X-Plane 9

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X-Plane 9 is a game from , originally released 31st December, 1969

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Developer Q&A: Austin Meyer on X-Plane 9

We’ve been covering the launch of X-Plane 9 since it made its surprise debut on the App Store late last week.

X-Plane 9 is the first flight simulator for the iPhone/iPod Touch, bringing a degree of realism not yet seen in other games for the platform. We’ve been fans of the desktop version of X-Plane for years, and had some questions for Austin Meyer, the chief developer at Laminar Research, the company behind X-Plane.

Slide to Play: You’ve been making X-Plane on the desktop for a long time. What has it been like to move from that environment onto the iPhone platform?

Austin Meyer: Fun as heck! For the desktop sim, there are many thousands of lines of code and hundreds (thousands?) of image files from me, Ben, and Sergio. [STP Note: The other lead developers/artists at Laminar Reaseach] It is very difficult to make major changes to the simulator without re-writing LOTS of code to make the major changes possible, and without risking breaking something in the sim. As well, many customers get used to things working a certain way, and whenever you CHANGE things, many people just assume that the NEW way of doing this must be WRONG. This makes it a little difficult, sometimes, to get things changed in the sim. None of this is a factor with the iPhone, which is a clean-sheet design.

Between the thousands of lines of code, and thousands of customers, it is about impossible to get anything big done.

None of that is a factor with the iphone.

At the moment, the program is more of a simulation than a game’”just like X-Plane on the desktop. Do you plan to change that with future updates?

No, not at all. We will add a few features to the iphone version (map, for example, and maybe an instrument panel) but it will not get ‘game-y’.

Do you plan to let users bring aircraft of their own design, or back-catalog planes, over from the desktop version?

Nah’¦ It is not so easy to import stuff into the iphone. I can not see it being customized.

What is the simulation accuracy of the iPhone version like in comparison to the desktop version?

Within 5% or so. I managed to get ~95% of the accuracy of the big sim over the iphone without busting system requirements.

More generally, what future plans do you have for expanding the application?

You will know what I am doing next when I post an email to the newsgroup claiming what can NOT be done!

More stories on X-Plane 9

X-Plane Series Gets Multiple Locations

It’s simulated airplane Christmas for X-Plane fans’”Laminar Research has released a major update to the X-Plane series, which adds multiple flying locations.

The new feature, premiering on the original X-Plane (with version 9.06) brings our most desired feature’”more places to fly!

Take your pick of Innsbruck, San Francisco, Southern California, or Hawaii in X-Plane, while X-Plane Helicopter and X-Plane Airliner will offer other new locations. Austin Meyer at Laminar also promises improved frame rates, as well as better terrain textures.

We’ll be updating our X-Plane reviews to reflect these changes shortly.

X-Plane 9 Review

X-Plane has a long history of providing some of the most realistic and detailed flight simulation available on desktop computers, on over a thousand different aircraft–both real and imagined (Drawing from the vast user-community at www.x-plane.org and elsewhere.) . When bringing the simulator to the iPhone, the developers had to scale things down a bit. There are only four aircraft in this version, and the ability to design your own aircraft is absent. While the iPhone’s accelerometer controls are a natural fit for flying aircraft, and the graphics and sound are fantastic, X-Plane 9 doesn’t quite have enough content to merit a full recommendation.

The simulator starts with you in a Cirrus Jet, lined up for takeoff from LOWI field in Innsbruck, Austria. The default view is straight forward, with a superimposed heads-up display, which will be familiar to anyone who has played with a flight simulator. On the right side of the screen is a slider which controls your throttle, on the left a slider for flaps. At the bottom there are two buttons, one for brakes and the other for your landing gear. Tapping elsewhere on the screen brings up a menu of five different icons; these switch views, and give you access to the settings. The most impressive views of your flight are from the outside of the plane, which highlight the great aircraft graphics, but make it a bit tricky to fly. In any of the outside views, you can swipe your finger around the screen to move the camera, and pinch in or out to zoom.

After you swipe the throttle up to full, and start to accelerate down the runway, you’ll see that X-Plane has one of the very best implementations of the “iPhone as controller” setups that we’ve seen so far. You hold the your iPhone or iPod Touch in landscape orientation, just like a pilot holding the yoke of an airplane. Tilting backwards and forwards moves the elevator, and tilting the device left and right moves the ailerons. X-Plane 9 uses something called “blade element theory” to simulate the performance of an aircraft from first principles, rather than the fixed models that most flight simulators use. This endows your aircraft with highly realistic physics and controls.

