Those of you that started using flight simulator before FS2004 came along, are no strangers to virtual Chicago. Indeed, until FS2004, the default flight started at Meigs airfield, just off the shore of the city of Chicago — “the windy city”. I still remember increasing the throttle on that little default Cessna, taking off and looking at the “detailed” buildings that were the Chicago skyline. This is FS98 I’m talking about. Now, after over 10 years, I return to Chicago.
A general introduction to this almost-review
This article is not an ordinary review. Ultimate City X: Chicago, is a new series of articles I want to write in which I will cover various cities. In these articles, I will discuss and combine various addons to create the “Ultimate City”. While I do this, I will review the products that I chose to use, but do note that because multiple products will be discussed, this will not a super detailed review like I used to do of products here at simflight or over at Avsim. The main intention of this series of articles, is to show how you can combine addons to make something really nice, that will hopefully make it that more enjoyable to fly into the cities that are discussed. So, in this first instalment of Ultimate City X, I will look at Chicago, the windy city and place where the default flight once started.
To make an Ultimate City, we need three “layers” of scenery:
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Photo scenery;
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Detailed buildings for the skyline;
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Airport scenery.
These three are not available for each city of course, and thus I will not be able to look at each and every city. Sometimes, there are multiple packages that we can use to build our city, and in that case I will try to discuss all available packages, but I will always end up choosing one that I personally prefer. You, however, are of course free to choose whatever you wish based on the screenshots and descriptions I give.
When we take off at default Chicago, here’s roughly what we see (roughly, for I have UTX: USA and GEX: USA installed!):
Default Chicago skyline.
Default Chicago Midway airport, KMDW.
Default Chicago O’Hare International airport, KORD.
As you can see, it’s pretty basic. Some of the famous skyscrapers, like the John Hancock Centre and Willis Tower (Previously called Sears Tower), are present, and so are some of less known skyscrapers. Most of the skyscrapers are simply default buildings however, that are also present at default New York, just to name one other city. Also look at the ground they stand on: not at all photoreal. It looks nice because of GEX: USA textures, and the shorelines are only correct due to UTX: USA being installed. Otherwise, I’m not sure how correct it all would have been. And Meigs field is completely missing form the picture. This, while sad, is not so weird: the airport was closed several years ago.
As for the airports, Midway is completely default. Well, not completely: I have installed REX textures, making it look a bit better than it otherwise would have looked. Still, the terminals and tower are default and only have a meagre resemblance to their real-world counterparts. As for O’Hare International, the buildings there look better than Midway’s. Microsoft took the trouble to place buildings that somewhat look like their real-world counterparts, but it can always look better. So as you can see, there is a lot to upgrade here!
Searching for photoreal scenery for Chicago, I found two products:
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Newport’s photoscenery: http://secure.simmarket.com/newport-photo-real-chicago-x.phtml or http://www.newportscenery.com/catalog/
-Â Â Â Â Â Â MegaSceneryEarth’s Chicago Citypack: http://www.megasceneryearth.com/store/cart.php?target=product&product_id=398&category_id=115
How do we know what to choose? I tend to look at four things:
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Coverage area;
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Quality of the used textures;
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Included seasons/night lighting;
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Price.
Let’s compare the two products on all of these three accounts. For clarity,
MegaSceneryEarth Chicago Citypack
Citypack Chicago coverage.
The above shot shows what you’ll get. These are three rather large tiles that include way more than just downtown Chicago and its immediate surroundings. By all means, the area is quite enormous. With regard to coverage, MSE sure has a lot to offer.
Quality of the used textures
This is the most important bit. It doesn’t matter how big the coverage is, if the quality is poor, you don’t want to buy it. So, I’ve been flying around the scenery and made some shots, so you can see for yourself. Please note that, for some reason, the MSE website does not include screenshots of the Lake Michigan area, so these screenshots are the only reliable way at the moment to see what the scenery has to offer.
Sadly, the scenery looks very hazy. Contrary to the imagery used in the MegaSceneryX titles (featuring cities such as Long Angeles, Las Vegas and Dallas), the MegaSceneryEarth sceneries are made up of satellite imagery. This causes two problems: (1) You will get the occasional cloud if the imagery wasn’t made on a day with perfectly clear skies, and (2) because of the atmospheric layers, you will get a distinct hazy or blueish colour all over the terrain. This is why none of the colours here look very vibrant. I must say I was mildly disappointed, since the New York Citypack has much more vibrant colours and looks nothing like what you see in the above shot.
