Thursday 14 February 2013

Hello fellow Gadgeteers Its Captain Demotricus Berk Reporting again, Stardate 14/02/2013 This week your intrepid Adventurer has been wrestling with the world of Flight Simulators and despite a severe mauling from the Microsoft Software Activation process, is in the Guise of “Biggles,Maverick, Ice Man and the Red Baron Amongst others. I`ve been looking at several Flight Simulators AND Games – I make the distinction because some of the simulators I`ve been testing are far more than games. Two in particular deserve special mention , – Flight Simulator X and X-Plane 10. -The level of detail present in these programs is simply stunning when the right add-ons are installed. A Nice function is also that you can download and play time limited versions of these programs to “try before you buy”. My Experience with Flight Simulator X (FSX) , – Microsofts offering has not been painless though. It has the most frustrating and error prone Program Activation process I have EVER come across. I`ll deal with the good stuff first. Microsofts Flight Simulator has evolved from humble beginnings on the windows platform. Early versions have progressed from Chunky, choppy, roughly shaped planes and spartan environments to the more accurate flight models and more detailed virtual worlds that we see in todays offerings. A word of advice here – if you are planning on getting this program you would do well to look at the slightly earlier version of Flight Simulstor 2004 rather than FSX if your machine is not cutting edge. Although the Virtual world is not quite as detailed as FSX, the flight model is accurate with a good frame rate on less powerful PCs and at first glance its hard to tell the difference. The Flight simulator 2004 version I bought is called “Flight Simulator 2004 -A Century of Flight”. -The Plane models supplied are varied , from the “Wright Flyer” and the “Spirit of St Louis” all the way up to the Boeing 747-400. Many Forums and Blogs have downloadable Plane models you can add to both F/S 2004 and FSX, so if you`ve always wanted to pilot a Vulcan or Avro Lancaster, or even Spitfires and the pantheon of WW2 planes , there will be a model available somewhere. The models do vary in the level of detail and generally “purchased” plane add-ons are more detailed, especially in the cockpit. You can immerse yourself deeply in the world of flying OR just dip your toes in because the Realism and control detail are fully configurable. At the highest levels Planes like the 747 need a lot of mugging up on before you attempt to fly them – the cockpits and controls are superbly detailed including Radio and GPS function and accurate control and switch/gauge function. (or you can just jump in and Fly!). FSX -(the “X” is 10 BTW) has an improved virtual world and with add-ons can include Real photographic scenery (ever wanted to fly over your own house?) and moving road vehicles, airport vehicles and ground staff. Weather effects and real life “Emergencys” can be enabled to test your skills.Both versions have good learning/teaching functions and will train you to be a better pilot, indeed many real world Pilots use these programs to brush up on their instrument theory etc. It could be said that if you want an accurate Flight model and frame rate , you should go for F/S 2004 but if you want a prettier virtual world and more detail level then you should go for FSX. Heres a Clip showing what can be achieved with FSX and a fast machine plus the correct add-ons :-

These programs will work just fine on windows 7 and 8 machines BUT you MUST enable the Compatability settings in order for them to run without crashing. This leads me into the Bad stuff. Being a stickler and having a reasonably powered system – I was annoyed when FSX kept crashing at higher detail levels on my machine , so I decided to uninstall and re-install the “Acceleration add-on pack” I had bought. BIG MISTAKE!!! The Acceleration pack duly uninstalled and re-installed, but when I came to re-Activate it (on the same machine) it would not activate or connect to the Microsoft Server. -I surfed the Microsoft support site and discovered that I was not the first to experience this. -A “fix” was posted on the site that was supposed to reset the product activation so you could re-activate. So this I duly downloaded and ran accoprding to the instructions. WELL…. it did not reset the activation on the acceleration pack at all. – It DE-ACTIVATED the main FSX program. “S**t!” I thought, and decided on a complete re-installation. -No such luck, -BOTH the main FSX Program AND the Acceleration pack resolutely refused to activate. – The Options given under “troubleshooting” advised me to contact support and activate by telephone. 1. The Telephone number given on the DVD was incorrect. – I found the correct Microsoft support number and rang it. 2. The product was not listed under the Auto – activation system. 3. After a LONG wait I finally was connected to a very bored sounding indian voice. 4 He asked me for a 9 digit product identification code -supposedly on the DVD package. (Nope!) 5 He then told me I needed to speak with “Technical Support” and proceeded to give me THE SAME NUMBER I had dialled HIM on. 6 When I pointed this out he just reverted to script and kept repeating “I am terribly sorry sir” to every question I fired at him. I`ll cut the story short here as I can see your eyes glazing over…. I got No answer from microsoft. I won`t go into detail of how I got FSX and the Acceleration pack running again…lets just say it involved Bittorrent and a tracker. Right – Enough about FSX. X-Plane 10 WOW! – What a program!! The detail is photographic, its technically superb and the flight model is second to NONE. – I won`t go into too much detail here but will demonstrate by posting these clips:-

Don`t think I need to elaborate on them. I only have the X plane 10 Demo at the moment but its on my wish list and will be taking over from FSX. A couple more then I`m done, – “LockOn” air combat simulation is another SIM that I`ve bought. – Now this is more of a game than a fully fledged Flight Simulator but its pretty damn good for that. It has the very satisfying addition in that you can shoot other planes down and attack targets on the ground. Again, as with FSX its very detailed with its control functions and you won`t get very far unless you read the manuals and learn how to arm missiles,guns, – target enemys and navigate and fly to the target locations. The detail is good but not on a par with FSX or X plane 10. You have eight flyable Aircraft including the A-10A Warthog (a big gun with a plane attached), the F15C Eagle and several MIG variants. There are also 50 types of Computer controlled aircraft models to shoot at. You can go Head to head with someone else or fly co-operative missions too. Lastly, A VERY cheap program that is vastly under-rated and Excellent value for money is “IL2 Sturmovik” 1946 This is akin to Lock On but with WW2 aircraft instead of modern ones. Its a bundle of 3 seperate titles, “forgotten Battles”, “The Ace Expansion Pack” and “Pacific Fighters” and runs on win 98 – XP computers , but will run on win 7 & 8 in compatability mode well. The Graphics are pretty nifty and at least as good as “Lock On” but can be bought for the startling price of £4.69 GBP ($7.28 USD) The only downside is the lack of a paper manual. Here are a couple of clips of first “Lock On” and secondly “IL2” :-

So thats a round up of some very nice simulators. One that I missed was microsofts “Combat Flight Simulator 3 ” which did not arrive in time for me to comment – I`m waiting for it and the Battle of Britain Expansion, (lets just hope the Activation goes smoothly.) Next time I post I`ll be looking at a portable 600DPI Book scanner, which I am currently awaiting delivery of. And with any luck, my new touchscreen will have arrived by then Heres a teaser for it :-

See you soon! Captain Demotricus Berk signing off!!…

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