Mar 26

Change is Inevitable

IMAG0551

Some of you astute folk may have noticed that this site has been real quiet lately, this post will clarify the situation.

Both Chip and I have become increasingly frustrated and de-motivated by the negative comments we receive whenever we dare to question the wonder that is X-Plane. In addition to this extremely effective feedback mechanism that guarantees a lack of throughput, both of us have ‘moved on’ slightly and grown tired of simming in general. Each of us has our own reasons, so below you can read our own takes on the situation.

The important point to note is that we are NOT abandoning flightsimming in general, just rebalancing our lives slightly to make time for our other pursuits and life challenges. Even more important to note however, is that we are moving Chaos Manor back over to the free hosted WordPress Blog-World, at our new home, at http://xsimreviews.wordpress.com/

We will always link back to all the great reviews and content created by our blog and site. Just look at the historical snapshot taken over here – http://web.archive.org/web/20140316122902/http://xsimreviews.com/

Simon’s main reason for shifting priorities is a general frustration with most sims in general – Ok, let’s name them, come on out FSX, Prepare3d V1 and V2 and V2.1 and hold your little buddies’ hands X-Plane.

Even with his pretty capable Core i7 3770k CPU overclocked to 4.2ghz and a very new, well regarded GPU (GTX780OC), he just can’t experience the fluid joy of what he used to get with Xplane 9. With V2.1 of Prepar3d, as soon as you load up a fairly sophisticated aircraft, in more complex scenery the FPS falls to mid-teens, which is unflyable. And yes, Si has tweaked the blazes out of his sim, applying all the well known config adjustments.

Xplane 10 is slightly better on fps, but the same thing happens at denser scenery regions. Not to mention his main gripe re. all the regions essentially looking the same.

Anyone seen version 10.30 yet????

There are other very good simulations out there, like DCS and the new IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad, but their theatres are far too limited and they don’t cater for civilian flying.

Many sims. Many dreams shattered by overly optimistic marketing departments. Anyone remember how to spell NORCAL. For Xplane, that is.

Simon has also been corrupted by Chip’s love of astronomy and astrophotography. Much of his spare time has been taken up with the steep learning curve of this exacting hobby, his enthusiasm that used to be applied to simming now aimed at the heavens. Maybe you should try it sometime, although your wallet won’t thank you. And you thought simming was expensive!

As long time readers might recall, Chip and I decided to start our blogs after “meeting” over at the Flight Simulator Network. It was exciting, but more importantly it gave Chip a place to focus his energy while undergoing treatment for a pretty aggressive illness. When remission made sailing seem possible once again, off he went and X-Plane slipped off his radar. As life remains generally unpredictable, the inevitable happened – only much sooner than anticipated. Chip is ill again. As it turns out, quite ill. He will have more time on his hands away from his boat – and for the time being, anyway, he’ll be setting up a new Chaos Manor in the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado. Yes, he’ll be flying in X-Plane (only, as is his peculiar way) but he’ll be spending most of his time on his true love…running down the spectroscopy of the Milky Way’s principle globular clusters. Still, he remains interested in making a few airports for XP10, but to be blunt his energy level is likely to be pretty low for the year or so.

Despite our frustrations, we will both be keeping an eye on the simming world, and will still fly intermittently. More excitingly, we have decided to keep our fingers in the pie by revisiting scenery development for Xplane 10. Chip lives near some great little airports that he will be able to image thoroughly, so we will be collaborating to bring you such masterpieces as Steamboat Springs and Vail. All nestled in the spectacular Colorado Rockys! We can’t wait to start work on these projects.

So please keep in touch and watch our adventures over at http://xsimreviews.wordpress.com/ , and if you’re remotely interested in astronomy, over at http://astroporn.wordpress.com/

Jan 15

xp+10+reviews + 14.01.14

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A few neat paints, and some scenery to take a peek at too…but first, some news to consider.

One über-interesting factoid emerged in comments to last weekend’s post, and this was reference from old chum Dom to a new interview over at flightsim.com with Laminar’s Ben Supnik. As the interview is titled The Future of X-Plane, it may well be of some interest to more than a few of you, but I found it painful reading. I don’t want to recap the entire piece here (please, do read it for yourself), and there ARE some interesting insights into the future the sim MIGHT take, but all in all I found it pretty grim – for reasons that might not be very clear to newer readers but will seem “old hat” to long time readers of this blog. So yes, interesting, and first up a few admissions from Ben, chief among them that they (Laminar) realize the pressing need for European and Asian specific architecture to fill in the auto-gen, but golly-gee-willikers if Mr Supnik doesn’t come right out and ask if, well, wouldn’t some kind third party developers step forward to do this for us? Excuse my French, but WTF? A major omission from the get-go, one they promised to address “soon”, and now a plea for help – from the freeware community, no doubt? And here’s another rich one: they know the clouds are poor too, so go over to X-Aviation and buy SkyMAXX Pro. I’ll switch to Greek now: W-T-Bloody-F is going on here!!! Weren’t clouds supposed to be a major enhancement in v10 over v9.7? And now, TWO years later, they’re going to punt from deep in their own end-zone? Well, holy guacamole. I am surprised.

Because, you see, Ben rode all over us pretty hard for mentioning these things…oh, those TWO years ago (calling us, among other things, trolls), even though we  proposed a decent solution at the time: simply HIRE MORE PEOPLE. No, he said. It takes too long to train people to our unique workflow, he said. They’d get to it, just give ‘em time. So…here we are TWO years later and still no clouds, still no plausible global architecture, and now a plea for third-party developers to come to the rescue?

