Viva Las Vegas!

Simon downloaded the free demo of KLAS from fsdreamteam; he notes very good detail, and the free use period seems a fair amount of time too, enough to really explore it well before deciding to purchase.

Simon adds: “Crazy good fps performance, even with heaps of traffic and the strip nearby. It must be pretty accurate, as even  in-sim it looks a very unpleasant place!!” He’s right. It is. Las Vegas has an excess of everything on hand that looks downright fugly.

News at the FSN: Simon heard that Traffic X was on sale, got it for $20; the program adds accurate traffic and liveries to all airports, so KLAS is full of Northwest and even a few ‘Hooters’ ACF. Simon adds that as an Aussie, its great to see all the “weird” traffic.
You want weird, Las Vegas is the place to go! Let’s take a quick look-see:
We’ll have more detailed images up soon. Until then, fly safe and have fun!

Are you PREPAR3D for this?

I think it’s fair to say that a large portion of the flight SIM community has been caught off guard by the revelations flowing onto and out of the forums today concerning a “new” flight SIM that has been quietly under development since 2009.

The product? PREPAR3D. Pronounced “prepared”. And the SIM is a total earth environment simulator, down to and including submersible objects. Yes, as in submarines. This is hardly surprising given that the developer is Lockheed Martin, the huge aerospace/defense contractor.

So, what makes PREPAR3D such a big deal?

Well, the core technology is Microsoft’s own ESP technology, developed by the ACES team. This is the team replaced by Microsoft when MsFlight went into development. Remember about a year ago when recruitment ads were spotted looking for MsFS SIM developers? Everyone thought this was proof positive that Aerosoft was in the SIM business. Now, you wanna guess who placed those ads?

So, what does it all mean?

Well, simply put, all of those who’ve invested tons of money on FsX add-ons and who’ve been fretting about: 1) the lack of future development for the core SIM by MicroSoft, and; 2) the continued nagging voice in the back of your head telling you that the flight physics in MsFS’s core is not really the best – now have cause to rejoice. It’s only assumption at this point but fair to assume that if an aerospace contractor is putting together a SIM based on existing FsX tech that item number one is to clean up MsFs’s questionable physics. That this might be accomplished while at the same time utilizing the vast pool of add-ons now available for FsX? Well, your investment just received a massive transfusion of high powered technological life support. There’s simply no other way to look at this right now, and perhaps because – right now – the FsX community is riding on the building crest of a very large wave of emotional energy. A lot of questions appear to have an answer, and the answers floating around look very good indeed.

But the truth of the matter is we simply don’t have answers to all these questions and hypotheticals right now. This is an evolving story!

Yes, but not for everyone. Obviously a great many people are working on this, and images are coming out. There’s no end in sight right now, but given that a picture is worth a thousand words let’s look at nine thousand of ’em! Nine images taken from within PREPAR3D and up on their site. The first thing you’ll undoubtedly notice is that Orbx and REX are apparently already strategic partners in this venture, and that Lockheed aircraft feature prominently. Take a look at just a few of the images available:

And yes, there are already Lockheed Constellations and Electras available as free downloads.

Once again, this is an evolving story, and we’ll be adding what we can, when we can.

Stay tuned, and thanks for coming along. C & S

X+S+R 015: PMDG and AEROSOFT panel images

Mateus has passed along the following imagery from the PMDG x737 and Aerosoft’s Airbus A320, and after flying the two for a while leans toward the Airbus as the more engaging ACF of the two. Let’s take a look at his images now.

  • In his first image, the panel feels expansive and accurate, and even the floor/rudder pedal area is cleanly modeled, and with no rough edges between meshes evident;
  • Hard to say from this angle, but the top edge of the front windshield should line up with that of the side glass, unless interior details makes the lines not match up;
  • The slotted Fowler flaps seem to reach a full 40 degrees. By contrast, the EADT x737 in X-Plane seems to have flaps that on extend to about 20-25 degrees, visually anyway;
  • And the interior aspect of the leading edge slats is remarkably well detailed;
  • While the night panel images look quite muted and dim, this is more in line with real world cockpits than some of the garishly lit versions of the 737 we’ve seen in XP,
  • and the center quadrant just appears about perfect in this light.

