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Aerosoft / 29Palms – Skiathos X – The Greek St. Maarten Review

Aerosoft / 29Palms – Skiathos X – The Greek St. Maarten Review

Skiathos X is the second Greek Island scenery project developed by 29Palms Scenery Design and published by Aerosoft. The 29Palms – Aerosoft collaboration resulted in some great scenery products before, so let’s see if Skiathos X – The Greek St. Maarten lives up to expectations…

The island of Skiathos is a small island in the Northwest Aegean Sea, just east of the Pelion peninsula on the mainland, and just west of the slightly larger island of Skopelos. It lies about 130km north of Athens. Skiathos  is about 12km (7mi) long and 6km (4mi) wide, and has a total land area of just under 50km² (19 sq mi).

The island is home to around 6000 people, 80% of which live in the largest town, also called Skiathos. The rest is divided over several other small settlements on the island.

The geography of Skiathos is mostly hilly woodlands covered in pinewoods, with farmland near the larger settlements and sandy beaches all around the island.

Skiathos is served by Skiathos Island National Airport, also called Alexandros Papadiamantis Airport. It’s a small airport with a short and narrow runway that was built on land reclaimed from the sea between the islands of Skiathos and Lazareta, joining them into one larger island. The spectacular approaches low over a coastal road just outside the airport boundary have earned Skiathos, and this scenery product, the nickname ‘The Greek St. Maarten’.

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Installation:

No surprises here. It’s an Aerosoft product, so you know the installer works just as it’s supposed to.
Obviously, you have to buy the product first. It’s available on SimMarket for €19.29, or €22.96 including EU VAT (prices at time of writing).
The installer, which you can download after purchase, takes a whopping 1.5GB. The reason for this is the photo coverage of the entire island of Skiathos. Most people will have no problem downloading this, but if you have an unreliable internet connection, you might consider buying the boxed version, which is also available, although not yet through SimMarket.

Installation is the usual: running the installer, checking the correct sim (Skiathos is compatible with both FSX and P3D, as usual with new Aerosoft products), checking the correct path and entering your email address and serial number. No surprises here.

After installation, you get the Skiathos X scenery in the simulator of your choice, a short manual with some basic information, the airport charts for LGSK, and an external utility that can enable or disable some optional features of this scenery product.

overview1Manuals and Manager:

Apart from the scenery itself, the installer also installs some small extras. First off, there’s a manual. It’s available in both English and German in pdf-format. The English one comes in at 16 pages. It’s short, but covers quite a bit of information, going from the product credits, over a short introduction about the airport, to the recommended settings for FSX and P3D and an FAQ-section. It even has a complete overview of the scheduled flights for the entire 2013 summer season. A link to the manual is placed in the windows start menu for easy access.

Additionally, a full set of airport charts, again in pdf-format, is provided along with the scenery. Airport charts are usually available for free online, but I still like it when developers ship them with their products. One remark here is that you manually have to go find them in your fsx installation folder. No links or shortcuts are provided, although the location is mentioned in the manual.

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Finally, there’s the 29Palms – Skiathos X Manager. This external utility provides some useful links to the English manual, the 29Palms Facebook page, a support forum and the Aerosoft website. The other, more important thing it does is let you manage different options in order to optimize either performance or visual quality. You can switch between normal and HD textures, turn some details on or off, or even switch between off, normal and dense for stuff like the 3D grass and ships. I’ve been able to run Skiathos X fine with all options on on my system, but this is a very nice addition if you want to get better frame rates, or don’t care for some of the options. A nice addition here is that there’s an ‘info’ label next to every option that gives an explanation if you hover your mouse over it. (As shown in the screenshot above)

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The Island:

The first thing of note, is that the entire island is covered in detailed photographic ground textures. Covering an entire island in 30cm/pixel or 50cm/pixel textures, even if it’s a small island, requires quite some space on your HDD, and this is the main reason for the size of the installer, and the amount of space the installed product requires on your HDD.

That said, the textures are quite nice. I’m no die-hard photoreal fan, when it comes to textures, but it’s done quite nicely in this product. Especially in the rural areas of the island it look good. In the urban areas, photoreal ground textures might look impressive, but it’s harder to make them work together with the 3D scenery objects and autogen. Even so, this is done well in Skiathos. Not perfect, but certainly good enough. Unless you fly really low and slow over the towns on the island, you won’t notice anything amiss.

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Of course, the second part to talk about here are the 3D objects and autogen that populate a flat world. What I like about Skiathos here is both the quality and the density of the 3D objects.  No matter where you fly over the island, it’s covered in nice and detailed 3D objects, and a lot of them as well.

In total, this gives a very nice result when flying over the island. And despite being a very small island, Skiathos has a lot to offer, even if you can see it all in 10 minutes in a fast GA aircraft. You have the town of Skiathos, with its airport and harbor. Nice to see here are all the boats on the water, and the dense and beautiful collection of houses and buildings in the city. A little to the west, the houses are less densely packed, the gardens are bigger, and you will spot several swimming pools visible on the ground textures. Along the coast, there are some nice sandy beaches. There are some more settlements along the western coast, but they’re not as large nor as densely built as Skiathos. In the center of the island, you get some hilly woodlands. Very nice to spot here are the dirt roads, which are nice and sharp due to the quality of the ground textures. It’s these roads that are a real nice finishing touch in my mind. It makes the island feel like a place where people live, and not just some computer generated area. More to the east, the hills get higher, and the woods denser. Indeed, the density of the trees here is staggering. I really like this part of the scenery, lovely to fly over. Especially because the autogen and the ground textures work together perfectly here.

