AVSIM Commercial Simulator Review
A full year ago, January was when the first images of X-Plane 10 arrived on the net and my first reaction was to say I was impressed with what I saw and my initial expectations were significantly high because I knew that X-Plane 10 would be a strong contender in the simulation market after MS Flight was announced. Whether you love it or not, X-Plane has always been the alternative to MS Flight Simulator and since both X-Plane 10 and MS Flight have been released, we will just have to see if it lives up to its expectations!
I decided that I would write this review as my personal experience with X-Plane 10 rather than try and pick it apart and draw conclusions to a product based on my system performance. Instead, you can draw your own conclusion and opinion at the end and see if this simulation is a good fit for you. My system specs are as follow: Intel Dual Core E8500 with Windows 7 64 bit with 8 gigabytes of ram and an Nvidia Geforce 460 video card.
The version I received was that of the 8 DVD Global Edition, the program itself comes on one DVD and the remaining 7 DVD's are all scenery that encompasses the entire world. The first thing you need to do, per the X-Plane website, is to go to their site and download a new installer rather than using the one that comes on the disk because apparently there was some sort of issue with the original installer that was packaged on the disks. Once the file is downloaded simply run it to start the install process.
The installer will start and it will guide you through the standard questions when installing a program like this, for me I installed X-Plane to a drive that I have designated for X-Plane and in my case it uses the folder F:\X-Plane 10 and I would definitely recommend that you install X-Plane using Run As Administrator option in Windows 7 and Vista. The next step in the installation process is to pick and choose which scenery areas you want installed. This was definitely a nice surprise because those without the additional hard drive space may only want to install the areas they are going to fly rather than doing a complete install. For the sake of this article I installed all 60 gigabytes of scenery.
Depending on your system specs and how many scenery areas you are installing. the process can take some time; in my case the overall installation took almost an hour and half. Once the install process is completed the next thing you should do is go back to the X-Plane website and download the updater and update X-Plane to the most current patch.
During the update process you will have the option of installing either the latest official patch or the latest Beta. I would strongly recommend starting with the official patch and then running X-Plane just to see how it runs before going to the Beta patches. I have read mixed things about the Beta patches, but have since installed them and it has made some rather significant performance increases in the overall simulation.
Setting Up X-Plane 10
The first time I loaded X-Plane 10, I decided that I would leave the program settings alone and just try it and see how it performs. Surprisingly, it ran pretty good without adjusting anything but it does load most of the settings at the lower settings by default.
The first thing you will find yourself doing when getting into the actual sim is setting up the controllers. If you only use one set of controls then it will probably just default to the controller you have, but if you have multiple controls like I do, then you will need to go into the menu and set up each controller individually.
This can be accomplished through the settings, joysticks and equipment options in the menu. I assigned my Saitek Flight Yoke and accompanying throttle controls as my primary controllers and with a few adjustments and reversing the actual controller inputs, I was up and flying. Also, make sure to set up your rudder controls if you have them because the program may have assigned them to a different controller or button.
From the Joystick and Equipment section you can also assign keys and other buttons to functions within the sim that may not be set by default, as well as set up equipment like a GPS System, Avionics System and the Track IR. This is one of the nice things about X-Plane in that it allows for easy setup with this type of equipment within the program and doesn't require any outside software to set it up.
The rendering options menu is where you will probably spend most of your time when using X-Plane for the first time, as this is where you can adjust every aspect of X-Plane 10 visually. I was able to set all of the options between default and high with the aliasing set to 4 and resolution set to my monitors default resolution and ended up with really pretty decent results in the simulation.
While the object details look best at its max settings, it will definitely slow your PC down and in some cases it can actually overload your computer and/or video card and cause it to crash to desktop if you are not using a 4 core or greater PC.
The other nice thing to know about X-Plane is that it is designed to use multiple cores on dual core or greater PCs and that it takes full advantage of your video card and can be adjusted from within the program to prioritize either the use of the graphics card or the computers CPU.
Really, it’s just a matter of setting up the overall program to make it work well with your computer and in many cases, this is a trial and error process until you get it set to where you want it and where the overall program will run its best given your system setup.
The X-Plane 10 fleet is impressive at first glance as it has 13 different categories of aircraft to choose from and a range in everything from big jets to small general aviation aircraft and experimental planes. The categories are Heavy Metal, Experimental, Fighters, General Aviation, Glider, Megaplanes, Helicopters, Seaplanes, VTOL, X-Planes, Space Ships, Radio Control and Science Fiction; impressive right?
