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Review: Feelthere – Tower 2011 – Single-player Version


Feelthere have quite a few titles on the market and have been around the flight sim scene for a number of years now.  Tower 2011 is part of their air traffic control suite which includes TRACON and ATCC, and I am reviewing the single-player version with multi-player versions being also available.  This is a complex undertaking, air traffic control by its nature is extremely complicated and this software emulates that complexity to a large degree.  The inbuilt scenarios are quite good and the policy is to add more airports to the suites which as well as making it more interesting it will be also more complex.  There is a steep learning curve to master/learn the various commands, but once done the resulting simulation is quite rewarding.  This is a stand-alone product, ie it does not require FSX or any other flight simulation.

One thing I do recommend is to buy the real traffic pack from Nyerges which at a $1.19 it is quite a bargain.  It should be noted that Tower 2011 is in reality a take-off and landing aircraft strategy game.

Feelthere – Tower 2011 – The ‘Turret’ or the ‘Separation’ review.

Installation:
Straightforward – Unzip the zip file and run the exe file produced, enter in the serial number supplied and it installs painlessly into any directory/folder of your choice.

Background: See Tower 2011 manual and Wikipedia:
Air Traffic control:
This is a service supplied by human controllers, usually based at an airport that prevents collisions between aircraft in the immediate vicinity and controlled area of an airport.  They also expedite and organize flight traffic flow within their controlled airspace. The parts of flying covered include entering and leaving airspace, taxiing, take-offs and landings.  Technically the preventing of collisions is referred to as separation, ie prevent aircraft from coming too close to each other by use of lateral, vertical and longitudinal separation by minimum distances.  A vital role to keep the skies safe.

The International language used by controllers is “English” and in the case of Tower 2011, it is specifically ‘US-English’ for all aspects of the sim. In the real world, there are different types of aircraft/flight control around any airport usually within 5 – 10 nautical miles from the airport or in the controlled airspace. For controlled airspace, details and procedures read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airspace_class and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_traffic_control).

  • Tower Control:
    Tower controllers are responsible for the management of planes and any vehicles on the taxiways and runways of the airport.  In the air, they are responsible for all aircraft within the immediate vicinity of the airport.
  • Ground control:
    Ground Controllers are responsible for the airport “movement” areas, and includes all taxiways, inactive runways, holding areas, and some transitional aprons or intersections, etc.  Any aircraft, vehicle, or person walking or working in these areas is required to have clearance from Ground Control.
  • Approach and terminal control:
    This is usually referred to as a TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control.) and terminal controllers usually handle traffic in a 30 to 50 nautical mile (56 to 93 km) radius from the airport, and at altitudes up to 20,000′.
  • En-route, centre, or area control:
    This is the ATC service to aircraft in flight between airports, with pilots flying either Visual Flight Rules (VFR) or Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).  En-route air traffic controllers issue clearances and instructions for any airborne aircraft, and these are mandatory.
  • Airspace:
    I do not intend to discuss any other aspects of ATC as I say above Tower 2011 is a “game’ covering the final approach of landing, take off and taxiing, and I will concentrate on that below. I will, however include this screenshot of the various classes of airspace controlled by ATC.

The User Guide:
The manual, entitled, “Controller’s manual for Feelthere’s Tower Air Traffic Controller Simulation – Standard edition”, is 84 pages long in pdf format, and is saved to the appropriate folder during installation.  It is quite a comprehensive (and complex) document covering, welcome, installation, speech recognition, configuration, simulator screens, commands and syntax, theory of ATC, tips for making ATC work, resources, Tower editors, etc.  In short, it covers most aspects that you need to know about this simulation/game, and it is something that needs to be read and understood.

To open Tower 2011:
Just click on the Start Menu (or create a desktop icon), the program opens displaying the various settings and information used in the sim.

