Wednesday, May 16, 2007

SP1 first impressions

I'm not the kind of person that lines up outside a store in order to be among the first to get a new product. I even had the self discipline to use the slower Super Saver Shipping option on my FSX preorder. Nevertheless, Tuesday evening found me hitting the refresh button on my browser again and again, waiting for the SP1 download to appear. The truth is, I just wanted to fire off the download before going to bed. Still, it was a little exciting : first, the announcement that it would soon be available. Then, the download link on FSInsider (alas, it lead to a 404 error). Then the update to the FSInsider front page, with a link (still 404'd). The forums were buzzing with each development. Finally, the link worked! The download was in progress!

But I was good. Even after I realized that the download was going very quickly, and would probably be done in about 20 minutes, I walked away from the computer to go to bed.

The next morning, I scanned the forums an saw that most people were very happy with this patch. This inspired me to do a hasty install and a quick flight before going to work. First impression: looks good.

Last night I had a quite a while to try it out. It is a noticable improvement. I didn't do the calculations, but informally I can say that a I believe I have at least the promised 20% improvement in FPS. What is even better, is that I see a dramatic improvement in panning response. Finally, "real-time panning" is possible. Previously, there was a delay in using the number keys for side views, etc, and using the hat or mouse to pan was painful. Often there was such a lag that I would over-pan, and find myself looking at the tail. Now it is very smooth and natural. It is a little ironic that the feature which most excited me about FlightGear the smooth panning, is what has been most improved in FSX.

I flew around the highly-detailed Logan Airport, with about 33% traffic and airport vehicles, and FPS averaged in the mid teens. I kept waiting for it to get bogged down, but it didn't happen. I did have a few short pauses, but I can live with that as long as it only happens in the busiest areas.

It's not perfect--I've had a few hangs, and there are a few glitches, such as the scary-looking blank message window (see below). This is the loading progress indicator, and it usually is blank for a few seconds before the progress bar appears. Also, the dusk textures have been improved, but look at the night landing shot-- why are the skyscrapers on the left unlit? Looks like a power outage. Also, you may notice this shot shows a case of the blurries. I almost never see them, but they are not yet extinct.

I'm looking forward to re-exploring FSX.

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