Having embraced the world of AI Traffic extensively in FS2004, I was intrigued to discover what a specialized payware AI Traffic add-on had to offer. I left AI behind in FSX partly due to performance challenges, but more because I actually started flying more extensively than I ever did in FS2004, particularly in FSX multiplayer where AI is not used. With the release of SP1 for FSX, many of the performance issues I had were addressed, and while I acknowledge this didn’t solve everything, I felt confident enough to give AI another crack.
The Ultimate Traffic page on the Flight 1 website certainly makes the FSX version of Ultimate Traffic sound extensive, saying that Ultimate Traffic “is a culmination of over a year of research and development, and takes advantage of the latest AI technology”, that it has “400,000+ scheduled flights based on real airline timetables”, and “Ultimate Traffic contains over 700 aircraft repaints of various worldwide air carriers, both big and small”.
In a nutshell, Ultimate Traffic either replaces or enhances, the default AI traffic in Flight Simulator X across the globe. Unlike FS2004, FSX provides extensive AI traffic ‘out of the box’, so where does an add-on package such as this fit? We also know that even after SP1, FSX still requires a computer with good specs to run effectively. So what impact, positive or negative, would Ultimate Traffic have on our FSX experience?
The FS2004 version of Ultimate Traffic has been around for a while and clearly has a solid support base, particularly given its alignment with Project AI. So what would we see with the FSX version and would it take advantage of some of the new features FSX offers? So many questions, and at this stage no answers, so let's embark on this journey and discover if this is truly Ultimate Traffic, or the Ultimate Traffic jam.
This review is for the download version of Ultimate Traffic which is 162 MB. Like any Flight 1 product once you run the installer you are met with the standard E-Commerce interface. Once this is completed, the installer will then unzip your file to a location of your choice. Be warned that the 162MB zipped file is deceptive as far as install size is concerned; you will need in excess of 1.3 GB free on your hard drive to install this package.
This was one piece of information I would have found useful to know up front but was unable to find on the Flight 1 Website, where recommended specs are stated. Texture sets for many of the various world airlines are included, but not all, so you will also need to think about additional aircraft textures that you may want to install later.
The installer works as you’d expect, creating a desktop shortcut and also adding various items to the START menu, so you have easy access to Ultimate Traffics documentation, program files and also the uninstaller if you want to remove Ultimate Traffic later. Once installed your computer will restart and then you are ready to immerse yourself in the world of Ultimate Traffic.
Ultimate Traffic comes with a 40 page Help/User Guide in PDF format. The first thing I always check with PDF documents is does it have bookmarks. In this case the answer was no. I find this frustrating because it means I then have to trawl through the document for what I want to find, and what made this more frustrating was the index is set up in sections. This in itself is fine because it gave me a good overview of what was contained; my problem was it didn’t give me page numbers so once again I’m trawling for information.
The documentation is thorough and easy to read, I did note a few typos’s so this underlined the importance in my mind of editing and proof reading. The guide uses screenshots extensively with numbers overlaid to highlight the different features the text provides information on. Being a visual person, this style of presentation worked really well for me.
Throughout the Guide, changes from the FS2004 version relevant to FSX have been highlighted in blue which was useful. One oversight I found was in the ‘Aircraft Label Option’ section, which the user guide says ‘is only available in the FS2004 version of Ultimate Traffic’. I actually stumbled across this fully working feature by chance when using the Ultimate Traffic Interface under the ‘Options’, ‘Traffic Compile’ page. The feature worked very well and the user guide saying it doesn’t work in FSX is an oversight I would have thought the beta testers would pick up during testing.
Now, I’m certainly not complaining, the software does more than it promises in this instance which is often a rare thing in a world driven by spin doctors, but for newcomers or those without experience, this conflicting information between the user guide and the interface could mean they never find this feature, which would be a shame because it adds more control to what we finally see in FSX. I put together this small GIF image to demonstrate this feature in action.
I found the User Guide aimed at someone with no prior experience with AI, which in my view, is exactly how it should be so newbie’s will be able to get what they need from the guide. For those with some experience or are ready to expand Ultimate Traffic beyond what ‘comes out of the box’, a number of tutorials on how to set up traffic files, aircraft and their textures have also been included. Right, now it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get our hands dirty with Ultimate Traffic.
Interfacing, it’s the new buzz word!
Ultimate Traffic is split into two distinct parts; the interface and the aircraft models and textures. The interface works independently of the sim, and is designed to allow you to set everything up and then compile the traffic files you want in FSX. Let’s take a closer look at the Interface, and then we will look at the results of our handiwork in FSX itself.
