x+s+r // 11.30b1 + MMLT + EGJB + EGFF

xsr UK2000hdr

Xp11.30 beta 1 is out and it’s brilliant. I have no idea why but my framerates have jumped off the scales and everything looks better. I mean…really much better. I was fiddling with the IXEG 733 at Cardiff and framerates were almost triple digits at times…with all  graphic-rendering settings at MAX. Yeah…color me happy! And look…tip vortices:

11.30b1

Yes, its a beta. Yes, you should try it.

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Kind of an inopportune comparison today, between ruifo’s latest file Down Mexico Way and two new files by UK2000 (with a little shade courtesy of tdg). And I think this is an inopportune time because freeware artists like ruifo and tdg are turning the X-plane paradigm on it’s ear…in a sense turning out better files in a few days than an established payware developer can in several months. We’ve gone over the reasons time and time again, and we’ve done so with the idea in mind that one or two of these established developers might see the handwriting on the wall and up there game a little. That’s just not happening, however, at least not with some the older names in the biz.

We’ve seen it in payware aircraft files for years, too. Developers who learned how to make aircraft files a certain way – like more than ten years ago – and who apparently just don’t want to invest the time and/or the energy to learn the new, state-of-the-art development tools that have hit the market over the last two-or-so years. Their files look almost exactly as they did back in Xp v8.xx, too…cartoonish flat panels and textures that look primitive when put next to more up-to-date efforts. Their old files are rarely, if at all updated, and their new files look ten years old when released.

I’m not sure they’re selling much stuff these days.

Well, some FsX developers are porting old scenery files too, not updating their old work to Xp11 standards, and then leaving off critical features that helped make their FsX files palatable – all the while selling this old stuff as modern and up-to-date…and at full retail.

Frankly, I think many of us were expecting better, because what we’re seeing from some developers is almost heartbreaking. At a time when we’ve seen two breathtaking aircraft files release in a week, we’ve seen some very average airport files come our way – from FsX developers – who ought to know better.

So…an inopportune comparison today, from the penthouse suite at the Heartbreak Hotel.

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ruifo’s latest file, for MMLT Loreto, Mexico, is – in a way – a rather average effort, and yet  when you look it over, taking care to look closely at a few key ingredients, you realize that the work is anything but average. This artist simply knows what works and he uses the modular tools created by Laminar to to turn out one extraordinary file after another, and his MMLT is no exception.

The radioactive green nuclear waste ortho you’ll see below almost spoils this effort, but go into Google Earth and look for yourself. The area around the terminal looks like a nuclear waste site, or rather like someone quite silly tried to plant grass in this desert – and the desert decided to fight back. Beyond that, look at the roadway leading into the terminal area. Crisp lines, clear painted markings, fencing where appropriate, small out-buildings and some desert foliage. Then look at the ramps, the various pavement markings…and again, compare to images in Google Earth. Accurate, but if anything can be said its that he’s embellished reality here, made it better – perhaps. The terminal is accurately shaped, all the various car parks are where they should be – and they’re all carefully laid out and look decent. He has also included resort details down along the waterfront, a nice touch.

Loreto 1

I think the first point I want to make is how much really good car parks enhance the overall appearance of such efforts. Conversely, the smeary orthos doing double duty as car parks we find time after time in ported FsX conversions just look awful, and artists like ruifo and tdg get that. The results speak for themselves, too.

And things only get better after dark. The marina along the waterfront stands out after dark as you approach the area, but so too does the main terminal area. When you taxi up to the ramps (hey, this is, after all is said and done, a FLIGHT SIMULATOR) the terminal works. It’s not great, but it works. What also works is the fusion of all the other elements…the ramp markings, the lighting, the ground clutter, the light cast by HDR compliant lighting systems… The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, no?

Loreto 2

Back in the day, Loreto was a sleepy little seaside village…complete with palm thatched huts along the beach and a quaint yellow two story hotel a block inland run by a precocious old man named Jesus Watanabe. He was famous around those parts, a Japanese settler, a meticulous fisherman and a fastidious hotelier. He taught me how to make ceviche in his kitchen one afternoon, and I recall the twinkle in his eye when he sliced some sort of pepper and added the slivers to his special lime marinade. I think he was almost a hundred years old, and I was, maybe, twenty.

