imaginesim KATL 2016
A review by Maxim Pyankov
Finally, in October 2015, Imaginesim released the much desired and long-anticipated Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which plays such an important role in the US and the International air travel. Whether you are a city-hopper pilot, a trans-continental long-hauler, or prefer hauling cargo, you would have found it difficult to avoid flying into and out of Atlanta throughout your sim pilot career. As such, I am very excited to finally have a package that brings this airport to life within our sim platforms.
It took Imaginesim 10 months to bring this project to life. The project started back in January 2015 and was worked on and managed by a very small team. Testing began in late August, with final release in late October.
Before we dive into this package, let me enumerate just a few of the facts that make this destination so interesting (facts and numbers gleaned from Wikipedia):
Below are some of the features of this scenery, as outlined on the KATL page on Imaginesim's site. The list below is by far only a limited sample of features of a far larger list:
- Atlanta has been the world's busiest airport by passenger traffic since 1998.
- In the year 2012 KATL held its ranking as the world's busiest airport both in passengers and numbers of flights (accommodating more than 260,000 passengers daily).
- KATL is the primary hub of Delta Air Lines and other Delta subsidiaries and partners.
- KATL also serves as the home of Delta's corporate headquarters, as well as the airline's primary maintenance, repair, and overhaul arm.
- Hartsfield-Jackson is a focus city for Southwest.
Purchase, Install, and Manual
KATL retails for $32.99 and can be purchased directly from Imaginesim website, or from The Flightsim Store. The price at The Flightsim Store appears to be a little higher ($33.45) when converted from Australian Dollars into USD. Owners of the previous version of Imaginesim's Atlanta scenery will have to pay the full price if they want to get this scenery - this package does not qualify as an update or upgrade to the previous version of KATL.
The installer I got for this review (courtesy of the developer) included the FSX version only. After I started work on this review, Imaginesim came out with another installer, which now supports both FSX and P3D.
The installation file (before P3D) was just a touch under 250MB. The installation process itself was smooth and consisted of providing order information and of activating the initial options of the product.
I started my review process with all features turned on, with the exception of 3D grass. Notice, below, that there is a mention of "more files to aid optimization", which can be found at the developers' website. Basically, it boils down to two additional packages – Lo-Spec and Hi-Spec packs to allow customers further tweak this product according to their personal preferences.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, let us look at the before and after screenshots captured from above the airport. The screenshot on the left is before I had KATL installed; the one on the right – after.
This exercise should give us an appreciation for the work that went into building the airport from the ground up both on the actual airport grounds, as well as in the areas immediately adjacent to the airport perimeter. You do get a Program Group under Windows Programs list where you reference the airport manual and invoke the Options modifications screen (aka Airport Configurator). The manual is 12 pages long and includes general airport information, a paragraph about 'framerate hotspots' (basically, airport spots that, for one reason or another, may stress the sim), and other suggested sim settings.
Airport Features and First Impressions
The level of detail exhibited in this product is extraordinary. The details come with a price, and they can be toned down; nevertheless, they are is impressive.
Let's start by exploring the areas in and around the boarding gates. At first look, the gate (and aircraft parking area) scenery in Atlanta is fairly simple and uncomplicated – it has fairly simple color schemes (first look), no major glass paneling, and no exotic building designs and shapes (for the most part). But look closer and pause for a second… First and foremost, look at the color shades on the buildings – designers got this one right! – the shading on the building itself, the not-too-stained yellow-ish coloring on the panels, mixed with the dirtier areas, looks as real as it gets! The soft and natural commingling of the colors, clearly created by years of rains, and beaten by the weather, looks, in my opinion, fantastic. So very often when I look at airport scenery I lament at the lack of weathered look…such is definitely not the case with KATL. Another subtle touch to notice in the screenshots below is the shadow below the jetway. Looks great.
This theme of superbly crafted weathered texture look persists throughout the scenery and can be enjoyed as you move from one terminal to the next, and from one gate – to the next. The same technique and high level of quality can be observed as you move to buildings constructed out of blocks and panels made with other concrete mixture, as well as concrete blocks placed throughout the airport. The screenshot below is a great example where, in one frame, you can observe superb coloring executed on various objects and color palettes. Main takeaway – this simply looks real. Notice the brownish stains on the concrete blocks at the bottom on the screenshot.