Those of you that have used X-Plane 9 or earlier will quickly recognize many of these aircraft and that they have not changed much since their earlier releases. Take the experimental category, it includes a total of over 15 different aircraft but each is just an external model with a generic panel and most are incomplete and not even flyable. The remainder of the aircraft in the other categories makes for some nice flying in X-Plane, especially the ones redesigned for X-Plane 10.
In the main menu under aircraft you will find a tab called Aircraft Situations, from this menu you can access some of the mods that are set up for certain aircraft. For example, after selecting the Space Shuttle you can go to this menu and select orbital reentry, or launch from a 747. This carries over to fighting forest fires, flights to off shore drilling wells, types of airstrips you want to use, approaches and even carrier operations depending on aircraft selection.
The carrier operations along with the carrier itself is a major improvement over X-Plane 9 carrier OPS as the carrier has been totally redesigned and is highly detailed in X-Plane 10; as It has moving lifts, carrier personnel, and static aircraft. The carrier even bobs up and down in the water during rough seas, the only problem is every time I go to use it, the seas are always rough and I have yet to find a place in X-Plane 10 to change that.
Another aircraft menu that is important is the Special settings and allows for adjustments for each individual aircraft, this is a good place to start if you are trying to bring a plane over from X-Plane 9 and want it to have it fly correctly. You can adjust flight stability and how the plane handles from most realistic to most stable, I have only had to use this with a couple of different planes but it is a useful menu especially if you having stability problems with an aircraft in flight and need to make adjustments on the fly.
The World of X-Plane 10
The word "Plausible" was used during the initial announcements of X-Plane 10 to describe its world. What does plausible mean when it comes to X-Plane you ask? Well, from what I can tell is that it generates cities, roads and traffic in areas that are populated and brings them to life by creating a living breathing city or town and although it does not necessarily represent its real world counterpart, but represents it as X-Plane sees it and where it thinks a city or town should be.
What you are left with is some impressive city and townscapes that are scattered across the world but do not accurately represent the areas in which you are flying. In some cases some areas are really good and others look like they are stuck back in the 1800's before those areas were heavily populated.
Take San Francisco for instance it only has one bridge that crosses the bay and it's not the Golden Gate Bridge, although it is represented as a line across the water, Alcatraz is just an island and the city of San Francisco looks like it may have looked back in the early 1900's, but if you look at Portland, Oregon then you will see a city that matches its real world counterpart remarkably well but just don't expect to see any key landmarks. Another example of this is the missing Statue of Liberty in New York as there is just an island.
The other aspect of the "plausible" world is that that all of the buildings, homes and other objects remain the same throughout the entire global environment and where there should be landmarks they do not exist. Is this a terrible thing? No, because the cities that do deserve attention look pretty good and quite frankly there is a lot of terrain to cover in X-Plane 10. So, trying to find every single landmark is near impossible, although Seattle did include the Space Needle.
The roads in X-Plane 10 are generated to match that of the real world and where it stands out the most are the freeways, highways and road networks that lead in out and of the cities and towns and into rural areas. Most of the roads are represented as a 3D object rather than a road drawn on a texture and this really stands out when following freeways and highways because places like Portland, Oregon and its massive freeway system looks quite realistic from the air.
As for the inner city roads and rural residential roads, most are designed to work around the set of objects they are surrounding and do not necessarily represent reality, but they do tie in well with the other road systems as do the existing rail networks throughout the global scenery.
You would think the airports would be the most important part of any airplane simulation, but after X-Plane's release it was soon realized that X-Plane only included 2 fully modeled airports, while just about every airport in the world is available in X-Plane, the only two that have buildings at them are KSEA and LOWI, the remainder have runways, taxiways and tarmac but there are absolutely no buildings and do not fit in with the surrounding terrain especially when near a large city.
KSEA was released with the X-Plane Demo and it showed off some of the new design features in X-Plane and is quite frankly pretty darn good. As for LOWI, you will remember that one from X-Plane 9. All of the airports include all of the proper navigation aids and you can perform high altitude, low altitude, IFR, and VFR flights from anywhere within the simulated world. It is just hard getting used to flying into an airport like KSFO and not seeing any terminal buildings or hangers.
It is my understanding that airports will be released as they become available and I think I read that somewhere on the net; but I could be wrong. If you cannot wait until then you can get some pretty good payware add-ons right now that will add to the X-Plane 10 environment and fit in quite nicely. Most recently I added the payware Dash 8 Q400 to my hanger and it included a free copy of KLAX.
The actual geography of the world is where X-Plane 10 really stands out because not only does it cover the entire world, it offers some of the most beautiful mountain flying I have seen in a simulation. Take Alaska for example, the entire state is geographically correct and its mountain ranges are some of the most beautiful in the world and X-Plane has captured them remarkably well. This carries over to just about anywhere that offers remote flying. Gone are the cities and towns but now you are enveloped by mountainous terrain and wide open valleys!
