France VFR – HAUTE NORMANDIE VFR for FSX Review

Haute-Normandie (Upper Normandy) is one of the 27 administrative regions in France and was formed very recently coming into existence in 1984 when Normandy was split into Lower and Upper Normandy. Upper Normandy is bordered by the English Channel to the north and then the regions of Picardy, Ile-de-France, Centre and Lower Normandy to the west, east and south. A few stats about the region: it has an area of 4,756 sq. mi with a population of 1.9 million people and the capitol city is Rouen.

Haute Normandie is well known for several things: it is the number one center worldwide for the manufacture of perfume bottles, it is also the number one region in France for refining oil. On the side of agriculture it is Europe’s largest producer of flax and has the busiest French port for grain and paper.

Installation and Configuration

The first thing to mention is the size of this package, it is rather large at 5Gbs but it’s split into three separate files to make it an easier download.

Installation is fairly straightforward. Each of the three files is an executable which you must run in sequence beginning with number one. After starting the first one you will need to add your registration code and then it will start to install. There is no prompting to go on to the second and third files but you must run them in order to fully install the scenery. The size of the installed scenery is approximately 5.33Gbs.

I had to manually add the scenery entries into the FSX scenery library as the installer did not.  If you run into this problem you will see there are two folders located in the FSX Addon Scenery folder; Haute Normandie VFR – Ground layer and Haute Normandie VFR – Objects layer. A word of caution here, you must set Haute Normandie VFR – Objects layer at a higher priority otherwise you will not see the bulk of the autogen.

The installer also creates a program group France VFR with Haute Normandie VFR as a sub group. It is through here you can access both the French and English manual and the scenery’s uninstaller.

Documentation

The developers include with the product a manual and charts for the enhanced airports.

At only five pages the manual is brief and an easy read. The content is basic stuff; they include some general product info, installation procedure, required hardware configuration, scenery specifications, a map of the scenery coverage area and where to get technical support.

A full set of real world charts is included for the airports shown in the coverage map.

Flying the Scenery

I’d like to start out by listing the scenery specifications as they are given in the manual, as you will see by the list there is a great deal of emphasis placed on the autogen aspect of this scenery.

Scenery Specifications:

• 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.

When I was asked to review this product I immediately said yes, I had reviewed some of their earlier regional scenery packages so I was expecting this one to be just as good or better especially with the new autogen technology.

Before looking at particular aspects of the scenery I wanted to get a good overall feel for the region. To do this I was going to fly up the coast and then take a tour inland. I chose to take off fromLe Havre for a number of reasons; it is located on the coast at the mouth of the River Seine at the southern end of the region, it is the largest city in Upper Normandy and has one of the busiest ports inFrance.

Upon taking off I immediately noticed the massive amounts of autogen, the city and the port looked very impressive and it was easy to see that their new technology was working. The whole area was filled with buildings of varying sizes and styles making it look like a place of activity. The port was also given some special treatment with lots of industrial type buildings, ships docked and gantry cranes ready to load and off load their cargo. This was one of my favourite parts of the entire package.

Leaving Le Havre I flew north up the coast taking in the wonderful natural beauty which this part of the scenery offers. Using the combination of custom mesh and photo scenery you get a very realistic representation and you feel like you are there. Heading north I was constantly amazed at how great this scenery looked, every little seaside village and port was populated with buildings plus there were sites like the power stations at Penly and Paluel. Another favourite coastal area was up near the scenery’s northern boundary; it was the Bay de Somme. This is a spot that I think showcases the wonderful photo scenery that this product uses.

Turning inland and flying around the interior of the region the focus went from the beauty of the coast to the patchwork look of agricultural lands, low hills and valleys. The view although very different was no less impressive, this was a whole different way of showing off  how well the combination of custom mesh, hi res photo scenery and 3D Automation® technology worked. The interior in my opinion is at its best above 2000ft, beginning around this altitude you can I think fully appreciate the landscape. I flew around from airport to airport making my way south on my return trip to Le Havre. The countryside is dotted with small towns and villages, interspersed with industry. The interior is also where you can see the many power lines and towers crossing the landscape. The River Seine was the last natural feature that dominated the landscape. It winds its way from the east near Dijon through Paris to the English Channel at Le Havre. This is another good example of how well the mesh and photo scenery work together to make the scenery special.

When you choose to fly at higher altitudes you get a whole new perspective and a nice overview of the scenery where you can see the different colours and the quilt like patterns of the farmer’s fields plus a better view of the winding outline of the River Seine as it makes its way through the region.

Ground Textures

The scenery base consists of hi resolution photo textures on a custom mesh base.  This combination gives the entire scenery a very realistic look. This also ensures your visual experience isn’t easily compromised. Only at ground level do you see any appreciable blurring.

Objects

Haute Normandie X is the first product to use their new “3D Automation® technology”. They say that with this new technology they are able to add massive amounts of 3d autogen objects throughout the entire scenery coverage area with little or no discernible impact on performance.

It did not take long to see that it made a huge impact on the visuals, just as advertised there was dense autogen everywhere. As I flew around I was constantly amazed at the sheer number of objects. This increased density was especially apparent when flying over areas with high concentrations of trees or buildings. Populated areas such as the city of Le Havre that has many buildings packed together very tightly looked very realistic. There were no large voids and just as important there was no drop in performance. Very impressive indeed. It seemed as though every tree and every building was visible.

