Laminar Research Q&A Summary (November 2019)
Edit 21/11/19: Laminar Research has made the decision to pull the livestream off YouTube, as confirmed in a Tweet.
They accompanied their decision with the following statement: "We’ve removed the recording of our stream because it didn’t explain how we’re going to compete with MSFS2020, wasn’t any fun to watch and it’s too soon to reveal the details of what’s coming next. We’re working now and will show the results when they’re ready to actually be seen!"
We will keep this article in place however, which may be read below.
As announced last week, Laminar Research developers have fronted a live audience to answer questions about the future of their simulators - X-Plane 11 and X-Plane Mobile.
Austin Meyer, the company's founder, gave us a quick intro to the Q&A. The company's American employees are gathered in Austin's South Carolina home to recap the last 9 months, and look forward for the next 9.
Present were 9 members of the X-Plane team: Austin Meyer, Ben Supnik, Thomson Meeks (PR), Michael Brown (X-Force PC), Chris Serio (mobile/ATC), Marty Arant (PR), Jennifer Roberts ('everything-but-code'), Alex Unruh (art director) and Tyler Young (UI). Sidney Just, 'vulkanologist', was also present in the livestream's chat.
The VOD is no longer available, having been removed by Laminar Research. This recap describes the events of the Q&A sourced from the now deleted livestream.
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
The first question, surprisingly, was on the new Microsoft Flight Simulator. Austin began by saying that the looming return to the FS market by Microsoft and Asobo Studios was one of the reasons behind holding the Q&A in the first place. Meyer harks back to "the old days", where X-Plane was competing with FS2002, FS2004 and every version since.
Interestingly, Meyer views this as a good thing for X-Plane - stating that "we can't just stand around doing nothing" - and that competition drives the market, a fact he thinks will ring true in flight simulation over the next few years.
It was at this point that Ben Supnik chimed in, saying that as more people join the flight simulation community via FS2020, X-Plane will invariably grow as well. He also explains that Microsoft faces limitations in what they can achieve because of their corporate mantra - things that Laminar is not bound to, such as Linux and macOS compatibility, in addition to a fully functional mobile simulator.
Marty Arant believes that X-Plane's 'superior flight model' will entice more hardcore training pilots, and how X-Plane will be one of the crucial fixes to the global pilot shortage.
Austin claimed that the flight simulation community is in for an "epic drag race" over the next few years, and that the next 12 months in particular will be "crazy fun".
Next on the agenda was an update on Mobile from Chris Serio. He hopes for Global for Mobile (dubbed GloMo) to be out by the end of the year, featuring 36,000 airports worldwide - 14,000 of which will be sourced from X-Plane's Scenery Gateway.
The goal of X-Plane Mobile is to bring it up to the standard of X-Plane 11 for desktops - to be the same simulator, regardless of platform. Serio made sure to emphasise that both products are treated on equal footing in terms of features (if one gets a certain feature, the other will too), though more development time is put towards the desktop version.
From the beta runs so far, iOS is beginning to stabilise, whereas the Android version had just begun its run, and according to Chris is very hard to nail down. This is because X-Plane Mobile for Android supports over 8,000 different devices, whereas iOS handles only a handful of Apple products.
Looking ahead past GloMo, the team plan to introduce pushback trucks after New Year's.
Ben Supnik had his turn in the Vulkan section, giving the viewers a brief rundown on what's been happening since the last presentation at Flight Sim Show in Cosford back in October.
Together with graphics partner in crime Sidney Just, Supnik has gotten all of X-Plane fully implemented in the new APIs (Vulkan for Windows, Metal for macOS), and is on to the painstaking bug-squashing process.
He touted the public beta as coming "soon", though no real update on the 'before the end of the year' window given in Cosford a month ago. The public beta is expected to be a long one, so there is no full release date in mind as yet.
Onto performance figures, where the team claim that on Nvidia cards, users will see a 20% performance bump. On Team Red, AMD/ATI cards will be improved by 60% in X-Plane and for Mac, a 40% performance increase is on the cards. It was again highlighted that Vulkan/Metal are fixing X-Plane's CPU-bound issues, unlocking the graphics card for more use overall. In addition to total framerate, microstutters will also be clamped down on in this update - a problem with the old OpenGL rendering system.
Finally in Supnik's section, he touched on what the team were planning for after Vulkan. He says that Vulkan is "the foundation for something amazing".
