With the fall of the Berlin wall in 1990, Berlin is once again the capital of a united Germany and the largest city in Europe. (Berlin is about six times the size of Paris, though London still has a larger population than both Paris and Berlin combined.) Because most of it was built from scratch after 1945, it is perhaps the most modern-looking of European capitals.
In FS2004, Berlin already looks great, straight out of the box. There are numerous, readily-identifiable landmarks, including the city’s 1,100 foot-tall television tower (Fernsehturm); the famous Brandenburg Gate; the new Reichstag, with its glass dome and observation deck; and the angel-haunted Victory Column (Siegessäule) featured in Wim Wender’s 1988 film Wings of Desire. But still there is room for improvement. VFR Berlin 2006, by Jan Bleiss, adds scores of landmarks to the main city, provides a more detailed and accurate landclass for Berlin and the surrounding area, cleans up and refines the road system, sculpts out the waterways, and spruces up a dozen of the local airports.
The complexity of the Aerosoft installation process is comparable to that of other major vendors. You enter your purchase information, get a link to download the software and a unique registration key, which the installer uses to confirm your purchase a second time. It’s a decent compromise between convenience for the user and protection for the developer. Once the installer verifies your purchase, you’re just about done. The installer will find your FS2004 folder, add some new subfolders under it, and update the scenery library so that the next time you start the sim the new scenery will be ready to use.
This is not the first add-on product to enhance Berlin, so there are some potential conflicts with other products. In particular, there is some overlap with an Aerosoft photoscenery, Real Germany Region 2: Northeast. If you have that, the installer will find it and make the necessary adjustments; these adjustments can also be made later if necessary. There is also some overlap with Flight1’s Ultimate Terrain: Europe; according to the Ultimate Terrain forum, a patch for VFR Berlin 2006 is pending. (Allen Kriesman, the Ultimate Terrain developer, has been very conscientious about seeking out potential conflicts with other scenery products and issuing fixes.)
What You Get
My initial expectation for this product was enthusiastic but limited: more monuments! In this, the package does not disappoint: city’s VFR landmarks are better looking and much, much more plentiful. But there are other enhancements, as well, to local airports and also to the region’s road- and waterways. My review will cover these three types of enhancement in reverse order.
Landclass, Roads and Rivers
The enhanced landclass, roads, and rivers of VFR Berlin 2006 are the work of Peter Werlitz. Landclass files are small in size, but they have a big impact on what you see, because they tell Flight Simulator what kind of ground cover to show in a given square of land. Is it rural? urban? forest? grassland? The simulator will put down whatever the landclass tells it to, but the default landclass is not very precise. That is, it’s accurate in a general way--Berlin looks like a city instead of a forest--but it doesn’t capture the nuances of the city’s various districts. And they are varied. Partly because it is so big,
Berlin encompasses a wide range of land types, from parks and gardens to towers and skyscrapers to residential neighborhoods to farmland. With Werlitz’s landclass, Berlin looks more like itself: a sprawling microcosm of the whole country. One of the nice things about landclass enhancement is that it doesn’t exact a huge frame rate penalty. You see more variety on the ground, but that variety doesn’t need a lot of processing power to produce--the “thinking” has already been done ahead of time, by the landclass designer and whoever designed the ground textures. (I use Ground Environment by Peter Wilding and Anthony Vos, and the two products work together perfectly.)
Werlitz’s other contribution to this scenery was detailed rivers and roads. Waterways very prominent in Germany’s capital. If you look at a map of Berlin, you’ll notice right away how the River Spree winds its way through the middle of the city. In the city’s main park district, the Tiergarten, there’s also a series of narrow lakes and, south of those, the Landwehr Canal. The default scenery gives you a hint of these water features, but even the Spree is just a thick brown line of uniform length. Werlitz has carved out all the rivers, lakes, and canals from scratch, restoring those unpredictable turns and swerves that are the mark of a natural water feature.
Roads, of course, are not a natural feature of the land, but detailed roads are more interesting to look at than the default ones, and are also more usable for VFR navigation. Some of Berlin’s roads also form interesting patterns when seen from the air. For example, you can now see onramps and off ramps spiraling off from the main highways. Especially impressive is the convergence of five roads in the center of the city’s vast park, the Tiergarten. The default scenery shows the Tiergarten, with the Victory Column in the middle of it, as a simple mass of foliage; what’s missing, though, and what Werlitz’s road system restores, is the Grosser Stern, the “Great Star” of roads that radiate out from the column like spokes on a wheel. In real life, the pattern formed by the roads complements the monument; now in the sim, the road system enhances and complements the 3D structures. A few road segments also have highway signage and moving traffic on them.
