Chase the experience, not the FPS

More FPS! We all want more FPS, right? The more the better! That's how we have been taught for years but X-Plane might be showing us something different.

We have all probably seen it on several groups, forums and websites: people asking for ways to get more juice from their computers in order to get more frames per second (FPS). The more FPS, the better.

And that’s generally true: the more FPS you have, the smoother your experience will be.

We’ve all seen a lot of these: “You need 90 FPS”. “You need 60 FPS”. “You need a bazillion FPS”.

People get new graphic cards and CPUs to increase those frames because they need to hit those numbers and it makes sense for some of us. But do you really need those extra 5 or 10 frames per second?

Now, I’m not saying you don’t really need a new graphics card or CPU. Every situation is different, every piece of hardware is different, and each person is different in their needs.

What I have learned though, is exactly that: everyone, every system, every little thing is different. And, obviously, different situations may need different solutions.

I have an i7 7700 (not the K one) and a nVidia GTX1060. I would say this is pretty much the bare minimum for VR and for any decent gaming on newer titles. I can do VR, although not perfectly, but it’s enough for what I do.

If you keep in mind I only fly helicopters, this means that I am always flying low around objects and cities (as most of you that are reading this, probably do) which very demanding.

Of course, FPS is a concern of mine. Especially since my puny 1060 can just do so much. And, just like you, I’ve always heard “the numbers” everyone mentions as if it was a recipe: “you’ll need X amount of this and Y amount of that, then add a pinch of salt”.

Some folks follow it like the gospel and I have seen a lot of simmers out there get really frustrated because they can’t hit or can’t keep their system “at the numbers”.

They tweak, and tweak, buy video card X, CPU Y, motherboard Z, install plugin A, change settings B, everything and anything to chase the numbers. Because we love the numbers.

We are used to follow rules or, at least, rules of thumb. Questions such as “what’s the FPS I should expect with my XYZ graphics card” or “what’s the average FPS I can get with…” appear often and people try to follow them. Perhaps we do this to have a goal that we hope to achieve or because we need to know that we are doing things right.

If we reach a given number, which is accepted by the community we belong to, we’re doing things right and that gives us this cozy feeling of being spending our hard-earned money on the right stuff. We feel validated.

The experience

Me and other players, though, have searched for something a bit different. Yes, the frame counter still matters but, above everything, I go after the experience.

I am OK with having 40FPS. Anything solid above 30 FPS on non-VR simming works for me. Below 30FPS helicopters tend to become harder to control and you can start noticing some image stutter or flickering so that’s the bare minimum for me.

I don’t care if it’s 40, 50, 52, 55, 60 or 70. Of course that I will be happy with more FPS (which usually means I can increase anti-aliasing, for example – and yes, reduce the FPS again) but what I look for is the good experience of flying and controlling the aircraft, while maintaining the image quality at something that gives me some decent results.

In VR, again, I don’t care about the FPS. As long as I have a good experience, I’m OK with the FPS-meter numbers being below what people say it’s the minimum.

And this became more obvious with the X-Plane 11.30 betas.

I noticed my FPS counter is a bit below what I get in 11.26 but here’s the thing: I have no idea how Laminar Research is doing this, but X-Plane is smoother for me. Yes, folks: less FPS, more smoothness.

And this is giving me a much better experience. Much, much better.

Now, if I was chasing the FPS, I would have gone nuts by now. Chasing the numbers would make me cringe and this is something I have seen a lot of folks going on a turmoil on some Facebook groups about it, complaining their FPS is worse than in 11.26.

But the real question is: is your experience worse?

Take a deep breath, hide the FPS indicator and just focus on simming. Are you having a worse experience than before?

You may be surprised with the answer.

Your experience may vary

Of course, your experience may vary from mine. A drastic decrease in FPS WILL affect your experience in a negative way. Or perhaps your notion of good experience is not the same as mine.

My truth may not be your truth.

But I would like to leave this advice to you: follow the experience, not the FPS. See if the results are the ones you are looking for, not by looking at the numbers but by how smooth everything looks to you.

Perhaps looking at your sim – whatever your sim is – under this new light will make you appreciate it in a different way and spare you the pain of chasing the numbers.

Numbers are just that and they serve as a baseline but, in the end, it’s your experience that really matters and that’s what you should focus on. You will, very probably, save yourself a lot of grief this way.

Fear not! Vulkan will fix everything!

I’d like to finish this article with a note.

I see a lot of people out there praying for Vulkan [https://www.helisimmer.com/articles/vulkan-next-big-thing-flight-sim] as if it will be the silver bullet that will help them reach the numbers.

It will not.

Vulkan will help, yes, but it will not double your frame rate (well, perhaps it will if you are having 1 FPS right now, but even then, I doubt you’ll get 2 FPS). You will not magically be able to do all the things you hope and dream.

Vulkan will definitely help, but you should moderate your expectations. The increase of performance will probably be marginal on most computers.

But it will, most certainly, help a bit in providing us a better experience.

Sérgio Costa

About Sérgio Costa

Sérgio has been a flight simulation enthusiast for nearly 25 years. His passion with helicopters developed during MSFS 2000 when he discovered the complexity of these aircraft and the challenge it was to control them. Since then he has been primarily a helicopter flight simmer, trying his best not to crash and kill all his virtual passengers. Sérgio is HeliSimmer's editor and writer and one of the Three Grumpy Simmers, a YouTube series and Podcast produced together with YouTubers Bel Geode and NovaWing24, obviously dedicated to flight simulation.

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