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Jimmy RFR

My experience with FlightGear 2.10

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So, I've read with interest a few of the other threads regarding FlightGear. That, combined with some of the videos showing features in the latest release, convinced me to download and give it a try for myself. I don't consider myself to be 100% tied to any platform in particular, although I have quite a bit invested in both FS9 and FSX.

 

One of the reasons that FlightGear interests me is that I've always been a big fan of open source software. Although I've played with multiple flavors of Linux on my older computers for a lot of years, I don't currently have it installed on anything that I'd care to run a flight simulator on, so I downloaded and installed FG on my Win7 64bit machine.

 

Anyways, as someone who isn't already a loyal FG user, nor someone who is intent on 'protecting' my sim of choice, I thought I'd share my experiences with it in case it helps inform anyone else who might be curious.

 

Install:

The download and install went very smooth. I downloaded the base package, as well as the airplane package, since I knew I'd be wanting to try out some of the other planes. I downloaded via bittorrent - very, very fast. Install went smooth, no hiccups in installing to a drive / folder of my choice.

 

Setup:

Slight problems, but nothing that opening up the (hefty) manual couldn't fix. I'm able to launch it via the shortcut it put (it let me choose, I like that) in my start menu. The first launch for some reason didn't run, the second didn't have my environment variables loaded, but after that it was smooth sailing. I'd share more on what my initial problems were, but since I was trying to figure out from the manual if there were extra steps to be done, I managed to fix it without really knowing how. I would say that it does require that the user have a bit of computer savvy.

 

Launching:

Oh-My-Gosh-Look-At-All-Those-Options! I explored quite a bit of the startup menus, there are a ton of options to play and fiddle with!! Rendering, weather, objects, I suspect it will take a bit of reading before I learn what everything is, but there is no shortage of configuration stuff to fiddle with. I guess that can be taken as a good or a bad thing, depending on which way a person prefers. It looks like once you have it setup to your liking, you can simply save a configuration for later use, which is nice, since you could have different configurations for different uses. There's a bit of reading to be done, a bit of a learning curve perhaps, in order to get the most of what you want out of the sim.

 

Flying:

Once you are actually sitting in a plane, of course there's lots to take in - especially when you're in a new sim where you have no idea what does what, the graphics are different, etc - everything is slightly familiar, but slightly foreign at the same time. I'll be honest, it took me a bit to figure out how to get the plane I was sitting in (a Cub) started! I was extremely pleased that my Saitek yoke, rudder and throttle quadrant all worked fine without any mucking about with settings. A lot of the buttons were actually the same as what I have them set to in both FS9 and FSX. For example, I was very pleased when I hit my trim toggle button out of habit, and it worked!

 

I was pretty pleased flying the three planes that I've flown so far - the Cub, the C172, and the C337. I don't feel I'm qualified to really comment much on the flight models of the planes I've tried, but they seemed okay. Much like add on planes with MSFS, any issues with the flight model seems to have more to do with the developer of that plane than any issue with the underlying platform. I do notice that my yoke is far more sensitive in FG than in either MSFS that I use. Not sure how to adjust that yet, but it does make it hard to compare with the current planes I fly in MSFS.

 

Graphics:

This one is a bit harder. I realize that comparing an open source project to a commercial project is kind of unfair, but really, if only silently to yourself, you're absolutely comparing. I'm probably not going to be too harsh of a critic of the planes, since I don't spend all my time sitting in the best of the best payware planes in FSX. I use and enjoy a lot of freeware planes, and to those, FlightGear compares pretty well.

 

Of course, both of my MSFS platforms are heavily upgraded with weather and scenery, so it's not really fair to compare in those areas either, but there are a few graphical areas that I hope are focused on soon, since they are kind of a little 'rough around the edges'. First of all, I really wish FG had texture blending for it's scenery. The abrupt lines that delineate say, forest from city, are something one isn't used to seeing. Secondly, the coastlines are pretty blocky, lots of straight lines and sharp angles. I should mention here that I'm primarily interested in VFR flight in small GA planes. I suppose these things wouldn't be deal breakers to you at a high flight level in a 737.

 

Ground textures in cities seem to repeat very noticeably. Autogen can be quite dense, but it also doesn't seem to really match up to the ground textures. From a distance though, a city really looks like a city!!! The lighting (which was what has been shown off in the recent videos promoting this release) does seem to be superb, definitely more nuanced than either one of my MSFS platforms. At higher settings, the water is very nice to look at as well.

 

Weather: The jury is still out on this. Graphically it has a ways to go, but from a simulation aspect, there appears to be an excess of depth there... Also appears to have a learning curve associated with getting the most out of it.

