Flight Simulator Choices In The Year 2022

Unlike other simulation based genres such as agricultural sims, trucking sims (just to name two) these have very little choice and are ruled by two different developers with GIANTS controlling the ag sim with Farming Simulator and SCS ruling the trucking space with American and Euro Truck Simulator.  This lack of competition, while good for the developers is of course bad for us consumers.  But the same can’t be said for the choices available in the flight simulation space.  

In recent weeks, Laminar Research released X-Plane 12 in early access. Of course Microsoft Flight Simulator surprised everyone in 2019 and released MSFS 2020 during the summer of 2020 and Lockheed Martin of course has their Prepar3D version 5 (unclear if there will be a v6), so the flight simulation community has choices when it comes to selecting a platform to build around.  But which is best and which platform is the right one for you? 

In the year 2022, it’s really difficult to specifically state which flight simulation platform is the absolute best.  It’s much like Coke versus Pepsi.  Each have their loyal, dedicated fan base and each produce a quality product.  But of course we all know that Coke is the best and certainly the one I prefer.  Smile

For many of us who have been in the hobby of flight simulation for many, many years we grew up with the various offerings from Microsoft.  When Microsoft abandoned their popular Flight Simulator way back in 2009, the only two choices were either to make the move to Prepar3D or move to X-Plane.  For me, and I’m sure many like me who had made a sizeable investment in FSX add-ons, the clear choice was to go the way of P3D as most add-ons for FSX would work.  Developers made their products available for P3D as quickly as they could and some didn’t charge for the update.  Of course others made the jump to X-Plane and never looked back. 

Certainly before Microsoft re-entered the scene with Flight Simulator 2020, both Prepar3D and X-Plane were very similar in what each offered and many 3rd party developers were supporting both platforms.  But this has certainly changed in recent years and from what I’m seeing the vast majority of 3rd party developers have completely shifted their focus to MSFS and have slowly decreased their development efforts away from P3D and in some cases X-Plane as well. 

Now it must certainly be said that prior to MSFS, X-Plane had a much more active community driven focus towards the freeware development of add-ons than the P3D community.  With P3D everything pretty much shifted to payware as the only option for enhancing the simulator.  Of course in the past two years since MSFS has been around the community focus has returned and we’ve seen some really awesome add-ons released for the new platform as freeware with lots more to come. 

With all that said, what advice can I give to those trying to choose a flight simulation platform?  In all honesty, I believe of the three platforms I’ve mentioned (MSFS, P3D and X-Plane) really it boils down to just two choices with the first being Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 and X-Plane.  But allow me to explain why I’ve removed Prepar3D from the list.

Prepar3D has never been intended to be used in the home/personal entertainment category.  From the very beginning, Lockheed Martin was unable to market/distribute the P3D flight simulation platform for anything other than commercial and flight training purposes.  While this never stopped anyone from purchasing the sim (I’m proof of that), the very simple fact is P3D has always been intended as a training sim.  Regardless if Lockheed Martin introduce a version 6 of the sim, I don’t feel P3D will ever be enhanced to the point of what we’re seeing with Microsoft Flight Simulator and since the debut of MSFS along with the quality of add-on, study level aircraft from Fenix and PMDG (more will come) Lockheed Martin is losing a lot of their customer base which used P3D as an off-ramp when FSX was no longer a viable option.  As already mentioned, many 3rd party developers have fully embraced MSFS and are moving full steam ahead in developing quality add-ons for that platform.  Of course, many users will stay with P3D and I’m sure Lockheed Martin will continue to support the platform regardless if there is a v6. 

As I mentioned at the top of the writing, X-Plane 12 has just released.  From what I’ve seen, read and heard….this latest version isn’t going down as I’m sure Laminar Research had hoped.  As I’m not an X-Plane fan, I have no intention of purchasing the sim.  But from some of the videos I’ve watched, those who are showcasing the new sim have mostly been disappointed in what they are seeing.  Of course, it must be said that this is a early release version and most likely things will change. 

Now I know there are a lot of unbelievers when it comes to Microsoft Flight Simulator.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blog postings, even I had my doubts regarding the new platform.  But over time, I believe the sim has matured into a quality flight simulator that I believe to be the “Gold Standard” of the available flight simulation platforms available today.  Both Microsoft and Asobo are committed to the project and I believe what we’re seeing from MSFS today is only the beginning.  In addition, from a cost perspective, MSFS requires a lot less investment to make the ground textures mirror that of the real world.

The 800 lb Gorilla

To address the 800 lb gorilla in the room, many will argue and say that X-Plane (at least historically) has always featured the best, true to life flight dynamics of any of the available sims.  I personally can’t argue either way on this statement.  I’m not a real world pilot, I’m not training to be a real world pilot and personally unless the difference gap was huge, I really don’t care.  It simply means nothing to me.  The aircraft I primarily fly in MSFS (Fenix A320, PMDG 737) compensate for any weakness in the flight dynamics department and I enjoy every single minute of my time in the sim and in those aircraft.

But What About…

Yes, there are two other flight simulator platforms that I have yet to mention in this posting, specifically Aerofly FS4 and DCS World.  DCS World, of course is an awesome flight simulator if you enjoy simulating military flight ops and honestly has some of the very best visual simulations of any platform.  I personally don’t spend a lot of time in DCS, but I do use it from time to time.  If military ops is something you really enjoy, then DCS World will be your best bet. 

Unfortunately, I personally don’t have any experience with Aerofly FS4.  While the platform does have some 3rd party development support with some add-ons, I don’t consider it broad enough to be considered above P3D, X-Plane or MSFS.  In addition, unlike P3D, X-Plane or MSFS, Aerofly FS4 does not include the entire world as part of the base package.  Additional regions must be purchased separately. 

