AVSIM Commercial Scenery Review

North America Landclass v1.3 by SceneryTech

Product Information
Publisher: Scenery Tech

Description: Enhancement for North American terrain.

Download Size:
14.6 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: Jeff Shyluk AVSIM Senior Staff Reviewer - November 22, 2007

FOREWORD: The World's Largest Jigsaw Puzzle

SceneryTech is a new developer of scenery add-ons for FSX, and they have released their landclass for North America. Previously, SceneryTech published a landclass that covers Europe, so this new product hopes to build on that success. If you are familiar with scenery add-ons for FSX, then you will understand and appreciate the effort that SceneryTech has put into their landclass. However, if you don't know what a "landclass" is and why having a good one is important to FSX, then let me take this opportunity to explain:

The scenery that a sim pilot sees from the cockpit in FSX consists of several parts that make the virtual world look realistic. At the foundation, there are three-dimensional models, which form the visible shapes of everything in FSX: aircraft, buildings, trees, clouds, and the contours of the land and water. Then, there are textures that govern specific colour information to make the models look more realistic and recognizable. The vast majority of visible objects in FSX have their own texture; although for the sake of keeping computer memory requirements at a sane level these textures repeat themselves frequently. Land textures, such as fields, forests, jungles, cityscapes, and deserts, all use repeated textures called "tiles".

Land-based scenery requires three basic ingredients to work together to look like it does as if you were in a real aircraft. One ingredient is the "terrain mesh", which is the data used to form the three-dimensional shape of the land. The other two ingredients are “autogen”, which is a library of realistic-looking buildings and objects like trees and vehicles that are placed on the ground to make low-level flying more exciting, and “landclass”, which is a very large matrix of texture tiles that give colours and visual details to the terrain.

There are two ways to create landclass tiles that give realistic-looking results. One way is to use photographic images such as satellite or high-altitude photos, and then stitch them together digitally to make a true-to-life photo-real ground scenery. The other way is to create a series of interchangeable tiles that represent various types of ground features like suburbs, industrial parks, golf courses, grassy plains, ice fields, and so on.
The advantage to the high-altitude photos is that they show the ground environment as it would look like in the real world. Visual Flight Rules (VFR) navigation becomes easy, because the sim pilot can see recognizable landmarks. The disadvantages to photo-real scenery are that large areas take up a lot of computer memory, and that they usually show only one season and time. If you like flying over Banff, Canada in the winter evening sun, but your terrain looks like summer at high noon, you will be quick to spot the problem here.

Tiles, on the other hand, usually don't look as realistic as photo-real scenery. It takes a lot of skill to make them look appealing and to make them also interchangeable. What this means is that the tiles are actually quite small, with each one representing an area of one square kilometer. Since the tiles are relatively small, they take up smaller amounts of computer memory. Because they are interchangeable, they can be assembled and configured in many different ways to represent varying types of ground scenery, and also can be used to simulate changing seasons and daylight conditions. This is the system FSX uses to create cities, suburbs, farmlands, and hinterlands.

Where the landclass comes in is that it is the system used for organizing all of the tiles. A landclass by itself is just a matrix showing where which tile should be placed on the virtual globe. The system is simple enough for a novice user to go in and make landclass changes with the help of a spreadsheet editor. For example, if there's a patch of desert beside your house in FSX and you want it to be a shopping mall, all you have to do is look up in the landclass table where the offending texture tile is and change it to another. The daunting task that faces anyone making a landclass isn't so much the complexity of the task, but rather the sheer size of it. Recall that a tile in FSX is roughly the size of a few square city blocks, whereas the amount of land on Earth that needs tile coverage is approximately 57,491,000 square miles (148,940,000 square kilometers). That's a lot of tiles to place -- in effect, it's the world's largest jigsaw puzzle!

INTRODUCTION: Landclass of 2007

The main screen for the installation application. Although my screenshots may say V1.2, the most recent version is V1.3.

SceneryTech's North American Landclass V1.3 is an effort to improve on and modernize the default FSX landclass data for North America. It re-organizes the scenery tiles more accurately to represent the real world. What is does not do is provide any new textures for FSX. This means that you can use the SceneryTech landclass with FSX, or with any custom texture set that is compatible with FSX. Since the textures are different in FSX from its predecessor FS9 (A Century Of Flight), the SceneryTech North American Landclass will work only for FSX. As well, features like mountains and bodies of water require an elevation map known as a "terrain mesh" to define their shape. Since the North American Landclass only works on textures, the shapes of these features will not be altered. Finally, water textures require a "waterclass", which works like a landclass but only for water, so the North American Landclass has no effect on how oceans, lakes, and rivers will look in FSX.

