Flight Sim Show 2019: Laminar Research - Vulkan/Metal Public Beta this Year, Further 11.40 Details

Sam Clark
Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Laminar Research team have travelled from across the world to be in Cosford, UK, for their presentation at Flight Sim Show this weekend, presenting some of what they've got in store going forward for their simulator, X-Plane 11.

Philipp Ringler was the first to take the stage, sharing a memory of the late Bob Sidwick inviting the whole LR team out to Cosford for the first time a few years ago. He continued on to give some background to X-Plane as a whole, a look back to 1996 and a frustrated Austin Meyer, who had recently failed his instrument check, was looking for a more effective way to hone his skills. His work on flight modelling would lay the foundations for the dynamics seen in X-Plane to this day.

X-Plane's gateway airports, landmarks and other features were also touched on, conveying just how far the company have come since the beginning. Community addons were also a focus of this part of the presentation, with Orbx, Just Flight and others getting cameos on the slideshow.

Ringler then began listing the various items that will be coming to X-Plane before the end of the year.

The first version of X-Plane Mobile, for the iPhone 3G.

X-Plane Mobile was the first topic is discussion, with Ringler addressing some complaints about the use of development time by saying that the mobile and desktop versions share much the same codebase. Over 70% of the code in the mobile version is already in X-Plane 11 desktop, so the two are ever easier to develop in parrallel.

Global for Mobile was the main focus of the Mobile segment of the presentation, which adds worldwide scenery to the handheld simulator. Ringler claims GloMo will have over 35,000 airports, 10,000+ of those will have custom 3D scenery. Previously, Laminar had reached out for beta testers for this feature - if you'd like to apply, find our article on it here.

Moving past X-Plane Mobile, the next topic up for discussion was 11.40, an update for the desktop simulator. Once again, gateway airports were the first to be touched on, with over 11,000 full 3D airports in the main sim by default, a fact that really impresses the team. 11.40 includes 1,400 brand new, hand-made sceneries.

WorldEditor (WED) 2.2, which is currently in beta, was also mentioned - Ringler calling it "the easiest scenery creation tool", highlighting the team's ongoing commitment to community developers.

New landmarks will be coming in X-Plane 11.50 too, spread about the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Namely, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, as well as many  buildings dotted around the LA skyline.

FMOD sound was another focus, with the team showing off their custom packages for the default King Air and MD-80. Ringler, ever interested in this technology, went on to give a full explanation of the system and how it links to various other aircraft systems such as bleed air.

Flight model was up next and the main focus of 11.40. The changes seen here were in large part down to the real-world flight dynamics that Laminar founder Austin Meyer experienced when testing "Ava", an aircraft project he is assisting with. If you'd like to learn more about Austin's real-world aircraft endeavours, check out our article on Ava here.

Propwash was a main talking point here, with better modelling of the effects given by the spinning propeller, including more realistic control effectiveness changes.

The full list of flightmodel changes in 11.40 were listed in a slide put together by the team:

  • Tripped stall
  • Rotor bounce-back
  • Per-element thermals
  • Vertical wind profile
  • Exhaust thrust in turboprops
  • Wake turbulence from AI planes
  • Better supersonic transitions
  • Wing/body separation (T-Tails)
  • Seaplane/improved water waves
  • Electric reverse and re-gen
  • Afterburners/reheat

The most anticipated update of the presentation, on Vulkan and Metal, came at the end of the slideshow. After a short recap of the Vulkan presentation at FlightSimExpo (see our full recap of that presentation here), before launching into some more technical items. Ringler makes sure to point out that Vulkan will only help CPU bottlenecked systems - it won't bring much in the way of speed improvement to GPU-limited computers.

Phillpp summarised X-Plane's current rendering API, OpenGL, as a 'driver that does a lot, just not very fast', whereas the newer Vulkan and Metal APIs will be more efficient and a net win for performance overall.

Performance calculations appeared to be very similar to those seen at June's FlightSimExpo, so for further details on that be sure to check out our recap article from the event. In short: both Nvidia and AMD systems run faster on Vulkan, with AMD noticeably more effective than it has been on OpenGL. The same goes for Mac users, who will also see a noticeable performance increase in Metal.

One of the last tasks to accomplish with Vulkan/Metal is to do with texture paging, which handles the 'switching' of textures between RAM and VRAM. With the newer APIs, instead of having the texture removed from fast VRAM, it will instead carry a lower-resolution version and swap in a higher resolution texture when required, something that requires a large amount of VRAM, thus, performance optimisations are underway to ensure this will not lead X-Plane to having a 16GB VRAM system requirement.

The question on everybody's lips was up next: when will it release? Ringler unveiled that select developers will obtain a beta preview later this year, with a public beta expected before the end of 2019 - though full release is not expected until 2020. This is due to a long backlog of addons to be debugged with the new OpenGL - Vulkan bridge that enables addons to work on the new platform.

That was all for the Laminar presentation at Cosford this year. If you'd like to get some more background on the Vulkan/Metal upgrade, check out this article recapping Laminar's slideshow at FlightSimExpo in Orlando last June.

For more news from RAF Cosford and this weekend's Flight Sim Show, check out our recap of the presentation from the team behind the Magknight 787.

Images sourced from the livestream of Dirkadurka - he will be livestreaming the entire event over the next 48 hours, so tune in for more X-Plane news from JustFlight's FlightSimShow over on his Twitch page!

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