x+s+r // LEPA + EINN + EFJM

XSR LEPA hdr

Three freeware files again today, and three more different files I could not find. One, tdg’s LEPA Palma de Mallorca, is simply a masterpiece. Ciano35’s EINN Shannon was meant as payware, but the developer stepped back and released this one as freeware, so let’s see if we agree with that decision. Last up, a small GA airport in Finland with loads of promise. Does it deliver?

And there’s a lingering question here, an undercurrent of some importance to the future of X-plane…and that’s the whole freeware vs payware debate that’s raging again right now, with (allegedly) payware devs in the FsX community stepping back and reassessing their business model in light of Xp’s constantly improving freeware developers. Could that explain why we aren’t seeing the rush to market we expected? Where’s Orbx stand on all this, by the by? It’s hard to tell, but the whole thing feels a little like indecision is in the air. And that’s rarely a good thing.

Well, we’ll look at these questions as we move through this post, but first, a little something fun. A carrier landing in an F-18 – in some really snotty weather – is always something to get you going, but this video is exceptionally clear and a blast to watch…

Now let’s head down to Palma de Mallorca…considered by many to be a little slice of paradise.

LEPA TO 4

Not sure where Mallorca is? No worries, mate…have a look-see…

LEPA GE 1

Yup, in the Med, south of Barcelona, east of Valencia, and so this one is hard by two of the best (payware) airports in Spanish X-plane – and with LEIB Ibiza an even shorter scoot away to the SW.

LEPA GE 2

LEPA is one busy airport, and the arrows above represent direct flights on just a few of the most popular routes. Moscow and Helsinki are the most distant, and seven of the top ten destinations served are in Germany.

So, what’s all the fuss about? Some would say unspoiled natural beauty while others might go on and on about nightlife in Palma. It’s a favored destination for sailors from all over Europe and, surprisingly, sailors on the US east coast, too. Below, a few images of Mallorca to whet your appetite:

Mallorca sail

Narrow, steep-walled inlets and coves are a favorite with sailors – as they get you out of the wind and swell, and this one, located on the southern coast, appears to have a popular beach scene. The coast between Marseilles and Cassis, on the French coast, has many similar, and quite popular (not to mention famous) formations, as well.

Cathedral Palma

Construction on the Cathedral in Palma began in the mid-1200s – soon after the re-establishment of Christianity in southern Europe. It’s a popular attraction, too.

Valldemossa

If you want to get away from it all, Mallorca has many isolated pockets of medieval charm sprinkled around the island. Look over lists of celebrities who’ve moved to such spots on the island; you’ll be amazed.

Mallorca coast

Or maybe it’s images such as this that attract more than twenty million visitors a year to the island…and most come by air…through LEPA…the fourth busiest airport in Spain – and the subject of TDGs latest freeware – and this one is, as mentioned, a masterpiece.

//

aa LEPA overview day

Yes, this one’s a big deal, and in more ways that one. LEPA is a big, imposing airport for any developer to approach, so how do you smooth the workflow to make it workable? Scenery libraries offer one way through the maze, but often times you sacrifice a lot of realism if you take that route – and by and large, that option is available only to freeware developers. Still, the basic fact of the matter is that airports have a lot of hangers, and hangers are often fairly generic structures, so…if you’ve made your own library one part of the load is reduced. Many Jetways are standardized so that modeling chore is taken care of too. Ramps and markings can be handled with object and texture libraries too, leaving the bigger, more important buildings the only remaining question.

If you’re dealing with a building like TWAs Terminal 5 at KJFK you have no option but to dig out a serious modeling program like Blender or AC3D (don’t even bother with SketchUp at this level – that’s a nice tool for freeware). If you’re confronted with fairly simple buildings these tools can easily create really beautiful renders of real buildings, but the work is specialized and can be slow-going for the uninitiated. For a payware developer, this is the meat-and-potatoes issue…how to go custom and not go broke – by working on one building for a month, for instance. If you’re a freeware developer, can you use library objects to build a reasonable facsimile? If so, you’re golden and off to the races…if not, you have to build something custom, too.