Words fail me.

So. Why no pleas for help two years ago? Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but did they really want to lose development momentum to MicroSOFT and Lockheed-Martin – just for the fun of it? Was that their real game plan all along? That’s the only plausible explanation that comes to mind, because surely these guys aren’t so spectacularly inept? No. I get the impression that what they really want to do is go their own merry way, do what they want, when they want, and we’d be better off to just leave ‘em alone. They’ll handle a few pressing bugs if time allows, but these guys aren’t in the game to compete with any one else.

Laminar’s attitude of “going it alone” is, I think I mentioned way back when (and a few dozen times since), endemic of an enterprise run more like a hobby than a business (and this isn’t an idea that just came to us one dark and stormy night, as many frustrated “old hands” voiced it to us from the start and have over the years since, too…), yet one thing remains crystal clear: Laminar’s is an attitude that exudes little clear vision of a future competing with P3D, or anyone else who decides to enter the game and play for keeps. It’s like these guys get in a dark room and get lost in the code, and the realities of the market soon just don’t mean a whole lot in there. One positive note…Laminar intends to make a fully functional Garmin 430 GPS unit available in the near future! Praise be, but is it enough?

So, to finish up, I think I read somewhere once upon a time that the best time to hire and expand is during a recession, when labor and plant is cheap? I mean, It’s been 40+ years since I took Econ 101, but it kinda makes sense even now. So…what did Laminar do when confronted with a huge backlog of projects and needed help? What, they took the easy way out? They didn’t take on help, status quo ante, and they’ve gone down one rabbit hole after another optimizing code while leaving many core consumer demands unaddressed.

Results?

Predictable. Languishing sim. Fading interest. No new FsX developers entering the market, all such attention now sharply focused on P3D.

Well, c’est la vie, because it sure seems like AeroSOFT and PMDG must like dealing with businesses run more like businesses. Who can blame them: after reading this interview my a$$ was so chapped I needed a bucket of hemorrhoid medication to put out the fire. I wonder went through their minds?

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Come to think of it…maybe we’ve run across all that’s really wrong with this blog.

Most hobbyist magazines generate prose as mindlessly supportive of new products as their advertisers could possibly wish for. Such magazines are, after all is said and done, funded primarily by their advertisers and “supportive” of their advertisers best interests is a given. This isn’t news to any one, is it? Anyway, so if a car magazine – just to use one example – writes a review slamming a new car, well, they probably won’t see much in the way of advertising revenue over the following months…at least not from the offended company, anyway, so predictably you get PR Department fluff, and not much in the way of the unvarnished truth. You want “unbiased? Go read Consumer Reports or some other similar rag that promises subscriber supported and unflinchingly unbiased analyses – prose, in other words, unsullied by advertiser influence. And hell, I’m as guilty as the next person in this regard, too. I go pick up a photography or sailing or motorcycle magazine and pour over the product reviews with an electron microscope, gleaning the smallest detail and dumping the impressions and stats straight into long term memory, then I go straight out and buy-buy-buy. That’s what you do in a consumer driven service oriented economy, and if people stop and think too much about what they’re doing then the whole thing shudders and grinds to a halt.

So, maybe we should have allied ourselves with some ACF sales organization and started pumping out “objective” reviews and otherwise never rocking the boat…but that wasn’t Simon’s style – nor mine. Still, when you write about a hobby you write for an audience rife with “True Believers”. True Believers tend to not question their assumptions very thoroughly (or frequently, for that matter). Regardless, we chose our path and stuck to it. Anyway, Simon and I have always liked shaking the tree and seeing what fell out, even if more than once we had to jump back from a snake.

So much for the future, eh? Like I said, there’s some interesting “positive news” in Ben’s interview, but it’s those two boners that stick out like a pedophile lurking around a playground. I mean really. Two years of completely lost opportunity. MsFlight imploded, giving Laminar room to run, time to dash ahead of Lockheed Martin. Did the patent-troll affair trash Laminar’s resolve? Is this outfit really just a hobbyist’s pet project, as many old timers assert?

Oh well. Onward to XP11. Maybe we’ll have third party global architecture by then. ‘Til then, who cares if Berlin, Germany looks like Berlin, Wisconsin, and maybe Rex for XP12 will finally work on a Mac or even, heaven forbid, a Linux machine. Just fly at night, or under heavy IFR. Or buy another sky/cloud add-on. Simon buys ‘em like popcorn for P3D, so maybe it was too much to ask of Laminar. But two years? Lost? Sure, sure, the sim runs smoother these days, and I know a lot of hard work goes into making this happen, but these were big items, weren’t they?

So who cares if P3Dv2 got just about everything right, and that bug fixes materialize faster than Captain Kirk chasing a skirt. That’s Lockheed-Martin, and THEY have deep pockets. Oh, there’s no irony in that…

Sheesh. Well anyway, no more Greek. For now. Maybe tomorrow it’ll all make perfect sense.

+++++

So, a handful of tres interesting paints for the FF 757-200 Profressional, these for the non-wingletted version. Seen way up top and just below, an Eastern AL paint, followed by the old Delta “delta” paint. The Delta “delta”? What’s that? Well, of course you know that the triangle is mathematical shorthand for “change in”, so when you see “delta”-T in an physics expression it means “change in” Time. Anyway, even though the airline took it’s name from routes served in the Mississippi delta region of the American South, the triangle logo came from the mathematical shorthand… Delta promised change!

