AVSIM Commercial Scenery Review

FlyTampa

St. Maarten & Islands

Product Information
Publisher: Fly Tampa
Description:  Scenery Add-on.

Download Size:
35 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FS9
Reviewed by: Chris Kiehl AVSIM Contributing Reviewer - June 17, 2007

Introduction

The Caribbean is probably one of the most beautiful and visited island regions on Earth. Cruises and airplanes constantly bring tourists in, as it is one of many premier places to visit on our planet.

St. Maarten is the smallest island divided by two nations - France and the Netherlands. The French control the north side of the island, while the Dutch retain control of the southern portion and the international airport. St. Maarten is popular for its great nightlife and party atmosphere at its world class resorts and villas, shopping and excellent food, and its fantastic beaches and marine wildlife.

Princess Juliana International Airport has been seen by many in countless photographs. Famous for the 747 or other heavy airliner flying the short final approach at 50 feet off the deck. People can be seen beneath these lumbering giants calmly standing there, as it is so regular to many of them. I can’t imagine what this may do to their hearing, but they seem to enjoy watching aircraft fly right overhead.

St. Barthelemy Island, or St. Barth’s, is a beautiful tropical paradise with several pristine beaches that are great for swimming, sailing, scuba diving, and there's even a surfing beach or two. Tourism is wildly popular on the island, and it's known as a playground for the rich and famous. From Five-Star hotels and resorts who wouldn’t want to visit this place.

Juancho Yrausquin airport, also known as Saba, is an isolated, almost other-worldly place where people can go to truly escape. It is also widely known as a challenge for experienced aviators due to the way your approach and takeoff must be conducted along with the 1300 foot runway. The airport on Saba Island is technically a non-commercial airport. However, waivers can be obtained by small commuter airline groups from the Netherlands Antilles’ Civil Aviation Authority to land here, making tourism possible and wildly popular.

From top-notch hotels and the festivities on St. Maarten to the great tourism on St. Barth’s, or island resorts high on the mountain that is Saba Island, visitors can have it all in this island world.

Installation and Documentation

A simple install file is downloaded after purchase, and weighing in at 35 MB, it's not bad at all. A start menu entry will be added under the FlyTampa name, containing all documentation and links to the updates portion of the FlyTampa site. One thing I noticed upon installation which I though was a nice consideration, was the option to choose which advanced scenery features to install. The scenery comes with immense extras and eye candy like; AI Ship Traffic, just to mention one of the most innovative extras. I chose to install the full package to really get the whole experience.

Simple installer that will install everything, and open the readme afterwards.

The Documentation included is a relatively quick read, though impressive in my mind. In Adobe form, it includes nice pictures and a small coverage map showing you what you're getting. Approach plates for St. Maarten, airport and frequency information for each of the three airports are included in the complete package, and other useful info about the scenery pack itself.

The readme is detailed though brief, and reading it is highly recommended.

The instructions clearly point out any potential issues, which rarely pop up, if at all. I did have a few small issues with the scenery, but the FlyTampa team was more than willing to help and all of my issues were easily resolved. In addition to that, I've heard of many users enjoying this product fully, not to mention the great screenshots from members at those forums.

Eye Candy

Many features of this scenery make the whole experience into a visual show. I will begin to list these features and what I liked about them. I’ll then go into a bit more detail on each of the three included islands with the full package. Here’s a few shots of St. Maarten’s party scene, going on right next to the airport, of course.

No shortage of fun things to see in this scenery.

The textures: At each airport and the immediate surrounding area, there are highly upgraded and detailed textures which add so much to the immersion. The runways have a very realistic appearance to them, and to me, appear as real asphalt or concrete. This gives you the sensation of speed on landing and takeoff which the FS default runways and taxiways simply fail to do.

You will see many boats throughout your explorations, it's a very nice touch. You can see the masts of ships in the background in the second shot-If you've been to a marina, you know about this.

On top of these taxiways and runways is the yellow and white paint, which actually appears to have been painted on and not floating on top of a good base texture. I was blown away at first seeing these textures, and enjoy them every time I roll an aircraft by. There is even a distinct visual difference between the runways at the three airports. This can be clearly noticed when viewing two differently constructed runways in real life, and is very noticeable at each airport included in this package.

