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  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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)
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. Behind the Screen : February 2022 The current feeling is of being a mountaineer. You climb one difficult mountain only to find yourself facing another massive challenge in another cliff face to climb and digest. This is the life of a Simulation reviewer today. The forward expansion of deep systems and Simulation detail is now getting seriously complex, and it was never quite like this. You always enjoyed the challenge of a new aircraft, delving into it's systems and features with glee. But now you need a University Aviation degree to work through it all, this is now total real world stuff, and you are earning your grades by one book and manuscript at a time. Usually even a couple of years ago. You most did an extreme airliner review in about three days, four at the very most. That spread to six days, but now I am finding I am working through 14 days or TWO WEEKS in just doing one review? That is crazy stuff, and it leaves the site with not much turnover to note what other releases or changes are going on in the world (a lot apparently), we would never abandon the front page news, but for your reviewing pleasure it is not coming out as fast as we would like. But what do you do... these incredible Simulations also deserve their full attention as well. Our X-PlaneReviews philosophy is just to not only show or review a new aircraft, but to do an intergrated tutorial as part of the review. In other words we do the hard stuff and find all the intricate details (tips in other words) so you can get down and deep quickly to enjoy the aircraft, than spending the time and frustration wading through all the ditty stuff. But that is where it is now getting seriously complicated, because these aircraft are now also seriously complicated, as they are in real life. Developers lately have been working on these complicated beasts for three and even over four years in development. That is a very long leadout time, we seemingly now have to wait and we wait for a release, but to get this sort of extreme development takes time, bucket loads of time, then it is our job to sort all out that complexity when it does arrive, and quickly to get the review up. It is all about the developer pushing the boundaries of what they can achieve, lately over the last few years it seems nothing if the ceiling is even yet visible. It is the same for the user. Once a release is out there, you are now faced with a choice... Fly short and happy, or devote yourself to the deeper more engrossing project. I have found over these last few years that the wide broad choice of aircraft that I fly, is slowly being condensed down to only six or seven focus aircraft. Yes I get a lot of review aircraft as choices, but my core flying is being converged down to now only a few. I have a notebook to detail a certain aircraft's attributes. So when I fly that aircraft I can go back over those notes to remember the details I need to know, a lot of the notes and data came from the original or updated reviews. But a also lot comes from manuals or taking notes of real life cockpit videos. That small A5 book and it's page notes is now being set into Folders per aircraft, I now need a filing system to cover the modern releases in their aircraft details and flying oddities. The reviews are also getting extensively long... MEGA we call them, but there is just so much ground in features and system detail to now cover... I tried to do a shortened review version of one aircraft, but felt it was so underwhelming of not only the aircraft, but on what it represented to the user... problem is I hate giving you pages and pages AND pages of review to work through, are we boring you, is it all starting to blur in front of your eyes, it is in the need of going back to a simpler time of just publishing the basics? All big questions, but after four years of hard yakka by a devoted developer, they certainly deserve to have their dedication rewarded as well. Modern aircraft are quite easy to cover, because they have a lot of automated systems. But still developers are drilling down to the smaller details hidden behind the automation. Pressures and pumps deep within aircraft systems are now being simulated, an aircraft's idiosyncrasies are being also developed as are the increasing amount of failures, showing the complexity behind the automation. The most difficult to review are the late analog aircraft, were systems have one foot in one era and are progressing into another. These are the most and complex aircraft to learn and fly in Simulation. The Felis Boeing 747-200 is a benchmark, and it fits right into this category. Another is the regional turboprops like the FlyJSim Dash Q400, again a very analog aircraft in a modern era. Both are exceptional Simulations, but they have learning curves like no other. The Felis Boeing 742 is a particular interesting review... It took FOUR weeks to review the aircraft, admittedly while doing other reviews around it. No manuals and a buggy beta(s) caused everything (computers) and human to be pushed to their absolute limits. It was an absolute nightmare to review, but still a fascinating journey into the soul of these iconic aircraft. Look... I wouldn't do this unless I totally enjoy it, which I do... but sometimes it can very much overwhelm you... or with the external bugs that can cause days (or weeks) of pain, as did the Global Traffic bug that hit during the vFlyteAir Piper PA28R Arrow III G5-E1000 review, a magnificent aircraft ruined by an external issue.... it is all simulation. But the steepest slopes to conquer, are the complex systems. You have to Download/Google tons of information to work it all out, pages and pages of notes are now required, not so much in the moment of writing the review, but for later when you come back to the aircraft, as you need the mental switches in the notes to unlock all that was learnt and to go back through the procedures. "Triggers" for the brain I call them, and so you can see why I culled my fleet down to just a handful to operate these aircraft at the top of my ability. Truth be told, that is what real world pilot's actually do.... they don't fly 40 or odd aircraft in the real world like you can do in Simulation, but progress usually through only four or five types in their flying career. Another thing I learnt over the last few years, also mirroring the real world is flying the aircraft again after even a short (say a few months) break. The first flight back is absolute shit!, the second one better... then by the third flight your back into the groove again. It was never like that a few years ago, as you usually slipped straight back into the seat and flew it perfectly... but now it just does not seem to work out that way. It does keep the brain sharp though. The one thing I have learnt is that flying an aircraft is devastatingly tiring. I can now easily see why airlines or the aviation industry has severe hour protocols on how many hours a pilot can fly before the fatigue sets in. Current simulation is just as fatiguing, certainly if you do everything by the book, and block to block. I set myself a challenge. I followed a real world (Jetstar JQ) aircraft on it's one day roster, four flights around Australia, and I wanted to fly the A320 aircraft by the book, in full departure times and turnaround times (you have 23 min to refuel, reset the route and deplane/board), real takeoff and landing times and to follow the real aircraft (FlightAware) on it's real time route. You think it is easy... it isn't. I was totally buggered by the fourth sector, seriously tired. It was also seriously good fun, but hey "Respect" for the crews who do this day in and day out. Another fun challenge if you are up for it, is to simulate in flying from one point or airport to another point or aircraft using real world aircraft and timetables, not short hops but as a ticket holder to get from point A to point B and to a remote destination (add up the cost it would cost you as well in real world tickets) and across several types of aircraft... it is fun, but again surprisingly harder than you think it is. The context of all this is that Simulation is now reaching a completely whole new level of complexity and detail. Worse it is not going to stop here, it may as we reach the limits of systems slightly level off, but the detail with more computer power is still going to evolve. There is much more also coming in that