Let X-Plane Tell Us How You Use X-Plane

One new addition to Version 10.40 is almost guaranteed to be controversial: at the user’s discretion, we now collect anonymous usage information.

Before you light your torch and grab your pitchfork, let me explain why we have not become the next Spyware Kings.

Whose information are we collecting?

The X-Plane 10.40 installer has a screen to explain the data collection, and a checkbox to opt-out. If X-Plane is already installed, you can toggle data collection on or off using the Operations & Warnings window in 10.40 and later.

We will only collect usage information from users who have that checkbox enabled. If you upgraded to v10.40 from an older version of X-Plane, for instance, the checkbox in the Operations & Warnings window is disabled by default.

(But, read on to find out why you should go turn it on!)

What does “anonymous usage information” mean?

In our case, we collect two main types of information:

  • system configuration (including your operating system, CPU model, graphics card model, amount of RAM, what language you’ve selected, and so on)
  • X-Plane usage (including which aircraft are flown, which airport you start at, and so on)

This information is 100% anonymous. Essentially, all we ever learn is that some user, somewhere was running Windows with a Core i7 CPU, 8 GB of RAM, etc. and they flew the C172 from KBFI. We cannot trace this information back to a specific person.

Will I be contacted or be spammed if I participate?

No.

Since everything we collect is anonymous, it obviously does not include contact information like your name or email address. We can never use the information collected to contact you in any way: no marketing, no spam, no way to bug you.

Why does X-Plane want this information?

In essence, your usage data helps us make better decisions about the future of X-Plane.

For instance, if we found that 50% of users were running 10 year old machines, we would need to think long and hard about increasing the system requirements in future versions.

Similarly, if we found that only 10 people ever flew a particular aircraft, we could conclude that users weren’t very interested in it, so we probably shouldn’t create a new aircraft that was very similar. Likewise, if 25% of flights involved the 747, we might decide that people really like big airliners, so we should probably create another.

This is roughly a billion times better than the way we currently make decisions about this type of thing (both in terms of hardware support and sim features). The current model looks like this:

  1. Make a guess about what users want
  2. Argue with the other developers who guessed differently
  3. Ship something that users may or may not actually like

I can’t stress how much having actual data will improve our ability to make X-Plane the product that users really want.

Why you should participate

Sending this anonymous usage information is like casting a vote—in this case, a vote for us to support the way you use X-Plane. When you send your usage information, you cast your vote for us to support your hardware configuration, to build more of the planes you like to fly, or to improve the airports that you like to fly at.

Just like in electoral politics, you have every right to abstain. But abstaining means we’ll hear other people’s voices and not your own.

If you’d like to participate, you just need to do the following:

  1. Get the 10.40 update and launch X-Plane
  2. Open the Operations & Warnings dialog
  3. Check the box labeled “Send anonymous usage information to help make X-Plane better.”
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Google Buzz
  • LinkedIn
Posted in News | 47 Comments

More OpenGL Code in 1040

One of the new things in X-Plane 10.40: more modern OpenGL code. I mention this because that new code will probably create chaos during the early betas; we’ll get the bugs fixed as quick as we can.

The problem is that OpenGL can be an exercise in “code it once, debug it everywhere”, and while I have tried to set myself up with a wide range of hardware, I don’t have one of every combination of drivers and GPUs that X-Plane runs on.

X-Plane 10.40 will be a longer beta, like 10.30 was, so we should have enough time to work out the kinks in the new code. Having to do this kind of debugging during beta is annoying for everyone, but it’s also necessary to advance the sim forward.

When 10.40 comes out, if the beta doesn’t run on your hardware, please do report a bug; often users assume that if they see the bug then everyone does, so someone else will report it. Not only is this often wrong (because everyone assumes someone else will report a bug), but it might be that your combination of hardware and drivers is the only one that shows the bug!

