AVSIM Commercial FSX Scenery Review

Atolls of Tuvalu

Product Information

Publishers:  Pacific Islands Simulation

Description: Scenery add-on .

Download Size:
274 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: Philip Wilson AVSIM Staff Reviewer - March 25, 2010

Introduction

Prior to this review, I didn’t even know of the Tuvalu Atolls’ existence, which is embarrassing given how amazing the geography is and the history of the area is as it relates to the United States. There are so many stories and facts surrounding the Tuvalu Atolls, it has taken a significant amount of dedication by many to compile the information in print.

One book; Tuvalu - A History, (published in 1983 jointly by the Institute of Pacific Studies and Extension Services, University of the South Pacific, and the Tuvalu Ministry of Social Services) contains a wealth of information, some of which I will quote in this introduction. I will also bring in facts from the Tuvalu website.

Tuvalu, pronounced "too-VAH-loo", is an independent constitutional monarchy in the southwest Pacific Ocean between latitudes 5 degrees and 11 degrees south and longitudes 176 degrees and 180 degrees east. Formerly known as the Ellice Islands, they separated from the Gilbert Islands after a referendum in 1975, and achieved independence from Great Britain on October 1, 1978. The population of 11,800 (est. 2007) live on Tuvalu's nine atolls, which have a total land area of 10 square miles, or 27 square kilometers.

This ranks Tuvalu as the fourth smallest country in the world, in terms of land area. The country name roughly translates to "8 standing together". This refers to the eight traditional islands of Tuvalu. The nine islands, from north to south, are: Nanumea, Niutao, Nanumanga, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti, Nukulaelae, and Niulakita.

The ninth island, tiny Niulakita, was inhabited only since the 1950's, and was not part of "ancient" Tuvalu. It is now inhabited by natives of Niutao.

(Source: www.tuvaluislands.com)

It is extremely important to include the “Project Objectives” from the Pacific Islands Simulation documentation. For reasons you will see below, this project goes far beyond just creating scenery.

Atolls of Tuvalu was re-created in FSX for two fundamental reasons: to "capture" the history and current state of the atolls as we know it in our lifetime; and to replicate the splendor and essence of flying in the fourth smallest country in the world within FSX.

The Tuvalu atolls have been a subject of international interests for quite a long time now, in fact since World War II. Apart from being used by American Forces (mainly Marines) during WWII as advance post for deterring Japanese attacks in the northern South Pacific in 1943, Tuvalu has been known in the scientific world as the most rapidly sinking country in the world. If the current sea-level rise proves accurate from various scientific experts, Tuvalu will be fully submerged within the next 50 years. Given that likely scenario, it is only appropriate that we digitize images and memories of the country through various mediums, including game genres such as our hobby (flight simulation) for future generations to see. In the interest of full disclosure, we may not accurately capture the entire country of Tuvalu in FSX but at least we can leave plenty to the imaginations with use of this product.

This project’s lead developer, Graham Michael, kindly forwarded me an extremely informative email outlining not only a brief history on Tuvalu, but a few of the driving factors behind creating this product. As I edited the email looking for areas to highlight in this review, I realized removing any of his words would be a disservice to you the reader, and Graham, who carefully put together the information. In most cases a review’s introduction isn’t this long, but please stay with me here because everything in the text below is vitally important to understanding this product and its relevance to world history.

My interest in developing AOT (Atolls of Tuvalu) stems from 2 reasons: the scientific and historical significance of the Tuvalu Atolls (see Product Manual - "2. Project Objective"); and simply because a PNG country-man and former work colleague married to a Tuvaluan encouraged me to do so since they have the resources that I needed for the project. I was privileged to have access to photos, current and historical data, and consistent "coaching" of what, how’s and where’s of fitting the images and data into the overall AOT picture within the software.

Airfield Construction WWII

From a historical perspective, Tuvalu (formerly Ellice Islands) was a formal protectorate of the British Empire in 1892 and was known together with Kiribati (formally Gilbert Islands) as British colony in 1915. During World War II the Japanese invaded Kiribati and planned on expanding south to Tuvalu only to be rebutted by American Forces between 1942 and 1943.

