Now that I’m spending so much time with X-Plane people have been asking if the switch is permanent. I don’t think anything in the world of computer software is forever, and we will see how much of a coding re-write the forthcoming P3D 64 bit release will bring, but for now at least, yes I have made the switch and I am no longer using Prepar3D. I’m also not missing it, and am far more satisfied with X-Plane than I was with P3D 90% of the time (and I’ll explain the other 10% below).
The other question I’m getting is “What advice do you have for others making the switch?” So I’m writing this little how-to in hopes it will help other P3D and FSX users at least get the most out of the X-Plane beta, if not make the switch completely. So here goes. This list of steps is a version of my own experience with the switch. There are likely dozens of other possible ways to get started, but based on my experience in P3D and X-Plane, this is what I would do if I were to do it again:
- Download the X-Plane 11 beta. I have found it very stable, and see no reason not to start with 11 rather than 10. It is taxing on the system, at least as much as P3D, although I find it much smoother at low frame rates. But realize it’s cutting edge, and you may need to back off sliders a bit (but I’ve done fine, personally, and as the beta moves to final the frames will only improve).
- Download and install alpilot’s HD Mesh Scenery V3. This is sort of the equivalent of ORBX Vector. It will increase the resolution of your terrain and will make roads, forest boundaries, towns, power lines, etc. all much more accurate in the sim. It is excellent, you can download only the areas you want, and it is donationware. (While alpilot does not have the entire world, the X-Plane 11 underlying mesh is also very good as it is, and while not as detailed, is more current.)
- Download and install the W2XP models and W2XP sceneries for the parts of the world in which you want to fly. W2XP is shorthand for “World To X-Plane,” and if HD Mesh Scenery V3 is ORBX Vector then the W2XP sceneries are the equivalent or ORBX regional landclasses, with improved textures, autogen, etc. You will download at least two files: the W2XP World Models, and any regional sceneries you want. I downloaded the models, America, and Europe. Don’t worry about the “Net” and “Aerials” versions – you only likely need the main scenery files and the models file. These files, too, are donationware. (UPDATE: If you’re going to use World2XP America, be sure you have these four libraries installed – OpenSceneryX, World Models, R2 Library, and FF Library.)
- Download MisterX’s Airport Environment HD textures. These are replacement textures for much of the default runways, tarmac, taxi lines, etc. in X-Plane. It’s a bit like REX Direct. But it’s free.
- Get some weather. There are several options:
- Use the default X-Plane clouds and weather, and XP will download real-world weather data if you enable it to do so. (Note though that I, and many others, find the default XP clouds very unattractive.)
- Further improve the weather injection with the free NOAA plugin, which has very accurate METAR and winds aloft data.
- Get SkyMaxx Pro v4, which is payware and $40 US. It’s sort of an Active Sky for X-Plane, although many have found the clouds unrealistic. It also needs an injector, so you could use the NOAA plugin with it if you wanted very accurate weather data.
- Get xEnviro, which is payware at $70 and the new guy on the block for sky textures, clouds, and weather injection. This is what I use, and I think it is very good. Downsides are that it does not let you set your own weather, so if you want to set a particular situation you are left with X-Plane default clouds (although it does have a “make it clear” setting if you need things to be clear for a while.) But they are iterating very fast (it’s already at 1.6 and I got it at 1.1 just a few weeks ago) and it improves with each release. The clouds are not 3D volumetric, but volumetric clouds are on the roadmap, and it does not hit my frame rates at all. I’m very happy with it, and think it’s every bit as good as Active Sky Next if not quite AS16/ASCA. If you like overcast, you’re going to love this.
- There is another, more geeky option, which is the Real Terra Haze plugin script for FlyWithLua (and note you will need to download FlyWithLua as well). This is a free option, and sort of the equal to PTA for Prepar3D. It seems to be solid for weather and texture replacement when combined with something like NOAA, and lets you tweak a lot of things. If you want to be really geeky, and want to save some pennies, you might check this out.