Update: yesterday at the 2015 WWDC Keynote, Apple announced that they were porting Metal, their Apple-specific low level high performance 3-d API, from iOS to OS X. I will comment on this next week, after the WWDC sessions on the desktop version of Metal are available on the web. In the meantime, don’t panic – this definitely isn’t the end of the Mac, Windows, X-Plane, or the universe.

  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Google Buzz
  • LinkedIn
Posted in News | 39 Comments

WorldEditor 1.4r2 Posted

I cut a new release candidate for WorldEditor: WED 1.4r2 – please update to this latest build. (1.4r1 had a crash-on-export under a relatively rare configuration of lines in a scenery pack.)

  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Google Buzz
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Tools | 4 Comments

See You In Hartford?

Next week is FlightSimCon 2015 in Hartford, CT, and it looks like a bunch of us will be there. Austin is speaking on Sunday, and I think Chris, Philipp, Marty and I will be there too. So if you are attending, come say hi – we’ll be at Austin’s talk and if there’s a cocktail party, we’ll be there too!

(Chris is a total hermit and prefers to communicate with us via a series of grunts, but since it’s face to face, he’ll have no choice but to acknowledge you with at least shifty eye contact! :-)

  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Google Buzz
  • LinkedIn
Posted in News | 6 Comments

X-Plane 10.40: The New DSF Loader

I’ve been meaning for weeks now to write up some notes about 10.40. I’ve also been trying to put the hood back on 10.40 so we can get it to public beta; instead the last few weeks have been a flying circus of driver bugs, expiring certificates, etc.

But we are making progress, so I’ll start off in this post by describing a change in how DSFs are loaded and the wide DSF box.

A Tangent: Stuttering and Pauses

A post that involves X-Plane pausing during flight is going to invariably bring up a bunch of blog comments: “X-Plane stutters while I fly on my really expensive machine!” This is not good, and from what I’ve been hearing, it sounds like something got worse recently; this is something that we are investigating now.

But I also want to mention that historically, X-Plane has never been “no-pause”. What we have done is periodically made the pauses much shorter; our goal is to get down to zero pauses, ever, but this will happen by finding every source of pausing and fixing them one at a time. In other words, we’re in the middle of a process of improving smoothness, but even if one source of pausing is fixed, another source might still be causing problems.

DSF Loading: the Old Way

X-Plane has, since X-Plane 9, loaded DSFs in the background on a second core while you fly. This cuts down the amount of time it takes to change scenery. (Older versions of X-Plane would pause while scenery was loaded and shifted.)

The old DSF loader did have a few weaknesses though:

  • The sim pauses while DSFs are deleted. As DSFs become bigger, this pause is becoming more noticeable.
  • If the loader ever gets behind by two scenery shifts, it just waits until it catches up. This is where the dreaded “Async load timed out after 30 seconds” comes in – it indicates that the DSF loader was so far behind that it locked up for half a minute and didn’t catch up.
  • The old DSF loader loads one DSF at a time, tops.

DSF Loading the New Way

X-Plane 10.40 has the new DSF loader, which both loads and unloads DSFs on worker threads to keep flight smoother. It also will load more than one DSF at a time, limited only by the requirement that adjacent DSFs not be loaded at the same time.

X-Plane 10.40 also has the option of an extended DSF scenery region for sharper terrain; with this option off, two DSFs are loaded at one time during sim boot and one or two are loaded at a time while you fly. With the extended DSF region on, up to four DSFs are loaded at once during sim boot and one or two are loaded while you fly.

The extended DSF scenery region is optional; don’t use this if you’re using HD meshes or you’re short on RAM. The new DSF loader is always on.

  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Google Buzz
  • LinkedIn
Posted in File Formats, News, Scenery | 60 Comments

Calling All Scenery Gateway Artists: How Would You Improve the Feedback Available on the Gateway?

It’s come to my attention that the Scenery Gateway has a serious shortcoming:

There’s currently no good way to get feedback from other users.

This is a shame, because when you upload scenery to a site like X-Plane.org, you get to hear from real people using your scenery—they might tell you how much they appreciate your work, or suggest ways you could improve it.

