When Microsoft developed FSX, they made some of the biggest improvements ever seen to the terrain. The data they used was far more accurate and it allowed them to add lakes, ponds and roads in far greater detail than before. This allows the simmer to fly VFR far easier using just the default scenery. In FS2004, we found ourselves having to install pricey add-ons in order to fly down our street, so this was a more than welcome visual update for the new sim.
Unfortunately however, there is only a basic representation of different types of area (industrial, farmland, urban etc). The result of this is that although the road you live on may be there, your town isn’t. Well, Cloud 9 set out to change that.
What the X-Class series does is “render a better visualization…of the terrain making it more close to reality…adding many more small urban areas and recreates more faithfully the big urban areas” (quoted form Cloud 9 Website)
In short, that area of grassland that you live in will be rearranged to actually show a basic representation of your home. It’s not 100% accurate, that is something we will only see in FSX through photographic scenery; however, it does add immensely to VFR flight, because you can now identify towns by buildings and not just kinks in the road.
A fellow AVSIM reviewer, David Wilson-Okamura has already published an excellent and in depth review of X-Class USA and Europe. This was extremely technical and focused heavily on comparisons. Although comparisons are the only way of showing what the product does, I would like to focus more on the effect as you fly over it.
Installation and Documentation
I can’t say that much about this. Installation was very simple. I only noticed one error, which was the fact that it asked for the serial number found on “your CD-Rom Box” (I downloaded my copies) but unless you really have a lot of trouble with serial number inputs, this won’t bother you. A new entry is then placed in the FSX scenery library, and you can move this up and down accordingly, as long as it is above the default entries. I placed it as low down as possible, so that it doesn’t interfere with any scenery add-ons I may install in the future.
The scenery can be unchecked from here, and because of the way the scenery library updates in FSX (you don’t have to restart the sim like in FS2004) you can check out the change it makes while flying (By enabling and disabling by pressing Alt and selecting ‘Scenery Library’).
The manual is short and sweet. Cloud 9 don’t have much to say about this product, which considering the scenery, is unusual for them. Amsterdam had a massive 49 pages, this manual weighs in at a lightweight 7 (including title pages). It is nice to see that Cloud 9 have not produced a generic manual for all of the series either, and both are only changed where necessary for the product.
To be quite honest, there is not much to say in regards to first impressions. Unless you have spent every hour that you have been awake flying over a specific area, you will not immediately notice the changes. On a few occasions (including outside of Toronto), I had to check back against the original screenshot to see that it was installed! However when I did do this, there was an incredibly noticeable change.
After an hour or so of blasting over an area, the change was noticeable. In particular the industrial zones. These were greatly cut down on, and I found them in more appropriate places. FSX seems to use the industrial style ground textures too much, including in the middle of cities. After X Class was installed, they began to appear in more appropriate locations, such as on approach to an airport. Not only this but all texture areas were of a much more believable size.
There was a lot more greenery in the middle of cities, something that to any of us non-pilots seems to make it look less like a city. On closer inspection, and comparisons with Google Earth (of which I am using the web based version, so I couldn’t take proper screenshots), the mapping of the textures was far more accurate. Although there were still areas that had larger industrial areas than there should be, or less grassland than there really is.
The Effect It Actually Has
It’s all very well and good taking a quick look at areas, but how does it feel to actually fly over areas of newly reshaped terrain? Well first of all, flat open areas are no longer lifeless. Especially in the far north of Canada. There is far more ruggedness to the surroundings and it is far more believable.
It's also far easier to fly VFR. As I said in the introduction, instead of having to spot towns by kinks in the road, it is now possible (in the majority of places) to spot them by buildings and in some cases even the layout!
The real test comes when you compare it to the default scenery. How much difference is there? This is the reason that I have left off ‘before and after’s’ from the screenshots, so although it will be pretty obvious which is which, if you cant decide between them then the result is that the scenery has little or no impact in that region.
My favorite part of X-Class is the changing of mid-city textures. I was looking at some of the world’s biggest cities with the default FSX scenery, and they were looking rather like a place in the United Arab Emirates! While X-Class does not stop the desert effect completely, it greatly reduces it, and rolling fields will become just that.
