Interest is growing as Laminar Research begins to unveil their work on the next generation of X-Plane. X-Plane 12 has attracted lots of attention from its dedicated community and from simmers in general as the sim aims to compete with its old rival. The look of the sim is changing in a number of ways and the last two blog updates, coming just days apart, detail some of those changes.
A quick look at the new technologies
The big overarching feature is “photometric” lighting. This seeks to replicate the way that real lighting works and it looks like, in X-Plane 12, it will apply to point lights as well as overall lighting from the sun. That in turn affects what the atmosphere looks like which is why we have an image of a Cessna in orbit as the developers test how the model looks.
They spend some time talking about how the new photometric system aims to replicate real lights and then applies some techniques to make that visual come together on your computer monitor. New HDR lighting effects for the sim will bring it up to similar effects that we’ve seen from MSFS, DCS and IL-2 where bright scenes like the sun darken and shadowy areas brighten up a bit which help to accommodate the limited range of even the best HDR monitors. On that note, Laminar says they will be able to more fully support HDR monitors in the future.
One component are things like runway and airplane lights. Laminar has come up with a development system that will enable them and third parties to more accurately represent lights. Especially at airports and on aircraft which have tightly controlled technical specifications for either the lighting from the source (the bulb) or as measured from the outside of the housing.
Real world units can be used and the sim should replicate those accurately.
One of the big advantages of this approach is that all of the elements that make up the sim play well together because they are all calibrated to the same standard – the real world. How bright are landing lights compared to the airport lights? How visible are the taxi lights when the sun comes out? With a photometric rendering engine, the answers are determined mathematically and by measurements that can be checked against real life, so the entire scene fits together.Laminar Research dev blog
We also got a pretty good look at two other new technologies. One is their new frosted over glass effect which looks good and the other is the reflective textures from water on the tarmac at an airport which is part of a new shader (a programmable visual effect) that has been written for X-Plane 12.
I’ve long been critical at how far behind X-Plane 11 has been in the visual area, even relative to when it came out, and it looks like Laminar are really stepping up with their art and programming teams coming together to hash out something that both visually is more realistic to the real world while also bringing together some of the physics and technical stuff that we know they are good at. I like the combination and I’m glad to see it coming together.