The autogen on this scenery is rather sparse, and where there is autogen, it mostly involves trees. In all honesty, if I have to choose between sparse or no autogen on photoreal scenery, I’d rather have no autogen.
The red rectangle shows some sloppiness: clouds. I was expecting clouds somewhere on the terrain, but having such a big cloud right on the approach path of runway 9L is disappointing to say the least.
The resolution of the photoscenery is quite good and I can certainly live with it. The above shot also shows the dense road traffic (even though the slider is at a meagre 23%!). Note that I do have UTX-USA installed, so I can’t be sure that you will see the same amount of traffic if you don’t have UTX-USA installed. What’s important, though, is that the traffic drives more or less correctly over the roads, indicating that the placement of the scenery is more or less correct.
From 3000 feet, the scenery really looks very nice, but I’m a bit concerned by the hazy, or washed-out look. Do note that the water masks aren’t that great. All in all, this scenery gives a rather pleasant flight over downtown Chicago. Funny thing is, Meigs field still exists here, meaning the imagery should be from before 2003. Seeing as there are now crosses on the runway either, the imagery must be from when Meigs was still operational.
All in all, the scenery is good, but lower in quality then I had first anticipated. The resolution is good, but the colours are a bit hazy and there are clouds on the approach path of runway 9R. Also, it seems the imagery is rather old. While the scenery could have had a higher quality, it’s certainly not bad either.
Included seasons/night lighting
There is only one season included, being summer. On the bright side, next to the normal daytime scenery, there is also a nighttime scenery, featuring night lighting on the streets. Here’s an example:
The price of the pack is $19,95, which is roughly â‚¬14,-. For such a huge scenery package, which such big coverage, that’s not too much. Lots of land is covered with scenery that isn’t too bad and has night lighting.
Newport’s Photoreal Chicago X
Newport’s coverage area is undoubtedly smaller, but still big enough. What we want for our scenery is some margin between the runway thresholds and the edges of the scenery. We sure get that with Newport’s scenery, so I’m happy.
Quality of the used textures
These screenshots show that the resolution is lower than MSE’s resolution. Indeed, MSE has a resolution of 1.19 m/px, while Newport has a resolution of 2 m/px. However, what I like about Newport are the very vivid green colours. This does bring us to an oddity: it looks as if the downtown area of the scenery was made in autumn, and the rest in summer. Look closely at these screenshots and ones below, and you’ll see that some parts are distinctly green as in summer, while other patches show red, brown and yellow foliage, like in autumn.
Here we see one of many places where the scenery was either not cut correctly, or no waterclass was applied so that the gaps are filled. As you can see, UTX’s data doesn’t match the photoscenery. To fix this, the photoscenery should have come with some waterclass to determine what is water and what isn’t. In MSE, you can see this was done, resulting in a river full of water, as should be the case (but in MSE, they weren’t so precise with the watermask, resulting in satellite imagery being lain over the water, which is also a bit of a pity).
Meigs is a park! As a result, we must conclude that the imagery is from after 2003, when the airfield was demolished. It’s a pity that the colours are a bit brownish, and not as vibrant as I’d like them. All in all, here, too, it looks a bit like autumn.
The final two shots show O’Hare and some of it surroundings. Luckily, there is no cloud on the approach path of any runway, but as you can see on the latter shot, the waterclass again doesn’t really fill the gap adequately. Also, see the white sort of haze? While it’s not as dramatic as with MSE, I presume these are light clouds that got in front of the camera. Also notice the lush autumn foliage in the park.
Concluding, despite lower resolution, the basic quality of the imagery is good and the colours are also okay. It’s a great pity that it seems that autumn and summer imagery was mixed up, because the summer parts look spectacular. The green is vibrant, precisely the way I like it. The autumn mixed in simply looks weird. Also, the waterclass is a problem. Not a very big one, but its nevertheless a problem.
