FOREWORD: Ode For A Flight To Vancouver
After my holiday flight's last leg
Reading the poem above (which I wrote myself), I am now totally convinced that I shouldn't give up my day job to write poetry for a living. For those who do enjoy poetry, I am of the opinion that as long as there are rhymes, there's a poem. Mostly, I just wanted to express how very happy I am with the new Vancouver+ scenery add-on for FSX by FSAddon Publishing. Perhaps rhymes aren't the best way, so from here on in, I will stick to the traditional AVSIM method of giving out a Gold Star Award for Excellence, and then gushing enthusiastically for a few paragraphs before I launch into an illustrated travelogue of the Vancouver environment as seen by Vancouver+.
INTRODUCTION: Why You Should Know The Names of Jon Patch, Holger Sandmann, and George Vancouver
Vancouver+ is the stunning, realistic scenery add-on for FSX that will add re-vamped Vancouver scenery to your flight simulator, as well as a large area surrounding this beautiful Western Canadian city. Vancouver+ (yes, with the "plus" sign in the name) is published by FSAddon Publishing, a small software firm that among other things makes outstanding scenery for Microsoft Flight Simulator. This particular project was headed by Jon Patch and Holger Sandmann, themselves two very talented scenery designers.
Jon and Holger are responsible for some great sceneries, including many freeware add-ons for FS2002, 2004, and FSX. If you have any interest at all in simulated flight over Western Canada (think of the endless wild shorelines of British Columbia, the untracked forests of the Rocky Mountains, the urbane splendour of the Banff, Jasper, and Lake Louise tourist areas, the sere foothills of Alberta's cowboy country, or travel north into the deep bush where the DH-2 Beavers howl over the fog-bound fjords to the cold and implacable peaks of the Yukon frontier) or if you simply enjoy truly realistic scenery, then you will want to look up Jon Patch and Holger Sandmann in the AVSIM Library.
A few words about the real-world Vancouver, the place I am happy to call home. International media frequently places Vancouver as one of the top three cities in the world to live in, typically in the running with Vienna, Austria, and Geneva, Switzerland. Without going deeply into how Vancouver manages to be at the top of the list year after year, I will simply report that there is much to see and do here, that the food is good and the water is clean, the scenery is consistently breathtaking, and the people are generally friendly and accepting of a colourful diversity of culture.
Historically, Vancouver derives its name from the Royal Navy Captain George Vancouver, whose exploration of the west coast of North America in the 1790's provided excellent maps and fairly good relations with the native population. The city as we know it now was originally settled in the 1860's and began development in earnest in 1887 after it was connected to the Canadian Pacific Railway, the intercontinental rail line that linked the west coast of Canada to the east.
Today, when people speak of Vancouver, they are most likely speaking of the conglomeration of cities, towns and villages that comprise its urban sprawl. Since the 1960's, the population of Vancouver and its satellites was administered by the Greater Vancouver Regional District, the GVRD. In 2007, the name of "GVRD" was switched to "Metro Vancouver", although legally we can still use GVRD.
This area is composed of these municipalities: Vancouver City (which holds the densely populated downtown core, as well as the troubled East Side), as well as trendy North Vancouver and West Vancouver. The westernmost district is rugged Bowen Island. Heading south, we find Richmond, where the Vancouver International Airport resides (CYVR), and Delta, which borders on the United States. Farther east are Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, Port Moody, Coquitlam, and Port Coquitlam (home of the late Terry Fox, one of Canada's all-time greatest citizens). Smaller cities and rural regions in Metro Vancouver include Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, White Rock, Langley, Belcarra, Anmore, Lion's Bay, and the sparsely populated Greater Vancouver Electoral Area A.
Okay, so that's a lot of place names crowded into one geographical spot on the map. Even if you're familiar with the area, a citizen of Vancouver, chances are you've not been to all of those regions I have listed. So here's where, when reviewing Vancouver+ that I have to add, "But wait, there's more!"
Whereas many add-on sceneries will give you a shiny new airport or two, and an expansive, realistic city, Vancouver+ gives all this and more. Holger Sandmann is expert in knowledge of the geographical topography of British Columbia, so all of the mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers and fields that surround Vancouver are all laid out in exact detail, including custom LOD11 terrain mesh, landclass, autogen, and a number of hand-placed custom objects and textures. Technically, the area covered ranges from W123 45' to W120 56.25' and from N50 37.50' to N48 52.03'. That's a rectangle 200km East-West by 150km North-South (124 miles by 93 miles), or 30,000 square kilometers (11,532 square miles). This includes the towns and cities of Abbotsford, Hope, Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, and Lytton, as well as Metro Vancouver in the south-west corner of the map.
(What on Earth did I mean by LOD11? LOD stands for Level Of Detail, which is a basic measurement of how complex your terrain mesh will look, in short, how bumpy the land can get. LOD11 means that roughly every 19 meters, FSX will take an altitude sample of the land. 19 meters is a little bit longer than an Olympic-sized swimming pool, so every one of those lengths gets a data point in Vancouver+. That's a lot of data!
