Initial thoughts by Roy Chaffin
Flight Simulator X hits the streets very soon, and many people will be dashing out for their copy full of anticipation. Well before you do, it might be worth reading on, so you can make a balanced judgement on what you will be getting and what it will cost you. What follows is not intended to be an exhaustive list of the “pros and cons” of all its features, but merely my thoughts on what I have found in my initial usage of the product as a developer.
Let me open up by saying that in my opinion FSX is a good product and a step forward from FS9, adding new features and improvements to the visuals. But all this comes at a cost, and quite a big cost at that.
To give you something to measure by, the test machine I used is an Intel P4 3ghz HT with 2Gb DDR RAM, 4Gb of Permanent Virtual Memory, GeForce 6600 256mb RAM graphics card and a 22” iiyama Flat screen monitor. Windows XP Pro SP2, with a new and clean installation. This is by no means the fastest PC available, but it is no slouch either. It runs FS9 as smooth as silk.
FSX comes in various “flavours”, which you can read about elsewhere, but I am talking about the top one here. It is supplied on two DVD’s and when installed will occupy about 14Gbs of hard drive space before you add any extras. The installation was lengthy but painless, with some pretty pictures to raise your level of expectation during the process. Once installation is complete and you run it up for the first time you are eventually presented with three choices along the line of “New User”, “Experienced User” or “Real Pilot”. Well as you would expect I choose the middle one, and low and behold FSX locked up L Not what I call a wonderful start !!!
Firing it up for the second time presented me with a different screen and all was well. If you choose the “default flight”, which I did, you are in an Ultralight, in flight, out in the sticks somewhere at a place called “Friday Harbour”, which initially struck me as odd ?? But read on.
Everything looked good, the scenery, clouds and aircraft
looked impressive and the frame rates were reasonable.
At this point I had not adjusted any of the settings from the default installation, but that was the next step. After some experimentation I was able to turn things down and switch things off and improve the fps to around 8, still with reasonable visuals. But you make up your own minds if that is acceptable or not. By the way, it is important to point out here, that your graphics card must be capable of running FSX, and older ones will not be. This is the reason I had to move away from my trusty 5700., and buy a new 6600.
Bearing in mind what I have said above, I was amazed to read the official chart of PC requirements from MS for FSX from their website :-
For my money, for “Recommended” read “Minimum” and for “Best” read “Recommended”.
So let us look on the positive side. You now have the ability to fly into space, the stars in the heavens are now mapped, so you could navigate by them, if you have a desire to. You have moving objects on the ground, like cars and trucks, boats in the water, and other aircraft in the air. You even have moving birds and animals. The new weather is fantastic, and the included aircraft are much improved and nice to use.
There is much to like about FSX, but it is the cost that worries me. We were originally told that FSX was intended to be for a 64 bit platform, but that was delayed because of the delay on Windows Vista. So we assume that a 64 bit version of FSX will be available sometime in the future, which will definitely require a new PC. My question, is it worth buying a new one now for the 32 bit version of FSX ?? That is assuming you don’t already have one.
Now let’s cover a few more of the issues I have found or know about.
It says on the website, that you must have Windows XP SP2.
Like all new MS products, FSX has to be “activated” online or by telephone in the same way as Windows is, and you can only do it so many times before having to jump through all the hoops to get more activations. Bearing in mind most of us reinstall FS quite often, this could be a little inconvenient, but it is the way things seem to be these days.
Every add-on which contains an “exe” or “dll” (gauge) file will have to be “Digitally Signed” otherwise the end user will get two “Serious Warnings” for every file of this type. This could mean anything up to several hundred warnings to load a complex add-on aircraft the first time you use it. That will be fun for us all !!
This aspect has a much more serious implication than you would initially think. FS has been and is as popular as it is, because of the amount of FREEWARE or cheap PAYWARE products that are available. Now for a developer to get a digital signature to include in his or her files, to stop these warnings, it will currently cost him or her $500 a year. Who is going to do that ?? So potentially, this has stopped FREEWARE and PAYWARE from small developers at a stroke. I have personally asked MS to review this situation, but although they have replied, nothing useful has come out of the communications. I have made serious and practical suggestions as to how these problems could be overcome and still satisfy their security policy, even at this late stage, but they have been ignored. They doggedly stick to the view that these changes are for the benefit of the end user, well I fail to see how !!!!
