Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Aerofly Flight Simulator 2 - a quick review



If you follow my Facebook page, you know that, from time to time, I have been making some experiments with IPACS Aerofly FS2 flight simulator. 
This simulator has left the "Early Access" area on Steam and it is now available as a "finished" product. Since many of you are asking if it is any good, I thought it was a good idea to share my opinions - much like I did when it was originally released in Early Access.

Aerofly FS2 is the latest product from IPACS, a Swiss company that produced the popular Aerofly RC series (a series of radio-controlled aircraft model simulators) and Aerofly FS (their take on a full scale flight simulator). The original Aerofly FS was praised for its good performance, nice photoreal scenery and good visuals - although it failed to catch the attention of the vast majority of the simmers community.

The second iteration is in a much better position as its early version was released with native support of the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift right when these two headsets were gaining popularity - and due to its super-smooth frame rate, it quickly become popular within the niche of simmer who own a Virtual Reality headset. I bought it when I got my HTC Vive - and I was amazed on the smothness 
and graphic quality of the experience.


Aircrafts

Although it only comprises fixed wing machines, the aircraft selection of Aerofly FS is second to none. There is something for everyone: starting from the Cessna 172 up to the 747-400 and everything in the middle, including two gliders  
(the ASG 29 and the Margansky Swift S1), twin-props (Beech Baron B58 and King Air C90), a business jet (Learjet 45 of course), unlimited acrobatic planes (Extra 300 and Pitts S.2B), warbirds (Corsair, P-38 and the Sopwith Camel) and military jets (F-15, F-18 and the MB-339 trainer). By downloading and installing the SDK you can also get the DR-400, while the Dash 8 Q400 is also available as free download (and it is probably the best Aircraft in terms of system modeling.
The visual quality is great and very consistent - by far the best default fleet of any simulator.
The flight models are less consistent - some are very good, some are just OK. Most of them will not be as accurate as the most demanding simmers would like, but in general they are acceptable and deliver a good "sensation" of flight.


Scenery 

Much like its predecessor, AFS2 takes the photoreal approach. The base scenery covers most of the West Coast of the United states and includes California, Nevada and Arizona - Colorado and Utah areas are available as free downloads, as well as a higher resolution version of the base scenery. The New York area and Switzerland are available at pay-for DLC (currently 14.99€ each). Orbx has released Innsbruck and Meigs Field, and will release Monterey shortly.

Sticking to the default content, if you are into photoscenery in terms of image quality it does not get much better than this, provided you download the high-res version (pretty big download...90 Gigabytes!!!). Flying over the Sierras or the Death Valley is AWESOME - the image quality is really good and the overall impression of realism is fantastic.

On the bad side, autogen coverage is sparse and inconsistent - some areas are well done and include buildings, some others have just trees - and some other have nothing. Also, there is no shader or mask for water - just the texture... which is disappointing.
Another bad thing is that not all the airports in the base region are included - for example Point Mugu NAS is not there. On the flipside, the default airports are nice and detailed (although generic) - much better than other sims.

Simulation and Graphics Engine

The Aircraft simulation engine takes a very interesting and powerful approach: the core of the engine is basically a rigid body simulator, which includes linkages, servos and dampers - and a number of aerodynamic and system features. It is much more complex and flexible than what most people think.
Its major drawbacks, at the moment, are the fact that it only supports fixed wing aicraft and that it does not support custom code for advanced avionics.

The environment simulation is one of the weakest points. No ATC, no traffic, weather simulation is basically limited to wind intensity and direction - there is a lot of work to do in this area. Also, at least for the moment, NO MULTIPLAYER.

The graphic engine is GREAT for three reasons:
- The performance is really good - you can easily exceed 120 frames per second on a decent machine, and it is definitely good enough for simming in Virtual Reality and 4K displays. Granted, this is also because there is no traffic, nor ATC
- The draw distance and image quality is INCREDIBLE.
- The shaders are quite good. The reflections work well, the glass shader is awesome and the day lighting is very good (I'd say it is the best around as it delivers a good, natural contrast).

Unfortunately the lack of water shaders and masks is a big drawback - and then the clouds are very basic and do not cast shadows. Bummer.

SDK and Third Party Support

Third part support is quite limited at the moment - basically there are just three Orbx airports (Meigs Field, Innsbruck and the soon-to-be released Monterey). They are awesome...and they really shine thanks to the smooth frame rates and draw distance. Innsbruck in particular is awesome. A short flight around this airport in VR in a Cessna 172 is incredibly immersive.

