Someone asked me a few days ago when I’d review the A320 Ultimate, and I replied as best I could: Never. Because there’s no one less qualified in the universe to write about an Airbus file than yours truly. When Fly-J-Sim releases v2 of their 727 series I’ll write bushels full – because I know the 727 inside and out, or, at least I did thirty years ago. Well, closer to 40 years ago, but who’s counting? Which is why I’ve always tended to write about scenery files, and, when warranted and if I felt even remotely qualified, about GA aircraft. I wrote about Peter’s A380 when it first came out and I did as best I could, but I felt like an idiot trying to wax poetic about life on Jupiter – because I know just about as much.
And I have a hard time justifying the time to read an aircraft review if the reviewer hasn’t spent time in the real aircraft. That said, I’ve written a few reviews of aircraft files for aircraft I’ve never even seen before, let alone sit in or fly, and all I could do is relate the experience of simulated flight in that aircraft – relative to my experience in similar real aircraft of that type. It’s an imperfect way of doing things, but that’s the nature of any simulation, I suppose. How many of us have conned a nuclear attack submarine, or an Iowa class battleship – let alone the Starship Enterprise? Not many, I reckon, but you can read endless reviews of such things on gaming sites.
That’s not to say impressions of such files are unimportant, but when I read something like “Wow, this feels just like the real aircraft” I’d like to know the reviewer has serious time-in-type. If not, just say so, and tell me your impressions – like: “Gee, this was immersive because…” or “you know what…? I had trouble with x,y, and z.” What is anyone supposed to take away from a reviewer whose starting premise is so weak?
Reviewing airport files is far easier for me and, I reckon, other reviewers – especially if they’ve ever piloted a real aircraft. And, I’d add, piloted a real aircraft at night. Some files these days are getting so good the feeling of immersion (in our simulated world) is really astonishing – and getting close to the experience of real flight. And while these files are qualitatively so much better than files in v9, here’s the thing. We were being drawn in back then, too, because those files were better than what we’d seen in Xp8, which was better than Xp7…and on and on…
Which leads us to speculate…just how much better can our files get? Especially at night…where Xp11s lighting is simply gorgeous.
Well, I suspect we’re about to find out. Assuming the next wave of FsX developers introduce new files soon, this should be an overwhelming transitional period in X-plane…from really good files to gobsmackingly great files. With Xp11 now hitting its stride, with its feature-set solidifying, developers will have a stable set of tools to work with and production should ramp-up.
And end users like us stand to get very poor as our cash heads out into the ether.
In the meantime, we’re left to contemplate the other side of this equation: just how good can freeware files in X-plane 11 get? And can this new generation of freeware files pose a threat to the emergence of new payware files coming from FsX developers trying to break into the market? This is a huge question, and the answers are nowhere near in sight.
Well, today we’re going to examine this question by looking at one brand new payware file – Just SIMs LCLK Larica, Cyprus – as well as two hot ‘n fresh freeware files. The first is Franknfly’s freshly revised EDDN Nuernberg international v4.0.1, the second is axmiha’s new SBFL Hercilio Luz International. EDDN has been around since, well, I don’t remember when the first version came out, but it was a long time ago. Like…hundreds of thousands of years ago – at least. When, and it was back in v7, I think, the download came with a decent city file for the old part of the city, and, well, we were all just beside ourselves…but here we are in v11 and the Alt Stadt is still with us, too. The question now? How good will it look in v11?
We’ll head down to Brazil next, to the city of Florianopolis, and look at an absolutely wonderful new airport file – with some of the best window textures we’ve ever seen in a freeware file. And finally, and this is a bit of a lark, we’ll look at a horse-racing track over in England – that just happens to have a bunch of helipads nearby. This is a bit of whimsy and I don’t think the developer intends this to be serious competition for Heathrow or Gatwick, but it’s kind of fun nonetheless. So…off we go…to the eastern Mediterranean, to Cyprus…and this is a LONG post today, so sit back and get comfortable.
So, you’re flying into Cyprus…
“Where’s Cyprus?” you ask. Well…take a look…but let’s ignore the history lesson today, because where Cyprus is concerned, things are complicated. Just ask anyone in Athens.
Well…you can look over the list of airlines and destinations here, but do note…the list is surprisingly long. Let’s also not mention that this phenomenon probably has nothing at all to do with the lax banking regulations on the island.
So, let’s start over. Assume you’re approaching Cyprus…
And you just flew over the airport and looked down on the area as you entered the pattern, then you landed and taxied up to your assigned gate. You notice the Jetways are nicely constructed and that there’s a lot of activity on the ground…
And…because your eyesight is so-o-o good, you noted the rain grooves in the pavement. You even noticed the expansion joints set in the concrete are a little lower than the pavement.