Then there’s the issue of taking shortcuts…aka taking The Easy Way Out.

It feels like I’ve been on a ten-year rant – trying to get payware scenery developers to move away from smeary blue night window textures – and when I find such bullcrap in a payware file I’m pretty quick to call it out (after I pull what’s left of my hair off the top of my head). On the other hand, I almost expect such shortcuts in freeware, so when I find a freeware file that’s whole orders of magnitude better than many recent payware files I just have to focus on that right from the beginning.

Well…let’s start there today. So, okay…see any smeary-opaque blue window textures in the image below?

LEPA n1

Or here…?

LEPA n2

And…note details under the terminal, including people, carts, and a view to the next concourse in the distance. If you want to understand how to impart a sense of depth in your own work, study this image.

No…study this airport file.

LEPA n3

LEPA n4

Above…this is the least successful of the buildings I looked at, yet it’s still better than most payware. The slanted ceiling is supposed to show depth inside the terminal building, yet the slope of the texture doesn’t follow the roofline so it just looks, well, confusing is the word that comes to mind. Still, the textures fit in with the rest of the file and really, they don’t detract too much from the overall effect. I guess the point is this: if this is the worst you’ll find in the file – and it’s not bad, per se,  does it make a big difference? After all, it’s just that the perspective is a little “off,” not a major flaw.

LEPA n5

Every picture tells a story…so where does your eye go in the image above? Mine went to the two guys down on the ramp talking. What a scene, too. The waiting lounge, the activity under the building, including a little boy watching the scene. Depth, imagination, real artistry.

LEPA n6

Same location, pulled back some; look at lighting and shadows on the roof, placement of ramp details.

LEPA n7

Same location, another angle. Take in the lower level waiting rooms, the upper level to the right. Reflective material on the building to the right.

LEPA n8

Detail carried to adjacent ramps…roof shadows, lighting on animated ground carts. Window textures…what a scene…

LEPA N9

Last thought here. The quality of scenery objects chosen makes a difference. It’s night in the image below but look at the detail on that tug. Even the 3D figure looks decent in that light.

aa LEPA tamp detail

Now, above, apply this formula to a huge terminal complex and somehow optimize all your files so framerates are still manageable with HDR, Textures, AA, Objects and Reflections all – at MAX…! This is artistry combined with real understanding of what works well, and what’s a waste of resources. Makes you wonder if this dude might come to work with you, doesn’t it?

Before we get back to the terminal, let’s look at some peripheral detail that’s also right in the middle of the airport…

LEPA det 1

LEPA det 2

I saw this and smiled. The salt hopper for de-icing the runway, the rusted tin roof, and all the pavement markings. It’s these little things that define real quality in a payware file, yet here they are. Free. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it…?

LEPA det 3

Same area, different angle, fuel depot.

LEPA det 4

Above, just an out of the way corner of the airport…with multi-dimensional levels of foliage and extremely detailed workshops behind. Remarkable. This just about blurs the line between a model and reality…

LEPA det 5

More hangers and shops away from the main terminal area (above). Odds are you’d never see this stuff unless you went looking for it, but you’ll find this same level of detail everywhere you look. Just a stunning display of professionalism.

So, how about some roof details? Not too many corners cut up here, either.

aa LEPA roof detail

The next three images are from peripheral passenger & cargo ramps, not attached to the main terminal:

LEPA D1

LEPA D2

Signage and ground details? High quality – and then some.

LEPA D3

Cargo ramps? A little bare, but do note the office building with reflective glass.

Now, let’s look around the terminal a little more. Below, Jetways areas are nicely finished, but also note the rails around the pier, as well as the air-conditioning and electrical boxes, complete with warning decals and manufacturer’s nameplates.

