.05 concentrated on the AirbusA330 with a functional MCDU and a major updates to the default aircraft... plus in every release there has been the odd adjustment for the weather, mostly in v12.04r3 that fixed the nasty top level winds, then fixing the Gribb Files for a few days later. So it's been a pretty rough run to date, and v12.06 is supposed to be a bigger update with no zebra-stripes and those funky real weather cloud pyramids, plus better cirrus clouds on the top layer, you can see why I'm screaming for it, and was so disappointed it didn't appear at the Expo. It would have created the situation that, yes finally X-Plane 12 is maturing, through the beta's, through the early bumps in the road, and finally actually to being a workable simulator, yes it's fine now you say? but honestly this aspect should have been priority from the moment X-Plane 12 was released back at Christmas 2022. The one area that you could have leveled with MSFS 2020, is taking ages to come to your simulator. Like I said, it is easy to sit here and complain, getting a decent working weather system is not going to easy from scratch, so yes I will give Laminar some leeway in that aspect, but the money should have gone into it from day one. Basically it is six months behind, or should have been ready with the X-Plane 12 release... knowing our luck v12.06 will come out straight after I post this article, it is as noted at the Expo, due two weeks after or coming this weekend 15th/16th July. But that is not the point, at the Expo, Laminar missed a great opportunity to show how X-Plane 12 could have been a great alternative to MSFS with v12.06, it was actually very successful with punters on the ground, but it could have been a whole lot better. I don't want these monthly post to turn into rants, that is boring, but I do want X-Plane to be enjoyed by users out there and know they are getting at least a solid mature simulator, all simulators are a "work in progress" a never ending stream of changes and updates, "I get that", and as Austin Meyers noted in the interview, nobody pushes harder than the man himself, wants more or demands more of his team, but sometimes you have to put the money of where it does the most good. ATC is a great example... ... ATC in X-Plane 10/11 was a mess, nobody could fix it, nobody in Laminar could make it work. So for X-Plane 12 Meyer's finally gave in and bought in an outsider (now an insider) called Jim Keir. Jim then totally revamped and rebuilt the ATC in X-Plane 12, and guess what it works, not perfect, a note that there is another huge update coming for the ATC (yes, you guessed it) in v12.06! but the point I'm making is that specific areas need specific talents, the old one of that one that fits all just won't work with these huge complex simulators anymore, resources get stretched and the results are these long development times. Weather should have been the top of the list in priority, just one look at MSFS 2020 on it's release would have simply told you that.... I hope you enjoy v12.06... when it finally arrives. A small note on using the Zibo Boeing 737-800 mod. The Zibo is an aircraft that I haven't flown a lot, to be honest. I always found it a little too buggy for my tastes. Another flight from BNE to MEL before Christmas said another tail of woe. I had barely reached the end of my departure SID, before... yes you guessed it, it did a nasty CTD. It's odd to load as well, you have to load another aircraft (default B738), then load in the Zibo, or it freezes on the X-Plane loading phase of "Building World", annoying, plus you can still also get CTD if you set a autosave flight. But I persevered this time, and enjoyed the experience in flying up to Savlbard, up there deep into the arctic circle. In these encounters, you can see why you do Simulation, the flying, the exploring... when it all comes together it is very satisfying thing for your soul... yes I like being in the Zibo 737, it is very good now, but wish the fine tuning could be well... a bit finer. I liked it so much I'm doing another flight from Brisbane (YBBN) to Bali (WADD), and one flight that has been on my bucket list for awhile, if I make it, then the Zibo will stay in the hangar, if it doesn't then it may be parked again for another time. Update... the Zibo goes back into hangar it failed to pass the test. I noted last month I was going to do an X-Plane 12 overview to date, but the required v12.06 update didn't happen, so the article is still waiting, so now that report will be passed on to the first anniversary release of the X-Plane 12 Simulator See you all next month. Stephen Dutton 12th July 2023 Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews
  11. Behind the Screen : May 2023 Not many review sites expose their inner workings. But I believe (as I have since my first reviews), that to go forward in any concept (in this case an Aircraft Simulator) that it is a learning process. To see how we do and deal with day to day involvement with the simulator, you can then make choices with your interaction with your own simulator. Yes I spend a lot of time per week doing X-Plane simulation... interaction means accessing new product, keeping the simulator in a good working order (filing and updates), which oddly can be quite time consuming, learning new concepts relating to the simulator, and also learning the details of the aircraft that are being simulated. I went through that review process last month. But on average I am using X-Plane around seven hours a day for six days a week in one capacity or another, which adds up to 42 hours a week, that is a lot of time to be in a simulator, but weirdly I don't yet find it boring or uninteresting, in fact quite the opposite. So yes the point here with BtheS and most importantly in the reviews is that as a user you can take away information we have learnt and passed on to you, again I believe that yes you want to know the latest information on a new or updated/upgrade releases. But more importantly you take away details that can short cut the learning curve, to getting to the core of the flying or interacting more quickly with the simulator, and most importantly the aircraft. Yes I admit I do tutorials as part of the review process, I call them "Short Cuts", or the way that you can follow the process to learn how it works in an edited form. For example the release of the FlyJSim Q4XP (Dash Q400) had a brand new style of FMS (Flight Management System) called UNS-1Ew Flight Management System. The concept of the FMS (or user layout) is quite different (in using numbered lines) to program the FMS with Flight (Route) details and Performance elements, plus the added elements that are important like X-FILL or Crossfill between the left and right FMS consoles. It is quite deep in interaction information. But here X-PlaneReviews we showed you how to programme the UNS-1 in an edited version. Obviously you can download the official Universal UNS-1 manual and go down in deeper into the "nic nacks" of the UNS-1 system, but to get you airborne and flying the Q4XP as soon as possible, then that tutorial is right there for you to digest. Yes I admit the tutorial adds on a fair bit of length to the review, should the tutorial section even be in a review, and not be set out as a separate tutorial? I will answer that aspect in that putting the tutorial within the review ACTUALLY it keeps it in context with that aircraft. And in most cases I refer to an older review with inserted tutorials if required from another review. As it also keeps the timeline correct of when in X-Plane that new technology or feature was released for the Simulator. I myself will go back to usually the original release review, to reflect the way to trigger my skills. These are again as mentioned last month my "Oh yes" I remember that aspect now, so it is also a stored information bank to access anytime I want to do an update/upgrade review and get my head back into that particular aircraft's cockpit and idiosyncratic natures. So it can take time to not only review (assess) a new aircraft, but to context it's new features and even it's impact on the X-Plane Simulator. Yes some releases are extremely exciting, as they do push the boundaries forward, introduce new ideas and features in to the simulator. These elements have to be analyzed and then explained to yourselves of why they are important, and the relevancy to X-Plane and the Simulator as a whole. These aspects are even more important when you have a generational change, like the period we are in now in X-Plane moving from the older (but mature) X-Plane 11 to the more dynamic X-Plane 12. Time is your biggest factor. Yes it would be wonderful to spend loads of time "Deep Diving" into aircraft systems and performance, but you simply don't have that precious time, as there is always a deadline to adhere to. Another point is that with reviews you can't cover absolutely everything in every aircraft, every single time in each review. We cover or focus mainly on the changes and features of the release, but as some aircraft are totally and noticeable highly detailed, so how do you cover all those elements without getting boring. Worse is that "feature escalation", means a lot of new features and details to cover. Go back only five years, and then look at the releases today to notice the compounding differences between aircraft releases. Reviews were mostly three day affairs, but today a week or even two is required to cover all the detailed points on a high quality, feature rich release. Which brings us to May... On average in X-Plane you can expect a major release (meaning completely new) about every two months, or about seven major releases a year, the rest are updates and upgrades to currently released aircraft. (at this point in time there are an abundunce of X-Plane 12 conversions). So you might get two in one month, then nothing for three (Usually around the Northern Summer period), then multiple releases one after the other in a few weeks in the Northern Fall period. Obviously this is the nature of the X-Plane beast. The big release for May 2023 was the E-Jets Family from X-Crafts. This was a significant release because in the state of play, this was in reality the first new release for X-Plane 12. Your going to shake your head there... as yes, as there already has been loads of committed official X-Plane 12 only configured aircraft released in the months prior. But in reality most had been developed in X-Plane 11 ready for an X-Plane 12 release, the X-Craft's E-Jet is totally an X-Plane 12 creature, it feels that way and the aircraft flies that way as well, so it was a significant release, an important one as it lays down the groundwork of what most major future X-Plane 12 releases will respond to. I was lucky to get into the "beta" development before release, the bugs were there, but nothing in relation to anything that would affect the review (hardware compatibilities), overall it was a masterful Simulation from some gifted developers. The X-Crafts E-Jet family has a huge list of features, the Intricate detail was noted as well, and to top it all off the aircraft had a brand new FMS system that needed explaining, and "yes" it would need a tutorial on how to use it. It was to be a big, if huge review with a lot of areas to cover. But that was okay, as I had one thing on my side... time, or about 10 days. I did the early flight tests when also working out the new FMS, then started the review, three days in and I was at the tutorial point of explaining the FMS system. This area needs a clear head and focus, ultimate focus, but I still had tons of time (a week to the release date). Then I got a tickle in my throat, then it turned slightly raw, the next day I had a full blown Flu... I had worked carefully through all the covid pandemic, but out of simply nowhere I was suddenly really sick, bleary eyed in bed sick... one day, two days, three days... four days? Suddenly my world was collapsing, I had the most intricate part of the review to do and I couldn't even focus on my iPhone.... hell? On the fifth day I went to the desk, I worked through the tutorial, I felt totally awful, but I got it done. Now I was faced with only two days until the release and with only half the review ready? I still felt awful but worked on, time had now been squeezed down to nothing, still tons to do and cover to create the review, but you work on, I missed the release date "damn", but got the review completed late the next day, and then collapsed. (Sorry it was late). Aircraft Review : E-Jets Family by X-Crafts The above timeline shows your life can go from complete perfection to hell in only a day, the most important release of the year and I was completely down and out for the count, yes I was annoyed then, still get annoyed even now, but it's life and there are simply some things you just can't control. A week later I took a reluctant week off the review desk to have a complete break and recover, it's a bad Flu, around here it is everywhere, but that damn Flu completely dominated (ruined) my month of May... and yes I am finally feeling normal again. "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry", Robert Burns Coming up in June is the FlightSimExpo from Houston June 23rd-25th 2023. Laminar Research will hold a booth at the Expo, but no Seminar is currently booked. There will be no Expo analysis, but X-PlaneReviews will be doing an overview of X-Plane 12 from it's early beta release to it's present situation as displayed at the Expo, so look out for that. X-Plane is also currently very buzzy, and coming into the Northern Summer season that is a really good thing. Mostly we are having a lot of X-Plane 12 conversions released, but unusually also lot of new aircraft being released from developers as well. Notable also is the now huge selection of aircraft already X-Plane 12 configured, so there is a lot of choices already of what to fly in the new simulator version... happy times! See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st June 2023 Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews
  12. Behind the Screen : April 2023 On average over a 20 to 30 year commercial flying career, professional pilots will fly usually about 4 to 5 types of aircraft, first in the right seat, then a command in the left. I'm not counting their non-professional activities like private general aviation, gliding or even to the extreme of aerobatic flying. This is the core total of flying airliners, either domestic or international. Do pilot's have to be more flexible in today's aviation industry? that is a big question, because, say in the 60's you could fly aircraft types from the BAC-1-11, progress to a Trident, then a Vickers VC10, then a Boeing 707 or a Boeing 747 Jumbo, or even on to the supersonic transport in Concorde. That career road would be far harder today, as you would mostly jump between types of the same design, say start in a A319, move to a A320, then a A321 and now an A321LR, you are progressing, but mostly on the same type, not "Types' of aircraft. Same with the A350 or Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Progress to each aircraft type would mean going back to class, instruction, training and finally the hands on evaluation that you could handle the new machine, a jump from say the VC10 to a Boeing 747 would be a large challenge, but nothing like the jump from a VC10 to Concorde, of which most crews of the supersonic transport were nominated from. Today the line between a A320, to a A321, is not as large, and a conversion would be in weeks rather than the months like in the past. Compare that to X-Plane, or with being a reviewer. God knows how many "Types" of aircraft and let us even include even the "weird" strange machines at that. Obviously I have lost count, but a thousand over 12 years is a rounded off figure, maybe even more than that, so you have to be pretty adaptable. Like driving a car, aviation still has it's basics in controls and instruments, so you can be "so called", adaptable. But unlike driving a car on a road, aviation machines comes with a lot of different variations, weights and sizes, again you have to be adaptable. A lot of Simulator users will also mostly stick to one type, or a variation of that type, a lot won't even progress from say a Single-Engined aircraft to a Twin-Engined aircraft, never mind a Commercial Jet. Another crowd will only fly heavies, big airliners, but most will usually use the Two-Hour rule of flying a Boeing 737 (Zibo) or Airbus A319/A320/A321 (ToLiSS), fair enough. Me I do like variety, always have, call it a challenge if you will, I couldn't be a reviewer otherwise. But I do have my core "Top Ten" aircraft that I fly personally, a few General Aviation machines, but mostly Airliners, the bigger the better. Also there is the aspect of getting "back into the groove". You would think with all that reviewing experience and skills, that I would easily slide into the seat and fly the aircraft like a pro, yes... well no, it is not as easy as that. One big bonus of doing reviews in that when a new aircraft or type is released, you do what I call a "Deep Dive". Reviewing in detail allows you to spend a lot of time on that aircraft, sometimes weeks, study it, understanding all those minute details. Then to learn to fly it correctly... then pass on the information of what has been learnt to you the users of the X-PlaneReviews site. You would think that in say six months when the same aircraft from the same developer comes around with an update, with all that intimate knowledge learnt earlier, I should simply slide into the same seat and fly it again perfectly like the total professional I am, except that is very far from the truth. I even make copious notes, the Concorde review notes went for sixteen pages, yet I still need to revisit and revise them all every time to step back into that cockpit. And here is the thing... My first flight back in that seat is usually atrocious, totally laughable... a professional, mostly a joke in watching my efforts. At least I don't have a check captain sitting over my shoulder rating my poor flying abilities, and ready to give my career the total thumbs down. Let's be clear, that is with the complex complicated detailed aircraft we are talking about here, sure I can pilot a GA around a circuit or two with my eyes closed, but something happened in X-Plane around eight years ago when basic PlaneMaker aircraft went to Plugins. Now the systems are real world duplication, so is now the way you also fly the aircraft in real world conditions in the Simulator. Triggers... notes can give you triggers, and then you fly the aircraft and then release all that the stored information in your brain, it does come back to you quite easily, but some machines do have their peculiar idiosyncratic natures, not only in their systems, but their flying characteristics as well, say the Dash Q400... One flight will release the learnt peculiar tricks on using and handling the machine, the notes help, but going over the learnt procedures and you will soon fall back into that aircraft category groove. I'm an odd one as well. I just won't jump in and go flying (unless there is a reason), I go through the whole set of procedures from "Go to Woe", more so with an update (or upgrade) to cover the changes in the new updated/upgraded version, the differences between the Old and the New. That second flight (basically the review flight) is usually "Back on Song", not flawless, but back in tune with the aircraft, the third flight has to be flawless, if not there is something wrong or something has been changed? The only thing about this process, it is time consuming, two flights take time, three flights is in days to do a review, but you internally and personally have to know you have everything right, in the interaction between yourself and the aircraft before reviewing. That is why I don't like a lot of VideoJocks, watching them power through procedures and incorrect flying, and missing SOP's (Standard Operating Procedures) makes me cringe by in the amount of mistakes made, some are very good, and yes even I can learn from a real line pilot doing video Simulations, but most are "Cowboys", and have bad habits that are being passed on to the unsuspecting junior (learning) Simulator users in picking up and using the same poor methodology. Okay, I come from the strict school of being serious, and a lot of users reading this will say, Hey, lighten up, it's supposed to be "Fun" it's only a "Game", but my approach is strictly professional, if you want to "Fool" around and wizz upside down in a A320 (yes looking at you Austin Meyer) then your looking at the wrong personality type, to me "Professional", means being very good at what you do and to not fool around with a 80 Ton aircraft. Simulation was created as learning tool for real world pilots, we are just lucky, and if you have enough computer power, to be able to do the "EXACT" same things as the real world pilots do, that for me is where the excitement comes from, and my on line experiences. Out of the "Thousands" of aircraft I have reviewed, a few go into my own personal hanger, the ones that are very special, but also fit my own personal flying needs, I keep the list to like I mentioned to around ten aircraft, but it is about four to five of those aircraft are what I use consistently, again these aircraft are also required to have a shakedown regularly, and the same process of a "trigger" flight and then a regular flight are required to get me again "Back in the Groove". I know these aircraft intimately, and yet I still need to reset my brain to fly them correctly, lose one or two that has happened with the X-Plane 11 to X-Plane 12 transition and you feel a bit lost without them (both will be released for X-Plane 12 within the next month). Again I will stress that regular repeatable flying is still required to keep your skills in prime shape, yes it is more (even relaxing) fun than the serious approach of reviewing aircraft, but still serious in the way you approach in flying the aircraft professionally. To make it "Fun", is to set up a few scenarios, I have two. The first is a real world day's flying, usually three sectors between regularly used airports (quality sceneries), In Australia say the "Triangle". Brisbane to Melbourne, Melbourne to Sydney and finally Sydney back to Brisbane, all in a days work and following real world services. It's more tricky than you think to fly on real world times and turnarounds with the same aircraft type. Exhausting as well, but that is what real world pilots do everyday, but it is fun to coordinate the lot together... The second is real world airport hopping. Start a service from say Barcelona and fly to Copenhagen, then from Copenhagen to Dubai (combining European to International with different aircraft types), then Dubai to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to Los Angles and so on... if you wrap up a sector in say New York, then the next time you fly you restart in the same place, say, New York to Copenhagen, and hey, you have flown around the world with real life timetables and the same aircraft types used on the real world routes... both above scenarios are based on real world flying, but for me a fun factor as well. But all learnt during these travels, goes back into the reviewing, and the consistent practise on aircraft types means your skills are kept at a high level. This April "Behind the Screen" edition, looks a bit into how I fly and do reviews, but also shows you the amount of practise it requires to keep your flying skills at a high level, same as the real world pilots... I like to think so, dedication is everything in life. See you all next month. Stephen Dutton 2nd May 2023 Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews
  13. Behind the Screen : March 2023 After the chaos of the first two months of the year 2023, X-Plane 12 with the release of version Beta v12.04r3, then as a release v12.04r3, everything suddenly went normal, or you had a working simulator. I was skeptical at first, we have been here before and many times. But no this time it was for real, I could fly without a load of CTD (Crash to Desktop) moments, and also at the upper reaches of the stratosphere I wasn't being bundled around violently up there like I was in a dingy. Aircraft now flew straight and true, the weather (after losing the Gribb Files for a few days) came good as well... all too good to be true? To find out I had to push the Simulator hard, and there is nothing harder than doing a lot of flights. Short VFR (Visual Flight Rules) was not going to cut it, as you needed height and distance... time to go for a big challenging machine and Rotate's monster MD-11. So began a criss-cross of the Mediterranean. Flying hard between Barcelona to Tel Aviv, then back to Rome, then back to Cypress... then back to Barcelona, tons of fuel were used as I built up the flight mileage. The results were outstanding, no CTD's, great weather formations, and even realistic bad weather at some destinations. Then when I had flown over Greece for the third time, and was passing landfall over Southern Italy, I realised something... I was enjoying it, the flying, the whole X-Plane 12 experience. To a point it was a shock, in not waiting for something to come and usually ruin the moment, the day, to go back to ZERO, again... it really did actually did work. Obviously I have been through X-Plane version releases before and countless Betas. But I had a niggling that this 12th version of X-Plane maybe a bit too complicated, to much of too many diverse elements, plus the fact of also a total core reconfiguration of the simulator could actually be made to behave altogether and correctly... before you start calling me out, I admit, that there are still a few elements that need work, replays are one with it's crazy zooming clouds, lighting is still a bit off (but still far better than the release murk)... but thankfully a large percentage of it works. So for the month of March (this edition) then Reviewing went back to something called "Normal". Remember that... Normal. Moving on from the MD-11, it was a review of the ToLiSS A320 NEO, again "Normal", I was able to do the review without something crashing down around me, problem was I was enjoying the flying so much, I just wanted more. Again I could criss-cross Greece, even landed there once to refuel at Athens, fun, the most fun I have had in ages. The ToLiSS made it easier. I've mentioned this feature before, and yes I am going to go on about it again. The ToLiSS "save" feature. It allowed me to do things in the review that were impossible before, the time saved was enormous. This aspect was highlighted by the next aircraft I had to review (in a beta), sorry I can't mention it, but suddenly I was back to reality. I didn't have that ToLiSS feature as a backup. It is not that the beta crashed a lot, as the aircraft flew very well in the v12.04r3 X-Plane version. But it was the consistent resetting of everything to get the aircraft to fly, twice, sometimes three times a day. Setting the aircraft up ready, does mean you will not "actually" flying in it, the active aircraft has to be correct for the review in the testing and the visual aspect, if you use the Replay, you are coming back to another reset, then another, and another. With the ToLiss you just clicked on the correct setup "save" that you had you set ready earlier, and you are instantly ready to continue, with other aircraft, you are completely back at square one, only then you can start your reviewing twenty or thirty minutes later, do that as I mentioned three times a day, and there is an hour and a half gone on just doing the same thing over and over. I don't mind the resetting aspect, but it is seriously time consuming... so please developers, try harder with "save" features, because I doubt Laminar can do a "Global" save feature with the current specialized aircraft plugin architecture, certainly not with the PlaneMaker default settings that the X-Plane "save" and "situation" aspects can only do, honestly over the years it has very rarely worked either. I did wonder however if a third party plugin could do what ToLiSS does, if it could be done then enlighten me, it is to be a quality tool, but please no cheap FlyWITHLua scripts. Sometimes the biggest features that come into the Simulator are the ones that do the basics better, or are needed to make the Simulator a better place to be. A lot of default features haven't been touched for a decade, hence the poor "save" features, the replay is pretty basic as well.. Because I had to use the default pushback tool because the "BetterPushBack" app didn't work with the MD-11, you realise how bad the default pushback really is, slow, unrealistic. Thank God Rotate fixed the problem quickly, but it highlights the problem. I always pointed out that Laminar should use these better tools from third-parties than spend time or wait for years to do their own. The Librain app was a great example on why it works. Created by a master coder Saso Kiselkov, Librain added rain effects to aircraft windows. Originally developers had to add in the effects directly into their aircraft, so a lot used them, but a lot were also too lazy to do so. To a point in X-Plane 12 the developer still has to add in the effects, but in now being a generic built in system, it is easier to do and is more effective as part of the X-Plane application. But it is the time aspect that counts here for Laminar, why not have BetterPushBack as part of the Simulator, or other great tools like Dr Gluck's "TerrainRadar", yes you can download the plugins and have these tools available... but where they do a better job than the poor dated original tools it is a very quick update or be a replacement to make the X-Plane Simulator more modern and relevant. The Chudoba Design Announcement for "Project People" for X-Plane is a great example again on how to expand X-Plane more quickly with better features than for Laminar to try to keep all the development in house, in house with limited resources is just TOO slow. Bringing the application in house also has other benefits. If the original coder leaves the X-Plane universe that the plugin tool is left hanging. A good example of this is "Marginal's" Autogate system. A decade ago it was excellent with consistent updated attention, and X-Plane built it's eco-system around the plugin's architecture. But coder Marginal dropped out of X-Plane around 2016, and no further supplemental updates never then came along. So you are left currently with a broken system, that works sometimes at your arrival destination or at most times in it doesn't. The SAM (Scenery Animation Manager) system has mostly replaced the original Autogate plugin, but that is also a cumbersome and bloated application for just moving jetways and opening aircraft doors. The SAM "seasons" feature is now basically dead in X-Plane 12, but the SAM seasons didn't actually work that well before (burdened down with textures), an updated X-Plane 12 SAM needs to go back to basics. Q2 period of 2023 should be interesting. Now that v12.04r3 is a more solid platform for developers, the products will start flowing again. Upgrades to X-Plane 12 will come as well, although debatable, a lot of users are very vocal about paying for version upgrades, it is the X-Plane mantra that "Free" is good, but they are missing the whole point. What of say US$15 to upgrade to X-Plane 12 an old favorite with the modern features of X-Plane 12, it is amazing how many really get upset about this aspect. The developer has done the changes that X-Plane 12 requires, then will service and update that product for the next four years, in other words you will be able to enjoy your favorite aircraft for another four years, you are not repurchasing the complete aircraft, but just paying a upgrade fee. Yes I understand that to upgrade a lot of aircraft in your collection, in that the costs can add up. But my old mantra is important. Value is in use, not in features. If you fly the aircraft three or times a month, then it has value to you, that aspect is certainly worth the upgrade fee of $15. But you are not going to get it for free, unless you have just bought the aircraft recently, say in the last twelve months. There is the definition here that "Payware" is for quality, "Freeware" is a lower quality, but the lines can sometimes be blurred, poor average Payware can be over ridden by a quality freeware developer. But in reality the freeware developer is doing themselves a disservice, giving away their substantial skills and hard work for nothing... but being the hero, users will just want more, more of you and for free, they will take and just take... "thanks very much". X-Plane is really a two-tier flight Simulator, the default cheap level, with no quality, but a lot of it. And the payware network of quality flying. Yes I understand that a lot of users don't have the money to create a quality network, but networks can be small, say ten quality sceneries that you use regularly, the "Value" aspect, if you use the scenery frequently it will have value, where as using a LOT of nothing means just that in you are flying a mediocre experience, but then again users don't like cabins on aircraft either, even if to watch your amazing landing skills! But as we approach Easter, and it is a fine time with no commitments to indulge in a bit of flying. It will be a better experience this year around with a nice and stable X-Plane 12 to fly in, and then look around on how far we have all come in the last twelve months... See you all next month. Stephen Dutton 5th April 2023 Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews
  14. Behind the Screen : February 2023 Behind the Screen in January 2023, laid out the start of X-PlaneReviews year in X-Plane 12. It was of course a strange mixture of optimism and being faced with the challenges that X-Plane 12 brings to Simulation. Oddly it was partly software, but mostly hardware (Saitek Throttle and Graphic Card) related. The full story is here; Behind the Screen : January 2023 The basis as noted a month ago, is that Behind the Screen is a look behind the website, basically what we are faced with in hardware, addons and software, can also affect you, so the idea is that by us sharing what happens in our world, can hopefully help you in your Simulation. I run X-Plane on average 6-8 hours a day, 6 days a week, which adds up to a huge amount of simulator time, I cover a huge selection of aircraft, scenery and plugins (But I will note I don't use a lot of experimental plugins, because with reviews, you need a basic standard level (base line) to configure the aircraft correctly). After the trauma of January, I was looking forward to a more routine stable month in February, and it got off to a good start. In Simulation as noted you have to have a base line. That is the point were the simulator is running smoothly and the settings are compatible with your hardware. From this line you can see if the aircraft is performing or it's performance is correct. To do that you use aircraft that are very well known to you, and are very stable in their flight and performance envelope. Data in one flight should mirror the next flight and so on, if anything is knocked out of kilter, then you go back to these standard base settings to get or to set your bearings again. Certainly as the Simulator matures you have to reset your baseline, but that is okay if things are running normally. So what happens if you lose your baseline? After all the rigmarole of January. The safest thing to do was to find the new baseline. I did this by using one aircraft in the Rotate MD-11, and I flew the aircraft solidly for six flights, comparing notes and data, then moving to another (ToLiSS A319) and compared the sets of data. I found that yes indeed X-Plane 12 was better, except for in one area... weather. The Weather factor was so bad, you could never find any base line with the huge turbulence/gusting changes, and the aircraft were performing very abnormally... basically it was impossible to review any aircraft in this situation. A side note was that the turbulence actually created in the "Real" weather, also affected (bled into) the "Manual" set weather... so setting the manual settings made no difference (which is crazy), as what you set, should be the same settings that you should get in the simulator... oh and it rained all the time, even with bright blue skies? Laminar Research certainly knew of the problems with the new X-Plane 12 weather engine, and have been working on the situation since the start of the New Year. 12.04b1 release was a biggie. (note this is still a "beta" release, not a version release). As the problematic turbulence (since the start of the release of the X-Plane 12 betas) was finally fixed and so was the "XPD-13715 – Manual wind layer altitudes were ignored" factor, we finally had a stable Simulator... not. Then something really strange happened to X-Plane 12, the .dds files started to fail? .dds is the format used in textures (.PNG is also used , but PNG is not as efficient as .dds), the result of this aspect was that most of your scenery and ortho textures turned grey? and absolutely nothing related to the weather issues. This one really shut me down, for a week... as Laminar fixed it. The problem was probably related to installing Zink, and if you want to know what Zink is, then Sidney explains it all here; Addressing Plugin Flickering. Both new items were introduced in v12.04b3. The Zink problem was it created a fail backup to the loss of the OpenGL API, the AMD users out there got a lot of flickering and CTD, if Vulkan failed... which it does quite often. You are probably shouting, "Why didn't you have a backup?". I do in a core basic X-Plane 12 version, but in my excitement on the weather being fixed, I updated at the same time both my main X-Plane version and my backup version v12.04b1, there was no point in downloading a fresh X-Plane 12 either, as that was tainted in 12.04b1 blood as well, so I was trapped, or had trapped myself. So v12.04B3 is good... not, again. But this issue is not related to the others, in fact it is an external issue with the "GRIB_get_field failed", in other words the NOAA or "NOAA Operational Model Archive and Distribution System", has pulled the GRIB Files that X-Plane 12 uses for the Simulator for downloading Live Weather. (Actually the file location/address was changed). GRIB by the way stands for "WMO standard for encoding gridded fields". You thankfully you could get around this one, by setting the weather to "Manual", so at least I was flying again. And yes the Gribb fix is now also done from Laminar Research, and your live weather is all working again, actually far better than before. You could note this as all the trials and tribulations of sorting out a new X-Plane version, but it is happening AFTER X-Plane 12 went Final, two months after... the baseline should have been more solid at that point of release, and that is the point of the story here, the so called "Stable" release was not stable, yes we are using "betas", but there was no point at all in going back to the "Final" which should have been a stable release either as there was no baseline to work from? So something is amiss here. So you have to feel for the developers in wanting to update or upgrade to X-Plane 12, how do you find a baseline of on such shifting sands, well you can't. Hence the slowing of X-Plane 12 releases. In between of all of this X-Plane 12 is actually getting better with each update, although tainted by the .dds scandal, v12.04b1 was a very good release, everything felt better, from the lighting to the clouds, not perfect yet, but better... so big progress IS being made, and we may be finally getting there. I had to move to a fresher drive, or more so from a platter drive to a NVMe M.2 SSD for most of my storage files, meaning aircraft and scenery and the various odds and bobs. I'm not a big fan of platter drives, as I have had various nasty encounters of them failing on me and taking a large portion of my life with them, you can only have so many backups of the same thing. Yes SSD's can fail as well, but nothing bothers you more than a thin consistently spinning disk with a needle poised above it, you just know it it is someday going to rip it to shreds. Then moving from the old drive to the newer one was a big task, over 2Tb of files, most going back now a decade or so. There is a lot of history in there, a lot of flying elements as well. So it makes you take stock of the current situation. These changes do usually happen between X-Plane version changes, a sort of "out with the old, in with the new" house keeping, but like going through old photographs when moving house, these movements in life can make you stop and think of your journey to this moment. Like again photographs, there are a lot of memories there. Aircraft that created memorable events, even the hard ones you had to master. Can you really associate the current highly detailed X-Plane 12 cockpit to a 2d instrument panel of a decade ago... well not really, and that is why you don't use them anymore (but you still do a short flight now and then to see of where, and how far we have come). The next batch of aircraft are more interesting, we are talking X-Plane 10 era machines. Now we had 3d virtual cockpits, and that changed the game (so to speak). It was the era when Carenado also came into X-Plane, well renowned in Flight Sim, Carenado aircraft in X-Plane 10 were and are still a revelation for X-Plane. Sure if you jump into a lot of them now they have a dated appeal, but a lot still have a glowing quality that makes you miss the quality of the detail and textures of the era, or mostly of the feel the aircraft created. Don't get me wrong here before we go too far, X-Plane 12 aircraft are a very high on the quality and features scale, even past the modeling stage and more like a miniature version of the real aircraft... but, but, these aircraft were gems... the PA34 Seneca V, PA31 Navajo, Cardinal ll, C404 Titan, A36 (V Tail) Bonanza, CT210 Centurion ll, PA46 Malibu Mirage, Archer ll, S550 Citation II and I could go on and on. A few are more precious... the B1900D, the SAAB S340 and the Fokker F50. For X-Plane 11 most if not all Carenado aircraft were upgraded to the new simulator from X-Plane 10, or created for X-Plane 11... in all there were 42 Carenado aircraft of various designs, one thankfully has survived, my F33A Bonanza as you can get a REP package to allow it to fly in X-Plane 12, but it's not a full upgrade revision, but it survived and will live to fly another day, like it does in the header here and in an X-Plane 12 environment. Obviously we are in the early days of X-Plane 12 aircraft conversions, so we really don't know of what aircraft will survive or will be left on the drive platter. And that conversion process will maybe take a year and a half, but there will still be hundreds of aircraft left behind in the churn factor. Yes a lot do belong in the past, and are to be left back there. But a lot don't... they also don't deserve to disappear from our Simulator. Many designs will be re-imagined, like with Thranda and their C206 Caravan, C208 Skywagon and lastly the C337, but they won't be able to replace all of them. So the general aviation market, so heavily dominated by Carenado is going to be quite decimated with no replacements, worse is the loss of the B1900D, S340 and that for me the heavily flown F50. If these machines are not going to be upgraded, and Carenado have no interest in X-Plane going forward, then why not release them to freeware, then users can then patch them up for use in X-Plane 12. This goes for other now gone developers or abandoned payware aircraft. A lot of developers have switched to MSFS, as has Carenado, so again this is creating a very different scenario from the transition of X-Plane 10 to X-Plane 11 for X-Plane 12. There was this churn between X-Plane 10 and 11. But my feeling that it is going to be very different this time. We didn't worry of the transition from X-Plane 9 to 10, because of the revolution of the changes in X-Plane 10, X-Plane 11 grew huge and capitalised on X-Plane 10.... X-Plane 12 however feels very different, and I think we will have to adjust to accommodate the changes. Like I said it is early days yet, but the feeling already is more of the new this time around, than the same of the past. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st March 2023 Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews
  15. Behind the Screen : January 2023 This monthly review of "Behind the Screen" was created to communicate what was going on in the X-Plane world. To give you the user information on the state of the simulator, that we use in a day to day capacity. What we process, in not only X-Plane products, but in the way we use the Simulator, can be explained here in giving information for other users to absorb. Since my early days of using X-Plane I have had the uncanny knack of seeing or having events happen to me before it happens to anyone else. That is good, but head bashing as well, as I have had to work through the problems in fixing it, hopefully in passing on that vital information, so you the user don't have to go through the same torment. Behind the Screen is also here to mirror the health of the X-Plane Simulator as well, a sort of grounding on the current reality. In the forums, many can be a bit self-absorbed, but most of the X-Plane community thankfully believe in the old world style of helping others to get around the difficult problems of running an extremely complicated Simulator program. Pray they are there, and thank them for their generosity So the old adage "You can never tell what is going on beneath the surface. Even the most regally calm swan is paddling furiously below the water", can and be also certainly adhered to X-Plane Simulation. Hence again Behind the Screen. I was determined to have a good break over the Christmas/New Year period, resting (meaning no computer work), just the annual equipment cleaning (keyboards and dust) and filing away all of the last years completed content... clean ready computers all done, and also ready for the exciting new 2023 year ahead, I was fresh as well after the rest, all ready to go... it lasted three days. The one thing X-Plane is very good at, I have found over the years, is it that it has the uncanny knack of finding your weak spots, then throwing them directly or blowing them up into your face. More confusion is created when I have easily used X-Plane 12 (beta) from it's introduction back in September 2022. Yes I had to adjust the graphic settings, but otherwise I was able to use the newer version Simulator overall perfectly fine. Then things started going seriously wrong when I started an early in the year 2023 review. After the initial confusion, it came down to three areas. Crashing or the freezing of the simulator caused by the continuous Vulcan device loss errors, weird things happening to aircraft when flying, like the liveries would change every few minutes, the undercarriage had a mind of it's own, dropping then coming back up, ATC alerts popping up consistently, flaps changing position, and finally airbrakes deciding to also activate also on their own. Finally the screen was going dark and the saturation was going off the scale. Absolute madness... just ONE of these areas alone are hard to decipher, but three or four at the same time was simply overwhelming... Biggest argument here is why? perfect before Christmas, then a total horror show after it, I hadn't done anything, or changed anything between the two events... the only one I had done was to update X-Plane to v12.01r1... nah really? I will bring up that v12.01r1 update, did it start a chain of events that sent me bonkers? it is a big question... Laminar put out all the version changes in their X-Plane 12.00 Release Notes... but what of the areas of changes you don't see, mostly in the core X-Plane.app. I am not going to blame Laminar Research or X-Plane, as it may even be just circumstances that things happen, but one thing is for sure. One area had certainly changed to create a cascade of other issues. My work and time went down the toilet as well. The problems are a result actually of Hardware issues? HARDWARE? Thanks to user "Tom", I worked out that my Saitek Hardware was underpowered, the USB was not pulling enough power from the computer, the result is an area called "Ghosting", were the (in this case the switches on my Saitek throttle) decided to activate the set switches by themselves, or ghosting themselves. Honestly I had never heard of "Ghosting" before even though it is quite common with Saitek addons. So you learn something, even after over a decade in Simulation. One down three to go... Still I had the "Vulcan device loss errors", and they were becoming evidently worse, to the point the Simulator was crashing now consistently. I pared the simulator back to a fresh clean X-Plane 12 application install. No plugins, Only default Scenery, Only default aircraft... the result was still loads of Vulcan device errors, but not as consistent. A investigation of the forums said it was my Graphic Card a GTX 1080 8Gb that was not powerful enough to cope with the API, odd as it coped very well for four months last year, I don't or didn't over stress my Graphic Card either, but it was showing signs it was burning out (BTW, X-Plane burnt out my last Graphic Card as well in my Mac), hence all the Vulkan loss errors. I was now looking at a new (expensive) Graphic Card. Hard to get at this time in Australia (Summer Holidays) and in very short in stock availability. I could throw 2K or AUS$1700 at one, but I don't have 2K to buy one, remember I have already spent 3K last year upgrading my Board and Processors... for a game, sorry simulation X-Plane is an expensive business. I found a card, a RTX 3080 10GB even on sale (if for only $50), but still far more than the 1K that I wanted to pay... remember when you could buy graphic cards for $600 and they felt expensive, today you can double that, or even treble that. Good news it was local so I got it the next day... Yes it is a powerful RTX 3080 card (for it's price). But powering it is like hooking up Hoover Dam to Las Vegas, two heavy cables are required, some cards now need three. Lucky last year I also upgraded to a 1000w Corsair Power Supply, so I already had enough power to power this internal nuclear reactor... It works. You can do anything with computers, but if you are into Simulation, then Graphic Card power is always the way to go. You can get very intoxicated by it all, jumping from below 30 frames to over 60 frames in an instant, nothing abruptly happens either, no CTD (Crash to Desktop), no flickers, no waiting, and absolutely no Vulkan device errors! It just all works... and smoothly. Huge headroom, and the space to absorb the things that can drive you mad, do I recommend selling items of furniture or your car to get a magic graphic card, sadly yes if you are serious about Simulation. But now with my system is now finally completed or 100% overhauled, it is seriously frightening on how much power you really do just need to run X-Plane 12 efficiently. Seriously those who think they can get away with the basic specifications set out by Laminar Research are not going to make it, I wasn't even close to the absolute basic requirements, as I got burnt out, other users have simply got no chance. I know, because I tried to beat the odds, and failed. So if you are in it for the long haul with X-Plane 12, you have to have the gear to run it as well. That brings up another question? Does a simple simulator program expect or demand too much investment to just to run correctly, remember X-Plane 9, I ran that on a Mac-Mini at the time, and it flew very well, now I need Colossus and the power of the Hoover Dam just to get a decent framerate? In other words, X-Plane 12 found my weaknesses, exploited them, and brought me crashing down. Did the hidden changes in v12.01r1 push my systems boundaries beyond what they are capable of? That is big question... Yes X-Plane 12 or as currently noted as officially released, it is however in reality still deep into a beta, and things are still changing, even under the hood... you are starting to wish it would be all be over and sooner than later. I have been through beta's like this before, but never have they burnt out my computer? I still have an issue, my Monitor looks perfect with the set Nvidia settings, (even with the default settings), but the images coming out of X-Plane 12 (screenshots) are anything but, dark and with very heavy shadows (yes I do have Ambient Occlusion set to zero), at night you can't see anything? Graphic Card or X-Plane 12, take your pick, as they say in Houston "Work the problem". _______________ I mentioned in my end of the year review 2022 and roundup, that this year 2023 would be one of the most interesting and important years in the history of X-Plane. Basically it is a sink or swim year (the above situation does not help). But I did expect a load of upgrades that came to pass with X-Plane 12 going official, they came or are still coming and they are all very good, but it is the add on scenery aspect that is the most worrying. In the first month I was very uplifted by the release of a lot of cross platform scenery (MSFS and X-Plane12), basically the same scenery released for both platforms, and both of the same high quality. Thankfully not the glut over at MSFS and the few trinkets for X-Plane. Supporting both platform simultaneously is good business for both sides, the Simulators and the developer houses. In fact delivering more scenery products for X-Plane 12 will of course drive more business in users wanting to fill out their landscapes with decent product. Better was shown with Orbx and their Brisbane City pack release and YBBN Brisbane International Airport packages (I give a small preview of both in the Thranda 337F Review). My argument (for years) was always to produce City packages or City Icons, with the connected Airports. Then let the X-Plane autogen do the rest. The Orbx dual package shows how well this aspect works for X-Plane and why I push for as many City Packages (and for you to buy them) to fill out the X-Plane world as possible and make it far more realistic. A lot will note that X-Plane still needs a far better photo based underlay, to which I totally agree, but flat photos are not the answer either for total realism. Even though Austin Meyer as an aversion to photo textures, I still think X-Plane will still get a hybrid system during the X-Plane 12 run to counter the MSFS style of Simulation... good city scenery also proves it can work for X-Plane and it is also well worth the users investment, as the Orbx combo shows... that aspect alone makes it a brilliant, even relived start to the 2023 Simulation year, just hope the same quality and products are continued to be released as the year progresses. It will be an area I will comment on frequently, because it is vital to expanding landscape of the X-Plane 12 Simulator and it's future. See you all next month (barring another computer meltdown) Stephen Dutton 3rd February 2023 Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews
  16. Behind the Screen : Year in Review 2022 When in writing up my review of the X-Plane 2021 year, there was a fear of 2022 for the X-Plane Simulator. In 2021 X-Plane was holding it's own and well against the onslaught of Microsoft's MSFS simulator, mostly through a lot of very high quality aircraft releases, but I knew the toy box was becoming increasingly empty coming into 2022, the feeling was not good. To a point that anxiety was very much well founded, transition years usually are. Worse the world now is not the same world pre-pandemic, as everything is now different, and getting worse month by month. As our blessed lives are being turned upside down by shortages, rising inflation, crypto failures, extreme weather temperatures and God knows what else, so who cares about Simulation? Well we do, and to a point it is our salvation from all the mess outside the home. Everything pointed to and relied on Laminar Research on to how the 2022 year went. It went good realistically, but also bad for all the other reasons. My prayers were for an early 2022 Easter X-Plane 12 release, but it didn't happen. Overall the non-release dragged on lower and lower throughout the Northern Summer, even Laminar Research ran out of promotional video's waiting, so they just made more, ten in the end. This also created a blackhole of content, nothing was going to be released pre-version, even after the release of X-Plane 12 on 6th September 2022 as an "Early Access" Beta. Developers still kept away except for the odd few, even the Upgrades to X-Plane 12 were slow in coming, but in a few cases it still allowed you fly your current aircraft in the new simulator version. Taking no chances this year, developers have been waiting for the "All Clear" of a full X-Plane 12 release before this time committing to releasing projects, rare, as in the past with any X-Plane version releases they usually went bonkers straight after the version release, in other words you now have to write the whole year off. That said the outlook going into 2023 has to be the best for years. Now X-Plane 12 has gone final... the simulator will thankfully settle down and Laminar will still be also adding in new features, better scenery is also promised for X-Plane 12, even orthophoto, but don't expect that feature for a few years until the mid-version run, but for now thankfully the changes are done, welcome to X-Plane 12. Laminar Research 2022 The 2022 year for Laminar Research was dominated by the public release of X-Plane 12 on the 6th September 2022. Released as noted as an "Early Access" Beta, it was expected to go Final just before Christmas, and in RC6 form it did, 17th December 2022. X-Plane 12 was late, really late, and by a whole year to be exact. This aspect was compounded by the Vulkan/Metal (11.50) version of X-Plane11 in the required overhauling of the core basics of the simulator, with changes over to the far more efficient APIs (Application Programming Interface) Vulkan/Metal from the original OpenGL, in other words they "ripped the guts out of it". So nothing could be done as everything in X-Plane 12 is built on or over these foundation core blocks of code, worse for Laminar was the fact that most, if not all of the major features in X-Plane 12, Environmental, Water, ATC, lighting et all, were also areas that had not been touched for years and were left in the "Too Hard" basket for far too long, mostly again related to the API construction. But Laminar had to eventually face the problem. In doing so it took a huge amount of time and effort to engineer all the ideas into a working simulator. Laminar are also not a big development team compared to most high-profile software developers, but they are thankfully seriously talented. Noises were made late February 22 that maybe an early release before the (northern) Summer was actually possible, but continuous issues with the water (meeting the land) and other niggles put paid to that. Overall all the elements were not ready even as late as August 22, a few rare viewings showed a Simulator that came with major elements that were still missing, then Austin Meyer went into full PR mode to cover the shortfall, he is good at it, but it didn't help with the crawling development speed. Personally I was expecting the worse by the release point. But the surprise was X-Plane 12 was, or is actually very good, thankfully far better than any of my expectations... everything now has a modern real life glow and feel. But it was notably still buggy through the Beta cycle, and a few new announced features are still not present at the final release like the A330 FMS, a lot of the new objects and the announced scenery features, and I am not at all impressed with the night lighting, and don't get me started on the over the top windy weather system. So after all the trials of the year, X-Plane in it's new X-Plane 12 guise is actually looking very good for next year 23, and a lot of things should fall back into place again, so basically all the upheaval was worth the end result. More good news awaits. As X-Plane 12 does cover so many outstanding aspects that have now been implemented. For the first time since the start of the Vulcan/Metal project and even far earlier, Ben Subnic finally has a clear table coming into the new year. Obviously for a fair amount of the time early on in 23 or for the first few months it will require more fine-tuning of X-Plane 12, but then a new focus will turn to better VR (Virtual Reality) via OpenXR, better Networking and the already mentioned better Ortho images. But I still think Supnic will have something new up his sleeve, something unique, clever, ideas missing from X-Plane over the last few years during the API onslaught. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2022 By it's standards Microsoft's MSFS Simulator had a quiet year. Things quietly improved on all fronts via consistent regular updates, certainly in the dynamics, as that then allowed the former FS big guns to finally ship their products, notably PMDG and their Boeing 737 Series. Regular World Updates also kept everyone happy, in areas like the USA, Canada, Italy and Malta, Iberia, Australia. It's an impressive list, and notably challenging to X-Plane in it's frail transition period. Microsoft also celebrated it's 40th Year celebration and ever since Bill Gates gave the world Flight Simulation, but still counted in also a decade of no updates and even a longer period of not actually being on sale on the market, until it was revived by Asobo only two and a half years ago, 30 Years is more realistic. The 40th Year celebration bought up the year's 2022 biggest controversy in INI-Builds. 12th June, Microsoft announced a partnership with inibuilds to release free the Airbus A310-300 as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations. A notable X-Plane 12 Developer then did a fire-sale, and cut instant ties with the X-Plane platform. To say this was a very nasty thing to do was an understatement, but not unexpected by INI-Builds, who already had an questionable history in the PR department. But users that had heavily invested in their products was to find out that basically the aircraft was going to soon outdated and relegated only to a former X-Plane (11) version, in other words any INI_Builds aircraft were unflyable in X-Plane 12 and then the "Shit hit the fan". Didn't INI-Builds realise that users that buy in X-Plane also buy their same products in MSFS, obviously not with major consequences and a reversal in late October that (Only) the A300 would now be updated to X-Plane 12 and will also be free, it is anyone's guess as when it will actually be updated, it is certainly is not going be a priority by INI-Builds. The big aspect of the whole debacle, was did Asobo buy or throw huge amounts of cash at INI-Build's for a market share grab? Like kicking X-Plane while it was down or at it's weakest point, it was all round a messy affair, that did far more damage to the whole of Simulation than help it. Aircraft 2021 was a huge year for X-Plane aircraft, as most of the big developers had releases (except FlightFactor) with Felis (B742) and FlyJSim (Q4XP) leading the pack and a big update to Colimata's Concorde FXP. So as noted I was quite fearful coming into 2022 and that aspect came to pass. New developer AD Simulations released both a CRJ700, then the larger CRJ 900 a few months later, both very good, but newbie under-developed and required the services of DeltaWing to get them both up to scratch, this was a common theme thoughout the year, with good new talented developers coming into the X-Plane Simulator which is very good thing, but still on the steep learning curve. Another annoying aspect of this was releasing the aircraft in very under-developed states. All these developers are extremely good, but ticking off the i's and t's can give you a good reception or a poor reception to the marketplace, thankfully they were very good at quickly following up the fixes, but doing serious fixes for months in the open market is not overall a good look. The biggest most anticipated release of the year 2022 came in March with Rotate's massive McDonnell Douglas MD-11. My first flight in this extremely complex aircraft was "oh my God". And it's complexity nearly did it in early. But once all the noise died down and with a few updates later, most saw through the pain and realised it for what it actually was, or is a masterpiece, or the best release of the year. Although a late 2021 release, I finally was able to review Colimata's Concorde FXP in v2 guise, again a very complex (but hugely rewarding) aircraft to fly, but after the MD-11 it brought up the question of how to cope with these ultra complex aircraft and their systems (I still have nightmares about the Felis B742), brilliant in one aspect, but overwhelming in almost every other. FlightFactor resurfaced in July with another variant of the Boeing 767, this time it was the -400ER version, I totally loved this larger B767, it works in every area. One other new heavy release was part of Laminar's X-Plane 12 fleet, with an excellent A330-300, but it didn't have the promised Airbus MCDU, but still the basic default FMS. As that aspect is (still) coming and hopefully very soon but not even with X-Plane 12 Final. All other default heavies including; B738, MD-82 were also significantly updated. But with that it put releases for heavies done for the year, the worst I can remember. Thankfully a star developer of the year was ToLiSS, with consistent (and clever) updates to the A346, A319 and A321, their extraordinary feature of excellent aircraft condition saves, was for me the absolute tool of the year. Magknight (B787, weak) and SSG (B748, strong) did a few updates throughout the year, and all the important updates came along after the X-Plane 12 release for compatibility, but that was about it for major metal. General Aviation After a very quiet 2021, General Aviation was a little bit brighter in 22. Mostly the main difference was coming from Thranda Design, now moving away from pure utility aircraft to GA Cessna's. First was the excellent Cessna 208 Grand Caravan in April, then they followed that up with the Cessna U206G Stationair in September, then to finish the year on a high came the announcement of the sensational 337F SkyMaster, the 208 and U206G also came with Amphibian/Floats variants. Their strong ex-association with Carenado, would mean far more in this vein to come in 2023. Although a late 21 release, the C172SP NG DIGITAL by AirfoilLabs was simply sensational in it's X-Plane 12 conversion. No new releases from vFlyteAir in 22, but their excellent PA28R Arrows G5-E1000 had a lot of attention with major updates in Jan, Mar and June, but to date no X-Plane 12 version, but I expect that version to come in very early Jan 23. Aerobask had a busy year. First there was the Diamond DA50RG, then the twin Diamond DA-62, and a major update to the ViperJet eX. All currently are X-Plane 12 compatible. The Dassault Aviation Falcon 8X from Aerobask was still not released again in 22, but will now be with certainty an X-Plane 12 aircraft, I have simply given up on a release date with the consistently delayed 8X... Okay sometime Q1 2023, if not then Q2. Aerosphere could be classed as a "Classic Style" developer, but two releases this year were very good, in the PA-28-180 Cherokee C and the PA-28-235 Charger / Cherokee 235. The Cessna Citation 560XL by AirSim3d was another Citation Jet, very good, sadly being only released in X-Plane 11 and that aspect it clipped it's wings a little, but one to checkout and love in X-Plane 12, as I found it a great aircraft to fly and it very quickly became a favorite. 