It was the best of times, and the worst of times…
If you ever want to get an idea of what aircraft files are selling really well, check out the number of liveries available at the Org for the file in question. If there are a handful, well, that’s probably the same descriptive the developer has in mind when he goes over his royalty cheque for the month. Yet, if hundreds of new paints appear within the first week or so of a new models release, you can be sure the developer is a really happy camper. Unless, of course, you’re talking about the default 738 (or the Zibo variant), but, then again, the default 738 is a payware quality aircraft file masquerading as freeware, and when modified appropriately the file approaches the highest levels of quality. Good thing, as PMDG has apparently given up on X-plane once again. Look on a few forums concerning PMDGs DC-6 and you’ll see it referred to as “abandonware.” As in: make a commitment – then poof…we’re – gone.
Once upon a time we had two really interesting developers working on a variety of heavy metal files – the X-plane Freeware Project and XP Jets. The XpFreeware Project kind-of-semi-morphed into IXEG, while XP Jets succumbed to the oldest force in the market…someone beat them to the draw. Take a look at their 777 cockpit renders someday, because they’re beyond excellent and they make the current 777 look a little, well, ‘interesting’ in comparison. After three years of development, and all the while the developers kept saying “we won’t be rushed,” ‘another developer’ came out with their own payware 777 and XP Jets just quietly folded their tent and faded away. Well, they were true to their word – they wouldn’t be rushed – and the free market came along and ate their breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s more to this story, of course, and most of it is beyond ugly, yet even so the bottom line is almost a Darwinian parable: you compete, knowing people are out there gunning for you, or you just fade away. Dog eat dog, neh? Not pretty, but that’s the way it is…and not just in X-plane.
If you look at the XP Freeware Project’s site two aircraft feature prominently; a 733 and a 752. We obviously know what happened to their 733, yet their more interesting file – the 757-200 – languished until “another developer” came along and put that work to rest, too. We hear from time to time that someone is working on the remains of the XPFWP 752, but stories like that have been turning up regularly for years now. Who knows, right? Take those rumors with a grain of salt or you’ll go crazy.
Back before all this came down, something like ten years ago, Simon and I were advocating that designers needed to form teams, large teams, in order to crank out files at the unheard of pace of a new release more than every few years. Yet aircraft files were fast becoming so complex that modeling soon represented less than a tenth of the work in a new file, while systems and textures grew into monstrous creatures consuming more and more development resources. In other words, manpower. So, while learning how to use Blender was seen as a way to turn this hobby into a profitable venture, learning how to code complex avionics suites was soon even more important and that’s not so easy to learn. Needless to say, only a few people are bright enough to master all of these various disciplines, hence…the idea of teams seemed logical. Yet many aircraft designers resisted the idea then, and even now.
Yet some people did form teams, while a few remained solo players – until the market either took them out or forced them to retreat and rethink their strategy. Now, Flight Factor has become a team oriented developer and the results speak for themselves. Still, a few solo developers still work their tails off yet are hard pressed to keep their files current, let alone work on new projects, and this is due to Xp’s relentless update cycles. Year old files are routinely made non-functional (or worse…truly obsolete), and the work is endless – and thankless. Still, we see new solo developers come along from time to time, and yes, they pour their heart and soul into a project only to get crushed by a competitor they never knew they had, usually a big team out to dominate the market.
Yet in the world of aircraft for flight sims, notably heavy metal files, just because one aircraft file has been made doesn’t mean the market can’t stand another. Look at the A320, or the 737, or all the various Piper singles. And I would have to assume, based on the number of new liveries that appear for the Flight Factor A320 that this is one of the best selling files ever. Then again, so was the IXEG before it.
The point of all this?
Lots of people love the current 757, 777, and even the 787, yet a very vocal segment of the community detests them. So? If you’re an aircraft file developer, don’t let the presence of, say, a 787 already in the Xp market stop you from developing and marketing a new version. And the same goes for scenery files, too – to a degree. While there’s little need to duplicate an airport that already has a very good, up-to-date file, in truth there really are comparatively few “very good” files out there, especially when compared to the constant need for new files. Let’s look at a “for instance” now, too.
