Friday, October 27, 2006

Grand fun

I have literally a whole new world to explore with FSX, so I've been hitting the obvious spots-- the Pyramids at Giza (nicely done!), and last night, the Grand Canyon. It looks really good. To tell you the truth, its been a long time since I was in the G.C. in FS9, so I can't say for sure how much it has been improved. But I was delighted by the sights. Interestly, my nemesis Sudden Onset Blurries did not trouble me during this session. I'm guessing that this was because the textures are fairly limited in this area. It seems textures are what bogs my system down the most-- it handles the complex terrain mesh fairly well.

I started out in the Cub. It was pretty neat to come over the rim of the canyon, cut the throttle, and descend into the maze. The Cub is as good as ever. My only quibble is that the window reflections show the yellow paint scheme, so when you're flying a different paint it looks odd.

Low and slow is great, but eventually I wanted to see more of the canyon more quickly, so I switched the the Extra. A rather abrupt change from slow and stable to fast and twitchy, but I sorted it out eventually. I don't remember if this was the case in FS9, but the FSX extra has a glass bottom! Good for canyon viewing.

Couldn't resist a little inverted flight on my way back to the airfield. I never really enjoyed the Extra in FS9, but this version holds a lot of promise. I actually brought the Extra back in one piece.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It's here! First impressions

I finally got it! Last night I installed FSX and spent about 3 hours poking around in this new world. I did so with some trepidation because of all of the problems I have heard about on the forums. I ended the evening with a pretty positive feeling.

Now, the first image here is not very impressive. This is with "default" settings. FSX looks at your computer specs and determines a default tailored to your own configuration. I guess it doesn't have a lot of confidence in my system! Anyway, this setting had framerates locked at 15. It hit that target easily, but really, who could stand to look at this barren world and fuzzy airplane?

Fortunately, after nudging the sliders up bit by bit I came up with what you see in the second shot. This looks pretty nice, but there's a performance hit. Frame rates are typically in the low teens (I'm running with framerate set to unlimited for now). The biggest problem is sudden-onset blurries. The textures look a bit drab, but I am using the current date and time so this is pretty accurate.

Here's a suprisingly nice city scene, shot from the Cub flying over Providence. A very sucessful marriage of autogen and ground textures.

The next couple of shots show the heartache of blurries. Feast your eyes on the gorgeous VC of the Grumman Goose! This was shot during actual flight, with flyable frame rates. A few minutes later, the system aparently felt a little overwhelmed, and everything went blurry, as you can see in the second VC shot.

Cars. I love those little cars! They do give quite a performance hit, tho. In my limited experience they tend to increase the blurries quite a bit. Still, they are fun to watch, and I was suprised to see they actually use ramps at major highway intersections. So you get to see them curving around clover-leaf intersections. My last shot shows another delightful suprise: when I changed the weather theme to rainy, the cars put their headlights on!

So, I'm feeling like there's a lot of potential here for some great simming. There's also a lot more work to do in tweaking the settings to find the sweet spot. Stay tuned for more.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


I'm starting to feel pretty silly about how impatient I am to get FSX. I have it on order from Amazon, but they've delayed shipment until the 22nd, due to supply problems. Yesterday I made a flurry of phone calls to local stores to see if I they had any copies (all sold out). Fortunately, family commitments prevent me from considering traveling more than 10 miles out of my way, otherwise I might find myself on a wild goose chase.

I have a lot on my plate right now, so why can't I just sit back and wait? What difference does another week make? If I need to get an FS fix, there's still lots of fun stuff to do with FS9 (including the Golden Wings incarnation).

I think the main reason I am so impatient is that I want to know how well it will run on my sytem. I've heard a lot of horror stories, and also a lot of more positive "I've found the sweet spot" kinds of stories, and I want to know where I'm going to find myself. Based on the demos, I am encouraged, but whether my experience will be similar on the full version remains to be seen.

I have a dream of flying the pattern at my local airport in an improved C172 virtual cockpit, heading for the highway and seeing road traffic, and seeing nice ground textures all around. If I can do this with double-digit framerates I'll be more or less content.

I've also been going back and forth on planning hardware upgrades. I learned that I could get a 512 MB graphics card for around $150, which I expect will make a big difference in texture handling (not so many blurries). Then I found that the power supply in my PC could not handle this beefier graphics card. Ga! After some more research, I've concluded that I can upgrade the psu for another $50. But this expense must wait for next month.

The shot above is Dave Eckert's FS9 Stearman imported into FSX. I was attempting to capture the atmosphere in this shot. I think FSX has made great advances in lighting and mood. Framerates in this session were in the low teens, which is just acceptable, and I could feel the computer straining. But I can live with this for now.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

More helo fun

Thursday night is my main flying night. I spent this session completely with helicopters, trying to gain some proficiency so that I can explore scenery in FSX when I get it. I'm getting better. I can land the Beta without crashing more often than not, but I still feel woozy afterwards. This post is a mishmash of shots from the evening's adventures.

The first shot is from the FSX demo, and shows something I was thrilled to see: Lake Muffins! This is what I call small tree covered islands (in this case I guess they are Cove Muffins). They never looked good in FS9, becuase you always had a few (or no) trees on these small islands, whereas in reality they usually look like a Chia Pet (warning: sound if you click the link).