the Rotate's MD-11 is due soon, and is said to be the most deep and complex simulation for X-Plane yet... then the FlightFactor Boeing 777, which will be another deep and complex aircraft that again is noted to be (oh god) another level of systems complexity again... and FlightFactor still have their Boeing 787-9 in development. It all never ends in the quest of Simulation perfection, obviously there is no endgame or even a final goal here, the ante just gets set slightly higher and higher as the years progress. It is exciting of course as in the last decade's journey has been an unbelievable one, and one I could not simply dream of ten years ago when I got into the genre. But are we hitting the point of splitting Simulation into those that want simple aircraft to fly, or these complex deep system creature simulations... I think it splits the same into those two camps of "Gaming" and "Simulation", and developers will obviously cater for both.... but for me it is the consistent challenge and the mastering of the real life duplication and no matter how hard it gets, that is the attraction to what the core of Simulation really is, the progress towards an ideal replication of a real pilot's work, that is why (and I) got into Simulation in the first place... so the journey continues. Enjoy your flying, and we will be back at the end of next month. Stephen Dutton 1st March 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  21. Behind the Screen : January 2022 I came into the X-Plane Simulator in the last few months of X-Plane9, so the next version of the Simulator was only a step away in X-Plane10, the next update was X-Plane11 (the current version), and then like now, in just over a decade ago the next edition in X-Plane12 is now due. In reality in that intermediate decade I have only been introduced to two new complete X-Plane versions. It actually doesn't sound like a lot of change, but there has been also huge landmark changes during each X-Plane version run in HDR (High Dynamic Range) and Vulkan/Metal API (Application Programming Interface), which are actually more significant revolutions than the new release versions themselves, they also both came to the fore with X-Plane11. The change from X-Plane9 to X-Plane10 was the most significant period ever for the Simulator. The changes were quite extensive in mostly the environment additions in new mapping ground textures and "Plausable world" autogen, that in reality changed the whole face and feel of the simulator. Back then XP10 came in a metal box (Aerosoft) of nine CDs and took up around 80Gb of space on your limited hard drive. Another indirect change was the movement from 2D to 3D cockpit environments and different if early ideas on non-art clouds (Austin's little "Puffs"). A lot of users at the time stayed devoted to X-Plane9, mostly for it's very extremely light framerate use, X-Plane10 was at the time framerate heavy with it's now far more advanced scenery aspects and that demand took it's toll on the sort of graphic and processing limits of the period. In hindsight X-Plane9 was the mid-point between the early basic 2D stick drawing simulation, and the more complex 3D world simulators coming after. I still check it out... mostly for nostalgic reasons, but to mostly see those 100% framerates (they are a beautiful thing). X-Plane11 feels like it has been here forever, in reality the change to X-Plane12 is also a year late, so half a decade with one version feels like an eternity and it is no wonder we are all biting at the bit for something new. Noted that X-Plane11 could have been in reality two versions, before Vulkan/Metal and after the API upgrade, so the timeline there is also a bit screwed up in context. That brings to mind the changes the new version will create. Most find that a new X-Plane version is also not a just a software update. Your hardware is also a consideration for an upgrade as well as X-Plane10 changed that aspect. A lot of users year in and year out change their computer configurations with the seasons, to them X-Plane12 will be just another simple upgrade. I use the Tick-Tock system... in one year a Graphic Card (Tick) update, the next a Board and Processor update (Tock). But that aspect went awry with the prices of Graphic Card prices going through the stratosphere with the move to real-time ray tracing and bit-coin mining. Three times the price currently of my old card means I will have to stick with my current one for still a while yet, but it is still very good. The "Tock" aspect however is a problem. Far older (five years) since the last update means I am in trouble. In reality I should have updated my board and processor three years ago, but like with everything Covid got in the way... to be honest until recently I was not really bothered as the system coped really well, helped along the journey with the mid-release Vulkan upgrade. But now I am seriously feeling the pressure, in that most of last year it was getting to be an ongoing struggle to keep my stutters at bay. So you were always in dialing your graphic preferences back, but I was never greedy there in the first place. But the pressures now required of X-Plane means I am feeling the growing wall of it all getting closer and the requirements getting higher, and everything is now also closing in on me every day to X-Plane's 12 release. I am already in trouble as I can't upgrade with my current processor to Windows 11 either (boo to Microsoft), which seems a dumb scenario as my current chips are not actually THAT old... but no. (Most users will say "stick with Win 10 as Win 11 is shit anyway), but I like to be current in system areas like that. The last time I did my "Tock" it was quite a simple choice of board (Gigabyte) and Intel i7-6700K CPU, not the most powerful at the time, but very efficient (and not too hard on the bank account), and they have performed well over the years. I have already fixed one other pressure of the last year in Storage. One of the statements of the last version upgrade was to an SSD drive... back then it was a 500Gb Samsung, that quickly turned in to an upgrade of a 1Tb Samsung, only months later... The growing size of files soon found me again in fast diminishing space, cascading past my 300Gb marker with only 250Gb of space left. You think that 250Gb of space is a lot, but it isn't in today's storage terms with consistent 3Gb to 5Gb scenery files and even now big files with some aircraft, and I don't have or use the large ortho sceneries either. Around Cyber Monday or with the Christmas sales there were deals, and a Samsung 970 EVO Plus SSD 2TB - M.2 NVMe was secured and installed on my board. "Is that it?" It is weird at the minute sized board compared to some of my older 12GB (yes only 12GB) drives I use to prop up my monitor, and for the minute size it is a little powerhouse of M.2 NVMe storage... so is the advances of computer hardware. Installing was the easy part... recompiling X-Plane and every required windows application to the new drive is a BIG job. It is amazing on how or much or how many applications work in the background to make X-Plane function correctly. Every aircraft (and even now sceneries) have to be also reauthorised back in one by one... it was a huge job that took weeks to get to a refined running situation of a transferred, if slimmed down clean X-Plane install. Bonus is that I now have a spare 1.3TB space to fill, that alone feels good... or last at least I'm safe for another 12 months. But my main dilemma remains, a new board and processor. The earlier mentioned Intel i7-6700K CPU was good but not the top of the range in power, so I never had "Tons of Power" at my disposal. I was always okay with that as it was a good benchmark for reviews. But sometimes you really missed that grunt, I also have what I call a few "Bleeders", the worst is xEnviro at around 10 fr to 15fr, which really is at the current core of my problems, bigger problem is that I can't switch it off for the bonus environment it creates against to almost everything it ruins, it is a real love-hate application. Being slow or late updating my processor has oddly brought me a significant benefit. 