This is the third volume in Aerosoft’s series of German photo sceneries for FSX. I reviewed the first volume, which covers the west of Germany, just before Christmas in 2007. The second volume, for the north of Germany, was reviewed by Allen Lavigne in August 2008 and received AVSIM’s Gold Star Award. Volume three, under review here, is for the south of Germany and includes Baden-Württemberg and most of Bavaria, including the Bavarian Alps. The final product in the series, for eastern Germany, will cover the regions around Berlin.
If you’re new to this product line, and haven’t read the reviews of volumes one and two, I recommend that you do so now. What will you learn from them that won’t be covered here? From my review of volume one, you’ll find out what the products in this series include (photo scenery with autogen) and, equally important, what the products do not include (detailed airports, night textures, snow textures).
Lavigne’s review picks up where mine leaves off and shows, with screenshots, how the products in this series interact with other, overlapping products for the same region; the effect of water settings; the effect of autogen; the effect of LOD_RADIUS settings; the absence of night lighting; the effect of forest enhancements; the results of flying at high altitude; and the results of flying at very high speed.
Installation and Documentation
I reviewed the download version, which takes awhile to assemble. First you download about 14 gigabytes of data. When you’re done, you’ll want to save them to DVD; it will take four single-layer disks. Then you’ll need to unpack the zip archives; that will take some time as well. Then you’ll run the installer; more waiting.
On the bright side, this is an Aerosoft product, so you don’t need to get online authorization; that’s helpful if, for some reason, you need to reinstall this title later. With a very fast internet connection, all of this will probably take at least two hours, more if you defrag your hard disk when everything’s loaded (which I recommend you do).
Moral of the story? Compare the download price with that of the boxed version, and see if you can’t rationalize a few extra shekels for the boxed version.
is minimal but adequate. It explains how this series fits with
Aerosoft’s other scenery products for Germany,
gives recommendations for how to set your scenery sliders, and
suggests about fifteen different starting points for various types
of flying; I found these very helpful.
I noted this in my review of volume one, and Allen Lavigne commented on it again in his review of volume two. The charts in volume three are no worse in this regard, but they’re still not usable.
Photographic Ground Textures
The basis of the VFR Germany product line is aerial photography, licensed from GeoContent. Aerial photos are taken at lower altitude than satellite photos, and therefore have more detail.
After processing, these photos have the same resolution, 1 meter per pixel, as the default scenery tiles. If you look at them long enough, you’ll notice that the default tiles are crisper-looking, because each of them has been worked over in Photoshop so that it looks as good as possible. That makes sense for generic tiles that are going to be reused multiple times, and that users are going to see again and again for several years. But for an add-on product where each tile is unique, and will only be used in one location, that level of personal attention isn’t practical. (I.e., it would make the product too expensive.) What we have instead is a workable compromise: no one tile is perfect, but each tile is unique, and all of the tiles look pretty good.
What tends to differentiate products in the current generation of photo scenery isn’t resolution so much as color. In both of the volumes that I have reviewed, the colors look slightly muted compared with Switzerland Pro X and VFR Real Scenery for England. Which is more realistic? I still don’t know, and the difference isn’t a big one.
Banding, which results when photos from two different days (or just different film stocks) are seen next to each other, is minimal.
While we are on the subject of ground textures, two other points are worth mentioning. There are no night textures and no snow textures. This is true of the whole VFR Germany series, not just this volume.
At night, you won’t see lighted roads and, no matter what season you fly in, the ground cover will always look like spring, even in the mountains. The absence of snow textures is not surprising; only a few products that I know of include them. (Switzerland Professional X is one, but it’s more than twice the price.) Most comparable products do include night textures, so it’s a little unusual not to find them here.
What’s good about the textures is how good they look up close. I’ve written about this in my other reviews already, but the point is worth repeating. In FS2004, photo-based scenery only looked good from an altitude of about 3,000 feet or higher; below that, it turned blotchy. With the current generation of scenery products, it’s possible to fly much lower and still get the same effect, because you’re starting with about five times more detail.
According to the manual, “Autogen is what this product is really about.” That’s an exaggeration: in my view, it’s still about the photographs. But Aerosoft is justly proud.
One of the hardest parts of making realistic photo scenery is placing the autogen buildings and trees. Each tile is different so, until recently, it had to be done by hand. It’s so labor-intensive that a lot of commercial developers (and all of the freeware developers that I can think of) either give up or just do autogen for selected areas. Or, if they do include it, they charge an extra fee.
That’s not how it’s done here. As I explained in my review of volume one, “there is now a database of real-world structures, with their precise locations, and this has been used to place the generic objects, so that they appear in the right spot on the photographic ground texture. There is no comparable data for individual trees, but for forested areas of 12 m2 or larger, autogen trees have been inserted to suggest woodlands.”