As the product name would imply, this particular landclass covers North America only, although that's a large enough area as it is. Specifically, the USA, including Alaska and Hawaii, Canada, Greenland, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama are improved by the SceneryTech North American landclass. Islands in the Caribbean are also treated by this landclass, from as far south as Trinidad and Tobago, to Bermuda in the north.

Diagram showing the extent that the SceneryTech North America Landclass covers. Waterclass is not affected. Image is courtesy of SceneryTech.

How does the SceneryTech North America Landclass improve the look of FSX? By re-organizing the texture tiles, more individual towns, fields, forests, and the like are created, adding to visual variety in a scenery. If you've ever flown over an airport and wondered why there is no population nearby, this is likely because the default FSX landclass data is too broad, too vague to put smaller population centers on the map. Even large cities can get missed: one example that flies into my mind is Puerto Vallarta, a Mexican city of population 350,000 with a busy, modern international airport, a large industry base, military facilities, a massive seaport, and a thriving tourist economy that sees millions of tourists arrive yearly. Well, FSX doesn't show any human development past the airport and a single beach hut. The SceneryTech Landclass addresses this issue by including urban areas that are placed more logically and correctly than before.

Another problem with the FSX landclass is that it tends to choose "desert" tiles to represent arid regions. Unfortunately for sim pilots, large parts of the scenery that are sere without being sandy, like mountaintops and tundra, get covered with tawny deserts. The SceneryTech Landclass does not provide new textures to fix this problem, but it does re-organize the tiles to minimize deserts where they are not warranted.

A view of the marina district of Puerto Vallarta using the default FSX landclass. This looks plain wrong. It’s supposed to be a bustling, busy tourist seaport with hotels nearby. The same view using the SceneryTech North America Landclass. This is an improvement, although the big hotels and entertainment complexes are still absent.

I will borrow some quotes from the official SceneryTech website, as they explain the fascinating process they went through to create their Landclass:

"Users of SceneryTech landclass may notice that it contains more terrain variation than the default landclass. This is due in part to the more specific land classification scheme that is used during the development stage. Although the data must eventually be down sampled to conform with the less-detailed land classification scheme used by the Flight Simulator scenery engine, the fact that it is processed from a higher definition data scheme gives us more control over the final representation."

"To make sure the resulting landclass product is as accurate as possible, several complementary data sources are used to weed out any imperfections. Besides the basic land classification maps, we also use climatological maps, political maps, elevation maps, and population maps in conjunction to generate the final product."

A collage of data maps representing those used by SceneryTech. Image courtesy of SceneryTech.

"Given the large size of the world, ensuring that there are no errors can be a daunting task. Rather than simply attempting to fix each individual error as they are found, the entire data processing routine is reviewed and changed as necessary to ensure that the error will not be present in the final product. Despite being largely automated, the scenery is also meticulously cross checked with real-world photographs and satellite imagery to validate that it remains true-to-life-- which is, after all, the primary objective of any of our scenery products."

"A key goal of the SceneryTech Landclass is to reduce the "desertification effect" that is prevalent in the default landclass. This occurs in large part from impressions in the source data used to process many landclass products. Although we are presented with the same limitations in our source data, we employ special techniques to ensure that the final product uses snow where one should find snow, and desert where one should find desert."

"As part of the effort to reduce the desertification effect, the entire slope texturing scheme has been revamped to minimize the use of desert textures on slopes. This is achieved through the Improved Slope Landclass (ISL). The ISL also activates smoother texture transitions between flat surfaces and steep slopes."

"Another objective of our landclass is to improve upon the cities and towns. You will notice more realistic urban extents, as well as smoother transitions between suburban areas and urban centers. Furthermore, hundreds of smaller towns and cities that don't appear in the default landclass will spring into existence."

INSTALLATION & DOCUMENTATION: Good Things Come In Small Packages

One of the automated installation screens. The landclass is not a large file, and installing it is made easy.

Installing the SceneryTech North America Landclass is easy. The file itself is quite small, so it downloads on a broadband connection in a matter of seconds. I used the Flight1 Wrapper system for activating the Landclass. I think that the Flight1 Wrapper system is an excellent way for the end user to activate the product while at the same time the publisher has some means of protection against software piracy. That, and the Flight1 Wrapper system is easy to use. SceneryTech also allows purchases through the FS Pilot Shop and Flightsim Store web sites.

Another installation screen. Although the process is automatic, the user can adjust how the landclass is to be installed.