Now let’s compare the 737 to some Airbus images:

  • In dim exterior light even details snap to, and shadowing around the throttle is just very nice indeed;
  • The slide out laptop desk is well done, textures very subtle;
  • Overhead? Too muted?

  • Exterior shadowing excellent;
  • Note the beacon illuminating the interior aspect of the right landing gear in the second image.

LIT panels seem well provided for too, but there’s a fair amount of difference seen between this 320 and Peter Hager/Ramzzess’s effort for the A380, with color and clarity the two big differences I see.

Mateus also included these images of an F16, which look decent, and with a nice sense of 3D “space” in the working environment. Text in the HUD is legible too, which is not always the case.

Very nice LIT panel too.

One thing again strikes me: the efficiency of large teams making ACF. One or two vs five or six, or more. How many people are working on an ACF at PMDG? With development cycles of three to four years now looking more and more like the norm, especially with smaller teams working on ultra complex ACF, if the ACF is less than well received developers will have no product depth to fall back on. That’s a very risky development model.

Well, more next time. Fly safe, and we’ll see ya soon.

FlyTampa’s “St. Maarten Complete” First Look


I have always been envious of FsX users simply because of the vast amount of high quality sceneries available to them, and FlyTampa’s St. Maarten package, with TNCM, TFFJ, and TNCS, is the one scenery pack I always wanted to have while flying in XP. From what I could tell the package elements really mimics the terrain and layout of these island airports, and I was never able to get this level of immersion while flying around these islands in X-Plane. The buildings didn’t look a whole lot like the ones in real life and the terrain was “off”, making the approaches into St. Barts and Saba unrealistically easy. Improvements have been made to those XP sceneries lately, buy they still don’t come anywhere near what you’ll find in this package for FsX.

What appeals to me the most are the difficult approaches at airports. Each of these airports is very challenging in a different way, and there’s nothing more fun in a flight sim than executing a tough approach!

St. Maarten (TNCM) is the biggest airport in this series and can be purchased alone without St. Barts and Saba, but why not pay a little more and get all three while you’re at it!?! Below are a couple images of TNCM. Keep in mind this is a first look, and these are images taken while I was exploring this scenery for the first time. In the near future I will take more screenshots that really show more detail.

Here are some shots of TNCM, and I had set my target FPS to 30. The images here are with Carenado’s Cessna 210, and FPS can drop to as low as 18-20, but I found it usually within the 25-30 range. This is without using an external limiter or doing much tweaking, and 18 FPS isn’t too bad in FSX, like it is in some other sims…

St. Barts (TFFJ) is my favorite airport in this package. FPS performance is better here, and barely ever goes below 25 FPS. The approach here is very difficult in the 210. Diving down the hill increases speed and causes the plane to float. I found that using less flaps helps fix that.

Here’s that hill imaged from different angles…

Take note of the detail beyond the hill like the sailboats, buildings, trees, etc.

The last airport in the package – but certainly not least – is Saba! This little airport is well known for its incredibly short runway – with rocky cliffs at each end of the runway. Very few commercial aircraft can land here, with one regularly in use here being the STOL-equipped DHC-6 Twin Otter. If you don’t make a slow approach – or brake effectively – you’ll go right over the edge of the cliffs and hit the water after a surprisingly big fall!

As mentioned I was using Carenado’s new HD Series Cessna 210; probably not the best choice, but it worked! Here are the first images…

One thing I love about this type of scenery is the variety of water colors you can see from the air, and in this package it’s even better looking than I hoped.

