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!