The installation is fast and automatic. The user does have the option to set the Improved Slope Landclass (ISL) and Heavy Winter functions manually; some add-on sceneries might have conflicts with the SceneryTech North America Landclass, so it's easy to work around them. As the install procedure progresses, it generates back-up files which can be used to uninstall the Landclass either manually or automatically. At every point in the installation, the program clearly tells the user what is going on. Even if you do have problems, there are helpful web links to technical service specialists who can help.

Since this product becomes integrated within FSX, there's very little extra information that the user needs to have past installation. A "Read.me" file is included which mostly just talks about installation, and lists the new improvements V1.3 has over previous versions: primarily some modifications as to how trees and snow are placed, and some fixes for deserts that accidentally appeared in larger metropolitan centers like Chicago and Toronto.

Please be aware that if you need to update your North America Landclass through Flight1, you will use up one your limited number of "tries" with your Flight1 Wrapper. It's easy to contact Flight1 to re-set your key if you are the genuine registered user.

COMPARISON SCREENSHOTS: Everything You Wanted To Know About Springfield, But Were Afraid To Ask

I think that one of the best was to see if the SceneryTech North America Landclass is right for you is to present a series of "before and after" screenshots, showing what the scenery looks like before and after the Landclass is installed. The SceneryTech website does a good job of presenting screenshots, so I decided to take some of my own in a different vein. FSX has 27 regions of "Springfield, USA" that also have airports. We will visit sixteen of them in turn, each in a different geographical region, a travel montage tribute to one of the most commonplace names in North America. Please excuse the "blurries" in some of my screenshots - some textures might appear to be excessively nebulous and vague. This isn't the fault of the SceneryTech North America Landclass, but rather a limitation of my own computer system.

1) Springfield, Illinois. Airport: Abraham Lincoln Capital (KSPI)

Springfield is the capital city of Illinois, and has a population of over 110,000. It features a magnificent State Capitol Building, which is the seat of the regional government. Perhaps the most famous of all of Springfield's citizens was Abraham Lincoln, who for a time called this small city his home.

The SceneryTech North America Landclass makes quite a few changes to the urban density of Springfield. In this shot, I have chosen to focus on the State Capitol, which is a unique building for FSX. In the distance, we can see the airport. In FSX, the downtown core is large, covered with grey concrete and asphalt. The new Landclass makes the downtown area much smaller, and moves it north, closer to the airport. The area around the Capitol has more trees, but it is also surrounded by suburbs. Autogen buildings such as office towers and houses are spawned on certain tiles only. For the Capitol building to be surrounded by commercial buildings as it is in real life, the nearby tiles need to represent a higher urban density than is portrayed in the SceneryTech North America Landclass.

Before After

2) Springfield, Kentucky. Airstrip: Arnold's (36KY)

Springfield is a small town in Kentucky with a population of around 3,000. It is the county seat for Washington County in that state. Not far along Route 150, Arnold's appears in FSX as a cross-shaped airstrip with grass runways. Nearby is the Lebanon-Springfield airstrip (6I2), and both are close to Springfield, which sits in a wide swath of agricultural land. Arnold's is popular with ultralight pilots and boasts some maintenance and repair facilities.

FSX depicts this region as being forested. It's easy to spot the runways, as well as roads and power lines, as they are literally cut out of the trees. The SceneryTech North America Landclass transforms this area into a more realistic-looking agricultural zone. Generally speaking, SceneryTech seems to do a good job of placing farmland tiles correctly, which is good if you like low-altitude bush flights over North America.

Before After

3) Springfield, Tennessee. Airstrip: Nobuzzn (8TN5)

Springfield, Tennessee is a small city the size of about 15,000 people. It is the county seat for Robertson County. The Nobuzzn airstrip is a small, privately owned runway. Nearby is the Springfield-Robertson County municipal airport (M91), which serves the region for General Aviation aircraft. Not far to the south is Nashville, home of the Grand Ole Opry.

Both FSX and the SceneryTech North America Landclass seem equal to the task of depicting Springfield, Tennessee. The Nobuzzn airstrip is just outside the bounds of Springfield in the new Landclass, whereas FSX puts the airstrip just inside the town. Either way, the neighbours probably won't appreciate loud touch-and-go's after midnight.

Before After

4) Springfield, Missouri. Airport: Springfield-Branson National (KSGF)

Springfield, Missouri, is home to over 150,000 people. It serves as the county seat for Greene County. Of note to aviation historians, pilot-explorer Jimmie Angel was born in Springfield, Missouri. Angel Falls, the tallest waterfall in the world, found in Venezuela, was named after him. Springfield-Branson National Airport (FSX refers to it as "Regional") is modernizing to keep up with increasing air traffic demands. Nearby is the privately owned Downtown (3DW) airstrip, which is actually in the north end of town, and not in the core.