Now, I should mention there is one major location in Vancouver+ that does not get included in the package, and that is Vancouver International Airport, CYVR. Vancouver+ does have two finely detailed regional airports, Pitt Meadows (CYPK) and Langley (CYNJ), and a sizeable number of airport tweaks, including 28 new airfields, 7 seaplane bases, 11 unlisted runways, 13 heliports, and many new airport buildings, but there is no YVR. The default CYVR that comes with FSX is quite good as it is, so perhaps you won't notice the difference. There are more realistic Vancouver International Airport add-ons, including a freeware CYVR by P. Nigel Grant (available in the AVSIM Library) that are compatible with Vancouver+.
INSTALLATION & DOCUMENTATION: Chuck and the DC-3
Installing Vancouver+ is easy! The download, though, is large: 577MB, with at least an extra Gigabyte needed on the hard drive for all of the Vancouver+ extras. High levels of realism in scenery call for a great deal of computational resources for rendering. As complicated as Vancouver+ is, great pains have been taken to make it easy to install, and to make it compatible with as wide a range of pre-existing add-ons as possible. This is accomplished through the FSAddon Configuration Screen. With it, you can:
- Use custom textures for the Vancouver+ landclass, or use the default FSX
textures, useful if you want Vancouver+ to blend in with your other scenery
Otherwise, Vancouver+ pretty much installs itself; you load it up, and when FSX is running, you are ready to fly.
The manual for Vancouver+ is quite extensive. It's a .PDF document that runs to 59 pages, although much of it is lavishly illustrated. The manual is thorough! It details the installation process and gives tips and advice on how to make Vancouver+ compatible with many popular third-party add-ons such as Ultimate Terrain for FSX.
As well, the manual provides advice on how best to set up Vancouver+ for your system, including where to set FSX detail sliders. I followed the advice for the optimum set-up and went to save my new profile - if you were not aware, FSX allows the user to save and load any number of custom profiles to take advantage of any flight situation.
For instance, you could have a profile that deletes all autogen for transcontinental passenger jet flights, or a profile that turns up the water detail for a wild helicopter ride over river country. You can change these profiles any time as you fly. Well, I went to save this new custom file for Vancouver+, and I discovered that FSAddon automatically placed the profile into my Preferences folder! Not only did the manual tell me how to set up my sliders, FSAddon very kindly provided the profile so that all I had to do was click on it and load it up. Of course, the profile is user-editable, so I could tweak it for my computer, or even delete it if I did not want it. FSAddon has ensured a consistently high attention to detail throughout Vancouver+, and this is just one of dozens of thoughtful features that impressed me very much.
Strangely enough, the beginning of the manual set a tone that made me think that Vancouver+ was not going to be so great. The manual opens up with a bit of fan fiction, a story about a fellow named Chuck with bad teeth and a troublesome DC-3. "Yeah, yeah," I said, "I am skipping this!", and I paged down to the part of the manual that talked about installation. But after my initial hours with Vancouver+, I was burning to know more about the program. I read the story about Chuck and the DC-3. It wasn't bad, not great literature, but I wouldn't write anything better. It ends in a cliff-hanger, where the hero valiantly tries to land his crippled DC-3 on a field near Pemberton. The abrupt ending is intentional: it provides a nifty jump-off point for my own adventures. I can re-create Chuck's doomed flight and see if it's possible to save the aircraft. FSAddon includes a number of Saved Flights (not Missions, though) that highlight the Vancouver+ region, including a flight out of Pemberton - perhaps a rescue attempt?
As a further incentive to learn more about the Lower Mainland (the area surrounding the real-world Vancouver), the manual provides an exhaustive lists of Internet links to the real world locations in and around Metro Vancouver, as well as credits to the long line-up of kind folks who helped Jon and Holger's team in their bid to make Vancouver+ so immersive and realistic. You can spend hours researching this list to find out more about this lovely region. Again, it's details like these that make Vancouver+ very attractive to anyone interested in add-on scenery.
Finally, for those who may not be familiar with the Vancouver region, or even if you are a resident, you will find some very nice full-colour maps to help you find your way around the area. These maps have lots of good details, and will help you locate many of the more obscure places you can land an aircraft, but they do not provide navigational markers, airways, or anything like that. You can rely on the map function in FSX to give you many of those details.
VERSION COMPATIBILITY: It's All Good!
I tested Vancouver+ on a Windows XP system with FSX Service Pack 1 (SP1). There are now a number of versions of FSX from which to choose. From the reports that I have gathered, Vancouver+ should run very well on any possible system: Windows XP with either the original out-of-box FSX, with FSX SP1 or the new FSX SP2. SP2 comes with the new official Microsoft "Acceleration" add-on, or SP2 can be downloaded from Microsoft for free without the Acceleration material. Vancouver+ will also work with Windows Vista and DX10 (DirectX 10).
