Friday, March 23, 2007

Default choices

At the risk of sounding like an FSX Cheerleader, or of being hopelessly provincial, I have to admit that I am hardly ever tempted to move beyond the default aircraft included with FSX. Part of the reason is the limited number of addons, free or otherwise at this point. (Actually, I open myself up to another accusation, one which I cannot deny, and that is being a cheapskate; I once considered calling this blog The Frugal Flightsimmer. There are some payware packages that do look pretty tempting, the Airplane Heaven Tiger Moth, for one. If I splurged on some of these packages I might spend a lot less time in the default hangar).

However, I think the main reason I fly the default so much is that they've covered most of the bases that interest me, and they've done a really good job in my opinion. If I want a basic get around plane, one that I'd most likely fly in real life when I win the lottery, I've got the good old 172. If I want something vintage and light, there's the cub. If I want a bush plane, there's the Maule and the Beaver... you get the idea. The only real gap, for my needs, in the default lineup is a good biplane. I have installed Dave Eckert's most excellent Stearman and also the Long Island Classics Christen Eagle II, so I'm all set when I'm in a bipe mood.

I do miss some of the Bill Lyons planes I flew so much in FS9. A few of them are compatible enough to work with FSX. However, and it makes me sad to say so since Bill is one of my flight sim heroes, they are starting to look their age. The clash between the high-res outside view and the less-than-high interior is noticible. Even so, I do fly the Travel Air and the Tripacer from time to time.

Let's hope there are some young freeware designers out there working on some new must-have planes. Some day I may look back nostagically at the time when I just flew defaults.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Silicon dreams

This morning I was musing on my last post, the one about letting my plane go on autopilot while I was busy with other stuff. It's kind of an odd thing to think about-- the computer working hard to create a virtual experience while no one is watching it. I thought a little further: what if the monitor were turned off? The computer would work just as hard, of course, since it wouldn't know the monitor was off.

All those electrons would be zipping around, the 2.3 GHz CPU going full tilt, the graphics card slaving away, all to create, in some sense, a world of air, light, earth, water, seasons, weather, and the fascinating machines we love so much. Not only all these components, but the interactions between them. Light casts shadows and reflects, changing weather affects the flight dynamics, fuel is consumed. This all exists... where? It's as if it is all a dream, behind the closed eyes of the computer. This kind of thing boggles my mind. It's not like a book sitting on a shelf, unread. It's a dynamic, evolving space.

In a sense we are dreaming when we interact with this game. Just because we can see the simulated world that is being created for us doesn't make it any more real.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Going on autopilot

Anyone who has ever experienced a new baby in the house knows that a good night's sleep is a rare thing. The knowledge that you are going to be interrupted every 2 or 3 hours tends to discourage staying up late. A lot of things in life go on hold. As you might expect, frivolous, time-consuming things such as flight simming fall victim to this new order. (I can't believe I just used "frivolous" and "flight simming" in the same sentence. A sentence that does not also contain the word "not".)

I almost never fly with autopilot in FS. To me, the whole joy of the thing is hand flying. I agree with what someone once wrote in one of the forums: "I didn't go through all this cost and effort just to let one computer fly another!". However, I've been using the autopilot lately to squeeze in a little "flying" when I don't have the time to do it for real. If I'm doing necessary stuff around the house, sometimes I'll fire up FSX, take off by hand, then fix the heading with autopilot. Then, every so often I'll walk by the computer and see what's going on. I like to see how the terrain changes, and what the weather ends up doing. These two shots are from just such a session.

Sometimes after a while I will disengage the A/P and try for a landing. Usually, these are not by the book; I'll employ drastic measures to lose altitude because I can't spare the time to do it correctly. But making it back to the runway, or a clear patch of ground, in one piece gives me a satisfying experience even though the flight was hands off for 90% of the time.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Little guy's first flight

I discovered a possible new use (excuse) for flightsimming! The other night I was holding the new baby while sitting at the computer, and I fired up FSX. He started to get fussy as I was loading up a flight featuring Bill Lyon's Travel Air. But as soon as I throttled up the engine, and heard the roar of that great radial engine, he settled right down! Is this a new baby soothing technique? Experienced parents know that the sound of a vacuum cleaner can settle a fussy baby (I even made a cassette recording of vacuum sounds for the twins when they were babies!).

It's too early to draw conclusions based on one event, but I can see the possibilities. Baby fussing hon? Let me go take him flying. On the other hand (literally) its a bit hard to fly with a tot nestled in your left arm. Maybe its time to invest in a Track IR?