In closing, if you’ve been in the hobby of flight simulation for some time and are already using and enjoying Prepar3D or X-Plane, then I certainly understand why you may choose to remain on those platforms.  But if you are new to the hobby, I highly recommend you do your homework and give consideration towards Microsoft Flight Simulator as I believe this is the very best and certainly will be for many years to come.

Thanks for reading and as always….Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

Saying Goodbye to P3D…For now

My current gaming machine is just a little over 4 years old.  Amazingly, it still runs really well.  When I built it back in 2018, I used the latest and greatest components I could.  Amazingly (once again), the machine performs well with the current simulation based games I enjoy playing.  This even includes the new Microsoft Flight Simulator.   Anyway, I designed the machine to use a 1 TB NVMe SSD as the main drive along with a few SSD’s.  At the time of the initial build, I was running P3Dv4 and it was installed on the NVMe drive. 

When P3Dv5 released, I knew it would be several weeks before all the add-ons would catch up, so I installed it on the largest SSD (500 GB).  I ran both versions of P3D for several month with this intention of eventually doing a complete OS reset, then locate P3Dv5 to the NVMe drive.  Before that happened, MSFS released and I kicked the can down the road and delayed the OS reset and just uninstalled P3Dv4 to free up enough space on the NVMe drive for MSFS. 

For the first 18 months of the life of MSFS, I really only used it for GA flying.  But all that changed once the Fenix A320 and the PMDG 737-700 released a few months ago.  Since that timeframe, I’ve only used P3D a few times.  Meanwhile I was adding more 3rd party airport sceneries to MSFS and as a result watching the available space on the NVMe drive get lower and lower. 

On Thursday, I purchased and attempted to install the new GSX Pro from FSDreamteam.  Like many others, I ran into issues immediately after installing.  After reading forum threads and Discord messages, I finally gave up and decided to go to bed and sleep on it.  Oddly enough, I woke up fairly early this morning and decided it was time to refresh the OS and essentially make the move to MSFS 100% and for now, give P3D the BIG Heave Ho. 

Now, while GSX Pro has some challenges and some of the issues experienced on the first day appear to be related to their download servers….but I believe my own issues were a combination of having remnants of P3Dv4, along with P3Dv5 and MSFS.  While it should certainly be possible for everything to live in harmony…something was wrong and I felt just doing a Windows 10 reset was my absolute best option.  Like I said, the available space on my main SSD was becoming a serious issue.

It’s been a long day and I’m not 100% done.  But I’ve managed to get Windows 10 reset, fully patched with all updated hardware drivers installed.  The most time consuming part of the entire process has been reinstalling MSFS.  That took the better part of two hours just to download then apply the updates.  Next getting the Fenix A320 and PMDG 737-700 installed and finally all the add-on airports reinstalled.  I even took time to get the AIG liveries along with VATSIM model matching installed.  (That’s also a very time consuming process, but I had these things backed up so I didn’t have to start from scratch).  One of the last items I installed was GSX Pro and it installed without issue and works as perfectly has it can at this point in time.  I’ll explain more about this in a future blog post. 

As for the future of P3Dv5.  For now it will remain uninstalled.  To be honest, and I’ve said this before in other blog postings, I really only have time for short-haul flights.  While I do love the PMDG 777, 747 and the QualityWings 787, I really don’t have the time to enjoy them to their full potential.  Not to mention, (and I’ve also said this before) that the eye-candy factor is seriously lacking in P3Dv5 compared to MSFS.

Possible Final Thoughts about P3D

My interest in P3D really didn’t start until Lockheed Martin released version 3 in 2015.  I had dabbled briefly with version 2, but didn’t officially leave FSX behind until v3.  At that time most of the 3rd party developers were getting more seriously involved with Prepar3D and it just seemed like the right time to move over.  Of course, when P3Dv4 arrived in 2017 that officially ushered in the 64 bit compatibility we had all been dreaming of.  Finally one could get the true potential from the sim without fear of the dreaded OOM errors which were quickly followed by at CTD. 

When Prepar3D version 5 was released on April 14, 2020 we were in the early stages of the COVID Pandemic and I was working from home.  At this time we knew about the new Microsoft Flight Simulator and I seriously contemplated just staying on v4 knowing/believing MSFS would be the future.  But after a few weeks I finally pulled the trigger and purchased P3Dv5.  After all, I felt it could be at least a year (if not longer) before MSFS would be at a point where study level aircraft would be available and I wanted to experience the latest and greatest for whatever period of time it might be before making the move to MSFS. 

Getting into P3Dv5 from a financial perspective was really only the cost of the sim.  Again, to the best of my memory….99% of the add-ons I had been using in P3Dv4 were made available with P3Dv5 installers at no cost and I certainly got my monies worth out of v5.  All-in-all, as a hard-core flight simulation enthusiast I’m thankful to Lockheed Martin for making P3D available after Microsoft abandoned us.  While I tried XPlane sometime before P3Dv4, but having been such a long-time Microsoft Simmer I just couldn’t get into it.  In any event, at the time Prepar3D v5 was “As Real As It Gets”. 

I know many simmers discount MSFS.  Especially around the flight modeling.  But for me, this is a minor issue and is almost a non-issue with the Fenix and PMDG aircraft we have today.  I believe these issues will all evolve in time and MSFS WILL BE the very best home flight simulation platform. 

Final Thoughts

Just a little over 24 hours later and the rebuild is done.  I completed my first test flight in the Fenix A320 from TPA to CLT.  No major issues. I actually learned something today which I was not aware of with MSFS.  But all the settings including graphic settings, sim settings and controller settings/bindings are all saved in the cloud.  So when you reinstall MSFS, all these settings that often require lots of testing and tweaking to get things the way they were are just the same as before.  This saved lots of times and no doubt allowed me to get my first flight in much quicker. 

