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DC Gamer Club / Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator - Free!
« on: April 15, 2012, 07:07 PM »
A quick update to say Flight is now available on Steam - the full Hawaii package. Now, before steam, you had to open a MS Games account (which is a Live account plus Game Points that you buy), and during the game/sim Flight connects to that account. Since you can now buy it through steam, I wonder what happens to that. If you buy it on steam, can you buy new DLC later directly from MS? Not sure that I'd want to mix the two!

There's a good, fair write-up of Flight here. Though this is written by an experienced simmer, and I am a total novice, I'd say pretty much what he says, about the good parts and the bad parts. His impression is spot-on:

my first impression was: Wow. This is awesome. And terrible. And beautiful. And ugly. And compelling. And boring

(Well, almost spot-on - I can't say I've seen the "ugly".)

I've been switching between Flight and FSX. Since FSX has a lot of tutorials, I use it to learn, then try it all out in Flight, where the flying environment is more fun. Then I go back to FSX, because it lets you plan longer trips, use the autopilot, ATC, all that. My main impression is that flying and (particularly) landing is significantly easier in FSX!

Now, I'm only flying single and twin-prop aircraft (since I realized I can't even level out a jet in flight :-) in fair weather, with realism settings at about medium, increasing them gradually. I have no idea which of the two has a more realistic flight model and aircraft response, but the difference is surprisingly large.

Flying the tutorials in FSX, when I am instructed to maintain 55 knots in the Cessna 172, no problem. Climb or descend at an assigned rate, comes after a few tries. Maintain an altitude - that takes me more time to get right than I think it should, but I can get there. Trying to do the same in Flight is way harder, sometimes next to impossible.

I like the Maule 7 a lot, and it's the only aircraft available in both Flight and FSX, so there should be some comparison. In Flight, this thing knows only two settings: climb uncontrollably or drop like a rock. Above 56% or so throttle, it will continue climbing until it stalls, regains airspeed, then climb again, in a huge flattened sinusoid. Below that, and it will descend at much more than the 500 feet per minute you're supposed to keep (more or less) during descent. There is nothing in-between.

(The intriguing thing is that when you switch to "flying with the mouse", everything becomes child's play - just point the mouse level and the aircraft will fly level. No fun, and certainly no realism. But with throttle+joystick, the same tasks become a near impossibility.)

That same aircraft becomes completely tame in FSX. Level flight - easy. Reduce throttle to 25%, and it will glide down nicely they way you want it to. In Flight, at 25% it's a paperweight.

Oh, there's trimming, but the controls are way oversensitive in Flight, with no settings to make them less so. A single press of a button will trim by 5, 7 or 9 percent, and the amount varies, so you can't bring the trim back to neutral at all. The only way to trim by 1% is to use the mouse wheel over the trim control in the virtual cockpit, which almost always requires panning the view, which prevents you from controlling the aircraft properly... and even the 1% changes seem to have an exaggerated effect.  Exaggerated in comparison with FSX, that is - not sure which is closer to reality.

In FSX, flying the simpler aircraft, I can grease the landings fairly easily, even make the recommended three-wheel touchdown in Maule is not that hard. In Flight, after over 80 hours flying time and over 700 landings (it keeps these stats for you), I can't make consistently soft landings. What's worse, at 100 or so feet above ground I still don't know what the touchdown is going to be like or if/how I can assure a soft one. It's unpredictable, and the aircraft just doesn't like to stay in the air very much.

Of the four aircraft available in Flight (excluding the external-view-only Mustang and Zero, which I'm not buying), the Stearman and the RV-6 behave very much like the Maule. Only the lowly Icon is more manageable. The RV-6 is the opposite of Maule in that it will climb happily even at 15% throttle or less, which makes it impossibly hard (for me, the greenhorn in the room) to properly slow it down to 60 kts or less for landing. With full flaps, I'm finding that I have to reduce the throttle to idle long before the touchdown point in order to slow down sufficiently, and then be very careful not to increase it above 6-8% if I don't want to overshoot the runway.

Somehow I have none of these problems in FSX, even when flying the more powerful twin-engines. They behave much more predictably to me, while I am really in no position to "predict" aircraft behavior in the first place.

Both FSX and Flight are great fun, both have tons of annoyances. FSX has all kinds of navigation (having ATC direct you to the runway is kinda cool), but I get off at the stop where you're supposed to start calculating fuel and landing weight (in your head, too). It crashes way too often, which is awfully frustrating during a training session or a mission, since they tend to be long (20, 40 minutes or more) and you can't skip to waypoints, like you can in Flight. And, I just have to say it, the UI in FSX is murder. Starting with the map, which you cannot resize beyond the tiny rectangle, or the spin controls in which you cannot type or which tend to reset to zero out of their own will when you set their values. Or how you cannot load a flight into the flight editor (e.g. to reuse the aircraft and airport but change the weather, etc.). It's hard to believe this UI passed quality checks in 2006. (I won't even mention usability tests.)

Flight, OTOH, is smooth as silk and has truly wonderful graphics, but as I switch between it and FSX, the lack of ATC, GPS, autopilot, a real map and other navigation aids takes away much of the initial fun. (Though flying an ILS approach in zero visibility without those helpers is as hard as it probably should be. Haven't cracked that one yet.)

I have no complaints yet about the limited range of aircraft in Flight - after all, the idea of taking a 7?7 from Maui to Oahu seems somewhat... out there. The limited area is more of an issue of course, but with the very limited navigation facilities, you would be hard pressed to navigate longer distances. (VOR does work, as long as you have FSX to learn how to use it in the first place!)