The graphics in X-Plane are impressive both technically and artistically. The aircraft have a large amount of geometric and textured detail’”while they don’t look quite as real as the desktop incarnation, they are far beyond anything else we’ve seen to date on the iPhone. The only nit to pick about the aircraft graphics are the propellers, which seem to flutter and spasm, where they should be making a transparent disc.

The terrain, however, is not as impressive. The single region provided, modeled on Innsbruck, Austria, is definitely topographically interesting, with lots of peaks and valleys to fly in and around. Unfortunately, these textured environs are a bit plain and repetitive’”if that’s because Innsbruck is bland, we apologize to Austria, but the developer should consider some other locations. One of the greatest attributes of the desktop version of X-Plane is that you can fly anywhere in the world. It’s probably not realistic to expect worldwide travel on your handheld, but a few other environments to fly in would add depth to the experience.

Meanwhile, the simulator’s sound effects shine, especially the sound of the engine, which ramps up as you increase the throttle, and the sound of the wind rushing past the plane as you hurtle towards the ground. It adds a lot to the feeling of flight. The simulator does not have a soundtrack, but we would much rather provide our own’”perhaps “Flight of the Valkyries.” X-Plane is a good iPod audio citizen, turning off its sound when you flip the mute switch.

You might have noticed that we haven’t mentioned any sort of scores, challenges, or competitions yet. X-Plane doesn’t have any of those things, because it’s not really a game, but a simulator. It offers a pure sandbox style of entertainment, where you can experiment and challenge your skills.

To put yourself to the test, you can use the settings menu to change the time of day; wind speed and direction; amount of turbulence; cloud type and coverage; plane type; and even load up your plane with extra cargo. For a challenging takeoff, weight down the little Cessna 172 and crank up the wind. Or work on your night landings in the Cirrus Jet with heavy turbulence. These options provide a lot of replay value which isn’t immediately apparent. Still, the range of aircraft available is severely limited’”the contrast between the smallest and largest, and the fastest and slowest, isn’t that great. We’d really like to see a more diverse fleet of airplanes and more flying locations, as well as more airports in those locations.

X-Plane is not for everyone. Those hankering for competitive play should look elsewhere. However, if you’re interested in flight, or want to see a technically impressive simulator, X-Plane 9 may fit the ball, although we can’t entirely recommend the program until more aircraft and locations are added.

X-Plane 9 Developed in Only 14 Days

Laminar research has recently posted a dedicated page about X-Plane 9 for iPhone on their site.

The basics are covered at the top of the page, with some screenshots and a link to the App Store.

Next, is the announcement that X-Plane 9.0.1 should be out shortly, bringing enhanced frame rates (25% improvement!) and some more detailed settings.

The best part, however, is towards the bottom of the page, where Austin Meyer, chief developer at Laminar tells the development story behind X-Plane 9. In it, he tells how X-Plane 9 for the iPhone went from idle speculation to release in less than a month.

Further, we learn that the development of X-Plane was directly aided by Apple, that Austin and one of his coders went to the Apple campus where they were “cranking away madly on X-Plane for about 12 hours a day” for nearly a week to do the bulk of the development. Apple had initially planned to feature X-Plane in the Let’s Rock event, but decided that the sim “is not fast-paced enough for a keynote demo.”

It doesn’t look like the game has suffered from lack of exposure, as it climbs the charts and “selling like hotcakes” according to Austin.

X-Plane 9 First Look

X-Plane, one of the most powerful and realistic flight simulators on the desktop, which has been used to create actual airplanes, has come to the iPhone.

Released to the App Store yesterday for $9.99, X-Plane is the first flight simulator on the platform.

Players can choose from several different aircraft, view angles, and flight conditions. While the desktop version allows the player to fly around the world, or into space, in the iPhone release flight is limited to the area around Innsbruck, Austria’”where rugged terrain makes for some exciting flight.

We spent many hours in X-Plane 7 on the desktop designing and flying aircraft, and look forward to looking at X-Plane on the iPhone.