Denver Int'l Airport by Flightbeam
A review by Marlon Carter
KDEN is a well-known airport with a long history that goes back to the late 1980s. Its immense size and unique location make it one of the better-known airports in the U.S and it is ranked as the 15th busiest airport in the world. KDEN is home to United Airlines and for many years it has served as a major hub in this region for many other airlines and the travelling public. One of the unique features of the Denver airport is the terminal design that was based on its surroundings. The Teflon coated rooftop nicely resembles the snowcapped Rocky Mountains and it is an immediate identifier for this airport. As far as flight simulation is concerned, KDEN scenery add-ons have been attempted time and again by numerous developers. Some have done a good job (all things considered) but they have never truly captured KDEN in all of its glory. This is where FlightBeam comes into the picture with their latest and greatest offering yet! The FlightBeam KDEN airport is the newest and most promising replica of the Denver International airport and the overall quality of this product is very impressive. What are some of the features? Here is a listing below.
- Stunning 2048x2048 High Definition textures throughout airport
- Flightbeam Version 3 Active Jetways
- Custom terrain, depicting slopes and dips between taxiways
- Completely custom ultra-realistic see through windows with dirt, reflections and smudges
- Custom animated vehicles
- 3d grass throughout airport
- Animated runway guard hold short lights
- Nearly 12,000 acres (50sq/km) of custom buildings/textures!
- Special environmental effects such as water puddles and lamp glows
- High tech optimization for best performance
- Also, MUCH more
At a glance, the features may seem similar to what others have been offering. But upon a closer examination, we see that Flightbeam has delivered on each claim and surpassed all of our wildest expectations. Before we go further into our review of this add-on scenery, let’s have a chat with one of the developers.
Can you tell us a little about Flightbeam?
Flightbeam started in 2009 as a simple side project for me to learn the FSX SDK in order to create a better rendition of KSFO for my own purposes. After posting a few screenshots over at FSDeveloper I received a great amount of feedback, so I continued the project in hopes of finishing it as a payware airport. At that time I was an Art Director working at Namco Games so I only had a few hours a night to work on it. When it was finally released, I was pleasantly surprised with the positive feedback I received, not only from sales but also from reviews. I eventually decided to quit my day job and to continue growing Flightbeam creating more detailed airports.
Why did Flightbeam choose KDEN as their latest scenery offering?
We chose KDEN due to the high demand we received to create it over the past few years. I noticed there wasn’t a very accurate rendition of this airport yet, and this surprised me simply due to the fact that it’s the largest airport in the U.S. in terms of land.
Were there any challenges in developing this scenery?
KDEN had the most challenges out of any airport we’ve done. The first one was the terrain at the airport. There are all kinds of dips and hills between the taxiways and all around the airport. Typically the “rule” when creating airports is to flatten the whole area. I decided to go against this rule this time, but it required doing some challenging new techniques in custom terrain. This ended up being a challenge from beginning to end, numerous roadblocks came in my way in achieving this, but it finally worked. The other challenge was the sheer size of the airport and the amount of satellite imagery I used. It was absolutely staggering to process so much imagery, for every season. There were times where I began to believe that this was an endless project. From the end product, it’s very hard to tell, but it’s a Frankenstein of imagery put together, all of them hand edited.
What special features of KDEN differentiates it from your previous products?
The single biggest thing that differentiates this product from the rest is the landscape terrain. For example if you taxi to Runway 25, you’ll notice a huge dip in the terrain on the right, if you veer off; you’re in for a ride downhill. All other airports are relatively flat as a pancake, like in their real life counterpart.
I noticed that Fsdreamteam and Flightbeam have been making use of Coualt in designing scenery add-ons. Can you tell us why Coualt is used vs traditional methods? And would you say that this is the best tool to use in designing a scenery add-on?
Coualt is a very useful development tool. It allows us to display scenery objects based on conditions. This is usually not possible with scenery objects, depending on the type of condition. For example, at KDEN, the ramp light splashes change in brightness based on how dark it is. At dusk, it’s lightly illuminated, at night, it’s much brighter. I know many folks think it’s just a DRM, but it’s really not. It’s a wonderful development tool that allows me to create features that many have been providing positive feedback about. There are many other features, but some tricks are locked away in a box.
