Recent years have seen some pretty amazing scenery add-ons for Microsoft Flight Simulator coming out of Australia, with the VOZ sceneries probably being the best known and downloaded to date. The guys “down under” seem to have a keen eye for detail, an unbelievable amount of patience, and the skills to produce some amazing sceneries. As luck would have it, a lot of the guys responsible for the VOZ sceneries, are involved in the line up being made available by the Orbx/FTX team – What Voz did for FS9, Orbx/FTX WILL do for FSX!
Started in 2005, Orbx is building on the advanced scenery and texture techniques pioneered with the Vista Australis (VOZ) project first launched in December of that year. VOZ has become one of the most enjoyed and downloaded flight simulator scenery add-ons in the last few years, with an installed base of over 300,000 users worldwide.
The FTX AU BLUE region depicts the area of Australia shown in light blue on the map in stunning detail never seen before in flight simulation products. Pilots will be able to conduct accurate VFR navigation exercises due all of the topographical features, terrain and landclass. Offering hand-built coastlines, rivers and an optional complete road coverage, FTX will prove to be an invaluable aid for those wanting the most realism when flying over Australia.
Installation and Documentation
Well, my first exposure to this product came in the form of a 795Mb download! This could clearly be described as a struggle for those still on dial up, but even with a good broadband connection, I would be tempted to use some form of download manager if you can. Luckily, there is the option to get this product on CD as well, so don’t panic! Either option can be obtained via the flightsimstore.
The installation is pretty straightforward, and is delivered courtesy of the flightsimstore e-commerce wrapper (very similar to the well known Flight-1 wrapper), so you will need to be online for verification purposes. The install will prompt you for your serial number and order number, and then loads itself onto your system. Now is a good time to note that there are a few requirements for your PC before you install this package, otherwise it may not run correctly. The main requirement is that you have the .Net Framework version 3.0 software installed. This is a free download from Microsoft, and should not present any problems for you.
Once the installation has completed, a shortcut to the PDF manual, and the FTX configurator program will be added to your desktop. In the program group created within your Windows Start Menu, you will also see the FTC Lights application – more on that in a minute.
The FTX configurator is basically a system whereby the FTX elements for FSX can be enabled or disabled – it is suggested that you disable it when installing other add-ons into FSX, and then re-enable it afterwards. This is a simple thing to do, but something you might forget about. The FTX Lights application will allow you to modify the halo style and sizes within FSX. You should experiment with this to suit your personal taste, but I can tell you now it can produce some fantastic looking lighting!
Now as we all probably know, FSX can be a bit of a beast when it comes to frame rates, and a lot of tweaking can be needed to get the most out of the sim. So with this in mind, the PDF manual provided supplies you with some very clever tweaking and setup guidelines. I entered these settings into FSX and noticed a marked improvement in the sim, so make sure you read them through! There is also a fantastic paragraph early in the manual that states:
“Don’t read the rest of this User Guide yet ….We want you to enjoy FTX immediately, so here’s an unusual bit of advice – we suggest just loading up FSX and start exploring. If you find you are having any performance issues or want to know more about how to do certain things, you can come back to this user guide and read through the performance settings and also find out more about the team behind FTX, the upcoming AU BLUE Service Pack 1 and how to get your technical support issues resolved quickly and easily.”
When did you last see something like that? I loved it! Overall though, the installation will be a breeze for you. It's clean and simple, just how we like it!
The scenery has the following description provided by the developers: “ Full Terrain Experience introduces a radical new modular design with a level of visual fidelity unprecedented in Microsoft Flight Simulator since its introduction over twenty years ago. For the first time ever it is a pleasure to fly low and slow and take in the depth of features that our ground terrain textures provide.”
• Super-crisp, superbly detailed 1m per pixel textures unique to each region
They continue with, “ Unlike FS2004, with FTX it's a case of the lower you fly, the more detail you will see! It's completely the reverse of what you have previously experienced, and it is only when you see FTX in motion on your PC that you will believe how truly immersive flying can now be.”
So, does the package deliver the above? Well, I must say that it does, in my humble opinion. Usually when you install high quality scenery add-ons for either FS9 or FSX, you end up flying at about FL150 or above to appreciate the scenery properly. Not with this add-on from Orbx though. Keep down low and the scenery comes to life without destroying your simming session and reducing it to a PowerPoint presentation in terms of frame rates!
Now this is not a small area to explore in any aircraft. So my advice would be to simply start a flight at a major airport like Sydney Kingsford Smith(YSSY), and start sightseeing! The package comes with a flight that gives you some tasks to follow in the FSX Flights area, but for some odd reason, I could not get it to work properly on my system. The other aircraft you are meant to follow simply wasn’t there, but the GPS was loaded with the flight plan, so it wasn't a major issue for me as there is so much to see from the air.
Flying low and slow will really allow you to see the improvements over the default FSX textures, and the added levels of detail that have been put into this scenery. The roads, houses, and general buildings have all been blended into the scenery extremely well. Climb up to a few thousand feet, and you will start to see the “photographic” elements of the scenery, and without your PC collapsing into a heap, I should add!
The vistas can be breathtaking in Australia, and they are here for you to see with some lovely detail. The chaps at Orbx also suggest that you can add a freeware terrain mesh from Holger Sandmann into the mix to enhance the scenery even more. Interestingly, Holger is one of the development team members at Orbx, so you should be assured that his meshes won’t cause any compatibility issues.
What’s missing? Well the developers openly admit that there may well be some bugs and/or glitches in the scenery (not that I noticed though!). To combat these, they have a Service Pack planned and cunningly named AU BLUE SP1! The contents of the fixes within SP1 will comprise of not only what the developers have on their snagging list, but issues reported back to them by the users through their support mechanism.
They have a view that no question to them will go unanswered, and have provided support forums at ftxnow.com. Their goal is to reply to queries within 12 hours, now that’s what I call attention to detail! At the time of writing, the issues already being covered in SP1 will include:
• Further custom
To further their support offerings, they also provide a live “chat” system! This will allow you to ask for help from one of the Orbx team members if they are online and logged into the Live Help system. This online help will be available when the Live Support icon is flashing on the FTX website front page. When Live Help is unavailable, the icon is red and static. When it flashes green, you may click on it to request a support ticket. Visit www.ftxnow.com to access this page.
Well this is one beefy package in terms of size, but the real meat lies within the scenery and details provided within it. The area of coverage is pretty vast, and is only 1 of 4 elements of the Australian continent. Having all 4 would be simply awesome!
The fact that this scenery does not flatline FSX is quite a coup. Many highly detailed sceneries have been known to bring the mightiest PC's to their knees unless you moved the sliders in FSX to the left to trade between performance and quality.
As with the previous incarnations of the VOZ sceneries for FS9, this is simple; install, don’t tweak(much), and enjoy it! This is what scenery add-ons should be all about!
Bring on the the 3 remaining areas as fast as you can chaps, as this will be a popular add-on for many people all over the world. I'm sure!
What I Like About Orbx – FTX: AU Blue –South Australia
What I Don't Like About Orbx – FTX: AU Blue –South Australia
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