AVSIM Commercial Scenery Review

Cloud9’s XCITY ROME

Product Information
Publisher: Cloud9
Description:  3D rendering for 100 sq. miles of the city of ROME.

Download Size:
117 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FS-X
Reviewed by: Allen Lavigne AVSIM Staff Reviewer - May 12, 2007

Introduction

Rome, an entire city with widely varying complex buildings rendered in 3D, covering an area of 100 square miles. How will this affect FSX’s performance? I was curious about just that, and how well it blends its borders with adjacent land textures that compelled me to find out and to write a review about it. I had just reviewed Aerosoft’s Helgoland and it worked flawlessly, but then, it is an isolated island of only 4 square miles without any juxtaposed default scenery in its field of sight at any time. Will Cloud9’s XCity Rome perform as nicely? I had my doubts especially considering that my system just meets the minimum requirements suggested by Cloud9, even though they claim that XCity was designed to minimize its effect on frame rates: I will see.

The full city of Rome covers 580 sq. miles. Xcity is only 100 of these, so I’ve drawn lines in red outlining mutual areas on two maps side by side: a real city map and Xcity Rome’s coverage map. Not all areas were mutually recognizable, so mirroring is not complete.

Real city map -vs- coverage

In order to properly evaluate this product from a user’s point of view, I am enroute to Rome’s western Fiumicino airport (LIRF) using the default B737, so that I can comment on XCity’s initial appearance, visual quality from a distance, and its effect on performance with a fast approaching airliner coming in from the north into a detailed air terminal near a detailed city.

Cloud9 also supplied me with a copy of their landclass for Europe (Xclass_EU) so that I can make adequate comparisons between its blending (or contrasting), and FSX’s default blending (or contrasting), with the textures attached to the scenery borders of the Rome XCity add-on. I will also visit the 2 custom heliports this add-on places in Rome: Gemelli Hospital’s C9HG, and Vatican’s heliport C9VH. Since the aeroporto dell’Urbe (LIRU) is the airport commonly used by helicopters, I will depart from there to visit these 2 customized heliports using a Bell 206. I will also pay a visit to the older Ciampino airport (LIRA), which is located inside the Roman territories; to see how its area’s scenery interacts with this add-on.

Installation and Documentation:

“ A 3D video card with at least 256MB RAM, 2GB RAM internal memory and at least a 3+ GHz CPU is highly recommended.”

You can get the full version downloaded, installed and working on a free trial basis without any limitations except the time it remains active during your current FSX session; 5 minutes per session after which your FSX session is not interrupted except for the disappearance of the add-on scenery. The scenery can be purchased at any time directly inside Flight Simulator. Actually, even if you know beforehand that you will purchase it, you still have to go down the trial version path. I’ll try to explain.

Installation is straightforward, but purchase is not. The complete package, along with an install guide and an Add-on Manager, are installed as the trial version. To purchase the product, you have to use the Add-on Manager that is accessed via the toolbar under ‘Add-Ons’ during an open session of FSX. It leads you to a secure credit card purchase vendor after which you are emailed a license key. Please follow the Install Guide.pdf included in the downloaded zip file carefully as my procedure for a review copy was somewhat different than the regular purchase route (I used a coupon).

Add-on Manager

The Add-on Manager can be re-used with future Xcity downloads from Cloud9 and others that get installed this way. It is also useful as a tweaking tool. Note that I have my autogen trees and buildings turned down a lot, with a large pool size because I have 256 Megs of VideoRam. A slider for the FIBER_FRAME_TIME_FRACTION is also available. These slider adjustments are not hot fixes and require a restart of FSX to become effective. There is also a reset to defaults option. This handy addition introduces tweaks already extensively discussed in the Avsim forums, and are covered in this XCity’s manual.

There is an entry made in the registry for this add-on and un-installation is done using the “Add or Remove” Windows application.

Entering ROMA:

Weather conditions set to fair for good visibility, I’m following the coastline in from the northwest. The first scenery to be rendered was the default, yet detailed, Fiumicino airport when 12 nM north. It borders the coast southwest of the city so I was surprised that there was no indication of Xcity as I got even closer, 9nm from the airport. I can see a large set of textures for cities behind (east of) the airport, but not the add-on. While crossing the coast and parallel to runway 25 at LIRF, a few custom buildings began to be drawn at about 12 nm ahead, but these were found to be FSX’s defaults…but then, “snap”, the whole set of XCity’s buildings appears, while I was about 8 nm from Rome’s center.

My first impressions are that Xcity Rome meshes well without a drop in fps at all. Although it is quite visible and in its entirety, it does not clash with its surroundings, which to me is a very important requirement for quality. Half a mile more and another large section pops into view, and that’s the whole scenery set now on stage.

At a scenery setting of sparse there are no XCity structures drawn, whereas all higher settings draw all objects. This way you can decrease the density of buildings at the detailed LIRF without reducing the Xcity set, which does not affect fps much. I had autogen set to sparse, if I go to max, fps went from 25 to 14, not as terrible as expected. All snapshots are with XClass for Europe active, unless otherwise noted.

LIRF 9nM at 2 o’clock First encounter Maxed AG settings
Default –vs- Xcity Vatican area

Accuracy and Shortcuts:

Not all is as it seems. Like in Western B-movies, the film industry would build only the facade of a grocery store with a fake facade. Approaching outlying neighborhoods of XCity Rome for the first time, entire blocks are wrapped around with one wall touching the outside of streets. What makes the illusion work is that the rooftops are actually cutouts from the underlying area of the matching satellite photo for that rooftop. This must save on fps while simulating dense older city blocks without pausing to re-create, in detail, each and every building that makes up that block.

