By Andrew Herd (21 January 2007)
urkhard Renk's MyTraffic has been around a long time now, its roots lying in Husain Bengali's idea for an FS2002 AI traffic addon. That first version seemed pretty astounding at the time, adding as it did no less than seventeen new AI planes and 250 new liveries and transforming the look of the entire sim by banishing the default airlines to the great bitbucket in the sky. MyTraffic has been under continual development since and by the time the FS2004 version appeared, it offered 161 different AI planes, painted in over 2500 different liveries - more than the rest of its competitors put together - by comparison, the figures for the other mainstream FS2004 AI packages are: FS Live Traffic 75/625; Traffic 2005 60/500; and Ultimate Traffic 40/800.
The key features of MyTraffic X, which generates realistic timetables at 7,800 FS airports, rather than presenting flights conforming to actual real world timetables, are that:
1. it offers more planes and liveries than any of its competitors, including amphibian AI using Cessna 206As in locations like Canada, Scotland, Norway and Australia. This makes for noticeably more realistic activity at most airports. Compared to a default FSX installation, you get 150 extra AI planes, painted in more than 3000 liveries, which, as the developer points out, amounts to about half the current real-world airliner fleet in numerical terms.
2. an 'AI time machine' lets you generate traffic for any period from the sixties onward, so that you can have 707s, DC8s, Comets, Concordes, TriStars and Caravelles at the stands should you wish.
3. with MyTraffic X installed, FSX simulates 475,000 flights a day
4. the package includes naval and military AI, with military chopper traffic (but no civil helicopters yet)
5. by default the aircraft models install as 'accelerated versions' which spares frame rates, something every FSX user will appreciate.
MyTraffic X is available in a boxed version from Aerosoft, on a DVD which also contains the latest version of MyTraffic 2006, so you get plenty of value for money. The system requirements are the same as you would need to run a default FSX installation, bar the fact that there is a lot more traffic at airports, which can soak up a lot of processor cycles. With MyTraffic X installed, setting the airline AI slider even to 20% can generate four or five times as much activity at some airports as you would see in a standard FSX installation - and even using the accelerated aircraft models, that can impose a major frame rate hit; although if you have the same number of AI planes on screen, MyTraffic X seems to impose less of a hit than the default AI traffic. For what it is worth, I wouldn't personally install a complex FSX addon like this on anything less than a 3.0 Ghz system, which is in agreement with the developer's assessment - he also recommends at least a gig of system RAM and 256 Mb on the video card and more wouldn't come amiss, given that FSX can use up to 380 Mb of video RAM on a bad day. Installation is reasonably straightforward, although be prepared for it to take some time, as once the contents of the DVD have decompressed onto your hard drive, the timetables need to be compiled and all.
The documentation can hardly be described as extensive, but then again, there isn't much to describe, given the few opportunities Flight Simulator gives us to interact with the AI planes. There is an additional manual describing the MyTraffic editor, a useful little program which allows you, among other things, to add new AI planes and select how they will be used; add new airlines and specify which airports they will visit and what kind of flights they will operate; and generate, import and export flight plans. This is a very powerful app and although it isn't for AI traffic novices and takes a bit of learning, with practice it can be used to do some extremely clever stuff with a few mouse clicks - one of its prime uses being to allow you to ensure that particular AI planes or airlines do or do not go to particular airports. Although MyTraffic is pretty good at matching airlines to the airports they serve, surprises do occur now and again and having the editor means that with comparatively little effort it is possible to create remarkably realistic traffic patterns that don't include any airlines that you wouldn't expect to see at your local airport. If your local airport happens to be Edwards AFB, well, then you can meet up with FedEx there and a visiting RAF Nimrod last time I visited - one of the great things about MyTraffic is that it is full of surprises.
Which takes us naturally on to the next point about MyTraffic X, which is that in common with its predecessors, it is based on computer generated, rather than real world timetables. This is an issue for a few users who are after the last word in realism, because by definition, you aren't looking at what is 'really' happening, and flights aren't leaving from airports at exactly the time that they are in the real world. Another issue is that although MyTraffic X segments its routes pretty well on a regional basis, so that you won't see, for example, Alaskan planes operating in Wales, it isn't quite so good about fine-tuning on an inter-regional basis and you will see airlines at fields within operational range of their bases, but at which they would not normally appear in the real world. Neither of these problems have ever troubled me particularly and, judging from the way MyTraffic has sold over the years, they don't bother the average simmer either, but if you are the sort of person that has an encyclopedic knowledge of airline timetables and a low tolerance of AI traffic that doesn't conform to them, MyTraffic X is not for you.
As Burkhard Renk points out, one of the issues with real-world schedules is that they change with such monotonous regularity that timetable-based AI traffic packages rapidly get out of date, because real flights are rescheduled and deleted all the time. While this is true, one advantage of using real airline flight schedules, however old they might be, is that they guarantee at least semi-realistic levels of activity, whereas timetable-simulation brings with it the potential to get things really wrong, unless the developer has spent a great deal of time editing and balancing the schedules at every airport - an epic task given that jet airliner schedules operate from several thousand airports around the world. The problem with packages which generate their own timetables for FS2004 is that AI planes have a horrible tendency to form queues on the runway, leading to go-arounds and (somewhat disconcertingly) to aircraft which have experienced long waits disappearing after passing what FS2004 considers to be their sell-by date. At the root of this lie the twin evils of the way FS2004 spawns and controls its AI flights and the very slow taxi speeds it permits, which leads to a 'batching' of arrivals which ATC would not allow in real life and congestion on the taxiways because the AI planes are slow to clear. Even timetable based AI packages are not immune to this problem, although it tends to be less pronounced.