The now Funafuti International (NGFU) airport and the initial seaplane base were built by the US Navy's (USN) Seabee engineering battalions during that time as launch pads for counter strikes against Japanese Forces in the battle of Tarawa. The USN had 3 major launch airfields; Funafuti (NGFU), Nanumea (NGME) and Nukufetau (NGNA). To somewhat augment the importance of these airfields (to replicate the WWII scene), I added a slight military theme/touch to Nukufetau (NGNA) only where you'll see military chopper, submarines, warships, trucks, landing crafts, tents, etc.

In 1974, The British Government accorded self-governance to Tuvalu and Kiribati, which successively led to Tuvalu's separation from Kiribati in 1975 and political independence from Britain in 1978.

From the occupational era to date, there have been significant changes to the country's air and sea-faring transportation system including airfields and seaplane bases. Based on Tuvaluan testimonials, the US Forces created mini stop-over airfields between each atolls/islands of the 7 northern chain.

Four of these - Potufale (NGPF) or Vaitupu, Nui (NGFT), Niutao (NGTO) and Nanumanga (NGMG) - were so insignifcant as mere (landing) strips of coral/dirt that they weren't considered airfields per se, hence no data backing their actual historical existence. However, they did serve their war purposes as reported by the locals. Their re-creation in the product is another way of restoring their purpose in history as told by the locals.

From early 1970s to mid-1990s a New Zealand-registered company Seabee Air (now defunct) flew two Grumman’s to and from each atoll and its HQ Funafuti. From sources, the company had well over 10 main ports for their commercial operations which included freight and tourism sorties. (See Product Manual - "7. Airport and Seaport Information").

Seaplane ports varied in sizes from as small as mere one-log piers to large wharves. Others were safe off-load/load areas off the beach where passengers wade knees to waist deep in shallow water to board/disembark the Grumman’s. (see pics in Product Manual - "7. Airport and Seaport Information"). Yet, there are two docks/piers that cater for Tsunami/Global warming research which I tried to depict in the product (at Nukufetau and Nanumea) that does exist as a small extensions of University of South Pacific and South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

Today, Tuvalu does not have an airline, nor have private aircraft based out of Funafuti. The main link between the rest of the world is via Air Fiji which flies in twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays), and Air Pacific (Tuesdays only) between Funafuti and Suva, Fiji.

(Reviewers note: FSX doesn’t offer Suva, Fiji, so virtual pilots must fly from Fiji’s Nadi International Airport (NFFN) to Funafuti (NGFU) which covers a distance of 564 miles.)

Now on to the review!

Test System

Dell XPS720 DuoCore2.66MHz
Windows Vista Ultimate 64bit
4Gb RAM 667MHz
nVidia 9800GTX+512M
SB X-Fi Extreme Music
CH Fighterstick, Yoke, Throttles and Rudder
FEX, UTX, GEX MyTraffic2010

Flying Time:
40 hours

Installation and Documentation

This product can be purchased through Simmarket, Flightsim Store, or the Flightsim.com pilot shop. For a tad more than $30USD you receive an amazing amount of highly detailed scenery with authentic sounds that are so realistic you can almost smell the essence of the islands as well.

Although there are 9 atolls and islands forming the country Tuvalu, the software package - "Atolls of Tuvalu" - only covers the northern 7 atolls/islands.

