Kia ora. Te Wai Pounamu o Aotearoa. Middle
Earth. Godzone. The Shaky islands. However you want to describe
it, this is New Zealand. I have been waiting for truly awesome
scenery coverage ever since I first visited the Land of the Long
White Cloud back in 2002. There have been a number of sceneries
covering the area over the years, many of them very good, but
they’ve either had a small coverage area, or been limited to mesh,
or landclass, vector replacement, specific airfields etc. Now Orbx
have come along with an “everything” scenery that covers, well,
everything. The question is, is it everything I ever wanted?
New Zealand is an island country, located in the southern hemisphere, some 900 miles East of Australia. It is split into two main islands, the North Island and the larger South Island, and many smaller islands. Total area is 103,400 square miles, slightly larger than the UK. Most of the country’s 4.4 million inhabitants live on the North Island. The main languages are English and Maori.
NZSI covers the South Island, Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands.
From the publisher’s blurb:
* 151,215 square km (58,384 sq miles) coverage
* Brand new ground textures
* New trees made from local photographs
* Roads, rivers, coastlines, lakes, railways
* 10m Holgermesh for crisp definition
* All major and many minor airports upgraded
* Custom NZ airport objects and markings
* Photoreal mountain peaks and glaciers
* Numerous polygon landclass areas
* Hand-crafted landclass for entire region
* Joins FTX Australia for trans-Tasman flights
* Hand placed super-accurate autogen
NZSI is available as a 3.03GB download for £27.76 ($43.73 US) from the Flightsim Store, or as a boxed DVD for £29.12 + shipping from the Flightsim Store and other resellers (reseller prices may vary). This review covers the download version, patched to SP1.
The download and install process will be familiar to owners of other Orbx products: Once the purchase has completed at FSS, you can download the product from the link on the ‘My Account’ page. You will be offered a choice of servers from around the world; just go with whichever one is closest to your location. The MD5 checksum is provided on the download page, so you can check the integrity of the file once downloaded (there are plenty of MD5 checker utilities available). Don’t forget to make a backup of your downloaded file AND the email that contains the required registration details.
Once the file has downloaded, you will need to unzip it, and then run the installer. This will guide you through the rest of the installation process.
Settings and Performance
Use of the scenery is controlled through the FTX Central control panel. Before you start FSX, you will need to use this tool to select the Oceania region (if you have previously installed any of the Australian regions, you will see that ‘Australia’ in FTX Central has now become ‘Oceania’, since it now includes New Zealand).
If you have the wrong region set when you start FSX (don’t worry, I’ve done it myself many times!) you’ll find all sorts of odd problems with the scenery, from weird elevation problems to wrong or missing textures. Don’t worry – you haven’t broken anything, just shut down FSX, set the region in FTX Central and restart FSX, you’ll then be right as rain.
The manual includes a detailed guide to configuring the FSX Settings panels to get the best out of NZSI. I’ll give a quick précis here, but obviously you should set up your own rig in consultation with the manual.
|Global Texture Resolution||Max|
|Scenery Complexity||Extremely Dense|
This is where we start to get into the meat of the package. According to the blurb, “all major and many minor airports have been upgraded”. Now, at the time of writing I haven’t visited every airport in the scenery, but I’ve certainly been to the vast majority, and I have yet to find one that hasn’t been enhanced.
For big tin fliers, the action is centred around Christchurch and Queenstown, these being the main International hubs. Moving down the food chain, the largest domestic regional airports are Nelson, Dunedin and Invercargill, and there are sealed runways at most towns capable of taking the smaller commuter craft.
GA fliers get the lion’s share of the airports (although there are GA areas at even the biggest airports). There is an airport at pretty much every town, and many grass airfields too. In addition to enhancing the default airports, Orbx have also added quite a few private airfields, some of which are challenging, with small, sloping runways ideal for the bush pilot or adventurer.
In addition to this, there are several hundred unmarked grass strips that don’t have AFCADs, so you won’t be able to find them by looking at the FSX map view.
All the actual airports (I’m not talking about the unmarked strips here) have lots of added detail: Custom buildings, terminals, towers, hangars, animated wind socks, many other animations, clutter, vehicles, static aircraft and rotorcraft, 3D grass, custom ground markings. Some also have photographic ground textures, and there are sheep grazing at many of the rural fields.
Over all, the airfields give the impression of middle-end payware / top end freeware quality. Not up to the standard of a standalone Orbx payware airport, but better than (say) UK2000 VFR, and on a par with Aerosoft’s VFR German Airfields series. The bigger airfields could actually stand on their own as payware addons. Now, given the number of totally new airfields, and the fact that they are just a component of the overall scenery package, that’s actually a pretty good standard. There is still room for really high quality airport addons to take the scenery to the limit, but honestly, I would not feel short changed paying the price of NZSI just for the airfields alone. Certainly there are plenty of packages out there where you pay more for less.
I mentioned other animations above. These include Orbx’s People Flow and Nature Flow technologies at many of the airfields. Up till now, this technology has only featured in Orbx’s addon airports, but now it comes to the region itself. People Flow in essence is animated human characters performing limited repetitive tasks, such as drinking a beer on a bench, doing walk-around checks on a plane, marshalling, cooking prawns on the barbecue, walking back and forth, and so on. Nature Flow extends this to vegetation, giving us swaying trees and grasses.
