For Whom The Bell Tolls

October 21, 2021

Illustration by Asher Pramano.

The titular phrase comes from John Donne’s 1624 Meditations Upon Emergent Occasions. In this flamboyant work, the author reflects upon his personal experience of having come close to death. But has a similar, albeit figurative, death been lurking upon the flight simulation community? 

On October 1, 2021, developer juggernaut PMDG published a long-awaited status update on its upcoming 737 NG/MAX series product, known internally as the NG3. Whilst the update focuses on some admittedly nice-looking exterior previews, it also contained some rather revealing narrative. Firstly, Randazzo openly admits that the NG3 development process has been painful for the company. Secondly, he divulges that the NG3 is to be a mostly unchanged port of the earlier NGXu product issued for P3D.

The FSX/P3D high-fidelity aircraft segment had been extensively dominated by only a handful of developers: these include A2A Simulations, PMDG themselves, Flight Sim Labs, Majestic Software and only a few others. On these legacy ESP platforms, aircraft development was a relatively straightforward affair: products could rely on external DLL files for critical functions.

In FS2020, aircraft design is based around a combination of programming languages: HTML and JavaScript are recommended for interfaces and C++ for the systems logic, something the legacy devs have needed to adapt to. The authoring of more complex projects is complicated by the fact that the older SimConnect interface is not supported on XBox, although it’s still preferred by many of the “legacy” developers. PMDG appears to have had significant challenges adapting to the new development pipeline, a burden not carried by newer startups such as Fenix.

As far as the 737 is concerned, it now appears that the NG3 may not achieve feature parity with the NGXu, at least not initially. Likely reasons include the lacking weather radar implementation in Asobo’s sim, which, mind you, is due for an update in short order. PMDG are actively refusing to offer further details. At the same time, they seem rather content to just reimplement what we had in ESP without major improvements.

However, unless one has lived under a rock for the last five years, one should be aware that PMDG are no longer top dog in a number of areas: in 2015, FSLabs showed how dynamic failures should be done, and in 2021, Fenix and TFDi are rapidly establishing Circuit Breakers as a standard feature in the study-level space. Unless PMDG get their act together and innovate in the next release (politicosaurus MAX does not count), they’ll find themselves on the overnight express to Irrelevantville much faster than they realise — such is the pace of progress in the two main sims these days. Milviz, TFDI, Aerobask and numerous others are challenging the big boys, and giving us interesting aircraft types in doing so (ATR 600 and 500 series, MD-11, Falcon 8X).

So, the bell may indeed be tolling for PMDG. Their next truly new aircraft (which I’ll go on record for saying is a 787) will be a watershed moment: will Robert S. Palpatine strike back?

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