Hifi’s challenging road ahead to enter X-Plane 11

By: Peter Tram
September 30, 2018

It’s well-known that if someone whispers “ASN XP” or something along those lines, you’ve come to expect a loud unhuman fangirl scream from the vocal minority who’ve adamantly vowed that native X-Plane weather solutions are “crap”. Just look at the recent revelation on Navigraph’s FMS Data Manager. The updater now lists “Active Sky XP,” and news sites are cashing in the views, likes, and engagement.

While the general populous of X-plane users are swooning at the possibility of ASN coming to X-Plane, I can’t help but think that Hifi’s planned entry into the X-Plane market could not be anymore disadvantageous than at this time, considering the available information that Laminar has given to add-on developers about the shift to these new Graphical APIs.

Just to give you a general view on the state of the simulator, it’s in a healthy phase, relatively. But from the beginning of the XP11 run till today, it has been a complete rollercoaster for developers – from the simulator’s unveiling, til today. Prior to public release, the beta was dumped on developers about two weeks before retail, giving an unrealistic timeframe to adapt their products to the new version; of course this is followed by the constant churn of relatively major feature changes that it has experienced, since release.

In contrast to the previous version, X-Plane 10 now looks like a walk in the park during the transition from 32 to 64 Bit; it was a single large change with very clear guidelines given early, and a compiler to slap over the wrist.

Specifically, to Hifi’s product, with the well-publicised shift to Vulkan and Metal graphic APIs, developers drawing in 3D would need to consider one of the three APIs to begin developing for. ASN, the supposedly saviours of X-Plane weather, are building a product that they're either targeting at Vulkan or Metal, which has no SDK or guidelines for developers, or targeting OpenGL, which will be depreciated or flat out useless sooner than later after they release something.

I would hate to be ASN, that's for sure, from a purely technical position. Unless Laminar is being unfair and working with them in secret and giving them special treatment, they’re not in an enviable position, but that seems unlikely.

So, with Hifi providing a relatively ambitious release timeframe at Q1 next year, IF Laminar has been secretly seeding the developers with extra support, then the release date they’ve put out seems realistic. But if they’re developing for OpenGL which increasingly looks like a terrible choice the closer we get to a public X-Plane Vulkan release, then they could meet that deadline too, albeit without the amazing benefits of a low-level API.

Whether they flunk their product or succeed, I believe the masses will buy AS regardless of how they perform and based on loyalty alone. I for one will be intrigued as to where they’re going with this; they may possibly be finishing the product at the time of writing, and that may mean they’re making ASXP for OpenGL.

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