I’m not going to beat you over the head with statistics and charts today; there’s no need, and I reckon that’s so if only because everyone in the flight simulation world knows this airport. The only thing about it that’s been an unknown is when, and maybe even if, we’d ever see a payware file in X-plane that lives up to all its hype.
Well, there’s a new kid on the block that has set out to answer that question, and maybe break down a few barriers along the way. Their name? Airworthy Designs. That’s a name you should remember after this file, by the way. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this scenery file makes everyone’s short list for the most important file of 2018.
Let’s take a quick look around AD’s TNCM right now, in kind of an abbreviated First Look way. Short, sweet, and to the point.
Let’s get a major issue out of the way right up front. The documentation included with the download cuts right to the chase, though I wish the info was included on the Org’s info page BEFORE you hit the Add To Cart button. If you have an older graphics card, one with less than 4GB, please read on. If you have 8GB, proceed with caution – and read the installation PDF!
This file is huge, like almost 6GB huge, and the installation PDF is right up front: DO NOT TRY TO LOAD THIS FILE WITH ANYTHING OTHER THAN THE RECOMMENDED SETTINGS. Need I mention that those settings are nowhere near MAX settings? Mid-range settings will result with a scenery load in the 10GB range. Got that?
So of course I loaded the file like this:
First thing to note is the load at MAX settings: 15.2 Gb. This will melt a GPU with 8Gb onboard, so DON’T DO IT. The reality this file presents is a tough one to swallow, but this is the future of flight simulation: you are NOT going to enjoy running this file with a 4Gb GPU. You may get it ‘up and running,’ but the results will likely not be what you were expecting. That said, my guess is an 8Gb GPU will be the minimum to run this – and have the results look even mildly interesting, so consider this: we are quickly entering the era where airport files are going to need 8GB + graphics cards in order to reveal all a file has to offer. Ever since I started in Xp this has been the constant drumbeat, too…files get more and more GPU intensive and you’re always playing catchup. So, a 1GB GPU was okay ten years ago, a 4GB card did the trick 2-3 years ago, and my guess is an 8Gb card may last a year or two more…so, if you want to play at this level you’re simply going to need to upgrade your hardware; that said, if you have a 2GB GPU I think you ought to give this file a pass. (My hardware is listed at the end of this post, if curious.)
I reckon most people who buy this file will be content to do touch and goes in the default (Laminar) 744; this airport is, after all, all about blowing the bikinis off the girls waving at the 744 pilots on short finals. And yes, I know, a few of you will actually buy this file and fly to CDG or EDDF or EHAM. We understand. Really, we do. Do have fun, but remember to get up and stretch every few hours.
The Laminar 744 is, as luck would have it, a very frame rate friendly heavy, much better than the SSG 748i (though to be fair, nowhere near as full-featured), so if you intend to use this airport for bikini buzzing the Laminar default file is where you should start. The FF 752 ought to be next on your list, with flights to KDFW, KPHL, and KJFK on your short list. 737s and A320s? What’s the point? This is Heavy Metal territory…so 777s & 787s may be fun here, too…but really…use the 744 and have fun.
With settings MAXed out, the default 744 was running in the low to mid-30s, the SSG 748i was knocking around 28-30fps when pointed at the terminal, and over 30 when on the runway, so both were very flyable on my system.
The ramps are just short of crazy-good, with good pavement markings yada-yada, but the pavement itself seems to be a custom surface. I am not going to show you close-ups of the pavement, but yeah, the developers went all out just about everywhere you look, and a lot of places you’ll probably never look, too. This is almost an insane level of detail – AND I LOVE IT!
One of the things I’ve always liked about this airport…? It takes about a minute and half to taxi from the gate to the active. This is, at heart, a very small airport dedicated to handling 747s and their brethren. Tourist airports in the Caribbean have to operate like this during the heavy season (Nov-April), as it’s all about flushing tourists through the system as quickly as possible. In other words, for every 744 that comes in carrying 400 people, another one has got to leave with 400 – because resort hotels here operate at capacity during those very crucial four to six months, and few people stay longer than a FEW days. Those that do stay longer usually have a boat to stay on, either owned or chartered.