The next issue with AI packages is that they are profoundly influenced by the airport data that the Flight Simulator installation is feeding them. The source of this is what are commonly known as AFD files, which define not only what facilities an airport should have, but how it looks, via a visual model. The airport visual model defines where scenery objects such as runways, taxiways and buildings should go - some parts of airports are drawn directly from the facility data, for example the taxiways, which are laid out using instructions from the AFD file taxiway matrix. The facility model, on the other hand, contains all the statistical information about the airport, including its name, ICAO code, com and nav frequencies, runway data, taxiway and parking maps, and airline gate assignments and it is used by ATC and the AI to govern operations at each airport. Needless to say, FSX uses a different AFD format to FS2004 and this is one reason why it can't have been easy to develop an FSX version of MyTraffic so quickly after release.
AI packages therefore stand and fall on the quality of their AFD data - but as I noted above, only a thousand or so airports see traffic of 737 size or greater, so if you are only interested in big iron simming, it isn't necessary to have a huge number of AFD files, as long as the developers have concentrated on coding high quality files for the bigger airports. Conversely, the fewer AFD files you have, the less likely you are to see traffic at your favorite regional hub, but the general message is that more is better, particularly because the FSX AFD data is relatively basic and limits the number of stands at the majors.
So all, the above being said, how does MyTraffic X work in practice? I did the testing on a 3.2 Ghz Pentium D running Windows XP in 4 Gb of RAM with a 256 Mb video card. First impressions are that that the addon makes a good replacement for the default traffic, as long as you don't mind seeing aircraft without gear or tails at times when there are too many objects on screen. This is where the accelerated aircraft models come into play and although you can turn them off and have fully detailed AI all the time, I wouldn't advise it unless you have are running a DirectX 10 compatible video card under Vista - and even then, frame rates will probably take a hit, simply because there is more traffic on screen at any given moment. As it was, using the accelerated models and with the AI set at 100%, if I sat the ultralight on the grass in between the runways at EGKK, with scenery complexity set to dense, I got frame rates of 7-8 at times, which is too slow to be acceptable; in practice, I had to reduce the AI down to below 50% to make the default EGKK workable. KSEA gave me rather better rates with 100% AI, at 10-12, but that was as high as I got unless I stayed well clear of the central ramps.
The developer started out with Project AI and FSPainter planes, but these have been gradually replaced over the years and the majority appear to be MyTraffic originals now. The actual aircraft models appear to be the MyTraffic 2006 set with some additions and a few additions and tweaks here and there - there are so many planes now that it isn't feasible to code a new set for every version of MyTraffic. As you can see, the models vary in quality, some of the military planes verging on the barely acceptable, while some of the civil aircraft, like the Jetstream and the Airbus, look fantastic. Making a Gmax aircraft model takes around 50 hours and a fast painter can do an AI livery in about an hour; so doing new paints and models for over a hundred airliners and 3000 liveries takes a long, long while, which explains why Burkhard Renk hasn't gotten around to them all yet. Do bear in mind that you don't normally get close enough to the AI planes to see details, the major impact AI has on users being what it does to frame rates - which is where MyTraffic has traditionally stolen a significant lead over its rivals, because the benefit of having relatively simple AI models is the smaller hit they make on the CPU.
A point of interest is that although MyTraffic X generates much more AI traffic than a default FSX install, it doesn't appear to create quite as much as you might expect to see in in FS2004 with MyTraffic 2006 installed, a combination which routinely created long tailbacks on the taxiways. MyTraffic 2006 gave us busy airports with so much going on it was impossible to take it all in; by comparison the airports in MyTraffic X seem empty - when they first load. However, if you wait awhile, and it does take a while, incoming flights start arriving and the taxiways begin to fill, eventually leading to the go-arounds we all know and love from FS2004. But my general impression is that there are fewer AI planes out there, perhaps because if MyTraffic X spawned as many planes as its predecessor did, FSX would shudder to a halt. This is an inconvenient fact of life of running FSX under Windows XP on DirectX 9 and I will be interested to run the review again using Vista and a DirectX 10 card with optimised drivers, because DirectX 10 is said to be able to cope with far higher polygon counts before becoming processor-bound.
The AFD data in FSX has much in common with MyTraffic 2006, given that, for example, MyTraffic X presents London Gatwick (EGKK, the twentieth busiest airport in the world) as a twin runway operation, when it is not and hasn't been in a long while. It would be great to see this howler fixed, although in fairness, I ought to point out that most of the FS2004 AI packages make the same mistake. The use of
And that, I guess, is that. MyTraffic X is one of the first addons of any description available for FSX and it is bound to be popular, given that the first impulse of any seasoned simmer is to replace the default airlines with something more realistic. MyTraffic X definitely does the job like the thoroughbred it is, but most users of XP based systems will find it necessary to run with less than 100% AI enabled. We will take another look at MyTraffic X when Vista is available.Andrew Herd