Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The MD-11 presentation

No, this isn't going to be a zipped-up Powerpoint file for anyone to download, simply because I never could do it that way... All my presentations up to date have been based on notes that I write to remind myself of what I want to talk about, while showing the true star of the presentation: The product itself.

The MD-11 presentation at Paderborn was no exception to this rule. With so much new stuff to show, all I had to do is point to the projected laptop screen on the wall and showcase the new features Michael, Bill and Vin are putting in place... and the audience of 200 or more fans of the MD-11 would react to the fun we're promising this to be.

What would this include? Well, new, standardized ways of clicking on panel instruments, for one. Michael Frantzeskakis found a neat new way of making customized cursors that are clearly indicating whether the click-spot allows for left- or right-clicking, wheel rolling, new panel popping, etc. You'll have to see this to understand, but suffice it to say, it's going to be really neat!

The 2D art is also very well done, with Bill Grabowski shining once again in demonstrating his talent for rendered art that mixes with photo realism. With his emphasis on real-world eye perspective, he mastered a 2D main panel view that encompasses all the gauges and displays that an MD-11 pilot would want to look at when flying the bird. Add the foldout popup panels to that, and you have yourself a very handy and quickly accessed panel.

I would do us a disservice if I didn't mention Vin Scimone's absolutely stunning 3d external model of course, which takes advantage of all the new capabilities that FSX has to offer (bloom, specular and bump mapping, etc) while maintaining the degree of clarity only found in PMDG products.

Last, but certainly not least, comes the amazing 256 new levels of lighting that can be found for night flying that add a never before found ability to control light ambience on your panel instruments. Separately rendered as in the real bird, they allow the pilot to set the perfect combination of shine and darkness required for any flight conditions... (wow - this definitely sounded like a marketing blurb ;-)).

Here's a link to some pictures, hidden in between the nice happenings that took place in Paderborn. With those, I'd like to extend once again a heartfelt thank-you to Markus Burkhard who was kind enough to sit next to me and provide commentary on those items that I might have missed or needed further clarification. He's a real expert when it comes to the MD-11!

Thoughts on FSX (a developer's stand point)

I've been promising myself (and a good number of friends who've been asking) that I'll post my views on the newly released Flight Simulator X product by Microsoft, but until now, it's always been difficult to find the bracket of time required to do so without interruptions and phone ringing off the hook... so now that I can catch my breath after just coming back from the Aerosoft Conference in Paderborn, here are my thoughts on this subject.

First off, I'd like to say that it's always a breath of fresh air to see a new release of Flight Simulator. With each one, there's progress, so it keeps the hobby alive and well. Furthermore, it's interesting to see the public's attitude before, during and after each release, as I am beginning to note a trend that's similar to what happens when we release something... at first, there's wild speculation and anticipation of what the new product will include, with opinions running rampant on why this time, it's going to be the best thing since sliced bread. Then, there's the glorious yells of success from people who rush to buy it, followed eventually by cries of annoyance and anger because it didn't do exactly what they felt it should do, it was released prematurely, etc. Eventually, all this dies down only to be followed by the calmer realization (every time) that it's "the best product release to-date". It is interesting to note that it's the same small fraction of people who are the most vocal and they always go through the same cycle. I guess you can't please everyone all the time.

On with FSX:

--The good --

a) Can someone say "Graphics"? If what we saw now is followed by a further update when D3D10 comes out (and we plunk out another $1000 for hardware), I can only say "Wow!" - this is amazing. Waters that are realistic and move with wind... Ships that even move on predetermined routes... Gates that come out to our aircraft when you park at the ramp... All around Nice!!!

b) When you're done saying "Graphics", can you also say "Missions"? I never thought I would have such a feeling of newly discovered fun with a product that I've been working on for the past five years. I particularly love going through those green circles... Kudos, Microsoft guys. Very well thought out and highly recommended!

c) Can you also say "SimConnect"? As a developer, I am so VERY glad that our good friends at Microsoft have opened up the platform in a way never before attempted, and while doing so, they gave us a chance to communicate beforehand what we wish to connect to. SimConnect is not a product, it's not an SDK - it's a means of sending and receiving lots of information back and forth from our addons to FlightSim, so that we can do more with the platform, rather than rely on hacking into the executable and DLLs (and one of the biggest is my good friend Pete Dowson's FSUIPC module that we were greatful to be able to use for the past five years).

d) Finally - Microsoft FS Developers opening up to the public. Blogs, forum posts, developer conferences, meetings - you name it, they now participate! While this isn't strictly a "good" of FSX itself, it means that there's fresh air blowing from Redmond - glad to see it, guys!

