When Microsoft Flight Simulator came out, I spent less time with X-Plane 11. By comparison, X-Plane 11 even with the latest updates is now coming up on 5-years in age. In a lot of ways, that age is showing in all kinds of places. At the same time, X-Plane 12 is now waiting in the wings with development now proceeding in a more open fashion following its reveal at FSEXpo 2021. A lot is happening and new information has come out so let’s check in on what’s going on with both sims.
X-Plane 11 is finished
I mean this in the nicest way possible. X-Plane 11 is finished.
Although there may be some small patches to come, for the most part, X-Plane 11 is done and it’s time in the limelight is numbered. X-Plane 12 is on the way and that is where new development, features and capabilities are all going to happen in the future.
That all said, like a finely aged wine, X-Plane 11 is entering a period in its twilight where it is still reaching a peak that it has never been at before. There are still new aircraft coming from third party developers all the time and the ones that have already been released are among some of the best that have ever been created for a flight sim.
Types like the HotStart TBM 850, the Airfoil Labs King Air 350, and the freeware Zibo 737 are held up in the flight sim community as the aircraft to beat. We’ve seen many other excellent aircraft released as well with many of my favourites coming from developers like Thranda, Aerobask, and Torquesim to mention just a few.
Laminar Research, for their part, released X-Plane 11.5 in the last year and it has been one of the most consequential updates in the recent history of the series. X-Plane has finally shed OpenGL, a now old and slow graphics API, in favour of the new Vulkan and Metal (on MacOS) API. Vulkan has taken my X-Plane experience from a disappointing 15-20fps to 35-60fps depending on the scenery and aircraft module.
So, X-Plane 11 is finished but it is going out on a relatively strong note thanks to both first and third party efforts.
The upgrade path to 12
There’s been some hype around X-Plane 12 and there’s no question that I and many of us who were watching the reveal at FSExpo 2021 just a few weeks ago were glued to the stream wanting to see what Laminar were planning to do.
There has been a fair bit of misinformation going around the X-Plane community and that starts right with the name. X-Plane 12 is the confirmed name, and although a stream back in the summer from Oshkosh was vague, it’s now very clear that Laminar has been working for years to develop content, systems and features that will take X-Plane 12 into the next generation.
There was also a confusing comment made at the FSExpo presentation that caused people to make some assumptions about the upgrade. Let’s be very clear, X-Plane 12 is the next generation product and you will be paying money to Laminar to buy this sim. And here I refer to Laminar’s recent X-Plane 12 Q&A which states it unequivocally.
New versions of X-Plane are always a paid upgrade because they represent years of past work by our development team and subsequent work for future of incremental updates. Once you purchase X-Plane 12, you’ll get free incremental updates for the life of the sim, just like we did for v11, X-Plane 11.30, 11.50, etc.”Thomson Meeks, Marketing at Laminar
So, where does the confusion come from? Well, Laminar plans to offer X-Plane 12 licenses to people who purchase X-Plane 11 during the early access period. The exact timing has not been announced but as the new sim ramps up to release you’ll see this come into play. At that point, when you buy X-Plane 11 in the couple of months or weeks before it releases, you’ll get access to both.
Some mistakenly understood that plan to mean that people with X-Plane 11 would get X-Plane 12 for free. That is not the case but I can understand the confusion.
New X-Plane 12 content
There are new images coming out of the X-Plane official Twitter account in recent days as well. The most recent, “Stormy…” is showing off the new clouds, new reflections and wet ground effects as well as their new A330.
The second image shows the clouds again to good effect as well as the taxiways and runway markings that will populate the default airports. They look higher resolution than the default X-Plane 11 marks and they look good. The clouds, look good, but I know several people who feel like the colour isn’t quite right yet. Still, we are moving in the right direction.
I expect more will be coming soon!
On compatibility and what we do now
For a long time, I held off on any new purchases for X-Plane 11. I didn’t know what the future held and Microsoft Flight Simulator was offering up plenty of content to keep me busy. MSFS is still doing that and pushing the genre forward in many ways but it’s not for everyone and competition is good. X-Plane 11 remains a solid sim and many fans are sticking with it and I can see why. It’s excellent portfolio of features, aircraft, scenery and plugins are huge draws and X-Plane’s refined flight model manages to edge out the newer MSFS in a number of ways.
The good news is that Laminar is saying that current content will come to the new sim with what sounds like minimal updates required.
We have made sure that the existing OpenGL bridge continues to work with v12 the way plugins expect. We expect the majority of well behaved add-ons to continue to work the way they did in v11, which includes everything from third party scenery and aircraft to general plugins. This includes existing add-on ortho-photo scenery.Sidney Just, Laminar Graphics Developer
And that right there has given me confidence to buy new products. I’ve just bought the Torquesim BN-2B and the Aerobask Lancair Legacy RG and I’m having fun with them. Reviews will be coming soon by the way!
Torquesim for their part has said that they will support their products going into the new sim.
The Airbus enthusiasts at ToLiss have said that their A319 and A321 products will have a small upgrade fee to go to 12 while their new A340-600 will be a free update to 12. Other developers will hopefully be weighing in soon and we’re likely to find out their plans once developers gain access to the new sim and start to prepare for the release.
Hopefully we’ll see a relatively easy transition if all goes according to plan.
I’ve said it before and will say it again. This is a golden age of flight simulation. With Laminar pushing into their next generation product with X-Plane 12, Microsoft continuing to support and push forward with Flight Simulator and all of the content and features that they are planning and releasing, and then combine that with the huge number of third parties that are supporting these sims.
No matter which sim you’re flying, you will have a huge list of aircraft, scenery, and experiences that you can connect with. Be it for flight training or entertainment purposes, we’re enjoying a period of time where there is a proverbial cornucopia of options. More than I can cover – that’s for sure! With X-Plane 11 and the move to 12 coming, we’re continuing to see that forward momentum from around the industry. And it’s great!
We don’t know when X-Plane 12 is coming exactly but I would guess that it will be sometime next year when it gets to public release. We will see much more of it before then as developers gain access and the work begins to ready the sim for the rest of us. I have high hopes that it will be a very good day when that time comes.