Aerosoft MyTraffic 2006
By Andrew Herd (19 April 2006)
urkhard Renk's MyTraffic 2006 is a mature and popular program that has a solid history, starting with a Husain Bengali idea for an FS2002 AI traffic addon; when we reviewed this version a couple of years ago, MyTraffic added seventeen new AI planes and 250 new liveries, which seemed an incredible amount at the time. Some of the popularity of the 2006 version can be explained by the fact that MyTraffic now offers 161 different AI planes, painted in over 2500 different liveries - far more than any of its competitors - by comparison, the figures for the other mainstream AI packages are: FS Live Traffic 75/625; Traffic 2005 60/500; and Ultimate Traffic 40/800. Included in the MyTraffic aircraft model total are many military AI planes, something none of its rivals can offer.
FS Live Traffic has much in common with MyTraffic given that it uses some of the modern planes and shares many airport facility files, but is best seen as an alternative incarnation rather than a competitor. FS Live Traffic is an up-to-the-minute North American timetable-based product purchased on a six monthly subscription, while MyTraffic 2006 is a one-off purchase, available boxed for $39.99, which is a considerable saving on the $67.00 or so it used to cost for MyTraffic 2004.
The key features of MyTraffic 2006, which generates realistic timetables at 6,500 FS airports, rather than being based on 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 major airports.
2. An 'AI time machine' allows you to generate traffic for any period from the 60's onward (you can have 707s, Comets, Concordes, TriStars and Caravelles at the stands if you want).
3. The package includes naval and military AI, with military chopper traffic (but no civil helicopters yet)
4. It appears to impose less of a performance hit on Flight Simulator than any of its competitors
The package is available in the usual Aerosoft box with a multilingual manual and is compatible with FS2004 only. Installation is very straightforward, the process having been designed to run with virtually no user interaction other than the need to respond to fairly obvious choices by clicking buttons - although under certain circumstances there may be a need to run the sound pack update which extends the FS2004 ATC repertoire to include all the new AI airlines. In this case it is necessary for the user to extract a file called usenglishbig.gvp from the MSGAME5.cab on the second FS2004 CD to the \Flight Simulator 9\Sound folder before running the update. At the end of the installation you should find a MyTraffic group on the start menu, containing links to an html manual, a powerful editor, an applet that lets you choose which time period you want your AI to represent (the choices being: 1965, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2005 and 2006) and another that allows you to import flight plans in Traffic Tools format and compile them into the database.
There isn't an uninstall routine as such. Instructions are given about how to remove the program in the manual and further details on how to deactivate it should be obtained from the Aerosoft support forum - this might sound strange, but it is a conscious decision by the developer, taken on the grounds that it is almost impossible to uninstall addons of this type cleanly. In practice the lack of an automated routine isn't a problem, since the deactivation process works (I tried it) and in any event, since few users will ever need to install another AI package, most readers will never be faced with having to work out how to do it, although if an uninstall did turn out to be necessary, strangers to Windows file management might struggle.
At this point a word about FS2004 airport AI is in order, because it is one of the key features that differentiates one AI package from another. Many of the features which determine how an airport behaves - and even what it looks like - are contained in what are known as AFD files. FS2004 AFD files extend the FS2002 model, which was based around facility information, to include instructions for the visual model. The airport visual model defines where scenery objects such as runways, taxiways and buildings should go and some parts of airports are now 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. AI packages therefore stand and fall on the quality of their AFD data - but it is worth remembering that only about a thousand 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 default FS2004 AFD files are relatively basic and limit the number of stands at the majors.
While Traffic 2005 and Ultimate Traffic come with a clutch of applets ranging from virtual plane spotters to automated update programs, MyTraffic takes a more minimalist approach, consistent with its 'install and forget' philosophy and with the level of documentation; which is sufficient to get an experienced traffic hacker up and running, will leave newbies wanting more should they wish to get into traffic editing. The one significant app you get is MyTraffic.exe, a powerful editor 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. Do not underestimate the scope of this app - although it takes a while to learn how to use it, with practice the editor can be used to do some extremely clever stuff with only a couple of mouse clicks - like completely altering the amount of traffic at a particular aiport, or ensuring that particular AI planes or airlines do or do not go there.