2022 also finally gave us a decent Gulfstream in the Gulfstream 550 by AKD Studio's. Like AirSim3d, AKD are both newbie's to aircraft development, both are very to brilliantly good, but still in missing the finesse that comes with extensive experience, but both well worth watching in the future. The "Hotstart" Challenger 650 was a notable release in 2023, but at AUS $171.30 Australian Dollars (US$116), it is in silly money territory, certainly way, way out of my budget, and them some. SimSolutions had two releases, the AMD Alarus CH2000 and the Diamond DA40NG XP12, both very capable aircraft. vSkyLabs had three aircraft on cycle in 2022. The Maule M-7-235B Project XP12 (The first X-Plane 12 aircraft released), the Rutan Model-158 Project that was updated for X-Plane 12, and another X-Plane 12 aircraft with the Aeroprakt A22-LS Project XP12. Notable were the default fleet aircraft for X-Plane 12. All aircraft received significant upgrades for the new simulator version including the: Cessna 172 SP, King Air C90B, Cirrus Vision SR22, Super Cub, L-5 Sentinal, ASK 21 and Aerolite 103. New entrants included the excellent Citation X, Van RV-10 and the sensational BETA Tech ALIA-250 EVA (Electrical Vertical Aircraft) aircraft released in Beta 8. Classic Aircraft Virtavia dominated Classic Aircraft releases in 2022. Both then were upgraded old modeling only (no texture) aircraft in the Handley Page Hampden and the Short Stirling Mk1-4, but both aircraft were highly likable and fun. The Piper J3 Cub by SimSolutions was well done, but a real pain to fly without Rudder Pedals, it put me off taildraggers for life. Late 2022 was the release of C-47 conversions; The DC-3 Airliner and the coming TT-3 Turbine conversion and all for X-Plane 12. Worrying for Classic's is the departure of classic developers like Flying Iron to MSFS, will they come back to X-Plane? and the much desired Vickers VC10 conversion to X-Plane project by JustFlight was abandoned. Military The Lockheed Martin F22A Raptor from AOA had a big update in July, and AOA also released the T6A Texan II in November (X-Plane 11 only), a X-Plane 12 version of this aircraft will be very nice. vSkyLabs also released the abstract F-19 Stealth Fighter, a service design that was never to be past the prototype flying stage, but you can still fly it in X-Plane 12. Helicopters Helicopter releases were huge and plentiful in 2021, and that wasn't expected to continue into 2022... and it didn't. We started the year with the Bell 47G-2A1 by FlyInside, a great solid design, but only a modeling version of the famous bubble cockpit. CowanSim had two releases this year with the 206L LongRanger, and the excellent but extremely difficult to fly CowanSim H125 (AS350 B3e). The update to X-Plane 12 of the SA 315B Lama by Philip Ubben and Khamsin Studio showed what to expect in the future in X-Plane 12 Helicopters, I'll give you a hint, it's going to be brilliant. Scenery The report at the end of 2021 for X-Plane Scenery was not good, so it could only get worse, and it did. Notably is the loss or migration of flocks of scenery developers to MSFS, they are simply piling them out over there, too many, and all at a very low cost. Nobody knew if X-Plane 12 would actually change the landscape (no pun intended), it didn't, but nobody cared anyway. But a late release during X-Plane RC5 meant a revamp of existing scenery tiles noted as v2.1.1 Scenery Update does change your very old (decade old actually) tiles for a fresher set to incorporate X-Plane 12 elements. But you have to totally re-download the full 54.6 Gb of scenery to update. More annoyingly about this scenario is that with the new X-Plane 12 lighting, as any 3d scenery looks brilliant in the new simulator, also the added seasonal effects are sensational as well, so you just hang your head. A few noises in that some developers are creating both platform scenery MSFS/XP12, but will we or would we buy it? We are so adverse to it, in they simply won't care about X-Plane now at all, as the developers are very vocal in telling us so... so it is a very odd situation, they sell below the price rate in MSFS (or simply give it away), but don't care about us either? Doesn't look like a great business model to me. So 2023 will be a very decisive year for X-Plane Scenery. Either with X-Plane 12 now released, developers will come back with their wares, or the migration to MSFS will continue. The horrible thought here is that the market for good quality scenery, and huge scope of it to compete with MSFS... is wide open, more so in that by default MSFS already delivers most of it by default... you can see the problem. But in all the gloom there was some very good bright spots. Nimbus finally delivered a big delayed scenery in March, KIAD - Washington Dulles, one I love, but it's very (extremely) heavy on your framerates? One scenery developer I labeled in 2021, "Worst of the year : Any Taimodels airport sceneries, a lot of ambition but absolutely no talent.", but what happened in 2022! Four extensive sceneries were released by TaiModels with; YSSY - Sydney International Airport in May, OMDB – Dubai International Airport in July and the first scenery released for X-Plane 12 in OOMS - Muscat International in October. But there was more... as EGLL Heathrow, the biggest and largest scenery yet from TaiModels was released a week before Christmas 22. More shocking is that they were all very, very good. Quite brilliant in their cores, but most still weak on the boundaries... they were however a huge step forward and a most wanted collection of all four. A side note for TaiModels was the update of their earlier LFPG - Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport to X-Plane 12 in that it was glorious, shockingly good, and as mentioned if showed on how well or how good X-Plane 12 is for scenery, or could be. Globall Art released SBGR São Paulo/Guarulhos International Airport in June, so I added in the full monty with the São Paulo Mega Scenery package of three airports, well worth checking out. Another big package was the Genova COMPLETE 5 by Grifo Creations. Basically Aerosoft were quiet in 2022, but the one airport released was the excellent DGAA - Accra XP, in Ghana, exotic and worth your while. We expected it to be good, but KSFO - San Francisco Airport Definitive by ShortFinal Design was simply outstanding in August, head and shoulders above anything else, this year and even past years. Big, complex with clever lighting effects it had it all. A new developer called Airwil Sceneries gave us three Philippines based sceneries with Davao International Airport, RPVE - Boracay Caticlan Airport and RPSP - Bohol Panglao International Airport, all nice to explore. NorthernSky Studio's were quite busy with very small but very highly detailed regional airports in Hawaii and Alaska. PHNY - Lanai Airport, Hawaii, PAWD - Seward Airport, Alaska, PATK Talkeetna Airport, Alaska. Another Alaskan scenery was PACV - Merle K Smith - Cordova, Alaska in X-Plane 12 from DC Sceneries. Notable is that NorthernSky has moved on to MSFS, hopefully not permanently. Helsinki Metropolitan Area v3 by FA Simulations gave you another nice city skyline, and a welcome (for me) destination of LROP - Bucharest Otopeni International Airport by Chudoba Designs was also in X-Plane 12 guise. But in areas LROP was a slight disappointment in being so under developed. One scenery not covered by X-PlaneReviews but very well worth checking out was YBBN-Brisbane by Orbx, my local airport is a sensational scenery, and in X-Plane 12 guise as well, yes we would like more of this please Orbx. lastly to round off the year, FlyTampa released Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (EHAM) and for X-Plane 11/12. The first or the last scenery for X-Plane 12, as the big boys are not looking our way anymore. It is not a new scenery, Alps UHD XP12 by Frank Dainese and Fabio Bellini was an extended and a repackage of four previously released Alpine scenery packages for X-Plane 12, so it's sort of new, but excellent As noted, 2023 will be a very important year for scenery with X-Plane 12 being Final. I will say that a lot of the scenery going into MSFS is still old stock (highly upgraded), and even a lot of ex-X-Plane stock. Going forward, hopefully, and scenery released will be cross-platform, as we noted with Orbx and FlyTampa, we will see. Plugins I will state upfront that I am not a huge plugin connoisseur, so I only run what I call essential plugins in my simulator, running the VRAM profiler (Menu/Developer) can give you the horrors of how much these little monstrous tools can gobble up your framerate and their overall efficiency, I took to taking out as many of these laggards as possible. Again as a rule Plugins were also quiet in 2022, but the simulator's hatus in waiting for X-Plane 12 was the biggest cause this time around. Classic Jet Simulations (Now called "Ascend Tech Simulations") released another banner v3.5 update to the WorldTraffic 3 Plugin in April (a XP12 compatibility release was also done). Traffic Global had several updates (again upgraded later to XP12) throughout the year and more aircraft were added. Both XPRealistic and WebFMC Pro both went X-Plane 12 compatible. xEnviro released v1.17, but for X-Plane 11 only. they noted that they couldn't do X-Plane 12 development because Laminar wouldn't help them, but an announcement at the start of the RC release cycle noted that Laminar will now give limited 3rd Parties access to the environmental model, so maybe that will change the situation in 23. Dark Space (xEnviro) have also released a version for MSFS, but with the average development in X-Plane over years I can't see it as being any better than the current X-Plane situation, and the high price remains. One tool I did like was ProCam XP by Aerosoft, a viewpoint tool, tricky to learn and not as flexible (or as complex) as say X-Camera. It fills in a niche for users that want a simplistic tool over a complicated one to get good views and saved views, it was a lot of fun to use. After purchasing SimBrief in 2021. Navigraph did a complete and total overhaul of their main product to Navigraph 8, plus a price increase. But the extra cost is well worth this now very expansive Navigation tool. New features include; Worldwide VFR Charts, Drag and Drop Route Construction, Seamless Zoom, 3D Globe Projection, Autopinning of Procedure Charts, Airport Crosswind and Weather Information and Vector Charts... its very impressive. X-PlaneReviews Not only in 2022 did we have expansive simulator changes, but X-PlaneReviews has also had a very revolutionary year. With the coming X-Plane 12 revolution, we had to think hard about hardware updates. If we wanted to get the best out of the new simulator version, then an (expensive) upgrade was required. I documented my journey, which was interesting, and hopefully helpful if you are faced with the same investment, notably I still will need a newer Graphic Card in 2023, but overall the foresight to upgrade was a very worthy one. Another part of the journey was also replacing my decade old iMac (2009) with a Mac Mini (M1). A forced update because of an old computer trying to run new software (Photoshop), when suddenly and abruptly Abobe made my machine obsolete. Obviously it totally blew my carefully created budget, but the final result was a total revamp of all my systems... it sort of summed up the year. X-PlaneReviews also took on a fresh look in new reviewers, six in fact. Most of the new reviewers in Dominic, Felicity, Stuart, Nick, LPNils and Joshua came over from the old FlightSim site with a few from Jude as well, so that gave our XPR site a much more varied look and feel, plus we can do far more reviews, so a big win, win. And finally we added in a new banner (header) system for more review details... it was a big year for changes, and overall for a far better site going into 2023. _________________________ It gets hard to predict a new coming year, so you go for your gut and in 2022 it was unfortunately pretty spot on. It was a major transition year and a slow one at that, as the slow release (delay) of X-Plane 12 really didn't help the simulator, but you can't right off 2022 completely. Were now done with X-Plane 12 going Final, so we can now get back in 2023 and to do some serious flying, it also means that the heavy full table is now done for Laminar Research as noted. How do I feel... It's a big question isn't it and a marked one for the X-Plane Simulator as a whole. It was easy going into 2022, but going into 2023 not so much. The huge positive is X-Plane 12, it's brilliant really, better than anything Laminar Research have ever done, their proud of it, and we love it. But how much ground has X-Plane lost in getting it all to the table, to be honest here. Momentum is my most favorite word (after Critical Mass). It's an important word here in relating to X-Plane 12 in 2023. As the simulator will need momentum and a lot of it. X-Plane certainly has a lot of aircraft waiting to be released (Upgraded), including two mega aircraft in the Boeing 777 and 787 from FlightFactor, and Thranda have noted they have also have created a substantial list, The Falcon 8x is also well past it's due date. And almost every developer will need to update their aircraft or products to X-Plane 12. It's going to be a very, very busy Q1, even a Q2 of 2023. But that word momentum is critical here, X-Plane needs to build and build quickly, and with a whole new batch of developers and users. we need a lot of both, needed to break away from the niche and embrace the mass audience out there. Those that will sample MSFS, should also try out X-Plane. As the niche is now currently too small, worse it could relegate X-Plane to just a few. Many would like/love that promise, but it comes with a deadly caveat as the serious interest will go elsewhere, and in the end the simulator will simply dry up. Dramatic, maybe, but X-Plane needs the momentum and a lot of it to go far more the other way in 2023. Laminar Research knows this. They are hiring, mostly in Public Relations or to run the X-Plane site, not coders or content developers (well two), but mostly in expanding the simulator out to a wider audience. Personally it's about time. Again this review site cannot function without all the great and exciting work by the tireless developers that give us all this exciting and incredible product to fly and use, as they and X-Plane has come a long way and created leaps in quality and complexity in the last few years, and to a point I was very proud of the work they have produced, it is world class if not the very best in simulation product ever produced, and they are all top notch and very clever. To the X-Plane.OrgStore who supports this site with review products, service and updates, a really big thanks, this site just would just not function without that outstanding support. _________________________ We will finish off with X-PlaneReviews famous best of the year awards… So I will now list my Best of the Year 2022🏅 (note the awards are given to only products I have seen and tested and the only ones I can vouch for) Overall Best of the Year : KSFO - San Francisco Airport Definitive by ShortFinal Design 🏅 🏅🏅 Best Aircraft : McDonnell Douglas MD-11 by Rotate.🏅 Complex and a total brute of a machine to fly, everything a great simulation should be Honorable Mention : Boeing 767-400 by FlightFactor, a great variant of a great aircraft Best General Aviation Aircraft : Cessna Caravan 208 and Cessna U206G by Thranda Design 🏅 Not one but two winners in this category, but both from the same developer. Innovative with buckets loads of clever ideas and waterbourne features, nobody else really came close. Honorable Mentions : Both Aerobask DA50RG and DA62 are exceptional quality, great to fly as well. Best Classic Aircraft : This category was poor this year, and the much desired Vickers VC10 conversion loss killed it completely. Honorable Mention : Concorde FXP by Colimata is excellent and highly complex, the X-Plane 12 version should be off the planet. Best Business Aircraft : Cessna Citation 560XL by AirSim3d It's a winner by default as in being for X-Plane 11 only, but will be totally brilliant when in X-Plane 12. Honorable Mention : Gulfstream 550 by AKD Studio's, great potential, but still really in development. Hotstart Challenger 650, too expensive. Best Military : T6A Texan II 🏅 Not the absolute best for the category, but reviewers loved the Texan and note it will be very good in X-Plane 12. Best Helicopter : Aérospatiale SA 315B XP12 Lama by Philip Ubben and Khamsin Studio 🏅 It nearly won in 2021, but in it's revised X-Plane 12 guise it is simply sensational. Honorable Mentions : Bell 47G-2A1 by FlyInside. It is very good, excellent to fly, but by only being modeled (but well done) and no textures the 47G just doesn't quite live up to the quality required today. Best Landscape Scenery : Alps UHD XP12 🏅 Their back, and with a revamped Alpine package by Dainese and Bellini, Briliant as usual, this time with X-Plane 12 effects. Honorable Mention : Helsinki Metropolitan Area v3 by FA Simulations, X-Plane desperately needs more city scenery. Best Airport Scenery : KSFO - San Francisco Airport Definitive by ShortFinal Design 🏅🏅🏅 A scenery the "best of the year"? yes absolutely, it is a mega scenery and by a genius. Honorable Mention : It has to go to Taimodels airport sceneries for being the most improved for YSSY, OMDB, OOMS and even EGLL, but Orbx YBBN and FlyTampa EHAM are brilliant (if expensive) X-Plane 12 filler releases. Best Plugin(s) : Navigraph 8 🏅 They asked for more money, but you got a brilliant new concept in return, essential. Special Mention(s) : None really, with no exceptional ideas released. Person(s) of the Year : Ben Supnic and the X-Plane coder team How the guy does it I just don't know. A magician that consistently just pulls rabbits out of the hat, not seen at all much this year, but the work is all there to see in X-Plane 12, no Ben Supnic, no X-Plane, simple as that, also less Austin would be a better thing all round. Best Moment of the year 2022 : Obvious, 6th September 2022 and the X-Plane 12 release, then relief as it was far, far better than expected... then came the beta. Worst Moment(s) of the Year 2022 : Austin Meyer's was up there again with his antics, but the INI-Builds, and Asobo debacle left a bad taste in my mouth, personally my Adobe software lockout? Biggest distractions of 2022 : ... Updates, and more updates... more updates! Biggest overall feeling of 2022 : Under developed aircraft... released far to soon, with the development being made in public and in not using beta testers anymore, new developers need to lift their game if they want our money. Personal Favorites of 2022 : Any ToLiSS (the save system allows ultimate flexibility), Q4XP (Dash) brilliant, FlightFactor A320U, good but badly needs updating, Rotate MD-80 still awesome, Thranda C206G, IXEG 737 Classic (until X-Plane 12 put it in the hangar). Notable is I really love the Rotate MD-11, Colimata Concorde and the Felis Boeing 742, but their high complexity (mostly in setting up the aircraft) limits flying time. Routes... Copenhagen, Copenhagen and Copenhagen, Dublin, Dusseldorf, Edinburgh, Vienna, Brussels, Barcelona, Roma, Helsinki, Oslo, Munich, Tel Aviv, London Heathrow and Dulles. Notable is that with the newer scenery, Brisbane, Amsterdam will come on-line in 2023. That is X-PlaneReviews for 2022, and we will be back after a very much needed recovery and the review site returns again early into the New Year on the 4th January 2023. So Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year 2023 Stephen Dutton 19th December 2022 Copyright:X-PlaneReviews 2022 (Disclaimer. All images and text in this review are the work and property of X-PlaneReviews, no sharing or copy of the content is allowed without consent from the author as per copyright conditions)
