KerrSpectives - A Thinking Man's Guide To Add-ons
By Kenneth J. Kerr
A freeware repaint of the stock AirbusA320neo, sits on the ramp at the payware version of Innsbruck airport(LOWI) by Orbx.
Hey there folks, it's Kenneth J. Kerrhere, and thank you for joining me in this second episode of my brandnew series, KerrSpectives, where I offer my personal perspectives onthe flight simulation industry.
As I write this, we are one month into our collective experience ofthe new Microsoft Flight Simulator platform, and of course theopinions are legion as well as divided. Some hate it, and some loveit. Some swear by it, while others swear at it. Well, love it orloathe it, it's here to stay. And what's also here is the suddenexplosion of addons, so today we're going to offer some importantthoughts, guides, and KerrSpectives on the world of MSFS 2020addons.
Whenever a new version of a sim is launched, whether that sim befrom Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, or Laminar Research, it typicallytakes a little while for the supply of addons to grow from a trickle,to a stream, and then to a river. But this time, with MSFS 2020 it isdifferent. One month in and the floodgates are open, with hundreds ofaddons already available, and growing by the day.
This might be due to the fact that many people had access to thealpha and beta, and had time to work some things out. But, it is alsodue to the fact that a larger audience has been attracted to the simby virtue of it being pushed not just to niche-hobbyists, but also togamers in general. With reportedly more than one million copies sold,and the SDK being easily available to all, it's little wonder thatthings are different this time around.
Needless to say, as the addon supply increases, there's animmediate temptation to go crazy. It's like being a kid again, lookinground the stores just before Christmas and being told you can takeyour pick. However, this is not a time for mad excess, it is a timefor restrained discretion. With that in mind, you may want to askyourself some very pointed questions.
What Do I Really Want And Need?
If you've been around the industry for a long time, you probablylook at your hard drive and find an absolute ton of downloadedfreeware files, and a small fortune's worth of commercialproducts. Chances are that some of them were purchased several timesover as each new version of the sim rendered your existing collectionobsolete. So do you really want to go through that process all overagain?
In my personal development books, I often remind readers that "Alesson will be repeated until it is learned". So are you going torepeat the lesson, or learn it and act differently this time?
This is an opportunity to do things differently. So, instead ofdownloading everything new as and when it is released, or buying everysingle airport or aircraft that comes onto the market, why not look atyour past simming preferences and be more discerning?
How many aircraft did you buy in the past, and only fly a fewtimes? Are there airports you never landed at again? Then why fill upyour hard drive or put pressure on your budget just to repeat the samemistake?
Make a list of the aircraft you REALLY want, and which airports youREALLY need. If it means waiting a while, then wait. Enjoy what thesim offers now, and hold out with discernment and discipline for afeast of what's really important to you, instead of gorging yourselfon the eye candy you'll get sick of quickly.
Whom Do I Trust And Where Will I Go?
Over the years, through experience, many of us have gravitatedtowards supporting certain developers and frequenting certainwebsites. We know we can trust their name, or their brand, or theironline presence. However, once again it's a little different now.
Suddenly, there are new names appearing. Many of these are brandnew to the flight simulation genre, and armed with the SDK they aretrying out their hand at designing sceneries, or the modification ofexisting files. And, as these new names appear, we're also seeing asudden increase in new websites eager to bring those files to thepublic.
But here's the rub. Do you know these designers? Can you be certainof their quality of workmanship? Can you be sure that they know whatthey're doing? Or is there a possibility that some sub-standard fileswill crash your program and your computer?
And when it comes to the new websites, or files available throughnumerous other locations, can you feel confident that these files arefree from malware or viruses? And do you have any idea who the peopleare behind the new sites? Some of them have so many adverts on themthat you have to be very careful where you click "Download here" asyou might just be downloading something you really don't want.
The flood of new addons is largely coming from unknown designersand being offered through brand new websites. And while I am notsuggesting that every new designer, and every new website is suspect,I am saying that we must be discerning, and perhaps a little cautiousuntil trust is established. The fact is that the legacy websites suchas FlightSim.Com and Avsim, are still the go-to choice for experienceddesigners to distribute their files through. You are free to try outthe new (I am), but remember you are walking into untried territorywhen you do so. In the process you might indeed find new names totrust, and even new sites that you frequent, but it could also be asomewhat risky journey along the way.
