In my previous review, I looked at the new Lockheed Martin Prepar3D version 3. However, I purposely limited myself to looking at the sim without any third party add-ons. It’s time to change that! This time, let’s see how nice the new kid on the block plays with others!
There’s a lot of aspects that need to be addressed when we combine P3D v3 with third party add-ons. Is the platform backwards compatible with old add-ons? And to what extent? How are third party developers reacting to the new platform? How much of your add-on collection will work? Will updating be free, or will it cost money? And so on, I’m sure questions like this are almost never-ending.
Further on, this review will be mostly based on screenshots, with my comments and remarks with those screenshots. But before we look at it all in practice, let’s talk theory.
One of the big ‘features’ and selling points of Prepar3D has always been backward compatibility with FSX add-ons. So, in theory, everything that works in FSX should work in P3D v3. Well, all right, not everything. Everything that’s created for FSX within the limitations of the SDK (software development kit) for FSX should work in FSX. This is actually more important of a distinction than many people may think. Many FSX add-ons were created (partly or in full) using SDK’s that came with even older versions of the sim for various reasons. While they might work, there are no guarantees.
When very high fidelity add-ons are your thing (think PMDG, Orbx, VRS and many others), there are also consequences. Many advanced products for FSX actually bypassed some FSX limitations by either working partly outside the sim, by connecting to the sim on levels not supported by the SDK or by using version-checking code. This means that often, these products will not work with P3D. Or they do so only partly, which is no better than not working at all in my opinion. One very good, but quite extreme example here is the VRS TacPack, which will break functionality even with a simple update to the sim, let alone changing simulators entirely. As for external tools, a possible problem is that, although they would work normally, they just don’t know about P3D and hence can’t connect to the sim. Sometimes there are workarounds for this, other times a program update is required.
But those are the bad examples. Most ‘normal’ add-ons, which are the vast, vast majority of both aircraft and scenery, made for FSX do work in P3D v3. Products made for P3D v1 and v2 are likely to do even better.
When we take a look at how third party developers have handled P3D in general, and P3D v3 in particular, there are lots of different approaches. Some go out of their way to bring some or all of their products up to date, with new installers and support for P3D v3. This can either be a free update or a paid new version, depending on the developer. Others don’t immediately issue updates, but have no problems with users manually porting their products to P3D v3. Indeed, some developers even give instructions (or allow other users to share instructions) on how to do this on their forum. Even if developers are open minded to this approach, they usually don’t provide support if you use their products this way.
Still other developers and publishers expressly forbid using their products in P3D, even if they don’t sell P3D licences for their products. Some might say: “What do I care, I bought the product, I’ll do what I want.” Well, nobody can stop you, but remember those EULA’s you agreed to when purchasing and installing a product?
Without fail, every software EULA (End User License Agreement) states that you bought a license to use the product in the way intended. Not the ownership of the product itself. This means that if you use a product in another sim than the one you bought it for without permission from the developer or publisher, you’re in breach of a legal document (the EULA) which you agreed to. Something to think about.
Alright, that was another heavy-hearted and unpleasant, but necessary topic. More interesting and much more fun, let’s look at some examples of stuff that does work!
I’ve picked four examples of FSX products to try and get working in P3D v3. 2 aircraft and 2 airports. First, the Dodosim 206 payware helicopter. Then 2 Aerosoft Mega Airports, namely Brussels and Barcelona. And finally a freeware aircraft in the form of an old version of Dino Cattaneo’s F-14D Tomcat.
So the Dodosim chopper first. I picked this product for 2 reasons. First, I absolutely love this helicopter, even though it’s far from new. Second, one of the developers posted some ‘at your own risk’ instructions on how to port it over on their forum.
So, the results? It works! Not perfectly, it reportedly crashes the sim sometimes, but it’s usable.
Alright, Mega Airport Brussels. Quite an old airport for FSX, initially released in 2007. I picked this one because it’s my main base when flying airliner-style in FSX. The fact that it’s as old as it is makes this an interesting test as well.
The results here? Not so good. I checked and double checked, and I copied everything correctly, but I just can’t get it to work correctly. At least not without using migration tools, which I chose not to use. The ground layout shows up correctly, as do the terminal buildings and some other major buildings. But all smaller stuff is just missing. Light poles, runway and taxiway light fixtures, jetway bridges, fences… No luck.
I’m not sure why it doesn’t work. Maybe I missed something when copying, maybe some special features or registry information is missing, or maybe it just doesn’t work with P3D v3. Do remember that this was the first Mega Airport released for FSX. It’s more than likely a lot of old FS9 stuff was used here, which would explain the compatibility issues. Aerosoft is working on a remake of Brussels, which will support P3D natively.
The next airport I tried, Mega Airport Barcelona, is one I picked because it should reportedly be simple to copy. According to the Aerosoft forum, no need to gather various files in various locations. Just one folder and all its contents. And here the results are positive! Everything showed up, and runs fine in P3D v3. As far as I’ve tested, it works just fine!
So for the last product to test, we have the freeware F-14D by Dino Cattaneo. This product has P3D compatible releases, but I had an older version that pre-dates P3D in an old backup. So let’s try that.
In my first try, I forgot that the F-14 depended on the F/A-18 Hornet from FSX Acceleration. So, I moved over the gauges it needed from FSX to P3D. Once this was done, it ran perfectly.
From stock to infinity…
If you read part 1, you might have noticed previous shots look better than they did in part 1. Indeed, I added some products to enhance the simulator. In this section, I want to take you from stock to where I have the sim right now. I took screenshots along the way, and I’ll state which products were added.