Unfortunately, the animation is very mechanical, and doesn’t look particularly ‘natural’—hence the nickname ‘Zombie Flow’. Similarly, the trees don’t so much sway in the breeze as beat time in sync, like leafy metronomes.
Nevertheless, these technologies do add a degree of movement and
additional interest to the airfields, and these are ‘version 1’
implementations so can be considered experimental to some extent.
On balance though I think the added interest is beneficial. As
Joss Whedon would say, Grrr, Arrg.
The Orbx style of customised landclasses really works well in large areas of predominant wilderness, and NZSI is a good example of that. There are large expanses of forest, mountains, plains, and even farmland that are very convincing. In the mountains there are glaciers, and these have Photoreal textures. Rivers too are convincingly represented, particularly the braided alluvial rivers that are characteristic of the Canterbury Plains.
Messing about on the river…
The road system is made up from separate vector elements that are
drawn over the top of the landclass tiles, and as a result they
can (and often do) cut through ground features with no regard to
(e.g.) field boundaries, city blocks etc. This can be rather
jarring visually and is characteristic of this kind of scenery
(compared to, say, photo scenery). With the relatively low density
of roads in New Zealand, along with the carefully crafted
landclass tiles, Orbx have minimised this issue, and it only
really notices in urban areas.
The 10 metre “Holgermesh” is extremely crisp and sharp. So far as I know, it’s the highest resolution mesh commercially available, and it makes a huge difference in the sharpness of the terrain. Some of the ridges I “climbed” were so sharp and steep I nearly had to cling on to the monitor for fear of falling off! Down low though it can be a little lumpy and there are places where mesh and roads for example don’t quite gel. I know this is a flight sim and not a driving sim, but I do have a few drivable cars, and sometimes I’ll just head off up a road for the sheer hell of it. Anyhow, there’s a couple of cars at the bottom of a gorge somewhere waiting for the AA man to turn up!
Low-level flying in the Buller Gorge
|The Marlborough Sounds|
NZSI comes with a complete complement of seasons. These are tempered to some extent by the maritime climate and so the changes can seem quite subtle—a browning of the grass in Summer; descending snow lines in Winter. In general, it’s colder in the South than in the North (this is opposite to what we are used to in the Northern hemisphere), and the most Southerly reaches are prone to catching icy blasts from the Antarctic. Don’t forget that the seasons are also ‘reversed’, so December-March is Summer, and so on. I’ve tried to mix the seasons in my screenshots.
Spring – Summer – Autumn – Winter – Hard Winter
FTX has its own 3D night lighting system, similar in concept to that found in the Ultimate Terrain series. Street lights appear on autogen lamp posts, and look very effective. The style and size of the lighting effects can be controlled through the FTX 3D Lights Tweaker utility (accessible through FTX Central), and a pair of scripts will set ‘Day mode’ or ‘Night mode’. (Day mode disables the 3D lamp posts for some improvement in frame rates.) This system exists across several FTX titles, and there is a single set of controls which operates globally.
There are six weather themes included in the package. If you have other FTX packages installed, you will already have seen some or all of them.
Finding the hidden gems
There are many points of interest, dams, lighthouses, wind farms, unlisted airstrips etc. scattered throughout the scenery. Some of them are shown on the included kmz file, or on aviation charts (if you have access to them), others you would have to stumble across. However, Harald Klose and Dieter Linde have provided a set of user waypoint files for both Plan-G and FS Discover, which you can download from the OZx community downloads site
VLC: The Vector Land Class product is a direct competitor for mesh and landclass, which covers the entire of New Zealand. Normally with such products it is an “either-or” situation and you much choose which addon to use. But in this instance, Orbx don’t yet have a product covering the North Island, so it is reasonable to want both active at the same time. The VLC web site has instructions for setting up your sim to use VLC in the North and NZSI in the South.
Real New Zealand: Godzone Virtual Flight is working to make its scenery compatible with NZSI. You should check their site for progress and patches.
I took lots more pictures than I could possibly include in the review, and you can see many more screenshots in the review thread on the forum, here: http://forum.mutleyshangar.com/index.php/topic/7238-te-wai-pounamu-o-aotearoa/
*Requires additional purchase of P3D SBSL (Side By Side Licence)
NZSI is a well-rounded scenery package covering the South Island of New Zealand. There’s something for everyone here, although it’s mainly the low VFR guys that will get the most from this product.
Orbx sceneries have become the benchmark by which other sceneries are judged. That’s a tough standard to live up to already, but each new scenery pushes the bar even further forward, and this is the best one yet. If you only buy once scenery area this year, make it New Zealand: You will not be disappointed. 10/10 and a Mutley’s Award for Excellence.
Review machine Spec: Core i7-965 O/C to 3.8GHz | 6Gb Tri-Channel DDR3 Ram |GTX560 II 1GB into a TripleHead2Go @ 5040 x 1050 |
Windows 7 64bit