Here's what the package specifically contains:
• 7 airports: Funafuti International (NGFU), Nukufetau (NGNA), Vaitupu (NGPF), Nui (NGFT), Nanumanga (NGMG), Niutao (NGTO), and Nanumea (NGME). The longest strip is at NGFU and is nearly 6,000ft long which can handle medium type aircraft such as B737, A320, etc, flying international routes. The shortest runway is over 2,700ft which caters for regional freight and tourism/sightseeing hops.
• Combination of over 10 seaplane docks and heliports including helipads on cruiseliners and cargo ship. All helipads are lighted for night operations.
• Combination of photoreal landclass/waterclass and vector polygons hand-drawn and customized to replicate white sandy beaches and vegetation texture.
• Sequential wave crash effects (cascades) more pronounced at coral reef outlines replicating real world.
• Customized vegetation typical of the region.
• Modern and traditional buildings such as primitive grass and coconut thatched dwellings.
• Multitude of objects and eye candies to discover.
• Various animals (crows, parrots, gulls, eagles, whales, dolphins, etc) with animation, including distinct sounds of nature from birds to waves crashing ashore.
• Night light effects on aprons, buildings and villages
• Chart for the region
• Airstrip Facilities Directory
• Friendly frame rates but recommend a decent medium to high-end system to run scenery at very high settings for an enjoyable experience.

Prior to installing this scenery, I visited the default FSX rendition of this area. As I expected, short of a runway and one boring building, there was nothing there. I should note that using the FSX airport search tool, the only airport that came up for this country was Funafuti.

Default NGFU New Scenery

Installation is a breeze with an installer doing all the work for you. Remember to have your license information handy as you will need it to install the scenery. Activating the scenery within FSX is required, and by default the Atolls Of Tuvalu scenery is placed in the root FSX folder, not the Addon Scenery folder.

After installing the scenery, you will notice there are now 7 Tuvalu regional airports listed using the FSX airport search tool. Choosing Funafuti International (NGFU), I had to verify I was looking at the same Atoll I had loaded up earlier before the install. The transformation is extreme and unbelievable to say the least. What was once a simple dreary Atoll is now one of the most amazing scenery areas I’ve ever seen. We will go over that in more detail a bit later.

The documentation is excellent and contains everything you need to both understand the history of Tuvalu and includes every piece of navigational information available. There are even images of the real islands and air cargo carriers from days gone by. The PDF weighs in at 482KB where the .doc file is 2.1MB. They are both the same document, just different formats and are located in your Atolls of Tuvalu folder in your root FSX folder.

Support

Product support from Pacific Islands Simulation is exceptional! I can count on three fingers how many times I’ve experienced support this good from a flight simulation product developer.

Following my installation, I experienced some performance issues. Keep in mind I’m only running a moderate system with Vista Ultimate 64 draining the life out of it. In addition, I have all the FSX sliders at 80-100% which is not the road to great frame rates.

I carefully described the issues and what testing I did to locate the problem areas. I also sent numerous screenshots showing my FPS while flying the pattern at NGTO from various angles. I hasten to add, out of 100+ customers, only two of us experienced problems. Graham sent me the following explanation:

I looked over your screen caps as well as notations you made in your previous post and did some preliminary diagnosis of the root cause of why you're having low fps at NGTO. After ripping the NGTO scenery apart down to bare strip and rebuilding with each objects, including rwy, buildings, vegetation, sound, animation (people birds), etc, I discovered the main culprits were a few buildings and 2 types of custom vegetation.

I noted you were being particular about where fps drops were. Exactly where this happens is subject specifically to the angle of view relative to the type of scenery objects placed there. In other words, where you were looking is where the combination of objects with different level of detail (LOD) were rendered. So, the low fps came from looking at the cluster of custom vegetation and buildings with varied individually LODs at and around the airport terminal area.

Shortly after that, he sent me some beta files to test and guess what…a HUGE increase in performance!
Graham could have said “Hey knucklehead…turn down your sliders for better performance”, but instead took the opportunity to tweak his product even further. That’s what I call excellent customer support.

It’s very important to understand that the only other customer experiencing performance issues was still seeing a minimum of 26fps before the new files, which given the amazing level of detail this product offers, is more than acceptable. Most users won’t need the “lite” version, but if you do, Graham will kindly offer those files to you.

Also, there is now a hotfix available for the few minor anomalies in the scenery. Since the issues were both corrected and small to begin with, there is no need to list them here. The hotfix can be downloaded from Pacific Islands Simulations support forum.

