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rsrandazzo

What should you expect from FSX? An opinion...

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Captains-Disclaimer: This started as a short post- and turned into a LONG post. I've gotten a lot of email asking my opinion on FSX- so here you go. The real, unfiltered deal. :-)Since tonight is, for most of you, "The Night Before Christmas" I thought I'd offer some perspective on FSX from my standpoint at PMDG. Obviously, PMDG has a vested interest in the future of the Microsoft Flight Simulator brand franchise, and it isn't a secret that PMDG has participated in a few beta test cycles for this product line, including the most recent beta process for FSX.From where we sit, our goal during any beta period is to take the collective knowledge of our team and help the FS development team see individual improvement targets and scenarios that might otherwise be overlooked in the tremendous inbound information flow that occurs during the FS development/testing period.We have had the very good fortune of getting to know some of the developers of our favorite simulation during the past few years- and I'm pleased to tell you that they are all very much human and they are all very dedicated to the cause and the values of FS and the FS community. We even taken advantage of our relationship to use one of those micro-chip sensing scanners that the veterinarians use to find the implanted RFID tags in stray dogs/cats- and we are about 90% certain that none of them is been secretly cloned or circumvented as "Stepford Developers" who spew only the "Big Company Party Line" as some in the community have feared...Quite to the contrary. We've really enjoyed the human side of our minor little role in the grand spectrum of FS development- and while at times we've been frustrated (and sometimes IMMENSLY FRUSTRATED) when the ACES team's priorities are not focused on our suggestions and reports- the PMDG team has the benefit of learning how our own beta team feels when roles are reversed and we find ourselves prioritizing their reports and/or simply defining our goals differently than our guys would like.Such is life in business...I was discussing the RTM (Release To Market version) of FSX with PMDG's Marc Harrington and Ryan Maziarz during the past few days- and I was nearly embarrassed to admit that I've been involved in FlightSim now for almost 27 years. Not that you really care- but for me it started with a program called "Jumbo Jet" on my Atari 800, and I swore that if I learned to program I could someday produce a 747 simulator that was better than the one contained in that cartridge on the Atari.Add a couple of decades, the brainpower, skills and willpower of guys like Marc, Lefteris, Vin, Vangelis and others- a whole host of Technical Advisors- tens of thousands of hours of development time and more dedication than any of us realized would be necessary- and I dare say WE succeeded. :-)Since PMDG is a small, independent company, we have the liberty of spending time getting to know you and interacting with you in ways that many of the great folks on the MS team just won't get. So it's natural that some of you might be interested in our opinion on the new version- but it's also natural for you to be suspicious that we'd polish our opinions just because we know the developers and we want to maintain harmony and continue to have a platform upon which to develop our own products.Since it's the night before release- and most of us have been looking at FSX for many months- I thought I'd offer you my candid, unfiltered opinion of what most of you will find tomorrow when you open the box and enjoy that "new sim smell" for the first time in three years. (Now if that isn't the longest, most boring introduction of my own opinion.... I think I just put MYSELF to sleep!)Okay- lets get right to it: I absolutely LOVE the new version. It looks good- it has some fun new features- it's a great extension of the familiar base FS platform- and it's easily the nicest looking platform I've ever seen for a flight sim in any form. It has some "issues" that frustrate me as a user- but looking back on the perspective of having owned every version of this simulator since FS first hit the market on the Apple II a few galactic eons ago- I can assure you that every new version has had it's own unique issues that we eventually learned to live with.So lets talk first about what you will really learn to LOVE about FSX!