FSExpo 2019: Laminar Research - Vulkan/Metal; 11.35 This Monday; Mobile Global Scenery; Austin & Ava

By
Alex John
Saturday, June 8, 2019

Year-on-year, Laminar Research share their progress on X-Plane through major events like FlightSimExpo, and this year was no different. The team shared what has been done regarding Vulkan/Metal; the next update to X-Plane 11; X-Plane mobile; and Austin's Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) Ava.

Vulkan/Metal

The headline of the presentation is the Vulkan/Metal rendering APIs. For reference, Vulkan is a new rendering API for Windows and Linux, and Metal for Mac. Both will eventually replace OpenGL, which X-Plane currently runs on.

Orbx True Earth GB running in Vulkan | Image credit: Laminar Research

Recall last year, that Laminar Research shared a ten-point list that needs to be done for Vulkan/Metal to be completed, and that five of these were crossed off. This year, Ben Supnik announced that all these items are crossed off, and showed a screenshot of Orbx True Earth GB running in Vulkan. The first images were shared back at the end of April.

Then, providing what was promised in that blog post (albeit somewhat delayed), the first statistics on Nvidia and AMD GPUs were presented.

Ben noted that a system with a GPU bottleneck will unlikely run faster in Vulkan/Metal.

In general, frame rate increased overall with Nvidia and AMD. Lag spikes that occurred with OpenGL were less present in the new APIs, and AMD runs at around the same speed as Nvidia - this is not the case in OpenGL, as AMD drivers are not as good as Nvidia's. In Metal, the simulator runs up to 60% faster on AMD hardware.

What's still to do regarding Vulkan/Metal

One of the key items to complete is texture paging. In OpenGL, texture paging is the process of swapping textures between RAM and VRAM to allow more textures to be displayed from VRAM. This can however cause stuttering as it does it in real time, and the team needs to write their own code that resizes textures automatically. This ensures that low-resolution textures at a minimum are always ready.

As for plugin support, a presentation slide showed the following:

  • Goal: OpenGL version for life of X-Plane 11
  • Goal: Vulkan/Metal version can run 2D UI and 2D panels unmodified
  • Add-ons that do unsupported things will work with OpenGL but not Vulkan/Metal

As for when to expect Vulkan/Metal, the team hope to have it in beta by the end of 2019. It is very unlikely to be finished this year, as it will undergo a long beta to allow add-on developers to debug and make their add-ons compatible with the APIs.

X-Plane 11.35

It has surfaced in several places that X-Plane 11.35 is the next update to X-Plane, and today's keynote confirms this.

Starting with gateway airports, every year has seen around 2,900 airports added to the simulator - the total number of 3D airports in 11.35 will be 10,257. Yesterday's developer seminar on World Editor, which is used to build gateway airports, can be found here.

Landmarks were next - a video trailer of Washington, DC was shown, with various landmarks such as the White House. Additionally, New York City is also coming in this update.

The King Air C90 and 737-800 will also get FMOD sound upgrades by Daniela Careri. Videos of both in action were shown, with emphasis on the specifics greatly emphasised.

Phillip Ringler also talked about three major default systems improvements coming in 11.35: the fuel system, bleed air, and APU.

Fuel System

  • Support for header/feeder, AUX and trim tanks
  • Transfer fuel automatically or manually to keep feeders full
  • New (auto-) cross-feed system
  • Trim fuel for supersonic aircraft
  • Fuel arm can change for oddly-shaped tanks
  • Easier for third-party developers to direct flow

Bleed Air

  • Sources: Engines, APU and GPU
  • Users: Packs, Anti-ice, starter motors, hydraulic pumps
  • Modular design for up to three packs and multiple isolation valves
  • Bleed air consumption affects engine output
  • Electric systems for air conditioning, fans and heaters

APU

  • Components: APU door, starter motor/generator, turbine
  • APU electrical and bleed air loads are tracked
  • APU EGT responds to APU loads
  • Cool-down vs fire shut-down
  • APU fire
  • Customisable for third-parties

System Improvements

  • DME hold functionality for all NAV radios
  • Separate audio generation for NAV and DME radios for FMOD
  • Starter motor torque and ignitor effectiveness changes with battery condition
  • Autipilot modes for track, flight path angle, ref-speed climb, …
  • Hotel mode for turboprops
  • “DC dies while AC lies”
  • Non-rigid nose wheel steering

X-Plane 11.35 will be going into beta this Monday.

Austin and BETA's Ava

Image credit: Eric Adams / @ericadams321

Austin Meyer also talked about his participation in BETA's Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft Ava. He presented how the aircraft behaves in X-Plane using the view flight model function, which showed various properties like propwash.

Based on the data obtained, he found better propwash swirl based on four tech reports, delayed prop wash over the tail, varied propwash over the disc, and control effectiveness improvements. These have helped shaped his Ava, which has in turn shaped X-Plane.

For additional details of BETA's Ava, see this article here.

X-Plane Mobile

One of the most requested features for mobile users is global scenery. As Chris Serio stated in the presentation, back when X-Plane mobile started out in 2008, only 1% of the code was shared with its desktop counterpart. Fast forward to today, and the figure stands at 73% today.

With this in mind, it has been possible to bring default aircraft into X-Plane mobile over the years, and today sees the announcement of something different: X-Plane Glo-Mo.

Short for Global Mobile, Glo-Mo includes all 35,000+ airports in X-Plane, replacing the regions mobile users were stuck with for some time. These include all airports in the scenery gateway, including those that are going into X-Plane 11.35 for desktop. They will be available to subscribers, that can stream these from 'The Cloud.'

Comparing a default airport with that from Google Earth

It has been highlighted that Apple's App Store policies mean introducing add-ons into mobile is a tedious task.

You can discuss this, and everything else from FSExpo, in our Discord server with like-minded users. Join here.

To see more about FSExpo 2019, check out our hub page here.

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