The Real Tuvalu

A fine young Canadian lad by the name of Brian Cannon spent a few years in Tuvalu in the late 70’s. While he was there he met and married a Tuvaluan by the name of Helena. He runs the official TuvaluIslands.com website which has tons of information on the country and a significant number of links to every conceivable site containing information on the region.

I literally spent an entire afternoon going from page to page and link to link and didn’t even scratch the surface of all the information available.

It is with his kind permission I include some images of the real Tuvalu.

The Tuvalu Consulate The new government building Funafuti Airport
Funafala Hut Funafuti Funafuti

There are hundreds of images covering the history and people from this region and I highly encourage anyone reading this to visit not only the TuvaluIslands.com website, but follow the links within the site.

Textures, Eye Candy & Animation

Before we move to the other atolls, let’s take a walk around Funafuti and get to know the area. Below are a few screenshots taken of various areas on Funafuti.

Air terminal waiting area Ramp, terminal and hotel
Air cargo ramp Hotel and dock Quiet beach
Cruise liner in the distance Even the bikes are modeled Yes, that’s a man on a horse
This building has seen better days Even a football (soccer) field Click to enlarge and look in the windows
Even after hours you can see in the windows Swimming Pool Very cool water lilies

I really enjoyed the fuel truck animation. While sitting at the main ramp just press Shift+F and the fuel truck located at the SeaBee’s cargo ramp (other end of the runway) will drive up the service road, circle the main ramp area and park next to your aircraft. The default FSX fuel page comes up and you select how much gas you need. After closing the page, the fuel truck retraces its path back to the cargo ramp.

There are 7 Atolls/Islands in this package, and they each have a different feel and character about them. Since there are so many elements at play here, I’m going to give you the tour starting with NGFU and ending in NGTO. So…grab your favorite beverage and fasten your seatbelt because this is going to be one heck of a ride.

Since commercial air travel consists of bi-weekly flights from Suva, Fiji, and there is no longer any inter-island scheduled air service, we’re going to start a fictional virtual Tuvalu airline. I know, it’s kind of redundant with fictional and virtual in the same sentence, but you get the idea. Because our virtual airline doesn’t have any of its own aircraft, we’ll borrow a C-208B from Bush Trekker.

A few final comments before we take off; listen carefully, because this scenery contains outstanding environmental sounds. As we mentioned above, you will hear various animals (crows, parrots, gulls, eagles, whales, dolphins, etc) with animation, including distinct sounds of nature from birds to waves crashing ashore.

Pay attention to the window textures. You can inside most stores and a few homes, as well as the outside reflection.

Funafuti International (NGFU) to Nukufetau (NGNA)

Our first leg is from Funafuti International to Nukufetau (NGNA), about 55 miles north. NGNA was a prominent military base and Graham spiced it up with ships, subs, military helicopters, and more. We can’t stay long as the Navy has some top secret experiment going on.

Ready to go Departing NGFU
Arriving NGNA Unique ramp textures
There seems to be an RAAF Caravan visiting Naval landing craft
Time to go Hmmm I wonder what they are up to?

Nukufetau (NGNA) to Vaitupu (NGPF)

The second leg covers 40 miles of open ocean so I’m glad to be flying behind the very reliable PW PT6A-114A powering our aircraft. NGPF is our fuel stop because my brother owns the FBO and the Jet-A is cheaper. I think there is an American registered Cessna 206 on floats and a New Zealand registered Cessna-185F here today.

Gassing up Excellent ground textures
Very nice C-185F I didn’t know about the yacht club here
Old seaplane Beautiful concrete dock textures
That’s a dolphin jumping in the water Old house and local birds

Vaitupu (NGPF) to Nui (NGFT)

The third leg is 92 miles and since there is talk of building storms, it will be our overnight stop. A few friends invited us over for dinner so I hope you’re hungry. Often there are animals on the runway so we will overfly the atoll to make sure it’s safe to land.

