A review by Marlon Carter.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a remarkable change in the quality of scenery products available for FSX. With the revamping of airports, terrain and even entire countries, I often wondered whether developers would pay any attention to the Caribbean.
The Caribbean offers some of the most intriguing airports and challenging terrain that will keep any pilot on the edge of their seat. Sadly though, there has hardly been much of an attempt at revamping the Caribbean region. Developers such as Flytampa has tried and I must say that they did a great job with St.Maarten and The Grenadines, but the Caribbean has so much more to offer that wound enhance everyone’s experience flying in this region. In fact, if the entire Caribbean was redone, it would easily be among the most popular regions for FSX users.
Until such a time arrives, you may want to check out some of the smaller scenery packages that have been popping up lately. The newest of these scenery packages is the Grenada X by Richer Simulations. Richer Simulations may be a new name to us all, but the quality work put out by the leader developer Zev Richards says quite a lot. In order for us to get a better understanding of what Richer Simulations is all about, here is a brief interview that you may find very enlightening.
Can you tell us a little about Richer Simulations?
“Richer Simulations is a small company, founded and run completely by myself. This company was formed out of a mix of a passion and hobby. A passion for aviation that began when I was introduced to MS Flight Simulator 98, and a hobby that began when I decided to create freeware for my home country of Dominica for FSX. The positive feedback I received from that freeware project led me to further my skills, and hence Richer Simulations was formed. I developed a mission statement for the company based on what I had come to love about the development community and on what a simmer would appreciate. High quality and affordability. Thus, Richer Simulations aims to produce and distribute flight simulator add-ons of quality that are comparable to, or exceed, the other payware add-ons available for the Caribbean region, at competitive and affordable prices, while seeking to provide a rich virtual Caribbean environment for all flight simulator enthusiasts to enjoy.”
Why did you choose Grenada as your first project?
“After completing Dominica for free, I began looking at other islands which had not yet been developed, but also for which good imagery was available. I looked at St. Vincent, Grenada, St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, etc. In the end, I chose Grenada because it had the best resolution imagery available and I wanted to see how far I could take the photoscenery which my add-ons rely so heavily upon. Not many Caribbean sceneries can boast 15cm/px resolution.”
What features of Grenada X do you think stand out as unique?
“From the start I listed the things that would differentiate my product from others. These include the terrain resolution, coverage and autogen. As stated earlier 15cm/px phototerrain was used. This resolution is in most cases twice and in some cases up to eight times higher than what is available in other add-ons. In addition most other add-ons only offer the area surrounding the airport. The entire island is reproduced in detail in our product by making extensive use of hand-placed autogen, which brings me to my next point. While many developers are satisfied with copying and pasting large swaths of autogen buildings, every building is custom-made and/or textured to fit the Caribbean scenery and hand-placed to fits its location on the phototerrain. The end result is over 28000 accurately placed buildings spanning the entire island. Over 200 custom tree-types were also used. What was finally unique about this product, and one of my favourite touches, was the extensive street lighting never before seen in a Caribbean-based product.”
What challenges did you face in developing this product?
“The most challenging aspect of creating the product was obtaining high definition imagery of the terminal walls itself. While my friends on the ground in Grenada did the best that they could, pictures of every wall from every angle could not always be obtained. (I hope Caribbean dwellers reading this can get their cameras out if they’d like to see their airport done next!) The next biggest challenge was time. If only I could take back the amount of occasions where I announced “release is soon” only to have to push it back!”
Do you plan on focusing on Caribbean scenery products, or will you branch out to other regions?
“For now, the mission statement will keep Richer Simulations within the Caribbean as I aim to grow and develop. I am currently looking at the next possible island (or islands). The Caribbean market is one I love personally, and one that has not always received attention, but in the future, I will definitely branch out. There are a lot more airports out there!”
Is there anything else you would like the FS community to know about your company or product(s)?
“At the moment, they can visit my forums if they have images to provide for a new Caribbean airport.”
Now that we have an idea of what this small company is all about, let’s find out more about Grenada and Grenada X!
Grenada is a small island just northwest of Trinidad and West of Barbados. It is affectionately known as the “Isle of Spice” due being one of the world’s largest exporters of nutmeg and mace. The Islands features many natural tourist attractions such as crater lakes, forest reserves, waterfalls and beaches such as the Grand Anse Beach, which has been featured in many popular travel guides and regarded as one of the best beaches in the world.