Included seasons/night lighting
Sadly, there is just one season advertised, being summer (but it’s actually a summer/autumn kind of mix, as we already saw), and there is no night lighting. So, if you want to fly at night, here’s what you get:
The price is â‚¬17,84 or â‚¬5,00 or so depending on where you buy it, of which the former might be a bit high, looking at the terrain covered, the resolution and some of the obvious mistakes in this scenery (â‚¬5,00 is a reasonable price in my opinion, however). However: I have had email contact with Tyler, and he said he will most likely upgrade the textures to a higher resolution and add night lighting in the coming few months. I hope that when he does that, the other problems are also ironed out. This Chicago photoreal scenery is his second or third effort. In the meantime, it seems he has made many more sceneries that have gradually increased in quality and I therefor look forward to the future Chicago scenery he might produce.
Here’s where it all comes together. Are the products worth their price? Let’s recap (prices mentioned are at the time of writing!):
|Coverage area||Downtown + KMDW + KORD + enormous area around it||Downtown + KMDW + KORD + substantial area around it|
|Quality of textures||1.19 m/px. Okay quality, but no apparent colour correction and many clouds visible on scenery.||2 m/px. Okay quality, colours are okay and no clouds spotted.|
|Day/Night, Seasons?||Day + Night, summer only||Day only, summer (?) only|
|Price||â‚¬ 13,97||â‚¬ 5,00|
Outlined above, it seems clear that, when comparing what you get for what price, MegaSceneryEarth is the winner. However, as a whole, I must say I prefer Newport’s scenery. There are mistakes and inaccuracies, but I still prefer it to a rather hazy representation of Chicago. And, I detest the cloud on 9R’s approach path, which Newport doesn’t have. So, concluding:
I will use Newport’s Photoreal Chicago X for the photoreal scenery. This will be the base on which I will build the rest of the city. I understand many of you will have a hard time understanding this decision, but so be it. You are free to choose whatever scenery you wish.
Out of curiosity, I went ahead and did a small FPS test, flying with the Trike around the Chicago area, and I did some approaches into KORD. Below is a table showing FPS for the KORD approach.
The difference is caused not so much by the quality of the scenery, but by the autogen on the scenery. Newport doesn’t include any autogen, and as a result, FPS is higher than with MSE.
Getting the skyline
Getting the skyline isn’t very difficult. We can do two things:
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Use the default buildings;
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Use Aerosoft’s USCities X: Chicago: http://secure.simmarket.com/aerosoft-online-us-cities-x-chicago.phtml
Of the two, I prefer the latter option. Aerosoft is known for its highly detailed scenery packages, and for the small price of 15 Euros, I think it’s worth it to take this small chance. You won’t have to take it: simply read on and decide for yourself what you want to do. There are ample screenshots to make up your mind!
First up, departure from KMDW. From here you can already see the detailed skyline and what a difference it is! A mass of grey buildings with the Willis tower and John Hancock Centre featuring prominently in its centre. The second thing that is rather apparent is the sudden, huge amount of autogen covering Chicago. KMDW has itself also received a small facelift by the addition of a rather nice photoreal underground.
KMDW receives a facelift with Chicago X installed.
The Magnificent Chicago skyline as seen from KMDW.
And how about KORD? With default FSX, the Chicago skyline misses a lot of buildings. Good for the FPS, but it’s sad to miss so much of a beautiful skyline when landing at the city’s biggest airport. Fortunately, Chicago X rectifies this. From KORD< you see pretty much everything and the sight is spectacular as the below screenshots show. Like KMDW, also KORD has received its own photoreal underground.
KORD also received a facelift with Chicago X installed.
With Chicago X installed, you get treated to Chicago’s skyline even from as far as way as KORD’s runway 9 approach.
And now for a small tour of Chicago. I was myself rather impressed with the amount of detailed buildings. They are literally everywhere. It’s not just the downtown area as I thought would be the case, it’s also in the surrounding neighbourhoods. For example, you’ll find that the university was also modelled in 3D, and various smaller houses around Chicago are also modelled in 3D. The only thing that I found lacked, are the textures of the buildings. These are quite blurry here and there, and on buildings such as the Willis tower, the blurry textures detract of an otherwise very nice atmosphere. That said, I’m willing to be nice about it when the fact that KMDW and KORD are quite far away of downtown Chicago, is also taken into account. From the distance that we’ll see downtown Chicago, the blurry textures will hardly be noticed, if at all. What’s also nice to point out is that Meigs is back with Chicago X. It adds an AFCAD and some aircraft and buildings, but it can’t really be it’s not really a full-blown reconstruction of Meigs airport. Below are some shots of downtown Chicago and Chicago’s university campus.
