AVSIM Commercial FSX Scenery Review

Ground Environment X Europe

Product Information

Publishers:  Flight 1

Description: Ground, diurnal, seasonal textures, and autogen replacements for Europe.

Download Size:
1.8 GB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: Allen Lavigne AVSIM Staff Reviewer - March 14, 2010

Introduction

Reviewer's Note: Version 1.01 was used for this review.

When the scenery enhancement called Roads USA was first introduced for FS2004 I was impressed, for a while... until the Ultimate Terrain series replaced that real estate on my hard drive. However, except for roads and bridges, UT did little to improve ground texture tiles and autogen. This was resolved with the introduction of Ground Environment 2006 followed by Ground Environment PRO which covered the whole world under the FS2004 flag (an AVSIM review was written by senior editor Alexis Esguerra in early 2007).

Although a few European-specific landclass replacements became available both as freeware and payware (the XClass series was reviewed at AVSIM by David Wilson-Okamura), none of these replaced any ground textures and if it did, it was not to any appreciable extent. Flight1's first FSX installment of Ground Environment was intended for USA/Canada (extensively reviewed by our senior review writer, Angelique van Campen), so a Ground Environment specifically designed for Europe's architecture and landclass differences did not appear until 2009, the version that I am reviewing now.

Except for some trees, great effort was made to limit disruptions to your previously installed Ground Environment for USA/Canada textures by the co-existence with a subsequently installed Ground Environment for Europe.

Test System

Vista64, SP1
Quad Q6600 @3.2G 6G RAM 800MHz
BFG GTX260 896MB max
Running 1920x1200x32
Active Sky Adv + FEX Ultimate Traffic X 2 SP1 FSGenesis Mesh UTX for USA CAN and EU
GEX for USA CAN and EU

Flying Time:
11 hours

UTX for Europe and GEX for Europe work together in making colossal enhancements to the realism that is experienced in every aspect of the European experience in FSX. Here is the list of features for GEX for Europe from Flight1's website:

Complete coverage of Europe which extends from the Arctic circle through southern Greece.
• Enhanced textures to assist in rendering clear visuals as low as 250-500ft in many places.
• 1m/pixel - 1024 x 1024 Textures - No excessive resolution to render or to fill hard drive.
• High volume autogen layout designed to work in tandem with autogen slider position.
• Structured texture layout to assist in covering most landclass products.
• All seasons including incredible snowy winters and mountain terrain.
• Special features/upgrades for Ultimate Terrain X Europe users.
• 2D enhancements produce simulated 3D depth in textures.
• Textures derived from licensed Arial and Satellite imagery.
• FSX tree render issue addressed in autogen annotation.
• Upgrade for USA-Canada users, no switching required.
• FSX road night lighting upgraded (Default and UTX).
• Realistic custom designed night textures.
• Highly detailed aerial views.
• Natural seasonal blending.

The listed requirements for GEX_EU are:
Microsoft Flight Simulator X
• Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7
• 5 GB Hard Disk Space

It would be wise and useful to read through the forums for Ground Environment X Series before making a purchase decision or before installation. I copy the following information from the same site:

" FSX basic terrain layout is (edited by reviewer):
Mesh (i.e. FS Global 2010, FSGenesis)
• Landclass (i.e. SceneryTech, XClass or UTX, although UTX does a LOT more than just Landclass; like the 3d lights, real-to-life placement of roads and railroads, rivers, glaciers, coastlines and very detailed custom scenery)
• Textures + Autogen (GEX)"
• with default FSX where any of the above are not added.

This last list shows what does what with respect to FSX add-ons.

Installation:

There are two methods for acquiring the data for GEX Europe, one to use if you expect intermittent downloading (continuation of successive downloads), and one as a one shot fast download. You only pay "after" you have the files by clicking on the installer which opens a dialogue box where you complete the purchase information (see picture) so you can just go ahead with the downloads and pay later on.

I always chose the latter since I have a reliable broadband connection for which 1.7 gigs took me about 30 minutes to download. Regardless of the method you choose there are two files to obtain; the installer being quite small, only 10 MB, and the data package of 1.7 Gig.