The rest of the shots are from FS9. The first shows what can happen if you are not paying attention to ground traffic while practicing hovering! I rotated 180 degrees to see this bearing down on me! The second shows off the wonderful (and free!) Logan Airport by a guy named Grimshaw (sorry, his first name eludes me at the moment).

I figured for honesty's sake I should include one of my less sucessful landings, just in case you were getting the impression that I am a 'copter pro. I was giving the default Jet Ranger a whirl (ha!) and this was my first landing attempt. Don't think I'll be flying this much-- the Beta is so much more fun. If I want to go fast I'll use fixed wings, thank you very much :-)!

But just to show you that I can land the Jet Ranger, here's a landing I did to let a VIP go to Fenway Park. Managed to not snag any light poles. The last shot is a flyover of the park. Hmmm, no game after all. Man, FS9 can be a lot of fun, but I'll be glad to say goodbye to those default lo-res ground textures!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Beta testing

Robinson Beta II, that is :-) I'm giving this chopper a second try. I've never had much luck-- I can usually get up in the air and sort of go where I want, but end up crash landing. Last night, I gave it another shot (in FSX, no less) and found I was able to have some sucess. I have made a number of sucessful (tho not graceful) landings. I think a bit more and I'll get the hang of it.

I figure it's worth investing some time getting proficient at flying the thing. When I get FSX, it will be useful for exploring some of the fun scenery bits. Its pretty cool to just hit the rudder pedals and rotate around in place, rather than waiting for your cub or ultralight to swing through a 180 turn.

The shot above is actually from FS9, featuring the gorgeous KPVD scenery from FlightScenery. Lots of neat stuff to check out.

If you were looking carefully you may have noticed in this post about FSX, that the shots were taken from the cockpit of the Beta II. It looks like this aircraft has not been updated for FSX, BTW.

My parting shot, something completely different, shows Milton Shupes lovely Aero Commander 520, flying in FSX. It imports fine, and gets good framerates. Just the thing for island hopping. I think the prop spinners are not as shiny, but that's ok (may have something to do with the mysterious env.bmp)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Episode IV: A New Hope

After much tweaking of Demo2, flying out of and around Princess Juliana airport, I decided to try a different location. Wow, what a difference! The first two shots here show me flying out of TNCE. (Sorry, my knowledge of Carribean geography is very poor, and I can't remember which island this is). Here you can see a nice amount of autogen, gorgeous ground textures, and quite acceptable frame rates! Click on one of the first two images, and you can see the framerate counter in the upper left. This is on my middle-of-the-road machine (2.2 GHz, 1 meg ram, 128MB Radeon 9600XT AGP card).

Look how nicely the autogen trees line up with the boundaries of the trees. I'm very curious to find out if this is strictly generic autogen or if it has been cleaned up by hand as part of the highly detailed region that it is adjacent to.

This is why I am so impatient to get my hands on the final product. I can't wait to find out if my favorite places to fly will give comparable performance and visuals. If I can tool around New England and have frame rates averaging around 20 (or better) with this kind of autogen, I'll be very happy indeed. If things get choppy and blurry if I fly into Logan International, well, I can live with that.

Just for kicks, I tried the sam location in FS9, with Bill Lyons Challenger ultralight. This final shot shows that. It actually doesn't look as bad as I thought it would, but there is no question that FSX is a great leap forward.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Some hope for FSX

The bad news (for me, that is) is that the Demo version 2 is supposedly what you will see in the final product. The good news is that I have been able to get somewhat tolerable performance by making some compromises. The biggest one is to turn the water effects from 2x to 1x. I lose the cool reflections, but the water still looks much nicer than in FS9.

You can see in the attached shots that the scenery looks pretty good, and if you look closely at the upper left corners you can see frame rates in the teens. In fact, the scenery looks far better than the default FS9 scenery. The only real disappointment is that the first demo version suggested I could get better results.

Another encouraging thing is that 15 fps in FSX feels a lot smoother than 15 fps in FS9.

The bottom line is that after experimenting for an hour I feel more confident that I will find a decent compromise that will make me happy. And of course folks will find great tweaks in the weeks and months after release. And, one of these years I'll be able to swing a computer upgrade!

Waiting on Amazon

Not doing much flying these days, as REAL LIFE is very busy. I did try out the new version of the Demo (they put a version out on Sept. 29-- go visit the forums if you haven't heard). This time the "hardware lottery", as I call it, is working against me. I was getting pretty satisfying performance with Demo1, but not as good with Demo2. Most folks on the forum are saying things are much better with Demo2, so I'm a little envious. Still, maybe I'm just a driver upgrade away from FSX nirvana. But for now I am living in some trepidation that the final version is not going to be as great (performance wise) as Demo1 lead me to believe. We shall see what we shall see.

Also, Amazon is messing with me! They originally said the release date was Oct. 17. Then, they sent me an email saying it will ship sooner than expected, and they were showing an Oct. 6 date! But last friday I get another email saying it will be delayed to pretty much the original date. This would be agonizing, except that REAL LIFE has been full enough to keep this all in perspective.