After fiddling around with Xp 11.25rc2 for a few days I wandered over to KLAS Las Vegas to take a look around. With all kinds of new assets in Wed showing up, I wanted to see what the airport looked like, as well as “Gucci Gulch” – aka the infamous Las Vegas Strip. I looked at these objects last year but was surprised how much better the airport looked, and even the strip seemed different. Newer, brighter, or maybe just my imagination – whatever: the area looks quite good in 11.25, better than many payware airport/city combinations.
I’ve been talking with a few people since the whole Rim & Co thing went down. About what happened, and maybe even why, but it all comes down to a kind of infrastructural insecurity confronting many payware developers these days, and it all goes back to the same thing Simon, Stephen and I have been harping on for the past seven or so years.
The days of the one man “development team” are over, at least as far as payware files are concerned. One person just can’t produce enough to be competitive in a market that requires constant saturation to maintain interest. AeroSoft gets around this by gathering freelance developers to form teams, if only for a short term gig, in order to produce a file, and it’s kind of telling that after going solo and breaking away from Orbx two developers have rejoined the fold. Its just too tough out there to go it alone.
Another issue has come to the fore once again: scenery libraries. When you get right down to it the payware developer is at a huge competitive disadvantage because he or she simply can’t use all the thousands of objects and textures that are available to the freeware scenery file developer. A few developers, like Mr X and Drzewiecki Design, have created their own “in-house” libraries, and when you think about this it makes great sense. Without libraries to pull commonly used objects like baggage carts and wind-socks, the payware developer is caught in a roundabout, constantly re-inventing the wheel for each new file developed.
But can you imagine what our files would start to look like if freeware scenery library objects started showing up in payware files? It’s not hard to imagine that within a year all our airports would begin to look like Gateway Airports…in other words they’d all begin to look somewhat the same…so where’s the solution to this ongoing dilemma?
Oddly enough, one answer might lie in a corollary to another type of library that’s come of age in the aircraft file category. A bunch of enterprising engineers that work for aircraft engineering and maintenance firms, by and large in Russia, have made “drawings” of many commonly used objects seen on modern day aircraft, and these objects are available to developers for FsX/P3D and X-plane to use in their files. Think things like entire landing gears assemblies and even whole flap extend/retract mechanisms and you’ll have an idea of what’s available out there, but think what could an enterprising entrepreneur might come up with for scenery developers to use? Maybe an entire catalogue of common airport objects that developers could subscribe to?
And then, all of a sudden, a tremendous weight might be lifted from some developers shoulders. Production workflows could be streamlined, and output increased.
And what if a group of developers got together and made their own catalogue, kind of an ongoing library they could all consult for items as the need arose?
About all I know at this point is that developers need to start thinking outside the box. They need to consolidate forces, and streamline their workflow.
Well, look at this image from Laminar’s Gateway KLAS, and the solution ought to be pretty clear to you, but also keep this in mind as you look this image over: what’s missing from this scene is as important as what’s included.
So, looking over things at Threshold this morning I ran across a new Mooney file by AFM (Advanced Flight Modeling) so I went ahead and pulled the trigger. Of course, Alabeo also recently released their version of this aircraft so, enterprising aircraft reviewer that I am, I decided to pull the trigger on that one too, so I could compare the two.
And I guess the thought hit me about that time how things have come full circle. After all, Carenado’s first file for X-plane was a Mooney, and that file ushered in a new era for the GA community in X-plane. Pretty soon we were using a new term, too: Carenado Class, to refer to the high level of quality found in Carenado’s payware GA-single files. Of course, while Alabeo isn’t exactly a part of Carenado they might, for all intents and purposes, be considered cousins, and Alabeo turns out some of the very best GA files around. Their Waco is my favorite GA acf, period, so I respect their work and think its about as good as can be.
So…I opened the AFM Mooney M20R Ovation II and this is what I saw:
And when I finally opened the Alabeo version of the same aircraft?
So? What do you think?
The Alabeo is pure Carenado Class, while the AFM looks state-of-the-art – for late version 9. And it’s a pity, too. You look at the exterior model of the AFM version, including the textures, and it simply looks like it’s going to be a Carenado Class file:
But there’s no contest here, because the Alabeo IS a Carenado Class file. Look at this comparison image, with the AFM on top of the Alabeo:
Look at the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer (the tail). In the AFM file the edge is squared off, while it’s correctly rounded on the Alabeo. Look at the window edges on the AFM and you see a hard, black edge, while in the Alabeo you can see interior detailing where padding and edge molding is applied on the interior surfaces of the real aircraft.
