Thursday, January 03, 2008

FlightGear 1.0 mini review


Here's a few quick observations about the new official 1.0 release of FlightGear. If you're new to FlightGear you may wan't to read my review of version 0.9.10 here. This review is written for poor slobs like me who are totally dependant on the FG developer community for executable install packages--a large portion of the FG user base has been enjoying these improvements for some time. You can find a nice summary of the changes since 0.9.10 here.

  1. First off, the visual experience isn't much different than version 0.9.10. There are some changes mentioned in the link above, but frankly I don't notice anything dramatic.
  2. There are new views, for example a flyby view which is very nice. A major usability enhancement is an option in the View menu to select which views are included when you cycle through the views.
  3. There is also a dynamic cockpit view now. This is intended to mimic intentional eye movements, rather than the head latency effect used in Active Camera and FSX. For example, if you step on the right rudder while taxiing, the view shift to the right, because thats where you want to go, presumably. But this becomes a problem if you are trying to stay on the centerline on takeoff, because you want to keep your eyes on the center. I fly with this turned off, but I'm hoping someone will write an alternative head movement component, because I don't like the bolted-to-the-airframe feeling you get without any head movement.
  4. There are some nice additions to the default hangar, including a couple of Beavers (float and wheeled) and a pretty nice Camel. Best of all, tho, is that now all of the additional aircraft availabe on the FG website will work. I had tried some of these addons with version 0.9.10, but a lot of them didn't cooperate with that version.
  5. The FG wizard (fgrun.exe) now has an option for scenarios. This makes it easy to set up situations such as carrier operations with the plane starting out on the deck. Also, one can set up glider towing with an AI cub, and aerial refueling from a tanker flying above KSFO. A couple of these scenarios are featured in the screenshots below.
  6. FG now recognizes both my rudder pedals and my joystick at the same time! Version 0.9.10 didn't recognize my rudder pedals automatically, though it is possible I could have tweaked and/or hacked a solution.
  7. Multiplayer chat is now available.
  8. The tutorials are really neat. When you run one of these, it gives you text instructions at the top of the screen, then the viewpoint automatically shifts to the appropriate area of the cockpit, and the relevant control is circled. This is a great example of how the FG developers are not just copying other simulators, but coming up with new ways it can be used. A screenshot from one is below.
  9. A note to MS FSX bashers: Progress comes at a price! Just as the new features of FSX packs a performance hit, so does upgrading from FG 0.9.10 to 1.0. Well, maybe not as bad. What I am seeing is that flight loadup takes at least twice the time it did in version 0.9.10. However, in flight performance is not nearly as badly affected. Except for my next point.
  10. Alas, I seem to have lost the hardware lottery on this. My rig, which ran 0.9.0 quite well, and even manages FSX adequately, has terrible stuttering problems with FG 1.0. I see the stutters mostly during taxi and takeoff, where sometimes everything stops for more than a second at a time. Once aloft, things are not too bad. Overall, framerates are in the mid twenties and above. The conventionaly wisdom is that ATI cards such as mine do not handle OpenGL as well as Nvidia cards. There may yet be a tweak to reduce these stutterings, but for now they seriously cramp my style.
All in all, a very nice package, and an amazing one considering it's free. Although its a few years behind Microsoft in the visual department, it boasts many features that are state of the art, for example the tutorials, and the ability to have curved runways. If you haven't tried FG yet, now is a good time. Get it here.

On to the screenshots.
Here's a shot approaching the refueling tanker (never did quite connect tho).

A sample shot from a tutorial (how to start the Spitfire, I think)

My first successful carrier landing in 1.0.
OK, I admit it. The shot above was not my first sucessful landing--this one was :-)
However, I did land the Seahawk on the first attempt, honest! And with the baby in my lap at the time!

Being towed by the AI cub. You can also be towed by someone in multiplayer mode. The towing action feels pretty realistic, and you will break the cable if you don't follow well enough. You can't actually see the cable though.

1 comment:

Zero/G said...

Have you tried the X-Plane 9 Beta yet? Looks really good on my PC and really gets close to the FSX visuals when you turn up the eye candy!