VFR Berlin 2006 was originally conceived as an update for FS2004 of Jan Bleiss’s Berlin Airports for FS2002. The project has grown beyond that now, but its original core is still here and constitutes a big chunk of its considerable charm. There are twelve enhanced airports in all: Bienenfarm (EDOI), Brand (ETBD), Brandenburg Briest (EDUB), Brandenburg Mühlensee (EDBE; the manual has Brandenburg Mühlenfeld [EDEB], which Aerosoft has confirmed is an error); Eggersdorf (EDCE), Ferchesar (EDUA), Finow (EDAV), Kyritz (EDBK), Saarmund (EDCS), Schönhagen (EDAZ), Strausberg (EDAY), and Werneuchen (EDBW). Two of these airports are not present at all in the default scenery: Brandenburg Briest, which is just a grass strip anyway, and Brand, which is now closed, though the runway is still there and the big hangar where Cargolifter used to assemble its airships.
What’s missing here? Only Berlin’s main commercial airports: Tempelhof (EDDI), Tegel (EDDT), and Schönefeld (EDDB, which will become Brandenburg airport in 2011 and replace the other two). This surprised me at first, but a moment’s reflection explained why. First, at least one of these airports has already been covered in Aerosoft’s German Airport (GAP) series. Second, and more importantly, this is VFR Berlin, not Air Transport Berlin. The emphasis is on visual navigation, and most VFR flights originate from the smaller airports.
At the enhanced airports, there are more detailed taxiways and aprons, there are no special ground markings (as there are, for example, in GAP or the recently reviewed Casablanca scenery) beyond what you will find at one of the default airports. I did notice some tire smudges at Ferchesar. The night lighting is basic, too: the lamps at Schönhagen, for example, are colored yellow at night, but they don’t cast a glow on the ground and buildings surrounding them. (This seems to vary: at Strausberg, I noticed that the lamps do cast a light on the pavement below.) I mention these limitations because it is a reviewer’s job to describe what is there, not because they detracted in any way from my enjoyment of the scenery.
A few of the airports have only minimal enhancements: Brand, which has the aforementioned assembly hangar; Werneuchen and Finow, which are primarily distinguished by some hut-like hangar buildings; Brandenburg Briest, whose main feature seems to be a nearby coal-plant; and Brandenburg Mühlenfeld, which so far as I can tell is just a grass strip.
The rest of the enhanced airports are entirely delightful. There are parking lots with cars in them. At the towered airports, there are ground vehicles. Many of these fields have grass strips, which are neatly marked with 3D placards (including the runway’s halfway point). Most fields are fenced. There are hangars, of course, but also outdoor cafes and beer pubs. Where there is ground lighting, there are blue lamps to provide it (not like the default scenery, where a blue glow emanates out of nowhere). Roads, where they border an airport, will sometimes be lined with street lamps or power lines. At Bienenfarm, there is an above-ground fuel tank actually feeding the fuel pump; in front of the pub, there is a sign for Radeberger beer and beside the pub there are trash cans behind a wooden fence; on the other side, there is a park for recreational vehicles (RVs); at the base of a brick wall, there is grass growing.
On most fields there are static GA aircraft (with German registration, of course) parked in appropriate places. Almost all are fixed-wing, but at Schönhagen there are helicopters, too, because it’s a heliport. At Saarmund, I noticed one aircraft getting its wheel fixed; the one next to it had a cloth cover; and on the field itself, there’s a portable windsock and portable fire equipment.
Details like these -- and there are many more beside those I have mentioned -- are a source of enduring pleasure, first when you discover them, and again when you return to them, knowing they will be there at the end of your flight. Some of these structures are practical for navigation, as well. Many runways are aligned with roads. Others are marked by nearby towers or animated windmills.