For some people, this doesn’t matter; they never fly low enough to notice 3D structures on the ground. But if you’re the kind of pilot who wants photo-based scenery in the first place, you want to fly low, and when you do that, autogen matters.
Generally speaking, the database approach to inserting autogen is very effective. Switzerland Professional X, which I have also reviewed, uses a different method, and that works too; either way, autogen everywhere is the new gold standard for photo-based scenery.
There are a few problems, which it is a reviewer’s duty to point out; but they don’t, in my view, count as failures so much as flaws. First, the trees in winter have snow on them; this would be fine if the background textures had snow too, but since they don’t, the trees look out of place.
Second, frame rates drop off noticeably in the larger cities. The manual admits that the database system of placing autogen buildings is less effective in cities than in small towns, but doesn’t say anything about performance. In Munich, though, my frame rates fell by about 25%, with fair weather and zero AI traffic. You can chalk some of that down to custom landmarks (which are part of the default scenery), but when I tested Zurich and Geneva under the same conditions, I didn’t have any problems. (Again, this was using Switzerland Professional X.)
A third problem, which I commented on in my first review, seems to have been fixed here. In volume one, I noticed several runways that were obstructed by buildings or trees. So far, I haven’t seen any of that with volume three.
Landmarks and Water Features
The third component of this scenery is landmarks. Some of these are distinctive: churches, observation saucers, nuclear reactors (with animated steam), and Schlossen. Others landmarks are more generic, but still useful for navigation, such as radio towers, wind generators, and bridges. There are lots of bridges.
This brings us to the last major component of VFR Germany, water features. As in volume one, the developers do a good job of carving rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds out of the land, and then filling them with simulated water. But then, on top of the water, they leave a photographic film of whatever happened to be on the water when the picture was taken. Some customers will like this, because the photographs show things like wakes and rapids; you don’t get that from regular sim water. The trade-off is that the water is less reflective. Is this a big deal? Not at all. The main thing is, there’s water and it’s well done – just not the way I happen to like it.
Photo-based scenery loads slower than scenery based on generic tiles. Multiple cores can speed things up, but in this regard, the VFR Germany products are no better and no worse than other products based on photographs. It will depend on your hardware.
It used to be that once the scenery loaded, photo scenery would give you smoother frame rates than the default scenery because there was no autogen, and things like roads were prerendered in the photograph. That’s still true of the roads, but when you put autogen back in the picture – as this product does – then most of the frame rate advantage is negated.
Ninety percent of the time, I didn’t have any problems; my frame rates stayed locked at or about 20 fps. Where I did notice a drop was in major cities, such as Munich, and larger towns, such as Freiberg and Nuremberg. Munich didn’t surprise me, but Freiburg did. I’d flown there quite a bit with the default scenery and, while this version looks better, it also has lower frame rates.
My last comment on this subject isn’t particular to VFR Germany, but to all products in this category. Photo-based scenery is a great concept, especially when you add back autogen. But it’s always been prone to blurries. This isn’t the developers’ fault; it’s a function of what the sim’s rendering engine is – and is not – optimized for.
What’s helped me more than anything – adding memory, getting a better video card, putting the scenery on a separate hard drive – is upgrading my CPU from two cores to four. Since doing that this summer, my clock speed has stayed the same -- as have my frame rates -- but ground textures come into focus now much faster.
If I put my mind to it, I can still outrun the scenery, so when I’m flying here I don’t use the F-16 that I reviewed here this fall -- on my hardware, at least, these are two Aerosoft products that just don’t mix. But prop fighters, like the P-47 Thunderbolt that is shown in most of my screenshots, do just fine. My advice, if you want to enjoy scenery based on photographs, is get a quad.
Each product in the VFR Germany series retails for about fifty Euros. For most of us, that’s not an impulse purchase, which is why AVSIM has reviews: so that hobbyists can make informed choices about how they spend their money.
This is my favorite volume in the VFR Germany series so far, for two reasons. First, it seems to have fixed the problem with autogen sometimes obstructing runways. Second, southern Germany is more mountainous and therefore -- to my California-trained eyes -- intrinsically more scenic.
I realize that not everyone grew up with the same optical advantage (or visual prejudice) as I did, and maybe Berlin (as rendered in volume four) will change my mind; Aerosoft’s version of it for FS2004 was one of my favorites. But this series, so far, isn’t about the really big cities: they’re here, but to do them well, you need a library of custom 3D objects.
This series does better with towns the size of Heidelberg. There may be one or two custom buildings, like the castle, that organize what the eye sees. But what generates and sustains our interest is relationships: between rivers and valleys, villages and streams, hills and castles, the edge of a town and the edge of a forest.
What I Like About VFR Germany 3: South
What I Don't Like About VFR Germany 3: South
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