Another issue is FSX now contains code, to stop any “gau” gauge based on the FS98 standard being used in FSX. This means that many of your favourite free add-ons from the past will no longer work. This again has other implications. Many developers have developed their own special coding systems based on the FS98 standard to enable them to do special things within FS all of which are now useless. We here at RCS Panels are amongst them. So none of our products, and those of many other developers can be used with FSX. This is not a simple problem to solve and for months now we have been working on writing new code to overcome this situation. This is not a long term problem for us because we can and will recode the packages and do new releases, but it will involve many hundreds of hours work. The difficulty is, many developers of things we know and love, have now moved out of FS, so their products will be lost forever. Personally I can see no reason for this other than another cynical move to get rid of the FREEWARE and the small PAYWARE developers. Remember the days when the FS community was a large friendly and helpful group of like minded people ? Well dream on, those days have gone.
Currently, neither of the above two problems effect XML gauges, which is good for those that use them, but no serious developer uses the XML format because it is “Open Code” and can be stolen by anybody without difficulty.
Now for a bit of humour J
With FSX, aircraft are no longer stored in the “Aircraft” folder but in a sub folder of “SimObjects” called “Airplanes” which makes for a few difficulties when it comes to loading and using existing add-ons even if they do comply with the changes above. Just the term “Airplanes” makes me laugh. That is what children say when they are learning to speak English, when what they really mean is “Aircraft” or “Aeroplanes”. What is this world coming to ?? Don’t answer that J
However, I can already give you a “workaround” for that one. Just add the following line to the FSX.cfg file and the Aircraft folder will work as before.
(Change the number “6” to the next in the sequence if necessary)
As far as I can tell, all Gmax models from previous versions appear to function correctly with FSX, but that comment is based on very limited testing by me, so I might be wrong.
The scenery in FSX is interesting because it appears on the face of it, to be photographic and some areas might be, but I have looked at areas I know well here in the UK and it isn’t. It is made up on repeated small photo graphics pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle to look like photographic scenery. You have different pieces for built up areas or open country etc. If you go to “map view” and zoom out you can easily see the repeating patterns. So why is this important ? Well if you know an area well, you would like it to be accurate, and it isn’t. To give an example, I flew down the river Thames, here in the UK and was horrified to see it was all wrong. There are quite a number of “land bridges” across the river. The river is like a string of sausages with no connections between the segments, so how does the tide go in or out ?. Add to that the “Thames Barrier” (which can be seen from space) is completely missing, and I think you get the picture.
On another subject. If you change the time of day or some other settings, which involves the reloading of scenery, you click on “OK” and are then confronted with a totally black screen for some considerable time. You become convinced it has hung, but if you wait (three quarters of a minute), eventually you will get the “loading screen slider” that shows around 70% and then continues. I am sure this is probably a Video Card driver problem with the Nvidia card, but another little annoyance. At least you are now warned about the problem.
Talking of loading times, these are very long. Initial load up is one and three quarter minutes from the time you double click on the FSX icon before anything happens other than the FSX logo appearing, Then when you select your aircraft and location you will wait a further two and a quarter minutes. So that is four minutes in total from the time you double click on the FSX icon to the time you are ready to do anything.
When you get to the “select your flight” screen, you will be confronted with music, which is “novel” the first time, but very soon becomes very tiresome. It wasn’t long before I was looking for ways to turn that off. Fortunately that is easy as it is an option in the settings menu J
Now there was one last very annoying feature until I found the answer. When working in full screen, you press “Alt” on your keyboard bring up the “menu bar” as normal, but unlike previous versions if you press “Alt” again it doesn’t go away. Well the answer is simple when you know how. You press and HOLD the “Alt” key for about and second and it will disappear J
There is no question this is only the tip of the iceberg with FSX and much more will be written in weeks / months to come.
So how do I summarise my FSX experience so far ?
If you are new to FS and have a brand new all singing and dancing “Rocket Powered” PC and no existing add-ons then buying FSX is probably a good option. If you already have a very powerful PC and/or plenty of money, then FSX is probably for you.
If you however are like most of us, and have existing normal PC’s, even improved for gaming, have many purchased and freeware add-ons, and don’t have unlimited funds, then you are probably better off sticking with what you have for the time being. All this is especially true if you are not a “techie” and know nothing about making changes to configuration files and similar things.
I think FSX is a good product, but I believe the cost is too high. You might think differently, but at least now, you have more information and can make a more balanced judgement.
I have been a FS enthusiast and developer for many years, not to mention a strong supporter of MS and what I believe they have tried to do in pushing the product forward. Therefore I get absolutely no pleasure out of making the comments I have about FSX because I had such high expectations. My comments have probably now added me to the “Most Wanted” list at MS, but I have always been honest on this page and am not about to change. It is hoped even at this late stage that MS will take note of the issues raised and take the necessary action to quickly rectify them.
Anyway, all is not lost, as RCS Panels and our colleagues around the world will continue to work on finding solutions and workarounds for the various problems. We are far too experienced and knowledgeable to be beaten that easily. So keep your eyes on this site for more updates and information.