12th Generation Intel processors. Super powerful and heavily multi-core, they are Intel's reaction last year to the decades dominance of AMD Ryzen in huge power and speed. The desirability factor goes through the roof "POWER" all that power, but a 12900KF comes with a significant cost, many in fact. The problem is not just buying a new expensive board (you need a new motherboard to run the new 12th Generation chips in a LGA 1700 socket), but other factors as well. The i9-12900KF chip requires more power (It sucks down power like running a small country in electricity), secondly the i9-12900KF is like having a mini nuclear reactor sitting in your desktop computer... it runs seriously HOT, Cray computer hot!, this makes my current processor arrangement look benign. So it is not just as simple as installing the new board and chip, but giving it more power and keeping it some how cool (or cooler) is going to cost... a lot. So what was just a simple upgrade is turning into a megalomaniac scenario, but just the thought of X-Plane running with all it's bells and whistles flowing can only bring anyone to dream of well.... megalomania. Your answer is maybe then just buy a cheaper but less demanding processor like last time, but I have been down that road for the last four or more years, jealous of others having it all, plus there is the actual practical side of having power to do what I want for reviewing, I am also tired of compromises, fighting applications and stuttering framerate to just do simple jobs, I just want the tools to do my work. Thankfully I have time... try to buy an Intel i9-12900KF and you are faced with "Not in Stock" or the currently high blackmarket prices. There is a computer chip shortage going on out there as well, again thanks to Covid. Here starts the mind games. Will dropping xEnviro and a few other power hungry applications cancel out the extra power requirements of X-Plane12, in other words "come out even". Tricky one isn't it. If not I'm in trouble as I have nowhere else to currently go. Laminar Research did note that X-Plane12 will run fine on current computers, they themselves have not bought any new hardware for the new X-plane version, but the requirement specifications released early in the month puts me on the side of the lower and not the "Recommended" requirements required to pass the banner. X-Plane12 will obviously run on my current system, but how well I don't know, or I'm in the dark. X-Plane 12 is also an unusual Simulator update version. Most numbered updates have had very significant banner features to get you to upgrade to the next version... X-Plane12 is nothing like that at all. Basically it is a fix it all up upgrade, more of the same but just done far better, and in the fixing all the things we have wanted (or should have been) fixed for years. It would have interesting what sort of different Simulator upgrade it would have been if Microsoft had not brought back their original Simulator last year. There are a lot of changes in X-Plane12 relating directly to MSFS 2020, the non-fixed abandoned elements, that suddenly got attention because MSFS 2020 highlighted them. Environmental, ATC, Lighting, landscapes, Seasons... even down to the newer and better ground service vehicles that all reflect on the highlights of MSFS 2020... and the very areas we have all moaned about for years. Did Laminar's roadmap get highjacked? or how different would have X-Plane12 been if Laminar had in fact just been their usual selves. No doubt MSFS 2020 was a serious wakeup call in the X-Plane Simulator's weaknesses, is that to our final benefit or to the loss of other innovative ideas. Personally I think the changes are to our benefit. My coda is that if the basics are running right then the rest will follow, and the basics to be honest are currently a mess... left there languishing far too long in the "To hard to do basket". So the release of X-Plane12 may on the surface look like more an update than an upgrade, deep down though it will be a significant change to the Simulator... another benefit is that now that crowded list of problematic issues have been finally addressed and fixed, the table has been finally and thankfully cleared up. So Is X-Plane12 the upgrade we all had to have. This also then allows Laminar to get back to what it does do very well in innovate again. X-Plane12's single aim however no matter which way you seriously look at the release is just to counter the effects MSFS 2020. This is not for the Gamers out there (but that would be nice). But with the hard core Simulator Users. These are the ones that spend and build up their collections. And where the money goes, then follows success and activity producing for that platform. X-Plane has a serious advantage in the high quality of it's aircraft and tools, it is in the experience that MSFS 2020 gets to do better. Balance that effect better and X-Plane will become the more serious (even competitive) Simulation platform. For years I have noted that core city areas, followed by autogen surrounding areas is the most effective way to run a Simulator. In reality X-Plane12 again misses this aspect, and that is where our biggest concern is... A few token city objects was always going to fail in context. Over the last six weeks or so Laminar have been tempting us with X-Plane12 previews in images, videos and even waterbottles. The focus has been mostly on the Airbus A330 that will be the leading new default aircraft, but it is in the smaller revels that we get a glimpse of what X-Plane12 will be. Because there are no extravagant tentpole features coming in X-Plane12. Then our expectations are not extremely high this time around either, but that may also be why X-Plane12 may will be the most interesting release for a long time. It will change the way we will do Simulation again, but not in the usual way, but in the nuance of the changes it may change our Simulator to the far, far better simulator, and in that aspect it is very exciting, and getting more exciting day by day to the release of the beta. When will that release be? Most say Easter, but I think still it will be way before then... hopefully soon, very soon. Stephen Dutton 1st February 2022 Copyright©2022 X-Plane Reviews
  22. Behind the Screen : November 2021 I am amazed really on how much knowledge I have accumulated with flying X-Plane in over more than a decade. Laughable was the fact that I was doing reviews at the turn of the decade without really any flying abilities at all. That is not totally true. As I always had an extremely good eye for detail and what makes something good, even brilliant from what is basically crap. So it is not the difference in something in being actually good than crap in every aspect, as it is what is in the lines between that sometimes can be very fine. I could quite well fly an aircraft, that is take off, fly around and sorta land... In most cases back then I still cheated by using the ILS to bring me back to the ground. But it is in the lower contexts that you learn to "Really Fly an Aircraft". The art of aviation and the point that everyone has to learn... first the basics (If going straight into flying a Boeing 747 is notable as basic aviation, but then you could do that in a Simulator), then the real learning the complexities of moving around in a 3d space. This was the motivation for doing simulation in the very beginning as I wanted (still do) in the learning, mastering, and achieving the skills to fly an aircraft. Which brings you back to the old simulation adage, that could a "simulator user actually fly a real aircraft". In most cases this scenario has been disproved, mostly by a clown called Richard Russell after he stole a Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 airliner from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) and then died after crashing it on Ketron Island in Puget Sound. If you would put me in an aircraft a decade ago, and said "Go Fly", there is an extremely good chance I would not be writing this article right now. Same could be said of most gamers, who think they can fly, but would really only end up in Puget Sound like Mr Russell. But what about now, could I fly an aircraft (and survive). My gut says "Absolutely", that is not being obnoxious or macho posturing. But having faith in my learned abilities and refined skills. I mean if you watch Austin Meyer's simulator skills, then certainly I could do far better than that and he flies and owns a plane. So what does make the differences between then and now. As I have admitted, I really didn't know how to fly an aircraft back then, but I took each separate component and learned and refined the skills to acquire the knowledge to master them. My interest was picked up via a real world transfer flight from Proserpine Airport (ICAO: YBPN) in Queensland, Australia to Great Barrier Reef Airport (ICAO: YBHM), also known as Hamilton Island Airport in a Cessna 172. In typical laid-back (She'll be sweet) Aussie Style in the barefoot only shorts wearing pilot (nice sharktooth necklace though), bundled