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    Vancouver & Los Angeles Int'l Airports from FSDreamTeam


    Gaiiden

    FSDreamteam is well known for creating some of the best scenery add-ons available. Today we will take a look at their latest releases Vancouver International and Los Angeles International. The newest of these releases is the Vancouver scenery.

     

    This scenery is packed with many innovative features which include;

    • NEW Innovative lighting system, using Dynamic Shadows Technology™
    • Fully customized ground and runways in high resolution.
    • NEW Volumetric pre-rendered Lights, Shadows and Ambient Occlusions without any FPS impact.
    • NEW Ground Shaders technology with 100% "Pure FSX" code
    • NEW Bump mapping and Specular mapping on ground, DirectX10 Compatible!
    • Animated custom ground vehicles. (FSX only)
    • Elevated taxiways bridges, fully compatible with AI airplanes.
    • Fully 3d taxiways lighting, custom runway lights and PAPIs.
    • Special runway lights, including custom PAPIs with FAROS
    • Intensive use of LOD techniques in order to offer the best possible performances.
    • High resolution building textures.
    • Jetways animated with inverse-kinematics in FSX.
    • NEW YouControl™ feature: custom airport actions with easy on-screen menu to trigger animations, events, etc.

    As you can see, the list of features in this package is quite impressive and some are quite new to FSX.

     

    The second scenery we will look at is an older release from FSDT, Los Angeles International. I thought it would be a good idea to review both of these products since they are very impressive and you will be surprised to see that even though the LAX scenery in itself is impressive, the Vancouver scenery still manages to surpass its quality. Here is a list of the feature for KLAX:

    • Fully customized ground and runways in high resolution.
    • NEW Volumetric pre-rendered Lights, Shadows and Ambient Occlusions without any FPS impact.
    • NEW Ground Shaders technology with 100% "Pure FSX" code (FSX only)
    • NEW Bump mapping and Specular mapping on ground, DirectX10 Compatible! (FSX only)
    • Animated custom ground vehicles. (FSX only)
    • Animated lighted pylons for the LAX Kinetic Light Installation (FSX only)
    • Elevated taxiways bridges, fully compatible with AI airplanes. (FSX only)
    • Fully 3d taxiways lighting, custom runway lights and PAPIs. (FSX only)
    • Special runway lights, including FAROS, RWSL, THL and REL. (FSX only)
    • Intensive use of LOD techniques in order to offer the best possible performances (FSX only).
    • High resolution building textures. (FSX only)
    • 123 Jetways animated with inverse-kinematics in FSX (FSX only)
    • NEW YouControl™ feature: custom airport actions with easy on-screen menu to trigger animations, events, etc (FSX only).

    At first glance the features may seem to be the same but with a bit of careful reading, you will see that there are a few differences between the two sceneries. To get an idea of what some of the new innovations really entail, I had an opportunity to ask Umberto from FSDT a little about the technology that was utilized in creating these scenery packages.

     

    FSDreamTeam:

     

    The main difference in technology is the use of the Dynamic Shadows, which doesn't affect FPS, because it's a way to dynamically switch objects depending on the sun’s position, but there's only one version of the object in memory at any time. The CYVR manual has a more detailed explanation how this works.

    What generally makes all our products fairly FPS friendly, considering their complexity/size, is a combination of several factors:

    We don't use any legacy FS8 or FS9 code

    Most of the 3rd party scenery out there uses a lot of FS8 code to do custom ground polygons OR they offer a choice to install default-looking ground textures so, you have to choose between having a nicer and slower scenery (which is also not compatible with DX10) because the FS8 code is much slower than native FSX code, or having a faster scenery, with default-looking ground.

    This is because it's not possible to have native FSX code for the ground using only the official FSX SDK methods, not without big issues with blurred texture due to the usage of native photoreal terrain or heavy flickering due to the different handling that ground polygons require to fix issues like, for example, the round earth projection used in FSX. FS8 code for ground layers is handled as a special case by FSX, but with a cost in performance, and on top of that, advanced FSX materials couldn't be used anyway.

    We entirely bypassed this issue, by having our Add-on Manager/Couatl programs handling all ground textures as programmable objects, so we can adapt and fix visual problems like flickering/z-fighting in real time, so we can use fully native FSX code for the scenery background. This has also the added advantage of allowing shaders to be used, which means the ground can use realistic effects like bump mapping that simulates rough surfaces like tarmac, and specular reflections that simulates the effect of the sun shining on asphalt (compared to no reflections at all on grass, for example), this is difficult to note from screenshots, but it's obvious within the sim.

