AVSIM Commercial Utility Review

Walk and Follow for FSX

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Product Information

Publisher: DBS Studios

Description: Customizable Camera Utility for FSX.

Download Size:
750 KB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FS9 & FSX
Reviewed by: Jeff Shyluk AVSIM Senior Staff Reviewer
and Angelique van Campen AVSIM Staff Reviewer - April 25, 2007

FOREWORD: Sleepless Nights For Some

I expect that Walk And Follow by DBS Studios is the kind of utility that will give those who design virtual models for FSX many anxious sleepless nights. It used to be for past versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS), that the crafty or lazy modeler could get away with leaving out certain parts of the model to save on polygons or the time it takes to make a model. Why? Because the viewpoint of the sim pilot was locked into place by the simulator itself. The sim pilot could only see where he or she was directed to look by the sim itself.

Gradually, as MSFS matured, the number and variety of viewpoints has increased. Many sim pilots use a "coolie hat" on their joystick, or an analog game controller, like the X-Box game pad, to pivot the view in FSX. You can even buy a controller such as the award-winning TrackIR that tracks your head movements, translating the natural way you move your head into a dynamically controlled moving virtual point-of-view camera.

This is the view out of the back of the FSX Learjet cockpit. No wonder the passengers don't complain when you loop the loop.

More than ever, sim pilots were pushing the boundaries of what could be seen versus what remained hidden within MSFS. Parts of the aircraft that received very little love in previous versions, such as passenger cabin washrooms, cargo bays, and even cockpit floors, are now being rendered by modelers in realistic detail. Despite the inclusion of many exciting new camera views, FSX seems to cleave to the old traditions regarding static virtual camera placement, and unless the sim pilot is prepared to resort to extreme measures to get that perfect, exotic viewpoint, the typical FSX user is still locked into a small, finite number of camera positions.

Walk And Follow is a new program from the Russian developers DBS Studios that joins a small number of applications that seeks to break across the barrier of camera limitations in FSX. With Walk And Follow, you can fly around the entire FSX world like a magic genie, or you can move about inside the cockpit of your favourite aircraft and even go outside and crawl over every inch of the skin of your plane as if you were the world's greatest wing-walker.

If there's a visual flaw in the model of your aircraft, with Walk And Follow active, you will be sure to find it. That, I think, is the kind of potential user activity that's going to keep the modelers up at night as they feverishly patch the holes in the most obscure corners of their vehicles and buildings.

INTRODUCTION: Walk The Line

Walk And Follow, by DBS Studios, is a very small application that runs within FSX. There was also a version of Walk & Follow for FS2004; however, that version is not compatible with FSX. With Walk And Follow, the sim pilot can set up an almost infinite number of custom viewpoints both from within an aircraft as well as from the outside. These viewpoints can be saved and even shared with other users for future reference.

For example, one common complaint about the Virtual Cockpit (VC) in FSX is that it gets in the way of seeing the runway when coming in for a landing. In a real-world aircraft, the cockpit dashboard does block the view of the runway, so the pilot simply raises his or her seat to see more out of the windscreen. In FSX, you can use a keyboard command to raise and lower your viewpoint. With Walk And Follow, you can create and save your own selectable custom view.

On final approach. But where's the runway? There's the runway. I used Walk And Follow to boost my view over the nose of the aircraft.

Walk And Follow has two basic functions, namely to Walk and to Follow:

"Walk" allows the user to set up a camera viewpoint anywhere in the FSX virtual universe. Using the keyboard, the user can march the viewpoint to any location he or she desires along the X, Y, and Z axes (left, right, forwards, backwards, up, and down). The aircraft will move independently of the camera. It's as if you were an invisible bystander looking at a scene. Using the catalogue of saved viewpoints, your view might not even be on the same continent as your aircraft. Walk mode is best for looking at scenery. It's like going on a world-spanning tour but without the jet lag and the exhausted credit cards.