On the Cloud 9 website it states the following; “Perfectly integrates with any add-on scenery… Doesn't impact at all on the frame rate (except for areas where a more detailed autogen can slightly slow down the standard scenery)”. Unfortunately I didn’t have any add-on scenery installed for Canada or Australia, so couldn't test the claim about the add-on scenery. But because of the nature of the product (in the fact that it doesn’t effect the land class whatsoever), then there is no reason this does not stand true. I can envisage problems with add-ons that cover large areas of the surrounding scenery (such as many of the current Aerosoft products) but only time will tell.
As for the frame rates; this is defiantly true. Although in many places I actually noticed more autogen after the X-Class install, there is no frame rate impact. In some places I did notice a very minor improvement (only 1 or 2 frames per second) because of the way that urban areas are a little more spaced out (whereas in the default scenery it is just one large chunk of city).
At night there was little difference. In some cases cities were improved, but in most, the night effect of cities was decreased because the textures were more spread out. This could only be enhanced with new night textures. To really enjoy this enhancement though you have to fly after sunrise.
What Could Be Done To Improve?
Not much I’m happy to say. I would love to see Cloud 9 bring out some textures that blend the texture sets adjusted by X-Class to enhance the effect further. The roads seem to be a lot less predominant with X-Class, and some new textures to bring them out a bit more would be welcomed.
Periodic updates, particularly of cities, when more accurate information is found would certainly not go amiss, but what I would really love to see is the creation of a simple tool so that the average user (such as myself) can reform the landscape of their local area in the rare chance that X-Class has missed it. Although X-Class shows that this is possible using the SDK provided with FSX Deluxe, I don’t want to go delving through it, having to get a degree in e-Media, before I can add my town to an otherwise open field.
I certainly cannot criticize Cloud 9 for not including these options though. The package is lovely as it is, thank you very much!
This product is a type that has not been seen before on such a scale, and therefore it has no competition. However a few other products are set to appear which may make users not feel the need for X-Class.
First, there are the number of local scenery areas that will inevitably be developed over time. This includes photo scenery, and with FSX’s ability to see very high resolution textures, large areas of the X-Class install may be covered up. The entirety of England, Wales, Germany France, Spain and the USA are all very likely to get coated in the photo scenery. Although the X Class package that includes England, Wales, Germany Spain and France is Europe, and therefore there is still plenty of the area left to explore. It is likely that with the VFR series installed you are not likely to venture out of it often.
The other product that I felt will have an impact on X-Class, is Ground Environment. This hugely popular add-on for FS2004 is set to have a new version created for FSX, and this may play with the colours of the world seasons. Although they should happily sit alongside each other and benefit from one another, I think that the major reason that people will buy X-Class is to get rid of the majority of those horrible desert colours that appear during the year, and with the colours already looking more realistic thanks to Ground Environment, people may not feel the need for X-Class.
Of course it would still be worth buying, as it would add yet more life to areas where the texture is a single mass of colour.
The Australia package faces the stiffest competition though, in my opinion. The acclaimed ‘Vista Australis’ is set to be released for FSX, and along with improving airports and landclass, will do what X-Class does. Although it's plain to see on the VOZ website that Cloud 9 are supporters of VOZ, I have a feeling that Cloud 9 won't be on their namesake, especially if VOZ 2.0 follows its predecessors and remains free.
Summary and Closing Remarks
So, the big question. Is it worth buying? Well, at the moment I would say yes.
What it does is something that should have, in all honestly, been done in the original Microsoft release. It was actually intended to be done, but not carried out. Whether this will be remedied in SP1 or not remains to be seen.
If you’re willing to part with £20, get the CD. Otherwise, I would recommend paying a smaller amount for the area of the globe you live in, seeing what you think of your own home, and then buying the discounted version of the global CD. (Buyers of 1 part of the X-Class scenery get a 30% discount on the complete CD)
There is very little difference to be seen at 33,000 ft, and so if you never venture out in Cessna’s, or spend all your time looking at the instruments, then this is one product that you should keep grounded. On the other hand, if you love flying VFR in FSX (as I do) then this will make your experience even more complete.
What I Like About X-Class Australia and X-Class Canada
What I Don't Like About X-Class Australia and X-Class Canada
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