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  1. Behind the Screen : March 2021 On the Laminar Research Facebook page in early March the announcement suddenly came up in... "Something BIG is coming". Immediately the one BIG thought that flashed into your mind was X-PLANE12 or whateveritwillbecalled in X-Planesomething. Now we know or very quickly some sleuths worked it all out, that it was not anything to do with X-Plane12 or even with Laminar Research, but the formation of the Flight Simulation Association, that was formed by the same people Reiter and Coyle that brings you the yearly FlightSimExpo. The association was to bring in all the diverse elements of the main Simulation platform creators, third party hardware and software suppliers and all the different aspects of simulation together into one hub for Simulation flight Sim Enthusiasts, and to get access to all that you paid a membership fee that cost US $30 per year, although a 30-day free trial was then available. Well that went down in a firestorm of hate and bile and the chair throwing, and even so was the full dinner set was thrown against the wall... "oh why pay for something we can get for FREE", they bawled... the poor guys from the FlightSimExpo, just ducked and dived and were naturally horrified at their misconception of what a terrible, terrible thing they had all done, into to try and get the FlightSim community to come together and have a association to represent the niche (meaning very small) segment of what we call our simulation world. Let us be clear, the membership fee was obviously for cover the administration and site costs, and yes even a little profit for the work required to run the site and do the work of running an association. But hey, you HAD to PAY for it! I seriously doubt the project will survive, as the FSA will linger on for a while, but with no income, then for how long can you do a volunteer volume of work before throwing in the towel. My perspective was it showed the real nasty side of simulation users, even if the FSA was a bit inept at the start, and was filled only with some average deals and products, didn't we really miss the whole point of why we desperately need something like the FSA. In the long run the nasty rebuff could also sink the FlightSimExpo (already suffering badly with last years virus cancellation, and the same virus could even could still sink this years event, of which actually is extremely important to the FlightSim community. So would you expect two guys in just trying to "have a go" and then to walkaway from a community that does not really want anything but for anything that will only satisfy their own selfish needs. There was something very nasty about it all. Maybe it is the pent up frustration, created certainly by Laminar Research in announcing "something" in the New Year and here we are months later with no details on any future roadmap or not even a sweet/candy wrapper to show for our devotion. Yes Laminar will always be Laminar and will walk to their own time and space continuum that even Einstein would have not been able to work out. That frustration was and still is out there, still bubbling away and building, so the announcement of the FSA was certainly badly timed, the FlightSimExpo in early June would or should have certainly been the better timed event for the announcement. Instead of solving a lot of the FlightSim community issues, it overall just showed us all the real problems within it. In a culture were everything is free, Music, News, Entertainment and Simulation, many people don't realise that behind every keyboard is a person, creating the product and the abundent information. It is a shock to anyone that we actually have to pay rent, buy food and clothes... just like you do, worse is the fact that with no income to attract talented people, then the services and product is now getting more and more second rate... so why bother with Simulation when an App can make you millions, even a video game can make you rich, and "hey", Microsoft has also now a great income stream started, so why not go there, and they have in their hundreds... but the one thing that can be harder to create is an income by doing something that is not going to bring you in any rewards for your talent and hard work, and why, because it has to be eternally and always free. Yes this is becoming a constant theme in these monthly utterings, because again what has happened with the FSA, and it shows that if you "have a go", but then rock the boat on the free gravy train... you will be lambasted and ruined back into extinction. The events have worried me in that the reaction to the FSA was the most nasty I have seen in a long time, and believe me there has been a lot of this nasty venom stuff thrown around in the past. The point of Flight Simulation Association, was to bring the community together, to give us a bigger voice out there in the bigger world, to expose the ideas and fun associated with Simulation as a serious hobby, to even give us a chance to survive as a community and as a cohesive one. FSA certainly was not perfect, but it was certainly a starting point in going in the right direction. And to survive and have clout, it needs real funding, not venom... I did note in the announcement news post that; "so (here is) a body to do serious promotions is seriously welcomed, the point is will or can they actually promote Simulation other than say a jazzy website and yearly Expos, that for me is the big question, but if you invest in the body, then you would also expect results... on that aspect we will see if FSA will deliver, as I want to see Simulation promoted to people that don't know it exists". We will now certainly never know if the FSA would have or could have made a difference, most would shout that aspect down anyway... the truth is we will now never get the chance to find out unless the partners get together and save the FSA. Certainly they will have a lot to talk about at the FlightSimExpo in early June, and that is if that event now actually happens again or if forever in the future. The WIP debate Over the last year there is the comment that no aircraft (or scenery to that matter) is ever finished in X-Plane, and there is a lot of truth in that statement. Everything is a so called WIP, or Work In Progress, and I totally respect that aspect. But the declaration of Work in Progress has taken on over the last few years a much more very broader spectrum. The traditional developer approach was that the developer worked on the product until a release candidate, it should at this point be about 95% complete with a lot of feedback from qualified betatesters, in other words it should be a pretty refined product that you buy. Yes there will always be a few post-release updates to cover small glitches and bugs to cover the users wide variety of systems out there, plus that users are actually a finicky lot and want certain other aspects covered. Then from then on, there is only the odd yearly update would cover the aircraft to keep it up to current standards and X-Plane version changes. But the overall point is that when you buy that product it is a quality product. X-PlaneReviews will do a review of the release product and the summation of the value of what you get and what you are actually paying for in quality. But developers have been sort of fiddling the system in the last few years, or even manipulating it to suit themselves. The aspect of Work in Progress is still a very wide range that could be assumed still to be anywhere within the original framework. The question is "what is not" finished or completed when the product itself will never ever be a completed entity? A developer noted to me that my review is unfair because the product is still a "WIP" or work in progress, but that is the whole point... it is not ACTUALLY finished is it? The debate is the line the product reaches a quality release point, not what is going to added in later over the next year, or so. There is always the price point line were as a product is made to that price and that is a developer's choice. But I personally see product released basically half-baked, were as only a few months of development can not only clear up the final errors, bugs and refinement, but can grade the product into the quality product it can actually be. The one thing that makes me simply mad is that the work and the talent is all in there, but the product is shortfalling itself on not only the quality, but also the price returns for the developer in reward for all their hard work... "Why do that", literally sabotage your precious work and good returns, for the sake of just a few more weeks or a couple of months of development. The attitude is simply "put it out" and I'll fix it up later. Many other developers do what I call "cash up front" developing, as you pay now to access into the development, and enjoy the experience of being involved into the full development process... personally my thinking is that the developers get early cash up front to to fund their development, and in that aspect it is good idea, and a sort of Go-Fund me. Because an aircraft can take up to two years or even three with a large project, before they get any remuneration for their work. Certainly not fair to the developer, but is that also not fair to the purchaser? Yes you get access to the product, but this is also a pretty early representation of the product, and mostly with a lot of systems missing and even early average textures and no detailing... things can change a lot as well, engine modeling might change two or three times before a final decision is made on the correct profile or design... yes you do get to input and even have a say in what you think is the correct profile and have an involvement in the entire development process, and many users relish that aspect. So is there a right or wrong way with the "Work in Progress" debate. Certainly the early access is a great thing to many users, but that development can drag on for years and years. The Magknight Boeing 787 is a good example of that early access system, and to be extremely fair in that to date Magknight has certainly delivered of what was promised, but there is however still a huge WIP feel of the project, or will it ever be actually finished or ever be a fully rounded simulation. To counter that project, currently FlightFactor are already beavering away on their own Boeing 787 project that you can assume that will be mostly fully 95% or more completed on release later in the year, so which one would I like to fly, certainly a fully formed and system ready aircraft, and undoubtably far more so than an inconsistent WIP aircraft, even if I did have a personal involvement in the earlier development process. I have also noted a trend in developers lately in using just plain modeling items with colour, rather than texturing the item. Done cleverly the developer can get away with this aspect, but too much of this practise and the aircraft or scenery can suddenly look incomplete or not very realistic... I can be very discerning about this area, but to the developer they could just be trying to keep the product under a certain price point which is a fair point, or just plainly shortcutting in detail to get the product out more quickly, however I tend to always say it is in the second aspect, in simply cutting corners to get product out quicker... And the one red flag that comes up very obvious, is that if a developer is putting out a lot of product very quickly, then they will certainly have to cut corners to do so... myself I would rather have a far more quality (finished) product at a higher price, than a lot of products at a WIP low cost price, because at the end of the day, quality is the key to making money, and not releasing a lot of average product. But far too many developers lately are doing more the secondary approach than the first. Worse is if the developer pushes out a lot of average product they will be then also be labeled on being an average developer, or as I note a "B Grade" developer, and once the stigma sticks, it is very hard to remove. You could call me "Old-Fashioned", or even an "Old Bugger" if you want to. But my motivations are in being realistic is in that if X-Plane is to attract money to developers and more users to the Simulation platform, then only quality and fully rounded products can do that... yes X-Plane itself was founded on the hobbiest approach to aviation simulation and yes experimental aircraft and ideas are it's foundation. X-Plane is now however now a far more highly graded simulator, but it is only as good as the products you install into it. So yes we admit, we will be even ruthless in accessing new product that is introduced into the simulation system, and with half-baked releases, that just don't cut the grade will be called out, and for more than one reason, but overall you do deserve a quality product for your money, but helping the developer to achieve their goals is a great thing as well. This month showed the quality system at work. Early work by Aerobask was very good, but the developers still had a long and steep learning curve to climb. They did so and the results now show of what is a product, that is both on release is of a very high quality product with excellent features, but above all a great investment and also gives you a high return in maximum enjoyment for your simulation... that is the constant goal, for everyone, for the developer, the reviewers and also the users of the X-Plane Simulator. See you all next month, and a very Happy Easter Stephen Dutton 1st April 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  2. Behind the Screen : February 2021 In most past years X-Plane has come out of the box at the start of a New Year, in 2020 for instance I was already doing big reviews, even before I had restarted after the Christmas/NewYear break, head down... a New Year and a time to get on. Easter has now become the bigger purchasing period for X-Plane add-ons... the maths are simple, as with even Black Friday sales, most cash is focused on loved ones or spending up big over the holidays, not on simulation. Easter though is different, except for a few Easter Eggs, then you have the spare holiday break and more importantly a few free weeks to do nothing but fly in your favorite simulator, so why not buy yourself something new and shiny to fly or get a few new destinations to fly to. So over the last few years developers have not tried to crush in their last minute releases in to the Thanksgiving/Christmas period, but to now aim for the lucrative Easter sales, where you can ask full price and still get the sales, still do a discount after Easter and pick up more sales, but more importantly take your time refining the aircraft/scenery in the space of the New Year ready for Easter But in early 2021, the state of the X-Plane union is very quiet, very quiet. Yes there has been a few nice releases like Banff National Park, and Manchu Picchu, and a very nice RJAA Narita from Drzewiecki Design, but most of the 2021 new year has been focused on strangely helicopters, mostly you get one a year, but there has been almost none for a couple of years lately. I admit the JRX Design Gazelle is a 2020 mid-year release, but a slow period allowed me to cover the aircraft with a worthy review, same with the newly released and popular CowanSim B222, another interesting new developer for the helicopter genre. As you could guess my helicopter skills have improved enormously already this year, but I am ready to move on. There was a lot of serious indicators that the start of 2021 would be a blockbuster period of big releases for X-Plane, but in reality nothing actually happened? Now two months into the year and it is all still deadly silent? There are maybe a lot of external reasons, Covid 19, Weather (Northern Winter), No Money, or your life is messy because 2020 was a messy and unpredictable year throughout... Could Microsoft's new 2020 Simulator be having a major effect and taking the developers focus to the land of milk and honey and eternal riches. Not by the comments on the forums, the hard core users are still not buying the sales pitch, because the MS2020 is still feeling like a bad beta version, a few aircraft have popped up, but a fully functioning aircraft are not yet even close to being the sort of quality simulation that was advertised... but still the overwhelming majority of releases in 2021 has been the bucket loads of existing scenery for MS2020, Sour grapes! Well a little bit... if scenery developers had delivered the same sort of detailed cityscapes they are delivering currently for MS2020, for the X-Plane simulator, then how different would our world be, obviously the returns are not there with X-Plane, but it is a chicken and egg scenario, overall we obviously only got the scraps that they can actually deliver, FS developers never wanted to get behind the X-Plane simulator in the first place anyway, but still stole wholeheartedly from it's ideas. Laminar Research noted in their 2020 Christmas email, something about sharing all the new features coming to X-Plane early in the New Year, in other words... X-Plane12. Well two months into 2021 and the sim house is still quieter than a closed up Disneyland. Ziltch! Laminar even advertised for a new coding developer to join the team... great, but still no announcements. One thing I have always found is that when Laminar are deathly quiet, then they are working hard, being impatient is certainly not going to help any situation, but I still think we need to know where our simulator is going, in the face of the MS2020 onslaught, and then currently more so for the sake of X-Plane and Simulation in general. My guess is on the 2021 FlightSim Expo in San Diego in early June that is going to be a focus, but still I think an announcement is required before hand to see the balance between the Microsoft marketing overwhelming the picture well before the middle of the year comes around, people need to see choices, and currently Laminar is not even currently in the game (so to speak). In reviewing you need space to cover a large release, mostly four days with the current sort of extensive menus and feature lists, that will sometimes take up almost a week, so there are only a few very large releases you can cover in a month, the list out there are imminent large scale releases is now getting large, the secondary issue is that most simulation purchasers only have a certain budget to buy these big feature and expensive releases, they may absorb one, or even two $70-$80 products, but that would be the limit for most punters, no matter what other great projects are put on the table, so most users would have to choose between one or the other. Most certainly with time they will purchase the other releases, but once the immediate "Gotta Have" moment wears off, then they are then willing to wait for the sales, and that means then the developers lose that immediate release sales punch. So you will have to choose. and what will soon be on offer. The biggest attraction is certainly Just Flight and their Bae 146 Series (with refining by Thranda), it is not going to be a cheap package as the P3D version is priced at US$85.99, but you will get eight, yes 8 variants, plus a feature list you can dream of, there is a lot of functionality and detail to be had here, and in my mind this aircraft goes straight to the top of the list in desirability. Just Flight also announced last year their Vickers VC10, for X-Plane, but the trail has gone cold for a while, mostly because the Bae 146 is the priority release. This is another US$70 ($69.99 P3D) aircraft, but does not have the attraction of the Bae 146, as it is in reality a nostalgia aircraft, nice to have, but certainly not a high seller. There has been a lot of noises around X-Trident's Chinook CH-47F, as a lot of testing and refining has been going on lately, so the aircraft has to be close to release, and a big feature list does this aircraft have. The testing has shown what a brilliant aircraft this will be if it is up to the standard of their excellent AB412, the AB412 is priced at US$35.95, but expect the Chinook at around the US$50-$60 dollar mark, but it will be well worth the high investment. Q4XP, or the new Dash8 Q400 for X-Plane. This is from FlyJsim, whom created the original Q400 now called the "legacy" version, this aircraft is now actually 10 years old (how time flies). This completely new Q400 version is certainly going to be of a very high quality and detailed aircraft, and thankfully the FMC is a custom version modeled on the aircraft's OME Universal UNS-1e v1000, again it won't be cheap at around the Mid-60s dollar mark, but will be well worth the investment. Time has gone on a long way since any announcement with the aircraft, with the trail again going cold around August 2020. The Q4XP has to certainly be close to a beta or release phase after a nearly a three year development. Another aircraft that has had a very long lead development is the McDonnell Douglas MD-11, coming from Rotate. Development spoilers and videos pop-up every few months, but again the extensive lead time (May 2017) now has to be showing benefits. If the quality is as good as their MD-80, then this will be an exceptional simulation from Rotate. It won't be cheap either, with my estimation in the Mid-$70's to $90's price range, but again you will get great value, no information if the aircraft will be a package of the two variants of Passenger and Cargo together or as separate purchases. Aerobask are known for small modern composite aircraft. So the announcement of Dassault Aviation's Falcon 8X was a surprise. It is an official product, but also a very different type and scale aircraft than what Aerobask have done before, and a step up in the type of aircraft than they usually deliver. The price will be higher as well around the US$50 mark, but you will get quality detailing and authentic systems (FMS is custom), and Synthetic Vision for a good deal. The Falcon 8X was initially proposed for Q4 2020, so that release timeline has now certainly slipped, and the recent announcement of the release of the Embraer Phenom 300 - EMB-505 from Aerobask, will certainly push the Falcon 8X back down the list again, but for how long? Felis, Boeing 747-200 Classic is another project coming to fruition. Felis is know for his classic Russian aircraft, so a big American Boeing 747 is certainly a big departure from the past for him, but a Classic B747-200 has to be an interesting aircraft to relive the Jumbo's classic years when it was changing the airways and also the airlines in a significant way. Felis notes "I want to do a variant with fully analogue gauges with LTN72 or LTN92 INS. Probably will do AF1 variant also, as it was in 1970's", Engines modeled will be the P&W JT9D-7J version, the early ones that blew up, the -7J had a power output 48,650 lbf (216.4 kN) and was installed in the B742 from 1976. Price? The TU-144 was priced at US$45, so the Boeing 747-200 should be around the same price. Note that Just Sim has also announced a Boeing 747 Classic version for X-Plane in the 747-100 and -200 passenger variants and the 747-200F cargo variant. VFlyteAir have also been deathly quiet, which is not like them, as they usually release two aircraft a year, but one that is slipping way off the radar is Carenado, once highly prolific, their output has dropped to a trickle since the departure of Thranda, with nothing at all announced, or even updated for months. Looking further and into the second half of 2021, there are several projects also worth mentioning. The ToLiSS A340, is a great expectation of genuine long haul flying and another dimension to flying ToLiSS aircraft (Although the A321 NEO LR/XLR are medium range aircraft), the A340 is more of a real long range machine, I hope ToLiSS do a A330 as well. The biggest announcement for X-Plane in 2021 in a significant release is certainly the FlightFactor Boeing 787-9. Noted under the FF "Professional" series like their B757/B767, the Boeing 787 will be levels again in detail and of course deep systems, slated for Q3/Q4 later this year, it will be certainly the release of the year for X-Plane. A final note for 2021 goes to X-Crafts. They announced an all new remodel and design of their E-JETS Family, which will include all variants of the E170, E175, E190, E195, and Lineage 1000. Significant will be the inclusion of (finally) a real authentic Flight Management System (FMS), however X-Craft's mentions three FMS units. A new "authentic" FMS (yet to be named more specifically), the Tekton FMS, or the X-Plane default FMS. The same custom FMS will also be transferred into their current ERJ Family, and in so making that aircraft also much more authentic. Overall a lot of the above projects are already quite overdue, you can blame a lot of reasons why, and mostly on the Covid-19 situation, but there is no doubt that most of these projects in one form or another will be released in the late Q1, Q2 period, so there is a lot to look forward to and fly in all these high quality aircraft. Going Nowhere Time to "fess" up. Embarrassed but X-Plane can do that to you sometimes. I decided to do a service from BNE (Brisbane) to CNS (Cairns), Australia, in the updated FlightFactor/Airbus A320-214 Ultimate, to checkout if the nasty framerate issue has be fixed (It has). Restrictions of using both the FF A320 Ultimate and xEnviro both together means a big even huge downpull of your framerate, and no matter how light the rest of your simulation set is in the scenery. I manged to fly both earlier in the v1.14 xEnviro and A320 Ultimate settings, but it was a close call on the numbers before I slid down into the slideshow situation, overall I could use the aircraft if I picked the right airports that didn't put too much strain on the framerate. First up the new 1.1.19 version of the FF320 Ultimate and it felt like the old days and thankfully now with a lot more usable headroom. But here is the funny point... I set up the aircraft and pushed the Airbus back with the "BetterPushBack" tool, and everything was normal, until I rereleased the park brake and lifted the throttles a bit to move forward into a taxi speed. Nothing moved... more power and the Airbus was solid, and no matter how much power I applied to the engines, this Bus was going absolutely nowhere? I started checking out problems.... Flightfactor have a very sensitive fault system on the A320, so that was my first call, no it was turned off, then the X-Plane fault system and again it was clean? Brakes are also sensitive on the FF A320, so I rechecked them, about 30 times? nothing as the A320 was still solid as a rock? I was now seriously confused and was resetting everything and searching everywhere, but nothing worked? Time was clicking on and I was going nowhere, 20 minutes of head scratching and now even with a load of swear words, nothing was not making this Bus move. My earlier review had been of the Cessna 140, a sensitive little thing that required this taildragger steering by using your rudder pedals as toebrakes, I don't have rudder pedals yet (expensive in Australia), but tried to steer the C140 via a set toggle switch (C) on my X56 Rhino joystick (That was not very successful either), but the point was the braking response setting affected the A320 Ultimate to a big degree... I reset the settings both to "None" and the Bus finally moved, and with applause from the passengers as we were finally all going to Cairns Obviously you can set a "Profile" for a particular aircraft in X-Plane, but I never really use that as I go through with reviewing a lot of aircraft and need the basic default settings, the FFA320 Ultimate also uses the hands off CEF (Chromium Embedded Framework) system anyway so it is not reliable, but overall it was a fluke I found the problem, the real problem is that X-Plane requires a lot of very different settings to fly some very different aircraft (Taildragger to an Airbus A320), but for about thirty frustrating minutes I was simply going nowhere! See you all next month. Stephen Dutton 1st March 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  3. Behind the Screen : January 2021 Another year in 2021, after 2020 it has to be better, change and a whole lot of it dominated the year, even in our little virtual corner of the world in Simulation. Did we mention Microsoft's new flight simulator release of last year, of course we did. The reality was that X-Plane didn't actually get atomised by MSFS on it's release, or anything else, in fact something interesting happened. According to the Navigraph Flightsim Community Survey which is always interesting reading, is that the mostly rejected FSX/FS9 and Prepar3D users didn't jump ship directly to MSFS 2020, but to X-Plane11 instead? in fact 41% came from FSX/FS9 and 24% came from P3D, that is only actually 4.8% of actual simulator platform switching in context, but still they chose to come to X-Plane11 and not over to the newer simulator of which 11% MSFS new users switched over to X-Plane as well, rather than going to another Simulator. The answer there is quite simple in the fact that MSFS actually still does not support study grade aircraft, certainly if you want to VFR (Visual Flight Rules) your way around the landscape then MSFS is the way to go, but for heavy operations and even with still the very light choices of even good and detailed General Aviation aircraft (no fighters or Helicopters either), then X-Plane is currently only your simulator of choice if you want to do some serious procedural flying. Overall it is difference between real simulation flying and playing a game. No doubt MSFS will throw off that tag as it develops more better SDK's, or will it, does it want to? That aspect is in the fact that in simulation there actually is not any money to be made, the customer focus is overall on the huge gaming market. And this is were it gets interesting in the target market. If MSFS wants the big massive gaming market, then how can it also be a deep level simulator? Yes MSFS will develop and add in deep study aircraft, but the reality is will the average gamer "Actually" want that style of aircraft? and the total current perception that these loaded up gamers will buy up or hoover up anything or everything placed in front of them... these are gameboys with attentions spans of minutes (unless they are deep in the gaming market to make money) and they are only going to be really interested in that for the entertainment factor or to make money. I admit there will be a crossover factor, but in reality Simulation Users and Gamers are really very, very different animals, as they approach simulation in their own very different ways as well. First what is Simulation and it's main objective. Mostly it is to learn to fly aircraft, even now any serious simulator is based on reaching out to flying schools as a teaching aid to learner pilots, for professional pilots to learn their own skills and systems. Then there is the airmanship aspect. This is learning the flying skills to do the procedures and navigation in an aviation capacity, besides the professional fliers, the rest of us in Users are people that love aviation and want to be a part (or older pilots that want to continue flying) of that environment, but don't have the resources or in most cases the health to be part of the real world aviation business. To cover all this then you are required to study. Not only the aircraft and it's systems, but also the aviation system itself and all it's procedures, do you see where this is all going... I personally have been in Simulation for Eleven years, eight and half years writing about it. But still I am learning the intimate details of aviation. Take for example last week... I didn't know until I studied the procedure of doing a Cat IIIa dual-channel approach and autoland. Yes I usually pressed the twin left and right AP1 and AP2 autopilot channels on landing an Airbus A3 something, but not on how you actually do the procedure on a non-fully automated aircraft. You would be either thrilled about this (being a devout Simulator User) or find it really boring to even nonsense because all you want to do is get your jollies by divebombing your house. As I said a lot of gamers will love this new aspect and start to take this Simulation lark quite seriously, and that is a great thing as it builds simulation with a whole new group of newly converted Users. But how many are actually willing to under go a decade of learning and actually do the consistent practising of their skills in a controlled aviation environment, because that is in reality of what Simulation really is. And this were it gets even more interesting. In Simulation we like to build our Aviation environment around us. We select the aircraft we want to fly, add in the effects we want to experience and collect scenery to reflect our personal destinations. To do that aspect we have to spend money, but the money spent is worthwhile because of the experiences that we want to acquire. It also requires dedication and the building up of a skill base. Can MSFS deliver all this, well in time absolutely, but not totally because it's foremost aim is still in entertainment and not in skills... If MSFS does go too far or get too complicated it will lose it's most important gamer market, as in reality Microsoft really doesn't want serious Simulation Users or obviously us, and certainly not with them messing around within the guts of the coding. Another factor of the Navigraph survey points this out as well. Although the user use of MSFS is approaching 60%, and X-Plane11(50) is 45%, however the main points of dedicated users is almost neck and neck, in that the difference between the 60% and 45% (or 15%) are just "Infrequent" users or "Never" used, so the core users between the two platforms are only 3% of each other, what the survey does not ask, is what is your "preferred" Simulator, or on how many actually switch between the two, or what are the casual (gamer) users or the dedicated Simulator users as that could very much change the numbers around. At no time do I want any article in X-PlaneReviews to become the "Our Simulator is better than your Simulator" argument, but the need to put into perspective the real and current Simulation world. This brings us to the ludicrous situation now going on with Scenery Developers. Barely an hour goes by without another scenery being released for MSFS in the gigantic Gold Rush of 2020/2021 for as much real estate by per virtual runway meter that we can achieve. If you do look closely, most releases (not all, but most) are just a revamped and retextured version of their current scenery, in either any platform (ie FSX or X-Plane) to MSFS. You can almost feel the rubbing of their grubby little hands in making money from already produced scenery and wanting to quickly fill up their coffers. Most of it does look good, but it is still mostly already released work that is just tarted up. My own annoyance is that if these same developers had given X-Plane the same volume and discounts as they are doing for MSFS, I am quite sure that the platform would have attracted many more users, and would have created a better sales market, but then again X-Plane does have a particular problem with that aspect, but the point is if they had have done or have had the same greedy exuberance then it could have made a difference, certainly in the cityscapes and landscape sceneries for them and for the whole of the X-Plane platform. Which brings us to the biggest and consistent issue in X-Plane, payware scenery. Again back to Navigraph survey in that the sections of (3.8.4) notes that Payware scenery is finally catching up to Freeware, in fact the freeware in "Equal" and "Mostly" are finally lower than the overall Payware useage... not noted is the difference in simulator platforms in these grades, of which I would expect X-Plane to still lean far more heavily to Freeware, but it is finally getting better. So the chicken and the egg situation still abounds.... would X-Plane users buy more scenery if it was of a high quality? But the line between Payware and Freeware in a lot of cases is still only really quite a fine line in the context of Laminar's Global Airport tools. Where as the FlightSim world depends more on the Payware and no matter the quality model... so has Laminar hindered the progress of it's own simulator in a commercial aspect? The problem for scenery developers is the worst in commercial angles of anything in the X-Plane simulator, basically they can't sell rubbish, which is a very good thing... but the extremely high line of the quality they have to deliver to get over the Freeware barrier to sell can only restrict the quality to a few and very experienced developers. As a review site I can and will admit to being quite harsh in my reviews on many aspects on scenery. Why?, because the only way a scenery developer will survive and compete is too deliver extremely high quality product... I admit that is not at all fair, but it is also the reality of creating Payware product. The days of waltzing in and doing some cheap 3d modeling and throwing under the objects a badly tinted orthophoto layer is just not going to get you any sales any more... again noted in the Survey is that (3.14) "Detailed Airports" are 67% of importance of creating a sale. A lot of my comments are actually based on the basics being missed. Fencing is a really big annoyance to me, or the lack of. In any commercial field fencing is mandatory and mostly for security and safety reasons. But for some reason many developers just don't seem to understand this. Any scenery missing vital fencing looks and actually is only half completed, and I have rolled my eyes far too many times while opening a scenery to find just wide open spaces between the carparks and aircraft aprons... or Landside to Airside, and in the real world that just does not happen. The biggest issue are our old friends "Orthophotos" images or ground textures, or "patchworkers" as I call them. Most are ugly and either far too light (washed out) or far too dark, and in all cases actually don't matchup to anything around them either, so the scenery sticks out like a sore bum. I except two facts, in that one is that consistent orthophotos are hard to find, and two X-Plane's default textures are totally out of date. The one thing that MSFS has in a big way over X-Plane is the consistency of it's landscape, so the inserted custom scenery fits in very well to its default surroundings. For X-Plane I have never really liked the texture model Laminar uses, it was a step up for X-Plane10 from X-Plane9, but the feel was not quite right either, it looks overall artificial, certainly from an altitude or at ground level. That said, using good lighting and environmental system like xEnviro can make the landscape look quite realistic. But in context to the ground they are dated and in fact slightly the wrong bright tint. I have (grudgingly) come to accept the Lo-Res photo textures beloved by FS developers on the landside, mostly because they get the rest right, but they give out overall too many ground burnt in aircraft, vehicles and you can see that flatness in what that flat photo plate actually is. The problem is that were is the solution between overpowering photo textures and standard gradient textures, is there one version that can or could actually blend in all? But overall you can see why scenery developers have such a hard time getting it right, and with that aspect X-Plane can come across like a patchwork quilt more than a complete landscape and fixing that aspect is the biggest question and the biggest challenge facing X-Plane12. And for X-Plane12 taking the ball back from MSFS as a primary simulator (note I say Simulator not gaming). To date no release information on X-Plane12 has been announced by Laminar Research That important aspect is the underlying point in bringing back the majors in scenery, and their customers. Overall I don't think that Laminar understood this area in their simulator, their aim is always at the hobbyist angle, the point of giving you the tools to build your own world. But in fact X-Plane has come a long way with that coda, but you can't also cut out the important commercial side, and this aspect is really showing currently in X-Plane as a lot free does not mean completely brilliant and detailed. So if you want that totally realist world, then you have no choice but to bring in the experts and high quality detail... that is what the punters also want, and also what they are willing to buy. Catch up again next month Stephen Dutton 1st February 2021 Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews
  4. Behind the Screen : Year in Review 2020 Even coming into the year 2020, you knew it was going to be confronting, and certainly the year did not let anyone down in that regard. But from a simulation aspect it was the introduction of the Microsoft Simulator in a completely different form and this time from game developers Asobo Studio's that was the major significant impact of the year, released on time August 18, 2020 it certainly got everyone's attention. You can argue about the new simulator's ramifications for years, but one thing was for sure was that the MSFS release was certainly not the exaggerated death-knell for X-Plane and the Laminar Research simulator, in quite a contrast it brought a lot of perspective into our coveted world, and a genuine needed perspective, of course those FlighSim devotees didn't see it that way, until they were faced with reality and then they were confronted with far more than the X-Plane context. In an odd interpretation, the X-Plane simulator had an extremely good year, not it's very best as the COVID 19 and MSFS effects certainly affected the simulator, but it was still highly productive and had some major advancements, so it wasn't all that bad in the current circumstances. Laminar Research For Laminar Research it was a particularly quiet year, more so without the exposure of the San Diego Simulation Expo which was Covid cancelled, at least that thankfully allowed Laminar not to be constantly bombarded about the coming MSFS and the "What are you going to do about MSFS" questions", in fact Laminar in Austin Meyer only appeared once in a podcast in June, in only noting a few ideas, but was still very relaxed about the mega new flightsim sitting on his doorstep. No Q&A chat from Laminar later in the year was also unusual, but expected after the messy drunken videocast of 2019 and of course the still rampant Virus in the States, the expected X-Plane12 announcement on America's Thanksgiving (almost a given event in the past), was also non-grata either. One other item to note was that Laminar also created a forum to post ideas of what you wanted in a forthcoming X-Plane release, this was an especially interesting development, because Laminar in the past rarely ever asked it's devotes what the time of the day it was, never mind what they "Actually" wanted in the X-Plane simulator... the forum could be seen in two ways, short of ideas (I doubt that), or just to confirm that what they were doing in development was this time what the hoards actually wanted. 2020 was really just about one Laminar Research X-Plane release, v11.50 or the Vulkan/Metal API update. It was a long, lengthy, and up and down release, that even in it's final incarnation in mid-September was still not a complete final solution, mostly because the Vulkan/Metal internal changes still require more development, including multi-core and multi-threading processing. But it is in it's new elements now installed of what now is left of the olde world X-Plane that will bring in the true change in the future for the simulator of the power in the Vulkan/Metal API. But there was the significant new v11.50 benefits, smoother running, higher object count, better shaders and the option to run the long forgotten reflection feature were all great steps forward, but the development process did take a very long time and at the end was even then four months overdue, this affecting the future of X-Plane in also deferring X-Plane12's longer time in development. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 We have to address the impact of the return of "Flight Simulator" in it's new 2020 incarnation on X-Plane or overall in simulation as a whole. The problem was the huge hype surrounding the release, but earlier reports even under a strict NDA or Non-Disclosure Agreement it was noted as incomplete and was also dialed in firmly into a deadline release date. From X-PlaneReviews and note the "X-Plane" in our title is the fact that any response to the MSFS release would come across as in a "our simulator is far better than your simulator" context, or just plain resentments. One thing I am proud of is that I have never been a black or white person, but could always see the grey in the middle or that everything has two sides of every story. I was lucky I also had a few days off when the MSFS release actually happened August 18, 2020, and spent time to understand the ramifications, and I came back to do a though research and analysis of the changes, the result was I think one of the very best descriptions of current simulation and it's future in that X-PlaneReviews have ever done, I am immensely proud of that article "X-Plane and the future in the new world order" and believe the analysis is certainly correct, certainly even now looking back five months hence. But overall the results also shocked me in what could happen in the future of simulation in the context of the MSFS release. There will always be multiple platforms in simulation, but the current four will be quickly reduced to two in MSFS and X-Plane, more so was the surprise that how similar unlike before the main current popular platforms now are actually almost a mirror in design and features, more important is that product for either can be easily ported to either simulator unlike the wide gulf there was before in the FSX/P3D to X-Plane chasm, in fact most of the large (scenery) product that has already been ported to MSFS is already mostly the X-Plane versions. The truth when finally seen was that currently MSFS is really only a game, and I called it "Hollow", not out of spite but out of fact. MSFS is immensely pretty visually, but hollow in the fact that as a simulation you have in reality no aircraft of any depth of which you can currently fly in, so if you want to fly a really quality aircraft with a huge depth of systems on multiple operating systems then X-Plane currently is the only platform to do so. Yes in depth simulation will come to MSFS, but I currently see years of development before it can reach the intimate detail of X-Plane and if ever in aerodynamics and it's in-built system depth, this aspect simply can't be done overnight, as so it has been developed in X-Plane over decades. Another point is simply the quality of X-Plane developers, most on the MSFS release put their hands up and swore on oath that they had no desire to swap platforms. For the current MSFS developers they are sitting in a waiting game, some note it could take twelve months (PMDG) before releasing product worthy to fly, Aerosoft have been reduced to show images of empty content aircraft to keep the punters interested, it will be a long twelve months. For X-Plane we are in our own waiting game. That is for the release of X-Plane12, and no matter which way you want to position the release, it will always be Laminar Research's response to Microsoft's Flight Simulator 2020. Does it matter for it to be viewed in that context, certainly it does, if for the platform's survival, not that the simulator would die overnight, but would certainly start a long slow decline... strong words, maybe, so for once Laminar cannot be their usual laid-back selves, it is in a very different context this time than within the FSX/P3D era, but the details are also quite clear on what has to be delivered in X-Plane12 to compete with MSFS, surely they in Laminar couldn't mess this one up? Aircraft Overall it was a quieter year for the release in aircraft for X-Plane in 2020. v11.50 (Vulkan/Metal kept most updates or releases in limbo, so what was supposed to be released never happened in the usual Q3/Q4 quarters. The big developers were also overall very quiet anyway with FlightFactor, Rotate, FlyJSIm even SSG was quiet except for a few updates to their now exceptional Boeing 748 v2.0, the first was really the updated release of the aircraft in early January, the second update later in the year added in the exceptional cargo version, and the final act of a full passenger cabin has now also been shown. ToLiSS was really the only new release with X-Craft's ERJ Family that were the only notable releases in aircraft in the whole of 2020. The ToLiSS A321 built up on the reputation of the excellent earlier A319, before Christmas 2020 we got an early Christmas present of an NEO engine upgrade for the same aircraft. For X-Craft's the ERJ 135/140 series Family was a huge step up in quality than their earlier E-Jet 170 and 190 LR aircraft, but still had the default instruments and custom FMC, but you got a lot of variants for your money. FlightFactor did update their Airbus A350, but not to a full and complete expected v2.0, but it did finally have an excellent working MCDU, and some nice updates, not perfect but certainly far better, as noted the v2 of the A350 and expected total redesign of the Boeing 777 series never materialised, but FlightFactor did announce a coming Boeing 787 Dreamliner with the works. Again the promised MD-11 from Rotate was not released either, and information was scant, ditto FlyJSim and their coming Q4XP (Dash Q400). iniBuilds Released a A300-600R(F) with now both a passenger and cargo versions, "Expensive" it needed a mortgage to buy, it is indeed however very good, but X-PlaneReviews will never know as any review version(s) was simply "verboten" and what we can't analyse, then we can't recommend or include in our yearly lists, sadly.... Both Magknight and Colimata continued their long development time lines with the Boeing 787-9 and Concorde, both had a load of significant updates throughout the year and can be both safely said to becoming (finally) quality simulations, but the MagKnight B789 is still weighed down by it's basics in instruments and FMC, both a requirement at this level, the Concorde is forever on my list for a decent review, but I felt it just was not developed enough to warrant one, but with the latest update to finally fill in the engineers station, may finally get it past the post. IXEG did also do some very nice updates to the venerable Boeing 733 Classic, and was more visible throughout the year, still an amazing simulation, and that pretty well summed up airliners in 2020. General Aviation The biggest influence on the General Aviation market was the separation between Thranda (Dan Klaue) and Carenado in the middle of 2019, but the changes didn't come into effect until the start of 2020. Problem is Thranda is Carenado in X-Plane and the effects were all to see once that aspect was removed, and you felt the reverberations all throughout of 2020, there was only a few updates and G1000 conversions (SR22 GTSX Turbo) and for the few aircraft that was released they felt buggy and feeling old fashioned, the brand is not the scaling premier development house it once was, could Carenado withdraw from X-Plane? that is now not an impossible thought, but what about all those updates, 38+ at the last count. But the reality is Carenado feels old and tired and maybe Thranda got tired of fighting into wanting to make the brand more modern and relevant... I can see only MSFS calling. With the Carenado shackles released Thranda went full throttle on finally working on their own aircraft, with just only JustFlight as a partner. The results were the two masterpieces of the year in the Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter with an added in extra "Adventure Pack" released later, second was another paragon in the DHC-2 Beaver, and it was easily the best release of the year in quality and features. In the same theme of bush aircraft VflyteAir took over the development of the departing MilViz aircraft of the DHC-3T Turbo Otter, otherwise VflyteAir was also in 2020 unusually quiet after the bonanza of 2019. JustFlight only added in one GA in the year and even then it was another PA-28, this time in an Archer TX/LX with another G1000 avionic conversion. Aerobask did two releases, and again both were, yes you guessed it, both G1000 avionics, one was a prop in the Lancair Legacy RG and the other in a jet with the Epic Victory, again the high quality shone with amazing detail, but the big expected release of the year still didn't happen with their still coming Dassault Aviation Falcon 8X. The AirFoilLab's Kingair 350i had a few and even one major updates in the year, but it is an aircraft that is hard to warm to, even with it's huge feature list, the new plugin is still quite not getting the X-Plane feel right and the flying performance feels lackluster and even arcade in feel. Digital Replica's VAN's RV-10 was the only real GA revelation of the year, a small but high quality machine that was nice to chuck about the sky, Nimbus brought us (finally) a BN-2 Islander, first the aircraft on release was far too underdeveloped, but constant updates did get the aircraft back on track, but still not perfect by the end of the year. The inclusion of the "Shortest scheduled flight" scenery from Westary to Papa Westary was certainly a bonus feature, and TorqueSim also released a BN-2 not reviewed here. Military Like helicopters military aircraft are not high volume releases, but we had a few interesting ones this year, highlight just had to be JustFlight's complex and totally overwhelming Avro Vulcan B Mk.2, K.2 and MRR, and the warbird Lockheed P-38L Lightning from Flying Iron Simulation's was also very well done, the T-7A Red Hawk v1.1 by AOA Simulation's was an really interesting aircraft, and nice to fly as well. In the classic category the DC-3/C47 from VSkyLabs Flying Lab Project went to v3.0 with finally a cargo cabin, but it was a strange mix of modern and old, and a loss of that DC3 vintage feel that oddly changed the focus of the aircraft away from why you wanted it to be in the first place, i.e. a vintage classic airliner... Helicopters The vertical flight machines were kept to just three in 2020 and the two from VSkyLabs, were both lightweight machines in the Dynali H3 and Robinson R44. The only decent aircraft was the excellent SA 341B and SA 342J Gazelle by JRXDesign. We were finding the helicopters becoming quite outdated through the year, with mostly in being of Dreamfoil MIA, but at the end of the year he did update the Bell 407 to Vulkan standard, X-Trident were also very quiet, but their Chinook CH-47F is looking finished and in beta testing, certainly now ready for an early 2021 release. In decent freeware, the the Zibo B748 was quite quiet considering the barrage of updates in the past few years, the Ultimate Boeing 737-900 and other variants went discontinued, but was picked up by LevelUp 737, and promised (the word here is "promised") five variants in the -900, -900ER, -600, -700 and -800 (which is the zibo) version. The default Laminar Boeing 747-400 got picked up for the same Zibo treatment by "Sparky", and is now adding in some custom features on top of the basic vanilla B744, but it is early days yet. Like most, aircraft activity was pretty low in 2020, but there are a few gems in there. Scenery Overall scenery in X-Plane passed a threshold this year, and not in the huge number now of built in Global Airports (14,451 at last count). Finally we could fly from one quality scenery to another and not step out of that quality realm, in quality scenery it is has been a great few years... that said it was annoying that MSFS scenery developers released so much content for the new simulator in the last few months, the same content created for X-Plane would have certainly helped in making the simulator more attractive to new fliers, and certainly the city packs that we desperately needed, maybe a cross flow with X-Plane12 may eventually change that. I had a huge list of required scenery for X-Plane as long as twelve years ago, but these last few years is that many in the list that was finally being ticked off. We kicked off the year with a nice update from SFD with their excellent KSLC-Salt Lake City and SFD also updated his KLAX later in August (an EDDM update is noted as coming in the New Year), KATL-Atlanta (nimbus) and KDEN-Denver by X-Codr Designs both had a very good updates, and EBBR Brussels by JustSim also got a sensational upgrade. LFSB - EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg also by JustSim was completely mindblowing with their night textures. In February we kicked with with probably the biggest scenery project in X-Plane, maybe the biggest ever for the simulator, Frank Dainese and Fabio Bellini released five, yes l to V Dolomite sceneries that all interconnected (except the Benta Dolomites, but that was still situated close by), the scale is simply enormous, and it is a very significant area to explore. Not content with that they still had time to again visit South America and the Torres del Paine National Park, but also released the excellent K2-Karakorum scenery... my god it was all so much mountainous area to cover in one year. Seychelles XP by Maps2XPlane was another wide area scenery, that captured in the Indian Ocean feel (but not quite as good as their Faroe Islands winner last year), in the same area we had three African airports HKJK - Nairobi Airport by FSDG, FALE - Durban XP by FSDG and another African airport in the northwest in Casablanca XP by FSDG, and all three are worthy destinations, and also welcome was VNKT - Kathmandu Tribhuvan Intl Airport by Cami De Bellis which was another exotic scenery released. I was extremely excited for the release of EKCH-Copenhagen XP by FlyTampa, and it certainly didn't disappoint, the dynamics were absolutely jaw-dropping in it's metal and glass detail, then the added on Copenhagen vista and THAT bridge was also excellent. FlyTampa also released KLAS - LasVegas later in the year and again in doing a great sceneraio of the bright lights of that Nevada city.... but FlyTampa noted that for now that was that for their X-Plane sceneries as their focus was now all on MSFS, I cried... a lot on that announcement. Also was the (very heavy) CYVR - Vancouver International Airport by GloballArt, brilliantly done, but hard on your frame rate as GloballArt sceneries are, and there was a nice KTPA Tampa International Airport by VerticalSim, another airport that filled out a big hole in Florida. Then came a real feature rich scenery with even a working airshow from Rising Dawn Studio's in KRAL-Riverside Municipal, it took years to compile and detail, it was a really great scenery, that was only let down by X-Plane's very poor surrounding default textures (why are the LA basin textures so bad?), but I still love using it, if only for the flying birds. LXGB - Gibraltar International Airport by Skyline Simulations was well done but let down by the average mountain side textures (I was in the middle of doing brilliant Dainese and Bellini sceneries as a comparison) but the rest of Gibraltar was in detail very good including the extreme short landing challenges. Two sceneries by Gaya Simulations are noteable but not reviewed on this site, EGPH Edinburgh Airport, and LOWW Vienna International Airport are not cheap, but are excellent sceneries. Two sceneries in CZST Stewart and CYBD Bella Coola created originally by Beti-x were acquired by the X-Plane.Org, CZST-Stewart was updated to current standards and both are still highly realistic and not at all dated, still both are very worthy additions to any scenery folder. There was a significant drop in scenery releases after the MSFS release for a few months, then in November there was a load of really great scenery flowing again... YPPH Perth International by renamed Axonos, was simply sensational and ticked off a huge hole in my network, then came another with EFHK - Helsinki Vantaa International by JustSim, another huge hole filled, and then recently a surprise superb scenery of EGGP Liverpool John Lennon Airport by DigitalDesign, a very good quality effort that deserves attention... A side note for a freeware release from MisterX6/SFD, with a payware quality was RJCH Hakodate Airport for nothing, everyone downloaded it. With a large amount of scenery holes filled in, I certainly felt that noted difference within the simulator, I was now living in a completely object based quality world within a quality scenery to fly between, there will always be another hole to fill... that is a given, but I was very content with my lot this year, a point is you don't have to have a low-res simulator full of Global airports, as when even for a slight investment you can live in another more higher detailed and realistic world. In the scenery aspect then 2021 will be interesting in if the more bigger development houses abandon X-Plane (remember we are not profitable to them) or we double up the same scenery with MSFS. Plugins I will state upfront that I am not a huge plugin connoisseur, so I only run what I call essential plugins in my simulator, running the new VRAM profiler (Menu/Developer) can give you the horrors of how much these little monstrous tools can gobble up your framerate and overall efficiency, I took to taking out as many of these laggards as possible. If your favorite plugin is not included in this list, then there are a huge amount of choices, some very clever, but most a replica of each other. Most will note FlywithLua as indispensable, but I found it just intruded into the aircraft systems too much (crashes), but then again that is part of what FlywithLua is for, messing around where it shouldn't be, so FWL is not represented here. A side note of a wrist slap in that "please leave the shaders alone" They are not to be messed with, then complain your simulator doesn't work anymore. The most interesting and most expensive was JustFlight's release of Traffic Global in 2020, a traffic (aircraft) simulation filler. It is very good, but buggy at release and twice the price of the outstanding favorite WorldTraffic 3. But Global Traffic did have two huge advantages over WT3, for one it didn't need a refresh every time you started up the simulator, and two it's framerate footprint was or is extremely low, and in laying out traffic in airports without set layouts it is excellent, but I do hate the steep takeoff and landing angles and the very fast taxiing speeds, in reality WT3 is far better overall (and far cheaper) but not as the better background tool, stutters are still a major problem, and so is the slow setup is another, but framerate has been refined. JustFlight also released AirHauler2 for X-Plane, but time constraints didn't allow me to test it out or review the application because of it's complexity, I'll try again in a quieter time. XPRealistic Pro v2.0 by rk Apps for Realism effects (shakes and sounds) was back, but this time in new code and not using the FlywithLua as a host. I had to abandon this plugin because of it's association with FWL, but thankfully it is back and very welcome, as it does add in a very dynamic effect to your flying. Another essential tool is the WebFMC Pro, a remote FMC that uses browsers for input, plugin was updated twice in the year in adding in more aircraft and even the default Laminar FMC, dual FMCs are also now available. A clever plugin very similar to the WebFMC system was SkyScout, a web based EFIS - PFD/MFD/EICAS by XPlane Aviator, it was very clever and a very interesting tool, certainly for training, but I found the release version a little too complex and buggy, but interesting. SimBrief is of course still a valuable tool as is the Navigraph subscription, but I had a lot of issues with the Simlink app after Vulkan was released, stutters and disconnection is now very common, it needs an update. BetterPushBack had a few updates, as did AviTab, SAM added to Seasons, with WorldJetways (brings Global Airports to life), Global Trees, Airport Vehicles (payware) and Follow Me car (Payware) and everything is now controlled via the SAM2 Suite, an invaluable tool that is a requirement if you use payware airports. ApSoft Airplane Toolbox was updated to calculate either the Takeoff or Landing Performance of many aircraft, as is SimToolkitPro that brings a lot of different aspects of flying under one single tool, there is a basic freeware and Pro version, but the April 2020 update was huge in new features. XPUIPC the equivalent to FSUIPC for FSX/P3D, is for creating internal datarefs has also had a few updates and only really for the nerds. xEnviro was basically sidelined all year, first with a poor heavy application in v1.13, that I returned (again) to the only viable version in 1.07, but once I had to run Vulkan, even in beta form then xEnviro became persona non grata. Very late after again another personal event and eleven tedious months of development the application came out in v1.14 form, but still only for OpenGL, and then the announcement was "Vulkan! next", seriously, I felt like just going "awwh what, so why bother"... A brilliant concept ruined continuously by bad management and no updating, expensive and not reliable, then Dark Space is just simply becoming a lot of empty space. The odd plugin of the year was librain(rain) by skiselkov. Vulkan rendered it non-viable, but was it fixed? or what has happened to this valuable tool... an odd business. In hardware, Thrustmaster TCA Officer Pack Airbus Edition brought a credible Airbus feel without the price to your desktop, for what you get it is good value, but Covid19 made stock scarce. To sum up 2020 it was most aircraft delayed by an API release with only a few notable releases, then Covid19. With scenery in releases it was huge early in the year then collapsed after MSFS release, then recovered again at the end of the year, MSFS went global mid-year and then just whimpered along. _________________________ 2020 marked the anniversary of X-PlaneReviews 7th year in producing content for the X-Plane simulator, and it was another year even a third larger in content than the year before and X-PlaneReviews passed the 1800 milestone of published reviews and 300 posts coming in this last year alone, and that shows the sheer amount of quality add-ons that was again added to the simulator. In September we did a site refresh and added in some animated banners, you have to find the balance between not ruining a clean interface with creating a more modern look and feel, and I think we achieved that aspect. Again this review site cannot function without all the great and exciting work by the tireless developers that give us all this exciting and incredible product to fly and use, as they and X-Plane has come a long way and created leaps in quality in the last few years, and to a point I was very proud of the work they produced, it is world class if not the very best in simulation product, and they are all top notch and very clever. To the X-Plane.OrgStore who supports this site with review products, service and updates, a really big thanks, this site just would just not function without that outstanding support. To our reviewers this year in Casa and from Jude, they have both added in a different dimension to the site, and we are always looking for reviewers to show off their skills and devotion to the X-Plane simulation platform. In a tropical storm you get a lot of turbulence from the howling winds of force, then suddenly in the central eye it gets super quiet and you can even see the stars in the calm sky, but you know that soon those huge forces of the the outer swirl will return with their destructive force. To a point that it is like that right now in X-Plane, we have had a huge disruptive year in 2020, and not only in simulation but all over the world, the fallout from all that energy will be as bad as the actual event itself. For simulation it is the Microsoft Flight Simulator that has been the biggest disrupter of all, but sitting here in the middle of the eye, then 2021 will bring back those destructive forces of change, so enjoy it while you can. In 2021 Laminar Research will present their response to MSFS in the form of X-Plane12, when is a release coming is very good question? as we have already passed one thanksgiving announcement milestone, Easter, maybe, or even at the FlightSimExpo 2021 currently scheduled for early June, that event is my guess currently, unless cancelled (again)... but we should have a beta version running earlier. To a point the June Expo is going to be an interesting event not-withstanding, Asobo will certainly want to dominate the show, so Laminar has to be expected to have something to counter the onslaught. More short term then the start of 2021 should be very exciting in Q1 and Q2. There are a load of aircraft currently reaching their beta states and almost ready for release. The biggest events will be from JustFlight with two products, A Vickers VC10 and a very exciting Bae 146, Dassault Aviation Falcon 8X, Chinook CH-47F, FlyJSim Q4XP (Dash Q400) and even at a long bet the Rotate MD11, all quality aircraft and most overdue for release. _________________________ We will finish off with X-PlaneReviews famous best of the year awards… So I will now list my Best of the Year 2020🏅 (note the awards are given to only products I have seen and tested and I can only vouch for) Best Aircraft : Airbus A321 NEO by ToLiSS 🏅 Certainly the best flying Airbus in X-Plane and now in NEO form, and all from a master Airbus systems craftsman. Honorable Mention : INIDesigns A300-600R(F), debatable if it was the best of the year, but we will give it a mention of the quality of a first release. Best General Aviation Aircraft : Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter by Thranda Design 🏅 Simply a huge feature set, and clever tools in creating your own instrument layouts and liveries, extra "Adventure Pack" brought Floats and Skydivers! Honorable Mentions : Both Aerobask's Lancair Legacy RG and Epic Victory in both have huge detail quality and instrument features Overall a really dismal year for such an competitive category, but TorqueSim did also produce a nice SR22 and SR20 Best Classic Aircraft : DHC-2 Beaver - DGS Series v1.1 by Thranda Design 🏅 Actually a no brainer, probably the best overall aircraft released in X-Plane in 2020, again it comes with the same clever tools in creating your own instrument layouts and liveries, and a float option thrown in as well... awesome machine! Honorable Mention : Lockheed P-38L Lightning by Flying Iron Simulations, Flying Iron do these warbirds very well, and this was another stunner. Best Business Aircraft : Vacant Award Zero, nothing in particular, the Carenado Cessna 208 Grand Caravan EX XP11 was executive by nature, but a bit to lackluster for an award. Best Military : Avro Vulcan B Mk.2, K.2 and MRR by JustFlight 🏅 Easy choice, but complex and hard to fly... but highly rewarding Best Helicopter : SA 341B and SA 342J Gazelle by JRXDesign 🏅 There was the only one notable releases for Helicopters in 2020 and that was the SA 341B and SA 342J Gazelle by JRXDesign, as the only releases other were from vSkyLabs, and both were very light (and on features) helicopters. No review was done at the time of the Gazelle because it required an update (coming in August), but I did fly the machine(s) and so it can be nominated here. Best Landscape Scenery : Dolomite Series l to V by Frank Dainese and Fabio Bellini mountain group 🏅 Just a huge landscape of a significant Italian Mountain area, you can explore the valleys for months and not cover it all Honorable Mention : K2-Karakorum scenery, again by Dainese and Bellini, another extraordinary area to explore Best Airport Scenery : EKCH-Copenhagen XP by FlyTampa 🏅 We award on the technical as well as the overall vista, and the metal and glass detail in FlyTampa's EKCH is extraordinary, and of course THAT bridge, and all done very well here Honorable Mention : KLAS-LasVegas was also very good, with the Las Vegas vista lighting up the desert Special Mentions : For all the ballyhoo, there was still some outstanding new entrants in scenery, Axonos... YPPH Perth International was a brilliant debut scenery, and FSDG widened out the world with some great exotic airports Worst of the year : KOAK-Oakland International by Departure Designs, was just plain awful, a bit too much ambition and no talent. Best Plugin(s) : Stairport's SAM2 🏅 Clever ideas and great tools, the whole concept was this year now gathered together under one application. Special Mention(s) : Traffic Global, XPRealistic, WebFMC Pro and Navigraph Charts All noted applications were highly used throughout the year and in Navigraph Charts/SimBrief both are simply invaluable tools for route creation. Person(s) of the Year : Ben Supnic, Chris Serio and Tyler Young 🏅 We do forget what brings the simulator to our computers, worse this year was the shear complexity of porting the new API's to X-Plane, it was a long and drawn out project, and fraught with considerable obstacles. So you didn't hear much of any of them in 2020, but quietly the coders at Laminar are changing the face of the simulator into a new era product, now they are faced with the monumental challenge of creating X-Plane12. Best Moment of the year 2020 : First run of Vulkan, sliders went up and so did the framerate... winner, winner chicken dinner Worst Moment of the Year 2020 : FlyTampa telling me they are not going to do any more scenery for X-Plane for the foreseeable future Biggest distractions of 2020 : ... Covid19, oh and the still never ending constant updating! Personal Favorites of 2020 : Updated IXEG B737 Classic (my favorite aircraft overall this year), ToLiSS A321 NEO (Brilliant), FlightFactor Airbus Ultimate (Yes it is now the ultimate simulation), SSG B748F (SSG finally got there), Bonanza F33A (Even better in XP11)... notable was the X-Trident AB412 Helio, it was a godsend this year for all the mountain scenery reviews : Routes... Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Barcelona, Roma, Helsinki, Munich, Malta, Perth, Atlanta and Denver That is X-PlaneReviews for 2020, and we will be back after a very much needed recovery and the review site returns again early into the New Year on the 6th January 2021. So Merry Christmas, a Happy (virus free) New Year 2021 Stephen Dutton 22nd December 2020 Copyright:X-PlaneReviews 2020 (Disclaimer. All images and text in this review are the work and property of X-PlaneReviews, no sharing or copy of the content is allowed without consent from the author as per copyright conditions)
  5. Behind the Screen : November 2020 Here at X-PlaneReviews we do the reviews as we see them and in the moment. The idea is that what we see, you see warts and all, in other words "being honest" and overall the results are usually pretty close to what the product or addon on really is. That is important to you in making decisions on the product and how it will fit into your simulation aspect. I will admit I don't like ongoing development products, yes we know that most released aircraft (or even scenery for that matter) are not completely 100% completed (except maybe for Aerobask), because the sheer variable nature of the X-Plane simulator does not allow for that, and then throw in major simulator update like Vulkan/Metal and it can really put you out of context. But I mean aircraft development, that is always ongoing, like the Magknight Boeing 787-9, Colimate's Concorde FXP and most of VSkyLab's "Test Pilot" Series. Yes you get early access, but also a very disjointed simulation, as a rule I don't review them unless I feel they are quite stable and are ready to deliver your value for money. But I did something in November that I rarely do, I went back and re-edited an original review, and that was of the MagKnight Boeing 787-9. At the time I did the original update review for the B787-9 it was a hellish update month. For some reason September has become "Hell" month for a tsunami of updates, computer updates, simulator updates and product updates... then add in the before mentioned Vulkan/Metal 11.50 final release... another update. It does something to computers and your workflow, plus you have to sort out all the nasty little issues they create, like this works, but now that does not, and then add in a few odd weird failures from the actual computers themselves, it slowly burns you out. I note that everything noted here had nothing to do with the issues with the B787-9, but it didn't help in your mindset either. The update review of Boeing 787-900 v1.6.0 by Magknight didn't really get off to a good start, as I got more confused in trying to sort out the significant changes to the EFB (Electronic Flight Bag) and totally missed a major nose-wheel feature change, or got completely confused by it. But it was that nature and in reality the very reason I don't review ongoing development aircraft in that I missed a vital setting. When I came to flying the Dreamliner from Brisbane (BNE) to Melbourne (MEL) in the review it was quite a frustrating disaster, but I was willing to show the mess for what it was, but in that aspect it was not good for any readers of the review and certainly not good for the developers either, but a nagging aspect was that if the B787-9 flew as badly as I had covered it to be (odd wing angles and terrible takeoff performance) then why wasn't the X-Plane forums not lighting up with loads of aggravated pilots... it didn't make sense, I did post my findings on the forum, but no one answered? but the point was if there was no other complaints, then it had to be me... and that point nagged at me for weeks. More oddly was that I had already flown the MagKnight B787 from Hong Kong to Melbourne, it was quite a passive flight, but there was still a few odd, no a lot of under developed areas, but in that case I was able to fly around them, but not in the v1.6.0 review, the aircraft was simply terrible to fly. So when an expected product was late and needed more development, I suddenly had a free day to re-fly the Boeing 787-9 from Melbourne (MEL) to that very nice new Perth (PER). Maybe there was less pressure or my mood was better with no corroding computer issues, or simply whatever. Anyway I went through the Magknight systems this time in far more detail... first fixed was the odd nose-wheel steering feature. It is a first that you can use your joystick in a "Roll" and also a "Yaw" setting, and going between the two settings of "Use Roll for the NWS" and "Use Tiller Axis", all great features, but complex in understanding the right combination to get the nose-wheel steering you wanted, but once you understood the idea and the use of the Roll in taxiing the aircraft the more I liked it... but I could also see why I got so lost in the first review (it also didn't help that setting for the Roll is reversed). But the handling aspect of the Magknight B787-9 was not really my fault, but still made me look like an idiot or in being very incompetent in being a Pro reviewer. The Magknight B787 aircraft is still basically two aircraft in one, it's roots stem from it being a completely X-Plane Plane-Maker design, so the PFD, MAP and even the FMS is all still basic Laminar designed and default installs, but part of the ongoing development allows for a custom plugin interaction and mostly by that now very good EFP. But the two worlds are not yet connected, because Magknight are still developing a custom FMS and primary flight display system to install into the aircraft, FMS or Boeing's FMC - Flight Management Computer are very complicated beasts that are quite hard to design and use. The problem was simply setting the aircraft's Takeoff trim or setting the Centre of Gravity to balance the aircraft on takeoff. The Boeing 787 is a heavy aircraft, not a General Aviation aircraft were the trim is set manually, and In most cases you set the Takeoff trim in the FMC, usually on the performance page in a Boeing, or the INIT page in an Airbus (mostly the INIT 2 page). But the issue with the Magknight aircraft is that it is still stuck in a twin hybrid world of a basic FMS and no auto trim adjustment via the electronics. The way Magknight gets around this discrepancy is to put the TO (Takeoff) Trim setting in the MAP/NAV window, and you set the TO Trim manually, by the CoG percentage computed in EFP ("CALC") settings, it is however not done in the usual fashion via FMS... so I completely missed it. Once the correct TO Trim and CoG was set, the Dreamliner flew... well like a dream. Still not perfect though, because the aircraft still had a slight leaning roll, this was also corrected via using the keyboard X-Plane setting "Rudder Trim Centre" to over-ride it, and fix it, or still using another basic X-Plane command. So you can see the dilemma, I flew the aircraft like the Pro I am, but it's systems are still quite basic and workaround. That is the downside of these so called transitional aircraft, they are neither one thing or another, and in simulation you want authenticity, because you are flying the aircraft in a professional manner. It may suit the "wanna be" pilots because they love their eye candy first and even at the expense of quality and authenticity. There is no doubt that the Magknight Boeing 787-9 will soon have full custom systems, and probably very good it will be, because even now you can see that in the ideas and features in the aircraft, but in reality, they have developed the aircraft the wrong way around as many developers going after a market share have a habit of doing, it is all features and at the cost of the basics first, were as the FMC and correct Flight displays should have been the first priority... the problem for Magknight is that FlightFactor will certainly not make that mistake in their version of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Which brings us to xEnviro created by Dark Space. In November Dark Space finally released another update in v1.14 for X-Plane of the xEnviro environmental weather engine. First don't get me wrong, but I am a devoted user of xEnviro and do promote the plugin, because at it's heart it is a very good (if a very buggy) replacement of the now quite dated and boring weather engine that comes with X-Plane11. The history of Dark Space's development of xEnviro could be best served as a series for a comedy show, it's roadmaps are quite bizarre and it's development paths are as weird, and even the results in the different versions can be a bit hit and miss, in a good one, then an average one and then a whatever version, in reality the only really good version was v1.07, the rest were a bit wonky in one form or the other, but xEnviro when it worked in the right conditions was awe inspiring, so you held the faith (our family motto). Again the development path of bringing consistent new features, but never really getting the basic engine right has cost Dark Space years of development and users just a load of frustration, yes this sort of program is hard to do, yes it it is an intensive tool to create, but somehow their mindsets create more confusion than what they could help themselves with, in most cases instead of fixing the obvious they have a habit of completely changing around the features that already worked very well, and they wonder about why users kept on arcing up at them. They say it is hard and even impossible to do, yes it is, but Microsoft with the new MS FlightSimulator have done just that in the impossible, and in half the time that Dark Space have been banging away on this. But here we are now in another of their bizarre mindspaces. In with the release of v1.14, xEnviro will currently only still work in OpenGL, or not with the new Vulkan/Metal v11.50 dynamics... who wants to use OpenGL in v11.50? it is only a fallback situation if Vulcan fails, and too a point who wants to actually use X-Plane only in the older OpenGL mode, I think I have only about twice used OpenGL, and that was to test an older plugin situation. So all the advantages of using Vulkan/Metal are all lost on the plugin, and here is the thing, if any plugin has huge advantages in Vulkan/Metal it is a complex environmental engine like xEnviro. Dark Space has or had a lot of reasons to delay the start of change over to Vulkan/Metal, and note from now on it is "Vulkan, Vulkan, Vulkan", but... I think it is too late this time. Why on earth in that the moment Vulkan went final, didn't Dark Space start Vulkan development, or even a month or so before, so there has now been already three or four months wasted. They do note a major personal issue (again) also affected the v1.14 development, fine you accept that, but still development was started far too late and again the canvas has to now be totally redone from scratch. V1.14 took a long eleven months to do, for what is actually nothing or for something the majority of users can't actually use, Dark Space note that v1.15 (Vulkan) won't take as long, but to be honest I think we have already dialed out of these idiosyncratic development cycles of this product, I know I have. If Laminar deliver the expected new environmental engine to rival MDFS's version in X-Plane12, there will be only the need to put the cross on the grave of what was once a wanted great tool and even the loss of the enormous promise an exceptional plugin in the name of xEnviro. In several ways, both Magknight and Dark Space are very similar in the way they approach their development with their products, but both also are guilty of chasing features over making their products perform in a basic and credible way, both are in their ways incredible products, but have been let down by not doing the important boring areas, unfortunately, it is boring bits that make them a brilliant product when using them in the simulator. X-PlaneReviews will deliver a final 2020 "Behind the Screen - Year in Review" with a roundup of 2020 in the next few weeks, until then... Stephen Dutton 1st December 2020 Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews
  6. Behind the Screen : September 2020 First up that happened in September is the X-PlaneReviews site refresh, after four years you needed a new paintjob for the site and that with Invision then released more tools to allow you to do more ideas and add in more more features, then gave us the opportunity to bring out the ladders and paintbrushes. The old look was actually still quite good, but we felt we needed a more dynamic look and interaction. The results are nice on the eye, and easier for reading the reviews. I have always liked a clean if simple design (less is more) attraction (the graphic design training in me), and we think we have achieved that goal. We also felt it was too static as a site, but the problem with adding in flashy adverts and big banner images is that they can distract more than help, worse is that they come with huge image download times that will make most click on through the site. We did add in an animation banner, that was badly needed to highlight current reviews and news items, as one single banner in a way was not enough, and that works nicely... Another new feature is the addition to add in your own images at the bottom of the main page, this again gives users a more visual interaction with the site. All ideas are tested on not only all desktop browsers (Mac and Win), iPads, tablets (I test by going to my local store and downloading the site on to their numerous display units!) and iPhone/Android... so the site works for everyone. Again banners are nice, but not when they don't work. We may tweak it more yet, but for now it works, a note is that when we do certain image sizes and layouts it may look simple to the eye, but it has to work now across a multitude of browsers and gadgets, and has to be effective in all situations and not just on the usual wide desktop application (a big mistake in site creation). X-Plane 11.50 Final September was also the month that X-Plane v11.50 went final. So we are now in the era of Vulkan/Metal... modern times. Certainly processing speeds have been highly refined and you can now run far more features than before. But I am not completely happy with the transition. In most cases Laminar always usually over-delivered in features and ideas, and this is actually the first time I think they just didn't quite get there. I see a few areas the performance that are not as great as everyone expected, and in fact I am back running at my same numbers that I was using in the OpenGL environment... so is that progress? Don't get me wrong v11.50 is a big if massive huge step forward, smooth and far faster than anything we had previously, and like noted I can now use features that were off limits before like reflections, but I do sometimes get stutters (not the previous type, but processing stutters) and in the various areas it feels still a bit unrefined like with the slow texture processing. A lot of comments noted, say that it should be better, but the issues here are various, complex and users are not known for their patience. Number one thing to understand is that the process conversion to be fully Vulkanised or Metalised is really only about half completed. The changes already done only complete the shader changes and processing channels, but a lot of the older OpenGL areas are in there and still present... The beta process showed this up and it was an odd one, the process bounced from one side to the other in that one set of users ran far better at some settings, but others got worse results in the same version, swap the numbers around and you got the opposite effect in that another set of users got the advantage were as the others went completely the other way, it was like a Forrest Gump moment it that you "didn't know what version was the good one" for you until it actually came out. At in the end Laminar settled for a midway "sort of pleasing" everyone, but a pleasing no one either sort of situation. So that left the final edition of v11.50 in a bit of a mid-ground quandary Core of the problems are the textures, or the global tiles that makes up X-Plane, they are very old as is the ideas around the weather (a really big framerate killer) and other various left overs that came with X-Plane10, yes the Vulkan processing is fast, but these older elements are not, and so until X-plane has a rework to the modern elements and methods on having better more efficient global (high and low) textures and a complete rework of the weather engine, add in using not the current single pipe of process, but multi-core and multi-threading processing then the nirvana we are seeking and then and only then will the full effects of using Vulkan/Metal will come to the fore... in truth is we are only about halfway through the transition, and it may even take another few years to totally get there. From Laminar's point of view it was getting nowhere trying to please everyone, but the pressure to deliver X-Plane12 was also growing louder in the background. So this puts again so much importance on the next X-Plane release... no pressure there, and why try to fix something that is going to be changed again soon anyway, and so in the end we were left with a compromised release.... not certainly a failure in any context, but we have to consider the actual context we are sitting in. On saying that I still think that Laminar will twiddle with it in the background and find more performance for everyone before the year is out. One tool that has caused a lot of issues over the beta and currently with the final of v11.50 is Navigraph's "Simlink" tool. Loading times are horrendous (as it connects to the Navigraph servers), and now it is causing serious stutters in v11.50, it had to come out obviously, but it is a brilliant tool that is seriously missed, but it is also highly inefficient as a plugin and has been for awhile and has got seriously worse with v11.50... the concept needs a rethink, and very unlike Navigraph. The above is comment is interesting because all stutters outwardly look the same, in this case it was a plugin created stutter and not a simulator created stutter, but you can actually see or feel the differences between them, you can also switch off the offending plugins to see the differences (in the case of SimLink it was quite significant), but it shows how complex and interwoven the simulator really is, and how good your Sherlock Holmes detective work has to be in finding out and resolving conflicting issues, again the most simple one is to reset with a clean (or vanilla) X-Plane setup and work yourself upwards from there for the really big issues. Once we have the final done and completed, then came all the updates, to be fair most aircraft and plugin updates have mostly been already done, but still developers put out final, final updates... I found that September is turning into update month, not only for simulators but browsers, iPhones, operating systems, even my fridge got an update! But with the Vulkan/Metal transfer a few plugins have not returned... one is the Librain "Rain" plugin, and the usual xEnviro, who noted even when (or if) they do an update in v14 then it will still only be for OpenGL only, I mean who wants an OpenGL version?... I am going to die before they get something out that works with the current X-plane version, worse it that the xEnviro plugin is the one most significant plugin for the simulator, in creating at least some realistic weather. Oldies are still goodies A few blasts from the past appeared over the last few months and it was very welcoming to have them back. A lot of the scenery and certainly aircraft date horribly in the simulator, but many that were really advanced for their time can still also be very relevant today. A lot of life has been returned to the IXEG with thankfully a few updates for the Boeing 733 this year, it was still quite flyable before the changes, but the updates have certainly given the aircraft a lot more years service in the simulator, a "Classic" act with no pun intended. Second aircraft was the JRollon CRJ-200. For it's time it still really delivers an excellent simulation, even in X-Plane v11.50. Yes in areas in the cockpit and the cabin it feels dated, but it still performs outstandingly well. The amazing BSS soundpack that was added in a few years ago, that really totally changed the aircraft into something else, and nothing internally seems to have been affected. The v1.6 of the excellent WebFMC plugin now adds in the CRJ-200 (the reason it was pulled out from the back of the virtual hangar) and allowed me to revisit the aircraft again, and a return to service for the foreseeable future. Both of these aircraft were very, very well advanced on their releases and showed how sometimes we get the future delivered in front of you without actually understanding it, and the accolades have to go to the developers on the foresight they saw back then, and to survive two complete X-Plane versions is really an outstanding effort. Even though we have some outstanding current aircraft to fly in, they still totally deliver the goods in satisfaction. A v2 of the CRJ-200 was being developed, but the project went quiet (mainly because co-developer Philipp Münzel nee Ringler is not available) and if at anytime the aircraft will now be produced, but if it it ever did that would be something else. Another blast and totally unrelated to the update I did this week was the excellent Beti-x CZST Stewart and Bella Coola. I used Stewart as a basis for a review of Thranda's Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter a few months back, and to also mainly see how it lived up to its status as an award winning (2014) scenery, it was a sheer total coincidence that the scenery has been picked up by the X-Plane.Org and updated, but even in it's original form it showed the future of X-Plane in scenery development, with brilliant realistic ground textures, great if perfect modeling, and the VFR replication of a complete township that is still unrivaled today, yes we get completely replicated walkaround airport sceneries, but not of a whole settlement. The update filled in a few missing new features that were not available six years ago, but otherwise this outstanding scenery is as per original, and it is a scenery every user should savour in their custom scenery collection. It was a waltz through the X-Plane past, but these amazing products are still also totally relevant to today's simulator as well, they all still perform well and deliver brilliant simulation, so you have to be very careful in not to throw them out, there are certainly far more gems out there and most all of them are sitting in your aircraft folder and custom scenery folder, so seek them out and give them a visit, if they have dated or or not relevant, then yes the time has come to delete them. but you would be surprised how many do hold up to the current stands of still giving and delivering an extremely good simulation experience. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st October 2020 Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews
  7. Behind the Screen : August 2020 Well the sky didn't fall in! X-Plane is still here and actual still flies, burrrr dom. The Hype of MS2020 or is it MSFS came to a crescendo as the release date of 18th August 2020 got near (in fact it was available on the 17th here in Australia), and then everyone hit the download button, and most crashed at the same time as the herd mentality kicked in. In fact a lot of users had serious problems in not only getting MSFS downloaded and working and trying to keep it working through crash after crash and a fix is coming soon (3rd Sept). So did I do the download the "Wonderkind Simulator"? no... I never (thanks to Apple) will never ever, ever now download a release versions of any software, I usually wait until the bugs and first updates are installed and the running is solid before now using any software... I always wanted to be first, but my hand has now been bitten far to many times to answer and I will not be a guinea pig tester for any business, I will wait thank you and considering the launch details coming in it was a wise choice. But I have seen and looked at the new "wonderkind" simulator and like everything brand new it has a lot of great new features, but also it is also seriously buggy and actually quite basic in what you would call "simulation depth", so a game is currently the right moniker to label MSFS, I will be doing a roundup review of the X-Plane v11.50 and the current situation of the effects of MSFS on the X-Plane simulator soon, so watch out for that. The MSFS release did however give me a lot to reflect on in the advancement of simulators. That you think that the forward progress is slow, but go back even only six years and the changes are simply staggering, as we have now so, so much more for only a step up or two of computer power. One thing to keep in mind though is like any industry it is the tick/tock effect of progress, for years Microsoft's Flight Simulator was the total upper commander "tick", but then X-Plane bounced ahead with it's far better dynamics and brilliant HDR lighting "tock", then FSX and together with P3D they bounced back with clever work around the old core disability "tick", then FS finally went bust and most users finally took the X-Plane plunge "tock". The effects of that final movement was very, very perceptible on the X-Plane simulator, and it finally not only got the users to "give it a try" but brought the developers over as well... They hated it of course, because it was not their platform and financially to their perspective then X-Plane was not a viable business proposition, but the effects of them finally creating X-Plane product did have a very significant impact on X-Plane, quality airports did get the "crossover" treatment as well as a lot of their old FS junk that they couldn't sell any more either also arrived, but X-Plane users were not going to buy that game, so thankfully (except for Aerosoft) most went away again. Would they try the same old charade trick again with the new MSFS, I very much doubt it this time. But now X-Plane is in the "Tick" situation were as a new from the ground up built simulator has certainly a few advantages. But looking back over the years at X-plane as I did a lot in August, the worry is that some of the significant aspects that were very prominent back then are the same aspects that are the main deficiencies now and that aspect is very worrying, and it is these same aspects that puts X-Plane in this "Tick" situation. I am not noting the extraordinary world modeling capabilities of MSFS either, but the areas that should have been easily addressed by now. Don't get me wrong, in many images in doing reviews this month then the visual aspect of X-Plane are actually quite stupendous... take for example this image of the SSG 747-8F leaving EDDF. But MSFS even in it's early stages does give a big spotlight on were Laminar has dropped the ball in either under resourcing critical areas of it's simulator, to a point I would say that Laminar have been a bit lazy over the X-Plane11 version (that will cause Ben Supnic to spit out his coffee), that is not Supnic's fault if again it just reinforces Laminar's biggest weaknesses in financing or out sourcing areas critical to the simulator, the "In House" philosophy is great to a point... but it also shows how they can't cover all their resources to create a competitive modern product. To a point X-Plane users have lived with this philosophy as part as X-Plane's DNA, but has time come for Laminar to become more professional in the world of the big boys. I don't mean financially either as that is not fair against a company with resources like Microsoft, and X-Plane/Laminar has always punched well above it's weight. But even if MSFS had not come back to the game, then would have Laminar just gone on it's merry way as it has done over the last few "golden" years, if MSFS will do more than anything else it will be to finally get Laminar to address the inescapable gaps in their simulator. And this is were competition is good, as it makes for changes that in most cases would never happen or to be constantly be put in the "Too hard to fix" basket, now with a very competitive competitor as then will have to face the critical issues and (finally) fix them. I saying all of this, when we looked at the new wonderking MSFS, and then switched over to X-Plane, the differences are not as glaring as we thought they would be, in fact X-Plane as noted has come a significantly long way over the last run of X-Plane11, and you have to put it into perspective of that we have world of two very high class simulators more than he early factor of one being very highly advanced and the other a secondary product. Both are up there, both are giving us an amazing experience and each have their pluses and minuses. As noted in my last BtheS (July) in that it will not be X-Plane that will suffer the most with the reintroduction of the Microsoft Simulator but the old legacy FS (FSX) and Prepar3D, both are basically finished as simulation platforms as MSFS gathers speed (Mathis Kok from Aerosoft has already announced that all FSX development has already ceased). More on MSFS and X-Plane future aspects in the v11.50 roundup review. Obviously there was a lot of talk amongst the (aircraft) developers on if they are going to abandon X-Plane for the goldfields of MSFS. Overall the consensus is to not abandon the platform, as the earlier reasons they chose X-Plane for their skills is still the same now for staying, but it would not be impossible to lose a "biggie", for once having now sampled such products as FlightFactor's A320U, Rotate's MD-80 and ToLiSS Airbuses, Aerobask's quality, Thranda's ingenuity and even the coming FLyJSim Dash Q400 would be now very, very much appreciated in the other world simulator. In fact missing such deep immersion simulations is a big attraction in staying currently on the X-Plane platform, after all simulation is about actually flying the aircraft and not what happens around them, in fact the FS world has suffered with poor product over the years in this significant bracket, yes PMDG are brilliant, but since when have they released a new aircraft series, that is not going happen anytime in the future as well, Carenados are also feeling a bit dated... but X-Plane still pushes them out, with higher quality and better features, we don't have the scale of Flight Sim, but X-Plane produces excellent product. Money is going to be the interesting aspect of going forward. Most MSFS developers are rubbing their hands at the revenue they are hoping the MSFS will deliver, but these Covid 19 times are very different from say even last year, money will not be as freely available and how many users out there will want to spend up again big on product (like I mentioned again last month in BtheS) that they have already purchased twice or even three times before and for the same product. Most products are being put out on a crossover price, but many stubborn (if greedy) developers are asking a full price replacement (again). I really don't think that the punters will have the deep pockets of last year going into the future, and looking at the expensive collections in FSX and P3D they are very unlikely to do the same all over again... an interesting note is the Carenado CT182T Skylane in the MSFS "Marketplace" was noted as US$44.95... the X-Plane version is US$34.95, that is a US$10 hike for the same aircraft? A mis-spelling mistake or Microsoft Marketplace markup, I don't know which. If anything as expected the release of Microsoft's new version of it's "Flight Simulator" series has like most things in 2020 has changed all aspects of our on-line simulator and real lives. Is such disruption good? to a point yes, but as with everything there are winners and losers in these huge changes. Has there been just too much change lately, certainly yes and a lot not to the good, but change is inevitable one way or another and the winners are the ones that accept change and readjust to the new situations that are the survivors, in other words turn a negative into a positive. One thing is really important to note, is that in the next few years is going to be the most interesting that Simulation has gone through for years, or even decades. See you all next month, and a promise that no mention of MSFS will grace the next edition. Stephen Dutton 1st September 2020 Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews
  8. Behind the Screen : July 2020 All is lost! The day is coming, note that Microsoft has announced the release day and prices for their wonderkind FS2020 Flight Simulator and the momentous day is 18th August, barely three weeks away and the cost is set out in three packages: Standard Edition $59.99, Deluxe Edition $89.99 and the full monty package is Premium Deluxe Edition $119.99, in my currency that is Australian AUS$150 big ones... gulp! But there are also a few sort of demo options that is available through the Xbox Game Pass channel and there will also be a physical disc release by Aerosoft at stores throughout Europe. For the rest of us that would be a rumored 120gb download for the full monty, yes that is a 120 big and slow gigabytes of download! So all is gone, X-Plane will be ruined and thrown on the trash heap of bygone simulators, the heavens will fall in and we will be cast out, be brave my friends. Only haven't we been here before? Yes it was the last huge hyped out release of a FlightSim by the name of Flight Sim World or FSW, by Dovetail Games and yes within a year the simulator had gone and crashed under the weight of its own hype and expectations. I am not certainly saying that FS2020 will go to the same over hyped and little reward scenario because FS2020 has the might of Microsoft behind it, but we should however though become a little more realistic on what the wonderkind simulator will actually deliver. No doubt in time it will take on the original FlightSim mantle of a huge user base, and FlightSim and X-Plane will probably resume their original culture clashes and boundaries. Most early reports were under a NDA or non-disclosure agreement and everyone could only say really nice things about the coming FS2020, one user went and made a load of videos on the real reality, but he had a visit from the men in the black suits and ties and was shut down very quickly, quickly cast out broadcast stream land and told to be a very good boy in the future. That NDA with the release of a beta of FS2020 has now been lifted and some of the reality is now available for all to see. First off the developers in comments are not as overly excited as you would want them to be... don't get me wrong the new simulator is very strong and well done in the areas of creating a totally realistic flying environment and there are significant notes that the weather engine is excellent, so it is very nice to fly in, but like X-Plane there are well covered areas and the not so well covered areas. I saw a video that gave me a lot to think about, but the nightscapes are like flying over the moon like Neil Armstrong and in trying to find somewhere to land the LEM, X-Plane may not be a lot of things but it has come along way in this aspect. The developers also complained that the SDK's are awful, these are tools to create the innards, and like the X-Plane WED and PlaneMaker tools, obviously they will be fixed, but not in the short term. These should have been priority and not a last minute fix as they are the guts of the engine that makes it all work, also notes that low down it is what FS2020 is in ortho-photos being just what they are in flat ortho-photos and in a few videos that aspect is also quite visual. Overall the developers were at the time under the restrictions of the NDA, but their comments were interesting, one even admitted to sneaking back over to X-Plane to get some serious flying time, but why would you do that with this over hyped wonderkind, changing the face of the earth simulator? They admit it is good, but as usual the devil is in the details. The biggest factor in the comments is the framerate, yes our biggest heinous factor is again the biggest issue in the room. With Vulcan and v11.50 X-Plane users have at least a little relief from simulation's biggest headache and money costing exercise, but early reports and you can see the serious stutters on the videos is that FS2020 has a major framerate issue if you want to use all that eye-candy to its full advantage, then you will need a machine that is as good and as powerful as for mining bitcoin as it is for flying aircraft. I am certainly not going to get into the argument of my simulator is better than yours. X-Plane has a load of disadvantages that Laminar has been a bit complacent about in the last few years with it's total focus on Vulkan/Metal, as good as X-Plane 11.50 is, but the extremely late new ATC, weather and the better textures are getting a bit long in the tooth even for their laid back attitude. And the release or announcement of Microsoft's new wonderkind has certainly shook them out of their contented selves to at least broaden the team to include more bodies that should have been placed there years ago... no this is not a new simulator war, certainly with FS2020 being noted from observers as being not really ready for the August 2020 release... most are calling it FS2021 (some even FS2022!) in before the simulator will be refined enough to be.. well a simulator. Even PMDG, who announced their 737 NDG product, in that it will not be available on the simulator's release but available in early 2021. As the developers rush over to recreate their products for the new simulator, as they can make a fortune in reselling the stuff they have sold the poor buggers already twice (three times if you include X-Plane) for FSX, then Prepar3D and now all over again for FS2020, and that is at a full price for exactly the same thing "Thank you very much", in most cases all that gigabytes of spent money in their scenery and aircraft folders are simply worth zero again. No wonder the developers are on their jollys, it is Christmas all over again and it all comes with the big rewards with little development. In the end it will not be X-Plane that will suffer, but the real loser here in the FS2020 release has to be Prepar3D, they have nowhere to go as it tries to compete with the same but only a far better simulator above it, at least X-Plane is different in feel and choice. The first videos also showed were the market really is... Gamers. Most early post NDA videos are awful in gamers showing off their gaming skills, but pilots they certainly are not, in fact the real test is the depth of detail we all heavily expect from our simulations and the pros are not liking in what they are seeing, there is a wide gulf between the users/fliers that the few that spin the aircraft around and the deadly serious gate to gate procedure nerds (hands in the air) of wanting simulation to reward you with that high immersion of fleet or military flying. Shown FS2020 A320 is quite basic and even X-Plane default aircraft have far more simulation depth than this, yes it is easy to fly and yes a lot of users/gamers will love that, but simulation is not about just flying an aircraft in the space above your head. To an outsider simulation is about as exciting as watching paint dry... there is no instant adrenaline rush of boarding an airliner and taking out loads of innocent passengers, blood splattering on the roof, bodies falling panicking in the aisles as you turn to take out the crew, bom, bom... bom, no levels to go up as the bloody excitement is usually all over in about 3 minutes, if that is what gets their jollys, then 20min to just set out the Flight Management System and input the full flightplan is going to get everyone getting glazed over eyes and in need of a gun, simulation is not for everyone, and patience is a tool in our toolbox, I have never met a gamer yet with a lot of patience, anxiety yes, but never patience. So what does get our Jollys, and why do we commit ourselves to the continuous torment of simulation. To get to a level, you have to study, and practise, and in my case for years to get to a high level of competence, just like you have to do in real aviation. You are deadly serious in replicating a skill of completing a highly regarded capability of moving a complicated machine from one point on the earth to another, the trick and why we do it is for just one word... satisfaction. That word is an every longing goal, but do the right procedures and complete that nearly perfect flight and you will gloat for days, high as a kite on satisfaction and will bore everyone around you with the details of how you pulled it all off. Get it wrong or mess up, and you will punish yourself with low esteem for days, thankfully I get the more of the first than the second, and yes I do fly for actual fun and with no pressure to perform over every little detail... but satisfaction and pride in your skills is the end goal. X-Plane as a simulator would never survive unless the satisfaction aspect was strong, it is in that area it has to deliver, deep immersion and deep systems in a realistic world, and it is a never ending road and yes in some areas the coming FS2020 has seriously upped the ante, it is now for Laminar to match it. In satisfaction an aircraft came back onto my flightline that has been missing for months. FlightFactor's Airbus A320 Ultimate was sidelined because it was not Vulkan compatible, and yes I admit I really missed the aircraft because I flew it a lot early in the year before the beta run had started. Now under a beta (test) release it is Vulkan flyable and yes I am extremely happy to be sitting in the left seat again. I really got into it around Christmas and New Year, and coming back to it I realised even though yes it is very expensive, and yes quite complicated in system depth. The A320U does reward you in one aspect that makes it so good. The aircraft does what you actually tell it to do, your actions are perfectly transferred into the simulation and you may think that is not a very big deal but it is... the aircraft rewards you for flying it really well, your actions are inputted and how the aircraft responds, so you don't have to fly around the aircraft's foibles. How many times have you selected a flap selection and the position to the speed is wrong, this will give you a pitch up (not enough speed) or a pitch down (too much lift), but get your speeds right in the FF A32U and the changes are perfectly smooth, so you don't have to fly around the wrong speeds or flap drag even if you are flying the aircraft absolutely correctly, that is going to create a perfect feedback and then a perfect flight, and yes that gives you a lot of satisfaction... it is very nice to have the FF A320U back. Tomorrow 2nd August is another anniversary date for the site. In August 2013 X-PlaneReviews started doing reviews for the X-Plane simulator, that is seven years and now X-PlaneReviews is now going into our eighth year of providing experiences, tutorials, reviews, news and opinion for the simulator and altogether there is about 1800 reviews and notes on this site. Some notably are now old, but still have valuable information. We thought of culling a few of the very early posts, but we are still undecided in that matter, but the biggest impact is really mostly the visual aspects in how much in detail and quality the simulator has changed over the years, images can't lie, but even to a few years ago the flatness of the simulations were still quite pronounced. Advances and changes are never ending, and the changes coming in the next twelve months are going to be fascinating on a completely new level. I say mostly every year that the next twelve months are going to create the biggest changes yet, but seriously there is no doubt that this next twelve months are going to be really huge and different, and how in like the virus, in that how it will affect us is still up for future debate, but interesting it will be to follow that journey. The one thing that we pride on is that X-PlaneReviews is the will to look at both sides, the good and the bad and even the grey areas in between. In any debate that is always a plus as every perspective can be different. Many only have a blinded side in their views, but good editorial will look at every aspect and not judge, the only common thread through the years of X-PlaneReviews has been to make the simulator and the products better, in that aspect I think we have achieved a certain goal. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st August 2020 Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews
  9. Behind the Screen : May 2020 The month of May had a bit of everything, but the biggest overwhelming point was that how far we have really come in simulation. This aspect comes in, in various ways, but the march into the future just continues. One aspect that I loved in May was actually an old X-Plane feature, this was reflections. Reflections got sidelined for me about five years ago as the processing pressure built and the complexity came in... framerate rules! You couldn't have this processor intensive feature running as it sucked too much computing power away from the simulator, was it really a significant requirement in the simulator, no not really compared to the other required default effects you wanted running, so the slider went to zero and stayed there. Vulkan changed all that. Suddenly you had all this extra processing power and it turned into an absolute field day of options, nice options. Notably I have never been a greedy user, more than willing to accept a more benign simulation than a slideshow, but there are some options or features that I can not have running, hence the above acceptance of a certain loss of what the Americans call "Eye Candy", and that is okay. So when Vulkan gave your graphics a huge new working space, then the sliders went up and the results are really good, the only compromise has been the shadows on scenery feature, that option was just one expense too far, a very much a nice to have, but the framerate loss is just not worth it.... but back to reflections. I was doodling about in the Italian Dolomites for the ever expanding "Dolomite 3D" series from Frank Dainese and Fabio Bellini, all are worth visiting and the concept is now with this third installment and now covering a significantly huge area, but the Belluno pack had something else I didn't have in the earlier two packages and that was reflections. It felt so much more different, at first I couldn't understand what was actually different as the Belluno pack is not that much in context any different from the first two Dolomite packages, but then I realised the mountains were reflecting into or onto the lakes and rivers. The extra effect now is mesmerising and much more highly realistic as that just this one extra feature could produce such a significant change to the visual look of the simulator... flying low over the lakes the mountains reflected below, then moving to the newly released (excellent) Copenhagen XP scenery you also got a lot of bonuses, mostly from the Øresund Bridge of which at dusk created some really amazing images, and brought back to me such earlier X-Plane scenes of lights set around harbours and reflecting into the water. It was at this point I suddenly really realised how much I missed the feature, a small thing no doubt, but an important one to create that full visual aspect of realism, and yes I know that I over use the words "Realism" and "Realistic", but that is the constant goal in recreating the real world on a computer screen. I marveled at the port reflections last month in Barcelona, and now most coasts have a reflection boundary that just nicely smooths out the edges, so if you can go that extra processing mile then put the slider up and you won't be disappointed. Notably Vulkan will change that realism aspect, and give you more power for less. But it is in the dynamic areas it will have a bigger impact, how much so is to wonder if the changes we have seen since X-Plane9, that in five years you can't even compare the visual dynamics of a fully featured X-Plane 11 visual scene, not only in the cockpit with its extraordinary light and shadows, but the complexity of light shading on scenery. Again the FlyTampa Copenhagen's use of metal and glass was simply awe-inspiring and the same excellent visuals are replicated in many a review. Not all shading works though, notably are some trees that come across as one dimensional, light on one side but dark on the other you don't get any realism but the cardboard cutout effect. Obviously a hard one to fix because trees with their sheer numbers have to have a very minute footprint, so they can't be complex. However I still think it is worth investigating why some work extremely well in the light and shadow effect but others trees look simply awful, worse is when the scenery developer is too lazy to match them up. To a point Vulkan has given us some breathing space. The "Turing" Raytracing graphic cards are out of most but for only the hardcore users in cost, and so is the Radeon RX 5700 series which a little cheaper... the coming Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 is said to be also thankfully cheaper. So the question is what is the next step, or with the extreme changes we have already been through put us into a position were we are already at a high point. Don't send me comments on how games are going to be more extreme, more detailed and come with more lighting effects... because simulation is a very different engine than the boxed in world of a game, anyway the word around is that even gaming is reaching a point that you must not soon expect the same huge leaps in graphic power that has been done over the last ten years, as it is like running the four minute mile the closer you get to line then the harder it is to make a bigger difference on the clock. Yes there will be advancement, but the changes will be slower and longer. Again in Vulkan the Graphic Card is now not the be and end all of your computer visual power either. As you used to have spent months dissecting graphic card specifications in relation to your hardware, there now comes the issue of having the right processing chips as well, because in Vulkan they now both count big time, and finding the perfect running mates will bring you benefits, and so having odd processor combinations will of course mean one is working far harder than the other. I think there needs to be some guidance here in that aspect, as even my eyes blur at the specifications and overwhelming details of processors and the fastest set up for "Tour of Duty" is very different for the current single piping of X-Plane. But what of the future now with Vulkan almost in vogue... all Laminar's focus has been on this one absolute goal, sadly the Vegas Expo has been called off, so there will be now no announcements from Nevada. My guess is that Laminar will give a huge sigh of relief on that one, as time is not in their pocket, but I do think they have a few things interesting in coming. On that note it is surprising in the comments is that how many users are running their X-Plane simulations (mostly with the sliders at max) at or in a lot of cases below the 19 frame threshold, some are even doing their simulations in single digits, just so they can have the full visual impact! Now that is just simply crazy, worse is the grind on your graphic card, as it will burn out if you continue with that high cost of grinding through frame after frame and that is an expensive fix, what are they doing? The new VRAM Profiler (Menu/Developer/Show VRAM profiler) gives you now a view into this processing world, and how much processing is taken up on items that have absolutely nothing to do with your current simulation? In mine I have the B777 taking up 1.35mb of processing power by just sitting in my aircraft folder? you work that out, so that came out, as did five other aircraft using up processing power for doing absolutely nothing either? go on look at your own profiler, you will be really shocked at what you are non-running? It is going to be interesting on how developers are going to have to make their products more compliant to the simulator in this aspect. On the Vulkan Beta it is now getting there and even close to a RC or Release Candidate. Most of the aircraft and plugins have also been adjusted including the ToLiSS A319/A321 series, I personally really missed the Airbuses and was very excited to get them back, the FlightFactor A320 Ultimate is still MIA and waiting for the final v11.50 release of which I makes me want it more. As is for the most missing aspect of my simulation package and that is xEnviro, I can't even use my usual fallback v1.07 in Vulkan and that is a real pain as the default weather look is very bland (meaning boring) no matter which way you look at it, but I am not holding my breath for xEnviro to update either, but I really miss it... a lot. A note that June is X-Plane birthday month, not the actual simulator itself but for the X-Plane.Org, which was started 20 years ago, yes you read that right in twenty years ago. Would X-Plane as a simulator still be a going concern without the .Org? Personally I don't think so, as one without the community behind it would not have expanded or been so involving without the huge contributions the .Org contributes, one large star revolves around the other in creating a total X-Plane universe. Another milestone was that the X-Plane simulator itself past 100.000 files as it's basic installation, when I started 10 years ago that number was 28,000 files, but I will note a few of those files are Global Airport files, but it is still a huge growing number of files to update the simulator. So sitting here at the end of May it seems we have come through a storm, but seem to be better for it on the other side (a bit like the coronavirus in passing)... like everything around us June will be interesting, but I will take for once boring, even normal and just to have a non-eventful month. Stephen Dutton 1st June 2020 Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews
  10. Behind the Screen : April 2020 April was Vulkan month, and Vulcan month as well. You had to believe that the extraordinary Avro Vulcan cold war bomber could come out the same month as the Vulkan (that of Star Trek fame) API in the actual same month, sheer coincidence but still mind-boggling in get the spelling right for either, and how many times I spelt Vulkan instead of Vulcan in the review and then had to change it.... the brain is wired in a certain way to do the daft way. Well Vulkan finally hit the simulator. In a way we didn't know what to expect except for Vulkan to be good... right. It is as I covered in my Analysis Review, I was pretty impressed, but this was still an early beta, so the show got on the road as a beta and the usual theatrics. A good one, a crash one, a brilliant one, a withdrawn one and so on, we are currently just worked up past the withdrawn one in beta 5, now fixed and beta 6 is now also with us. Beta 5 although it failed initially was the big one. It is the update that goes to the heart of the beta, and not because it was a large update, but because it it dealt with the core issues... It should be now more relatively easier from beta 5 onward in Laminar now just refining and fixing the minor bugs. In relation and to the complexity of the changes then the Vulkan switchover has gone very well, like the coronavirus, it came quickly and our simulation life will never be the same after it's impact. The final bottom line was that Vulkan is quite brilliant, but as telegraphed by Laminar before release it was not to be the Holy Grail of everything, in fact my framerate is now pretty much the same as before Vulkan was released, but my settings are now mostly at a full throttle notch, I now have as noted in the analysis in that I now have shadows and reflections and a far higher texture resolution for the same framerate hit, but then switch back to OpenGL in same settings and the computer hammers on down to single framerate digits, so that is showing a huge improvement in reality. Add in then the supreme smoothness, no stutters at all... and with every simulation is clean and totally smooth. The quality is shown in the reviews with crystal clear images that are sharp and quite beautiful. So Vulkan is certainly a huge step forward. I had more issues loading in Aircraft (mostly in restarting with the authorisation done) that resulted in a Vulkan crash or screen blackouts, yes some plugins crashed, but overall most are now working absolutely fine with developers (except xEnviro as usual) doing fixes to get their products running in Vulkan, and already WorldTraffic3, Traffic Global, SAM, BetterPushBack... etc are all working fine, so at this point the transition is working out very well, and if in the final refinement Laminar can give me back some framerate as well then that for me is a total Vulkan win-win. But it is the sheer smoothness of the simulator in Vulkan that really gets my googles going, in that every flight is now so good, but you do still however feel the unrefined elements that still need attention, so Vulkan at this point is not perfect and there is still a fair way to go. Problems with beta's are that they take one step forward, then a step backwards, step two forward and then take another a step back again, you feel the movement and then something that worked, suddenly does not work anymore. One tool I really love is the new "Plugin Performance" tool. This was made for Laminar and developers, but it is now an essential tool for your own use in seeing what plugins are doing you the most damage, or worse even running while they have no actual use and using up a lot of your valuable framerate (and yes we now know who you are?) Your choice is quite simple, pull theses nasties out unless you are actually using them, but how was this allowed to happen in the first place? The tool will reform your plugin folder as developers will now have to face you if their plugin is not at all efficient, and so they should, as you can't simply have these monstrosities doing this much damage to your simulation while hidden away. Well they are now all lit up in the glaring bright light of exposure and there is now nowhere to hide. I have always been aware of very bad performing plugins and mostly with their badly written code, now you can now see the actual results, but some do surprise you as well. Take Rotate's MD-88, which by all context is a very complex and detailed aircraft, but it's plugin is one of the most lightest and refined plugins in your system... "who would have thought?". Mostly you would have thought it would have been one of the heaviest and draggy on the system, but in fact it is as light as a feather, kudo's to Rotate. And there is surprisingly a lot of surprises still waiting to be found but buried in that performance tool, and a few more to still on to make you aware of on how your system is really operating, and also now rather differently than you thought it was. Except for those blackouts and a few related crashes then v11.50 Vulkan has been for me has been pretty smooth as Beta's go. But what silly users there really are out there. There was the do-dah about "reshade" last week in that idiots were complaining that the "reshade" was not working anymore and threw their rattles out of the Bassinets when told not to use it... babies. The core of Vulcan is actually the new shaders, or new Vulkan is in the fact that the complete shader system has been completely redone for Vulkan, it had to be for the new memory allocation. But still they insisted on using the old shader system... why, because the new shader system is far better now anyway, in fact it is really, really good, certainly not as good as xEnviro's shaders as they are brilliant, but as a default you can't really fault them, and our skies at dawn or dusk are now magnificent, clean and very efficient. You really do wonder were their heads are and the damage they caused as the crashes caused by Reshade sent the Laminar reporting system into meltdown, Laminar had to come out tough and say "Stop this nonsense" but also shows the difference between on how to do a Beta run and how not to do it. As noted my v11.50 Vulkan app is basic, that is BASIC in what I have in there and what I put currently into the Vulkan world. Each aircraft and plugin is carefully tested and installed one by one, I certainly don't throw in the toybox of everything and then wonder why the App goes crazy and crashes all the time, but you would be really surprised on how users did just that... the worst effect on doing that is that you have simply now idea of what or if in what area is causing the constant crashes, or even why either and it totally confuses the Laminar bug reporting system, yes we would love (and to a point after Beta 6 we are now getting there) to have a fully functioning v11.41 as v11.50, but this is again like that nasty virus out there in sorting it all out will be a "one step at a time". Another strange debate in April was between the Flightfactor Airbus A350 and their Boeing 777. I got daily (sometimes hourly) comments and messages on which aircraft was the better to buy. Well basically neither at this point because both are ancient in X-Plane terms, neither are good simulations that reflect the state of the current simulator, but still users wanted to know. There sounded like a desperation out there for some decent long-haulers to fly and I really share that pain, but both aircraft are (well overdue) for updates and both should happen this year, with the A350 very soon and the Boeing 777 hopefully towards the end of the year... but it was a weird debate that went on and on. X-PlaneReviews has a new reviewer on board by the name of Bernardo Pierdona Casa or Casa so look out for his reviews. He took up the challenge to do a comparison review on the above A350 and B777 debate so check it out: Aircraft Comparison : Boeing 777 vs Airbus A350. Overall I love other peoples point of view on a review. No matter how many years you have done this reviewing palaver, another point of view on any area of the simulator is welcome and not as one sighted or from one perspective and yes you learn something when it is pointed out from another total point of view, we welcome that new vision. See you all in a post-virus world next month Stephen Dutton 1st May 2020 Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews
  11. Behind the Screen : March 2020 Are you coping? Do you need help? How are you doing in Self-Isolation? How do you want to get through this? Do you need tips to help you get through this? This is how to get through your day? These are messages that I get every day, I am thankful that people care, I really am... but. Well a month back in what was then looking like normal life and pretty well for a long time before this virus event unfolded this was my average day. Get up and have a cereal breakfast, go out and buy a newspaper, have a coffee and read the newspaper, come home and have more breakfast, then do six hours with a break on X-Plane in doing the site and reviews. Now today inside the virus event then here is my same day. Get up and have a cereal breakfast, go out and buy a newspaper, get a takeaway coffee, come home and read the newspaper, have more breakfast, then do six hours with a break on X-Plane in doing the site and reviews. You see the major difference, yes I now pick up a takeaway coffee and bring it home than rather drink it at my local coffee shop.... that is it, and yet people are telling me daily that I simply can't cope with all that significant change. Funny enough I have been doing this (now labeled WFH - Work From Home) do dah for over a decade? for myself nothing really has changed basically in my day to day structure and yet here I have loads of people telling me on how to cope and get through all of this event? I am lucky really that I found a medium to translate the way I want to live my life. And yes X-Plane can be seriously isolating, but funny enough it also opened up my world far, far more than it actually closed it down. I am still a 63 year old child that moved with the world, I am thankful (or just smart enough) to change with the world around me through the decades as I have always been right at the front in one form of the other in technological changes, and obviously when the internet and computers collided I used this new technology to live a more easier and less forceful life, although I will admit you do work far more harder from home than you will ever do than on the outside, as there is reality no boundaries and the work is right there waiting 24/7 to be done, but again self discipline can help in you controlling the monster than rather the monster in controlling you. But the overall moniker is simple, when it becomes work then it is time to walk away from it, so the X-Plane experience is fun and exciting with a lot of learning thrown in, and if that aspect can last ten years then being involved in simulation can not be a totally bad thing. That is the point to all these other people who really are struggling in their isolation. Don't tell me on how you are coping, because I am quite fine thank you very much because in reality very much in my life right now is actually that not very different, or even try tell me ways of on how to cope either. I hated the fact when people noted they had to adjust to WFH and are try to understand that, because I have doing this thingy WFH do dah for a decade, so is that a bit condescending their part. People are weird... But the X-Plane community is also a seriously modern and interconnected one, and we all share the same information, the same upward path to simulation nirvana and the same goals in just trying to get that landing as perfect as the next one, Isolation is certain not a word we use or even recognise because we are connected altogether through our computers and our networks (some users that fly together take this aspect even further), but we are singularly all spaced out but still also highly connected together with one focus and aim, and in that there is a lot of friendship as well. That is the incredible aspect of living in the current period of our technologically advanced world, we are all connected together with no boundaries or even walls around us... in our world there is no such words like Self-Isolation, that is unless you don't pay your internet account! Vulkan/Metal API I really didn't think it would have been three months into the new 2020 decade for Laminar to release the next update in v11.50 with the Vulkan/Metal update. My first guess was about two to three weeks into January, but here we are and it is still taking that long to sort out and refine... I don't doubt for a moment that Laminar Research have not been working very hard on this and for a very good reason, that the new API HAS to be right, HAS to work well straight out of the box. So overall the wait will be been worth it.... but on release of this goodwill message then we still don't have any Vulkan/Metal API's So confine people, promise them that in two weeks or so that the beta release will finally be active and you are asking for trouble, yes if you haven't noticed it is April Fools Day today, so releasing today would be seen as a joke, but many are starting to laugh anyway, and not in a practical joker sort of mad laugh way either, but more of a "this is turning into a big joke" sort of way. The worry is FS2020 and X-Plane needs to retain users faith now more than ever before, but in reality Laminar is caught on that question in that release a buggy beta and it all goes down badly, don't release the beta update and it still all goes down badly, either way Laminar can't win.... but then again how long can you really stretch the elastic before it breaks. But the signs are there as already many plugin updates are already noting to be updated and are 11.50 compliant, so yes it is now very close. On those 11.50 updates then be ready for a lot of them, in fact most plugins and fair amount of aircraft will need updating to be totally Vulkan/Metal compliant. On install you WILL find a lot of areas that won't work although Laminar has reassured us that the Open GL failsafe should cover most of the issues. Personally I don't like that, I would rather let things fail and fix them than sort of cover them over and generally hiding them away in the code that is going to be disconnected soon anyway. There will be a lot of complaining, there will be a lot of anguish... but like with the 64bit transfer it will all settle down quite quickly, which on situation sounds like a certain virus pandemic we are also having to deal with, which is funny on how X-Plane and life can parallel in the same circumstances. Certainly you can't compare the lives of thousands of innocent people to a simulator, but I think you sort of get the same conditions. The one thing we will be confronted with though will be a lot of updates, loads in fact, so maybe it is time like I wrote in last month's "Behind the Screen - February 2020" in doing a totally reassessment of your simulator, a fresh clean start, a more refined simulator... if one thing that does come out out of the Coronvirus is the fact that for a few weeks we have created a cleaner and better world around us and have finally given the planet a breather from our dirty habits... we may even finally learn something to make our surrounds actually better and not worse everyday... so again a mirror to our simulation life is that you can change, be better, throw away bad habits and choose to restart in a more cleaner and more environmental environment, will we learn anything, probably not but it is still a nice thought. See you all out of isolation next month Stephen Dutton 1st April 2020 Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews
  12. Behind the Screen : February 2020 Anticipating the release of Laminar Research's v11.50 or the Vulkan/Metal Apl in the last few days of the last decade 2019, I did what I usually do in creating a completely new and clean X-Plane application, now already into the first days of March and with still no v11.50 release, I now realise that I shouldn't have wasted those last few precious days of 2019 of having a restful break than in hunched over a computer. But creating a new and clean X-Plane application is not something I do only when things go wrong, but it is also usually a regular maintenance update anyway and usually at six month intervals.... so why do I do this. First and foremost you would be seriously amazed on how much clutter and debris is accumulated over that six month period, and on how your simulator application has the sucking power to hoover up so much unwanted and mostly framerate destroying items. This is in a way demonstrated in this aspect is that X-Plane is a content sucker that is on par with a Kansas Tornado alley blockbuster and leaves behind a mess as big as the sway through the American Mid-West. Fixing it is easy as you will never ever clean up all this used code, as once the stuff that gets in there it is mostly hidden, so the only way is to simply get rid of all this debris is to just clear out the lot. Thankfully X-Plane has the option on the "X-Plane 11 Installer" to "Install a Second Copy of X-Plane", but you need to switch-out on the installer in downloading all of the "Global Scenery" or Earth Tiles in the "Select Scenery" phase, if not you will spend the next few days in downloading all of X-Plane and the full 60gb of it. Download size of the basic X-Plane application is only 4.2gb, which with any good internet connection should not take very long or in my case 20 odd minutes downloading after Laminar checking out my authorisation code. This is what I call a clean copy of the simulator, brand new and very efficient, but remember to give the new version a different name than the older one, in this case I called it "X-Plane11-Vulkan" or XPVulkan. The trick is then to move your "Global Scenery" folder over from your old X-Plane App to the fresh version so X-Plane will now work correctly... You also have to reset all your settings which sometimes is not a bad thing, but complex saves like the X-Plane Joystick and X-Plane Key settings are better copied and pasted into the new Output/Preferences folder, on that one or two cut and paste selections it will save you hours of resetting all the various joystick and keyboard selections. On startup you will now have a very basic X-Plane simulator running... and look at the framerate as mine was blisteringly fast at over the 100fr and with all the graphic sliders to the right, brilliant, and so the simulator in it's basic form is very fast and extremely efficient... it is actually a shame to mess with it. Move your Global Scenery folder back into your original X-Plane App folder and the grind comes back in, and the churn is back, and the difference is totally shocking, remember I'm not even running the new Vulkan (in my windows case) ApI yet, so god knows what the basic simulator will be like when it gets that transformation! In it's basic X-Plane form I flew a few routes in my "XPVulkan" App, and believe me it was simply amazing what with your computer running at 100+fr can do for your soul, even the startup was extremely fast, stutters and loading was basically eliminated, it really is a Beautiful Thing. But, but and but... this is not my X-Plane either, and it IS very basic and you sort of miss all the items that go together to create the X-Plane experience I love, but as a note in this edition they also come with a serious penalties. So can you have both worlds? To a point you can, but you have to sacrifice some items to get close to that nirvana, but also the differences can also highlight what areas and items are also causing the biggest grief and the heavy pulling on to your X-Plane processors. As I was expecting a Vulkan release very early in January, I also wanted to compare the basic current X-Plane App with the new Vulcan App, but as the month or months dragged on I really wanted to move on from the older very poor original drag slow X-Plane App. It is still in there, but this was a good time to rebuild X-Plane into a more efficient simulator and try to have the best of both worlds. First to go over to XPVulkan was the "Custom Scenery" Folder, so yes I now had all my lovely and realistic scenery back (yes it also really helps to go through the Custom Scenery folder and take out any scenery you don't actually use or will never fly to). Second was my "Aircraft Folder". A pared back Aircraft Folder is a really beautiful thing, X-Plane will load far, far faster if it doesn't have go though hundreds of aircraft. To be honest I don't usually have a lot of aircraft in the folder anyway, but my Carenado folder is simply outrageous. Again you can keep a separate folder (or hangar) outside of X-Plane to do this and it makes a huge difference to the simulator, I found that I stick with one or a few types of aircraft over a period of time anyway, and except for a few non-debatable aircraft that I will always want available, but then most can really easily rotated in and out of the simulator as required, the downside is that when putting them back in again you have to redo the authorisation key, which is a bit annoying, but otherwise not a hard thing to do for all the benefits it gives you. Review aircraft go one or two ways, if it is very good it goes into secondary hangar, if not it goes into storage on a backup hard drive With both of these items back in XPVulkan and depending on your aircraft and scenery selections then X-Plane will drop down by about a third in framerate clout, it hurts, but you should still see 50fr to 60fr and that is still a pretty smooth simulation. Plugins... are the devil is in the detail, and plugins are the real nasty buggers of simulation. The problem with plugins is that they are all not created equal, and they are also created by 3rd parties and not intergrated by Laminar into the basic simulator and that is the main part of issue as in some they are a sheer elegance in their concept and code and have a featherweight effect on your simulation, but others can be also be badly written, buggy and are highly inefficient or worse in causing major conflicts within the simulator. But remember that even with a load of these featherweights it can also all add up to a very heavy pull on your processors, so use only as many you really need and not really want... my plugin folder has always been as light as I can get away with and even then if you don't use that effect or tool very often, then the plugin can simply come out... 90% of all simulator problems can come from plugins. Part of the trick is finding the good ones from the nasties, and even if that plugin is invaluable, if it is pulling down your simulator to the point of using too much framerate, then it has to go, no matter how hard it is, it has to come out, the JARDesign GndHanding plugin is sadly in this category, heavy, slow, it even gives up completely sometimes. FlywithLua is another serious nasty, it conflicts with everything, mostly because all aircraft use the same Lua plugins to run. We now also have the latest trend of scenery developers now inserting plugins into your plugin folder. This a trend that has to stop... for one they take up a lot memory and in only to be used very infrequently, for me if a scenery uses a plugin in the plugin folder, then out it comes in both the plugin and the scenery as well, no matter how good... sorry developer, but it is simply only your own fault for doing that. Loading in and testing your various plugins can give you great results, so much so that you may have to pull out a significant favorite that is just too much pull on your simulation... which brings us to the two biggest offenders. I seriously love WorldTraffic3, but efficient it isn't, and the pull on your simulation is maybe sometimes as high as 10fr, Global Traffic is however a dream to use with virtually no framerate hit, but GT is not even close to a perfect animation in the realism as WT3 gives you. But that almost zero framerate clout can also make a serious difference to the overall simulation as well. Environmental effects or the weather is the most biggest offender in killing your frame rate and giving you a sluggish simulation. Refinements in the X-Plane built in weather generator has brought it a long way since the early days of those single digit framerate black storm clouds. But as a realistic representation of our weather the default system it is still pretty poor in both look and efficiency, but as a fall back it can actually currently gain you in your framerate hit compared to the others addon plugins and effects. xEnviro is currently the main plugin offender of reducing your framerate to a slugfest of a slideshow. This is version v1.13. So why use it if it is causing so much framerate pain? Well nothing generates a rendition of of real world weather and that sublime feel of the atmosphere than xEnviro, as some moments can actually make you gasp on how incredible of what it does, and credible is the word here... it changes X-Plane into a world like no other plugin in X-Plane and yes the app should be the environmental default for the simulator. But and it is a really big but, it is still also very inefficient, not to bad if the clouds bases are light, but sometimes it just grinds you right down. Obviously xEnviro are working very hard to fix this aspect, but they can also be slow in bringing the updates to you, but they have got seriously better than in the old days. When really bad the fallback is v1.07 with it's 2d clouds is at least a get out, that version still at least gives you some realism. But in switching between the two you can also see the huge benefits of the current v1.13 and its 3d aspects, the atmosphere effects are far superior as well, but that framerate crunch is still a real absolute killer. In reality the XPVulkan Apl is still my fallback option (waiting for v11.50), but it is night and day better than the main original X-Plane app in being very clean, extremely more efficient and fast, as it is very hard to believe it is still EXACTLY the same simulator as my earlier version. As a test I used XPVulkan for a review (SSG - Boeing 748i) and with the pared back version and set up also with the older v1.07 xEnviro version, Global Traffic and limiting the aircraft to just the Laminar defaults and the host aircraft, my only full detailed folder was the Custom Scenery folder, but again it had been revised and refined. Plugins were highly limited to just what I needed and not what are the nice to have, or to the very basic tools I could get away with. The reason is that the SSG Boeing 748i could be a very heavy load on the processors, it still is, but with this custom lite version of X-Plane and some moderation of the Graphic settings I got a very efficient running simulator of around 60fr, and the result was a perfect simulation, a very long one at that from SIN - Singapore to FRA -Frankfurt and 11 hours flying time. Better still it all ran smoothly without any stutters, annoyances and distractions and was an extremely rewarding flight and simulation, more so in that I relaxed more than anticipating the next thing that could ruin the simulation in motion or that perfect flight. The above simulation was not everything that X-Plane could deliver and yes I really missed all my toys to play with, but the compromises were also well worth the efficiency, and over the last few months the toys have gradually seeped back into the XPVulkan. And yes XPVulkan is now being used more and more as my default simulator version, and yes I am also feeling the effects of all those extra goodies going back in there. But the moral from this post is that it shows that all X-Plane applications as a simulator are not created equally, the same application can be as good or as bad as you make it, but the basic application is sound and very fast. It is in reality what you add in or clutter it up with that will make for the best or worse of the simulator, and it is certainly well worth your time and effort to refresh the simulator on a regular basis, to go through and refine your folders on what only you do actually use and not the clutter it up with too much waste, and seriously check and weigh your plugins, they may give you a lot of tools and fun, but they can also be seriously ruining the consistency of your simulator's efficiency and the resulting experience. The new Vulkan/Metal Apl's with do miracles for your processing, but the real culprit is actually you in allowing the simulator to run badly in the first place and allowing it to be cluttered it up with just too much clutter and debris.... and so it maybe a time for some simulator housecleaning. See you all next month. Stephen Dutton 1st March 2020 Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews
  13. Behind the Screen : Year in Review 2019 In many ways simulation in 2019 was transmogrified from one situation to another. In early 2018 Laminar Research's X-Plane11 was seen as the saviour of simulation, as Microsoft's long winded, long dead and bankrupt "Flight Simulator" series finally died at the hands of another saviour in Dovetail Games in the form of Flight Sim World (FSW) but was still based on the original code based in Flight Simulator X... so finally FS was dead... dead and gone, buried on May 15, 2018. So they finally came to X-Plane, the users and dragging their feet also the developer's, some didn't want to come like PMDG, Quality Wings and Majestic... but for many then survival was the key and many actually realised that X-Plane was a pretty good simulator for their money. But most Ex-FS brought in tired old product and hoping we would want to buy a decade or older add-ons, and then complained loudly when nobody actually bought their crap... I wonder why. For Laminar Research the X-Plane sales went through the roof, everyone got a new Tesla and not just the boss and the focus went on the development of the next big thing in new API's Vulkan and Metal for X-Plane. For as starting 2019 then X-Plane was the finally the prominent simulator in simulation, and to be fair Laminar deserved the coveted title, they had been innovative, worked hard and delivered some excellent ideas and product to make X-Plane a very good simulator, a few areas were notable in ATC and weather which are still quite average but in most areas it delivers a very realistic aviation simulation. Moving to the end of the year you couldn't believe the changes that have taken place within that same 12 month period. The crucial date is June 9 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles in that the French Asobo Studio game company announced the new coming Flight Simulator 2020 or FS2020, the beast had again risen from the dead... and with a huge investment again from Microsoft, and if you look at the trailers it makes X-Plane look dated and clunky, even if the new simulator stole most of the X-Plane ideas along the way. Laminar literally laughed off FS2020 at the last Q&A of the year, and that went down like a lead balloon to the point that the video was pulled off line very quickly. So from being the leader of the pack and huge numbers coming into the simulator then the tide suddenly went out again as they all pledged allegiance to the brave new world, in just the last few weeks four Ex-FS developers have already quit X-Plane to go back and find the golden riches again in FS2020 and more will soon follow, in fact the slow flow will turn into a torrent as the FS2020 release date comes near. This was the simulation story of the year 2019, and right at the end of the decade of the teen's. Laminar Research From Laminar Research's perspective it was all on about just one thing in converting those API's. So from a users perspective it was one of the most quietest development years in the simulator. You started off the 2019 development year in the beta of X-Plane v11.30, it was a long one of seven betas and the usual RC's and mostly focused on the Particles editor, ATC voices, Oxygen and De-Icing systems and a rebuild shader system with a load of autopilot options as part of the package. Overall it was a great beta, but in reality that was it for the year except for a few crumbs that came out of the FlightSimExpo in June. One final beta v11.40 release was a solo effort by Austin to update the X-Plane flow dynamics, it was so boring X-PlaneReviews didn't even bother to cover it, but in reality it was an important part of the hidden forces that makes your simulator so realistic so you shouldn't discount it, missing the whole year was the expected new ATC, and weather updates, instead Laminar seems to want to lavish more attention on to their mobile global airports app than the desktop version. But that was hiding all the work and the resources going into Vulkan/Metal. A progress report was shown at the summer FlightSimExpo and again at the UK Cosford Expo, and as exciting as it all was, we just all fell asleep again as the numbers were noted as just very good, but not exactly life transforming. A moment was that Laminar was very quiet around their usual annual surprise thanksgiving date, in well nothing happened this year was very unsual, and it is still all very quiet to date, and after the Q&A debacle they had seemingly left the building completely... Merry Christmas for 2019 from Laminar. Aircraft From a user perspective it was actually a very good year, but it also came with a very few of the really big releases. No new releases from FlightFactor, FlyJSim, Rotate, Dreamfoil and even JARDesign. In most cases it was updates and upgrades to existing aircraft, with many finally filling out their project status. FlightFactor finally got their A320 Ultimate to v1.0 status and overall it is now a sensational deep simulation, and update to the "FPDS" or "Flat Panel Display System" for the Boeing 757/767 series was however a nice compromise, but nothing in a new A350 or Boeing 777 that is really required, both are said to be in development. The ToliSS A319 went official Airbus and is again all round a sensational simulation, the surprise announcement is that ToLiSS is releasing a A321 early into 2020, was one of the big exciting announcements of the year. FlyJSim was working on their new Q400 "Q4XP" and moved the older now tired version to Legacy status, the B727/738 got the "Rainman" packs but that was about it. Rotate and the MD11 was another no show, three years now and it goes on. Dreamfoil went AWOL then recently came back to development, so a lot of helicopter releases and upgrades were put on hold, and no news on the Embraer 120 in development, means we hope it is still in development. JARDesign once a front runner in airbus designs is in a quandary. With such highly developed A320/A319/A321 now out there, it is the JAR A330 that is now the frontline aircraft from JAR and the various updates are bringing this aircraft forward, the promised A340 is still a WIP. SSG - Supercritical Simulations Group put their v1 Boeing 748 also into legacy, and released their brand new v2 Boeing 748 Inter late October to a lamentable lack of enthusiasm and criticism. It was far better, but the cockpit was almost exactly the same as before and there was a noticeable lack of beta development... annoying as well, because the systems and their detail were all very good. X-Craft's were really the only notable developer to get out a full new series of aircraft in 2019 with the release of the ERJ Series with five E135/E140 series of different variants, the aircraft was also a serious step up in design with only the hybrid FMC still being a missing step to it all being a full quality simulation. Different developing methods also appeared this year, or "how to make a lot of cash from a half developed project" Colimata and his Concorde, MagKnight and the B787 Dreamliner were the leaders in the cash crowdfunding before you buy brigade, at least they delivered as the Concorde has now gone v1.0 and the Dreamliner has also went v1.4.0 with an updated fuselage/cabin and more systems, so the incoming cash is spurring great development, however the extra cash grab for the "Aviator" edition was a very fine line for the devoted, it split the crowdfunding, holding your hand out idea maybe too far... time will tell if these tactics will wash in the future, likewise FlightFactor's canny ways in getting more cash for their addon extras, are all testing the proven model of paying for addons. One event was the MilViz crowdfunding episode (or gun to your head) "pay me US$27,000 dollars and I will do an ATR for you!" was a disaster from the start, but the $8,000 rake showed the idea had actual promise, at the end of the year MilViz was gone, back to his safe haven of FS2020, which actually was a shame and again mostly towards the developer as his (with vFlyteAir) DHC-3T Turbo Otter was simply sensational, sadly I think the real loser here is MilViz, as more of the same as the DHC-3T would have cemented a reputation of a great developer for the simulator, deep down though I think he will be back. If anything 2019 was the year of the "Regional" aircraft, as noted the X-Crafts E135/140 Series were a big regional flying filler, but it was Carenado that released the very best in this genre this year. Their incredible Saab 340 XP11 was and is one of the most compelling releases for a long time, the follow on Fokker 50 XP11 was just as good. But the recent announcement that Carenado has split with Thranda Design is one to seriously mull over. Thranda with Danial Klaue is the builder of Carenado's huge status in X-Plane and one of the great partnerships ever in the simulator, so this announcement has huge repercussions for both entities, I have found and have noted frequently that certain elements of Carenado are now feeling very dated, in many areas like dynamics and quality they are well ahead of the pack, but in others with Menus, Options and Weight&Balance features they are also now way behind (Weight&Balance is available on all Carenado aircraft as an afterthought, through the "manifest.json"). In general aviation the showboat just rolled on, it was a bumper year again in this category with almost every developer house putting out some sensational aircraft, but with a lot focused on the installing of the Laminar Research G1000 avionics system in their aircraft, so you got a lot of G1000 based aircraft. JustFlight although expensive had some great aircraft and the every expanding PA-28 universe, so yes we start off the year with a... PA-28 in the Archer lll variant, then the lovely Duchess Model 76 and finally the PA-38 Tomahawk trainer, and towards the end the year a... another PA28 in the Archer TX/LX but in G1000 avionic guise. We are back to Carenado with a smorgasbord of GA releases, but mostly many were disguised as XP11 upgrades, brilliant they were. First off the rank was the Cessna 172SP SkyHawk XP11 and I adored this aircraft with G1000 avionics, it was brilliant simulation. The PA-31T Cheyenne ll was a grunt of a machine, again really good, and at the end of the year the CT206H - StationAir in both G1000 and Analog versions. But most Carenado releases this year were private jets with the 390 Premier 1A XP11 and the excellent Falcon 50EX that both carried over the same quality and detail as their exceptional Cessna Citation ll S550 from late 2018. VFlyteAir joined the level of masters this year. All their releases were exceptional with the Cherokee PA140C Original, then the amazing Cherokee PA140C Modern with an Aspen E1000 Evolution avionics suite, vFlyteAir also spread some magic out on the already noted DHC-3T Turbo Otter and topped out the year with the amazing tiddler trainer Cessna 150 Commuter... so overall a brilliant year for vFlyteAir. Aerobask by definition had a quiet year with only an upgrade to their Diamond DA62 XP11 mid-year, however that all masks their development of the official version of the Dassault Aviation Falcon 8X, of which is a change of genre and aircraft type for the development house, but one to get really excited about in 2020. AirFoilLabs released their over featured King Air 350, no doubt a brilliant aircraft, but when is too much too much that it gets in the way of the flying and ease of use, very buggy early on, I have yet to revisit to see the aircraft to see the progress. Every year has it's oddballs, but the Spectr-Aero SP-30 by Mad Flight took out the trophy on oddness. The SP-30 was a very interesting and exceedingly deep and a highly realistic simulation that made this all a very unique aircraft, I simply loved it, but the developers odd interpretation of some features made it all maddeningly very hard to access the aircraft. And update fixed most of the most maddening of idiosyncrasies but not all of them, but an aircraft to savour and understand to get the best out of this exceptional machine. Most users passed over the Aerostar 601P by Avia 71, which was a huge shame because it is a brilliant aircraft with a load of great features, I loved it... you should as well. VskyLabs brought out a huge cannon of experimental aircraft that defines oddness with a new design or a new model every few months, but the way these aircraft are released and updated (basically on the fly) makes it all very hard to follow and lot of the releases and versions got lost in the confusion, however VskyLabs have a serious devoted following and the aircraft designs are very clever and experimental. In military we had a few gems. The Supermarine Spitfire Mk IXc by FlyingIron was a great homage to the famous WW2 fighter, a more modern British aircraft in the McDonnell Douglas Harrier AV-8B by X-Trident (it is a British developed aircraft not America even in the translation) was the training curve of the year, yes you sorted the hover out at the end, but the great machine but required a lot of patience. FlyingIron also did the interesting Grob G109B/Vigilant T1 motor-glider, again an interesting machine. Helicopters were again in a few minority, but at least in 2019 there was a few signs of life. Biggest release of the year was the exceptional Bell UH-1 Iroquois "Huey" by Nimbus Simulations, a very good reproduction for the veterans, because they mostly created it and refined the UH-1. An update covered the AB512 (again very nice) but Dreamfoil as note went AWOL all year so any updates from his large cannon went missing, as did the non-appearance of the Hughes MD500D. Other choppers that I love became mostly now obsolete with the dated AS350, the Virtavia Sea King breaking my heart, and the BK-177 now hopelessly grounded and seriously out of date. VskyLab's did however do three great very light helicopters in the Cicaré-8, Guimbal Cabri G2 and the Revolution Mini-500 Overall it was a very quiet 2019 release year with most of the big development studios not releasing new aircraft. Scenery X-Plane scenery output this year was huge, massive in context to the past and the quality was through the roof as well. Releases are coming almost weekly, so you had to pick and choose the best of the best to suit your simulation needs. The Laminar default Global Airport package is now enormous with at last count at 11,661 of 3d sceneries. Many are exceedingly good, but personally I still use set payware work for realism. Overall scenery had a bit of everything from landscapes to cityscapes, monuments to the quality airports. Quality was the word this year in many airports embracing the high dynamics of PBR to give you rainy/wet runways, reflective glass and even reflective buildings with high object counts. The biggest advance came from Stairport sceneries with their amazing SAM - Scenery Animation Manager (yes SAM should be in the plugin section, but it is in the scenery it made it's biggest impression) and the plugin was adopted with virtuoso by most scenery developers and has dynamically changed your airport experience and best SAM implementation of the plugin was Misterx6's EDDM. Another plugin by Misterx6 that effected scenery was his amazing SFD Global, that introduced local autogen and better textures by just popping the folders into your custom scenery folder... brilliant. Both plugins totally changed the scenery landscape in 2019 for the better. In landscapes then Frank Dainese and Fabio Bellini had a huge impact with their amazing mountain range sceneries and you got three areas all in one year... with the latest Mont Blanc Group joining Eiger Park 3D, and then the earlier Cerro Torre 3D "Los Glaciares". Map2XPlane also gave us the sensational Faroe Islands in the same scenic visualization experience, which very quickly became my personal favorite. Expat flightSim developers FlyTampa brought X-Plane a swath of Greek sceneries with LGTS - Thessaloniki, LGAV - Athens, LGIR - Heraklion and all were sensational. The Greek theme continued with LGSR - Santorini Greece by Logo Projects with some of the best nightlighting I have seen in X-Plane. European airports were in big demand with newcomers Vidan design with their excellent EKYT - Aalborg XP and EKBI Billund XP that covers Denmark's second and third largest airports, both are excellent. JustSim had a load of new and upgraded sceneries, the new was the excellent LMML - Malta International but most of their main sceneries got major dynamic upgrades including ELLX Luxembourg V2, LEBL - Barcelona XP11 and EDDL - Düsseldorf International v2. Aerosoft were very busy (or their partners were). Berlin-Brandenburg XP was a great release, but still half a dead airport. the release of LSZH - Zurich v2 saw the introduction of the SAM plugin, the airport upgrade was good as well. LIMC - Milano Malpensa XP was very welcome as was the upgraded LIRF - Roma-Fiumicino, but neither is what you would call high quality sceneries. Aerosoft released some serious clunkers as well with the very dated LIME - Bergamo and simply awful remodeled EGCC - Manchester. Drzewiecki Design had a huge year but were more were more content in 2019 in doing airport upgrades than city vistas, the only city vista was an Upgrade to Miami City XP which was ho-hum and a bit pathetic. Their upgrade to UBBB Baku and City XP was far better and an vastly underused scenery and UUEE Sheremetyevo Airport XP is a sensational upgrade to their Moscow City vista. Nimbus was busy (besides doing the Heuy) with a new KORD - Chicago O'Hare v3 and the sensational upgrade to ATL- Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta Intl Airport v2, both are quality sceneries to use. Mexico got a huge look-in with the brilliant MMMX - Mexico City by DreamFlight Studios, but the MMUM - Cancún International Airport by FSimstudios on close inspection was a bit of a disappointment, but still usable. China finally got a look in with the new ZBAD - Beijing Daxing International by Star-Atlas, but the surrounding infrastructure in China does still not make a scenery work well in X-Plane, but it is a start. A best new entry is LPPR - Porto Airport Portugal by Area77 Simulations and Skyline's KCVG - Cincinnati International and KCMH - John Glenn Columbus International were nice additions (note, I never got around to a review of KCVG, because of early ground texture issues, but will do a review in the new year). With mister6x ShortFinal commited to his SDG global project for most of the year, he still created a masterpiece with EDDM - Munich, an upgraded Salt KSLC - Lake City is also due before the end of the year. Pilot+Plus did his definitive new EGGD - Bristol and an old X-Plane developer in TruScenery came back into the family fold. Orbix released the their TrueEarth Series for the UK (North, Central and South) and Northern California and Oregon. Cardiff, Southampton, Leeds Bradford, East Midlands, London City and Edinburgh all were major releases, but you will need serious storage (and a bank account to match) to use them, but make no doubt that Orbix has delivered a lot of scenery content for X-Plane in 2019 and are soaking up also a lot of serious developer talent in the same context. So scenery was a huge market this 2019 year, the biggest ever, obviously the question is will it continue for X-Plane in 2020 with the FS2020 now attracting back the developers and the content suppliers. Plugins The plugin market in 2019 was very vibrant, with some major releases to cover the missing aspects of what Laminar Research are not developing. In the weather wars xEnviro brought out a significant version in v1.10. This release added volume rendered clouds which is the Holy Grail of cloud formations, but the release was not refined, slow and slightly buggy, so v1.11 flowed very quickly. One great feature of v1.10 was snow coverage which is excellent, but there was a lot of features is this version. v1.12 and also v1.13 also quickly followed, which was very unusual for xEnviro, but steep progress for the second half of the year with v1.14 due early 202, finally sees major progress to the app being made. Yes I am still a big fan of this complex component, but it does test you sometimes, however it does really deliver where it counts. The sudden change in updates by xEnviro were no doubt caused by the release of Active Sky XP (ASXP) from the FS developers Hi-Fi. Active Sky however has not come in and dominated the market, mainly because it still uses the default visual cloud rendering system, yes it adjusts the default bitmaps and shaders, but is still not a complete environmental engine per-se like xEnviro, however both engines will be looking to the new API's for quicker forward progress.. again 2020 will be an interesting year in this context. Skymaxx Pro merged with FS Global Real Weather to create another environmental leader in weather and that project is still currently ongoing, and so currently SkyMaxx and ASXP are locked into similar parallel war, but soon a three way race will be on with xEnviro, ASXP and SkyMaxx all after your weather dollars. As for the freeloaders there was a trillion new packaged versions of shaders and cloud adjustments, but overall they were mostly all the same with the same average results. Traffic has also had a major change in 2019 with new competition. The traffic plugin for X-Plane is dominated by WorldTraffic3 by Classic Jet Simulations, but this year Just Flight have released their own traffic plugin called Traffic Global, so the war begins here as well. But Traffic Global has a mountain to climb to match WT3, it has currently 7, 900 versions of A.I. aircraft in all up to date current form to real world air traffic data, and that for Traffic Global is a lot to catch up on... WT3 is still currently wrapped up in a long, long beta phase currently 3.2 0b7, but the new features including enroute traffic is very good, personally I haven't yet tried Traffic Global so expect a comparison review early in 2020. Stairport's SAM and mister6x's ShortFinal Global have already been mentioned here in this review, but both were very significant. Another two plugins that were highly valuable and highly useful was WebFMC Pro by Green Arc Studios and Navigraph's subscription Charts v7.0, this brilliant addition can cross reference both X-Plane (aircraft placement on maps), SimBrief and show all SID and STAR arrivals on the charts, a totally invaluable tool. The librain (Rain) application by skiselkov was picked up by every developer, and it is a clever application, not every one managed to get the effcts perfect (even the pro's) but it was an exceptional addition to your weather bound flying. The Github downloading page however may be fine for the coders, but confused everyone else of which was the correct download of the app. I really liked X-ATC-Chatter by Stick and Rudder Studios, but ultimately it didn't work for the job it needed to do, mostly in Europe with the different dailects all mashed into one large area (you got Russian's on London ATC?), but the plugin has huge promise if dissected into the correct ATC zones, America or Australia worked better and showed you how good this application could really be. VATSIM finally got Audio in "Audio For VATSIM" (AFV) that gives you a high fidelity radio simulation encompassing Very High Frequency (VHF) and High Frequency (HF) communications, and it all came with realistic audio effects. The AFV is a brand new voice system, that was built from the ground up with the aims of improving the clarity and intelligibility of VATSIM voice communications. Audio for VATSIM also removed the concept of ‘Voice Rooms’ where a controller hosts a specific channel on a specific server which all pilots tuned to their frequency automatically connected to the online community. ___________________________________________ 2019 marked the anniversary of X-PlaneReviews 6th year in producing content for the X-Plane simulator, and it was a huge year even a third larger in content than the year before and X-PlaneReviews pased the 1500 milestone of published reviews and 500 posts coming in the last year and a half alone, that shows the sheer amount of quality add-ons that was added to the simulator, and that is again a huge growth year and again everything came higher levels of quality and dynamic simulation. The 2019 year was not without it's hiccups either for X-PlaneReviews... in March we had a software update that rendered all the sites images out of proportion, and we had to shut down for a week to find a fix, still a lot of reviews from that event have not been manually re-edited, but we redo as many as possible on the fly. A personal situation in having to move house took me away from the computer as well, and at the busiest time of the year for releases, then a another personal situation for a family matter took us off line again at the start of December... it was just one of those years, and I don't think no one went into 2019, will come out the same at the end of it, but sometimes the real world can create situations you just can't deal with online. To all those new users that have joined the X-Plane universe over the past year, significantly they are more users that are also contributing to the simulation only means they are giving up their valuable time to contribute and that does mean that X-Plane as a community is a gift that keeps on giving all year round. Without them, then the software is nothing, X-Plane is not only a great piece of software, but more importantly X-Plane is in the end of the only about the people that contribute and use the software. Overall the users are X-Plane, and they represent everything about the simulator. A last word on the FS2020 and the X-Plane Simulator changes going into the new decade. Yes the huge growth of X-Plane of the last year will slow down in 2020 as users will gyrate back to the FlightSimulator series. But there will also be a significant differences between the two platforms and there are notes to be made on that; for one we haven't flown or used the FS2020 simulator yet for all the lush hype, yes it will be good, but so was the expectations of FlightSimWorld. But one point to make is that FS2020 is being created and marketed as a game (Introduction of Microsoft's new Project xCloud game streaming service) and set up like Google's Stadia in games content and also for the new XBox gaming console XBox one X. They say it is an open content simulation but how open and acccessable we haven't seen yet. In the defence of X-Plane it is still a very open source and experimental simulator, it is called X-Plane for a reason, so yes many will be initially very attracted to the new simulator, but even the hardcore users of FlightSimulator will still be highly attracted to the X-Plane platform for the very reason that they can and be interactive with it and change and adjust the simulator to their personal wishes and preferences... if the same can be said of FS2020, is one of the biggest questions still out there. Again this review site cannot function without all the great and exciting work by the tireless developers that give us all this exciting and incredible product to fly and use, as they and X-Plane has come a long way and created leaps in quality in the last few years, and to a point I was very proud of the work they produced, it is world class if not the very best in simulation product, and they are all top notch and very clever. To the X-Plane.OrgStore who supports this site with review products, service and updates, a really big thanks, this site just would just not function without that outstanding support. We will finish off with X-PlaneReviews best of the year awards… So I will now list my Best of the Year 2019: (note the awards are given to only products I have seen and tested and can vouch for) Best Aircraft : Carenado Saab 340 XP11 Carenado threw everything at the SAAB and most of it stuck, will it be Daniel Klaue's swansong for Carenado? Honorable Mentions : Carenado's Excellent Fokker 50, X-Crafts ERJ Series with five E135/E140 series aircraft There was really nothing between them in every area, but one.. but the SAAB 340 had an extra system over the Fokker 50. Best General Aviation Aircraft : Cherokee PA140C Modern by vFlyteAir VflyteAir achieved the perfect simulation in feel and quality and all with an Aspen E1000 Evolution avionics suite as well. Honorable Mentions : Cessna 150 Commuter again by vFlyteAir and the great to fly DHC-3T Turbo Otter by MilViz Anything vFlyteAir touched was golden this year and here again they both had the vFlyteAir magic touch. A mention of the King Air 350 by AirFoilLabs is a feature packed machine that is far too good for it's own good. Best Classic Aircraft : The Supermarine Spitfire Mk IXc by FlyingIron FlyingIron wins for two years in a row, but there was not much competition in this category. Best Business Aircraft : Carenado Falcon 50EX A new category for business jets as they have exploded in releases over the last few years, 50EX is sensational and wins, but only because the Carenado Cessna Citation ll S550 was released the year before, a lot more to come in this category. Best Military : McDonnell Douglas Harrier AV-8B by X-Trident always a quiet category, but the Harrier was very good Best Helicopter : Bell UH-1 Iroquois "Huey" by Nimbus Only a few helicopters again this year, but with Dreamfoil back in development that will give you hope for 2020, but the Huey was very, very good and it should be with the testing the aircraft had. Best Landscape Scenery : Faroe Islands Map2XPlane & any Frank Dainese and Fabio Bellini mountain group It was really hard to pick as either landscape sceneries as all were excellent, but my heart goes to Faroe Islands and the sensational season changes and hard testing approaches that in the end my scenery of the year and one place that just kept on bringing me back there Best Airport Scenery : EDDM - Munich by ShortFinal Mister6x's genius pulled every rabbit and special effect out of the hat, EDDM was a tour de force of dynamics. Honorable Mention : Orbix TrueEarth Series Brilliant photo textures are what X-Plane detail is missing, but they require a lot of computer storage and power, and way beyond my 1Tb SSD capaciity. Special Mentions : JustSim Sceneries again for consistent quality and value and MMMX -Mexico City Worst of the year was Aerosoft's awful remodeled EGCC - Manchester Person(s) of the Year : ysfsim (WorldTraffic) It is not the big names that contribute the most to the everyday genius of X-Plane but the ones that work tirelessly in the background. ysfsim has compiled and constructed with helpers the enormous package of A.I. aircraft for WorldTraffic, highly detailed and now has an extensive inventory, WT3 is a huge task to keep abreast of all the changes... huge thanks from everyone. Best Plugin(s) : Stairport's SAM and mister6x's ShortFinal Global Both made huge contributions to airport scenery and worldwide autogen Honorable Mention : librain (rain) by skiselkov Just brilliant, clever and very X-Plane (again) Special Mention : WebFMC Pro and Navigraph Charts Both applications were highly used throughout the year and in Navigraph Charts/SimBrief both are simply invaluable Best Moment of the year 2019 : Restarting the computers after moving house Worst Moment of the Year 2019 : Software update that crashed the site with every image broken and still ongoing nine months later fixing it Biggest distractions of 2019 : ... MS2020 and moving house (150 ft away from the old one), oh and the constant updating! Personal Favorites of 2019 : ToLiSS A319 (Brilliant), FlightFactor Airbus Ultimate (Yes it is now the ultimate simulation), Cessna Citation ll (Uber Flying), Bonanza F33A (Even better in XP11), Native X-Plane11 B737-800 its basic but still great to fly and now with a cabin. Scenery : Dusseldorf, Barcelona, Oslo, Laranca, Malta, Manchester (old version), Gatwick, Dubin, Zurich and Mexico City. That is X-PlaneReviews for 2019, and we will be back after a very much needed recovery and the review site returns again early into the New Year on the 6th January 2020. So Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and also a completely new decade in 2020 Stephen Dutton 23rd December 2019 Copyright:X-PlaneReviews 2019 (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)