So what do all the buttons and knobs do then, eh?
AI has always provided the enthusiast with a real challenge to bring the separate components required together to get the right aircraft with the right airline livery flying from the right airport at the right time (or near enough).
Once you knew what you were doing and could use the various Freeware tools available for FS2004, it got easier, but the job is fiddlier in FSX. AI is handled slightly differently in the new sim so Ultimate Traffic takes the pain out of this process, and does this with an intuitive interface that has 4 simple buttons.
Don’t let this apparent simplicity fool you. Underneath each of those buttons is a myriad of potential. Before we discuss these I want to mention the map on the interface ‘Home’ page. This is a route map, and allows you to visually generate the routes different airlines included in Ultimate Traffic will fly.
For example, I’m a proud New Zealander, so I wanted to see the routes Air New Zealand flies. I selected ‘Air New Zealand’ from the carrier list, adjusted the other parameters and then clicked ‘generate’. The appropriate flightplan’s are created from the data held in Ultimate Traffic and displayed on the map. Neat! I could then zoom in or out as I pleased to view the name of both departure and destination cities. This gave me an appreciation for what 400,000 scheduled flights actually looks like, and was a good reminder to me that providing extensive AI is no mean feet.
Compile - Once clicked, I was presented with the screen that allows me to choose which parts of the world I wanted traffic generated for. By clicking on the ‘+’ icons I could drill down from region to country, and then individual airline. Being based in New Zealand, I wanted to find out what airlines would be available for my part of the world. I selected Oceania as the region and was then presented with the 11 countries Ultimate Traffic recognizes for that region. Clicking on ‘New Zealand’ then gave me a list of airlines I could select/unselect.
I’m pleased to say all the key players that fly nationally were present, and also one small airline called ‘aspiring air’. Aspiring air is a very small airline that operates around the Wanaka/Mt Cook region in New Zealand’s South Island and seemed a strange inclusion given other larger operators such as Sounds Air are not. When I went to the Utilities section to see what aircraft Ultimate Traffic would use for Aspiring Air, I couldn’t find them listed in the Airline list so was left wondering how that was going to work.
From the compile window you ‘tick’ the airlines you want included. This can be as simple or detailed as you want from selecting everything, to just one or two regions with all airlines included, right down to just 1 airline in one country. The choice is yours and I think that’s an important point, you do have plenty of choices to really make the AI world what you want it to be.
A compile for all airlines featured in Ultimate Traffic will generate a traffic file about 58MB in size. The Compile screen is also where you can access the Aircraft Label Options I mentioned earlier, from here you can decide how much information you want displayed above your AI aircraft when you have FSX running.
Time Table – There are two types of timetables that you can view in Ultimate Traffic; printed and Status Board. Naturally I wanted to do both, so for the first I selected to view information on Arriving flights into Auckland via the Status Board.
I clicked the Status Board button and then typed ‘Auckland’ in the search box. The airports Ultimate Traffic has flights arriving at Auckland are displayed. I was hoping I might see Northshore and Ardmore airports on the list as they are also in Auckland, but only Auckland International Airport (NZAA) was a choice.
If I was looking up New York I would have had the option of JFK, La Guardia and two heliports to select from, so you can search by city to find all the airports for that area, but you can’t however search by country.
I selected NZAA and could also select the day of the week, time and various ambient sounds I wanted played once the Status Board was displaying. Once I was happy with my selections, Ultimate Traffic does some info gathering and then a board you would find at most airports appears showing the status of flights.
This was quite a cool feature, particularly when you have the various ambient sounds set to play. When a flight arrives you will get an announcement telling you the flight number, and the same with departing flights advising ‘all passengers should now be on board’. It does appear the Americans have taken over the world however, as all the announcements that I heard were in American accents.
You can flip between arrival and departure boards, and also just view a single airline that operates in and out of the airport you selected. I tried out a few airports and found that for the bigger airlines such as British Airways and Delta, the announcements will get more specific and refer to the flight number, the airline and the destination or arrival details. This is nice, but if you are going to do it for some, why not all? It was a little disappointing to hear other airlines but not my own countries announced.
Back to the main Timetable page, which is easy enough to get to by using the return buttons I found on all the options windows. I now wanted to generate a printed timetable for Air New Zealand. This was easy enough and allowed me to select the National carrier or one of its affiliates. I decided to give both a go and first selected Vincent Aviation, a Wellington Based privately owned airline that does flights for Air New Zealand.