Another example of this superb technique and quality is presented in the screenshots below, depicting Southwest gates.
Unfortunately for those of us, who do not own Aerosoft's AES, these beautiful jetways will remain motionless, which is a pity. This scenery is supported by Aerosoft AES, but not by FSDreamteam's GSX. Which leads to my other concern – if I purchased AES, and activated it at KATL, does that mean that these wonderful jetway models would be replaced with AES 'default' jetways? Or am I wrong? If somebody knows the answer to this question – please leave a comment below the review.
Attention to detail does not stop with the weathered texture look. Instead, it expands to a vast array of objects attached directly to the buildings that become integral part of the overall 'real' look of the scenery. Examples of these can be observed in the screenshots below where you can find legible signage, electrical switches, variable width doors, and other miscellaneous objects that compliment the scenery.
For the time being we are staying with the airport buildings, but moving up onto the rooftops. Air conditioning units, represented in the package, are by far the most superior (detail-wise) and numerous I have seen to-date, at least on par or even overtaking many of the recently released airport sceneries by other developers.
In addition to AC units notice, in the rooftop screenshots, the various textures on the buildings. This level of modeling extends to the buildings on the outskirts of the airport, including the various industrial buildings, and the superbly modeled Renaissance Hotel. You can, using the optimization tool, opt not to display AC units if you choose to.
At this time we are going back to take a closer look at airport jetways. According to Wikipedia, there are more than 200 domestic and international gates at KATL. There are various flavors of them (to accommodate the usual Small, Medium, and Heavy jets) but, as I have already mentioned above, they are modeled superbly both from the quality of the 3D modeling, and from the quality of textures, perspectives.
No shortcuts had been taking in modeling the areas around the jetways – you will find 3D depth when looking inside the jetway, accurate and high-resolution sign plates, attached at the bottom, the multiple signs of continuous and prolonged weather effects.
One major disappointment with jetways, for me, remains, as I mentioned above, the fact that they will remain unusable until I purchase Aerosoft's AES. I do own FSDT's excellent ground services package GSX but, at this point in time, KATL is not supported by GSX (or KATL does not support GSX?). In any case – superb modeling and texturing but with a drawback due to the fact that I cannot use them. Modeling of the gates extends to the various electronic boards, for the pilots, displaying gate number, current time, and some other information. Nice touch.
To wrap up gates and jetways I would like to mention KATL's docking system. The docking system is described in the manual; it employs a "traffic lights like" system, in conjunction with neon tubes and lamps, to guide the pilot to a precise parking position. In my numerous tests in various aircrafts this system worked flawlessly and was easy to follow from the captain's chair.
Internal terminal modeling is extensive and employs what appears to be a mix of office-like textures (see the second floor textures below), as well as detailed modeling of the passenger areas.
Internal terminal modeling includes clever textures to give an allusion of depth behind the shops and restaurants, simple models of rows of chairs, a large number of flight information displays, columns, and check-in desks. Looks very cool and adds to the realism factor. This 'eye-candy' can be removed, to improve performance, using the Lo-Spec pack available on the Imaginesim's website.
Superb building modeling, as I mentioned above, extends beyond the immediate perimeter of the airport and into the outside areas, as well as areas adjacent to the field. The façade of the airport, the passenger side of it, is again one of the areas modeled better than I have seen in other products. From the parking lots, to the advertising billboards, to the highway signage and the buses parked in front of the airport (or driving through) – it all looks very good.
For another example review the Renaissance hotel, Delta business complex, and the scenery immediately north of runway 8L-27R (north side of the airport). Notice attention to detail in terms of weathered textures, intricate 3D modeling, and the ever-present AC units!
I could go on and on about the buildings but, in the interest of time and keeping your attention, I must wrap up this section and draw you to the next aspect of the scenery – ground textures. A few words before moving onto screenshots… Ground textures, whether it is the aircraft parking spots, the taxiways, or runways, look fantastic. The ground concrete textures, like much the rest of the scenery, exhibit various signs of weathered effects, such as signs of puddles (which can also be found on the roofs, by the way) and concrete cracks all throughout.
