On Tuesday Apple announced new Macs powered by Apple’s M1 chip, a custom ARM system-on-a-chip based on the Apple A-series System on a Chip (SoC) from the iPhone and iPad.
The rest of this post is probably only of interest to Mac users, but for Windows users, it’s worth noting that the M1 chip is fast. It targets laptop and low power use cases, not gamer-class hardware, and it’s not a discrete GPU. Here’s my 27″ iMac – Intel says the i9 in it is a 95W part:
The take-away here is that Apple doesn’t just have fast chips for their new machines, they might have the fastest ones.
Now, how is this going to work with X-Plane and plugins?
X-Plane 11 is an x86_64 app, as are all plugins ever written for it. So if you run it on an Intel Mac, it just works, and if you run it on one of the new ARM Macs, it will run using Rosetta, which will translate the code as you fly.
In the future, we will have an X-Plane build that is “universal”–that is, it contains ARM and x86_64 code, and we will have a plugin SDK that contains both ARM and x86_64 code. At this point, plugin authors can start recompiling plugins to contain both types of code as well. Users with ARM Macs will have the choice to (1) run ‘natively’ in ARM for higher performance and use only plugins that are universal or (2) continue to run x86_64 code under Rosetta, so that all plugins work.
(This option is available for all apps that are universal on an ARM Mac – you turn “Use Rosetta” on or off in the app properties.)
This situation is exactly the same as the PPC->x86 transition we went through years ago.
Plugin developers: once Big Sur and the new X-code are out and we have an ARM plugin SDK, you can add a new architecture to your project and that should be it, as long as you don’t use any x86 assembly code in your add-on.
It’s been a while since I have posted about what the team is working on, and given all that has happened in the last few weeks, it feels like a million years. Here’s a run-down of…stuff.
X-Plane 11: Beta Time
Today we are putting out X-Plane 11.51 beta 1. This is a bug-fix patch for X-Plane 11.50 with a handful of random fixes that we have accumulated over the last few weeks. Release notes here. You will not be auto-notified of this beta–you have to pick it in the installer if you really want it.
I expect the beta to be relatively short, as we’re just trying to put out fixes for things we’ve found since we’ve shipped 11.50, improve diagnostics, reduce crashes, etc.
11.50 beta 1 does not have new Gateway airports. We’ll include them very soon–probably in beta 2–we had a few last minute snags, so I pulled them out of beta 1 to avoid delay.
Road Map: Graphics and Performance
X-Plane 11.50 represents the first step in our long term performance road map: moving to modern, low overhead, high-performance rendering APIs. These APIs are multi-core friendly; for X-Plane 11.50 this results in better overall FPS and smoother performance, but only an incremental increase in multi-core use.
One stealth performance feature in X-Plane 11.50: plugin object instancing. X-Plane has had an instanced drawing API for several years now, but with 11.50 we saw widespread plugin adoption. This is going to be very important for performance going forward; the instancing APIs are designed for efficiency, particularly in a multicore environment.
We have now switched gears and we are working on new features in the engine itself, e.g. we are working on what we draw and not so much how we draw it. In other words, we are working on graphic enhancements, new features, etc.
The new features are, as they are being coded, already taking advantages of new tech made possible by Vulkan and Metal, e.g. GPU compute kernels, GPU-based culling, etc.
Once we finish rendering features, we can pivot back to performance and push hard on multicore. The next multicore goal is to be able to render multiple views in parallel using multiple cores. Parallel rendering has several benefits:
An X-Plane frame often has sub-views rendered to form the main view (e.g. shadows, water reflections, cube maps, in-cockpit cameras, etc.). Any concurrency we expose makes the sim faster in these scenarios, and they are common.
Right now while multi-monitor is possible with X-Plane, it is very expensive performance-wise. Having a frame that can be farmed out to multiple cores would make multi-monitor less of a performance hit.
Note that multi-core multi-monitor would still be single GPU, and it would be a win because right now CPU time limits multi-monitor setups.
What about multiple GPUs? That’s something we’ll have to look at after we have multicore on the CPU–without it second GPU support doesn’t help.
Big Sur & the Mac
There’s been a lot of Apple news this week that’ll have to wait for a separate post. We recommend waiting on Big Sur for a few days until we’ve had a chance to test it a bit. Hopefully that’s an easy ask, as right now the download servers appear to be overloaded.
This alpha contains changes to the updater. Make backups before using!
Global Material Settings -> OBJ Settings
This new version contains one of the most requested fixes (#357, #599) for XPlane2Blender: Normal Metalness, Blend Glass, and Global Tint have been moved out of the Material Properties Tab and into OBJ Settings! The annoying “All Materials in an obj must have the same Normal Metalness/Blend Glass Value” error is gone!
The updater tries its best to guess if you wanted Normal Metalness, Blend Glass, or Global Tint, however it isn’t perfect. If you have to manually correct more than 3 of your OBJ settings, please tell me.
These new settings can be found under the Textures section of the OBJ Settings.