In fact, your eyesight is so-o-o-o good you can see through sheet-metal, and besides all the intricately detailed stairways you also saw electrical conduit exiting the back of the air conditioning units. (Yes, MrX, I think they beat you here)…
And just because you’re in X-plane, no one is going to blame you for mistaking the image above for being taken at the real airport…because this is, literally, as good a scene as I’ve ever seen in X-plane. Yes, this is Laminar’s default 738 (which is, BTW, drop-dead gorgeous), but folks, the view out this glass is astonishing. There’s good, then there’s GOOD. I don’t know about you, but to me, this looks better than GOOD.
And the details are there once you start looking for them, and I do advise you look these images over closely…
Note painted markings? Seen better? I haven’t.
Or how about these detailed light posts?
Or the pavement details, including edges and cracking? And the gravel??? This is like Custer Gateway…on steroids.
If you take a flutterbug up for a spin around the area, you’re going to run into a few obvious inclusions, and then…something we’ve never seen before in Xp. First, the usual stuff. You’ll see hints of this at night looking to the east…like a lot of lights over on the beach…
Yes, that’s light from one of the many beachfront resort areas on the island…and below in daylight…on the beach…
Those are umbrellas on the beach, BTW, and thank goodness they don’t cast shadows – or FPS would have ground down to 0.001 fps. As it is, I was running with objects, textures, HDR and AA at MAX – WITH shadows, and FPS got a little dicey on my machine (5.5Gb Vram).
Now, for the unusual. And…I am NOT going to resort to cheap humor here.
Located on the SE side of the airport you will run across this lovely perfume factory, otherwise known as a sewage treatment plant. They make a heady cologne here, often referred to as le Eau de Cràp…
I’ve been reviewing files in X-plane for ten-or-so years now, but I have never, I mean never-ever run across so much shit in X-plane. You know what guys? You win. This takes the cake.
But then…you had to go and spoil it all, with some of the freakiest night textures we’ve seen lately…on payware or freeware.
I will say that, by the time you’re several hundred yards away, these nite window textures go from looking truly awful to merely weird. Move to pattern altitude and they’re no big deal. And it’s interesting, because many of the other buildings around the airport look decent at night…
So…? Why this?
I mean, tell me if I’m wrong and I’ll shut up about it, but are the windows on the real airport smudged blue smeary things, or are they glass? Transparent glass, perchance?
I mean…I get it…you have to make cuts somewhere or FPS will take a big hit…
Again, from a few hundred yards away things look pretty good. The farther you get away, the better they look, too. Thing is, I’m not sure it’s supposed to work this way. I always heard the closer you get the better things are supposed to look. That sure applies in daylight, so why not at night? What works, you ask? Look at DDs EPWA Warsaw Chopin for a hint…but keep on reading…
There are so many excellent parts about this airport I’m just going to ignore the night thing. If I don’t I’ll just go all Linda Blair and start spewing green stuff over at X-plane’s only working sewage treatment plant, and wow, we don’t want to go there. So, let’s focus on the other good stuff…like this admin building…
So much good going on here: foliage, parking, ortho, building model, lighting…all excellent.
Or take this maintenance hanger:
Not a lot of ground clutter on this end of the airport, but the hangers look decent. Even at night.
There’s even an over-the-water approach here, which is always fun.
And the grasses used are perfect, too, and add to the immersive nature of the experience.
The main terminal building is perfectly modeled, and though the parking lots are a little bare there are tons of tour buses standing by, which makes sense. So…? Where does that leave us?
Almost perfect? If the night textures were better, an easy 10 out of 10. They’re not, so a hard to swallow 9 out of 10 – on the payware scale.
As mentioned above, this file, and the accompanying VFR-city file (also now available in an updated download that’s Xp11 compliant) has been around the block a few times (that means its really, really old, like v7 old). It’s been tweaked and made to work in v9, then v10, and now in v11. The developer, FranknFly, is also the fella that put out the FF and FF/LOD scenery library files, so you can assume he knows what he’s doing. We’ve loved this EDDN file for a long time, too. X-plane wouldn’t be the same without it.
Which is why we’re looking at them again, for the umpteenth time.
EDDN Nürnberg is right in the middle of the action, and while it’s to be expected that all the usual players, from Air France to BA, work out of here, it’s also very difficult for me to recall that PanAm used to work out of here too. At one time PanAm and TWA were as dominant in the European market as most the European majors are now. PanAm and TWA flew into the usual gateway cities thirty years ago, but instead of codesharing out to partners, they ran their own route networks all over Europe and the Middle East – with 707s & 727s no less.
Below, the lay of the land:
Oh, the airport is named after this dude. His name is NOT Tom Cruise.