FSAddon reports there is one small issue with trees near CYPK Pitt Meadows in the scenery. The issue is easy to fix: the user can either wait for an upcoming patch, or delete the small number of affected trees by finding and deleting this file:
Microsoft Flight Simulator X\FSAddon\VancouverPlus\VanPlus_Higher_Priority\Scenery\Facility_CYPK_cars_trees.bgl
People who install many popular payware sceneries and then install SP2 are encountering a problem where the land and water switch places, or other bizarre artefacts. This is not a bug with Vancouver+ (or Ultimate Terrain, Megascenery, etc.), but rather an issue with the way FSX installs scenery. It's easy to fix! If, after you install everything, the ocean and the land look all screwy, you can run a Repair function on Vancouver+. In your Windows Start Menu, you can find the Uninstall Vancouver+ tab. Use this, and you will be given the option to Repair:
Start->(All) Programs->FSAddon->Vancouver+ FSX->Uninstall Vancouver+ FSX. Choose the Repair button and click Next. In some installations users might see:
Start->(All) Programs->FSAddon->Vancouver+ FSX->Repair Vancouver+ FSX. It's the same deal as above. This should fix the issue, no problem!
SCENIC SCREENSHOTS: Travelogue
There are hundreds of unique places to visit in the real-world Vancouver, and there are just as many in Vancouver+. I am trying my very hardest to give proper dues to as many as I can, but you have to understand that whatever I show you is just the merest fraction of what Vancouver+ has to offer. This is an area rich in visual splendour, and many of the details that are in the real world appear faithfully re-created in Vancouver+.
Pitt Meadows (CYPK)
Pitt Meadows is a small suburb towards the eastern edge of Metro Vancouver. Pitt Meadows, Pitt River, Pitt Lake, and other such local landmarks are named after William Pitt The Younger, a British Prime Minister. Pitt Meadows has a mix of suburbs, industry, and agriculture typical to this region. The river is a major transportation hub, and barges and log booms are often to be seen working up and down the waterway. The local airport CYPK is right along the river, allowing for land-based and water-based general aviation, as well as a healthy skydiving concern. CYPK is the airport closest to where I live, so it has also traditionally been the base of my own sim-flights for as long as I care to remember. Imagine my surprise and delight to see that this little gem of an airport got a major improvement in Vancouver+!
CYPK has been re-worked into a very realistic Vancouver+ model of the real airport. Truck and farm traffic rumbles through the intersection of Ford and Baynes, while seagulls utter their querulous cries as they wheel overhead. The main buildings, most of them pre-fabricated blocks or Quonset-style hangars are placed accurately with realistic signage. The main tower has been improved over the FSX version, so you know that someone is watching out for you as you taxi the short tarmac to Runway 26L. The Vancouver+ version of CYPK includes a humble water terminal, which is just a wooden dock for your floatplane. Make sure you have your water rudders engaged, as you will have to steer past log booms on the Fraser River. If you have water traffic enabled in FSX, you can expect to see some custom craft out on the water with you.
A short hop south from CYPK is CYNJ, the regional airport that services Langley Township. Langley itself is somewhat spread out, with the largest portion going to a township, a smaller part is Langley City, and the oldest part is historic Fort Langley. The Fort was more of an economic center than a military base, and was an important center of trade during Canada's formative years. The Langley region was named after Thomas Langley, who was an influential official with the Hudson's Bay Company, at the time a monolithic trade empire that dominated Canada's economic relations with Europe. Fort Langley is often called "The Birthplace of British Columbia".
CYNJ is another popular airport for general aviation. Apart from asphalt and turf runways, CYNJ boasts three helipads, for it is the hub of much rotary-wing flying. Langley is also the home to the Canadian Museum of Flight, which boasts 23 vintage aircraft, eight of which have been restored to flying status. The Museum boasts an impressive gallery as well as a gift shop that sells exquisite aviation models and prints.
For me, the trip to CYNJ in Vancouver+ was one of discovery. As I approached Runway 19, I discovered that I really needed to improve my short landing skills! That's because the asphalt runway 01/19 is only 2,100 feet long, and if you don't land on the numbers you risk running out of hard grey stuff for your wheels to roll on. Circuit training runs in CYNJ will help any sim-pilot to take off and land efficiently, and it makes landing just about anywhere else seem like a walk in the park by comparison.
Hats off to FSAddon Publishing for making CYNJ so realistic! There's more detail here than you would see in some shoot'em-up video games. Taking screenshots of Langley Regional Airport was just like taking pictures in the real world, except that in FSX, the people in the tower won't yell at me for running out into the airfield with my camera.
The distinctive skyline of Downtown is what many people will think of when Vancouver is mentioned. There is a lot to see and do in a relatively tight radius, from enjoying world-class shopping and nightclubs, to watching professional hockey or football (Canadian rules, of course), to perusing stacks of books in the main library.
If you want to be outdoors, Stanley Park and its famous seawall are right next door. As well, there are numerous marinas, so if you want adventure on the high seas, this is your gateway. If you can't afford a luxury yacht, a trip on a water taxi will give you an amazing vantage of the Vancouver skyline.
Vancouver+ offers up heliports and a sea base in and around the Burrard Inlet that will allow you to commute right into downtown, just as any multi-millionaire executive would do.