The airport which was formerly known as the Point Salines International Airport, was renamed a few years ago as the Maurice Bishop International Airport in honor of the Prime Ministry at the time that was instrumental in the construction of this airport. The airport was a replacement to the much smaller airstrip to the north east of the island known as Pearls Airport which served as a gateway to the island for many years prior.
The Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA) was constructed at the south western tip of the island as it offered the possibility of building a much longer 9000ft (approx) runway. This new airport would be instrumental in opening Grenada to International flights from airlines such as American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Caribbean Airlines, Thomas Cook, Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada and the list goes on.
While all of us may not be able to experience this island in real life, Grenada X offers everyone the opportunity to see the beauty of this island in its entirety while flying within the region. What does Grenada X have to offer? Here is a list of features provided by the developer.
- 344 square km of photoreal coverage
- 1.2m/px to 15cm/px photoreal terrain resolution
- Custom 10m mesh
- 28,000+ custom autogen trees, buildings and vehicles
- Night illumination
- Street lights
- 3D grass
- Specular textures
- High resolution runway textures
- Highly detailed airport and static vehicles
- Accurate AFCAD
- Wet and dry season textures
- Surrounding reef textures
- Configuration manager
Installation and Documentation
The installation process was quite simple and requires very little action on your part. One of the first things you will notice after the installation is the scenery configuration utility that allows you to customize your Grenada X experience. By using the configuration tool, you can adjust various aspects of this scenery such as 3D lights, 3D grass, Autogen, enhanced terrain and the speed of cars driving on the roadways.
The documentation is simple but written in an efficient manner. It gives you all the information you need about the product and how you can further customize your experience by adjusting various display settings within FSX. Also provided in this package are approach plates and aerodrome information for TGPY which you will find extremely useful. Overall the documentation wasn’t lacking anything.
Given the fact that I am originally from Grenada, I had very high expectations for this product and I knew that no one could be more critical about the level of realism and overall quality of this product than I would be.
Grenada is known for its hilly terrain and lush green vegetation. The main town of St.George’s is situated along the south western coastline and is well known for its unique waterfront called The Carenage. Other features of the island include crater lakes, surrounding smaller islands, marinas and smaller towns situated across the island.
From the moment I began exploring this scenery, I was immediately blown away by the striking accuracy of the terrain and textures that correctly depicted the vast network of roads across the island. The autogen was well suited for the region in that the houses were typical of what you would find in the Caribbean. In addition to this, the main city of St.George’s was nicely replicated and while it was not an exact copy, it adequately reflected the look and layout of the town.
The airport, which is the main feature of this scenery, is really the shining point of this product. I have used many Grenada scenery packages in the past and I have always been disappointed with the quality and inaccuracy of the airport and surrounding areas. This time around, it was quite clear that careful thought went into modeling every aspect of the airport and its surroundings.
The airport is packed with fine details that can easily be overlooked. For example, the surrounding areas of the airport feature objects such as monuments, abandoned buildings, hotels, The St.George’s University campus, ponds and much more. Apart from these objects, the terrain surrounding the airport is also quite unique. The Control tower is situated on a small hill just west of the main terminal and the hill itself blocks the view of the runway threshold while standing on the ramp. The fact that details such as these have been added to the airport makes it remarkably realistic and anyone who is familiar with this airport in real life will also be blown away.
What I also appreciated in this scenery was the accurate layout of the ramp area which has always been far too small with other scenery packages. In addition to the accurate layout, it was a tremendous plus that GSX compatibility was also added to this airport. This addition makes operating in and out of this airport an easy and enjoyable task.
Moving now to the textures, the textures used in and around the airport were very high quality. In many cases the textures used were from real photos of the main terminal and a few other surrounding buildings. The ground textures were also high quality photo real images of the island. The accuracy of these images and how well they were laid out was very impressive as I was able to follow familiar roads to various locations that were situated as it would be in real life.
Some of the textural features I enjoyed the most were the photo real beaches and reefs around the island. The Caribbean is well known for its beaches and beautiful reefs and Richer Simulations has perfectly captured the look and feel of flying over this tropical island. A significant highlight of this product was the addition of seasonal textures.