The photoscenery included with Chicago is quite big, but sadly not big enough to my state. I acknowledge that getting good-quality photoscenery is expensive, but I find it a pity that the photoscenery doesn’t extend all the way around KORD, instead cutting short right in front of the airport. What’s nice, however, is the huge amount of autogen that is placed on the with photoscenery covered area. Interestingly, the area that is covered with photoscenery retains the FSX default road layout (meaning UTX road layout seems to be disabled), and as a result, you will not see the huge amount of traffic on many smaller roads in the city like you saw it without Chicago X. Although this is a pity, do remember that because the photoscenery doesn’t extend all the way to the airport, the traffic volume is somewhat higher around the airport. So, where we want much traffic, we do have it! What’s also nice is that the water mask is correct for Chicago X, meaning that the faults we discovered in Newport’s scenery are corrected. It also seems like there isn’t really a problem in continuity between Chicago X’s and Newport’s photoscenery, which is of course good to know. Below are some shots of the autogen density and photoscenery quality.
Finally, night scenery: there isn’t much to see I’m afraid. The photoscenery was adapted to work at night, making everything black with a sort of orange glow for the streets that looks okay. None of the buildings have night textures, however, making it impossible to see anything of Chicago’s skyline at night. This is, evidently, not a scenery suitable for night flyers! Here are also some shots of this:
This concludes this chapter. I personally think that Chicago X, despite a real FPS hit and some blurry textures, looks wonderful. It’s a pity that no night textures were included, but to be honest, I personally don’t mind this because I hardly, if ever, fly at night. For those that do like flying at night, Chicago X might not be the best way to go. Final thoughts:
|Huge amount of detailed buildings||Somewhat blurry texturing|
|Lots of autogen placement||Rudimentary night scenery included (no night textures for buildings)|
|Nice photoscenery to cover parts of the city||Photoscenery has a gap between KORD and city, would have been better if it would have extended to KORD.|
So, is it worth adding in my opinion? Short answer: Yes. Chicago X will therefor be part of the Ultimate City: Chicago!
Adding the airports
As you probably know, Chicago has two big airports: Chicago Midway International Airport, which is the smaller of the two, and Chicago O’Hare International Airport, which is probably one the biggest and busiest airports in the world. Now that we have photoscenery on the ground and buildings in downtown Chicago, we need to find some scenery to cover these two airports. Luckily, there are sceneries available:
-Â Â Â Â Â Â FlyTampa’s Midway version 2:
-Â Â Â Â Â Â FSDreamTeam’s O’Hare:
Both these developers are renowned for delivering quality sceneries, so we’re in for a treat. Sadly, these are also the only incarnations of these airports for FSX (or FS2004), so we basically have no choice. Although, if you wish, you can always decide to leave one of these airports out to cut costs.
FlyTampa’s Chicago Midway
The smaller Chicago Midway international airport is only 10 miles away of downtown Chicago. It is a smallish airport but serves as a hub for Southwest, which operates to many airports in the east of the USA out of Midway. FlyTampa has recently released a v2 for FSX only (for FS9 v1 remains the latest version, since, this is mostly a compatibility patch to make it work in FSX). Since Midway is an airport in Chicago with scenery available, I have taken it up for this article. A full-blown review has also been published here at simflight, so do not expect a second, long review in this article.
Coverage of FT’s KMDW.
The above shot clearly shows the coverage of the airport. Everything is included, and also out side the airport’s fences some of the neighbourhoods were included. As you can see, it blends fairly well with Newport’s scenery, except that FT’s scenery is greener and contains autogen.
Above you see an overview of the terminal. It’s smallish, with two big arms and several smaller buildings that also contain jetways. One of these is all the way to the left of the main terminal building, the other is to the right of the terminal building. Overall, the terminal is well modelled and nicely textured. Now lets go in for a better look.
