Time to eat crow…

Okay, maybe not crow entirely, maybe something more like pigeon or seagull.  This was posted in response to my earlier rant about performance in FSX:

"It's been said that the performance drop between FSX and FS9 is greater than between any other two versions, and this is absolutely true. Partly due to utterly frame sucking autogen, and partly due to the speedbump in moore's law that has been imposed by the advent of dual and quad core systems. I know it's very difficult to program a thread dependent game like a flight sim for these systems, but they ARE the future, and ACES would be wise to revisit this decision soon, and most importantly patch the current version to take advantage of multiple cpus. Want to end the whining? Give people the real possibility of 30 fps, while maintaining visuals at least a small margin above FS9's. "

For the most part, I agree with the above statement.  The performance drop is definitely larger (though I still contend that you can get a superior to FS9 visual quality while getting good performance... more on that later).  Part of the issue is the number of new features we packed into this version.  We upgraded water, autogen, living world traffic, the entire shader system, the animation system, the sim system, we upgraded the terrain fidelity 16x, we added far superior multiplayer support including a tower controller and shared cockpits, we added an entire mission system with the ability for third parties to create their own missions, we added a method for third parties to access the APIs much more easily, and the list goes on.  I would argue that if all you did was setup FSX to have visuals exactly like FS2004, you would still have far more options and new features then you did in FS2004 AND you wouldn't have the dreaded blurries that was the number one most vocal complaint from folks about FS2004.

What did we update between FS2002 and FS2004?  Weather.  Between FS2000 and FS2002?  Well we mostly fixed all the bugs in FS2000.  I'm oversimplifying a bit here, but in my opinion, this is the first *REAL* version update we've done since FS2000 and I've heard plenty of people in the forums support me on this (it's probably also why we sold a lot less copies of FS2002 and FS2004 then we did FS2000.)  I'm not getting defensive here, because I believe the response above is mostly right.  We don't support multi-core processors very well right now.  We also suffered performance for still supporting fixed-function pipeline graphics cards (which, surprisingly enough, is still a huge portion of our market).  So maybe I was a little overzealous in defending performance in FSX.

I will say, however, that I believe there is a serious contingent of gamers and simmers alike who buy the hottest machine just so they can buy the most recent games and crank up all the settings purely as a point of pride.  Because simulations in general are a much more vast and varied world than a lot of traditional "games" it makes sense to allow the user to pick and choose what they really want to experience.  Some of our users spend 90% of their time at 30,000 feet.  Autogen doesn't make much sense to them.  Some spend the equivalent time flying down low and slow.  Some like flying in weather, some don't.  The list goes on.

I think the real crux of the matter is our messaging.  The response above goes on to say:

"In your print advertising, which is geared towards attracting new buyers (the enthusiasts get their info from other channels) MS needs to start being brutally honest about system specs. It's not enough to say "actual game screenshot". You need to specify either "actual game screenshot, taken 1 year from today on hardware which does not yet exist" or "at 3fps on current hardware"."

The screenshots were taken around 15-20fps on a system that exists today (I think it was my machine at work actually), but the point is very well taken.  Min system requirements also means Min flight experience.  Of course we want to show off everything to make it as cool as it gets, but in doing so, we also set the expectations of *ALL* of our users that their experience will be exactly as it is on the commercials or the back of the box or the released screenshots.  It's a tough call, because you're never ever going to get marketing to show the user what Flightsim is going to look like on their p3 800Mhz machine with a 32 meg fixed-function graphics card and 128 megs of RAM.

So here's some cool screenshots from a multiplayer session that was apparently running at 20-30fps consistently.  This is definitely far superior to FS9.

Looking back at his comments, I see this again:

"I know it's very difficult to program a thread dependent game like a flight sim for these systems, but they ARE the future, and ACES would be wise to revisit this decision soon, and most importantly patch the current version to take advantage of multiple cpus. Want to end the whining? Give people the real possibility of 30 fps, while maintaining visuals at least a small margin above FS9's. "

And I say "Excellent Idea!"

Comments (18)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Derek just posted a comment on this blogpost I wrote a while back that subsequently generated a lot of

  2. Anonymous says:

    I was chatting with Adrian earlier today… he mentioned he was doing up a blog post regarding FSX Performance

  3. Anonymous says:

    Very well written piece, Adrian!  I’d say this was exactly what the doctor ordered: a bit of perspective!




