is the fourth in the Ultimate Terrain Series offered by Flight1
Software. The other three UTX installments covering the USA,
Canada, and Europe were previously covered in one gigantic review by our senior staff reviewer Angelique van Campen.
Coverage: The area covered is that forming the Alaskan state with its Aleutian Island chain. There is a little bit of cross coverage with UTX Canada in the vicinity of Prince Rupert (CYPR). A list of airports and airfields corrected and/or modified by Ultimate Alaska X is shown below as well as a list of the towns or cities for which a new bgl file was compiled (added scenery objects).
Installation And Documentation:
Nothing can be easier than using Flight1's wrapper (shown below): You download the whole package before payment which is then required once you open it. You will have a key file and a code, which is usually the last four digits of your credit card, or a login password you chose when registering. Using this same wrapper you can re-install it later using the same key and code. The download was 740 MB which seemed to occupy 900 MB on my drive after install was complete.
As seen in the above picture of my start menu, you get two manuals and a setup tool. I'll cover these separately later. Ultimate Alaska X has 5 unique layers installed in your FSX main scenery folder and also listed in the FSX scenery library pictured below. It also shares UT Landclass Vegetation and UT Exclusions for Default Scenery, so if you only have Ultimate Alaska X form the UTX series installed you will see 7 layers, otherwise they are already there with former installations.
There are a couple of rules pertaining to the ordering of these 7 layers:
1. The UT Exclusions for Default Scenery MUST be below all UT
Terrain installations, and above the FSX default features. Otherwise
you will get such artifacts as those doubled shorelines and beaches
in the bay.
These conditions should only concern those that may install other UT products later since they will find themselves below if they are already there anyway. That is why you do not see these 2 entries in my scenery library since I installed all three UTX series long ago and they are therefore way down the list and out of sight.
SETUP TOOL - Initialization: Once Ultimate Alaska X is installed, a Setup Tool will run immediately to redo your terrain configuration file. You do not have to do anything yourself at this stage. But, there is one message pop-up to read before you go on your Alaskan cyber-vacation. It is shown above. You can read it now as it is not critical and needs no further explanation.
After reading that, you can just close the tool for now and then boot up FSX. Then you can begin tweaking to your heart's content to balance performance with graphic detail and quality.
In order not to overburden you with the tweaking details before you even know what it is that will be tweaked, I will return to the setup tool later to cover its many submenu tools. First, some pictures of my visit.
Some Alalaskan Pictures:
Here is what you want to see, the candy. So I'll put up a bunch of Polaroid snapshots the wife and I took while flying through the Alaskan wilderness ala FSX. (I'll spare showing you our face pictures). It was early March so we experienced a light winter's mix of snow and vegetation.
Having just departed Prince Rupert BC we flew by Annette Island then into Ketchikan, or Murphy's Pullout.
The scenery was breathtaking and the (Active Sky Evolution) weather was cooperating. We then moved on to Wrangell, 79 NM northeast of here. There are not too many navigational aids up here so to be safe we flew the Goose from here on, in case we encountered nasty weather and nee, a water landing. Along the way we tried out our brand new 35mm film camera.
We then left for Yakutat (PAYA) in a friend's new Citation Mustang. Our tourist flight plan brought us out over some beautiful areas as enhanced by the mesh layer of Ultimate Alaska. A landing at Yakutat showed us the attention to even small airfields and towns like Wrangell and Yakutat afforded by Ultimate Alaska.
The lack of AI density near Juneau allowed capturing a traffic snapshot for 100 % sliders as controlled by Ultimate Traffic 2's engine. This should help frame rates, which is does, a lot. Now we are off to Juneau in a chartered Cheyenne.
We finally head to Anchorage aboard a Citation Mustang.
Some night shots follow at Fairbanks. The main airport has both hard runways and a water landing pond with docking facilities. I never knew this. Night lighting, as seen in the two pictures at right, is incredibly improved.
There are 5 layers unique to Ultimate Alaska (see introduction above); Mesh, Cities, Water, Railroads, and Roads, with two shared UT Exclusions for Default Scenery and UT Landclass-Vegetation which must be at the end of all UTX layers.
In order to demonstrate the enhancements afforded by these layers I am posting pictures of Juneau with and without some layers activated. A last snapshot shows what can occur to coastlines if the UT Exclusion layer is misplaced, which is often neglected by some distraught simmers including myself.
To use this properly, read the manual.
MAIN PAGE: Unlike older UTX products, this one has a way of reducing frame rate impacts by lowering the drawing of scenery objects. It is not in-situ and it simply replaces the autogen slider that has now become ineffective in Ultimate Alaska.
Amongst the regular features is the ability to control waves. I tried this but could not see any ocean waves even when I selected all four ocean sets to large waves. As with all setup tools for UTX products, you can change the road surface textures. I prefer mine all asphalt with no car imprints.
You can also cancel the repositioning of any of the UTX modified airfields back to the default FSX position (helps if this causes a mess with add-on scenery other than UTX)
NEW FEATURES: Ultimate Tweaker (picture above): What's new is what I call a variable ultimate tweaker, which can be specific to one area or generalized to the whole.
In Ultimate Alaska, you no longer control the settings for autogen. It is done on the main page of the Set Up Tool.
As can be seen in the snapshot of the "ultimate tweaker" page, for any one location chosen from the left column, many variables can be reduced or added. Some locations have fewer options than others, if there are objects there in the first place. At the bottom are sliders indicating what performance hit you can expect from your chosen set. In the photo I have it set to Barrow which has only a little object drawing load.
Environmental Presets: There are five different object sets that have differing loads on the performance. The first one, called AlaskaModels1, is the max setting equivalent to the autogen slider and never really made my system suffer except upon landing at Anchorage airport (probably due to the airport detail). The others have lessening demand on systems, with the last being regular UTX autogen placement tiles.