1.14 757 1

And I’ve always loved that old DL paint. Classic lines. Like the old American “AstroJet” paint and Swissair’s schemes were classic, and Varig’s paint from the 60s-70s. Eastern’s, on the other hand, was always just plain dowdy, and it never helped that their equipment was almost always filthy – inside and out.

The Eastern paint is by zek0, and can be found here:

http://forums.x-plane.org/index.php?app=downloads&showfile=21487

The old Delta paint is by Mike V, and is available here:

http://forums.x-plane.org/index.php?app=downloads&showfile=21480

zek0 also fired off a newer Delta paint for the wingletted 752, available here:

http://forums.x-plane.org/index.php?app=downloads&showfile=21481

I never cared for this paint. The tail looks faintly Russian, not a bad thing, unless you happen to be an airline operating in the U.S. Anyway… Each of these seems well done and they are of course freeware.

The airport used in the images above is the latest iteration of Renair’s EIDW Dublin Extreme, Ireland. That file is a keeper, too.

Now, let’s hop over to Montana. Bozeman, to be a bit more precise, and let’s look at a couple more 752 paints. The airport: KBZN Bozeman Yellowstone, by vsully. Decent enough, but a little sparse on detail, but this is a nice one to have. In the image below, if you look above the cockpit area to just under the tree-line along the distant mountains (the Bridger Range, to be more specific), that’s where my parents lived for a while…once upon a time. So, a trip down memory lane for me. Before the RJ craze, it wasn’t too outrageous to see 737s and even 757s coming in and out of BZN, and Northwest and Delta were the big players there 20-25 years ago. These days the ramps are more often than not filled with biz jets and a couple of RJs can be seen here and there a couple of times a day, but that’s more symptomatic of the times we live in than anything else… Yellowstone National Park is about 60-90 miles due south.

1.14Boz757s

The paints?

The old Northwest Orient paint is by zek0, and is located here:

http://forums.x-plane.org/index.php?app=downloads&showfile=21448

zek0′s Delta Breast Cancer Awareness paint can be found here:

http://forums.x-plane.org/index.php?app=downloads&showfile=21348

+++++

1.14 LOWS 1

Now a big jump or two. Above, and the next two below are from OE3GSU’s LOWS Mozart/Salzburg, just a short hop SE of EDDM München. Salzburg is a “bucket list” city: if you ain’t been, you ain’t lived, but this is a really nice airport file, whether you’ve been there or not. You won’t want to miss this one if you’re using v10 (v9 users need not bother), and all the painful BS that went along with getting the old v9 version working is gone, too! Anyway, a must have file. Spectacular scenery around here too…mountain flying at it’s best to the south and west.

1.14 LO YP comp

HaweeG’s v10 only YPDN Darwin is well executed, with nice boarding gate detail and the military field included with appropriate detail. Certainly worth having if northern Oz is in your sights.

1.14 YPDN 2

Seen above departing Darwin, Jack’s 722 wearing a fresh Breast Cancer Awareness paint in “DownUnder Airways” red, white and pink. Very nice work from PPT.

+++++

1.14 LFRDAbove, Renair’s latest for the Norman coast of France, LFRD St Malo, a wicked good GA/RJ airport. If you fly in France or along the Channel, don’t skip this one.

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Fly up north? Way up north? Well then, Laddenius’ ESGJ is in Sweden, and ought to fit in with your plans quite well. Another don’t miss file, for v10.

1.14 esgj

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1.14 Cami 1Cami de Bellis continues to fill out her Polynesian rambles with the Marquesas Island Group package, pictured here, NTMD NuKu Hiva. As usual, her custom structures look decidedly nice, the colors vibrant, and feel quite fun. There are three other airports in the package, too. Seen here in v10, the file was made for v9.xx.

1.14 cami 2

+++++

1.14 74S

Vogon Zarniwoop’s 74S, located near Anacortes along the Washington coast is about an hour’s drive north of Seattle, and is a sweet little GA number enhanced with some local color…a refinery. Well done Vogon!

+++++

Last up, my favorite this week. Another sweet little GA field, this one along the southern Oregon coast, near northern California.

1.14 KBOK

KBOK Brookings State is Rik Nilsson’s first scenery file, and it’s a fine effort all around. Seen here in v10, it shows as a v9 file at the Org., so what about night lighting?

1.14 KBOK 2

Well, there’s a rotating beacon! But that’s all, though the file is a WIP, so who knows, maybe v10 lighting will show up one day. Anyway, GA hops up and down the US Pacific coast are getting better and better as a result of these folks’ hard work, but that’s always been the story as far as X-Plane is concerned. It’s the community of freeware developers that sets this sim apart from the rest, and why Laminar’s ongoing project is worth covering.

