Canary Islands And Scandinavian Airports 2 For FS2004
By Andrew Herd (20 March 2004)
ersoft continues their tradition of releasing updated sceneries as each new version of Flight Simulator appears and Canary Islands for FS2004 is especially welcome. We reviewed this package a year ago in its FS2002 version and don't see any reason to change our minds about it - we liked it then and we like it now.
For 39.95 euros you still get the same nine airports:
- Tenerife (South and North)
- Gran Canaria (the main airport and the aeroclub)
- La Gomera
- La Palma
- El Hierro
But Aerosoft have added quite a lot of value to the package and it now includes a folder of large format Jeppesen plates, FS2004 compatible coastlines, landclass data and FS2004 native AI. All this is contained in a satisfyingly thick DVD style case, inside which Aerosoft have somehow found space for a German/English manual and the CD. In a new move, the Aerosoft Shop is offering the package split into two downloadable chunks - Canary Islands West (35 Mb) and Canary Islands East (50 Mb) - for 19.95 euro each. There is also a free downloadable patch which allows users of the FS2002 version to upgrade for free, which is a nice touch.
The plates are very crisp and for once they are reproduced in a readable size, although the constraints of the case have forced Aerosoft to fold the set in half (you obviously don't get any plates with the download version). Many of the approaches are over water, which gave me a nice opportunity to show off Bill Lyons replacement textures, in case you are wondering why the beach looks so inviting. Thanks to the upgraded coastlines, all the waves now lap neatly onto the beaches rather than washing right over them and the mesh and LandClass files do a really good job of making the islands look real. Apart from La Palma, where it pays to be aware of rising ground to the east of 01 and Hierro, where the runway is squeezed onto the only piece of vaguely flat ground on the island, none of the approaches are tricky and this would make a good package for beginners who want to try smaller airliners like the 737 out somewhere new.
Minimum hardware requirements are a 1.0 Ghz Pentium or better, 350 Mb hard disk space, 256 Mb RAM and a 3D video card with 64 Mb on board, though there are slight differences between the minimum spec given in the manual and the one on the Aerosoft site. For the package available on CD setup involves entering a security code pasted inside the box. I installed the 3.1 update which is available as a free download and with most of the sliders maxed found the lowest frame rates to be in the high teens, this being in the sort of places you would expect, such as in and around the airport buildings. This was on a 3.0 Ghz Pentium running the default 737 and the fair weather theme, so it is likely that FS2004 would slow down more if you chose a complex addon plane and worse weather.
There isn't much to add to the FS2002 review, beyond the fact that some of the textures appear to have been spruced up and all the airports are very atmospheric, with support vehicles dashing around and occasional little tableaux like the one at Tenerife South, which features an Iberworld 737 being disembarked. Okay, so you don't actually get passengers walking down the airstairs, but everything else is there, from the baggage wagon to the bus. It is this sort of touch that brings simulated airports to life and it makes an already good set of sceneries even better in my opinion.
It is great to see this scenery updated and released in an FS2004 compatible state. So often, developers seem to churn out code and then lose interest in it, just when they have something really good on their hands. If you can remember back to the early days of FS addons, sceneries seemed to come and go like the leaves on the trees and some great titles have been left to gather dust in the back catalogues. 'Dangerous Airports' springs to mind as one that could be revived, though for the life of me I cannot remember who released it. Aerosoft deserve praise for their policy of staying with sceneries once they have released them, as do Sim-Wings, who did the development work on Canary Islands.
Scandinavian Airports 2 for FS2002 and FS2004
From the same publisher, we have Scandinavian Airports 2, which features eight airports split between Norway (Bergen and Kristiansand), Sweden (Arlanda, Bromma), Finland (Vantaa, Malmi) and Denmark (Sindal and Billund). We reviewed the first CD in this series a while ago and were disappointed with the frame rates, so it was with mixed feelings that I prised open the DVD-style case to see what the developers, FS Dream Factory, had done.
The presentation is the same as Canary Islands, with a German/English manual, large format Jepp plates and a registration key protected CD, yours for only 39.95 euros. Minimum hardware requirements are identical to the other package and once again, the airports are also available from Aerosoft Online, although at the time of writing only the Danish and Norwegian airports were available, at 9.95 euros each. No doubt the others will appear in due course.
Installation follows the familiar Aerosoft routine, offering a choice of langauges and optional LandClass, mesh, bridge and static aircraft scenery. I did without the statics and installed everything else. Though the manual states that the package is compatible with FS2004 AI traffic, no flight plans appear to be added, so I presume that the default traffic takes priority, unless you have something like Ultimate Traffic installed. This is a meaty package and the installation took quite a while, even on a 3.0 Ghz PC, so while my drives were chuntering away, I took the opportunity to flick through the plates. Once again, there are some interesting approaches here, ILS rwy 35 at Bergen being one, which has you flying down a fjord with rising ground either side - nothing particularly challenging, but several of the procedures are flown over water, which always adds a certain amount of spice to simming.