me and my two cases into the very tired Cessna for the short hop over to the Whitsundays Paradise resort. Simple. The pilot took off from Runway 11 and headed east towards the Conway National Park. No I am not at all a nervous flier, I understand aircraft, but this pilot set up the Cessna 172 at around 3,000ft and as we trundled towards Hamilton Island at around 90 knots, and I was scared beyond death that I was going to die... The reason was the pilot wasn't at all flying the aircraft, in fact he was leaning back over the seat trying to get at his lunch sitting on the back seat, worse the Cessna was NOT on automatic pilot either, he retrieved his lunch and then proceeded to eat a variety of fruit and a cold meat pie, swigged it all down by water in a bottle. Any interaction with the little Cessna was only via the slight movements of the rudder pedals, otherwise we both serenely motored on. On arrival at the Hamilton Island Airport, he did a wide masterful curve around the airport and went directly into Runway 14 absolutely flat (no nose down pitch) and into very nice three-point landing. It was thrilling and terrifying in the same instance... no doubt he was an excellent aviator (If with a casual attitude). And the point of the story? Well how did he do that, in fly the aircraft without actually holding of any of the controls, and with no autopilot functioning as well. "was it "Magic", but it served to fire my mind on how and why he did that, as there is no way I could take my hands of my car's steering wheel in the same way without ruining my very lovely car and me ending up in hospital... how did he do that, and the answer is how you fly aircraft correctly. That small flight has always been in the background of my memory when learning to fly correctly. The trick or tricks he used are obvious, first as I was too obsessed at looking at the instruments as he had adjusted the trim, but not only had he finely adjusted the trim of the aircraft for pitch, but used (most of the time) slight touches to the rudder to trim the aircraft to go directly forward, even in a slightly angled flight to compensate for the wind direction. Set up correctly like this the little Cessna was perfectly balanced, to note he also loaded my cases behind us in the front seats and not in the rear baggage hold, but to keep their 30 kg weight centred, a small but clever loading idea. So first if I wanted to be really good at the "Flying thingy", I needed to learn how to trim, but trim well. Not only in pitch only trimming the aircraft (like in the 172), but how to balance a big airliner correctly with no auto servos doing the job for me. Watch any good landing of a DHC-8 Q400, one a very, very tricky aircraft to land nicely (I have watched loads of YouTubes Q400 lately on flying the Q4XP better), and watch the pilot's left thumb on the electric trim buttons on the yoke, they are constantly moving the trim on the descent into the approach, adjusting and adjusting consistently to keep the aircraft balanced and which could be fatal if you get it wrong, but this is how the Pro's do it. The Q4XP is a very interesting aircraft to fly well, a simple bugger to land well, so you have to know the tricks to master it, trimming is one, and certainly getting the balance right on approach and landing. As a side point I have been moved seats quite a few times on a Qantas Q400 to set up the balance of the aircraft. Once I learnt to trim better or master it, it totally changed the way I fly aircraft. Secondly is not using pitch in landing (unless for a slight final flare). The trick again that I missed on the fateful Hamilton Island flight, was that the pilot was using his throttle (power) to go up or down and not the yoke. Less power and you descend, more power and you go upwards. It is a total feel thing between you and the aircraft, and you have feel the lift to keep the aircraft airborne and land it correctly... I personally don't think you can fly in X-Plane via key input (up and down throttle power), I think the inputs have to be more minute than that, and you need that touchy feel to get it absolutely right. I also cheated with landings... Back then I usually set my weather wind settings at below 5 knts or mostly zero to make perfect landings. That is another area I explored to master, severe crosswind landings are always a challenge, but I can now pull off a realistic landing in any conditions, to a point you have to with xEnviro as you can't turn off the wind direction or strength. Another area I had to master was taking off with heavy weights on board. X-Plane is very good in creating aircraft at different weights, and how aircraft react in different loads, so I fly consistently at both ends of the spectrum of flying very heavily loaded aircraft to very light to understand the feel between the two conditions. A point is that it is good to fly older aircraft. 1960's machines are very good with no or basic automation and have under powered engines, so you have to work harder to fly them well in trimming and navigation. I once spent days trying to get a fully loaded Boeing 747-200F off the runway and into the air, or grabbing the air, then getting the aircraft up to altitude with a consistently falling speed. It was a challenge. But I learnt well in how to fly heavies really well, and how they respond to marginal limits. I was quite proud of the way I mastered (finally) that challenge. Another target was to understand my 3d space. I spent a lot of time adding in and using correctly the course pointers on the Rose Dial. The HSI (Horizontal Situation Indicator) is a very valuable tool when used correctly. If flying off a flightplan, or General Aviation, these tools are essential to understanding where you are in relation to the airport and the runway angle. Important in getting your approach position in height and distance right. The tools are there with the Navigation pointer arrows and the revolving Course pointer, and that is why I rally even rant quite high when a developer does not include Nav Pointers on the HSI, as they are essential tools. I wrote in Behind the Screen : April 2021 of the challenge of arriving at your destination airport at the right speed and altitude. It is still the one area that can still bug me from time to time, in being too high at the arrival point having to do a dreaded "Go Around". And yes I did that annoyance just the other day on approach to London, worse I did the Go Around three times as it was in very poor conditions... Epic Fail. Watching videopilots is interesting. They are exceptional at throwing all the right switches and finding their way around cockpits, but a fair share of them have very poor piloting skills (which probably killed Richard Russell). The real life pilots are certainly far better to watch, but you won't learn a lot of good aviation skills by following most deskbound videopilots. Real world videos are a far better learning tool, just keep to the ones that show the instrument panel numbers to learn what they do and when. In fact you would be shocked on how violently they control the aircraft on approaches for a smooth touchdown. I am forever shouting out errors to the videopilots of what they are not doing or of what not to do in flying aircraft... They do have a responsibility to show you the right way, and not get off on their own"Jollies". I understand I say or describe things in over detail or repeat points review after review in X-Plane-Reviews. But everything described has a reason to be there. From a new layout of a FMS (Flight Management System) to a new addon tool you can now use. We provide a tutorial and review in one, to get you very quickly up to speed on that aircraft without all the head desk bashing I have gone through in trying to work it all out. (The Felis Boeing 747-200 was a NIGHTMARE). But overall it ups my own skill set in working through it all. That above point was worn in a decade ago... you were back then pretty well on your own to work it all out, no videopilots, no tutorials and everything was page by page manual learning, but you learnt it well, and and I will make the point the aircraft were quite simple to learn back then... not today. This year 2021 has been a complex level raising year for simulation complexity, good in one way, but far harder to work though in another. But the exceptional level of releases has certainly raised the standards of both developers and pilot's alike. So here is the big question, could a good experienced simulator pilot fly a real world aircraft, I personally think yes, if they are of a certain grade of experience. There is