 

Performance:

To be honest, the performance impressed me. I didn't have Fraps running, so can't say an exact number, but the important part was that flight was extremely smooth and felt fluid. I did try out the experimental atmospheric lighting, and that gave a bit of a noticeable hit, but overall so far, it would seem that my machine is more than capable of running FlightGear quite well.

 

Summary:

While in it's present form it won't quite make me convert from my platforms of choice, it will stay on my hard drive as something (else) to play with. There's a lot of depth here, and I really suspect that I've only begun to scratch the surface. There's a lot here to stoke the imagination as well - when you see the amount of wonderful freeware that has been made for the various MSFS platforms, you can't help but wonder what the result would be if the same amount of energy was put into developing for FlightGear.

 

The lack of equivalent content is probably the number one problem that FlightGear has, since of course it becomes hard to switch once you have a collection of things that you like in the platform of your choice. However, if and when more people get interested in it as a viable simulator, hopefully this could change. I know that personally, I'll be thinking of contributing any scenery models I make for any of my projects to FlightGear.

 

What would it take me to convert and become a full time user of the platform?

  1. Better ground textures, or at least blending between ground textures like MSFS.
  2. One or two payware quality or 'Milton Shupe freeware' quality planes. (In fact, if that particular gentleman and his associates were to develop anything for FlightGear, I'd disregard my first point.) Perhaps they already exist, but I have yet to find them.
  3. Become a bit more user friendly. While I like options, there is a certain lack of cohesiveness to the UI that really makes you have to go to the manual to figure things out. It become obvious at times that this is a project that has grown to include more and more features.

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16 answers to this question

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I'll try to investigate all about ATC and rendering during next weekend! Very busy until then :-(

 

I had never tried ATC in FG. Only thing I remember is that hitting "-" (hyphen) will bring up the ATC menus, number-based... I also know you have to dial the right freqs in your radios...

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Bjoern, thanks very much for the tips and suggestions!

 

Some of it I'd already discovered - I have my yoke working fairly acceptably now. Took a bit of experimentation, but it sure makes a difference and lets me see just how great the flight model is on some of these planes. A great tip though in the CTRL+C thing - that will help a lot!

 

I'm realizing that I'm going to have to accept that some of the areas I like to fly in simply aren't available. After all the reading I've done, I think it might be a bit before I'll brave terrain creation. I'm definitely going to have to try out Hawaii and France though.

 

Which brings me to a point that I thought I had noticed last night but was going to check more thoroughly.. sloped runways! I thought I had seen a slope at CEZ3 and again at CZST, but I wasn't sure if I had imagined it. The article http://www.flightgea...he-french-alps/ with images of the Courchevel means that I'll be downloading the France scenery today for sure..

 

I do wish that FG had the polish of some of the other platforms, but it's neat to see all these little details that MSFS in particular is missing.

 

My card is a ATI 6950. I can't recall the exact driver version that I'm currently using (I'm at work), but it's a beta version... 13.2 beta 5 i think. I don't usually mess with the beta versions, but I have some flickering issues with textures in FS9, and the current beta releases are supposed to have some DirectX 9 texture improvements.

 

A question too for you - is there functional ATC available? I couldn't figure this part out. I can see all the menus, and choose options, but there's no reply from ATC.

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Regarding the performance issues I confess there are two good reasons for me to have moved away from the other sims to FlighGear and feel so good with it (well, and with DCS World of course, and still Silent Wings for gliding...):

 

1) I upgraded to a Nvidia GTX 650 ti 1GB DDR5

2) I now have 16GB DDR3 RAM

3) I upgraded to win8 professional 64 bit, using the January 2013 promotion, and this OS really gives me better performance on different applications, including DCS World. FSX OTOH can't properly run on win8, and I simply gave up using it anymore...

 

One thing that I really desliked about X-Plane10 was the way it depicted the sky. Colours and lighting is very strange, innacurate. I got pitch dark in late afternoon when there was already plenty of light around IRL (not mentioning the completely irrealistic Moon and night skies, completely out of sync with RW, and something again FG does beautifully...). In FG 2.10 by default I get a much better effect of sunrise / sunset times depending on day-of-year and geographical location, but I also played with the three shader sliders to get the perfect colours for my morning and late afternoon skies. It is as good as I ever got in any sim, including FSX. Well, DCS World apparently does a erfect job too, but we can't set every date we want for now....

 

WIth everything maxed I get not less than 30 FPS in FG 2.10,, even in crouded autogen cities, or places with lots of trees.

 

I just have to get used to the way of enabling Rembrandt :-( I though it was enables but it isn't - I believe I'll get even better results after that!

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You should also adjust rembrandt memory size alike the wiki, as it makes shadows look better. Also set antialiasing in fgrun alike the wiki.

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Thanks jcomm!