Bottom line: You can’t find better executed, more immersive Caribbean island package than this. Every element that makes a great scenery was put into this product, from trees to static aircraft to terrain features, and the effort shows the moment you open the islands in SIM, and I would highly recommend this package to anyone who is even remotely interested in flying around these islands.

That’s all for now! I’ll be back with some more images as I get better acquainted with the scenery!

Perry

X+S+R 012: Aerosoft and XPFR take-on LFPO Paris Orly

Aerosoft’s Mega-Airport Scenery Packs provides some of the best scenery options for enthusiasts flying in MsFS based SIMs, and will soon be available (or so it’s rumored) for users in X-Plane. These efforts have a tremendous reputation for providing ultra-high quality, very immersive ground environments, while X-Plane has garnered a reputation for less than stellar scenery files – generally speaking. This disparity of “opinion” got us thinking: Is this situation real, or simply overblown hype? We’ve heard a lot from people on “both sides” of this debate, so much so that we wondered how one of Aerosoft’s current offerings might compare to an airport X-Plane users regularly cite as “one of the best”.

We chose LFPO Paris Orly for this comparison, and used Aerosoft’s payware LFPO Orly and French-based freeware developer XPFR’s LFPO scenery file, but on the surface this appears an unfair match-up.

Why?

Well, obviously Aerosoft is a large, very successful corporate venture and the file is payware, and relatively expensive payware at that, while XPFR is a group of dedicated freeware developers making all the airports in France available to users in X-Plane. Furthermore, not only is this file is freeware (as are, indeed, all their products), it’s also several years old. Still, XPFR’s LFPO has until quite recently been their most popular download, and even if only subjectively speaking, this file has long been regarded as one of the very best airports in X-Plane – and still is by quite a few people. My guess is that there are really very few add-ons in XP that are held in higher regard, at least by most users, so we’re looking at these two files with only one thought in mind: how does one of the best airports in FsX stack up against one of the best in X-Plane?

And that’s it! No hidden agenda…no ulterior motive. No “this one is better because”, or “that one could use x,y, and z improvements.” Let’s just look and see what they ARE, not what they “should be”, or “might have been” – so let’s look at both without all the noise that attends the usual snarky political infighting that commonly follows such a look.

Okay? Let’s walk through this slowly and take a look around and one step at a time, and just a reminder: most images in this post are quite large, so just click to enlarge!

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Getting Acquainted

And as is our custom around Chaos Manor, we’ll start by looking over the available ground charts and overhead imagery from Google Earth, as this lends valuable reference points and some context for discussion. Charts first:

And Google’s imagery:

A few early comments are in order here. First, this is indeed a huge and very complex airport. The roadways and parking structures by themselves form an impossibly complex maze of visual chaos, and this is a good thing for SIM developers to try and replicate in their work. As we’ve harped on this topic often at XP+10-Reviews there’s little need to mention more than this: visual chaos is good to include in-SIM as it produces distractions that all pilots need to be able to deal with. A SIM is the perfect environment to learn to deal with this often confusing pandemonium, and ALL recreational SIM platforms have in the past failed miserably in this regard. Real airports are simply full of moving objects and confusing lights, while SIM airports tend to be static constructs that are placid and dull in comparison.

Second, concerning the last image just above with the EasyJet A319, this is from Google Earth’s Street View, and LFPO is completely covered in this regard. You can go into GE and simply travel all around the grounds and terminals, rotating your view and checking out all the detail you could ever wish for. If you’d like a more detailed look at the buildings than we can provide here, Street View is where you need to go next.

And now, let’s look at the airports from overhead, in each SIM.

  1. Aerosoft in FsX with default scenery around the airport visible:

And X-Plane, with XPFR’s LFPO and with default scenery elements visible:

Observations? FsX looks very similar to Google’s imagery; XP’s rendering looks like a 90s vintage video game. Aerosoft’s file has included the all important visual context that surround the immediate airport, thereby enhancing immersive realism. Ignoring issues of flight models and framerates, just ask yourself this: which would you rather use as a training aid?

