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Review of FRANCEVFR – ALSACE VFR V2 FSX

FranceVFR have just re-released their Alsace VFR scenery as V2.

The scenery depicts the north-eastern corner of France known as the Alsace region. The coverage area is approximately 10,000 sq kms and includes some beautiful landscapes. Of the 26 regions it is the fourth smallest and has a population of just over 1.8 million inhabitants. The big differences are as a result of their new 3DAutomation® technology.

Installation

Before installing: if you are upgrading to the Alsace V2 scenery from the original you must uninstall the original scenery first.

The scenery file size is very large at 5.1Gbs. Fortunately it is split into three separate files.  The installation process is very simple but each file is an executable that you must run in order by name. Running the first file you will be prompted to select your language of choice, English or French, and then to input the registration code provided at the time of purchase. When the first one has completed it will instruct you to run file 2 of 3 and then 3 of 3. Once installed it will take up approximately 20Gbs of hard drive space.

Upon completion it is added to the FSX scenery library. You will now have two additional entries;  Alsace VFR – Ground layer and Alsace VFR – Objects layer

If you install using the English option you may see a problem with autogen houses missing wall textures. This issue was brought up in the support forums and the solution appears to be to install the product using the French language option. I too experienced this problem as I had used the English option. Reinstalling using the French option the problem went away.

Configuration

There is no configuration tool included but on page 4 of the manual they describe the “Extras Files” directory that allows for the installation of additional objects such as light poles, secondary buildings, local road traffic, small antennas, etc.

Documentation

The documentation that comes with this scenery is quite extensive. It includes an English and French PDF manual plus enroute charts and airfield charts for the aerodromes found within the coverage area. All totaled there are 22 separate documents.

The manual is brief but includes sections devoted to: required configuration, installation, technical specifications, settings, extras files, scenery coverage, charts/flight documentation, technical support and credits.  The manual definitely has some good information and is worthwhile reading. The sections on settings, extras files and the scenery coverage map I felt were especially appropriate.

Real world charts are included for the airports located in the scenery area.

Scenery

Before I begin here is what the developers have to say about the new product.

The new VFR Regional series was designed and developed to provide VFR flight an environment as realistic as possible. It is the result of years of experience and practice in flight simulation and 3D modeling.

“VFR Regional” products embed all enhancements from the new 3DAutomation® technology developed by France VFR. This technology already allows to generate the most realistic and dense environments ever seen. It does not intend to model real world accurately but to create a copy “as real as it gets” on a massive scale. It will evolve to adapt to the needs and new data available.

Ground textures from 0.85 to 1 meter / pixel resolution from IGN aerial photography reworked for an optimal visual rendition in Flight Simulator X® (summer only).

Dedicated mesh with high definition 4.75 meters (LOD13).

Lakes and rivers with navigable waters fitting the texture.

Transparency management of the seabed on the entire scene.

Semi-detailed airports including flatten platform correction.

Obstacles and VFR landmarks modeled on the entire scene including the official SIA database (antennas, towers, water towers, wind turbines, various constructions …).

Hundreds of thousands of objects and notable buildings integrated into the environment (churches, power plants, silos, castles, industrial tanks, bridges, tolls, cranes, boats, streetlights, road signs …).

Integration of 3D Automation® technology allowing multi-million buildings and realistic vegetation areas fitting geographic specs.

Extremely dense and optimized vegetation coverage using a custom rendering module controlled by artificial intelligence (AI).

Autogen buildings including additional specific and optimized 3D variations.

Geo-referenced data for maximum compatibility with future add-ons installed on the same area.

Development process 100% Microsoft ® SDK specifications compliant, ensuring maximum compatibility with new releases.

To give you an idea of what the scenery covers here is the map they include in the product manual.

This type of addon is ideal for VFR flights. No matter how many times you take to the air there is always something new to see; the area this scenery covers is huge and has a variety of different landscapes.

As soon as you take off from anywhere one of the first things you’ll notice is the massive amount of objects/autogen that are being injected into the scenery. This is thanks to their 3D Automation® technology. If you compare what is being added to what you get in a “normal” FSX scenery or their earlier VFR regional scenery releases you’ll see that the differences are stunning.

They make the statement that their intent is not to model the real world accurately but to make it as real as it gets. Keeping that in mind what we have is some very stunning scenery that does go a long way to giving us that real world feel.

The scenery can be appreciated from either low or high altitudes however the best way I found to experience the Alsace region and see all it had to offer was simply by flying around in a small GA aircraft at low altitudes. This way I could see just how well the two main scenery elements of base textures and 3d objects co-existed.