    Owen Hewitt


  4. Anonymous says:

    DX10 should help performance immensely.  As should quite a few other things we’re looking at right now.  There are some good benchmark tests out there of the GeForce 8800 that show some astounding performance numbers for FSX with everything cranked. (http://www.driverheaven.net/reviews/8800nvidiareviewx120/flight.php) However, before rushing out to buy the card, note that the system they use to benchmark also has an amazing CPU, fast hard drives, lots of memory, etc.  GPU is extremely important for performance, and will help us a lot.  Unfortunately, because of all the draw calls for the autogen and vehicles, CPU is being taxed exteremely hard as well.  With DX10 and instancing we can minimize a bit of the CPU taxing.  Additionally, from what I understand, DX10 should give FSX a big performance boost as it is because of the way it handles draw calls.

  5. Anonymous says:

    SLI and dual core support is the only thing on my wish list. The rest is great so far.

    None of the tweaks on the net have helped my FPS on my dual 4.2 ghz athlon 64 with 2 x 7600GT video cards but it occurred to me today that we quite often turned off audio acceleration to reduce weird problems. Well, I did that, firedup my FPS test scenerio and I have got a 1.5 to 2 fps improvement. This is reproducable on my machine.

  6. Anonymous says:

    We are definitely looking at install issues and alerting product support of tips and fixes for whatever we find.  If you continue to haver issues, you might try contacting product support, they have probably already dealt with the issue and have a good solution.

  7. Robert says:

    Be it as it may – up the min specs, but please do not backtrack to satisfy whiners! (to harsh?, sorry about that)

    The real scenery is in they sky, and at about $60/hr in a C172.

    Upgrade your PC, or go see the real scenery. We’ve helped dozens upgrade at the right price and the right path, spend that energy developing a plan to save pennies – not to rant because the only thing that works on your PC is PACMAN. (that was too 80’s, or was it?)

    Bring on the new features, weather, AI, and more – keep planning ahead. The big picture is a serious picture to paint.

  8. Haldir says:

    I just wanted to say that I thought your comments on my previous post were well put, and I wanted to apologize for what I think in retrospect was a gruff attitude on my part.

    For the record, performance issues aside, I think FSX is a *huge* step in the right direction. I think a lot of users can’t see that just yet, most are hung up on performance issues, and fair enough. If the sim is patched and performance improves, I think there will be a lot less naysaying and a lot more "wow…hey this is kinda cool" posts going on, regarding various features of the sim. The flight modeling is far better than any previous version, the new terrain rocks (except for the sand sand everywhere issue hehe) and the fact that the FS earth is finally a sphere was worth the purchase price alone for me. I hope the issues will soon get sorted out.

    I was a 3d artist for about 10 years, worked on both pc and console titles, and speaking from long personal experience, with the effort it takes to ship a game even half as complex as FSX, I know it can be a little disheartening when the audience starts throwing tomatoes on opening night. 😉

    Been there, felt that. Development is sometimes fun, often stressful, always tiring, but you know all this. 🙂

    Cheers and best of luck.


  9. Ken McKenzie says:

    I agree with the majority of what you have to say.

    I’ve raised my frame rate to over 28 then raised my autogen to Normal. I’m quite happy with FSX at this point. I can see the potential of FSX and a year from now most users should be fairly happy.

    I am disappointed with the lack of multicore support. I know nothing of programming but I was hoping FSX would have taken at least one function    like ai aircraft and given the ability to use the 2nd processor. But….you are looking at the problem and for that I am most happy.

    The other thing I’m disappointed in is the ground texturing. Vancouver just does NOT look like that. 🙂

    I for one am very happy to hear the ACES team is working on the problems and VERY happy I am able to "talk" to the ACES team.


  10. Hunter_X says:

    I’ve been flying Flight Sim since SubLogic owned it and I’m quite happy with the quantum leap in direction that MS has taken FSX. I’m not not crazy about the lack of dual core support but MS will fix it (I’m eagerly awaiting FSX first patch) and I’m a patient FS Pilot. The bottom line is that at 13500 feet in a Mooney, I’m not seeing much in terms of autogen scenery anyway and what I do see is beautifully rendered on my system. Yes, I spent a ton of money on my system but FSX is going to be here for quite some time and I plan to get the best bang for my buck by going with best of bread, best in class gaming hardware. Now if only MS would cheerfully support SLI and Dual Core system properly I could die a happy man with flight yoke in hand.