"Follow" allows the user to set up a viewpoint with respect to his or her current aircraft. Typically, this would be in the VC, but as with the Walk mode, the view can be marched anywhere inside or outside of the aircraft. The big difference is that Follow will stay precisely locked onto the aircraft. If you want a simulate the tail-tip camera on the new Airbus A380, all you have to do is mount the Follow view on top of that massive fin. No matter where the aircraft goes, the Follow camera will stay locked in position. Follow mode is great for taking action pictures of your aircraft while in flight.

DOWNLOAD & INSTALLATION: Getting To Know DBS Support

Jeff's Test System

Intel Core 2 CPU 6600 @2.40GHz x2
2 GB RAM
NVIDIA geForce 8800GT Superclocked Edition
RealTek AC'97 Audio
Win XP SP2, FSX SP2
Thrustmaster Top Gun Afterburner II
Logitech MX Revolution Laser Mouse
MS Digital Media Pro Keyboard
Saetek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals
TrackIR4:PRO
TrackClip PRO
XBOX 360 Controller

Flying Time:
20 hours

Walk And Follow is very small to download, weighing in at a featherweight 750 kilobytes. Expanded to its fullest, Walk And Follow will require roughly 1.5 Mb of hard drive space. Chances are this review will take up more space than Walk And Follow.

Once downloaded, installation is very, very fast, mostly consisting of setting up the GUI (Graphical User Interface -- the user panel) for Walk And Follow, and installing the manual as well as a .DLL file that is automatically placed into FSX. The .DLL will need your permission to install, which will only be asked for once.

DBS chooses to use an e-mail system for copy protection, in that Walk And Follow will generate a key code based on your computer system, and you send this code to DBS by e-mail. They will reply, typically within a few hours, with an activation key that is used within DBS.

Most users should have no difficulty with this system. Unfortunately, I am not most users, so I stumbled on every step of the installation. I would not consider my experience with the installer to be typical, however. DBS responded to all of my e-mails within a day, if not within a couple of hours. You cannot activate Walk And Follow instantly, but you should be able to get it going within 24 hours. If you can't, DBS can certainly help you out.

Walk And Follow is compatible with FSX SP2 only, running on Windows XP or Vista. If you have the Acceleration add-on, you will need to install a small patch that can be downloaded from the DBS website for free. As well, there is also a Camera Editor that you can download to enhance your camera views in FSX.

DOCUMENTATION: A Do-It-Yourself Proposition

Walk And Follow comes with two .PDF documents that serve as manuals. These items are very brief, at five pages in total, and are intended to give the user enough information to get started. The English used in the manuals is rough at best, and the language can be confusing (DBS Studios is based in Russia). Even so, the information that is provided is also extremely basic and does not cover any of the more detailed aspects of Walk And Follow.

Using Walk And Follow is reduced to a trial and error usage. For people who like to tinker and explore, that should provide no problem, but for those who want each feature documented, these people will have to brace themselves against confusion.

The Settings panel.

The basic settings panel is not difficult to use. All you need to do is to put checks in the boxes for the features you'd like to see and change the number values for the camera properties if you want the camera to behave differently than the default. However, since many of the features have confusing names, it can be difficult to know how to set them up to suit your own tastes. Be prepared to fiddle with the settings just to see what they will do. For instance, the camera movement speed in Walk And Follow is different from the VC than it is on the outside of the aircraft, depending on where the camera starts. VC camera movements are painfully slow, whereas outside movement is too fast for any precise moves. I simply averaged out the numbers in the boxes, and that made things look better to my eyes.

The optional Camera Editor, which seems useful for advanced users only.

If you chose to download the free Camera Editor, you are in for more trial-and-error adventures. The Camera Editor comes as-is with no documentation and is intended for creating very specific controls for your viewpoint camera. While some controls are straightforward, such as entering in the latitude and longitude of your camera, other controls rely on jargon that is so exotic only a flight sim camera programming expert would understand them. I could try to explain what an Ordinal Snap PBH Adjust means, but the effort would probably kill me.

For those who understand how cameras are used in the real world, it's a shame that DBS cannot give us virtual camera controls that would match what a real camera can do. I feel part of the fault lies with the arcane programming used to create the camera action in FSX. Walk And Follow merely gives us an interface to use the camera in FSX, but other than giving us a wider range of viewpoints, it cannot improve on how the camera is used by sim-pilots.