Settings:
In the settings menus you can choose the following options:

Screen 1: Tower:

  • Airport Selection:
  • Here you choose one of the 3 inbuilt airports, Los Angeles, Miami and St Thomas from a drop down menu that was not particularly easy to manipulate (that is to say that you have to hold the mouse button down and scroll down the list to choose your selection).  I had also installed the latest add-on airport – Las Vegas.
  • Environment Weather:
  • Clear or cloudy preset – no facility for using real world weather.
  • Time:
  • 24 – hour clock UTC.
  • Profile Selection:
    Your personalised profile settings for a particular airport or situation.
  • Runway Selection:
  • In order for the sim to start you MUST choose an initial runway for operations to begin.
  • Information:
  • Concise information about the selected airport.
  • Start Button: Starts the sim.

Screen 2: Settings:

  • Audio:
  • Settings for master and environment volumes, 5 preset volumes for each.
  • Video:
  • Full screen: toggle.  If you choose full screen you cannot see the close file option but pressing the “ESC” gives you the option of exiting the sim.
  • Resolution:
  • Settings from the lowest 1024 x 768 to the highest 1920 x 1080.  In my opinion, this effectively rules out many high resolution monitors.
  • Texture Quality:
  • Low, medium or high – “High” looked the best visually.
  • Bit Depth:
  • 16-bit or 32-bit, I did notice a significant difference choosing 16-bit over 32-bit.
  • Arrival Density: 5 settings (Full Left – no arrivals: Full Right – Arrivals by the score)
  • Departure Density: 5 settings (As arrivals)
  • Apply: Applies settings chosen and returns you to Screen 1.
  • Commands: Lists the inbuilt keystroke commands for:
  • Ground: all ground procedures
  • Airborne: self explanatory.

Screen 3 Information:
Here you can create a new profile and select a profile form saved profiles, and you can also delete any profiles you no longer want.
There is also a section called ‘Profile Information‘ which details the time spent controlling, the number of successful landings and take-offs, incidents and accidents and that all important score, the latter being minus for my efforts!

Screen 4 Exit:
Exit the simulation toggle.


The Visuals:
Once you get past the settings screen, the main program opens in a top down 2d photorealistic view of your chosen airport with 4 subsidiary screens which we will discuss later.  There is no other view ie no out-of -the-window tower view but it is top down or nothing (shades of Henry Ford – ‘Any colour – so long as it’s black’ – [Ref: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/h/henry_ford.html]) and in the default view the representation of planes and vehicles is quite small and much of the view is obscured by the 4 subsidiary screens which makes a strong case for a second monitor, which is recommended by FeelThere.  It does say in the manual that you can move the aerial view of the airport to another computer monitor, by that I presume that they mean a second computer monitor on the same PC as I couldn’t get it to move to another monitor on one of my network PCs.

These 4 subsidiary panels and these can maximised, somewhat be resized with the left-mouse button, and they can also be minimised to the size of a slim task bar.  One disappointing feature missing in the settings menus is that there is no resolution setting for my 24″ monitor at 1920 x 1200 and other larger monitor settings are also missing.  You can zoom in and out of the view but in my opinion, the planes and ground detail are still too small for you to see the detail.  You can also move the view, providing that you have the centre mouse button configured correctly as explained in the manual/forum.  I found it quite difficult to see some of the planes from their initial taxi start positions, as I had to keep moving the subsidiary screens out of the way.  You can also “centre” the view with the left mouse by dragging but I could not get this feature to work.  Even though the objects (aircraft and ground vehicle traffic) are small they are represented in good detail, you can see (and hear) the waves crashing against the shore and the tops of the shrubs/trees ripple with the virtual wind.  Even though I chose the highest display setting, of 32-bit, there was no stuttering or impact on performance and the display was extremely smooth albeit minute.  There is a warning in the manual about choosing a higher resolution than your monitor can support, saying that it will affect frame rates, but I couldn’t find any option in Tower 2011 to monitor frame rates, so I’m not sure how you could tell that they were affected.  There is no mention of any adverse effects if you choose a monitor resolution that is not the default resolution for your monitor in Windows,  In my flight simming experience having a mismatch between your monitor’s default resolution (as in my case) and the resolutions in the sim causes most issues.