  17. Behind the Screen : November 2022 When Laminar Research declared that X-Plane 12 will go final and will be out of beta by Christmas 2022, I almost choked on my coffee. "No way". There just seems still too much work to be done, too many areas and details to be crossed off the whiteboard list. And then to go and present the new Simulator version to the finicky hoards and masses in a few weeks. It all felt like a bit of a stretch to me all round. Testing Beta 14 was however a huge step forward towards the goal of a release, but there are still some big issues to be addressed, mostly the square clouds and ridiculous winds that never seem to change day to day, I'm not going to mention VR. Laminar say a fix to both is coming very soon, VR probably not until 2023. That fix will be an important one in making the final release actually believable. Stutters? I didn't get that one, what are your settings, being too greedy as usual... Laminar Research are quite confident they can achieve the Christmas target, my personal feelings say more to the middle-late Q1 before the Simulator is a more totally refined and stable Simulator. So what to expect in the New Year? Well quite a lot actually. Laminar have released a list of areas they will be working on, including; 3d Rain shafts which is very, very nice, 3d volumetric low level fog of which I really expected to be in the release version, but it is coming. God rays are planned. This is an area in being the one thing I was a bit down about in losing, by moving my simulator environmental needs from xEnviro in X-Plane 11 to the default weather in X-Plane 12, as I badly miss those rays (It makes images pretty!) and lens flares. And that they are now coming cheers me up no end (A Christmas Present!). Laminar has also announced that the weather engine will also be open to 3rd parties but there will be limit on what they can and cannot access, which is another interesting aspect, fine, even great as long as we don't get loads and loads of similar shader apps again. Notable is that there is better wind and turbulence improvements coming. This one is a no brainer, it is stupid to have aircraft reacting badly to abnormal weather conditions, and it is the one area that is severely currently restricting my flying. I mean winds and turbulence of 97 knts? you would break up and fall out of the sky if you encountered that in real life, I flew once at 12,000ft in 63 knt winds, I won't say my swear words at the controls, as my GA (and me) was being thrown all around the sky. Yes I'm not saying 63 kt turbulence at 12,000ft has not been encountered in the real world, but not every day since September? I went to manual settings to land. Laminar admitted that getting data for the NOAA GLIB files from the Laminar Research central server has not been going to plan, but again are working on a fix, it works but not as efficiently or as well as promised (actually I don't see it changing much day to day), but a fix is as promised in really (hopefully) coming soon. Overall in this Beta I have been flying on the "Manually" set weather, I just can't rely on the "Real World", settings, a shame as I want to try out the real world Winter Wonderland that I expect to be brilliant (I've seen shades of what can be presented by messing around with the settings), but you shouldn't have to do that manually. Before X-Plane 12 came out. Ben Supnic (Laminar) noted as a comment that they would look into better satellite imagery even against Austin's wishes, even in streaming it à la MSFS. But Supnic noted at the time it was not a top priority. Again Laminar has recently again noted they are actively looking at satellite imagery so it looks like it is back on the table or whiteboard. Now having used X-Plane 12 for a few months I have a few comments on that. Over most countries of flying in general X-Plane is very good in replicating the real world (Night lighting aside). However when in the departure, landing or VFR phases it is certainly not as detailed to be called authentic, as texture tiles in areas are just not good enough to reproduce a complex planet. Streaming is not good either, no matter how powerful your internet connection is you are always going to get lag, worse for me as I can change location quite often while doing reviews. So waiting ages between loads for scenery to load would be a backward step. However I do feel that finding quality satellite imagery as a base, but still keeping X-Plane a closed system is still a great step forwards in fixing the realism ground texture problem. The trick is still making it look very good, while still keeping efficiency in the Simulator. Can we have the best of both worlds, well I think so, but don't expect anything soon, but in a year or even maybe two. Many say X-Plane 13, but I very much doubt X-Plane as a Simulator could last that long in say waiting 4-5 years in this competitive (MSFS) commercial world to fix the problem. Austin Meyer has also been making a lot of noise about Networking X-Plane, and is even actively looking for staff to create the dream. Really when using On-Line ATC you are now already networked, but I suppose he wants to connect us all, and together... which creates a bit of a problem? "Have you seen other users fly". By personality I'm a very procedural pilot, all very by the book. I do actually like the idea of other pilots doing their work around you, but then comes the cowboys, the F4 jockeys who just feel that the airspace is their airspace and not yours, or the wandering GA pilot, who is not sure which runway to pick to land... It's all a personality thing and I'm not saying who is right or wrong in the way they want to fly.... but I don't really want to do it all together ATC aside. What I have learnt is that many users are Gamers in flying and not Simulation users, obviously our styles are going to clash, probably in mid-air. Another item on the table is that Laminar are actively investigating is OpenXR (Not to be confused with OpenGL) by The Khronos Group, a member-driven consortium of over 150 industry-leading companies. OpenXR is a newer VR standard for Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). And already OpenXR API is standard on Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) and HoloLens 2 headsets. Most will be adopting it as native support, and even previous APIs like OculusSDK and SteamVR are also moving to it as an open standard. MSFS is already native to OpenXR, so expect X-Plane 12 to be native or it to be in development once X-Plane 12 is in it's basic form completed. Bottom line it will make a lot of VR users very happy, more importantly it will create a standard across the board. If you want a job then Laminar Research are hiring, but oddly only a few of the new positions are actually related to the Simulator development, mostly the jobs are in marketing, customer support and website support... get your CVs out now, Laminar Research is going Global. This conversation has been visited quite regularly in BtheS. Austin has made noises he wants to bring in more gamers (obviously for the money) into the X-Plane Simulator. I have noted quite often in the time required to set up an airliner for a flight, even a short bounce of say under an hour. Earlier you set up and could fly under ten minutes, but now the quickest you could set up a flight from cold is around twenty minutes, as its a lot of work if you do all the correct procedures. Its even over 30 min if you want to set up the MD-11 and B742 for a flight. I don't mind it, as it is totally realistic simulation to it's core, and you now have a lot of great tools now to help with the set up. At one point, programming in a route of say 25 waypoints across the globe was tedious, but extremely satisfying in that you were mirroring one of them (professional Pilots). That is what Simulation is all about, I seriously love it, why I do it. Put a full cold up sequence under a Gamers eye and they would freeze over... they want instant gratification, oddly to get the ultimate gratification out of Simulation is doing the full experience from cold to shutdown, but as noted it takes time, too much time sometimes. Is there a middle ground? There is actually. The excellent save system on ToliSS Aircraft has to be the best overall tool in our toolbox. As the system is so complete when resetting up an aircraft, on the ground or in flight, it really does open up your world to instant gratification when you don't have a lot of time to do the complete main course. Many times I have wanted to fly, but was restricted by time or work. Pull up a ToLiSS and I can be ready and waiting to depart in a minute... ditto wanting to practise a landing, or even a takeoff, and with all the correct settings is just at a touch of a menu selection. Yes the X-Plane Simulator comes with a save system, but to be honest it is very if extremely poor in resetting up your flight at the point you saved it. You will never ever get it back the way you left the aircraft state, but you can do that with the excellent ToLiSS system... I don't don't know if this could be done, but could we swap ToLiSS saves for instant setups between us. That would allow non-experienced users (hint Gamers) to access the detailed setups of the Pro-Users, obviously for instant gratification. I don't mean for users (Gamers) not to be being able to just forever glide along on the backs of the Pro's, but to see and learn on how they do it, it is a consistent learning curve to get it all right. But many a time my reverse engineering of (mostly FMC's) has opened the "Ah ha" door to learning on how it all works. They are bloody complicated (Flight Management), they need a lot of study to get right. But it is how you get from there (dumb) to being here (guru). I don't know that if the basic X-Plane save and situation tool can be improved. The roadblock is the aircraft plugin architecture, and a few developers do actually include good save systems, but they never make it as a priority feature as ToLiSS does. But the ToLiSS system proves without doubt how extremely versatile it makes your Simulation experience when it works so perfectly, developers need to take note, this for me would make and break a sale, as it is the number one feature I would want in an (every) aircraft, because it translates to you flying that aircraft more, because you can. There will be as usual no Behind the Screen December 2022 issue, but our full yearly round up of the year review is to be published on 16th December 2022, so watch out for that. Stephen Dutton 1st December 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  18. Behind the Screen : October 2022 Back in the June 2022 issue of BtheS I noted the story of INI-Builds. Basically as developers INI-Builds are quite new to the X-Plane Simulator universe. They came in with a flourish about three years ago expounding a lot of noise on how they were going to change Simulation, usual stuff. In this case they did make an impact with their excellent A300-600R (F). It was extremely expensive, but actually lived up to all the hype. It was at the time the most popular aircraft in the X-Plane simulator, so kudos to them. The point here is that price point. Above US$80 in price, then any product moves into an investment category. At that price you expect, or even demand service being at least as long of a simulator version life of flying for your hard earned money, this is a silent deal between the developer and the purchaser. Yes developers come and go, that is also a given in Simulation. But again rarely not in this upper category as we still expect extended service for their expensive products. The worse thing about this whole situation is not just the investment financially in the product, but for most with their hearts as well, most users became very attached to the A300, and two other INI-Builds aircraft in the A300 Beluga and the A310-300. But the A300 was the significant aircraft here. Then came the announcement back in June that basically INI-Build's were going to close up their X-Plane shop, and move everything "Lock , Stock and complete Barrel", in a foundation deal with the Microsoft's Flight Simulator (MSFS). As noted in the June article this was more than a developer just swapping Simulation platforms. One was the point that all X-Plane development was being discontinued, worse and only a few months out from release was that the A300 was not going to be upgraded to X-Plane 12, for some who had just invested (abet many at a heavily discounted price), basically in a few months your expensive purchase was worthless. That was a slap in face for the many devoted users of INI-Builds products. As again I noted back then that INI-Build's in all their wisdom, did they really expect that users were so platform dedicated that they don't use MSFS and other Simulation platforms. In that if they are going forward to totally not be then trustworthy of not only their money, but their commitment to INI-Builds and their products in the future, being slapped in the face this hard is not going to wash and no matter how much they jingle on about how great MSFS is going to be, this is a PR exercise that would be surely not going to win them any faith back. X-Plane has it's devotes as well, and a lot of it is the old guard. Over the next few months INI-Build's were steadfast, no X-Plane 12 development was ever going to be forthcoming. Funny how things turn out doesn't it. Because on the 29th October 2022 INI-Builds announced that, yes the A300v2 will NOW be updated to X-Plane 12. "confirm that the A300V2 compatibility will be coming to XP12 for free. What does this mean? If you own the XP11 version, you get the XP12 compatible version for free.", Or finally they have seen common sense, and I am sure there will be a lot of relieved users out there. The point is why did it get to all this, and it really shows on how delicate the relationship between a developer and a user is. But ultimately it comes down to the aircraft being an investment here more than just a purchase... developers need to aware of that aspect when pricing their products in these higher categories. The timing here didn't help, INI-Builds aircraft were only first released over halfway through the X-Plane 11 run, the "Knock down" sale only accelerated that aspect of how short a time you had with the aircraft. You would say, "well it flies in X-Plane 11", seriously, I haven't used XP11 in weeks, and even then it took me twenty minutes to reconfigure it to make it all work again, once moved on, I rarely do I go back to the old. I admit as I did then that X-PlaneReviews never had a decent relationship with INI-Builds and their curt replies, so I was never encouraged to promote them or their products on this site. This article is not about that aspect, but users getting a fair deal for their money, as many, users did really love their products, those same users are also valuable customers no matter which platform you use, and at least last Saturdays announcement will help in the matter, but it is still a warning of how you deal with these situations that counts as well, as you will never know if you may need to count on their loyalty again in the future. I think in October I reached a critical point in my life as a Simulation user. The balance between flying aircraft, was tippled over more into the time and effort required to just keep X-Plane updated and tuned. Spending days just reconfiguring, updating, downloading, emptying, shifting, fixing, refining everything and not just the internal software, but X-Plane external software, aircraft, scenery, plugins, Beta updates, OS updates (both Microsoft, and don't get me started on Apple). Flying! seriously I don't have any time at all to ACTUALLY fly aircraft anymore... it's not funny either. I was worried about this a few years ago, but now it is a reality, I'm now a sub-servant to the machines, and not the other way around, they tell me what to do now all day and it is me not telling them what I want to do. Then don't add in the external data attacks on your personal personality data for to be sold to highest bidder in Russia (Optus data breach), actually it was a local hacker that did the damage this time. But the damage was massive in having to replace all my important personal documentation, running around after computers. I am seriously getting withdrawal symptoms approaching September now every year which I was already calling "Sept Update month", but it's now September AND October, the total relief when the calendar clicked over and into November was palpable. But you also have to take stock. After a review I looked at a view of an airport, not noting the actual aircraft behind me, and the visual aspect that built up the scene in front of me was actually confronting. When you stop and really look at the visual diorama, you can see how really complex it all really is. There are millions of objects and shaders creating all of this, looking hard at recreating the real world around us on computers, it is a serious miracle it does work as well as it all does as this machine has to do billions of computations alone to recreate the complex scenes. Do we expect too much from our simulations? We complain about any small little fault, but fail to see the incredible big picture we are seeing consistently. We always want more and more, but I think finally with X-Plane 12 and when it is finally sorted and refined is going to be something special. Not withstanding the MSFS and it's over the top expectations, I think that X-Plane 12 is truly revolutionary in the way we do or will do our simulation flying, it's not perfect and even I admit that, but the realism before you is quite exceptional if you look at it closely. Which brings us to the thread lately of someone trying, and trying is the word here to use a 900 Series Graphic Card with X-Plane 12 and complaining it won't work completely, it (shaking my head) won't work mate... just look at what it has to compute, but they will still try and still complain that it is not good enough effort from Laminar Research. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st November 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  19. Behind the Screen : September 2022 Finally on September 6th 2022 Laminar Research released (I hate the word "Dropped") X-Plane 12 "Early Access". The trick on noting it an early access was that currently it is only available as a "Digital Download" download version, and all of the new version in size was exactly what I expected it to be at 80 Gb. To speed up my download I only downloaded in 40 Gb by leaving out Africa, Russia and S. America. Then later that night I downloaded in the rest. Disks and hard copies will come when X-Plane 12 goes final. Tricky start was as the payment system wouldn't work, it crashed then crashed again, but then I got my authorisation key that works with both the new X-Plane 12 and the older X-Plane 11. The download (about three hours) however went smoothly. Then the big moment came... apprehensive! I covered the details of the new simulator in a full overview here; X-Plane 12 - Next Generation X-Plane Beta release "Early Access" One advantage that MSFS (Microsoft Flight Simulator) had over X-Plane (11 and earlier) was that lovely glossy sheen. Comparing X-Plane it had a very matt and even bland feel to it, and this was very obvious if you look at the older XP11 images to the newer XP12. xEnviro sort of helped in its lighting effects, but looking at and seeing MSFS aircraft in their realism appearance and you had to feel jealous. The first impact XP12 had on me was that X-Plane now had that same quality glossy feel (If in areas still a little over glossy). But the visual differences are stark and the photo realism of X-Plane 12 certainly comes over in the images we create now. Like everyone I'm aware this is a Beta phase (probably for a few months until America's thanksgiving, again like I predicted in last month's BtheS) so anything and everything could change in this period. I set my expectations for X-Plane 12 low, as after a decade or so you certainly don't believe all the hype, in fact anything hyped I usually run the other way. As you know I review and write about this simulator and have done so for over a decade. Would that aspect make me very circumspect, even quite delusional in foolishly believing and even deceiving myself it is really good when it isn't. LIke trying to convince yourself this film is very good and well made, when it is actually crap. But you could easily do this if say your current circumstances depend on it and for X-Plane 12 to be successful, you would be surprised how many livelihoods out there actually depend on a simulator (or even shall I say the word in Game). I am going to be honest about that. Not only myself, but more importantly most Simulator users have been very flattering if even highly praising towards the newly released version. I'm in no doubt that if X-Plane 12 had have not been a quality upgrade the punters would have easily like hungry packs of sharks and ripped it apart. There were the usual nasty comments from the MSFS crowd doing their two fingered salutes, but the simulator purchasers are overall the real assessors here and everyone gives X-Plane 12 the thumbs up. And I don't disagree with them in their comments. Several things stand out. Framerate is still well within the bounds of X-Plane 11 without any major blowouts, of which we had when we switched over to X-Plane 11 and it back then needed a lot of refining in its Beta run. X-Plane 12 was also instantly flyable with the excellent available default aircraft. The simulator looks brilliant, it really does, and has a very good foundation for going forward. The features are also exceptional, but to be honest I haven't yet first had the chance to use them all or even to start exploring the seasons and weather effects, but I'm very impressed by what I have already seen. So out of the box X-Plane 12 was and is very, very good. I hate "Update September", worse we now have a major simulator update and upgrade to cover as well. And its a BIG job, certainly if you have an extensive simulator setup. With experience I know to bring in the elements (usually from X-Plane 11) one piece at a time, if not you could get yourself quickly and seriously into a complicated mess. If it works so in it goes, if it doesn't work then no it doesn't go in, plugin by plugin, aircraft by aircraft, setting by setting. It will overall take months to do, but at the end of the process the new X-Plane 12 will be in a good and refined shape. To a point a major switch like to a new X-Plane version is a very good time for some serious housekeeping, and time to throw a lot of the old debris away. You would be amazed on how much non in not being now required stuff is actually living in there, and doing in nothing but clogging up your system. The positives here are overwhelmingly good, but there are a few negatives as well. First X-Plane 12 hits your Graphic Card with a hammer. I know already I'm up for an (expensive) Graphic Card upgrade, it currently runs and fine, but my GTX 1080 is seriously under load now most of the time. I will need more graphic computing space there. If I'm feeling the pinch then a lot of users out there will not be in a good position. Secondly is the lighting. If an aircraft has been refined to the new X-Plane 12 lighting model, then they are pretty good, but far too many are very dark inside, almost black coal faces. Even some aircraft that have been even refined have been a bad nightmare in getting any sort of light to take review images from, I did one review section five times and I'm still not at all happy with the images as it was just impossible to get any sort of light into there. On night scenes, then any older scenery are very brightly washed out from the airport's lighting. Again adjustment will have to be made, but how do you correct a decade of collected scenery to fit? That is an impossible job and I'm certainly not in wanting to throw a full custom scenery folder away? So hopefully Laminar will come to the party here and somehow fix it. Still on the night aspect. We expected with the new lighting engine in X-Plane 12 to have better lighting at night? In fact I think it is worse than X-Plane 11, another black hole. You are getting absolutely no reflective light, or moonshine, and I am quite disappointed by that, and even to the point I think it is not good enough for a modern simulator. As you know I have rallied over the last few years on the scenery aspect of X-Plane. We knew that X-Plane 12 was not going to have any focus on this area at all. In fact some scenery aspects have been refined and quite nicely (that extra 20 Gb of scenery). Europe comes across very well, but oddly America is and always was a bland place to fly around unless you were in the mountainous areas, don't get me started on Australia, it is bland from one side to the other. X-Plane 12 upped the infrastructure, but it is still very dire in context. Use any quality custom scenery and it really shines in X-Plane 12, just look at Paris's Charles de Gaulle LFPG on our header image and it looks and feels magnificent. Move away from custom and it all goes downhill very quickly. Yes I'm very disappointed with my local area (Gold Coast AUS). I was not expecting any improvement with the new X-Plane version, but I was just not at all happy on just how little has changed here in a decade? This is not a MSFS factor, this is an X-Plane factor and we need to get serious about fixing it. Quality custom 3d in X-Plane shows you what can be done as matching it within X-Plane is really, really good now... bubble Global Airports are too limited, but that is not the real problem here, it is the real world infrastructure that is really missing. One last aspect was that a lot of aircraft are being rejected because X-Plane 12 will only recognise XP12 aircraft and rejects X-Plane 11 or older aircraft. XPD-13001 in Beta 4 should have fixed this, but it is still a lottery if the aircraft will work or not... Gripe over. Most developers have currently only done XP12 compatible aircraft, not upgrades. They work in the new simulator but that is about it, but they have delivered in getting them out there and flyable. 