Thankfully I landed just when I did as 5 minutes after I shut down my engines and filed my PIREP, my electricity went out.  Thankfully my sim machine is on a UPS and I was able to safely shut down.  But my plans for flight #2 will have to wait a bit.  Until then….thanks for reading. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!  (Once power is restored)

Jerry

Farewell Prepar3d v4

In preparation for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 (MSFS2020), it is time to bid farewell to P3Dv4.5 and all the associated add-ons.  While my P3Dv5 instance is still awaiting the availability of the PMDG Boeing 777, I have enough add-ons in v5 to keep me fully entertained until such time as the Triple Seven can be installed.

P3Dv4.5 Was Amazing

I joined the P3D bandwagon when P3Dv2 arrived on the scene and in my opinion, while v5 is finally proving to be stable….P3Dv4.5 was just simply rock solid.  Almost from day one, the much anticipated 64 bit release showed us exactly what a flight simulator should be and remained almost trouble free for just over three years.  However, between the P3Dv4.5 install and all the associated add-ons adding up to over 275GB of SSD space, I need to remove it to make room for the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 which is planned to release in just a few days from now (18 August). 

A Bit of a Three Ring Circus

My current gaming machine was designed and built with the future in mind.  At just over two years old now, at the time of the build I installed a 1 TB M.2 SSD as the main drive.  I moved over a few older 500GB SSD drives along with a 500 GB SATA drive for video work.  To maximize the performance of P3Dv4, it was installed on the 1 TB M.2 SSD along side the Windows OS.  I have one 500 GB SSD dedicated to Steam content such as Farming Simulator, Truck Simulators etc. and use the remaining SSD’s for backup and non-gaming content. 

When I installed P3Dv5, I installed it onto one of the SSD drives and it’s performing just fine.  But I believe I’ll want MSFS2020 to go onto the 1 TB M.2 SSD for maximum performance.  So to make this happen, unfortunately I must sunset P3Dv4.5. 

It really isn’t that big of a deal as I’ve been using P3Dv5 exclusively now for over a month.  Now that I have P3Dv5 dialed in, the performance is better than what I had been experiencing with 4.5 so now is just a good time to say goodbye.

MSFS2020 Requirements

According to the published minimum requirements of MSFS2020 as it relates to available disk space, I will need a minimum of 150GB.  Clearing out P3Dv4.5 and all its associated add-ons along with doing some additional cleanup, I will easily have over 500GB of free space on my main 1 TB M.2 drive.  Certainly more than enough.  At least for now. 

Looking Forward, Never Backward

While a lot of flight simmers may plan to ditch Prepar3D and X-Plane on day one of the MSFS2020 release, as I’ve stated before…Prepar3D v5 will remain my main simulator for simulating jetliner flights.  However, between home DIY projects and other responsibilities I do anticipate flying in MSFS2020 with any of the default GA aircraft as I explore the world flying low and slow.  My first flights most likely will be as follows.  Depart KAPA and fly over my house and the greater Denver area.  Flight number two will probably have me depart EBAW (Antwerp, Belgium) and fly over the area where my in-laws lived along with the Antwerp area.  Then who knows?  Most likely I’ll hop around between Alaska, perhaps fly around Innsbruk Austria…really the complete world is my option. 

Until next time…

Happy Uninstalling and Flying!

Jerry

The Future of the Flight Sim Add-on Market

With the upcoming release of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2020, many might be wondering what the future holds for the 3rd party add-on market.  In today’s FSX/Prepar3d and even X-Plane environments we must purchase, download and install dozens and dozens and sometimes even dozens more of extra add-ons to create an “As Real As It Gets” experience in our favorite simulator.  While some of the add-on content is freeware for X-Plane users, the vast majority of quality add-ons for FSX/P3D is payware.  All these extra components (while truly awesome) often present challenges in terms of compatibility and reliability of the base sim.   With MSFS2020, will we still need all this extra stuff?  The short answer is yes and no. 

No Longer Needed

While total immersion has always been my goal with flight sim, the eye-candy ranks right up there on my list of importance.  After all, much of what we perceive to be a full immersive experience comes to us through what we see.  Regardless of whether you fly low and slow or high and fast, the ground textures including roads, highways, rivers, lakes and railroads all add to the experience.  In the world of FSX/P3D all this level of detail has generally been provided through various add-ons from Orbx including the Global Base Pack, Global Vector, Global Trees, Global TerraFlora, Global Buildings and different OpenLC products for each region of the world.  Thankfully, right out of the box Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 has us covered with their highly accurate and stunning auto-gen provided by real world satellite imagery.  However, don’t count Orbx out as there will be plenty of opportunity for them to continue to develop their awesome scenery add-ons specifically the smaller airports and perhaps some of the larger ones like KSAN (as an example). 

Another example of add-ons which I believe will be obsolete in MSFS2020 is all the weather, cloud and sky texture add-ons which generally come to us via Hi-Fi (ActiveSky) and REX.  Out of the box, the MSFS2020 weather engine along with the way sky and cloud textures are displayed appear to be as real as it gets. Of course the development teams at Microsoft has completely rewritten the book on how aircraft will experience changing weather conditions to a level not even available to us now with these 3rd party add-ons. 

Finally I believe all these add-on shader type products such as EnvShade, PTA and Tomatoshade will also be unnecessary in MSFS2020.  I truly believe that out of the box the visuals of everything including ground textures, aircraft textures, sky textures..etc. are all absolutely beautiful out of the box.  This is not to say that any of these shader programs won’t make it to MSFS2020…I just don’t think they will be necessary.  At least not necessary for my setup.