Once inside the sim there is no option to change any of the parameters except game speed x1 to x8, and if you want to switch airports, you have to exit and re-choose an airport from the opening menu.  This is where I experienced most sound issues as very often sound was missing when I changed anything in the sim.

Another ‘niggling’ point is that the sim screens have the prime focus in windows and if you want to tab out to a print screen, MS Office, Internet Explorer etc the subsidiary screens still appear as the primary window and obscure your view of any other program.  I definitely need a second screen to display some of the eye candy to another monitor.

The Subsidiary Screens: (in no particular order)
ADIRS – Ground Radar:
This is the radar (overhead) view of the ground control area in real time.  It displays the direction of any plane moving on the ground.  Click on any icon and you can communicate with that plane via the command window.  You can also move the view and resize the flight id number, move the whole screen to any part of the monitor and it can also be maximised or minimised.  Coupled with the charts this is an extremely valuable tool as it quickly gives the location of any aircraft that is on the ground (under your control).  One neat feature is that if you right click on a plane that has landed, you get the gate (a yellow icon appears) assigned to that aircraft for disembarking, and you can then issue your detailed taxi instructions (In my case – I wish!).

DBRITE – Air Radar:
This gives a visual indication of airborne aircraft within 20 (nm, mi or km?) ie within the airspace controlled by the airport, displaying the aircraft’s location (“T”) id, altitude and airspeed.  Again clicking on the aircraft icon will allow you to communicate with it via the command screen.  As with ADIRS the DBRITE screen size and location are adjustable, ie it can be, minimised, maximised and resized.  Another very useful screen especially if you want to avoid crashes at the airport.

Command:
This is where it all happens, this screen cannot be resized but it can be moved.  This screen is where you send the various instructions to planes under your control, and it faithfully records all communications sent and received.

In the ‘Control’ screen, you have two sub-screens, with the upper screen, “COMMAND” displays control instruction prior to sending plus all the communications that you have sent.  In the lower screen, “HISTORY” is a record of all communications received plus any points allocated or deducted.
Other functionalities/buttons on this screen include:

  • “SEND” transmits your command.
  • “PAUSE” pauses the sim (toggle).
  • “Game Speed” press the plus button to increase the sim speed sequentially to a maximum of x8, press the minus button to return sequentially to zero.
  • “Score” In my case the less said the better as this displays how proficient an ATC you were – I wasn’t, usually getting a minus after I had caused mayhem at the airport.  I am not cut out to be an Air Traffic Controller!
  • “PTT” IMHO the most important button if sending commands via the inbuilt speech recognition module. Click and hold this (mouse or TAB key) to send voice commands that are recorded into the command line. (Remember: CB “Yeah, Breaker One-Nine this here’s the Rubber Duck” [courtesy Convoy CW McCall B Fries & C Davis).
  • “TIME” displays the UTC time (the word standard for time equivalent to Greenwich Mean Time).  However, this gave me some issues, until the penny dropped from advice given on the forum that although you were choosing UTC there would be a ‘time offset’ at the airport you were using so in my case choosing 10:00 AM UTC for KLAX for example, gave me the night view because it would be around 2:00 AM local time in LA.  That’s what living in the Southern Hemisphere does for you.  There is NO option to use “real” or “system” time.
  • “HOTKEY” my ‘aide de memoir’ this lists all the keyboard shortcuts for the commands.

Strip:
This is where all the movements, Arrivals and Departures that you have to control are displayed in their own subsection.  Once you have successfully completed your involvement with a particular aircraft, ie it has left your airspace or arrived at the gate the details disappear from the ‘strip’.

This screen can be, minimised, maximised and resized (lengthwise) and moved around the monitor.

The arrival portion of the screen displays an enormous amount of information in 5 columns and up to 3 lines all, the relevant information that is needed for an aircraft that is on the point of landing.  This is covered extremely well in the manual.   Likewise, the departure portion displays similar comprehensive data, and you need to ensure that you understand the slip in order to allocate the correct commands.

