It’s good manners to start a scenery review with some interesting facts about the airport, locale, or coverage region: in this case, the German states of Thuringia (German Thüringen) and Hesse (Hessen). However, if you’ve read the Wikipedia articles on these two states, then you already know as much as I do, and your memory of it may be fresher too.
Frankfurt I knew about, but most of the towns and cities here I’d never heard of. Nothing wrong with that: most people outside of North Carolina have never heard of the university where I teach, and the town where I live is not exactly a Metropolis. But when I had the opportunity to review Scenery Germany 4 (SG4), there was no magnetic attraction. The places were just names, the land was just dirt. Then, as soon as I took off on one of the sample flights, I was hooked.
Installation and Documentation
The installation procedure for Aerosoft downloads is changing. Everything is moving to the main aerosoft.com website and products purchased there do not require internet verification once you download them. Some folks have characterized this as giving into the software pirates, but fending off pirates is expensive. Aerosoft has crunched its own internal numbers and decided that the bottom line will actually be fatter if they focus on making things easier for their paying customers than difficult for their non-paying pirates. That sounds good to me.
Here’s my standard complaint about Aerosoft scenery installs: there is no log and nothing in the documentation to tell you which files were replaced. The installer does create backups and tells you the filenames. However, if you don’t write them down before continuing the installation, there’s no simple way to find out what they were. The solution is for Aerosoft to document the filenames in a readme file or installation log. Another thing I don’t like about the installer is this question: “The FS9.cfg contains a setting that could cause display problems in the area covered by Scenery Germany 4! Do you want to optimize this setting for Scenery Germany 4-compatibility now?” Probably, but tell me first what you are going to change (the installer sets TERRAIN_MAX_VERTEX_LEVEL to 19 so that runways will be aligned correctly on uneven terrain).
I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Nine times out of ten, nothing will go wrong. You won’t have any second thoughts, everything is reversible. Still, if you are going to make changes (not just additions) to a user’s flightsim setup, it is helpful to say what they are just in case he wants to do something different.
Fortunately, Aerosoft’s support forum is well staffed. Whenever I’ve had a question (such as “What does the installer want to change in fs9.cfg?”) the response has come back promptly.
Documentation is in German and English, with about 30 pages in each language. It covers installation (including what order you need to install other Germany sceneries in), lists all of the enhanced airports, describes about a dozen of them in detail, and then narrates four sample flights that are designed to familiarize you with the scenery. (They are also good examples of how real VFR is done, and what sort of considerations apply.) In addition, there are airport diagrams and “visual operation charts” for almost all of the enhanced airports.
The only thing left to be desired would be ICAO charts (the European equivalent of VFR sectionals) for the coverage area. This is not impractical for the United States, because most U.S. government publications, including most aeronautical charts, are not protected by copyright. Not so, alas, for the European charts (or their Jeppesen equivalents). Those babies are beautiful, but not free, and for this scenery you would need three of them (49/6, 49/10, and 51/6).
I started out using a AAA road map. Ok. But the level of detail in this scenery (and the way the sample flights are described) really calls out for something better. The solution I settled on, since I couldn’t afford the three ICAO charts (or find a North American distributor for them) was to get a Tactical Pilotage Chart (TPC). The scale is the same (1:500,000) but the information is old and there are no frequencies. On the other hand, the price is right (US$7 plus shipping from Sportys.com) and you only need to buy one chart (TPC E-2C) instead of three.
What You Get
In addition to the scenery, SG4 comes with a flight calculator and a crippled version of their popular Piper Super Cub. I know crippled is not the word anyone wants to hear, but when you strip out all of the navigation radios--including the transponder, ADF, and VOR--that’s crippling. The last sample flight talks about finishing with an ILS landing, but you can’t do ILS in the aircraft that’s provided. This is hardly a dealbreaker, but it’s not a dealmaker either. Don’t buy SG4 so you can get the free Super Cub.
SG4 is mostly the work of one person, Helen Tsvirenko, except for the landclass. That’s nice, because it’s the same landclass as for all the other Scenery Germany products. If you buy one, you get the landclass for the whole country. Meaning? Meaning that Flight Simulator will know very precisely, on close to a kilometer-by-kilometer basis, which parts of Germany are big city, little city, middle city, rural, mountain, parkland, etc. Not only will the ground cover be more accurately placed, it will also be more varied than before.