I do have two criticisms of the airports, one minor and one medium. First, although the documentation does include complete charts for each individual airport, it would be helpful to have a basic map of where the enhanced airports are, in relation to each other and to Berlin. Second, there are several airports with no parking spaces. I don’t mean there’s no area to park, but when you create a flight, there are some airports with only a choice of runways to start at. This is by no means fatal -- once the flight loads you can always slew to a parking area and taxi to the runway from there -- but it does severely limit AI traffic at these airports. As I mentioned, there are static aircraft at most of the enhanced airports, but I didn’t notice many landing aircraft, or any aircraft doing touch-and-gos. This would have been a nice touch, especially at the smaller fields, where you would expect to see more GA traffic.
The developer has put a great deal of effort into the airport visuals. Behind the scenes, though, the airport data is much the same. If there is going to be an patch of any kind, this would be a good place to start: add parking spaces using AFCAD, generate some AI traffic with GA aircraft, and add ATC for towered fields (again using AFCAD).
Ich bin nicht ein Berliner. I am not a Berliner. I prepared for this review, first by reviewing the default scenery, then by reading articles on Berlin from Wikipedia, and finally by skimming Fodor’s Guide to Berlin from the library. I also studied various maps. (It’s too bad The Pilots’ “Free Flight” Atlas of Europe is out of print, because the one in there is pretty good.) What you are getting, then, is a non-native’s -- even a non-visitor’s -- impression of what Berlin ought to look like, from someone who has never actually been there. Does this disqualify me? People use flight simulator for various purposes, and one of mine is to see the world. Sure, it’s better to go there in person -- but until you can afford to go or find time, this is one of the things the sim is good for.
I should point out that many of the landmarks used for VFR are not monuments or famous buildings. Windmills, radio antennae, church steeples, utility pylons, highways, railroad lines, lakes, and rivers are just useful -- and they are included, too.
There were some landmarks I found that I couldn’t identify. On the other hand, there was no landmark I went looking for that I couldn’t find. I think this is what you want from a scenery of this type. It helps if you know what you’re looking for (and here I wish the developer had included a map of what he done to enhance the city: I know I am missing things because, as a virtual visitor, I don’t know to look for them). On the other hand, the various buildings and towers are distinctive enough so that, with repeated visits, you begin to get a sense of where you are, and how various landmarks can be used to set up an approach. The two sample flights described in the manual will start you thinking about this and give you hints of what to look for (e.g., the transformer station at Nunsdorf, the radio mast at Perwenitz, the fountainworks at Sainssoussi).
In addition to the objects which are new to this scenery, Bleiss has also improved the default objects. I uninstalled VFR Berlin from one of my test machines and was surprised to see how crude the Fernsehturm looks in the default scenery; I had remembered it as being rather impressive -- which it is, until you compare it with Bleiss’s version. Reviewing old screenshots, I noticed the same thing with the parliament building and Victory Column.
Although better than the default, the level of texture detail in most of this scenery is medium. If you stick your nose against the glass of your monitor, you are going to see pixels. Clearly, the developer has made an effort to balance detail with frame rates; this effort is welcome. There’s no point in wasting frame rates on detail you won’t normally see anyway. I checked the scenery directories for this package, and there is no one object here with a massive texture file. Instead, Bleiss’s strategy seems to be that of selecting a number of unique objects for each airport and placing them just so -- a triumph of design rather than brute force.
In general, more detail = lower frame rates This is more noticeable in the center of Berlin, where there are lots and lots of 3D objects and buildings. The Aerosoft website recommends a 2 gigahertz processor and a video card with 64, preferably 128 Mb of memory. The manual, however, recommends a 2.4 gigahertz processor and a video card with 128 Mb of memory, preferably 256 Mb; that is more realistic.
If you do have lower-spec hardware, it is possible to run the scenery at lower settings. Bleiss has taken care to assign scenery priorities for every object, so you can adjust the number of buildings and objects. With the scenery slider set to normal, there are fewer 3d objects for the simulator to draw, but the main landmarks are still visible.
VFR Berlin 2006 is priced at €25.95 if purchased in Europe, €21.51 if purchased outside Europe. For Berliners, it offers the pleasure of recognizing familiar sights, and making them new again by seeing them from the air. For the rest of us, it is an opportunity to explore a detailed VFR environment that is rich in both cultural significance and visual interest.
|What I Like About VFR Berlin 2006|
|What I Don't Like About VFR Berlin 2006|
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