AeroSoft has literally surrounded this airport with extraordinarily good files, with their EDDF Frankfurt as good as it gets in X-plane, yet I’d be surprised if they made a payware EDDN. There’s really no need. Not when you’ve got a freeware file this good. Or so beloved by the old timers in Xp.
Yeah, the night textures aren’t perfect, but most of the other details are present and look very good. And below…that’s not bad looking at all, is it?
In the image below, look on the glass wall ahead of the Air France 752. Note the yellow splotch on the glass? That’s a reflection from the airBaltic MD80.
And yes, the crane moves. Incessantly.
You want ramp clutter? You got it!
Passengers on the ramp are a great thing. This KLM 752? Nope. It’s got a bad case of the droops.
Roof and shadow detail? Yup. Light towers as per spec? Yup. Incinerator belching black smoke? Yup…
Custom tower, as per prototype? Check. Eurowings headquarters building? Check.
Here’s the passenger entry area, located in a maze of roadways. It’s currently devoid of detail – aside from the canopy overhead.
Plenty of hotels and office buildings, all nicely detailed, though the roofs are a little bare.
Oh, there are four helipads:
Now, let’s turn on the foggy blues machine and see what develops in lo-viz…
These might come in handy…
Now, how about a little moody blue…? Below, the windows look just about perfect for six in the morning.
Now, note the glass below. Not exactly transparent, but highly reflective. And those shadows aren’t baked on, they’re dynamic…!
You can see (lower arrow) that the Jetway glass is transparent, while you can see (upper arrow) the reflections of two airliners on the exterior wall. If something taxis by in WT3 it should be fun.
Night textures? I’ve seen better, but these are unobtrusive, not so in-your-face.
Fairly generic, until you look more closely. There are hints of interior detail…
Sure, I’d love to see more transparent glass, more interior detail, but that won’t keep this from being considered one of the best freeware files in X-plane. My advice: give Franknfly some time and he’ll make this the best file in X-plane. As it is? A solid 10 out of 10 on the freeware scale.
One last thing here…the city file:
I recommend you use a helicopter, and do so at dusk.
There are castles and ancient cathedrals…all that’s missing is torchlight…
There’s some modern stuff around too…
But lots of old stuff makes this a standout affair. Kind of like Nürnberg, if you know what I mean.
This isn’t the first file we’ve looked at by this freeware developer, but this is a good one, and well worth your taking a look at. Located on a bay/lagoon on Brazil’s southern Atlantic coast, this airport presents some unique flight options. Real weather OPS (METARS) ought to be interesting, too.
This is NOT a large airport, but there are plenty of interesting route options, including Rio and Santiago, Chile, but the fact of the matter is: the terminal here is one of the best we’ve seen recently. It’s detailed, it’s weathered, and the window textures are excellent.
So, now the fun begins…
Let’s ignore the fact that you can see the steering wheel inside the bus. You can even read the bus’s destination card in the windshield. You can see the nice gray seats in the bus because the windows are crystal clear. Yes, let’s ignore all that and look inside the terminal…through the terminal building’s crystal clear glass. I might add, the crystal clear REFLECTIVE glass. Now, do you understand why I’m so interested in this one?
So, add some relevant ground clutter, and let’s not forget to mention that there’s plenty of animated movement on these ramps, and there you have it, folks. Here’s the winning recipe for freeware perfection. I need not mention that plenty of payware doesn’t hit this level. Check out three recent releases at the Org if you don’t believe me. Freeware masquerading as payware is never a winning formula.
Nite textures? Uh, well, let’s take a look:
Generic textures, but a variety that breaks up the monotony and helps create depth…
I couldn’t find any custom city objects on a short flight around the area, but I did run into this nice heliport on the grounds.
And this area has it’s own little control tower, too:
There’s a small but nicely detailed air cargo center, as well as a little GA area:
Fact of the matter is, this airport offers some fun flight options, including a trans-Andes hop to Santiago, Chile that ought to be a blast and a half in the Saab 340 or Beech 1900…in nasty weather.
Nothing to add, except this is a 10 out of 10 “must have” freeware file.
With simple textures bordering on comical and almost no relevance at all to flight simulation in general, welcome to EG49 Haydock Park, a little north and east of Liverpool and all in all, a quite fun little diversion from the usual 9-to-5 in X-plane. What you’ll do here, what you’ll use this file for…I have no earthly idea. Still, it’s kind of fun.
I couldn’t find a marked heliport in Google Earth, nor any other kind of pads, but here in Xp there are a bunch of options for plowing your 407 into the ground while hundreds of spectators ignore your antics and enjoy the race.
Oh, that green thing behind the 407 (below) is a pond of some sort. Do not land there.
All in all, yeah, I get it. There’s nothing to this one but a little fun. And you can bet on that.