only really only one way to find out, fly a real world aircraft and find out... in 2022. There will be as usual no Behind the Screen December 2021 issue, but our full yearly round up of the year review to be published on 17th December 2021, so watch out for that. Stephen Dutton 2nd December 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  23. Behind the Screen : September 2021 It is very hard to ignore the announcement of the next version of X-Plane12... at least the name is now official, so we can move forward on that aspect. But what of the announcement itself. FlightSimExpo 2021 in San Diego (24th-26th Sept) as it was forecast to be a huge affair with the massive fanfare the new simulator version deserved. Laminar Research had an open goal as well as the big MSFS (Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020) in the developer (Asobo Studio) and 3rd party developers (PMDG... et all) all staying away from the Expo. Covid of course created an environment of chance, but I think that the MSFS crowd stayed away for the more personal reasons, no doubt they will be back there in full force next year. So Laminar had nothing to lose, and absolutely everything to gain... but it all went so wrong. A rushed presentation, a particularly poor new branding... was it all Covid created in hindsight, personally I think not, worse was the fact that under it's skin X-Plane12 when put into it's full context is very good, it will be very good as well... but that aspect didn't show through, so haphazard was the presentation... at the core here is that simply the new simulator wasn't finished, there was a running version at the Expo, but nobody except a chosen few saw it, not even images or a video emerged to show it off, because quite simply is that X-Plane12 is not ready in context to show off. The hard Expo date and the announcement coming at Oshkosh created a monster problem for Laminar Research, it had no time nor the resources available to get that Alpha version running for that due date, I really think they tried, mercilessly so to meet the deadline, it showed on every face in that video, but it will be now just weeks late, it will come together, and very soon and X-Plane12 will finally come to light. What was the core of what was really going on here. X-Plane users and all people closely involved in the Simulator are usually very used to all of this, to the most older X-Plane sim users this is all actually nothing new, in fact it is all so normal that we shouldn't have been surprised at all of the eccentric release show... it was at it's core Laminar Research at it's most buccaneer moments, only this time we just didn't get the joke or feel the fun. Overall we know Laminar and it's motley crew will deliver an exceptional simulator as they have repeatably in the past, and this time in coming with all the areas we have moaned about for years in now actually fixed. So why are we feeling the opposite than what we should be feeling... the problem is, this in 2021 and not 2011 (early X-Plane10 era). The world of Simulators are at a critical stage and now out there on the world stage in full view, X-Plane doesn't have it's own cosy little world anymore, it is up there and is noted as one as the "Premier" simulators, because deep down it is a Premier Simulator, and this next evolutionary step was a very crucial one, in fact the most crucial step for X-Plane in it's 25 year anniversary life. So in the full glare of publicity did X-Plane actually blew it? and do we know that X-Plane blew it... the effects of that will be felt maybe like Covid for many years to come. For many X-Plane users they will simply in private rejoice, they never wanted the limelight in the first place, it will to them in their minds, return the simulator to the good olde days of clubby nonsense... and they can reclaim the Simulator to their particular paradise. They hated the intrusion of the Flight Simulator thinking, the monetary aspect of the Simulator... the numbers and the spending to 3rd party developers is not their vision of a Flight Simulator, but in a complete selfish reversal... put a good product out there and they squeal with delight, ethos be damned. For most of us we dream the dream, and over the last decade that dream has soared beyond and higher (pun intended) than we ever expected, that of course put even more focus and illumination on the next version of the Simulator, and not to forget the MSFS aspect that now "expects" yes the word "Expected" to compete with Microsoft... you could even say that this is "what this is all about?" Unfortunately it is far more than that... Punters deep down will rally the point that they don't want X-Plane to change, they don't want X-Plane to become a MSFS clone, but that is really missing the point entirely. X-Plane does not have to sell out it's soul to move forward, but it has to be also a business to survive. MSFS opened up simulation to a world that didn't know that such depth of flying aircraft and realism in airports actually existed, they watch the simulation videos with awe, and they simply can't believe the depth of the systems we are used to... but to do simulation on this level is not a game, it isn't just tootling around the sky, as it requires years of learning and study to perfect the perfect flight service. Flying is and will always be complex, but that is the ultimate attraction and the challenges to overcome. So X-Plane12 is the next evolution, it covers most of all the areas that we need to be covered to take the Simulator up to that next level and in most areas be even better than MSFS or any other simulator out there. But part of the disappointment was to at least address the area of the visual component. You are never going to complete with all that MSFS bing mapping and come off better, you can't even try. But the Laminar direction is to fix the areas that can be fixed and no doubt Laminar have done that, but you are also seeing the other critical area being totally ignored. Mostly this is about internal Laminar resources, worse is that since Alpilotx moved on a few years ago, there was no replacement, and a huge hole in the scenery aspect has been created in that Laminar in it's own wisdom didn't feel it needed filling to their own detriment. Remember in the early days the core of Laminar did the central work, and most of the other areas were dialed out to talented enthusiasts, again in that clubby innovation... but if a Simulator has to grow, compete and be a business, then soon you need talented people to cover the various critical areas... you could try cloning Ben Supnic, but my guess they would just argue amongst each other, but it is a great idea... Certainly Laminar are aware of the problem, you would be an idiot not to, but the comment here is to let us fix the most obvious and return to the scenery later, in reality their should have been a person put into place to do that aspect actually earlier. My personal view on this is that a rejuvenated scenery component in X-Plane12 would have attracted back FlightSim developers to bring their products with them... the current scenery textures are a decade old, and scenery developers struggle to make their scenery (and cityscapes) look authentic in the current environment, the look of X-Plane just does not help, but I will admit the new lighting model will go a long way in creating a far better environmental feel... but that aspect may now be lost, at least for a few critical years. The current mesh tools are horrible and difficult to use (hence only Alpilotx was the only one skilled enough to do it), and Laminar won't give access to them anyway, unfortunately Ben Supnic would need to rebuild the system from the ground up to do it justice... you can see why it was a project shelved in another current too hard basket... fix what you can and visit the other problem later, but to attract back those scenery developers in this critical area, then updated scenery mesh should have been a major part of the X-Plane12 feature list. Most of all X-Plane12 didn't feel different this time around, I called it initially X-Plane11+ and it felt like that, but studying all the new components together and it does deserve the X-Plane12+ moniker, however Laminar Research at least should have rebranded it, "At least make it feel new(er)", and the better new, and they started off really well with the "Next Generation" feel, they just didn't follow the branding through on to the actual product itself. Again was that not to look like X-Plane was feeling the MSFS promotional onslaught and "we better rebrand" to compensate towards MSFS... "Sail