• Review: Chris Bell's Black Marble

    Chris Bell's Black Marble

    By Michael Hayward

    Chris Bell is a scenery developer known for his Night Environment enhancements which can be used over default and VFR sceneries. Black Marble takes this one step further by adding 3D enhanced lighting to the default FSX environment (worldwide).

    Black Marble     Black Marble

    In this review, I will be taking a look at Black Marble and seeing if it really does do what it advertises.

    Installation

    The first thing to be aware of, is that Black Marble is a very big download! There are numerous parts for you to install and these include the following:

    Base
    Vector
    3D Bridges
    Traffic Pack

    I'll be taking a look at each one of these packages (except the Traffic Pack) during this review.

    Depending on what packages you own, there is a set order on how to install them, but this itself is fairly obvious and easy to follow.

    Black Marble     Black Marble

    First is the Base package which includes the launcher and basic light data. Next is Vector, which includes information for both the roads and lights. Then there is 3D Bridges, which sits on top of Vector, and finally, we have the Traffic Pack, which is a separate package and as such, can be installed at any point.

    You also get a manual with the launcher which explains how to use the program and what each package does in more depth.

    So what does each element of Black Marble do?

    First of all, we have the Base global package. This modifies the default FSX roads with new night textures, and also puts 3D lighting on top of this. It also modifies the default FSX ground night lighting, allowing for autogen buildings to stand out a little more. For example, a building would be more visible than say a field or a river glowing yellow (as with the default ground lighting).

    Black Marble

    Next, we have Vector. Here, Open Street Map data is used to replace all the default FSX roads, with far more accurate and up to date road data. This includes all motorways, residential streets and even smaller footpaths. There is then a larger selection of lights to choose from, as well as numerous additional options that you can change within the launcher.

    The third element is 3D Bridges. Again, by using accurate OSM data, EVERY bridge in the real world is placed into the flight simulator environment. This includes river bridges, footbridges, mountain passes, motorway junctions; you name it, everything.

    Finally, we have the Traffic Pack. This modifies the default vehicles found within FSX (also includes some additional models), and gives all of them volumetric head and tail lights.

    Black Marble's Launcher

    While not perfect, the Black Marble launcher is fairly easy to understand and use.

    Black Marble     Black Marble

    Each light definition is separated into different subsections based on what they are, for example: motorway, residential, footpath, etc. Within each of these, you have the ability to create multiple variations of different lights (one road can look different from another).

    Located at the far top of the program is a box named 'Options'. When selected, it provides you with a drop-down menu in which you can toggle the 3D Bridges and car headlights on and off.

    One thing that I feel that the launcher is missing however, is a quick and easy way to modify each variable. Say you only want 70% of all lights to appear (for instance because of lagging issues), this means you would need to modify each and every light definition one-by-one. For some lights, there might be 4 or 5 sub-light sections. Editing all of the above is a long and laborious process, so a faster and easier way to do this, would be very much appreciated.

    Black Marble     Black Marble

    On top of this, I have found that (on my system at least), the launcher does crash every once in a while, so I highly recommend saving after every couple of edits. As this add-on is in constant development, this issue may now have been resolved.

    Other than the above, everything else is easy to understand. The launcher provides you with all the necessary options in which to create a wide range of differing light and road variations.


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