  14. Behind the Screen : November 2019 It is great and even a relief to be back behind the computer after a very demanding house move, actually we moved just 150 meters, but it was a difficult transition. So thanks for all your patience. And then we hit the keys hard in trying to catch up the lost ground, and covering the new releases, and boy what a big month it was in November, and so much going on and even a few mis-steps as well. In another note is that we will again be missing again a few weeks in December also as with the move holding everything up a family situation was put on hold, now we have to travel to sort that out as well, so the dates 3rd Dec to 14th Dec will again mean the site will be quiet, but we will try to fill in everything happening before and after those dates. And a big end of 2019 it is. Obviously the release of X-Plane 11.50 is the BIG one and ditto the Q&A session from Laminar Research on Tues 19th Nov (or 20th Nov here in Australia). A trainwreck dosen't even come close to the session... I watched it live (the broadcast timezone actually for once worked for me) and it wasn't pretty. It was nothing that really Laminar have not done in the past, but this one was more of a group get together at the bar after work sort of affair, a lot of fun for them and not for anyone else... the video was pulled for the obvious reasons. The problem is Laminar are still actually just a very small group of developers, highly talented mind you, but still an extremely small team. So any development and certainly a very extensive change like with the API (Vulkan/Metal) can mean very few resources are available for anything else. Vulkan/Metal has been a total complete year worklog, everything in resources at Laminar has gone into translating these API's, and the benefits are huge like with the 64bit changeover... but the overriding situation now is of course Microsoft's new 2020 version of "Flight Simulator". In most cases Laminar could have just gone on in their own merry way, but the explosion of MS2020 has totally changed all of that, and that is why the Q&A session was such a debacle and why it didn't look good on Laminar Research. Overall they are trapped, as noted everything is focused on those API's but the discussion is showing all the other fatalistic areas of X-Plane that have not been covered, or have been simply left to long on the "Too Hard" development hell list for too long, devotees wanted answers and what they got was hi-jinks and waffle, but overall it just looked like Laminar are simply not prepared for the coming onslaught. Personally I will disagree with that aspect to a point. First no simulator developers have been as forward looking than Laminar, in fact most of the main features being promoted by MS2020 are the very things that X-Plane users have used happily for years, and even years, including flight modeling and dynamic PBR/HDR, but in areas like the ATC and weather Microsoft has had it far better than X-Plane. That is why over the last few years X-Plane has soared with crossover MS devotees in suddenly finding a far better simulator, now most will go back to their favorite home and X-Plane will again feel and look like the hobby outfit they all labelled us all in the first place, there is simply no loyalty in today's market. Most X-Plane leaders including Laminar are noting that "This is really good for X-Plane" but in the way of attracting more gamers or users to simulation, and yes they have a major point there as Microsoft will spend a fortune promoting their new simulator to the world, so yes X-Plane will also get a nice slice of the new action. MS users are of course all wide-eyed and fist pumping the ceiling as all their desperate prayers and that their frantic rose bead rubbing has actually paid off. But their confrontation with the new MS2020 simulator will actually be more confronting than their begrudgingly move was to X-Plane, and probably even more expensive. For one in that only a small part of their huge legacy systems will actually work in MS2020, certainly all the aircraft will not work until they are updated to MS2020 standards, and no doubt the money desperate MS developers want serious payback in delivering the new (if same) products to the users... in time yes a lot of the 3rd party MS machine will move to MS2020, but a lot if not mostly will also be totally discarded if MS want to keep to a more gamer style environment, so if you want that total experimentation and huge add-on experience then actually X-Plane would actually still be for the hard-core users the better versatile option... Hype is also everything. I will note that yes the MS2020 promo's of MS2020 are simply outstanding and yes I am seriously impressed. Calls of "hundreds" of developers are working on MS2020 and millions and millions of dollars are being spent to create it, so you can stop there in believing the truth... the team is realistically about 100 (110 was mentioned) but I would even say it is far less than that (still a huge number against three or four developers at Laminar) and not halve of the Vancouver population as recorded, but the team has had the huge advantage of creating the simulator from scratch (and stealing all the best ideas at the same time). But if you understand simulation that in reality it is one of the most complex multilayered coding than most computer programs, even if the code only runs on one type of operating system. What MS2020 will be out of the box is still covered in hype, yes the few that have access are claiming it is outstanding, but the only test is the one were we make the ultimate choice of use and not the view of a corralled few. I still think it will be subscription based, and again that will still keep many of the one payment and fly for years in X-Plane devotees stay the course, a big percentage of simulation users are also the meanest with their cash. Which brings us back to X-Plane and realistically X-Plane12, due this time next year. Ben Supnic noted that the beta 11.50 will be a long and never ending rollout, well Ben I don't think that can really happen now, in reality Laminar need to have the API beta wrapped up and done by even March, all hands on deck, move the API off the table as it has already has spent out too much time and held the focus at Laminar. I have noted over the last few BtheS about X-Plane's shortcomings, but now the points are now more obvious. Weather, that damn ATC, traffic, water and terrain are all very tired or simply out date by two versions of the simulator.... actually all can be easily fixed. Chris Serio and Tyler Young have been banging away on the ATC for years now, so there has to light at the end of this painful tunnel. Weather needs actually xEnviro? The actual X-Plane cloud formations are not too bad, but need more types of formations... xEnviro's trick is to create the highly realistic weather feel and environments, the conditions created are exceptional, but their heavy 3d cloud system is simply a mess... you can see the idea here, both systems need each other to fix both their weaknesses and to take on the MS2020 system. Realistic water has also been on the cards for years, and shown in demos. Another area to be finally fixed and released and that leaves the outdated terrain textures, certainly the orbital textures need to be seriously updated... and with the loss of alpilotx and no updated mesh for a few years now, and so that is another critical area with a need to be filled. Can all that be done in a year... personally yes I think so, certainly if Laminar bring on board a dedicated person for the terrain and mesh revamp, do that and the the differences between MS2020 and X-Plane12 will actually be quite small with X-plane actually having the advantage of the current large range of current aircraft, plugins and scenery. A lot of the forward movement currently is from Laminar's point of view restricted by the API itself, all or any new features require a lot more better and efficient processing power and the now completed API X-Plane will be finally be able to breath again and run these very heavy processor intensive features, perhaps that was the overall feel at the end of the year Q&A party, but it again came across the wrong way, either way... 2020 is shaking up already to be a huge and very interesting year for simulation, exciting as well. The release of SSG's v2 Boeing 747-8 Inter was one of the most perplexing of the year. I am always totally in full support of any developer, and certainly developers that wear their hearts on their sleeves and are simply trying their very best. But their B748 release in version 2 was simply an odd one all round. Over the years I have had my run ins with a few very inflexible developers, they have a single vision of the way things should be and will give not one knot of space to changing anything, ego is a very big part of this stonewalling inflexibility.. they are always absolutely correct and that is simply the last word on the matter.... the problem with this attitude is that some say 80,000 users see it another way, and a lot if not most of them are quite vocal with that. My job is to warn the victims in the case of the developer before they do a lot of damage to their brand and reputation, most obviously they ignore the comments and usually end up in going to into oblivion anyway, but the greatest developers are the ones that listen, tune in and fix the issues, they go on to usually being the greats and survivors in simulation and SSG have always done this. The original release of the Boeing 747-8 was a very ambitious project from the start and maybe it was a bit too ambitious for a new and fledging developer crew, but they did sort the aircraft out through the numerous updates through the years, the last (legacy) version is not actually that bad overall. But a clean page and a completely new design from the ground up was promised to be all round the things the older version wasn't. The oddness of SSG is that they have been around X-Plane for years now, so they are not an inexperienced crew, and they have been there before. The aircraft however didn't feel like a completely new design from the ground up. It was heavy frameweight wise (I found it to be 4K heavy), visually externally it didn't have the dynamic impact of more current X-Plane large aircraft releases and the most bewildering factor of all was the 3d (virtual) cockpit. All through the original versions of the B748 the virtual cockpit was the most biggest issue. It is an odd place in there, dark, no light dynamics and very dull textures. You got used to it, but it wasn't one of the most nicest of places to do 10 or 12 hours of flying. So everyone wanted a better 3d cockpit... SSG did redevelop that cockpit, but it came out exactly like the old version... you looked around you and it didn't feel or actually look any different in there... very odd. The truly sad thing thing is this factor hides all the really great work done on the systems and features, but again a 3d upper deck and no lower deck was another odd matter as well, and then considering that the doors opened out onto a missing deck? but my thoughts were that with another full 3d deck that would have put the frameweight over 6K, so it was actually a good job it was missing... final note was that all the manipulators touch zones were totally out by miles, so you were operating buttons in areas that didn't have the actual switches or buttons and the new tablet menu wasn't finished or again actually touch zone usable... no doubt SSG will fix up this Boeing 747-8 and they already have released the first v2.1 (or service pack 1) that covers a lot of the issues including the touch zones, but after years of users noting the issues, then why ignore them? And yes it maybe all new, but the aircraft didn't actually feel new, or the more forward modern design we have probably been overindulged with (or expect), and certainly not in it's complex design and weight. Like Apple with their iPhones, every year we just expect more and more from developers, but there has to be a ceiling (no pun intended). But that has also been a constant issue all year really, developers releasing aircraft as a sort of (Early Access) or beta version, in reality it is money grab and selling you an unfinished project disguised as a "enjoy the ride of development" or to beta test the hell out of it, and Colimata's lovely Concorde is a case in point, it has now finally gone to the full release version v1.10. Personally the aircraft was unfinished to fly in it's "early access" incarnation, and problems are getting worse with more and more aircraft now being released unfinished in this fashion, and if I can't fly it, then how are the new users going to be expected to sort it all out. But this sort of business deal can also seriously ruin your brand. If you read BtheS often you will know I have my beefs, mostly I repeat them often and again here I go again... the one overriding annoyance this year and was particularly bad in November is in scenery or there is actually two of them, or first in particular the "Ground Routes" or those ATC route thingys that most scenery developers have absolutely still no idea on how to do them correctly? I have had countless new sceneries this year and last year, and with most they were delivered with very poorly inserted ATC routes in WED. Yes the developers insert the ATC routes, but don't actually a) connect them up to the gates (or even b) label the gates most times) and certainly never ever complete the route flows and AirportOperation files. Yes I know they can be a) hard, b) extremely laborious to do all of these ATC points, but the scenery is crap without these items sorted correctly. A few developers have done a brilliant job with the ATC routes and their work comes alive directly out of the box, but most are downright feeble in traffic action (meaning WT3 and now Global Traffic), and of all the features this one is THE most IMPORTANT.... I hope 2020 is far better in this department, and don't get me even started on poor mismatched brightly coloured photo mesh textures... aggggh! As usual there will be no Behind the Screen December 2019, but the usual 2019 total round up of the year including our best picks of 2019 in the week before Christmas, so look out for the years grand finale post then Bye for now Stephen Stephen Dutton 1st December 2019 Copyright©2019: X-Plane Reviews
  15. Behind the Screen : September 2019 First of all the September edition of "Behind the Screen" is quite short, mainly because my personal interaction with X-Plane in September has been quite minimal. Real life sort of got in the way of my online life in that I had to secure a new home, but that aspect, plus the packing to move has now been completed. The actual move in the middle of October is still to be completed, so again the site will be quiet again for another week or so in that period. Certainly we are sorry in the lack of output from the site, but it is what it is. I was (on and off) able to review JustFlight's lovely PA-38 Tomahawk. And it did get me thinking in what was the main aspect of the review, in that what is the best aircraft for an introduction to simulation. For myself originally it was to fly a Boeing 747, which was really in hindsight is the worst type of aircraft to try to fly, or to learn to fly in... it is called a "Heavy" for a reason. To my benefit X-Plane9 and the evolution of the aircraft presented in that era in a way allowed me to sort of grasp the basics, but to confront say the same situation now in the current "Study" grade environment, I certainly would have been totally overwhelmed, or even try to factor in of where to start. You can and mostly do muddle through, but looking back after 10 years of simulation flying, there are so many different and complex factors now to learn and study. So unless you are a current flying pilot, I doubt you could could reach a high professional grade within two years, most will scoff at that statement, but I mean the total depth of every aspect of flying an aircraft, and there is the actual simulator running skills to learn as well. Flying aircraft is highly complex, but achieve a credible level of skill and you will have achieved a great goal in your life. One aspect was that I never even remotely considered early was in flying was a GA or General Aviation aircraft and to most of you punters that may seem to be quite a bizarre point of view, but I admit it was a mistake in trying to learn the basics of flying in a reverse order, and one aircraft in particular thankfully saved me. Before moving on I will recount one quite funny story that highlights your inability to understand the early details and the learning of flying a (heavy) aircraft, I was flying the XPFP (X-Plane Freeware Project) Boeing 747 from Singapore to London, I took off and did the whole procedure to get the B747 to 34.000ft and made sure it was following it's route, all done I settled in for the 11 hour flight to Heathrow... so obviously your not going to sit in the chair for the eleven or so hours, so I went and got something to eat. I checked the aircraft two hours later off the northern east coast of India, and noticed the B747 was actually flying around in long wide circles and was way off it's intended route... it was just lazily flying around and had been for about 20 minutes or so, so I noticed the autopilot had disconnected itself as that was the reason the aircraft was doing it's strange antics... so what caused the autopilot to disconnect? I couldn't at first actually work it out? but the cause was the simple change of the speed from IAS to .Mach, I had not done this, so when the aircraft went higher it went faster and then over it's maximum IAS speed and disconnected the autopilot... you learn, you get better, and as you would gather I was quite late arriving in London with very minimal fuel and irate passengers. But the core essential point is that I was putting my cart before the horse, in reality I should have learnt the very basics earlier and in a basic aircraft before putting myself through a lot of torture of things not going correctly.... at a certain point I had to stop and then return to do this critical aspect. I had always liked Carenado's F33A Bonanza and even it's very early form it was thankfully a fully rounded aircraft and the very first aircraft I prided myself in buying. I had to a point got here very lucky in the quality, dynamics but more so in the excellent avionics package that was set up for not only VFR flying but also for IFR (VOR) instrumentation... so I went back to the very basics. I started flying circuits, touch and goes, basic flying and handling techniques and then learning how to trim the aircraft correctly. Then I moved on to point to point flying, setting up a route and flying that route to the destination, then added in VOR to VOR navigation while learning how to follow maps and navigation... on and on, but the biggest interesting thing I did was to fly in learning only the F33A, and I flew that F33A week after week until I knew pretty well everything about that particular aircraft... I simply logged hours and hours on it, in all weathers, all airports and was building up skills that would last me years. When Carenado updated the F33A to X-Plane11 I was very critical on some of the aspects that had been changed, they were fixed, but the point there is how well I knew the aircraft to notice even the slight aspects of changes that had been done. I adjusted to the better X-Plane dynamics and still even now when wanting a base line not only to measure my own skills, or to update my flying skills then that F33A is still the benchmark that I work too. So everyone has their own particular or favorite aircraft they want to fly, but a high quality one here is important and not just a basic machine, as if the dynamics are off on your chosen machine then it can seriously mess and sometimes even damage badly with your basic skill base, and that is the word here... base. Because when I flew the Tomahawk, the first thing I did was to fly the F33A on the same (long) circuit for one to get me into the right headspace and then to translate to feel out the balance of the dynamics of the PA-38... that F33A is also my constant benchmark for any changes in X-Plane itself and always that F33A is my first flight to see the different changes and how they affect the simulator. And sometimes I fly that little damn machine for just total absolute fun. So I was very aware of promoting any aircraft to be a learners first, and obviously the F33A Bonanza is my absolute favorite, but there are a few out there that are simply excellent... VFlyteAir's PA-140C is excellent, as is the Cessna 172SP SkyHawk XP11 by Carenado (Glass) and the JustFlight's C152 and PA28R Piper Turbo Arrow III/lV (not the non-turbo Arrow as it is dog slow), and the one most will nominated will be the Cessna 172SP Skyhawk by AirfoilLabs which I acknowledge is extremely well liked and a very well completed aircraft, it's extensive features however would not make for a great if basic learning tool, it would just be a little too hard for a complete novice to learn on and master the aircraft with too many distractions. Strangely unlike the real world, X-Plane users have access to pretty much any aircraft they desire, were as in the real aviation most pilot's unless they have unusual jobs (like a ferry pilot) are mostly restricted to only a few models or ownership. So our skill base has to be quite wide to cover the huge range accessible to us, but I have found (reviews aside) that mostly I now fly only certain aircraft, but that still ranges from a heavy to a general aviation aircraft, the difference is I know them intimately. This aspect for me is important in the factor of what I called flying professionally, in the fact that in flying these few I do the full complete procedures that they require, and again they reflect a baseline to other aircraft (and reviews) for my judgements. Overall I have come a very long way in mastering my skills, you never ever stop learning, but that learning has also taken 10 years to master. My biggest yardstick is that in reality I have learnt more in the last three years than all of the seven years before, that is a combination of the changes and the ongoing depth of the simulator and also the sheer depth of the aircraft we now get to access, but overall it still comes simply down to doing the basics, in circuits and trimming the aircraft correctly as it is in the real world of aviation. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st October 2019 Copyright©2019: X-Plane Reviews
  16. Behind the Screen : August 2019 In reference to the first six months of 2019, August slowed down a little for us to all catch our breath. As the northern summer got hotter, the releases got slower, but that does not mean X-Plane per se is slowing down as we have a huge amount of releases now well into their development and expect a very big September and October for a lot of significant releases, with Carenado's Fokker 50 a great way to kick you up and into the next gear. FlightFactor are about to deliver their Flat Panel Display System avionics package for the FF Boeing 757, with the Boeing 767 version obviously coming soon after and making these the most comprehensive Boeing's yet for X-Plane. But I am going to be honest with these aircraft, sensational as they really are they never return the full satisfaction level I really want from them or what they can really deliver. The biggest boundary in connecting deeper with them is the mostly in the set up areas, and in the loading of the passenger, cargo and weights. Spending a lot of time in setting them up correctly, you mostly find that when you land at your arrival airport is that somewhere from the point of loading on your passengers and cargo to the point of unloading them, you have lost most of them enroute? Consistency are big issues with these aircraft, and it is all in the interface of setting up the aircraft, it is odd, even damn right frustrating to use, worse it keeps on reverting back to the default settings and the weights and preferences conflicting with the settings in the FMC setup and the A320 Ultimate can be the worst offender. In most cases I just give up, which is not the way I really want to do my simulation, because at the loading and at the end of the flight I want to have realistic numbers to reflect upon, okay even gloat that I got a pure realistic simulation out of my flying. So the point is are we in need of a 3rd party plugin driven loading master, a bit like SimBrief for loading aircraft, where as we get first a standard loading pattern that covers all aircraft and all developers, and don't get me wrong a lot of developers have done brilliant Weight & Balance systems, but do we need a standard and to cover a lot of the aircraft that don't have a highly detailed W&B sheet (like most of Laminar's default aircraft), personally I don't need another plugin to maintain like a hole in the head, but this one I would welcome. I had another so called moment mid-August in that I felt the simulator wasn't as healthy as it should be, framerates were dragging and down into the lower twenties, X-Plane ran, but again it didn't feel right, I have also had a lot of moments were I was getting odd wind forces throwing the aircraft around on strange vortices on a perfectly clear calm day, ultimately what it all felt like was that older preferences are getting mixed up with current ones. I have had my suspicions all year on this aspect and it seems to be a creeping in code mismatch. The problem I feel is in the complexity in many different parts or mostly plugins that are using or target the same areas. A weather plugin for say the weather radar is creating it's own data preferences that a weather environment plugin is doing the same, and both are loading in the slightly different data information (METAR) for X-Plane to absorb and remember the weather data can be updated as early as every ten minutes or so. So the simulator is taking the data from both and creating a hybrid situation, worse is that the reread preferences are being rewritten in this hybrid code so you get this sort of flu virus that is changing to it's own RNA (for the unwashed, Flu viruses will replicate badly because of each time they replicate the code is not perfect, so they can change shape because of the damaged replicated elements and that is what makes them so lethal) just waiting for you to reopen the simulator to a strange flying environment. It is also a gradual thing, not simply something that happens overnight but over months as the code get more and more confused. Obviously the fix is to dump those preferences and start with a clean sheet, and that always works, but again there are now a lot of preferences and even now the more dangerous hidden ones you have to cover to reset, each developer to their own is fine, but when you start to add them in all in there together it starts to get seriously complex, this "Data Bleed" as I call it maybe an area to be aware of in the future. I am already heavily juggling plugins that will work together and the ones that don't and my plugin folder is quite bare compared to many of yours out there, but a few aircraft in ToLiSS A319, IXEG B737 Classic and the FF A320 Ultimate will only work/fly cleanly with only certain plugins installed, so you have to swap them around beforehand to fit that required simulation, it is important that you have to make a list and follow the install perfectly to make them available. Messy, well yes but you really don't have any other choice, the worry is that as aircraft get more and more seriously complex, then the problems of complexity and conflict can get far more worse and not better, are you going to soon just get to want to get back to the older X-Plane9 simplicity, in other words... just load it up and fly. And complex it really is getting. The basic X-Plane simulator is fast approaching its 100,000 items to load, up from a 23,000 load items when I started, but that still is the basic system before anything else is added in there, to run X-Plane it is becoming like to keeping twenty spinning plates moving in the air at one time, if you are lucky they all will spin together, but have a bad day, and it can get seriously complicated just to find that odd wobbling plate and get it spinning again, so again like a mantra on these pages, you need to keep it simple to get the best out of the simulator. Microsoft put out their roadmap for the coming new Microsoft FlightSimulator 2020, and you can become an "Insider", and officially the development team expect a beta testing version out soon with "Build Programs" and a lot of "Program Updates" and it is all very professional. So do this and tick-off that... anyone who follows big developments, like our own Laminar development threads will tell you, that hitting project dates and ticking off targets will just be asking for trouble, at least Laminar are extremely open in setting targets, and mostly hitting them, but as they warn repeatably they can also miss targets just as easily as well and beta's can run sometimes a third of the year in bug fixes and changes. Simulators as noted above are extremely complicated bits of code to try to get it all to work seemlessly together. In a box or regional situation that is fine, but once you start adding in the addons and third party plugins then the real problems start. Try weather or environmental effects, has any one really pulled that one off yet in X-Plane, not really, ATC, no again, traffic, well we have a few and WorldTraffic3 is pretty good but complex, but Microsoft are promising all this and far more straight out of the box, I hope they achieve it, that would be golden for simulation, but my gut and head currently says otherwise, as one day Uber promises to make money, and so does Tesla... In the same theme Laminar hit a landmark just only this week. For the first time a 3rd party aircraft flew in the Vulkan API. The significance for the simulator is really like the first flight of a new aircraft design. The aircraft was the ToLiSS Airbus A319, which is a very complex coded aircraft and Laminar's response was "a buttery smooth landing with no stutters", now that is advancing the simulator and a real breakthrough for the rest of us. MilViz was again in the news in August and if you have been following the dramas of the developer and his absurd crowdfunding scheme that failed, the announcement was this time that he has now given up X-Plane as a simulator altogether. Yes we are not going to get anymore aircraft from MilViz. I have detailed and spent already far too much time on the MilViz saga in past Behind The Screen editions, but the full saga is one to be noted on how not to enter a credible market (X-Plane is actually a bad market according to MilViz) but the point is I gave him the benefit of the doubt and checked out his Cessna T310R. Many users love it, but I was underwhelmed, it felt old and in this light twin category you are up against the very best with Carenado, vFlyteAir and Just Flight and even Aerobask, and they are all exceptional developers, more odd is that MilViz actually collaborated with vFlyteAir, so how could it all go so wrong, personally again the old issue is true, you can't mask over old designs against the current X-Plane ultra quality aircraft, maybe it would have been accepted far better back in the X-Plane10 era, but X-Plane11 has now certainly lifted the game to a far higher standard and dynamics. So I think overall it was that like a lot of FlightSim developers, in that they just waited far too long to get into the X-Plane market and by the time they did... we had then significantly moved on. A site note, In the middle two weeks of September and then again in the middle of October the site will be slow with updates and I will be not posting as frequently as I have to move homes, so my attention will be required elsewhere, certainly if something significantly comes out I will make a big effort to cover it, but if I have no broadband or they are extremely slow in reconnecting (which they can be), I won't be able to post, my apologies but you simply can't avoid life. See you all again next month Stephen Dutton 1st September 2019 Copyright©2019: X-Plane Reviews
  17. Behind the Screen : July 2019 First of all I will state my credentials. I do like ultimate realism in simulation. I do start many a simulation flight right at the start with a cold and dark set up although I do prefer the turnaround starting point. I go through every procedure, load in the route, the aircraft's preferences (fuel & weights) for the flight and then do the full palaver of using the airport vehicles to load in the luggage, fuel and passengers, the whole shebang... clearance, pushback and finally leave the departure airport. Enroute I follow SimBrief and Navigraph data to see how the aircraft is performing and cover the flight as professinally as possible... on landing I do the reverse in unloading the passengers and their luggage and then secure the aircraft, I even do a walk up and down the aisle to make sure the aircraft is empty (note a plugin is required to create after flight passenger mess for realism!), in other words I do the full monty of the flight, and now with my matured flying skills I will also do some simulation crisis management, with say an engine fire or environmental issue, it all is very well considered to get the full experience of flying an aircraft as close to the real environment as possible. In the GA environment I am still as considered in walking around the aircraft, setting up the correct fuel and passenger load where applicable and doing every nut and bolt of the flight, so I am the real deal, right... absolutely. But there are areas that was brought home to me lately and it happens often were as realism 101 is sometimes a step to far. If the developer goes too far in this realism do da it sometimes then turns more into extreme frustration, frustration to "agggghhhh" that buries the realism factor deep into a world of pain. If you can't access the aircraft or are not in control of important elements then there is the case that the quite honourable aims of the developer can get lost in the idea. So total absolute realism is great but only to a point. Some times this effect can be you. I have struggled with bleed systems that have left me exasperated to the point of throwing things, but that is okay if the systems are built like that as I have to figure that aspect out, delve into the manuals, work your way through the systems and get it right. So usually on complicated machines I make a diagram or take an image for next time (note... it would be good to have a plugin that remembers notes for in the cockpit of that aircraft, to bring up notes of the quirks of flying or starting the machine that you may forget?" to note the IXEG B732 and Rotate MD-88). Then there is Jack's beloved FJS Q400, lovely aircraft but an total absolute pain to start with the mixture lever do-dah, it never kicks in until I do and I start in throwing things around the room and it mostly requires a full aircraft restart with engines running which sort of spoils the whole realism 101 thing, I hope the v2.0 Dashy fixes this issue, if not I won't be happy as I won't put up with it all over again. The point is that if you want the full total immersion of changing spark plugs, oil and the full maintenance palaver then fine, good for you, and I know that these airworthy machines require a lot of attention, and so does my 28 year old car. But the issue is how many times do you actually change those spark plugs, and even on a tired, oily and battered machine... certainly not as often as the developers tend to confront you with, which is mostly every other flight or each flight. They then send you down a twisted long set of issues to get the machine airworthy, fine now and again, but when then with almost every flight can really start to get you seriously frustrated, and then they give you no reset or a quick fix way out of the maze... yes it is realism, and I GET that. So if I am pretty good at this simulation caper and I struggle, then god help the newly formed flier as they haven't got a hope in hell, worse is the fact with these aircraft are these non-accessible faults can create a large barrier in using and enjoying the aircraft, this factor is then to the disadvantage to the developer themselves, because if the aircraft is not accessible the you are not going to buy it, or worse buy it, and then throw it away and never fly it and swear never to buy another one of those developers products again. But when you do get say a fuel feed blockage FIVE times in two flights and you can't remove or adjust the realism factor then consider how many fuel blockages do you really get on an aircraft, yes it happens and maybe often in the wilds of Alaska with fuel taken from dirty drums, but not FIVE damn times in two flights... two times to change the oil, air filter, water in the fuel... la de da. in the end the aircraft got binned, enough was simply enough... to get to actually fly this wonderful even precious little aircraft was just simply too hard, the fun factor was totally ruined in frustration. I am not for a moment suggesting to make aircraft realism feature lite, but just accessible. If the user doesn't want the full on realism factor and just wants to fly the damn aircraft, then that should be an option... most developers do, do this but many don't. Again on mostly the study grade aircraft the faults are accessible and can be set according to your preferences, mostly in the fault activating in a period of time or situation like at a certain altitude, but more so if you want to use the "never" option it there for you. I always like the failure on the "hours" factor of breakdown. So the realism is a major factor, but if the aircraft is totally inaccessible to fly, then you are just defeating yourself. In the end it is the developer that actually loses here in less sales, and you try to tell them, but if they won't listen? In the month I also got a lot of comments from users noting that some aircraft and I will note the Magknight Boeing 787 as a case in point in that as a purchase it was and I quote "unfinished and missing items"... in reality you have to laugh, and yes I understand that paying $45 you would expect a pretty completed aircraft, is the Magknight aircraft current worth $45, no not really and you only have to look at that freeware low-res nose as a point in reference and so the developer is also being a bit cheeky here I think, but you are told that you are buying into the project as it is and have access to all the future upgrades, and as I have noted before that there will come to a point (unless the developer again increases the price) the value that is delivered should or will crossover the price point where you are getting the value to the money paid. That is the idea and the commitment, and as Magknight has delivered already a lot of updates then that is the case if going to be a fair deal. (if the developer moves the price-point far higher again it will be shit deal). The point is the developer is getting payments while still doing the work, where as usually you get paid after the work is completed with a few updates to clear up any last minute bugs, Colimata's Concorde is the same "pay now get later" deal, and to the "I want now" crowd it does sort of keep them happy in asking the same repetitive boring question "when will it be out?" but getting the half developed aircraft can also be very confronting as well, so you then get their "not worth the money" flagging so you can't win either way. Personally I don't like half developed product, especially when money is on the line (I wonder how many would be as glowing if they had to earlier actually pay for the Zibo B738) but it is certainly in payware territory now. The Concorde was a disappointment, it is absolutely nowhere close to being finished, but we are getting too many forward payment projects. You still need a certain line to be crossed in the development process for users to get value, but I find far to many projects again and again are released far too early in the process in the race to put some money in the bank, but they use the users "I want" factor to get around this aspect, then they have to face the "I'm disappointed" factor after. These signals are not good overall because as they say "shit sticks" and overall, the sales factor can be curtailed, so early release developers gain in early cash, but lose in overall long term sales as Seinfeld says "once it's out there, it is out there". X-Plane11 went final on version v11.35, which overall was quite painless and unless you get turned on by better fuel and bleed systems and a Collins 65 autopilot, but at least it won't be as devastating as the next coming v11.40 with all the life changing Vulkan/Metal deep throat, gut the system churn, obviously we are looking forward to that, not the gutting of the simulator, but the ongoing forward changes the new APIs will bring. Prepare for simulator meltdown around the end of the year. FlightFactor made their A320 Ultimate to v0.10.8 or final from the beta as well, but one look at the half rendered cabin shows this area is still a work in progress, and so is an added Flight Attendant Panel (FAP) to EFB, but not on the actual cabin wall which is still fake?, but please don't get the aircraft wrong, as with a now working weather radar, it is one of the best simulations in X-Plane11... immersion heaven. Surprisingly xEnviro put out an update in v1.11(very rare for them) and added in some new slider features, very good, but the update didn't fix the main cloud visual artifacts, and in heavy cloud formations your framerate plummets, but the blocky cloud formations felt better. Another bug is probably the biggest issue in that the METAR data keeps the X-Plane weather setting on "Damp" all the time and creates a mass of spray even in clear skies and 39º heat (Europe in the summer, who would have thought) when the engines are running, and I can't use that view for reviews, but I'm still persevering, but overall the unpredictability of the application is now making reviews hard work and somehow it is losing a bit of it's original feel to a more harsher environment that was so realistic at the start, it certainly feels better in many areas, but somehow also losing something in the process... if no more updates are forthcoming then my guess I will be again retreating and be back on v1.07 by the end of the month. This edition of "Behind the Screen" coincides with X-PlaneReviews 6th year of publications, We have been reviewing now since August 2013, and start into our 7th year of delivering quality reviews for the X-Plane simulator, time has flown by, but so have the enormous changes that have been under taken to X-Plane since that start date.... so again thank you for your support of the site and to all the people and their enormous contributions that make the world of X-Plane simulation possible. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st August 2019 Copyright©2019: X-Plane Reviews