One of the two arms.
From closer by, you can see that the texturing is very nice. It’s not blurry, and the modelling is well done. The map posts and jetways look good and were modelled with great detail.
As you can see, the gates aren’t hugely detailed. A nicely modelled jetway and some ground clutter (carts etc) are included, but that’s more or less it. That’s fine by me: I’d rather have a bit less clutter and higher FPS than the other way around, as long as the gates aren’t completely empty.
Maintenance area with the control tower.
The above shot shows one of the maintenance areas, with the control tower featuring prominently toward the right of the shot. Detail here is nice too, and thus the buildings look good. The texturing is also very good. What I really like here, is also the attention that was spent on the ground textures. The colour variations of the concrete slabs and the ground markings are very convincing. I can only wish that more developers would be as thoughtful of it as FlyTampa!
The airport’s surroundings.
What I really like about KMDW, is the surroundings that FlyTampa modelled. Several blocks of houses are also included, making the final feet down to the runway an unforgettable experience.
Finally, here are some night shots. I found the taxi and runway lights to be very dim, but the lighting around the terminal looks very nice.
In my opinion, FlyTampa’s KMDW is a very nice addition to our ultimate city of Chicago and I recommend getting it if you like to fly Southwest. For a full review, however, I recommend reading the official review here: http://simflight.com/2011/04/22/review-of-flytampas-chicago-midway-v2-for-fsx/
FSDreamTeam’s Chicago O’Hare
FSDreamteam has made a rendition of Chicago O’Hare (KORD) for both FS9 and FSX. Featuring in this article, you will see the FSX version.
Note: Due to how the scenery was made, you will notice ground markings not appearing in some screenshots. This has got to do with viewing distance!
Overview of KORD and its terminal building.
KORD is a huge airport in every sense. With lots of runways, there are lots of ways to get to the terminal, which itself is also huge. The above shots attempt to show a complete overview of the airport and the terminal building with its multiple concourses. Every terminal is present with nicely modelled details and good texturing. In order to see that, however, we are going in a bit closer. I present you with shots of some of the concourses. The gates are extremely detailed. Ground marking is very nice, the texturing of the concourses is really good and the detailing is also very good. By all means, the detail in this scenery is immense. Just one point of complaint: the textures of the grass are quite blurry. Fortunately, it seems that the detail of the taxiways and runways is miles ahead of the grass.
In order to see a bit more detail, let’s go even closer. I present you now with some shots of gates. Notice the amount of well-modelled carts, tugs and whatnot scattered around the gate:
The gates are packed with detail.
KORD isn’t just for passengers of course, and contains some cargo and maintenance areas. While these are packed with less detail than the terminals, they are still an example of good modelling, as shown below. Please note that the due to viewpoint distance to the buildings, the smaller details were left out, but you can imagine that they contain more or less the detail of the terminal’s gates.
Cargo and maintenance areas.
What’s also nice to see, is the attention that went to other parts of the airport. For example, there is a moving train, and the parking garage has received some attention to. Not the attention that FlyTampa gave to KMDW’s garage, but let’s be honest: KORD is a huge airport and less detail in the parking garage to conserve FPS isn’t a bad idea at all.
Some nice touches on the pax side.
You have now seen most of the airport. Finally, some shots of FSDT’s KORD at night follow. You’ll notice the nice texturing and the nice “orbs of light” that were positioned at the lampposts. Overall, the lighting effect on the ground around the terminals is very nice, I personally love the gold/yellow look contrasting with the white lights shining out of the terminals’ windows.
Shots showing off the night lighting at FSDT’s KORD.
This is not an in-depth review of FSDT’s KORD< and as such I didn’t delve into every of the pros and cons of the scenery. In general, this is a very good-looking scenery, but it comes at a price: the FPS takes a blow with this scenery. Default KORD is already a busy place, and FSDT’s KORD takes another bite out of an already not-too-big cake. Still, if you’re comfortable with the lower FPS and the price of the scenery, there is nothing stopping you to get this really good rendition of one of the busiest airports in the world.