Anyway, enough of our ramblings. Time to get out and fly. Thanks for coming along, and we’ll see you again next time. Chip

 

Jan 11

xp + 10 + reviews + 12.01.14

1.12.14 main

Well, well, well… Christmas has come and gone and all in all it’s been oddly quiet on the X-Plane front for a few months now. Still, a few choice tidbits from IXEG surfaced in recent news, but there have been no new airports released or announced from AeroSOFT (that I could find, anyway…), so thank goodness for the hard work from a few of the “old reliables” that have diligently kept X-P afloat over the years. And these releases are from the best of the best: XPFr, Frede, and Cami de Bellis, so these files are nothing to sneeze at. No sirree, we have a handful of really fun stuff to get onboard, so read on and then fire up your broadband connection and get to downloading…

1.12 3553

First up, an oldie from XPFr that’s been updated to v10 compliance, and we’re talking about the eighth wonder of the world here, folks, so don’t forget to get this one into your Custom Scenery folder. A word to the wise here, however: if you already have the old v9 file you’ll need to remove it, and the old file was titled simply Mont St Michel, while the new file is called 3553 Mont St Michel. If you’ve never been to this part of the world, put this one on your bucket list…and if you have been, well, flying around here brings back some fond memories! The file is an MsFS conversion, but the v10 lighting is so much improved that the download is well worth the effort.

XPFr has two new smaller fields ready to roll as well: 1727 Nantile and LFSJ Douzy. Nantile is a quaint grass stripped affair, while LFSJ is a very nice GA field with some really very well done photo-textures on a few of the buildings, and in v10 this facility looks particularly inviting at night. Best use for both: GA OPS in France, with LFSJ hard by Belgium so centrally located for flights around western Europe. It’s a sweet file, not to be missed.

1.12 LFSJ comp

Cami de Bellis gave up on developing new files for X-P last year, so it was with particular fondness that we found four new Polynesian airports from her, each exhibiting her particular blend of realism and vibrant colour. Her latest offering covers the Austral Islands, a grouping south of Papeete and the main island group of Tahiti, and astute observers will immediately deduce that this package is particularly well suited as an adjunct to XPFr’s French Polynesia package (which covers the area to the northwest in solid detail). These are smaller airports, of course, as there are fewer than 7,000 people in the area covered in this release, so GA aircraft and smaller RJs/turboprops will find lots of opportunities for exploration here.

1.12 Australs

Freddy De Pues (aka frede) had bowed out of developing for X-P last year as well, but has roared back with a vengeance with this rendition of PHNL Honolulu International Airport & Hickam Air Force Base. Let’s just say it measures up to the best of his earlier efforts, and please take note of the “DONATE” button on the download page. Remember…if the big MsFS/P3D developers are in fact bailing on the X-P market, developers like frede take on a whole new importance, and well paid developers are plenty more productive than starving artists.

Got it?

Good, so chip in a few bucks and let’s keep our old line developers happy and productive. We all win.

1.12 frede

Above: is that the ObamaCare Special showing up for Christmas in Hawaii?

Below, the first airport file Simon and I worked on… KMPH Yosemite…seen in v10. It still looks pretty good to me, and I still use it for many of my GA flight tests. Hopefully we’ll update it to v10 compliance one of these days… Until then, hasta later, and thanks for coming along.

Chip

11 1 Car_C340_v10_23

 

Dec 27

Orbx FTX Global VECTOR Released

And ain’t it sweet.

A real game changer, about $60 gives you a totally global upgrade to FTX Global, with much higher resolution coastlines, rivers and roads, all based on OSM I believe. Below is a random screenshot comparison of an area in Northern Scotland:

A huge amount of extra detail eh?

The install is about 5.7 gigs in size, not bad for the entire world. My recommendation is very simple – If you have FTX Global, you NEED this.

And if you haven’t got Global, you will be missing out on one of the most innovative and large scale projects in flightsim history. As the world is developed (remember, they are yet to publish any of the LANDCLASS specific addons that will further enhance the globe), my guess is that Orbx developers will increasingly issue airports that are nestled in these Global regions.

Personally I can’t wait to see some comparison pics between this and a ‘full fat’ region, like Scotland. I have a sneaking feeling that this new tech may reduce the comparative effectiveness of such regions. We’ll let the comparisons tell their story. Once Orbx release some P3Dv2 compatible region updates, I’ll report back.

Even more controversially (I’m never one to sit on the fence, eh X-Planers?!), I’m willing to make a serious call (as a consumer) and state that this product has made such a seismic shift in my simming experience that it has rendered the small airfields that are so detailed and relatively expensive, as redundant. I am now valuing the beauty of the surrounding region far more than a small airfield, indeed even the larger airports like those developed by FSDT. I rarely spend much time at any of my expensive addon airports, rather I am spending it in the AIR, navigating between VORS and NDBs, reveling in the wider scenery and environment made so realistic by such global addons as REX Texture Direct and Opus. I have been purchasing fewer addon airports (at full price in any case) as a result.

Am I the only one to think this? If more think this way, Orbx and the other developers may need to think about their business models more deeply and adapt to the market’s desires. Release of more detailed Global compatible regional enhancements and ‘bulk’, less detailed airport enhancements might do the trick – eg a pack of 10 (TEN) scottish airports for $30, with bespoke 3d objects but far less micro detail that might not be appreciated when doing touch and goes or just passing by.

I’m a foliage freak myself, but do I really care about flower placement if I rarely, if ever, take my BOB and walk behind a particular hangar?

Would I rather land at 10 reasonable looking airfields, than one incredible one (assuming that I don’t live near it of course!). Here we are delving into the world of the plausible simulated environment. Far more plausible than Mr Myers’ world (xplane), but not quite as accurate as the 2cm ground poly versions we see lately. Interesting times indeed!

Anyway, enough deep and meaningful statements. Here’s a gallery of some pics I took on a 45 min flight along the northern coast of Scotland, on the way to Fraserburgh. I rarely fly for so long. That tells you something!

 

Dec 24

Too many Christmas Toys!