Now, let’s look at the main terminal building in each SIM, looking from east to west. First up, Aerosoft’s version:

And here’s the comparable view rendered by XPFR’s file from within X-Plane 9.70:

Next, let’s run through some daylight images around the main terminal area in Aerosoft’s creation (again, click to enlarge images):

A couple of quick comments come to mind right off the bat:

Aerosoft’s –

  • buildings are accurately scaled, and appear to have excellent textures;
  • roadways are a combination of ortho texture and 3D objects, and are expertly shadowed. Only a few small areas in the parking lots look like unconvincing “ortho” textures;
  • ramps and parking lots are otherwise realistically filled with static aircraft and other objects.

In the sequence just above, the multi-tiered roadways are quite obviously not simple textures. The effect is striking, and gives the main terminal building total visual credibility. It looks and feels like a congested urban airport. The Dodo Bell Jetranger was getting 30+ FPS, BTW.

Alright, let’s take a quick look around XPFR’s main terminal area, working our way in from the surrounding cityscape, which is very well rendered indeed:

A few observations concerning this scenery for X-Plane:

XPFR’s –

  • buildings are reasonable recreations of the originals, but not exactly so;
  • the textures suffer from stretching and are quite blurry in places, especially when you move in close;
  • the roadways included do not reflect what is on the ground – Period – and detract from the overall success of this effort;
  • ramps and aprons are very well done.
  • With XPs object render settings at maximum levels, the city around the airport is rendered very well, and provides a nice context, albeit with an extreme performance hit on even newer PCs.

And with these comments in mind, a few more images from XP to consider, especially texture clarity and scale of buildings and roadways:

The Night Landscape

Now let’s turn our attention to the facility at night. Aerosoft first:

Still the overall first impression holds: this looks like a congested urban airport on a hot August night! Some more thoughts and observations?

Aerosoft’s –

  • ramps a perfectly rendered, their LIT textures a work of art;
  • buildings and Jetways produce multiple shadows from numerous light sources, and pools of light are evenly tapered, producing realistic shaded effects that enhance realism;
  • roofs are shadowed and textured to accurately reflect point light sources, but some are too dark while others appear well lit.

Now, some night shots in X-Plane:

Impressions? XPFR’s scenery file is just too dark, and:

  • the ramps aren’t LIT and are rendered black,
  • buildings are inadequately LIT and details are lost as a result,
  • the LIT textures that are employed are uniform and show little directional variety or variation in light intensity
  • light fall-off on roof-tops is limited to just a few small textures, hence the buildings appear almost black from above, and ground objects are almost invisible, lost in darkness.
Yet even so XPFR’s file has a certain utilitarian minimalist feel about it. It gets the job done with little fuss and is certainly useable, but taxiing around the ramps in all that darkness is a bit of a challenge!

One key element of both these scenery files lies just beyond the airport boundaries: the City of Lights… Paris itself… and both platforms offer a similar approach to the subject. Again, let’s look at FsX’s rendition of Paris first, using default textures and whatever the Aerosoft file has thrown into the mix:

There are some auto-gen structures on the ground, a few extras like Notre Dame, but overall the city is sparsely rendered, rather lackluster and dull. What about after the sun goes down?

Note the view just above, and compare to a similar vantage from XP you’ll find a few images down. Some impressions? This is after all the default landscape in FsX, and yet the city has a bombed-out look, with flattened sections of glowing landscape next to standing buildings. The net effect is not very good.

And so let’s be charitable and say that the default LIT landscape in FsX is somewhat innocuous, and could be improved.

Okay, let’s look at XPFR’s Paris:

Above, the image you should compare to the FsX version, an oft overlooked relationship between monuments in Paris, seen in the highlighted box above, from the new pyramid at the Louvre’s entry court to the Grand Arch de la Defense, passing through the smaller Arch, the Place de la Concorde, and the main Arch…and all perfectly rendered in X-Plane.

