Friday, 17 August 2012

Hearing Voices - part two

Managed a little more success with It's Your Plane last night, and also got started testing Multi Crew Experience.

I really, really want to like It's Your Plane, but there are a lot of things about it that just niggle me.  If I start it up before FSX, it throws up an error message when the FSX flight starts complaining that the connection to FSUIPC isn't open.  To get a reliable startup I found I had to start my flight, drop out back into windows and then start IYP.  There's then a wait of about a minute before it gets itself together.  Michelle, the IYP copilot also reads out an extensive script on startup, some of which is entirely unnecessary (such as suggesting I go to the "Quick Flights" page of the website, or that I should say "Start Listening" to start the speech recognition, even when it's already running.)  It's just a lot of faff that I find really immersion breaking.

The most frustrating thing is that the demo version of IYP is not just locked down to the Cessna 172, but also many, many of its features are disabled.  Not only can you not use SuperATC (which at the end of the day is that I really want this for) but Michelle can't take active control of the aircraft or help with takeoff and landings.  She also got very confused when my initial flightplan was still set for Rhodes Diagoras and instead I cancelled and flew VFR for Liverpool John Lennon (my standard Cessna "hop" flight).  On arriving she still seemed to think we'd arrived at Rhodes!  She also suggested checklists at inappropriate times, like calling for the cruise checklist after we had landed.  I suspect Michelle may be blonde.

Since I can't actually test the SuperATC functions with the demo, I have to rely on watching the demo videos and reading the documentation.  One negative factor I can see here is that it seems to require the user to break the comms traffic down into separate phrases with un-natural pauses in between. "Manchester Tower.... Bombardier Juliet Seven Zero.... With you... Altitude 8000 feet"

I have another minor problem with the way IYP handles Simple ATC+.  If you get your copilot to handle the ATC comms, it will basically trigger one of the regular MS pilot voices.  Which means if you shell out on a voice font with a British accent as I was considering, there's a mismatch between the copilot's cockpit chat and comms voices.  A very minor niggle, but another little immersion breaker, and since the whole point of this exercise is to boost immersion...

MCE on the other hand gets around this by having its own copilot voice read out the comms traffic, so that it's only the ATC & AI comms that use the default voices.  Like IYP, it's possible to set the copilot voice up to use a different sound device to the FSX effects and comms, so you could have all your aircraft noise on main speakers, the ATC comms chatter routed to headphones and the copilot on a second set of speakers to your right.  I've been testing with a similar setup, except I've been using a desktop microphone and the ATC on a third set of speakers.  This led to some problems, more so with MCE than the other apps, with ATC chatter being picked up and misunderstood as voice commands.

Testing the voice ATC comms, the first thing to notice is that when you push to talk to ATC, you're not actually "live" on the frequency yet.  You're buffered into the speech recognition engine which tries to work out what you've said.  If it recognises this a valid response, it will then trigger a default MS ATC response option.  The problem with this is twofold.  Firstly, while you're talking in a high traffic area, AI comms are highly likely to crash in while you're speaking.  At best this makes it difficult to read out a set of numbers while someone else might be reading out a different set of numbers,  Even if you manage to get the verbal response correct, there's still a chance that an AI message will start before MCE "hits the button", resulting in the usual squeal that you get when crashing someone else's message.  You then have to repeat the message, or as I found after several frustrated attempts, give up and hit the option button manually.

(I'm not sure but I suspect It's Your Plane will have the same problem.  VoxATC gets around this by using its own comms system.)

At Manchester International with traffic set at 50%, I found it nearly impossible to verbally get IFR clearance and acknowledge it before it was cancelled.

One nice thing about the MCE ATC is that it supports a wide variety of alternate phrasing.  The documentation gives the definition options in a markup style that's easy for a professional IT bod like me to understand, but might seem baffling to non techies.  Fortunately it also lists several examples of valid alternatives for each response, so it's relatively easy to work out the sort of things you need to say.

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