Needs Going Forward

Of course at the very top of the list will be all the wonderful add-on aircraft (study level and some not so much) from devs such as PMDG, FSLabs, A2A, QualityWings, Aerosoft and Carenado just to name a few.  The limited information I’ve seen on the default Airbus A320 tells me that while this will be a fun aircraft to fly in the short-term, it’s not going to tick all the boxes for the seasoned flight simmer.  At the time of this writing, only PMDG (to my knowledge) has provided any sort of timeline and that is looking like late Q1 2021.  So we could be talking 6+ months before we see any study level aircraft in MSFS2020.

While many of the top add-on airport developers have posted pictures and details about their plans to release their airport add-ons for MSFS2020, these too will likely not be ready for release until several months after the release of the new sim.  Of course, of the enhanced airports Microsoft is including in the release, it’s unclear to me how these would differ in quality from what the 3rd party developers will provide. 

Expected Add-on Costs

I don’t want to speculate on exactly what the pricing will be for any 3rd party add-ons other than to say that I highly doubt we can expect to see any discounts from previous FSX/P3D purchases and certainly no free upgrades.  While the FSX to P3D jump has been a similar platform and some add-ons purchased for FSX have received 100% free updates all the way to P3Dv5, MSFS2020 is a completely different platform and I believe all add-ons will also be practically brand new versions.  In other words, I don’t believe these will be simple port overs from previous versions. 

Additional Thoughts on Pricing

When P3D was first released, PMDG was the first to increase their pricing.  At the time the reasons provided by PMDG was due to licensing and the simple fact that Prepar3D was not licensed for entertainment purposes like FSX had been.  Here’s an old forum post discussing this (Jan. 2015).  Other add-on developers like FSLabs also introduced their products at a premium price due to the P3D EULA.  As Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 once again is marketed as a “for entertainment purposes” product, can we expect add-on pricing to drop?  Well….your guess is as good as mine at this point in time.  But I would guess if there is any price change towards a new EULA the change will be minimal. 

My Plan

As I’ve stated before, while I will most likely purchase Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 near day one and I will spend some time flying and looking around, I don’t plan to make the move to the new platform until my favorite study level aircraft are available.  As I’m still currently unemployed (laid off in July after 22 years), I will also have to be frugal in my spending practices as I go along.  Most likely I will focus my attention first on aircraft and just make do with the airports that come with MSFS2020.  Then as time goes along and hopefully my job status will resolve itself in time, I can then purchase more things.  But these COVID-19 times are difficult for many and the priorities of my family must come first before anything else. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

PMDG Is First

The development team at PMDG was the first to ready one of their payware, add-on aircraft for P3Dv5.  The majestic Boeing 747-400 Queen of the Skies II is now 100% 99% compatible with P3Dv5.  Unfortunately, she isn’t 100% as there was a last minute change with the way the new ActiveSky P3D handles weather.  Specifically the way aircraft needs to be coded to interpret weather from ActiveSky P3D so the weather radar functions correctly.  Unfortunately, PMDG were not aware of this change and only learned about it after releasing the QOTSII.  While the PMDG Dev team have moved onto the next aircraft (hopefully the 737NGXu), they will circle back and make the necessary corrections to the Queen.  Most likely I will wait and install the 747-400 after PMDG has provided the new updated installer. 

Speaking of the Queen

While not flight sim related, Friday 8 May marked the 75th Anniversary of VE Day.  VE Day also known as Victory in Europe Day was the day in which the Allies of World War II accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.  Queen Elizabeth II spoke on Friday and was quoted as saying, “Never Give Up, Never Despair”.  In these trying times we’re now finding ourselves living, those words could never be more important.

The Work Continues

As I mentioned in my post on Saturday, I have successfully installed P3Dv5, ActiveSky P3D and FSUIPC.  I’ve now moved on to installing all my Orbx sceneries and airports.  I’ve always had the best luck in doing this in a particular order. 

First and obviously you need to install P3Dv5.  Next install Orbx FTX Base and Libraries.  It appears Orbx will not be making their FTX Vector for P3Dv5, so for now skip that. Then I begin installing the Orbx regions and finally all Orbx airports.  Once this is done (and it will take some time) I generally spend some time in a GA aircraft and go out and enjoy the beautiful Orbx regions.  My all time favorite is Southern Alaska and Pacific Northwest.  The very first add-on Orbx airport I purchased was 7S3 Stark’s Twin Oaks Airpark which is a Bill Womack classic.  I just love flying around this area. 

Still Not Ready for Prime Time

P3Dv5 still isn’t ready to go for me.  While it’s coming together for GA, VFR, low and slow flying…it’s not yet ready to take the place of P3Dv4.  Most likely it will still be a few weeks away from that timeframe.  To me this is a very methodical process and as I’ve stated before, I DO NOT install anything into the new sim that hasn’t been made compatible.  So my favorite aircraft, the PMDG 737NGXu will have to wait for the PMDG team to provide a new installer.  Whether that is a few days or a few weeks, the wait will be worth it. 

For now, I’ll continue installing the rest of the Orbx airports and then begin downloading other “ready to go” payware airports.  I have a lot of add-ons so stay tuned.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!

Jerry

Prepar3D v5 Update

Yesterday I discussed the latest version of Prepar3D.  Within about 15 minutes of publishing that article, I went ahead and pulled the trigger on P3Dv5 along with FSUIPC 6.  If you’re not familiar with FSUIPC (and many flight simmers are not), well FSUIPC is a little utility which allows many add-ons to connect to P3D and also allows for better external flight control support in the sim.  Most users can get by with the freeware version of FSUIPC.  However, if you are like me and want to customize your 3rd party add-on hardware (throttles, joysticks, yokes etc.) then you need FSUIPC.  But I digress…

It Is EVERYTHING and a box of chocolates

Of course, at this very instance the only thing installed into my new P3Dv5 setup is of course P3Dv5, FSUIPC and ActiveSky.  As a matter of fact, ActiveSky is the main reason I went ahead and pulled the trigger on P3Dv5 now.  Currently, ActiveSky for Prepar3D v5 is available as a beta at zero upgrade cost.  The new version of ActiveSky is called ActiveSky P3D and if you owned the previous version for P3Dv4 (ASP4) then for the next 2-3 weeks you can upgrade to ActiveSky P3D at no cost.  ActiveSky P3D will work for both P3Dv4 and P3Dv5. Once installed, it will prompt you to choose which simulator you want to use.  Pretty slick.

