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Publisher: Laminar Research    Genre: Flight Sim
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: 601 @ 400 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 250 MB    Graphics: 800x600

X-Plane 6
May 29, 2002 | Tim Morgan

Click to enlarge

X-Plane's route-planning dialog.

Where the sun don’t shine
X-Plane also has above-par support for modeling weather and representing it visually. Not just a sim for clear skies, X-Plane can handle multiple cloud layers and cloud types, as well as rain and thunderstorms. Players have near full control over the current weather and its pattern of change — X-Plane guesses on when and how it’s raining, however.

Furthermore, X-Plane can read in and process METAR files, which are published regularly by National Weather Service meteorology stations scattered throughout the U.S. Third-party add-ons periodically download these METAR files for future processing by X-Plane. This allows players to fly through real-time changing weather conditions, and forces serious gamers to carefully plan their flight paths, making guesses on weather patterns hours from their takeoff time. To help with this is a simple program called Briefer that provides pilots with a weather overview for their flight plan. In a cute attempt to replicate an actual call to the Weather Service, the briefing is embellished with interjections like “Let’s see what the wind is doing” and “Well, KLAX is reporting…”.

X-Plane allows players to configure weather conditions not only for the atmosphere, but water and space conditions as well. Admittedly, the complexity of space and water conditions is nothing compared to atmospheric flexibility, but it is still a feature not offered by other simulators. Simmers can specify how placid or choppy the water is, as well as how many hostile meteoroids pepper the depths of space.

Give me a map and a compass…
X-Plane offers a number of options for hopelessly lost pilots or aviators wanting to plan their flight plan. X-Plane includes sectional charts covering a large part of the U.S., and although they’re not as detailed as those included with Fly! II, they offer a reasonable depiction of the relevant data. X-Plane also uses its terrain database to produce a number of maps, ranging from simple land-use charts to a fully transformable 3D model of the nearby terrain. All maps include a trace of the recent flight path in 2D or 3D when applicable.

Should players be utterly and hopelessly lost — for instance, after having taken a fantastically powerful rocket into Earth orbit and then careened through the atmosphere at supersonic speeds, and bringing it to a more reasonable speed over unrecognizable terrain that could be, for all intents and purposes, anywhere in the western hemisphere — in situations like these, X-Plane offers a 3D representation of the planet Earth, with the aircraft’s location, flight path, and all airports superimposed over it. This view is especially useful for gauging just how high and far an X-15 can travel, which is impossible to represent through any other map mode.

It’s all about the expandability
X-Plane can be considered less of a flight sim and more of a platform on which players can design their own flying experience. At the core of the package is the simulator, of course, but accompanying it is an array of programs allowing gamers to create their own airfoils, aircraft, and scenery.

Should one decide to design an aircraft, Laminar Research has included the Plane-Maker program, a very technical application that gives designers full control over aircraft design. At first glance, the interface is daunting: designing aircraft with Plane-Maker certainly requires a commitment of time and effort.

The major limitations in Plane-Maker are its modeling systems. Aircraft models must be designed using Plane-Maker’s awkward extrusion system: designers cannot import models from their favorite modeling programs. This is partially compensated by Plane-Maker’s support for background images: the designer can underlay an image of the fuselage and fine-tune the extrusion points to match. Unfortunately, model complexity is limited by a fixed number of polygons per aircraft.


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