X-Plane 11.50 Vulkan/Metal Update

Alex John
Tristan Garratt
Friday, December 27, 2019

As a Holiday gift, Laminar Research presented the public with an update on X-Plane 11.50 via their developer blog.

Lead developer Ben Supnik said a private beta of 11.50 has already been distributed to select 3rd party developers, with a public build said to be available “soon”.

Ben detailed various aspects of the update, starting with the method of enabling Vulkan: “In X-Plane 11.50, there is a check-box in the rendering settings that enables Vulkan or Metal; you’ll have to restart for the change to take effect.

“If the sim crashes really early (e.g. before the main menu) it will revert to OpenGL to keep you from getting “locked out” but random crashes while flying won’t do this. There are also command line overrides to control the driver for people running performance testing scenarios.”

Furthermore, the reflections slider - known for decreasing frame rate at any setting except minimal - has been reworked.

“It’s now like X-Plane 10 and does not attempt to update the environment cubemaps in real-time,” continued Ben. He added users who wish to continue using the current reflections algorithm can re-enable it in settings.txt.

“What we have found over the last few years is that users will drag every slider all the way to the right, and then be surprised that the sim has poor performance.” To add to this, Ben said “We are violating an industry UI norm by having the highest possible settings run beyond the scope of the fastest possible computers our users can get their hands on.”

Full scenery shadows are still available in the new rendering architectures, and Ben claims that a decent machine should be able to run maximum autogen and scenery shadows at 30 frames per second.

As has been stated in the past, Vulkan and Metal change the way in which textures are handled in VRAM; the resolution of textures are reduced on the fly in the background to maintain a smoother experience, although overall textures sizing can still be changed.

“This new “on the fly paging” is…well, it’s completely new, and I suspect it will need a lot of debugging during beta,” Ben admitted. “It’s an area where we just need to collect use-case data to better tune the algorithm.”

Another large underlying change to the code is that 11.50 no longer allows uncompressed DDS textures to be used, by removing the uncompressed textures slider option form the settings menu.

Ben said that whilst this change is a better use of what is available in a user’s VRAM budget, textures should be pre-compressed for the best visual results, and that this should not affect 3rd party developers.

Ben also provided screenshots of how the new rendering process works, and what is happening during the rendering of each frame:

"Here’s what winning looks like"

In the comments section, Sidney Just added that FlyWithLua-based plugins, the FlightFactor 757 and 767, and all FlyJSim aircraft work “quite well” in 11.50, but stated the FlightFactor A320 Ultimate did not work.

As can be seen, Laminar Research is very close to releasing X-Plane 11.50. Ben closed off with the next steps: “At this point the only thing left to do is fix bugs, some of which are still open even as the private beta goes out. We will move to the public beta once we have something where we think the initial experience isn’t a blue screen and tears."

To read the post in full, see the original blog post on their developer blog here.

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