But back to my statement,  “It Is EVERYTHING and a box of chocolates”, the new Prepar3D v5 is truly amazing.  While even in its vanilla state, I can see the benefits of the upgrade and I’m very pleased to have made the purchase. 

One Step at a time

As I’ve mentioned before in other blog postings.  If you truly want the best out of your sim experience, only install 3rd party add-ons which have been ported over by the developers.  Don’t try to hack something into P3Dv5 which hasn’t been updated as you’ll likely only cause yourself issues and a lot of headaches. 

All major developers are working as quickly as they can to get their add-ons available for P3Dv5.  Spend some time just enjoying the vanilla sim and as add-ons are made available, install them.  Until that time…continue flying in P3Dv4.  This is my plan. 

If I were to guess (and a lot of this is based on my move from P3Dv3 to v4) it could be several more weeks before we have everything available from the devs.  Just be patient. 

If you yourself are currently making the move to P3Dv5 or planning to, FSElite has a really good P3Dv5 Compatibility Database.  They are documenting everything from add-on aircraft, airports, scenery and utilities.  

More to Come

I’ll provide updates as more add-ons have been made available to P3Dv5.  I’ll also share my settings as well.  Currently, I have my P3Dv5 settings adjusted to mirror what I have set in P3Dv4.  I figure this was a good starting point.  I’ll tweak to get the very best performance and will share them. 

Of course, at this very moment my FPS is phenomenal.  But this is expected in a vanilla sim.  As more add-ons are installed including scenery, airports and aircraft…the FPS will drop.  As I’ve always said….don’t drive yourself crazy chasing 60FPS.  I’ll be happy if DX12 and the enhancements made to v5 will give me a solid, smooth experience.  This is what I have with v4 and it’s all I need in v5.  Once I have made my tweaks, I’ll not pay much attention to FPS. 

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog postings. 

Until next time….

Happy Flying!

Jerry

Prepar3D v5

Most avid flight simmers will most likely know that Lockheed Martin released their newest release of Prepar3D.  Yes, P3Dv5 is out and at the time of me sitting down to actually write this blog post, I’ve yet to pull the trigger on the purchase.  I’ve changed my mind on the idea of moving to P3Dv5 about as many times as I’ve changed my socks.  At this point in time I’m leaning yes. 

Just Say No

Last year when we all learned about Microsoft’s plan to return to the flight simulation market I had said I would purchase no new add-ons for P3D.  Period!  I held to this plan for many months.  After all, from what we know about MSFS2020 (or at least believe we know about it) there will be very little need for all the Orbx ground texture add-ons, perhaps even 3rd party airport add-ons and even weather add-ons won’t be needed.  Again, I believe all this will be baked into the new sim.

I have very little hope that any 3rd party payware aircraft add-ons for P3D will be offered at zero cost to move to MSFS2020.  While I’ve heard PMDG and FSLabs are both planning to release aircraft for MSFS2020, these most likely will be brand new purchases.  Same will most likely apply to all my GA favorites as well. 

Out Of No Where

A few weeks ago, Lockheed Martin announced P3Dv5.  While most of us believed a P3Dv5 might be released in the future, we had no idea it was coming this soon.  Some speculate Lockheed was simply trying to get ahead of the new Microsoft release, but I don’t think that is the case at all.  Remember, contrary to popular belief….Prepar3D IS NOT geared towards our community.  P3D has been and always will be a commercial product.  In other words, Lockheed Martin DOES NOT market this software to the home simulation community.  Period!

Anyway….as I mentioned earlier, I’ve changed my mind about making the move to v5 many times over the past few weeks. 

Dialed In and Perfect

My current installation of Prepar3d v4.5 is dialed in and running perfect.  You can review my P3Dv4.5 settings here.  Over the past few weeks of being in the COVID-19 lockdown/quarantine, I’ve logged over 150 hours in the sim.  I’ve had absolutely zero issues.  No crashes!  No performance issues!  Nothing but absolute fun. 

I did break my rule of not making any purchases after catching some really good sales during this “Stay At Home” period and also picked up some awesome scenery being offered for free.  I figured I wanted to do my part in helping these developers during this time and the new scenery are airports I’ve wanted to fly into and out of. 

Back to V5

At the present time, my cost to make the move to Prepar3D v5 and have everything I have currently in v4 will be less than $100.  This includes the cost of the Academic license version of v5 and just a small handful of add-ons that require an “upgrade” price.  In my opinion, this is a small price to pay to take advantages of the improvements made in v5.

I would estimate about 25-30% of my current flight sim investment was money spent well before I made the move to P3D v2.x.  In other words, 25-30% of my add-ons (mostly Orbx, FSDreamTeam and FlightBeam purchases) were all made when I actively used FSX.  This was well over 10 (or more) years ago.  95% of my current total investment will be updated/upgraded by the developers at no cost to get them into P3Dv5 (including PMDG and FSLabs aircraft).  So I believe for less than a $100 investment, it’s money well spent for a hobby I truly enjoy so much.

As for MSFS2020.  Yes, it is still a planned purchase for me.  But we have no idea exactly when MSFS2020 will be available to purchase and we have no idea of the exact pricing scheme.  At the time of this writing, I’m not sure how COVID-19 will impact the release.  Once MSFS2020 is available, it could be weeks or even months before the sim is ready for me to begin using it with tubeliners on VATSIM. 