Commands and Syntax:
Get these wrong and chaos will rain down on your ‘house’ or in this case your airport.  There are several ways to communicate with aircraft via the “Command” window and these are explained fully in the manual.  The syntax is extremely important and there very good explanations and examples in the manual.  The commands can be transmitted either by keystrokes, or by using the MS Speech Recognition software found on most Windows OS’s.  I had no issues in setting this up as I use it every day for MS Word etc and this review is being “written” (or should that be spoken) using Dragon Naturally Speaking in MS Word to write it.  I even converted the pdf manual to a format that DNS could “understand” and that allowed it to include that document in the recognised commands and that saved me hours of work training the specific voice recognition commands required for Tower 2011.

If you get the command/syntax wrong or incomplete, you will see an error message such as ‘negative’ in the sim.  For speech messages to be transmitted you need to hold the “PTT” key whilst speaking.  The keyboard strokes use either “CTRL + Character” or “ALT + Character”.  Initially I could not get the “ALT + character” to work but if I used “ALT + SHIFT + character” or CAPS LOCK then “ALT + character” it worked perfectly.  This may be due to the fact that my keyboard is set to English-Australia and not English-US.

The manual has a couple of pages of command references and I printed these out and laminated them for easy reference when in the sim.  Also included are several pages which describe how your aircraft will respond to the commands that you transmit to them, plus the correct method of transmitting the commands using your voice and/or keyboard.  Speech Recognition/Phonetic pronunciation is also covered extremely well in the manual.

The Included Airports:
The airports included with the single player model include Los Angeles, Miami and St Thomas plus the optional add-on airport – Las Vegas (see above).  The manual gives details of the airports (in the case of KLAS in a separate document) giving a brief background of each airport plus airport diagrams, including runway designations, terminal/ramp assignments etc.  Full size charts for each airport are included and it is vital to study these before you start in the sim so that you are familiar with all aspects of each airport which in the case of KLAX, KMIA, and KLAS are quite complex and detailed.  Without prior adequate knowledge of the airport layout means that you cannot experience the game to its fullest and you can’t really control your planes.

Sounds:
In the airports adjacent to the sea, you have the sound of seagulls and crashing waves plus some unidentifiable traffic background noise, inland airports just have the traffic noise.  Once the sim gets into gear you also hear the sounds of the planes landing and taking off plus the ATC commands that you have input and/or received a response from the contacted aircraft.  It states quite clearly in the manual that you need a sound card for this simulation I only had onboard sound, and using USB speakers, so that may have accounted for the sound problems that I experienced.  On occasions when I opened the simulation there was no background noise at all and the only sounds were the ATC responses, and on many occasions these ATC read back commands became truncated, ie they were incomplete.  Tower 2011 ‘wakes up’ the MS speech recognition each time that it starts and this is left running even though Tower 2011 has closed.  I did not like the fact that you had to alter all of the sound preferences at the Windows level, ie there was no menu in Tower 2011 to allow you to channel the sound to whatever device that you chose.

The Simulation:
Here I used the simplest option of St Thomas (TIST), which has just one runway 10/18 and used the settings specified in the manual.  My first contact was with an aircraft that wanted to land and by using my microphone, I directed the command that the aircraft was cleared to land.  The DBRITE air radar screen gave me a visual indication of where the plane was in relation to the airport.  The plane is already on final approach so there is no SIDS/STARS procedures to follow.  The “pilot” then read the command back so that I knew that it had been received and understood, a checkmark appeared in the ‘note’ field indicating that I had cleared the plane for landing.  Within a couple of minutes, a plane at the terminal requested a taxi clearance and I cleared him/her to taxi to Runway 10.  As this plane was taxiing to the runway, the original plane landed and I cleared it to taxi to the terminal.  I followed the rest of this “tutorial” using some of the compound instructions as detailed and everything seemed to go smoothly, so I thought.  I made a few mistakes in not assigning commands correctly, or finishing procedures correctly, and due to my inexperience, I nearly caused several serious disasters if not ‘near-misses’.  Points were gained and points were lost, and it was quite hectic and exciting once the planes really started rolling.  When I switched to KMIA, KLAX and/or KLAS, it was a very different story and I started to realise how difficult it is to control multiple aircraft all wanting to do different things in some sort of safe sequence.  It also showed the power of this program that it could handle heavy traffic movements in any situation.  I would have liked to have spent more time with Tower 2011 but I did need to finish this review in a timely fashion and as Tower 2011 became more and more addictive I needed to finalise my thoughts before totally immersing myself in the role play.