Weather, Seasons, and Terrain
The weather engine has not changed any from X-Plane 9 and allows the user to set up the weather themselves or download the real world weather. By default, I found that the turbulence levels were set kind of high and made for some bumpy first flights. I recommend changing it or just using the real world weather instead. If you think that there might be something wrong with your plane, check your weather first before attempting to change anything else.
The clouds and the way the weather is actually portrayed in X-Plane 10 does seem a lot better than in X-Plane 9. I did find that setting the clouds to anything higher than 30% really affected my frame rates and I found it best to keep them down to about 15-20%.
Unfortunately, there is no season change in X-Plane 10 as I was able to verify this while flying in Alaska. I went to Talkeetna and started in July and then switched to December and there was no change in the textures at all. Though snow is simulated as weather, it does not affect the ground textures in any way. This was a somewhat surprising given the magnitude that is X-Plane 10, but in all reality you probably would not be flying into Talkeetna in the dead of winter anyways.
Global textures change as you progress throughout the program, desert areas, forested areas, mountainous regions and valleys all have different textures depending on the region you select to fly in. This was most noticeable when going from places like the United States to Egypt, as the two terrains are significantly different from one another and X-Plane 10 did not disappoint.
X-Plane 10 Bugs and Other Oddities
As I flew around the different cities, towns and different parts of the world, I found that because this is the initial release there are bugs and I think that bugs are to be expected. I am not knocking X-Plane for these bugs and I know that they will eventually be fixed with eventual updates, but I felt that I just wanted to share them because some of them were pretty funny!
The first one I noticed was while on a flight over Manhattan and I could see this big huge object sticking up over the north side of the island and the first thing that came to mind was a futuristic space port. As I flew closer, I could see that it was a glitch with the road network and the terrain elevation. Nonetheless, it looked like a docking station for some kind of spacecraft.
Another bug I encountered was at KLAX. Although the default area does not include any buildings at the airport, it does include the runways, tarmac and taxiways and I found that upon loading the sim there was a large black oval above the runway at about 3500 feet. I attempted to change my settings, but could not remove this anomaly until I installed the payware KLAX that is available on the web and this problem went away.
On a short flight out of Lukla, I realized that the terrain is incorrect there and the start of the runway is actually elevated to a point where the plane, when spawned, rolls over on its nose and crashes into the surround terrain and is really difficult to get it controlled to a point where you can start a flight from there.
Another glitch I found seems to be with seaplanes. This occurred with both the CL-415 and another seaplane that I imported from X-Plane 9. The planes bob up and down uncontrollably and eventually just crashes, this occurs for me only when I start in the water but if I start from a runway and land in the water this does not happen.
The most humorous out off all of the anomalies I encountered was probably with the 415 and when it re-spawned it was stuck in a house rather than sitting on a lake and kind of reminded me of one of those old airplanes converted into a diner.
I am sure there are many more to find, but as I said before, I am not complaining here I am just sharing what I saw because I thought it was pretty funny.
X-Plane Plane Maker and Editing the World of X-Plane
As with all releases of X-Plane, there is a Plane Maker included with the software. This program will allow you to edit any aircraft in your hanger and or to make a new one from scratch. It will also allow you to look at a specific aircraft from a design level and get a better understanding of what actually goes into the design of each plane. With the Experimental list of aircraft, the plane maker can be quite fun because it will allow you to go in and tinker with some of those aircraft and maybe even complete them.
There is a really resourceful site on the web and it is called Opensceneryx.com and it contains a downloadable file that will download and install all of current resource material available to X-Plane users for creating their own scenery. The install process does take some time, but it is well worth it. I have the Payware KLAX and it required this software to be installed prior to use, as did another set of freeware scenery for the Society Islands.
X-Plane 10 is a huge simulation and I think I have only managed to graze the top of the entire program and from what I have seen I do like X-Plane 10 and I will continue to use it in the future and throughout its development life.
I have already removed X-Plane 9 and have moved everything over that I used there to X-Plane 10. Figuring out what will work and what will not work is another issue.
I am sure that X-Plane 10 will have some growing pains, but the folks over at X-Plane 10 are constantly working on new updates and new enhancements. Since the initial install, I have done about 4 or 5 official updates and have now installed the latest beta patch which offers some pretty nice changes performance wise.
With X-Plane, you either love it or you hate it. I really think that X-Plane 10 represents a jump ahead in the X-Plane world as far as development and innovation is concerned and it opens up new and exciting features and takes full advantage of your systems resources and is a strong contender in the simulation market as it includes the ENTIRE WORLD!
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