    Another advantage of being able to use shaders on the ground is that we can SAVE a lot of polygons to handle detail textures. A detail texture is an additional texture that adds close-up detail so it won't look too blurred at a short distance, and we normally have different detail textures for tarmac, asphalt, grass, gravel, etc. The normal method using FS8 code is to layer two set of polygons, and to follow the complex taxiway structure, two set of many polygons would be needed. Instead, by using shaders, we don't need polygons to specify where each detail texture goes, but a bitmap that will point to the texture used depending on its pixel values, so we can be very precise indicating which detail texture goes where, but we don't need as many polygons as we should if we wanted to do the same with FS8 code.

    We put the GPU to do more work

    GPU power keeps increasing every month, and it's fairly easy for a user to replace a video card. Instead, CPU power and (especially) raw speed, increases very slowly, it goes in the direction of more efficient multi-threading (which FSX doesn't use much) and it's hard and expensive to replace a CPU, since it usually requires replacing the mainboard and the RAM too. So, it makes sense trying to rely more on the GPU. By delegating more and more to shaders, our sceneries are usually able to use the GPU more, and this is confirmed by any test that shows the GPU occupation on recent FSDT scenery is higher than the typical airport scenery for FSX. This means two things: the scenery will keep working better, the better GPUs will be used, and the main CPU is free to do other things like simulation code, AI code, gauge and systems code, etc.

    We externalized a lot of program logic to a different thread, putting multi-core CPU to some use

    Earlier FSDT sceneries had the Add-on Manager doing most of the work, nowadays we moved almost every program logic we need to run into the Couatl program, which is an interpreter for the Python language, customized for FSX use. Everything "interactive" in our products runs entirely outside FSX, into the Couatl interpreter. GSX, for example, is written entirely in Python, and its logic runs entirely outside FSX. Since the Couatl program is a separate .EXE which is not running in the FSX process (compared to a .DLL module), this result in two big advantages: first that any memory needed by Couatl for any reason is not "stolen" from the FSX memory pool, but is taken from a separate address space reserved for Couatl only. And, since it's an external .EXE running in its own thread, it will be automatically scheduled to use a spare core on a multi-core system, so it won't affect FSX performance and even complex calculations won't cause pauses or stutters in FSX. To give an example, in order to do Dynamic Shadows, the program needs to calculate the current Sun position for any given day of the year at a specific location, so Couatl includes a complete astronomical calculator package inside, which gives scientifically accurate results, without affecting performances in any way. Another example is the path finding algorithms that GSX uses in order to have its catering, fuel or follow me vehicles coming from away (instead of just popping out in front of the user) or the kinematics calculations needed to simulate the Pushback physics in a believable way and following the AFCAD paths precisely at the same time. All of this is made by Python scripts, running externally to FSX, in a separate thread, not stealing precious RAM from FSX, and in a separate process and thread, so FSX will never slow down because there's a complex calculation stalling it.

    It's very likely we'll use the same technique, in case we'll ever do an airplane product again, offloading any system simulation to Couatl and Python scripts, and having very "dumb" gauge code, which will save considerable amount of memory too.

    We take a lot of time optimizing scenery

    We use every possible technique to optimize scenery:

    First one is LOD (Level of Detail). LOD is annoying to do and it's additional work that a developer must do, but it's worth it and, everyone using AI models will know how much better AI with LODs are for performances, so we use it a lot in our sceneries. Every single object as at least 3 LOD levels. We use LOD levels with animated jetways too, putting the costly bones only in the better LODs, so you won't see all jetways of the airport animated at once, but only the one closest to the viewpoint. This helps reducing the FPS impact of animated jetways a lot.

    Another technique we use a lot in recent sceneries is Textures Atlases. It's a very well known technique in gaming development, which means trying to use as few as possible large textures, instead of using many smaller ones. The overall resolution won't change: using 4 4096x4096 textures is exactly the same as using 64 1024x1024 textures, both from a memory consumption point of view and from a visual quality point of view. But using less big textures instead of many smaller one, has a large impact on performances, because it minimizes the costly "state changes", that happens when the graphic card has to switch to a different texture/material in the middle of a drawing. You'd want to keep those changes as few as possible. Ideally, the best possible performances could be obtained by having the whole scenery contained in a single texture and draw all polygons with the same material.

