The time has come. Like FS9 before it, and FS8 before it. FSX is dying. It’s not dead yet, nor will it die overnight. It will be a slow process but eventually people will move on. Already addon devs are switching exclusively and soon the player base will follow. On the horizon we see 3 simulators heading our way. X-Plane 11, Prepar 3D v4, and Dovetails Flight Simulator. One of these 3 is what people are going to go to. One of these 3 is what I’m personally going to go to. With X-Plane’s minimum requirements and list of default airplanes released recently, I thought now’s a good time to talk about how I’m going to judge each sim, and ultimately how I will decide which to go with. My list is simple. Performance, graphical quality, available aircraft, extra features, Switching cost, the deal, avionics modeling, and flight model. And in that order of importance. The list is probably a wee bit different from what you’d expect; Notably avionics and flight model are on the bottom. This article I’d like to explain why I list those things in that order.
Performance. Performance matters! Having been on FSX for 10 years I’m sick of less than 30fps. So my next sim, no matter what else. Must be able to deliver no less than 30 fps consistently, with no drops for any reason. I don’t think that’s unreasonable for a game releasing around the beginning of the 17th year of the 21st century. Not a game on my steam library preforms as bad as FSX does. And it’s not because flight sims are any more or less complicated than any other game. By that Logic Digital Homicide games must have been amazingly complex. For Christ sake Kerbal runs on unity at a fantastic frame rate, and does a lot of the same physics calculation our flight sims do. Though not to the same level. And frame rate does matter, I’ll hear none of this “there’s not much difference between 30 and 60.” There is a reason Sony mandated a minimum 60fps on all games for the PlayStation VR. This one is the most important to me, because I value performance, I Value Experience. If none of the upcoming simulators can deliver a consistent 30fps or more; then I will just stay with FSX. In this category. You either succeed or fail. Thumbs up or Thumbs down.
Next Graphical Quality. I’m going to include sound here as well. Whilst 30fps is more important it does no good if there’s not much to look at. Though to be perfectly honest it seems all 3 simulators will deliver in this camp. P3D already looks amazing, X-Plane 11 looks to be pretty good, and if dovetails Flight School is any indicator then their Flight Sim will looks great as well. For sound, I really like Sound modeling in modern games. A great example would be Dovetails upcoming Train Sim World due to be released in Q1 of 2017. The showcase trailer for it showed how they were modeling an engine. Each part had a sound. In a modern game, the crankshaft can have one sound, the cylinders can have another, the starter motor another. Each sound is played at the appropriate volume for its current output. A crankshaft spinning at 2400 RPM makes more noise than when spinning at 1000 RPM. However this is doable in FSX as well; We see this from A2A and PMDG. I really do like sound, probably more than graphical quality to be honest. One thing I love about DCS world is how the sound is. Those F15’s on the runway are really loud, then I close my canopy and they get noticeably quite. Or if I’m in a hanger the sounds are also muffled. If DCS can have great sounds there’s no excuse for any other simulator. I thought X-Plane was going to really be the big contender here. But lately it sounds as if the fancy sound modeling will only be for the Cessna 172SP and any third party devs that make use of it. Which to me is a fail. I do care about how much you give me for the purchase of the sim. I don’t want my next sim to rely so heavily on the Third party. I don’t want the fun to come for an additional fee.
Available Aircraft. What good is a flight sim with no aircraft to fly. I mentioned DCS world earlier. DCS world is a fantastic sim. But never let anyone tell you it’s free to play. It’s not! If I were to review DCS world, I’d give it probably around a 3 out of 10. I judge Free to Play games based on how much content we get for free. The best ones give us enough content to enjoy the game, but also make us want more. A bad free to play game sections off content and holds it for ransom. Which says to me that fun is available for an additional fee. I call games like this exactly what they are. Pay To Play. DCS world has nothing in terms of content for free. If you want to enjoy that sim for more than a couple of hours you’re going to be spending at least $40. That’s what I would call a bad free to play game. So whatever my next sim is must have good amount of airplanes to chose from. Though the actual amount is way, way less important than the mix. One plane for every job is better than Twenty planes most of which are only good for One job. I’ll be looking for at least One fighter jet, Extra points if it’s a Strike Eagle. Triple Points if there’s a Chihaya Eagle Paint job, Yes I’m a nerd. One airliner should suffice; A 757-200 ideally. And no one being available for a separate purchase does not count. I’m judging the sim, so it matters not what the third party does.
Extra features. More and more I see the feature list of X-Plane 11 resemble the feature list of FSX when it came out. Not that thats a bad thing. Actually it’s good, It seems they finally realized it’s no longer the Nineties. For extra features I can basically include missions, ground service features, anything really. One thing I hate about FSX is if you’re flying a plane that uses the default payload dialog you will pause the sim to change your payload. That got to be really annoying. FSdreamteam claims to have a new fuel loading system coming up for their GSX addon, I can only hope they let us change payload to. Other things could include the living world. FSX Living world was a feature I really liked though it was not really impressive when it came out. Now the FSX world really feels alive. With a variety of AI aircraft, cars on the road, birds in the sky, and even ships at sea. All together it makes it feel as though I’m not the only person in this world. GTAV does the living world right. I really love World building and attention to detail in games. The GTA series really delivers on this. No matter where you go in GTAV there’s something to see or do that really brings the world to life. From the old man tape dancing to the Ozark Mountain Daredevils; To a High speed police chase in Vespucci Beach. This category though is going to be very subjective. Honestly I’m having a hard time explaining what I’m looking for here. I guess really I’ll just know it when I see it. But Basically, I’m looking for things that add convenience. To use Fuel and Payload as an example again. I don’t want the sim to pause in the background when I change the payload. But I also want to have the same level of control over the payload that the Default Weight and Balance dialog gives me.
