• Sign in to follow this  

    FranceVFR Haute Normandie with 3DAutomation®


    Gaiiden

    Publisher: FranceVFR

    Format: Download (4.86GB)

    Simulator: FSX & FS9

    Reviewed By: Drew Sikora


    Introduction


    Located in northern France, the region of Haute Normandie spans 4,756 sq mi, borders the English Channel and is divided by the winding river Seine. This area has largely been recreated in stunning detail for FSX by FranceVFR, including aerial photo coverage of the region along with thousands and thousands of custom and Autogen objects to add relief to the otherwise flat textures. This is definitely a great leap forward in photo-real scenery technology and is certainly not a common sight to see over such a huge expanse of photo-real textures. Why? Let's take a moment to recap (or learn) the difference between photo-real scenery and land class scenery to understand the reason photo-real suffers in comparison to land class with regard to including 3D objects.


    The default method Flight Simulator uses to create the world is known as land class scenery. This method re-uses a limited number of various ground textures (city, field, forest, desert, etc) in a way that helps to hide the fact that you are really seeing the same ground features over and over again across the region. This recycling method means developers have a smaller amount of textures to "annotate" or define areas where Autogen objects should appear. It also means that the amount of disk space needed to store textures for an entire region is relatively small.


    T_tmf.jpg

    Each square block tells FSX what sort of texture to use to define the ground around the Haute Normandy area


    I'm going to make up some numbers just to help put this annotation work into some perspective. Consider again that the region of Haute Normandy is 4,756 mi2. I'm going to say that there are 35 unique land class textures totaling 275MB that are used to create the various fields, cities and forests over this entire region. If you stuck all of them side-by-side I'm going to say that they collectively cover only a meager 250 mi2. But now the simulator breaks them up and patterns them over the entire 4,756 mi2 area as defined by the land class file. You're seeing the same 35 textures over and over again as you fly around but the simulator does its best to make them all appear unique when you take everything in all at once.


    T_compare02.jpg T_compare01.jpg

    Here we have the exact same viewpoint with FranceVFR on the left and default land class on the right. Comparatively, both seem perfectly realistic at first glance with their scattered fields and forests. The illusion of land class scenery only falls apart if you go looking for its flaws. Even then, they are not easy to spot, and it's not to say FranceVFR doesn't have plenty of its own similar hard-to-spot-unless-you-look flaws as well.


    As you can see from the example above, land class scenery does an extremely good job creating realistic-looking ground environments. Other than things like the repetitive texture flaw that takes some effort to spot (see the red circles in the above right image), the only major giveaway to the image on the right not being a region of France is the coloration of the fields. Unfortunately there is a limit to generic textures, but this has created the niche in which products like FTX, FScene4x and Ground Environment now sit. All of these aim to create region-specific generic textures to ensure you're seeing, for example, a North American type of field versus a European one.


    Yet for all the benefits of land class scenery (like seasons, which I will cover later) the largest and most obvious drawback is that it's merely a simulacrum of how the world looks, hence the use of photo-real scenery. Created originally from satellite images but now more commonly through higher-resolution aerial photos, photo-real scenery lets you see the world as close to as it actually appears (you have to take into account that the photos were taken in the past and the world changes constantly) but it does so with some major drawbacks as well. While the previous land class example showed that only 250 mi2 of textures were unique, using photo-real textures means the entire 4,756 mi2 area of Haute Normandy is unique. This is why photo-real sceneries take up several gigabytes worth of space on your hard drive and it is also why creating Autogen annotation for photo-real textures is an incredibly daunting task given that the default tool provided by Microsoft requires you to do it manually.


    To get around the menial task of manual annotation FranceVFR has created what it dubs "3DAutomation®" technology. This has allowed them not only to automatically create Autogen over photo-real textures but goes the additional step of making sure the 3D objects are efficient enough that they don't drag your frame rate down so much it defeats the whole purpose of using Autogen to begin with. I’ll discuss whether they were successful at this in my Performance section later on. While I don't doubt there is still plenty of manual work required the final effect is no less dramatic and offers an enticing view of where FSX photo-real scenery could be heading in the future.


    Installation and Documentation


    Normal Installation


    The initial installation of the scenery was a little confusing. You download three compressed archives totaling just under 5GB and when you open them you are presented with a single installer in each. At this point I was left wondering if I needed to unzip them all to a folder prior to launching installer #1 so it could auto-run the other two or if I had to just run the installers one at a time. I shrugged and opened the first installer, not bothering to unzip any of the others first. After switching the language over from French to English and entering my license key the scenery was installed into my default FSX folder the installer tracked down for me. Once the process was finished the installer informed me I should now proceed to install Part 2. It noted this in plain text towards the bottom of the main window though, the one I often just click "Finish" on without really reading too closely. I think a pop-up dialog would have been better to inform the user that they are on the right track with the install process. So I loaded up and installed parts 2 and 3 in a similar manner (sans the license key step) with no issue. After the install I was pleased at being offered to have the manual displayed – in doing so up popped the English manual, which I felt was a nice touch most likely done out of respect for the language I chose in the installer. Merci beaucoup!