LEPA D4

Below, ramp clutter is a little on the light side, but look at the painted ramp markings. I think this scene once again makes a strong case for acf developers including dedicated ground vehicles for their files, including baggage and catering equipment. Flight Factor is leading the way here, but more devs should follow suit.

LEPA D5

aa LEPA ramp detail 1

It all comes together nicely too. This is a large airport, similar in size to KLGA or EDDL, it’s highly detailed (night and day) and the framerates were uniformly excellent – with the EADT 737-7.

LEPA TO 1

An overview of the area at night:

aa LEPA overvu nite

The island makes for a compelling destination, too, and depending on direction you can have a short overwater hop, or quite a long one. Depends on your nav skills and the equipment on your acf…and though it looks like 757/A330 class will be the largest a/c using this facility, 737s/A320s will be the norm.

LEPA TO 3

You will find some additional details in the nearby city-scape, like this marina – which is under the approach to a runway and adds a little punch to the scene on final…

aa LEPA marina 00

…especially at night…

aa LEPA marina 00.1

…and do go look at this up close as it’s nicely done, too…

LEPA marina

There’s another airport included in this file, but we’ll look at that one next time.

So, the bottom line?

aa LEPA windmill

Sometimes it feels a little like jousting at windmills (and yes, I’m sorry for the punny imagery here, but yes, that windmill is animated…), but if freeware continues to assert such a dominant hold on the market it risks putting a real crimp on sales of payware products. Yeah, sure, free is good and I get that, but I think it’s time for TDG to consider moving on to payware, follow in MrX’s footsteps, so to speak. These files are simply not representative of freeware and do, I think, represent a damaging influence on the nascent payware renaissance just taking hold – or trying to take hold – in Xp.

Of course, I have absolutely no right to tell someone how to live their life, or how to market their work. That’s this developer’s prerogative, not mine, but the overall success of X-plane going forward is tied to an economic marketplace that encourages a healthy payware ecosystem alongside a vibrant freeware community. Freeware has tended to be of low quality because most efforts were learning projects for aspiring developers. Once these folks hit their stride and became proficient they’ve moved off to making payware. Or…at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work, right?

So, has TDG reached that point?

I’d be happy to say so and leave it at that, but there’s another side to this coin, too. Payware moves slowly because, for the most part, developers build highly customized objects and so can’t take advantage of scenery library objects. Also, payware developers have their own interests and may build airports that many end users either don’t need – or want. A developer like TDG helps address this market by filling in airports that payware developers miss, and he can keep production rates high (scenery libraries, remember?) and put out five times the product in half the time.

Payware developers tend to keep their projects secret too, and right now there might be a developer hard at work on an LEPA file – and looking at this release while feeling a little sick to his stomach…because how the hell can he or she compete with “free” – when “free” is this good?

It would be nice to coordinate airport projects but while the idea may have some merit the practical reality is actually counter-intuitive. No…we’re left with a conundrum. Payware developers are simply going to have to make a compelling case that spending twenty or so dollars on a file makes sense. They won’t do that releasing files with bad night textures, or by producing terminal buildings that look nothing like the real affair. Looking over four payware releases at the Org last weekend we were stunned at the apparent low quality in these fifteen dollar files. Those four don’t come close in quality to this LEPA file, and, in fact, most freeware files beat this work hands down…but that’s the market. If it sells then that’s the way it is.

But, the thing is…developers in the FsX/P3D world are eyeing these releases, trying to figure out the market in X-plane…what files to release, how to price them…and how to compete with 1) such a vibrant freeware community and, 2) intangibles like the wide disparity in file quality you find in X-plane. Yet that’s been the reality in X-plane – like almost for forever – because until quite recently freeware was just about all we had – so put yourself in their shoes. What would you make of TDGs file…if you were in their place?

So…think about that, will you? I buy files to review them, but odds are you don’t. You buy files because they interest you for any number of reasons…yet right now the buying decisions you make are being scrutinized by a number of developers. I think what I’m trying to say here is rather simple, too…

Now is a good time to get out there and buy a bunch of payware files. Got that?