There’s a tradeoff here: because all airports on the Gateway are periodically exported to X-Plane, users don’t have to seek out your scenery in order to enjoy it; they get it automatically.

That means your work has a much wider impact—it benefits hundreds or even thousands of times as many users compared to posting to a download site. But, it also means people who use your scenery probably don’t know your name.

So, if you’re a Gateway artist, I’d like to hear your thoughts on a couple things:

  1. How do you feel about the current situation? Do you want a way to get feedback (and kudos) on your Gateway submissions?
  2. If so, what would be the best way(s) to give that feedback? A few possibilities I can think of include:
    • A “like” button for your scenery pack or the airport as a whole
      • Pros: Easy to understand, zero friction for people leaving feedback (means more people are likely to use it)
      • Cons: Impersonal (compared to text-based comments like “I love this scenery!”), doesn’t solve the problem of hearing from X-Plane users who never visit the Gateway
    • The ability for other users to leave comments on your scenery pack
      • Pros: Very personal, the “standard” way to get feedback on other download sites
      • Cons: Higher friction (fewer people will use this compared to a “like” button, for instance), doesn’t solve the problem of hearing from X-Plane users who never visit the Gateway
    • Automatic estimates of how many X-Plane users see your scenery pack each month/year—for instance, you submit a scenery pack for KBOS, and you see that x,000 people fly there each month
      • Pros: Gets “feedback” (such as it is) from users who never visit the Gateway, gives a very clear indication of how many users you impact
      • Cons: Impersonal
    • Something else entirely?

Disclaimer: As with any discussion of future features, I can’t promise we’ll implement any of the above… but I can tell you we’ll consider it.

So, drop a comment below and let me know what you think!

UPDATE: As of July 11, we now have a basic discussion system on the Gateway which integrates with the existing bug reports. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Google Buzz
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Scenery, Tools | 32 Comments

WorldEditor 1.4 Release Candidate 1 Posted

I just posted WorldEditor 1.4 – “WED”, as we seem to call it most of the time – release candidate one for Mac, Windows and Linux – see the WorldEditor page for download links, report bugs on the gateway bug reporter.

Besides fixing a few bugs, this build has a new certificate so uploading/downloading from the gateway will work.

WED has a validate function that finds authoring problems in your scenery packs; two notes on this function:

First, I have been trying to improve the validation every time an issue comes up with a scenery pack. Therefore WED 1.4’s validation is quite a bit more strict than 1.3’s validation.

Once WED 1.4 goes final, it will become the required version to upload to the gateway. This ensures that we have the strongest validation, and saves Julian from having to hand check authoring issues.

This means that when you go to make a modification to your existing work, you might not be able to resubmit it until you fix existing problems. Your project didn’t change, the validation just became tighter.

Second, I have added the ATC layout error checks to the validation step. These checks (select crossing routes, select doubled nodes, select degenerate route lines) have been available since WED 1.2, but you now have to have a ‘clean’ layout to build your project. I’m hoping that this stricter validation will help fix layout bugs; when the layout is wrong, the AI aircraft’s taxi routes become even weirder than normal.

  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Google Buzz
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Tools | 4 Comments

A Gateway Outage and a New WED Build

Update: WorldEditor 1.3.2 is out now and has new certificates to work with the gateway; get it here!

I screwed up: WorldEditor 1.3.1 contains a certificate that allows it to authenticate that the X-Plane Scenery Gateway is who it says it is before WED transmits your user name and password during an airport upload. And this certificate expires in about two hours.

Last night we cut a new build (1.3.2) with a new certificate with a much longer time range, but Tyler said that for some reason the new certificate did not work. So it’s most likely that we’re going to run out of time before we get a new WED build posted. Here’s what this means:

  • You will not be able to upload airports to the gateway with WED 1.3.1.
  • Once WED 1.3.2 is available, you will be able to upload airports using WED 1.3.2.
  • Every other function of WED will keep working.
  • The Gateway’s public web page will keep working.