2023 will be interesting when X-Plane 12 is then final and the real version upgrades start coming through, but even on the current developments you are going to have a lot of choice on what you can fly in the new simulator. In value I think X-Plane 12 delivers, in fact at US$100 for what you get here is great value, so US$59.95 is an absolute bargain, and the basics like the weather, ATC and water are exceptional, yes all round more refinement is needed and that will come like noted over the next few months. What happens next will however be even more interesting from Laminar Research. The features in X-Plane 12 have cleared the table so to speak of a lot of the past niggling problems of the simulator and the Vulkan/Metal upgrades now covered. In fact for once they won't have a huge to-do list sitting on the table, so maybe it is time to focus heavily just on a few areas to give X-Plane even more of a competitive advantage, for me it is two... Night lighting and Scenery, and in time if those aspects are addressed it will then show the real power of the excellent X-Plane 12 release. Note, if you see the new X-Plane 12 logo on a review, then that will denote it is an X-Plane 12 product! See you all again next month. Stephen Dutton 4th October 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  20. Behind the Screen : August 2022 You know the cartoon image. It is the one with the guy in rags that is crawling through the very hot desert to see an oasis, a few palm trees and water in the middle of nowhere... is it real or is it a mirage? It looks real but you know it could disappear or fade away in an instant.. At this point Laminar Research's X-Plane 12 beta release feels very much like that, real or not. Well it is coming and very, very soon, but you still have the feeling that any moment it could be taken out of your grasp... again, just fade away for another promised day, like NASA shooting for the moon... the point is when do you start to feel it is not worth it all? August was a desert month, reviews were very thin on the ground because all or any new releases are now so far and in-between. There are two causes for that. One is the Northern Summer holidays, or six weeks of extreme heat, no water and bush fires, again welcome to our usual Australian climate, only we are just used to it year after year, and here it just goes up in temperature a few clicks every year because of the climate change. Second is of course the long draw out drama of X-Plane 12, and it's beta release. Your a developer right, you have a big project bubbling along, but that will be only a X-Plane 12 release and slated for say the end of the year or early 2023 (yipes 2023!). The rest of your current X-Plane 11 fleet are ready and converted to X-Plane 12, but remember X-Plane 12 is still only a beta and changes could still be coming... But anyway the fleet is done and ready for the release of the next generation of the Simulator because you had a testing Alpha since early March, that will at least have you ready, well sort of. Then the X-Plane 12 development drags on and on? You can't switch to release the new project early as it is slated only for X-Plane 12, and you can't do anything anymore with the old fleet either because they are all up to date as well, so in reality you have nothing to release. So you just go to the beach! So do expect a profusion of quick releases of upgraded aircraft (that is the ones you have to pay to upgrade) because it will make quick money for the developers when the Beta is released, but it will also give you a full featured aircraft in X-Plane 12 to fly quickly. Important to note is that these upgrades are not just for the new X-Plane 12 features, but they also include updates for the next four years or so of the X-Plane 12 run, or the regular servicing of the aircraft you use... well regularly. This upgrade caper crept in at the X-Plane 11 release with a few developers taking the plunge, and considering that X-Plane 11 ran for just under 6 Years, it was in hindsight good value for your US$30 or so. But this time around with X-Plane 12 there are certainly many times the X factor in top quality aircraft and developers, as to the few that switched over from X-Plane 10 to X-Plane 11, so there will be far more to upgrade (or expense) this time around. I can see the roadmap for X-Plane 12. September means that everyone will be finally back at their desks, including the Laminar Research staff, then three clear months to work though the Beta problems for a "Final" release just before Christmas, and then you are ready for another "Happy Holiday's", it is all too well thought out really, so you really wouldn't want a spanner thrown in the works would you... I yet don't have (to this article date) X-Plane 12 (beta) because I want to see the whole complete package and installation, mostly to compare the same with X-Plane 11. The Alpha download would always be the minimum set up, and even with components missing, so you can't put them side by side. Another difference is that the loading size will this time have to include the "Global Scenery" at 61.6Gb. In X-Plane 11 you could just switch it over directly from X-Plane 10, or load in X-Plane 11 without the global tiles (Update Scenery) for a quick basic (Demo sized) up load, then move the Global Scenery folder across to the new version (along with your Custom Scenery, Aircraft and Plugin Folders). I am hoping the tiles if not changed in the landscape visuals, do have however more significant data built in (a sort of HD by alpilotx version as default), but anything better than the current 11 year old mesh? but I am not hoping for much there. Let us be clear. I'm not getting my hopes up for a significant change from X-Plane 11. Yes there will be areas of "Wow", but nothing like we had in X-Plane 11 and certainly not like the massive changes we had back in the X-Plane 10 release. In testing the XP12 Beta, Laminar (bravely) released a testing video: Ten Hours of Flight in X-Plane 12 – Timelapse Unlike images that can be creatively angled and lit, video can be very stark, the same difference between live television and film, although more modern television drama is now more quality than film. But you know what I mean, in television it has that stark feel to it. X-Plane is like that as well. I have very rarely used X-Plane in it's basic form. the one with 130 framerates, basic default aircraft and virtually never with the Global airports. It is a stark world there. But that is the one I was watching in the video. Oddly most users fly like this as well, because it is free, but it's actually not very realistic either. And flying just over Texas for ten hours is very boring as well, as there is not a lot of visual change going on here or there. So here come the comments, just from that video. "I hate those clouds!", and "It's black at night!". One THOSE clouds were run in real time in one area, so they won't change much in 10 hours, and two THOSE clouds were running in a timelapse video... "Duh". But I am going to note the night blackness. If this is the case with X-Plane 12, then I hope during the Beta run that the night environment is addressed. If correctly Laminar boasted that the lighting in X-Plane 12 was configured to real world lighting conditions, and that SHOULD include night time lighting seepage as well. So I'm with the hoards on this one, and also because more importantly to me, is that I do a lot of overnight long-haul flying. If this is the case then I would be quiet vocal about that in wanting that night lighting feature addressed and quickly. However you could note it could be just a feature currently switched off for testing. MSFS (yes I know) does have light seepage at night effects, and another reason to quickly fix it, that night lighting would be top of my Beta list Ben. So my conclusion of X-Plane 12 will be only after all my do, da's and effect tuning is done, and that will be interesting. I truly hope to drop a few plugin's as well, certainly xEnviro which has been a pain for the last year, but also a nasty framerate killer as well. But I am also wondering or fear which plugins and aircraft I will lose in the changeover process as well? Download size, I think we will soon find out, but my bet is on 80Gb more or less. Most users will say, "Oh I will fly my past aircraft in X-Plane 11 anyway". But how long will that last, a few months? I found once the new shiny, shiny one is out, then the former version is very quickly made redundant, rarely do you want to go back there or even use the old version, as you will quickly convert over to the new, better new. We'll keep you updated on what we feel is the best and worse of the release, but I know in a month it will still be basically X-Plane, and not the new MSFS as many are expecting. Thoughout August as well X-PlaneReviews lost our header animation. Invision did an update that did more damaged than solve old ones, including the image formatting, so it looked sadly broken for the whole month or was it months. Anyway it's (finally) fixed with a 3rd party plugin. Because it is a custom plugin you now have more options and features, so we will work with them and see what we can do to make access more intuitive. Also because the X-Plane 12 is coming (or now here), there is also now a dedicated X-Plane 12 thread on the banner, so for anything new and related to X-Plane 12 it will go in there. Finally we had a site failure, or server failure after a particularly nasty electrical storm on the past weekend, and "crack", and everything went down for a few hours. The X-Plane.Org went down as well for the same period. Obviously we are back, but these things still make me nervous as there is nearly a decade of work on this site, all could have gone in a puf in a single brief moment, but we have a mirrored back up don't we? We do don't we! See you all again next month Stephen Dutton 5th September 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  21. Behind the Screen : July 2022 Basically it was another fizzer. I was up at 7am on a Sunday Morning (in Australia) to watch the "Loveathon", between Austin Meyer's and Orbx in a promoted special event by the FlightSim Association, but you very quickly realised the live stream going to go only over old ground again, even with the same old video clips in the background. Would Meyer's finally announce a release date for the X-Plane12 "Beta", and are Laminar Research going to do a collaboration project with Orbx to create a fancy if clever way to update those very outdated ground textures for X-Plane12, Nope and Nope... in fact absolutely nothing at all, but you only got a notice that Orbx had (already) released YBBN - Brisbane for X-Plane11, and well worth your dollar if you want really good Australian X-Plane scenery. In fact it was an hour and a half of our time wasted listening to rubbish, and the fact that rowing is a very big deal in Simulation... the question is "Why Bother?". Orbx have never really given X-Plane it's full due worth, but I do admit some sceneries are worth the download, but why all this do,da with Laminar? it was just all so stupid, and left a bad taste in your mouth for the rest of the day. And people in X-Plane Simulation are now just sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for something to happen, or go and fly in MSFS. The "Last Straw", well no, but it is stretching your composure and patience a bit to the limit, now another wait, more maybe's... when ever? There was the general feeling by Meyer's that Laminar had hit another roadblock. Remember this X-Plane12 release has a lot of different elements. In the past releases it was usually two very big elements and a few surrounding smaller elements. But here it is a load, if even a large amount of small elements in all wanting to being synchronised together into some sort of whole. It IS difficult to do, even impossible. Earlier it was the translucent effect of getting the water to meet the land, a bit like two continental drifts at the point they ride up onto each other, somehow it had to work. Laminar have said they have pulled the idea off, and look at the amazing water effects in the X-Plane12 seaplane video, not at the water itself, but the way the floats and the water in being translucent flows around the pontoons. It's all damn clever, but taking oodles of time to perfect. Truth be told, nobody has seen X-Plane12 as a whole, personally I don't think Laminar even has one yet. Well Meyer's again noted again at the AirVenture promotion (Friday 29th July) that, yes that he wanted X-Plane12 out before the end of the US Summer and that date is now only four weeks away, so yes it could now happen, my guess is a release in three weeks, and usually it will be released with a whimper and not a bang, like anything it could also all just turn on a dime again. One thing it has been, is a very long drought of a summer 2022, or my case a long winter. FlightFactor however kept us very happy with the release of another variant of the Boeing 767, in the -400 version. And I have to say it is simply a brilliant aircraft. It comes basically from an old linage of Boeing 767 variants from FlightFactor, so outwardly there is a lot of similarities. But there is also a lot of future detail and quality in there that was missing from the earlier aircraft, it had a more completeness to the machine, brilliant to fly from the off. The release though was hard from our reviewing point of view. The early release version was absolutely full of bugs, and some a major hindrance to doing a real feasible review, including the visual missing of important aircraft parts. It was fixed quickly, and well, and we have had since three more very good updates in succession. Flying the B764 to Ghana was a real treat, lovely machine. But again it threw up the usual question. One week? If the aircraft had had a beta run for just one more week, then the release would have have far more smoother, certainly from X-PlaneReviews perspective. I know that developers are not going to do it just for us. But the point is that, that one week would have made a significant difference to the release, and to the reception of the people buying the aircraft. We know that developers at the standard of FlightFactor will deliver a very high quality aircraft, of which they have. But in the old days they would have beta tested the brain's out of it, and covered theses anomalies (some were very, very noticeable). But the rush to market again has seen a stunted release (memories of Rotate's MD11). It was notably only a few days, and now becoming the normal, but it causes havoc when it didn't need to, it could also affect a review quite badly as well if the bugs are really quite as noticeable as this. A week? We understand that in today's extremely complicated aircraft simulations, they will certainly not be perfect on release. But the "Bloody Obvious", does really and absolutely annoy me, "a lot". It will also damage the brand, and how many times can you get away with it before it sinks in, and a week was all that was needed for a far cleaner release. Thank God for X-Updater. SAM Another item I will bring up is the SAM3 Suite by Stairport Sceneries. Now this is a great plugin, like BetterPushBack in doing the same thing and then well... doing it better. That was SAM or Scenery Animation Manager. When the SAM plugin came out it was to replace the decade old Marginal animated airbridge tool. Brilliant in it's day, but with no development of over a half a decade, it is feeling very, very old and dated. The SAM came in to X-Plane to change that, and gave you control of your gates as well. Land and you could select which bridge you wanted to connect up to the aircraft, with up to three bridges being used on a A380 or B748. I loved it. But then Stairport Sceneries added in the "Seasons" an optional addon, and a very big and bulky addon, then the "Follow Me" truck, then the World Jetways, and finally the pièce de résistance, the "Ground Service". The idea is to do a full service from when you land, to when you depart. The full idea is clever... but does it really work? Because users like me like control... we want to add on the airbridges at the time WE WANT to move the airbridges, ditto the service vehicles, of which I still use the more flexible JARDesign GHD of which you have complete control, and the control of when I want to use which service vehicle and when. And here is the problem now with SAM. The interface is HUGE, massive and sits right across your monitor screen, also finding the gate manager (third screen in I think) is hard. If you use the service vehicles they don't arrange very well around the aircraft and in the order you want, or when you want... In truth it's a bit of a mess and overwrought, personally I hate it, and worse most gates don't still line up correctly with the aircraft doors, even though they are set up manually by Stairport. SAM3 is now of too much, of too much in one application. All I want is a simple tool to connect my doors on the aircraft to the airbridges, better still one that works in the background with only a small interface to select, or deselect the doors... now how simple could that actually be. Then if I want to use the Follow Me truck, or use the Service Vehicles, they should be available in simple interfaces and even separately. This shows that more, or in this case excessively more is not always better. I think the SAM portal needs to be broken up to be more effective, but that is just in my view. If I didn't have to use that outsized portal I wouldn't, but I have to, and to just get access to those animated gates. There is a lesson in here... Happy Birthday Yes today 1st August 2022 is X-PlaneReviews birthday, and it is now nine years and counting. The Site was launched 1st August 2013, with a little fanfare. But I see success is in longevity, certainly on the internet as many commentators in the genre have now come and gone. The trick to surviving on the net is two fold, first is consistency, putting reviews and news up regularly, content being uploaded, so basically every time you come to the site there is something new to read or review, which can be hard to do when it is only you. Secondly is change, keeping the core, but changing with the times (and that includes a lot of bad Invision updates) and I think we have done that very well. This year has been especially significant for changes on X-PlaneReviews. We have had our reviewers over years, and we thank them for their immense contribution to the site. But this year we have had a whole new group join, with Dominic Smith being the coordinator between them. This has allowed myself to be more flexible in doing reviews, and obviously it has generated far more content for the site. It is exciting, and that change allows X-PlaneReviews to grow and be more flexible in it's arrangements, may even help that I don't get burnout, the number one problem with Net work. it also gives the site a far more better foundation to move on forwards into the future. The thanks are of course to the people who support the site. The X-Plane.OrgStore and .Org, without their support then the site could not function as well as it does. The developers for supporting us with their incredible products, they have certainly changed simulation beyond even my own expectations, even beyond anything I could imagine those nine years ago, and now we have X-Plane 12 on the horizon, and perfect for a lead up to our decade old anniversary next year 2023. Overall it is thanks to you, the X-Plane Community and the consistent site visitors. See you all and with X-Plane 12 (beta) next month Stephen Dutton 1st August 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  22. Behind the Screen : June 2022 This edition of "Behind the Screen" notes that we are already halfway through the year of 2022, yes six months are already gone and we are hurtling already towards another year gone. The last six months could be divided into two quarters, the first three months of the usual X-Plane activity and solid releases (including the immense Rotate MD-11) and the last quarter in being a long drawn out waiting period... for guess what, well X-Plane12. As noted in the last few editions of Behind the Screen I took the opportunity to upgrade my "Whole" as it turned out Computer hardware to be