I have shown you two airports for the Chicago area: FlyTampa’s Midway international airport, and FSDreamteam’s O’Hare international airport. Both addons have a startling amount of detail and feature good modelling and good texturing. The FPS impact of FSDT’s O’Hare is somewhat bigger, which is to be expected: it’s a bigger and more complex airport. I can recommend both of these addons, but in the end it is up to you to buy what you want. If you don’t fly Southwest, you don’t have a good reason to spend the extra money for KMDW. If you fly mostly Southwest, or are afraid of the FPS impact of KORD, then KMDW would be a better purchase. If, however, you’d rather see a complete Chicago, you’ll want to buy both of them.
Concluding, both FlyTampa’s Midway and FSDreamteam’s O’Hare will be included in the Ultimate City of Chicago!
And out of the land arises a city…
We are at the end of this first article in the Ultimate City series. We have transformed default FSX Chicago into a new incarnation featuring good quality photoreal scenery, a bustling downtown area and upgraded airports for all your flying pleasure. Chicago has never been this real! Whether you enjoy flying heavies into KORD< taking a helicopter downtown or flying low and slow over the city, this combination of scenery addons should cater for everybody. I do recommend reading the “Final notes” section, just to be sure you don’t stumble over some of the things I found. All in all, I hope this article was of use to you and assembling your Ultimate City of Chicago. I hope to return to you in the future with another publication in this series.
Just some final thoughts and warnings that I think you should be made aware of:
1)Â Â Running all these scenery simultaneously while flying a systems-heavy aircraft (PMDG 747, PMDG MD-11, Leonardo Maddog, etc), having lots of AI aircraft and road traffic will inevitably lead to a for some catastrophic FPS loss. On my setup, the FPS hit was quite big, which will lead me to considering what scenery to activate and what to disable. Of all sceneries, it seems Aerosoft’s USCitiesX Chicago gives the biggest hit. You can of course also mess with FSX’s settings and see how that helps you.
2)Â Â Please note that not all scenery is perfectly compatible! To my surprise, all photosceneries were compatible and work very well with each other, but there are problems when using USCitiesX Chicago. It seems this scenery places custom buildings at some places, such as Midway intl. airport, that FlyTampa’s Midway airport does not exclude. As such, you’ll see terminals appear in wrong locations. KORD, however, should be okay. Do note that you’ll lose the runway extensions and the like that USCitiesX Chicago provides after installing FSDT’s KORD! It is worth mentioning that compatibility with sceneries mentioned here (except for FT’s KMDW) is also mentioned in the manual of USCitiesX Chicago.
3)Â Â Night flyers should already be aware of this after reading the article, but don’t expect exquisite night views with these addons. Only KMDW and KORD come with really good night scenery, the rest does not. However, MegaSceneryEarth does comes with good night scenery, so if you don’t mind the occasional cloud on the scenery and the slightly hazy look, by all means go for MSE. Still, USCitiesX Chicago doesn’t have night lighting for the 3D objects (basically the entire downtown area).
To summarize, here are the addons used, where to purchase them, and their price (at the time of writing!):
|Addon used||Place to get||Price|
|Newport’s Photoreal Chicago||http://www.newportscenery.com/catalog/||About â‚¬5,00|
|Aerosoft’s USCities X Chicago||http://secure.simmarket.com/aerosoft-online-us-cities-x-chicago.phtml||â‚¬14,95|
|FlyTampa Midway v2.0
|FlyTampa Midway v2.0
|FSDreamteam Chicago O’Hare international||http://www.fsdreamteam.com/products_oharex.html||â‚¬21,90 (excl. VAT)|
Nice comparisons of photo-real sceneries, and shows why (for me at least) photo-real sceneries for more northern climates are not the way to go. Also, since I fly mostly at dusk and dawn, which of course extends into night flying, the lack of night textures is not acceptable. As for framerate hits with dense sceneries, I had a major problem with this, and it was solved by an upgrade to the new Intel Core i7 2600K processor; even with a less than top-notch videocard (Radeon HD 5870), I can now run all detail settings maxed and still get terrific FPS. Even with Manhattan X and CS B-727, fps are 18-40, which is perfectly acceptable in FSX.
Very good review. Just a shame that Aerosoft did not solve the aircraft shadows with AI on all their airports for FSX. :-(((