Simmo feels like a very spoilt little boy, all these new things to play with! Videos are as follows: The standard pre-release edition (Alpha) of IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad was released the other day, I’ve joined up and am not regretting it – the sim is already far more stable than Cliffs of Dover ever was in final release, and the vibrations/handling of the BF-109 are incredible. Scenery is fairly sparse, but the sim is only 36% complete: I bought REX 4 Texture Direct for FSX/P3D (Version 2!!) yesterday, so filmed some quick demos. The storm effects are addictively immersive. Dawn/dusk skies gorgeous. Clouds very lovely: And last, but so very NOT the least, comes a $25 pre-release game called ‘Next Car Game’. Talk about an absolute classic, this is the best use of my GTX780 yet! It’s an accurate simulation of Christmas Eve at our local shopping centre’s carpark….. Perfect stress relief for the holidays!!

Dec 21

Merry Christmas and a very exciting New Year!

4wpvO

Yes, wishing you all a very merry Christmas or at least a pleasant holiday break with a good excuse for over-eating!

Well 2013 was exciting enough, I wonder what 2014 will bring?

Yet more waiting for X-Plane 10.30 with more promised fixes and new features? Let’s see what the new year brings, particularly any new features and scenery fixes (Sydney, anyone?) referred to here.

The Lockheed Martin team is proving to be very organised and responsive to bug reports and general issues, see this excellent issues register. Most of us Version 2 fans are putting pressure on LM to release smaller patches rather than wait a longer period for major patches. They’re fixing quite a few issues already! The next patch is due early in the new year.

PMDG must be working feverishly on their V2 conversion of the NGX etc. I for one will be very interested what the performance in V2 will be like. Unfortunately I have found that the complex Captainsim 727-100 product is far too complex or ancient for V2, it reduces my FPS from a butter smooth 33 with any of the V2 default aircraft, to less than 20. But I’m trying to be positive, in that I am sure the PMDG crew are communicating closely with the LM team to make the systems as efficient as possible. Note that the CS product is not officially compatible with V2 in any case….

Active Sky Next has been released by HiFi Technologies, to general acclaim and very impressed customers. A V2 compatible product is imminent, can’t wait to try the free demo. I will be comparing its weather patterns and generation (turbulence/winds in particular) directly to the Opus product that I am already using with V2. ASN will have to be stunning, as I already find the Opus interaction with V2 really nice and natural.

REX4 Texture Direct has been released, and is already V2 compatible! I am watching the forums closely before considering a purchase for $35 Aussie dollars (net of a $5 rebate for existing REX owners). It does look impressive, however I am curious as to whether all those textures will look as natural & beautiful as the default V2 textures. I find some of the high res cloud textures to be too obviously artificial, whereas the default V2 cloud textures look so natural. IMHO anyway…

Orbx’s Vector product is imminent, looking to improve the way FTX Global portrays coastlines, roads and rivers, to name a few aspects. I’ve just taken delivery of Pilot’s FS Global Ultimate Europe terrain (even more detailed than their Global product, in fact about 25gigs just for europe), so expect my screenshots to appear far more accurate in future. Some new examples are in the below gallery.

Aeroflyfs have announced their plans for late 2014, as follows:

“Our next major version of aerofly FS for PC and MAC, that is targeted for release at the end of 2014, will at least feature the following things:

  • More aircraft. Expect to see at least the same type of aircraft that are now available
    in our mobile version, for example Airbus A320, Boeing 747-400, KingAir C90 GTx
    and Beechcraft Baron 58.
  • Navigation features like VOR and ILS.
  • Increased system depth.
  • Virtual cockpit interaction.
  • Support for a larger area which means switching to a geocentric world model.”

Yes pretty big news we think, looks like this will form the basis of a whole new global flight sim!

SIM720 continue to pump out some very nice sceneries for FSX/P3D (including version 2, thank you!), with the latest release being Inverness. I have to admit I’d never been interested in Scottish scenery, but with P3D V2′s rendering of sunlight and trees, it’s a compulsory flying environment for me, such a beautiful area of the world.

And finally, today I received a notification email from the 1C Game Studios, that the Standard Early Access program for the new IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad game was now open. That cost be $50 a few months ago, so it’s great to be able to access the already fairly stable sim (as compared to the deformed beast that was CoD on release!). At this early stage (35% complete) the game is pretty sparse scenery-wise, but man, the flight model/feel! Absolutely incredible immersion, amazing feeling of flight and engine torque, just…marvelous. Words can’t suffice to describe the feeling I had when I did my first takeoff and circuit, landing tentatively and just surviving. That flight beat any other flight sim hands-down for the feeling of terror and the visceral experience of flying a BF-109. If you are a WW2 flightsim fan, or just a general fan of darned good flight models, grab this sim.

Anyway, happy Holidays and hope you take in some quality simming time if you can! Some misc pics taken lately, all in P3DV2:

 

Dec 12

Be Prepar3d for lots of Pain!

2013-12-12_16-12-59-810

Well that’s my ‘lucky’ experience, anyway.

This week has been a very frustrating one, due to multiple, frequent crashes to desktop (CTDs) and just plain freezing of my PC during P3D flying. Such a beautiful sim, so frustrating!

In fact the problems became so bad, with constant locking of my PC requiring a hard reboot (hold the power button down until the whole thing turns off, then restart), that my Windoze installation became corrupt. In the end I was forced to recover from a month’s old backup of windows, to a different drive (as windows told me that my SSD was possibly corrupt and refused to allow an install on that).

