AVSIM Commercial Scenery Review

Milan Malpensa &
Canary Islands Gold

Product Information

Publishers:  SimGiants

Description: Add-on Sceneries.

Download Size:
Milan Malpensa - 336 MB
Canary Islands - 286 MB

Format:
Download or Boxed
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: Etienne Martin AVSIM Staff Reviewer - July 19, 2009

Introduction

In this article, we take a look at two add-on scenery packages for FSX from SimGiants. The Canary Gold for FSX product contains three airports: El Hierro – GCHI – is near the town of Valverde on the westernmost island of Hierro in the archipelago. Tenerife North – GCXO – is one of two main airports on the central island of Tenerife near Santa Cruz de Tenerife. To complete the Canary Gold package, we also tour Fuerteventura – GCFV – near Puerto del Rosario on the eastern island of Fuerteventura.

The Canary Islands
Courtesy of Microsoft Bing

Then, we move to Europe and northern Italy where we visit one of the three major airports near Milan - Malpensa International airport – LIMC.

Milan Italy
Courtesy of Microsoft Bing

Packaging

Both products come as direct downloads from the SimGiants website, and boxed versions are also available, although will cost you almost 20% more. Canary Gold for FSX is a 336mb download, and Milan Malpensa is a bit over 286mb. The zip format archives expand on your disk and the setup utility is ready to run. A license key for the products was provided in the form of an e-mail.

Installation

Installation is quite simple and void of any prompts outside of the obligatory licensing information. The setup program found my installation of FSX on Vista 64. I was again disappointed to find a setup program unable to accept the entire license key in one “paste” from the registration e-mail. This forced me to paste or type the individual chunks one at a time, an unnecessary inconvenience. Most setup programs are now smart enough to do the entire thing for you, so this is in my view a point of improvement. The process is otherwise entirely automatic, and took but a few minutes on my system.

The scenery ends up in the Add-On Scenery folder in your FSX installation. There is one folder for each product, and we find a clean directory structure including a documentation folder containing the individual information for each airport in the packages. Canary Gold for FSX utilized 456mb of disk real estate, and Milan another 358mb.

SimGiants notes that some users may need to add the scenery files manually in FSX, that wasn’t the case for me. FSX found the new scenery and re-indexed on startup and I was ready to go visit new places. All in all, both products took less than 10 minutes to install.

Unlike other setup programs, this one doesn’t accept the entire License key in one step, forcing a cut and paste, and encouraging mistakes.
The scenery was automatically added to the FSX library on my system.

Documentation

Each airport has its own PDF file holding basic installation and airport data information totally about 10 pages each. The tables hold frequency and other airport data, but no charts. A section provides helpful tips on keeping performance high. I note in passing that I also found digital airport charts for the Canary Islands (AENA is the equivalent of the FAA in Spain – the site provides free electronic charts after a simple registration process).

Visuals

Test System

Intel QX9650 @ 4GHz
4 GB memory
NVIDIA 8800 Ultra
CH Products ctlrs
Windows Vista 64 SP2
FSX Acceleration/SP2

Flying Time:
9 hours

While I’ll let the screenshots speak for themselves, I want to first make some general comments on the two packages from SimGiants, as both are similar in look and feel.

First, I found the overall quality to be good and balanced between detail and performance. What also immediately caught my eye were the ground textures, in particular the numerous ground markings and variety of ground textures that really make the scenery standout. The signage is excellent, so is the associated night lighting for taxiways and runways. For example, some hold short markers are associated with alternating red/yellow flashers, a nice touch.

Second, there is a good effort in blending the add-on scenery with the default scenery. SimGiants uses background textures based on satellite photo scenery and manages to blend quite well with its FSX scenery surroundings. FSX does a barely passable job at rendering the desert like Canary Islands (I had inconsistencies such as spruces in the middle of what should largely be parched terrain, certainly not a good home for lush alpine forests…). SimGiants blended reasonably well, although it clearly clashes with the auto-gen and default scenery unless you also have a package that correctly remaps the terrain type for this region of the world.

The default scenery provided in the FSX box just shows how much improvement exists when juxtaposed to a product that maps the local terrain correctly. As a result, I found myself wanting for a much larger area than that covered by SimGiant’s three airports in the Canary Gold package. The coverage area is limited to the immediate airports only.

Next, SimGiants adds a few interesting details, such as construction vehicles, coffee tables with umbrellas, glass lined gangways leading to the terminals that are amazingly transparent. Parked cars and other static objects can be found scattered about the airport although all are static. Some of the construction workers are animated, and there are some static figures around terminal entrances. Overall, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t find much animation included in the packages other than the obligatory radar antennas and jetways.

The texture quality is good. As said above, the ground textures for paved surfaces is clearly a notch above the rest, although some of the textures for buildings are perhaps not as detailed as some other products I’ve seen. This is not a let down by any means. The perception I get from the SimGiant packages is a strong desire to blend performance with eye candy, and some design decisions had to be made. It looks like a lot of time was spent on minimizing performance hits while providing a good atmosphere capturing the essence of the locales represented.

The end result is good average performance, yet no excruciating detail is found. The balance is appropriate given how poorly the scenery engine in FSX reacts to extremely complex scenery. An example of this optimization is the “flat” stairs in some buildings where the texture gives the illusion of 3D stairs where one needs to travel with a camera around the airport from angles never seen from the cockpit. Where they can be seen, the level of detail is there is full 3D glory.

Overall, I found the level of detail met my expectations, and one that should make the scenery usable on most systems – a refreshing change. While some packages provide stellar detail, they can also easily bring FSX into slideshow territory. Not the case here.