    The product is installed in the Addon Scenery folder, but it did so in its own folders instead of the Scenery and Texture folders already provided. So when I loaded up the sim for the first time I was met with default land class and had to add the folders to the scenery library myself. Make sure you place the Objects layer above the Ground layer.


    Custom Installation


    If you try to place the scenery outside the default FSX folder during the installation a dialog box will pop up informing you that this is not possible. It does tell you however that once the install is complete you can move the scenery folders to a location of your choosing. This is no doubt to ensure that the program can properly install the custom Autogen files it also needs as well as ensuring all three parts go to the same place.


    Uninstallation


    Removing Haute Normandie was as simple as going into the Start Menu and selecting the uninstall program from the FranceVFR/Haute Normandie folder. You can also remove it through the Control Panel. After it confirms your decision to remove all files everything was cleaned from my system, although I had to manually remove the scenery layers I added after install.


    However, I discovered afterwards that the uninstall process had failed to replace the Autogen and texture files which had been overwritten during install (in my case the default files since I was not using other products that tweaked Autogen). The manual mentions that there is supposed to be backups made during the install process but a search of my main FSX directory for "backup" and "back up" yielded no results. Thinking the folders were removed with the uninstall I re-installed the scenery and still could not find any folders containing backed-up Autogen files. Seeing that I had planned to reformat my computer anyways I did so and after reinstalling a clean FSX I put Haute Normandie back on my system after first backing up the files myself. I noticed this time (it was there last time too I just didn’t recognize it) there was a /Descriptions folder in the main FranceVFR folder installed to your FSX directory. Inside were specific files from the /Autogen and /Scenery/Global/scenery folders. However I realized these were not the default files but copies of the files the installer placed in the folders. Perhaps the backup process mistakenly ran after the installation and backed up the new files instead of the originals? I’m not sure but I do know that there were no original backups made.


    Manual and Documentation


    The manual is a 5-page PDF that covers the product installation (which would have been nice to have when I was installing the product), technical requirements, recommended simulator settings with notes on performance, coverage area map, and the location of the included charts - this last of which was still in French so I had to copy it out and head over to Google Translate. The included documentation are PDF high and low airspace charts, the French VFR/IFR aviation regulations, and the necessary approach, departure and aerodrome charts for the various airfields included within the scenery's coverage area.


    The coverage area map in the manual was a bit on the bare side - it showed you where the airports were and that was about it. There are yellow areas defined as well and I couldn't find a key in the manual to explain what they were - upon visiting the areas in the sim I believe these are just defined city areas. It would have been nice to have had a Google Earth KMZ file to see the exact region border and get a better idea of what was in the area as well as highlighting any interesting/useful VFR landmarks and objects in the scenery.


    I was also surprised by the lack of a chart comparable to the US Terminal Area Chart, which is used for VFR flying by indentifying features like major roadways, power lines, railroads, waterways, obstructions and other defining features you can navigate by. I was unable to find any sort of free online resource either similar to SkyVector which means if you want VFR charts you will have to purchase them.


    Flying Around Haute Normandie


    My first thought after getting the scenery set up and displaying properly in the simulator was - how am I going to see everything?? I figured my best bet would be to just fly as normal but plot my routes to cover as much ground around the region as I could. Hopping from airport to airport with a variety of equipment would let me test the scenery at varying altitudes and speeds, and since this was VFR scenery I stuck primarily to VFR flying at low altitudes with one exception. Because I largely use SkyVector to chart my flights here in the US and didn't have any comparable tool at hand to help me find my way around France, I turned to Google Maps to give me ideas for visual aids to use on my flights. Since I couldn't readily see stuff like landmarks, towers and power lines on Google Maps I fell back to using waterways, major roads, landmarks like golf courses and industrial areas, and railways.



    My various flights around Haute Normandie
    View France VFR in a larger map


    You can click on a flight path to see what type of equipment I flew along that route, my cruising altitude and speed along with any notes I made about the flight. All flights were done during daylight using real world weather when it was within VFR minimums and the pre-defined Fair Weather setting when it was not. While I was flying I made additional notes of anything I noticed along the way by dropping a pin over the area on the map I saw it. A lot of these pins have been removed since I have used them simply to note issues in this review, but a few related to the flights themselves remain. To make my use of Maps closer to that of an aeronautical chart I never used the Satellite or Earth views while in flight to help me navigate.