The region contains several different types of topography which is one the reasons why it is such an interesting region to explore. The eastern portion near the Rhine River is mostly flat plains and then moving westward it becomes mountainous as you get into the Vosges mountain range. The ground textures reflect these differences and we can see all sorts of intricate details that remain clear even at very low altitudes. Land features such as individual furrows in the farmer’s fields, the shadows of objects such as power transmission towers, streams, hedge lines and so much more are all visible. The high definition mesh ensures that the land contours correctly with the ground images. Some of the most spectacular scenery I saw was while I flew over the peaks and valleys of the Vosges mountain range.

To simply show features on the ground textures isn’t enough. That may work at higher altitudes but as a VFR product you want to have what you see on the textures replicated with discrete 3d objects. In this scenery addon there is definitely no shortage in that respect; the number of objects and diversity in object types is another of the scenery’s distinguishing features. Visible throughout the scenery are the customary building types such as houses, apartment buildings, churches and warehouses, farm silos and water towers.  This is just a short list of the more common types but they have included some that are more unique such as castles and power plants. Also in the scenery we see transmission towers, satellite dishes, cemeteries, road signs, etc.

 

The density with which objects populate the scenery is simply amazing. The largest centers of population in the Alsace region, Strasbourg and Mulhouse, are both filled with massive amounts of objects/autogen thanks to the 3D Automation® technology and those objects mirror what you would expect to find. The same can be said for those forested areas that are covered in trees. The results are just as impressive.

The size of the objects being rendered can be pretty extreme. Looking at several war cemeteries they have gone so far as to include individual crosses at the grave sites.

If you choose to fly over the area at higher altitudes between destinations the look of is also much more realistic as it is based on aerial photography. The differences between it and default scenery is obvious even at 35,000ft.

Airports

Located throughout the Alsace scenery there are 16 airfields/airports that have been modelled. From single runway grass strips all the way up to international airports and even a military airfield every style of flying is supported and can be accommodated. Each airport’s placement and orientation on the base scenery is meant to be accurate so you can confidently use the included real world charts.

How have they augmented the included airfields? Hard surface textures used at these airports are the same basic quality as those found in FSX. Additional objects such as runway/taxiway markers, vehicles and wind socks have been included to boost the ambiance. The buildings are only meant to be representative of what you might find at each one.  What they have done is definitely a big improvement over the default rendering found in FSX.

I was happy to see that both Strasbourg (LFST) and Bale-Mulhouse (LFSB) included terminal buildings and jet ways that closely resembled the real thing. Even though the airports aren’t as complete or up to the quality of a dedicated airport scenery addon I felt they were very well done and included enough detailing to make them believable in the context of the overall package and worthy of making them an airport of origin or destination.

If you want a realistic recreation of either Strasburg and Bale-Mulhouse airports FranceVFR sells detailed regional airports that fit into this regional scenery.

Night

Alsace at night looked just as I was hoping it would, realistic. The built up areas were filled with the lights from  houses and other buildings and the lights of vehicles could be seen moving along the major roadways. In between was the blackness of the countryside. As I flew around certain night time features did stand out; for instance the contrasting brightness of airport runway lights against the darkness of night made them quite visible and then there was the bright red lights seen on higher structures like transmission towers and industrial smoke stacks. All of these factors combined made for a night time environment that was very close to what you’d see if you were actually flying in the region.

Performance

The rendering of all of these objects into the scenery does not come without some cost to performance. I found that my PC was struggling at times as I flew in and out of Strasbourg’s airport. This appears to be the area with the greatest concentration of buildings and I saw the consequences of that when flying complex aircraft.

Flying GA type aircraft the performance hit was minor but on occasion and as you saw in several screenshots scenery density sometimes lagged a bit but it would catch up filling in all the sparsely populated patches.

Final Thoughts

With the addition of their new 3D Automation® technology FranceVFR have given this genre of scenery addon a massive boost taking it to a whole new level. We can now experience the variations and extremes in object density that more closely mirror the real world giving us a much better sense of “as real as it gets”. If you are a fan of VFR flying you will want to put this on your list of must haves.

My Ratings

Installer: Very good, easy to use.

Documentation: Very good, bilingual manual and complete set of airport charts.

Modelling:  Very good.

Extras:  Lots of interesting landmarks and a huge area to explore.

Download Size: FSX 5.1 GB

Price: EUR 29.33 without VAT

Upgrade price of EUR 20.92 without VAT for those who previously purchased Alsace VFR from SimMarket

Developer Homepage: http://www.francevfr.com/

Link: http://secure.simmarket.com/francevfr-alsace-vfr-v2-fsx.phtml

Test System:

Intel i7 960 OC @ 4.2 Ghz, 12 Gb RAM, EVGA GTX560 Ti w/1.2 Gb video, Win 7 Ultimate 64, FSX w/acceleration, UT2, REX Overdrive, GEXn, UTX, AES, GSX.

Richard Desjardins

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