 

After spending another 10 or so hours in FG, I could probably refine and add more detail to my likes and dislikes...

 

- Shaders, which FG relies heavily on, are a blessing and a curse. They do some really, really neat stuff. For example, the 3d ground tiles are a really cool alternative to dense city autogen! However, in the process of playing with all the shader options, I've also discovered that Open GL support in my AMD card is a little iffy...

 

- I really, really like the dynamic head movements. Very well implemented, in my opinion. I was quite pleasantly surprised when I flipped that option on.

 

- It's great to have options regarding different shaders or lighting models to use. I was flying at dawn for a bit with atmospheric light scattering turned on and was very impressed by the look of it. On the other hand, after sunset, the sky turns this strange blood red color...

 

- Flying, with a half decent FDM, and while getting decent framerates, is absolutely top notch. Feels very smooth, hard to describe. Kind of addictive, really.

 

- My opinion regarding needing some higher quality planes is slowly receding. While it would be nice to have even more eye candy, there's some really decent options here.

 

However, my biggest stumbling block is still the lack of content for the scenery. I'd be okay without detailed airports ( I may even work on placing some buildings at a few) or much detail to the towns / cities, but I miss accurate shorelines / coastlines and mesh. I'm not sure how much work this is to add, but so far the places I like to fly are wildly inaccurate. I must have a knack for enjoying airports that are located right near a lake or shore. I checked out PAKT / Ketchikan, one of my favorite spots to fly out of... the airport is located on an island in the middle of the channel. :O

 

It's kind of tough... i realize that anyone could improve any part of FlightGear. But I already spend far too much time building / tweaking / fiddling rather than flying, and I don't think that I have the patience or talent for improving anything major. It becomes very obvious how lucky we are to have the years and years of payware and freeware in the MSFS platforms!

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My card is a ATI 6950. I can't recall the exact driver version that I'm currently using (I'm at work), but it's a beta version... 13.2 beta 5 i think. I don't usually mess with the beta versions, but I have some flickering issues with textures in FS9, and the current beta releases are supposed to have some DirectX 9 texture improvements.

 

Hm. No clear cause.

 

Try to find the problematic shader and deactivate it.

 

A question too for you - is there functional ATC available? I couldn't figure this part out. I can see all the menus, and choose options, but there's no reply from ATC.

 

To be honest, I don't know. I haven't used ATC in a long time.

There used to be a text-based (no voices) one, but I don't know how well it works.

 

You'll have to set the radio frequency by hand, by the way.

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Thx Jim,

 

I am glad you're enjoying it too. I am particularly focusing on the way scenery and weather are modelled, as well as the way they inter-relate. The detailled weather generation algorithms used in this version take into consideration many factor for convective as well as orographic lift / sink.

 

I have had a great time thermalling and slope flying the default AS-K13 :-)

 

I understand you statement regerding the red-coloured skies at dusk... Not ver beautiful :-/

 

OTOH I am glad to find very close to real daylight representation according to position and day-of-year.

 

The cloud types and their graphical representation in 3d is not bad at all either, and visibility works a lot better than what we presently have in X-Plane10, for instance.

 

To get weather effects near those you can exprience in FG2.10 in FSX we have to spend money in at least one good weather injector, maybe two, etc...

 

The JSBsim FDM can be very good provided it is feeded with precise aero-data. The p51d is a dream to fly! After having had a tough time learning to fly the Mustang in DCS World it was certainly a lot easier to fly the same bird in FG2.10, but is astonishes me how close they could come to the flight characteristics of this powerfull ww2 airplane.

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I've tried deactivating all of the shaders where you can select custom and change them individually. None of the ones that you can change make a difference. I do know it's a shader based issue though, since activating atmospheric light scattering turns off most of the shaders, and when I do that, the clouds look normal.

 

If you want to, you could make a screenshot and file a bug report here:

http://code.google.com/p/flightgear-bugs/

 

 

 

WIth everything maxed I get not less than 30 FPS in FG 2.10,, even in crouded autogen cities, or places with lots of trees.

 

Wow, that's impressive!

 

I just have to get used to the way of enabling Rembrandt :-( I though it was enables but it isn't - I believe I'll get even better results after that!

 

Having a checkbox for Rembrandt in the UI would be useful, but since it's not done/very bugfree yet...

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I'm pretty sure your requirements for correct weather modelling are far, far greater than mine! I haven't flown any of the gliders in any platform. If you say it'd good in FG though, I'd believe you!

 

The representation of 3D clouds is graphically alright - I have some issues with them with the default shaders though. With atmoshperic light scattering on they look good, since that turns most of the shaders off, but otherwise the 3d clouds turn black for me. Seems to be related to the implementation of Open GL in my AMD video card though.

