Kind of a single subject issue today, and concerning a scenery package – and one that’s not an airport – which is something of a rarity around here. X-Terrain France is a new payware release by XP-France Simulations, and we have to mention right off the bat that this group is not affiliated with XPFr in any way, shape or fashion. Next, and even more unusual for us, this is essentially an ortho-photographic package, and while these don’t come along too often these days, I’ve tended to avoid them like the plague.
So when I got a release announcement from the Org I immediately ran and bought it! Why?
Well, it’s France. All of it, from the Norman coast to Nice, from Biarritz to Bayeux, and I flat out love France. Always have, always will, and not simply because my mom’s side of the family tree shakes loose from those parts. I love Paris in December, Avignon in autumn, Chamonix any time of the year, and Honfleur any day of the fishermen unload their catch.
And there’s another reason, too. The preview images got me, but in one certain, special area. So, what’s the scoop?
Well, I’ve tended to fly a certain corridor in France within XP for quite some time, namely Paris to Lyon to Nice and back – again and again – and in no small measure because the scenery along this route is spectacular. At least it was in v9.70. It’s been a little muted in v10, and with villages and towns all but gone within the auto-gen landscapes 10 renders, but the essential formations in the area are still nice. But what I saw in the preview piqued my interest.
There are few freeware airports as good as XPFr’s LFPG, and the file holds up well in XP10.10 b5 too. Here are a few images over Paris x-LFPO to get you in the mood.
Yep, this is an ortho, no way around it. It looks decent up here around 7000AGL, but dip down low (say below 3000 AGL) and the illusion breaks down fast. Orthos do that, and there’s just no way around it, though some packages, notably Real Scenery’s orthos of Oahu and Reno/Carson City, Nevada, work quite well at even lower altitudes. That said, these orthos break down well above that level, but they work well within their range.
Still, the vast majority of ortho packages simply do not include any night, or LIT textures. They’re just too hard to get right in ortho packages, though Eric at Real Scenery has been a leader in getting immersive night textures onto his orthos, and that’s what set’s this new package apart: quite nice looking night landscapes that work very well at higher altitudes, and are decent in the 3000+/- AGL envelope as well. Let’s look at Paris once again:
Above and below, overflying LFPG, and note how well the ortho generated streets and cityscape blends in with the airport at night, but what’s even more impressive is that these nightscapes are indeed quite representative of Paris, with roadways and prominent landmarks just discernible and accurate enough in placement to be VFR reporting points.
Now let’s head south to LFLL + Lyon and check it out, and this is another great airport file.
Details here are impressive. Always have been. A must have file.
But I don’t think XPFr’s LFLL has ever looked better than it does here in XP10.10b5, and there are all kinds of details I’ve never seen before popping out. It’s long been a favorite of mine and I use this one for flight tests all the time, but keep in mind that these images were made with airport detail at default, the recommended setting for the Terrain package. It’s capable of even more detail, I suppose. Now let’s look at what the default XP10 landscape looks like, then at what this new Terrain package does for the same area. Again, we’re climbing SE from LFLL on our way to LFMN…
As a note to keep in mind, look closely at the night landscape just above. Now here’s the new Terrains package at work…
Uh-huh, yup, orthos are dead, right? Ahem…well anyway. Above, climbing out of LFLL to the SE, and by golly that landscape looks pretty damn nice to me! Well, no, it looks gorgeous to me, so let’s keep on trucking southbound and see what we’ll see, because this is the prettiest stretch along the route and a real eye-opener in this package.
That’s LFLL receding (above), and the landscape is varied, not full of blotchy, repeating textures, and that’s because the feel is almost “organic”, and the way the land is when real human settlements are rendered. Instead of patterns embedded in textures what we’re seeing is villages and streams as imaged by satellite, then draped onto the “mesh” in X-Plane, and to me the look and feel here is exceptional. But the best is yet to come…
Above, we’ve just passed LFLB + Chambery-Aix, another wonderful airport by XPFr, and another must have file (and not only because it stages you near the Alps for GA OPS).
Still southbound below, moving closer to the Alps, and now is the time to start enlarging these images (if you haven’t already, just click on them), because this is one of those regions where the alpine detail in this package is truly amazing.
Look at the limestone banding forming these cliff structures near Grenoble (above). Just awesome, jaw dropping scenery here, and these formations don’t really come alive like this when rendered by the default XP engine. Below, a sequence in the immediate area:
Things to focus on? The rock formations certainly, but look at the villages, roadways and streams too.
Now let’s get rid of the Sun for a while and look at the next stretch with a little less light on things, and watch those little villages closely, as this is where the real magic happens!