So, the first scenario features the A2A Simulation Piper Cherokee at a typical VFR altitude over the city and port of Antwerp, Belgium. I set the season to spring, and the weather to the ‘fair weather’ theme.
In this second scenario, I’m taking the PMDG 737 NGX in a McPhat livery out from Corfu International Airport (LGKR) on the Greek Island of Corfu. I’m flying in summer with the ‘Building Storms’ preset.
For a third example, I’m once again in the A2A Cherokee, but this time in the French Alps, near Courchevel. I’m flying in winter with the ‘Winter Wonderland’ weather theme. The differences here between add-ons are less dramatic, but nonetheless worth taking a look at.
And for a final example, I’m leaving Europe for the USA. Back in the PMDG 737-800 NGX, again with a McPhat livery (these liveries are careware, only available during the ‘Movember’ charity event, in case you were wondering). I’m flying over Lake Michigan near Chicago, cruising at FL320 (32000ft). It’s autumn/fall in the simulator and the weather is set to the ‘Major Thunderstorm’ preset in P3D.
And this last part is one mentioned I would do in part 1. Like I did in part 1, I’ll be flying the Aerosoft Airbus A320 from Vienna to London. But this time in a modded simulator. We’ll be departing from FlyTampa’s Vienna and heading to Aerosoft’s Mega Airport London Heathrow Extended.
The scenery en-route is improved by FTX Global and Ultimate Terrain X Europe v2. Real Environment Extreme (REX) 4 Texture Direct and REX Soft Clouds have been used for clouds, sky and water textures. Finally, I’m using FSFX Packages PrecipitFX and A320 Family Immersion for improved effects.
I stuck to the Winter Wonderland weather theme instead of using Active Sky Next, to keep the flight similar to the ‘stock’ example, and show off the FSFX Packages effects.
In the end, I was very pleased with this flight. The frame rates were better than I was expecting, certainly considering how massive and detailed the departure and arrival airports were. Even with the impressive A320 Family Immersion jet wash effects, the sim kept running smoothly.
Surprisingly though, I did notice some lower frame rates and stutters during the cruise phase, flying at FL360. But this was limited to the area around Brussels, so I’m pretty sure it was caused by the incompatible scenery I still have active there. This flight, and the ones I’ve done besides it, have reinforced my impression that Prepar3D version 3 runs smoother and more stable than either FSX or previous version of P3D.
We’ve looked at Prepar3D version 3 both without and with third party add-ons added. There’s a lot that can be said about the new simulator. Obviously, it’s not a revolutionary new platform. Rather, it builds upon old but tested foundations and tries to bring them into the modern era. Sometimes kicking and screaming. Whether you view this evolution rather than revolution as good or bad, depends entirely on personal point of view. Both points can be made, as they most certainly have been made in countless forums and blogs.
The big upside is quite good backward compatibility and a relatively easy transition for people used to FSX or earlier P3D versions. The downside is that the core simulator keeps hauling around some outdated design choices and problems.
The development team behind Prepar3D is working hard on trying to fix those old problems (along with new ones that pop up). And in my opinion, they are doing a remarkable job. Is it a perfect simulator without problems or bugs? Certainly not. But, talking purely from a software point of view, it is most certainly better now than FSX has ever been.
However, personally, I see three issues working against P3D v3 becoming “the” mainstream simulator product: limited distribution (online only, to a limited audience), the murky licensing situation, and the mixed reaction by third party content creators. Until these are resolved, P3D might be popular with hardcore flight simulator users, but it will remain obscure to the larger public.
Although I really like P3D v3, I’m not going to try convincing people who are very happy with their FSX installations to buy into it. FSX isn’t disappearing from my system any-time soon either. But if you have been hesitating about Prepar3D for a while, now might be a great time to take the leap. I’m not promising all sunshine and rainbows if you do. But overall, the results might pleasantly surprise you.
Lockheed Martin Prepar3D v3 Academic
A2A Simulations Piper Cherokee 180 (SimMarket | Product Page)
Aerosoft Airbus A320 (SimMarket | Product Page)
Aerosoft Mega Airport Barcelona X (SimMarket [FSX] | Product Page [FSX])
Aerosoft Mega Airport Brussels X (SimMarket [FSX] | Product Page [FSX])
Aerosoft Mega Airport London Heathrow Extended (SimMarket | Product Page)
Captain Sim 727 (SimMarket [FSX] | Product Page)
Dino Cattaneo F-14D Super Tomcat (Product Page)
Dodosim 206 (Product Page [FSX])
Flight1 Ultimate Terrain X Europe v2 (SimMarket | Product Page)
FlyTampa Corfu (SimMarket | Product Page)
FlyTampa Montreal (SimMarket | Product Page)
FlyTampa Vienna (SimMarket | Product Page)PMDG 737 NGX (Product Page)
OldProp Solutions FSFX Packages 737 Immersion (Product Page)
OldProp Solutions FSFX Packages A320 Family Immersion (SimMarket | Product Page)
OldProp Solutions FSFX Packages PrecipitFX (SimMarket | Product Page)
Orbx FTX Australia (Product Page)
Orbx FTX Global Base (Product Page)
Orbx YMMB Moorabbin (Product Page)
Real Environment Extreme Texture Direct + Soft Clouds (SimMarket | Product Page)
Intel Core i5-2500K
8GB DDR3 RAM
MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G
Windows 7 64 bit