Flight Simulator Enjoyment
Rise of the Screenshot Queens?
By Jordan Moore
Feb 9, 2014, 08:47
A "hangar queen" is nickname for an aircraft that is cared for well by its owner, but spends the majority of its time sitting and looking pretty. Very little of its time being spent doing what it was designed to do. Fly.
I ask if many modern flight simulator add-ons, both fixed wing and helicopters, are being developed and used as "screenshot queens". These would be add-ons that look very nice in screenshots, but seem to miss on many characteristics that would be necessary to make them enjoyable to fly in flight simulator.
Let me start by providing an example of some aircraft for flight simulator that are the opposite of "screenshot queens". These would be any aircraft developed and sold by RealAir simulations. While I am not necessarily interested in every aircraft they have produced, I have owned them all. They have a few consistent qualities that make them suitable for frequent use and enjoyable flying:
1. For their quality, they are generally very frame rate friendly.
2. Their externals always look stellar. With high quality textures, many many details, bump maps, and enough eye candy to please most users.
3. Their internals always look stellar. Highly detailed virtual cockpits, with nearly every component being functional. All panels and gauges are in high enough resolution that there are no issues with being able to read text, even the smallest text or numbers.
4. They have excellent sound sets. Both internal and external sounds are wonderfully crafted, with appropriate volume levels and plenty of custom sounds.
5. And finally, the most important thing, they have absolutely enjoyable flight dynamics. Their aircraft have a a great fluid sense about their "feel". They are responsive, and challenging, and immersive. I am not even judging accuracy at this point, I am simply saying that they are enjoyable, and they help to establish a sense of fluidity, freedom, and reality while flying them.
In RealAir's case, they hit the mark on these items on each of their products. To be fair, they are well known and applauded for their ability to consistently execute on each of their projects. However, most of the items I listed above are not the result of voodoo magic. They are simply characteristics that can be achieved with thoughtful development, with an eye towards detail and enjoyment. Something almost any developer can achieve.
But only if they fly.
What do I mean by that? I believe that if a developer is far removed from the act of frequent flying in flight simulator they will create products that are less enjoyable to fly. This is something that I think can happen easily to flight simulator developers, due to the tedious and time consuming nature of developing software addons for flight simulator.
I also believe that developers for flight simulator have a tendency to develop their products on high end hardware. This causes a disconnect between what they think is reasonable performance, and that which will be experienced by the large majority of their customers.
Now it would appear that at least some of their customers are happily satisfied with their purchases. We see many beautiful screenshots, and many high quality youtube videos of these products.
Specifically, the youtube videos I have surveyed show the product performing wonderfully. However, it would appear that producing ultra-high quality youtube videos for FSX has become a bit of a hobby in itself. By that, I mean that there is a bit of competition on youtube to see who can create the most realistic, smoothest, and enjoyable videos. To that end, when I see the system specs these video makers have on their machines, they are not the type of hardware that a typical user (even a serious simmer) would have.
I see things like oil/water cooled CPUs running above the 4Ghz range, with $500+ graphics cards.
This is great hardware, but it just isn't representative of the average customer in the flight simulator product buying community.
So where am I going with all of this?
Based on the fact that I see many beautiful screenshots of products that I have later purchased and deemed unflyable, I am wondering if everyday users are actually flying much in these addons at all. Or are they simply enjoying them for their visuals and capturing these moments in screenshots?
I see many discussions about the "looks" of these products, and also many discussions about the "systems" of these products. However, what I don't see is a lot of evidence that these products are being used for hours and hours of enjoyable flying.
I believe that flying in the simulator is becoming more rare in the flight simulation hobby in general. In fact, of all of the community discussions I track on all of the major public flight simulation websites, I would say that less than 15% of the discussions involving flying in any way.
Are products that don't fly well a cause of this perceived decrease in flying within the community? Or are they are symptom of a community that now purchases aircraft based on criteria that do not include as high of standards for flying immersion.
I don't know.
If you purchase flight simulator addons and occasionally discuss them in flight simulator forums, I would encourage you to add your thoughts about the "flyability" of these products to your discussions. For example, the following questions:
1. Does the product affect your framerates so badly, that you find that you don't fly with it often?
2. Are the sounds of the aircraft so annoying that you find it difficult to use the aircraft on a regular basis?
3. Are the flight dynamics so poor (or bizarre) that you find that flying the aircraft is not enjoyable?
4. Are the views from inside the virtual cockpit or 2d cockpit so poorly designed (obtrusive, awkward, incorrect perspective, etc), that flying the aircraft is not enjoyable?
I don't know how the community feels about these points for any particular product. However, I have on occasion purchased a flight simulator product that was receiving many positive discussions on the major flight simulator websites, only to find out that the product had major development and packaging flaws. Ones that would be difficult to overlook. Leaving me to conclude that the other users simply never actually used the product much...
...or had never used the product for much more than taking some beautiful screenshots.
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