    Ground Textures/Mesh


    First thing I want to note on the ground textures is that I seem to be missing some. When I compare the coverage chart in the manual with a zoomed-out map view of the scenery area in the simulator I noticed there seems to be a decent chunk missing from the lower-right corner.


    T_coverage.jpg T_coverageFSX2.jpg

    The coverage area the manual says I have (left) and the coverage area I actually have in the sim (right)


    The next thing that I went looking for in the ground textures was color consistency. One of the more difficult aspects to photo-real scenery over such a large area is that the source imagery developers use can come in all variety of color variation thanks to the type of camera used, the lens used, the time of year, the weather on the day the photo was taken, etc. Matching the various source images to create a consistent balance of color over the entire region can be a challenge and FranceVFR does a very good job throughout the majority of the region in maintaining a deep, warm rich tone to the ground textures. There are a few areas where a contrast in color is noticeable, you can see the larger ones in the FSX map view above right, but these transitions are largely done in a seamless manner. I only noticed one "hard edged" transition line in my various wanderings through the countryside. I'm not a texture artist so I can't comment on whether some areas could have been better color-corrected but it's unfortunate that in some places the contrast is rather extreme.


    T_variation02.jpg
    Color variation evident but smoothly transitioned using a railroad track as well as the town to separate the two areas. Roads and field borders are used elsewhere as well
    T_variation03.jpg
    Another seamless color variation transition - although notice some fields are over-exposed (see the color bleed around the edges) perhaps from being photographed on a sunny day
    T_variation01.jpg
    One of the few times I looked down and went "ugh!". This was the only place I found such a hard-edged transition, however. Note it gets better up top.

    T_fields.jpg

    By and large this is the lush and vibrant color tone that makes up the ground textures


    Next item that drew my attention was north along the coast of the region, which is known for its sheer cliff faces of chalk that drop off straight down into the waters of the English Channel. In some areas there's actually a rocky shelf extending from the base of the cliff out into the water and this latter aspect is recreated very well. My only gripe here is that the textures of the cliffs in some areas are largely just stretched out ground textures folding down over the mesh. It would have been nice if the developers had been able to replace those areas of ground texture with aerial photos of the cliff faces, which are striking features in real life. This may have been impossible during development due to lack of source imagery but perhaps some can be procured for a later update. A 3D model of the natural rock arch near Étretat would have been a great visual landmark as well.


    T_cliffs.jpg
    Excellent cliff textures around the bend from Le Havre extending northeast towards Étretat
    T_cliffs01.jpg
    The white cliffs of Étretat - not as famous as the white cliffs of Dover across the Channel but still France's highest. Sim recreation is... okay
    T_cliffs02.jpg
    Further northeast the coastal cliff textures get more stretchy and less well-defined although the rocky shelves at the bottom stretching out into the water look great

    One aspect of the scenery that I never had a problem with and enjoyed immensely was the terrain mesh. The developers did a superb job modeling this mesh, which for FSX contains a resolution of only 4.75m between points and really brings the Normandie country side to life. You may have trouble picking out some of the smaller streams and rivers winding through the scenery amongst all the trees and buildings but you can certainly see the valley it's either carved itself or is running down the middle of. Any perception of the land beneath you being flat is extremely short lived in this region and although there are no mountains you can always see the slight elevation change as you cruise around. It is especially fantastic in the small towns and cities where you see one road on a totally different elevation level than the one several meters away. Enjoying this mesh is just another excuse to fly low around this scenery.


    T_mesh01.jpg
    You can clearly see the broad valley which the river Seine has carved out of the landscape as it winds its way north towards the English Channel
    T_mesh02.jpg
    A broad valley cradling a small town, the river itself now just a small stream
    T_mesh03.jpg
    The mesh resolution is fine enough to allow for stepped elevation as demonstrated here where we can see three distinct road levels in the foreground with further rises in the background
    T_mesh04.jpg
    Another valley, deeper and narrower, cutting through the landscape also with just a small stream winding through it these days

    I also stumbled across another "ugh!" moment while choppering around Le Havre when I noticed that a large portion of the refinery texture areas along the Seine canal outlet were not sharpening. I went back later and left myself parked in slew mode over the area long enough to see the surrounding textures sharpen to a point where they didn't refresh any more, and yet some of the refinery areas remained a blurry mess. It's unfortunate because 1) it's not really within the developer's control and 2) despite the developer's best efforts to blend them seamlessly into the surrounding higher resolution textures they still stick out like a sore thumb. The only thing I can think of is that they needed to be blurred for security reasons although why exactly I am unsure - Google Maps satellite photos for this area in the two top photos below are not blurred. On the other hand, the military airfield St Andre De L'Eure (LFOE) has blurred textures both in Maps and the sim, as you might expect from a government facility.