steady and true" was always Laminar's motto in the past, but like I said at the beginning of this article, this is 2021, not safe 2011 anymore, the one thing above all else was that Laminar really needed to do this time was to refresh the branding to say "This is a Premier Simulator" and "Come and see how great it is", but in reality it will now just be seen as the same X-Plane brand it has always been in either X-Plane11 or even X-Plane12, ditto in the fact that X-Plane will still be viewed the same old X-Plane as well... just at the very point it could have made it's real impact felt in the wider context. The lost missed open goal... I should and will always support the best Simulator out there, the one that has brought me over a long decade a lot of immense pleasure, and that is X-Plane. Covid has without doubt created a lot of confusion, ruined markets and businesses... In time the moment will be forgotten, in a year X-Plane12 will be part of our lives as much as X-Plane11 is now... "who cares" will be the memory, but you have to record the moment for what it is, and in what it actually could have been. See you all again next month. Stephen Dutton 4th October 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  24. Behind the Screen : August 2021 There was another anniversary in August (Besides our own X-PlaneReviews 9 Years), and this was one for the X-Plane Simulator itself, for it's 25th anniversary since version 1.0, released in August 1996... a user posted some early X-Plane images here A Quarter Century of X-Plane. There obviously has been a lot of simulators released in the intermediate years, the Microsoft Flight Simulator is the most obvious and popular one, but X-Plane had one very distinct advantage from the start, actually a hidden advantage in the inclusion of "PlaneMaker", and looking at the earlier designs it was very, very basic back then... but that is not the point. As most simulators were sealed, in the point that you could only fly aircraft created by their own artists and developers, it sort of created a boxed environment, in that if they didn't upgrade or release any new aircraft, then you were restricted by what you could actually fly. The inclusion of "PlaneMaker" changed those dynamics, that is that anyone in fact (if talented) could create aircraft for the Simulator and distribute the aircraft though portals like the early X-Plane.Org. Yes MFS had the same sort of loaded content and portals, but X-Plane attracted the more technical or real world pilot aspect, the far better real world (Blade Element Theory) dynamics also helped a huge amount as well. It was these interaction elements that really allowed both MFS and X-Plane to thrive and still be extremely active today, were as most of the other Simulator platforms are marginal at best, or simply now extinct, sad as some like iFly were very good. The user participation is an important aspect here, if the most important area of everything. In early X-Plane development it was the single user, but also later the clubby joining of a few talented people that got together to create mostly all back then freeware aircraft, to a point they created and built the X-Plane Simulator, or were the founding members on what we have today. MFS went in the other direction in going commercial almost from the start, in other words you paid for absolutely everything. Both dynamics have their positives and negatives. Certainly the commercial angle attracted more developers to MFS, it created more addon product earlier as well, but it later became a curse, because it locked in the development to a lost and very poor basic application. it was a curse that ultimately faulted to the point of being a ridiculousness, even now with the newer Microsoft Flight Simulator MSFS, the old guard are trying to (and badly failing) to redevelop their products to fit a more modern dynamic engine, they complained feverishly that X-Plane was too hard to convert to, but they are now having to do just that, and to a far worse platform. X-Plane created their own curse... "Freeware" and a sort of hippy leftover that the love should be free and available to everyone. The mechanisms come from the right place, of giving and sharing, all very noble... but it has also it's own drawbacks. The biggest drawback would be that "Free" does not drive innovation and ideas... a few however do stand out, like Zibo's Boeing 738, but even here it was based on an original default aircraft... if you want to attract the very best then they have to make a living from the work. That is not to say that X-Plane is not innovative, because it is... and hugely, but in a small code capacity... if you want the big and better stuff, in reality you have to pay for it... the distraction I hate is that why you would put up with an average simulation in both aircraft and certainly in scenery, just because it is free, in a way that is a serious backward thinking, but about 60% or more of X-Plane users are seriously devoted to the cause, and it feels in many ways that not much has changed in those 25 years. But what is the core of a simulator... certainly the original developers of the Simulator in Laminar Research are extremely important in keeping the Simulator relevant, and considering their very small development team, have produced miracles in creating the tools we have today, but certainly now with the mega MSFS onslaught, currently X-Plane is feeling it's age, but in context it is also at the end of it's last version cycle. But a decade ago a small gang of freelancers decided to go commercial in X-Plane, stalwarts like Danial Klaue, Jack Skieczius (FlyJSim) Khamsin and JRollon created the first commercial X-Plane product, others from the period soon joined and the commercial side of X-Plane was created. Later the single developer was joined by teams, with FlightFactor Aero being the first developer to create product with more than one or two people doing the work... or a team effort. The problems facing single person developers is simply time, with two to three years the leading time to create their aircraft (Scenery is a bit quicker at say twelve months). With a team split mostly into three people, then you can or should turn out an aircraft a year, or at least every 18 months, it is now a business... but that is not the biggest aspect of the single developer to the team angle. A decade ago simulated aircraft were actually quite simple in their construction, mostly a hybrid and still based in the PlaneMaker" environment. But "PlaneMaker" basically is still a restricted medium, so to get around it's restrictions, then we introduced the "Plugin" format, mostly SASL (Scriptable Aviation Simulation Library) with the LUA code as it's foundation. Others are Chromium Embedded Framework (CEF) and the latest in Xjet. These plugins changed the whole concept on what developers could do in creating a specific areas in say animations, avionics, but mostly in replicating real world aircraft systems... they also created the "Authorisation" system to stop blackmarketing (or the stealing) of commercial product. In doing reviews there is an issue facing single headed developers. Basically there are three areas in creating product. Modeling, Texturing and Systems. the problem is that a brilliant modeler can create an almighty and excellent visual aircraft, but is hopeless in the coding aspect and this creates a weak area, or the opposite is true, were as the aircraft systems are first rate and the modeling a bit or really average. There are a very few (mostly the really older developers) that can cover the full triangle. This aspect makes it very hard to review, because the product is brilliant in many areas, but quite basic in one or others, it isn't actually the developer's fault, it is just a personality weakness as the three areas demand the very different skills to achieve a whole goal. Obviously being a team can easily overcome this critical aspect, as the perfect team has a member that covers a certain significant area, plus they have the huge advantage of each member working just within their own field alone, then combining their efforts at the end. And speed is the key here, so where as a single developer has to switch in each period to each state of separate development, that development can then go on for years. The biggest deceiving area is when or if you follow an aircraft's development on the forums... almost magically it is created very quickly before your eyes, but in reality it is only the pinnacle of an iceberg, in that the system coding can take three times as long as the quick reveal of