Landmarks in Vancouver+ include the Bentall III, IV and V office towers, the massive Callisto condominium, Canada Place with its distinctive sails, the post-modern Cathedral Place, the glassy and classy Electra condo, historic Hotel Vancouver with its lovely green copper roof, curvilinear Library Square, the Marine Building, The Melville, Park Place, the Law Courts as designed by Arthur Erickson, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Wall Center skyscraper, City Hall, BC Place and GM place - both domed sports arenas, and even Qube, possibly Vancouver's most earthquake-proof edifice. There are others I haven't mentioned here: realistic bridges and office buildings, photo-based ground textures, AI-driven air, ground, and water traffic, and more. The level of detail is most impressive!
Peppered throughout Vancouver+'s surrounding regions are all kinds of custom buildings. Fly south from Vancouver City Hall and you will find Vancouver Women’s' and Children’s' Hospitals. The hospital buildings by themselves aren't terribly realistic or accurate, but they are placed on the correct streets, and they do provide a hospital helipad that can be an endpoint for humanitarian missions of mercy in the simulation.
Fly east, and you will find fast-growing Burnaby, including Metrotown Mall absolutely packed with shoppers, the black box Rogers Cantel Towers, the unique, sloped Telus office, and even Swangard Stadium, the heart of Metro Vancouver's pro soccer community (the stadium looks a little big in Vancouver+ as compared to the real thing, though). North Burnaby features an impressive Burnaby mountain, crowned with the gorgeous Simon Fraser University quad. Below the campus is the oil tank park that overlooks the Burnaby Mountain Golf Course at Squint Lake.
Head south, and you will fly over the central regions of Metro Vancouver. If you are interested in flying to CYVR, Vancouver+ places an accurate Alex Fraser Bridge, which pilots have nicknamed "The Goalposts", due to tall twin support towers. Nearby is the Lafarge cement plant, with its enormous factory tower. This landmark is visible for many miles around, and some folks call it "Cape Canaveral" as it does look like a massive rocket gantry. If you line up your flight path so that you pass over The Goalposts and go past Cape Canaveral, you will almost be pointed directly at Runway 26L at YVR.
Further south, and you will find the ocean. The coastline belongs to the Delta region, and features the photo-mapped Roberts Bank Superport, which is a gigantic causeway that extends into the water. Originally, the port was designed to ship coal overseas, but now it has become one of North America's largest hubs for container traffic as well. Nearby is the causeway for the BC Ferries Tsawwassen Terminal, where large car-carrying ferry boats ship passengers and their vehicles to Vancouver Island as well as other marine destinations.
The Year is 2005
Interestingly (for me, anyways), Vancouver+ seems to be stuck in a bit of a time-warp. What I mean by this is that the Vancouver+ we see in the FSX sim is not the same Vancouver that exists today. There are small clues that give this away:
1) In downtown Vancouver+, the advertisement for the Vancouver Art Gallery
(VAG) is for the Rodin exhibit, which really occurred June 18 to Sept. 22,
2005. It was a splendid show, by the way.
2) In downtown Vancouver+, there's some empty space near Georgia and Thurlow: that's where the bold 62-storey tall Shangri-La building will go. I do know something about that; I worked in the office building across the street from where they began digging the foundation in March 2005. What was once a mighty deep hole in the ground is today a sky-reaching edifice that towers over all other Vancouver buildings. In Vancouver+, the Shangri-La is depicted with a single yellow construction crane.
3) North of Vancouver, the Western Forest Products Woodfibre Pulp Mill is operational (see below). The whole Britannia Beach/Howe Sound region has suffered from heavy industrial pollution, so at the cost of jobs, this wilderness ecosystem had a chance to rebound after the plant was permanently closed in March 2005.
So based on these three clues, I would suggest that Vancouver+ is really stuck in early March of 2005, no matter what season or year you choose to fly in (you can make the seasons change, of course). Vancouver+ wasn't just created out of the blue, the developers no doubt used older artwork as the basis for this new scenery; I just found it fun to play detective to figure out the local time frame. This is a trivial detail at best, but it's a testament to the number of small, important items found within this product.
Perhaps in a new patch, the pulp plant will be shuttered, the VAG will have a new poster display, and the Shangri-La will be fully built.
The surrounding area gets detailed treatment from Vancouver+. For instance, if we travel north from the downtown core, we can pick up the Sea To Sky Highway, the shortest path to the Whistler, the world-class ski resort. Along the way, we will see realistic landmarks: rugged Bowen Island, Horseshoe Bay with its ferry boat fleet, Howe Sound, Britannia Beach, and even the old Woodfibre Pulp Mill as it belches clouds of gunk into the sky. The real world Vancouver is famous for being close to many well-groomed ski runs. Among others, Whistler-Blackcomb, Grouse, Seymour, Cypress Bowl, and Mount Baker are modelled in Vancouver+, if you wanted to start your own virtual heli-ski service.
If we go east from Vancouver, we also reach the mountains, but not before flying over placid Fraser Valley. Communities such as Abbotsford, which hosts an impressive international airshow, Mission, Chilliwack, Hope, and Harrison Hot Springs, are all mapped out nicely by Vancouver+. Remote settlements such as Lytton, Lillooet, Pemberton and Boston Bar are small, but they are situated in some of the most beautiful mountain areas imaginable. Any one of these areas will provide an excellent base for bush pilot adventures in British Columbia.