The actual texturing of the ground (large square grated concrete panels) looks realistic. You will enjoy the imperfections of the ground (dots and specks and cracks) coupled with the accurate, but not perfect (as it should be) paint markings to indicate taxiway edges, centerlines, positioning lines, and other signage found on the ground.
A subtle but impressive sign, indicating the quality of texturing, is the fact that it is nearly impossible to determine a pattern of ground texture cracks and shades as you move along the airport. This tells me designers created a vast array of textures, to cover the airfield, avoiding the need to reuse the same textures over and over again, which can be sometimes seen in other products.
One thing I did not see, which I would have expected to see especially given the tremendous amount of attention paid to details, is the oil and other liquid stains, on the ground, coming from the aircraft and service vehicles in and around the gates.
Runway textures uphold the high quality standard, as can be seen from the screenshots below.
It is not surprising that the various 3D objects, attached to the ground, maintain the high-quality standard set as the premise of this scenery.
Upon closer look at the navigational signs you can make out the side panel doors and switches used for maintenance thereof. Likewise, you can almost hear the rattling of the chain-link fence above, on a windy day. This fence, by the way, can be removed, for optimization purposes, using the KATL configuration tool.
The package boasts a wide variety of vehicles, both airfield service vehicles, and vast parking lots around the airport, including detailed buses, as witnessed in the numerous screenshots above and below.
The vehicle set includes both static models, strategically placed throughout the airfield, as well as moving ones, which can be found throughout. The models founds inside the airport display a higher degree of modeling and resolution, than do the models populating the numerous parking spaces around the airport. This, of course, makes complete sense from the perspective of balancing the effort necessary to make the models, the impact thereof on the performance of the scenery, and the 'eye-candy' aspect.
One cool feature that I would like to point out, which I have not seen before, is the headlight effect during the nighttime hours. The presence of vehicles is managed through the Airport Configurator tool, where you can enable or disable various types of vehicles (car parks, static, moving).
To wrap up this section of the review, I would like to iterate, once more, that you can manage your particular scenery configuration using four levers:
Airport Configurator tool, where you can turn on and off various 3D objects (grass, cars, etc.). This tool is fairly straight-forward and easy to use.
Lo-Spec Pack – a set of replacement files, available on Imaginesim's website, intended to help customers that are experiencing difficulty with getting KATL to perform effectively. This set excludes internal terminal modeling, provides a lower resolution ground textures, and provides fewer parking ramps (parking spots for aircraft are reduced by 80% of the maximum).
Hi-Spec Pack – a set of replacement files, available on Imaginesim's website, suited for customers with more powerful systems. This set provides more taxi lights, more aircraft parking ramps, and the lighting bloom effects.
Finally, of course, your FSX settings will have impact as well – from scenery density, to weather, to traffic – all these parameters will play a significant role in your experience.
One of the scenery features, enumerated at the very top of this review, was the "stunning night lights" aspect, as advertised on Imaginesim's website. From an independent reviewer's perspective, I would like to make a few observations, before we jump into examining specific screenshots. Please remember, this review is based on the "normal" installer options – not on the Lo-Spec set and not on the Hi-Spec set.
The lights do look good. I really like the runway lights, deep in the depth of the night. However, I wasn't 'blown away' by the quality of lighting around the terminal buildings, and around the gates themselves. Please do not misread my words – I think the terminal lighting looks normal and it serves its' purpose. It is in no way bad or deficient; in my opinion, the lighting is functional, albeit not 'stunning'. I can think of other sceneries that do provide, in my opinion, a stunning set of terminal and gate lights. KATL lights are functional and serve their purpose.
The airfield, in general, is well illuminated and you, as the deep-night-arriving captain, do not have to struggle or strain too much to find your way to a parking gate, while keeping the craft in the middle of the taxiway.
Likewise, venturing out into the night is also a fairly easy task as you follow the illuminated taxiways out to the departing runway.
Below is a set of screenshots depicting the change in the scenery with the advance of the night.