    T_security01.jpg T_security02.jpg

    Top Secret government refineries??


    T_lfoe.jpg

    A Top Secret military airfield makes sense at least


    Another area the scenery excels at is the water masking. Where the dynamic water shows through there are textures beneath in the appropriate places to provide coloration and bed features. I only noticed small streams and ponds that weren't masked out and overall I did not consider this to be a bad thing. Photo-real water can look pretty good - it's enough that the larger bodies of water are masked out properly to allow for aircraft to land on them. You've already seen some examples in the images above, here are a few more eye catchers I came across while flying:


    T_water01.jpg
    A large river delta at the northern edge of the scenery
    T_water02.jpg
    Marshy landscape speckled with ponds and streams
    T_water03.jpg
    Check the texture of the lake bottoms
    T_water04.jpg
    Various coloration of the water bodies

    Let's have a look now at the land when the sun starts dropping below the horizon. While night time VFR is not as popular a pursuit as day time VFR given the general inherent dangers of flying at night, let alone by visual aid, it's still a valid real world navigational option and hey - this is a simulator after all! Danger? Pah! Unfortunately adding night lighting to photo-real scenery is another arduous process similar to Autogen annotation because that same area of texture needs to be supplemented with another hand-created layer of texture to show all the night lighting. Hopefully this will be FranceVFR's next focus of automation technology although when I looked over the textures at night it's not like they were pitch black and invisible. In fact they were as visible as they would be under a full moon. The buildings are all lit so you can easily spot cities and towns, various obstructions like radio towers and smoke stacks have lights on them, and water towers being white are more visible against the darker ground. Really if FranceVFR would include night lighting it could improve the experience a lot by simply adding lighting only to the major roadways snaking across the landscape (vehicle traffic enabled helps a little bit but is still hard to see). The only major issue with the textures when the light fades is that there seems to be areas missing level of detail (LOD) textures, so that when you move far enough away default lit textures are displayed but then turn into darker FranceVFR textures as you approach.


    T_night03.jpg
    Dusk falls and we can see dark textures beneath us but lit default ones off in the distance
    T_night02.jpg
    Night arrives and the city is lit up along with towers and smokestacks. Can you spot the water towers? Also notice the lit areas
    T_night11.jpg
    Here are several lit areas in the coverage region. #1 is the dusk image and #2 is the night image. Note how these areas have largely gone dark once I get over them

    I will note that there may be some hope for night lighting if you happen to own Ultimate Terrain X: Europe, as it has been suggested on the AVSIM forums that layering the UTX night lighting atop the photo-real scenery will give you acceptable results. I do not have the ability to test this however.


    The final issue and one of the areas land class scenery still has a huge advantage in is the lack of seasonal textures. That's not to say all photo-real scenery that is produced for FSX can't have seasonal variation, but in the case of a product like this that covers an entire region we are back to the unique texture problem I covered at the start of the review. Not only would the developers have to recreate the entire region 4 times over (5, if France would require a Heavy Winter variation as well) but you are also increasing the data size of the product by a similar factor. So the Haute Normandie region with seasonal variation could be a 20-25GB product! (In comparison, again going back once more to the earlier example, the land class product with 5 seasons would be roughly 1.4GB). Even with the nature of today's high-speed data transfers and large storage capacity 20-25GB is quite a hefty amount of data. The developers would also have to jack the price way up to cover the extended development effort required. Therefore, changing the seasons in the sim will only have the effect of changing the position of the sun, moon and stars in the sky and give you Autogen objects to match.


    Buildings and Objects


    So far this has been a normal, routine photo-real scenery review. Let's drop down to the dirt now and examine the real meat behind this scenery - the 3D objects that make the environment come to life like very few other photo-real products of this scope. How well does the 3DAutomation tech actually work in practice? Pretty damn good. Are there mistakes? Yes. Is this surprising? No. Despite how far FranceVFR has come with their technology there is always still further to go and they haven't reached perfection yet but they have gotten it close enough for the effect to be largely believable and immersive. They mainly rely on the same thing land class scenery does - take it all in at once and you won't notice the flaws. If you want to go around hunting for things that don't look right you will find them, but there are very few instances where things will simply jump out at you. Most of the time you'll be too busy flying the aircraft and enjoying the overall view to notice.


    Scenery Gems


    There is so much to look at when you fly around Haute Normandie thanks to the photo-real textures making it so that everywhere you look, unless you've flown over that area before, will contain something new to see. Actually even flying over the same area at new angles can reveal new features. There were several moments when flying the faster aircraft like the Tailwind and the Bonanza that I regretted the fact I was zipping along too quickly to really spend time looking around and enjoying the various sights. I'm sure I've only scraped the surface of what's out there in my various flights but I marked down on the Google Map what I saw and returned later for pictures. Some of the objects, like power lines and toll plazas and windmills, appear all over the scenery while others like bridges, large buildings, and landmarks, are largely unique and can only be found in their specific places. The majority of these objects are pulled from the obstacles database maintained by the French air administration and so are both accurately placed and at the proper height.