ready... for guess what, well X-Plane12. I don't regret the timing, as prices now (In Australia) have increased, not that much but I did save quite a few dollars in context. There is never ever a good time to do this, but 2022 is one of the most unnerving years I can ever remember (and I don't even have any Crypto Currency). So timing in reflection is all about using your superpower, or simply good luck. And for that I still used my superpower cautiously and is still thankfully on the right side of good. But also sitting on this side of the upgrades it is a satisfying feeling, not perfect yet as I still need an upgraded Graphic Card, but still good to welcome into my world... well X-Plane12. Before I move on from the upgrades, I found the Hardware side changes very enjoyable, even fun... but resetting and reinstalling all the required software (actually not including X-Plane itself) but everything to support the simulator was a nightmare. Resetting things back to normal took an immense amount of time to do, worse was the recalibrating required to get things to behave correctly again, worse was the monitors in finding their ideal matching settings again, and I am still not happy with the results, but is finally getting there. The point is on how really time-consuming it all is, if also on how frustrating, change is really good, but also seriously hard work. Laminar Research have been pumping out all sorts of X-Plane12 tit-bits and the extensive Dev Deep-Dives series with FSElite, which is a long series of videos including the important developers behind the new X-Plane12's development (noted to be a series of 10). There is a lot in there, but there is also really nothing new being revealed either that we haven't already seen since the original X-Plane12 reveal back in September 2021 at the San Diego Expo. Even the Development blogs have petered out, so it is all feeling a bit-long-in-the-tooth. The aim was for an X-Plane12 release around the last weeks of July, that is in just three weeks now folks, but rumors are circulating the beta release could now be as late as September. No matter which way you look at it, it is still a long wait of maybe still months not weeks. The point is, is that pushing the boat out too far, and far too long. The simulation world is not waiting around for Laminar to perfect it's next generation of X-Plane simulation, the worry creeping in is that with the long, long wait, and the extended hype, you may get a let down of massive proportions. As noted last month, I have realistic expectations of the new simulator version upgrade, but many users don't of the coming version. Fears of the Rotate MD-11 hype could come back to haunt us all over again the longer this story goes on (and on), that aspect may happen anyway. Everything in June was heightened by the story of iniBuilds. Back last year on the 1st of October 2021 iniBuilds announced the iniSimulations A310-300 for Microsoft Flight Simulator. No big deal there as you expect a lot of cross-platform aircraft transitions. But on 12th June, Microsoft announced a partnership with inibuilds to release the Airbus A310-300 as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations in November, and that the Airbus A310-300 would also be part of the MIcrosoft Flight Simulator default fleet, or free to users that currently use the MSFS Simulator platform, still nothing of a deal there either. But it is a bit of pain in that if you had spent £69.99 on the aircraft, and you could soon get it for free if you move to MSFS. Then came the BIG news, all current X-Plane11 iniBuild aircraft would not be updated to X-Plane12. That is the A300-600R(F), A300 BelugaST and the A310-300 will be X-Plane11 only, odd was the strange fire-sale of all the aircraft early June at a heavily discounted price of £9.99, or 20 bucks $US, the sale gave X-Plane users no indication of the coming bad news, but took your money. Let us be straight. iniBuild's were always a rogue company to deal with from the start, very hard to deal with commercially and X-PlaneReviews was refused early on for any review aircraft point blank. Although extremely successful in X-Plane, I really didn't see the what all the fuss was about. Their aircraft are good, and have a lot of features (if some are quite quirky). But there are far better simulations out there for the same money, and the products were quite to very expensive. And this is the point. If you have spent that much money investing in an aircraft or aircraft's, you do to a point expect a fair amount of service and support from the developer. But basically, with the cancellation of any (even paid) upgrades to X-Plane12, it will leave you with a very bitter taste in your mouth, and certainly if you are currently getting a happy experience from your iniBuild's simulations. These aircraft have only been on the market for a few years from August 2020 starting with the A300-600R. that is not even a third of an X-Plane version (11) development run, and now already if X-Plane12 is released soon, the aircraft is already outdated, did I mention expensive at US$85 an aircraft (yes you did get a discount deal if you bought another iniBuilds aircraft). If you had bought the fire-sale aircraft, you would get maybe a few months of simulation before parking it in the old X-Plane11 hangar, at even $20 bucks that is still expensive. So if Microsoft are doing a promotional deal, by throwing a shit load of money at a X-Plane developer, then saying "Hey folks, if you still want your iniBuilds A310, you can and for free!... if you come to Microsoft Flight Simulator", stinks of poaching of the worse order. The problem with all this is that Simulation is still basically a very niche form of entertainment, many who fly in X-Plane, also fly in MSFS, and even a lot of the other aircraft simulators available, there are really no boundaries except financial. So here is the bite. If you have spent a lot of your hard earned cash in supporting iniBuilds for the X-Plane Simulator, then your getting a very shitty deal. Even if you smile and note that the A310 will be free over in MSFS, then it is not going to have the features and the flying performance of X-Plane and neither either will the coming A300-600R and A300 BelugaST MSFS versions of which you will have to pay for (again). But seriously besides a worse performing aircraft could you or should you actually trust iniBuilds again with you cash and their extremely poor service. If they have bunged you here, then they won't care about bunging you again over there. The word here is trust, and that aspect has been seriously broken. You could say I'm being platform defendant (X-Plane). But I'm not, it is the overall aspect of trust in Simulation that is accountable here. Purchasers in X-Plane also purchase in MSFS (or any other simulator). Being royally screwed in one is not going to help you gain monetary on another platform, as you are talking to the same customers. Core simmers are the ones that pay for expensive addons, not the fly in, fly out gamer crowd. Personally there is no way I would buy another iniBuilds product, if they treat their customers with such indifference for their loyalty. The really odd thing about all this saga, is that to update their (only) three aircraft to X-Plane12 is to a large development house like iniBuilds here is a very minimum aspect of keeping everyone (including future customers) happy (or the MSFS deal doesn't allow them to do that). Plus then is the monetary loss of future aircraft sales in X-Plane12, and the upgraded aircraft would also deliver upgrade fees (or money) to the coffers. In the business case sense it is a disastrous outcome for everyone involved... but the worse outcome is still that loss of customer trust and cash by not "doing the right thing, by everyone" and upgrading to X-Plane12, that just leaves a sour taste in everyone's mouth, and a lot of very disappointed customers. It certainly won't attract customers to MSFS, if the opposite in this saga... most won't care, but they should, it's your precious money going to the wall here. If iniBuilds were poached, then with Laminar dragging out their own slowly, slowly release saga for X-Plane12, then could other developers be targets for easy MSFS money. Most would say absolutely not. But in this world of stretched resources and bills to pay, then even the most stoic of developers could waver if enough cash was thrown at them, every Simulator is built on it's unique developers of products for the platform, lose too many and the platform is in trouble. A year ago Laminar had a unique situation as MSFS failed and faltered in it's early first year development, certainly in the performance and dynamics areas, but has that advantage situation now been seriously squandered in being too far to under resourced and with poor public relations from Laminar Research, and with just expecting the faithful to just keep on accepting the same as, time and time again. As times people have moved on, and Laminar needs to move on along with them and even use or need it's own superpower, the next few months until the end of this unnerving year could be quite significant for the X-Plane simulator in more ways than one, and one way or the other. See you all next Month Stephen Dutton 4th July 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  23. Behind the Screen : May 2022 On 19th May 2022, Laminar Research did another "Development Update" for the upcoming X-Plane12, and a new version of the X-Plane Simulator. "drip, drip, drip", and that is the way you usually get the formation of the new version. You take a bit here, and a bit from there and sort of build a picture of what to expect of what the build of X-Plane12 will be when released. Notable is that from Laminar Research's viewpoint is that the release is when X-Plane12 goes final, but that release, and which becomes final is usually months and months after you are using the new version is actually a bit odd, but normal for X-Plane users. First then will come a public "Beta", as X-Plane12 is currently in a "Alpha" release, which is a limited working release for developers and qualified testers (i.e. pilots). Any current view of an Alpha will include only a piecemeal running simulator, so it is not the best version or even a realistic version for the public release. But the Alpha can be used for testing the various components including scenery, aircraft and of course plugins. Last week we had the first release of the SASL 3.14.5 which is X-Plane12 compliant. SASL is the major component that gives developers the tools to bring the aircraft alive and create custom commands from everything like animations or the reproduction of aircraft systems, it is THE major important connection between the fully systematic custom aircraft to the basic X-Plane commands (PlaneMaker), it brings the life to the simulator. So with SASL now being X-Plane12 compliant it is a huge step forward in bringing X-Plane12 to your desktop, and there will a huge amount of updates/upgrades between now and Christmas 2022 to intergrate all the aircraft (or to intergrate SASL 3.14.5) to the new simulator and that includes changes to the SASL tool itself until the final release. Developers are already deep into the intergration process, and even a few SASL 3.14.5 aircraft have even been already upgraded and released, like the MagKnight Boeing 787 -8 and -9, and the AOA F-22 Raptor. These aircraft are already X-Plane12 compatible, but still expect another update or so even before X-Plane12 is exposed to the public. Obviously the X-Plane12 features can't be used or can even be seen? or can they... the Magknight B787 PFD and MFD are already quite different from their earlier default based ones, the B787 "feels" ready for X-Plane12 and that is exciting. It will be update hell for a few months after the X-Plane12 Beta release, as I am expecting a lot of aircraft to be sent to the boneyard, and some previously very personal loved simulations included. So X-Plane12 will be a very pared back simulator in this case, you will lose a lot of your past world, but that is not a bad thing, as some collections are already really outdated. And that aspect also opens the door for a more modern version of an old favorite. The "Beta" release is the first "Public" exposure of the new simulator, so is this the actual release version? To most X-Plane users, even myself this IS the release version, officially it isn't, but in reality it is, if you can accept that there is still developmental work to be done... but in reality X-Plane is ALWAYS an ongoing development, so what is the difference there anyway. Many users won't fly in a new simulator version until it goes final, they want the bugs and problems all fixed before they will do a deep dive, fair enough, I can see that perspective, but why wait months and months to get all those new features and tools in your simulation environment, and then you will miss out the learning process, as there is nothing like a buggy simulator to learn on how it all works. Buy one simulator and get one free... Laminar has already noted that if you buy X-Plane12 you will get X-Plane11 free of charge, that is if you don't like the new version then you can use the older one, or take your fun both ways. And if X-Plane12 is too buggy and annoying, then go fly in X-Plane11. Obviously there will not be a many takers on this, and why? Well for most hard users they already have X-Plane11, so why would we want it again. All it does in reality is support two simulators under the one authorisation key, it makes it easy of course, but I have usually never wanted to go backwards again once a new version is out, it is old outmoded by the way, and not new, clean and shiny like X-Plane12. There has been a huge amount of debate about the price, from (the usual free) to US$100, of which many actually thought was a worthwhile price. But in the end X-Plane12 will cost the nominal US$59.95 or 60 bucks, which cheaper than most quality X-Plane aircraft, or as I said "Buy the Airbus A330, and get a simulator for free!". It feels like that sort of deal. DVD's will still be available, and so will there be the early Steam access. Personally I think Laminar have under cut themselves here, $79.95 would have put more value in their bank account. But for the rest of us it is a brilliant deal, and certainly the price is focused on gamers to which would even try a "real" simulator for that price. Laminar are price wise more focused on having a "less price, more sales" scenario than delivering to the converted. Hopefully the extra sales will come, if not Laminar will be stuck with a lower income which translates to less resources and no future expansion of personnel. They are already very long and overdue in the new simulator's delivery and the still the list of still to-do items before release shows already the serious lack of resources, no matter how committed or how talented the current Laminar team of developers are. There was no subscription model, or even a new "era" name change either, just X-Plane12 with a "60 buck price". That should at least keep the hoards happy, but for me it signals more of the same in that Laminar Research whom are not moving forward very much in a very fast paced industry. How this plays out over the next few years will be interesting and if Laminar got it right or wrong. I always thought Laminar Research was a more forward looking company than that, but overall this feels of "playing it safe". Although there are a lot of features in X-Plane12, there is actually really nothing new? Most items known as features are really what the hoards note at the weaknesses of the current simulator in that needed (seriously) upgrading. Notable is that Laminar always do when updating is giving far more than your bucks worth in ideas. But the focus here is just ramping everything thing up that we complained about for years. Better Weather, better ATC, better Water, Seasons (finally), better Effects, better Lighting, better Trees, better autogen, but there is nothing really new in a dominant overriding feature like there was in every past new X-Plane version releases. I am not saying that is actually a bad thing, because it will deliver a "Better Simulator", but don't expect a knockout idea or monster feature to send you into a serious "wow" moment, even if the Laminar PR spokesperson noted it as "yeah Cool", not "Brilliantly Cool" or "Knocked Out Cool", just "yeah Cool"... but then again every answer to any question from him was "Yeah, Cool!" So will X-Plane12 be received as lukewarm, without that "Killer Feature", that is a big, big question. Personally I think it will be somewhere in the middle, a very good modern update, but not that much of a massive landslide of change or a really significant move forward. The good news there is also now there is a clean and empty Laminar desk top as all of those decade old niggling problems are finally cleared away. And with that Laminar can now also focus more on the "Big Picture" items. Hopefully yes. I have totally given up on the speculatation of a release date, but even Austin Meyer noted he needed the income coming in sooner than later. The latest public beta release date rumor is noted as EAA AirVenture Oshkosh week of Monday 25th July and that ends on Sunday 31st July, with a Final release noted around Thankgiving 2022, that looks like a very nice timetable, and in reality it is only seven weeks or so away. Notable is that the 747, Blackbird, KC10 and Space Shuttle have all been dropped from X-Plane12 and so won't be upgraded to X-Plane12 spec either, but expect a very highly updated fleet to replace them, so they weren't dropped for a reason. Coming in are; SR22, R22 (skids/mariner versions), Citation X, RV-10, PA-18 and the F-14. The A330 banner aircraft had the news that it is to get a custom Airbus FMS, which is a huge surprise, but a very welcome one. Two interesting X-Plane12 areas now reaching completion is the Water, or specifically the water edges. Images shown in the last week, displays, is that yes you can have your water flowing onto a beach as the fluid to mass shows, and implementing geographically-aware water colors (tropical) are also now being finalised. The results are stunning and fixing that is a huge step forward towards a public release. Another area that has rumors is that to cover over extensively the remaining (boring) default textures, the degree, depth of detail has been extremely maximized, mostly by using the more modern OSM (Open Street Map) data, in other words "cram in as much as you can to hide the shit". I don't think this aspect was on the original X-Plane12 release radar, but pushed through to counter the MSFS graphical onslaught, hence more of the public release delay. Problem is with code is, "push more in here and it pushes more problems out there", more density will create far more processing, requiring far more framerate to you the loser. So you can see why Laminar hesitated in bringing it forward to X-Plane12 than tackling it at a later update, but MSFS visual demands have changed the picture, Laminar "had to do something". Personally It could be a surprise element of X-Plane12 that has not yet been shown, the "wow" factor could depend on this aspect. Mr "Yeah Cool" PR spokesperson noted that X-Plane12 does not require much more processing power than X-Plane11, but I have still spent heavily in upgrading my computer anyway as all these new features are extremely processor heavy. Noting that you should too, and not expect to get through with X-Plane12 with what you already have, it is also a simulation security for the future as well. Hopefully Laminar will give us an announcement on the X-Plane12 Beta release in June, or at least early July, we have waited long enough, and a lot of the remaining refinement and performance tuning can actually be done under the "Beta" banner. My note is to "Light this candle", and get X-Plane12 out to it's very patient audience, a lot will complain anyway, as they usually do, but I think it is time to take the covers off a shiny new updated version of the X-Plane Simulator. The site is slow at the moment, sorry about that but there are (again) a few factors. In March it was Hardware, In April it was Software, In the past May it was medical, or I had the Flu badly. But I am now recovering. But also May brought in a few new factors in that X-PlaneReviews now have a few new reviewers with Dominic Smith and Paul Mort also doing reviews for the site and a few more are coming to join us as well. Overall though the 2Q brings a dearth of not much to actually review, or the opposite of Black Friday, you could call it "Black Quarter". We had hoped that an X-Plane12 release would have filled in the gap this year, but that now has not happened either. And that means developers are also getting themselves ready for the same X-Plane12 release, but you know like the sun shines the next day, it will go again from nothing to full manic in a few days... Cheers, See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st June 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  24. Behind the Screen : April 2022 "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry" (Robert Burns) and he goes on to say "No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it". This saying is adapted from a line in “To a Mouse,”. April was like that... In my last March "Behind the Screen" edition I documented the overhaul of my main X-Plane Windows computer to a new (faster) processor, and in readiness for X-Plane12, and the upgrade OS move to Windows11. The whole process was worked out, costed and put into operation with a military zeal, it came out as a perfectly executed plan in the transition from the old to the new, perfect and done well in time before X-Plane12 could hit the downloads. We only had to do a little (overclocking) tuning to hit the sweet-spot a week later, and I was as "Happy as Larry" as the system was operational ready and totally perfect in it's timing. My set up comprises however of not one computer but two. The Brutal Windows runs X-Plane uncompromisingly, that is all it has to do, a sort of pure Simulator engine. My second computer does all the rest, the site editing, image editing,downloading, filing, storing, email, and general browser work, and the two computers are connected together by an ethernet cable. Press in the Simulator for an X-Plane screenshot and it