The textures here are what I like, detail that doesn't rob framerates. I can't get enough of those cool little taxiway lights.

Another texture feature I had been waiting for with runways, is faithfully reproduced in this package-the tire skid marks on the runway that look realistic and believable. St. Barthelemy's concrete runway in this package is simply one of the most realistic runways I've seen in any scenery package. It is my favorite part of the textures, believe it or not.

Barth's runway is just what I was hoping to see in a runway, the high detail concrete and skid marks all over the place.

First off, FS sceneries before this one do include these neat texture effects. Even so, I simply like these the most from what I have seen. I like to call it a successful blend of detail and performance. Not so much detail that it simply makes FS into a slide show, but it doesn’t appear blurry and indistinct.

The second part of the eye candy that will most likely blow you away, is the very detailed buildings that are included all over the place on all three islands. I will elaborate further on and show screenshots of this in the sections of the review for each island.

Princess Juliana International is a world famous airport for everything that makes it special, and even more for that seemingly daunting approach that airliners make at 50-100 feet over the fence. All of these details, at least the ones that I can think of, are seamlessly represented. Juliana's rather small terminal is very high in detail with flags of the French, Dutch, and two other various local and island flags in front of it.

As many airport facility buildings as you can think of can be seen and are all custom buildings. A couple of people here and there can be seen, adding to the life of the airport and thereby avoiding that sterile, lifeless look many airport sceneries have. I think you’ll really get a small kick out of seeing the baggage train driver sitting on the cart catching a snooze.

From the added terminal vehicles and crew, some of which move, to the details of an airport; from the taxiway signs, approach lighting systems, to the baggage trains and people - all are faithfully modeled at each airport included.

St. Maarten itself is done remarkably well. The ‘Sunset Beach Bar’ at the end of the runway can be seen where many of those famous low flying airliner shots are taken; along with little beach chairs and umbrellas and a few people here and there enjoying the festivities. Hotels and as many of their small details as I can think of, surround the airport as in real life photos, along with much of that top quality shopping and dining. It isn’t populated like it is in many of those famous pictures, and this is probably a good thing which avoids lowering the frames as much as possible. The little people in this scenery are actual 3D models.

Once you takeoff in either direction, be prepared to be amazed by St. Maarten. I personally like taking off out of runway 27 and looking off my wing at all those beach resorts, which are very rich and colorful. Upon climb out, that immediate area around the airport has what appears to be a nice photo real texture with the buildings placed almost exactly where they should be.

The party scene to the parking lot, everything is very nicely represented on St. Maarten.

Several of the hotels on this near photo-real shot are actually rendered and in their proper place, which once again just really adds up to a fun experience.

More shots of St. Maarten's beachside resorts and the beaches themselves.

St. Barth’s airport is located right on a little bay, next to a hill surrounded by dense jungle and is highly detailed in this scenery package. The graphic of Barth’s terminal and surrounding towns of Gustavia and St. Jean is simply amazing in my opinion. Here, you will not have any shortage of neat things to see and discover. Even the Eden Rock Hotel is represented in the scenery on the ocean in St. Jean. It’ll be just off the right wingtip when taking off from Runway 10. Cars and even a couple of motorcyclists can be seen rolling by as well as tourists on the hill just by the Runway 10 approach. I keep finding myself amazed by what I see next. If you look closely on approach to Runway 10, you can actually see a person or two bent down aiming a camera up as if to take a shot of the aircraft on that approach into Barth’s airport.

The details and environment at Barth's make it my favorite airport of the package, not to mention the white knuckle hill approach.

The first several landings and takeoffs I made at Barth’s were accomplished on Runway 28 over the bay. One more detail about the airport at Barth’s is the exceptionally well done rounding of the hill at the end of the runway. Usually small cliffs or hills are very jaggy and easy to spot. However, this part of the scenery seems to blend right in, and I’ve included a shot below of just this.

The towns around Barth's are some of the neatest I've seen, with all these ships in the bay and cars going around-the detail adds up.

Saba is the show stealer. A small runway and airport out on a small peninsula, perched atop a 200 foot island cliff. The whole island is really spectacular, as the peak of the island simply climbs out of the ocean, almost like an island out of a movie like Jurassic Park when flying to it.

Saba is truly a unique little Island, that climbs right out of the ocean. The airport is near seamless in its representation of the real world location.