And another image to consider: the major architectural triumphs of Paris (above), including the Grand Palais (right), the Eiffel Tower, the Pont Alexander III, and les Invalides with Napoleon’s tomb far left beyond, and again, perfectly executed, and the city a well rendered and complex urban environment.

XPFR’s Paris is a peerless tour de force, and a stunning achievement in any SIM. I simply can’t imagine X-Plane without this file. Looking around this cityscape you can simply see and understand that with proper add-on development XP COULD BE the equal of FsX in this regard.

CONCLUSIONS?

The images tell the story and there’s very little we can add about the comparison between the two platforms that hasn’t been said before. It’s like a match-up between a professional sports team and a talented local school squad…comparing landscapes and airport files in FsX to version 9.xx of X-Plane is almost a pointless exercise – except that XP wants to be taken seriously as a viable platform in the SIM marketplace. It remains competitive as a SIM platform simply because it has a demonstrably more accurate flight model, yet it remains at a competitive disadvantage because third-party add-on developers have been slow to embrace the platform and create the scenery files needed to make the environment a viable option for gamers who crave a more immersive experience. It’s almost a Catch-22 situation, but…

…Laminar’s X-Plane has one good chance just ahead to capture market share: the release of X-Plane 10, which promises to build on previous strengths and address acknowledged weaknesses, namely deficient scenery elements. The new version is slated for release this Christmas (2011), and a lot hinges on a successful product introduction.

So… The real valid comparison between these two airports has yet to be made, and won’t be made until XP10 is up and running, but will XP10 address scenery deficiencies well enough to take on FsX? Will third-party add-on developers cross over to XP in the numbers needed? Well Carenado has crossed over, and successfully too, and Aerosoft’s pending foray into XP is a highly anticipated affair!

And while time will tell, Laminar has simply got to get it right this time out.

Why?

Because the question here that is most germane, and that has not been asked yet, concerns MicroSoft. Let’s ignore that FsX and groups like Aerosoft have developed huge market momentum, because MicroSoft has shelved further development of MsFS. Third-party add-on developers are now stuck with FsX as it is, and they can tweak it and manipulate it’s basic architecture all they want, but the basic problem of a less than optimal flight physics/model will remain. That’s the program’s Achille’s heel, where FsX will always remain weak compared to X-Plane.

So…the Big Question? What impact will MicroSoft’s new MsFlight have on this dynamic, and will the multi-player, gaming oriented new kid on the block somehow make these concerns irrelevant?

The tertiary concerns? Will MsFS developers be able to get in on this new action, and will they in effect have to start from scratch? Or will MsFlight be a closed platform, not open to third party development in a way and to the degree that previous MS platforms have been? If that’s the case, these developers might find that developing for X-Plane is a viable way forward for them. Product innovation and development for a new platform? That equals expansion, and that equals new markets to explore, more money to be made.

Now there’s some food for thought.

We’ll end this little exercise with a little bit of a teaser. Simon is working on tweaking the Paris landscape in FsX with a very powerful scenery enhancement program. We’ll post additions to this article soon. In the meantime, if you have anything you’d like to share just drop us a comment.

Thanks for coming along, and we’ll see you again soon. Chip

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The Aerosoft LFPO file is available here: http://www.aerosoft.com/cgi-local/us/iboshop.cgi?showd480!0,5920563760,10885

System requirements for FSX:
Microsoft Flight Simulator X (SP2, Acceleration or Gold Edition)
Windows 7, Vista, XP
Processor with 3.0 GHz (Core2Duo Intel recommended)
2 GB RAM
3D graphic card with 256 MB, recommended 512 MB
Download-Size: 300 MB
Installations-Size: 540 MB

Current download price, in USD: 29.87

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XPFR’s freeware version of LFPO for X-Plane is available here:

http://xpfr.org/index.php?body=scene_accueil&sc=106

The freeware Paris scenery files are here:

http://xpfr.org/index.php?body=scene_accueil&sc=110

X+S+R 010.1 The Rock, Part II

Here’s the second installment of images from SImon’s explorations around Gibraltar, with more emphasis on ground detail this time out. Enjoy!