  18. Behind the Screen : June 2019 The June 7th/8th/9th FlightSimExpo in Florida was a great success, a lot of simmers showed up and had in house a lot to see and hear, for any simulation enthusiast that has to be a good thing. Again Laminar Research dominated with three seminars with one on the Friday covering WED 2.0 (WorldEDitor), The main Seminar on Saturday and a landing competition on Sunday. But the overwhelming announcement at the Expo was the new 2020 Microsoft Simulator, and a mind boggling video to go with the announcement. Yes it came out of nowhere and even the FSX stalwarts were taken aback and was then thanked god in all his mercy in saving them from a Laminar induced hell... more on that later. Obviously the focus X-Plane wise was on the development of Vulkan/Metal API's, but overall the seminar felt a bit short compared to past presentations, with a huge block devoted to X-Mobile and Austin Meyer's new pet project of a full scale electric drone aircraft, there wasn't much time or anything else left for announcements, in other words it all felt a bit short changed after the huge lists of features from the past, so are we now getting into the same situation as the Apple Seminars, good but nothing like the huge announcements and features of the past events. X-PlaneReviews did a full analysis of the seminar here: Laminar Research : FlightSimExpo 2019 My own interest was like most on the Vulkan/Metal API, but for the reason of future proofing my simulation needs. Most however thought of only one thing, in "will the new API's give me a faster computer". The answer as it always was is and still is no. As you will still need a pretty modern setup to benefit from the new API's and for the very reason they are going in there in the first place, these APIs have been created for a more different type of era computer chip in multi-threading and multiple cores. The interesting thing about the Laminar seminar was that how the new API's allow you change or allow you to assign certain functions to certain chips, in either the processor or the graphic card. Currently the OpenGL API really set these processing actions in stone which is inefficient as many processing actions that are really very low in the order of requirement when others like say the processing of many objects are in the wrong chip area to be processed. So the non-important functions are getting all the attention, where as the important ones are assigned to a function or chip area that really slows down your simulation, but the Vulkan API allows you to change that, so moving forward it will be very interesting on how that all layers out. Interesting as well was the note that Ben Supnic made was that in the first place he didn't see much real change, yes we will get 30% or so better processing, but in time these more assigned areas can be brought more on line (i.e.) multi-threading and multi-core functions plus the fact that any new features yet to be developed then the new APIs will or can also take advantage of those features. Overall though don't expect a pure Vulkan/Metal API based simulator until X-Plane12 as OpenGL is still part of system, but X-Plane12 will be the start of a totally new era, and X-Plane will certainly change a lot or be in transition over the next few years, if not on the surface, but in it's basic core functionality. Like I noted I put off upgrading my processor chips and new motherboard in march until I saw what would be the best options, I want to as I said future proof my computer, and to a point those specifications are still a bit of a muddle even after the expo of which I was expecting at least some ideas of what would be the best components, but that now is not going to happen until the time that X-Plane v11.40 is released in beta... hopefully as noted now by the end of the year by Laminar, it will however give us another year (to save up) and run the next generation of processing chips, in reality nothing really will move forward until those Vulkan/Metal v11.40 version is running fully on our computers, and it finally does look like another (again) complete change for all 3rd party addons, and for aircraft like with the 64bit transition... which means a lot of updates (again). Microsoft 2020 simulator The interesting point to make is that as X-Plane12 will gets closer to X-Plane's next version release will be the release of the now announced Microsoft 2020 simulator. My guess is that in many ways they will be very much alike. both extremely modern and use modern API's. Microsoft noted it was a "simulator", but the video showed a very highly complex simulation and very highly detailed visuals. As great as it was, I do doubt that such highly complex detailed scenery could be delivered worldwide by the MFS 2020, both the original Microsoft Flight Simulator (MFS) and X-Plane have had decades of development and also a huge contribution from both communities to get to their current situations we are now currently at. So a simple clean sheet start even with a lot of the available modern tools are not going to cover those decades of work in two years. I still see the MFS 2020 simulator as a area focused simulation and focused on bringing in gamers into the simulation world, the real money is still in gaming not in simulation. In time MFS 2020 might spread out and cover the whole planet in that great detail, but as X-Plane in computer power and resources is at this point, then I just can't see the MFS 2020 version matching it, as there has to weaknesses somewhere. Then there is the other factor of the flight model? will the new MFS simulator have a realistic flight model, maybe and I even hope so, but that would make the simulator more closer to X-Plane, but in the same breath it will also discount all the required current FS/P3D third party aircraft in one swipe, as noted in the same conversion currently from any FS/P3D aircraft to the X-Plane flight model, in my estimation then MFS 2020 will not go for a revolutionary flight model change if it wants to take advantage of all the current 3rd party FS/P3D aircraft, plugins and scenery addons available. If MFS 2020 just turns out to be another Flight Sim World (Dovetail Games) in another if far better reincarnation, then still it would not be in the same situation as X-Plane in its XP12 guise. The situation of which would be a better simulation platform is still mute until we see MFS 2020, but what if it is that good, that brilliant. Would X-Plane then return to it's secondary role for clubbies and hobbists. Myself I can't see that as X-Plane has progressed a long way since those eras, but two high quality simulators would actually thrive rather than start WW3 against each other. One point is that MFS 2020 would attract a lot of gamers over to simulation, and most (not all) would certainly like what they see. So the effects of MFS 2020 could be highly beneficial to X-Plane as much as MFS 2020, if MFS 2020 is limited in scope then X-Plane would certainly benefit from that, and it certainly won't be the "us" vs "them" factor of the past, it would be good for simulation as a whole if both simulators are level in their features and quality. For X-Plane and XP12 it would be then crucial to get a lot right. No doubt the Vulkan/Metal API factor is very important. In many areas the older OpenGL API situation has put some very heavy limitations on the simulator, take those limitations away and it gets very interesting, certainly if Laminar redo the whole planet with better mesh and ground/earth textures, better ATC and the elephant in the room factor of weather, another subject area wanted is better networking - Multiplayer/Multicrew of which there is now a very vocal community demanding it's insertion, but there are still a lot of very small areas that need to be cleaned up as well. But if X-Plane12 can deliver those factors, then certainly the differences between Microsoft's new simulator and X-Plane will not be as large as you may think so and more so that X-Plane12 is now coming due next year in November. And that will also explain the now limited feature list at the Expo 2019... as the newer features are now all going to be packaged into X-Plane12. xEnviro v1.1 I did a review on the release of xEnviro v1.10 and again it came with many major areas of issues, but there is a slight difference this time around in that at least you are able to finally store that old stalwart v1.7, well I have. Of anything in X-Plane then xEnviro is the most frustrating aspect. Limited in many ways of features, years of development and you are still not seeing the full development and other newer contenders are now coming along as well... the bottleneck though strangely seems to be Laminar, as even Active Sky XP from Hi-Fi was a compromised addition. xEnviro now called by the weird coder terms "Dark Space FZE" took up the situation with Austin Meyer at the Expo in Florida, and he promised to look at the issues and find solutions, the secondary side of the situation is just pure processing power. Weather engines with volumetric clouds, or 3D clouds are extremely hard on your machine, and even Laminar have not entirely been able to fix that and that is even with many valiant efforts over the years. Certainly the new revolutionary Vulkan/Metal APIs are extremely important here, for using them for efficient processing could maybe be finally the holy grail that we are looking for. But still the poor artifacts in xEnviro are the biggest challenging v1.10 visual issue, as you can sort of always fly around the framerate issue. Still the reviews here will always bare testament to the power of this environmental engine. You always get just those awesome jaw dropping views and that full immersion and currently or thankfully they still outweigh the negatives, again so close so near. I still advocate Laminar Research buying xEnviro up or to bring the studio under their wing to make xEnviro the default simulator weather engine, with the in-house experience the issues could be refined and it would jump X-Plane far forward and give MFS 2020 an even bigger run for it's money, a side note is that the snow feature in xEnviro v1.10 is up to now the main "whoa" moment of the 2019 year, it is breathtaking and extremely good, shame it is a hot summer. (I am in Australia but snow is rare here as I live in the tropical higher band), so I can't wait for the northern winter to come around this year to just fly in those conditions. Overall v1.10 xEnviro is still in there, we will see again if it stays or lives in operation in the long term. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 2nd July 2019 Copyright©2019: X-Plane Reviews
  19. Behind The Screen : May 2019 At the end of Behind the Screen in March we left you with the Military Visualizations Kickstarter donation of to create the ATR 72-600 and he wanted $27,000 CAD dollars before putting mouse to CAD software. The results are in and as expected they are not in or our favour, but that was always expected. The KIckstarter campaign achieved only 15.2% of its final target of CAD $27,000. And final donations came in at CAD $4,111.29 (approx. GBP £2,417, US $3,057, €2,742). Milviz, has obviously confirmed that development of the ATR for X-Plane has now been terminated.... surprise, surprise. I personally actually don't think it was the campaign that actually killed the project anyway, as the anniversary release of Carenado's FSX/P3D ATR 72-400 would mean very tough competition for your money as Carenado is giving hints that their ATR 72-400 will be X-Plane flyable before 2020, yes it is a different variant in the -400 to the -600, but an ATR is still an ATR and if it is anywhere close to Carenado's stupendous Saab 340 then it will be... well again stupendous! But there was always a lot of scepticism anyway from day one on this deal. The first and the most obvious was the figure required of CAD $27.000? It looked more like a insurance policy in case no one bought the aircraft when released, or a "Win - Win" scenerio for the developer. But CAD $27.000 to develop an aircraft? and by a single developer, maybe a team, then yes, but for one person who has been in simulation even for a few decades then I don't think so. If the developer had put the development costs of say around CAD $8500, then I think they would have had a very good chance of meeting their realistic target, he did achieve almost half of that, but I still think that number would have gotten MilViz over the line. And here is the point... overall this a great idea for a developer to get some development costs into the bank to deliver the projects we require, more so it keeps them on track to deliver and not do the usual... start hard then flake away as the project slowly progresses out to vaporware. But I think there is also something more deeper going on here than just developing for X-Plane, as personally now I don't think that developers that have been brought up in the FlightSim culture can actually develop well for X-Plane, and only a very, very few can do the crossover... but most actually don't as the differences in the development approach and the design are just too wide and different to be crossed, and the history of the story actually supports that aspect. Yes there are many great FSX based products in X-Plane with Carenado and JustFlight as notable, but both of those are converted by Thranda, which is a X-Plane developer... As Dan Klaue noted, "we have to totally gut the FSX version and then rebuild them again totally from the ground up" In reality there is not much to mirror between the two aircraft that look exactly the same. Then there are the biggies.... PMDG, Flight1 and Majestic, even Aerosoft are all not present in X-Plane and yes both PMDG (DC-6) and Aerosoft (ATR) have done aircraft in X-Plane but to only a) totally fail, or b) and walk away with only one average release each. Both PMDG and Aerosoft had the X-Plane golden eggs and bountiful profit returns in their pockets. PMDG with the Boeing 737 Series, B747 and B777 had the opportunity to make a killing, even Aerosoft had their Airbus A320 series to clean up the European flyers, but those opportunities are now simply long gone, with the ZiboMod B737 U/738/739 U cleaning up the PMDG version, the FlightFactor B777 is yes old but finally on the road to a XP11 upgrade, so that will counter out that, and the FlightFactor A320 Ultimate, is now just that in being miles ahead of the Aerosoft product with the ToLiss A319 also now a registered Airbus product, then it shows now of how high the quality and depth of the in house development of X-Plane aircraft have come to. The point is that the gate is now closed and the aircraft has departed for PMDG or any other FSX developer to get any significant ground swell of patrons in the Laminar Simulator, the point is we don't need them now either, we certainly did three to four years ago with the introduction of X-Plane11, but they all dilly-dallied around and ummed and ahhed us to death without really delivering anything, The above MilViz releases his Cessna 310 to... well nothing because it was very dated and so FSX in design (hence the forward cost of doing any business with us again). To a point it was MilViz's Cessna release that finally put the point out there that FSX developers just can't do X-Plane... period. So what got me thinking about all this? Well most of the year in my personal flying (my up time, as down time sounds odd in a flying simulator) has been with the FlightFactor A320 Ultimate, sometime around early February this year it all started to click together, add in the excellent BSS Sound pack (recently again updated) and it is now a glorious if hard in depth simulation... you now work in this aircraft, the details and checklists are huge and have to be covered, a 25 minute turnaround is very, very realistic as is every portion of the flight, nirvana... maybe and yes there will always be something in the need to be updated, but as a simulation it is now one of the very, very best... more so as the cabin is now being updated as well. For the Boeing bluffs to take their minds off the Boeing company's 737 MAX debacle, yes it is their fault and yes they deserve everything that is certainly coming to them (more below)... is the Zibo Boeing 737-800/700/900 series. Again once the ZiboMod hit it's stride I loved it, but it is a complicated bugger... But the announced and hyped release of the -900 Ultimate was for me a bit of if a huge disappointment (don't hit on your keys just yet!), so I left it in the hangar after only a flight or two... With the WebFMC Pro v1.4.0 release the newer ZiboMod -700 was added on to the list of aircraft that could use the plugin. I did expect it to be a bit like the -900 version, but was extremely surprised on how good the ZiboMods are now (hence the above bye bye notes to PMDG). Yes I loved it and shows how far again we have come lately in X-Plane, personally I see the ZiboMod as really a payware aircraft (howls of protest!), but in the same league of quality and depth. Colimata Concorde So where is the Colimata Concorde review, well its coming, but certainly not in the near future. One look and yes this is a decent development of one of the most iconic aircraft every to fly, but a lot of work on the aircraft certainly is still not completed, or refined. Concorde is a strange aircraft in that it is like no other aircraft out there, except for some military machines. Most users will light up and burn out those powerful RR Olympics to their full reheat thrust and head upwards towards flight level 400 and m2.2. Great but you won't get halfway across the Atlantic if you fly this bird like that and even with full tanks. This aircraft has to be very balanced and flight procedures have to be followed to the letter to get the maximum performance and range, so from a reviewing point of view there is a lot of detailed work to get through to get that all right, but overall it was the unsightly unfinished work that still had to be done that put me off, again just a few months more work and it would have been a perfectly acceptable aircraft to release... so overall I was disappointed. I certainly was not disappointed with X-Crafts excellent family series of the Embraer ERJ. Again like most current X-Plane developers then X-Crafts have gone up a few gears or higher levels, yes there are a few quirks, but overall it is an excellent regional jet and it comes with five variants as well... X-Crafts came into X-Plane very raw, great in the design department, but average pretty well everywhere else. But they were willing to learn, to update regularly and now after a few years you can see all of that hard graft finally paying off. There are no short cuts to being a quality developer, the only road is simply sheer hard work and persistence... and yes these products are priced to the depth of their development costs. And that is why I hate people that rip off projects (yes you Bit-Torrent) and put them out for free or steal off the work, they are the real losers in life. We are lucky that developers are willing to use their talents for our enjoyment, we can currently fly very authentic aircraft... live the dream so to speak because of their work and time, and the repayment for all that is the old simply way, in just repaying their costs and allow them to meet their real world demands. B737 MAX On the real world Boeing company's 737 MAX debacle I will say some comments. They as a company deserve everything they get in this case, but mostly for cowardice. This was the same company that took the barrel section of the Boeing Boeing 367-80, known simply as the Dash 80 and the forerunner of the B707 series and made a whole family of successful aircraft out of it. One of those aircraft is the same Boeing 737 that is now the centre of the MAX debate. What built Boeing is now going to bring then back down again. The design is nearly 60 years old, older than the Moon Landing, older than most of us on this planet... and what do Boeing do, they try to fit big engines situated forward under the low wings to make it efficient or mostly just to stop any sales going to Airbus with their more modern Airbus A320 in NEO guise, the point is even the A320 is now getting a bit long in the tooth, but the B737 is simply ancient, worse was the fact that this unbalanced aircraft now uses software to allow the machine to fly and fly around even the basic principles of flight... and worse the FAA certified the aircraft, or did they? or did they allow Boeing to certify their own unstable aircraft? In reality every one of those MAX's out there are clunkers. I was horrified that Boeing took this cowards route. Boeing had just refined whole new process of building airliners with the B787 Dreamliner? So shouldn't they have like in the past with the New B737 mid jet be a composite design of that future design proof development... but no and so they went and put engines under a 60 year old aircraft just for sales? The point is the new composite B737 would have sold far, far more than the MAX, and yes airlines would have waited if the new design delivered the same efficiency gains and modern systems to their fleets as has the B787, poor Joe Sutter must be rolling in his grave for what the company has become... but overall we lose in the chance to fly a modern efficient composite middle range airliner for years, instead of in the early 2020's (2024 was the original launch window). Now it will be late or very late 2030 before Boeing (if they survive this) will put the correct replacement for the MAX on the ramps, I bet Airbus is now two years ahead in now with their A320 replacement (cancelling the A380 was a big marker there), so who will get there first... certainly now not Boeing. It is a mess, the biggest in aviation, more so than the Comet or even Concorde.... but they deserve everything that is coming to them. FlightSimExpo The FlightSimExpo is now only next week in Orlando, Florida on the 7th/8th/9th June (Yeah!) and Laminar Research have been very, very quiet lately, which is usually a great sign that there will be a lot of nice goodies in there, obviously the Vulkan and Metal updates will take centre stage, and yes I will be very disappointed if there is not a demo, but we should get a timeline for the release and its effects.X-PlaneReviews will of course do a full analyse of the event... In a side fight the original FlightSimCon is shall we say "annoyed" at losing the title of representing the FS community in the States, they have declared the Expo "FS Greed and Piracy" as to lose the mantle... they are doing an online show here on the same dates... it will be seen on how all this plays out? Till next month Stephen Dutton 2nd June 2019 Copyright©2019: X-Plane Reviews
  20. Behind The Screen : April 2019 You sorta own them for their requirements that you need, yes someone else created it, yes you paid for it out of your hard earned money, so it is sort of yours, more so in the fact how for one in much you use it and secondly... on how much you like it. It gets personal as you know your away around it so well, the best areas, the best ways to approach it... it actually becomes important to you. The only thing is that X-Plane is constantly evolving, changing morphing and even the very, very best in time starts to feel it's age after a few years, so when an updated version comes along you are going to get very excited, the brilliant same but now updated and it is going to be far better.... right? Wrong. EGCC Manchester by Aerosoft was a brilliant scenery, in certainly the very top ten of sceneries for detail and quality. It was created as part of a double act with EIDW in Dublin by Icarius Studios, yes it was a perfect match between two exceptional sceneries, and both were very much ahead of their time in quality and detail. So the XP11 version comes along and like noted you couldn't wait to install the new bright SAM featured reflective hi-depth textured brilliance... and on first glance it looked... well okay, but then I noted that a lot of items were missing (I mean who could lose a whole radar tower), but slowly the horror dawned on my that this EGCC from Aerosoft is not my actual old EGCC from Aerosoft, this was a completely redone version of EGCC from Manchester, and totally worse it was a terribly redone version of EGCC Manchester.... But to understand the history, you can see why this ghastly mess evolved. Per se Aerosoft don't make or create sceneries, they pay or subsidise other developers or developer studios to create the work for them, then they brand it as their own. In one way it is a very good idea, it gives creative developers upfront money and then a return on their work, call it survival money to create the work in the first place, and from a developer's point of view you then have that huge marketing machine behind you to sell your completed work... it is a brilliant concept, and it works, certainly from Aerosoft's point of view of making lots of money and creating a huge inventory of sellable product. But the negatives from the concept are many. The biggest one is quality control, as not all developers are created equal in fact some are well quite questionable in their actual talents and only see the cash. When starting out in 1991, there was in no doubt that Aerosoft had a lot of talent to pick from the primordial pool of eager creative creatures, more so as at the time, you didn't need a lot of actual talent to create even of the very basic sceneries or aircraft for that matter. But because such creative people got in at the lower swamp, the level then they grew with the simulators as they developed and progressed, many obviously have all mostly moved on now, but the followers in the next and even next generation built on their foundations. But the talent pool was extremely good. If you are making a name for yourself, then why not cut out the middle man and go public, create your own developer studio and take all the cash and the talent for yourself. This is were the strengths and weaknesses start to show in Aerosoft's concept. Yes you can garner exceptional talent, but you can't hold it... you can however own their product because you funded it in the first place under the business agreement. But in today's development world you can start making a name or your own brand from the start, so the problem is that the creative good developers are going to the market themselves, and living and dying on their talents alone, a few do survive, but most are culled because now you require almost exceptional quality scenery even from the start of your career, as currently payware is extremely competitive an environment to survive in, so to a point Aerosoft's support was a good concept for these up and coming creatives. But it is still Aerosoft's secondary hosting position that is it's real detrimental problem... they never created the work, they only own it. So if the original developer leaves, then they are sort of "left holding the baby"so to say, so the only way to update it is to find a new developer to do the work. This is the major issue in why so much Aerosoft product is so extreme in their quality on release, then add in a completely different simulator platform from FSX/P3D to X-Plane and it can turn into a recipe for disaster, as even a even very highly talented FlightSim developer can be totally demented in trying understand X-Plane's highly dynamic features and weirdness. Many make a very good fist of it, and actually (almost) get it right, but when a lot of the old (win7 style) scenery that is planted in your hard drive then your job is a mountain to climb to make it even halfway acceptable to the fantatical users of "that" say those "weird" group of demanding Laminar thingy users... a bigger idea is to use a dedicated X-Plane developer (mostly the Orbix approach) so they have hoovered up all the best X-Plane developers with the offer of a lot of work and a lot of payments, however Aerosoft are much more reluctant to use anything or anyone associated with X-Plane and hence most of the poor gradable scenery that passes your way. They have used X-Plane scenery developers but Orbix's offer now that they are in the X-Plane scenery business is more lucrative. And don't get me wrong, as some of my most favorite scenery is Aerosoft branded (except for now I guess EGCC and maybe soon EIDW as well) and so that explains most of the sheer differences in the extreme quality grades of the output from Aerosoft... but it doesn't do well when you are trying to create a new market that one day in the future is going to be very important contribution to your bottom line. In EGCC - Manchester case then the original Icarius studio members split up over "personal directions of the company" but it also split up one of the very best developer studios as well, leaving Aerosoft holding a product it couldn't personally update... I don't know the contract details, but as the new EGCC in the hatchet job it is, would then mean that EGCC -Manchester had to be totally created from scratch to not infringe the older contract with Icarius... hence the EGCC disaster. Vulkan and Metal is go! Laminar Research have noted via their developer site that Vulkan and Metal is now running on the main X-Plane simulator itself, and now past the test vehicles of Airfoil Maker and Plane Maker apps. Laminar noted that the new API's are still very early in their development, but I would say you will get a pretty good idea and a demonstration of the new API at the coming FlightSim Expo on 7-9th June in Florida (USA) the seminar is noted at 4:30pm - 5:15pm local time. Like with the older switch of moving over to 64bit, I doubt this time it will cause as big as an upheaval, certainly the aircraft developers are totally all over the constant changing and to and throwing at Laminar's digression over the last few years, the only effects could be that some very old processor systems out there would just not work anymore, but they live still on planet X-Plane9, so mostly they wouldn't know anyway. If the June presentation is a success, then my guess is that 11.40 (the Vulkan/Metal) release will be late August or Early September with a few months to clean up the kinks... Laminar note late 2019 or early 2020 for the Vulkan/Metal release, but I think it will be well done and dusted before that. So why the rush... In reality Laminar Research can't dig into 2020 too much stuck in a long lasting beta, of which they have had a few over over the last few years, it needs a clear slate to make money. Yes Laminar can do a clean up beta of all the little bugs still left on the roadmap for X-Plane11, but otherwise the focus will soon be on to X-Plane12. Yes X-Plane12, and it is due in 18 months time if Laminar keep to their usual roadmap of version releases. 18 months still may sound a long way off, but in development time it is just late next year, take away X-Plane11.40 and the Christmas Holidays and you will have only 10 months then to get it all done. But here is the difficult trick... what can Laminar Research actually put into X-Plane12... yes you maybe laughing and falling off your chair, but this is harder to do than you think. The point is Laminar has to have a few banner marque features to get you to part with US$80-$90 dollars, and this time around that is far harder to do than it looks. Laminar's roadmap, feature item list has been going down and down over the runs of X-Plane10 and certainly with X-Plane11, this has been without doubt the most feature packed and most successful X-Plane version ever. And now almost every feature that was missing from the simulator has been either rectified or completed on that year on year list.... Laminar has been gobbling up new features like a demented monster. Better weather, check, PBR effects, check, better avionics, check, better autogen, check, installed 3d airports, check, dynamic reflections, check, new interface, check, VR - Virtual Reality, check, new shaders, check, improved 3d cockpit interaction, check, new dynamic FMOD sound system, check, new particle effects, check, check, check... and check. It is quite a list, and certainly your going to counter with... well what about the ATC?, well yes the ATC is still a work in progress, but that will still be completed before the end of the X-Plane11 run (my guess it will be the 11.50 beta), Weather is still crap... Weather will always be a beta to beta WIP, as will the autogen, what we are talking about here are the needed BIG features to get you to pay for the next bigger and better X-Plane12. Raytracing... what about that one... well no because Raytracing is a hardware dependent feature, at this point to few (cost wise) have the new Turing engines in their computers, it will be a few years before Raytracing will become a feature, but it will be introduced down the line in X-Plane12. Only in a few areas can I see new features. One is efficiency. This will step on from the Vulkan/Metal revolution, the new X-Plane12 will be a lean machine, but to access that efficiency you will need modern hardware, or at least something that can mulit-thread, and what you see on the surface is not what it will under the hood in the engine department, so in reality the start point of X-Plane12 will start with the introduction of Vulkan/Metal, or to say Laminar are doing that right now. but what else? Personally I can only see one thing. The only area that has not had attention over the last few versions of X-Plane is the Global Orbit Textures and Water, even to the point that the main ground textures may even get an overhaul, and yes that would mean better extended lighting for night operations. Granted there are already a lot of add on extras that can cover these areas, but they are still a central core requirement on the basic simulator... with the far better efficiency of the new Vulkan/Metal API's then I think Laminar can finally go up a step on these resource hungry elements. We also now have the capability to download huge gigabyte files as well as that was not even possible even at the time of the release of X-Plane11 (yes you can finally ditch those DVD's for good). So what are your thoughts on future features of the simulator? I would like to hear them. The next Behind the Screen will only a week out from the FlightSim Expo, so we will see how we all are then. See you all again next month Stephen Dutton 1st May 2019 Copyright©2019: X-Plane Reviews
  21. Behind The Screen : February 2019 The question is always going to be asked in why some products are reviewed on this site and not others and why does some very obvious releases don't get the exposure. The first point is that X-Plane is always very fast moving in this day and age, with a lot of products being released simultaneously, and sometimes even three to four releases a week. In the past years you could drop one this week and pick it up again in the next to cover the release period. but mostly you would still cover most if not all of them. But in those high release periods in say the noted start of the year, holiday periods of say Easter and the American Thanksgiving points then the releases can overwhelm even the best of us. So you have to pick and choose of which reviews you would want to read and want the information from to see if you want to purchase the aircraft or scenery (which is the reason why review sites like this exist), or in parlance say "check it out and it's features". Overall most of the significant releases are always covered. Reviews can take time as well because you have to check all those features and research the aircraft or the airport, if it is a plugin or an add-on, you also have to work it all out and make sure it works correctly and break it down so both pro and novice readers can see how it works or explain the certain features in detail. I see this site as a sort of translator in helping most users to use the aircraft, plugin or scenery to their uttermost highest level. An example of what I mean by that is say the starting procedure on the Supermarine Spitfire. Yes the procedures were noted in the manual, but the many items required in the starting procedure were also not totally defined or completed in the manual... for a novice or even an experienced reviewer like myself you have to work it all out... and that takes time, sometimes for the hours that you don't really have in completing the review. But it is a necessity as well, in that when the procedure is defined and can then be followed by users in a step by step basis and it is that can then get them past that blank area (saves you the hours of time) were they struggle to just get the aircraft to fly and enjoy the simulation. In other words it is a short cut, but that short cut took hours and hours to do and relate to the review, so I took all the pain out of the procedure and that aspect is not transferred on to you when you purchase the product. So hints and tips cut a long story short and a full flight should convey the reality of the simulation of the product. So if a plugin or product hits the download, your faced with a choice. Spend hours or even days trying to work it all out, and for most or a lot of cases you will pass because you don't have days and days to assemble the layout or set up and spend days working through manuals or talking to the developers on how it all works, so in a look over if the plugin is not a completely defined product (or messy in my parlance) then you are going to have the same issues and nightmares using it. Don't get me wrong, in that anything significant to simulator will not get a pass and the time will be spent in making the new idea or feature work as it should and the information then passed as quickly on to you. These gamechangers are important and X-PlaneReviews will cover them. But any products still have to be well set up or have the documentation to allow you set up correctly and use the product without pulling your hair out or screaming at the computer screen.. what works easily for the developer that assembled the idea and product, does not mean it translates easily to a new user in the same capacity.... or worse it is a github code in code to insert into your simulator. But most plugins fall into a really odd area. X-Plane is experimental by nature, we love to try great ideas and create brilliant new features... but plugins really are a world of their own, and many of these external tools can have some of the biggest impact on the simulator. But in this area I am extremely conservative and within good reason. Many plugins are by nature created from the same code as the core code of X-Plane and code in one plugin can affect another. So the result is what we call "Plugin conflict". In most cases the developer can resolve those conflicts, but there are many cases when the code has to live side by side and not affect the other in the conflict scenario. Certainly a really good coder can fix most if not all the conflicts, and when the plugin reaches that stage then it is noted as "clean" or safe to use consistently without it being a notable source of crashes or conflicts with the other plugins or even the X-Plane simulator itself. FlywithLua is a great example of this, on it's own it is quite brilliant, very clever and adaptable. But it was a plugin that was in and out of my plugin folder with more conflicts than any other plugin I can remember. The main reason is that the lua in Flywithlua is the also the main aircraft and now scenery code as well, as most payware aircraft fly or use the Lua code in their plugins (SASL). In the end the out of my plugin folder became final, even though I loved the XPRealistic plugin that used it... and FWL was just all too much of a headache and was costing me far too much fixing time to worth the insertion... Gizmo has legendary status in ruining most users lives, but to note it has been far milder since it's last full rewrite, but I avoid it like a plague. X-PlaneReviews usually also ignore plugins that are the current rage. Take the latest craze with the librain plugin. This is a plugin that creates rain effects on the windows of aircraft, and yes it is very good, but also no where near good enough to be noted as "clean" or "sorted" or even finished close enough to be a usable tool, as currently you can look around your cockpit to see raindrops running down your instrument displays, rear panels, windows you don't have visually and even suspended in mid-air around you and scaring you half to death... what it must be like in VR would amuse even Jamie Lee Curtis. librain is created by the same person that created the brilliant betterpushback,(BPB) which was a brilliant better push back that changed the way you departed the gate, so most certainly librain will also get to the same position of being as brilliant as the BPB tool. I promote BPB with a vengeance, but if you remember it didn't appear in the reviews until it was finally sorted and was an efficient clean plugin for your use. librain will get the same attention, I will test it regularly and use it regularly, but it won't be promoted or shown until I feel it is worthy of your attention (or the bad bugs has been addressed). I not being arrogant or restricting your use of the tool as you can download it anytime, but it has to reach a certain standard (mostly in the crashing of the simulator) to be useful to your overall simulation experience. I personally don't like compromises in my simulation flying as many will put up with waterfalls on their instruments, but that to me that is simply not realistic... and a lot of plugins will be binned for that very reason, even if they do bring a certain new idea or tool to the simulator, it still has to fit in and work cleanly and be fully authentic to the full simulation environment. In most cases users will bin it as well in time if it is buggy or not practical enough.... I usually do that within a hour if it does not fit in with my overall vision of the what the simulator can be. And yes your choices maybe quite different to mine, but I have a saying in that "the best always rise to the top and only use them", if they are consistent and bug free then the chances are they will quickly gain global acceptance. So in reality we at X-PlaneReviews only promote the tried and tested plugins that will not crash or conflict with the simulator and so in that case their appearance can be months or even longer before they appear regularly in the reviews or in the simulator, and yes they are simply months out of date by the "new great feature" factor, but at least they are sorted and safe to use. Some which work straight out of the box like the excellent WebFMC plugin went straight into a review, because it was a pro plugin, and it worked brilliantly and it was a huge advantage to you users. Another is the new SAM - Scenery Animation Manager plugin that is also very clean and now a major feature to any new scenery... if it is good it will be reviewed and promoted. Most usually end up the trash bin, a few crashes is all it takes to throw it out, and even if it contains the even the best ideas and if you can see down the line if the plugin is not going to reach any sort of reliability then it goes, gone. Another area X-PlaneReviews have noted consistently is any plugins or uses changes that affect the basic X-Plane (items and code) simulator itself. Not only for the overwriting every time X-Plane is updated, but also messing around in the central engine is just simply asking for trouble. You just don't need to, and then complain loudly when your framerate goes south. Other point on the choices of doing reviews is when a developer releases an aircraft and notes "this is a pre-release version', and the aircraft will be finished in a few updates. Yes great for you to get your mitts on to this great new product, but you can't review an aircraft that is only 85% finished? And in reality you are all being used as lab rats to fix up the issues that should have been completed on release. Yes I admit that with the wide variety of computer systems and operating systems then there will be bugs and issues to be refined... but the reality is the product is not "actually" finished, and in that case we also can't make a good assessment about it for you. So after four weeks or a month or so then the aircraft is noted as a "Final" current release. But by then in reviewland we are all looking at another or in the middle of a series of releases that is of a more current interest to the users, and that pre-release is now very old news. So the review is then put on hold of until a point of finding a break in the schedule to fit it in, and mostly we will wait until the next update is then issued to then finally review it. The X-Trident Harrier is a good example of this, as it is still on the ever growing list, as it was released as a "Pre-Release" around Christmas 2018 but when can we get actually around now to doing a review.... with a full release the review would have been done at that time of the release period as it was well worth of the attention for both the review site and the users wanting the release information and critical assessment. Personally I don't even know if the X-Trident Harrier is actually completed? or even in a full release situation, so these pre-release ideas do also muddle the waters in situ of what or where the real full release situation actually lies while sandwiched between lots of fixing updates, so if I don't know then how can the developer expect the user base and customers to know either, and is that overall a good business sense. That point also comes to developers that love to do multiple small updates. A four line feature update is not going to get an update review, the feature list is just too small to fly the aircraft and check out the small list of changes, especially if we know in a another week or so that another set of updates will also be quickly coming along. What we tend to do in these cases is to combine three or four small releases into one review and then covering those updated versions all in one go. This works well in the idea of getting a lot of combined information together in one update review and have a worthwhile look at the current release situation of the aircraft or product. Yes we love constant updates fixing our issues and it looks good for the developer, but unless it is a required major fix (like an update to a final of an X-Plane version) or a major feature that needs to be sorted or released quickly, then a lot of these updates can be bundled together to make a more significant update. But this aspect works very hard against very talented developers like VskyLabs that does loads of multiple quick updates, but also loads of releases of various different and new aircraft designs, we simply just can't cover that wide a spread of changes that these developers in their own working system on their weird patterns of release schedules, you would simply do or get lost in all the multiple version numbers of what version is which, and even we get confused on the current status of the developments and versions as we did with VskyLabs, so you will have no chance. This is not of course to be confused with the stream of updates that come out after a major release, in most cases when doing the review we will see the issues and mostly if the developer is already aware of them and that update is coming within days, the point is that the actual aircraft is complete in a sense to warrant the review. If there is a ghastly area that needs to be highlighted and to a point make a strong statement to the developer to fix it, then it will be included within the review... as some developers just won't simply budge on some really dumb or obvious ideas or even major mistakes. In most cases the forums will usually vocal the same point of view, but it can take a fair bit of persuading sometimes for the developer to see the shining light of the er er absolutely er "you know" obvious. You have to also pick through what is known as commonly "vaperware". Many review sites grab the news and megaphone that "this is sensational" or "wow" for the project to as quickly disappear as quickly as it appeared, there are the obvious signs, but in most cases the so called developer has zero talent to match their lorded ambitions. Developing is hard work, and mostly in the areas you don't see in the coding and animation... go and count the half finished 3D hulls of aircraft the X-Plane.Org Aircraft development forums to see the huge Games of Thrones CastleBlack giant ice wall of the problems building when confronted with the complex coding aspects of the aircraft. The coming Rotate MD11 is a classic case of the sheer detail and the hours and hours of work that goes into the detail and serious depth of the systems to be recreated and have it all to be perfectly realised to be authentic. But then again that is what you pay for. So what you see in the glittering news bursts will not be mostly what you will get in reality, many a really tempting idea or scenery is quite average when you are finally faced with the final product, and that can be a real letdown after months of bits of development leaked and some times from dubious sources. The gushing needs sometimes to be tampered with a bit of reality, but more than anyone I also love in being totally surprised... in say the extended development of the Zibo mod Boeing 738, and Magknight's amazing Boeing 787 and both projects started off in a very basic and underrated way to the major talent behind both aircraft. So overall we have to edit, filter and assess the new aircraft, scenery or any new addition to the simulator in it's own credibility factor, and that means not shouting banshee from rooftops until the project actually has some credibility and then usually vanish into vaperware, and that is why there is not the volume of announcements on this site that are lorded around on most of the others and in most cases we don't get too far from the truth... and don't get me wrong as when something really insanely great comes along you will still see it in here first, because our core mantra of this site is still that "If I really love this, then you will also" and I want you to enjoy simulation par excellence, that is and always was the main objective of this X-Plane site. See you all next month Stephen Dutton 1st March 2019 Copyright©2019: X-Plane Reviews