Talks about stressful and a disaster.

Once windows was recovered, continued flying became almost impossible. With FTX Global installed, I found that flying for a max of 10 mins was possible, before a freeze occurred.

Interestingly, I still experienced a couple of ‘fatal errors’ as well. So more googling produced the trusty FSX fix for that, the fabled UIAutomation.dll! Moving that into the P3D directory seems to have totally fixed any such errors for now.

Then I found another thread where apparently the GTX780 GPU can be finicky, possibly causing crashes in extreme load situations. One solution is to put the card into Performance mode via Nvidia Inspector. Done. Fewer crashes (freezes in particular) experienced.

Alas, the CTDs continued. I finally tried uninstalling FTX Global. Success! The sim ran very solidly, with a crash far less often, maybe once every 40 mins, compared to 5-10 mins with FTXG installed. Issue logged with Orbx. I have no idea if they formally recognise such issues, but the response from Tim was fairly positive re. future patches of Global. Worryingly, Lockheed Martin quickly wiped their hands clean of the situation, simply hinting that it might be caused by Global. This was disappointing. I would rather the 2 companies be SEEN to be working together on sorting out such major issues. I just got the impression that LM are happy for struggling individuals to battle it out with addon developers, rather than coordinate the major incompatibilities in a centralised manner. Oh well, I suppose common sense is not considered ‘innovative’ enough nowadays.

God, the default P3D scenery is truly awful, I can tell ya! Xplane beats it, no problem. It’s only the incredible clouds and Opus weather, as well as the new lighting and shadows that make win the ‘default’ competition to some extent.

Yet more googling and some secret search tools I use produced another excellent hint to assist in P3D issues – ensuring that the C++ libraries were up to date and that the Microsoft.net framework was version 4.5. See this great suggestion here. Thanks for this!

As soon as I applied this and reinstalled FTX Global, I was met with a rock-solid sim performing at its very best. I tried all manner of violent turns and settings changes to break the sim and couldn’t. I can’t be sure that this change is permanent, so will keep testing. If, over time, the sim gets more fragile, I’ll report back.

So, in the end, all the frustration has been worth it. The below video is just a hint of what I experienced this evening. Just 30 mins of flying like this beats hours of flying in Xplane, well that’s my own H.O. If anything, this experience has made me even more committed to supporting the new sim. I realised that if I couldn’t fly V2 consistently with FTXG, I would be happy enough in the short term, flying with default scenery and the amazing Opus weather. I would do ANYTHING to keep experiencing the atmosphere I’d fleetingly seen in V2. I was like an addict looking for another hit. It’s had that much of an impact on my simming experience.

Oh, and I assume most of the first world has heard of the release of Active Sky Next? That looks excellent. It’ll need to be, to beat our experiences of Opus & V2. Opus is such a small, light program and is so easy on frames. I just wonder how much of an FPS impact the larger weather engines will have. Expect a report once the V2 demo is released.

Ha, and I see that REX is desperately announcing its own major improvements. Talk about a huge amount of waffly advertising! C’mon guys, we know what you are trying to do, wow us with your promises and prevent our buying other competitors’ products. Sorry guys, too late. Look forward to YOUR free demo, per Active Sky’s excellent example.

Enjoy this dark and moody, revolting weather video of Bonnie Scotland at its best:

 

 

Dec 05

New GTX 780 OC GPU arrived – results

And what a Beyatch it was to install! About 2mm too long for my case’s cavity, it took some subtle forcing to get it in correctly. I tellya I was sweating!

As expected, after reading all the benchmarks, the card meets my expectations of around a 50% increase in FPS compared to my trusty 670 OC (for sale if anyone’s interested!).The above video shows off the fluidity in a maxed out P3D setting (haha, and the FPS was much faster in reality, but FRAPS hits the frames a bit).

Here I cover the new experience in the main sims of choice (in my mind, sorry FSXers…)

X-Plane

Loading the default C172 at KSEA Seattle (the infamous FPS killer) saw me idling at 37fps, increasing to 45 as I took off! This was with default graphics settings, no HDR, no high res terrain.

Increasing the scenery density didn’t seem to hit the performance much, a nice bonus. But activating HDR and shadows to medium quality saw the frames go down to a still flyable 23. Hardly stellar when you’re talking about the world’s second fastest GPU (this week at least!), and a massive drop from non-HDR. Upping the cloud details from my measly 17 to 50 crashed the sim.

Interestingly, I noticed that even in default graphics mode (poverty-pack as we say in Oz), the sim jittered or froze for half a second every minute or so. Finally, Xplane has caught up and exceeded FSX!!

A more demanding plane?

I tried loading up my current favourite Xplane, the C90 Kingair from Carenado.

Initial frames at standard settings were OK, at 30, approaching the airport it started going down to 27 and stuttering. Trying to increase graphics settings above default was pointless, as the sim was already leaking memory like a sieve and was very fragile. When I did change settings, the sim crashed (settings in the gallery) How many years has XP10 been out?

The C90 Pics:

Prepar3d Version 2

I used the default Maule for the test. Took off from FSDreamteam’s amazing Vancouver International, using FTX Global. Pretty much all settings maxed, including ground shadows of buildings and objects, but not trees. Autogen, trees and complexity maxed. Internal and external aircraft shadows.Clouds highest density. HDR. Using Opus.