Performance is an influential factor when buying any scenery product; can you tell us how you managed to develop such a large airport with such good performance?
Many of the optimization tricks I know come from experience in making big games through my career. These airports can easily reach half a million polygons, so it’s essential to optimize, or face a devastating backlash from customers. FSX as we know is an old engine that’s already not well optimized, so from the get-go, we’re at a disadvantage, especially with some stock airports out there (KSEA). However, over the years of working with FSX, I’ve stumbled upon many new, unconventional techniques of optimizing scenery. This is the reason for better performance with each product release. The good news is the stock airports are horribly optimized with eye popping bad visuals, so it’s not too hard in achieving even better performance with an add-on scenery that looks a million times better.
What plans does Flightbeam have for the future? Will you primarily focus on major U.S airports (KMIA comes to mind as an airport that needs to be looked at) or will you broaden your range of products to include airports around the world?
The future of Flightbeam is not limited to the U.S., this is certain. We’re still going to be developing U.S. airports this year, simply because there are still a few who’ve been badly neglected while more popular EU airports have been given royal treatments. However we specialize in large scale airports, and we’ve reached a saturation point in the U.S., thus it’s almost time for us to bid farewell to the U.S. and develop large airports in other neglected areas. Eventually when we start a second production pipeline, mid-size airports will be main focus.
Installation & Documentation
Purchasing and installation of this product is quite simple. The scenery is available for download from the Flightbeam website and installed right away without the need to purchase it first. By using this method, you are left with a trial version of this product that gives you a sufficient glance to know whether or not this product is for you. If you are satisfied, you can purchase the product and later activate it with a product key. Another alternative is to purchase it directly from the website and have the key code sent to your email.
As far as documentation goes, the manual that comes with DIA contains some insightful information about the product and the airport itself. Also contained in the manual is a detailed explanation of how the product is installed and activated. You will want to take note of certain important steps to ensure that the product works at its best performance. To sum things up, the manual is short, simple and well put together.
My first impression was that the Design and layout of the entire airport were expansive but very true to life. After looking at aerial photos of KDEN, it was quite apparent that nothing was missed in recreating this airport. The most outstanding feature of the airport and perhaps the most distinctive is the Teflon-coated fiberglass roof of the main terminal which resembles the Rocky Mountains. The high-quality modeling of this unique feature adds an authentic touch to the overall product. In addition to this feature, there is also the passenger bridge that connects the terminal to Concourse A, Cargo Facilities, Solar Farm, Fire Stations, United Maintenance facilities and more!
As we look closer at the terminals, gates and ramp areas it becomes quite clear that much work went into developing this product. The quality of the textures used on the terminals adds depth and realism to the entire airport. I have observed that some developers would develop an airport that looks almost brand new and the textures did not accurate depict an airport that had been in use for many years. In the case of DIA, one can easily see that this airport is well maintained, but by no means a brand new airport. One of my favorite features of the terminal buildings is the transparent windows that are of the highest quality I have seen in quite some time.
The windows have a realistic shine with the realism of dirt and smudges as you would expect to see in the real world. Since we are focusing on the terminals, I have often found that while some developers may do a good job of recreating an entire terminal, they often fail to add sufficient detail to the Jetways. All too often the textures and modeling of the Jetways have suffered from other add-ons, but thankfully, FlightBeam has been able to stay ahead with having one of the most accurately modeled jetways that are functional!
The ramp areas are also a sight to behold as they realistically depict the way a heavily used ramp area should look. Typically you would expect to see small cracks and stains on the ramp that is constantly worn by aircraft and ground crew. Most airport developers have added these features, but with FlightBeam’s DIA, the quality of these features have gone one step ahead. At night, the terminals and ramp areas come to life with an ultra-realistic night time environment that is unrivaled by other products. While I can go on to describe what it all looks like, I think these screenshots will do a better job.