The first piece of good news is that the developers seem to have spent more time optimising the scenery for speed than they did on the first Scandinavian Airports package, and (again on a 3.0 Ghz Pentium with all the sliders maxed and 100% AI) frame rates were generally good to acceptable, except when taxiing on the aprons of the larger airports, where I occasionally saw some single figure dips. The manual advises various ways to increase rates, chief among which is reducing maximum visibility to 10 miles - this sounds an extreme measure, but isn't untypical of Northern European atmospheric conditions, which are dominated by the descending air of the Scandinavian high. This semi-permanent anticyclone traps particulate matter in the lower atmosphere and in high summer visibility can dip down as low as 2 - 3 miles at times. One peculiarity of these conditions is that what appears to be a perfect day to a ground observer can provide quasi-IFR conditions in the air, with up-sun approaches made into a filthy copper haze. FS2004's superb weather engine does a good job of simulating what it is like to break out of the haze layer, which usually peters out somewhere around 1500 to 2000 feet, leaving you to fly above what appears to be a sea of milk, studded with fluffy white cumuli. It is gorgeous to behold, but my appreciation of the view is always tempered by the knowledge that I am going to have to descend back into it at some point.
Flight Simulator scenery developers are faced with making some awful choices the moment they set finger to keyboard. Everyone wants the most detailed airports possible, but absolutely no-one is willing to pay to see single figure frame rates on short final. To make matters worse from a developer's point of view, you can bet your life that there isn't an FS system out there that isn't already stressed to the limit, because of our natural tendency to run at the highest detail settings possible. Add one more layer of complexity into this thing and it can turn out to be the straw that broke the camel's back.
There are various ways of dealing with this conundrum. The first is to eliminate as many polygons as can be taken out of the scenery, while still leaving it looking good - this accounts for why car parks full of detailed vehicles are almost never seen in FS airports, for example. A few packages do have them, but I can't think of any that I would willingly install on less than a Cray II. Hedges are liable to get the same treatment, which is why you rarely see hedges made of individually 'planted' trees in FS; the impact they have on sim speed is horrendous. The next method is to fool around with visibility distances, so that parts of the scenery don't appear until you are up close - effectively this limits the amount of polygons on screen at any one time. Done well, this 'cheat' is almost impossible to detect, because it is such a natural effect. If you have never had to find a field in a real plane, you might be surprised to hear how difficult they can be to spot - Newcastle in England is a good example. Here you have an airport with 2300 meters of black pavement and it is almost impossible to see even when you are ten miles out and know where to look. I am not bad at finding it from the south, because all I have to do is find the Tyne bridges, fly up the side of the town moor and then look 15 degrees right, but on at least one occasion I have got within five miles and only finally seen it when a white 737 taxied out - you don't normally get those in people's back gardens.
So the detail versus speed issue can be solved in a natural way, although I have yet to see a detailed airport which doesn't take frame rates below 20 at times on my present system. That's fine, but below 10 and things get kind of gooey. One thing I can say is that none of the airports in either of these packages produced an unnaceptable system hit on final - on my system. Yours is different and you may need to alter the settings to get what you want.
Anyway, back to the package. The mesh is confined to a largish area around Bergen and a smaller one around Kjevik, while the LandClass only covers the immediate areas around the airports, so don't go expecting to find every last village in Sweden, but where the mesh has been tweaked, it is an improvement on the default. If you already have a custom mesh set installed, make sure you set it lower in the scenery library pecking order, or you are liable to see some conflicts.
There are plenty of animations to keep you entertained after landing. At Arlanda (ESSA) and Vantaa (EFHK) there are follow-me cars and you can call service vehicles to the plane at certain gates, using Nav1/2 frequencies listed in the manual. In an attempt to keep frame rates usable, the service vehicles - as shown in the screenshot here - aren't visible if you set the view distance to more than 120 feet or so, which means you can't pan all the way back in spot mode and expect to see them. There is also the expected animated traffic roaming around, the white truck at center top of the screenshot here being a good example.
Arlanda also boasts a de-icing vehicle if you stop the aircraft at the correct spot in the de-icing area on the north side of the field. Flesland has animated hangar doors and at Kjevik, if you wait patiently where the taxiway crosses the highway, the gates will eventually open and let you through. All the larger fields have animated docking boards and there are animated marshallers at some stands - though these only work if you are viewing them from the cockpit - switch to spot plane mode and they are frozen in the middle of asking you to go right.
The only bug that caused me particular heartache was the habit some of the textures have of flashing on and off when the animation load is high, but apart from that the airports are all very pleasing and I enojoyed using them. Scandinavian Airports 1 hasn't been updated for FS2004 yet, but if the developers can get the frame rates as well under control as they have done here, I look forward to seeing it. Not only would the two packages make a great pair, but if you bought Canary Islands as well, there are some entertaining routes to be flown from Europe's dark and frozen north to its bright and balmy south.Andrew Herd
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