    T_gem01.jpg
    Two examples of the type of power line poles you can follow around if you know where to look for them and where they go
    T_gem02.jpg
    A large plant making for a great visual landmark, along with power lines strung with marker balls
    T_gem03.jpg
    If you swing by Dieppe at the right time of day (with Ferry traffic on) you can catch the Newhaven, UK ferry boat enroute
    T_gem04.jpg
    Another large plant landmark - check the stepped quarry-like walls behind to the left and right. This mesh is awesome!
    T_gem05.jpg
    You'll also find around small towns these transformer stations pulling in the juice to deliver out to the buildings
    T_gem06.jpg
    There are places where you look down and are just stunned by the level of accuracy the 3DAutomation tech can achieve
    T_gem07.jpg
    This large smokestack provides a great visual marker for the grass strip of LFFY near this small town of Étrépagny
    T_gem08.jpg
    An example of one type of water tower you will find scattered across the landscape
    T_gem09.jpg
    Broadcast antennae like this one are found atop hills near large cities. The guy wires are visible with marker balls attached
    T_gem10.jpg
    This distinctive tower is a great visual marker for finding your way to Boos Airport (LFOP) when flying low
    T_gem11.jpg
    What a fantastic way to mark the mouth of the river Seine. Note the bridge jumps over the canal as well further on
    T_gem12.jpg
    Not only will you see the toll plazas recreated, but some of the larger rest stops along the highways as well
    T_gem13.jpg
    Another amazing mesh detail example: The roadway bridges over a railway and then further on a railway bridges the road!
    T_gem14.jpg
    The meeting point of several lines of power poles, a great VFR intersection if you know where each line of poles goes to
    T_gem15.jpg
    Wind turbines mark the ridge over the town of Étretat. You can find them elsewhere as well if you know where to look
    T_gem16.jpg
    Road signs are visible over some of the highways
    T_gem17.jpg
    Likewise, electric lines for trains are over some of the railways
    T_gem18.jpg
    A ton of great detail went into the docks and refineries that line the canal leading from the river Seine out to the Channel
    T_gem19.jpg
    A stunning bridge spanning a valley - imagine driving across that in real life. What a view! Reminds me of this bridge in the US that just sticks straight out across a river far below.
    T_gem20.jpg
    The cathedrals and many other landmark buildings in Rouen have been recreated and accurately placed here and in the other detailed city areas of Le Havre and Évreux

    Scenery Flaws


    For all the gems I came across while flying about I noticed a slightly greater number of flaws. As I already said it's inevitable in a product like this that things are not going to be perfect - with so many thousands and thousands of objects all over the place it's inevitable for some to be passed over or mis-placed. While the developer may have done a check of the area to look for any problems it’s largely acceptable to push out a product that won't break the user's system and fix minor issues with version updates. Fortunately all I ever came across were just that - minor issues, no showstoppers. They are of course worth pointing out for you, the reader, to get an idea of what can appear wrong with the scenery and also for the developer to hopefully be able to address some of them in a later update. The scenery actually sort of shoots itself in the foot in attempting to bring the simulator world so close to reality because most of the time you'll look down and see a perfect landscape with trees and buildings and objects so perfectly placed, and then you might look down again later and notice a strand of trees in a road or missing building objects when the rest are there or the lack of a road/rail bridge and you can't stop yourself from thinking "Why?! Why are you not there?? Why is the world below me not perfect??". It's hard not to want it all to be real and perfect all the time. Like the scenery gems, a few of these flaws, like missing bridges or trees in the road, are found in more than one location.


