Review: Flight 1 Ground Environment X Europe And North America
By Alexander Czarnecki (10 November 2010)
Any FS2004 simmer would have heard of Flight 1's Ground Environment. It was a great add-on that replaced the default scenery tiles, which could be plain boorrriiiinnnnngggggg, with new ones that were developed from aerial photos and added a "real" look to FS terrain. Ground Environment X promises to do completely the same to FSX, and believe me, it is a subtle but noticeable difference.
"Ground Environment X brings all-new ground textures to FSX, and it boasts an incredible 1 m/pixel texture resolution, using native 1024x1024 pixel images, and includes all seasons, meticulously designed night textures and the latest techniques in autogen placement and alignment. All this while keeping maximum Flight Simulator performance in mind during development."
Anthony Vos and Nick Needham are the Ground Environment X developers. Anthony Vos was on the FS2004 Ground Environment development team, so that legacy is carried over into Ground Environment X.
Ground Environment X has an impressive list of features. Some are:
- Enhanced textures to assist in rendering clear visuals as low as 250-500 feet in many places 1m/pixel
- 1024 x 1024 Textures - No excessive resolution to render or to fill hard drive.
- High performance, extreme density and perfectly aligned autogen.
- Structured texture layout to assist in covering most landclass products.
- All seasons including incredible snowy winters and mountain terrain.
- Special features/upgrades for Ultimate Terrain X users.
- 2D enhancements produce simulated 3D depth in textures.
- Textures derived from licensed aerial and satellite imagery.
- Upgrade for USA-Canada users, no switching required.
- FSX road night lighting upgraded (default and UTX).
- Realistic custom designed night textures.
- Highly detailed aerial views.
- Natural seasonal blending.
Minimum system requirements as quoted on the back of each box as:
Microsoft Flight Simulator X
Windows 7, Vista or XP
2.8 GHz processor
2 GB RAM
512 MB Graphics
5 GB Hard Drive
Plain and sensible system specs. That's what I say. I wish all developers, including Microsoft, will wake up and publish decent system specs. I tested GEX on a Dell Studio 1555 laptop with a 2 GHz Dual Core processor, 3 GB RAM and a 512 MB ATI Graphics card. With this, I found no noticeable frame rate loss.
I reviewed both Ground Environment X North America and Ground Environment X Europe. They both do the same job; the difference is that Ground Environment X (GEX) North America covers Alaska, Canada, and the USA, while GEX Europe covers Europe from the Arctic Circle through southern Greece.
Each Ground Environment X package comes on a single DVD in a really nice DVD case (which also includes a printed manual that includes all you need to know). Simple installation for both packages: Just stick the DVD in your DVD drive; and if you have autorun enabled, the installation screen should appear. Then all you need to do is sit around... When you have 5 GB of textures transferring and decompressing, it takes a long time. Once that is finished, Ground Environment X will then backup your default textures. Very handy, but again, that takes time. If you are installing Ground Environment Europe and have already installed GEX North America the GEX Europe installer will automatically locate your previous GEX/FSX backup and share that directory with GEX Europe in order to save disk space. You can make a separate backup; however, that will take up more disk space since there are shared textures between regions.
And like I said in my Flight Environment X review, defrag! That amount of textures moving around is bound to leave your hard drive in a mess. If you are an ORBX FTX user like I am, the installer warns you to turn FTX mode to OFF so your FTX textures are not inadvertently overwritten. This is also described on the manual. Come to think of it, the GEX manuals are great, detailing everything you need to know and are easy to read. The interface is reminiscent of the old GE one and is just as easy to use.
As every simmer's taste will vary, here are some comparison screen shots comparing GEX with default FSX. Default FSX on the left with GEX on the right. (The roads are the Real Environment X 15cm freeware road textures, and match really well with GEX.)1-Toulouse, France:
As you can see, GEX gives a subtle but noticeable difference. And with the textures at 1m/pixel, you can fly down to around 500 feet before the textures start breaking up...so VFR is a real joy with the simulated 3D effects and the redone autogen annotations. No frame rate loss (which is all-important with FSX) makes it a real joy! Oh and by the way, the autogen textures are replaced...and since GEX only replaces the ground textures, it is fully compatible with most third party landclass products. There is an element of sharpness to the ground textures that I have never seen before. Having all this spread across four distinct seasons is great!
Some more final screen shots:
Is GEX worth it? Yes, it is worth every cent! The 1m/pixel textures are fantastic, giving more joy to VFR flying and delivering unprecedented clarity. I've have a lot of fun flying VFR since I have installed GEX. In addition, the redone textures go some way to removing the repetitious lines of textures which really bug me! These great textures, made from aerial and satellite photography, matched with the REX freeware 15cm road textures, add a photorealistic feel to FSX without the hard drive and performance penalty. A truly great add-on that really goes a long way to taking FSX closer to reality.
Dell Studio 1555
Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo CPU T6400 @ 2.00 GHz
3.00 GB RAM
ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570 512 MB Graphics