Purchase of v5 Imminent

I’ll make the purchase of Prepar3D v5 soon and begin the process of getting it installed and configured.  As developers release installers for v5, I’ll begin the painstaking process of installing them.  Like with v4, only add-ons which have been made compatible to v5 will be installed.  If all goes to plan, v5 will be just as stable as v4 is now, but obviously a better performer with the advances made in v5. 

Going Academic

With P3D versions 3.x and 4.x I purchased the professional level license.  While the only difference between the Academic license and that of the Professional was a small watermark in the upper right hand corner of the screen, I made the decision to purchase the professional license since at the time I did make occasional YouTube videos and monetized those.  Going forward, I have no plans of making videos and if I do they won’t be monetized.  Perhaps I’m getting more frugal in my older years….but I see no reason in spending the extra $$$ for the pro level.  After all, I generally learning something new each time I fly …so in my book that will count towards my “academic” use of this software. 

Final Thoughts

Well that just about does it for this posting.  I’m approaching my two month mark of being in self-isolation and still 100% healthy.  I still have a job and still managing to keep the cupboards stocked with food and yes, even toilet paper.  I filled the gas tank on my 2017 Ford Escape over two months ago and still have a half tank of gas left.  The wife and I have been doing a few projects around the house and enjoying the mild Spring weather we’ve had.  I think it’s been more than two weeks since our last snow and according to the long-range weather forecast, the snow is done until next Fall.  Just gotta keep a watch out for those darn Chinese “Murder Hornets” now.  I wonder how much toilet paper I should purchase for this situation? 

Until next time…

Stay healthy and Stay Safe for all threats, foreign and domestic….

Jerry

Microsoft Flight Simulator

As I often say, unless you’ve had your head under a rock the past 48-72 hours, you’ve certainly heard about the BIG flight sim news.  No, the biggest flight sim related news to break over this past weekend didn’t come from the halls of FSExpo19.  As the curtains were all about to close on what appears to have been another extremely successful FlightSimExpo, Microsoft (yes…Microsoft) was making an announcement waaaaay over on the other side of the country,  at the hugely popular E3 gaming conference in Los Angeles that they were returning to the flight simulation market in 2020 with Microsoft Flight Simulator.

My Initial Reaction

The first I heard of this was on Sunday afternoon.  I was kicked back in my lazy boy recliner and saw a Facebook post stating something about a new version of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020.  My first thought was someone’s made a YouTube video and in true “click bait” fashion titled it that way and all it will end up being is P3D with a ton of addons.  But….but…much to my surprise that was not the case.

The Website

In addition to the E3 announcement, Microsoft has a fancy website and an “Insider Program” already setup to support the announcement.   On this website it states, “Microsoft Flight Simulator is the next generation of one of the most beloved simulation franchises.  From light planes to wide-body jets, fly highly detailed and stunning aircraft in an incredibly realistic world.  Create your flight plan and fly anywhere on the planet.  Enjoy flying day or night, and face realistic, challenging weather conditions”

The Video

Take a Deep Breath and slowly Exhale……

Here’s what we know so far.  Not much!   It appears Microsoft Flight Simulator will release sometime in 2020.  It appears it will be available for both XBOX and Windows 10.  It appears (based on the info available) the video was “captured in real-time 4K”.  In the grand scheme of things this really isn’t enough information to even warrant talking about it,  yet here we are….talking about it! You literally will not find a single flight sim community NOT talking about it.  It’s everywhere…yet what we know is…not much!

Opinions, Opinions…

In addition to not really knowing much (at this stage) about this new Microsoft Flight Simulator everyone has opinions.  Yes, this includes yours truly.  Of course I do!  Simply, you can’t have been involved the hobby as long as I have and not have an opinion or three.  I’m human…I do and I’m going to share a few of my thoughts with you.  Whether you care to read them, agree with them is up to you.  Here goes….

Negative Nancy

There seems to be a lot of criticism from some regarding the opinions and comments made by others with regards to this announcement.  A lot of what I’m reading which would fall into this category is being made by those who have only been involved in this hobby 5 minutes.  They weren’t around a decade or more ago to read/hear about all the things Microsoft Flight Simulator was to become.  They weren’t around when the hype surrounding Microsoft Flight could be cut with a knife and the giant sucking sound which occurred when all the excitement evaporated when reality set in.

Most who will read the words I’ve written can be grouped into the hardcore flight simulation community segment.  We’ve all grown up through the various iterations of the wonderful Microsoft Flight Simulator product and were all equally let down when it became no more.  Yet, we tightened our laces and settled into one of two courts with that being Prepar3D and the second being X-Plane.  Some are successfully straddling the fence of both and there’s a small segment which have stayed behind with FSX or FSX Steam Edition and yes, as funny as this may sound….a portion are still stuck on the FS2004/FS9 island.  But regardless, we all shed our tears for what was Microsoft Flight Simulator and we’ve moved on.  So yes, we have a right to our opinions and we have a right to be somewhat skeptical of this new project. 

Niche Community

You’ve often heard myself and others talk about what a niche community we have.  It’s true!  The flight simulation community isn’t as big as some might want to make it out to be.  While competition is a good thing, over saturation isn’t so much.  Can our community support three major flight simulation platforms?  I’m not so sure, but could Microsoft have a trick up their sleeve?

I Love History

As previously stated, our community is small compared to other popular “gaming”communities.  While many of us don’t consider our flight simulation to be a game, by the way it’s not…it’s a simulator.  We still get compared to other communities.  Anyway….

Despite the fact there are a few other simulator options out there, the two major players at this point in time are Prepar3D and X-Plane.  Before we dive too deep in discussing these, let’s take a minute or two for a history lesson.

Microsoft released FSX in 2006 and FSX Acceleration (SP2) a year later 2007.

