Fly Tampa’s Corfu file includes much more than an airport, though during our first look the other day we focused almost all of our effort on the airport and its immediate surroundings – and in so doing, we failed, at a very fundamental level, to convey the true scope of this file. We’re going to try to cover a few of the other, more important aspects of this file’s depth in this post, and yes, this is just a heads-up, but we’re also going to take a brief trek into the realm of metaphysics along the way…so buckle up, and let’s go exploring.
Probably the first thing you need to do, before you try to follow along this trail, is open up your browser and ask Google “what are the things to see on the island of Corfu?” You’ll end up with something that looks a little like this:
You’ll soon learn that the island is about 38 miles along its longest axis, from SE to NW, and that tourism is the island’s mainstay. There are famous beaches everywhere, a number of very nice beachfront hotels, too, and not far away there are water parks and amusement parks and everything else a vacationing family might need or want on a weeks long vacation. There are, as well, a number of important historical sites on the island, including churches, museums, and the relics of antiquity scattered about – and you’ll find the locations of these places on Googles map…and no, I’m not going to fly from place to place and take screenshots of these places as I feel sure the effort would be as boring for you to read as it would be for me to produce. If you get this file, and I wholeheartedly think you ought to, such an effort would only serve to diminish your own experience of Corfu.
Your own experience of Corfu?
I bring this idea up as something odd hit me while I was puttering along the north side of the island a few days ago…an uncomfortable thought but somewhat pressing, in its way.
When a developer takes the time to bring all of this detail “to life” within a flight simulator, we end up with something well out of the ordinary. X-plane and, indeed, all flight simulators, render a place like Corfu in layers of default, i.e., generic or auto-gen scenery, from villages and roads to trees and mountains, and in this scheme one island looks pretty much like another – given that a few parameters, such as latitude and elevation, shape and influence the end results; as such, consider the default rendering as a machine rendering, and not a human interpretation of the physical setting. There’s often little available in this default layer to impart the necessary realism to offer a convincingly immersive experience of “place” – e.g., in the rendering of an island like Corfu provided by a sim utilizing the default rendering objects and meshes, you can hardly distinguish Corfu from, say, Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. The sim simply isn’t programmed to provide that kind or level of detail.
So, when a developer, in this case Fly Tampa, comes along and replaces all these default assets with custom objects and layers, we end up with something extraordinarily different from the default. Our simulations, in such cases, delve deeper into the realm of “artificial reality,” in as much as what’s on the screen is no longer the product of algorithms – but more like an artists recreation of place. And note, we used the words “artificial reality,” and NOT virtual reality, but more on that in a moment.
Now I’d like you to picture a kid, maybe fifteen years old – or quite possibly eighty years on – sitting in a wheel chair. This person is at his or her desk, flying in a simulator like X-plane – and this kid is immersed in the “place” onscreen. To paint a more complete picture, let’s say this kid has a terminal illness, perhaps leukemia, and has a very short, let’s even say a very finite lifetime ahead.
This kid, or rather, this human being, is experiencing the world through the images on his desktop, through the immersive power of a flight simulator like X-plane. Almost all this human being’s experience of the greater world beyond his or her room will come in the form of interactions provided by the sim. You following me so far?
Consider then, for a moment, what a file like Fly Tampa’s Corfu means to this human being. Change it around a little and imagine a seventy year old man dying of heart failure, perhaps a retired pilot trying to relive the things he did forty years ago. What do you think a file like this means to someone in his position? Before you answer, try to imagine yourself in that place, in that frame of mind. I know its hard, but try.
Interesting, isn’t it? Putting yourself in someone else’s place within Xp?
Consider sitting in an airliner departing Corfu and looking down at the landscape as the aircraft takes-off and climbs for the clouds. As you look down at the earth you are experiencing pure sight, i.e., photons are bouncing off the earth and these photons reach your eyes, or more properly, the retinae on the backs of your eyes, and you register the reality on the ground through an elemental photonic transfer of information. The illusion of immersion is complete because you “know” that the landscape below is “real,” yet in another sense your hands aren’t in the dirt. Photons are reflecting reality on the backs of your eyes.
Now let’s go back to our fifteen year old sitting in a wheelchair at his desk, looking at very detailed recreations of place outside of his very detailed virtual aircraft. Not default auto-gen scenery, mind you, but a highly developed landscape such as that found in Fly Tampa’s Corfu file. As such, we have reflected photons of the island captured on a sensor and stored on a drive somewhere, and they have been – in time – transferred to this kid’s computer and are now bouncing off his retinae. Yes, there is a difference, a quantitative difference, in this transfer of photons. We instinctively understand this difference and call it by its proper name: reality – yet consider at the same time that we, individually, invest thousands of dollars in resources (hardware and software) to recreate reality on our desktops, and we do so not to escape reality but to bring the experience into our lives. We’re calling that VR, by the way.
