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Publisher: GraphSim Entertainment    Genre: Flight Sim
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G4 @ 800 MHz    RAM: 512 MB    Hard Disk: 8192 MB    2x CD-ROM    Graphics: 1024x768 @ 16-bit, 16 MB VRAM

X-Plane 8
April 11, 2005 | Tim Morgan

Click to enlarge

Auroras appear nearly everywhere in X-Plane
X-Plane, long a benchmark in robust, accurate general-aviation simulation, has climbed in version numbers faster than an F-22 on takeoff. Each new version brings the game new versatility and new functionality. This latest rebirth, version 8.0, brings significant new revisions to the simulator, primarily new graphical goodies that will enhance the experience for all players.

Since its initial release, X-Plane has been the brainchild of author Austin Meyer. His vision of a truly versatile and unique simulator has been refined and perfected over the years. X-Plane brings the player all forms of aviation: hopping around a metropolis aboard a Cessna 172, cross-country flights on a 747, fire protection on a water-bombing CL-415, helicopter tours of New York City, maiden voyages of the super-fast X-15, Space Shuttle re-entries and landings, and test flights of novel new aircraft like the half-helicopter half-airplane V-22 Osprey and the half-plane half-spaceship X-30 NASP.

The fun hardly ends there. With a suite of editing tools, like Plane-Maker and World-Maker, replayability soars to the stratosphere for truly dedicated players. (Mere mortal simulation enthusiasts may find all this functionality overwhelming.) X-Plane has always put versatility and extensibility before all else, making it no wonder that the simulator is used for FAA-certification training and test-flying aircraft that haven't even been built yet.

Version 8, like its predecessors, builds on these foundations, but primarily adds features in areas where most customers believe X-Plane is lacking: the graphical experience. This article will focus on version 8's new features. Please see my review of X-Plane 6. for a more thorough treatment of the game as a whole.

Buckets of new scenery
The first and foremost feature of version 8 is its new scenery engine. X-Plane's global scenery has always been based on the GIS land-use database. This database contains information on the general types of land use (green vegetation, sparse city, arid desert) around the world. X-Plane draws textures for all these kinds of land, and viola: we have a fairly accurate representation of the world.

This system fails when flying over cities. Land-use information will only tell you where the cities are; it does not have any information about roads or buildings, so you can forget trying to buzz your own house.

Version 8 blows that limitation away. With the "generation 8 scenery" (as it is called) enabled, flying over cities presents the pilot with an accurate metropolitan vista, a spaghetti bowl of streets and shops, pierced by freeways. VFR navigation reaches a new level of sophistication: Imagine a nighttime flight through thunderstorms to Los Angeles, following only the headlights on the roads because a power failure knocked out the navigation systems. And people say that general aviation simulators are boring.

Version 8 simply makes cities breathtaking. Metropolitan areas are now sights to behold, but to truly make the views amazing a serious amount of processing muscle will be required. At the highest levels of detail even the fastest computers will only churn out a handful of frames per second.

The new topography only extends so far, however. Flying over downtown Chicago will be a sight to behold, but cruising over small towns in Wisconsin will yield the version 7 rendition of populated areas with only major roads to break the repetitiveness. Furthermore, generation 8 scenery is only available for the United States, but Laminar is quickly working on extending it to the entire world. (Unfortunately, World-Maker does not edit or create generation 8 scenery, so non-U.S. customers are not yet able to create or import their own hometown's road maps.)

All of this new scenery pushes the size of X-Plane much higher, weighing in now at nearly 5 GB with the generation-8 scenery for the United States alone.

Version 8 also adds runways that bump and undulate with the terrain below them. Rarely is a runway perfectly flat, and the new version acknowledges that with this version. The author, who likes the challenge of trying to take off a passenger jet on a tossing and bumping runway surface, has included the option of making these runways reasonably or ridiculously bumpy.


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