-- The bad ---

a) BSOD. For those uninitiated to the term, it means "Blue Screen of Death" and I used to get it every single time I'd try the flour bomb mission (#7) on my 6600GT VGA equipped PC. The error message (after the obligatory reboot) was a cryptic reference to "some drivers causing this problem" but there was no offer or resolution there. My solution? Plunk 350 Euros for a 7950GT 512MB card that allows video memory to fill up with textures so the mission can continue uninterrupted. FS Devs, this is your window of opportunity for a fix - if you want my VGA, let me know and I'll even pay for shipping!

b) Scenery. While the world is now round and the North Pole can be overflown for the first time, I'm still going to wait for some addon to come on top of the vast yellow sandy areas that my home base of LGAV (Athens Int'l Eleftherios Venizelos airport) now sits on. Yes, guys, we have yellow sand... but it's AT THE BEACH :-).

c) SimConnect. It seems that with all the greatness it provided, it still requires more work to be complete. I've already shared my wishes and complaints with Mike Z, Brett S and Dave D, so I am hoping this will move once again in the "good" category.

-- The ugly --

Only ONE item here: Frame Rates, when you haven't yet tweaked. However, I am only mentioning this here as an opportunity for you, my fellow readers, to visit our PMDG wiki center which includes a very well drafted article on how to improve your experience, by my friend Ryan Maziarz. He assembled and will be maintaining a list of all the currently known tweaks and fixes so that you can also turn your sluggish tortoise of a PC into the rocket that he has. You can find his article here.

As I've been working closely with some of the Flight Sim devs in the past (via the beta forum that I was previously not even allowed to mention ;-)), I can only offer an opinion from inside the curtain. I'd really be interested to see some commentary though, on things I might be forgetting to mention, so by all means, add some here... I'll revise the post when I see things I missed!

Aerosoft Flight Simulator Show in Paderborn

Once again, it was time for me to attend the Aerosoft Flight Simulator Conference that took place in Paderborn last Saturday, October 21st. This has quickly become an annual tradition which I find very enjoyable as it gives me an opportunity to meet face to face with friends and developers who I don't often get a chance to see, other than online on our messenger systems.

This year's event turned out to be the biggest so far, with over 800 people in attendance. It was even more significant because it was the first show in Germany that had Microsoft Flight Simulator X on display, after its release last week. As expected, the Microsoft stand was impressive, with two desks fully equipped with Saitek joysticks and throttles and large wide screens displaying an immersive view into the new product (More on FSX in a bit).

While walking around the stands, I also noticed some new offerings in the hardware and cockpit building category - I missed our good friends from Engravity who had some conflicting schedules and couldn't attend, but I had a glimpse of the CockpitSonic 737NG and Airbus offerings that show some promise in that aspect.

VATSIM and IVAO were there manning their respective virtual skies, and so were Just Flight and Flight One with their wares on display.

I am sure I am forgetting others, but I didn't have too much time to roam around, as I was busy putting the final touches on my presentation of the brand-new PMDG product, the McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 aircraft that we're going to release "some time very soon" (tm).

I already knew that many of our customers have expressed interest in the MD-11, but I didn't know exactly how passionate many of you are on this large ocean-crossing aircraft. Well, it turned out to be a packed conference hall with no empty seats and some of you standing around wanting to catch the first glimpse of what our product looks like - I was really impressed by the attendance!

I'll post a separate article on the MD-11 as this one focuses more on the conference in general.

The day ended with the Captains' dinner, an event that's quickly becoming tradition for the conference. It included (apart from a very well prepared buffet meal) the presentation of the SimFlight 2006 Awards. PMDG were once again contenders in the voting and I was very pleased and honored to receive the award on behalf of our team for the 747-400 Freighter, which won the 2006 Airliner Aircraft award. I only wish I were a bit more photogenic (and I promise to start my diet again ;)). Perhaps next year we'll hire Jennifer Aniston to receive it on our behalf :-).

Next, I'll be posting my thoughts on FSX and a recap of the MD-11 presentation. To end this, I'd like to thank Winfried, William, Mathijs and the rest of the Aerosoft team for a nice weekend. It's great to see you guys again in person!

(For more information on the Flight Sim Conference, head over to FSKonferenz and Aerosoft).