So, a Happy New Year to you! Hope your headaches are brief and all your resolutions are fun to accomplish.
So, sometime back in November I noticed a scenery file that, well, it called out to me. Scenery files do that to me from time to time, and when they do I tend to listen. “Try me,” this one whispered, and I listened. I downloaded it, too, and dutifully put all the necessary files into my Custom Scenery folder – and then promptly forgot about them. I tend to do that a lot, too, but when you’re on the high side of 65 (and closing in rapidly on 70) you tend to do things like this. More than I’d like to admit, too.
Anyway, the file in question was SCSE + Airport and City + La Serena, Chile, and when I read over the page at the .org I noticed another link, and this to the developer’s site, so I went there and read over what I could and downloaded the appropriate file (there are a few options, depending on what version of Xp you’re wrapped-up in, or whether you use a mesh in Xp10, etc., which is what got me…), but I registered and downloaded the file, put it away and forgot about it. Yeah. Been there, and will no doubt do it a few more times tomorrow.
So, while working on our review for FHSH St Helena I got to thinking about Chile (don’t ask me why…really…at this point, because…who knows?) and I remembered the file and when I went to open it, of course, it wouldn’t. So, a little back-tracking and nail-biting and I found where I’d messed up and set about downloading the correct file (uh-huh, don’t say it), then, well, I stopped and looked over the Virtual Design 3D – Rigolan site a bit more. Well, to make a short story even longer…I found another freebie and got that one onboard too, then saw that this is the developer behind AeroSOFT’s SCEL Santiago.
THAT made me sit up in my chair a little straighter. Oh, yeah?
So, back to the .Org I went and lo – and behold! – this team had just, and I mean JUST released a brand new file, SCTB Tobalaba & Santiago City, Chile. Okay, so the cosmic tumblers were rolling into place then – and, again, when they do I sort of stop what I’m doing and look around…and listen real close… That noise is usually my stomach and I tend to ignore that at everyone’s peril, but not this time.
Well, the first thing I did was open the freeware file in La Serena (SCSE) and have a look around. Yup, impressive. Then I opened the second freeware file (SCFA) and yup, this one was kind of neat, too, so back to the .Org I went and I picked up VirtualSesign 3D’s two payware files.
Okay, that brings us up to date. Now…here’s what I found, and I think you’re really gonna like some of this stuff too, so hang around and check it out…
SCSE La Serena
Okay, you open up this file and the first thing you say to yourself is “Whoa! This is freeware?”
Well, yeah, it is. And that’s a good thing, too. Think Mr. X and, perhaps, his KSFO. Freeware. A “must-have” freeware at that, but then, that’s the formula – in case you have any interest in developing scenery files for a living. You start small. Maybe a few files in WED for the Gateway – and maybe one of them is good enough to spark some interest. Then…you learn the ins-and-outs of SketchUP, then soon realize that if you’re going to get serious about this whole scenery thing you’ve got to learn Blender (cringe) or one of the other mainline 3D programs, and about six months later you might release your first real freeware file at the .org. If it bombs you just wasted six months; if it gathers some real praise, you try another, but this one only takes you a few weeks. You start to perfect your craft at that point, and if you do well enough you start thinking about selling your work…but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves yet…okay?
What makes this first file kind of interesting is the developer – aka VirtualDESIGN-3D – didn’t stop at the airport. And, as good as this airport file is, I’m glad he didn’t. You amble on into town and run across the Plaza del Toros (don’t ask) then the Football Stadium (that’s soccer to you, Gringo), and about that time you realize this is really not your typical X-plane freeware file.
There are details from the guidebooks everywhere you turn, from the Regimiento above (a military compound, complete with heliport) to a whole bunch of old churches. And none of them are default structures. Yup, all custom.
Of course, when churches get involved you’ll run across living quarters for the afterlife:
So, yeah, enough of that. How about a closer look at that airport. We’ll head back out Highway 41 and take a quick look around before moving on, so hang on tight…’cause we’re headed to Florida…
Actually, the airport is called La Florida, and there’s a great terminal & control tower in the file, the parking lots look spot-on, and there’s better than good ramp detail. Like I said, this is Really Good freeware.
When you look at the image below…
…keep in mind…none of that is auto-gen. Hand placed, all of it.
Now, let’s poke around that airport a little more now…not forgetting the animated helo that patrols the area…
Four airlines service this airport, with a lot of traffic to Santiago, as expected, but there’s a lot of traffic out to smaller cities…and almost everyone flies A320s!