Beyond settled areas, there are many other things to see in the wilderness. Roads, railways and even power lines are placed accurately, so you can navigate by dead reckoning. FSX tends to place roads in strange places for mountain scenery, so that they sometimes travel at wild angles impractical for road traffic.
In Vancouver+, the road system has been tamed, and numerous small bridges have been added where appropriate. You can also find natural wonders such as animated waterfalls deep in the rocky lap of the mountains. Lakes and rivers are also very accurate. Lake water at higher altitudes will freeze over and allow for safe landings. Now you have somewhere to operate aircraft with ski landing gear! A couple of the larger water bodies have dams on them, the Cleveland Dam comes to mind right now. If you fly over this dam in Vancouver+, you will see water jetting out from its spillway, and you can hear the roar it makes as it does so.
DIGGING DEEPER: Finding Bugs And What not
There is much more to Vancouver+ than very pretty pictures, and although I would rank this add-on as one of my all-time favourites, it does not come without a few flaws. On the other hand, it also goes a long way to fix problems with the default FSX.
Let's start with that. The default Vancouver in FSX is quite striking to look at. With mountains, ocean, rivers, fields, islands and open sky, it may be difficult to make an ugly-looking Vancouver, as long as you get the basic aesthetics correct. Still, there are problems with default Vancouver.
Downtown looks decent, but there are some buildings that seem out of place. That, and there are areas of dense urban development outside of downtown which are missed by the default autogen. In FSX, I found that the overall landclass was unusually jumbled and undifferentiated, like a jigsaw puzzle of the city that was all shaken up. Quite a number of major centers outside of the GVRD were missing, particularly the city of Abbotsford (although the airport existed in FSX in the middle of a vast green forest).
Then, there's the much-hated "Vancouver Mystery Corner", a weird piece of land that looks kind of like a shelf in the middle of Burrard Inlet. In previous versions of MSFS, the artists acknowledged the presence of the Lafarge cement plant by depicting it as a monolithic ebony obelisk well over eighty storeys tall in the middle of the wilderness; flight simmers used to call it The Black Tower. So, while the Microsoft crew in Redmond seemed willing to depict the basic presence of their friendly neighbour to the north, I don't think they did Vancouver justice the way that the FSAddon team has done with their exact attention to local detail.
The high level of customized detail comes at a price in terms of what my computer can handle. First, the required space for all of the files is in the neighbourhood of 2 Gigabytes of hard drive. Then, when you have all of the scenery set up, flying over Vancouver+ will cause your computer to slow down. It's not un-flyable, but you may have to make a few compromises.
In terms of difficulty in getting a good frame rate with dense scenery, I would have to put New York as one of the worst offenders in FSX. Vancouver+ performs better than New York. If I were to compare, I would suggest that Vancouver+ performs about as well as the Chicago area in FSX, but that's just using my own tests on my own machine. Others may have different results.
Being able to fly over a large area of highly detailed scenery like Vancouver+ has spoiled me for other scenery. Perhaps I am being overly fussy, but there are some small omissions in this scenery that I wish I could have. This is, of course, apart from having the chance to upgrade the entire CYVR airport model, but that's a very large job for a small add-on publisher.
Apart from that, there are at least two large buildings I would like to see in Vancouver+. One is the Parkview Towers apartment building, now 50 years old this year. The Parkview is a rather large concrete and glass structure that squats at the base of the Burrard Bridge. It's shaped like an enormous letter "Y", designed in the clean-lined "urban bunker" motif common to North American buildings of the 1950's, and if that wasn't enough, it's traditionally painted in bright green and jet black.
Like the Great Wall of China, it is one of those buildings that are so distinctive you can see it from space, or at least that's what the Parkview Towers seems like when you drive by the thing on your way downtown.
The other building I would like to see is the Harrison Hot Springs Hotel. Harrison Hot Springs is a small but vibrant community east of Metro Vancouver. The location is gorgeous, with the centerpiece of the region being the large hotel. Vancouver+ does an excellent job of modelling the region, and even includes water runways for floatplanes. Unfortunately, although the town is modelled, the iconic hotel is missing. I think it would make a nice destination point for floatplane flights out of Vancouver or elsewhere on the map.
The vast majority of the Vancouver+ scenery is spot-on perfect. The beauty of the scenery, then, might make the flaws seem even more evident. Unless you are an optimist: then the little cosmetic flaws are like distinctive beauty marks that add character to the model. There are not many flaws at all, but there are a couple things I will mention, if only to make the review as in-depth as I can.
I think one of the biggest problem areas is in the new photo texture for Vancouver. As with most satellite images in FSX, it looks very realistic when viewed from a distance or from an altitude of greater than 1,000 feet. However, if you are approaching downtown from low altitudes, the texture has too much contrast and it stands out as looking artificial. At night especially, shadows are absolutely black while streetlamps and incidental lights are fiery orange and yellow giving the impression that great sections of central Vancouver are bathed in lava. By day, the effect is not orange but the high contrast remains.
