I did a thing. I used Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 and X-Plane 11 to compare the flying and things. The plan was to fly from Biggin Hill to the Manston Airfield [which is currently shut]. While flying in MSFS I flew over Brands Hatch, my house, my place of work, Leeds Castle, Canterbury and then landed at Manston. I recorded the screen for each of these segments and uploaded them to YouTube. There is some information which needs to be released about the set up first I suppose because this wasn’t an even playing field. I will do that after the take off videos. Now, MSFS doesn’t have any particularly fast aircraft or military planes at the moment. So I used a Pitts Special in that game and my favourite T-7 in X-Plane. The order of the videos will always be MSFS and then X-Plane but it should be obvious from the aircraft involved.
The mechanical set-up. The PC has a Core i5 processor running at 3.7GHz. There is 16GB RAM, the graphics card is a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 Super, the monitor is a 27″ 16:9 1080P thing, I’m not convinced for the need of a higher resolution or size. I’ve got two speakers running a boring stereo output, I’m not that bothered about full 5.1 for the PC, I don’t use it enough. I have a Saitek X52 HOTAS system and that’s about it.
While flying east-ish from Biggin Hill I could see a golf course and realised it was the one near Brands Hatch so I decided to flyby the motor racing circuit and see what it looked like. Here are the results for both simulators.
My comments on Brands Hatch would be that both simulators manage it quite well but MSFS does put a building on the Brabham Straight. That would be tricky if you want to have a motor race but I guess this is just a simulation and if I really cared a lot about Brands Hatch I could make my own custom scenery for X-Plane.
Some words here are defining the software set up. For MSFS2020 I have essentially bought the deluxe version. I did this because I was quite convinced that I would pay for the extras in micro-transactions anyway so I might as well do it up front. Other than that I haven’t done anything to MSFS. I whacked all the graphics settings to the far right and just let the PC see where it can take me. For X-Plane 11 there are extras and these should probably be explained. The Boeing/Saab T-7 Red Hawk is a bought add-on made by AOA Simulations. There are plenty of free aircraft you can get for X-Plane, a quick look at the downloads website shows 1,128 aircraft for X-Plane 11. I also have lots of after market scenery libraries installed. These allow third parties to create scenery using standard models. There are 83 directories in my Custom Scenery folders, some of these will be airports and some will be libraries. I also have TrueEarth installed which is a paid for scenery collection of the UK. Great Britain South cost around 30 Australian dollars. So, given the time and money I have invested in X-Plane I am probably quite biased towards that, the sunk-cost fallacy.
In the next couple of videos you, probably, won’t know where my house is and you might not know where I work. If you do you will see the differences in this. These videos take you from the Medway Valley four villages over Maidstone and close to Mote Park. More comments after these then.
I’ve just changed my embedding technique and so the videos might look different from the one above, I’ll see once this is published. In MSFS my house doesn’t exist. The shadow of it does but the actual 3D model isn’t there. My work place has buildings but they aren’t the right shape. In X-Plane my house is modelled in 3D and my work place has buildings of the correct shape but not the correct colour. Remember that the X-Plane scenery is a paid extra. I know that the original scenery was just shadows on the ground for my village.
Next up is a flight and stall turn over Leeds Castle. Leeds Castle is near the village of Leeds and not the city in the North. It’s a pretty castle although I don’t think I have ever been inside the actual buildings. I think in the following videos it is clear that X-Plane does the better job, once again it has a scenery pack installed for Great Britain.
As I headed east I was reasonably sure I would land at Manston on the eastern tip of Kent. The last time I ever flew in a Chipmunk was from RAF Manston when that still existed. Along the way is Canterbury, the home of the Church Of England and other such religious paraphernalia. I wondered what the city would look like as I passed overhead. I had not seen this before in X-Plane and was quite curious.
Again I think it’s clear that X-Plane nails the cathedral but I have to point out that I have paid extra for the scenery pack of the island of Great Britain. I would be annoyed if it didn’t look better. The last two things then are landing at Manston.
You’ll notice that MSFS2020 was a little busy with other aircraft on the runway. Hence I landed late and on the right side of the runway. You can turn off other players or you can see them all. X-Plane has the option to have other people flying in the sim, you can also have AI aircraft and set their aggressiveness for combat. You can also have real world traffic in X-Plane and I’ve tried that and it seems to work quite well, depending on the ground ADS-B coverage from a particular database.
My overall thoughts. I think I prefer X-Plane. This is probably for a number of reasons and not all of them might be valid. A lot of this comes down to the sunk-cost fallacy. I’ve spent more time on X-Plane, I’ve spent more money on X-Plane, I prefer the military jets, I have no inclination to program a flight computer, I like shooting stuff. I will say that I think the clouds in MSFS look a lot better and they might not kill the PC like they do in X-Plane. I am sure that over time there will be a lot of extras and add-ons for MSFS and these will take a little while to become ubiquitous. I think I’ll see if I can lock the chase view in MSFS because I’m not so keen on the camera always staying horizontal, I prefer the default chase view in X-Plane. I’ve a feeling that X-Plane is more detailed in its settings and more customisable, this is generally what happens with non-Microsoft stuff, you have the chance to tinker more. MSFS is a good simulator and with full settings it wrecks my PC which is a pretty decent PC so I would expect the graphics to look good. X-Plane just has that edge for me.
There’s a part of me that wants to be snobby about all this. I want to write that X-Plane is for proper flight sim people and that MSFS is just a tiny bit “arcade” and that if you really want to fly then you would have had X-Plane, P3D, or DCS or other such simulator because you would have found them. Me being snobby is my brain taking full command of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. This goes along the lines of “you aren’t a real XXXXX unless you do YYYYY”. So, you aren’t a true Scotsman unless you are born in Scotland. You aren’t a true Scotsman unless you wear a kilt and have your own tartan [which is a bullshit thing made up by the Victorians]. You aren’t a true Scotsman unless you wear nothing under your kilt. You aren’t a true Scotsman unless. . . . . and so on. Now, sometimes there are qualifications and so on that can prove you are a particular thing but even then some people might say “oh, you aren’t a real XXXXX until you’ve had YYYY happen”. J Clarkson uses this when describing motorists, he says you aren’t a real motoring fan unless you’ve owned an Alfa Romeo. Clearly he is using the fallacy to great comic effect, along with being a bit of a prick. People seek legitimacy through the things they do. Many will say, especially those with internet balls, that you aren’t a real XXXX unless you have YYYY. This is bollocks. I have to remind myself a lot about this when I’m thinking. I actively work to make sure that I consider this and work through how my brain thinks.
So, my conclusion is: I really like X-Plane and will probably “fly” in that more than I will MSFS. But, if you’ve bough MSFS and you like playing that then good on you and I hope you enjoy the time you have.