Overflying the island Very nice vegetation
I wonder what’s smoking in that building Beautiful calm evening Great sunset

Nui (NGFT) to Nanumanga (NGMG)

Leg number four is 73 miles. I don’t know if you noticed but there is something loose in the back somewhere and this FBO has a bunch of tools we…ok…I can use to tighten things up. There are drink machines for anyone who is thirsty.

Time to tighten thing up I wish I had this many tools
They could sure use a few windows Look really close at the windows

Nanumanga (NGMG) to Nanumea (NGME)

Leg number five is 38 miles and if we hurry we can fly over Donald Trump’s new yacht. This atoll has an old hanger containing thousands of files dating back to the turn of the century.

Beautiful view The Trump Yacht? Look at the tractor textures
Holy Cow! An AquaMart machine There’s a lot of history in those files Would you believe matching luggage

Nanumea (NGME) to Niutao (NGTO)

Our sixth leg is 77 miles and NGTO has a beautiful FBO that I heard was air conditioned, although I can’t be sure. If you’re hungry we can grab a bite to eat here before we head back to Funafuti, which is a long 182 miles over open ocean. Those storms from yesterday have finally moved toward NGFU so if we are going to beat the rain, we’ll have to eat quickly.

A wonderful way to live Excellent pond textures
Nice drink machine textures Flying birds all over the place
Next time we’ll fly the helo Departing NGTO
Beat the storm Glad to be on the ground

Night Textures

Night textures for this package are great. From the ocean liners to the small buildings, everything is done beautifully. I’m including a few night shots for your viewing pleasure below.

Cruise ship at night Hotel at night
Thirsty? Are those chips in the window?

Performance

As I mentioned above, I did experience some performance issues in the beginning, but it was primarily due to my moderate system. Pacific Islands Simulation came through with a few tweaks and my frame rates increased dramatically. Most people shouldn’t see any performance hits.

Graham has kindly developed a “Lite” version of his AOT package for those few who experience performance issues with the full version. This is free of charge and ONLY available to customers who purchased the full version, and request the “Lite” version through email.

Summary / Closing Remarks

The Atolls of Tuvalu from Pacific Islands Simulation is a first class product. From the smallest animals to the breathtaking panoramic scenery, it is an amazing recreation of this beautiful country.

Each Island/Atoll has a unique feeling to it, and with the sounds of local birds and waves crashing onto the beach. This product is a definite “must have” for anyone who loves the “low and slow” island lifestyle.

Reviewer’s Comment on Piracy

Along with many others, I’m often frustrated by the reinstall process and security hurdles of many top FS titles. At the time I didn’t fully understand how widespread and damaging piracy has become. To be honest, I never gave much thought to piracy because I support our hobby and it would have never occurred to me to download an illegal copy of anything. That changed today.

Graham has had both of his FS titled pirated, with AOT hacked two weeks ago. He forwarded me a link to one of many “torrent” sites and I came away speechless, saddened and very angry. Nearly every leading FS title was listed and is being downloaded illegally, including the latest releases from every major FS developer. I will never again question an FS products security features.

Although a large company may be able to write the losses off, a small company like Pacific Islands Simulation simply doesn’t have that luxury. Regardless of the company’s size, the result is always devastating.

Graham and Pacific Islands Simulation spent literally thousands of hours on this project. They invested significantly more time than a “regular” job requires and sacrificed more evenings and weekends than most could imagine. For a small developer, the thousands of dollars lost due to piracy is the very real difference between making your house payment …or not.

Please support our hobby by purchasing products from the developers who worked so hard to enhance your FS experience. For you and I, its $25 here and $45 there, but for the guys and gals who make it happen, it’s their living.

 

What I Like About Atolls of Tuvalu

  • Price
  • Breathtaking textures covering 7 atolls/islands
  • Minimal effect on frame rates
  • More eye candy than you ever imagine
  • Immersive sound package included
  • Region specific animated wildlife
  • Store and residential window textures
  • Great Technical Support

 

What I Don't Like About Atolls of Tuvalu

  • I couldn’t find anything

 

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