  22. Behind the Screen : January 2019 Welcome to the New Year and a new version of X-Plane in version 11.30 going final. The release didn't make Christmas 2018 (the original Laminar roadmap goal) but it was quickly through the Release Candidates once they restarted in 2019, sometimes it is great just to give up. That is the one thing I find really weird... a lot of developers try to make the Christmas deadline and then put out the product, and it is either in aircraft, scenery or mostly plugins and then just close it all down until the next year.. so most then say to the huge amount of bug comments "I'll look at it in the New Year", which is really dumb, in that you have this really very nice and shiny new X-Plane application, but you can't actually use it because it is usually very buggy to use and has to be sidelined anyway... for now the developer is away on his Hol's or Vacy and wishing the family well with a nice big turkey, meanwhile you are stuck with the other style of a Turkey... a none working application... so why not just wait until the New Year to release correctly and then be available to update the fixes to a wanting audience, at least Laminar had the good sense to do this. As sometimes a very nice early Christmas present, can just turn into a burnt out dud bird. It was an odd Christmas and New Year break... in the past X-Plane for the holiday break went to ground and was very quiet, but this year it was the opposite of that with the chattering classes telling us all about their coming wares or projects and announcing this or announcing that... but first we all still have to get over the 11.30 final mountain. And a big one it will be. Having their fingers burnt with the extended 11.00 release from the constant changes and the to and throwing from Laminar, the developers this time around are being doubly cautious and who can blame them. Plus there is the added learning curve of several new built in applications now inserted into the simulator... it was very surprising how long it took the devs to get their heads around the FMOD sound application, even months later they where still being trickled out if still very slowly. The Particle engine application is very similar to the FMOD application, but there are far, far more elements to consider, but it is a very impressive piece of kit, and something that drags you back to the older Adobe After Effects days, I am hoping it will be extendable as well for more effects and ideas in the future, as this is really a big hidden application that is build right into the simulator. And that is the huge advantage that X-Plane has over any other simulator, and very much in the old style of Apple's approach to computing, give them the brilliant applications to turn out outstanding brilliant work... but hey services today for Apple make more money than creativity... thankfully in X-Plane it is still the other way around. But now here comes the tsunami and the huge wall of 11.30 updates that will overwhelm you and swamp you to death, with update after update filling out your days (and nights)... and that is from just one or two developers. Certainly the new updaters with X-Updater and SkunkCrafts are helping out, and personally I prefer the Java version, but the lastest Shunkcraft's v2.2 is far better, in now not making you wait for long periods just to start up the simulator, I really never liked applications that took over your computer and worked away in the background installing items you don't know what are being installed. A small note in don't update to be new Java update SE 11.0.2 as it kills all the FlightFactor plugins, reload in the previous version to keep the plugin working... I found that one out the hard way. It just shows how much bigger X-Plane is now, the volume of updates on already released aircraft and scenery, but the release list for the next few months is simply huge, again with most waiting for 11.30 to go final. Even Carenado have noted that every aircraft that they released for X-Plane10, even updated to use for X-Plane11, then won't however get the full XP11 treatment, and so a few will now be left behind and that is really sad if one of your personal favorites is on that list, as most of the XP11 conversions from Carenado are exemplary. But maybe some really do needed retiring, as their design is ethics now getting a little if dated... or feeling very out of date to the newer more dynamic feel of the simulator. Overall X-Plane 11.30 is a huge jump forward, but as I noted in the overview review, then there is a lot buried deep in the code in there as well, and you don't see it or feel it yet, but it will transform the simulator to a far more efficient and better application. Currently you are like going forwards and backwards at the same time and simply ending up in the same place as you were in X-Plane11.28. Let me explain. You certainly have already received some nice Vulkan/Metal efficiencies, but they have been countered with the negative aspects of even more features and tools, overall you came out slightly ahead, with say between a 5 to 10 framerate gain, but mostly you have not seen that huge "oh wow" speed and framerate space factor. Don't despair however as for that aspect it will come later, but also don't expect your early Win7 era computer to suddenly act like a Win10, as the Vulcan/metal still needs those modern processors to do the higher efficiency scaling. Laminar have noted the basic Vulkan/Metal code is now actually completed, it just refining it and testing to get the best results from the new code. I even finally gave in and went and posted a note on the forums in the fact of the really annoying comments of the "Really Bad Framerate" with every update or version that Laminar released... I will say that yes the simulator can be overwhelmingly complex sometimes, with one thing here affecting something else over there, but right through the whole beta process my framerate was actually pretty steady, unless Laminar made a muddle, which was about twice, again I will stress it is sometimes extremely hard to keep everything running in alignment with one or another area of X-Plane going bonkers to keep it running all smoothly. But what did get seriously annoying was the fact that these idiots didn't even do the basics of updating 101... clean out your preferences is absolutely no.1 on the list. If you have older beta preferences and you add in an update then those old preferences will then go and merge with the new settings and in then creating a hybrid setting that you are trying to run and gauge the new updates though... in other words you are going to get a really mixed up running a simulator of crap code and yes the results are really bad framerate. You just have to redo the basics of the preferences and clean out the layouts, then even an X-Plane rebuild is also required to find the basics of X-Plane when the update goes final to clean out all that old waste, simple steps but a requirement when wanting efficiency, and house keeping is yes a chore, but an essential chore to keep everything very clean with no clutter within the system. Those comments just make everything totally worse, and it reflects on those users naivety on how they use the simulator with a sort of the blind leading the blind... and yes they are extremely distracting and annoying in their own total incompetence. Housekeeping is yes and a huge chore, and this year I went at it with gutso over the break. For once that backup of a backup went in the bin, I needed space on my drives as now with the 1gb to mostly 2gb average download files now it is amazing how quickly the available space is gobbled up, some sceneries are now averaging 6gb and the 14gb of TNCM - Princess of the Caribbean is nothing to the new mega loads of Orbix's UK FTX 100gb... even with my updated SSD drive I only still have 600gb of working space, so how long is that going to last, and no I will not ever go back to a platter drive as my erratic history with them are... well history. But a full on two day housekeeping trial shows how much work you have to do now to keep the simulator in top condition, and I could have easily spent another full day doing more. The new Stairport SAM plugin is already making it's huge presence felt in X-Plane, The updated Zurich was simply great, but it is the master's Misterx6 in ShortFinal's monster EDDM - Munich that really shows off on how brilliant the plugin is. This scenery was so complex and so huge it devoured a huge chunk of last week, but the feeling is that it is also a showcase of what X-Plane in features now is really delivering when all these different dynamics of the simulator come into play together, and the interaction is now becoming first rate... notable are two other plugins now in final upgrade betas, with xEnviro and WorldTraffic3 both coming soon very close to a computer near you. Both applications have been slow with updates and so both really require now a real step forward, certainly with the case of xEnviro. If you follow these comments on the end of the month rambles you will know I have not been exactly charitable towards the xEnviro developers and that they didn't take up my offer to beta test the new version shows that their feelings are were not exactly reciprocated. But the one area that I find really vexatious with developers is the fact that they don't do quick updates to fix immediate issues before continuing on with their highly profiled roadmap. Yes it looks brilliant to layout all these future exciting breathless roadmap features, but if the current version is complete version of buggy crap, then the developers are doing themselves absolutely no service what so ever... it is called "Ticking off" the very people that you are trying to sell to or to keep as a customer for future products... a year is too long without an update in any product, but with a buggy one that is an eternity... or even a miracle the plugin is well still in there and being used, it is only in the strength of the actual product and with no real replacement that xEnviro is still a major factor in the reviews and my general flying... and yes I have tried them all so don't send me environment combo's of this that will work with that... as I have already been there. I will most possibly still note the same xEnviro mantra again around next month, or even the month after that, but the point is developers need to start to heed the warnings, as we are only trying to protect them from their own devices. But there was some standouts in January that really showed where we are going... one is the Boeing 787-900 from Magnight. The aircraft is not even close to actually being even a beta at this point, but it is fused with genuine ideas and forward momentum that is added in day to day via the updater. I finally got a full flight out of it from Hong Kong to Melbourne and really enjoyed the experience, it will be amazing when finished. This was flight alone was also now available because finally X-Plane has a decent VHHH or Hong Kong via the extensive work of TOD, and the latest version v2.1 also comes with SAM interactivity... Asia in X-Plane, it is a Beautiful thing and finally we are moving around the world again to some decent scenery. WSSS - Changi is also part of TOD's packs, but I found it was not as updated as the VHHH version, but I haven't yet tested or used the updated the newer 1.2.1 Jan 19 version. WT3 work's exceptionally well on both airports and adding into the excitement, and for me there is a feeling around of going back to airports that were a big part of my earlier X-Plane experiences like VHHH, WSSS and the new LMML Malta, all but were abandoned because they all fell behind badly as X-Plane design moved forward, any ex-fsx converted scenery are thankfully now very much buried in the past. The other was another immersion experience up in the very distant Faroe Islands, this is brilliant scenery and yes it is expensive, but when coupled with the right aircraft or helicopter and even the weather aspect thrown in you are delivered an experience that you would never have even imagined a few years ago, most will count it like Misterx6's EDDM as another scenery, but between both of them as they deliver a really big step forward in immersion and realism, which is a really nice way to start a new year... And with all this in an updated new X-Plane11 version, with brilliant new clever sceneries and a new clever active element with the SAM plugin.. It was a big month in January, now we move into February and yes it is an exciting but still very demanding period for the simulator... "how many updates? that many?"..... Oh God! Stephen Dutton 5th February 2019 Copyright©2019: X-Plane Reviews
  23. Behind the Screen : Year in Review 2018 With a long reflection on the X-Plane year in 2018, it was certainly an interesting one. 2017 was a mega year, so could 2018 be bigger, better or just more of the same? In fact it all went slightly sideways in being different instead as more external factors came to bear on the simulator, but one fact was totally overwhelming in that as simulation goes it is still a very strong and growing market, there are no doomsday forecasts coming anytime soon as simulation is still very much in demand and new users are still overwhelmingly discovering this excellent online flying world. The year could be very easily split right down the middle, with extremely busy for the first six months and then a more mature quieter second half. Part of the reason of the bedlam of the first part of the year was the expected conversion or crossover of Ex-Flightsim users and developers... the FlightSim crowd (even the hard-core) users realised that X-Plane was a better product, a better simulator and to a point had better value per flying buck. So they came, and came in droves to the new and pleasant land seeking new experiences. And most liked and loved what they saw and flew. Obviously with the flock of users converting then came also the FlightSim developers, almost begrudgingly, in an almost a really "I don't really want to be here, but I have to if I want to keep my customers" way. The data supports the shift with X-Plane now reaching the 50% point of users compared to FlightSim (Primary Simulator Software - Navigraph 2018 Survey) and 19.8% of current FlightSim users are also considering X-Plane as their primary simulator in the future. To put those numbers into perspective, in the last survey X-Plane was listed as only 10% and that was only two years ago in 2016 (but the survey has to be noted as more FlightSim centric and focused). Some developers dabbled (Fly Tampa, Hi Fi) but most just tried to adjust their FlightSim model to fit X-Plane with various results. The FSX opportunists, tried to bring on already outdated and way past their used by date products and hoped to make more quick cash in X-Plane, they failed, we hated them and didn't buy any of the crap presented to us, and as a result more promised releases went deathly quiet as the year went on. But that is not to say all FlightSim developers didn't convert well over to the X-Plane model, as Just Flight produced some of the best aircraft of the year via the work of Thranda, which proves if you get the model right, then you can make an major impact in the simulator. But the trick is not to shoehorn your way in, but just to become part of the normal background scenery and produce excellent products. With the X-Plane11 version settling down and being stable around the middle of 2017, then early in 2018 the results of the work of developers started to appear and kept on coming in an avalanche of products in the first quarter of the year, then they barely broke for a breath in the 2nd quarter. And what emerged was was an excellent view of the future, and an excellence in the actual product with the new X-Plane 11 features being highlighted, and again with so many quality products it was a full time occupation just to keep up with it all. One very much the presented feature was two things, a seriously never ending packages of updating which was all consuming, and that developers became very creative of the making of upgrades and turning the ideas into revenue streams. To a point this not a bad thing as we shall see, as the bottom line sometimes was really just survival. Another distinction was between the established stars (developers) and everyone else. With the outstanding but now maturing features of X-Plane11 in their armoury, the developers simply came of out firing with all guns blazing, everything that was everything that was on the table, and boy did they use it. I wrote a detailed account of this in last month's Behind the Screen : Nov 2018. And the scale and detail was stupendous stuff. Realism 101 was the buzz word for me this year, but the quality was and is off the planet, another step higher and another huge advance forward for the simulator, but the scenery developers were just as good, with ultra detail and that word again "Realism 101", but everything was also slightly side swiped by the X-Plane's simulator's user data release June mid-year. If there was a horror moment for X-Plane then this was it. Basically it said "61% of all flights in the simulator are with still with and only includes the basic default X-Plane aircraft, and default and simple is the word to be noted here. Next down and by a long way at 4.5% is the Boeing 738x Zibo mod aircraft which is again free and a development of the same aircraft as the default Laminar Research B738 version, and the ToLiSS's A319 was not even registering on the list?" in other word's the aircraft's use was registered below the required 0.1% for activation... frightening stuff. In plain English it noted that the simulator is basically by the majority is only being used at a very basic level... with even the very most popular aircraft the Zibo 738x which was down there at 4.5% usage, worse was the activity of payware scenery, it was not just low... it was low, low, low? As most users just flew within the scope of the Global airports (default) provided by the simulator... worse again was that, no one wanted to even try to or want to get a better simulation experience for themselves. The point is that the simulation I am flying in, is quite different to the one most X-Plane users are flying in... in the same simulator? You could point out that X-PlaneReviews receives a lot of free payware as part of the reviewing process, but only part of that is true, in that I do invest in aircraft and scenery well beyond the test and review packages. X-PlaneReview's has always taken the point of view that what I use and feel, then you should do as well also to get the very best experience out of the simulator. And that is based not totally based on cost but totally for the best experience. I rarely fly the default aircraft, although the default Boeing 737 is very good, and I rarely use the global airports, but usually networking between a small selection of tried and true payware sceneries... In reviewing or out of it then my investment in X-Plane would be exactly the same, it is not the cost factor that drives that aspect, but in the return experience. Several scenery developers have come out this year to note that they are not surviving at these extreme low levels, no names or the quality of their work was revealed to discuss the validity of their work to returns they deserve... onward with this aspect, then it has or will create a significant impact on the simulator as it goes forward, because at it's core there are still a lot of people that are invested and their livelihoods are very dependent on the simulator. Ultimately if this altitude does not change then the consequences are very grave for the X-Plane simulator, you can only take for free for so long before things start to go the other way, another point on this is that if the growing PC crowd are the ones paying the money, then the business will obviously focus on them and that will be another negative for freeloaders... so 2019 will be an interesting if significant year on that aspect. Laminar Research X-Plane thankfully has always had a very solid base of development. Laminar Research is now a very different commercial operation, even from a few years ago, I mean they even have PR person (Jennifer Roberts) as their profile and firewall. The days of shooting off an email to Ben Supnic are closing fast, now you have find the right department and the right person to communicate with... that is all very un-Laminar. If the hobbyist element is being phased out at Laminar, then it also doesn't mean they are becoming more distant and are still highly innovative in response to trends and changes. Again Laminar Research really delivered with some great updates and features in 2018. As promised the VR (Virtual Reality) roll out started the year, obviously for most the high outlay on the VR technology is still a is major barrier into the promised land. But there slight benefits of the delaying of the VR purchase and the user numbers are growing quickly. Not only in the cost, but maturity of the technology, and not only from X-Plane's aspect, but from the VR industry as well. For Laminar it still a roadmap rollout... VR demands huge computer efficiency for it's use. So the roadmap that was set out in 2017 was reinforced at the mid-year simulation Expo in Vegas, which was a huge success for Laminar. And continuing that development vein in that a total rewriting of X-Plane from the inside out would secure it's future. Laminar is wanting the removal of the original elements and replace them with far more modern ones, and yes a lot of things may be lost in the transition, but this is classic Laminar (Supnic) thinking... "take the pain today, for a bigger better tomorrow". At the forefront of that is the new API changes of Vulkan and Metal, in the last beta 11.30. Already a lot of these new elements are already in place, and expect a lot more in the new 2019 year with the next major 11.40 update, and the changes will go on right through the X-Plane11 development cycle till the end, but note that X-Plane12 will be a very different internal engine from 11, and it's past original roots will all be finally buried or replaced. Two updates throughout the year with 11.20 and 11.30 were both excellent. v11.20 was a tweak and touch update to clear up the lasting bugs of the introduction of X-Plane11, you could call it a maturing version but mostly it will be remembered as the "VR version". v11.20 also brought in a new aircraft with the excellent Aerolite 103 a brand new ultralight aircraft, a lot of new LEGO elements for the global airport developers to access and use, and Sydney got the "Landmark" Treatment with the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. It was the v11.25 update that was the real surprise for being not a major update per se (a sort of Vegas giveaway special), but delivered some excellent elements, with a full Las Vegas and Chicago landmark packages and excellent European industrial autogen that was a real quality experience in excellence. v11.30 was to be the showstopper of the year and it didn't disappoint. Promised for early or mid September the update was six weeks late, in landing late October on the 25th, but deliver the version did. Particle Effects that were promised for years finally had arrived, and again were excellent, with fire, smoke, haze and god knows what else that brought your aircraft to life again. The shader system was completely overhauled (For Vulkan and Metal) in the first of the API changes. Autopilot (heavy and GA) systems were also highlighted with brand avionics, better anti-and de-ice systems, oxygen systems and propeller governors with vacuum gyro and caging are also included. A nice surprise was the new ATC voice system not announced earlier (only noted as a WIP) with realistic A.I. voices. More industrial autogen and this time covering the US, was also part of the update. Austin Meyer introduced a whole host of aircraft flight model improvements, from some very bizarre experiments with a Tesla car and sound looking aerodynamic boom out of it's fully automated-driving roof, obviously there is no expense spared for X-Plane development. All users noted a nice framerate improvement, but they were in areas neutralised by the particle effects generator, but overall the whole update was a significant step forward. Like with most updates and changes the effects of the release of v11.30 will not be felt until well into next year, as the developers take advantage of the new dynamics and deliver them, but they are all quite substantial. All round it was another very good, if brilliant year from Laminar Research with 2019 delivering more of the Vulkan/Metal efficiency, which is now only just waiting in the wings. Aircraft With X-Plane11 development, most developers lost half of most of 2017 waiting for the system to settle down, and this becoming a new pattern, in the version updates it brings on in the changes, then the lull before the effects of the changes on the simulator is released. Before most developers would have easily grabbed the best or the most dramatic features and update their products to get user reactions in an instant, but they seem to be taking now a more mature and longer approach to the whole simulator in the way of using the new features within their products. To highlight this was the very first release or "spectacular" bang of the year with the release of FJS (FlyJSim's) Boeing 737-200 TwinJet. Yes it was an update of an already released aircraft. But in reality the two releases were extremely very different. The release of the B737 TwinJet was a different approach in the fact it is a fully completed update to take advantage of all of X-Plane11's extraordinary effects and features... you simply got the whole lot here all in one go... better PBR, better Hi-Res 4K quality, photographic imagery, highlighted textures, reflections and shines (glass was excellent as was real life mirrors), updated menus and that... "Cabin"! Supremely detailed aircraft interiors are well known on GA aircraft, but are very rare on commercial, but this cabin was just beyond the imagination of detail and features. With details like opening overhead lockers, window blinds, adjustable full cabin and area lighting switches and animated switch controllable front and rear built in stairs. It was gob-smackingly overwhelming, it still is, but it was also a pointer to the year to come in the way that developers are now using new tools to create extremely authentic aircraft. FJS's other Boeing in the Boeing 727 Series Pro v3 was noted very early on that it was not going to get the same extensive cabin treatment, and it was missing on the release in August, very good as the v3 B727 Series is, but it could have been one of the greatest releases in X-Plane if it had come fully completed with it's internals. The point is that the B737 TwinJet is the most complete airliner in X-Plane history, because that word "complete" sums it all up... the complete perfect fully rounded aircraft you will ever use and fly... shame about the B727. One top notch release was a great start to 2018, but within weeks the slow grinding FlightFactor Airbus A320-214 Ultimate was also released from it's long and difficult birth and the countless betas. The reason was the unique separation from the X-Plane simulator itself, with a CEF (Chromium Embedded Framework) plugin doing the work and interfacing with X-Plane. The sheer depth of the simulation does take the aircraft well into a study grade simulation. The aircraft did require a different approach in flying in X-Plane though and it had a price to match, but once you felt the depth and the really excellent system's, then this Airbus really puts X-Plane up there as a quality simulator, an BSS Soundpack released for the same aircraft a month or so later was the total icing on the cake. In a reaction to the A320 Ultimate's release, the ToLiSS (the old QPAC A320) then their released their A319, so in a week you went from one good A320 to three aircraft all fighting for the same market. The ToLiSS319 was to a point not as highly developed at the time of it's release, but the systems were highly regraded and created by the best Airbus expert X-Plane has ever had, I flew like a dream, certainly the very best handling commercial jet aircraft in X-Plane, but the extensive development path continued right up the end of this Christmas period, and what a development path it is. Clever and highly detailed with great features, the ToLiSS319 deserves to be the most popular aircraft in X-Plane, and personally in time it will be a classic. The point must be taken that both either the FF A320 Ultimate and the ToLiSS319 are not direct competitors but in reality they really compliment each other depending on the route or network... it is like flying for an airline and you fly the required aircraft that is best suited for that service. Rotate's MD-88 also had some significant updates throughout the year in all areas, and to a point matured to another level of maturity, but the focus is now on the coming MD-11 that was expected in 2018, but certainly now it will be coming in 2019, hopefully in the first quarter. Both the FlightFactor Boeing Twins 757/767 both had significant upgrades with the B767 achieving "Extended" status with a -200 and a Freighter variant, joining the original -300 version. One aircraft that did standout in 2018 was Magnight's Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This started out a freeware project, that went payware, then professional payware with a step up in price to match, mostly to cover the move to a SASL plugin environment away from the basic restricting original PlaneMaker system. It will be again a very interesting aircraft to watch throughout 2019. Both SSG and X-Craft's updated their E-Jets, with the SSG now ahead with a more comprehensive, or sorted FMC, but both are certainly great aircraft. SSG's Boeing 747-8 was a surprise in how good it was, as any aircraft that has had a difficult birth it is the B748. The default Laminar Boeing 737-800 in it's Zibo disguise wasn't as active as in it's frenzied development as in 2017, yes a lot of updates went through the aircraft and it came with a new sound pack, but it was the Laminar's v11.30 update that added in an amazing cabin that sent the aircraft a few notches higher. The development of the Boeing 737-900 ultimate in my mind was a bit of fizzer, the release version was quite buggy and the cabin average... I haven't even bothered to check up on it's latest progress. General Aviation As usual the GA area was a rich one, with loads of releases and some really great aircraft. Carenado/Alabeo spent the year mostly updating it's huge fleet over to the higher X-Plane11 quality and dynamic standards, you feel like once the transition is completed, then they will have to start all over again for XP12. But there was also some fresh new releases, with the 690B Turbo Commander that was sensational as was the later C340 ll and the excellent S550 Citation ll. Alabeo produced the surprisingly excellent M20R Ovation and C177 Cardinal twin set. Thranda was also very busy with Just Flight aircraft as well. Their PA28R Piper Arrow IIl took out the top prize of the GA year in 2017, and early in 2018 it was followed up by the more faster and more powerful twinset PA28R Piper Turbo Arrow III/lV, then the French TB10 Tobago & TB20 Trinidad with the excellent Cessna 152 ll, the perfect trainer following.. then it all then went quiet at Just Flight with a change of genre. VflyteAir started off the year in grand style with an update to their PA-30 Twin-Comanche, The Cherokee PA-28 140C followed in March to rave reviews, again an in house design of an aircraft known to the developers. Mid-year vFlyteAir then delivered the unusual but highly innovative Comco - Ikarus C42 C VLA, with those amazing canvas wings and tubing fuselage. By their standards, Aerobask had a quiet year with just the sensational Diamond DA-62, with the rest of the year dedicated to updates of their fleet. They however did also a release a personal project in freeware with the quality of their payware aircraft in the Robin DR401 CDI 155 The most underrated aircraft of the year was the Piper Aerostar 601P by Avia71. It is a sensational aircraft but different from the normal, I think it was a approached in the wrong context, and as a pure and fast flying machine the Aerostar was very much like it's real life counterpart as it is a great machine to use. A FlightSim stalwart in MilViz debuted in X-Plane late in the year with the Cessna T310R, but the aircraft was up against a lot of the same sort of GA designs and choice, so the impact was minimal, it was also an odd choice for a mostly military aircraft developer. AeroSphere Simulation's lifted their quality and produced some nice GA's thoughtout the year, like their lovely Piper PA28-161 Warrior II, but they are no vFlyteAir... yet. Military and Classic vSkyLabs churned out every thing to every thing with updates coming on every thing to every thing in quick succession. The DC3 progressed well with VR capability, but the promised remodeled v3 cabin for passenger and freight variants didn't arrive in the year. The Rutan Model 61 Long - EZ pretty well summed up the output, quirky but interesting aircraft to kill country singers in (vale John Denver). The vSkyLab's system is clever one, but hard to follow update by update, so a lot gets lost in the constant transitions "which version or update is that?". For the bushies, Soul Made updated their DH-2 Beaver to X-Plane11 and AeroSim released their very nice Piper PA-18 SuperCub. Unlike 2017 the military aircraft was this year a collection of nice warbirds, and some interesting trainers and fighters. For the warbirds there was the Mustang P-51 from a new developer (one to watch) called Skunkcrafts, and another newbie was FlyingIron with their beast of an aircraft in the Republic P-47N Thunderbolt. Two very interesting trainers was the early conversion of the Cessna A-37 Dragonfly/Super Tweet, which was amazing to fly, and the overwhelming and incredible far late in the year release from JRollon with a partnership with SimCoders was the SIAI-Marchetti SF.