TATRA Photo Scenery was an interesting choice for me to look at because I have never been to mainland Europe, and also because I had no idea where the TATRA’s actually were. Sorry Europe. However, I do have a fascination for mountains and an interest in Geology, so I was keen to see what this scenery was about.
Apart from the geography lesson, I was also fascinated by what one of the first truly hi-res photo real sceneries that have become available for FSX, outside of England and the United States, had to offer. FSX allows much higher texture resolutions than were possible in earlier versions of our favorite sim. Meaning photo real scenery that always looked impressive at high altitude in FS2004, looks just as impressive at much lower altitudes in FSX.
In the case of TATRA, Simdesign offer a pixel resolution of 2.4 m (that means each pixel equates to roughly to 2.4 meters on the ground), double that available in the FS2004/2002 version, and digital terrain mesh at 19m’s.
So, just where is the TATRA mountain range? Here I needed the help of the Simdesign website and an excellent search engine to do some research. Simdesign had this to say:
“The Tatras are the highest range of the Carpathian Mountains. They represent a natural border between Poland and Slovakia. The Tatras cover an area of roughly 750 km2, with 150 km2 within the borders of Poland and 600 km2 in the territory of Slovakia. The highest mountain in the Tatras is Gerlach in Slovakia (2655m above sea level), whereas the highest Polish mountain is Rysy (2499m above sea level).”
Researching the TATRA mountains was fascinating. I learnt that the TATRA’s comprise of no less than 19 mountain peaks, split between the Western Tatras (Slovak: Západné Tatry, Polish: Tatry Zachodnie), and the Eastern Tatras (Východné Tatry, Tatry Wschodnie), which consists of High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry, Tatry Wysokie) and Belianske Tatras (Belianske Tatry, Tatry Bielskie).
Being a natural divide between Poland and Slovakia, the mountains provide amazing hiking, mountain climbing and winter sports with a number of resorts set up to allow tourists to access this beautiful area. The TATRA’s also have an aviation connection, being an alpine area it has its fair share of storms and avalanches, and as a result, a volunteer rescue team was formed called Tatrzanskie Ochotnicze Pogotowie Ratunkowe (TOPR).
TOPR uses a fleet of helicopters on the mountains, and one of their old Mi-2 choppers is featured on the cover of the DVD case. One sad item I read touched on global warming and how this has been affecting the mountains since the 1980’s, and with increasing tourism the ecosystems unique to this part of the world are now staring to suffer*.
The scenery in TATRA covers a total area of 3500 sq km (70km x 50km). When you consider the number of mountains, this is not a lot of space which suggested to me straight away that the TATRA’s are an impressive landmark that I was going to enjoy exploring. So let’s get started.
*Sources: Wikipedia, www.ezakopane.pl/poland/tatra_mountains.html, www.krakow-info.com/1tatry.htm
TATRA is supplied on a single DVD, however it does appear that Simdesign are talking about a ‘lite’ download version as well. However, at time of writing that had not become available. The first surprise in the install process was to discover that the TATRA DVD does not use an Autorun feature, so I needed to manually find the files on the DVD to begin the install.
You have the choice of either the FSX or FS2004/2002 version of the scenery, as I only run FSX these days, I double clicked that version and the install started. 3 language options are provided, English, German and Polish, so it’s clear Simdesign were thinking about the local regional audience across Europe when developing this scenery.
Once into the install, the standard terms and conditions screens are run through before you come to the License Code input. This is where I got my second surprise. I was asked for the License Code which I initially mistook for the Product Key that I found in the DVD insert, so when I got an error after inputting this key I thought ‘What?’ Try again, same result, hmm, scratches head.
When in doubt read the instructions. What I found out is users are required to go to the Simdesign website and use the Product key provided in the DVD insert to register their copy of TATRA, and then they will be sent the License Code via email to install the scenery.
While this is not a problem, I looked through the documentation and no mention was made that the product would require registration prior to install. If I had known that up front, I would have got the Code prior to beginning. As it was, I had to then cancel the install and then do what was required to get the License. This took 10 minutes or so and added an annoyance factor that could have been avoided with an additional sentence in the documentation.
Once armed with my code, the install proceeded very smoothly. TATRA installs close to 4GB of files and took about 7 minutes to complete on my system. I also installed the autogen patch that had only recently been released for TATRA, that was another few minutes and then the install was complete. FSX will automatically detect the TATRA scenery, so all that was left to do was get a nice cold drink, a snack and get ready to be dazzled, I hoped.
Note –At time of writing an additional patch (1.10) was due that corrects texture areas of LZZT (Poprad Airport)
As mentioned above, the documentation supplied with TATRA is very sparse, being limited to a small insert in the DVD case that has information on how to obtain a License Code. On the DVD there is an electronic EULA and Readme file. Strangely, the Readme had nothing in it other than ‘Setup FSX for Microsoft Flight Simulator X’ and on the second line ‘Setup FS9 for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004/2002’. No other details, descriptions or information is provided anywhere.
It’s a Photoreal World, now where did you say we were flying again?
As I started up FSX, I must admit to feeling some anticipation of what I was about to experience. I’m a fan of high resolution photoreal scenery; it’s a darn site cheaper to visit a photoreal location in some exotic country from the comfort of my study, than go through the drama of actually traveling there. Ok, maybe not, but you get the idea.