pops right up Adobe's Bridge Application for editing in Photoshop on the other one, I am very proud of the idea and the system. It is also extremely and highly efficient when you are editing between 300 to 500 images a review. The machine that does all this background work is a trusty workhorse in a decade old (2009) Apple Imac 27" the one in the Behind the Screen header above... and you now have probably already guessed where this article is going. It is not like the Windows upgrade had broken the bank account, but it was designed not to put much financial pressure on the ongoing year, as the problem with 2022 is summed up in one word "Chaotic". What with currently in that we have just come out of a pandemic (sort of), Mr Putin has decided to invade Europe, and almost everything is going up in price as you watch the prices change as dramatically as you watch the change of the prices on a daily occurrence, with the petrol prices... well just don't go there. So again I was feeling smug in that I had done a perfect upgrade to a very good value price, and with not a lot of over due credit sitting on the system. When you have a 12 year old computer they are like a 12 year old car, they still run very well, but they have their odd moments of idiosyncrasies, in the IMac's case it is the dropping out of the WiFi (at the wrong moments), slow, won't connect to your bluetooth mouse all the time, dropping out the connection to the bluetooth mouse all the time, dropping out of keyboards, even if the keyboard is connected by a wire and not airy fairy bluetooth, and so on. I know the IMac is getting old and yes it was getting tired in it's own way, but for the day to day work it was perfect and believe it or not very reliable. To believe that how much better value you got 12 years ago from Apple, it had even for back then a 2560x1440 display which was impressive, certainly not in today's 8K era, but the quality is still very good. Apple Computer in their extinction ethics however had written the machine off years ago, So I was stuck on 10.11.5 or El Capitan, with no further upgrades. If you have used a computer for years, you keep them because the applications will still work with that same era OS System, I have some old (2000 era) FCP (Final Cut Pro) software that works fine on the same computer (with the older but far better timeline version), which is far more efficient for editing on... as sometimes the newer software will mean a worse workflow because they add in far to many helpers or duplicate too many of the same actions that counteract each other out. So sometimes a clean and simple interface is faster in the busy work place, and not have a load of "bells and whistles" that you would barely use any. Okay I admit it is old school, but a lot of the modern software could learn from some of the great software ideas of the past, newer is not always better, certainly in Software. Feeling my age... in the old days you bought the software which even today was seriously expensive, but you owned it lock, stock and barrel. Once purchased it was yours to use, and for as long as you wished, which again is good for computers with old OS Systems. The subscription model has been around since the 1600s by newspaper and book publishers, so nothing new there, but in the computer age software companies want to make more money by selling you more software. As noted the purchase of good quality software is (or was) extremely expensive, so the subscription model actually sells you the same software, but monthly in subscriptions, which is good as it is in affordable chunks, but they also throw in any new upgrade free (back then you had an upgrade price). It is a good model, but it also has one very serious cache, they also own and control the software and not you, and bit like Spotify. I have a bundle deal with Adobe, mostly for Photoshop (with Lightroom) and the free Bridge, I used to have the full Creative Cloud series of tools, but the prices went stupidly expensive, and for to have all the tools I mostly didn't use. Adobe force you to take (for greedy more money of course) to have only all of the applications (Creative Cloud) or just very expensive separate packages of their software, which means you can't bundle the only applications you actually want to use and subscribe only for them alone, it is a totally unfair system, and it is designed to pull the most money out of their customers. Before you say, "there are free cheaper versions out there". I have used Photoshop since CS was commercially released in October 2003 (version 8). The tools are my trade so to speak, but Photoshop does have one tool that is extremely important to processing 300 to 500 images in a review session. The "Actions" tools. This is a tool that can set up a set of actions, say crop, lighten, resize, brighten or darken an image with just one press of a button, so that means not doing the excessive repetitive single actions for each image... it is an indispensable tool. Without the Photoshop Application and the action tool the X-PlaneReviews site just can't function... end of. If you wanted bad timing, then this was the "Almighty god" of bad timing, on the 30th March Adobe pulled the subscriptions on Photoshop (my version was CC 2018) from older computers, Adobe were not going to support the software any more, even though I was still paying for the software that I now couldn't actually use... worse was the software still worked perfectly on my IMac, but no I was out. I actually got in an extra weeks activity by using a "Trial" of Photoshop (on four year old software?), but once the 7 Day trial was up, my software died or then became extinct, and in reality so was the time of the usefulness of my trusty IMac. The only (expensive) option was to upgrade my Mac System, I Iooked at the new Mac Studio, but hey at AUS$3,000 that idea died on the spot, and at this point the site was not operating, sorry about that... but my perfect system was now half-broken in two. Yes I can use the Photoshop software on the Windows, it is installed on there, but it also required flipping screens around consistently to process images. No the fix had to be long term and not a short band-aid solution with X-Plane12 sitting on the immediate horizon (no pun intended). Option was a Mac Mini. I had already had one a decade ago, and actually it was the first computer I ran X-Plane9 on when I first started in X-Plane. Second hand iMacs also were the same price as a new Mac Mini but were already five years old, so I didn't want to get clobbered by the same out-of-date problem again, and "ew" someone else had already pored their horribleness all over that computer. The Mac Mini it was, but I would also need a monitor as well, I found one for AUS$200, the same model as I had on Windows, brilliant, but I was faced with a financial blowout of AUS $1200, on top of all my Windows expenses. The Adobe timing had stank, truly at the worst time. I got the Mac Mini... but it took two weeks to sort, as it wouldn't work well with the monitor? The problem is that it is a 1920 x 1080 monitor, yes it worked on the Mac Mini, but everything was like a child's toy set, Photoshop was scaled huge! and totally unworkable, my older iMac had the screen resolution fixed in, no problems. So that monitor was sold (more time) to buy a 4K monitor to get back the correct 2560x1440 display scale I had before, the cost? you don't want to go there... but it really hurt the bank balance no end. The system was thankfully now up and running again, I had Photoshop "yeh!", so I was back in business or reviewing. But ten years of working on the older Mac also mean't I had built up a large number of tools (font's and so on) and settings like my preset .psd actions and other Photoshop presets to move over, plus there was the huge amount of work of just setting up the Mac Mini to be a working computer with all the required applications with new really annoying Photoshop features (so everything had to set back to "Legacy Settings"), and their internet settings... worse problem was recalibrating the monitors to work with both computers. I had refined the settings on the Windows for X-Plane over years of twiddling. There are two settings. Nvidia is a global adjustment, but xEnviro can be also adjusted for just the lighting with-in the Simulator, so you really have two sets of settings fighting each other for the same output. The balance between the two applications has to be totally correct or you can get really shitty images coming out of the Simulator. Again there are apologies.... sorry, but the problem was that the images coming out of the Simulator were almost black or darkened contrasty out, and you can feel the problem with the Thranda Caravan review, my skills dialed out most of the nasty lighting issues, but it was again a very drawn out process to make the images look even half-way realistic, and the all wasted time in between spent in twiddling settings to get better images out of the Simulator. I'm still twiddling, but I feel I have got the settings now closer to the earlier look and feel before the complex changing over the computers. Overall I now have a complete new computer system(s), not only the flying Simulator machine (Windows), but the new not planned site and editing computer as well (Mac Mini). Nice to have but I still yearn for my old IMac, as the screen colouring is far better than the new starker 4K Monitors, and they really are harder to gauge the colour and brightness (I still check the images coming out on the old IMac via WiFi, wonderful thing is WiFi), but don't ask me about the total blowout of it all, once everything was finally under control, to myself to now be totally and absolutely burnt out by the past months events. It was a wild ride, as April 2022 is simply a month I don't want to relive again. Life is like that... everything is at once "Hunky Dory" then it is not, but it affected the X-PlaneReviews site no end for the whole month, it is nearly two months with the Windows upgrade thrown in as well, but life happens and you have to deal with it. See you all again next month. Stephen Dutton 1st May 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  25. Behind the Screen : March 2022 Back in my Behind the Screen January 2022 edition, I talked about upgrading my main X-Plane workhorse computer ready for X-Plane12. Now I am on the other side of the upgrade and the process has been very interesting. Everyone at sometime or the other are faced with this nasty dilemma, unless you are still flying X-Plane9 on a Windows 7 OS (and you would be surprised how many out there still are) the problem is you are going to be looking secretly at your bank balance account. Mostly the upgrade situation is created at a new X-Plane version release or realistically about every four years, however most of my changes have been forced upon me, for the late X-plane 10 and forthcoming X-Plane 11, I literally melted my Mac's graphic card (yes X-Plane can melt or burn out graphic cards). But I needed to also move up to a Windows based system anyway, because I could then access more (mostly plugins) applications that are created only for WIN based machines and that aspect was required for reviews. In being a decades old Apple acolyte. It was a significant moment to move to the opposition's or over to the medieval Microsoft system... I loathe WIN 7, still do compared to the elegant Mac OS. But since the messiah of Steve Job's moved on and died. I feel that Apple, although still makes great products, has moved away from the Job's "insanely great" products to Mr Cook's inventory leading leadership in replicating more of the same and adding on even more money in asking for the same glossed up products. In saying that I think the new line of M series processors are very good, but paying Aus$3,000 just to get one in a computer is criminal. Windows does give you one major advantage, separate or separated components. Buy a Mac and it is a locked box, even upgrading the memory is a major exercise, and even mostly all the memory is soldered directly on to the motherboard, a new graphic card... forget about that. So Windows does give you immense flexibility in upgrading components, and that saves you money. With a Mac, upgrading means usually a completely new computer, meaning expensive (now far more expensive). I have even come to love the Windows interface, in many areas it is now even better than the Mac OS, far better since Microsoft got rid of Steve Ballmer, and became a far more progressive company. It was a big deal for me not only to move to the Win OS, but also buy a Windows Surface laptop (No touch screen on any Apple laptops is another deal breaker). As noted in BtheS in January. The flexibility of components in a Windows box means I started my "Tick, Tock" system. Buying both major components in both a chip/motherboard, then also a graphic card is seriously expensive. You just can't afford both at the same time. I did my Graphic Card (Tick) update about three years ago to a Asus 8Gb VRAM board, to be honest it still runs very well, so it is not really ready for a overhaul (maybe next year when the prices are even closer to back in being some sort of realistic)... but my chip and board (Tock) was now getting seriously outdated and it showed via my mid-20s framerates. In reality I had put myself into a corner with the chip a Intel i7-6700K CPU, good in it's time, but coupled to a very budget Gigabyte motherboard, you felt the slowness and it's lack of features and slow buses. I also came to really hate that board (Gigabyte Z170-HD3). The Gigabyte board was another issue in that to upgrade to a new processor, you also have to replace the motherboard. So with not only with the daily dynamic realism of fighting low framerates, Microsoft also deemed my chip now too old for Windows 11, then add in then the coming requirements of X-Plane12, in that coming change a lot of the processing is moved from the graphic card over to main processor. I was faced with the inevitable, a major surgery of my computer if I wanted to gain the best from the coming (exciting) X-Plane12. The process was interesting and hopefully very helpful to other users facing the same situation. My system is totally X-Plane focused, I don't do anything else on the computer (not even games) on the Windows (site image and editing work is still all done on a 12 year old Mac). There is an immense (insane) amount of choice for users in upgrading their main components, but basically it all comes down to easy choices. I think actually the pandemic actually did me a favour, by making me wait longer to do this upgrade, and in that aspect I found myself at the front of a release of a step generation of new powerful processors (Intel 12th Gen). I did consider at first a AMD processor, but I found too many performance issues and stutters. I am sure AMD devotees will put me right on that matter, but I just was not comfortable with changing to AMD, but the 12th Gen Intel chips are a serious step up in power anyway. As you know I earlier went mad and only wanted only a top of the line Intel 12900KF, but installing this nuclear power station created a lot of problems and at a far higher cost (availability is also problem here as well). I do really thank a lot of users for their advice in comments, and yes I actually in the end used their advice, but overall the item that changed my mind was the video by Michael Brown on XForcePC, if you watch this video it will explain the differences between all the 12th Gen processors, and why the i7 is the pick of the bunch price wise to performance for X-Plane users. The Intel 12900KF is nearly a grand in X-Plane money (all prices here are in Aussie $), but the blowout was the things required to go with the chip to actually run it. I settled for a Intel S1700 Core i7 12700K 12 Core 3.60 GHz CPU (That can be overclocked to 5.0 GHz), it is the top processor of the i7 12th Gen range, it saved me $300 over the i9 12900K. The motherboard I selected was a ASUS S1700 ATX PRIME Z690-P WiFi DDR4. Debatable is the fact I didn't move up to DDR5 memory, but cost would have blown me out to an extra $500 for the DDR5 memory which not only currently expensive but also hard to get here. As a chip and board combination I think it is about perfect on features and price. I spent a bit more on the board for the features it provided, as the spectre of the budget Gigabyte board still looms badly over why I did that choice. In selecting any 12th Generation Intel chip, you hit what became the biggest debate of them all... cooling. Picking the chip/board was the really easy part, the hard part was picking a good cooler. I spent countless videos and going through tons of spec details for weeks in trying to choose anything to fix the cooling issue, it can get seriously expensive as well, even more than a motherboard. But the trick is to find the right cooler for your processor, in the end it came down to two, a Noctua or a Be Quiet! The Noctuas are expensive, but oddly it also looked horribly old fashioned (brown?) as well, but the cost as which was astronomical was the real deal breaker here, even if it was the best. My choice was the Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4, still not cheap, but very good for the 12th Gen chips. That cooler choice then created another problem, it is such a huge massive cooler, a real monster of a thing? that when if installed in my case it would stick out right of the door with the glass panel also needed to be off to fit it inside. So I would need a new case or another extra expense above my carefully considered budget to accommodate just that XXXL cooler. My choice again was another Be Quite!, a Pure Base 500DX case, WIDE but it also came with modern ports including USB-C inputs, and some nice RGB fancy lighting effects, the only thing it was short of was USB ports? X-Plane uses a LOT of USB ports, three for the Saitek joystick, throttle and rudder pedal combo, then your keyboard, mouse and external storage? with only five USBs on the Pure Base case were simply not going to cut it, so I installed a Orico 7 Port USB 3.0 PCIe card as you can do that with a Windows box, and that fixed another issue, I also upgraded my power supply from a 750w to a 1000w pack, not really needed but a nice to have (it is second hand). The rebuild took a day, but a second day was required to reinstall and rebuild my Samsung 970 EVO Plus SSD 2TB - M.2 NVMe storage with X-Plane and all the other software required, including now a OS upgrade to Windows 11. And that completes my Windows system rebuild. My original self created quote for the upgraded system was around Aus$1,700 or US$1,300 ($1,271) with the (Tock) rebuild and choosing the i7 and not the i9 it came in at Aus$1,350 or nearly US$1000, even including the case and USB port extras, it was all up not bad for a load of extra performance, and a nice fancy case. So what did I get for my money. I was always jealous of users having 70fr to 100fr X-Plane power, but realistically I never expected that sort of headroom, 50fr, with hopefully 60fr was to me a good upgrade result. Realistically I gained 20fr, what was 25fr is now 45fr, 30fr is now 50fr. But that is not the whole story power wise. xEnviro is simply a major excessive power sapping application, the more power you seem to give it, the more it takes, and I have a lot of the settings set currently to be very economical, but still it is guzzling up 20fr... yes "twenty bloody frames" and also gives me slight stutters. In light weather it is not too bad, but in cloudy conditions it just sucks down the frame rate like no tomorrow, it is not a very efficient application? Switch it off and I have 60fr-70fr, but then looking at a very bland panorama. But if you want to, you can currently average it out at 45fr, X-Plane is still very snappy and with headroom to easily absorb even the heaviest aircraft (Felis B747-200) and heavy scenery (Barcelona). But other benefits are also very welcome, 60% faster X-Plane loading times are a really big boon to me in that I do a lot of restarts per review, and the computer in dealing with mundane tasks is extremely quick and far easier to use. Far quicker also are buses than with the Gigabyte board means that now big files can be moved around far, far more quicker (rebuilding X-Plane with 1Tb of data to move only took a hour, not hours). The processor and board upgrade was done with X-Plane12 in mind, and the main reason to upgrade at all. If X-Plane12 will take say an extra 10fr (by my estimation), then using it's default environmental benefits, I can then remove xEnviro, I should see a balance of 55fr to 60fr, with that I would be extremely happy to have done the upgrade. Certainly a (Tick) upgrade of the Graphic Card would give me more framerate and power, but that was not a consideration of this upgrade. When after running several flights, and pushing the new system we found it was not even breaking into a sweat. CPU numbers were around only 40ºC, motherboard temps around 31ºC while still running a flight at full throttle. I'm not usually a big fan of overclocking, but in this case it may be actually warranted to make the chip work a bit harder, so we are going to do a slight overclock and hopefully gain around another 10% performance. limits are 5.4 MHz for some P-cores and 5.1 MHz for all active P-cores. I am certainly not ever going to do that, but I think I want it to get itself off it's 2.6 MHz backside and do some more work. Those numbers also vindicated our cooling choice, the system has five fans (three in the cabinet and two on the Dark Rock Pro), but the system does not get even close to hot (or even warm) at all, not even feel any heat if you put your hand over the rear fans. Overall it was in this aspect a sensational upgrade. Simulation is one of the absolute most ferocious users of processor power, it demands far more than most games on the market. To make gains within a budget is very hard, but still a necessity to keep up with the constant changing demands of even more realism and complex aircraft. This was my upgrade story, I hope it helps in your decisions and choices in getting the best out of not only the current X-Plane version (11) but to be also ready for the next step in X-Plane12. See you all next month. Stephen Dutton 1st April 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
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