I’ll post an update here when we can get WED 1.3.2 “live” – unfortunately it will probably be more than two hours. I’m hoping to have this solved by the end of the day.

I will also cut a new WED 1.4.0 beta with the latest bug fixes and an updated certificate. That should be available tonight.

As a side note, I think that everything that is “must fix” for WED 1.4 is fixed, so this will be a WED 1.4 release candidate. We are deferring jpeg-2000 support out of WED 1.4 entirely so we can ship it.

  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Google Buzz
  • LinkedIn
Posted in News, Scenery, Tools | 11 Comments

NVidia: 4 Ben: 1

TL;DR: 10.36 works around the latest NVidia driver – let X-Plane auto-update and everything will just work the way it should.

X-Plane 10.36 is out now – it’s a quick patch of X-Plane 10.35 that works around what I believe to be a driver bug* in the new NVidia GeForce 352.86 drivers.

10.36 has been posted using our regular update process and has been pushed to Steam, so if you’re running 10.35, you’ll be prompted to update. The update is very small – about 10-12 MB of download.

With this patch, you can now run the latest NVidia drivers. I have no idea if those drivers are good (I have anecdotal reports that they’re both better and worse than the last drivers, but these kinds of reports often have a large ‘noise’ factor**).

We patched X-Plane because we can cut an X-Plane patch faster than NVidia can re-issue the driver, and the driver issue was causing X-Plane to not start at all for any users, which was turning into a customer support mess. Past NVidia-specific patches have been to fix bugs in X-Plane, but in this case, we’re simply avoiding a pot-hole. I hope that NVidia will get their driver fixed relatively soon so that people installing from DVDs with older versions of the sim won’t be stuck.

Update: NVidia fixed this bug in the new 353.06 drivers!

[OpenGL, Windows 8.1 -x86/x64]: GLSL shader compile error. [1647324]

* The bug is that #defines defined within a function body don’t macro-substitute, but #defines outside a function body too. The work-around is to move some #defines out of function bodies. If anyone can find a reason why #defines can’t be in function bodies, please shout at me, but it’s a pre-processor.

** We’ve had reports of huge fps improvements and losses on beta updates where we’ve made only cosmetic changes to the sim.

  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Google Buzz
  • LinkedIn
Posted in Hardware, News | 29 Comments

NVidia 352.86 Drivers Do Not Work With X-Plane

Note: this issue has been resolved – please see here!

I’ve received a few bug reports about this today: NVidia’s new 352.86 WHQL drivers for Windows do not work with X-Plane 10. I’m contacting Nvidia now to figure out what has happened.

In the meantime, to fly X-Plane, use the previous 340.52 WHQL driver.

I’ll post more when I learn more; we’ll resolve this with either a driver update or an X-Plane update, based on what has actually gone wrong and which can happen first.

Update: NVidia was able to suggest a work-around in our shaders that avoids what I think is a driver bug. Since we can cut an X-Plane build faster than NVidia can re-release their drivers, I have cut X-Plane 10.36 rc1.

You can get 10.36 rc1 by running the updater and checking “get new betas”; the updater will run even with the newest NVidia drivers.

10.36 rc1 is identical to 10.35 except for version number and a single shader change, but it’s also highly untested; I wanted to get it posted ASAP to accelerate the process. So please give it a try and file a bug if it doesn’t work like 10.35 (but working with the new NVidia drivers.)

Update 2: Sigh…this is what happens when I try to rush out a patch. The 10.36 patch’s free space calculation is totally borked. This will be fixed some time today. (This will be the third time I cut a patch.)

Update 3: the meta-data on the 10.36 rc1 patch is fixed – if you haven’t installed it yet, try again; you’ll need 30-40 MB of disk space, not 30-40 GB. :-)

Update 4: Steam users – 10.36 will be available for Steam in a day or two; until then, please run older, functioning drivers.

  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • Google Buzz
  • LinkedIn
Posted in News | 70 Comments