So, TDG’s LEPA? How to you rank this file?

As freeware, there’s almost no better file out there. As payware, it would be right up there with pack – in many areas. It does not have as highly detailed a model as, say, Just Sim’s Larnaca, but these night textures beat Just Sim’s file like a tin drum. EDDC Dresden needs a detailed interior and/or better lighting. EDDL needs more ramp clutter. ENBR needs, well, that file needs a lot of help…and yet her’s TDG…releasing a brilliant Stockholm Arlanda last week and a stunning LEPA this week.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this happen in X-plane, too. Just remarkable.

//

EINN hdr

Shannon has a long, complicated history associated with early trans-Atlantic flight, but that original airport is long-gone now, replaced by this newer, brighter facility. Back in the day, back when most US carriers made the trip in a Boeing 707-320c, headwinds ruled the day and those guys took-off with just enough fuel to make EGLL or LFPO – IF the weather Gods cooperated. Well, rather than take a chance, most flights made a scheduled stop here at Shannon and, as a result, well, the Duty-Free Shop here became almost legendary. And those poor people on Aeroflot… they had to stop here on the across the Atlantic and that Duty-Free Shop was a temptation very few could afford. You could buy whiskey and perfumes, Pringle sweaters or Hermes scarves, and this was long before such duty-free shops were the norm. Indeed, you can consider Shannon’s facility the laboratory where this insidious creature was born.

This developer has breathed new life into one of our favorite files, Cormac Shaw’s EICK Cork, a file that came of age years ago but that had not kept up with all the changes taking place with Xp11’s introduction. Now he’s released his own creation, the file we’re looking at today, and I’ll sum it succinctly: this is good, solid work, a very nice file that anyone using Ireland in X-plane would be foolish to miss – but…

Let’s take a look…

EINN Jpit

EINN Shannon is, actually, a fairly small airport, and it always has been. Trans-Atlantic travel was, in the 1960s, still a fairly unusual undertaking, and it took the 747s introduction in 1968 to change that paradigm, to open up travel to middle-class travelers hungry to see Europe for the first time. And the 747 obliterated the range restriction that necessitated a stop for fuel in Shannon, too; soon enough 747s were tackling the KSFO to CDG route, non-stop, and Shannon began a slow drift into obscurity. The booming Irish Tiger economy changed all that in the 1990s, and EINN began to seriously redevelop to meet the needs of new customers. Chief among them? Aircraft & airline maintenance operations, including manufacturers’ jet engine overhaul facilities.

EINN hangers

EINN LH T 2

EINN 412 hanger

EINN IAC hanger

These facilities appear accurately modeled and textured, too. Surrounding details are somewhat dependant on the vagaries of what the file sits on, namely an ortho or AlpilotX’s v4 mesh…or nothing at all. There are two downloads, one for an ortho, the second for all others, and here the user experience gets a little complicated.

I used the latter file, the no ortho option, and ran into a bunch of issues. To be fair, the developer advises using an ortho but, really, I can’t hold that many huge files on my computer so only use them when absolutely necessary, and I’d say this is one of those files where an ortho is necessary – so I doubt I’ll keep this one around. Too bad, as I kind of like puttering around from this part of Ireland to France or Spain.

First problem I had was opening the file with runway follows terrain contours ON. This caused a number of scenery load problems and the file (finally) opened with multiple aircraft stacked at one gate and no pavement in many areas. Re-boot with contours OFF and now dozens of static aircraft – and pushback trucks – are hovering forty feet in the air. Go to renderings and un-check static aircraft and my 737 fell from 40 feet up and pulled-off a spectacular crash and burn. And now I’ve got pavement but there are also trees growing up through the concrete in the car park. The golf-course by the tank farm doesn’t show up because there’s no ortho…and on and on we go.