I’ve seen payware files the past few weeks that don’t offer anything like the number of custom objects placed outside the airport that this file has. And, again, this is freeware. I wonder…did this one slip under your radar?
Oh…the animated helo is a constant, and get used to him because he shows up everywhere. That said, I doubt there’s a better way than by helicopter to get around inside a small area within X-plane, especially if all you want to do is simply buzz around a limited geographic area like this. Most developers are adding hardened heliports to their files (hardened means the landing surface, such as the top of a building, is “solid” – so you don’t just fall through the roof on your way to a spectacular, flaming ball of photons (and a tsk-tsk-tsk dialogue box, reminding you to practice more…).
And, as if all this wasn’t enough, there are details on a nearby hilltop that ought to get your attention, too. Good cell coverage in the area, I reckon. I got four bars.
If you’re not impressed by now, maybe it’s time to check your pulse. Anyway, let’s place this airport in relation to Santiago, where most of the action in this post takes place:
Santiago is down near the bottom of this image, while this airport, SCSE “La Florida,” is in the middle, leaving SCFA near the top. But, oh, what are all those other pins? Well, hang on to your britches, partner, ’cause down in Chile they do some serious astronomy. Some serious, BIG astronomy.
Like this little thing…
…the Magellan Telescopes for one, but, oh, wait, there’s more…like…
…the ESO’s LaSilla Observatory complex, and…oh, yeah, there’s the…
…Atacama Millimeter Array, and, oh yes, then there’s…
…the ESO’s OSA complex, perhaps the most exotic observatory on earth…
But wait, there’s more! Because…last, but by no means least…a free set of steak knives with every order! (Shut up, Jethro. You know you’re not supposed to say stuff like that here). Anyway…we give you…
…the VLT, or Very Large Telescope, the most advanced telescope on earth. It’s here, too.
Okay? Got that? There’s big SCIENCE happening down in Chile. Chile is also the largest, most stable democracy in Latin America, and with the most vibrant, let alone most stable economy in South America. Okay…so we need all of these telescopes in X-plane, don’t we? Can you imagine the sightseeing possibilities on an “around Chile” flight? Talk about a tough NAV exercise…?
Oh, right. Where were we?
Ah, yes. On our way north, to SCFA, Andrés Sabella Gálvez International Airport. Let’s take a look…before I forget what I’m doing again…
Last week I was getting all riled up about the empty control tower at EDDC Dresden, and I think I mentioned control towers often have people in them, and all kinds of STUFF visible from the ramps, too. Just like – THIS ONE.
Okay, and I’m gonna stop yelling now. I promise.
This airport is perched along an uneasy stretch of land between the Atacama Desert and the Pacific Ocean. It almost looks like Saudi Arabia, except cleaner. And hotter. Nice ortho, too. Above, you can just see the airport through the top window segment…to give you some idea of scale. This is big, wide open flying. Bring lots of water.
The airport looks kind of nice too, doesn’t it? Four gates, a couple of RJ ramps, a GA area, and all of it very upscale. Out in the middle of the desert – and upscale.
Astronomers like to fly. A lot. And they come here from all around the world. Constantly.
Ramps are a little bare, but not the worst I’ve seen. Other details, including a filthy ramp, are first-rate. There’s an air force base located here, too, hence the Huey fluttering around overhead.
The AFB is located beyond the terminal area, and below, looks like nice, custom base housing is included in the file. There’s a ton of other stuff in this file as a matter of fact, but…
…well, there’s more, but you get the idea, right? This is a decent file, worth having to round out your first set of Chilean airports to work with down here.
So, now let’s head south, like almost 800 miles south, to Santiago. This is where the payware action takes place, and you’ll want to pay attention to this part.
It gets kind of good now.
Read the Wikipedia entry for the city here, and if you do you’ll soon realize this city is one of the most vibrant cities in the world; regarding the 64 story tower seen above, you can read more about that here. Let’s look at the view of the city from Google Earth:
And note it’s about 15 miles between the two (payware) airports we’re looking at now. Also, note the green area just under the “nm” in nmi. This is a large hill in the center of the downtown area, and the Santiago City file has tons of detail placed around the base and on the summit. Oh, the hill is almost impossible to miss when in the air. The area labeled Santiago Metropolitan is where you’ll find the most densely packed skyscraper area. Here’s the view of the city at night, and NOT from X-plane:
If you enjoy skiing, you’ll note the three ski areas on the mountains behind the Gran Torre. Now, let’s go back to the file included with your SCTB purchase:
In the Bell 412 above, we’re heading from SCTB into the downtown area…
And now, above, headed east, away from the downtown area. Below, approaching the Gran Torre…and then doing some inappropriate maneuvers in the Bell to catch the passing view:
Note the textures on the building. Photo-real? You betcha…and excellent. Below, heading south from the downtown area. Note the football stadium?