Once again, in comparing before-and-after shots, the SceneryTech North America Landclass reduces urban congestion and replaces parking lots with green space. I think that the FSX landclass might be more accurate here. In FSX, there is a strange crater in the middle of downtown (the famous "Springfield Mystery Spot"?) that gets filled with trees. Because the SceneryTech North America Landclass tends to make urban areas greener, this feature seems to blend in with the surroundings a bit better. In both shots, we are flying over the downtown area, looking towards 3DW.

Before After

5) Springfield, Vermont. Airport: Hartness State (KVSF)

Springfield, Vermont has roughly 10,000 residents. Its main airport, Hartness State, is named after Vermont governor James Hartness, who was one of the first 100 Americans to earn a pilot's license. Hartness was a friend of Charles Lindbergh, and donated the land for Springfield Aerodrome, which is where KVSF now stands. The airport is a few miles north of the town, and is situated next to the North Springfield Reservoir.

In this set of shots, we look at some winter textures: Vermont has some truly picturesque winters. The FSX version covers the entire area with snow, making everything white. With the SceneryTech North America Landclass, the amount of snow is dialed down (it's reserved for areas that have very heavy winters conditions), so that there is more visual variety.

Before After

6) Springfield, New York. Airstrip: De Ronda (3NY3)

Springfield, New York occupies a spot on the map that holds a little over 1,000 in population. Geographically, it is very roughly halfway between Syracuse and Schenectady, and is just south of expansive Adirondack Park. De Ronda is a private airstrip to the north of Springfield.

I think this set of shots illustrates typically how the SceneryTech North America Landclass goes about replacing texture tiles. Note that deep forest tiles generated by FSX are replaced by winery plains tiles. I think this new arrangement gives this area the look of a cold winter that is snowbound only in parts. At this point, I would suggest it's a matter of personal taste as to which picture looks more appealing, although I do like the increase in visual diversity that is presented by the SceneryTech North America Landclass.

Before After

7) Springfield, Arkansas. Airstrip: Heifer Creek Ranch (16AR)

Springfield, Arkansas looks to be one of the smaller communities that can be visited in FSX. Just under 1,500 people live in the Springfield area, including the hamlet and surrounding farms. Heifer Creek Ranch Airstrip lies along Heifer Creek Road, northwest of Springfield, at the intersection with Route 9. In the real world, it's a grassy strip with the road to the west and forest to the right. Farmland lies in gently rolling terrain all around.

The pictures I have taken don't really do justice to Springfield, Arkansas. We are looking south, but the airstrip and the town are both off-screen to the left. As we have seen before, the FSX landclass may tend to favour forests over fields in agricultural areas, which the SceneryTech North America Landclass more or less fixes. I chose this shot because of the strange patch of dense suburbs that looks out of place in the FSX shot. SceneryTech places the suburb in the correct position for Springfield, and reduces the building density, although we can't see that in the screenshot. Both landclasses miss putting the big forest next to the runway, which also isn't shown in my pictures.

Before After

8) Springfield, Nebraska. Airstrip: J & J (72NE)

Springfield is a small settlement in Nebraska with around 1,500 people living there. The local terrain is dominated by large sectional fields and farming. The town itself features two parks, an annual county fair, and a genuine old-fashioned soda fountain in the local drugstore, should you wish to fly in for a $100 milkshake from nearby Eppley Airfield (KOMA), a major passenger airport in Omaha.

The screenshots for Springfield, Nebraska depict the view from a Piper Cub just after taking off from 72NE, a private grass airstrip just west of town. Both FSX and SceneryTech will draw out reasonably accurate sectional farmland. In fact, both landclasses appear to be very similar for this region.

Before After

9) Springfield, Ohio. Airport: Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport (KSGH)

Springfield, Ohio, nicknamed "The Rose City", has a population of over 60,000. If aviation and legal trivia interests you, then you will be pleased to discover that the office of Harry Aubrey Toulmin, Sr. was in the Bushnell Building on Main Street in Springfield. Mr. Toulmin was the patent attorney to Orville and Wilbur Wright, and it was he who drew up the legal patent for a flying machine to cover the invention of the Wrights’ first aircraft. Along with the telephone, the "flying machine" patent is the only patents granted worldwide in perpetuity.

