by Max Pyankov
Disclaimer: this product was provided for review free of charge.
Recently I was offered an opportunity to review a VFR product, covering all of Czech Republic, from a company called VFR Poland. This product, VFR Czech Republic, retails for 31€ (about $33.5, at the time of writing) and can be purchased from http://simdesign.pl/.VFR Czech Republic is published by a Polish studio called SIMDESIGN. Their portfolio includes other Central European sceneries like VFR Poland NW and VFR Poland SW. They are also currently working on VFR packages for Croatia and Slovenia. You can find further information, about the publisher, here.
It is good time to be a Flight Sim enthusiast – between various quality sim platforms, the numerous aircraft available with varying degrees of accuracy and detail, and the plethora of particular airport/city/region sceneries, a PC Pilot is sure to enjoy his or her experience! The sky is the limit, as the saying goes, and in our case (or in my case in particular), the amount of financial resources will determine where I fly, what I fly, and which aspects of my sim world I will enjoy the most.
Installation process for this product is fully automated, yet a somewhat involved and a lengthy process. The length can be attributed to the size of the package – almost 20GB!
You can download it (as I did), or you can order a memory card (boxed version of the product), and install off it. The memory card route will cost you more - 39€, instead of 31€ for the download option. My experience is related to the download route.
The installation process included the following steps:
Step 1 - download simManager application from http://simmanager.simdesign.pl.
Step 2 - install simManager on your machine.
Step 3 - install the package via tools available in simManager.
Before you can proceed to Step 3, you must register your account (create a user name and a password) using simManager. Only after a successful registration through simManager will you be able to complete product installation.
I did encounter installation issue during the account registration step - I could not successfully register using simManager. A complicating factor was that the message box, which prevented me from moving forward, was in Polish even after I switched the app to English language.
Of course I was easily able to obtain a translation using an online language tool. After several unsuccessful attempts I contacted my editor to get help with the installation. The publisher explained that the issue had occurred as a result of database work happening at the same time as I was trying to register. I was able to register and continue with the installation process. Not a big issue by any measure; reporting it simply for the purposes of transparency.
Once I initiated installation, there was nothing to do but to watch numerous files get downloaded and get installed. The resulting folder came out to be about 19 GB large, and it took a few hours for the whole process to complete.
First thing I did after installation process finished was to look at the documentation which, to my surprise, was absent. These days, more often than not we (flight simmers) do receive product documentation. In addition, the pure size of the package led me to believe that there would be documentation to accompany it but, alas, that was not the case. To be fair, there are a couple of good resources available online at simdesign.com – one explaining in detail the installation process and requirements, and another – a general overview of the scenery.
I was looking specifically for three things, when I was trying to locate documentation:
1 - Scenery description especially as it relates to Czech airports (my tacit hope had been that default airports, or at least some of them, had been updated or ‘improved’ as is often the case with VFR packages);
2 - Any configuration setup or memory usage (VAS) recommendations; and, last but not least,
3 - A general pointer to areas of interest to fly over.
In the end I was able to get prompt replies to all of my questions (huge thanks to DanutaMarcak and all of SIMDESIGN team!) but I do, personally, wish that there was some sort of a guide to the scenery.
And finally we get Czech Republic - a Central European nation with rich history dating many centuries back.
Once installed, I was able to turn the scenery off and on very quickly using one of the freeware tools, available online, for managing FSX scenery entries. Just wanted to call that out; now - back to the scenery. VFR Czech Republic covers current Czech Republic and offers the following features:
2.5 meters per pixel ground resolution;
Real satellite photos;
Total area of about 80.000 sq. km;
Single season / summer textures;
Compatibility with other SIMDESIGN products.- 2,5 m/px ground resolution;
- Real satellite photos;
- Total area of about 80.000 sq km;
- Single season / summer textures;
- Hydrological layer;
- Compatibility with other SIMDESIGN products.[EN] - 2,5 m/px ground resolution;
- Real satellite photos;
- Total area of about 80.000 sq km;
- Single season / summer textures;
- Hydrological layer;
- Compatibility with other SIMDESIGN products.[EN]
Before we get into scenery analysis, let me get a few items out of the way.
First – my graphics parameter settings:
Second–back to mytacit expectation that there would be an upgraded set of CZ airports; my expectation went unfulfilled.
On the one hand, I find it disappointing, mostly because some of the other scenery packages, available in the market, do upgrade default FSX airports to some extent. That, coupled with the small number of major airports within the region, led me to think that some of the bigger airports would get a facelift. False assumption. On the other hand, of course, this is a VFR package and is not an airport scenery which, often, each commands about the same price for a fully developed and enhanced scenery. As such, even if I am disappointed about this, I don’t feel that I have any real right to count lack of default airport enhancements against this product as a whole.
While we are on the airport topic – there are some misalignments between the VFR scenery and the underlying FSX airport world which, in my case, led to a distorted airport representation. I am guessing that SIMDESIGN's coordinates are the correct ones, but I wish that a solution was provided to avoid this sort of anomaly. Notice, in the screenshot below, the misaligned taxiways on the ground (left screenshot). In the right screenshot, notice the image of the airplane, on a taxiway, from the satellite (right of b1900). Not the best imagery although a somewhat common sight in the VFR world.