 

I have yet to fly the P51d yet, I'll give it a try tonight. I did try the JSBSim version of the Zero though - the torque effect in that thing was hard to handle! I was flying low at one point at about 50% throttle, firewalled the throttle and almost had the plane flip over. It's like you could feel the thing want to twist apart!

 

I might look into how the colour of the sky is setup - it might not be a hard thing to change.

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I just have to get used to the way of enabling Rembrandt :-( I though it was enables but it isn't - I believe I'll get even better results after that!

 

If you're using the launcher, in the advanced menu there's a properties dialog where you can enter various property based settings. To enable Rembrandt in this way you would enter: /sim/rendering/rembrandt=true

 

I only played with Rembrandt a little bit, but it seems to be a performance killer for me. I also didn't really like cockpit shadows, I found the edges bothersome, if that makes sense. But I bet (like with anything else in FG) that with some experimentation I could find settings that I like.

 

WIth everything maxed I get not less than 30 FPS in FG 2.10,, even in crouded autogen cities, or places with lots of trees.

 

With the regular shaders maxed & random buildings turned on, I definitely don't always get that!

 

I also know you have to dial the right freqs in your radios...

 

Yep - I really do like how there's a menu that you can bring up that shows all of the available frequencies for the area you're in. Helps to dial stuff in, for sure. It's just that I couldn't find a use for the ATC frequencies! It's pretty meaningless and I know it's not terribly realistic and full of flaws, but I really like flying VFR and interacting with ATC in MSFS.

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I might look into how the colour of the sky is setup - it might not be a hard thing to change.

 

That's great! If you can find out some settings I will be eager to test ;-)

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I looked into it a bit. The atmospheric lighting looks to be very complex, it looks to be some relationship that involves not only the color of the sun, but how it interplays with the atmosphere. I think (and I could be very wrong) that the colors used are coded into the sim, but that most of the colors one sees are a result of some complex math and shaders.

 

On another note, I spent a few hours last night trying to figure out how to modify scenery. I must have had 20 different browser windows open, reading, and I doubt I'm any further informed on the procedure. Looks quite complex, but I suspect it's not too bad once you figure it out. I'm still not certain if you can just modify / refine the type of land class, or whether you always need to supply some sort of digital elevation data.

 

One of the problems I've found with almost anything more in depth that I've wanted to mess with in FG, is that the online documentation seems to be very spread out, and that you really have to pay attention to the date / version that the docs apply to.

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Thanks for the review. Your gripes with FG are quite common for MSFS users (I share some of them) and I've already made suggestions how to alleviate them.

 

 

 

It looks like once you have it setup to your liking, you can simply save a configuration for later use, which is nice, since you could have different configurations for different uses.

 

In FGRun (the launcher), yes.

 

Everything you set within the sim is limited to one profile only though.

 

I'll be honest, it took me a bit to figure out how to get the plane I was sitting in (a Cub) started!

 

The "help" menu lists all keys relevant to flying and has an item - depending on the plane - for short instructions as to how to start.

 

CTRL+C (IIRC) also shows all interactive knobs and areas in the VC. After that, everythings pretty much standard procedure.

Note: There are no tooltips, so you might have to do a bit of zooming to read any labels!

 

I do notice that my yoke is far more sensitive in FG than in either MSFS that I use.

 

Default joystick settings are stored in "[FG]\data\input".

If you cutomize your settup via the menu, you can do further edits in the .xml file stored (somewhere) in "C:\Users\{Your username}\AppData\Roaming\flightgear.org\".

Sensitivities can be set within that file.

 

 

 

However, in the process of playing with all the shader options, I've also discovered that Open GL support in my AMD card is a little iffy...

 

Like MSFS a few years ago, ATI/AMD cards tend to have more problems with FG, as do any kind of on-board chips.

The safest way to enjoy FG is running a NVidia card. The more powerful, the better.

 

However, my biggest stumbling block is still the lack of content for the scenery.

 

This scenery is quite popular among FG users:

http://wiki.flightgear.org/Custom_France_Scenery

 

V3.0 will be a bit better in some areas:

http://www.flightgear.org/tours/fly-hawaii/

 

There are tools to build more accurate scenery, but they're in active development and thus prone to errors here and there.

 

 

 

Seems to be related to the implementation of Open GL in my AMD video card though.

 

What card, what driver version?

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Try to find the problematic shader and deactivate it.

 

I've tried deactivating all of the shaders where you can select custom and change them individually. None of the ones that you can change make a difference. I do know it's a shader based issue though, since activating atmospheric light scattering turns off most of the shaders, and when I do that, the clouds look normal.

 

As for the ATC, I haven't even looked at flight plans, but I read on either the wiki or the forum that you need to have one before ATC will communicate with you.

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