Support:
This was by way of a forum at http://forum.iemit.com/ and the responses that I received to my question were speedy and adequate.  Most of my questions could not be solved due to the way Tower 2011 interfaces with windows, but I was given a reasonable explanation as to why any apparent issue occurred.

The Editors:
FeelThere provides Tower editors with the software, which allow you to modify the types of aircraft, airline schedules and airline gate assignments. The editors can also be used to create new airports.  I did not review the Tower editors, as I believe that I would need much more experience to utilise their powerful features.

 

Summing Up:
Tower 2011 with only its top-down view of the airports looks like it is a simple game but when you start using the complex airports at the busiest times you soon realise that, it is quite complicated and powerful.  Personally, I didn’t like the fact that you could not assign sound preferences within Tower 2011, nor the fact that its 4 subsidiary screens hogged the real estate on my monitor (easily solved with a second monitor) and that it would only allow you to use US English on your keyboard/speech recognition, but there probably practical programming reasons for this.  I thought that the graphics and sounds could have been better and a top-down view is quite restrictive, so it would have been nice to have an ‘out of window tower view’ to get a perspective of where planes/vehicles/objects are, perhaps that will come in future modules.  Once I got into the swing of things, I could see if you were that way inclined, then Tower 200 could become extremely addictive and take over your life.  It is more of a strategy simulation than anything else, and if you don’t make the moves at the correct time and sequence something horrible is sure to happen.  I enjoyed the game play but to me the best flight simulation experience rests with FS9 and/or FSX. Having said that the pricing structure is reasonable for what you get, and many people will get pleasure from playing Tower 2011.

WOW Factor: 7 out of 10 more WOWS when the interface/views become more sophisticated.
Peter Hayes, Australia, May 2011

The Important Bits:

  • Publisher: FeelThere
  • Supplier: simMarket here
  • Download File Size: 142MB (zip file) Automatic install from the “exe” file.
  • Installation File Size: ≈665MB program files and. User Guide
  • OS Requirements: Win XP SP3, Vista SP2 and/or Win 7 Presumably also SP1;
  • Testing System: Intel i7 860, 8 GB DDR 1600 RAM, Windows 7, nVidia GTX460 1GB, 270.61 Driver, nVidia Inspector 1.95.5; FSX SP1 + SP2; 120GB SATA II OCZ Colossus SSD; Saitek X52 + Pro Pedals,
    No Tweaks all standard and no over-clocking.
  • Scenery: FeelThere Tower 2011 plus KLAS  airport add-on
  • Supplementary: N/A
  • Installation: Automatic via a self extracting “exe” file..
  • User Gide 84pp as a pdf
  • Support: http://forum.iemit.com/Default.aspx?g=topics&f=25 and email support@feelthere.com and http://www.feelthere.com/contactus.html
  • Main Forum: http://forum.iemit.com/
  • Updates Periodic
  • Option: Supports only US English.
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[…] Peter always writes extensive reviews about the products he looks at, so they are valuable pieces of information for people considering buying the products.  Peter gives this game a 7 out of 10. Read more about it here on simFlight. […]

I simply cannot see how they can market this game as “Tower” when it is played simply like a board game. In the marketing blurb, the fact there is no “Tower” view is quietly concealed with a statement like “photorealistc 2d view” – while not falsely advertising, they are not going out of their way to loudly advertise this fact – I nearly bought it expecting a Tower view, but fortunately I researched the program and discovered this, as I had missed that little part of their advertising. If it had the cab view, then it looks as though it… Read more »
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