SCORE? Whatever you want this one to be. For me, fun is all you need.
So, what did you think? Any real stand-out issues? Have a favorite?
Well, for me it’s not so simple…as I posed a couple of loaded questions up front. Like…how well does freeware in Xp11 stack up against the latest payware.
Well, in daylight there’s no comparison. With good quality payware you’ll get detail the freeware guys just can’t compete with…yet (unless your name is “X, James X”). Turn out the lights and, well, all the detail you see in daylight disappears and you’re left with window textures as a standout feature. Then…guess what? The gap narrows, doesn’t it?
So, as of early 2018 the differentiation between good payware and the very best freeware comes down to detail in daylight vs night textures and lighting. But all in all, advantage payware…but, that’s not quite all we need to look at, is it?
Because lots of freeware files are now adding city files, or more detail surrounding their airport, than most payware files. So, advantage freeware.
One thing that interests me more and more is how well things like transit and rail is integrated in-and-around airport terminals. We’ve seen a good example within the past week or so at LERL Spain, and AeroSoft’s EDDP has a gonzo train station integrated. Their EDDF made a good attempt with the inter-terminal people-mover, but so did MrX at his freeware KSFO. That’s a draw.
Things like ground clutter and taxiway markings are getting too close to call. What it boils down to is how much time can a developer spend adding this stuff, because this is tedious stuff, labor-intensive work. Another draw?
And animated ground traffic? I’d say that’s another draw.
So, payware has a real advantage in detailed models of terminal buildings because, let’s face it, Lego-brick terminals are good as stand-ins but not even meant to take the place of a good payware model. But what happens when a freeware developer starts building good custom terminal models? Oops?
In my mind, when I think of innovation AND excellence I keep going back to Drzewiecki Design’s Warsaw Chopin terminal and control tower:
This is a jaw-dropping scene. No one has got this beat yet…not in Xp anyway.
Their control tower implies activity even though you can’t see any. To me, this is high-order artistry, the best tower we’ve seen in Xp11 to date.
When you pull up to the gate AND you look INTO the terminal, not at some smeary blue texture – it’s a big Wow moment. And I don’t know how they did it but there’s a negligible performance penalty. Customers are wowed by this stuff, guys. Do keep that in mind.
All I can say with certitude after this outing is that smeary blue night textures on windows should rapidly become a thing of the past in better quality payware. Drzewiecki Design’s has shown us the way out of this mess; it’s up to the rest of you guys to follow their lead – or get left in the dust. Freeware developers? Are you taking notes? Do you realize you can easily build visible interiors with SketchUP? There’s little you can’t do with that program.
Here’s a fictional terminal I made 10 years ago in SU with tons of interior elements:
Yeah, brutal on framerates…but see the possibilities? How about something simpler?
With interiors built right into the structure? Everything an air terminal needs, and all of it visible from the ramp.
I think we got into the habit of designing shells for models and ignored something obvious, and I think some designers are coming around to that obvious. Instead of texturing some sort of fake semblance of an interior, why not build an interior that doesn’t adversely impact framerates – and make it highly visible?
And as far as hangers, there’s no end to what you can create. I made this construct in about an hour, right down to the electrical conduit. This is a few minutes into the project:
Add a few dynamic elements (men working on ladders?) and some Xp11 compliant lighting and away you go. That’s the beauty of SketchUP. It’s easy, but the textures are pitiful compared to Blender.
So, where does that leave us?
Payware is better, generally speaking, and they’re often better files because the developers form teams and assign jobs to area experts, and so they can divide large projects into smaller bits and pieces. You get one guy who does the modeling, another to do the textures, another to do the lighting… Or, MrX make his own scenery library as he made his freeware airports. How much does that speed his process?
If payware development teams can maintain a similar structure they’ll almost always make a much better, more immersive product than freeware developers, simply because of the organizational expertise and division of labor.
But what happens if, or should I say when, solo freeware developers begin to form teams? Maybe with the intent of making two or three freeware files, then going pro? Kind of like MrX did?
You’re going to have to really up your game then, and choose your projects wisely, because a lot of impressive work will begin to hit the market – for free. So, it’s not inconceivable that in the near future the market could be saturated with would-be developers. Or…guys who should stick to freeware start selling their junk, in which case payware developers will start to win big. But if freeware gets better and better, then what?
Well, you’ll have to beat the quality of that work, won’t you? And guess who just provided you with the template for your success?
Drzewiecki Design…that’s who. Look at those three images above of their work. Study that airport. And then see what you can come up with that’s better. Why? Because we’re counting on you – to take Xp11 to the next level. And we’re hoping you profit from the experience. If you do, we’ll all come out ahead.
Hasta later – C