Once running, I realized I had no idea what airports were around this region so went online to find out. At this point I would suggest that a pre-saved flight included in the install would have been very useful, particularly for us tourists. I found out there are a number of airports in the region, and selected LZTT (Poprad-Tatry International Airport) as my starting location as it provided panoramic views over towards the TATRA’s.
Because LZTT is fairly close to the Tatra Mountains, I was able to get a good idea of the photoreal coverage straight away in top down view. I had set my settings up for winter, and you can see in the image above right the added detail the TATRA Photoreal scenery brings to the area when compared to the default scenery.
Four Seasons in One Day, and Night
Textures for all four seasons and custom night textures are provided with TATRA; this adds character and depth to the scenery and really shows off these mountains in all their glory as they change so much depending on the time of day and year you visit them.
I have to say that TATRA highlights why including all the seasons is such a smart move, and I hold TATRA up as an example of exactly why doing them is worth it. But, including them and doing a good job of it are two different things, and I’m pleased to say Simdesign have achieved a stunning result with their seasonal and night textures.
Looking at all four seasons I couldn’t fault them, and their night maps also do the job you would expect. I did find the night textures a little colorful, but that seems to be the way FSX is, and found a few anomalies with some pink light in places I wouldn’t expect to see it (See Night Textures Anomaly), but overall I was very impressed.
Performance and General Impressions
For my flights I wanted to honor the work of the TOPR rescue teams, and chose to fly the FSX default Bell 206B Jet Ranger. This also meant I could get low and slow and land at points of interest along the way. I had no specific flight plans for my sightseeing adventures; I really just wanted to experience the scenery across a variety of seasons and times of day.
Once airborne from Poprad I headed towards the mountains keeping fairly low, the autogen is quite dense so depending on your settings performance will vary somewhat. I am fortunate enough to have a good machine, so was able to set the sliders to max and still get between 12 and 25 FPS throughout my flights, averaging about 16, which was fine for this slow type of flying. Photo real scenery does have a habit of draining system resources, at least that’s been my experience, so I was pleased with the experience overall. I also found the seasons made little difference, so performance was stable throughout my flights.
To be totally honest, initially I was a little skeptical about this package and wondered why I would get excited about some rocks in Europe. But TATRA is stunning. The mountains and the surrounding land slowly began to reveal themselves to me in a way I hadn’t expected as I explored the seasons and different areas of the region. The quality of the mesh and photo real is excellent, good enough in fact to draw me into the scenery and begin to move it away from being a simulated environment and into something a little more special.
I was able to follow paths and roads, and land by the numerous small lakes and water catchment areas scattered throughout the mountains. It was at these times when I would look around that the sheer vastness of these mountains would become obvious, more than once I felt quite insignificant in my little metal shell buzzing around these mountains like a mosquito. I won’t spend a lot of time describing what I saw because I feel the screenshots do a much better job, but flying in this area is certainly an experience. ‘Breathtaking’ is a word I could use repeatedly, particularly when I would fly over the summit of a mountain and the land falls away into valleys below and beyond. I ended up using about 3 GB of hard drive space with screenshots, everywhere I turned seemed to be a photo-op that I wanted to capture and share.
As I flew, I was occasionally aware of changes in the terrain as the mesh would adjust to my location. The textures themselves remained blur free throughout, once again I was in a slow moving aircraft so if you chose to zoom through the mountains in a Learjet, this would no doubt be a different experience. The coloring of the land and mountains seems about right, I certainly didn’t see anything that made me think the color matching was a bit off in any location. If anything, the colors were so well done I didn’t actually notice them, they just left me with the impression that they looked like they should.
TATRA won me over and does exactly what it says it will, so you do get what you pay for. The more I flew and explored, the more I wanted to continue. As add-on scenery goes, photo real products typically enhance and make our day to day experience of the flightsim world more realistic. TATRA is unique in that it focuses on a geological wonder, as opposed to a city area or single airport.
The attraction is the mountains, they are not on the way to a destination, they are the destination. Sitting so many thousands of kilometers away from the real world location it could be asked, and rightly so, why would I want to have this add-on? I live in New Zealand; I tend to do my flightsim flying in New Zealand, so what gives? In FSX, TATRA means spectacular VFR flying and an experience that so far is, in my view, unique in FSX.
I appreciate we are seeing more photo real scenery coming onto the market that utilizes the higher resolutions now possible in FSX, and TATRA does this as well as any other. For me, as a flightsim enthusiast but also someone who has an interest in mountains and geology, TATRA photo real scenery manages to convey the awe inspiring presence of the mountains throughout this scenery, and for me that is why this "Kiwi" would choose to fly there. If you are looking for a photo real scenery you can show off to your mum, this could well be an excellent starting point. If you are new to the world of high resolution mesh and photo real scenery, this would be an excellent package to start with for its visuals and performance.
Apart from the little annoyances in the documentation and the install process, I whole heartedly recommend this scenery to anyone who enjoys VFR flying, and has the time and inclination to spend exploring and delving deeply into a region. TATRA needs and deserves to be explored to maximize the potential this scenery offers. If I was to simply fly around it a few times in an aircraft and say ‘wow, that’s kind of cool’ and then fly away, I will have missed so much of what the TATRA mountains are.
What I Like About Tatra For FSX
What I Don't Like About Tatra For FSX
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