Something else you’ll notice right away are the roads, lakes, and rivers. There are more of them than in the default scenery, and they wend their way more organically. This introduces some overlap with Ultimate Terrain Europe (UTE): the developer, Allen Kriesman, says there will be a patch to make the two products compatible. I wasn’t able to make a direct comparison, but my impression, after many hours of using Ultimate Terrain USA, is that Kriesman’s roads and rivers are more supple. I also like UT’s custom road textures better than the default ones SG uses. Nothing unusual there: most road enhancement products use the default textures, and they look pretty good. The main thing is having them. The goal of SG4 is to provide the visual landmarks that a VFR pilot relies on for navigation, and having all of the roads, rivers, and lakes is a major step toward realizing that goal.
Other landmarks which are useful for navigation and are reproduced in SG4 include tall buildings, radio towers, panoramic sightseeing towers (a rarity here in North America but apparently not in central Europe), windmills, church steeples and domes, utility pylons, factories, smokestacks, power stations, hills, a big white industrial waste dump (affectionately know as “Mount Potash”), a radar dish, Soviet-style housing projects, all manner of civic monuments, park areas, bridges, and castles. If it’s on the VFR chart, it’s almost certainly in the scenery, and if it’s not on the chart but still used by VFR pilots, it’s probably here anyway.
Finally, there are 25 enhanced airport sceneries and 6 helicopter landing pads. I also noticed at least one airport that’s not mentioned in the documentation but which doesn’t appear in the default scenery. This is the old Frankfurt City airport (EDO0) which is now closed. In SG4, you can still see the paved runway and taxiways, but the buildings are gone and the runway is X’d off at both ends to show that it’s inoperative. Nice touch.
Understanding What SG4 Is
I didn’t get it at first. With VFR Berlin 2006, which I reviewed here a couple months ago, you had VFR in the title, so it was obvious. But that’s what SG is, too: it’s scenery for VFR pilots. This is reflected in the choice of airports, many of which I’d never heard of. This shouldn’t shock anyone, since I’ve already admitted to not having any prior knowledge of the region.
The first clue should have been that Frankfurt (EDDF) is not one of the enhanced airports. At first I thought this was just because there was already a Frankfurt airport in the Aerosoft stable of products (which there is). Gradually, though, as I went through the suggested sample flights, it began to sink in, except for Altenberg (EDAC) these are all GA airports and glider fields!
At this point, some flyers will shake their heads: “Not for me.” And if your preferred mode of conveyance is an Airbus, Boeing, or something lethal from Northrop-Grumman, you’re right, it’s not for you. This scenery is for people who like flying small planes over picturesque countryside, into and out of quaint little airports that foreigners (or just people from out of town) have never heard of.
Each airport is individual and there’s lots of detail: a child’s swingset and slide, assorted cars, picnic tables, various airport signage, static aircraft, streetlamps, telephone polls, fences, runway markers, to see many of these details, go to the product website and look at the screenshots.
My two favorites are both outside of Fulda. The flashy one, Wasserkuppe (EDER), is up on a hill and features photographic ground textures, a conveniently visible white radar dish, a conveniently visible road, and an inconveniently sloped (but still fun to land on) runway. Taking off from same and flying east, you can see what used to be the East German border, which is still dotted with abandoned guard towers.
My other favorite is Fulda-Johannisau, which so far as I can find, doesn’t even have an ICAO code. It’s tucked into the Fulda suburbs and features something I’ve never seen anywhere else, a curved runway. That’s manageable, but finding it is tricky. This is good, in my book.
I got started with Microsoft Flight Simulator version 2.0. At that stage, Europe didn’t exist, much less Germany. You always knew where the airports were, because in most places they were the only object on the screen. Now that’s not completely unrealistic for paved airports since in decent weather, the runway stands out pretty well. But a curved grass strip, when it’s next to a farmyard? That doesn’t jump out at you unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. So when you finally do nail it (after five go-arounds in my case), it’s very satisfying. Not unlike what I imagine Bruce Wayne feels when he comes home and the Bat Cave swallows him up. Well, maybe not quite like that, but cozy, a wholesome kind of outdoor secrecy.
This also happened a couple of other times. At Anspach (EDFA) and Marburg (EDFG), it took me several minutes after I had arrived on the scene before I could actually spot the airport. Again, I see this as a sign of realism, there are enough other objects in the simulated world that the airport doesn’t declare to you just by existing. It blends in with the natural and man-made environment. Let me add that when I came back later, all three airports were easier to find, because I could associate them with various landmarks: a windmill at Anspach, a valley at Marburg, a couple of lakes at Fulda.