Another interesting feature of this airport is a unique terrain. Most add-ons feature a flat and sometimes bland terrain despite having a nicely modeled terminal. What some developers fail to realize is that most airports are unique partly because of its location and surrounding terrain. KDEN may seem to be flat at first glance, but this is far from the truth. (Photo below)
This photo nicely shows the terrain elevation of DIA, which is far from being flat. As you can see, hills and slopes surround many of the runways and taxiways. These unique terrain features have all been included in this product and truly makes taxiing around this airport an interesting experience.
While on the topic of terrain, I thought it would also be a good idea to focus on the ground textures used in the product. For users of FTX, you can rest assured that the textures used in KDEN will not pose a problem when it comes to blending in naturally with the rest of your scenery. KDEN comes with the option for blending with both FTX and the default FSX installation textures which is a major plus, and it shows that the developer is targeting the widest audience possible.
With the change of seasons bringing about a change in the appearance of our environment, FlightBeam has managed to offer its customers an authentic experience that accurately portrays both the summer and winter seasons. The lush green and partially dry terrain that is most common during the summer months looks amazing both from the ground and the air. I had the opportunity to compare the ground textures with images from Google Earth, and I found that the comparison was nearly identical! The addition of 3D grass also has a significant impact on the realism of this airport, and it is also nicely portrayed in the winter time also! Here are a few photos to show you how nice this airport really looks.
On a final note, KDEN comes with a number of special features that I thought I would highlight. Some of these features include native GSX, Static Models and ground puddle effects. If you are not familiar with GSX (Ground Services X), then you are missing out on one of the best ground operation simulation add-ons out there. GSX adds Marshalling, Catering, Boarding & Deboarding of passengers, Baggage handling, Stairs, Refueling, Pushback service and much more to your flight experience. While this product can be purchased for your benefit with ANY airport, KDEN offers GSX as a native feature of this airport only. If you would like to learn more about GSX, you can check out this review HERE.
The second feature we will examine is the addition of Static aircraft models. It has often been my experience that whenever a scenery add-on includes static models, it most times has a negative effect on frame rates. With KDEN, this surely isn’t the case and the static models are by no means low quality in appearance. These static models can be seen throughout the airport and especially so at the Cargo terminals.
Another feature that impressed me is the ground puddle effects that can be seen throughout the airport. In the real world, the ground surface of an airport is not always level. Therefore, whenever it rains there is always the likelihood that water may settle in certain areas. This is a real world feature that has been missing from FSX for a very long time. I am thankful that Flightbeam has included this unique feature which adds to the immersive experience of flying into and out of this airport.
Ever since reviewing products from FSDreamteam, I have always thought that using Coualt for scenery design should be the standard rather than an option. The benefits of using this technology are immense and needless to say, it would significantly impact the way we view add-on airports.
Flightbeam made a smart move by also utilizing the Coualt program in their scenery design and the benefits, while obvious with their previous releases, are even more so evident with KDEN. After examining the progressive work of Flightbeam from their first release to the last, it became quite evident that Flightbeam is on a quest for having the highest quality imaginable. With KDEN, you will see details that you never thought would be included without major performance drawbacks. Within this vast airport, there are many details that bring this product to life. From the parked cars, moving vehicles, static jets and the inclusion of GSX, this product takes you from your living room right into the middle of DIA.
By far one of the most impressive aspects of this product is the scale and variation in the terrain. It is one thing to create the largest airport in the U.S with stunning detail and HD textures, but it is mind boggling that Flightbeam was also able to include the accuracy of the airports terrain! One would have imagined that such an airport of this complexity would have had a significant impact on performance, but I was blown away that there was virtually no impact to my performance whatsoever. In fact, I have other scenery add-ons of much smaller airports that significantly impact my performance much more than DIA.
What does this tell us? Well, it tells us that Flightbeam is on the right track to producing the best scenery add-ons to date. I honestly think that scenery developers can learn a valuable lesson from this product. KDEN shows the world that with the right techniques, one can produce an airport that is immense in size and detail with little impact to PC performance. For producing the best scenery add-on I have seen thus far this year, at the value price of $34.00, Flightbeam definitely deserves an AVSIM Gold Star award for their high quality work and incredible level of detail.