Those days are fading fast now, as all memories are wont to do eventually…and all on their own, as it were. But Loreto was an interesting place. Located on the Sea of Cortez, on the Baja side of this little slice of the universe, hot as hell in summer and just about perfect from November to April, it was discovered a few years ago and progress has come and bestowed her many blessings on these indigenous beach people.

And yes, so now we have an airport here in X-plane to call our very own. You’ll find Boeings on these ramps, Alaska and WestJet for the most part, carrying people desperate for sun in the middle of another arctic winter. But do look over the elements of ruifo’s setting again, before you look at the next two scenery files, because his artistry needs to be fresh in mind for our little inopportune comparison to make sense…

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EGJB hdr

I saw that UK2000 had just released EGJB Guernsey on Saturday so decided to pull the trigger, after swearing off their products last Spring. The promo shots looked like a much improved product might be in the offing, so my curiosity quotient got the better of me.

The initial verdict? Some improvement, but not all that much to get excited about, and I still think these files offer little value over freeware, assuming a freeware version exists. Yet, like most files, this one has good points and bad, and on balance the good outweighs the not so good, and the bad is actually very limited.

First, the good. The ortho is decent, the main terminal accurately modeled and presented. There are good detail elements around the periphery, even in the port area. The mediocre? Night textures on the main terminal are spotty and absent on the control tower; car parks, as well as ramp detail and lighting are mediocre. As is usual with UK2000, there’s a whole list of items included on their FsX/P3D versions that are omitted from their X-plane cousin, and all you can do is shake your head and wonder what is going on in this developer’s mind. Anyway…let’s take a look.

EGJB 1

I’m at the point now where I get weird when I see roofing detail provided by a smeary ortho, and let’s face it…ortho car parks make me quiver with rage. Talk about two sure-fire ways to wreck a scenery file…these are the two big baddies in my book, and yup, the roofs here are orthos. Why? I mean really, why? Is it so hard to find a metal roofing texture then slap a couple of skylights down? Well, no, it isn’t…because Simon and I have done it…as in we’ve been there and done that…and again, look over our last few posts where we’ve highlighted ruifos efforts in this regard. The results are worth it, so try it! As far as car parks go, slapping a couple of car objects down on an ortho is pure, unadulterated laziness. The results look dreadful from anywhere but 2500AGL…so stop already! The same with little patches of small ancillary buildings “made” from patches of orthos. STOP! Really, just stop it. It might have been novel and interesting fifteen years ago, but it sure isn’t now. It’s just fugly, and it degrades a scenery.

And here’s a mystery for you cunning sorts to figure out. Just below, the front of the main terminal building is well lighted, both on the ground floor and the first floor up. Now, scan down to the third image and please explain to me why the lights are suddenly out on the ground floor, but only on the apron side of the same terminal. And, well, the walkway/concourse is dark, too, so maybe they just issue passengers flashlights (or torches) for those brave souls venturing out to the tarmac…?

Ah, well, perhaps we’ll never know…but my blood boils.

EGJB 2

If I were to proceed with our inopportune comparison and take it a little deeper, I’d mention that tdg recently released a file for EGJB as well, and in the images below of that work you’ll no doubt note key differences between the two developer’s work. tdg’s terminal is obviously a Lego-brick creation – yet he’s kept to the basic premise of the original layout: a medium sized central concourse with a single long walkway to take passengers out to their waiting aircraft. His car parks are superior in all regards, as is his night lighting – which as usual helps impart depth and scale in the dark…and in the last two images you’ll notice how each developer has interpreted a very basic element: runway lighting. And yes, the ground floor on his model is lighted at night, as is the long walkway.