the modeling... most observers just don't understand this aspect, with the full modeling completed, they simply can't understand why it is taking or going on so long to release their personal favorite aircraft. Abandonware is usually big as well at this stage... what looked very easy early on, then becomes a nightmare when faced with the coding and animation reality. If the product does get through this stage then most of the observers are well gone and have abandoned the product, worse then usually two aircraft of the same design are released at the same time... or even worse another aircraft of the same design comes along and whizzes past you to be released first and is far, far better than your own development, that is simply heartbreaking, and the worse of the worst is the never to be released but always in development aircraft... a Comet 4 anyone. The coming through of plugin architecture also created a major shift in development. The clever "PlaneMaker" developers (mostly single headed people) were then left very quickly behind as development accelerated massively and very quickly past them, and sadly they could not adapt to the new aspects of creating ultra professional products, as in their hearts they were only clubby amateurs, their hearts were big, but their skills were not, and one by one they fell aside of progress. One other interesting aspect of development is a cruel one... on the purchasers. You put your money down for a product and it is indeed extremely good (for it's time) and lot's of times it is a crossover product from Flight Sim, very rare the other way around. In that an X-Plane developer has ripped the guts out of an FS product and recreated it in "PlaneMaker" to work or fly in X-Plane... and it is very, very good, and you love it, purchase it. Then the developer either gets bored, wants to move on with their life and we are left with a very good but now quickly aging product. The original host FS house won't or can't update the aircraft, so it gradually ages and soon won't work at all. This happened to me lately with an odd situation on the last update from Laminar (v11.53) that in the background the aircraft systems in the original X-Plane FMS was discontinued as were a few very old aerofoil profiles. This had the effect of simply shutting down a huge amount of well loved product in my "Aircraft" folder, mostly the Virtavia products (C-17, Seaking, B-29A), Peters A380 and the unsupported PMDG DC-6, which was not very supported from the beginning... all broken and now unflyable. Is that fair? do we expect products to be supported over a longer period? (as a note I did get the C-17 flying again, but my beloved Seaking is now very sadly broken as is the DC-6. Should their be a system were if a developer wants or has to leave (or in some actual cases die), then why can't other developers support the products, which in a lot of cases only need updating? Yes we would pay for the updates (or upgrades) and just to have our machine workable again, but it is a real shame that they leave the simulator broken? Obviously not everything can or should be saved, but is it possible to save the better ones, and are we owed that aspect at least in purchasing it in the first place. Copyright is one of the biggest hurdles, as is the ownership of the rights. When Microsoft released MSFS last year. Most current X-Plane developers noted that they were not going to switch over to the Wunderkind Simulator, Surprisingly JRollon did display his SIAI-Marchetti SF-260 in MSFS (a sort of traitor to the cause feeling), but overall most developers did not want or actually want to move over. It is an interesting aspect, and the one very important element to X-Plane going forward. The on year situation is that X-Plane has delivered already some pretty astounding product this year... and like they say "You haven't seen nothing yet". As the coming Fall/Autumn releases are simply spectacular, if also going to be very hard on your bank account. X-Plane developers will deliver another level if not "levels" of detail and system intergration. But let us be clear, if they go, we all go with them... so it is very important to support these brilliant products... with the developers staying here in X-Plane, it is one of the most important points X-Plane of how will survive moving forward, certainly if Laminar increases their quality with the next revolution of X-Plane (12/Whatever). One, let us be clear that the underlying engine to MSFS is still not great, but getting there, but the loss of this monetary aspect, in that could you make far much more money in MSFS, than here in the tightwad X-Plane environment. Current noise coming out of MSFS is also interesting to developers, is that most of the current products are being priced well below value and more importantly only generating very slim or even low profit margins, to increase the Flight Sims awareness. Notable is that a lot of this cheap product is actually reworked product from the original Flight Sim FSX or Prepar3D, so they are getting payment for old stock (again). But even new product is being priced extremely low at 40% below other platforms, in fact PMDG priced their NewGeneration 737 at the (absurd price) $140, have now realised that the market will not support such greed, in fact any above US$100 products will not get the sales expected, except for a few, most X-Plane top product is better priced in the more realistic US$60-$80 range. But still a lot are not happy, remember they expected a bonanza of profits, worse is that they don't at all like the new changed format to focus the simulator platform more to the (gamer) Playstation/Xbox crowd. To a point X-Plane is a pure Simulation platform, with an option to play the handheld mobile app... the problem is you can't have it both ways... in being a simulator and a game, it has to focused as one or the other, worrying for the big FS developers is that Microsoft is picking the other and bugger their profits and roadmaps... could you fly a deep simulation aircraft on a games console? probably, but will that also bring a lot of dumbed-down product. This edition of BtheS is focused on developers. Why because they are the most essential aspect of the Simulator... if they walk as mentioned, then basically X-Plane will simply fade away. And why would you want that to happen, with the product slated to arrive soon and now being announced for 2022 is the reason you would want them here and not walking away, hopefully the same product will enhance even the old school FS simmers to come back to X-Plane because of the excellent product, and the FS developers they want the support from (do I hear "Kicking and Screaming") One other aspect to finally note is the sheer complexity now of X-Plane. Reviews are getting ridiculously long, you may wonder why reviews are getting more sporadic, but actually we are working harder than ever, and in context one review currently is three times longer than one of say three years ago, and that one was the largest review ever done in that particular year... so much is the complexity and detail of the systems. Quality is also off the charts and so are the feature lists. I went back to a few aircraft of a decade ago, and it is like going back to the prehistoric era, you want it, well people you are getting it... simulation on steroids, and these people and teams make it all happen, so you don't want these vital developers to disappear like a dinosaur now do you... as they are a very special species. See you all next month And watch out for the X-PlaneReviews indepth coverage of the FlightSimExpo September 24-26, 2021 Stephen Dutton 7th September 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  25. Behind the Screen : June 2021 Boom! and we are already half way through 2021, that is a full six full months... gone already. So what are the patterns, the feel and the flow of the year. First off it has been a real stop-start year, great highs with some really great product coming out, and seriously low, slow lows when everything just grinds to a stop. June 2021 was like that, it was if the aircraft had pulled into the gate, shut all the systems down, and locked the doors and walked away from an inert machine... it was as they say "deady dead". The missing June Expo, in being moved to September 24-26, 2021, didn't really help at all either, most the users just then turned off their computers and headed for the beach or the mountains, and can you really blame them, as with their vaccinations done, they were now free in not spreading the deadly Covid virus, or either being infected... freedom. Laminar