MyTraffic simulates airline timetable operation, rather than offering flights based on real-world timetables, which means that with the product installed you should see the correct airlines flying from an airport, but not necessarily at the same times of the day and week as they operate in reality. As the manual 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, the 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 there are over 24,000 of them in FS2004. However, the strong sales of non-timetable based AI traffic packages have led me to the conclusion that most simmers are more interested in seeing other planes about the place than worrying about whether they are the correct ones or not; and as long as an AI package doesn't commit gross errors, like operating Alaskan flights from Paris Charles de Gaulle, a degree of 'artistic license' will be tolerated. MyTraffic exploits this preference to the full and offers a slew of 'autoshedule' options, which make it relatively easy to fill FS2004's airports with AI planes; and if this isn't enough, the 'ttools to sdk converter' allows you to import new plans for any airport you want. Hard-core timetable fanatics will need to look elsewhere, because with a non-timetable-based package, the risk of seeing aircraft and even airlines operating from airports they never visit in real life is relatively high, but people who don't carry airline timetables in their heads don't seem to worry about this and ordinary simmers will be kept happy. The present version of MyTraffic contains about 120,000 commercial flights which are based on real-world operations.
With the product fully installed and my new AI traffic in full swing, I borrowed Hama's Citroen 2CV and set forth to see what could be seen - the vehicle being ideal for investigating airports in Flight Simulator, as it is reasonably unobtrusive, as long you can bring yourself to ignore the color and don't mind the dog. The 2D panel isn't usable, but this little powerhouse can be really hurled around the taxiways in virtual cockpit mode and the driving dynamics are almost perfect - just be careful how you handle the throttle in the turns in case all the horsepower makes it swap ends.
First stop was, as usual, London Gatwick (EGKK). If you have read the other reviews in this series you will know that Gatwick is a favorite testing ground of mine, because apart from being approximately the twentieth busiest airport in the world, it only operates a single runway. Gatwick mercilessly exposes every flaw in AI traffic packages, because the default airport in FS2004 has both runways operational, but with taxiways only sufficient for one, so if an addon does not perform drastic modifications to the Airport Facilities Data file (AFD file), all kinds of stuff happens. MyTraffic is no different to most of the other AI packages I have reviewed as far as Gatwick is concerned and operates it as if it were a two runway airport. I sat and watched the goings-on for a long time: for the first 15-20 minutes, all went well and such queues as did occur were limited in extent and soon dispersed, but then a group of planes landed in relatively short order, two on the left runway and two on the right. The snarl up that followed was the best AI traffic jam I have ever seen in Flight Simulator and began when a plane stopped on the 08R, unable to exit because it was blocked by a plane on taxiway D, which in turn couldn't exit because its path was blocked by a plane heading the opposite way on taxiway K. A stalemate resulted, with traffic unable to leave the pan because the route it was taking put it head to head against the planes trying to leave the runways. Multiple go-arounds followed, the situation easing every time one of the planes on the ground had managed to wait long enough that the AI traffic engine deleted it, but despite these brief respites the situation recurred over and over again. As ever, the problem wasn't eased by the slow taxi speed FS2004 enforces on AI planes, which traps them on the runways for much longer than they would be in reality - and the fact that Flight Simulator also makes AI traffic slow to a halt at the end of their landing runs, rather than landing, cleaning up and taking the first available exit on the run. Like Ultimate Traffic and FS Live Traffic, MyTraffic 2006 would benefit from a taxi speed editor similar to the one included in Just Flight's Traffic 2005.
The ironic thing was that, leaving aside the twin runway operation, the snarl up at Gatwick seems to have been caused by a good quality airport facility (AFD) file, coupled with an appropriate level of traffic that the FS AI engine wasn't smart enough to clear - MyTraffic filled a reasonably realistic number of stands and the aircraft followed the taxiways correctly. Unlike Traffic 2005, where traffic levels often were inappropriately high and had to be managed with the percentage slider, Gatwick for example, requiring it to be pulled back to 39% before the airport freed up; MyTraffic seemed to get the level about right at most of the major airports I visited, verging, if anything, on making some of them appear to be too quiet even with the sliders at 100%. However, given that the package brings AI traffic to around a quarter of FS2004's airports, a lot of work has clearly gone into making sure that everything looks right and I was very happy with the way the package worked overall, particularly because it isn't that difficult to edit AFD files or download replacements from the many freeware files that are posted on FlightSim.Com. The one problem that I did witness at many airports was a tendency for aircraft to arrive in batches, so that long periods of time would pass without any arrivals and then three or four would appear one after the other - resulting in go-arounds and triggering queues at some airports when a stream of incoming planes blocked departures trying to use the same runway. Another small issue that has affected MyTraffic for several versions now is that many of the planes climb out in a visibly stepped fashion, much more than can be accounted for by noise-abatement style takeoffs - which probably has something to do with the air files.