Emissive Panel Texture Only and Panel Mode Selector
#595 Also known as ATTR_cockpit_lit_only, this directive has actually been in X-Plane since 11.10, but now is accessible in XPlane2Blender! It makes a panel only use the emissive “Lit” texture – a great speed boost if that is all you need. This is the perfect feature for computer displays.
For Aircraft or Cockpit export types, look in the Cockpit section for “Panel Mode”. This changes the meaning of “Part of Cockpit Panel” for the whole OBJ. Setting it to “Emissive Panel Texture Only” mode activates the feature. You cannot mix panel modes.
People who use Cockpit Regions will have to manually change “Panel Mode” from Default to Regions to see the UI and have regions export again. A one time fix. A future updater will do it for you. Until then I hope it isn’t too many OBJs to change.
Updater Version History Synchronization
#471 The updater now synchronizes its last version across every scene and new updater functions will not use data cleaning to protect against accidental or purposeful updater re-runs. Simply put this means a safer to use XPlane2Blender (but still make backups). Since this is new updater code, however, it had to be put in an alpha. People with multiple scenes should be especially on the look out for problems. I feel very confident about it however.
With testers and users like the ones XPlane2Blender has we’ll be getting to v4.1.0-rc.1 much much much much faster this time! For the users who requested moving Normal Metalness and Blend Glass, thank you for your patience. I know now just how annoying that error message was! I’ll certainly keep this experience in mind for future decisions and don’t worry, “make it the same across every material” is not going to be chosen again without an extremely important reason!
Back in the day, the way you put in a feature request for X-Plane was to email Austin – his email address was all over the website. So was his phone number – if you really wanted the request you could just call him, but it might hurt your chances. Austin had a big text file where he copied all of the emails, and then he randomly jammed things into X-Plane. It was the wild west.
Fast forward twenty years – we have a development team, we have customer support, we have an art team, and X-Plane has a lot more users than it used to. So we made an official place to record feature requests: feedback.x-plane.com.
The feedback request board allows for voting, so please look through the existing requests and up-vote it if it’s already there–this lets us easily find very popular requests.
The request board covers X-Plane desktop and mobile. You can also request features for end users (“better clouds”) or for third party developers (“scenery packs can edit the mesh around airports”)–it’s all good.
Looking through the “most wanted” right now, it looks like our internal high priority items (most of which are in progress) match the most wanted list pretty well, which I think is a good sign for our upcoming dev work.
We did it folks! Long in development (mostly because I kept adding features, not because of many disastrous releases) we can call this complete! A huge thanks to our dedicated volunteers who beta tested, send bugs, e-mails, and trusted their projects and livelihoods to us. We hope to live up to that trust everyday. Again thank you. Also thanks to a few people who contributed code (Premek Truska and @kbrandwijk)!
This release notes page serves as an overview of important new features and changes since Blender 2.79. Since the manual has not kept pace with development, you’ll find documentation on the new features in past release notes. This is being worked on.
Don’t be surprised if you see the words “Exportable Collection/Object”. That name was later changed to “Root Collection/Object”. Read more about that change here.
Blender 2.80-83 upgrade!
Blender 2.80-83 is supported! XPlane2Blender in Blender 2.90 has been tested by some with positive results but is not officially supported yet.
The UI is almost entirely the same. The replacement for the Layers Mode feature, “Root Collections”, is almost identical in nature (but also much more powerful!). A few unclear property names and poor tooltips have been reworked, but are still in the same place. Unlike Blender 2.80’s large UI change, we have changed much at all.
I have yet to meet an artist who, after learning modern Blender’s UI, wishes they could go back. Have no fear in upgrading!
Root Collections and Root Objects
Blender 2.79’s 3D View’s layer system has been removed and replaced with Blender 2.80’s Collections. To adapt, we removed “Layers Mode” and replaced it with “Root Collections”. It is nearly the same as Layers but is much more flexible. The updater preserves Layers Mode projects and the UI for this workflow is still in the Scene Properties Tab. For old tutorials you can, in general, replace the word “layer” with “a collection”. Read more about the feature here. “Exportable Collection” and “Root Collection” refer to the same concept, don’t get confused by the old name.
You can use Root Collections and Root Objects in the same scene, no need to pick only one workflow
Automatic Lights makes lighting in XPlane2Blender easy! Automatic lights are aimed for you without the need for tricks, any parameters are filled in automatically or with easy to use Blender properties, and the exporter and UI prevents many types of lighting mistakes. Pick your X-Plane light name and What You See Is What You’ll Get! Read more here.
Knowing what lights to use and how is now easier. The “Create lights.txt Summary” button makes a text block with light names available and what parameters an Automatic Light will be setting in an easy to use format. See the “Feature Controls” table in beta.2’s release notes for the translation between parameter name and Blender control.
Don’t worry, Named and Param light types haven’t been changed at all.
Though it shouldn’t be necessary to read lights.txt anymore, it has been cleaned up quite a bit!