In the snapshots below are texts describing exactly what each environmental preset does. It does affect the whole of Ultimate Alaska coverage, so to get specific changes for only one area you have to use the ultimate tweaker discussed before this section. A change in Alaska Models UTX may not lead to any objects or autogen at all as shown in the sequence of snapshots for Barrow illustrating the effect of changing the model sets.
This is just a short description of the variations possible. I do not have the room here to cover the effects on all type of cities and towns.
In the case of Barrow, there is not much difference between sets except UTX. However at Anchorage, there are differences; especially noteworthy is the difference in frame rates I get between Models 1 and Models 1-alt, the second of which has triple frame rate for the SAME scenery objects. The UTX model gives really high frame rates but is not very realistic and non-fidelity reigns. My choice is 1-alt for fidelity and performance.
"ADVANCED" FEATURES: Notice: You should read the Terrain SDK documentation available in your FSX SDK subfolders before using the advanced features of the setup tool, specifically those covering Terrain and Scenery and Terrain Configuration. I am only presenting an overview of what can and should be gotten directly from Flight1's pdf doc called Advanced Setup Tool Features. The manual also shows you how to alter the terrain.cfg directly, and interesting option for the serious tweaker or developer).
The terrain.cfg file tells FSX what textures to use when drawing objects (not terrain tiles) and whether they will be a flat of 3D object, width, polygonal shape, and some techie settings unique to FSX. These objects include roads, coastlines, etc...
UT Alaska adds its own unique features onto this terrain.cfg file without altering default FSX allocations. This approach also allows for changes to the default FSX values while not changing UT Alaska's. However, any changes made with this tool can impact other UTX products.
Most modification features are not new as they are also available
in earlier UTX products.;
2: The second feature is to "Modify UTK Feature Widths". This is probably more useful to me as I did not like the large islet coastlines (see picture). From the list I had too many choices, so I changed one at a time. The first try of UT_OCEAN_GRAVEL_AK was not a match... Next try UT_OCEAN_ROCK which was at 40 meter, somewhat high, so I tried that, and ... nope. Next I tried UT_OCEAN_ROCK_AK which was at 30 and I changed it to ten and ... bingo, see picture. Yes, I reset the other false tries to their original values.
Another default width I found strange was for dry streams set to 96 meters? That's about 300 feet wide! I left it alone for now because I do not know where and what they are yet.
The third feature is that to "Modify Texture Mapping ..." allowing
you to change the texture for a feature of the landclass (from
FSX) or custom (UTX etc...) categories.
Just for fun I tried UT_OCEAN to ICE; although it worked, with only the nearer-to-shore tiles affected, it was a mess because it made a lot of square patches. Further fun was trying streams and rivers etc... I did find out that the texture you substitute to does not have to be in the drop-down list, you can just type it in the box.
I tried this for UT_RIVER_LINE_WET to ICE and, it did not do anything, That is because that type of texture is not allowed and to find out which are, you can view the selected texture set where you now see (picture below) that the types allowed include only WaterPolylines, so I tried substituting to UTRiverDry and got ... nothing.
Oh well, it was fun experimenting. I will eventually find out how to ice over the rivers too. Maybe.
Custom texture sets are viewed the same way (by selecting custom button).
4: A fourth feature allows you to "Modify Assigned Water Textures..." This is self explanatory and I was cautious playing with it because I use FEX textures and did not want any conflicting colors to arise. But it still remains interesting as you can tell FSX which textures to use in different seasons, which can make dry seasons have dry lake beds and you can enhance ice features on lakes and rivers in winter.
I did try to get the ocean to have ice in hard winter. From the first screenshot above, you can see the default used, and in the second I've changed that to ice and you get the change BUT I had trouble with the setup tool: even though the textures were changed, the setup tool said that is was water when it is evidently ice. There seems to be some problem here.
You assign ice, go back and it reverts to water...you select ocean water, it reselects to the default "Water Features Without Elevation (Terrain Hugging)" so I was having problems. Alas, he ice stays in the summer even though I only changed hard winters. (The lakes too are ice covered in the summer but this is an effect from the changes I made using another modification earlier as explained above).
I imagine this forced icy texture will fully circumnavigate the FSX globe in summer too. It is also very difficult to see which of the three from "wet/dry/hard winter" is selected. This needs work.
I could love this feature if I had better control in the tool setup.
I took a few comparison snapshots over a couple of random towns to see what I could mimic from some pictures I got from Wikipedia.
As you can see, Ultimate Alaska's reproduction is quite impressive. With such care given to even these remote locations (Gambell, pop. 200, is the last US post before Russia), this product rocks. The comparison for the port area in Anchorage is impressive even though GEX for Alaska is not rendering the mountains correctly (mountain textures have nothing to do with Ultimate Alaska).
Summary / Closing Remarks
Things just keep getting better and better with FSX add-ons. Yet there can be problems, as the one I encountered with the modification of water textures and the oversized church object. Occasionally there are items on roads and runways that do not belong there, but 99.9% of the time everything is perfect or I never notice.
Overall, I'm happily impressed with this product and recommend it to anyone interested in Alaskan flying. Sure there are some aspects of this product that I would like to see improved, but overall I am sure they did a marvelous job at putting this all together and I could always find that something extra to suggest, so I think it is fine as it stands.
There is a lot more covered in the manual than what I reviewed here. I had no intentions of reviewing their excellent manual. I set out to cover the product in sufficient depth to give a potential buyer an idea of what he will be getting for his or her bucks, which I am glad to say is an excellent terrain enhancement product.
What I Like About Ultimate Alaska X
What I Don't Like About Ultimate Alaska X
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