The SDK is quite powerful (it is the same tool used by the authors)...but also poorly documented. Developing or converting an aicraft is not very difficult...but requires A LOT of manual text editing. A LOT. On the other hand, once you get used to it, the process of converting an aircraft from FSX is straightforward and not very long (probably around 20 hours tops).

GOOD:
- Fantastic frame rates and overall performance
- Great selection of aicrafts with excellent visual models
- The high-res version of the base scenery is awesome
- Fantastic sense of immersion in Virtual Reality 

MEH....
- No water masks and shaders
- Clouds are very simple and don't cast shadows

BAD:
- no traffic and no ATC
- no multiplayer

In summary, at the moment AFS2 is quite a barebone simulator. There is just your aicraft (with excellent visuals and decent simulation) and there is a huge beautiful photoscenery (which looks AWESOME except for the water)...but this is delivered with an incredibly smooth frame rate and a fantastic draw distance. If that is enough for you, it is highly recommended. It is also highly recommended if you own a VR Helmet.
If you are looking for extremely detailed procedures, ATC or multiplayer, AFS2 is not your simulator (...yet).



The F-15E modeled by MilViz is part of the default aicrafts...and looks awesome. The cockpit looks great, but its functionality is limited. 



   
The Dash 8 Q400 is available as free DLC...and it is probably the best aicraft of AFS2 in terms of simulation...it may not be on part with the best of the best we've seen in other sims, but it is not bad.  

The draw distance and frame rates are amazing

Orbx Innsbruck is AWESOME - extremely detailed (same as the FSX/P3D version) but with the added bonus of the frame rate and image sharpness of AFS2.


The first attempts to export my SIAI S-211 in AFS2.







Wednesday, December 6, 2017

P3Dv4 x64 COMPATIBILITY PATCH FOR PAYWARE F-35 LIGHTING II PACKAGE


Here is an "interim" patch to solve the compatibility issues of the payware F-35 with P3Dv4.
In the long term, I'd like to release an upgrade version of the F-35 which will include a number of improvements and minor bug fixes... but at the moment I do not have the time for that.

The payware F-35 can be installed in P3Dv4 simply pointing at P3Dv4 main folder during the installation process. However, the F-35 uses some special x86 dlls which will not work in P3Dv4.
This patch will fix the outstanding incompatibility issues of the payware F-35 with P3Dv4, namely:
- STOVL functions not working
- Miscellaneous sound effects missing
- ICAWS audio alerts missing
- Miscellaneous issues with the fuel system

TO INSTALL THE PATCH:

1) If you have not done it already, install the F-35 into P3Dv4 (just point to P3Dv4 instead of P3Dv4 when prompted to indicate the installation folder)

2) Take the "panel" folder contained in this .zip file and paste it in the F-35A folder. Allow files to be overwritten if asked (NOTE - to do this you must be an Administrator).
The operation most ONLY be done on the F-35A folder. The -B and -C version read the code from there.

3) ...that is it. To verify the installation is OK, just cause any event that triggers the ICAWS and hear the alert, or try the STOVL mode.
 Note that the STOVL green copyright notice will not appear anymore.

CREDITS
*******
X64 Sound module and x64 Fuel Dump module are copyright of Doug Dawson
Maryadi, for the X64 STOVL module (see rcb-gauges subfolder for full readme on this module)

The patch can be loaded from Google Drive by either clicking HERE or from the side bar (payware section).

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Projects Update and Roadmap for Fall/Winter


As I have received a lot of  emails of the "what will be your next plane"/"can you please do [insert favourite aircraft here]" type recently, I think it is time for a quick update on the projects I have been working on, and my roadmap for the next six months or so.

SIAI S-211This is the main project I am working on a the moment - the external model is almost done and I am working on the VC. The flight model is being worked on by Roy Holmes - so I am sure it will be a high quality job. If time and resources will allow, the package *may* include a Aermacchi M-311/M-345 rendition.
This is a payware project - price has not been set yet, but it may be 17.50€ + taxes (if only the S-211 included) up to 25€+taxes (if it turns out to be a full package).
Release date - hopefully - is late November 2017.