(No particular order here- this is an informal chat/stream of consciousness....)COLORING:=========Many of you know that I have been fortunate to make the transition from "simmer" to airline captain. Not many of us got a chance to do that- and with some help from some very good people and a lot of hard work- I have had the great fortune to spend thousands of hours looking out of the pointy end of some very nice airplanes at the great and varied planet of ours. During that time- I've become pretty accustomed to how things look- and what the natural visibility cues are when rolling down the runway- climbing, descending and at cruise. I know what it looks like when the sun comes up but you are locked in heavy wet clouds while boring along toward your destination- and I know how it looks when you are descending on the arrival and you can see the destination airport from 60nm out because it's severe clear and calm. There is a subtle but interesting way in which the ripples of the earth's surface capture, block and reflect light to form interesting Mandelbrot sets of shading along the surface as the sun rises and sets......and FS has NEVER been able to satisfy the part of my brain that has for years enjoyed those views out the front window. FS has never even come close- especially not during the transition periods between dark and light. There is a subtlety of hue and depth that FS never accomplished and, as such, most of my sim enjoyment came at night or in broad daylight.I won't tell you that FSX has it "perfect" yet- but I will tell you that this is a tremendous leap forward from anything Flight Simulator has provided to us in the past. The FSX day/night transitions come with the same dreary, skulking change in blues and grays that trick you into feeling that your vision is being suffocated until finally either day or night wins out in the semi-daily struggle between light and dark. These transitions are what the sensory parts of my brain weren't seeing in previous versions of FS. Fully 3/4 of all the time I've spent flying FSX has been spent in the day/night transition- because this has always been my favorite time of day to be sipping my coffee with one foot up on the panel stub, leaning my elbow on the arm-rest, listening to the radio calls of distant friends and airplanes and enjoying the magnificence that is the world when viewed from up high. Finally I get that transition sensation with FSX- and I'm really enjoying it. (Doc says caffeinated ain't good for me any more tho- so it's non-caff-java for me... just ask Lefteris. ;-) )Another area where vast improvements have yielded tremendous results involves visibility and lighting. I live in a mountainous area- and when the sun rises and sets, the shadows of the mountains are a defining feature of the terrain. In FSX, those shadows very closely match what I see in the terrain around me- and this dramatically enhances the realism of the out-of-window view for me.As for visiblity- the distance vision has always been a bit kludgy in the FS series- but it is vastly improved in this version. The distant horizon colors and fade blending are significantly better than I've seen. Suddenly the sky looks "right" and the horizon doesn't offend...SOUND:======Sound within FS has always been a bit of a trial for me. Especially as it is represented in most of the add-ons ever made for FS. (Ours included.) The fact is that when you've sat in the cockpit during flight- the sound mixes that you hear never sound quite right within FS- even if recorded directly. I've had plenty of apparent aficionados try to explain to me why some of the things I have experienced in a few thousand hours of time in the cockpit aren't correct- but in retrospect I think the problem was related to weaknesses in the sound processing and playback process within Flight Simulator. Sound is a directional energy- and your relationship to a sound (direction, offset, distance) is just as important as the accuracy of the recording itself. In other words- without a directional offset capability- the cockpit sounds in our FS add-ons are NEVER going to please my ears because they wont sound like the cockpit noise I'd expect to hear.Once again, I won't tell you that FSX has it "perfect" but I will tell you that the FSX sound capabilities are a generation leap ahead of those we have used for years within FS. The implementation of sound cones allow developers for the first time to replicate the fact that an airplane will sound different depending on which angle it is "sound viewed" from. Ahead of the fan/propeller- you will hear significantly different noise mixing than you will hear to the sides- which itself will differ from the sound you hear behind the airplane. The same is true internally within the airplane. If your engine is in front of you- you will hear a completely different sound mixing than if, say (to pick a completely random example) you have four engines located 90 feet behind you and spreading over 150 feet width between them....We are already working to bring the new 747-400 Soundset into FSX- and I can't wait to hear how Armen is able to implement all of these new features to really bring out the wonderful flow of sound induced endorphins in the brain. If the normal relative quality relationship between the "Default" and "Commercial Add-On" airplanes holds true for FSX- then we are all in for a SIGNIFICANT treat for our ears as commercial developers grab a hold of this technology- because the FS default airplanes sound magnificent!DEFAULT AIRPLANES:==================Okay- this one will leave you scratching your head. (go ahead- get a good sharp stick...) Normally when I get a beta version of FS- I'm just like all of you; I start cramming all my favorite add-ons into the sim in order to see how they look! In the case of FSX- this hasn't worked as well as in the past because of some pretty significant structural changes within FSX. In the past- we had to