A pleasing non-jittery 28-30fps was experienced on takeoff, immediately shooting to the locked 33 as soon as you faced away from the airport. Really nice. This card totally removes any jitters, and turning around quickly no longer results in a slow loading of textures. It’s very quick!

Initial frames were pleasing, considering the high settings used. So I got cocky and went straight to KJFK NYC, where I have the nightmare combo of FSDT’s KJFK airport AND Aerosoft’s Manhattan X installed.

On the runway I saw a pleasant 22. Taking off, flying around the airport saw the frames stay at a smooth, jitter free 22. Then I headed north to the fabled city, sweat dripping from my palms.

What, 19? 20, 22? Very good considering all sliders were maxed re. scenery density and autogen!

I reduced the scenery density from maximum to ‘dense’. Instant 25fps, rising along at times to 29, amazing stuff.

But what about a tough PLANE as well?

Dino Cattaneo’s amazing freeware F-35 is included with P3D V2. It seems to be a very demanding aircraft when it comes to PC resources, it’s always tanked my system.

It continues to do so! I just fired it up at Vancouver and saw awful 16s, not a good combo. So I wonder what similarly complex planes like the PMDG will produce?

Conversely, the payware quality Carenado A36 performs really well, locked and performing at 33fps at very high settings.

Check out all the pics I took to illustrate and capture the FPS. First series is from KSEA, then Vancouver, then NYC:

Has the new card pushed me back to Xplane? 

Sorry, nup. The poor HDR effect, worsened by its massive cost, is the main turn off for me, as well as my well-known whingeing pom harping on, about the far too uniform/bland regional look of the sim. Yes flying at 45fps is pretty cool, but it just feels the same everywhere you fly. Yes the planes are magnificent, but as you know I enjoy the exterior view as well. I’m not giving up on XP, no way. I just want more scenery devs to discover how easy development is for Xplane and come on over. I am an impatient, greedy git. I am a consumer. In any case, I’m now set up to enjoy the best that both sims can offer, with my preference for P3D reinforced by its early days – new developments in aircraft and scenery should be very exciting to see develop.

Hopefully this report might help others in their decision making and in reducing their bank balance! Best of luck with your tweaking and hardware purchases. I’m as happy as a pig in mud.

Dec 03

Almost 2 weeks of Prepar3d V2 – Verdict

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The Short Version

Yes I like it, I’m keeping it. FSX uninstalled. P3D V1 only kept as a scenery repository for now.

The Longer Version

It’s definitely been a rollercoaster of emotions this release, going from incredible elation to bitter disappointment. But now that the dust has settled and I’ve been able to concentrate on optimising the sim re. settings, I can definitely say that I am ecstatic, highly impressed with V2.

I had been stress testing the sim at NYC and KSFO using Aerosoft city add ons, but that stress test proved to be far too extreme for my current setup. It has also revealed some weird GPU engine issues with such old sceneries.

Yesterday I persevered with the SanFran scenery, doing a circuit while rapidly reducing my settings to see if I could eventually achieve an acceptable frame rate. I COULD NOT! I ended up with the sim on all the lowest settings, including very low autogen, no HDR (yeuck, I’m really appreciating the new HDR lighting), no shadows. a low LOD. Even then I was crawling at 16fps.

Then I deactivated that city scenery and installed the Flightbeam KSFO scenery. It’s very detailed. I was expecting another slide show. Woah, I’m getting 28fps slick-as! Pretty much maxed out settings for autogen, trees and complexity. Shadows for the aircraft outside and in. HDR on. Looks superb. So I guess the Aerosoft scenery is real old tech that isn’t exactly seamlessly compatible with V2.

I forked out the $100 for FTX Global, when I swore I wouldn’t! Boy was I wrong, this has been one of the purchases of a lifetime. Such varied appearance and textures around the globe. Bloody good performance, so good that in many cases I can maximise all the object settings. Flying around SanFran with such settings is breathtaking. Even without the aerosoft city scenery.

Installing the FS Global Ultimate terrain add on (USA) from Pilot’s was the icing on the cake, really detailed terrain everywhere in North America, and thankfully fast loading times remain.

I had to uninstall 2 payware planes due to incompatibilities causing a sim crash and total reinstall. So now I am stuck flying all the default planes. How do I feel? Still ecstatic, the quality of some of the planes like the Maule is top-notch, and I’m too busy marvelling at the scenery outside to really care. Heck, in Paris, which runs like a dog in default ‘FSX’ look, I was able to up the autogen to second-highest level and even have tree shadows activated! I joked in the forums that V2 should be marketed as a photography simulator, it’s so well done and the shadows so perfectly rendered in that lighting.

Despite this, to maximise my FPS I generally ignore the tree/building/object shadowing. I really don’t notice it that much, unless I stop and slew the plane around like….a….photograper.

Ended up abandoning any Nvidia Inspector AA settings, seemed to help my fps. Ok the AA is not perfect right now, but I understand LM are working with Nvidia on the issue.

Remember boys and girls, I’m ecstatic BEFORE I pick up the new GTX 780 OC GPU this week. What another 50% or more power will do, I have no idea. Xplane fans will be pleased to know my full intention of throwing this baby at XP for awhile to see what it can achieve. Don’t forget to download some of Andras’ High Def terrain for XP if you are one of the 3 people on earth yet to discover his new creation.

Oh, stay tuned for a future XP article that features some insane new scenery created by an anonymous genius, it really shows off what CAN be done in XP. If only it could be distributed (it can’t). If only other devs were so good and could be so prolific.