I found the lighting quite nice for the runway and taxiways. I was not enthused with the glow of the parking and other general airport night lighting, however. The yellow glow effect is not very convincing and totally clashes with the surrounding areas, in my opinion, giving it an eerie look that only gets worse with bloom enabled. I found the terminals to be awash in yellow. The effect would be better if a bit more toned down and not as, well, yellow. Perhaps this is just my perception, but everything else looked right, so this really stuck out.

Finally, the new scenery worked very well with my FSX add-ons from terrain mesh to AI traffic, always a good thing!

Fuertoventura – Canary Gold

Fuertoventura is located on the eastern island of Fuertoventura and has a single 11,400’ runway. As always, clicking on the thumbnails below brings up the full resolution image.

Fuertoventura
Courtesy of Microsoft Bing
Overview Looking the other way
Overhead shot showing the coverage area. Varied ground textures Jetway detail
Construction is a nice detail. Note the glass windows above. More varied ground textures. Covered parking
More buildings on top of photo scenery Road bridge detail Additional buildings add character around the airport.
Night lighting. Radar station – one of the only animations. Fire station detail.
Stair detail. The outdoor café – not too many takers.

El Hierro – Canary Gold

El Hierro airport is on the south western most island of the archipelago. The runway is 4,100’.

Overview of El Hierro This end of the runway ends rather abruptly on a sharp incline. View from above.
Terminal and parking areas. The lush forest in the background is from my FSX scenery. The animated birds up front provide a good ambiance. The tower is perched on the side of the hill opposite the terminal. The runway is in the middle.
Construction. One of the workers depicted is animated. GA parking area – firetrucks in the background. Main terminal
Parking during the day. One of the better floodlights in add-ons. While the lamps themselves look great, the light they cast is just a bit off. Runway night lighting awash with that curious glow of the overhead lighting – even runway markings are hard to make out here.
The overhead night lighting effect as viewed from above. Street-side at night Wall textures.

Tenerife North – Canary Gold

This airport used to be called Los Rodeos, and is one of two major airports on the main island of Tenerife (the other airport is aptly named Tenerife South, and is not modeled by SimGiants). Tenerife North has the distinction of being the site of the worst aviation accident when two 747s collided on the ground due to a communications mixup and poor weather. The Pan-Am 747 was taxiing on the runway when it was hit by a departing KLM 747 in the opposite direction – the collision took 583 lives. Tenerife North has a single runway a bit over 11,000’.

Overview Reverse view. View from above. See how the desert vegetation in the SimGiant scenery reflects how terrible my default scenery renders for this area of the world.
Main terminal, again with excellent ground textures. GA parking area. Detail - note the aircraft pieces.
Hangar (doors are fixed, unless undocumented). Terminal ramp. Walkways have transparent glass.
Control Tower. I was a bit disappointed that the IBERIA sign is a flat texture, unlike other signs in the scenery packages. Road signage. An example of flat stairs to aid performance by reducing the number of polygons FSX has to draw: This side is typically not seen this close, yet looks quite decent at a distance.
Road bridge over the road. Roundabout – no cars here though. Overhead lighting.

Milan Milpensa

Our visit ends in Italy at Milan Malpensa, with two parallel runways just shy of 13,000 (4km) each.

Milan – default FSX (shown here with GEX scenery active) SimGiant’s version On approach – airport blends in quite well
Runways From above – shows area of coverage. Nice building details – could use a few more ground objects.
NE terminal. Main terminal and concourses. Concourse detail
Ground markings. Each terminal’s gate style is represented. Signage detail.
Road signs and bridge to main terminal. Cargo building Radar installation between runways
Runway lights Taxiway lights Approaching storm
Night satellite image Concourse at night Buildings at night
Gate details and marking The tower More airport buildings

Seasonal Changes

SimGiants supports all seasonal changes for Milan Malpensa, again blending well with the surroundings. Similar changes are of course not present for Canary Islands Gold because of the permanent desert type climate in that geographical region of the world.

Milan summer Milan fall Milan winter
Tenerife North - summer Tenerife North - winter

Performance and conclusion

I found performance to be quite good compared to some other scenery add-ons that take a heavy toll on the visual frame rates. The SimGiant sceneries we looked at here are well balanced. Examining the design up close shows the designers paid attention to polygon counts and other objects that easily impact the FSX scenery engine.

While I found myself occasionally looking for additional eye candy, in particular in the animation and ground object departments, I am very pleased with the overall renditions of the airports in the packages. The ground texture and signage are one of the best I’ve seen out there and there is a nice attention to detail for the important buildings.

The airports depicted improve the default scenery so much that I can only ask for many more airports to get the SimGiants treatment: pleasing on the eye, and pleasing on the frame rates.

 

What I Like About Canary Islands Gold & Milan Malpensa

  • Ground textures and signage are some of the best I’ve seen in a scenery add-on – it really makes the airport grounds stand out.
  • Transparent glass used in many airport buildings instead of “painted on” glass
  • Enough eye candy yet maintains performance – hardly missed a frame.
  • Good effort to blend in with the default surrounding scenery
  • Worked flawlessly with my AI and other scenery add-ons

 

What I Don't Like About Canary Islands Gold & Milan Malpensa

  • Only three airports in the Canary Gold product – makes other major airports in the geographical area look “blah” and I wanted more!
  • At night, yellowish overhead lighting effect felt a bit overdone
  • Wish a few more objects and animations were present

 

Printing

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Canary Islands Gold & Milan Malpensa

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