  11. Vic Baron says:

    Great blog Adrian! Reaffirms those of us who really appreciate the contacts from ACES. Granted that FSX isn’t perfect, I don ‘t have a dual core processor yet so I could care less, but I can see the work that was done and appreciate it. I don’t mind patiently tweaking here and there to get everything to where I like it and I can fly enjoyable. After several thousand hours as PIC  IRL, I can appreciate the flight dynamics and the visuals. I look forward to what may come next. Hopefully the loud voiced nay sayers are taken with a grain of salt. I hope the sales reflect those who really enjoy the product.

    Vic B

  12. Chris says:

    This is a little off topic but how are things going with DX10?. I’m really curious as we haven’t heard about it for a while.

  13. Craig says:

    I fully appreciate that MS tried to ‘future’ proof the game by anticipating future developments.

    My ‘gripe’ is the installation issues. After a week of play and ‘tweaking’ to get it working satisfactorily, I wondered why people were complaining.

    Then I had a log book corruption, which took me several days to find and fix (the fix is to delete my log books and start all over again!) Then shortly after that (about an hour of game play after!) I got an activation error, which suggested I re-install, so I did, and then I got the infamous 1722 error.

    About 9 re-installs later (which is about 72 hrs worth of effort!), still no joy. I’ve tried the Knowledge base fix, which doesn’t do anything.

    I’m running a new install of Windows XP, fully patched, and a brand new computer bought specifically for Flight Sim, so I don’t think its ‘cruft’ built up from other software.

    Oh, and I had to uninstall all DVD burning  software before it would recognise Disk 2.

    These ARE the issues MS should be addressing, because this is not performance issues, this is a matter of quality control on the basics.

    craig at craigturner.id.au

  14. Mark says:

    Thank you very much for taking the effort to keep us updated with how things are going. I have an upper mid range machine and am getting a perfectly satisfactory experience with judicious use of the sliders.

    One question though, will the instancing improvements in DX10 give a major improvement? The only things my system really struggles with are autogen and traffic and these seem exactly the sort of items that Instancing 2.0 will help.

  15. carl says:

    Well, I last played FS when I was very young, and I took a chance on FSX two weeks ago, and I’m very pleased, performance issues or not.

    But I must however confess, that all the settings makes it a bit daunting for me. You get general tweaks in games that goes from simple stuff like textre settings, AA, AF, resolution and then the odd break with certain technology like bump mapping in it’s earlier days, HDR etc.

    The real problem lies with the underlying genre the user should tweak in, and for FPS, RPG it’s sort of generic and tweaking can be sorted out farely quickly. But with sims, it get’s alot more in depth and many settings have great impact on performance, sometimes unbeknown to the avg user.

    How far should clouds be rendered? Far enough I’d say, but how do you equate that into something tangible for someone trying FS for the first time and has quite an avg pc spec? Thank goodness for the FSX FPS guide – I was about to through my toys out!

    Anyhow, I’m also all for the better use of multi core CPU’s – I seriously think twice today before I buy a new game, that has high system demand, but is engineered in single core code (technicalities aside).

  16. stefbuik says:

    To be honest. I dó find all the gripes with performance quite unfair.

    I`m from the generation that saw the first "Unreal"  the frameratekiller of it`s days. Funny part of this: People only started complaining when framerate dropped below 25fps…. Nowadays, with FireBreathing GPU`s en CPU`s wit gazillion herzes..people seem to be like spoiled kids if their sim doesn`t go into the high 50`sFPS….PAH!!

    I dó think the FPS-counter is a bit off as far as REAL frames p/sec.go It`s a tad pessimistic

    It is no more than applaudable that ACES desingned for the future, knowing that the lifespan of a Flightsim is quite a bit longer than Your average "shoot all let the gods sort`em later" -kinda games.

    It has been said before: dont crank everything up en start complaining you`re not getting smooth playing….

    Look at it in a year…things will be quite different then, and lotsa`people will be glad ACES cobbled up something as revolutionary as "games with a future".

  17. lenny says:

    This is all great info but can anyone tell me what is  good setup to run FSX? I have an INtel HT 2.4 Ghz, 2GB RAM and Nvidia 6600. Is that enough to get really good performance or should I go shopping.

    I get occasional screen pauses, not sure why. Never got them on XP but now I run Vista 32.

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