I had flown on Vincent Aviation for work a few days earlier between Wellington and Hamilton, both cities in New Zealand’s North Island. I discovered that not only was my flight listed in Ultimate Traffic, the departure and arrival times were correct as was the flight number. I then generated a number of other timetables for Air New Zealand National and went through the departures information on the Air New Zealand website to cross check these flights. I found a high degree of accuracy between the Ultimate Traffic and real world flight schedules. I was impressed as it was clear considerable effort had been put into schedules for Air New Zealand and its partners. Given they are not the world's biggest airline, it suggested this accuracy would be applicable across most, if not all, airlines featured.
To test this theory, I selected Etihad Airlines, generated the timetable and then went to their website to look up flights from Abu Dhabi to Dhaka. Ultimate Traffic had 3 flights listed, the Etihad website had two. The two listed on the website reflected the departure times of the same two in Ultimate Traffic; however I did note a discrepancy in the days for one of the flights.
I followed the same process and looked up Aer Lingus. I selected a return flight from Dublin to Amsterdam. 5 flights were listed on the Ultimate Traffic schedule to Amsterdam, 3 on the Aer Lingus website. All 3 real world flights were reflected accurately in Ultimate Traffic, and the same for the return leg; the 5 departures from Amsterdam to Dublin listed on the website were accurate in Ultimate Traffic.
Now this is getting pedantic I know, but what’s the point in having ‘realistic’ AI traffic movements if they are not realistic. From my research I would say Ultimate Traffic has got it spot-on about 95% of the time. At the top of the Timetable window the period the schedules in Ultimate Traffic are set for is displayed, in this case it was May 7th – 13th, which reflects the winter schedule in New Zealand, and the summer in Europe and North America. These schedules are updated through the Ultimate Traffic interface as they become available.
Utilities – The utilities window is broken down into 8 sections. The first is Aircraft, and allows you to assign what aircraft type you wish each airline to fly. Ultimate Traffic already has these set up as part of the schedule, but if you want to swap alternative AI models, or use default FSX models, then the option is available for you to do so.
The process is very simple, and I was able to swap aircraft for default FSX and back again in a few clicks. The Airport Assignments screen allows you to modify where traffic departs and arrives. First I search by city or ICAO code, if known, and then I can enter an alternative airport in the second box below, that will then divert all traffic from the first airport. This would be useful if you wanted to consolidate traffic at a few hubs rather than have it spread out. I personally didn’t use this feature, but the fact it's there means you are free to customize yet another aspect of the traffic. One thing I did note was this screen refers to FS2004 not FSX.
The next selection is Parking. Clicking this option loads a separate editor that lets you customize aircraft parking types i.e. GA, Ramp, Gate etc, allowing you to decide if smaller aircraft use gates or GA/Ramp parking etc, and vise versa with larger types. You can also assign an airline code so aircraft park at designated gates the airline uses if this is set up in the airport AFCAD file. You will need other software such as FSX Planner to change this in FSX, as Ultimate Traffic does not have this as a feature.
The next option is Tail Numbers. This sets the ‘rules’ regarding the way airline registrations are created. As an example, all New Zealand registered aircraft start with the designation ZK-, with this tool I could choose to redefine how registrations are created and specify that a number is used rather than a letter if I wished. This was another feature I didn’t utilize, but would be useful if I was adding additional airlines to Ultimate Traffic.
The inclusion of a Text-O-Matic makes adding new or updated airline liveries a breeze in Ultimate Traffic. For the purposes of this review I put together a quick repaint for the Boeing 737-300 based on some photos I had taken during a recent spotting session. The Text-O-Matic tutorial in the User-Guide provides a link to the Ultimate Traffic website where it says repaint templates could be found. I gave up looking for these after 30 frustrating minutes and ended up trying to Google them. This came up empty as well, so I just painted over the top of one of the textures that came with Ultimate Traffic.
Bitmaps you want to import must be in 24bitmap format, and importing is as simple as selecting the bitmap file, then selecting the aircraft type and airline the texture should be applied to and clicking Generate. The texture is then added to the appropriate folder and the aircraft config file is updated to allow the new livery to be displayed in FSX. This is a simple and effective solution to a task that can be fiddly and time consuming, particularly if you have lots of new textures you want to add or update.
The next option allows you to Import an Airline. As mentioned previously, Ultimate Traffic does not have every airline in the world included, so including the option to do this yourself is an important feature. Completing this task is relatively straight forward, but I would caution those new to the world of AI traffic that you would be best to read the tutorial provided in the Guide before you rush in.