Is It Legal?
As I look at the new websites out there, and try some of the files,it is becoming apparent that already the question of legality israising its head. I have already seen cases where people are adaptingexisting aircraft designs from other sims into the new sim. This isfine, and we'd like to see more of this, but only if the person doingthe adaptation has been granted permission from the original designerof the work. To adapt someone else's work, and to share it withouttheir permission is wrong, and it is legally questionable. I wouldencourage anyone trying to adapt an existing work to start off bygetting written permission from the original designer first.
And this does not stop with aircraft. What about scenery? Yes, Iknow that for years people have downloaded ortho from "certainsites" and have used it to create photo scenery. Those companieshave turned somewhat of a blind eye to it, so far. But what about thenew landmarks being created by using material from certain sites? Ifthe volume of such creations goes through the roof, how long will thelegal departments of those sites remain silent? Especially when theresulting files are being integrated into a product that supportstheir competitor.
And what about the sites which distribute these pirated orquestionable creations? Will the owners of the original copyright orintellectual property come after the one who did the adaptation onetime, or will they target the sites distributing those creations bythe thousands?
Again, we are dealing with a new audience coming into the genre,and as a mass of new people try their hand at adapting existing works,distributing them through "suddenly appearing" websites, we may be infor a rough ride legally, or at least some turbulence.
Bottom line: Let's remind new designers to keep it legal. Better totake your time and do it right, than to jump into the muddy waters oflegal grey areas.
What If Asobo Changes Something?
In years gone by, and with previous versions of the MicrosoftFlight Simulator, we were dealing with something fixed in stone. Theversion you bought in the box was likely to stay the same until a newversion came out a few years later. This meant there was stabilityupon which third party designers could build, at least for a year ortwo.
This time it is different. With the new Flight Simulator beingdistributed and supported online, and being so reliant on streamingdata, anything can change. Think about the patch that was issued justdays ago. There were many changes in that patch, and while it did helpsome people out in terms of performance, it also caused the sim tocrash for others. In some cases the crashes were being caused by theaddons the users had already integrated into their earlier releaseversion of the sim.
Wow, this could be a disaster waiting to happen. We are dealingwith a moving target here folks. If MSFS 2020 is truly going to be anongoing development, as stated by Asobo, then addons created for anearlier version could be rendered obsolete or unworkable withinmonths, weeks, or days of their release. That's a challenge for theaddon companies, and also a challenge for the users of theprograms.
There is a reason why the most reputable addon companies areworking very closely with Asobo, and some of them are telling us itwill be months before they release a product.
The new "out of nowhere" unknown designers might justbe playing with fire when they release their hurriedofferings. Meanwhile, the established big name players are crossingthe t's and dotting the i's in direct communication with Asobo.Again, as a user, be aware of the risk you take by rushing to supportunknown designers too early in the product release schedule of thesim.
So What's Out There Already?
Incredible though it may seem, there's already more out there thanany one person has time to try. In terms of freeware, and given thecaveats already expressed, there are:
- Airports of varying complexity
- Repaints of stock MSFS 2020 aircraft
- Landmarks that can replace stock buildings and bridges
- Utilities to change refresh rates of glass cockpits
- And much more
And then, when to comes to payware, we have already seen:
- Detailed airports from Aerosoft, Orbx, FlyTampa, UK2000, and other established manufacturers
- Scenery additions to augment photogrammetry from Orbx, Taburet, Drzewiecki Design, and others
- The first re-release of an existing aircraft from Carenado
- The first aircraft from a designer previously working within the X-Plane ecosystem
- A utility called SmoothTrack to allow you to use your phone camera in a way that is similar to the function of TrackIR.
- A very detailed guide (in place of the manual we never got with the sim) from SoFly. It is constantly updated too.
And announcements are coming in fast and furious of products in thepipeline from other well-known industry luminaries.
- PMDG has told us their 737NG will be coming eventually, as will other aircraft from their fleet
- A2A is working on an all-new Aerostar
- Aeroplane Heaven said they're working on a Spitfire
- Indiafoxtecho has confirmed that development continues on numerous aircraft after the release of the latest patch
- Aerosoft reports their Twin Otter and CRJ projects are progressing
- DC Designs has previewed several jets in development, including the Concorde, and the F-15 Eagle
- Numerous scenery projects are being developed by myriad established companies
- REX Weather Force 2020 is going to bring us true METAR real weather
- And much much more is happening behind the scenes
Yes, it is a new world, being built on a new platform, and thefuture looks bright. All the more reason to be discerning with ouraddon choices as we take our first baby steps into it.