The much harder landings are more satisfying when you get them right. The frustrating part is, it's hard to know why you did or did not get them right. There's no recording, no replay and no flight analysis, so you are left to your imagination trying to figure out what you did wrong on approach. To me, learning, this is as bad as - maybe even worse than - all the other limitations in Flight, as it really adds to frustration. Trial and error works only as long as you can diagnose the error, which flight makes that much harder.

The appeal of Flight does seem to wane with time. What's keeping me with it is the challenges I haven't successfully completed, the varied weather patterns you can play with, and the overall ease of use and non-crashing. But I'm learning more from FSX, and in the long run FSX is probably the one to stay, if only I can keep it from crashing. In the end the only real advantage of Flight is in the beauty and detail of its graphics.

N.A.N.Y. 2012 / Re: NANY 2012 Release: Ethervane Echo
« on: April 06, 2012, 04:47 PM »
Win 7 64

Ethervane will not show in systray at restart.
I have set it to show "icon and notification".
If I manually do that then it shows.
But at system restart it is hidden again.

This (what shows up in the system tray) is entirely controlled by Windows, not by applications. All Echo does is instruct Windows to show its icon in the system tray, but it has no control over how it is displayed (icon, notifications only etc).

I'm not seeing the problem you describe on Windows 7 32-bit. Perhaps the 64-bit Windows treats 32-b it apps in this way, I'm afraid I have no idea.

DC Gamer Club / Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator - Free!
« on: March 31, 2012, 02:03 PM »
MSFlight vs X-Plane 10? = Gimme X-Plane any day!
-Stephen66515 (March 31, 2012, 01:46 PM)

Tried that too, the trial. Got a god-awful frame rate, even though my system falls well within their specs. No idea why, but it was so bad I uninstalled it after one try.

Will try again some time, when I've had enough of MS Flight, but in my initial impression it was somewhat frustrating to get started with. Does it have tutorials? Aircraft info?

It's probably quite lame of me, but I find it tedious to stay up in the air for hours without anything interesting to look out the window at. Hawaii was a good choice for MS, as is Alaska, since the terrain is varied and beautiful (and provides for many challenges if you want). Don't know about X-Plane, but in FSX Hawaii looks totally bland, and anywhere else is only worse. Add-on scenery is expensive, limited and it would probably make the frame rate unplayable.

But I *am* hooked and I finally have a reason to upgrade my hardware. The only problem is I'm not sure any hardware upgrade will help in FSX, since it really depends on the CPU clock only, and the clocks today are pretty much what they were five years ago.

DC Gamer Club / Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator - Free!
« on: March 31, 2012, 12:34 PM »
A couple of those 'addon' packs would probably cost more than the complete MS FS X (which by the way still runs fine on Windows 7, including 64 bit).

Yeah, but barely :-) It's another story. I bought FSX and MS Flight within days from each other. MS FLight, with all the detailed terrain, weather, lighting and shadows, runs fine at max quality settings on my system. In FSX, by contrast, I have to pull the terrain, weather and all other sliders to minimum just to get a frame rate that's usable but still not smooth. FSX really shows its age; I've read that it doesn't offload any graphics rendering to the GPU, so the CPU has way too much to do. In fact, with the default terrain both ugly (water!) and boring, I am seriously underwhelmed. MS Flight only gives you Hawaii, but in an amazing detail and quality. I fly just to look around, and it's awesome. (And the airports and other landmarks check out against Google Maps in satellite view - there's a lot of actual terrain, not generic textures).

Strange FS X seems to run fine on my system with everything cranked to max ???
-Carol Haynes (March 31, 2012, 12:23 PM)

At max, I get maybe one frame per second :-) Win 7 32-bit, Core2 Duo 2.6 GHz, 4 GM RAM, NVidia GTX 275 GPU with 896 MB memory. Not the hottest specs today, but it still runs new DirectX 10 games well at close to max settings.

Where do you buy the extras? I can only see Hawaii Adventure Pack and three planes. Is that all there is?

Two ways. When you start Flight, at the main screen there's a sliding image on the left. (Click the arrows to change). Maule should be listed there, as well as two other add-on aircraft: the Mustang and the Zero. (But they are crippled - there's no cockpit view).

In-game, click the Hangar icon. The pane at the bottom shows all planes: the ones you can fly and the ones available for purchase (marked with a price in MS points).

You may need to register an MS Games account first (frustrating! nowhere near the ease of Steam) and be connected to it in-game.

On edit: actually, scratch that. You did say you see the Hawaiian pack and the planes, sorry, I missed that. Yes, this is all there is for now. Four single-prop planes plus the two crippled ones (and who came up with the brilliant idea to fly a Mitsubishi Zero over Pearl Harbor?).

MS has announced an Alaska expansion pack, to be out in Spring. Hope they include some twin-engine aircraft there, and jets. Within Hawaii, there really isn't much to do with a jet, but the whole of Alaska rendered at the same level of detail would be nice.

But, yes, for now that's all there is.

DC Gamer Club / Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator - Free!
« on: March 31, 2012, 12:16 PM »
For Orbiter sound you have to download and install the sound bits separately. Not sure why they did it that way.
-Carol Haynes (March 31, 2012, 11:09 AM)

The OpenAL? The installer claims to be installing it. But, no joy.

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