    Along the years, we kept improving and changing our methods, to keep pace with the available hardware, so our sceneries breaks down to the following "periods"

    Zurich and O'Hare - The earliest sceneries were using quite a bit of FS8/9 code, and it wouldn't made much sense to rely on the GPU anyway when they were released.

    JFK - This got rid of most of the FS8 code, but we used a native FSX photoreal background, and it was difficult to get consistent quality for all users, because this type of ground suffers from blurriness entirely out of our control, depending how the rest of the system is loaded. Because of this, not everyone could see it with the sharpness the original textures were made. But thanks to this, it offered very good performances, considering *where* is located, which is a frame rate pit even with no add-ons loaded. Before we released it, many thought doing JFK in FSX wouldn't be possible.

    KLAS, KFLL, PHNL and Hawaii - These are a bit of hybrids between the old and new generation: they still use FS8 code, but in an unusual way, combining a native FSX background layer, with an FS8 layer to give a custom look.

    KDFW - This was the first scenery that used 100% FSX code and use Shaders for ground instead of polygons, to get the advantages I've explained above. It also introduced some things like entirely custom runway lights, and intelligent runway/taxi/papi lights that interacts with the AI (handled by Python code, of course), to simulate THL/FAROS/RWLS

    KLAX - This one expanded on the KDFW concept, using more complex shaders (with more detail textures variety) for ground AND extending the usage of shaders even for the actual buildings, not just the ground polygons. It also introduced an novel method to do night lights, with hundreds of pre-rendered lights baked in the night textures, simulating multiple light sources in a realistic way, with no impact on FPS.

    CYVR - The base methods are similar to KLAX, but it added the Dynamic Shadows technology, so the scenery will look always different each time of the day or season (and even in overcast, it has a specific look for that one too), with shadows calculated accurately for that location.

     

    Installation & Setup

     

    The installation process for the Vancouver scenery is quite easy and it is all automated. During the installation it's possible to select texture resolution independently for the Photoreal background and the Dynamic Shadows, with 1024x1024, 2048x2048 and 4096x4096 choices. The installer will give an estimate in size for each option. This way, you can keep the overall texture resolution as high as possible (to keep using HD textures in other products), and control how much space allocate to Vancouver textures.

     

    The documentation provided is well written and easy to follow which makes customizing and using these sceneries to your requirements a simple task. Contained in the manuals are airport charts including SID and STAR charts, recommended settings and a detailed description of various features. Overall I don’t see anyone having trouble in this area provided you follow instructions and you read the manuals.

     

    The Experience

     

    We will start off by looking at the accuracy of the layout of each airport. Starting with CYVR, I had the opportunity to examine a few photos of the real airport and to compare it with the layout of the simulated version. As you can see in the photos below, the FSDT CYVR scenery is spot on.

     

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    The terminal buildings at the real Vancouver International are not as radically designed as other airports but they do offer sufficient detail to make it interesting nonetheless. This being the case, FSDT has managed to model with extreme accuracy, every square foot of this massive airport. Apart from the airport terminal buildings being modeled accurately, this airport is unique in that FSDT has added a feature that takes the realism of these buildings to a new level.

     

    The introduction of Dynamic Shadow Technology makes this entire scenery come alive. As one might expect, the time of day would determine the shadows that are cast by any object. With buildings it gets a bit technical based on the design. The dynamic shadow technology that was introduced with this scenery does exactly what it was meant to do, it accurately calculates the position of the sun to render a realistic shadow from objects. This is quite an innovative feature and you will be happy to know that it will not in any way affect your frame rates.  Here are a few photos from various times of the day.

     

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    These photos showcase how different the shadows and lighting are at different times of the day

     

    Moving on to the ground textures, I was quite amazed with the level of detail shown on the ramp. Normally the gate positions of any airport ramp are always dirty and slightly worn due to the heavy traffic going in and out. This is nicely shown throughout this airport and it creates a realistic airport environment.

     

    Another feature for the ground textures that you will also find intriguing is the use of bump mapping that simulates rough surfaces like tarmac, and reflections that simulates the effect of the sun shining on asphalt but not on the grass. This is perhaps one of the features you will notice almost immediately when using this scenery and it gets even better when you include real weather that has rain or snow.