Eurofighter and F-35 Lightning II updates
I am still working, from time to time, on updates to both the Eurofighter and F-35 projects. Both will receive a P3Dv4 update sometime in the future - but until VRS releases Tacpack for P3Dv4, their natural habitat is still P3Dv3+Tacpack
As of today this is the status:

EUROFIGHTER - a number of small improvements/bug fixes have been already implemented in my internal build. There a about a dozen points that need to be addressed, some of them coming from real Eurofighter crew, but there are no major issues... expect a product update by the end of September. This *may* be preceded by a test version (in form of a patch) to be released on this blog.

F-35 LIGHTNING II - The loss of source files was a major blow to this project. But I am slowly rebuilding them (at least for the VC). Future updates may include cockpit improvements, new repaints and a better flight model.

Now, these are the potential future projects (meaning I may have already done some work on these, but they are mostly in my mind/dreams)...

T-45C Goshawk PRO version - A programmer from MilViz has kindly offered me a much better, more complete T-45C avionic suite he has made as test bench for their new development process. It is awesome, but I am struggling to find the time to work on it... and then it would be a great chance to make a V3 Goshawk that could include a T-45A too... We'll see.

Aermacchi MB-339
- Other developers are working on a MB-339... it looks good so far, so I *may* decide to quit the development of my version... we'll see.

F-14D Super Tomcat update/remake - I'd love to do this... but the loss of the source files would make me lean towards a full remake - for which I do not have the time.

E-2 / C-2 Package - Another project I'd love to do... we'll see.

T-50A  - This is another trainer I'd love to do... I started planning for this, but then it looked like other developers were doing one, and I put the project on hold. Now it seems that the situation is different and I may want to resume it.

....that is all for now. Feedback is welcome as usual!


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Military Avatars Package Freeware Release


NOTE - UPDATED TO VERSION 1.04 TO SOLVE MINOR MISTAKES (YOU MAY WANT TO DOWNLOAD IT AGAIN IF YOU HAVE 1.03).

As promised on my Facebook page, I am re-releasing the Military Avatars Package as freeware. This version features some minor changes with respect of the last payware release, such as the removal of the installer and (most important) the reintroduction of the collision detection for Prepar3d V4 compatibility.
I do not like too much the collision detection as it is buggy and you cannot, in some cases, get really close to the aircraft... but its absence seems to create an issue with P3Dv4, so I have restored it.

For those who might be curious, as developer sales figures is a tightly kept secret, the oveall number of payware copies sold was 161 - which, after distributors' fees and taxes - barely covered the development costs.
As side note, source files for these figures have been lost to ransomware -so this package will not be furtherly updated.

Still, I am seriously considering a new version, with fewer but better models and better animations....although that would be definitely more expensive to make.

Anyway, you can download the latest version from the menu HERE or in the side bar of this blog.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Prepar3D Version 4 compatibility statement...and screenshots ;-) !




First, my apologies for the lack of replies and updates both on the blog and on the facebook page... I do not have much spare time for flight simming lately, but rest assured I read all your message and value your feedback.

Second, here is the a brief recap of the status of my projects for what concerns the compatibility with the upcoming Prepar3D V4 release (I had a quick look at the release candidate over the weekend and, you have a good, modern hardware, I highly recommed).

In general, the compatibility of P3Dv4 with addons native to FSX and P3D is quite high, as long as there are no external C++ modules involved in the aicraft systems. For what concerns my aicrafts, they often use Doug Dawson's fuel dump and sound effects gauges respectively to manage some fuel system functions (such as external fuel tanks loading/unloading, in flight refuel etc.). These gauges are currently not compatible with P3Dv4, hence:

- In-flight refuel will not work. Aicrafts with external fuel tanks will have minor issues (such as enabling to refuel non-existent external tanks).

- Custom sounds such as voice warnings and other sounds (e.g. the SideWinder growl) will not be played.

...apart from that EVERYTHING else seems to work (except the F-35B STOVL...see below), so by and large I'd say my aicrafts are compatible with P3Dv4. I will update my aicrafts if/when updated versions of these modules become available.

Also, at present Tacpack is not compatible with P3DV4 - so none of the aircrafts will have tacpack functionality.

F-35 Lightning II

As per the general notes, no custom sounds and minor issue with the fuel system. The F-35B STOVL function will not work - however, as soon as the new version of FSUIPC.dll is released, it is possible that the function is restored by using the alternate STOVL gauge which relies on it (the gauge is already present in the package as a backup solution and it is commented out).