The gate lights fixture looks good, continuing to uphold the high-attention-to-detail standard exhibited throughout this package.
Runway lights, as I mentioned above, look great.
I have spent, literally, hours, going up and down this airport, for the benefit of this review. Why? The sheer size of the field, and the stunning attention to detail, required that I show you, the reader, as much as possible of what this package has to offer. You can review my system specs below. In addition to that, I use Contact Radar for my ATC, Active Sky Next for my weather, REX for my weather textures coupled with REX Soft Clouds. I use an older Ultimate Traffic 2 program with daily traffic density set at 25%, in addition to a variety of other programs, such as the Electronic Flight Bag, FS2Crew, and others.
The bottom line – with the exception of a few hotspots (as mentioned in the manual), I had very little trouble taxiing around the airfield. My rates stayed in the 25+ range, with occasional drop depending on what else was happening around me.
Following the link below you will find my first landing, executed in KATL 2016 running all of my programs and a PMDG NGX. It is a quick 100-sec video captured using Fraps, with Traffic level, back then, set to 75%! Notice, too, the heavy weather on the approach.
While not as smooth, framerates-wise, as I would have preferred it to be, keep in mind the possibilities with the wide-ranging configuration options available to you. Between the Lo/High-Spec packs, the Airport Configurator tool, and FSX settings, I am willing to make a statement that you will find a perfect sweet spot, between all the features and the eye-candy, and the sim performance, that is right just for you.
Generally speaking, my system choked the most during loading of the scenery on approach and, likewise, during extensive panning immediately after departure.
This scenery is very good. Between the sheer size of the airfield, and the attention expended to details throughout the airport, you will get a superb product and a major hub to fly in and out of. The quality of the scenery, and the size thereof, comes with the price, performance-wise. But developers provided you with enough tools to configure it so that you can find the right balance, for you, between performance and eye-candy.
I am not familiar with Imaginesim's previous Atlanta product but, based on the review of this package, I will state that the product is well worth the price you are asked to pay for it. Those of you who owned the previous Atlanta package will have to make your own conclusion as I am not qualified to judge whether or not this should have been offered as an upgrade to previous Atlanta customers.
Overall – great product!
What I Liked
Compatible both with FSX and P3D (v2/v3).
A number of options to play with to improve performance, including options within the scenery, as well as Lo-Spec and Hi-Spec packs available from Imaginesim's website.
Loved the absolutely superb weathering effects on overwhelming majoring of objects in the airport, including the ground textures.
Loved the overwhelming attention to detail throughout the scenery – the buildings, the ground, the airfield objects and vehicles.
Areas for Improvement
As I mentioned above, KATL currently does not support GSX. Adding support for GSX (meaning - having functional jetways in the absence of AES) would have added an enormous amount of value to this product for those of us who do not own AES.
Not really a product specific point, but a general one overall – Imaginesim does not have a forum where its' customers can discuss the product(s) and various topics associated with them. They do have a bustling Facebook product page where potential and actual customers can (and do) ask questions, leave comments, and overall stay in touch with the company. The only hiccup there is that it may be not easy to find a thread on a topic that interests you.
It would have been better if the Lo-Spec Pack and the Hi-Spec Pack options were included in the installer so that users can install the "Default Spec", Lo-Spec, or the High-Spec packages by re-running the installer. As is, it is a combination of manual steps, coupled with re-running the installer, would be needed if you wanted to try various packages in your sim.
Ground textures should display oil and other liquid stains coming from the aircraft and service vehicles in and around the gates. Minor oversight, given the overall quality and attention to detail.
Ground textures lack rubber marks (with the exception of the runways, of course) from the aircraft pulling in and out of gates.
System Specs Reviewed On
Time spent on the scenery: 16+ hours.
Intel® Core i7-4770K @ 3.5 GHz, Overclocked to 4.4 GHz
Installed RAM: 8 GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780
Running on Windows 7 Home Premium, Service Pack 1
- Realistic weathered and worn ground markings and runways.
- Hand-placed custom autogen.
- Complete non-generic runway and taxiway signage.
- Unique concrete, tarmac and grass texturing.
- Custom building shadows.
- Stunning night lighting.