USER INTERFACE: Walk And Follow

It's worth to note that although the application senses the difference between Walk Mode and Follow Mode, it may not be immediately obvious to the sim pilot which mode he or she thinks the application is in. First of all, you can choose to have Walk and Follow program active or inactive. If it's not active, then FSX works normally. If it is active, then you can move your camera around using the keypad keys.

Whether or not you are in Walk Mode or Follow Mode seems to depend on where the camera starts. If the camera is outside the aircraft, you are in Walk Mode. If the camera starts inside the cockpit, you are in Follow Mode, or something like that. If the camera stays with the aircraft as it is moving, you are in Follow Mode, if not, then you are in Walk Mode. Unfortunately, there is no obvious switch to help the user choose between modes. If you leave the OnScreen Messages switch on, there's a status bar that can tell you when you are in Free Walk Mode.

The Walk And Follow drop-down menu is integrated into FSX.

If you activate Walk and Follow, you get a number of menu choices. I will run through them like a tutorial. I feel that I can best explain how the Walk and Follow system works if I go through the menus, otherwise my explanations might get really confusing. The short version, though, is that basic functions in Walk and Follow are intuitive and easy to do. It's when you want to start fiddling with the options that the learning curve suddenly angles up to a vertical cliff face.

DISABLE WALK AND FOLLOW: This is the main switch that restores camera function to FSX defaults. If you Enable Walk and Follow, the camera should return to the last position you left it in when using Walk and Follow.

SAVE COCKPIT/AIRCRAFT CAMERA CHANGES: Oh, man, this one deserves a book to itself. You should consider taking notes here. Basically, what this does is allow you to replace a default FSX camera view with one made in Walk and Follow. This mode is how you save your custom camera views in Follow Mode, i.e., you want a tail-cam or you want a high eye-point for landings. First you select a pre-existing FSX camera, like Co-Pilot's Seat or some such thing. Do not choose the default VC view! Then, using Walk and Follow, put the camera where you want it.

Then, use the Save Cockpit menu to get to the Save Camera Definition dialogue box. Most of this box is written in FSX jargon again, which makes it tough to know what you are doing. Press "Save" without changing anything in the box, and then your new view will be saved and selectable in Walk And Follow.

Renaming Follow Mode views causes them to disappear: an undocumented feature.

This just gets needlessly confusing. If you've taken the default Co-Pilot view and made it into a Tail Cam view, you will see your tail cam when you select Co-Pilot from the FSX view menu. What I mean here is that the name of the camera does not change, although the view does. If you chose to change the name of your camera, say to “Tail Cam”, your view won’t be saved, or at least it won’t be saved anywhere FSX can find it.

I did a test. I used Walk and Follow to rename the Front Seat view in the Piper Cub to "JeffShylukIsGreat", something that anyone should have no trouble remembering. The result was that my custom view turned into vapour and disappeared. As long as you keep the original view name, then your custom view will save. This means you can have as many custom views as there are already set for your aircraft, but you cannot create any more using Walk and Follow alone, and you can't give your new views customized names.

The big bad blankety-blank error message that took some time for me to work around.

Even more confusing, you cannot save a custom view over the Virtual Cockpit view. Doing so generates an error message that tries to explain the folly of your actions.

SELECT FREE WALK MODE: This will set Walk and Follow into Walk Mode. Depending on how you have set your options, this will place the camera well outside of your aircraft. You can use the keypad buttons to move the camera around as you like.

RESET FREE WALK MODE: If you wish to return the camera to where you started at the beginning of your Walk session, select this menu entry.

SELECT FREE CAMERAS WALK FILE: You can save the position of your camera anywhere in the FSX world. You can organize these viewpoints in custom folders called "Files". With this menu entry, you can choose which file to use.

SAVE FREE WALK CAMERA: After you have the Walk camera where you like it, you can save the entry for future reference. You can save your custom views in your own custom files. For example, I found my house in FSX, the legendary "ShylukEye" mansion, and made a custom view of it in Walk and Follow.