What Have You Tried Kenneth?
Well, let me check something first. Goodness, I have logged 116hours of actual flight time in the sim in four weeks. No matter whatmy misgivings (and I do still have some), it is now clear that for thetime being this is my current simulator of choice. So, a few thoughtson what I have tried, and what I am enjoying.
Carenado Cessna 182T (Payware)
Carenado Cessna 182T. The registration iscustomizable as with the stock aircraft, so I selected C-GYKF torepresent a real
example of this paint scheme in Ontario,Canada.
I know that Carenado has had their share of detractors over theyears when it comes to systems, and they don't produce study-levelaircraft like A2A, but visually they knock it out of the park timeafter time. Well, I just had to try their 182T since it was the firstever third party aircraft for the new platform. Gotta tell you, I likeit. Sure, I have to mess with the zoom and the seating position to getit right, but I don't mind that. And while some hate the sound, trywearing headphones and the bass will come through in a way it does noton cheap speakers. As a fun alternative to the 172, and a complexityupgrade in the Cessna line, I think it is a keeper, for me at least.No regrets buying it. HOWEVER, I do hope Carenado will NOT limit us tobuying from the Microsoft store in the future. Hey guys, don't forgetthe likes of FlightSim.Com's store. You owe much of your success tothe independent websites and their stores.
Orbx Innsbruck Airport And Cityscape (Payware)
Glorious attention to detail is typical ofOrbx individual airport releases. The 757 is part of the staticscenery, the A320 is what I was
flying on this occasion.
I have never personally been disappointed with a detailed Orbxairport. In the past I'd purchased Innsbruck for Aerofly FS2, and sowith their loyalty discount being made available to me, I had to giveit a go in MSFS 2020. It's beautiful of course. However, there is someuneven water in the river that flows through the city itself, andwhile that might be an underlying issue with the sim, it's somethingthat does take away from the area if you focus on it. Will I keep thisairport? Heck yes!
Taburet Fishburn Airfield (Payware)
A beautiful little airfield in the Britishcountryside. Lots of character, but I am taking a significant FPS hitwith it. Once that is fixed I will
fly the heck out of the trafficpattern here!
A delightful little British airfield with a lot of character,including two vintage DeHavillands on static display. Taburet hascaptured the detail, right down to the fences and the signage. Ireally wanted to like this, but I find it currently un-flyable due toperformance issues. I can be hitting 36 to 40 FPS in the pattern, butwhen some parts of this field come into view I drop to a 10 FPSslideshow. Even Orbx Innsbruck stays at around 30 FPS for me. Iwonder if the patch changed something as I can't see Taburet lettingthis through his quality control. I don't know as I got it after thepatch was installed. A keeper? Yes, if there is indeed a fix for thisperformance hit.
SmoothTrack -- Phone-Based Head-Tracking App (Payware)
This screenshot came from an outside source,I did not take it. It shows an inset of the phone screen in thisimage, but you do not
see that on your monitor in the sim.
I have never owned TrackIR but have always been intrigued by thenotion of head tracking. So, when I heard about this phone-based appthat mimics the functionality of TrackIR for a low price, I knew itwas worth trying. SmoothTrack works in consort with a free programcalled Free Track, and it does take a few moments to set up. Does itwork? Yes. Does it work smoothly? Not for me, but that might be mysystem. I experience a slight lag in the movement, and it issufficiently annoying to me personally, that I prefer regular panningin the VC. It might work like a charm on your machine however.
SoFly -- A Guide To Flight Simulator MSFS 2020 -- (A Payware PDF Manual)
MSFS 2020 is the first incarnation of the iconic title to shipwithout a manual, not even a digital one. That's quite anoversight. Therefore, even before the product was released, a new teamcalled SoFly started working on a digital guide in PDF format. It'snot a step-by-step, button-by-button manual, and it also deals withthings like peripherals, but many people might find it very useful. Ihave just started going through it, and kudos to the people whodesigned it. It is beautifully done, and lavishly illustrated. It isalso (like the sim itself) an evolving product. Every week it seemsthey add another bunch of new material to it, and it keeps gettingbigger. I am planning to do a more complete review as it gets closerto content stabilization.
