When we approached Orbx systems about reviewing FTX AU Gold and maybe an airfield, John Venema, the founder and lead developer of Orbx Systems, really came up trumps and suggested a featuring several airfields that would demonstrate the many facets of their expertise and products, that way the viewer could really get the full impact. This first review features the bedrock of the FTX range, the region pack.
After quite a few weeks of enjoying the scenery interspersed with operating system upgrades and re-installation of FSX and FTX etc. I feel I have now got a sense of what it's all about, hopefully I can share my experiences with you here.
What I intend to do is work from the ground up so the underlying landclass and terrain of the FTX region pack first then the individual features of the airports in a later review.
One thing I have found in my research is this is nothing short of religion for these guys, there is a large community formed around FTX, you will find freeware airports to download as well as themed liveries for default and payware aircraft. Indeed, the first thing I did after installing FTX Gold, was to download and install the freeware 76 metre resolution terrain mesh "Holgermesh" developed by Holgar Sandmann. This actually covers the whole of the country, not just this region.
At this point, I must state that the shots below are featuring Holgermesh in the FTX shots and REX2 environmental enhancements in both the default and the FTX shots featured.
So, what is Full Terrain Experience AU?
FTX is basically a depiction of the underlying landclass. Landclass, or land classification, refers to the generic scenery tiles that are displayed when flying in the MSFS world. Each tile in the landclass represents the terrain for a 1 square kilometre piece of the Earth. The type of tile is varied and can be used to depict forest, urban, desert, or farmland etc.
What Orbx have done is taken this a step further with ground terrain based on aerial photography sourced at 15cm/pixel resolution and re-sampled to 1m/pixel tightly integrating hand-placed custom landclass and in many areas, polygon landclass to define individual parks, towns, golf courses, rail yards in much more detail.
Combined with accurate roads, moving traffic, 3D lights, hand-made coastlines, lakes, rivers and vertical obstructions (TV towers, wind farms, lighthouses, chimneys, power stations) The autogen is hand positioned to within 1m accuracy, which makes all trees, buildings and other objects perfectly positioned on the ground.
Finally, full seasonal colour support is thrown in for good measure.
AU GOLD Territory Picture courtesy of Orbx Systems
I will be flying in the Gold region, this is the smallest of the
region packs but probably one of the most interesting. On
Orbx Systems confirm this and quote:
"South East Queensland is in fact a VFR flyer's dream and sports some of the most enjoyable terrain to fly over in the simulator. Crammed full of small airfields and with a very diverse geography, you'll experience rainforests, the outback, hinterland ranges, lush rural landscapes, spectacular tropical waters and countless islands to explore, all with that typical Queensland look and feel. Visit Brisbane International Airport, the city and up along to the Sunshine Coast. South you'll discover the vibrant Gold Coast and rich pastoral farming areas, all superbly rendered with their unique crops such as bananas, tobacco and of course, sugar cane."
Finally, it is worth mentioning that there is a very decent demo available for download , this covers part of the Blue region with the entire state of Tasmania with no limitations, this will give you a good taste of the software.
As I write this review, the individual regions are available as a download from the flightsimstore.com or as a download with DVD backup for a small extra charge. However, the complete set of 4 regions is available on DVD right now. Make sure whatever you buy that it is the latest SP3 version.
Prepare to download a big file, the Gold region weighs in at 786Mb but for scenery that is not so bad nowadays. When you install the product it will only install to the same path as your flightsim with no options given, bear in mind that any future FTX airport add-ons will have to be installed into the same place so check you have plenty of spare capacity as you will need it.
When running the installation I was aware of a script running that was probably notifying the FTX Central interface and the FSX scenery library of the new layer.
FTX Central GUI
FTX 3D Lights Tweaker
Scenery Layer Tool
After the installation is complete the FTX Central GUI
runs, here you can opt to use the custom Orbx trees, set
insertion points for your scenery levels, run the FTX Aero tool
to add custom textures to an installed FTX airport's environment
or the 3d Lights Tweaker. The system creates
multi-coloured lighting for all roads in urban areas and major
roads in rural townships. The lighting system is also
implemented with the autogen in the textures themselves.
As part of FTX Central you get easy access to the user manuals, I like this option a lot and now there is no excuse not to read the *** manual! Seriously though, there is some good information in there. Ideal and suggested display settings and a hint to run the system in full windowed mode rather than full screen mode. I tried both and didn't notice any performance gain on my set up so I kept to my favourite full screen mode.