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At night, Skiathos has some interesting stuff to offer as well, in the form of lighting. When you fly over the island in twilight or in the dark, you’ll see a lot, but really a lot, of lights. Especially in the town of Skiathos itself, but all over the island there is a lot of light, including a lot of red ones on just about every high point you can see. The effect when you come in for an approach is staggering… You’ll see the lights quite a way of, but when you get closer, it looks like a whole mountainside of lights right next to your aircraft. Very impressive, and very good looking.

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All in all a very nice airport to fly over, but let’s take a look at the airport next, you need somewhere to takeoff and land, don’t you?

The Airport:

I’ve already covered many aspects of the real airport in the introduction, so I’ll stick to the virtual rendition here. When you load a flight on the apron, the first thing to catch the eye is the quality of the buildings and ground clutter around the airport. Skiathos is a small airport, so 29Palms could add a lot of details without hampering performance too much, and they certainly didn’t hold back!

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There’s a lot to see, even when you’re just standing on the ramp. First there’s the ground itself. The detail in the concrete is amazing. You almost get the feeling you can touch it. You can see the texture of the concrete, the taxiway lines are very sharp and detailed, and you can see that there has been activity on the apron before: it’s darker where aircraft tend to taxi and park and where people tend to work. The overall result is a very good looking apron, from up close or from a distance.

The next big thing are of course the buildings. Skiathos Island National Airport isn’t a large airport, so don’t expect to many buildings, but those that are there, are replicated very well in this virtual version. The buildings are quite basic and quite simple, but even small details are modelled in great detail, and the texturing is great. The resolution is high, and the detail in the textures is amazing. Texturing is never only about providing high resolution, it’s also about using the resolution to its fullest extent, and 29Palms did great here.

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Then there’s the ground clutter of course. Without this stuff, even the best airport scenery looks empty, but I can tell you, Skiathos doesn’t look empty at all. There is traffic driving around the airport, there are trucks and pulleys scattered around the airport, and there’s even a very nice business jet parked on the edge of the apron. It’s in this stuff that 29Palms show us that they can’t only provide great textures, but also very detailed yet frame rate friendly models.

The best made and best looking feature on the apron, in my opinion, are the blast fences. Lots of airports feature blast fences, both in real life and in FSX, but those on Skiathos look absolutely amazing. And luckily so, because those blast fences are a very prominent aspect on the ramp in LGSK.

Taxiing out to the runway, the stuff you see changes, but the quality certainly doesn’t. The texture quality of the taxiways, the runway and the turning areas on the end of the runway is as good as that of the apron. As is the quality of all objects near the runway that add to the feel of the airport. I’m particularly impressed by the quality and density of the 3D grass around the runway. 3D grass isn’t always done well, but it certainly is here. Also nice to see are the signs, fences, cars and people close to the runway ends. It all adds up to a very nice experience, moving around on Skiathos Island International Airport.

airport_grassWhile the texture work around the airport certainly is great during the daytime, it is at night that you truly see how well it is done. Obviously, FSX doesn’t have dynamic scenery lighting, so all lighting has to be ‘baked’ into the textures. I’ve got to say, I was more than impressed when I loaded Skiathos at night for the first time. I think the screenshots speak for themselves.

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Finally, I want to mention some of the ‘final touches’ that make this product just that little more special than the average scenery product. One of them is a ‘dust effect’ when taking off from runway 02. It isn’t perfect, but can be turned off if you don’t like it. Another nice addition that’s not really standard in FSX are several flights of seagulls flying over and around the airport. What isn’t included is the slope the runway has in real life. The FSX version is just flat. In my mind not really a problem, because sloping runways in FSX come with serious limitations, certainly when it comes to AI traffic. And the slope in the real life LGSK runway isn’t so extreme that it’s a truly defining feature of the airport anyway.

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Conclusion:

Skiathos is a small charming Island in the Aegean Sea, and 29Palms managed to bring a lot of that charm into FSX and P3D. While the entire island is covered in detailed photoreal textures, high quality terrain mesh and thousands of trees and houses. However nice it all is, the real focus point is the airport, Skiathos Island National Airport (ICAO: LGSK, IATA: JSI) and it’s direct surroundings. Even with all options turned off in the manager, this is a nice scenery product. But with everything turned on, it becomes a lot better than just ‘nice’. The visual quality and density is nothing short of amazing, as is the attention to detail in this product.

I think 29Palms did an amazing job on this scenery product. And since it’s published by Aerosoft, is has all of that company’s experience in publishing and support behind it as well.

Like:

  • Very high quality textures and models all over
  • Very dense and good looking autogen
  • Lots of details making the place come alive

Don’t like:

  • I don’t know… The very big contrast in quality with every other piece of land in the vicinity?

Links:

Skiathos X on SimMarket

29Palms Website

Test system:

Intel Core i5-2500K @ 4×3.3GHz (stock speed)
8GB DDR3 RAM
MSI N560GTX-Ti Twin Frozr II
Windows 7 64 bit
FSX Deluxe + Acceleration

Add-ons used:

  • Aerosoft Skiathos X
  • REX Essenstials Plus
  • Active Sky 2012
  • A2A Simulations – P-51D Mustang
  • PMDG – 737NGX
  • Dodosim 206
  • RealAir – Beech Duke
  • And several others during testing…

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