move some bits around and "viola! Working Transition!"With FSX, however, we are five months into our FSX experience at PMDG- and we are still working on making the 747-400/400F compatible, so I've had to focus my "fun FSX flying" on other airplanes- most of which were incompatible in some form or other. (I'm a very picky add-on user- in case you hadn't guessed. I have a very short list of airplane add-ons that I think are spectacular- and the rest just don't appeal to my quality/realism demands.) My experience has been; "the more complicated the sim- the less likely it is to work in FSX." (Note: This is NOT TRUE IN ALL CASES...more on that later...)So I've spent some time tooling around using the "default airplanes" http://www.maam.org/maam_sim.html and purchase one or both of their FS2004 packages- then follow the install instructions found in the AVSim forum for MAAM and you'll have a great pair of airplanes on your hands while you wait. :-)(I'm not affiliated with MAAM in any way- nor is PMDG. I think you guys have seen me around long enough to know that if a product is good- I'll promote it regardless of who produces it. The MAAM team has done good work and the proceeds go to a great cause- in case anyone worried about my recommendation...)MISSIONS:=========I'll be the first to admit: When I heard about the new mission capability in FSX- I began to lament the end of our Serious Sim. After all- missions are for gamers- and who needs gamers when the gamers have their Xbox360s????Well- I didn't touch the Missions during beta- and had no intention of touching them at any time in the future- until Ryan started babbling on and on (he does that- really...) about how much fun he was having with the missions. So- I considered mailing him an XBOX360- but decided that was likely to distract him from more important tasks ahead of him. Finally- he convinced me to, "try mission seven with the glider- you'll love it." I loaded the mission- and 30 minutes later- I loaded it up again. I've now flown "Mission 7" a half dozen times- and I'm entirely fascinated with the mechanical and finesse aspects of keeping that glider afloat on flexible wings. Mission 7 led to a few others- and a few more after that.... So okay. The missions are actually pretty fun- and make for a great distraction for someone who just wants to tinker and have a short spot of fun without flying from Boston to Frankfurt in real time. They don't feel "Xboxy" (I invented that word for this post) and they don't feel threatening to the seriousness of our sim. Instead the offer a really enjoyable way to explore some things you might otherwise have never discovered.If you find me at Soar Minden next month inquiring about adding a soaring rating to my ATP- it is all Ryan's fault....SO WHAT'S NOT TO SMILE ABOUT?==============================Well- this is a mixed bag of plusses and minuses in my opinion. Before you read further- let me reiterate that this is my opinion- and yours may vary- which is okay. :-)During development, the ACES team has clearly focused on the fact that FSX is a "world simulation." As such- there are some GREAT features that haven't been as well modeled in previous versions, such as the fact that you can see whole forests of trees and ground clutter as you approach terrain. Trees around airports are a natural part of life- and their absence (or scarcity) in previous sims has left something to be desired. In FSX- the trees add a great depth of field to the simulation- as does the vehicle traffic moving along the roadways. But all of this detail comes with a cost associated with it- and those costs/benefits will weigh differently on different users.For example, at PMDG- GROUND FRICTION modeling is a very important issue for us- as it affects the realism and quality of the airplanes that we simulate. There are a few well known hacks out there to change the existing ground friction model- but for the most part they just mask the problem while introducing others- so we don't like them too much.We begged and pleaded to have rolling friction addressed- but for reasons based on their own priorities and goals, the ACES team was only able to give us all a new side-load friction model without fixing the forward/aft rolling friction model. Do I wish they'd spent less time working on some of those trees or vehicles and invested the time on our landing gear? Sure..... Of course- because that item is most important to me.... But I have enough faith in their decision making to feel comfortable that if rolling friction could have been addressed within their constraints- it would have been fixed- and the value of their time was well invested anyway.This is just a small example of tradeoffs- but I want to remind you that every version we've received since FS2.0 has had tradeoffs for gains and benefits- so there are many more in the FSX package.There are VERY many technical interface demands that the development community places on the FS development team- and with FSX they have started trying to answer them. They have done a good job with getting that process rolling and listening to cues and feedback from the development community- but as an entity we at PMDG felt that the focus areas for some of this work didn't always match with what we were trying to accomplish *right now.