For the more advanced and confident simmer, a couple of useful tweaks to the FSX.cfg is also suggested such as adding:
That helps to bring down demand on your CPU and is well worth doing, a lot of FSX simmers will recognise this from the early days when tweaking was king, for me, with FSX SP2 running, performance is so much better now but every little bit helps!
in AU Gold
Ah! the bit I have been waiting for, this should be a VFR flyers dream? The main difference between landclass and photo scenery would normally be in recognising local features; photo scenery by its very nature should be totally accurate but it is also so flat and life-less. So the team at Orbx have included custom autogen, complete roads, rail roads, trails and tracks for accurate VFR flights. One thing the default scenery doesn't give you is a believable, life-like view out of the window. From reading how Orbx assimilated the purchased terrain and photo data taken by themselves in chartered aircraft, I would say this would be as accurate as landclass could get.
My first impression of FTX was I only had just started flying in full colour after years of rather drab default textures! My first flight was in rich pastureland which in the default sim would really only be dull and uninteresting, just see below! FTX AU Gold is different, a lot different. There are roads leading to isolated farms and running hundreds of miles into the distance. I can see custom buildings and trees populating the landscape.
There is a random, but probably accurate, patchwork of fields which in themselves varied tremendously. I could detect very little, or no repetition in the scenery. I was surprised to see shadows from trees and houses, this could well be down to the use of licensed aerial photos to produce the textures. There are vast plains that reach far past the horizon illustrating beautifully what this country is all about, large distances and diverse scenery. A GPS is absolutely necessary for long distance flights or else you can easily get lost in the outback or mountain ranges!
I ventured out to the Gold Coast, in the
default scenery there is usually very little detail along the
coast lines, pictured below was the best I could find. It wasn't
until after I installed this scenery I realised the use of the the
default coral water colour is vastly over-done. I
remember trying out the FSX demo that flew around St Maarten and
I thought I was watching a cartoon with bright, light, blue seas.
AU Gold has tamed this and made the inshore waters look more credible with
patches of lighter water rather than all of the inshore waters
AU-G has added beaches and better, more defined coast lines. The landclass leading from the coast to the inland areas blends nicely rather than being the same for hundreds of miles. There are some extra outlying islands to explore but nowhere to land so make sure to take the seaplane if you are planning to land!
Moving onto the urban areas, it is stated that a lot of work has gone into more accurate placing of houses trees and roads etc. Gone is the monotonous, irrelevant default autogen and in with the topical and interesting autogen. Below you can see the difference that this makes to the city of Brisbane. In the right hand shot, you can see what a change there is to the position of the cricket ground, and the 2 shots were taken from the same place. Also note the 3D lighting taking affect.
Brisbane before and after
See how the cricket ground has moved
Roads, Rails and
When flying in the default scenery I don't really take much note of the roads and rivers, I know that in notable areas the sim does place roads and rivers in roughly the right area but in outlying areas the placement appears to be random.
With AU-G, I found myself following rivers and roads almost to their end as there is so much to discover, it is easy to lose track of time as the scenery will draw you into places you didn't know you wanted to fly to, very commendable in my view. The road textures look good, I think the addition of trees lining the roads in the rural areas and the street lights in the urban areas help to define the major roads and at night add another point of light.
The rivers, although accurately placed, had no special features that I could see (What features would you expect? ...Ed) but were of a truer colour. As the rivers meander through the countryside they are crossed by bridges where the roads passed over.
Rail tracks shoot off from major conurbations where they have rail yards out to the outlying townships, they were adequate in my view but not as noteworthy as the roads.
A random shot of country roads, note the trees following the same path
Come sundown, the cities come alive and the 3D lighting comes into its own. As mentioned above, the street lights follow most of the main routes and from the air form distinct routes you can make note of for future night flying.
At night, the lighting takes this the scenery to another level as well as the replacement textures do in the day. If you cast your mind back to what the default FSX night textures look like, you will remember splodges of lighter texture on the ground depicting night lighting and civilisation. Not here, you get points of light raised from the ground with a nice halo you defined in FTX Central after installation.
Night in the city, DVD and Roo Burger anyone!?
Personally I had no issues. I have my FPS pegged at 25 using a 3rd party frame limiter called FPS Limiter (Funnily enough) this allows me to set my FSX frames to unlimited therefore not choking FSX whist controlling what my screen can display without stuttering. My FPS It did not drop below this and maintained a smooth flowing flight throughout.
If you have an older PC there is no reason why you cannot get this add-on to run smoothly with the help of the supplied manual after all all you are doing is replacing your default textures.
With FTX, the replacement for default textures has come of age. There are other similar programs out there but they need to learn a few lessons from Orbx Systems before they get my vote.
The performance is excellent and the results are stunning, roll on the implementation of the USA and Europe.
I have really enjoyed flying down under, I think this add-on is rather special and stands out from the rest, for this reason I am going to award it my best mark so far for scenery, 9.5 out of 10.