Aside, P3Dv4 will include an updated version of the F-35A - which includes many of the enhancements of the payware version (and a new livery). Note that the bundled version has NO Tacpack functionality.


Eurofighter Typhoon

Same as above... no voice warnings and issues with the fuel system, but pretty much everything else works.


Military Avatars Package

There is an issue with the contact points, so that the Avatars will appear to be literally "knee-deep" into the runway. A small patch to correct this will be released soon.
Anyway, as you know, this package has been withdrawn from sales - it will be re-released as freeware soon (and the release will include the fix).


Aermacchi MB-326

Works fine - except the "phantom fuel tank" syndrome.
By the way, since some of you asked, YES the porting to AF2 is proceeding (veeeery slowly).


 Boeing T-45C Goshawk

Works fine - no issues at all. :-) !
...and, sooner or later, it might get an update with a new avionic suite by MilViz and AO textures (as soon as I can find the time).


Grumman F-14D Tomcat

Same story - minor issues to the fuel system... but in general works fine!



S-3B Viking

Last but not least... and again minor issues with the fuel system, but in general works fine.
By the way, the AI-Tanker version is almost finished!



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Eurofighter Version 1.08 released


I have just released a new version of the Eurofighter Typhoon to SimMarket, FlightSimStore and PC Aviator. This is basically a "cleanup" release that restores Tacpack Multiplayer Signature and gets rid of some unnecessary avionic code... I also took the chance to add some repaints from the community.
The update will take a little to deploy - you should receive a notification from the distibutor of your choice in a couple of days in the worst case.

2017-05-15
Product update to version 1.08
- Restored Tacpack files signature for multiplayer

- Further tweaks to the control surface animations
- Fixed bug preventing AoA bracket to show while in landing PoF
- Cleanup of avionics code (should solve or at least reduce the "freezing" issue experienced by some users)
- Added "500th Eurofighter Delivered" repaint, courtesy of Rob Skipworth
- Added "Diecimila Ore, 4 Stormo" repaint, courtesy of Tim Brennan
- Added "Tiger" repaint, courtesy of Antonio Diaz
- Added "RAF 41 Sqn Centenary" repaint, courtesy of Rob Skipworth
- A copy of this manual is now stored in the docs folder



Monday, April 24, 2017

Eurofighter Version 1.06 Released!


***IMPORTANT!***
I forgot to "sign" the Tacpack files for multiplayer anti-cheating in the1.05-1.06 update to the Eurofighter... as result, if the server has anti-cheat enabled, you will be kicked out of the session. Please download the signed files (that must go into the main Eurofighter folder) from the side bar, if you want to use the updated Typhoon in multiplayer. Sorry for the inconvenience.

*** EDIT - A SIGNIFICANT BUG HAS BEEN DETECTED IN VERSION 1.05 - WILL BE FIXED IN VERSION 1.06 ***

A rainy Sunday is a good day for some "housekeeping" of my projects... so I have released a small update to the Eurofighter project which hopefully solves some of the problems detected in these first two weeks of deployment. There are still some issues to be solved, but given that my time for the Eurofighter in the next few weeks will be very limited, I decided to release it today.

You should receive an email notification from your distributor of choice that the installer has been updated to version 1.05. This is a full install that will overwrite all the existing files, so if you have installed additional repaints you may want to make a copy of your aircraft.cfg first. Changes are as follows:

2017-04-24
Product updated to version 1.06
- Fixed bug that made the elevon movement to be reversed
- Furtherly reduced excursion of canard motion

2017-04-23
Product updated to version 1.05
- Improvements to flight control animations
- Improvements to flight model stability in certain conditions
- Fixed bug which prevented external fuel tanks from being replenished in the configurator
- Fixed bug which prevented external fuel tanks from being replenished in in-flight refuel under Tacpack
- Fixed bug in TRK autopilot function
- Fixed bug in STA4 pylon visibility condition
- Adjusted position of guided bomb hanging from pylons
- Changed "Ready for Takeoff" condition so that Avionic Master is now set to ON
- Added missing white navigation light
- Fixed several bugs preventing correct frequency-to-channel Tacan conversion
- Fixed bug that made ZOOM IN/ZOOM OUT key functionality to be inverted in LDP controls
- Fixed minor bug in FUEL format