Mr X has made superb freeware airports for KBOS and KSFO, among others, but what if Fly Tampa came along and said they’re going to make their KBOS file available in Xp11, and with all 11s rendering options put to good use. I suspect many people who regularly use the current KBOS might be skeptical – until the finished product actually hit the market, anyway. Then, if the new file exceeded expectations I think Fly Tampa would have a runaway hit on their hands. If the file was a “dud” I suspect the market for add-ons might actually contract a bit, because there’s a synergy that happens when a brilliant file hits the market. Excitement generates, or, more importantly, regenerates interest among long-time users whose interest has lagged.
So, what if a developer new to the scene brought in an exceptional 787 or A350 to market? Do you honestly think that just because there’s already at least one existing 787 or A350 file that this new version wouldn’t sell – and sell very well? Well, it’s possible, I suppose. Maybe war will break out in the Middle East tomorrow and draw the US and Russia into open conflict, too. Or maybe the Great Depression v2 will finally hit. Yeah, things would change, but if the status quo holds, if the market for flight sim add-ons remains generally strong, there’s always room for something better. There always has been and there always will be.
But…something better. Let that sink in, would you?
Do we need FsX conversions no better than what we had in Xp – seven years ago?
No, we don’t. We need the really hyper-detailed files, both aircraft and scenery, that have been the bread and butter in FsX for decades. And yet…why aren’t these files showing up?
Well, we’re going to look at a few files around Hamburg, Germany today, including aeroSOFT’s EDDH and a new, freeware Hamburg Finkenwerder (EDHI). Also in the immediate area, we’ll look at a comparatively ancient freeware file for EDHL Lübeck-Blankensee, as well as a freeware Lübeck VFR City file, an historically important city as well as the birthplace of the writer Thomas Mann. I’ll have a few things to say about the EDHL Lübeck airport file, too, perhaps relevant to the above rant, re: the dubious quality of a few recent FsX payware conversions. These four (native) files represent a series of snapshots in time, too, from early v9 to the current state of development in Xp (v11.20), with both payware and freeware represented. Stick around, because you might find the view constructive.
So, if you’re ready let’s jump in. First up, and for no good reason I can think of, let’s look at a bunch of recent paints for the FF A320 and the default/Zibo 738. No links, just a sampling of whats come out for these two important files over the past few weeks…
Freeware vs payware. That’s always the dilemma, isn’t it?
New paints for the FF A320 Ultimate
Just focusing on lesser known carriers here, as in my mind this shows the breadth of interest this superior file has generated.
Most of these A320 paints are for “off the beaten path” carriers, yet even the new KLM seems almost an oddity – if we included all the 320 paints for major carriers…well…we don’t have the bandwidth! Below, the 738 at Toronto, and check out the KLM below (note the eyebrows?). It’s the number of weekly, indeed, daily releasees for these two files that’s impressive. I wonder…should EADT concentrate on redeveloping the x737 files to LEAP/MAX versions? Before that wonderful team goes the way of XP Jets?
The Southwest variant is “Tennessee One,” and the Swissair is the “1980” variant. The blue and teal BA Boeing House variant is gonzo, yet all three stand out as files to get, and keep.
Now…let’s take a look around Hamburg, starting with the aeroSOFT payware EDDH.
This was one of aeroSOFT’s first files for Xp, and I’m not at all sure this file has been updated since. The airport terminal buildings are nicely modeled but the textures are dated and of very low resolution. The lighting looks state-of-the-art…for Xp v9…with Lit Textures (ugh) the main visible feature, and so the buildings are dim and the ramps almost dark. Ramps, taxiways, and roadway textures are hopelessly dated, as well. The apron areas adjacent to the main terminal uses muted colors and as a result the markings there are barely visible (see images, below); let’s not even mention the lack of ground equipment on the apron. Still, the airport file is more than useful, in the same way any one of a number of freeware files are useful. This is NOT, however, the level of quality you’d expect in a payware file circa 2018…because it needs a serious update.
The city surrounding the airport is not modeled, of course, but I think looking over the two images just below the case could be made that, like as at JustSIMs UUWW, developers ought to consider modeling out from the main airport property about a quarter mile. Obviously, as you can see below, the land around the real airport is not sub-Saharan grassland, yet this is the same texture set that surrounds the airport in Bamako, Mali we looked at last week. This texture set is too drought-stricken in appearance to show up at a northern, coastal European airport (and yes, AlpilotX’s v4 mesh is onboard, and it does little to help matters here). Beyond mere aesthetics, the nature of the city around an airport often defines the character of the approach (TNCM, anyone? Or San Diego’s KSAN?), especially on short finals. Having a uniform parched savannah does little to help this when the approach should be over a densely-packed cityscape, and Xp is not going to magically do that for developers…they’ll need to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Because many better freeware developers do.