    T_flaw01.jpg
    No idea why the Autogen has mostly forsaken this large area just north of LFOH. I flew over this area and didn't notice the first time, actually
    T_flaw02.jpg
    This is something you may notice from time to time, though hardly covering as large an area of field as this example
    T_flaw03.jpg
    A missing road bridge; some sluice gates farther up the canal would have been nice as 3D models
    T_flaw04.jpg
    I noticed a few other areas where these groves of small trees seem to be ignored by the Autogen vegetation although it is only noticeable when there are a lot missing as in this image
    T_flaw23.jpg
    Lack of an object actually makes this look like a sunken ship, so that's pretty cool. Hope it wasn't loaded when it went down!
    T_flaw22.jpg
    While this looks like an error with the Autogen placement it's actually most likely a masking issue hiding land that is supposed to be there
    T_flaw19.jpg
    Just a random house in the middle of the woods, sort of like random trees in the middle of a field
    T_flaw20.jpg
    I came across this floating railroad bridge on the outskirts of Rouen. It was the only floating bridge I noticed
    T_flaw21.jpg
    Floating buildings are an Autogen issue for any scenery but were rare and only visible if you happened to be close (and low) enough
    T_flaw05.jpg
    Quick call Carmen Sandiego! Someone stole these power lines!
    T_flaw06.jpg
    Another missing bridge that is supposed to be spanning this shallow valley area going across the image
    T_flaw07.jpg
    Another example of the small tree groves lacking Autogen, as well as a conspicuous vegetation absence in the nearby town
    T_flaw08.jpg
    An example of an error but one that requires you to look closely to see, which fortunately covers a lot of these scenarios
    T_flaw09.jpg
    It would have been nice to see the tunnel entrance this road vanishes into, on the opposite side as well
    T_flaw10.jpg
    Not the best place to plant trees. Or build a road. Whichever came first
    T_flaw11.jpg
    Sometimes thanks to the lack of alignment between the fields and the trees you can't trick yourself into accepting stuff like this as being correct
    T_flaw12.jpg
    Here a similar example where improper tree line orientation draws your eye
    T_flaw13.jpg
    Flying around low in a chopper can reveal smaller flaws like these trees in the harbor water
    T_flaw14.jpg
    A few instances arose where the Autogen didn't know what to with campgrounds/trailer parks, similar to the groves of small trees. Only looks wrong because the existence of everything else looks so right!
    T_flaw15.jpg
    A slight error in the traffic routing sending these vehicles across a field probably would have gone unnoticed if it wasn't literally right next door to LFOH
    T_flaw16.jpg
    I was disappointed this cruise ship and smaller private yachts I spotted with heli pads on them were not hard surfaced allowing you to land on them
    T_flaw17.jpg
    There is a missing bridge in the foreground and the bridge further up the river doesn't get used by vehicle traffic causing them to cross on the water
    T_flaw18.jpg
    As amazingly detailed as the city of Le Havre is, note where the green comes to an abrupt stop at the top of the image. Rendering the rest of the city without vegetation makes it appear a bit drab - Rouen is a bit like this too
    T_flaw.jpg
    Properly placed bridge but the elevation is in need of some adjustment

    In addition to everything above the only other thing I noticed while flying around was the lack of road and boat traffic. I had my sliders set to 50% each, which is above what the manual recommends, and did not see a lot of vehicles on many of the roads, especially around cities where flying in your helicopter over a lot of empty roads is a bit disappointing. Major highways were all covered in a barely decent amount of traffic throughout the region but only a few of the smaller main roads contained any vehicle traffic. Boats out on the water also did not become easy to spot until you started to crank the density up higher past 50%. I can imagine there were performance concerns that led the developers to restrict the overall density of the ground traffic but my main problem here is that I didn't feel like I had a good deal of control with the sliders to really tweak the appearance of these objects to best match the capabilities of my machine as well as my own preferences towards performance. "Good performance" is an extremely relative term.


    Airports


    The developers have taken the time to make sure that the various airports included within the coverage area have been enhanced from their default versions to properly match the ground textures, which is a great plus to the product. These enhancements include things like static ground vehicles, animated wind socks, airport buildings modeled in the likeness of the real structures, ground markers like grass runway cones, fuel areas and properly aligned runways, taxiways and aprons. There are 12 of these enhanced airports included in the scenery region and all of them look very good when you fly over or arrive and depart from them. The texture resolution does not improve in the immediate vicinity of the airports but I consider the overall texture resolution to be adequate enough when on the ground taxiing around. The variety of the airports in the region is excellent, from commercial to private with both hard surface and soft surface runways. I was a bit disappointed though to see static aircraft only at the airbase LFOE when you can plainly see aircraft parked on the ground textures at some airports.


    T_lfop.jpg
    LFOP is a commercial airport with a nice looking terminal building
    T_lfab.jpg
    LFAB is a general aviation airport with both a hard and soft runway
    T_l2721.jpg
    L2721 is a private airfield

    The added cosmetic details to the airports are excellent but the operations side of things could have seen a lot more attention, and I'm not talking about improvement over the already enhanced quality of things but issues like LFOY having two start locations that are completely off the runways, both of LFFD's runway starts will place you on the edge of the runway, LFOH and LFOE have helipad start locations a few dozen feet away from the actual helipads (the helipads themselves are placed correctly), and L7622 has both its start locations set for Runway 08 so only one runway start location shows up in the Go To Airport window. Some of the grass runways sported unrealistic threshold markings and some of the markings textures (like Xs for closed runways, chevrons for actual grass threshold markers) were placed flush to the ground rather than slightly above so they flicker when viewed in motion even a few hundred feet up. There are also fuel parking and fueling stations that don't have a trigger to fill up your tanks but this could be on purpose to let the user set the exact amount they want using the Payload and Weight dialog. In addition:


    T_takenspot.jpg
    There's a parking spot at LFOE directly beneath a static aircraft that is there even on Normal scenery density
    T_taxi.jpg
    Look at the ground movements for LFOP (3 pages down) and try to make sense of those last set of taxi instructions
    T_waterplane.jpg
    Bizarrely, every single parking location (and only the parking locations) at L7622 will make your plane bob in the... water?