* So while we have many new tools to work with- we didn't get EVERYTHING we wanted....Some others in the development community who focus on non-airplane areas had more of their wish lists matched- which is STILL GOOD FOR ALL OF US in the long run- but there are a few nagging items we'll still have to program around or learn to work with more effectively. (In fairness to the hard work of the development team- they are still listening to our input and feedback, so the future looks bright!)TOOLS TOOLS GIMME TOOLS!:=========================One of the areas that nags at my enjoyment as a developer involves the tools that we need in order to produce FSX products. In the past, the FS development team has either waited many months before posting SDK information- or they have had to provide only minor updates to the existing SDKs in order for developers to make progress. With FSX, however- there are dramatically more changes to the simulator- and these changes demand all new SDKs to get developers moving forward.Obviously- SDKs are not a priority item for release when you are trying to fix bugs and cram all kinds of new functionality into the new sim without missing your deadlines- but to all of us in the development community- we wanted these tools three months ago so that we could have our newest stuff "ready to go" so our needs conflict. :-)The FSX development team is working furiously to get the development community (commercial and freeware) the tools we need to begin producing products for FSX that take full advantage of the new strengths of FSX- but they aren't here yet- so in some cases we are sitting still and waiting for their updates. (I promise- they ARE working hard on these things- and if we'd had them before release we would probably be waiting on something else... It's how development seems to work...)So- like every other developer- PMDG wanted to have the new version of the PMDG 747-400/400F ready for you ON RELEASE DAY- but after five months of work on the new version- we'll still waiting on a few things we need to finish her up- and to get her step-cousin the MD11 off the production workflow. But I'm betting we have these tools soon- and in no time at all you'll have more new airplanes than you can shake a stick at! (Use the sharp one you were scratching your head with...)THIS IS GETTING LONG- SO LETS WRAP IT UP!:==========================================If you've read this far- I should probably buy you an ice cream cone- so instead I'll wrap this up with a few short notes on what you should expect from the sim's performance....History tells us that whenever a new version of FS comes out- it looks like this:-> New functionality.-> Better graphics taking advantage of newer technology.-> More computer overhead to drive all that causes a drop in FPS from the version you just upgraded from.-> In a few days- the tweekers ball commences and you gain some FPS...-> During the next few years- you'll have FPS that make you forget the new version was ever slow...This happened when we moved from into FS95... FS98... FS2000... FS2002... And again when we moved to FS2004. I distinctly recall one poor chap posting that FS2004 was the death of Flight Simulator because no hardware would ever run it smoothly.... So what do I expect will happen with FSX? Go back to my list and start reading with "New Functionality." The same process is going to happen again- and after seeing all of this new functionality- I'm looking forward to it because we have a great new platform that looks better and sounds better than anything we've had before... Sure- current FPS for some people is going to be uncomfortable after coming off of big FPS rates in FS2004- but in my opinion the advancement is worth it! (Your mileage may vary!)SO WHAT SHOULD I DO?:=====================Well- if you haven't already- GO BUY THE SIM.That should go without saying. :-)(No- I don't work for Microsoft- and the rumors that PMDG has purchased Microsoft are entirely untrue (this week))When you get the sim installed (which will take 15GB, by the way) you should spend some time cruising the forums looking for tweaks- because YOU WILL NEED THEM. Remember: "More Overhead- Lower FPS."Ryan Maziarz (a master tweeker/fiddler who attends the tweeker's ball, I'm sure...) walked me through a set of tweaks on my own setup- and I saw my FPS triple from the default settings while actually improving the visual quality of the sim. I think Ryan is going to add a post to the forum with a rundown on his tweaks so you too can benefit from his fiddling and forum reading...Then- spend some time exploring the default MSFS- and enjoy how much work was put into making it look this good. Now- imagine how good this is going to look once all the commercial scenery developers capitalize on FSX's strengths? Now imagine viewing it from the flight deck of your PMDG 747-400 or PMDG MD11 for FSX- and you'll see why I'm excited about the future of our sim.So, go ahead- grab a cup of coffee, put a foot up, rest an elbow- and watch the blues and grays battle it out as the sun rises on that distant horizon. We have a long flight ahead of us with FSX