There’s an amusement park included with the SCEL file, located here (below), south of the downtown area and quite near the stadium. There you’ll find an animated roller coaster and a Ferris-wheel…and a few other carousel-type features.
Leaving downtown to the northwest, you’ll come to the hill feature mentioned earlier, seen below, to the left. You will have noted the radio towers, of course, but fly closer now, angling for the right base area:
You’ll find an animated “Gondola-style” cable car here, and the wires are quite bright and visible – even from a distance.
Once at the summit, you find a viewing platform and a few other structures. This is the Teleférico Cerro San Cristobal, and if interested, the area is in GoogleEarth “StreetView.” Also nearby, a telecom tower with an animated advertisement for…well, you know.
Now, let’s head west, to the biggest international airport in Chile.
AeroSOFT’s SCEL Santiago International Airport is one of the very best files we’ve seen for X-plane 11 to date. Day or night, this airport just seems to work well, and look good doing it. Beyond that, the performance hit is negligible, and when you consider what’s modeled both here and in the immediate vicinity this result is all the more impressive. Still, what will grab you on first look is all the small, out of the ordinary touches, from Jetway details to the way apron markings stand out, this file doesn’t skimp on even the smallest detail.
And from the cockpit, things really look good, with people everywhere.
Ramp detail is perfect, from carts to oil stains.
And now, how does all this look in the deepest dark of night? Let’s look at the main terminal area first, then, you tell me:
Night in Xp is all about subtle shading by careful blending of textures and light sources, controlling light fall-off…all the while introducing as much chaos as you possibly can – by using, in the main, static objects. “Visual chaos,” as we call it, and it’s not easy to pull off. It’s slight of hand, almost a magic act…draw your eye over there so you mess up your approach right here, right under your nose. Visual chaos is a training aid, in other words, because pilots need to learn how to filter out the extraneous to concentrate on the more important tasks at hand.
Dark pools of light CAN be such an element, but that’s usually not the case. Ramps need to be full of light, even in the middle of the night. People work out there, and people need light in order to perform even the simplest tasks. These ramps are, for the most part, in the mid-range: neither too light nor dark, yet a few dark spots remain. Next time you’re at an airport, check out the bright pools of light around aircraft and vehicle travel lanes. All in all, this is a good job.
The terminal’s vehicle parking areas are among the best we’ve seen, yet they’re almost empty, too. Yes, save the framerates, and, to a degree, that’s a good strategy. When an airport looks almost devoid of traffic, that’s not so good. The developers chose to stick with some animated traffic around the arrival/departure areas, yet there is static vehicular placement in the parking lots. So, maybe it could be denser. Then again, the framerates here are excellent. What do you want to trade off? I think they made the correct choice.
Are you impressed by how good this looks at night? Again, it could be “busier” but the overall effect is of activity and light.
Well…I was impressed, if only because when the sun goes down, this file only seems to get better…like around these GA hangers. Sheesh. I feel like breaking out the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe, or stringing garlic around my neck…
Or take the control tower, which is a classic:
Because, yes, it’s not empty. And, no yelling.
There’s a huge air cargo ramp area, too:
Golly. With air cargo handling equipment. Gee, why didn’t I think of that? Why don’t more scenery developers think of this, too, and include this level and kind of detail? And, how about a tank farm?
And I don’t know, maybe this place needs Rj ramps too? Maybe with a radio tower, just for good measure?
And as if all this wasn’t enough, I was flying over an area several blocks away from the main part of the airport and I saw some random street detail and decided to go down and check it out:
Signs on the fence, stuff everywhere, and yet this “stuff ” is NOT on the airport grounds…yet it IS visible from the runway. Smart use of resources, and looks great at night. It’s an immersive distraction, too, quite visible on approach. A little chaos, anyone?
So, the main terminal is gonzo good, the control tower is too. There are air cargo ramps with great details added, a general aviation area, maintenance facilities and, just for good measure, minute details surrounding the airport that lend just that extra dimension of immersive detail. And there’s that amusement park we saw in the city, included with this purchase.