EGJB tdg

Key differences: tdg’s approach lighting more accurately extends further out from the threshold, while UK2000s includes a 3º approach angle VASI. Now, look at the APP chart for runway 09 and see the proof in the pudding:

EGJB app chart

You get the idea here; it’s the little things that make a real big difference in scenery design, and I think UK2000 comes out ahead on the runway lighting score, and this being a file for a flight simulator I think this is a Big Deal. Accuracy is important, and VASI is important as an approach aid and also as an identifier. If I turned onto this approach and didn’t see the VASI equipment I might wonder if: 1) I was at the correct airport, or; 2) if I’d missed something in my NOTAMs. In actual conditions I might end up calling the tower to verify the aid was non-functional, because I don’t need confusion on my final.

So, the big takeaway once again is how good freeware artisans – like tdg, like ruifo – are closing in on older, established payware developers. The net result? To think of it in one way: if you don’t plan on using EGJB on a frequent basis, should you lay out good money for a payware file or make do with a very close approximation via the freeware option?

That’s a personal question I can’t even begin to answer, but I like to support the payware community as best I can because I think their success is fundamental to the future success of X-plane…but Damn! Guys like tdg and ruifo are really making this a tough question to deal with. Not so many years ago this was a no-brainer…yet today?

Yet there’s another big takeaway from this exercise, too.

Namely, payware developers really need to up their game. Not only do they need to incorporate all of the special features Laminar has made available to them, they need to focus on getting the small details right. Buildings need to be accurately presented and modeled carefully, to wit:

EGJB flaw

In just one corner area there are three sloppy modeling errors in UK2000s terminal, indicating a rushed approach to finishing out this model, yet anyone can see this is a tough building to get right. But then why is the ramp-side lower-level lighting wrong on the main terminal building? Rushed, sloppy work? No beta testers for Xp files? Both?

EGJB lite flaw

The ramps are the most important part of an airport file, the primary visual area a pilot deals with as he approaches the terminal building, so quite possibly the most important part of the entire file, and yet here it’s simply not correct in one vital area? Why? And just ignore the too-dark ramps with too little activity…! It’s just wrong, and it shouldn’t be like this. It needn’t be. What this developer needs is a real serious effort at beta testing, with impartial eyes looking for these kinds of issues. If he already has, he needs new eyes on his projects because these kinds of slip-ups just shouldn’t happen in a payware file. Nor should missing terminal entry lighting at Orbx’s Southampton terminal, and…at a simple terminal like this, a modeled interior would have been a simple and effective way to show they’re serious about the future. Yet…we’re seeing only a few top-tier developers taking this route.

And that could be a problem going forward. Perhaps a big problem.

//

EGFF hdr

Here we have UK2000s EGFF Cardiff, and I just want to say I am not picking on anyone, not even this developer. I’m trying to point out a few problems with an evolving paradigm, problems that need to be dealt with, somehow, before our choice for new scenery files becomes a choice between bad and worse.

And interestingly, almost predictably, this Cardiff file is horrible in a few areas and brilliant in others, so let’s take a look, and check out the details as you go:

EGFF 1

On the horrible side, the ortho is carry too much of the load here. Yup, ortho car parks, orthos doing double duty by depicting buildings (please…NO!). In fact not one car park is modeled…they are ALL orthos, right down to the cars…and the results are predictably grim until you gain altitude. Other ortho roundabouts simply don’t align and create a visual hash.

Oh, here’s the real terminal/tower, BTW:

EGFF real tower

Note the odd spiral stairway up to the tower? This shows up in UK2000s version and looks very accurately modeled.

EGFF 2

The main ramp areas are much better here so perhaps this is a better file for flight simulation purposes, but the ortho issues leave me cold. Night lighting is actually one of the high points here; it’s interesting, varied, and imparts good immersive realism. So, I may keep this one; it has a good feel about it and I feel I can recommend it.

EGJB is a harder call. tdg’s version is cleaner and has better performance, while UK2000’s flawed terminal IS more accurately modeled and, obviously, works quite well in daylight. If you don’t plan on using EGJB often, perhaps you should save your money for a rainy day, yet if you plan to fly around the Channel I’d recommend you give this one serious thought.

And we can all hope for version 2 files to come out for each! Soon!

Hasta later –

 

 

 

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