Microsoft sold the intellectual property (IP) including source code for the commercial use side of FSX SP2 to Lockheed Martin in 2009. 

Lockheed Martin released Prepar3d v1 in November 2010. 

Microsoft released Microsoft Flight in February 2012 (the same year the Mayans got the end of the world wrong).

In 2014, Dovetail Games announced a license agreement with Microsoft to distribute Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition. FSX : SE was released in December 2014. 

In 2014, Dovetail Games also announced their plans to develop a “next generation” flight simulation product further developed on Microsoft’s technology and bring this to market in 2015.  However, Flight Sim World wouldn’t come to fruition until 2017.  In April 2018, Dovetail announced Flight Sim World development would be closed.

In a nutshell, while Flight Sim World was supposed to be the next generation flight simulator product developed on Microsoft technology, the end result wasn’t what the hard core flight simulation community wanted or needed. 

Will Microsoft Flight Simulator Take Flight Again?

With the history lesson out of the way, I’ve gotta say that from what I see in the 1 minute and 44 second trailer…I’m amazed, I’m impressed and I’m highly, highly optimistic.  Let me repeat that…I’m highly optimistic!  But as I stated earlier, what we actually know beyond what our eyes are taking in just isn’t that much.  For example….

What about our current add-ons which have been developed for FSX/P3D?  Will they work?  Who knows.  However, if I were to take a really big guess (and that’s all it really is at this point) I would say NO!  No, our current add-ons won’t work.  Especially not right out of the gate.  The next question folks will ponder is, will it cost to get current add-ons for the new sim?  We just don’t know.

But let me say this about “our current add-ons”.  I constantly see complaints (especially in the FSX/P3D communities) about the fact that P3D is just a rebranding of sorts of FSX.  While it is, it also isn’t.  Meaning, Lockheed Martin have done some really awesome things to make P3D v4.5 what it is today and P3D v4.5 is truly lightyears from FSX.  But…..but…I firmly believe in order for us to truly turn that corner and reach a point that we can say “THIS…THIS RIGHT HERE…Is the next generation flight simulator”, well….we’re gonna have to say goodbye to all those ancient and archaic add-ons we’re so desperately trying to hold onto.  Enough is enough. 

Having said that, (again because we just don’t know much at this point) will 3rd party scenery actually still be needed? Of the scenes depicted in the short trailer, are we looking at default?  If so, dang…that’s impressive for default scenery.  But my guess is, out of the box Microsoft Flight Simulator will have some heavily detailed areas and others not so much.  But again…we just don’ t know.

The information available today does confirm we can fly anywhere on the planet.  So most likely this will be just as inclusive as FSX was.  But does this mean every airport, every city, every town will be modeled?  Again….we just don’t know.  Of course, there is speculation some data might actually be streamed into the sim as one flies along.  But at this point we really just don’t know.

But visually impressive/immersive scenery is only part of the equation.  The hardcore flight simulation community will also expect the same impressive/immersive experience in the aircraft as well.  At this point in time, there’s no evidence proving or disproving this important fact. 

Bottom line and this is just my opinion.  If (and that’s a really big IF) Microsoft Flight Simulator provides us both the visuals and the level of immersion we have come to expect from Prepar3D and X-Plane, then I believe this could (at some point in the future) live up to being called the next generation flight sim.  But can our little community support a big three concept?

The Ace in the Hole

Several years ago I discussed at great depth the confusion surrounding a topic that I’m going to bring up once again.  This topic is possibly…the ace in the hole that Microsoft needs to have any success.  Obviously, success might simply be “If you build it, we will come”…back.  But as I pointed out earlier, it’s gotta be done right.  An arcade game isn’t what we’re looking for.  But back on topic…

Could Microsoft actually force a change in how Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D is sold?  What am I talking about?  Of course, I’m talking about that 800 lb. Gorilla sitting over there in the corner called EULA or End User License Agreement. 

Reflecting very briefly on that history lesson from a few moments ago, in 2009 when Microsoft sold the commercial side of FSX to Lockheed Martin the intention was P3D would not be marketed as “Personal Consumer Entertainment” software.  However, nothing has prevented individuals like myself to purchase, download, install and use P3D v1, P3D v2, P3D v3 and now P3D v4.  While we can make every attempt to pick a few words out of the existing P3D EULA which gives us a right to use the software (training, simulating and learning), the very bottom line is many of us are using P3D for “personal consumer entertainment” purposes only, which is exactly how we all once used Microsoft FSX.  My fear is the right set of attorneys in the right courtroom could argue that Lockheed Martin is operating outside of the agreement established by Microsoft.  Hey, if an individual was able to sue a fast food establishment (and win) many years ago because the hot coffee she ordered through the drive thru in which she accidentally spilled on herself, then certainly anything might be possible here.

Bottom Line

We simply don’t know much!  It looks dang good and if done right, it could be a success and win many of us back to the Microsoft family. This will especially be true depending on Prepar3D v5.  Which like MSFS, we also don’t know a lot about.  As more information becomes available, I’ll certainly provide my opinion along with everyone else.  But just remember…I have my opinions and you will have your opinions.  These may be the same, may be similar or might be completely worlds apart.  But at the end of the day, they are just that.  Opinions!

Until next time…

Happy Flying!

Jerry

Flight Simulation–The Struggle for Balance

While I’ll be the absolute first to tell you that Prepar3D, Flight Simulator X (FSX) and X-Plane are NOT video games…they are computer based flight simulators!  It certainly didn’t start out this way.  As I often show my age when I speak about the fact that I’ve been flying computer based simulations since the early 1980’s…really and truly at that time, the ancestors of P3D, FSX and X-Plane were just simply games.  At that time, I really don’t think anyone (perhaps other than the developers) could imagine what these games would become and the industry which would rise up to support it. 

