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JDWalley

My $0.02 (on a product for which I paid $0.00)

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I don't yet know of an actual mechanism for submitting user test results to DTG, but here is my initial feedback.  Hopefully, someone there will read it.

The matter of expectations is a big consideration when it comes to "early access" software.  Certainly, no one should expect an EA game to be judged by the same standard as a "gold" release candidate.  But it should also be noted that this isn't an EA product in the same way that, say, a brand-new game from a small startup team that had just downloaded Unity a few months ago might be.  In this case, FSW is bootstrapping from a decade-old product and code-base; one that desperately needed modernization, true, but not quite starting from scratch, so it's not unfair to compare it (in some respects) to what came before, and judge it (at least partially) on that basis.

So, what were my expectations?  Based on the promotional videos, and discussion here and elsewhere over the past few weeks, I was expecting an eye-candy rich, feature-limited sim with a likelihood of at least a few major bugs.  With that in mind, I fired up FSW for my usual "test flight" in any new sim, a short hop from KSEA to KPAE.  Since the usual base C172 wasn't included, I opted for the Piper Cherokee.  So, how did it do, based on my stated expectations?

 

1) EYE-CANDY

This was actually somewhat of a surprise for me.  I was aware that Orbx had incorporated their Global scenery into the product, and that the world would be correspondingly "richer" than FSX default, although not as accurate as the Global+Vector+PNW scenery I have in FSX:SE.  However, I was not expecting an entirely new "look," and, frankly, a rather surprising one.

Let me explain one thing:  I'm a professional nature photographer, and am therefore rather sensitive to the tones and colors found in the world around us.  To my mind, the "look" of FSW was not unlike that obtained by novice photographers who load up Photoshop and immediately "goose" their photos' contrast and saturation settings beyond all reasonable bounds. Tonalities tended toward the very bright (particularly the near-white runways at KSEA) or very dark, with not many shades of midtones.  Flying in the "spring" weather setting, the light greens of the foliage looked almost neon. For my money, it was a somewhat surrealistic (psychedelic?) look, and more fatiguing than appealing.  On the positive side, it was nice to be able to fly over a Seattle with recognizable landmarks and terrain features in the proper places (unlike the ludicrous BizarroSeattle in XP's default scenery).  It did appear that many of those landmarks were taken direct from FSX -- such as CenturyLink Field still having the "Qwest Field" logo on the roof -- but I assume that's a relatively-easy fix for later in development.

Otherwise, the visuals were more or less Orbx-enhanced FSX. We still had the popping autogen we've all come to know and...know.  With my reasonably-powerful machine (overclocked i7-6700K/GTX980), I was getting FPS in the mid-30s, which was about what I was getting in loaded FSX.  And, of course, there was never a fear that any more-involved flight might suffer a VAS OOM, which should not be underestimated.

 

2) FEATURE-LIMITED

Here was where I had a rather unpleasant surprise.  Of course, I was expecting that features would be limited or missing, but was assuming that would be in areas such as real-world weather or traffic.  What I was NOT expecting was that, midway through my flight, I would try to bring up the map, and find it M.I.A.  Likewise, any way to change the weather or time/season. In fact, there's little you can do mid-flight other than pause, which immediately takes you to a screen only giving you the options to resume or quit.  This was surprising to me, because those features were standard on vanilla MSFS for several editions dating back almost two decades, and should have been an easily-accessible part of the Microsoft code-base that wouldn't need all that much work to implement.  More to the point, there was nothing in the UI, such as placeholder art, to suggest that these are features that will be restored soon.  Is it Dovetail's paradigm that you can only access these features in pre-flight and that, once airborne, you cannot even access the map until you complete your flight?  That would be a serious loss for me.  Likewise, I see no sign of instant replay; granted, that feature was one that could probably use the most work from what was available in FSX, but is it going to be available at all in the final product?

 

3) BUGS

The bugs I encountered were fairly minor, and tended to be issues with the Cherokee, as opposed to game-wide problems like crashes or broken functionality.  Elevator trim adjustments seemed to have very little effect, and I found myself hitting the assigned joystick buttons over and over to get even the slightest change. The VSI and altimeter didn't seem to work together very well -- oftentimes, I would have the former pretty much centered on 0 for a minute or two, only to realize that I had gained or lost 500 feet of altitude during that same period.  Also, the weirdness of the approach to KPAE 34L carries over untouched from FSX and FSX:SE -- you can be lined up for arrival according to the PAPIs, seemingly coming in low over the surrounding buildings and then, just a few hundred feet from the threshold, you hit some sort of seam in the scenery and find you've got all-white PAPIs and are much higher over the runway than expected, requiring you to "drive and dive."  While my resulting landing didn't actually result in a crash, it was hard enough that the sun visors flipped down -- nice touch! Of course, since the program didn't give you a clue how to flip them back up again, it meant taxiing to the terminal with them blocking the windscreen.  (I have since learned that they can be adjusted with the scroll wheel.)

 

CONCLUSION

Since running my own test, I read a disquieting comment from Mathijas Kok of Aerosoft regarding his misgivings about third-party development.  According to Kok, there is no SDK, no SimConnect, and no way of producing aircraft except through XML.  This, if left unchanged, would make complex add-ons impossible with FSW.  I have to ask: does Kok mean that these features haven't been implemented yet, or that they're off-the-table permanently, essentially hard-coded out?  The concerns he expresses are similar to mine -- how much of what we're seeing (or NOT seeing) here is simply a matter of material that hasn't yet been added, as opposed to something consciously designed-out (as in "that's not a bug, it's a feature")?  If the former, I'd rate FSW as a very raw product that still has potential; DTG needs to tweak the color and tonality palette, improve performance somewhat (especially the still-popping autogen), do the usual minor bug-squashing, and hook up the remaining features (which include the proper hooks and tools for third-party development..of which working out reasonable rules for distribution is also a crucial factor), and FSW may wind up being a worthy successor to FSX.  If, however, "what you see is what you get," both in terms of removed features and means for further, more-complex third-party development...well, in that case, I'd say the future of flight simulation is now between P3D and XP11, period.

Edited by JDWalley
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On the XML planes.. I guess that DTG wants freeware toe be crippled to XML, and they them self can and will release DLC with
C++ gauges and planes. Sort of protection and $$$ scheme.

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