The train yard along the waterfront looks quite realistic in Vancouver+. It is full of train cars, as the yard is part of the big aerial photo texture. Unfortunately, large train yards outside of the waterfront, especially the one in Port Coquitlam, are completely devoid of any train imagery at all except from grey parched land and empty rail lines. It's beyond the scope of FSX to use anything more than a token to represent a train, yet the total absence of the container yard in PoCo makes it look strange and alien in an otherwise brilliant landscape.
Another problem is perhaps the only genuine bug with Vancouver+ that I could find. A small mistake in the model of the Patullo Bridge when viewed at a very precise angle results is a fantastic spike that stretches the eastern road directly up into the topmost clouds. While smug Vancouverites know that their city is blessed with amazing scenery, taking the Patullo to Heaven is pushing too far. FSAddon recommends that your Mesh Resolution slider be set to 10 meters to solve this issue.
Related to the roads is also the issue regarding traffic. Traffic density in Vancouver+ can be set to different percentages than in the rest of the FSX world. If you don't watch out, this can lead to rural roads clogged with commuter vehicles. Likewise, too much water traffic may sometimes generate boats that collide with one another, although nobody gets hurt. It's a very simple solution to dial down your traffic percentages, especially if you follow the guideline that FSAddon provides.
CONCLUSION: Executive Summary
FSAddon is a small third-party developer with some big ideas. Their latest creation is Vancouver+, a beautiful re-working of the city of Vancouver, Canada. This is a fully featured add-on that utilizes LOD11 custom mesh, landclass, photoreal textures and three-dimensional models. AI aircraft, boats, and land traffic are included as well. Vancouver+ extends far past the boundaries of Metro Vancouver, the main population center. Mountains, rivers, fields, and valleys are rendered in a rectangle 200 by 150 kilometers (124 x 93 miles), well past Vancouver's boundaries. High altitude lakes are carefully placed in this region, and they will even freeze over in the winter.
The scenery includes two popular regional airports in detail, plus literally dozens more are spruced up as well. The two airports that get the full treatment are CYPK (Pitt Meadows) and CYNJ (Langley). CYVR, the Vancouver International Airport, is left untouched by Vancouver+, though. Heliports, floatplane bases, and unlisted airstrips are sprinkled throughout the region, and are there for you to discover.
There are hundreds of fine-tuned details in Vancouver+ that makes this add-on especially attractive for sim pilots who like to explore rugged terrain in FSX. If you like big-city transport hubs, small regional airstrips, a glacial lake at the base of a mountain, or a private airstrip with a log cabin as your base of operations, you will find all this and more in Vancouver+
Installation of Vancouver+ is easy and configurable by the user. The manual, a .PDF file, not only explains how to use Vancouver+ in FSX, but also provides a lot of personalized background into the Vancouver region itself. The installer also provides custom configuration settings to help you get the most out of Vancouver+, as well as a host of pre-made flights to encourage sightseeing expeditions.
The Vancouver+ add-on is virtually bug-free, and it runs well on Windows XP, Vista, and in FSX SP1 or SP2. This version of Vancouver+ is for FSX only, and not FS9. It is compatible with other scenery packages, including the freeware Victoria+. If Vancouver+ has a downside, it's that it takes up a large amount of hard drive space, and using it will probably cost you a small amount of frame rate.
I highly recommend this product to sim aviators, especially anybody fond of exploration in flight. I have spent hours upon hours over this virtual countryside, and there's an incredible wealth of things to see and do in Vancouver+.
Beyond being gorgeous, a lot of effort has been made to make this add-on immersive and thought provoking. Following the links in the manual and the suggested pre-saved flights will give any avid user many more hours of discovery and adventure: you can check out the history, culture, and geography of Vancouver on-line, and then you can see for yourself what it looks like in Vancouver+. This is a very high-quality add-on that might just spoil you for flying anywhere else in the virtual world. I believe it deserves the Avsim Gold Star for Excellence!
THE LAST WORD: An Ending And A New Beginning
Usually, I ask the publisher or the developer of the product I am reviewing to say a few words in closing. This time around, I have the pleasure of presenting to you not only the comments of the developers from my e-mail, but also a rare personal interview with scenery expert Holger Sandmann!
Well, maybe it's not so rare, apparently with the success of FSAddon, he's actually been interviewed a few times this past year, but in any case, he was very gracious to allow me to ask all kinds of questions and his answers will astound and amaze you. The interview will appear in a special "Sidebar" segment. I am very excited to pass this on to the Avsim readers!
Jon Patch was the Lead Developer for Vancouver+. He was in charge of the Metro Vancouver scenery, while Holger Sandmann modelled the mountains and the back country. Of course, there were many more talented people involved: the credits pages in the Vancouver+ manual are extensive! I asked Jon if he would like to discuss what it was like to put Vancouver+ together, and if has a favourite part of the scenery. Here is what he told me:
"When taking on an area as large and detailed as the Vancouver+ coverage, tough compromises have to be made to balance the development time (which could take years!), sim performance, and features. In the end I was very pleased that we were able to simulate the city I lived in for 12 years, and the stunning backcountry of Southwestern BC, so beautifully recreated by Holger. Integrating the numerous data sources was fun, and I'm pleased with the new FSX features we've implemented, particularly the ease of installation, ambient sounds, and road traffic. My favourite locations: I love CYNJ and how well the photoscenery worked out there, and the detail of the buildings. Close behind is the beauty of the Squamish valley, flying up to Lillooet. As an Engineer, I like to build things so am pleased with the Lions Gate Bridge, Alex Fraser Bridge and Canada Place."
