July 17, 2017

X-Plane 11 flight simulator

Like many real-life pilots, I also have an interest in ‘flying’ using flight simulator software on my PC. In fact in years gone by I was very active within the community creating airport ‘sceneries’ and aircraft ‘repaints’ some of which having been downloaded many thousands of times by other flightsim enthusiasts all over the world.

I’m less interested and less involved these days but still occasionally fire up my PC software if I’m at a loose end for the odd ‘flight’ in Europe, North America or elsewhere.

For many years, the dominant software was, and still is, the Flight Simulator franchise acquired and developed by the mighty Microsoft over a considerable period of years. Others have come and gone over that time, the only other effective contender in the market place now being X-Plane.

Microsoft lost interest in the genre in around 2006 after launching the version known as FSX (Flight Simulator X) which it launched while still essentially broken and full of bugs. This brought the franchise to its knees and Microsoft sold it off shortly after to Lockheed Martin who have since done their best to develop it, with greater or lesser success depending on your point of view, under the name Prepar3D.

Lockheed Martin have attempted to reposition the simulator within the market place as a ‘pro’ or ‘training’ product and have nominally created barriers that are easily overcome to stop the ‘public’ acquiring it for ‘entertainment’. However, in my view it has always remained limited by being based on the FSX software engine and after acquiring FSX myself and finding it so buggy and unrealistic, I decided not to upgrade and to leave things there despite my many years of flightsim involvement.

But although FSX stayed where it was, X-Plane continued to be developed and expanded and several months ago a new version, X-Plane 11 was launched to the flightsim community as a ‘beta’ free trial, since when it has been constantly updated and improved. I downloaded a copy and found myself very impressed when I gave it a go, having not been much of a X-Plane fan in the past. And every time over recent months that I’ve fired up the trial I’ve found that they’ve fixed something or added another new feature, raising expectations that eventually it could become something really special.

As I’m ‘confined to barracks’ so to speak, I thought that I’d fire up the X-Plane 11 demo again a few evenings ago, and what a surprise when I did. I found that they’ve updated it yet again and sorted out things like the shadow problem that it previously had. They’ve also made it compatible with and able to run smoothly on less powerful CPUs with the result that the program is now absolutely stunning.

I’m running an inexpensive (relatively) AMD FX-8350 8 core 4 GHz processor that I’ve modestly overclocked to 4.24 GHz in Windows 10 64-bit Pro with 8GB RAM and a Nvidia GTX950 graphics card. Even so, I’ve got all of the X-Plane graphics sliders maxed out resulting in awesome 3D static and dynamic autogen scenery and amazing lighting effects but with super-smooth frame rates like I’ve never experienced before with FSX.

The moving autogen vehicle traffic is truly awesome and I especially like how, as shown in the video that I made below, the aircraft’s landing light lights up the 3D autogen (buildings and moving vehicles) in a highly realistic and totally convincing way.

This has completely transformed my ‘low and slow’ flying experience, which is what I like doing, and made it incredibly close to real life and if payware and freeware designers get behind X-Plane 11 as they did for FSX, the prospects for transforming the whole PC flightsim experience are, I think, almost unlimited.

For example, Orbx created a dynamic ‘people’ library which has contributed enormously to bringing airport and other sceneries to life in FSX. If they or another developer were to do the same for X-Plane 11, I think that we really would be getting incredibly close to ‘as real as it gets’.

The only problem for me was that after deciding to purchase X-Plane 11, I had to cancel the download as it would have taken over 100 hours, if at all, for me to complete the installation. So now I’ve had to pay extra for the DVDs and am waiting for them to be delivered before I can fully experience the whole program.