So, all this got me thinking about something called The Experience Machine. At one point in my life I used to teach philosophy (and ethics) to undergraduate students, and one of the basic concepts we talked about in Philosophy 101 is the nature of reality. This takes you back to Plato’s Cave (in The Republic), but in the course of things we always engaged in a little thought experiment developed at MIT in the 60s called The Experience Machine, and it goes a little something like this:
A new machine has been developed that allows for the indexing, storage, and retrieval of human experience, and it’s been called The Experience Machine, or EM. The EM has been developed with teaching and training in mind, too. Imagine the applications such a machine could enhance: a brain surgeon could pass along the most complex procedures and the trainee would literally experience everything the brain surgeon experienced, including sights, sounds, smells, touch and even the emotions and memories the surgeon experienced while performing the procedure. A pilot could record all her experiences on a flight from Paris to New York, and a trainee could relive everything about the pilot’s experience of the flight in such detail that there would be, literally, no difference at all in the experience received. The knowledge the trainee was exposed to would become a part of the trainee’s experience, too, and the experience would not pass through as, for instance, a film or television show might, so the trainee could now act with that level of experience as if it was, in fact, his or her own experience.
Sixty-plus years ago all this sounded quite far-fetched, though the idea of the EM made its way into popular culture through movies like Brainstorm and countless others, yet when discussing the nature of reality in a philosophy class, The Experience Machine takes on another layer of complexity, especially when you start to consider the nature of “right” and “wrong.”
Say, for instance, you record someone’s most intimate moments and pass them on – and everything about the experience will convey. Is that right? If you record someone’s murder? If you record the experience of death? Is it ever “right” to record these things? Put another way, does recording and transferring this experience serve a lasting, beneficial service to humankind? Obviously, preserving the experience of a brain surgeons attempt to remove a glioblastoma from a terminally ill person is a worthwhile endeavor, as is recording any number of other experiences. Can you imagine experiencing Neil Armstrong’s descent down the lunar lander’s steps that first time, his last hop down to the surface of the Moon? Would you enjoy reliving that experience?
So, it hit me while “flying” along Corfu’s northern coastline a few days ago…just how far away are we from finding ourselves in an X-plane equivalent to The Experience Machine? We are starting down that road even now, of course, with the advent of VR in our sim, and yes, this is but a tiny step but it is nevertheless a real step in that direction. What if the next step is to market a situational file you can download, say a VR presentation of how to program an Airbus FMC is presented, and presented in such a way that you can follow along in X-plane with your .acf pre-programmed to allow you follow along with the presentation? Laminar already has the Avion app that records real flight parameters for playback in X-plane; what happens when someone takes the next step and records a real flight in VR – for playback in X-plane?
So…no big deal?
Alright, now consider what this kind of experience means to the kid in the wheelchair, and tell me it’s no big deal. That human beings experience of the world is going to be defined by his or her experience in a program. And yes, this Corfu file may well be an important step along the way to this level of experience transfer. If so, can you begin to see just how important a file like this is – if not to you, then, perhaps to a fifteen year old boy in a wheelchair?
Just something to think about the next time you’re on final approach, looking at the mountains and sunsets as you cross the threshold…
So, it’s Fly Tampa’s Corfu. Not…Fly Tampa’s LGKR Corfu. There’s a difference, but I missed it the first time ’round. Maybe because I’ve never flown in FsX or P3D I didn’t know what to expect, yet if that’s so maybe I have a better understanding now. Anyway, it was time to pull out the Bell 407 and do some exploring, so I spent about four hours flying around the northern half of the island last Sunday – and as weird as this may sound, I feel like I’ve hardly scratched the surface.
Say, how many 26 dollar airport files have you bought that give you this much “bang for your buck?” The St Helena file that came out over Christmas boasts a great little airport and a nice island to explore, but that island is a tenth as big as Corfu (though the price was truly affordable). Then there’s the elephant in the other room…xpfr’s Marquesas freeware file – which offers several islands and airports to explore, and again, for zero dollars. Still, I’d argue that Fly Tampa’s file is so gorgeously rendered there’s hardly any comparison to made with anything else on the market. Yes, TNCM comes close, but there’s also one key player yet to be heard from: Orbx. Just what level of detail will Orbx bring with their first real scenery package, and at what price point?
Now, here’s one more thing you might stop and think about, too. Having just spent 26USD on AeroSOFT’s Rome – as underwhelming a payware offering as I’ve seen in some time – here we have Fly Tampa’s Corfu, with not just an incredible airport file onboard, but a hyper-detailed 40 mile-long island thrown into the mix, too – and for the same price. That alone ought to give you pause, but also consider the equally vast TNCM file released last week, priced only a few dollars more and that also includes two detailed airports and a huge ortho with custom objects that cover not quite a hundred square miles. What is wrong with this picture? Has someone, somewhere decreed that all payware airport files will now cost 25$ or more? I’m sorry, but in the universe I live in, when Corfu is priced at 26 bucks, Rome is worth – maybe – 15 dollars, while files like EDDF or LSZH are so nicely detailed they seem worthy of their much higher price tags. aeroSOFT used to get this, too, with their BIKF Keflavik file very realistically priced.
So, a total of six hours spent in this file and I’ve yet to explore the southern half of the island. If you look over the Google map above you’ll find a bunch of stuff concentrated around the city of Corfu, yet even items more scattered all around the island. With six hours spent so far, can I assume I’ve got at least four-to-six more just to complete the circuit? And speaking of value, that doesn’t count how many times I’ll fly here over the years ahead, does it?