But once again it’s the panel that carries the days, and this is where Alabeo’s superior model AND textures win hands-down:
The AFM’s panel looks almost one-dimensional, the lighting kind of flat. On the plus side, it has two Garmins and an interesting anti-icing panel. Negatives? The heading bug and lubber line on the HSI are colored in earth tones (WFT!) and are generally hard to see. The AHI is flat. In the AFM image above I’m in a climb at 100 KIAS yet the VSI is registering a 100FPM descent (on my rotate and climb-out from KASE it first jumped to a 500 FPM descent). The cutout for the windshield is roughly modeled, with easily seen segmented lines making the arc, and I’ve not got the opening door included in this image but it’s simplistic compared to Alabeo’s.
On the Alabeo panel, the HSI is correctly colored, the AHI is textured to show curve and depth; under the gear knob you can see the two vertical indicators are in easier-to-see orange; one is an elevator trim indicator, the other a flap position indicator. On the right side you’ll find a vitally important Lean Assist gauge, and while the overall modeling in the Alabeo is typically perfect, the textures are beyond gorgeous. Try to ignore the rudder pedals, if you can. Try to read the auxiliary compass in the AFM model, if you can.
I made dozens of screenshots but in the end they were unnecessary, because there’s no point beating a dead horse. Yet…
…the AFM file does offer one real, concrete advantage that the Alabeo doesn’t, and that’s three aircraft files for the price of one; so, besides the Ovation II you’ll also get an Ovation III as well as an M20TN Acclaim Type S, and these last two come with a G1000 panel. Yet it’s this last type which may well be the AFM file’s saving grace, because the Acclaim is a real barn burner, not to mention a blast to fly in Xp11. And so, when this Acclaim is combined with a G1000 panel, suddenly this becomes a package to sit up and take note of:
The Ovation III is no slouch in the looks department, with a very nice panel, and perhaps the best cabin of the three AFM files:
All these files have settings tabs nest on the lower left margin, but the AFM’s tabs are more complete, and with an embedded checklist for each file this is a strong point in their favor. You’ll also find a maintenance tab, as well as a load manager, something missing from the Alabeo version, yet if you don’t see yourself using these features this is a wash.
In a way, it comes down to Alabeo’s panel, which is far superior to the AFM’s, and this brings up a point that can’t be made often enough.
X-plane is a flight simulator, not a screenshot generator, yet it often feels like many aircraft developers put 90% of their effort into crafting a really gorgeous exterior, then rush their panel, cutting corners here as if the panel is the least important part of the package. You can’t say that about this Alabeo file or, indeed, most Carenado files. Its like Alabeo/Carenado craft their panels first, then go about modeling the shell, then the interior, and only after all that other stuff is complete, when the panel is finalized the systems are coded is the job done, but the point, at least to me, is that their panels never feel like an afterthought. All three panels in these three AFM files don’t even come close to the visual quality found in the Alabeo file, so the question you’ve got to ask yourself is this, and it’s a simple one, too: Do you want one great panel, or three average ‘looking’ panels? (And I don’t want to infer that the AFM panels do not function well. I’m not, and they do.)
I flew the AFM and Alabeo Ovation II files from KASE Aspen to KTEX Telluride, and both files performed similarly. Takeoffs required a lot of runway (that’s just a fact of life at 7800 feet MSL), and climb outs were equally sedate. The AFM file typically held 600 FPM at 100 KIAS, while the Alabeo file squeezed out closer to 800 FPM at 100, yet maybe that’s simply because of the Lean Assist gauge? Both easily made 15,000 AGL, and both APs held heading and altitude with no issue, though the Alabeo’s altitude setting panel was easier to use for me. The AFM’s heading bug and lubber line are a pain in the ass to see, and I prefer analog NAV/COMM boxes on the panel than having to use the Garmin to set frequencies, so Alabeo wins that one too, for me anyway. Still, some people might not care about that last point.
Sounds? Alabeo’s were richer, deeper, and subjectively more immersive to me, with gear and flap sounds noticeably better.
Details? Are you kidding? Compare the Alabeo’s leather-wrapped yokes to the AFMs plastic ones. The interior headliner, and all the other interior textures, are far better looking in the Alabeo. The 3D dummy pilots? Geesh, the family sitting in the AFM file looks like a Cro-Magnon clan loaded for a Sunday outing. Please, NO, get rid of this nonsense! In both files!
To sum it up: a great exterior and an average panel.
And then, the Alabeo:
Yeah, well, this is Xp GA perfection.
The AFM file(s) are at the Threshold Store for 37.95USD. The Alabeo is at the Org Store or at Carenado’s e-store, price 32.95USD. If you really, really want a G1000 then the AFM is the way to go. If, on the other hand, you prefer old school NAV/COMMs and steam-gauge perfection, I’d stick with Alabeo’s superb file.
Hasta later, folks, and Happy Trails. Thanks for dropping by – C