Installation will prompt you to select a drive on which a full back up of the files it is replacing will be saved. It is best to keep these on a separate drive. If you select both instillation choices (see third picture), both FSX and UTX (EU) texture files are backed up in separate folders.

There are 6031 items covering 3.34 Gigs of data in my GEX backup and 465 items covering 334 Megs of data in my UTX_EU backup folder. That's a lot of files, and a lot of effort must have gone into these modifications. A small manual is installed which has 3 pages, sufficient to cover the essentials of instillation and updating.

The installation is further divided into two parts; one being the basic GSX textures and the other being those made to compliment your installation of Ultimate Traffic for Europe. Individual backups are also initiated for these two in separate folders.

The only warning you should get about possible conflicts is if you have FTX products installed (these are the Australian GOLD...BLUE...etc) and if you do have these on your system they request that the FTX MODE switch be set to OFF. I do not have these products so I could ignore that warning. A small manual is available in the start menu but there is not a whole lot there, just what I've been covering basically.

Static Texture Comparisons:

In order to suggest just how much improvement you might expect to see after going from generic FSX textures to the enhanced GEX for Europe (with and without Ultimate Traffic's landclass and roads), I am posting a limited bunch of snapshots here from just a few European locations in an effort to cover most common varieties.

Only for the purpose of acquiring a full display of these static snapshots I have maxed all scenery settings and had the LOD_radius at an 8.5 setting. Later, for more realistic performance comparisons in a dynamic setting, the autogen level was reduced to "dense" and the LOD_RADIUS reset to its normal high of 4.5, values compatible with my system for an adequate performance rather than optimum display.

Reviewer's Note: I had GEX for United States previously installed so there may be some discrepancies here from what I see and what you see for generic FSX

A small French town compared day then night
Lisbon compared day and night, FEX and GEX

These two first comparisons: A small French city shows the difference in autogen close up. The trees seem different but not a stand out. Night texture improvements from a higher altitude (Lisbon) are immediately apparent. Some nice work has gone into these night textures. The Lisbon snapshots during the day do not show much difference except in the background texture for the airport which blends in better now with GEX textures. The night textures for the city of Paris snapshots show dramatic improvements with GEX over default FSX as well.

Summer in Paris day or night FSX and GEX Comparing night textures: FSX...GEX...UTX

The above blocks show that the night lighting has been rendered more softly and in my opinion is both nicer and more realistic.

Stockholm airport in various combinations Italian Alps in various combinations

Seen in the above Stockholm block, GEX does not really cause a major difference from native FSX textures. In the alpine block, there are evident differences in textures. In this case, I also prefer the GEX contributions, especially when the valley town is enhanced with UTX.

Northern UK: Fall/Summer + FSX/GEX Northern UK: Spring/Winter + FSX/GEX

In the above block for trees in Northern UK, I don't really see a big difference in the trees themselves, but the spread of bunched treed areas as seen under GEX is, in my opinion, much nicer. Below are more mountainous regions of the Norway coast, which does not show as dramatic a difference as do the Italian Alps.

Norway in summer and winter: FSX/GEX
Spanish Island and the Channel Cliffs compared

The Spanish Island of Mahon shows a nice texture improvement when going from default FSX to GEX. But the cliffs off the English Channel do not.

Comparisons of two locations in Greece UK Fall and Winter textures compared

Although the above comparison shots refer to heavy winter, I do not think they are really that, but were only what I could get by trying to get those textures to show up. This is an FSX effect and has nothing to do with any inabilities on the part of GEX for Europe. This fact and some mountain texture irregularities or incompatibilities between Scandinavian and Alpine mountains were mentioned in the Flight1 forums but were attributed to FSX inherent defects. So I will not further any investigations on that here since GEX is not at fault.

