X-Plane 11.0 public beta 14 is out. This one is a bit of a two-steps-forward, two-steps-back. Some notes:
- You won’t need a ton of thrust to start moving anymore – Austin was able to remove that hack from the tire model based on some new ideas for modeling low speed tire physics that get around a years-old problem.
- The Cessna apparently wanders around the runway like a drunken moose.
- Max’s new cloud art is in. Under some views and conditions, you may get significantly better performance.
- Under other views, they may kill your GPU. I’m looking into this.
Most importantly, I broke Plane-Maker, so public beta 15 will be out in 24 hours, and I’m going to sit in the corner and have a time-out for a few minutes. If we have a fix for the Cessna in that time frame, we’ll ship both, otherwise I’ll get a patch out to fix Plane-Maker and we’ll get to tires soon.
The State of Various SDKs
SDK stands for software development kit, but the term is now used more generally for the various interfaces, tools, and file format standards to make add-ons of any kind for X-Plane, even if there is no program (software) involved. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what’s safe to start developing on top of, and what’s going to be ready for third parties. Here’s a quick update on the status of some of the V11 SDKs.
FMOD + Sound
FMOD-based sound is one of the biggest new features for third party developers in X-Plane 11. Here’s the status:
- FMOD support is feature complete in public beta 14. Therefore we expect to have X-Plane sound “third party ready” by the time we go final with 11.0.
- There’s a lot to document about FMOD. I have already started the beginnings of full documentation, but it will take time to get it on paper. I’m hoping to have draft FMOD docs that you can use shortly after we go final.
- There’s a lot of details to get right in making an FMOD-enhanced aircraft; please do not ship an FMOD-enhanced aircraft before the docs come out – there’s a very high chance of doing something wrong if you’re just trying to guess how the system works from our Cessna project.*
When we ship, we will have bare bones tools for working with FMOD, but we will publish everything we had when we did the Cessna, and this setup is adequate for creating production aircraft. Fortunately, most of the work is done in FMOD Studio, a rich, full featured sound editing environment. It’s great to use.
The ‘thin’ side is X-Plane support: the sound attachment file (.snd) that links FMOD events to your aircraft has to be built in a text editor. We also have some graphical debugging and it is possible to attach a live mixer to X-Plane while you fly. All of this will be covered in the docs.
In the long term, we’d like to make the sound attachment system visual and have it run inside X-Plane while you fly.
What you can do now: learn how to use FMOD! Download the FMOD studio editor (it’s a free download) and start working with its sound design tools.
Graphics – Aircraft, Scenery and Modeling
I still have a list of graphic artifacts, but I think the overall operation of the new lighting system is as it will be for shipping 11.0. You can start using the new material model now; until the exporters have direct support, you can always add the NORMAL_METALNESS directive by a text editor or add it to a PNG comment.
Probably the biggest weakness of the new lighting model right now is the lack of detailed control over the interior of aircraft; I expect we’ll have new techniques to cope with this in future updates, but they won’t be mandatory aircraft changes. Unfortunately I don’t have good work-arounds right now for aircraft where the interior lighting is unacceptably weird.
What you can do now: tune the brightness and alpha levels of translucent textures – they need to be adjusted for X-Plane 11’s linear blending. Fix any panel problems introduced
Aircraft Physics and Systems
One of our biggest pushes right now is to try to get to “done” on the aircraft physics and systems code. The engines should be done – we don’t have known open bugs. The tire modeling is still problematic as of public beta 14; Austin has a fix for the bad behavior of the Cessna in beta 15.
What you can do now: test your aircraft’s physics model with X-Plane 11. If you have a fleet of aircraft, pick one particular aircraft and carefully update it for X-Plane 11. If you find out that there’s a physics problem after we go final, we’re going to have a lot less flexibility to fix things.
We run the physics engine on our own fleet (and we don’t use plugins to modify the physics) but that’s a limited set of aircraft. If you have good data about how your aircraft doesn’t work right with our flight model and good input data in Plane-Maker, we’d like to hear about it.
The weapons SDK is the one area where we have moved temporarily backward from X-Plane 10. X-Plane 11 features a new unified weapons system that takes technology from both X-Plane 10 desktop (for physics) and X-Plane 10 mobile (for multiplayer simulation). Unfortunately, we haven’t had time to create an appropriate dataref interface to these weapons.
Getting the interface to weapons finished is on our short list for after 11.0 ships; I do expect that the list of datarefs may be different for 11.xx than it was for X-Plane 10. The new system has new capabilities that make the old “fixed index of weapons” model not a great fit.
Unfortunately, this means that if your add-on depends on plugin-controlled weapons, you’re stuck in a holding pattern until we can post a new interface that we can maintain.
As of public beta 14, plugins should just work – we’ve closed the remaining plugin API and major dataref bugs. There are a few areas of fine print:
- You can’t use drawing callbacks in the map in X-Plane 11 – the totally rewritten map doesn’t use the same coordinate systems, so there is no way we can make old code work.
- Some datarefs and commands are not available in X-Plane 11. This is a normal part of the evolution of the sim.
- Multi-monitor support has a pile of bugs when you put X-Plane’s menu bar on the second monitor. If your plugin works normally except in this condition, it’s probably an internal X-Plane bug you’re seeing.
Note that to control toe brakes in X-Plane 11, you now need to set an override. Once you do, you completely own the toe brakes – you can look at the raw joystick input datarefs if you want to write a plugin that “processes” toe brake inputs to create some kind of effect.
What You Can Do: Check the command and dataref lists that are in Resources/plugins. If you need a command or dataref that has been dropped (and is not weapons related), contact us to discuss your use case and we’ll figure out what to do. If you are still seeing plugin bugs, file them now!
What we will not have done for 11.0 is entirely new plugin functionality to expose new X-Plane 11 specific features. We will need to do a major API revision to allow plugins to undock windows (like our GPS and map does), to expose some of the new FMS capabilities (expect a limited API) and to restore map customization functionality.
The particle system SDK is kind of done, mostly. We use it in the shipping mobile product, and the editor is available in the desktop product now. I still have two features left to do that Austin considers “must-have”; I expect to get them in shortly after we go final, at which point we can start providing documentation. (One of those features is the ability to control aspects of the particle system from multiple datarefs – that will change the UI enough that it’s not worth writing docs now and then changing them.)
My suggestion is to stand by on this – it won’t take that long to get the system to a “tinker with it” stage.
* I am quite impressed with how far some people have gotten without docs! But shipping an add-on that “seems” to work but violates the SDK rules makes a compatibility mess later.