    There was also the lack of AI aircraft at most of the airports, but this was largely due to me having the simulator set up to better service US flights. To help with this issue FranceVFR is working on a traffic pack.


    I also noticed that there were a couple of obstacle references on the various airport VFR approach charts that I could not find in the simulator when I looked for them - these consisted of towers and power poles and were only noticeable absences at the smaller airports. But still these should have been included as previously mentioned using the obstacles database should they have not? Specifically: LFAB, LFAE and LFPD are all missing power poles while LFAE and LFPD are both missing tower objects.


    T_missing.jpg
    There should be a tower here, note the shadow cast to the left of the bright area
    T_missing_02.jpg
    Missing power poles are visible on the ground textures

    There are two final things here I would like to note:


    T_franceVFR_07.jpg
    This is Saint-Gatien (LFRG), which is a commercial airport in the coverage area south of Le Havre across the river Seine but for some reason it is not enhanced like all the rest of the airports included in this scenery region
    T_heliport.jpg
    The hospital heliport here in Le Havre is visible on the ground textures, as is the one in Évreux, and the hospital building in Rouen is there but without a rooftop pad. These three seem to me like simple inclusions that could have been enhanced a bit to provide extra options for helicopter pilots

    Performance


    I bet a few of you just skipped straight to this section. After seeing all the fancy eye candy along the way you’re telling yourself “how is all this possible at decent frame rates??” The manual comes with a list of settings it recommends you select for the best experience given an undefined "powerful configuration". It informs you that these may need to be tweaked depending on the power of your computer but it fails to mention that some of them should be modified before others. For example, mesh resolution and texture resolution are the last two things you would want to degrade in order to save on performance. I suppose this isn't a huge issue though given that I was able to surpass the recommended settings and still have reasonable frame rates on my machine even when it wasn't running overclocked (though during flight testing it always was). I have a comparison of the settings below:


    Setting
    Recommended Value
    My Value
    Level of Detail 4.5mi (Max default) 6.5mi (fsx.cfg edit)
    Mesh Complexity 100% 100%
    Mesh Resolution 2m 2m
    Texture Resolution 60cm 60cm
    Water Effects Low/Med 2.x Max 2.x
    Ground Detail On On
    Scenery Density Dense/Extremely Dense Extremely Dense
    Autogen Density Dense/Extremely Dense Extremely Dense
    Ground Shadows Off Off
    Road Vehicle Traffic 10-25% 50%

    In addition to exceeding the recommended settings where possible I also flew with aircraft ground shadows and self-shadowing enabled, as well as leisure boat and ferry traffic also at 50%. AI traffic was running as well, with 100% of Daily (general aviation only) flights enabled through Ultimate Traffic 2. I'm also running with 4096 HD sky and cloud textures from Real Environment Extreme with maximum cloud coverage and 80mi draw distance. This is the result while flying over the sprawl of Rouen, the regional capitol city, in a high-detailed Carenado aircraft:


    T_franceVFR_15.jpg

    Additional note: My frame rates are capped externally at 30FPS


    I was incredibly pleased by the performance throughout all of my flights around Haute Normandie. Over cities I could drop towards 15FPS but out over the countryside getting up above 20FPS was common. I can count on one hand the number of times I looked down and noticed the textures sharpening beneath my aircraft - even flying at only 1,500' at 150kts never made the textures blurry enough to make me notice. There were never any serious stutters or hangs as I flew about, even when approaching a large city from over the country side - frame rates would gradually degrade but never abruptly enough to cause stuttering.


    One time, on my very first flight across the region, I actually got an Out Of Memory error that crashed me to the desktop. This is the first time I have ever experienced this issue with FSX but the manual does give you fair warning that you may come across this problem. On a second flight right afterwards, without touching any settings, I had no issues. The only difference was the weather was clearer than the last flight so I guessed that the increase in cloud coverage had caused the crash. After I lowered my cloud draw distance from 110mi to 80mi I never had a problem throughout the remainder of my review flights. (I generally fly at a much lower cloud draw distance but I was stress-testing the product)


    Generally when you talk about VFR flying you're talking about "low and slow". I decided to hop into the default F/A-18 and see what happens when you go low and fast. As you would expect, skimming 5,000' over the ground at 500+ knots doesn't do the scenery much good :) Amazingly the ground textures remained clear enough to make out major road features, although the real problem was the Autogen objects could not keep up with the airplane and would pop in behind you as you zoomed along. Obviously as you got higher (even if you got faster) things got better since with less detail needed the texture blocks that load are much larger so a greater area is being sharpened faster than many small areas of detail. Certainly do not feel like you need to turn off this scenery if all you are doing is making a high-pass flyover on some long-haul flight (unless you are not flying in the summer and want consistent seasonal variation along the way if part of your flight uses default textures).