The switching cost. P3D has a big advantage here over the others. I know a lot of my addons will transfer over to P3D. If I go to Dovetail or X-Plane one thing I will miss is my AI traffic. After all these years I finally got it setup to the way I want. I see a wide variety of aircraft all over the place, and they fly VFR or IFR and in the pattern to. It really adds alot to flying in FSX when you have good AI. Plus I’ll lose my A2A planes, I’ll lose my F15E, I’ll lose FScaptain. There is a real cost to switching simulators. Not just in losing addons but in getting use to a new sim and how it functions. I know quite a bit about how FSX functions, and that knowledge lets me make it a better experience. Or even fix things that third party devs get wrong. Surprisingly third party devs even the payware ones, get things wrong quite a bit. But that’s a discussion for another day. So a sim that has a low switching cost in not just money, but also time and energy is going to have a big advantage. Though I believe P3D has already won this category with its backwards compatibility.
Is it a good deal. A local car dealership had some commercials running a few years ago. The commercial was an old man presumably the dealership owner, and his granddaughter. They would look at car ads in the paper. The old man would list off the features of the car then its price, he then asked his grand daughter “Do you know what’s missing?” The young girl would reply “A good deal.” fancy features and improvements mean nothing if the platform cost so much money that you lock off a lot of potential customers. I have a working theory that a lot of people in the flight sim development world may be good developers and engineers. But none of them are businessmen and this is why the FS world has a lot of the problems it does. An example of a good deal I like to cite is Ifly Simulations. They released a Boeing 737NG addon for FSX. They released it before PMDG did. It had mostly the same system modeling PMDG did, at a slightly lower graphical quality but not really because who’s going to zoom in 50x on a single texture. They also included the entire 737NG line. That’s the -600, -700, -800, -900, BBJ1, BBJ2, and BBJ3. Great so they are equal and in one case over PMDG. You know were they really beat the pants off them? The deal. You could get this addon for a lower price than PMDG and it had a Thirty day money back guarantee. But with PMDG. Well I have a game I like to play every now and then called “How much can I get on Steam for the price of 1 PMDG addon!”The thing is I don’t trust Laminar research to have a good deal on X-Plane 11. I wont be surprised if it cost more than the already expensive X-plane 10. Dovetail may win this one as they usually have good deals available, especially during Steam sales. And they have been known in the past to let people upgrade to the new version of the sim for free every year. Haven’t seen that from X-Plane, Prepare for the matter. I don’t know for sure if Dovetail will do that. But they have a track record for it.
Avionics modeling. Finally we are at the end. You may be wondering why avionics and flight model are down at the bottom. It’s really quite simple. FSX already has aircraft with good system modeling. X-Plane already has aircraft with good systems modeling. P3D, same story. They all already deliver here, and so that means the places they don’t deliver matters more to me than than where they do. What I mean by this is, I have no doubt that all 3 sims will deliver in both these categories. I don’t care if your systems are to spec, if i’m having a bad time just flying the thing at 20fps. And I also don’t care if everything is not modeled. The only airplanes I’ve seen where the air condition system mattered at all was A2A planes where your windshield would fog up. So I really don’t care if something minor is not there, Air conditioning is but one thing. One of my favorite airplanes to fly in FSX is a freeware Bombardier Global Express by Richard Schwertfeger. It has almost full system modeling. It relies on the FSX systems like the APU, Hydraulic, pressurization, and Bleed Air. And yes FSX does have those systems by default. But to be honest I don’t have any less fun in it than in my PMDG NGX. The Captain Sim 757 is much the same. Full systems fidelity is not there but most of the ones that are not there are the ones you don’t really care about in a flight sim.
And lastly Flight models. The least important thing to me in my next sim. For the same reasons as avionics. I already know that the 3 Sims can deliver here. That’s not to say it’s not important. None of the things I mentioned here today are unimportant at all. These are the main things I’m looking at, low scores in any category reflects poorly on the sim as a whole. I’m a pilot In real life. And you know what. You don’t use Flight simulators to learn to fly an airplane. You use them to learn to manage an airplane. Real life training simulators don’t actually replicate the airplanes physics 100% they don’t need to. They just need to be close enough. I care that the plane flies roughly like its real world counterpart does. If it’s not 100% that fine. All I expect is a rough approximation of how the real thing would handle in various conditions.
Well that’s it. That’s my criteria. X Plane 11 is due to be release sometime this month. But we have seen nothing from Dovetails marketing department on their flight simulator. GIven this and the fact that dovetail plans on releasing Train Sim World in the first quarter of 2017, I doubt we will see their simulator this year. My best guess is it will be sometime in the second or third quarter before we see that. Nothing from Lockheed Martin either on Prepar3d V4. If they follow their past release schedule it will be sometime in the holidays of 2017 before that’s out. So it’s entirely possible that I may be with FSX for another year, that is unless X-plane 11 knocks it out of the park. Or Dovetail delivers something amazing. Basically i’m on the P3D track and Dovetail or X-Plane has to work to get me on theirs. I want to give all the sims a fair shot but FSX may make me fed up enough to switch before that happens. The thing to remember is each sim will have its pros and cons. Everyone is going to pick the sim they want. I am no exception.
By: Timothy Thomas