CLEAR MESSAGE STRING: Selecting this removes the OnScreen Message Bar, which is great if you like taking pristine screenshots.

I could force "blurries" in my ground textures. Walk And Follow has a setting to help prevent this.

SETTINGS: This is a dialogue box for setting the basic properties of the camera. You can select some keyboard and mouse options to suit your needs. You can also select which default view to "override". This means that you chose a default FSX view such as Locked Spot that will be converted to your new Walk and Follow view. You can also set the position relative to your aircraft that you want your free Walk to begin. There are some numbers that you can plug in to adjust the speed of camera movement.

Finally, you can also set how the camera should behave when it is to move long distances. Unless you are moving the camera less than 10 nautical miles, or if you really don't mind severe "blurries" (ground textures that become indistinct when your computer needs to conserve memory resources), I recommend keeping the Reload Scenery box checked.

DBS FREE WALK CAMERAS: After you choose a file within the Select Free Cameras menu, you can use this menu to choose among your saved Free Walk cameras. DBS also provides some pre-set cameras that tastefully frame some of the world's finest attractions.

OPERATION: Plus And Minus

The previous section of my review was quite technical. I found that when operating Walk and Follow that either it was sweetly intuitive and easy to use, or else I was swearing and cursing with frustration, with not much middle ground. When I used Walk and Follow as a nifty, useful floating camera, I enjoyed it immensely. When I tried to tinker with the technical features of Walk and Follow, joy turned into bewilderment.

Overall, the Walk and Follow experience is a positive one, and this application can help those who like aircraft-spotting or who like taking exotic screenshots. Be prepared to hit the learning curve, though, in dealing with some parts of the interface.

Walk and Follow is a wonderful tool for exploring the numerous landmarks in FSX.

Controls. The controls for Walk and Follow are simple. The camera moves based on the arrow keys on your keypad. There are a couple of modifier keys that will speed up or slow down the camera. As far as I can tell, the keys are not re-mappable, so you cannot choose your own keystroke set (not that there are very many free keystrokes in FSX). If you are running FSX on a powerful laptop, you may not have a keypad, which is common in laptops. I'm not sure how you could control Walk and Follow without a keypad.

There are some mouse functions as well. You can use the mouse wheel to operate zoom, although at the extreme levels zoom will create a distorted picture. The middle mouse button can be used to toggle tilt and pan. My Logitech MX Revolution laser mouse has a multi-function middle button that I find very difficult to program for games, so I did not use it to test Walk and Follow.

Extreme zoom levels can help you create interesting special effects shots in FSX.

I found the Camera Tilt Up/Down buttons clumsy to use, as I prefer to have the Up/Down tilt axis reversed. In addition, there is no feature for creating "dutch angles" in Free Walk where the camera tilts on the Z-Axis like an aileron roll.

Saving camera viewpoints is either incredibly simple or finicky and tricky. Basically, the camera stays put where you leave it relative to the ground in Walk Mode or relative to your aircraft in Follow Mode. As long as you don't reset Walk and Follow, if you change viewpoints or aircraft, when you come back to your original view or vehicle, Walk and Follow should remember where you last had the camera. If you want to save multiple views, however, you're going to need to use the menu dialogues as mentioned in the previous section.

When the camera moves, it stops and starts instantly. Since it is a virtual camera, it has no mass to affect its momentum, unlike real-world cameras. "Ease In" and "Ease Out" are cinematic terms that describe how to make a camera pick up or lose speed as it moves around. A good example of ease in and ease out in FSX is when you move the Spot View camera around: the camera motion is smooth. I would like to see an option in Walk and Follow to include ease in and ease out in its moving camera.

TrackIR. Oh, dear. And by that, I mean a long string of strong words that I cannot use here. One thing I was really looking forward to trying out was moving the camera about using Walk and Follow and then looking around using a TrackIR. It would be like being the world's most powerful hummingbird, I figured. To my dismay, Walk and Follow completely overrides any input from a TrackIR or any head-tracking hardware.