- Get some scenery. One place where P3D and FSX users will be surprised is the relative lack of localized scenery in X-Plane (and this is part of the 10% I noted above). While it has about every airport in the world, many are just 2D with no buildings, and many cities also lack much of the custom building models that come with FSX and P3D (like Las Vegas, for example). The good news is that there is a MASSIVE online community that has designed scenery with which to fill the world, and most of it is free. Here’s my advice:
- Download the free Prefab airports package. It will fill up 25,000 (yes, 25,000) airports with basic terminals, aircraft, etc. from one of over 30 layouts and make the world far less barren.
- Do a Google search for any airport you might want appended with “X-Plane” (for example, “KMQS X-Plane“), and it will pull up options for you. You can also search the scenery library at X-Plane.org. Pay particular attention to anything by MisterX, as his airports are excellent (like KSAN … again, free).
- For even more quality stuff, get some payware.
- Make your own! The free WorldEditor (WED to X-Plane folks) program is easy to learn and it’s fun to make your own airport scenery. There are plenty of how-tos on the Web to get you started.
- Read this primer on scenery ordering so things layer in the correct sequence in your sim after you’ve added your new goodies.
- Get some airplanes. The big makers (like Carenado) make airplanes for X-Plane, but be careful as most haven’t been given the green light for 11 as yet. The good news is that x-Plane 11 ships with several great default aircraft, including jets, gliders, a C 172 and two twins. They all fly great, and I’ve been very happy with the default Cessna (there’s even a version with floats). The community has also made hundreds of others which you can find at X-Plane.org, and about everyone I’ve asked says the Airfoil Labs C172 SP is the most accurate GA airplane available for flight sim, anywhere, on any platform (including A2A’s 172). It’s not XP-11 ready yet so I’ve not gotten it, but I will.
- AI aircraft. Part of my 10%. Sorry, no great options for you compared to P3D and FSX, at least not yet. For AI aircraft, you can turn on up to about a dozen AI aircraft for wherever you’re flying, but the ability to have MyTraffic inject real world schedules for you just doesn’t exist with XP. X-Life is getting good reviews, but is only available for certain airports (although that list is growing). I live without it, or turn on the default dozen planes and make do.
- ATC. Also, no great options compared to P3D and FSX. XP has stock ATC, but it’s not sophisticated and only has two voices. When I want ATC I fly on PilotEdge, which is wonderful as it is real-world quality. And with the new Western Expansion, it’s better than ever.
- Spend time at X-Plane.org. It’s a great resource, and the X-Plane community is extremely welcoming, friendly, and charitable. It’s a great group and a great way to learn.
So that’s the long version. The short version is:
- Download the beta.
- Download HD Mesh V3 for the parts of the world you want.
- Download W2XP models and sceneries for the regions of the world you want.
- Download Airport Environment HD.
- Read the primer on scenery ordering.
- Get xEnviro.
- Get the Prefab airports package and MisterX airports (and any other airports you might want).
- Stick with the default airplanes for now.
- Have fun, and quickly forget what it was like to play with .CFG files.
A final few words on scenery. First, I know that coming from P3D and FSX some of this seems like a foreign language. This primer on scenery at AVSIM is very informative and will help you learn how things work in X-Plane. Second, it’s relatively easy (if time consuming) to make your own photorealistic scenery for X-Plane. Do a Google search on “X-Plane ortho scenery” and “X-Plane photo scenery” and you’ll learn plenty. I was lucky that a viewer gifted me a bunch of photorealistic scenery (no, I can’t share it) so I’ve not had to make my own, otherwise I would. But unlike FSX and P3D the autogen buldings and trees will populate on top of the photorealistic scenery, which makes for excellent effects, so photoreal is worth looking into if you have the time and storage space.
So I hope this helps. I’ve loved X-Plane, and the one time I loaded P3D since I downloaded the XP-11 beta I was left thinking, “Boy, I don’t miss this.” I don’t know if X-Plane 11 is for ever P3D and FSX user (in fact, I’m certain it’s not), but it is for me. It’s fast, stable, looks great, has very realistic flight modeling, and is supported by a massive community of people working together to improve it. I’m sold, and if you decide to try it out, I hope you enjoy it, too.