     

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    One of the concerns I had with this scenery, as I do with all others, is to know how the change in seasons will affect the ground textures. I am happy to say that no matter what the season may be, the ground textures blend in quite nicely. This is clearly seen during the winter and spring season which was recently updated.

     

    Here are a some screenshots that showcases the various ground textures and effects:

     

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    While we would have discussed the shadow technology before, I thought it would be equally important to discuss the lighting effects. Lighting for add-on airports has long been a sore spot in that they never truly capture the essence of an airport environment in low natural lighting conditions.

     

    The lighting that is featured in the CVYR scenery is all 3D and this can be best seen at dusk or at night time. You will also find that the lighting for the terminal builds is also quite impressive in that you can also see at times see inside of the terminal buildings themselves. Here are a few screenshots that showcases the lighting at night and various times of the time.

     

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    Here are some mixed screenshots

     

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    One of the final features we will talk about is the YouControl and Animated Jetways option. These days having animated jetways may not be a big deal to talk about but this feature is definitely a highlight of this scenery and since it was designed specifically for FSX it offers a much more realistic animation. YouControl on the other hand is a unique option worth mentioning in detail.

     

    YouControl is enabled by the Couatl Engine that comes with the scenery. It’s a generic “Custom action manager”, that can handle any number of custom animations or events that can happen at an airport. It’s not something that is specifically tied to Vancouver International Airport scenery, but Vancouver International Airport comes with a set of custom actions that are active in the airport.

     

    YouControl is used to trigger custom animations like opening hangar doors, activating special jetways which FSX wouldn’t otherwise be able to support, but can also be probably used to create more complex events, like calling ground support vehicles, declaring emergencies, activate training scenarios, etc. When using Vancouver International you now have the option of Opening/Closing of the Air Canada Center Hangar, Air Canada North Hangar and the London Aviation Center Hangar. This adds a new level of realism that is not common in airport sceneries today.

     

    KLAX –Los Angeles International

     

    KLAX is another popular airport among simmers and just about a year prior to the release of Vancouver International, FSDT release this excellent scenery which features many of the design innovations of Vancouver International.

     

    Since these two airports are similar in design with only a few differences in features, we won’t delve too much into the list of features all over again. What I can say however, is that KLAX is truly an amazing scenery add-on worth checking out.

     

    As is the case with CYVR, the airport itself does not eat away at your frames and for its beauty and complexity this is an astonishing accomplishment on the part of FSDT. Here is an assortment of screenshots which nicely showcases this airport which I would also recommend.

     

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    Final Thoughts

     

    Publisher: FSDreamTeam
    Platform: FSX
    Format: Download
    Reviewed By: Marlon Carter

    My overall thoughts on these two sceneries are that they are both amazing. I try my best not to use the word “amazing” too loosely, but I am baffled as to how two airports with so much detail can have so little impact on your frame rates.

     

    Vancouver International has many innovative features and the technique used in creating this scenery was without a doubt a much welcomed new approach to scenery modeling. The Coualt program that is used to manage the use of this scenery and all other FSDT sceneries is truly remarkable and for this alone I would give this package a rating of 10/10.

     

    Los Angeles International is equally fascinating even though it is much older. Both sceneries are strongly recommended and I would also encourage you to try other FSDT airports as well. I had the opportunity to try many of the most popular FSDT products and I can tell you that the process FSDT has made over the years is very commendable.

     

    If you are familiar with their KJFK, PHNL, KORD or KDFW sceneries and you were impressed, I can tell you that CYVR and KLAX are light years ahead in terms of their quality and innovative features. If you are a bit skeptical you can always download the airport and examine it while in the demo mode which gives you full use of the airport for 5-6 minutes.

     

    Hands down, CYVR and KLAX are now two of my favorite sceneries for FSX and I am sure you will like them also.

     

    What I Liked About the Airports

    • Accurate layout of airports
    • High detail textures
    • Innovative use of Shadow Technology
    • The YouControl feature is amazing and it makes using this airport more realistic and enjoyable
    • Little to no impact on frame rates
    • Direct X10 compatible
    • 3D lighting
    • Ground textures are realistic

    What I Disliked About the Airports

    • There isn’t anything to be unhappy about with this product except that it would be nice to have many more add-on sceneries with these features and more


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