As The Worm Turns
By Chip Barber (30 September 2009)
As you may recall, I have been on a soap box of sorts, extolling the virtues of FS2004 and decrying the ascendance of the dreaded FSX. Along with my purple-hazed ranting of that sort, I also mentioned quite in passing my predilection for default birds. Then, things began to change somewhat.
You've all heard of the author/teacher, Mike Ray. It was Mike who, by virtue of his prose, took me by the hand and spoon fed me until I was able to master the PMDG 737 series. Such a revelation! Suddenly, new vistas opened, the clouds parted and the digital sun blazed a path across the sky. And I flew those PMDG birds every damn place I could manage to depart/arrive with just enough concrete beneath my wheels. Dare I say, orgasmic!?
With the introduction of FSX, being the spendthrift that I am, I was first on line at my local store with a wad of grubby bills, eagerly exchanging them for the latest/greatest from ,cue angel music, Microsoft. And I happily traipsed home (OK, The Boss drove me. Can't be too careful while within the purple haze); resplendent in joyous anticipation of what I was certain would be an experience unlike anything I'd ever known. Certainly one along the lines of a date with a slightly inebriated and desperately lonely Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model. Right. As if...
Of course, we all know the sad and sordid story thereafter. I'd have had a better chance of landing that model than I would have with anything in FSX. Now, all was not lost, to be sure, and I was returning to FS2004 and my beloved 737 series (I just love those FLUF's). And besides, having dropped a king's ransom (or an Obama budget for those of you who follow such things) on FS2004 software, I figured this was a fairly equitable exchange. But damned if the axiom "Things Change" isn't true, and it reached right around and bit me in the butt. Hard.
You see, of late I have made a dreadful discovery. Had an epiphany of sort. Now, think back for a moment. This doesn't apply to any of the younger set (you know who you are, so tab on back over to that other site you were watching intently before you thought your sister was about to enter your room). Remember the disdain you displayed when bringing home your first VCR, with admonitions of the devilish difficulty to be had with the instructions reverberating between your ears? How you virtually devoured those instructions and had the correct time displayed on the front? Nowadays, no-one even remembers VCR's, and if anyone still has one, I'll bet dollars to donuts the stupid time on the front is still blinking "12:00". It's not that we got stupid. We just stopped giving a damn. Somewhere along the line, the time and effort required to set the right time became more of a challenge than it was worth. Remember that? Well, if you are anything like me, I believe that if you have not already, you are about to become reacquainted with the phenomenon.
As I've said, I adore any PMDG product. No, I'm not on staff (dear God, I'd exchange both of them for that opportunity). I just like their stuff. And do you recall how I've described how long it took me to finally get to the point where I would take their 737 out for a spin when I needed some mindless flight time? You know, I wouldn't have to think really hard about what I was doing but still had a ton of stuff to do in preparation, like start the APU and preflight the FMC.
I don't know when it happened. Slowly, I began to learn and respect FSX. Eventually, once they patched and augmented it, and I got The Beast to run it as it was meant to be run, I even came to enjoy and then *gasp* prefer it. I mean, who can resist all those little fleas zipping on the roadways? But then, I suppose it must have been around the time that PMDG released that damned MD-11, that I began to realize that I was beginning to stop giving a damn about programming the VCR clock (still with me?). It became really serious when I picked up the latest PMGD offering, their J-41. And, adding insult to injury, it was merely a turboprop! I've yet to be able to start the engines without having two molten globs of metal beneath my wings. And I realized that if I had any hope of continuing with my love for simulated flight, something had to change.
Recently I was working with a developer who was kind enough to remote onto The Beast in order to help me solve a particularly bizarre software problem. Well, he nearly wet himself when he got a look at my desktop. I like icons. Sure to him (and perhaps the overwhelming majority of world populous), it looks like a mishmash of confusion. But, more or less, I know where everything is. But what has changed is the diversity of software titles. Shooters, RPG's, fantasy games. You name it, it's there in one form or another. Seems I've gotten a tad bored with my beloved flight sim, and have desperately been searching for another genre that will catch my fancy as solidly as did flight simming.
So, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. But what about the thing about the worm and stuff, you ask? Well, I'm glad you brought that up (a nifty little literary trick, don't you think?). I've come to discover a couple of things. First, and least surprising, is that I am a flight sim hobbyist, through and through. For all my searching and exploration of a wealth of software genres, my first and only true love is flight simulation. What is more surprising is a sort of compromise that I have reached with myself. Rather an acceptance of what may, or may not, be inevitable. I have accepted the realization that, in FSX at least (you may wish to sit down, I cannot be held responsible if you happen to take a header into your monitor or keyboard) the default birds ain't so bad. There. I've said it. Come out of the digital FSCloset, as it were.
But, as usual, there is a catch. There are a myriad of software products that one may employ to spice up the default aircraft in FSX. Some are crappy, to be sure. But some are quite good. I will leave it up to you to decide for yourself which is which. But they are out there. But there is one of particular note that has managed to prevent me from pining for my PMDG 737.
I am certain we've all tried one or all of the voice activated products that are hawked as the second coming of flight simulation salvation. Rubbish. The lot of them. I know. I've tried them all. They look great on paper. Terribly exciting to read about all the capabilities they promise. I've surrendered weeks of my life trying to like every one of them, and have failed miserably . . . . wait for it . . . until now, that is.
I own virtually every product ever produced by Bryan York. Bryan was kind enough way back when to permit me to work on his projects. And now, with very few exceptions, the dulcet tones of my voice and those of various members of my family (who had to be bribed, to be sure, but that is another tale for another time) grace the bits of which the FS2Crew programs are comprised.
But Bryan has struck out into new (for him) and dangerous waters with his latest release. FS2Crew 2010 is intended exclusively for the FSX default 737. For this old dog of a flight simmer, this is manna. As I've said, I've reached the point where I find myself either too lazy or too stupid to manage to figure out the latest crop of SuperSims to hit the market. And as far as I'm concerned, anything that jazzes up a default bird in FSX is aces with me. And having really loved the last Airbus FS2Crew project of his, I was hoping for something really special with this release. That it is.
Remember when I said in my opinion, the voice activated stuff for my taste was crappy? (This is just my opinion, and there are thousands of simmers who adore them and wouldn't fly without them.) This is the risk Bryan took. And I have to tell you, for me anyway, it paid off. As long as you RTFM and invest the 20 minutes required to "train" the recognition software (which is free, btw), well I'm getting almost 100% recognition. Always. And so I am able to run checklists for all phases of flight, from pre-start to securing the aircraft. I am able to interact verbally with the ground crew for pushback, with the guy who brings me the fuel slip, with the flight attendant and certainly the first officer. I can order him around like a rented mule, and have him do a whole host of things that I would otherwise have to do myself. Sure, it may be fun to click and push stuff on the panels and overhead, but it is really satisfying to hear my co-pilot acknowledge my "order" and watch/hear it happen. Heck, when I'm really feeling lazy, I can order him to perform a takeoff (I like to land, and keep those all for myself). And he does it!
Look, I'm not trying to sell you on this product. What I'm trying to do is to convince you that there are any number of products out there that will help keep flight simulation fresh and exciting. And believe me, any product that can do for a default bird what Bryan has managed to do is well worth a second or even third glance.
As I continue my sojourn on this hobby of ours, I suppose it is only natural to have peaks and valleys of interest and satisfaction. I'm finding myself none too eager to jump into a complex aircraft simulation right now, to the point where I am well satisfied with the birds that are provided by Microsoft. For those of you who have never tried them, you may be surprised. They are not like the FS2004 defaults (which added greatly to the definition of awful, if you ask me) at all. And for those who like to drive the iron, and are willing to try something a little different again (or for the first time), FS2Crew 2010 voice for the default 737 is just what I've needed to reignite my interest in FSX. It may just do the same for you. Besides, for those of us who simply cannot abide by the default birds, I happen to know that Bryan is currently working on a voice version for the PMDG J-41 and the Leonardo Mad Dog. I just may have to overcome my current attitude, suck it up, and really learn that turboprop. As for the Mad Dog, I'm hoping that FS2Crew will help me overcome my fear of that aircraft!
Now all I need to determine is if, in the long run, it is as satisfying as blowing the crap out of a railroad bridge in my WW2 shooters.