I added Sounds Air, a small Wellington based airline that flies between Wellington and Marlborough and Picton using C208’s, but discovered I didn’t do things quite right and ended up having these flights generated in South Africa. Some reading and a red face later, I had things running as they should.
The second to last button on the Utilities page is Package, and is an easy way to share your aircraft repaints with other Ultimate Traffic users. With a few clicks of the mouse I was able to put together an uploadable package of the Air New Zealand 737 repaint I had done earlier, and with one final click, it was uploaded to the Ultimate Traffic servers so other users could then download it.
For those willing to contribute their time to painting skins, this certainly makes it easy to share them. The last button on the Utilities screen generates a list of all the textures currently installed in Ultimate Traffic. If you are serious about AI then this will help you fill any gaps that exist in the current install as far as airlines are concerned.
Back on the Ultimate Traffic ‘home’ window we come to the last of the four buttons, this one labeled Update. As the name suggests, clicking this takes you to the Ultimate Traffic automatic update screen. When I first installed Ultimate Traffic and visited this window, the updates available were quite vast, so be aware that after you install, your downloading has not ended, it’s just begun.
Broadband users wont have any problems, but those on dial-up may want to consider using update when they are about to go to bed. I say this because after each file has downloaded, a window pops up telling you it has been installed ok. This is good, the problem is it pops up over the top of whatever else you are doing, effectively making it impossible to do anything else on your computer. This was a nuisance and had me walking out on the process to do other things rather than hang around getting more annoyed.
This is only likely after your first update, as the sheer volume of textures to download would not be repeated if you use the Update feature regularly. In fact, after this initial burst of activity, I have yet to have any updates come through since installing, which at the time of writing was 4 weeks. The update feature not only gives you access to new textures, but also updated airport AFCAD files and also schedules as they change with the seasons. This will keep Ultimate Traffic fresh and current and ensure you have living AI that reflects real world operations.
We have spent a lot of time looking at how we set-up and modify our traffic, yet we have still not answered the original questions posed at the start of this review. How does Ultimate Traffic enhance/reduce our FSX experience, and more importantly, how will it effect performance? Let’s look now at the models, textures and operation of Ultimate Traffic in FSX itself, yes, the moment of truth is upon us!
AI’s Next Top model?
As aircraft modelers have become more proficient, particularly with the concept of LOD (Level of detail), the sophistication of AI traffic has evolved. LOD allows the modeler to decide at what point you will see detail on a model.
So, if an aircraft is 5 km away, the model you see as a Boeing 747 may actually be a simple box with a 1 polygon wing. But as it gets closer, the sophistication of the model changes at pre-set distances until you see it in full detail as it moves past or parks next to you. We saw this technique flourish in FS2004 with some AI aircraft having up to 20 LOD models.
Default aircraft in Flightsim have always made terrible AI because the LOD models were limited and the close-up model was always quite sophisticated, so AI models tend to be watered down versions of aircraft that retain the shape and look, but lack the detailed sophistication of ‘flyable’ aircraft.
While the models in Ultimate Traffic adequately depict the aircraft they represent, they are nothing to get overly excited about. Reading through the Ultimate Traffic support forum, I discovered that Ultimate Traffic uses version 1 models developed by Project AI around 3 years ago. As a result they don’t capitalize on any of the advanced FSX modeling features available. I expect a degree of simplicity in AI aircraft, yet I hoped for a little more given the way modeling has evolved. Many of the Ultimate Traffic models have black parts that are ugly; you can see this on my quick Air New Zealand repaint above, and also the Virgin Blue screenshot below. This highlights the price we pay when old FS2004 aircraft are used in FSX.
The Flight 1 website is very clear on the limitations of the models and explains up front that they are the same ones used in the FS2004 version, they also acknowledge the issues with using them so at least you know what you are getting before you buy. The selection of aircraft is good; I counted 41 model types installed which provide good coverage for most airlines, but they are limited to western manufacturers so don’t expect to find TU144’s parked in Moscow (in fact I struggled to find any aircraft in Russia and found out after going through the compile window that Russian airlines are not actually featured in Ultimate Traffic, even though other ex-eastern block airlines are).
The complete Airbus and Boeing range are featured, minus the A380 or 787, so Ultimate Traffic is focused on the ‘here and now’ for its fleet offerings. Having said that, the 707 is featured for DHL, UPS and in an uninspiring FlightOne livery for all those airlines that use them but skins are not provided for. I was pleased to note that jetways pulled up to the aircraft once they parked and in most cases was positioned correctly. The baggage trucks moved into position properly as did the push back trucks at the time of departure.