In closing, I have a few words on Vancouver+ from publisher François A. 'Navman' Dumas, the Creative Director for FSAddon:
"I started using flight simulator back in the days when Microsoft didn't even exist, say some 30+ years ago. Ever since, I have been using most sims that have ever been developed and even wrote two myself in another life. When I started FSAddon Publishing, I had one major goal in life: helping provide software that would make flight simulation more immersive and more enjoyable for ALL users.
Products like Vancouver+, Misty Fjords, Tongass Fjords, FScargo and others are doing just that: providing an incredible level of realism that far outweighs anything Microsoft can bring to bear. In addition to the products, the authors we work with are also the best in the business regarding support. You will find few other people who take support so seriously, who spend so much time talking to the customers in various forums and who remain so totally involved with the community.
that is a perfect fit with our company...... we do the same. That alone
good a reason as any to buy these products, in my humble opinion.
I hope you will enjoy Vancouver+ for a long time to come and wish you lots
of fun with our products!"
It is my very great pleasure to present to you an in-depth interview with master scenery designer, Mr. Holger Sandmann. I'd like to begin with a little background, first of all. Like many people on Avsim, my main contact with others in the hobby of aviation simulation is through the Avsim forum. I suspect that like many other people, we come to see the other forum users as ciphers, in that we respond to the name (or fake name) of the people writing in the forum threads, and we have a vague idea of their personality and culture based on how they write.
Yet reality is that behind every name there is a fully-realized human person, with their own deep history, their own intellect, and their own reasons for participating in simulations. Most forum users, I think, don't get to meet one another face-to-face. Fortunately, events like the yearly Avsim FanCon conventions allow some of us to get together and meet our fellow simmers.
This year's FanCon was in Seattle, Washington, a relatively short drive from home for both Holger and myself. I decided that the opportunity was too good to pass up, and so I requested some time from Holger for an interview. He was most gracious in accepting my offer. Over a nice buffet lunch, I brought out my tape recorder and played being a journalist. I have to admit, it was a lot of fun putting this material together, so if enthusiasm overcomes professionalism for this interview, well, you'll know it was at least a lot of fun!
So, let's see what Holger Sandmann had to say about Vancouver+...
J: It’s Jeff Shyluk, and I am here with Holger Sandmann and we are doing an interview for AVSIM. Holger, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
H: Hello everybody (laughs). I have been involved in flight simulator add-on development for quite a number of years now. About three years ago I switched over to the “dark side” at least part of the time and became a commercial developer. I still continue to do freeware. I believe that is one of the driving forces not only for me as a developer. Freeware is free, so I can pick and choose what I want to do but also I believe that the community of flight simulator enthusiasts as a large community is really dependant upon freeware. For lots of reasons people can’t afford or don’t want to afford payware so we should be helping them out getting people started in terms of development.
J: One of first add-ons that I ever downloaded from Avsim was picking up your amazing freeware scenery of Western Canada. Why did you choose to model that area of the world?
H: Originally I was born and raised in Germany. I moved to Canada 11 years ago. I was familiar with the locations because I did quite a bit of travelling initially and through my job and through my position at the university I had access to graphic data so at some point I have after being a packrat and downloading other peoples’ add ons and what not all of a sudden it occurred to me that possibly I could use some of the data that I have access to and put them all into the sim bin. It started with terrain mesh and from then it mushroomed to doing roads and doing water and landscape and the finally rebuilding entire sections of the planet that I was familiar with. That is basically the focus.
J: How did Vancouver+ come about?
H: That is the project that Jon Patch initiated. He knew that I have been twiddling a bit with the lower mainland, basically the area Vancouver on east, up the Fraser Valley. He got in touch with me. It started with a freeware project with somebody else to do the landscaping portion of it but then that fell apart. We lost contact. Then about a year later Jon Patch just came up and said I want to do the city part, why don’t you do the landscape part? Really the project is Jon Patch’s project.
J: How do you feel about Vancouver+?
H: I think it turned out really well. Initially ,I was kind of reluctant because I am really more of a type of guy who likes to fly in the back country. That is where I do my own kind of personal exploring in British Columbia in the outdoors and even though I lived in Vancouver I was never really involved as I could be. I got out of the city. We also know that a lot of people are interested in the urban environment because they provide a lot more variety then just another valley and just another valley. That is why I thought, why don’t we try doing this? It did mean for me to switch to a lot of different techniques because all of a sudden we had this super-dense road network which I needed a lot of time to deal with. There were special things I had to learn and find data for and do the compromises that are necessary to put them into flight simulator. John at the same time dealt with the fact that he wasn’t just doing city but he also had to provide objects and stuff for the outside area.
J: I think the strength of the scenery is that the Vancouver area is renowned for being able to combine natural elements and urban elements together. As the scenery, Vancouver+ really has that as well, too. There’s urban elements, there’s suburban elements, there’s the great natural scenery, the mountains all around and all that sort of thing. In the real Vancouver area , what is your favourite place and what is your favourite place in Vancouver+ scenery?