It isn’t enough to just add all of these objects you also need to include a wide variety plus they need to be placed accurately on the scenery textures. I am happy to report that there was plenty of variety, lots of different sizes and types of structures from small houses and power poles to large apartments, power plants, industrial type buildings, bridges and just about anything you expect to see, it’s all there. To really appreciate the full variety it is necessary to fly the entire area.

Regarding accuracy of placement; it was especially important because with the photo scenery you get a pretty good idea as to where the different objects and structures should be placed and any errors would be very obvious. A good example that illustrates the precision of their work would be the individual electric poles, the ground shadows match exactly with the poles themselves. To have gotten so granular with object placement over such a large area must have been a huge endeavour but it paid off. This is only one example of many more you will see in Haute-Normandie.

With all the variety in building and object types there was one type that I was disappointed to see missing; lighthouses. This area includes many miles of coastline and according to my research there should have been several lighthouses within the regional boundaries. Just to make sure I wasn’t mistaken I made a number of flights during the day and night and did not come across any. During the day they can be easily overlooked but once the sun sets having active lighthouses makes flying along the coast so much more realistic.

The Airports

As part of the package they have also enhanced 12 airports that are located within the boundaries of this region. They range in size from small single grass strips such as the one at Etrepagny to the much larger airport at Evreux Fauville which is equipped for ILS procedures. There is an airport for every type of pilot. They describe the improvements to the airports this way: “Semi-detailed airports including flatten platform correction”. So what they have done in a nutshell is to make sure that the airports are precisely placed on the photo scenery base plus they’ve added some custom buildings and objects to make them blend in and appear more like what you’d expect to see based on their size and usage.

Runways, taxiways and aprons matched the underlying photo textures and aerodrome charts. I was however a bit disappointed with the textures they used and how they blended with the photo scenery base. For all the hard work they put into these regional scenery products I wish that they would upgrade these textures to something that looked more realistic and less like FSX default textures. The other problem also relating to the hard surfaces had to do with how they appear to float just above the underlying ground textures. They need to find a better way of blending them in with the adjacent ground textures to eliminate this problem.

The other upgrade was to add some custom buildings and objects. The quality was good resulting in a huge improvement over the default airports making them much more enjoyable to frequent. These new structures included hangars of various types, control towers, terminal buildings and storage sheds. Also added were different custom objects such as wind socks, fuel tanks and various types of service vehicles including some military variants.

In my opinion the best looking airport was Le Havre Saint Romain, LFOY. It isn’t the biggest airport but it does has two grass strip runways so they blend in perfectly with the ground textures. It also has a few nice buildings and was located right next to Le Havre, which is near the coast and the River Seine, making for some very beautiful scenery all reachable within minutes of take off.

Seasons

The scenery specs clearly state that they include ground textures for summer time only. The region enjoys a fairly mild climate so I suspect that snow covered fields would not be a common sight. In light of this I don’t think that limiting ground textures to the one season is a problem. Even though ground textures don’t change with the seasons the trees do change from full foliage in the summer to barren in the winter. In this way you do get some sense of a change based on different seasons.

Night Flying

Night flying was fun. I have to say that the overall night environment has improved quite a bit compared to their earlier regional scenery releases.  In the earlier packages the buildings appeared as white shapes eerily standing out in the night landscapes. With this latest release that is no longer the case, you now see the glow of lights coming from the windows of these buildings. The results are much more aesthetically pleasing and realistic.

There was one type of object that seemed to buck the trend though, these were the bridges. For some reason many of them appeared as solid white objects and because of that they stood out from everything else.

Performance

I was extremely pleased with the overall performance of this product. The experience remained fluid throughout even with the massive amounts of autogen.

Final Thoughts

To sum up my flying experience with Haute-Normandie X I have to say that it was extremely enjoyable and realistic. With their new 3D Automation® technology the whole scenery is filled with autogen and that makes a huge difference and all of this with no noticeable loss in performance. I am thoroughly impressed with what they have done. I can hardly wait for them to unleash this on their next regional scenery!

My Ratings

Installer:  Good. Simple to use but you have to remember to run each separate executable.

Documentation:  Very Good.  Everything you need to fly in the region is provided.

Modelling:  Very Good. Massive amounts of precisely placed custom autogen.

Extras:  New 3D Automation® technology.

Download Size: 3 files for a total size of 5Gbs

Price: EUR 33.53 without VAT

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

Link: http://secure.simmarket.com/francevfr-haute-normandie-vfr.phtml

Intel i7 960 OC @ 4.2 Ghz, 6 Gb RAM, EVGA GTX560 Ti w/1.2 Gb video, Win 7 Ultimate 64, FSX w/acceleration, Ultimate traffic 2, REX Overdrive, GEXn, UTX, AES, GSX.

Richard Desjardins

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fanoffsx
Friday, June 1, 2012 23:45

Just bought it !!! incredible ! the most detailed and accurate VFR scenery I’ve tried ! This 3D automotion technology is hard to believ, so many objects without killing fps, I’m happy 🙂