Unlike other countries that experience a variety of seasons, the Caribbean mainly experiences two, the dry and the wet seasons. During these seasons, the look of the island is sometimes dramatically different and Grenada X allows users to experience the variation in appearance based on the season.
At night, the island takes on a completely different appearance. The street lights that are optional, create an amazing night time environment that nicely resembles the night time appearance of the island in real life.
At the airport itself, I found that the terminal and ramp area was sufficiently and accurately lit. The Maurice Bishop International Airport is not a brightly lit airport due to the fact that many of the offices of the terminal building are closed at night time. Grenada X nicely reflects the terminal appearance at night and I think that based on the fact that only online images were used for add textures to the terminal, Richer Simulations did a fine job in recreating the night time atmosphere at MBIA.
The final highlights of this scenery that I thought was worth mentioning were the addition of 3D cars and 3D grass. The 3D cars were a wonderful addition and what made this even better was the option to have cars drive at slower speeds as would be expected while driving on the narrow roads of the island.
The 3D grass was also a nice touch and it added depth to the surroundings of the airport. While having dense 3D grass may have an impact on your frame rates if using a slower PC, you can adjust the level of 3D grass in the configuration manager to suit your needs.
Here are a few more screenshots that showcases the detail that went into this scenery. (Screenshots show a mixture of Grenada X with full and limited features.
Performance is always a major concern for flight-sim users. While the quality of this add-on may have an impact on your performance if used with the highest settings, I have found that the impact wasn’t very significant if you have an average to high end PC. If you encounter any performance issues that take away from the pleasure of using this product, you will be happy to know that the configuration manager may be a big help in reducing many of the features that may be reducing your frame rates.
Some of the features that have a significant impact are the 3D lights and the 3D grass. Both of these features have options that allow you to diminish the amount seen or to remove them completely. Other options for enhancing your performance include the ability to adjust the complexity of the airport scenery.
At the time of writing this review, I was made aware that Richer Simulations was in the process of developing an update that not only improves performance, but would also enhance various features such as 3D grass.
Here is a screenshot of the Configuration Manager that allows you to tailor the scenery for optimum performance. Notice that nearly each aspect of the scenery can be customized!
In the end, most users should be able to enjoy Grenada X in all of its glory, but to those of you that may still be a bit concerned about performance; an update is on the way! When this is done, everyone will be able to enjoy the Spice Isle to the fullest.
Summary / Closing Remarks
In Conclusion, is Grenada X worth 20.23 Euros? (US$27.05 /$22.73 w/o tax) Well to be honest, I think it is actually worth much more.
With most scenery packages in this price range you are only given an airport. With Grenada X, you receive not only an airport, but an entire island! The quality of work seen in Grenada X perfectly matches the type of high quality scenery we all expect today. Given the fact that I am from the island of Grenada, no one can be more critical that I have been while reviewing this product.
Admittedly, while I have high praises for the overall outcome of this product, there are a few areas that could be improved. For example, since many of the terminal textures were taken from only imagines, some of them didn’t match up perhaps due to the angle of the photos. In other cases, there were a few autogen anomalies where houses were a bit misplaced. Apart from these issues, Grenada X is the perfect addition to your scenery library that will give new life to flying within the Caribbean region.
Airlines such as Delta, American, British Airways, Condor, Amerijet, Caribbean Airlines, Liat, Air Canada and a host of private aircraft commonly fly to this Caribbean destination. If you plan on using your Level D 767, NGX or B777 for any of these flights, having Grenada X is the icing on the cake to complete your Caribbean flight experience.
As a first offering to the FS community under the title Richer Simulations, Zev Richards has delivered a fine product that all will enjoy and I am sure we are all eager to see what he has up his sleeve for us next!
What I Like About Grenada X
- Very accurate representation of the real airport
- Easy to install and uninstall
- Very realistic ground textures
- Night time textures are very realistic
- Fully compatible with GSX
- Photo real textures used island wide
- Configuration Manager to optimize performance
What I Don’t Like About Grenada X
- The performance aspect of the product can be improved and thankful the developer has acknowledged this and will be issuing a patch in due time.
- Custom Textures would have been best suited for the terminal and may have added to the overall realism.