I have two sets of screenshots to share. In this first set, we are looking down on a cloverleaf intersection where Highway 70 meets Route 68. I found it interesting because FSX chose to put houses in the middle of the cloverleaf. I realise this is way to fine a nit to pick; it's most likely a random fluke that this happened. Still, I was curious to see what this shot would look like with the SceneryTech North America Landclass. It's still somewhat odd-looking, but at least there aren't people trying to live inside the cloverleaf.

In the second set of shots, we are flying over Springfield. In the middle distance is the cloverleaf, and farther off is the airport, which is to the south of town. Once again, the FSX landclass provides too much urban sprawl. In the real Springfield, there is some agricultural land around the cloverleaf and around KSGH. The SceneryTech North America Landclass is in this case more accurate.

Before After

10) Springfield, Minnesota. Airstrip: Pankratz (0MN5)

Springfield, Minnesota was designated as a city in 1923. Nowadays, it holds around 2,000 citizens. Springfield is situated on Highway 14, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Highway, deep in southern Minnesota's farm territory. Springfield has its own municipal airport on the west side of town (D42), which has an asphalt runway. The Pankratz airstrip is just north of town, and is a private grass runway.

The screenshots show an aerial view of Pankratz, and both are reasonably accurate. Both the FSX and SceneryTech landclasses show farmland, and if anything, too many trees. What's missing are some buildings near the west end of the runway that exist in the real world, but that's a very fine detail to ask for.

Before After

11) Springfield, Wisconsin. Airstrip: Plows & Props (2WI4)

There are at least five towns named "Springfield" in Wisconsin. The one we are interested in is located in Walworth County, near Burlington, which itself is close to Chicago. This particular Springfield is unincorporated, so there aren't many people living there, maybe 500 or so. Some of the buildings in Springfield date back to the Victorian era. Wisconsin can be prone to some heavy weather, with Springfield almost 20% more likely to attract a tornado than the average value for the United States. Plows & Props is about a mile east of Springfield, and it is a private airstrip.

FSX correctly depicts a serpentine ravine near 2WI4. I followed it up to Burlington. Along the way, I saw an interesting transition from farmland to urban density. The FSX landclass has a tendency to sprinkle in autogen buildings that look like small hi-tech industries. Sitting directly in farmers' fields, they look out of place. The SceneryTech North America Landclass smoothes out the transition from farms of Springfield to suburbs of Burlington more realistically, and places the autogen buildings in positions that are more logical.

Before After

12) Springfield, Colorado. Airport: Springfield Municipal (8V7)

Springfield, Colorado has a population of around 1,500 townsfolk and not just a few genuine cowboys. Since there are many cattle ranches in the area, the most popular means of transportation around Springfield appear to be truck, tractor, and horse. The local airport isn't heavily used, as there are no regular flights, but it does have a well-maintained concrete runway and a ramp and tie-down area available for general aviation. 8V7 is located north of Springfield, about four miles away along Highway 287/385. If you land there and don't have a truck, tractor, or a horse standing by, you can call for a courtesy car from town and arrange for somebody to pick you up (or you can drag your luggage along a long walk, but it's hot in summer and cold in winter!).

The screenshots for the region around 8V7 proved to be surprisingly varied. The first is a view north of the airport, looking south. FSX has a strong desire to display dry areas as desert. Springfield, Colorado gets the desert treatment to the maximum. The area is dry, but there is agriculture, mostly ranches and some irrigated fields, so a desert ain't right. The SceneryTech North America Landclass corrects most of the desert, and reverts it back to more realistic-looking dry farmland.

The second shot shows the town of Springfield from the air. FSX shows a large, vibrant town, although the urban tiles don't seem to blend well with the desert textures. The shot of SceneryTech's Landclass, taken from precisely the same viewpoint, shows no urban development at all. That was a surprise! It turns out that Springfield loses several urban tiles in the SceneryTech Landclass, and that the town gets moved to the north a little. In the screenshot, the town is directly below the aircraft, unfortunately out of sight of the virtual camera. It seems typical that the SceneryTech North America Landclass reduces urban density. In this case, looking at pictures of the real-world Springfield, I feel that SceneryTech has pruned away too much of the town, and that the FSX version is better, not counting the deserts, of course. The massive deserts I can live without.

Before After

13) Springfield, South Dakota. Airport: Springfield Municipal (Y03)

Springfield, South Dakota is a small residential center of less than 1,000. Perhaps Springfield's most recognizable feature is the Mike Durfee State Prison, whose inmate population is about three times that of the surrounding civilians. Springfield shoulders up against the western tip of Lewis and Clark Lake, which forms part of the northern border of Nebraska. The airport, Y03, which lies about one mile north of Springfield, has an excellent asphalt runway capable of supporting small jets.