Then, to top it all off…the night textures. Yup, you got it. This file has a terminal case of the smeary-blues. Or, in this case, the smeary blues and beiges and baby puke green.

EINN nite textures

Yup, this one’s got ’em all, and not one clear texture can be found, except on the control tower, which appears to have either no glass textures at all, or something clear.

EINN nite textures 3

And, well, here’s the real facility, just by way of comparison:

EINN real 2

EINN real 3

Transparent, not opaque, and neither beige nor vivid sky blue – and at night?

EINN real nite 1

Just by way of comparison – again, here’s Aerosoft’s EDDF – again. Alas, the interiors are NOT modeled – these are textured windows, and they look good at night. No, they look great. Opaque blue smears looked tolerable – back in Xp version 8 (ten years ago) – back when very few people knew how to apply photo textures in Blender. That’s not the case these days, and do take note: crappy night textures ruin files. They make all your hard work, well, almost pointless. If you’re going to cut corners, to take the easy way out, do it where it’s not so visible.

eddf 2 3fps

So, yeah, end of rant. Below, two images of the exclusion zone issue…or the ortho issue…or…whatever kind of issue this is. If you don’t have a relevant ortho, this is what awaits. I think. Maybe, but who knows…?

EINN parking lot trouble

EINN overhead 737

And all this is a shame. The airport’s basics are very well done; it’s the little niggling details that hurt this one.

Do we recommend this one? Maybe next revision, if the developer can resolve a few of the issues concerning orthos and exclusion zones, maybe. The window textures? Well, once the developer decides to go down this dusty road that’s pretty much the end of the line. It’s just too hard to go in and undo the damage without a total re-do.

EINN 412 tower

The tower is nicely modeled, well, all the models are good so once the basic usability questions are cleared up this file would be an easy 10 on the freeware scale. If the issues are resolved we’ll let you know. Pending that, if you don’t have or want huge ortho files cluttering up your drive I’d take a pass on this one.

//

EFJM hdr 1

Okay, Finland ranks way up there on our list of fun places to fly so anytime a file pops up there we jump on it. So, along comes this little thing yesterday and we jump all over it – and man-o-man is this a weird one. I think this is Cosmo42’s third effort at doing an airport file and despite being so small it looks very complicated. The end results? Promising, but not there yet.

EFJM 1

The gray hanger looking building behind the Waco is huge, and it stretches across the landscape like a snake sunning itself on a wooded hillside. And the thing is, this thing is actually there. Take a look…

EFJM GE 1

The larger context?

EFJM GE 2

This airport is almost on the rhumb line between EFVA Vaasa (a real favorite) and EFHK Helsinki (my favorite freeware file last year…need I say more?) so this one could end up getting a lot of use.

Well…I open the file and the runway contours thing bites me on the buns once again. The runways look like roller-coasters so I switch that to OFF and, well, this is what I get:

EFJM trees

Now, in my experience trees do not grow in the middle of runways, but if they did, well, bad stuff happens. Thing is, there’s supposed to be an ortho-type underlay here, but it’s a simple .png in the main file. Obviously, there’s no exclusion zone on the runways, as both are nicely populated with all kinds of trees…

EFJM trees 2

EFJM hi

Oh, here’s a little chart of the runways (yes, there are two down there in the trees):

EFJM chart

So, what’s the deal? Why look at this one today? Well, it’s got promise and it’s not every day a new file in Finland comes out.

EFJM 4

And, with a few tweaks here and there, this one could get some use. I’m not sure about the red hanger below, however. Taxi out the hanger doors right into a bunch of flagpoles, and no paved ramp to get to the tree-filled runway? That just seems a little too hard to me.

EFJM 5

Anyway, it’s a decent first attempt that holds promise for those of us hungry for Finnish files…

EFJM 2

So, we’ll keep an eye on this one; if it improves we’ll let you know. Until then, don’t bother…this one’s not ready for prime time.

Later – A

 

 

 

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