Aerial tramway towers up the back side of the mountain!

Yes, the light and sky tones are REX enhancements, which adds a good deal of “atmosphere” to the images (sorry, bad pun), yet the lighting is far from unrealistic. It’s more like a late afternoon thunderstorm is brewing, and the rain streaked images kind of reinforce that feel.

So, that’s all for the moment. We’ll be back soon with more…from Paris! Chip

X+S+R 011: Perry’s First Look at the Carenado HD Series Cessna 210 for FsX

Carenado CT210M

by Perry Wagner

After buying Carenado’s Cessna Caravan a few weeks ago and seeing how impressive their new HD Series products are, I wanted to get another ACF and see if they’re really onto something with this new line of ACF.  I had been looking at the Cessna 210 for a while because I’ve been interested in getting a Cessna single with retractable gear. I was also looking at ORBX’s Lancair IV-P, which looks to be an excellent aircraft as well. Already leaning towards the 210 and having Chip tell me how much he thought I would enjoy it, I decided to go with the 210, and I think after having my hands on her for a day now I made the right choice!

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

This aircraft is amazing, and in my opinion outdoes even their Caravan! That says something because the Caravan is still probably one of the best GA’s for FSX available. This HD series does in fact appear to be getting better and better…

The aircraft’s sounds? Amazing! I’m usually not a freak about “sound” files, but this one is great, and totally immersive. It’s very obvious that a lot of hard work went into sound quality.

THE COCKPIT

It’s a Carenado aircraft, and it’s one of the latest products in their HD series, so you bet it has a great cockpit!

Oh, did I mention the instrument reflections?  These are well implemented and dynamic, and below you’ll find two comparison shots of this feature. Very cool implementation, if subtle…

  • With reflections…

  • And with no reflections…

I love how Carenado products have pop-up menus where you can select certain features in context. Not absolutely necessary, but one that adds an extra “that’s pretty cool” factor! And of course the night panel is about what you’d expect! WOW! Excellent work and one of the best features of this ACF…

TAKING A QUICK LOOK AROUND THE EXTERIOR

So how does the exterior stack up? Just as flawless as the interior! Here are some images, and take note of all of the rivets and reflections in the image at the top of this post…

GEAR ANIMATION

The gear retraction sequence is very detailed. Below are some pictures of steps in the process. It’s obvious Carenado didn’t just throw this the animation together haphazardly. Everything happens in a certain order, and beyond the accuracy it reflects the whole sequence is simply interesting to watch.

GENERAL NOTES

I have never flown a Cessna 210 and have had about 1 hour in the left seat of a Cessna 172, so I don’t feel very comfortable judging this or any other flight model. I can say that it is trickier than the 172, which I didn’t expect as they look very similar – superficially anyway. Don’t make that mistake because the 210 is a whole different animal. The flight model is more challenging than some smaller GA’s, and I like this added complexity and challenge. Anyway, that’s all I can say about the issue. I’d like to hear the opinion of a real Cessna 210 pilot…

This plane does have some extra features. Like many Carenado planes and as mentioned above, there are menus that allow you to easily control different settings and objects. You can open a small menu that lets you control instrument reflections, windows, and static parts like covers, chalks, etc. You can also open the checklists within the sim by pressing Shift-2, which I really like having. No more jumping between Adobe Reader and the sim. It’s all there now!

Well, that’s it for now. Head over to Carenado’s website and check things out for yourself! Hope you enjoyed this “First Look” and if you have any questions just fire away in the comments section below…

…and thanks for coming along! Perry

The ACF is available at the Carenado e-store, currently 34.95USD.