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VFR Photographic Scenery: Central & Southern England (Windows)

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Written by  :  piltdown_man (71419)
Written on  :  Nov 02, 2011
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars
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Summary

Significantly improves the flying experience

The Good

I've submitted three of this scenery series to the MOBY database so the parts of this review are pretty generic. I'm going to start this review by saying that I think Microsoft's Flight simulator is an excellent product and that I've had a lot of fun with it. I don't fly a lot but I enjoy the odd flight and it's something I plan to get into more over time.

That said it never really occurred to me that what I was seeing as scenery was anything other than accurate. This is silly really because I have flown before to go on holiday and such like, and whenever I get a chance at the window seat I'm looking down at the world as it passes by. I just never made the connection between a game and the real world. The thing is though this is a game on one level and its a flight simulator on another and as such it should be as accurate as possible.

This is the first scenery package that I loaded. Why did I start with volume 2 and not volume 1? Well it must have been on top of the pile. The difference in the flying experience is immediate. This looked much more realistic. The houses were no longer odd white flat roofed things, these were good red English brick with dark slate roofs. A lot of those white buildings that dot the landscape went too and that removed much of the toytown look to the simulation which again made flying much more satisfactory.

The manual goes into detail about how the default scenery is generated and how it's not especially accurate. This is forgivable because this product was made from some millennium project that produced the first full aerial photographic survey of the U.K. so I guess there wasn't the reference material for MS FS 2002 to draw on. The accuracy is something that I noticed when taking screen shots with & without the scenery enabled. Roads, rivers lakes, forests, e.t.c. did all change position and they looked better for it. Rivers are not a standard blue/grey colour, many are naturally a mucky, dirty brown because they're full of silt. Lakes often look black , something I remember from hiking in the Lake District and looking down on Angel Tarn, and this comes over beautifully in this scenery add on.

What really brought home the difference between this scenery and the default scenery was when I started looking for an iconic landmark that would be recognisable from the air. I chose Stonehenge because, surely, this would be one of the flight simulator's standard structures wouldn't it. Turns out it's not so I tracked down the map co-ordinates and flew there but could find nothing. This is when I discovered what should have been obvious. Using photographic scenery it is possible to start with one landmark and follow roads, rivers and other landmarks in order to navigate to a destination. It's what I think VFR, Visual Fight Rules, is all about. By using a map and following roads in the photographic scenery I was able to locate Stonehenge and capture the screen shots I wanted and a most satisfying experience it was.

The Bad

So this scenery is a great improvement and I love it but it wasn't love at first flight and it didn't immediately blow me away, it does have it's flaws.

The product was designed to be viewed from a slow plane like a Cessna flying above 1500 feet. Anything lower such as the first take-off and, while the scenery still looks more realistic, it looks very grainy. Anything faster and the scenery blurs as the flight simulator tries to keep up with the plane. This was most noticeable when I turned the simulator speed up to eight times normal so that I could get from A to B faster. When I paused the flight to look around I had to wait for the scenery to gradually come into focus before I could take a screen shot.

I also had to tweak the flight simulator settings to get the best out of the scenery and I'm not convinced that I'm done yet. Increasing cache size for example so that the new scenery stretched out to the horizon is one tweak, playing with MIP mapping settings is another. That's fine for me because I enjoy a good tweak but it's not for everyone.

There are also some anomalies that, when they surface, really stand out. They apply to the whole series but I spotted different ones as I played with different volumes.

One anomaly is where rivers meet the sea. With the default scenery the standard blue/grey of the river meets the standard grey/green of the sea and there's no real join. With this scenery on all the rivers I've looked at, and I have not looked at all the rivers in the UK, the river is a dark brown and that colour ends in a sharp line where the river meets the default seascape.

Another, which the manual does warn about, is that the new more accurate roads don't match the where the flight simulator has placed its landmark buildings and airports

The Bottom Line

This has, literally, changed my flying experience because now I can follow a real-world map and look for landmarks en-route.