Unfortunately, Springfield comes off looking poorly with either the FSX or the SceneryTech landclasses, although for divergent reasons. In FSX, Springfield looks dry and sparse. I found a trailer park texture, which I haven't seen very often. At least there are some large autogen buildings that approximate the placement of the prison. The SceneryTech North America Landclass creates a more realistic-looking agricultural zone, but it also completely wipes Springfield off the face of the Earth. All that's left is the modern-looking airport sitting on its own in the farmers' fields.

I took another screenshot, wondering how the two landclasses would treat the riverside area. In the real-world Springfield, there should be a golf course that overlooks the lake, with numerous small islands and sandbars made from silt deposited over time. In FSX, most of the islands are agglomerated into larger masses, which really is a terrain mesh issue, and nothing to do with landclass. In FSX, the riverbank looks industrial, whereas in the SceneryTech version, the area is devoid of human population. Across the river, we can see Santee, Nebraska, which is Springfield's nearest town neighbour, a village of about 700 people. SceneryTech does correctly have Santee on the map, whereas Springfield is mysteriously absent.

Before After

14) Springfield, Georgia. Airstrip: Swaids Field (2GA2)

Springfield, Georgia, is a small city with a population of a little under 2,000 citizens. Centrally located in Georgia, it is the county seat for Effingham County. Residents in Springfield appear to share a common reverence for preserving the historical value of their town. Today, ultra-modern means of transport, the multi-lane highways and hub airports, have passed Springfield by. Hometown pride, however, seems a strong point with the locals.

As far as architecture is concerned, perhaps the most important is a large classically styled courthouse which stands today as the center of local civic business. 2GA2 is a very small private airstrip to the northeast of Springfield, sitting in the middle of a farmer's field.

Again, FSX and the SceneryTech North America Landclass have different ways of depicting this Springfield. FSX simply covers the region with forest, and does not depict the city at all. SceneryTech removes some of the forest, although in the real-world Springfield, forest appears to be mixed with agricultural zones, especially near the Swaids Field airstrip. SceneryTech also adds the city of Springfield, approximately on the correct location. Unfortunately, there is no building to represent the courthouse in either version of the scenery.

Before After

15) Springfield, Massachusetts. Airport: Westover Air Reserve Base/Metropolitan Airport (KCEF)

Springfield, Massachusetts is the largest city in North America with the name of "Springfield": population 150,000. Reportedly, it's also the first city to have that name. Canadian James Naismith invented the sport of basketball while working at Springfield College. The Basketball Hall of Fame, which celebrates achievements in the sport from around the world, is situated in downtown Springfield, and its front entrance is designed to look like an enormous basketball.

Springfield is served in several ways by air transportation in the area. The one I found most interesting was KCEF, which is a joint-use military reserve base and public regional airport. Westover provides the largest Air Force Reserve base in the USA. The runways and tarmac are huge: American military C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft are reduced to looking like toys out on the pavement. The main runway itself is an emergency landing zone for the Space Shuttle, and provides more than enough area for my FSX Piper Cub to take off or land.

Westover is actually within the boundaries of the city Chicopee, which merges with Springfield in the north. Runway 23 points almost directly at the Basketball Hall of Fame. Continue on that heading, and you should find KDBL, Bradley International Airport, which serves both Springfield and nearby Hartford, Connecticut with the majority of passenger air carriers.

So let's see how FSX and SceneryTech do with downtown Springfield. Regrettably, the Basketball Hall of Fame doesn't get its own special building. There are a couple of tall buildings included to represent Springfield's urban skyline. SceneryTech once again reduces urban density to a minimum, which adds green areas to the downtown core. In FSX, downtown Springfield is just acres of concrete and asphalt. Still, all of that grey development encourages a greater variety of autogen buildings downtown, and reduces the likelihood of sub-urban cul-de-sacs and swimming pools appearing in the financial district.

Both screenshots of KCEF are nearly identical, meaning that FSX and SceneryTech agree on what the urban density should be around Westover. High-altitude photographs of the area that I have studied coincide with what is depicted in both landclasses.

Before After

16) Springfield, Oregon. Airstrip: Jasper Ridge (36OR)

Springfield, Oregon is estimated to have 57,000 citizens. It's nestled in a wide, picturesque valley made by the McKenzie and Willamette rivers. Through this valley runs the I-5 Interstate Highway, which cuts north and south. Springfield is on the east side of this highway, whereas Eugene, Oregon, Springfield's neighbour city, sits on the west side of the I-5.