Let’s take a quick peek at a few prominent features up north, then we’ll look at LGKR again – looking at those night textures one more time.
Departing the airport northbound, heading for the bay east of town, we run across the headlands with all kinds of impressive looking fortifications, including a Neoclassical museum, then we’re off to a small island just offshore.
We can already see what appears to be a huge granite dome-like structure far across the bay, and as we close on that formation all kinds of surrounding details emerge – notably hotels.
Huge waterfront hotels are flanked by serpentine roadways that lead up into the mountains above the beach, and you’ll note that at almost 3000 feet MSL you might just find snow up there at certain times of the year. You can read more about this highest peak on your Google page, and you should definitely explore the mountaintop area before heading back down to the beach.
In time you’ll wind your way back to Corfu, and remember to take time and explore that headland area more closely as you approach the airport to refuel.
Note the football pitch by the airport, too. It’s right there in Google Earth, of course, and it’s here’s as a picture perfect replica. All of these features are lighted, and the case could be made the overall effect is more interesting at night, too.
Check out the area around the runway threshold too, as, just like at TNCM, this is a favorite spotters locale.
Now…about those night textures? Simple repeating patterns are used and, frankly, I can’t tell whether the ones we see here are from this airport or from an office building in Timbuktu. This feature remains the least successful part of FT’s file, and I wonder why they chose this area to cut corners. This is, after all is said and done, an airport in a flight simulator, and this one detail would seem, to me at least, to be the one area you wouldn’t lose focus. Yes, the textures used a sharp and otherwise without fault, but this is a very small building so why not build out the interior a little more, or give the scene a little more drama through the use of realistic images of features like departure lounges and security checkpoints, or even a baggage claim area, anything visible through the real airport’s windows. As it is, this building could be a university library or an insurance company facade in Iowa, and in fact it looks like just about anything but an airport terminal’s interior.
Again, odd choice here.
Other than not having static airliners here, the ramps are marred by the parked pushback trucks – because often they’re parked right where they shouldn’t be and make taxiing up to the gates a more complicated affair. Further, when I call them up through the main menu they don’t respond – which is no big deal because these ramps are designed in such a way that a pushback should rarely be needed. So, again, why are they there? With the Better Pushback plug-in becoming the new standard in Xp, I’d ditch these assets asap.
Also, there are two powerful floodlight towers on either end of the main terminal building, but this leaves a huge black hole in the middle of the main tarmac area. Is this the arrangement at the real airport? If so, that explains the situation; if not, the center part of the apron is very dark.
The night textures on the upper control tower windows are almost disgraceful, by the way. This is pure freeware quality, circa 2008. Bad choice.
So…a curious mix of the good and the not-so-good are on display here. A great island file, and a very good airport – in daylight anyway. The night textures look ‘good enough’ from a distance to keep this from being a major issue, but again, I have to wonder why the developers chose to spend so little effort on this one crucial part of the airport file.
Still, this is – overall – an excellent file and, as was the case with TNCM, Fly Tampa’s coming to Xp marks an almost revolutionary change for users in this sim. Fly Tampa takes a very good airport file and adds a tremendous amount of surrounding detail, detail that’s fun to get out and explore. There have been a handful of small Canadian airports that take this same approach, and both Tom Curtis and Mr X have too, with KSFO standout efforts by both. Still, there’s something different about this file, and while I dislike using the word “better” – that’s exactly the word that keeps coming to mind. “Better” – in that Fly Tampa has not relied on auto-gen atop a coarse ortho, but a whole lot of custom objects that fit into their surroundings – because, I suppose, many are duplicates of real buildings. We see that in our so-called VFR city files all the time, but again, this is different. This is a unified package ready to go, and the results are self-evident.
Because Xp’s default auto-gen terrain is nowhere to be found, the entire island feels more authentic, and that’s something that serious developers need to take into account going forward. The lessons this file teaches are instructive for most developers, too, and I hope they’re paying attention. Going forward, at a minimum I’d say almost all existing X-plane scenery developers need to consider including more city features around their airports – if only because so many developers from the FsX universe are bringing these details when they come to X-plane. Still, this approach makes more sense. When you control what the area around your airport scenery file looks like, you are in a better position to control how your file is going to be perceived. In X-plane, what that too often means is your airport will end up surrounded by American-style suburban tract housing – what we’ve been deriding as “Rancho Cucamonga Estates” style housing for years…and if you’re building an airport file in California, well, you’re in Good Shape. If not, if you’re developing a scenery file in, say, Copenhagen, having an airport surrounded by houses that look like they came straight from a Los Angeles suburb is not exactly a good thing for your project. Maybe spending another week on your project finishing out the area around your airport will be time well spent?
Remember this. Once your project is posted and for sale, it becomes an enduring part of your legacy, so think about how you want your work talked about and remembered. I doubt anyone associated with Fly Tampa is ashamed of this work, if you know what I mean. I wouldn’t be.
Anyway…food for thought. Later – A