Robert S. Randazzo coolcap.gif

PLEASE NOTE THAT PMDG HAS DEPARTED AVSIM

You can find us at:  http://forum.pmdg.com

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Very interesting read thanks for your insight old mate..


Cheers Josh Cliff

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Excellent post, it's a good time to be a simmer.Thanks PMDG.


Adam Crossley
Cheshire, UK.
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Guest FlyingKiwi

Great to read, But one that I have never read yet is How long does PMDG think it will take ot get the Queen of the skys running, PMDG must have an idea of timing, I have only had the Queen for about 2 months and are addicted, I need her back or else may have to delete FSX and reload 2004 (from what i have seen so far woul dnot be that hard to do)RgdsJohn

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Guest Celt

Here's a request. I'll be interested (and I hope others will be too) to hear an airline pilots list of "must have" add-ons for FS9 and FSX . . . so Captain, what do you have? (and we'll assume you have all the PMDG add-ons)

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>Great to read, But one that I have never read yet is How long>does PMDG think it will take ot get the Queen of the skys>running, PMDG must have an idea of timing, I have only had>the Queen for about 2 months and are addicted, I need her back>or else may have to delete FSX and reload 2004 (from what i>have seen so far woul dnot be that hard to do)We really don't. There are still certain things we need from MS to complete it and we have no timetable on when we'll recieve them. Besides that, we don't give release dates as you know...I have my full FS9 install running side by side with FSX now and it's probably gonna stay that way for a while until everything gets updated and moved over.


Ryan Maziarz
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For fastest support, please submit a ticket at http://support.precisionmanuals.com

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Guest btclarke

Hi Rob,Thanks for that great post....Waiting patiently in the corner for the FSX aeries from your production facility...RegardsBryan

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Chris-Funny you should ask...I'm an add-on junkie too. Just ask Ryan. :-)I'm always comparing notes with him- and honestly i'm probably PMDG's pickiest customer because i really like detail and realism.When the FSX dust settles- bring this topic up again- and we'll have some fun with it!


Robert S. Randazzo coolcap.gif

PLEASE NOTE THAT PMDG HAS DEPARTED AVSIM

You can find us at:  http://forum.pmdg.com

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Always great to read your posts Rob. I for one am going to hold off until FSX settles down and a new Windows rolls in. Then i can purchase the -400 FSX version and the MD-11 and hopefully have a powerfull enough computer to boot out what FSX has to offer. Just on my own personal opinion a lot of the fancy touches such a traffic and trees dont mean a whole lot to me as i wont be looking out my captains window on short final to look at a nice Ferrari or admiring some vegetation, in a 747 :) but never the less its nice to see some graphical touches and promoting exploration throughout the FSX globe. that reminds me maybe PMDG will pop out their own FSX small prop or dare i say it GLIDER! :) stick Robs head in the cockpit and im sure it will sell..right?


Paul McMahon

Ireland

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Guest kdundon

Thanks for that evaluation of FSX. It was very enlightening. Ken

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Guest pierre974

Very enthralling report... Thanks for sharing.Things might take some time to settle down, but it will surely worth having a new MSFS version with a new PC (when Vista and Direct-X 10.0 will be generalized), and of course new state-of-the-art add-ons like PMDG aircrafts.The sky looks so bright :-sun1

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Guest

Good post Rob, and I agree FSX really looks amazing. I'd like to hear Ryan's tweaks, too.

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Guest

Thank you Mr Randazzo for that informative post. I found it very interesting. I am looking forward to the future to see what great companies like PMDG can do with FSX and save up for major hardware upgrades, but until then, I will enjoy FS9!

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Thank's for your post. It was most edifying. I'm with others here, though. I will be waiting until Vista reaches at least, sp1 before I shell out for the necessary hardware to run it. FSX will be a natural transition, though but until such time FS9 will have to suffice......and yeah!.....let's hear those tweaks!Jon S.

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