-260. Outwardly the Marchetti looked normal even bland, but inwardly in systems, depth and quality wise it set a new higher ultra standard and level in X-Plane... it is an extraordinary aircraft! Just Flight/Thranda were back later in the year with their BAe Systems Hawk T1/A Trainer. And again a new higher level of quality and detail was released and devoured. The Hawk was quite late, as the initial announcement was early in the year, but when absorbing the aircraft when finally released you could see why it took a lot of that required development time. Watch out for the next update with the Hawk with the v11.30 effects fully realised, that aspect will take the aircraft another even higher level. No doubt JustFlight/Thranda made a big impact on 2018 with their high quality (and with the prices to match) aircraft. Helicopters As in 2017, then 2018 was again a very slow output of helicopters, even the ever reliable Dreamfoil Solutions was again absent, Dreamfoil did however update to X-Plane11 the excellent Embraer EMB 110 Bandeirante fixed-wing, and announced the coming Embraer 120 for 2019. But the only rotary machine for the year was vFlyLab's Guimbal Cabri G2, a small two-seater machine that was nice to fly. Scenery If any area of X-Plane that has had a controversial year it has to be scenery, and to be honest it is an unfair label. To a point scenery has always been controversial, mostly because... well why pay for something that just sit's there. Scenery will always be the misunderstood area of X-Plane. Users would like nice fancy scenery, but really don't want to pay for it or if pushed to the limit on a really opportunistic moment then to try to buy it with a heavy unhealthy discount, or In most cases just use the excellent default Global Airports of which they do. There are some rules with scenery, don't waste your money on poor quality scenery, and why would you as the Global Airport version is better anyway. I personally totally hate photo textures, unless they have been professionally intergrated into the scenery for the total natural effect, oversaturated or burned in photo textures are always unrealistic and and totally crap to look at... but payware developers still insist on using them? But, but but.... Get your scenery portfolio set up correctly and it will lift the realism factor of X-Plane many levels higher... yes payware scenery is still FAR better than the Global stuff, far better if you are willing to pay for it. FlightSim Migration With the migration of FlightSim users escalating at the start of the year to X-Plane, then the FlightSim scenery developers (as noted begrudgingly) finally decided to develop X-Plane scenery, not the new fresh stuff, but just mostly quick dips into their huge back catalogues. Orbix and FlyTampa led the charge, but again you were left wondering how they ever became so successful in their FlightSim domain with their initial efforts in X-Plane, again the same mistakes came to the fore. First was the noted "I'll grab my old crap FSX scenery and try to make a few more bucks off it in X-Plane"... "are you serious?", a look at Montego Bay, Jamaica by LatinVFR/Skyline was enough to make even laugh out loud and the sheer nerve of the developers, it is outdated crap. Then there was Orbix. No doubt Orbix are finally serious about our X-Plane simulator, as they have announced that fact mostly monthly throughout the year, with a big splash at the Vegas Expo. But you were still left wondering where it really was going by the actual releases they presented. First was Meig's Field that actually does not exist anymore, Barton Airport by Manchester, that I never even visited even when I lived only a few miles from it?, The second release was their forte in Australia in Broome WA, as that place that is about as far from normal civilisation as you can get, Broome is nowheresville to absolute nowhere to connect to, more recent releases have started to get more serious, with Southampton and Cardiff UK, which are nice but are still minority airports? So where is their YMML - Melbourne, excellent YBBN Brisbane, ESSA Stockholm, Dubrovnik, Palm Springs, San Diego, Queenstown... you know "actual" scenery we really want and actually do want to purchase!". Fly Tampa released their excellent "Fly Corfu XP" then nothing.... And do you know what will create fit's of laughter in the fact that they will note in various media outlets and forums "well X-Plane is not a great simulator to invest in, because the returns are too small?" and yes, it will of course continue to be going on that way until you deliver scenery X-Plane users actually want to buy? Orbix did release at the end of the year for X-Plane11 their "TruEarth" Great Britain South and Central with obviously North that is coming soon... this is finally scenery X-Plane wants and is useful, but at 110gb per area it is a huge download and it comes at a high cost for the full UK experience, but at least it is starting to get somewhere. Quality scenery on the whole in X-Plane in 2018, was outstanding... even to the point of a creating a landmark shift in the way you used the simulator. It was the first year I could fly from one quality scenery to another and up to four to five sectors in a day and to different destinations and stay within the quality scenery boundaries, it now creates a seamless simulation of high quality, with not one global airport object in sight. This aspect is carefully created by planning and purchasing scenery to fit your network, with branches outward to the newer quality scenery as it is released. Certainly there are still major holes in the network... CPH - Copenhagen is one, CAI - Cairo is still very absent as is surprisingly there is still no quality MXP - Milano Malpensa either. But the network has filled up very nicely thank you in 2018. Asian airports are still very much non-existent, even with a few appearing in Singapore and Hong Kong getting the freeware treatment, but overall the long haul quality scenery network is still absolutely dire. Eastern Mediterranean One area that had a lot of attention and focus in 2018 was the eastern Mediterranean. First off was LCLK - Laranca International, Cypress by JustSim, then JustSim followed that up with LTAI - Antalya International Airport in Turkey, and then LGRP - Rhodes, all great budget but nicely detailed sceneries. Fly Corfu of course and Chios Island National Airport by Descent2View Simulations gave you a nice network around the Greek Islands. JustSim also delivered the excellent EBBR - Brussels and a jewel of a scenery in of all places Putin land, Moscow with UUWW - Moscow Vnukovo, that also seamlessly fitted in with Drzewiecki Design's Moscow City XP scenery, and then in creating a huge landscape of objects and a great destination. Frustration is in that users don't reward JustSim for their high value and quality work, picking up their work in sales is defeating the purpose, and heads of shame must hang low when you do so, because the scenery is still well priced and great value at recommended prices. Yes they deserve your support. The Big Ones Drzewiecki Design from Poland also had a very productive year. With New York City XP and their astounding Seattle XP extravaganzas and in finally creating real city landscapes that we had for years dreamed of. Matterhorn Park 3D and Everest Park 3D by Frank Dainese & Fabio Bellini was also quality scenery overload, Patagonia is next. Richard G Nunes & Nielsen (Global art) updated their SBRJ - Santos Dumont scenery in Rio, but also delivered CYYZ - Toronto Pearson International that I loved but my computer didn't with a framerate overload to single digits, so a review was never completed, but Global Art's CYUL Montreal was a little lighter but still heavy on the processors, but thankfully passing the post for a quality review. Florence - Firenza Italy by X-Urbi was a rarity in X-Plane as being a simple landscape city scenery, but get the scenery set in the right light and it was simply divine and shows off the power of the X-Plane simulator. For sheer size then the almost movie titled "TNCM - Princess of the Caribbean - Part 1- SXM by AWD" was an internet download backbreaking 14.71gb, and certainly a record in X-Plane downloads for scenery outside of the default Global textures. But the outer island scenic flying was astounding. Aerosoft Compared to earlier years Aerosoft was quite low key in 2018. As usual a lot of the Aerosoft sceneries released in 2018 are reworked Ex-FSX sceneries with miserly X-Plane11 features in dressing mutton up as lamb, and that they are still old with a capital O. LIRF - Roma XP was an absolute huge disappointment, Genoa XP the same, Friedrichshafen XP, Stuttgart XP, Dortmund XP was just passible and with just a few more I don't really care about. But there was some interesting sceneries packed in between the debris, and mostly these sceneries usually had X-Plane developer connections and all had great updates. KDFW - Dallas Fort-Worth was a huge update and is now the very good, LSZH - Zurich which had the SAM treatment, and again it is a highly polished scenery. And so there is always a severe frustration with Aerosoft sceneries, when good they are excellent, but when old they are poor and outdated, but don't get me wrong, as I use many of the good ones extensively thoughout my network. Newcomers There were a few new budding developers popping up throughout the year and generally they were all quite promising with a lot of talent. NorthernSkyStudio with their PAKT - Ketchikan International Alaska was clever and great scenery, with a few patches on the mainland side, Descent2View and the Chios Island National Airport was a brilliant effort as well. KDAB - Daytona Beach by Stairport Sceneries was a great effort as well, and one airport I use now use quite regularly. NKdesign's showed a lot of promise with Shoreham - Brighton City Airport, but there is still that gap to payware to be crossed. Turbulent Designs came and left with a deal with only Orbix, which was a shame as their work was very good, but still very heavily focused on FlightSim design, and didn't really embrace the dynamic X-Plane elements... but they had massive potential in X-Plane? The old hands The devoted X-Plane scenery developers also had a good year and like their aircraft developer counterparts also embraced the X-Plane11 dynamic features with gusto, and lifted scenery into another quality level, the "clutter" count is getting excellent and with very good quality. Leading the charge was ShortFinal Design (misterx6) with a biggie and LAX!, and brilliant it was even for the exceptional framerates it produced to object count and detail... FunnerFlight updated his LAX to v2.5, it is just as good, but it is still very heavy on the processors. The expected new scenery from ShortFinal in EDDM - Munich didn't get the expected release before the end of the year, but expect that mega facility very early in 2019, again it is brilliant with full SAM intergration as only misterx6 can do.. Pilot+Plus was quiet but updated his EGKK - Gatwick extensively and noted he was working on EGLC - London City Airport. Nimbus/Butanru released a very heavily updated KORD - Chicago O'Hare to v3, and it is quite spectacular. Cami de Bellis released VQPR - Paro International Airport late in 2017, and as a follow up this month released the NWWW La Tontouta Noumea scenery in New Caledonia. In quality and detail then La Tontouta was a huge step forward than the earlier payware work. tdg however didn't see the light in 2018 on the fact of installing WED ground routes in his sceneries... so I rarely now use his work, the point in X-Plane is that you can pick or overfly scenery that doesn't reflect the current status of what X-Plane can deliver as a simulation, no doubt tdg's airports are as good as ever, but unless they are active with WT3 traffic I don't really want to fly there so don't. Rim&Co and legal ramifications Rim&Company's first foray into X-Plane payware scenery was a spectacular one, for all the wrong reasons, and in their second release they shot themselves dead. YAYE - Ayres Rock (Uluru) - Connellan Airport in central Australia was a brilliant choice, and was in areas brilliant as well, with the ancient monolith and the distant Olgas looking sensational. But landing at YAYE was then suddenly problematic as there was simply nowhere to park the aircraft with the extreme number of objects that made Sydney airport at peak rush hour look quiet. I mean what scenery do you buy where you have to edit objects beforehand with the scenery down to park the aircraft? Their second release (the St Helena scenery was not full payware) was SWAH - Ushuaia Malvinas Airport was as expected again a full highly object orientated scenery, problem was those objects are not legal... in other words they stole them, which explains a lot of the over clutter... so it was "bye, bye Rim & Co". To a point this was for a X-PlaneReviews a big discussion in 2018 of just this subject. For all freeware developers they have a huge if obscene selection of quality libraries and objects to choose from to create their scenery projects with no legal ramifications. For payware developers they have to create everything in the scenery to be legal, and from scratch... and is that really fair? That aspect can be taken two ways in that the developer sells his work in the fact that everything is custom, which is fair enough as a selling point. But the other side of the issue is that a lot of the say "clutter" can be an after thought and ranging from excellent (ShortFinal) to totally dire, or mostly everyone else. So how can the paywares compete with the freeware juggernaut, the obvious answer is that they can't? plus you get very uneven quality between the different payware sceneries. Rim & Co thought the payware business was like the open freeware business.. it isn't, and you will get sued, and in this case in an German court. Plugins From a reviewers point of view then plugins are hard to review as there are zillions of them and every user then adapts their sets to match their systems and tastes, and to be honest I only run the hard and tested reliable plugins that don't screw up my workflow, so one's brilliant plugin may not match the desires of another. The main story of the year was that Laminar switched out the default shader system and effectively killed every single slide show of addon shader effect packages, not a bad thing as every one was really just a personal variation of the other. The Vulkan changes killed the coming payware xVision stone dead, so the developers put it out as a freeware... sad thing was, was that it was very good, but with the same internal messy installation, but most users loved it... until v11.30 came out. The new shader system can't not be manipulated like old one, so that means an entire shader industry is now dead as well. To which really it is not a bad thing. WorldTraffic3 My Plugin of the year in 2017 was WorldTraffic3 by Greg Hofer and in reality WT3 didn't get much developer attention thoughout the year (an update is finally coming), but that does not mean that WT3 didn't have an impact on 2018. Scenery developers (finally) included the ground routes and Parking prefs as part of their feature list, so it was a "open and drop" to a full WT3 experience. That feature saved monsters of time and gave you instant activity. But developer involvement in WT3 was also still very patchy as well... some developers still don't do the required ground routes? Others did, but mostly made a total hash out of it. The guardian angel was K-Man or Brian Navy, who has also in most cases single-handedly saved most from ruin, and a big thank you to ysfsim for his huge contribution as well. I am not saying to get these ground routes correct is easy, but more are presented messed up than correct. Scenery developers tried to get clever in supplying just internal generated (not modified) ground routes and prefs from a generate run as authentic WT3 routes, but they were usually totally crap, with the hidden mistakes highly noticeable... "do it right". That is not to devalue the huge impact that WT3 has had on the year, my point is no WT3 or if the plugin is badly set, then the scenery suffers, get it right and it is one of the best features of your scenery. Environmental Laminar Research plugged away at the default weather engine, but with mostly this time for bug fixes and fine-tuning, more than a major makeover, their focus is on other areas this year, but it did create see-though clouds and more improvements, the truth is now that the default weather system in X-Plane is now not half bad, but it still lacks that major something that say xEnviro does really well, the moody feel and immersion. Weather system plugins overall had a very interesting year. SkyMaxx Pro came out with update after update thoughout the year, with the release of a new addon called "TerraMaxx" that added in seasonal weather. Both are really great and are well priced, but not polished. xEnviro I am a devoted follower of xEnviro, and devoted is the word, because if the developers wanted to really push your limits of your devotion then they did a great job of it. Early in the new year out went v1.08... a buggy mess with v1.09 which was even worse. To define the situation though is that v1.09 was a reaction to a real life event that effected the main developer, as he and his family almost died. But the reality was if you wanted to run xEnviro (and it is still running xEnviro currently) is that you have to still use the original v1.07. More annoying was the fact that only a small update was required that would have fixed v1.09 and it's overcast greying out to save in waiting for the next big update that could have been fixed very early in the year.... "ta da", to a point we are still waiting... and waiting. With all the calls for a mob lynching at least mid-year xEnviro got their PR department up and running and at least gave you a running commentary of the ongoing development. Another ground up rewrite is supposed to be the fix to everything, and a new feature promoted will be snow! and it looks brilliant, but so did v1.08 this time last year, and look how that all turned out... v1.10 is in reality xEnviro's last chance saloon, if it dunks as bad as v1.08... the devotees will finally walk away or worse could even demand a class action to recover the expense of the extremely high entry cost. Hi-Fi and Active Sky xEnviro now also has another problem in competition from a FlightSim stalwart, in Hi-Fi. Active Sky is a very popular environmental engine for Flightsimmers, and early in 2018 they announced they were coming to X-Plane in September, that release point passed, but the Active Sky XP release did happen just a few weeks ago.I personally have not looked at the plugin yet as I ran out of time with deadlines. But a statement at the release point was that Active Sky XP uses the X-Plane default cloud system as part of the effects features, 3D custom clouds will come next year, and that is reflected in the lower pricing. My guessing is that Hi-Fi are waiting for X-Plane v11.30 to go final and even waiting the next Vulkan update to run the custom effects effectively. FlightFactor AVS Early in the year FlightFactor released the "Airport Visual System" to navigate around airports. It was very clever but of limited application, because the local map can do the same thing, but it is handy. WebFMC Pro Highlight plugin of the year was GreenArc's WebFMC Pro (there is a free demo version for the default B738). That allowed FMC programming via a web browser on another computer, tablet or even (if you had very small fingers) a mobile phone. Certainly my most used plugin of the year, as it is very handy for the speed loading of data and the use on aircraft that did not have 2d popup FMC units. And works very well with the SimBrief route builder. BetterPushBack The excellent BetterPushBack plugin received almost universal status in 2018, with aircraft developers even adding it into their systems as part of their feature sets, and that was even with their own custom trucks... such is the popularity, but it is brilliant. Plugin Updates Both SimCoders REP expansion packs and BSS (BlueSkyStar) sound packages produced numerous new packages with the BSS packs including the FF A320 Ultimate and the FF Boeing 777GE. the ToliSS319 has a similar built in package that can be purchased and activated internally. The XPRealistic plugin had a small (turbulence) update mid-year, and so did JARDesign;s Ground Handling Deluxe with a widget. But the GHD, now feels a bit dated and slow. A final note on plugins that affected the 2018 year. Scenery developers have started to install SASL plugins into the mail plugin menu, and mostly to control "Key Authorisation" or protection of their scenery. But this has had two side effects in one: Loads of plugins filling up your main plugin folder to do basically one activity? but it also triggered a bigger more substantial issue in two: I use very few and only then tested plugins with X-Plane, but very quickly hit the “error 1114” of plugins overloading the dlls... the culprits are the loads of "traffic" plugins in the installed custom sceneries. I hit the 40 dlls limit and it is not pretty... more on this issue next year. I complained of nonsense plugins clogging up your plugin folder last year, so in reality nothing has changed, but the situation is getting worse.... now we at the overloaded critical point. What 2018 will be remembered for would be for mostly two items... the word "Clutter" to represent the placement of (usually hundreds of scenery objects to fill the airport or buildings environments), and the profusion of the built in aircraft "Updaters", It is starting too feel like Apple is taking control of your computer by remote. ___________________________________________ 2018 marked mid-year the anniversary of X-PlaneReviews 5th year in producing content for the X-Plane simulator, and it was a big year, full of huge growth and again higher levels of quality and dynamic simulation. Yes there were points were we were even overwhelmed by the sheer number of releases and the changes going on around you, and a few reviews just didn't hit the site that they deserved to, but that is a very good place to be in having too much than rather too little... growth is certainly the buzzword that relates to X-Plane this year, and maturity is another, not only do I think and know so, then so do all those new users that have joined the X-Plane universe over the past year, significantly they are more users that are also contributing to the simulation only means they are giving up their valuable time to contribute and that does mean that X-Plane as a community is a gift that keeps on giving all year round. Without them, then the software is nothing, X-Plane is not only a great piece of software, but more importantly X-Plane is in the end of the only about the people that contribute and use the software. Overall the users are X-Plane, and represent the simulator. Again this Review site cannot function without all the great and exciting work by the tireless developers that give us all this exciting and incredible product to fly and use, as they and X-Plane has come a long way and created leaps in quality in the last few years, and to a point I was very proud of the work they produced, it is world class if not the very best in simulation product, and they are all top notch and very clever. To the X-Plane.OrgStore who supports this site with service and updates, a really big thanks, this site just would not function without that outstanding support. We will finish off with X-PlaneReviews best of the year awards… So I will now list my Best of the Year 2018: Best Aircraft : FlyJSIm Boeing 737-200 TwinJet Simply superb inside and out and "that" cabin, outstanding Honorable Mentions : A320 Ultimate by FlightFactor/Steptosky : ToLiSS319 Both brilliant Airbus system aircraft, you need both and to fly both. Best Classic Aircraft : P-51D Mustang XP11 by Skunkcrafts A first class first effort, and skunkcraft's are a developer house to watch Honorable Mention : Republic P-47N Thunderbolt by Flyingiron Simulations Another new developer entrant, and it was hard to choose between the two classic warhorses Best General Aviation Aircraft : PA28R Piper Turbo Arrow III / lV by Just Flight/Thranda Takes GA flying to a completely higher level again for the second year running, but with a faster aircraft and two versions. Honorable Mention : Cessna 152 ll by JustFlight/Thranda The perfect trainer for any learner pilot taking his flying licence. 2nd Honorable Mention : Comco - Ikarus C42 C by vFlyteAir Just really clever in design realism 3rd Honorable Mention: Diamond DA-62 by Aerobask Highly underrated was: Piper Aerostar 601P by Avia71 Note the TBM 900 is not in the list because I couldn't access the aircraft. Best Military : BAe Systems Hawk T1/A Trainer by JustFlight/Thranda Design Not a lot of competition, but it would have won anyway... Brilliant! Honorable Mention : SIAI-Marchetti SF.-260 by JRollon and SimCoders Is the Marchetti a military aircraft? Well it is military trainer... totally gobsmacking in detail Best Helicopter : There was only one new Helicopter releases in 2018 vFlyLab's Guimbal Cabri G2... overall an absolute shocking year for X-Plane helicopters Will it get better in 2019 as the only way now is up. Best Scenery : Seattle Airports XP and Seattle City Scenery by Drzewiecki Design With both segments installed it was the most comprehensive city scenery area filled with quality yet Honorable Mention : KLAX HD Los Angeles International v1.1 by ShortFinal Designs If misterx6's sceneries was voted the most popular he would win easily... but with brilliant work. Special Mention: JustSim Sceneries for consistent quality and value Person(s) of the Year : K-Man, Brian Navy Made my X-Plane world active, by fixing poor ground routes and righting so many wrongs "I prayed to god for K-man all year and he always delivered". Honorable Mention(s) : Daniel Klaue, Jack Skieczius, JRollon and Torsten Liesk All developers par excellence Best Plugin : WebFMC Pro by Green Arc Studios Clever and highly usable to programme aircraft FMCs Honorable Mention : BetterPushBack by skiselkov Just brilliant, clever and very X-Plane Special Mention : SAM by Stairport Sceneries Will have a huge impact on 2019 Best Moment of the year 2018 : Starting up the PC, after installing a larger 1TB SSD... with consistent 1gb downloads and more, they fill up quickly. Worst Moment of the Year 2018 : The mid-year user data dump... the details sent shivers down my spine. Biggest distraction of 2018 : Updates, updates, updates.... updates, oh and more updates! Personal Favorites of 2018 : ToLiSS319 (Brilliant), FlightFactor Airbus Ultimate (Yes it is the ultimate simulation), Rotate MD-88 (still very good), BA Hawk (As real as it gets), Cessna Citation ll (Uber Flying), Bonanza F33A (Even better in XP11), Native X-Plane11 B737-800 its basic but still great to fly and now with a cabin. Scenery : Dusseldorf, Barcelona, Oslo, Laranca, Manchester, Gatwick, Dubin, Zurich and Linate (Milan). That is X-PlaneReviews for 2018, and we will be back after a very much needed recovery and the review site returns early into the New Year on the 7th January 2019. So Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2019 Stephen Dutton 21st December 2018 Copyright:X-PlaneReviews 2018 (Disclaimer. All images and text in this review are the work and property of X-PlaneReviews, no sharing or copy of the content is allowed without consent from the author as per copyright conditions)
  24. Behind the Screen : November 2018 It is almost a decade now since I discovered and joined X-Plane. And over the course of that time I have come to know many developers through their work, and obviously the impact of their work on the simulator. Ten years ago the X-Plane scene was very different (X-Plane9®) than the familiar feel and look we use today. For developers it was even a more arcane age. Back then 95% of X-Plane aircraft were "PlaneMaker" based with 2d flat panels. but don't get me wrong as developers were very inventive and clever, and the aircraft were actually very good. X-Plane developers back in that age were mostly friends or groups of buddies developing their love of aircraft for their hobby, and the word "hobby" was or is significant. X-Plane is a hobbyist playground and that aspect is still very highly encouraged today. The areas to be explored and created are boundless, and all have the one single aim in creating an interaction to create one of the best simulators in existence outside of the professional aviation arena, and even then those boundaries can be crossed as well. But for a commercial product or simulator to survive it has to grow beyond the hobbyist realm, this area is probably caused the biggest conflict of all aspects of X-Plane. For FlightSim users it was not an option, it is a commercial industry based on business more than the hobbyist angle that X-Plane created, and to a point these forces have almost created a war between them inside of the simulator, this area has become more apparent no more than in this 2018 year in the "free" aspect to the "pay" position of enhancing the simulator. My point is taken here. The one major fundamental highlight of this 2018 X-Plane year have been aircraft. With the shear leap in detail and design and features that have been created and delivered. As X-Plane11 and its more advanced effects and features have moved on to a more mature stage then the developers have used these elements to create some of the almost outstanding work and deliver some of the most excellent aircraft in any simulator. But here is the significance of the point I want to make. All the developers that delivered this outstanding work, are all original early or foundation developers of X-Plane and all of them came out from that original hobbyist era. You could say it is because of their early induction of being X-Plane developers that they have an advantage, but in reality the opposite is the case. Most current forces should in fact reduce the potential of these developers from delivering the product they do. For mostly they are all disadvantaged by the fact they are mostly all still single entities. Most developers in the business market are now teams, mostly between three to five specialists that come together under one studio to create a product. Their gain is that the work can be parceled out to each specialist area, either in the modeling, coding, art or special effects, and recombining to create the product and test it. The huge advantage here is time, as most projects can be completed as a team within a 12 month cycle and in scenery project even on a 4 month cycle, were as for a single developer it is usually 16 months or longer to create an aircraft. I will note that of course single entity developers do have external input of work on their projects, but they are not teams as such as they and they alone create all the main aspects of the project's creation from the modeling to the coding and art. But right from the get go, 2018 in X--Plane it has been a seminal year. First off the rank was Jack Skieczius's (FlyJSim) Boeing 732 TwinJet, and admittedly an update, but the aircraft was very far removed form just being an update, it was and still is in reality a completely different aircraft than the original. At this point the TwinJet is still the front runner for aircraft (airliner) of the year by our calculations, but the 2018 year is still not over. The really odd thing is that the aircraft is known more for it's cabin than anything else, but the flying and system features are up there as well. Developers as a rule see cabins as "left-over" items on a project's grand list of agendas. But here it shows that if you deliver a supremely developed cabin as it was delivered here (with independent cabin lighting, airstair control, overhead lockers and window blinds) it creates a totally complete immersive airliner, and in what should be an addon, then becomes it's major feature... yes the rest of the aircraft is sublime as well and the quality is off the planet, but it was the TwinJet's completeness as an all round machine is what totally resonates with you, and that it delivered a complete new level of simulation involvement, not only on the flying practical level, but also on the sub-conscious emotional level as well. Second developer noted is Daniel Klaue. His work has been mostly the developer in creating the Carenado brand in X-Plane, all excellent machines. But Klaue is restricted to the Carenado design boundaries in that the X-Plane version has to be almost a replica of the FlightSim version, but Dan does in a few areas throw in a few notable ideas and features that are X-Plane specific. But lately through his own Thranda Design, Dan Klaue has released his own projects but also now does conversion aircraft for Just Flight. Just Flight give Klaue more flexibility in the designs, with their excellent GA aircraft in the Arrows, Tobagos/Trinidads have all been high-quality, but it was the seminal Hawk Trainer T.1a that showed us all the skill and sheer design that takes X-Plane to another complete level of realism and high-quality of aircraft available now in X-Plane. The aircraft is breathtaking in design and has a curved glass (canopy) in absolute brilliance, yes it is a copy of the FlightSim, version... but in reality they couldn't be more different. Torsten Leisk is another legacy developer. More for his Airbus systems than modeling. His release this year of the Airbus A319 brought a new high in extremes of the way an airliner handles in the simulator, and also brought to X-Plane new and clever features we only dreamed of a few years ago. The aircraft gives you real world airliner handling that you could only dream of a few years ago. It is an astounding feeling that was very present from the very first landing I had in the aircraft. Again that moment was one of my flying highlights of the year. Walker Guthrie is vFlyteAir. All projects coming out of vFlyteAir are personal, or the actual developers know or own the aircraft they simulate. True to a point vFlyteAir are a small team. But it is the modeling skill and work of Walker Guthrie here that elevates the aircraft to higher heights of quality and design. This year it was the VLC Comco - Ikarus C42 C. Here is another breathtaking advancement of design, with material and complex modeling (Internal aircraft frame) that delivered another advancement of X-Plane design and quality. Again it was an aircraft that the more you looked closer then the exploring brought out the sheer advances the aircraft was making to realism in modeling and feel... the C42 C flew very nicely as well. Just when I really thought that X-Plane in design and the already delivered sheer detail was at it's peak.... then along comes Javier Rollon and the SIAI-Marchetti SF.-260 trainer. This release was even more breathless than anything I have seen before in the X-Plane simulator. On the surface it looks very good, but dig deep and it is an almost mind-blowing experience on detail and and quality... and yes the level was raised another higher extreme level again, so you can't say anything or see anything that puts a line of how high X-Plane can go in depth and quality. I am not going to absolutely discount the brilliance and work of Rotate, Aerobask, Dreamfoil Creations (no releases this year, but my guess he would have easily joined the above elites) and X-Trident. The point of this month's Behind the Screen is that all of the above developers are original and still are single project developers. They come from the period I joined X-Plane in nearly ten years ago. Not only has their work been totally outstanding this year, but they between them brought an absolute new and even extreme level of quality, new features and a higher breathtaking depth of realism to the X-Plane simulator. In reality they should all have been easily consigned to history to the reality of advancement and high-quality (well funded) development studios, they "should" be relics of a past era... but as 2018 has shown, they are all very far from that position and even showing that their craft is of a certainly very, very high standard. From my point of view (besides being totally in amazement of their achievements) was that I was also very proud of them all, for their devotion to their craft, their skills and the supreme quality of their work. They are as they say "still hitting the balls out of the park" in delivering outstanding product and even could be the very best overall developers in simulation... above all they are our developers and we should support them. Which brings us back the same "free" aspect to the "pay" position of the simulator... free was very good for X-Plane, it was back then all mateship and buddies and all focusing and delivering on delivering great designs for the simulator. But as all of the above elite developers started out in the same arena, they had to move forward as well. Not only just to personally to make a living to carry on doing what they do. But because like everything, X-Plane has to move forward as well, if the free economy worked a decade ago, it doesn't today as X-Plane has grown up, it is now a serious tool. As if these developers don't make any returns on their work, they will simply have no other option but to go elsewhere to use their talents and craft. So take 2018 and delete all the projects from the above developers and what would you have left, certainly a stagnation of quality and design... but also that missing vital element of forward progression and advancement for the X-Plane simulator. So it is vital to support their work and craft, and also be very proud of their achievements... because simply and more so is that they are our own developers as well. Notes I noted back in October that I was doing a full update on the X-Plane 11.30 version release. Yes I started the assignment, but then the v11.30 at around b4 went backwards, as betas do. It seems more stable now and with more features delivered as well... the indepth coverage will still be released for when X-Plane11.30 goes final... unless it goes backwards again. December in the X-Plane year is a short month, and the yearly round up of the simulator and "best of..." awards will be soon released before the Christmas/New Year break... so happy flying to all till then Stephen Dutton 1st December 2018 Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews
  25. Behind the Screen : October 2018 It is not you, but it... what ever it is! In my early days of learning the X-Plane simulator, I took everything for granted that X-Plane was correct and any mistakes were solely your own fault. From this distance and experience that is known as "Going up totally the wrong road". But the point is you were not to know, you were learning and gathering experience. To say I was not just focused, as I almost laser like in wanting to be really, really good at this simulator, flying thingy. So when somthing went wrong I automatically assumed it was my fault, I was to blame, and I was totally hopeless absolutely at this simulator thingy. Yes I even beat myself up that mistakes are the result of my own inexperience and total ineptitude. To a point a lot of my poor flying was down to mistakes and inexperience, but I still remember significant points that I beat myself up badly and now realise that the issues and problems back then were simply not of my own doing. The X-Plane simulator is a fluid thing and it changes or morphs itself from month to month, and you have to adjust to it's certain idiosyncratic and eccentric behavior. I had one moment the last month that brought the past back into the present. I was doing my usually first flight check of a new aircraft file, and as I left the runway the aircraft felt horrible, really horrible as with the wings were flapping like angry birds and I was instantly fighting the aircraft at the controls, It was simply unflyable, but somehow I got it around a circuit and actually landed it again (big pat on the back and a victory lap around the room), if badly... as in the real world it would have been a walk away from the wreckage Neil Armstrong style. First reaction was to blame the developer on this piece of non-flyable crap... I tried it again and it was doing the same sort of aeronautical theatric's, so the aircraft was closed and my note's were not pretty. You would usually then send the report back to the developer, and it wouldn't have be of a lot of praise in this case, and worse it was a first time developer. He was lucky in that I had another review to do and so I loaded in the required scenery and took to flight again, and the same thing was happening to another aircraft, as it was totally unflyable as well... As to the head of this segment then where does the blame lie, my flying, my setup or something else? In the old days the blame would have been certainly on the first two areas and both related to me. But experience can change that perception and instead it was Sherlock Holmes mode, more than the usual self whipping of my own ineptitude. I loaded up my Carenado Bonanza F33A and took it down the runway, once airborne it was a total handful, this was not the the usual Bonanza dynamics, it was all over the place and was simply unflyable, it was a mess and was reacting badly to the airflow. An X-Plane restart or two and nothing changed, the F33A was still wanting to do itself in... Now the rule I know is that little Bonanza is correct, as an aircraft and in the way it flies, so the issue is not the aircraft, it is now X-Plane itself... The problem with X-Plane is that even if the base primary set of files are correct, there is still a lot of changes going on through the simulator on a day to day basis, plus the fact that you are putting a lot of stuff in there and trying also to form it into something that is someways not like the core of the simulator itself. This is mostly through scenery files and plugins, and even tinkering behind the scenes with the actual core files themselves. To be fair I never touch the main core files of X-Plane's inner workings, if anything I like the clockwork in that it all runs efficiently, so the core is left alone unless there is a major reason to do so. Plugins however are a major factor. The trick with plugins is not to have too many of them, and the ones that are in there are tried and tested. That way you can eliminate them when something goes weird. But here it did go weird... first point was to pull out all the plugins, but after a restart still I had the bad airflow? Next was a dump of all the preferences, and always a biggie when something goes wrong... still the airflow was crook? So it was my usual "Nuclear Option" in a complete re-download of the X-Plane from Laminar's servers to give me what I call a "Clean" version, and guess what the airflow was still bad..... agggh! I made one small mistake in that in the "clean" version I had reinstalled a few plugins that had in the past been tried and tested, and one of them was xEnviro. I pulled out all the plugins again, and it still had bad airflow... but once out I mistakenly looked at the standard X-Plane weather and the settings were really odd and off the scale (to a point in my defence xEnviro masks the default weather settings)... I reset the weather settings and it all went finally back to normal flight... put xEnviro back in and it all went seriously wonky again? The issue was that the METAR weather data from xEnviro had been totally wrong with extreme high winds at almost ground level, but here was the really odd thing, in that the METAR data should change every thirty minutes, so it should have corrected itself on the next upload report, but somehow it didn't. and strangely it infected the native X-Plane weather settings as well, so this one file was in there and it was duplicated itself over and over or got stuck in some preferences somewhere so even though I had completely cleaned out the system and even when there was now installed a completely new "Clean" version, then that METAR report had mistakenly reinfected the whole thing again when I rerun it... It is very easy to say the data had may have been stuck in xEnviro preferences, or as I think it was just a server error that re-downloaded the same wonky data again when I started up xEnviro, personally I feel it was still the original bad weather data that came back again (again), and xEnviro was not overwriting it. So even if xEnviro was removed from the plugin folder then X-Plane still acted on the same bad weather data... even the programmer would say, that couldn't happen, but it did, and that is what caused the confusion. Then as quickly as it came, the data in xEnviro was overwritten and everything quickly went back to total normality. xEnviro themselves have lately just moved over to a new server? maybe or maybe not? The point of all this text is that even though you think it is you that is making the mistakes, then the more complex X-Plane gets you have to assume that this is not always the case, and the cause might be hard to find and fix. Code is a very weird thing and there is the factor that some written code in one area like the core of X-Plane could be infected by code of another remote set of instructions, yes they are supposed to work closely if intimately together, and that is why many plugins are buggy bastards, as unlike aircraft or custom scenery which have to, to a point follow X-Plane conditions and rules, then the code in plugins can be a bit more aggressive and creative. I don't think there was or is anything wrong with xEnviro's plugin, as it has worked fine before and very well ever since that bad data dump and it was the most tried and tested of the xEnviro versions in v1.07. It was like mad ghost had taken control of X-Plane for awhile... thankfully it is now all gone.... poooof! Oddtober The above was the start of October 2018, but as months go, the October just gone was just plain weird. I am used to periods of oddness, as that is just the cause of normal life... but in X-Plane life it was simply a month to forget. Did the eminent release of the new X-Plane beta of 11.30 cause the weirdness, maybe a little. Pre-Black Friday/Thanksgiving heads down time, also maybe yes... First announcements from Laminar noted that the 11.30 beta was planned for around early September, fair enough as this is development hell, and beta building is not a precise art. But then September came and went and far into October we then went, and the more that each day passed then the less and less the world of X-Plane slowed down... you were for days sometimes just looking at a blank canvas. Weirder was the fact everywhere you went on planet X-Plane during October it was either raining or stormy? xEnviro only runs with the current live weather, great for total realism, but bad for trying to do a review in dark murky wet conditions, worse as you where halfway through a review and the damn sunshine comes out... So your sitting there thinking, why use xEnviro? Good point, but only currently does xEnviro give you that realism in weather conditions, sometimes it is all a little too realistic A lot of developers have access to the new beta, but as I have found is that in having access doesn't means you can actually use it, as it is still buggy and elements are missing. So what do you do? Some developers just gave up and went on holiday/vacation instead of pressing the keys. Some got blindsided by a Hurricane, yes it was that sort of month. A lot of developers have been caught out before at the initial release of X-Plane11. It came out of the box pretty good, but the beta process then ran on for months (and months) and the release went mostly backwards and so you were caught? Update and you were out of date at the next well... update. Hold off until X-Plane 11 went final and you were waiting months before getting a final layout of the simulator, then you had a lot of work to update. In reality you can't win either way. So obviously Beta 11.30 will start the whole process all over again. To be fair in the fact that Laminar Research is now a very different place than it was say five years ago. For one they now actually have staff, unlike back then it was a totally caffine intoxicated Ben Supnik pounding along, and Austin Meyers making performance changes on the fly.... most of the other contributors were still mostly outside this inner two man circle... until Supnik brought in Chris Serio to take on a bit of the coding overload off his shoulders. Now Laminar is starting to feel like a business and not a hobby, it even has a PR person. The release of beta 11.30 was nothing like the buggy messes of the past X-Plane10 era, yes we had to wait, almost to the end of October and almost two months longer as the first date it was to be first expected, but it came very smoothly out of the box, it is a sensational update and as good as promised, it has it's quirks as I will address in the analysis, but they are not the beta itself, but the changes that are required by third party addons... yes there will be bugs, and yes there will be updates, but I am very sure that 11.30 will go final well before the end of the year. Is this the same Laminar Research we are talking about... even that could you even mention they are now very professional in their approach to the simulator? You can, but I hope that none of the original pioneering spirit is still also not lost, and with this beta release I think that is very much still in evidence. First thoughts are that X-Plane11 has gone to another higher level, even at this early stage. And again seriously ignore the total idiots that note they are getting poor framerates and bad crashes from the beta and shouting and complaining about their own self ineptitude, as "Stupid is as stupid does"... And could you seriously believe that so many actually complained when xVision was rendered disqualified because of the new 11.30 Vulkan shader system... they were told, from the start, and on why it was free in the first place, dummies. It is very good, but be aware it will take time to sort all the small details out, and yes you will have a cliff face of updates to climb through, but the efforts in doing so will be well worth it. Plugins A lot of plugins have had updates lately and plugins more that other areas of X-Plane were the busiest over the last month. There is now a growing gap between what I call "Pro" plugins and the rest. Where as before all plugins were really all the same and experimental. Certainly if you are paying for a plugin it should be a Pro version, but quality is the key if the plugin is pro or not. But some pro plugins are really expensive in the $50-$60 range like RealityXP's GTN750 FMC, and are they justified at that sort of price, xEnviro's environmental engine is insanely expensive, but I can't live in X-Plane without it? so it is all relative. But good and even great plugins are certainly worth the expense if they deliver. WebFMC is simply brilliant and more so now updated and when used with Rotate's MD-88. X-ATC-Chatter and X-Camera are both excellent, not to say with BetterPushBack and TerrainRadar. GroundHandling Deluxe has had an update, but a poor one in my view, but it is still well worth the cash. WorldTraffic3 is still the plugin of all plugins, and like xEnviro I just could not use X-Plane without out the WT3 activity it delivers. XPRealistic Pro is also brilliant, but it is seriously hampered by the use of it's FlyWithLua installation, FlyWithLua conflicts with everything and everything because it uses the same coding as most SASL plugins that run, well everything and everything, and FWL is always my first visitor when X-Plane won't load or run correctly, for now FlyWithLua is out of my plugins folder because it is just conflicting with too many other plugins... a really big shame because I really love the XPRealistic effects... but my sanity comes first, and add that in with this past mad... odd, weird October there is not much of that left either... roll on November! Stephen Dutton 1st November 2018 Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews
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