• Review: MegaScenery Earth - Ultra Res Cities Chicago

    Ultra Res Cities Chicago

    Publisher: MegaScenery Earth

    Review Author:
    Bill Otten

    Suggested Price:
    $19.95

    Buy Here

    There is perhaps one factor with which all flight simulator fans can agree - we all want our simulation experience to be as realistic as our computers can make it. We look for extreme reality in our planes, weather, control devices, sounds, and visuals in an effort to get as close to the real flight experience as we can get.

    My review this month looks at the visual aspect of flight simming with a look at the MegaScenery Earth - Ultra Res Cities package covering Chicago. Chicago is one of the country's busiest air spaces and one of the most densely populated air spaces as well, with numerous airports both large and small. I took a look at the Terminal Area Chart that covers this area and stopped counting the airports after 25. From small private strips to general aviation small to mid sized, and up to the major fields like KORD Chicago O'Hare and KMDW Chicago Midway, there are simply a lot of airports in this area.

    The MegaScenery Earth - Ultra Res Cities Chicago program covers some 5000 square miles of scenery at a remarkable 50 cm per pixel! That's a lot of detail. With the proper autogen settings (I nearly maxed mine) the buildings superimposed on the photorealistic ground covering made flying over this area extremely realistic. I know this area very well, having grown up in the area, and flown over it often in many aircraft. Believe me, the detail is there. And why not? The ground cover is taken from satellite images so there's no detail within the 50 cm limits that cannot be seen. The difference from the stock FSX ground scenery is profound.

    The scenery is available as an instant download from the FS Pilot Shop which is my preferred method for instant gratification or as an option to download it and then receive a DVD copy mailed for a nominal extra amount. The file size is large, and the caution is there on the order page. It is a 9 Gb file size or about 3 normal DVD disks. It took me about an hour with my server to get the entire 9 Gb set of files. Your download time may vary. Installation was very easy. With all the separate files in a single folder or directory an installer makes the installation a few mouse clicks to complete. Within the file set is a complete set of charts as well, enroutes, flyways, high and low altitude, terminal area charts, sectionals, and procedural charts. That's pretty comprehensive. For those pilots out there who have the MegaScenery Earth state scenery, this Ultra Res Cities scenery overlays the state scenery easily.

    Once installed, I quickly took to the skies to fly my new scenery. Wow, quite a difference and I was amazed at being able to spot certain landmarks from the air immediately. This scenery really does well at low altitudes, and I flew from 1500 feet to about 3500 for best effect. There is a nifty scenery optimizer that will 'set' your graphics parameters for best effect - draw distance, resolution, autogen levels, etc. I used it and it did very well but then went back and cranked the autogen up a wee bit to suit my personal preference.

       

    Here is the stock FSX scenery with a lot of autogen trees and buildings in an attempt toward realism (above left), and the same area with the Ultra Res Chicago scenery overlay (above right). A huge improvement in my opinion. Roads, homes, tree areas and waterways all in their proper places. To me, even the coloration of the water and the gradation of the shading is improved. MegaScenery Earth did a very good job of selecting the satellite imagery for this title so that the entire area is tiled with photographs taken during the same season. From my estimation the photographs used were selected from an early to mid-spring timeframe. Farm fields aren't all verdant and green, but they're also not that dry brown arid and winter tilled coloration either. There is a drawback in photorealistic scenery though in that you will not witness seasonal color changes unless the company later provides an update. Similarly, at this point there are no night textures right now although a thorough reading of the manufacturer's forums hint that they may eventually add night textures once the initial work for all the states and major cities are complete.

    Here is a screen grab of the boundary of the MegaScenery Earth Ultra Res Cities Chicago looks like, up against the stock FSX scenery. This is the northern border on the Illinois - Wisconsin state line:

    Note the variance to the upper left window in the distance. The boundary and difference between the scenery is very evident. Also, take notice of the frame rate. Flying over photorealistic scenery has little effect on frame rates due to not needing all the autogen scenery to be drawn, which reduces CPU impact. When one flies into an area that is autogen intensive such as downtown Chicago the impact in frames per second come only from the number of buildings and trees drawn, and not the scenery tiles. So there is an improvement in those areas as well.

    Downtown Chicago was, well...breathtaking! Flying in from the north I could seen the "L" train yards to the far north of downtown, and many other familiar landmarks. Add in the autogen buildings and the city comes alive. The major interstates and highways teem with traffic and often I'd find myself in a Chicago Police helicopter flying the interstate highways that course through the city. The airports are photorealistic as well, and at times the airport autogen buildings don't quite line up with the accuracy of the photorealistic scenery tiles, but not to any great extent. In fact, with so much detail in the surrounding scenery, I felt the airport scenery could now use an upgrade. I may go searching for a separate enhanced KORD or KMDW scenery to bring them and their buildings up to the level that the Ultra Res City scenery does.