Aaargh!! The keyboard controls do a good job of setting up basic Walk and Follow camera moves, but it is not as smooth or natural as using a TrackIR. DBS is aware of the TrackIR issue, and my hope is that it can be rectified in the future.

FSX Versus FS9 Versions. Walk and Follow for FSX is the next generation of a product that was designed originally for FS9. Since this is my first time with Walk and Follow, I enlisted the help of another AVSIM Reviewer, Angelique Van Campen. Angelique has been using the FS9 Walk and Follow for some time, so I asked her to compare the two versions. Here is what Angelique has to say:

"Are we dealing with just on upgrade to Flight Simulator FSX or is it a complete redesigned Walk and Follow version? As usual, I’m not a programmer, but it seems to me that it’s a complete new version except for the main functionally namely additional walk and follow function. Even these basic things are needed, also for FSX.

Can I then conclude that this Walk & Follow functions totally different? No, there are lots of similarities between the old and new modes; like you could control walking outside the aircraft or any object via the number pad. Also, making screenshots of interesting places was already possible in the old version, but saving and requesting those with this new version much easier.

You just go to the FS menu item “Add-ons -> DBS Walk and Follow -> Save Free Walk Camera” and give it a name. Saving a preferred location or landmark was never that easy but that’s the same when you want to see it again. Go again to the “Add-ons” menu item but now you select ”DBS Free Walk Cameras”, followed by a camera position/location you shot before. When you compare this with the FS2004 version, you didn’t have this easy way of doing and recalling it. Ok, saving was easy (Ctrl+Shift+1, 2, 3... ) but recalling was done via Alt+Shift+1, 2, 3 …) without any clear English text.

One other difference is the combined Walk and Follow settings. With the previous version, you could start/control the Walk (/) and/or Follow (*) mode. The changes which can be made in the FSX setting menu are clear but not always fully understandable. With “not fully understandable” I mean why you need to enter a specific value or which range is applicable and why. Some items are self-explaining while others are more like “trail and error”. Ok, no problem, let’s have a look into the offered user guide.

It helps a little but to be honest not enough. The Walk and Follow settings are unfortunately not explained at all. Not explained means there’s no screenshot of this settings window and although certain items are easy to understand, others need guessing.

Again, it seems to me that the user’s guide is positioned into an unimportant piece of paper. I have done many reviews and have even written tutorials and general manuals myself, but it looks like that this product is well known and developed but creating good informative and above all, useful manuals, which is applicable for a beginner, intermediate and expert users."

OUTSTANDING ISSUES: The Bug List

Walk and Follow is small and simple. It doesn't appear to have any bugs on its own, but it does call out some issues within FSX. The first, of course, is pretty obvious: if there's a visual flaw in your favourite aircraft model, with Walk and Follow, you're going to find it. That's good for AVSIM Reviewers, not so great for developers.

The second FSX issue, is that if you move the viewpoint around too far and too fast, your ground textures will turn into "blurries." Walk and Follow compensates for this by allowing for automatic reloads that avoid the blurries. This system seems to work well, as long as you keep automatic reloading on, then the blurries should not occur on account of Walk and Follow.

Lastly, repeatedly moving the camera from place to place or hop scotching across the face of the planet appears to put some strain on FSX. I did get a crash from visiting too many wonders of the world too quickly. I believe this was because too much was going on for my computer to handle, rather than a problem with Walk and Follow.

Walk and Follow does not seem to affect frame rates in any way, and apart from blocking out TrackIR, it seems to integrate well within FSX.

CONCLUSION: Executive Summary

Walk And Follow excels for aircraft-spotting.

Walk and Follow from the Russian developers DBS Studios is a small utility with a big impact on FSX. It will give you a camera view that you can move around anywhere in the FSX (Service Pack 2) world.

In Walk Mode, the camera moves relative to the ground. You can "fly" the camera anywhere on Earth. This is great for looking at scenery, taking screenshots of landmarks, and aircraft-spotting at your favourite airport.

In Follow Mode, the camera moves relative to your aircraft. You can freely move the camera within the Virtual Cockpit, or you can even move the camera outside the aircraft for exotic views. In Follow Mode, the camera goes where your aircraft goes, which can help you take some really nice action screenshots from exciting angles.