From the borrowed snapshot called “Actual Vatican” (below), you can see that most buildings in old Rome are of similar height, yet they noticeably vary within a small margin. I would not expect a fully detailed reproduction of each and every building in a flight simulator, so by using these techniques, the city’s actual layout becomes more 3-dimensional and approaches accuracy in placement. They’ve made for a fairly good resemblance in my opinion.

If I am not mistaken, the term penthouse was coined in Paris where the top floor of older apartments houses was the fifth. Old city center Rome must have had similar limitations before the invention of the elevator, so all these blocks being of slightly similar heights is not surprising.

Illusion Vatican map -vs- XCity Vatican area Flat satellite rooftops
Actual Vatican Same in XCity

Placement accuracy in the city center is remarkable. From the same internet source as the city map above, I retrieved a close up of the Vatican area. Matching this to XCity Rome, it is evident that every street, bridge, and customized building is in its place. Most highly detailed buildings are those that are already available in FSX default and Cloud9 made a few: Isola Tiberina, the Gemelli Hospital, and Termini Roma are all custom made by Cloud9 for XCity. Most roofs are simply the section of a satellite photo of what should be underneath that block of buildings. When the building actually does occupy the entire block, this works rather nicely. Not having ever been to Rome myself, I am relying on pictures and maps I found on the internet (like Wikipedia). While visiting their forum, I noticed some Italians complimented the accuracy. And, Cloud9 is an Italian firm…

Google Earth image Roma Termini Termini default only

The southern borders of the XCity scenery follow the rail lines leading from the northeast to the Roma Termini rail station (a custom object of XCity), where it can be seen how well Cloud9 matched the incoming default 4-lane highway which seamlessly joins “itself” at the border where the XCity scenery starts.

Using Landclass (not included):

It is not crucial that you use Xclass for Europe in order to get a descent view within the limits of XCity Rome’s scenery, but outside the perimeters of XCity, Xclass for Europe does add a lot. I’ve added a pic to compare the screenshot called “first encounter” above to show the difference without Xclass for Europe. A night setting compares the two even more dramatically, where it can also be seen that some minor adjustments to the exact placements of the default custom objects from FSX have been made to better fit the reality of exact street layouts. Compare these pics for yourself:

XCity with Xclass XCity without Xclass
Xclass without XCity FSX default only
Default and XCity

The orbiting Grande Raccordo Anulare that encircles Rome, is represented by Cloud9’s Xclass that extends outside the limits of and complements XCity Rome. Whereas the default FSX does not show this motorway. A third snapshot shows what Rome is like without any add-ons at all. And for completion, is a shot without XCity but using the Xclass_EU. In my opinion, it is Xclass_EU that delivers the best bang for the buck, and XCity the most eye candy.

That said, it does matter in the scenery library listings what orders of priority are if you are using a landclass add-on concurrently with XCity Rome. Simply put, Rome is first, landclass second.

Up Close:

LIRA, the old Ciampino airport southeast of Rome, has little to offer the candy hunter. With simple generic buildings and an ILS approach for runway 15, its only attribute being that XCity Rome is within sight as soon as you depart from 33. The aeroporto dell’Urbe, LIRU, on the other hand, is on the northern perimeter of the XCity scenery, which remains visible during the approach. Although void of anything of interest itself, it is a great starting point for small VFR a/c and helicopters for slowly touring the XCity Rome scenery. Beware the default autogen near the touchdown area.

There are two customized heliports included in the package, with nice night lighting added. I don’t know why, but the Gemelli hospital buildings light up much too brilliantly at night, but this may be my system as I am sure they noticed this. Many bridges along the Tiber river were reproduced, with a couple near the Vatican made in very nice detail, even underneath, and at night are quite pretty. The others are still similar to their counterparts in the real world. Notice the detail on Isola Tiberina, where the lower shape is faithful to the actual structure. One of the bridges seen going onto this island dates back to 62 B.C.

Approach to LIRU Nice parks Gemelli Hospital C9HG
Vatican bridges Regular bridges Isola Tiberina
Gemelli at night Heliport C9VH at night Rome at night
Bridges at night Night from 4000 feet View at dusk

Summary and Closing Remarks:

Test System

P4 3.2G / 2G RAM / ATI X850XT 256Meg / Windows XP (sp2) / Saitek X52 flight controller

FSX / photo scenery patch / RealSky3 / Xclass EU / Radar Contact

LCD 24” DELL Widescreen: My screen resolution is 1920x1200 so all the pics will have widescreen aspects.

Flying Time:
17 hours

At only $15 US this is a good deal. As I’ve explained, there are quite a few shortcuts making this illusion perform well in FSX, some better than others. I would strongly recommend getting Xclass for Europe from Cloud9 first, and then if you want to visit Italy, get XCity Rome. Especially if this is a regular stop of yours with enough visits to merit a purchase.

I did not find XCity as stunning as Helgoland, but then the latter only covers 4 isolated square miles, not 100 adjacent to regular FSX generic textures. It would be unfair to hold XCity to meet the same detail under such different conditions. The overly generic facades and rooftops could use some work, but that might raise the price of development and affect fps performance which I found to be on par with what FSX default was giving.

 

What I Like About XCity Rome

  • Intelligently optimized for performance.
  • Matches real city streets using satellite image.
  • Blends perfectly with Xclass landclass for Europe with excellent high altitude views.
  • Smooth placement with custom FSX landmarks, some XCity extras with many detailed bridges.
  • Rail tracks and yards stand out well.
  • Night lighting at 2 included heliports.

 

What I Don't Like About XCity Rome

  • Some “satellite photo” rooftop designs repetitive with heights too even or too large hiding too many side streets.
  • Some fake facades have an American apartment look.
  • Railcars, trains, and boats as static objects are absent.

 

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