    Here are a couple of final screen grabs of the downtown area, one taken at night showing how the scenery reacts during night conditions.

       

    In summary, I really do enjoy this scenery and all the realism and detail it brings to the simulation experience. The noted drawbacks with the night scenery textures and the merging of the photorealistic and how FSX overlays it at the airports are there, but can eventually be resolved if MegaScenery Earth offers night textures, and I can fix the airport with a separate package. Seasonal textures will certainly be welcome too! But the bottom line is whether one likes the scenery enough to consider similar titles in other areas. I did. I liked what I got from the Chicago scenery enough that I went and purchased the Tampa area scenery for my own backyard! I have the Tampa scenery overlaying the MegaScenery Earth Florida scenery and I can fly now the entire state with photorealistic scenery and extreme resolution scenery in the Tampa surrounding area.

    System Specs:

    • Intel i7 processor at 3.4 GHz
    • 16 Gigs RAM
    • Windows 8.1 Pro operating system 64 bit
    • AMD Radeon R7 200 series graphics card
    • FSX Gold Edition (w/ Acceleration Expansion Pack)
    MegaScenery Earth - Ultra Res Cities Chicago

    Clear Skies!

    Bill Otten

    Purchase MegaScenery Earth - Ultra Res Cities Chicago


    5 Comments
    1. RatRace's Avatar
      RatRace -
      Nice review, and to each his own, but no matter what, most objects look like pancakes.
    1. BOtten's Avatar
      BOtten -
      Having most objects look like 'pancakes' is a given for photorealistic scenery. At an altitude of 2000' to 3500' though (which is the recommendation) the flat appearance tends to resolve itself. It is after all, a photograph overlaying the mesh of the landform. To make every building or home or tree a full 3D object would be far beyond the capabilities of our home computers. If you have a capable system you can max out the auto-gen scenery objects. This will increase the number of 3D buildings and trees and reduce (not eliminate) that flat appearance. Because the photorealistic scenery isn't drawing and placing a lot of buildings frame rates tend to be higher, when you max out the auto-gen your frame rates will still drop, but may be in acceptable ranges. For me, I use the Nuvecta Tree-line add-ons to supplement the auto-gen from FSX. This really helps to eliminate that table top flatness of the photorealistic scenery and I've found frame rates not to suffer with it.
      Bill Otten
    1. mbrady's Avatar
      mbrady -
      Would this scenery work in FS2004?
    1. aka2k's Avatar
      aka2k -
      Quote Originally Posted by BOtten View Post
      Having most objects look like 'pancakes' is a given for photorealistic scenery. At an altitude of 2000' to 3500' though (which is the recommendation) the flat appearance tends to resolve itself. It is after all, a photograph overlaying the mesh of the landform. To make every building or home or tree a full 3D object would be far beyond the capabilities of our home computers. If you have a capable system you can max out the auto-gen scenery objects. This will increase the number of 3D buildings and trees and reduce (not eliminate) that flat appearance. Because the photorealistic scenery isn't drawing and placing a lot of buildings frame rates tend to be higher, when you max out the auto-gen your frame rates will still drop, but may be in acceptable ranges. For me, I use the Nuvecta Tree-line add-ons to supplement the auto-gen from FSX. This really helps to eliminate that table top flatness of the photorealistic scenery and I've found frame rates not to suffer with it.
      Bill Otten
      It's too much payware for such an old game. Even Prepar3d is just jurassic engine-wise. This community truly needs something modern, post-2010 with full directx support and totally multi-thread capable. War Thunder - the freemium game - for example sake, runs with way much more detail than any of those games in respectable big maps with full 3D cities and ok physics yet keeping the frame rate very high. We need that kind of engine powering a modern civilian sim.

      I still enjoy FSX and whatnot but we all have to admit that the venerable engine aged terribly in the meantime.
    1. zbtonse's Avatar
      zbtonse -
      Bill, the article is very nice, I enjoyed reading it! But then I looked at the screenshots and got very disappointed with this photoscenery. I have Aerosoft Chicago which gives me almost the same photo ground, plus many many 3D objects, and complete city. Even with night textures.
      And this ultra city 50cm is not breathtaking at all. At least I cannot see that on screenshots provided here.
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