And if a payware developer can’t surpass a freeware developer’s file, why bother? Maybe it’s time to take up knitting?
From low angles of view this airport still works; from overhead the curved roof textures are very indistinct (e.g., blurry), and night window textures on the main terminal building are not at all sharp. Building models, on the other hand, are uniformly excellent, so only a few textures and surfaces need updating – with sharper PBR materials.
The last three images above show the ramps and apron area, and these are dismal. One look at the same area, at the real airport, ought to be enough to convince you more work needs to be done on this file.
Ramp markings, clutter, lighting – all need revising. This airport had problems when it was released (years ago), yet nothing’s been done to update the file. Contrast this with Fly Design’s EPKK, which has been revised twice since its original release – two months ago. Then…consider what we wrote above, about competing or fading away.
But, on a brighter note…let’s move north a few miles, to EDHL Lübeck. This airport file is comparatively ancient (released 29 March 2012, and revised just once, two days later) and it was one of the last files we reviewed before the original x+s+r went into hibernation. If you look at the area in Google Earth you’ll find no housing estates near the airport, just a few farmhouses – and a lot of farmland. Can anyone say “exclusion zone!” And yes, there’s no HDR lighting (only Lit textures…ugh) but the little terminal building is nicely modeled and has decent photo-textures on the entry side. In short, with a little work this could be a showcase airport. In short, this late v9 early v10 airport still holds its own against many recent payware files, and, well, that’s troubling.
More recently, a Lübeck VFR city file came out, and it includes the Travemünde beachside resort area. Yes, the four masted barque seen above (The Passat) is actually moored there, and yes, the high-rise hotel is really on the beach; what’s not included in Travemünde is the beachside boardwalk and carnival area, nor the nearby WWII submarine pens. The Lübeck file includes a fair number of important landmarks (yes, important); Lübeck was once the most important city in the Hanseatic League, a trading cartel that stretched from Russia to Belgium and, eventually, took-in merchants and bankers in London. The League, started in the 1200s, might be called the progenitor of the modern merchant-banking system and was the most important such organization in the world, right up through the opening years of the 20th century. And, oh yes, the ‘hansa’ in Lufthansa derives in part from the Hanseatic League (original members were referred to as Hansa), and again, Lübeck was one the most important members. Bruges, Belgium was, as well.
So, with two freeware files the ancient city of Lübeck is ably represented in Xp, and despite the age of the airport file the results are really very good. But…what if a payware developer came in and updated this airport, or any one of a number of such airports in Xp? Would it sell? When a decent freeware file exists? Perhaps. If the quality presented a compelling case, and if the price was not egregious.
One last file to consider today, a new EDHI Hamburg Finkenwerder, which includes the Airbus final assembly and finishing center as well as some riverfront detail, including containerships and a marina almost right under the final approach.
This file is fairly representative of the quality found in most freeware these days. It relies on scenery libraries so “gets the job done” with efficiency, but not the absolute level of hyper-realism that’s supposed to define good payware files (think KABQ and UUWW).
So, what we end up with around Hamburg is actually fairly representative of what we have in X-plane more generally. Older, not-revised payware files of questionable quality mixed in with a hodgepodge of old and new freeware files – and many of which are as good as their contemporary payware companions. This is the state of play in X-plane, circa May 2018.
Yes, aircraft files are, by and large, more detailed and some are even revised frequently (advantage: large teams) while in the scenery department things are still relatively bleak. We need lots of new files, but as important, a lot of existing files need updating or replacing. With add-ons like x-enviro and TerraMAXX hitting the market, the platform has never looked better, yet development seems to be moving forward at a trickle. It just seems to me that the Fly Design’s paradigm might be the most workable, and profitable. Make smaller airports of extreme quality and make more of them, too. Sell at a lower price and hope to make up the difference on volume, not margins. If you can churn out four to five files a year instead of one or maybe two, percentage favor you as one might be a real hit.
Oh, before I forget…the image at the top of today’s post is from GloballArt’s CYYZ Toronto, and yes, that’s meant as a little bit of irony.
And so, yes…it was the best of times, and the worst of times…