The area is served by the Mahlon Sweet Field Airport (KEUG), which is just northwest of Eugene. The airstrip I have chosen is called Jasper Ridge (36OR), which is a private runway southeast of Springfield. This has got to be one of my favourite places in all of FSX to take off in a Piper Cub. Since all runways in FSX have to be perfectly flat, sometimes an airport that is on uneven land gets placed on an artificial plateau. In the case of 36OR, the plateau is a real one that rises almost 400 feet above its surrounding landscape. In FSX, my airplane starts on Runway 30, and the entire field is surrounded by tall pine trees. Still, there's enough space for the Piper Cub to lift off and clear the greenery. As soon as I clear the trees, the entire Willamette Valley opens up below me. To the east are the rolling hills of the Jasper region (the community of Jasper, Oregon is to the west), and ahead, to the north, I can see Springfield spreading out. Numerous sawmills are depicted as large industrial buildings along the river. If I head towards them, I soon cross the I-5, and then I am overflying Eugene. In the distance is KEUG, and beyond that, adventure beckons.

In my screenshots, FSX puts a number of settlements and buildings near Jasper Ridge, which from what I can tell is still mostly forested wilderness in the real world. The SceneryTech Landclass fixes this. Otherwise, Springfield and neighbouring Eugene seem to be well represented in both landclasses.

Before After

More Screenshots, Less Travelogue

Wow, that's a lot of Springfield! I also have screenshots of other diverse areas I find interesting. I will mostly just stick to my observations here, and leave the travel commentary out.

Abbotsford, BC, Canada:

In FSX, this is one of my favourite examples of a modern airport left alone by itself in the wilderness. It just seems weird to have all of that runway and infrastructure, but no surrounding town. The SceneryTech North America Landclass puts an urban area where Abbotsford should be.

Before After

Tuktoyaktuk, NT, Canada:

Sometimes, FSX will cover Arctic areas with sand rather than snow. I figured Tuktoyaktuk would be one of those places. It turns out that FSX covers the region with tundra. If anything, the SceneryTech version is even plainer than FSX in this area.

Before After

Montego Bay, Jamaica:

Any excuse will do to visit beautiful Montego Bay! FSX does a good job of depicting the region, although the tourist beach near Sangster International Airport seems under populated. SceneryTech provides the landclass that's a foundation for autogen buildings which look kind of like the hotels you‘d see in the area.

Before After

Jackson Hole, Wyoming:

One of the most scenic places to see in FSX is Jackson Hole, in my opinion. The SceneryTech North America Landclass increases the variety in textures, which for me adds to the visual appeal. We can also see that the Improved Slope Landclass (ISL) helps better to define the mountain peaks.

Before After

Jasper, Alberta, Canada:

You want dramatic scenery? The Rocky Mountains from Angels 35 (35,000 feet) provide an incredible view. Look at how SceneryTech adds much more variability to the textures. The ISL gives mountaintops a craggy, rocky look, while snowcaps are more realistic. It's almost like really being there!

Before After

CONCLUSION: Executive Summary

The SceneryTech North America Landclass is a data file for FSX that re-arranges the landclass, which is an information table that FSX uses to decide which land texture goes where, like a big jigsaw puzzle. It doesn't actually add any new textures to FSX, but it does arrange them in such a way as to look more logical and realistic from the air. It's simple to install, and integrates completely into FSX, so once it's there, you won't have to worry about it.

The effect the SceneryTech North America Landclass has on FSX is dramatic. Farms, forests, cities, towns, ice fields, tundra, and even deserts look more realistic. Many small towns and even some cities that were omitted in FSX are now depicted properly by SceneryTech. In my opinion, this makes sim flight more enjoyable: the low-flying general aviation sim pilot has more places to visit, and the high-flying jet jockey can spot more urban and rural landmarks.

SceneryTech uses a system called ISL (Improved Slope Landclass) to make mountainsides look more realistic. As well, SceneryTech controls "desertification", the process where FSX assumes that if a location is dry, it must be covered with sand. Arid regions now look more realistic than before.

A view of downtown Toronto. While it’s agreeably green, the urban density to me looks wrong, especially the office tower sitting in a neighbourhood baseball diamond. This region should have asphalt parking lots and glass office buildings. Many downtown cores have this same problem in the SceneryTech landclass.

Apart from desertification, another criticism of the default FSX landclass is that it uses too many high-density urban tiles to portray downtown regions. While this may be true, I find that the SceneryTech North America Landclass overcompensates for this, and puts too many sub-urban tiles where there should be higher population density. This has the effect of removing many larger autogen buildings from cities: most buildings that are generated automatically by FSX depend on certain tiles as their foundation. Instead of urban development, we see wide suburban streets, complete with cul-de-sacs and swimming pools, where there ought to be commercial buildings like banks, small office buildings, restaurants, and shopping malls.