Just as I thought it couldn’t get better, yesterday I finally updated my Opus FSX weather engine to the latest beta that is officially V2 compatible and utilises the volumetric fog. They must have progressed substantially, as the fps performance with fairly complex cloud patterns is excellent. Even better, the dynamic head movements are working a treat in V2 when I could never get them working before. So check out the Grand Canyon video to see some of the DHM effects and clouds driven by Opus.

More experiments today – Aerosoft’s NYC scenery is tough, but I had success in reducing the autogen quantity and COMPLEXITY to normal levels, resulting in a manageable 22fps around the centre of NYC. Being flexible with your settings really seems to be the key.

The final experiment was loading up the infamous stress testing Orbx sceneries, YMML Melb and YMEN Essendon. I saw a fantastic 26fps at both sceneries (as long as one was disabled) with max. autogen quantities and complexity. As I only did a quick and dirty library add, I’d expect performance to be even better once the V2 installers are available.

When you are really bored, check out this thread over at AVSIM, where people are complaining about poor performance, OOMs and sharing huge quantities of anger and tweaks. I’m really not sure what their problem is, other than having ridiculous expectations of ultra high settings at these early times. I tellya, not everyone is happy! To some extent I am concerned as well, given the poor FPS of the more complex sceneries and add ons. But that’s me being impatient, we need to wait for officially converted products before passing judgement. We also need to remember that the sim has only been out for a few days. One poster reminded users that having textures set at 4096 is a guarantee of OOMs.

So I hope you enjoy the pictures and videos. I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier simming. Happier than when I used MS Flight. Happier than when I first started using Xplane 9. Ecstatic. Elated. This is the best time to be a simmer, ever.

Video highlighting the night lighting effects of FTX Global. Both of these videos were recorded with FRAPS, so the smoothness of the original flight is NOT preserved:

Grand Canyon run video, highlighting Pilot’s Ultimate mesh for USA and the fantastic Opus clouds:

Some random pictures coz I can’t stop taking piccies of the beautiful lighting in this sim!:

 

 

 

Nov 30

That’s it, I’m Hooked

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With quantities of autogen like this, at close to 30fps with a now middling GPU, who can blame me?

No, this is not X-Plane, that until now IMHO, was the king of insane quantities of autogen. This is P3D V2. The new kid on the block (albeit a newly born Frankenstein, spawn of the Evil One), the one with much to prove and with huge expectations upon it.

Like a few simmers I’ve seen on the forums, I’ve become entirely smitten by this sim. I most certainly will not be returning to Version 1 or FSX. The smoothness, when the frames are locked at 33 (yes, 33 works much better than 30), is hard to beat. Xplane exceeds this smoothness in certain conditions, but they are not common enough. Worryingly, I’ve started experiencing the odd stutter with Xplane, especially if it hums along at 50fps. A stutter once a minute or even less. Strange. But that no longer bothers me.

Right now I’m only flying with shadows at medium quality, with just the aircraft interior and exterior shadows on. With the large reduction in performance, I can’t justify building and other shadows, especially as they are hardly noticeable. But wow, the aircraft shadows! It’s hard to explain in words, so please watch the two videos below that feature them. The exterior aircraft shadows are a real bonus, as you can then see shadows playing on the struts from within the cockpit. A nice touch.

I’ve applied the Affinitymask=15 tweak to get my first CPU core to be used, as well as activated ‘Aero’ in Win 7.  I’m sure that’s helping performance a bit. I’ve been able to use the second-highest autogen setting and maximise the cloud density to get some incredible looking and FEELING clouds. Again, see my cloud video to get a sense of what I mean.

I remember being enthralled with the Rexplane clouds in Xplane 9, flying among them like a little kid. I’m having that same feeling again in V2, able to fly around and through realistic, 3D clouds that do not rotate like they do in FSX and even in X-Plane’s Skymaxx addon clouds (don’t even compare the V2 clouds to the horrid default ‘mass’ of Xp10).

The program is not without bugs, but they are minor. A more serious problem is what happens when you add non-approved 3rd party planes. After awhile, I was unable to load V2 due to mysterious aircraft addon issues. LM explained that it was because I’d loaded non-compatible aircraft. Naughty me.

The first cloud video also features some flying around Flightbeam’s KSFO. What a beautifully rendered airport! I tried flying the CS727 there, I saw a nasty 14 frames per second, leaping over 18-25 after takeoff. Disappointing. It seems that complex aircraft + complex scenery can still bring a reasonable PC to its knees! That applies to Xplane too, it’s not immune to out of memory issues (despite being 64bit) and certainly not immune to 10fps swearing sessions.

But hopefully the large team at LM can do some more optimising and tweaking, giving us more headroom. Plus I’ve been using unapproved planes, so in the future certain complex planes like the PMDG may be customised specifically for V2, minimising the performance issue.

But there is no substitute for GRUNT, as we say in Oz. If in doubt, get a bigger GPU they all say!

So that’s what I am doing. I’m investing further in this great hobby by buying a relative bargain GTX 780 OC that has been custom overclocked to a blinding 1007mhz. It’s only beaten right now by the 780 Ti OC, that is a few hundred more dollars in Oz. My new card ‘only’ cost me $620. It’s 18 months since I bought my PC, so such an upgrade is, sort of, justifiable. Can’t wait to report the results to you guys.

So, please sit back and enjoy the videos, hopefully you’ll see what I’ve been FEELING the last few days.