Okay, so small villages stand out at night and be sure to compare these with what you saw in the default (above), and keep in mind these are not simple repeating textures but are the actual villages as imaged by satellite. And we’re flying here at FL210, while these towns and villages are around 16-18,000 feet below. Now below, a little urban build-up with more roads too.
You have to keep in mind that the streets and highways below are accurate representations of what’s on the ground in France, and then you realize you might as well try navigating by road map!
And it’s very nice how these villages “fit into” the landscape, and don’t appear to be placed by random algorithm. But that’s how real landscapes evolve, isn’t it? Again, compare to the repeating textures in the default XP – even with OSM data. The default excels at rendering generic buildings and roadways, and they look nice down low but the effect isn’t quite as nice to me…at high altitude.
Now let’s get back into the warm Mediterranean sunshine as we begin the letdown into LFMN + Nice, and note the new cirrus cloud structures in XP10.10b5. Nice indeed.
Now about FL180 (above), the villages perhaps 10,000 ft below the aircraft. In the next image we’re approaching Nice, with LFMN just under the port side #1 engine, and now at about 8000MSL.
Below, the view west, towards Marseilles:
Below, passing five for three, and you begin to notice texture degradation the closer you get to 3000.
Below, on final now for 4R, and we’re well below 3000 here and the urban textures are really beginning to degrade – while the distant mountains continue to look excellent.
Ortho’s limitations are clearly on view here, and the lack of objects simply hurts immersive realism.
Let’s make one more short flight, from LFHU + Alpe d’Huez back to Grenoble, and you can just make out this high altitude thrill ride of an airport to the left side of the image below (and this is a must have airport file if ever there was one!), so let’s check out these same areas from a little lower perspective.
We’ll be anywhere from 4000 to 1000 AGL along this route, so let’s see how this package works for GA VFR OPS.
Note the urban area ahead (image below); with recommended object settings at “default” there’re simply no buildings to give the town any definition at this altitude.
And now let’s switch off the lights again, because things get interesting again!
Because those villages start to do their thing again!
Yes, those same limestone cliffs, but from a fresh perspective. The villages being better defined by the lighted streets helps the Terrain package even down here close to the ground, though the textures could be a bit more crisp for optimal effect. Maybe with 64-bit processing that will be possible?
Above, now getting quite low and the textures still hold up well in low light. Below and now just a few hundred feet AGL and the distant mountains look excellent, and even under the aircraft in this light the effect is within the “reasonable” range, though it’s still typical for an ortho.
So, the bottom line? Is this a worthwhile purchase?
Well, if you think about it a bit (and I have, really!) this file will be a must have addition for the following people:
- those who routinely operate within France (Dude, c’mon!);
- those who fly heavies over central Europe;
- and for those who don’t really care all that much about OSM type cityscapes.
I found these textures simply gorgeous at high altitude, and both during the day or with lower light levels. In fact, I found myself looking all around the aircraft, pausing, going into Google Earth and looking for the names of the littlest villages…and they were there! The accuracy of these types of scenery files is astonishing and immersive as can be. In short, I was impressed, and very happy with the purchase.
If, however, you tend to fly GA singles at 2-3000AGL in daylight this package may not grab you – as without objects filling out a relatively low-res landscape the effect is a little tiresome. Still, you could experiment with objects besides airports, maybe tweak things to your liking, but you’ll need a powerful machine to pull that off and keep texture res at extreme or very high – assuming XP can handle that kind of load. Trying to run this with XPFr’s huge Paris City file is an absolute no-no, too! Instant crash!
In the end, a forty dollar file isn’t unreasonable for coverage of a complete country the size of France, and if orthos in general interest you this is a worthy addition to your collection. If orthos are new to you however, this is a good introduction to the look as it covers some of the most beautiful scenery around, but there are other options out there so think about where you fly most and go from there. I heartily recommend France, however, and as payware orthos go, this seems a good price for the coverage provided. Still, I think flying at higher altitudes over France in heavies is where it’s at here, and I’ll leave it at that.
UPDATE: 1 August 2012 | There are a lot of good comments following this post concerning the nature of this package, and I highly recommend you read them before deciding whether or not to purchase this file.
The file is available at the Org store, for 39.90 USD. The 1.2 Gb download takes time, and I had some trouble with the download, but the fault was not on the Orgs end, but mine. When downloading, I had no luck at all with Safari. Due to the size of the file Safari just timed out and stopped downloading, twice. Trying the download in Firefox was successful, however. You’ll need your serial number from your emailed receipt after the download is complete, and if you enter it into the provided box and get an error message (I did) just cancel and then unzip the file with the “stuffit expander utility” (free App at the Apple App store) and enter the serial number when prompted, and you should be good to go. Dive into the resulting file and look over the “read me” file for further installation procedures and recommendations, and happy flying! Vive la France, and Hasta later –C