So, I find the SceneryTech landclass makes most urbanized regions look wrong to my eyes. On the other hand, it does a tremendous job of creating realistic farmland and wilderness areas. As well, it populates many small towns that were missed by FSX, and it corrects many small anomalies that crop up in the FSX landclass.

The SceneryTech Customer Support is quick to answer any questions, and they welcome keen observations of their product. Based on client suggestions, they have released three patches that fix small errors in their landclass, and they promise more patches in the future as demand warrants.

Operationally, SceneryTech claims that their landclass should have no effect on frame rates. My testing would agree with this, although maybe there might be a small gain in frame rates. since urban areas are losing some autogen buildings.

In conclusion, I will say that the SceneryTech North America Landclass is a high quality product. A lot of good work has gone into making this landclass easy to install and appealing to look at. Considering the low price, you get a dramatic makeover for FSX that's not expensive. For myself, I wish the city core areas had higher density. It's rare that a scenery product will cover as large an area as a continent but not have problem areas. For the SceneryTech North America Landclass, I believe that the parts of it that I don't like are greatly outweighed by the things I do like. Overall, my feelings towards this product are very positive!

My testing was on a computer with Windows XP, so SceneryTech points out that their landclass is fully compatible with Vista, as well.

THE FINAL WORD: The SceneryTech Advantage

Customarily, I like to allow the developer the final word regarding their product. The good people at SceneryTech were kind enough to pass this message on:

Test System

Intel Core 2 CPU 6600 @2.40GHz x2
2 GB RAM
NVIDIA geForce 7600GS
RealTek AC'97 Audio
Win XP SP2, FSX SP1
Thrustmaster Top Gun Afterburner II
Logitech MX Revolution Laser Mouse
MS Digital Media Pro Keyboard
MS Sidewinder Steering Wheel (for the foot pedals).
TrackIR4:PRO
TrackClip PRO
XBOX 360 Controller

Flying Time:
19 hours

"People sometimes ask about the benefits of landclass products compared to newly available satellite scenery products. I offer this response--consistency. Satellite scenery is undoubtedly the way of the future, but major hurdles still need to be overcome in regards to the way the data is captured and processed so that the experience won't be interrupted by bizarre visual artifacts and low resolution imagery. To this end landclass products will continue to play a large role since they can provide a globally consistent environment and are programmatically versatile, allowing for seasonal variations, dawn/dusk effects, and autogen.

Now if one were to ask about the benefits of SceneryTech landclass compared to any other landclass product, I would offer the same response as before--consistency. Consistency in our product support, consistency in our development processes, and our long term objective of a consistent global environment which includes all of the features that sets us apart (reduced desertification, high resolution urban data, and specially calibrated tile mappings). Now that the North America Landclass package has matured considerably since its initial release, customers can expect the same design philosophy to be carried over to our future landclass products as well."

Here is the SceneryTech website, where you can see their comparison screenshots and find out more about their Landclass.

I wish I had the time and money to visit in real life the regions of the world that I have seen in FSX. Where it is possible, I include information on real-world locations that I have been to, so that the information that I pass on is first-hand. Other places, including all of the Springfields, I have visited only through Internet research. Thankfully, most of the Springfields maintain interesting civic web sites. with local information that has added some colour to my review. If I have reported inaccuracies in any of these places, then I do apologize, as any mistakes would be unintentional.

One resource that I relied on very heavily to find out about all of the American airports listed in this article is http://airnav.com/

This excellent free website provides comprehensive information on every airport in the United States of America. While the information is useful for real-world flight, my primary focus is simulated flight, so the info I have provided is for sim pilots only. In addition, I have made mention of several privately owned airfields that exist in FSX. A flight sim places no restriction on where you can take off or land, however, in real-world aviation, you must gain permission before you are allowed to use a private airstrip.

 

What I Like About Scenery Tech North America Landclass v1.3

  • Dramatically increases realism of FSX scenery!
  • Adds many smaller population regions
  • Makes agricultural land look more realistic
  • Helps to reduce appearance of deserts in arid regions
  • Improved slopes make mountains look more realistic world-wide in FSX
  • Low cost and excellent customer service

 

What I Don't Like About Scenery Tech North America Landclass v1.3

  • Downtown core areas use too many sub-urban tiles; swimming pools and cul-de-sacs are found in what are supposed to be dense urban regions

 

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North America Landclass v1.3

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