There are other examples of planes and their shadows captured on the ground (see directly under the b1900):
My third point is about the ‘Single Season’ feature. I am not sure why the publisher attributed this fact to a feature set. In my opinion, this is a limitation of the scenery, especially considering the geographic location of Czech Republic which has a variety of seasonal changes between the seasons of summer, fall, winter, and the spring. Personally, I like to fly with the Active Sky Next loading up-to-date weather parameters into my sim. With this package I am limited to the summer months only. Of course, with the sizable investment into hard drive space to contain summer textures alone I am not sure how practical it would be to change between summer/winter very often. I personally would do it, and I would it twice a year – in late October and in earlyApril. But it may not be a practical option for everybody. Nevertheless, it would have been nice to have the option to switch to winter textures. When asked about this, SIMDESIGN did say that they had winter textures in the works, as a free upgrade upon request. This will be available at some undetermined date in the future. To be fair, I must mentionthat many of the other VFR packages (regions and cities alike) also provide summer textures only.
For this review, I flew into Prague, and from there hopped the cities of Brno, Ostrava and Hradec Králové. In addition, I took a couple of close up sightseeing trips.
I don’t run default FSX scenery in Europe – my EU sceneries are provided by other packages, which I do like. Often VFR Czech Republic took my scenery one or two steps above in terms of visual realism and geographic identity. Where my package gives definition in terms of accurate FSX autogen and elevation, VFR Czech Republic gives it identity and vibrancy by displaying the exact and high-quality photo-scenery you would expect to see if you were flying over that particular spot. A series of screenshots below will present the same spot, in my sim, before (left) and after (right) VFR Czech Republic.
For example, you can see how actually square blocks of forest, in my pre-VFR-CZ world, get replaced with deep-green, lush forests, with correct and appropriate forest contours.
Autogen, in combination with land textures and custom buildings, does a great job of filling in the Czech landscape. SIMDESIGN’s autogen differs from FSX in that it projects land class based on satellite imagery relevant to any given geographic locale.
All water bodies (lakes, rivers, and ponds) exist in the sim world as water, as opposed to a satellite imagery of water. This adds to realism and is a welcome feature of the set (referred to as the Hydrological layer).
This package can be enjoyed and usedboth from the low VFR flying, as well as from the 20,000 feet and above, in a liner or a business jet, perspective. I decided that the best flying experience starts at about 2,000-3,000 feet above ground and up. This is when the scenery adds the best realism effect to the sim.
At level ground in the cities a varied mixture of custom buildings will make up the dense neighborhoods of the city.
There are no textures for roadways and city streets other than the satellite imagery, which takes away from the experience of very low flying, like you would want to do in a single-prop or even a glider. I do believe that the bigger cities in the region would benefit greatly from additional attention and effort on city streets texturing.
Overall, though, if you plan your VFR routes based on roadways and rivers as navigational aids, you will have no problem finding your way around so long as the weather permits!
Last, but not least, are the hills and mountains, which look absolutely fabulous.
I took a fewflights in the night hours to evaluate night lighting. In the dusk and mid-evening hours, the roadways light up with traffic lights, which look very good.
To my surprise, where I expected pitch black, I was presented with textures which appeared lit from inside, which diminished some of the night-time realism for me. The ambient light of citieslit in the dark night is a beautiful sight to see, and one to make you doubt what is real versus computer generated.
The many farming fields, on the other hand, appear lit from inside (or underneath), which made me wonder where exactly the light was coming from.
When I asked SIMDESIGN about this, they said that they do not control scene illumination level. The illumination level is controlled by FSX graphics engine and depends on such parameters as the season, time of day, and the moon phase. They did add, however, that ‘night textures’ were in the works, which would be available as a free upgrade upon request.
Starting with this package and going forward I am going to track the amount of VAS used and available, as it is reported by FSUIPC. This topic is near and dear to us, flight simmers, as each additional layer of complexity (the ever higher texture resolutions, the ever more complex models, etc.) has the potential to diminish the overall experience.
I will report to you that this package, other than taking a huge chunk off of my hard drive (solid-state drive, at that), had zero impact on VAS, which is great news.
What I liked
Efficient and, in my experience, issue-free memory management (specifically as it relates to amount of VAS available reported by FSUIPC).
Beautiful localized land and building textures.
Smart autogen, providing appropriate land-class textures based on satellite imagery.
Hydrological layer, providing ‘sim water’.
Great for VFR flying at 1,500 feet and above.
Gorgeous dusk and early evening hours.
Areas for Improvement
User documentation, summarizing product features, would be a welcome addition.
Optional winter textures would be a welcome addition.
Night time illumination, at times, appears too bright.
Attention needs to be spent on cleaning up some of the airport taxiway misalignments between the underlying FSX world and the satellite imagery.
Bigger cities would look much better if city streets and roadways had been defined with additional textures, besides just the satellite imagery.