As usual, almost all of the promo material features the area in daylight, so I’ll focus on low-light imagery from here on out.
All of the beach resort hotels look well modeled, though a few are only modeled on sides facing the approach/beach area (no argument here, no need to model something no one will pay attention to…). The entire island is on an ortho, and from what I could see in my first two looks around it looks like objects cover the orthos all around the airport, so unlike AeroSOFT’s Rome (which we really disliked for the corners cut on the ortho) this file is plastered with detailed objects everywhere you look. Including a lot of girls in bikinis, too.
With Textures and HDR MAXed out, the terminal is all smooth gradations of gray, yet the terminal’s lighting is lackluster…or to more charitable, very, very subdued. In my mind’s eye, some of the interior lighting could be quite a bit brighter.
The same ought to be said for the hotels. The lighting is very subdued.
The airport’s ramp lighting is, however, perfect. I mean – Perfect.
With MAXed settings, the SSG 748i looks stunning, too. The exterior on the default 744 has always been kind of a joke in this department (though the cockpit is near PMDG quality). Great work, SSG!
And yes, you’ll NEED HDR at near MAX levels in order to show lighting and PBR materials to best effect.
And, ah yes, there is an interior. It needs brighter lighting at night in order for pilots pulling up to gates 4 through 7 to see the details included.
In the next few images, let your eyes linger on the details, and start with the LH 748. You need brute power on the GPU to pull out this level of detail. If you like what you see, start shopping. On a 27inch 5K monitor, the results are insanely gorgeous.
You’ll also need a file like this one, which has this level of detail in real depth. This file is revolutionary in this one regard, too. Assuming you have a powerful enough GPU, this file is going to reward you once you dial in the correct settings for your system. In the image below, find the red and white feature on the hill to the right. Now look at the rocky cliff under it. Now, the shadows and tones on that rock. Gobsmacked at that one, amigos. Check out this rocky feature from multiple angles at night, too.
The file weighs in, as mentioned, at 5.93 GB, and costs 32.973937364748 USD. Big problem downloading this beast, too. It took four tries, as a matter of fact, and my ass was getting royally chapped, too. My internet can hose in files at 60+MB/sec, and the Org was sending me the file at 1.6MB/sec, so after an hour the connection timed out and dropped. This happened to me with the Matterhorn Park file, too, so the conclusion seems pretty obvious here: the Orgs hardware has a tough time with huge files. The successful attempt started at 14GB/sec and held that for 30 seconds, then the speed dropped down to the six to seven range. It still took 20 minutes. After attempt two I went to iTunes and downloaded a 4.7GB movie file; it took less than three minutes. The Org needs to get their act together on this, and soon, as I have a feeling more huge files are coming our way. Indeed, the days of sub-Gigabit files are just about over, and there’s always a new kid on the block with faster speeds to pick off a slow to adapt re-seller.
So, all I’ve covered is TNCM – and none of the rest of the island, nor the other included airport (TFFG). And don’t forget, this file is labeled as Part I, so the developers have more in store for us. That said, I’ll be using the Bell 407 to check out the rest of the island tomorrow and I’ll post more as soon as I get that written up.
My preliminary conclusion?
This is an important file. Rather like the IXEG 733 was an important file, and in the same way the Custer Gateway scenery file was important. I think this one marks a turning point, too, in a way, so let me explain.
If this file flops it will because of the daunting hardware requirements. If that’s the case they’ll say this file was a little ahead of its time – about a year from now, anyway. Those who’ve already made the investment in hardware upgrades are going to open this file – and smile – like it’s Christmas Morning and Santa was very good to you. The bigger problem: if this file tanks fewer developers will be willing to try something like this. That would spell big trouble going forward. Massive files will only be considered “massive” for another year or so, then these will be average…and I’d guess Orbx levels of detail will need gobs of processing power on a healthy (i.e., brutish) GPU.
Our take: A revolutionary file that redefines excellence in X-plain scenery. Our recommendation: get on this train, because it’s going places. This is an easy 10+ on the 10 scale, a serious MUST HAVE file.
Adios, and hasta later – A
Oh yes, how about we end with a gratuitous bikini shot…?