UPDATING TO VERION 1.02:

Since finishing this review Flight1 has updated both GEX for Europe to version 1.02 and GEX for USA-Canada now called GEX for North America to version 1.09

I copy from the Flight1 forum:
" The issues addressed in version 1.02 are:)

o Updated entire winter season (no snow winter tiles) to address user concerns with color in winter.
o Reworked shared textures to sync Europe with the North America v1.09 release
o Replaced autogen and made adjustments to some UTX patch tiles
o Fixed minor backup path issue with the backup system interface
o Upgrades to farm fields in winter to address user concerns
o Added generic masks to better display texture transitions
o Replaced airport pads and fixed dry location airport pads
o Minor changes to mountain snow and ice in hard winter
"

However, there are some minor installation issues that may appear to some inexperienced users as being quite convoluted and dizzyingly annoying. But it is really quite simple, once you have read through the instructions on the two pages I have linked to above for the two different sets of version updates. I will attempt here to clarify the situation if I can be so lucky...

The following are my suggestions and you MUST read through the developer's instructions:

A: If you have not any GEX for USA-Canada, just get the update for GEX for Europe version 1.02 and run its installer. That's all. Open the interface to let the backup process finish and you then can confirm you are on v1.02

B: If you have GEX for USA-Canada, be careful. You must install GEX_ EU FIRST in order to avoid texture miss-matching. So do the above part A first.

WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE CONFIDENT YOU UNDERSTAND THE PROCEDURES BEFORE UPDATING.
These new GEX updates will be using the same backup directory to avoid redundancies (by default C:\). You might want to rename your backup folder to prevent loosing the default FSX textures. You might not go wrong with the updating of the GEX textures, but you can lose your backup if you are not careful. If your GEX versions already have a shared folder than you can leave it alone. Confused? You're not alone. If you don't care about those default FSX textures then you need not be too worried. Myself I need them for comparisons, and it is possible I've already mixed them up... oh well.

The updating to version 1.09 is different here, you have to go get the full instillation and remove the old one before going forward. Follow the instructions from the developer's site.

Now that I have added to the confusion, let me show you the effects of this new version on some of the snapshots from the version 1.01 section above:

Some Comparisons of Versions 1.01 and 1.02

There is not much apparent change between the pics compared that I could make. Actually... the color?
The most evident changes are with the no-snow winter tiles which are best illustrated in South France around Nov. 1, for which I did not take a picture before upgrading to 1.02 ..... for which a richer winter color was reworked in.

Paris autogen Winter alpine North UK Winter

The upgrade most likely covered issues other more than textures, mainly file compatibilities between version 1.02 and the same day release of GEX for North America version 1.09.

Summary / Closing Remarks

Without taking snapshots of each and every modification (more than 6000 files are affected), I tried to show a representative sample of the some of the various textures I encountered while experiencing GEX for Europe.

I did not go hunting for errors and/or standout beauties, so what I show here should be similar to what you would see yourself on a normal adventure over Europe. Many of the snapshots were taken while Active Sky was enable, thus reducing the visibilities and ultimately the colors, so your experience should be different. This is most evident in the comparisons of the two Grecian localities; the water is brown due to my choices in FEX.

Overall, I found the textures to blend nicely from one tile to the next. You could say that default FSX has less harmonically sensible collations. On the test flight to Brussels, my impression of GEX was positive as a significant improvement was obvious.

Personally, I would get Ultimate Terrain before getting FEX which I'd get before GEX. Although all three are magnificent contributions.

 

What I Like About GEX Europe

  • The night lighting is much subtler and realistic.
  • Enhancements towards pseudo-dimensional textures.
  • Better colors overall, especially mountains.
  • Better town and city textures.
  • More detailed autogen.
  • Negligible effect on the frame rates, if any.
  • Somehow, adjacent tiles blend more harmoniously.
  • UTX texture modifications included to make the two compatible.
  • Ability to remove/install UTX or GEX files/backups independently.

 

What I Don't Like About GEX Europe

  • Almost perfect

 

Printing

If you wish to print this review or read it offline at your leisure,  right click on the link below, and select "save as"

Ground Environment X Europe

(adobe acrobat required)

Comments?

Standard Disclaimer
The review above is a subjective assessment of the product by the author. There is no connection between the product producer and the reviewer, and we feel this review is unbiased and truly reflects the performance of the product in the simming environment as experienced by the reviewer. This disclaimer is posted here in order to provide you with background information on the reviewer and any presumed connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

Tell A Friend About this Review!

2010 - AVSIM Online
All Rights Reserved