The Walk and Follow camera is controlled largely by using the keypad. If you have a laptop without a keypad, I think you are out of luck, as I do not know how to re-map the key controls, or even if this is possible.

Technical functions are accessed through a menu system. Partly because the developers are using English as their second language, and partly because the internal programming of the FSX camera system is very complex, some of the menu items are difficult to understand.

As long as you are happy with the basics of camera movement, Walk and Follow is easy and fun to use. Once you delve into the technical parts of Walk and Follow, though, expect a difficult learning curve. Many of the functions seem to rely on trial-and-error methods to get good settings.

All of your new camera views can be saved. As it is, I find it quite a bit easier and more intuitive to save Walk views than Follow views. This is because the Walk mode uses a logical and organized system for storing your custom views in file folders. The Follow mode on the other hand, is harder to understand, as it relies on pre-existing FSX camera views to get started, and can only save new views over the default views (although it's fast and easy to restore your default FSX views as FSX is running, simply by disabling Walk and Follow).

The documentation for Walk and Follow is unfortunately very weak, just covering items on how to get the program activated and running. None of the more complex features are explained, and there are no tool-tips in the program to help either.

Finally, if you are a TrackIR user, you may find disappointment in Walk and Follow as it will shut off any TrackIR functionality in FSX. I hope this gets fixed in a future patch!

For what amounts to a .DLL file, a bit of menu dialogue, and a small manual, the whole package taking up less than 2 Mb of hard drive space, and the cost is $29.99 ($49.99 for Walk and Follow for both FSX and FS9). Some people may consider the cost to be too high for such a small product.

Peter Dowson's full version of FSUIPC costs more and is roughly the same size. On the other hand, FSUIPC can be had for free, but then it's not the full version. DBS Studios does provide free patches, as well as a Camera Editor, so that you can export your custom Free Walk views to any FSX user, even if they do not have Walk & Follow.

I think that the price for Walk and Follow may be too high for what I got. Although the basic features work great and are a lot of fun to use, the technical features have poor documentation, and there is no support for TrackIR. Still, Walk and Follow costs less than many third-party aircraft, so as long as money is no object and you don't mind using trial and error to figure out the system, this application should help you get that magic screenshot you've been looking for.

THE FINAL WORD: Angelique's Screenshot Gallery

Before I end my review, I should mention that DBS Studios has been busy with small patches for Walk And Follow. Recently, they have made changes that allow Walk And Follow to work with Acceleration, to be more compatible with Vista, and to support widescreen motors. DBS Studios reports that more changes are in the works.

For the Final Word in my review, I have asked AVSIM Reviewer Angelique Van Campen, who has a lot of experience with Walk and Follow, to provide some of her favourite FSX screenshots. Enjoy!

Cockpit Shots

 

 

What Jeff Shyluk Likes About Walk and Follow

  • Basic camera functions are fun and easy to use!
  • Free Walk Mode has an organized, logical system for creating files of saved custom views
  • Fast response from DBS support staff
  • Integrates seamlessly into FSX, does not affect frame rates

 

What Jeff Shyluk Doesn't Like About Walk and Follow

  • No TrackIR support!
  • Some menu functions are difficult to understand, no tool-tips
  • Manual is weak, technical camera functions require a lot of trial-and-error
  • Follow Mode camera views are tricky to save for later
  • Price is too high for what you get, in my opinion

 

What Angelique van Campen Likes About Walk and Follow

  • Finally there’s also a multipurpose camera available for FSX
  • Handy operation/control via DBS Studio FS menu
  • Very easy to store specific screenshots like landmarks and afterwards very easy thus in clear understandable English
  • Since the Walk around commands are very similar to the previous version, FS2004 users will easily pick up this FSX add-on software.

 

What Angelique van Campen Doesn't Like About Walk and Follow

  • Offered User’s Guide doesn’t cover all the items available in the Settings window so it’s to my personal opinion a little trail and error
  • A little too pricey … $29.99 is a lot of money for such a small add-on program

 

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