Aerosoft Paderborn/Lippstadt Airport (Freeware)
A superb German airport from Aerosoft, andit is free on the Microsoft store and at Aerosoft's own site.
Aerosoft surprised more than a few flightsimmers when they releaseda gorgeous freeware airport in the Microsoft store. It's EDLP inGermany. I downloaded it and was very impressed. Beautifully designedwith custom aerial images, custom buildings with terminal interiors,and surrounding local landmarks. It is a great demonstration of whatwe can expect from Aerosoft in the future, and as it performs well onmy machine it's a keeper.
Various British Farm Strips From Neil Birch (Freeware)
One of the many free farm strips from NeilBirch. Download them all from FlightSim.Com and see if you can be thefirst to identify it in
the comments to this article! (No prizesthough).
Neil Birch is well known for his farm strip series of sceneries,and his guided tours of the British countryside. Right now he is on aroll as he discovers his own enthusiasm for the new sim. I've lostcount of how many farm strips he has now made for MSFS 2020. They area lot of fun to fly from, and sometimes hard to find unless you cheat!One thing I have noticed is the same bug that's present in the TaburetFishburn scenery with regard to some static aircraft. They flipbetween positioned correctly, and being half buried in theground. With this happening in the sceneries of two talenteddesigners, it's got to be an SDK thing, or something in the toolsused. I bet it will be fixed at some time in the future. Grab Neil'sairfields, after all, the price is right.
Tiger Moth (Freeware)
A sign of what might come. This experimentalconversion from Ants freeware FSX Tiger Moth was working until the
latest patch was released.
I am adding this screenshot here as an example of what ispossible. This Tiger Moth was an adaptation of Ant's freeware designfrom FSX. Unfortunately, the latest patch now causes it to create aCrash-To-Desktop every time I try to fly it, or any other "converted"aircraft. All of these experimental conversions are missing anyavionics, and the flight models are typically off. However, it is astep in the right direction, and given more research by dedicateddesigners, hopefully in consort with the original designers and Asobo,this might be a good omen.
As mentioned earlier, there are many freeware landmarks beginningto appear to correct or augment cities in MSFS 2020. Some of theselandmarks are being designed from scratch, but many are making use ofmaterial from "certain sites" in their creation. In order to avoiddrawing attention to any one freeware designer, I will refrain fromusing a screenshot here. Suffice it to say I have tried a few of thesecreations. Some work well, but at least one caused terrible scenerytearing about 20 miles from the place it was located. Just remember touse any of these freeware offerings at your own risk. And alsoremember there are commercial outfits like Orbx and Drzewiecki Designbeginning to build their own landmark products entirely from scratch,free of legal ambiguity and fully tested. (Orbx London and Sydney,Drzewiecki Design Moscow and Washington).
A custom repaint of the humble Cessna 152that came close to one of the machines I flew many years ago out ofBurlington Airpark,
Ontario (CZBA). So I added the registration, andre-flew a bunch of circuits. Goodness, did that melt the yearsaway.
The repaint also included a black panel.
One of the staple diets of the addon industry over the years hasbeen repaints, and this phenomena is now beginning for MSFS2020. There are already hundreds of repaints for the A320 Neo alone,and a significant number for the Boeing 787. For me however, I am mosthappy to see repaints of the humble Cessna 152, especially when someof them include different-colored panel options. All of the 152's Iflew in my training (years ago) had black panels, so it was a treat tofind a repainted option that included this. There will be a lot morerepaints to come in the future, of that I am certain.
It can be argued that if addons had not existed, the entireMicrosoft Flight Sim genre (and derivatives) might have died outdecades ago. Addons have made most sims what they are. In some eyes,addons have taken games and turned them into simulators.
I have no doubt that the addon industry will flourish under theMSFS 2020 era, and that the base program will become hundreds of timesbetter as a result. MSFS 2020 is far from perfect, but it is the best"out of the box" foundation we've ever had, and as we know, greatmansions can be built upon strong foundations.
I hope you find my KerrSpectives on the addon industry helpful,perhaps thought-provoking. You don't have to agree with me, but ifthese ideas serve you in your own involvement in the addon industry,either as a designer or user, then I am happy with that result.
See you next time!
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