A Picture is Worth…

They say “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”.  The top image is what things looked like back around 1984 on the Commodore 64.  I spent hours upon hours and a few hours more sitting at my desk flying around Chicago Meig’s Field. 

Advance the calendar some 35 years and this is what the above evolved into.  The image below is from my own Prepar3d version 4 setup and the PMDG 747-400.  I believe I captured this screenshot on a flight from Denver to London late last summer (2018). 

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The stark contrast between those two images is truly amazing.  From a very basic 2D cockpit with very limited controls to the flight deck of the Queen herself where just about every button, every switch and every dial does something is again just simply amazing.  While I often envy the younger generation who have basically grown up with only knowing the more modern of things, I do consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to witness this first hand. 

There’s an interesting backstory with the above image.  I have this image on my work laptop and Windows 10 automagically changes out my desktop image every 15 minutes.  I have two very large external monitors in my office and they are situated where if someone stops by to visit, they can see the desktop image if I have my applications minimized.  One of my co-workers stopped by one day, saw the image and asked me where I found it.  I explained that I captured the image (that’s all I said), he looked at me and said “how the hell did you manage to convince the pilots to A. let you onto the flight deck, and B. convince them to step out so this picture could be taken.  LOL  I explained this was a screenshot from my home flight simulator setup.  I think we spent the next hour discussing the hobby.

The Struggle is Real

While I can’t speak for all who are involved in the hobby of flight simulation, I would wager to guess that most (at least some) struggle with the balance between ultimate realism and beautiful/stunning eye-candy.  Which is more important and does it really matter? 

As Microsoft Flight Simulator evolved over the years, there was still a time where third party add-ons were somewhat rare.  Especially what I would refer to as complex versions like we have today from the likes of PMDG, FSLabs and A2A.  So I would say (for me), as the complex aircraft were slowly starting to come onto the scene, I was still stuck in the “I care more about eye candy” mode.  What I wanted was simple.  I wanted an aircraft which closely resembled what ever I wanted to fly (Boeing 727, 737, 757 etc.), I wanted it to have decent flight characteristics (meaning perform better than a brick) and I wanted a livery for which ever real world airline I was simulating at the time.  Again, at that time….all the rest wasn’t a concern.  I also wasn’t all that bothered if the aircraft didn’t have a virtual cockpit.  I would guess this was the time frame of about 25 years ago. 

The turning point for me was sometime after the dawn of the SATCO/VATSIM age (circa 2000-01).  Of course, this is also around the same timeframe when internet based virtual airlines began popping up and the interwebz made the world a much smaller place. 

Immersion is Key

I think with any simulation based title, the immersive experience is due part from the software itself and also from ones own imagination.  While I’m not suggesting any of us sim gamers go around thinking (or certainly not pretending) we’re farmers, truckers or pilots…but I believe, our own imagination certainly makes up a small (perhaps larger) part of our overall experience. 

For example, I have my own rules for how I enjoy flight simulation.  First, I almost always begin a flight from the last airport I previously landed at.  There are a few times in my mind I will just say “jump seat” and start off from an airport I hadn’t just flown into…but that’s rare.  Second, I’m also not the type of virtual aviator who fires up a flight and then either goes to bed, goes to work or goes shopping.  While I’m not going to lie and tell you that my rear keister is always firmly planted in my chair for every minute, every hour of a flight….I’m generally not far away.  After all, pilots in the real world will get up and stretch their legs and go to the toilet.  Finally, when I was single…I would often heat up a “TV Dinner” which I would eat on longer flights.  But hey…I was eating a lot of these types of dinners when I was single. 

The Trade Off

Unfortunately, it wasn’t that long ago most of us had to make a decision.  Did we want the experience which the complex, advanced simulation add-on aircraft would deliver…OR…did we want the breathtaking visuals?  Because it wasn’t always money that determined the path. 

Before P3Dv4 was finally capable of taking advantage of a 64 bit architecture and move beyond the 4 GB virtual memory limitations, we all found it hard to mix both together.  You’ll find older writings of mine on this blog site where I attempted to marry the complex and the stunning visuals….yes it was doable, but it required significant compromise. 

It’s All a Balancing Act

Today, I enjoy a perfect balance between the more advanced simulation add-on aircraft and the stunning visuals.  With the advancement of hardware, software and the financial ability to marry both together…I can finally shove those graphic sliders to the right and enjoy the challenge of learning and flying some of the greatest machines ever invented and experience the visuals as if it was really happening.  My friends…that’s how you define the tagline “As Real As It Gets”. 

Until next time…

Enjoy the experience however you define it.

Jerry

Introducing Flight Sim Helpers

I’ve created a new Facebook Community for like minded flight simulation enthusiasts with a focus of helping others get the most from the hobby.   The plan is to support all major flight simulation platforms including FSX, FSX Steam Edition, Prepar3D and X-Plane. 

Backstory for anyone interested.  I’ve been involved in the flight simulation hobby since the early 1980’s.  In those early days, support was often only found in a few BBS (bulletin board systems) and on early computer networks like Compuserv, PlayNET and later AOL.  It truly was member helping members back then. 

Today’s Internet has most certainly helped to both grow our hobby and aid in spreading knowledge.  However, its also given rise to the amount of “keyboard warriors” who simply prefer to disrupt, agitate and ridicule those who are seeking assistance.

I grew up being told there was no such thing as a stupid question and sometimes even a savvy Internet/Google search pro like myself may still have a question or two after spending time trying to find the answer myself.  The focus of Flight Sim Helpers is to help those who need it without the attitude found in other support groups. 

If you’re new to the hobby or a seasoned pro, please consider joining Flight Sim Helpers.  I’m looking to add new moderators who can help keep everything with the group running smoothly and smartly.  If you’re interested in helping, please message me. 

Thank you for your time and I hope to see you in the new Facebook Flight Sim Helpers group.   

Jerry

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