The talking heads in Redmond have spoken. Well, Phil Taylor, anyway, who’s one of the more vocal of the MS Aces developers. Before any discussion of what he said, I think we owe Phil a big thank-you for keeping us abreast of Microsoft’s thinking re: FSX and beyond. It’s a breath of fresh air to have regular updates from the team, and I for one very much appreciate it.
Now, on to the show. In Phil’s blog post, he gives us the skinny on what to really expect now that they’ve more or less completed both FSX SP2 (the long-awaited DX10 update), and their Acceleration expansion pack. The news is a mixed bag, but let’s start with the fun bits.
Acceleration sounds like a terrific addon, and one that will surely delight current FS fans, and perhaps garner a few newcomers as well. Three new aircraft (an F18 “Hornet”, an EH101 heavy helicopter, and a tricked-out P51 air racer), some killer new features like slingloads for the choppers, aircraft carrier launch and recovery, and even multiplayer air racing, all converge for what sounds like a lot of fun. Toss in 30 new missions, and you’ve got your next few weekends blocked out for you. Has MS ever done a full-on expansion like this in the history of the franchise? Not that I can recall, but then again I’ve only been at this game since 1999.
Okay, now for the more frustrating news. The implementation of DirectX 10 in FSX is now officially referred to by the Aces as a “preview”. Phil outlines what that means, but in essence it comes down to problems achieving what they wanted to do with DX10 in the FSX scope. Forget the so-called “magic screenshots” that were bandied about before. Phil sounds especially frustrated about those, as they set some expectations that proved too difficult to meet for this version of the sim. What we actually have is a hint of things to come, rather than a full-blown set of new features. They focused on the areas of VC self-shadowing, improvements to water, and atmospheric effects, like HDR bloom (giving much better frame rates than the original bloom). From what I’ve seen, it looks amazing, and portends well for FS11.
Aye, but here’s the rub. All that advancement has a price, and in this case it’s the loss of backward-compatibility. From what Phil says, anything not authored specifically for FSX, be it scenery or aircraft, won’t display properly (or at all in some cases) in the DX10 preview. It’s a heads-up for add-on designers: get with the SDK program, or your work will be irrelevant in the near future. All of that is fine, of course, except that in FSX several key features we scenery designers depend on were removed. Seasonal textures for objects, conditional code so that models react to sim weather variables (think windsocks), hard winter photo texture that no longer show snow when the flakes begin to fall… these are biggies, and without them scenery takes a big step backward. Oh yes, and going forward, there’ll be no more FS8-style ground polys, the kind that have been used by scenery designers for years now to create custom runways, taxiways, etc. that look so much better than the defaults. All we can do is cross our fingers and hope they find new ways to implement these features that work in the next sim. And we can make a lot of noise about it in the process.
The message I’d like to get out to my scenery customers is this: if you have DX10 hardware and run Vista, by all means try the preview when you get it. Enjoy what it has to offer, and imagine what coolness awaits you in the next sim. Then turn it off and go back to DX9 for now, so you can enjoy the work I’ll be creating in the next couple of years. I hate to force a choice like that, but I’m just passing along the options I’ve been left with.