“Split Animations” offers a new way of sharing animations between objects and even .obj files. An excerpt from the manual explains some uses: Split Animations allows you to share animations that are outside the current root collection. *Its purpose is to reduce the manual labor of keeping these shared animations in sync. Some examples uses of this feature include
Synchronizing the motion of a landing gear and wheel in separate OBJs
Synchronizing the movement of complex wings flex and their lights
Synchronizing the movement of the cockpit OBJ’s door handle manipulator and a door OBJ’s door mesh
Having groups of manipulators follow the animation of a parent element of the cockpit
Many useful cases I’m sure no one else has dreamed of yet!
The feature is activated by very specific uses of Collections and parenting instead of checkboxes and buttons, so read the tutorial on how to take advantage of this powerful new feature.
The Levels of Detail feature in XPlane2Blender has been expanded to reduce the amount of clicking required and also to accommodate the removal of Blender 2.79’s 3D View layer system. How Root Objects projects use LODs had to be changed. See details and backwards compatibility instructions in alpha.5’s notes.
Thanks to Premek Truska and @kbrandwijk the Vertex Deduplication algorithm (aka using the Optimize checkbox) is set) takes almost no time at all, even for large .objs
A one time keyframe gathering pass makes Objects with many keyframes export twice as fast as before
Highly optimized string formatting increase the performance of the exporter across its whole write and logging operation All optimizations work automatically, no work is needed to enjoy the benefits! A full export of the BD-5J on my computer now takes 14 seconds over 2.79’s 30. Other people report similar or better results.
Layers Mode removed due to Blender’s choice (but Collections are far better anyways so this isn’t a big loss).
Blender removed Texture Slots so we removed autodetection and certain texture validations. For now the root’s texture file path string properties must be used.
2.79 support. Additionally v3.5.1-beta.2 is cancelled (not that anyone ever asked for it of course). Future versions of the converter will consider Blender 2.79 a pit stop before Blender 2.80.
Include In Export, Export Mesh In Layers for being redundant and broken
Again, thank you so much to everyone who uses this addon and sends screenshots and bug reports and e-mails and forum posts and stories of all the great things you’re making. X-Plane wouldn’t be X-Plane without talented people like you making the world real with Blender and XPlane2Blender!
By fixing #571 and #569 aircraft with complex animations should receive seconds off their export time! It basically marks the end of the “can squeeze more out of Python” quest which is good (and a bit sad).
Drag Rotate Bug Fix
Fix for #578. For those struggle with trying to make things like trim wheels that rotate multiple times around (going from -1440 to 1440), this beta fixes it. Please let me know if this fix broke other manipulators.
A tiny UI fix
#570 is fixed for anyone who was bothered by this. Yes, even the small bugs matter to me I swear!
Once confirmed that these have gotten the fix, we’re at rc.1!
X-Plane 11.50 quietly went final yesterday. Very quietly.
We’re trying something new with this release: a phased roll-out. Here’s how it works:
11.50 is final – if you run the installer and request updates, you’ll get 11.50, regardless of whether you check ‘get betas’.
Only some users are being auto-notified of the update.
Over the next few days, we’ll slowly crank up the number of auto-notifications until it is everyone.
Steam users: you still have to opt into the beta – we’ll mark the Steam 11.50 version as final probably tomorrow.
We are trying the phased roll-out to make sure support doesn’t get overwhelmed; some add-ons need to be updated for 11.50 compatibility, and we didn’t want Thomson and company to go down the tubes helping users get their add-ons updated.
Third time’s a charm? I hope so. We cut a new release candidate this week.
The main reason for the new RC: the very latest AMD drivers (2020.8.3) crash X-Plane in Vulkan. We are working with AMD on this; in the meantime you can run the 2020.8.2 drivers. We wanted to get an error message into the app guiding users – hard crashes were spiking in our auto reporting.
Since we were recutting, we also included fixes for non-working manipulators, and some GL clipping of plugins and the map by airplane wings.
I expect this RC to go final, although I realize I’m tempting fate by putting it in writing. We have a few more fixes we are sitting on for an 11.51 bug fix patch to avoid introducing last minute changes in RC.
X-Plane 11.50 release candidate 2 is out. We changed a very, very small amount of code from RC1. If you think your performance changed radically from RC1 to RC2, there’s a good chance it’s an unrelated factor, because we didn’t change code that would affect performance.
The big change in this build is a pair of fixes to two crashes, both of which were related to texture paging and could happen more with orthophotos. One of those crashes was in the betas and was a result of a timing bug; in RC1 I cleverly fixed the timing – causing the crash to happen way more often. This is now fixed, so if RC1 was way worse than the betas for you crash-wise, RC2 should fix it.
The other was a crash we’d see after long flights that has been plaguing mostly Mac users (but sometimes Windows users too) for a while – we finally chased it down.
We do have a handful of issues we are still looking at, and I expect we’ll do an 11.51 bug fix patch, as we have done a bug fix patch on all of our big updates; there’s always something we find after we ship.