H: In the real Vancouver area when I was travelling there were a couple of locations. That is the neat thing about Vancouver, you are always close to locations you can go to on the North Shore and just go up into the different river valleys there. In fact, most of them are off limits any human being. So once in a while you have the opportunity to get permission through the University to go into one of those watersheds that are basically a few kilometres outside of the city and yet you are in complete old-growth forest that hasn’t really been touched by humans.
One of the amazing things about this area that which extends all the way down from Vancouver to Seattle is a really sharp ecological contrast because there is some extremely wet areas along the coast where we see lots and lots of rain and stay fairly moist throughout the year and then as soon as you go further inland, you go up to Hope which is that little town where the Fraser river turns and if you go north to towards Lytton and Lillooet all of a sudden everything turns to completely different ecosystem.
That is where I did a lot of my research when I was in University. We were near Lytton in the Stine River Valley which is another kind of park wilderness area which is a completely different type of landscape. One of my interests in working with the Vancouver area was to try to represent this amazing ecosystem within a hundred kilometres changing from a rainforest environment to a semi-desert environment. Those were some of locations where I would go and explore, being able to go into semi-desert types within a two hour drive of Vancouver then being in the rainforest the next day.
In Vancouver+, I always enjoyed starting from Pemberton where all the snow is, near Whistler. And even though we didn’t do all that much with this part of the map, the Pemberton Valley itself is this amazing, flat raw valley that sits amongst these tall mountains, it’s a challenging flight and there’s these glacial lakes that start just south east of Pemberton, that run all the way down into the Fraser Valley.
J: That’s beautiful country.
H: We try to do the colours right, so that we have these turquoise coloured lakes and stuff like that. I always enjoyed that. We added this unlisted forestry airfield that sits in between the two lakes that are connected when you fly south of Pemberton, and we put a little cabin there and a few more details that are partially fictitious but it is a really nice strip that is not flat and it is a bit challenging to actually fly into it. I often start in the evening with that and fly up into the area from there and go into whatever valleys I am familiar with.
J: That sounds like fun, you know I want to cut this interview off right there (laughs) and get into Vancouver+. That is wonderful. Are there any things for the future that you can talk about, beyond Vancouver+?
H: Currently, though FSX was meant to be largely backwards compatible to FS9, it turns out for us in terms of landscape and also in a lot of the structures and modelling it is pretty much broken so we had to go through a complete cycle of redoing those. For example, Vancouver+ for FSX took about three quarters of the time again that we did for the original. That is one reason why we can’t give a very deep discount for previous owners because we had to spend the entire time to redo it.
Now we are going through my freeware and my payware projects including Misty Fjords and Tongass Fjords, and basically rebuilding them and sometimes using newer and better data that we found and recreate them for FSX.
J: Wow, that sounds good! So if there is anyone who is unaware of your product line, what would you have to say to someone who is new to FSX to get them to try out Vancouver+?
H: Many times, add-ons try to provide single element solutions. You get an airport add-on that replaces the airport in great detail but doesn’t change much of the area around it. Or you get a terrain mesh that greatly enhances the shape of the mountains but doesn’t help with the distribution of the ground textures or it can cause problems with the airport because of the way airports are built is quite flat.
So what we try to do when we start a project, we choose an area and we completely erase anything that is included out of the box in Flight Simulator. We then rebuild the landscapes and we try to recreate all the elements to the appropriate scale and try to make it complete. People then can change seasons and go from day to night and whatever . We do custom texture and custom buildings, how much ever we can do and of course there is always a limit and compromises, but we as much do as we can do and then put that together so that anybody who wants to purchase that product or even just use the freeware, as we use the exact same approach, can have a complete landscape. Certainly, there is no need for any other add-ons beyond these for that particular area.
That is the philosophy behind the project that I am working on. It is mostly catered to people who prefer to fly and explore. I call it not flying above a landscape but within a landscape because you are below the tops of the mountains and move throughout the valleys and you really take your time to explore all the little airfields that are included and those kind of things.
J: You mention the details that go into building airports, but one thing that is missing from Vancouver is CYVR, Vancouver International Airport.
H: That is a good point. The idea was and still is to provide a detailed airport scenery of YVR. As you know, it is a fairly large airport, but not a super-large airport, and it requires a lot of extra work to provide all the details. We have begun to work on a YVR add-on, but not me personally, I am not going to be involved because I am a landscape guy, but Jon Patch, Bill Womack and a few other people have started to gather material to start building in great detail.
J: I found that the FSX version of YVR is quite good.
H: They did quite well and did spend some time to make it detailed and realistic.
J: Thank you very much, it was a real pleasure interviewing you. I imagine that the Avsim readers will get a big kick out of this.
H: Thanks for having me!
Holger Sandmann is currently working with FSAddon. Many people on the FSAddon team have made very high quality freeware and payware sceneries for FSX as well as for previous versions of Flight Simulator. Please look up files by Holger and his friends the next time you are browsing the freeware selections in the Avsim Library!
What I Like About Vancouver+
What I Don't Like About Real Sky Pro
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