How often have you flown in an airplane and not looked out the window at the ground? Unless you’re deathly afraid of flying, the answer is probably not a lot. Personally, that’s part of the appeal of flight; to look down upon Terra Firma and marvel at its appearance from high above. Now as to the ground-gazing in flight sim, it isn’t all that different to me. I may be sitting at a decidedly more of a sea level altitude when flying from my armchair, but it’s still enjoyable to stop studying my instruments, if but for at least a few seconds, and take in the sights.
But it’s at times like these, especially above my own stomping grounds over Norcal, that I always feel a little twinge of disappointment. Being a real-world pilot with real world memories of what the terrain looks like from several thousand feet up, it never quite looked… right.
This is where Flight 1, in the never ending war of enhancing the realism of FS2004 for it’s end users, offers us Ground Environment.
Installation and Documentation
Ground Environment came to me in CD-ROM form, so it was completely a no-brainer with the initial installation. Just pop the CD in, follow the prompts, and the software will make it into your hard drive with nary a issue at all. However, this is more of a transfer than it is a true installation. After all the files are transferred over to your PC, a second procedure is required to make all of that data do its stuff. This starts with a click on the GE Icon to bring up the main installation window.
It is here that you will make the real choices that will let GE know what to do and where. The options that are included, besides the texture installation, include checking for updates, PDF manual review (which backs up an eight page insert within the CD case), a tool to locate FS2004 if you opted not to go with the default install location, and the like. But enough about that. This is about improved ground textures, so let’s make that the focus of this review, shall we?
At a minimum, the end user will want to install at least two of the four texture sets found in GE – the Day and Night sets for Global Coverage which are selectable in the installation window. Two other options exists for users of Ultimate Terrain – Europe, which contains specially designed textures (Golf Courses, Parks, and Industrial Areas) designed to merge with that specific product. Whichever way you go, there’s no need to worry about the default textures you’re about to supersede with GE; the program automatically backs them up, and they are very easy to retrieve should you ever require to do so. You can even create alternate backup texture sets via the main installation window, if so desired.
A Whole New World
Once you get FS2004 up and running, the first indication of the change may not be readily apparent… at least not to me until I got my plane off the ground. GE is meant to be appreciated from the air, so gun that throttle and takeoff. The world just got a facelift, and it’s waiting to be admired.
It is important to note that GE is not like any of the available world scenery packages who’s textures are designed to maximize the accuracy of the appearance of any one area. Instead, it is a set of general textures that were designed to improve upon the ones that are supplied with FS2004, complementing the general appearance of a location. Major landmarks, such as famous structures, landmasses, and airports themselves remain unaffected.
That said, let’s take a closer look at what GE offers the FS2004 world.
It was when I ran a comparison of this exact same scenery of an airport and surrounding land somewhere in the California Central Valley that the difference between the default and modified textures came to light. I could immediately see the softer hues and colour tones in the GE textures, and how much more realistic the contrast of the varying intermingling fields were. I imagine that the sharpness of the MSFS default variety is possible on the clearest of all clear days, with no cars on the nearby I-5 freeway, no motorized farming equipment, no airplanes, and no general pollution throwing up any obscuring filth into the air. I was also struck with how the forest textures were represented, looking fuller and much more healthy overall.
I then did the same experiment over Sacramento Executive Airport to see what things were like over a well-populated area, and again I had to stop and really admire what I was seeing. The neighborhoods that border the field appeared much more refined, with individual developments readily identifiable. Rooftops, streets, parks, and foliage also had that better-than-before look about them, and seemed to be more logically placed.
Now on to night textures, and I don’t think I need to say much here. The chaotic, almost random placement of blobs of color that represent light has been reigned in, lined up, and placed down onto the map in a way that truly brought a smile to my face. Main streets are easily differentiated from the smaller backroads, and if you look closely, you can pick out a few football/soccer fields and baseball diamonds illuminated by some unseen field lights. Beautiful.
Finally, I set out to the Himalayans to look at valleys, canyons, and mountainous type textures. No surprises here considering all my previous comparisons. You can see the step up in the quality of the terrain in the foreground, where the nooks and cranies in the ascending rockface in the foreground are added. This simple modification really added to the whole don’t-you-get-too-close-to-me appearance of the terrain, something any real life pilot who’s flown through (not over) a mountain range would attest to. The snow has also been reworked, shedding it’s rather dull look for one that is realistically much brighter.
Autogen Scenery also goes through a change, with primary emphasis being on alignment and appropriate placement. How many times have you looked down and wondered why Building A was canted at a severe angle to Road A? Flight 1 looked into this in GE, and worked their magic.
In reworking of the textures, the program seemed to be coded to acknowledge placement or no placement of autogen objects based on whether or not the texture was appropriate to the object. Look at this pair of pictures of the scenery of near Montgomery Field Airport in San Diego.
Look really close at the two pictures and you see just how much a difference there is. On the left, you catch sight of a few buildings suffering from the ‘cant’ syndrome, and one or two that are laid down on areas that suggest that they are in the middle of the road. Same could be said for a few of the trees. On the right, you see that it is a much more organized picture. Textures that suggest any undeveloped, open fields are vacant of any structures, the roads appear clear of any clutter that would hinder virtual car traffic, and where the buildings are plopped down suggests a good degree of orderly placement. True, I did find a couple of misplaced buildings and trees, but the total instances of such deviations from the promised goal were extremely miniscule.
Flight 1 states that, "the textures GE employs are of the same size as those of default FS2004’s", and it shows in performance. Running the two different worlds on a similar route (KSFO-KSAN @ 10,0000ft) found the FPS meter suffering a serious bout of déjà vu. No notable difference was noted when running the sim with GE’s textures as opposed to FS2004’s.
There is no denying that GE really makes the grade in improving the appearance FS2004 default world. I immensely enjoyed the improved look of things as I zipped around the globe, and have found it virtually impossible to go back to the default scenery without cringing. I personally would not hesitate to recommend GE to FS2004 users.
|What I Like About Ground Environment|
|What I Don't Like About Ground Environment|
Tell A Friend About this Review!
All Rights Reserved