released a video teaser in compensation of the non Expo. The coming new HDR effects for the (We are not announcing X-Plane12) announcement. An odd situation, but I think a big welcome relief from South Carolina as they were granted even more time to work on their pet project, so the Expo in September is going now be it (again), so put it on your calender, right next to the already notable crossed out past dates, that Laminar may have already missed on announcing X-Plane12 or whatever they will call it. Yes I am again going over old news, but in case you missed the memo, it is a very big deal, hence the excitement over just this a single video called X-Plane Technology Preview One. If you use already the xEnviro environmental application, it isn't as a big deal as you would think it is, as xEnviro does most of this clever HDR stuff now, for a high cost of course, but the revelation, is that X-Plane will do the same HDR effects at the default level and thus saving you the frame rate hit of xEnviro on your system, and probably do it better than the exclusive application, so it is all a coming bonus there... I had xEnviro sidelined for a few months last year because Dark Space had not upgraded the application to the Vulkan/Metal 10.50 level... and yes I seriously missed the exceptional effect generation the plugin creates, in fact I really hated, but had to accept the bland vistas of the basic X-Plane application for months on end, and I also had to work twice as hard to get the same level of quality into the reviews. So yes the coming HDR effects are certainly going to have a huge and even massive impact on the look of the simulator (and even lighten up those cockpits, no bad thing there), so what looks as even a small announcement from Laminar is a really a very big deal, and I am not saying this factor, just because I am trying to make something as small as the HDR effects announcement to say a lot to compensate for so little or even the trickle of news coming out of South Carolina, but that it is actually IS an important step forward, that said, as the announcement was noted as "Preview One', then expect more of these trickles or drips of news from Laminar over the northern summer. That said, there was (another) announcement from the hosts of the 2021 FlightSimExpo of the main exhibitors coming to the Expo in Sept... This is of course only the initial list, but it was a big surprise in any shakes. For one the list is very one-sided towards X-Plane... Laminar Research (of course), Orbx, Navigraph, Thrustmaster, virtual hosts and surprisingly even our own X-Plane.Org are going to have a booth. But what of Fiight Simulator, the only presenter here currently is Lockheed Martins Prepar3D and that is the older FS standard platform, not the wizz-bang new one... so do you notice something really odd here? There are no MSFS or Microsoft Flight Simulation or partners on the list... no Microsoft, PMDG, QualityWings Simulations, AEROSOFT GmbH (not really expected at 2021), but remember on how at Orlando back in 2019, in how the FS crowd dominated everything, including prep talks from Robert S. Randazzo of PMDG with his strutting around, and Laminar were reduced to the bottom of the list in appointees, but still however stole the whole show with their landing competition. Yes it is very days early yet, and anything can change between now and September... but for now it looks like Expo 2021 in being a one sided X-Plane dominated show. I am not going to hide the reality check of this same time last year for X-Plane. There was some serious worried faces behind the scenes on how much disruption the MSFS release and to a point the ongoing Covid effects on the X-Plane Simulator would have been. Yes Laminar had (and still does have) X-Plane12 up it's sleeve to pull out that new defining extra level on the simulation platforms. But even yours truly spent some time reflecting the worst case or of even the best case scenarios and what they would be (collated into one important post "X-Plane and in the future the new world order") of which I thought was an important statement. But now one year on and mid-year 2021 the pattern has somewhat evened out, so you can see a much more realistic visible future for the X-Plane simulator as the year continues to pan out. For one the simulator didn't at all lose momentum, the X-Plane.Org is as busy as ever, if slightly busier, so no change there or even a significant drift to MSFS. Aircraft releases and their updates have not been affected either, a few are being released a bit later than expected (mostly Covid releated), but all the same they are still rolling out periodically and all great in-depth releases they are to. The only odd pattern is that in the first six months of 2021 it has been full of Helicopter releases, in the past one or even two releases of a helicopter was a lot, but this year it has already been a gut of vertical flight or related to it. After two or even three years of almost nothing, it appears they are all making up for lost time... but it is odd. Scenery as noted last month in BtheS is where it was a noticeable drawdown. A lot of the FS scenery developers decamped back MSFS and that certainly showed a slow down of converting FS scenery to X-Plane and moved on to converting the same scenery for MSFS. But here again there has been some good scenery still released, and also soom great custom freeware and Global Airport scenery as well, so it is again not all bad news, in perspective X-Plane as a simulator has been tootling along quite nicely thank you, so the huge significant threat we all feared this time last year has not yet initially appeared, certainly the doom and gloom clouds have moved away, but we are however still in the transition era of Simulation. But as earlier noted, June was deathly quiet and oddly so was MSFS, I was out of action as well with a bad head cold, so reviews were a little slower this month than usual, but I suppose the timing couldn't be better, maybe we all need a breather from our addiction some time or the other anyway... but overall as the land lies it is far better mid-year than everyone actually expected. Developers are the significant key to simulation, and I will be doing a future BtheS post totally designated on that aspect soon, but the biggest fear last year was the movement of key developers over to the new MSFS platform, a few dipped their toes in and few unexpected developers at that, but most stayed very loyal to the X-Plane platform, and the ongoing key of why X-Plane is in the brighter situation that it is expected to be... but let us not forget. That the X-Plane simulator's past long history is also a significant part of that particular factor, from a developers point of view, X-Plane does deliver and provides the tools they need to create their creations, only the market doesn't live up to the size of the returns they truly deserve, I am hoping that the coming changes brought through X-Plane12 will also change that aspect. But I also think that as a simulator X-Plane and its community also needs to do better marketing to get the message out there of what simulation is and the depth of flying these machines (and what we) can do... one thing Microsoft is very good at is marketing, so the next twelve months and once X-Plane12 has been settled in, then let us get us more serious in attracting more committed souls to the brethren, we can't keep our little intimate world to ourselves forever, one thing MSFS has put out there is that simulation is out there and brilliant entertainment for those who want it, the only issue is, most don't know in what or in how we spend our time... so as we now live in the 2020s, we are also to understand that are also not still in the older dark ages, but competing with other larger forms of entertainment and that is even the pivotal point of MSFS, as they know that aspect and I am not just talking of gamers here (as they make lousy pilots) but for everyone who wants to learn about aviation and fly,and about in depth aviation and flying. In that vital aspect X-Plane is a world leader, when X-Plane12 is released, it should also be a world class leader in that forum... we just need to tell everyone else out there about our little world as well, Laminar can only do so much with their resources, the rest is up to the X-Plane community and it connected services to market simulation and show off the best simulator to the world. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st July 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
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