The Myth of the Sliders
"Of course, there are a million and one new options available that provide for increases in level of detail for various aspects of the FS world, but when one is unable to set any of those options to levels beyond about 50% of what can be achieved with FS9 without bogging a cutting-edge box down to about 5 FPS or worse, all those neat little "wish-list" options are nothing more than a sickening, frustrating tease."
(*based on old test code)
Let's make this *reaaaal* simple. If Microsoft were to design a simulator that would perform smoothly on today's high end computers at its highest detail sliders, you would have something not much better than FS2004. You can't get better detail and higher-quality visuals for nothing and software optimizations can only take you so far.
Unlike some other game producers, MS has done VERY well to design simulations that truly shine on computer systems a generation or two down the road. This is a brilliant plan! It gives the community a new program to use and enjoy for a few years while they work on a new one, and allows us as users to reap MORE benefits of hardware upgrades down the road rather than just getting the same old visuals for 3 years. The current slider settings not withstanding, Microsoft has gone further an indicated that FSX will eventually be made to take advantage of DirectX 10. Even without DX10, FSX is a huge visual leap from previous versions. But true to form, Microsoft/ACES has plans to insure that today's program will eventually be able to take advantage of tomorrow's cutting edge hardware... which will turn into "next week's" common hardware.
(*sidenote - you are all aware that DX10 cards at the time of their first release will probably cost more than today's bleeding edge fastest gaming cards, right?)
Putting the slider situation another way:
If you put FS2004 and FSX head-to-head with equal perceived performance values (smoothness and frames), FSX looks superior. Improvements have been made to landclass and roadways, texturing, the feeling of flight (flight models), environmental effects, autogen, weather, and a host of other things - all of which make for a better experience. Sure, your sliders in FS2004 may be 100%, but the equivilant setting in FSX may only be 50% or less! The position of the slider doesn't matter, its what is being driven by it that counts.
Now, if you were indeed stuck with that experience for another three years on three more years worth of hardware, it would be fair to complain that Microsoft didn't do enough to improve the product. But wait! They had the foresight to make the program extend beyond what today's computers can easily render!! As time marches on, those who buy their first computer, or us enthusiasts who upgrade their existing one will be able to tick up the settings a few notches and have an even more rich experience.
The platform as a whole has improved, too. Scan through the SDK discussions... developers, novice and expert alike, are abuzz about how Microsoft has created a framework to open the architecture of the simulator. Innovation doesn't need to be in-your-face - this backside improvement will undoubtedly lead to addons and utilities which will make FS2004 addons PALE in comparison. Even with the beta, armchair programmers are taking to creating new missions and learning some of the interconnections that can be made with the new connection API's.
Additionally, some of the new features simply can't be taken advantage of today such as the capabilities of FSX to display extremely high-resolution ground textures. This opens the door to amazing photo scenery possibilities. Although FSX will ship with 1m textures, the sliders seem to indicate the possibility of dropping into the centimeters range! You can't see with your eyes now, but just IMAGINE the experience. (*and imagine the terabyte SAN your desktop would need to support it!)
The common theme of those disappointed with the new version seems to revolve around performance. Unfortunately, I don't feel all that sorry for them... Even in it's unfinished, unoptimized and buggy state, Microsoft has created a program that performs better than the previous version with the same visual detail. At the same time, they've both created a platform which extends to tomorrows technology, AND significantly improved or created new ancillary details with their multiplayer system, connection API's and mission system.
To think you would get a "full-slider" experience with the SAME hardware you have now is simply unrealistic. Even if you look to previous MSFS versions, they were designed around this same premise. I distinctly remember people who didn't get it grousing about FS2004's performance, but many of those same people today on their new computers think that those programs run like the cat's meow... (because they do!)
As many have, I've witnessed the progression of computer hardware over time since subLogic FS II on my Commidore 64. From the C64, to EGA, to VGA, to SVGA, to 3-D acceleration, as well as the CPU power changes at each step. Lately though, it can be said that display technologies have become less exponential in their improvements, and more sublime - visual renderers improve their polys per second and texture fill rates, but they don't have the same generational rate of change that we saw in the past. To expect some sort of major generational *pop!* change for this new version of FS doesn't fall in line with how the computer hardware industry is working these days (*Intel itself is dropping workers, and industry experts are lamenting a stagnation in HARDWARE innovation which is driving computer costs downward). Will DX10 change that for the gaming world? It remains to be seen.
STOP feeling like you are missing out by not running 100% sliders. NOBODY will be able to run at 100% on October... consider that extra range on the slider to the right as "Settings Savings Account", and you will reap the benefits down the road. Tailor the experience to run well on your PC in the fall, and simply enjoy... or stick woith FS2004 and wait on FSX until you have a PC capable of running FSX the way you wish it to... the choice remains yours. But to declare the prgram as stale and stifled because you don't grasp the concepts of designing a program for future capabilities is an unfortunate way to approach any new version.
You are being offered a program that improves the flight simulation experience AND insures that the experience will continue to improve as your computer become more powerful. If you are happy with your FS2004 performance, then by all means remain with it - there's nobody forcing your purchase of anything new.
But if you are interested in a more detailed world, noticably better flight dynamic improvements, missions to excite your flying experience, multiplayer fidelty rivaling that of LOMAC, modern-day graphical engine improvements, and add-on possibilities that exceed our imagination, then look no further than FSX.
Innovation indeed. Truely,BRAVO to ACES.
The Myth of the Sliders