    T_hifast01.jpg
    Leveling off at 10,000' 1 minute after takeoff. Texture degradation already started but hasn't become a complete blurry mess yet. Autogen already struggling to keep pace with the aircraft
    T_hifast03.jpg
    Moving even faster at 10,000' but the sim has caught up to our speed and although we've left Autogen behind and the textures are a bit blurry, you can still make out even secondary roadways cutting through the region
    T_hifast05.jpg
    Faster still at 20,000' and things below don't look bad at all. You can rest assured that you'll still have a great experience looking down at Haute Normandie during long-haul flights that have you high up in the atmosphere if you do that too

    Summary / Closing Remarks


    goldStarAward.jpg

    This is a product that has its problems like any other but the core of it is solid – the creation of an immersive highly realistic 3D environment. The quality of the textures, the amazing performance given the huge amount of 3D objects in a scene, not to mention the quality of said 3D objects, and the overall presentation of this region of France is just spectacular. It still has notable issues that need addressing but it's also only the very first of what will be many more iterations of this 3DAutomation technology in action. For a debut product, I applaud the developers greatly for their efforts and now I am looking forward to seeing them continue to improve the technology as they release more regions in France that use it. My granting of the coveted AVSIM Gold Star award goes mainly to the 3DAutomation technology underlying this scenery, rather than this specific region product, which will continue to play a role across many more releases.


    Speaking of region releases, allow me a moment to soap box and say that I greatly hope the FranceVFR developers are considering the licensing of their 3DAutomation technology to allow other developers to create regions elsewhere in the world. I know of other scenery companies that have refused to license proprietary technology and I feel this only hurts the consumers in the long run and the developers owning the technology in the short run. I have no doubt that FranceVFR could go on to envelope the major areas of the world in their VFR photo-real scenery - but how long would it take them to do it on their own? Will sales of the scenery support a team growth to allow them to work on more regions at once? Wouldn't it be better to increase income, if not overall revenue, by getting more scenery regions out on the market through licensed external developers? Is quality control really a major issue with external development?


    Despite all these questions I'm sure of one thing: the add-on market for photo-real scenery just got a lot more interesting. The only major (and most likely lasting) advantage land class scenery now has over photo-real scenery is seasonal variation, with a close second related to that issue being data size. FranceVFR have a lot of power in their collective hands to take the photo-real scenery category in a whole new direction - I'm excited to see where this all goes in the months and years to come.


    Computer Specs
    • MSI P67A-GD65
    • Intel i5 2500K @ 4.5GHz
    • Corsair 8GB DDR3 1600
    • Radeon HD 5870 1GB
    • Catalyst 12.3
    • WD VelociRaptor 10k RPM SATA 150GB
    • Windows 7 x64
    • FSX Acceleration
    • Saitek X52, Pro Flight Yoke, Pro Flight Rudder Pedals

    Screenshots enhanced with
    REX, ENB, Shade


    Test Time: 16 hours

    What I Like About Haute Normandie VFR
    • Amazing performance across the entire region
    • Largely consistent color balance to the ground textures
    • Enhanced airports to match ground textures
    • Incredible mesh quality and resolution brings the terrain to life
    • Largely accurate Autogen object placement
    • Excellent water masking, with coloration and bed textures
    • Included charts are great, especially the airspace regulations

    What I Don't Like About Haute Normandie VFR
    • Relatively few but notable Autogen placement errors are even more destructive to immersion than usual
    • Night flying is possible but not fully supported
    • Enhanced airports all have various bugs in design, operation and missing visual obstacles
    • No landmarks or points of interest noted in coverage chart
    • Helicopter support could have been better outside airports without much extra effort
    • Uninstallation does not properly replace Autogen files overwritten on install
    • Lack of English support on website and forums
    • A single installer (sporting multiple data files if needed) would have been better than three separate installers
    Editor's Note: The author of this review has since entered into a contractual working relationship with FranceVFR as of Sept 2012. Prior to that time and during this review the author has had no relationship with FranceVFR and expresses his unbiased opinion of the product.


      Report Article
    Sign in to follow this  


    User Feedback


    There are no comments to display.



    Create an account or sign in to comment

    You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

    Create an account

    Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

    Register a new account

    Sign in

    Already have an account? Sign in here.

    Sign In Now