After 11.50 is out, the team will 'dive' back in to X-Plane's engine, looking at the lighting, moisture and PBR models for visual improvements to build on the foundation laid out by porting X-Plane to the next generation APIs.
The next topic was almost exclusively aimed at developers, who will need to make some changes to their products in order to accommodate the forthcoming Vulkan/Metal update.
Supnik says that all 2D addons will work by default, though 3D addons (think aircraft models, systems, etc.) will need to run in the OpenGL 'bridge' between APIs that will be present in the Vulkan version of X-Plane.
Addons that draw new models, such as XSquawkBox, X-Ivap, VATSIM and POSCON pilot clients will work in the latest X-Plane SDK, according to Supnik.
Aircraft were the next topic on the agenda for Austin, who was asked whether his personal Lancair Evolution (N844X) will be coming to X-Plane.
His answer was that there is an artist "coming over next week" to scrutinise his personal plane and begin making art assets for an X-Plane version of the aircraft. He says the aircraft will either be in X-Plane by default or downloadable via his personal website.
Developing X-Plane: the best bits
An interesting viewer question up next, asking the developers what their favourite part about making X-Plane is. Chris Serio chimed in saying that he loves to watch X-Plane grow not just as a flight simulator, but as a "world simulator" - that, for example, first-person shooter games simulate areas only numbering in the 10s of kilometres, X-Plane simulates the entire world.
Ben Supnik enjoys comparing X-Plane 11 to older versions of the sim, to show just how far X-Plane has come since version 7, 8 or even v9. He also likes getting "high scores" on performance optimisation, citing 1% incremental optimisations for X-Plane Mobile's last update.
Austin enjoys simulating "things that have never been simulated before", such as flying cars - before continuing to 'plug' a company he invests in who are making a world-first flying car.
Experimental flight model
Many users were wondering what the experimental flight model is all about - essentially, it is a re-worked X-Plane flight model done by Austin Meyer that tackles obstacles the old, extensively added-to flight model could not.
Laminar Research plan on making the experimental flight model permanent in the next update or some time after, so they recommend 3rd party developers check their aircraft work with the new model in order to minimise headaches once the update comes.
This was another section headed by Ben and Chris, who talked about how a year or so ago they allowed 3rd party developers to start manipulating X-Plane's ground textures in order to simulate seasons. This created products such as TerraMAXX, which was released in March 2018.
In terms of in-house development, the team have recently put in some research and development resources into the idea, though it is still in the conceptualisation stage, with Supnik thinking aloud about dynamic snow accumulation and other features a "modern sim should have".
A short update on landmarks from Austin - on behalf of Landmarks artist Cristiano - who said work continues on a number of fronts. Cities such as St. Louis will see landmarks next, with the Arch near the top of the list for Laminar.
It was Chris again to talk about X-Plane's ATC, recapping the current system which has been in place for a number of years. Serio was initially slated to be using this time - in the run-up to Christmas - to work on ATC, though as Global for Mobile became increasingly complex, he was not able to stick to the schedule. The main news on ATC this side of 2020 is "we haven't forgotten it", according to Chris.
As for what a new ATC system will be like, Serio wants it to be as close to real-world as possible - avoiding "getting vectored straight to your destination" and rather leaning in the direction of variation, with for example AI following the same real-world procedures as the user.
Marty's section was up next, talking about the events and expos the Laminar team will be attending over the coming months.
Aero 2020 is the next event the team will be attending, set up in Friedrichshafen, Germany from the 1st-4th of April next year.
Two months later, the team will be out in force at FlightSimExpo 2020, with a large booth and landing competition planned - similarly to last year.
Final Question: What can I do to help X-Plane and the community?
The final question asked: "What can I do to help X-Plane and the community?"
Almost universally the answer from the developers is to "tinker with X-Plane!" Ben Supnik reminisces on how he got in to X-Plane development via an aircraft design competition run by Laminar Research.
It was also agreed upon that Gateway artistry was another way to help X-Plane and the community as a whole, contributing to the over 14,000 high-quality airports on the platform already. The X-Plane scenery gateway can be found here.
Not everyone has to be into development to help X-Plane and the community though. Consider yourself a good writer or filmmaker? Threshold, X-Plane's leading news source, is looking for dedicated X-Plane fans to join our team and its the perfect way to give back to the community!
That's it for this Q&A. To see more from Laminar Research, check out the last Q&A recap from February here.