Show me some skin
The aircraft skins in Ultimate Traffic, or textures as most people refer to them, are accurate and functional and that’s about it. To be honest, I was a little shocked when I first saw them as I expected more from a payware package. The textures reflect the airlines they represent, but are in block colors with little or no detail on the fuselage to give a sense of realism. I only found one error on a Virgin Blue 737 where the tail and fuselage didn’t match up, so I thought that was pretty good given the number of skins provided.
For a package that offers so much, I really feel the textures let it down. For airlines that feature in traffic files that don’t have liveries supplied, Ultimate Traffic uses a default FlightOne livery; you can see one of these in the screenshot above at left on the 777-200. This may have been acceptable in FS2004, but simply doesn’t cut it in FSX. Luckily the ‘Compile’ option allows you to keep these aircraft out of the flight plans if you wish.
Ultimate Traffic or Ultimate Slideshow, the all important performance question
I don’t consider my computer to be a beast, but I am happy with the general performance I get in FSX with it. One of my favorite airports to spot at is London Heathrow. Having never been there for real, I have always been fascinated by the shear volume of traffic flying in and out of this airport. I decided this would be the place to test Ultimate Traffics performance. My settings were adjusted as follows:
• AI levels to
In the first screenshot on the left, there are 33 aircraft on screen in VC mode, and I was averaging 10 FPS, never dipping below 9 and hitting a high of about 19 depending on what was in my field of view. In the second shot there are 11 aircraft on screen, this time a lot closer to my R22 so most of them would be on their highest LOD model, you can also see London in the distance. Here I am showing 9.5 FPS, this was the lowest I recorded as I flew along this line-up of aircraft, reaching a maximum of 19 FPS. In the final screenshot there are 20 aircraft visible, most of the airport and some of London. This time I am showing 10.1 FPS, hitting a high of 22 and low of 7.
In general I found my flying experience to be relatively smooth, this is one thing I really appreciate about FSX - low frame rates doesn’t equate to the jerks. I was quite happily able to fly around, track taxing aircraft, buzz landing aircraft and generally make a pest of myself for all concerned without seeing performance degrade to the point the sim wasn’t flyable.
At the end of the day, the basic models and simple textures, even though I have issues with there quality, ensure good performance in FSX, at least at Heathrow and around New Zealand airports where I did a sizeable amount of my flying. I struggled at LAX (Los Angeles), but that’s because I counted up to double the aircraft on screen plus the surrounding city.
There is no doubt that Ultimate Traffic improves performance if it replaces the default AI, however, if you max out your traffic, far more aircraft will be present than if the default AI was set to max. So any performance gain will be eaten up and you probably end up loosing. I’ve found that’s the price for an airport filled with traffic, and it always has been until your specs catch up with your desire for ‘as real as it gets’. I have found the sweet spot between performance and visuals that work for me, so I was happy with what I got at Heathrow.
If you want realistically scheduled AI traffic populating your airports, and an easy way of modifying/selecting this, then Ultimate Traffic is worth taking a look at. In my view, it’s the user interface that is the heart of this package. It’s easy to use, gives you incredible control and flexibility over what you compile, and allows you to effectively change everything, and that in itself is worth it. Ultimate Traffic is ideal for beginners and seasoned AI users, and does promise improved performance in FSX if you keep AI settings at moderate levels.
If you are struggling to run default AI on moderate settings now, the chances are Ultimate Traffic won’t improve things that much. The models and textures are as I said, functional, but overall I found them quite disappointing. At the end of the day, how important that is will vary from person to person. If you are flying then you probably wont spend a great deal of time looking at the detail, or lack of it in this case, so from that perspective they work well.
Given the ability to replace the aircraft with alternatives easily through the interface, you could, over time, replace all the default Ultimate Traffic aircraft and liveries with alternatives that better suit your tastes. So once again it comes back to the interface itself being the key component of this package in my view.
in the User Guide, the small inaccuracies in the interface itself,
and textures all combine to take Ultimate Traffic from
being an ‘awesome must have add-on’, which I really believe it
could have been, to a ‘ definitely worth a look at but check out the
competition before you decide’ add-on. I’ll certainly continue
to explore what it has to offer.
What I Like About Ultimate Traffic 2007
What I Don't Like About Ultimate Traffic 2007
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