A challenging and very rewarding approach at Saba onto a small 1300 ft runway will require studying your aircraft’s performance and making sure it’s up to the task. Once you have landed here, you’ll probably turn around on the runway and taxi to the small terminal. The chain link fence that surrounds the small terminal and airport is there just as in real life, one of several small details I keep an eye out for. What appears to be a dirt road zig-zags its way up the island mountain to the little hut hotels; several of these details are there just as in the photographs I studied of the island.

Saba is the challenge of the package. Seriously, check your aircraft's performance before trying to land it here. The most fun and challenging approach you can consistently make with a touch of practice and mettle.

Only odd thing I noticed at Saba, and this is a direct result of it’s complex design (being an airport on a 200 foot cliff has a limitation) is this; upon leaving your aircraft here and saving and closing the sim, then reloading the saved or previous flight, the aircraft will fall through to the default island base. Other than that, I didn’t notice any issue here. I simply dismiss this issue, as in real life there is no fuel at Saba, and aircraft do not remain here for long at all. Land, unload and reload your ship, and take back off. You can leave your aircraft at Saba when closing the sim, but you’ll need to leave it on the runway.

Some other neat eye candy you may or may not have seen coming are the AI ships included. From a large cruise ship with thousands aboard to tiny sailing ships, catamarans, and yachts. These ships actually move and leave a dynamic wake in the water behind them. This is one of the most life-lending aspects to the scenery, and to me, makes flying over the ocean so much more fun than it used to be. No longer are the waters sterile between the islands in the ocean of Flight Simulator, here at least.

In the documentation, this feature was mentioned as a possible performance issue. However, running the FS AI Traffic at 100%, to which the AI ship traffic is tied into, I’ve have benchmarked a zero loss in performance from this feature.

Here is the AI Ship Traffic feature up close. As I've mentioned, it really breathes life into the seemingly lifeless default FS2004 ocean.

The only airport of the three in the package to include AI traffic is Princess Juliana, and there is still a limited number of spaces available at Juliana for custom AI additions. Barth’s and Saba do not have included AI traffic, as FlyTampa wanted specifically to leave some area for custom, user-built AI traffic.

Performance

The performance at the surrounding airports included in the package, St. Barth’s and Saba, is quite exceptional. Aiming for 26 FPS on my FPS slider, I benchmarked the losses as closely as I could.

Test System

Pentium 4 2.8 Ghz
1.5 Gb RAM
512Mb FX 7600
160 GB HD
FS 9.1

Flying Time:
17.5 hours

I didn’t notice a dip in frames going beyond 25% at Barth’s, and it never regularly went below 20 FPS. Typically at Barth’s, I get around 22-25 FPS.

At Saba, performance is very good on my end, with the frame rates dipping no lower than around 20%. I usually have liquid performance at Saba, which is nice considering its modeled detail. The frame rates usually hang right around 24-26 here.

Princess Juliana was a bit heavier on the frame rates as there are many custom buildings. At times, the frames could dip as much as 40%, which is down to about 15 FPS. However, this was not regular and frames would usually fluctuate at around 18-24 FPS.

Another point to mention here, is a minor texture reload issue. Upon flying away from one of the islands, going to spot view and seeing that island now behind you, can trigger a texture reload. The high detail portions of said island will appear white for a split second, and then it will look as it did before. I haven't noted this reload taking longer than one second on my system, but it does appear somewhat frequently.

My end opinion here is that the performance on my system was great. I’ve tried a few equally detailed sceneries, and this one has the smoothest performance on my setup. This is my favorite part of the package overall, and will keep me flying here for a long time.

Summary

I think anyone who buys either the St. Maarten/Juliana standalone, or opts for the whole package, they will greatly enjoy them.

The whole package of all three Islands allows for some really neat mission ideas and includes several challenging approaches. That’s the greatest impression I come away from this with, the enjoyment of flying an air taxi around this part of the Caribbean.

Whether you simply want to fly yourself around and explore this new and detailed region, or you’d like to join me in competition flying air taxis around the islands for a better price than I ‘offer’, I think you’ll probably enjoy this scenery. If you’re simply a fan of flying in this region or these islands specifically, get this scenery as it will greatly enhance your flying time here.

 

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