And, just to confound you a little, my framerates never dropped below 30FPS, and this with the recommended settings that come in the installation PDF. I went higher still and saw only a tiny fall-off in performance, so I’d say this file is very well optimized.
We’re going to slide across to the far side of the city now. Take a look at the map of Santiago above if needed, just to keep oriented, as we head over to SCTB Tobalaba; it’s on the east side of the city, near the mountains. In the images above and just below you can just see how deeply integrated into the surrounding communities this airport is… This is, indeed, an urban GA airport, with a few twists added for good measure.
Shell must do a lot of business in the area?
If you’re still not sure where things are, note the tower and the nearby swimming pool (yes!) in the image above; now, head west to downtown and you’ll see the radio towers on the hill with the cable car ride, and then, SCEL beyond. When you get right down to it, the distances involved are short, so in practice, none of this is “far” away.
The first thing to note, there are a lot of helicopters at this airport, as there’s a distributor for Eurocopters on site. Sorry, no As350 for me yet – we’re waiting for the next revision, but do note there’s a lot of very unusual activity going on here. Bottom left in the image above: a children’s swing set, and a slide, too. On the far side of the tower, multiple tennis courts…and then there’s that swimming pool. Look closely at the interior (textures) of the main building and you’ll see a dining room. Mind you…not a diner…but a dining room. The facility is outfitted more like a yacht club than the type of GA facility you’d run into in the US or Europe. In other words, GA activity becomes a family affair – and that seems very civilized to me. My wife goes flying while I hang around and take care of the baby…? What…?
Another thing that jumps out at you is the ultra-hi definition trees and shrubs used here. You open up in Xp on this ramp and you have to shake your head – if only because what you’re looking at doesn’t look like X-plane anymore.
When you see people out there walking by, the illusion is complete.
On this one level alone, I’d say the developers have succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. This is truly a most immersive file.
Geared. For. Helicopters.
And yes, the tower interior is detailed. Take that, Dresden.
Here’s the Eurocopter distributor, at the south end of the complex:
Night textures are subdued, as befits the locale. The lighted swimming pool is a nice touch, though.
And, below, the area in twilight. Tennis, then a swim…after a hard days flying?
So, to summarize, what the developers have done with these files is create a little introduction to Chile for people in X-plane, and, in a way, this reminds me of the way Santiago Butnaru introduced us to Colombia a few years back. He started by making a few small airfields and a bunch of us started flying around the northern Andes, marveling at how great the mountain scenery was. Not too long after, he formed Nimbus – and the rest is history.
Who knows, maybe, with a little imagination, you too can make the leap to Chile. There’s a lot to offer around here, from extreme mountain flying in the Andes to long-haul RJ flights to the Atacama highlands.
And Santiago, the city in Chile, now offers one of the all-time great helicopter experiences – as there are fifty, yes, fifty landing sites modeled and included in the SCTB Santiago City file.
Roll that number around in your head for a minute, while you look at these images:
And below…one of our favorites, cruising over the Gran Torre.
A lot of the care that makes a file great is seen right here, too…the little mountain and the cable car, many of the helicopter landing pads just visible, but look at the top of the tower…the modeled structural supports.
Why do it?
Because they knew some fool like me would just have to go up and look!
This is a great file, folks, from a developer worth keeping an eye on. Now…if only all those telescopes make it into X-plane!!!
So, the scores?
SCEL is an easy call; it’s a 10 out of 10. It’s got some of the best night lighting we’ve ever seen, but what really got us was the performance. Surrounded by a huge, immersive city, a fully modeled city at that, we were expecting to get 10-12 FPS, not thirty-plus. So, a great model AND huge performance? Yup, a must have file. And we think Chile will become even more useful in the near future, but stay tuned. Big things are brewing down around Cape Horn.
SCTB and Santiago City is a hard call. If all you’ll use this file for is general aviation use, maybe a 10 out of 10 would do, but for Flutterbugs? Holy guacamole…this is a 12 on the 10-scale, a total must-have file. With skyscrapers and hospitals and everything in between, this is helicopter nirvana. And…you’ll have a maintenance base right there waiting for you…
Then, if you tie all this in with the existing route network formed by SCSE and SCFA, we now have yet another training region to add to our Baltic Loop, our Midwest and West Coast US networks, and, of course, our Austrian loop. And all filled with airport scenery files we could have only dreamt about just a few years ago.
Yes indeed…a Very Happy New Year to you – and thanks for dropping by. We’ll see you next time. C&A