Seattle was next and MyTraffic performed its work there with aplomb. Queuing was limited and the twin runways were appropriately managed - partly because the taxiways are designed to cope with all the pavement being operational. Much the same can be said of Denver (KDEN) and Dallas Fort Worth (KDFW), although these airports never got as busy as I would expect, making them candidates for the addition of some extra traffic using the editor; one of the terminals at KDFW remained empty for hours on end. Not so Edwards AFB, which I visited to try out the military traffic; once it got going properly, there were planes all over the place, ranging from C-130s to F-16s. It was quite neat seeing military AI in FS2004, this being something I haven't had an opportunity to do before, except with a few airfield sceneries that have come with their own traffic - given that military flights account for a high proportion of the planes in any airspace, it is interesting that MyTraffic is the only one of the big four AI packages to include it.
The 'time machine' side of MyTraffic 2006 works really well, although some features of it take a bit of getting used to - for example, the sight of a previous generation of planes parked at modern terminals. There is an almost total lack of fifties and sixties FS airports and using traffic from this period with the present day buildings found in most addons looks a little odd, although as it happens, the period AI doesn't look out of place with the default scenery. To 'visit' a particular period, all you have to do is to run the 'select AI year' applet, choose the period you want, hit OK and let it recompile the traffic database before restarting FS2004. The applet loads a DOS window which shows how the traffic recompilation is progressing and takes up to a minute to finish, depending on the speed of the PC running it. The first thing everyone will notice after reloading FS2004, apart from the appearance of classic liveries and long-lost airlines like BOAC, TWA and Pan Am, is that the amount of traffic is cut by two-thirds. This isn't a mistake, although gate assignments in the AFD files tend to force planes from airlines that no longer exist today onto the 'outside' stands. Back in the sixties and seventies there were far fewer flights than there are now and airports were empty by comparison. The mix of airliners MyTraffic has to offer could be wider, but there is enough to be getting on with and the developer is promising more planes and more liveries before long - since he has always delivered on his promises in the past, there is no reason to doubt this. Apart from the expected 727s and 737s, I spotted Concorde, de Havilland Comets, Caravelles, Lockheed Tristars, DC-8s and Convair 440s and 580s; but no DC-6s, Constellations, Viscounts or Tridents or Britannias, and there is a definite tendency for many airports to end up hosting a single type of plane with a single livery. However, given that none of the other AI packages offer anything similar, Burkhard deserves a pat on the back for coming up with such an innovative idea and I expect to see him develop it in the future. To my mind, this feature makes the product - if you get bored of the planes you see in one time period, all you have to do is run the time machine again and choose another year to fly in. The next stage would be to step back a little earlier in time and give us planes of the DC4 generation, but maybe that is for MyTraffic FSX...
The quality of the AI planes is comparable with competing packages, although on close inspection the models do have a lower polygon count, which is one of the reasons why MyTraffic 2006 is relatively frame rate friendly. 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 and I had to watch for a long while before I saw any faulty liveries. Burkhard Renk tells me that the explanation of the few that are left is that the affected planes are new models mated with 'old' Project AI textures which don't quite match up to the more accurate dimensions of airliners they decorate. As Burkhard points out, the 'mismatches' are there because the inital workload to make a Gmax model in FS2004 model format averages 50 hours, with each paint taking a further hour; so doing new paints and models for over a hundred airliners and over 1800 liveries takes a long, long while and he 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 like the ones I have commented upon, the major impact AI has on users being what it does to frame rates - which is where MyTraffic steals a significant lead over its rivals, because the benefit of having relatively simple AI models is the smaller hit they make on the CPU. As a result an airport full of MyTraffic AI generally runs noticeably faster than its rivals as far as frames are concerned, which is a huge advantage, particularly when you consider that the developer has struck a good compromise between simplicity and speed.
So, is MyTraffic 2006 worth the money? Definitely, if you are after a non-timetable-based package with the largest possible selection of AI planes and liveries - and if you need military AI, then MyTraffic is the only one of the 'top four' that can do the job, the inclusion of military chopper AI being a huge plus. Traffic levels seem to be relatively well balanced and the popularity of MyTraffic undoubtedly reflects this, as most of the airports I tried ran fine without having to be fine-tuned with the percentage controls. The lack of any tools other than the MyTraffic editor will be a factor for wannabe traffic hackers, but since most of the other apps you need can be picked up as freeware, this isn't as big a disadvantage as it might appear at first sight. For users with slower systems, the lower than expected impact MyTraffic AI makes on frame rates is a big plus point, although against that there isn't any kind of automatic update system, although point upgrades, new planes and liveries should be available through the Aerosoft forums.
Burkhard Renk would argue that he has given users an 'install and forget' AI traffic package - and having completed this review, I salute him, because that is precisely what he has achieved. Although I have been critical at times in the review, it is only because MyTraffic is a very good product indeed and in my view the breathtaking scope of the the package makes it the best of the bunch, hence the gold AAA.Andrew Herd