SimFlyers' Las Vegas McCarran International
By Brien J. Miller (6 June 2003)
It's no different with the latest release from SimFlyers, renowned developers of add-on scenery for the Microsoft Flight Simulator community. And just as it is in Las Vegas, satisfaction starts with the quality of chips you bring to the table.
KLAS, Las Vegas' McCarran International, is the newest addition to SimFlyers' growing stable of multiple crown winners. I was immensely impressed with their Philadelphia and Orlando offerings--Newark and Manchester only upped the ante at the roulette table of after-market flight sim products.
But KLAS is a race-horse of a different color. Not that it is in
anyway less a product than their previous accomplishments; in
truth, it is more. It is as visually stunning, if not more so than
their past work--particularly when painted against the backdrop of
America's great "sin city" and its mountainous surroundings.
However, it is the nature of the racehorse power that one needs to
run it that makes me consider the line when placing this bet.
By their own assessment, KLAS is a major break-thru in SimFlyers' scenery development efforts. It is the first product developed completely with Gmax, a prerequisite for FS2004 compatibility.
And they deliver as promised. This SimFlyers product is as elegant as the casino lobby in the MGM Grand. KLAS is an utterly accurate and minutely detailed rendition of Las Vegas' McCarran International. Runways, taxiways, airport objects, buildings, and a croupier's cache of wonderful minutia make up what has come to be standard offering from them.
More than any other product that I have used, KLAS offers a simply stunning night texture and I have seen many such attempts. In fact I have jammed up several gigs, it seems, with such scenery, and I can say with confidence that this night texture is among the best. It feels like night at an airport.
But there are more features than just the textures. SimFlyers
provides customers with their active jetways system with the
serviceArmada feature, as well as numerous aircraft, airside
equipment, people, airport staff, and service vehicles--and
everything is gorgeously illuminated in the dark.
And detail! As Hunter S. Thompson might put it "my god, people, there are slots even in the terminal!" And there are. There is plenty of detail here for the most dedicated scenery game player. SimFlyers is particularly good at the humanizing aspects of an airport--cars in the lots, people mover trains (which run back and forth, albeit visually a little fast), and plenty of figures are all present throughout the scenery. There are even two figures in the tower, although I couldn't find any slots up there.
I could not, however, find Elvis. Then again, I didn't find the gas station either.
From this perspective alone, KLAS gets high and praiseworthy marks. It is the crown jewel in the SimFlyers' stable. But, hang on for one second before plunking down your bet on this one, for there is one note on the odds-line that needs to be discussed before you choose to play at this table--and it all has to do with chips.
After a long download, I installed the scenery and gave it the
longest key-code that I have ever seen (I can get several lotto
numbers out of this one!). I did not modify the base install in any
way. The install went smoothly although I would suggest that the
program prompt the user when the install is finished. I've learned
through the school of hard CPU knocks that a 100% progress bar does
not guarantee that "it's done".
Given that SimFlyers' readme cautions users that KLAS is complex and, depending upon machine configuration could impact frame rates, I wanted to check out the airport twice, once with an earlier FS2000 aircraft, and a 'hi-tech' FS2002 only product. In essence, a mix of high-low 'tech' aircraft.
I set up a quick flight plan from Phoenix to Las Vegas and flew it twice, the first time with my beloved FS2000 Delta Boeing 727-200, which, while quite sporting an advanced panel and model, is still much less a simulated aircraft than its FS2002 only counterparts. The second time, I chose my 'hi-tech' favorite, the Iron Knuckles DC-9-31, an aircraft that can push the display rate when flying over high density scenery. For this run to the tables, I flew both aircraft on a middle of the road machine--an HP 950 MHz Pentium 3 equipped with a 17" monitor and a Geforce-3 graphics card. This produces very nice frame rates at 1024x768 when using FS2002.
I arrived on the ILS 25R approach at Las Vegas in the FS2000
727-200; frame rates were good, although I noticed that scenery
felt as if it were 'popping' in late (and thus close). I taxied
around the airport several times, night and day, and took off
again, eventually shooting the 19L visual. Everything ran
clean--with the only oddity being the late appearance of some
buildings, and at night, the very evident disappearance of half the
airport's surface lighting as I climbed out from 25R. It looked
like a blackout--maybe somebody hit the big slots at the Stardust,
After the 727 spin (no, not literally), I flew the exact same IFR flight with the DC-9, but the results were completely different. The more demanding FS2002 aircraft, when combined with this power scenery, dropped the frame rates significantly--literally into stop and go motions. Unhappily surprised, I reset the simulator back to the original scenery and flew the DC-9 again. Although there was some slight degradation in the frame rates common with this aircraft model on this machine, for the most part, it was much smoother than before, and almost as smooth as the 727 ride.
Lastly, I re-enabled SimFlyers' KLAS and flew the FS2002 Beech Baron. Although not as bad as the Iron Knuckles DC-9, even this aircraft slowed the frame rates sufficient to be obviously noticeable, verifying the DC-9 result.
The bottom line then, is this: clearly, just like real life Las
Vegas, chips matter, in this case, processor chips. The future of
scenery and of aircraft in MSFS is clear and those with the
processing power to handle them will be most pleased. But the older
machine running some of the newer aircraft may find that such
magnificent scenery comes at a price. The strategy of tweaking
features to lower the display demand might just negate some of the
advantages of acquiring great products like KLAS.
So, the over-under on KLAS is straight forward. If your box doesn't meet the line, if your chips are short of blazing blue, and you want to fly FS2002 only 'hi-tech' aircraft, then it might be a bit of a gamble, a slot machine fruit mix, no lemon, but no win.
If, however, you're a high roller and you have a moxy-box and a graphics card to match and you want top-notch quality airport scenery, SimFlyer's is no gamble. They have produced another outstanding product as they have consistently proven they can do. And, it's a guaranteed payout, a winning steal at its price.
And that's the odds you face when you want to play this Vegas.
Brien J. Miller
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