I do have three suggestions for the airports and one criticism. First the criticism: most of the enhanced airports don’t have parking spaces. I noticed some control towers, too, at airports that had no tower frequency. Both of these things are minor, but they are also basic, especially the parking spaces. I saw someone comment on them in the support forum and the response needs to be, “We’re going to fix this right away, I can’t believe we forgot to make parking spaces!” Get out the AFCAD, Aerosoft, and draw the little green circles. It doesn’t take long, but until you make parking spaces, an airport’s not finished.
Here endeth the spanking. The missing parking spaces are a weird, almost unaccountable oversight in an otherwise classy performance. I say unaccountable, because elsewhere the execution is very thorough. When a real roadway goes into a tunnel, the simulated roadway disappears into the hill and comes out the other side. Bridges line up with roads, and roads hug shorelines.
None of the GA fields are animated like Emma Field, but then you don’t get the Emma Field framerate hit, either. I’m pleased with the compromise between detail and performance, and have only minor suggestions to offer. First, there are a lot of glider fields, both here and in VFR Berlin. A working glider winch (such as Emma Field has) would complete the effect and make the whole country available for soaring. (There is already a freeware scenery for glider thermals.) Second, add some AI traffic to the new airfields, so we have company in the traffic pattern. (This was something SG3 had that SG4 doesn’t.) Third, open up some of the hangars so we can park inside. (If you really want to spoil us, animate the doors so that we can open them from the plane by remote control.)
Evaluation and Speculation
The last product I reviewed before SG4 was Aerosoft’s Lukla - Mt. Everest. The Lukla scenery was all about extremes: of weather, altitude, runway size, and speed. Here there are no extremes. Central Germany has some good sized hills but no mountains, rivers but no waterfalls. Frankfurt is a major European city, and is suitably outfitted with towers, skyscrapers, monuments, and churches. There are some smaller cities as well: Suhl, Jena, Gera, Weimar, and others. And there are also lots of autogen towns. But compare it for a moment with SG3, which covers the most densely populated region of Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia. There was less use of photographic ground textures in SG3, but more cities in the coverage area: Bonn (the former capital of West Germany), Cologne, Aachen, Düsseldorf.
SG4 is more rural than SG3, and yet somehow not less rich. How can this be? I’ll come back to this in a moment.
Who is it for? You don’t make an SG4 unless SG2 and SG3 sold pretty well. Obviously there’s a sizable market for detailed sceneries of Germany, especially in Germany. But what about outside Europe? The price, 35 euros, is not out of line for premium scenery products, such as Misty Fjords or MegaScenery Southern California. Central Germany, though, is neither majestic like Misty Fjords nor famous like southern California. I grew up in California, and normally my formula for good scenery is “water plus mountains.” SG4 doesn’t have much of either, but I am captivated all the same.
Partly this is novelty: I simply had no idea it would be so interesting. Not only do I want to keep flying here, but I also want to go back and revisit Berlin now, not the city so much as the little airports around it. There is still a lot to discover. I previewed winter, just to make sure it worked all right, and that is going to be something new too.
But there is more here than novelty. Why is something so ordinary so compelling? The best answer I can devise is that real life (people living with each other and the land for hundreds and thousands of years) is always interesting, provided we can see it in enough detail (which in SG4, we can). This is why, for example, we have novels as well as adventure stories. In a novel, it is not always what happens that holds our interest, it is about the people, the characters.
How do people come through in a scenery? There are no animated crowds, swarming through the streets, driving along the highways, or swimming in the rivers (though there are sailboats in the lakes). In SG4, there is no obvious drama of any kind. The land doesn’t swoop up to the sky, the cities don’t teem. And yet the hills, valleys, towns, and fields all have a kind of intensity.
What produces it,
I think, is intricacy. It’s not just a matter of piling on the detail.
What makes the place feel alive is that the details make sense,
as if there were an intelligence behind them, which there is.
not talking theology here, who made the world and so forth. But
when you see a row of utility pylons, it’s no accident
that they form a line. Human beings planned that. When you see
a bridge cross a valley,
it’s no coincidence that there’s a road lining up
with the bridge on both sides. Someone planned that, too. Unlike
in Flight Simulator, this one feels lived in.
|What I Like About Scenery Germany 4|
|What I Don't Like About Scenery Germany 4|
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