Thursday, 25 July 2013

Just installed Orbx Scotland this morning...

...six hours later, I've just realised I kinda missed lunch and the whole of the afternoon.

Wow.

Till now I've not honestly found GA flying to be that satisfying.  The FSX scenery for the UK, even enhanced by UTX and GEX, is OK at best, as a sorta-almost-kinda-right approximation.  Photoscenery is great, but only as long as you stay above 2000ft.

But flying over the OrbX version of Scotland felt, for the first time, like I was actually flying over a part of Britain.  The coastline looked like a real coastline, the landclass areas flowed into eachother in a plausible way, and the little enhancements made the world of difference, like having moving vehicles on all roads, not just the major routes.

A couple of times I saw things that I thought must be graphical glitches, only to zoom in to find them to be genuine terrain details that would never have shown up in default FSX,.  A cluster of whitish circles in the middle of the sea in the Shetland Islands turned out to be ocean fish farms, a thin white strip that looked like a texture seam turned out to be a very slender radio antenna, and some mysterious yellow splotches in the middle of a grassland turned out to be the bunkers of a golf course.

I can't swear to the pin-point accuracy for the terrain as a whole, but I was able to easily identify one quite minor road that I did know well from real life, the B7201 that branches off the A7 and leads to the village of Canonbie, where I've holidayed a couple of times.  The landscape around the area seemed to broadly match my memories of it, making allowances for the limitations of the FSX engine, of course.

Looking at the airport enhancements, Edinburgh didn't seem to be a massive improvement, maybe up to the standard of a good freeware.  But OrbX is all about the small fields and strips, and they were absolutely stunning, giving the UK2000 VFR airfields a run for their money.  Plus they had the bonus of OrbX's "PeopleFlow", animated human figures who move around the airfield buildings and vehicles, giving them a bit more life than UK2000's static billboard figures.

Strangely, all this extra detail didn't seem to have much of a FPS loss, if any.

I also spent an hour or so pottering around some of the remotest airfields up in the Shetland Isles.  Like I said, I don't generally do a lot of basic GA "bush" flying normally, but I could certainly see myself spending many more hours exploring that area from the air.

I have OrbX England and Wales on order.  The Australia-based FSPilotShop had these at such a ridiculously low price that even shipping both of them from the other side of the world still worked out cheaper than buying either one individually from any of the UK stockists I saw.

I decided to take the plunge and buy these particular OrbX sceneries for a potential flightsim project/adventure that I have in mind.  Money's tight right now, and any expenditure has to be justified by a big return on the investment.  I'm confident that these sceneries are going to revolutionise my GA flightsimming in the UK and thus be worth it.

The big drawback with OrbX scenery though is what happens when you move out of an OrbX area.  Apart from the jarring effect of the not-quite-as-pretty textures and landclass, I've read plenty of horror stories of people claiming that OrbX's non-standard implementation has screwed up the default scenery elsewhere (though I haven't seen any of that today first hand).  Even OrbX recommend turning off their regions when flying in other parts of the world.  But what happens if you want to fly from an OrbX region to a non-OrbX one, or even from one OrbX region to another, since you can't change your settings mid-flight?

Previously that's meant saving your flight partway through, dropping out of FSX to make the change then restarting and reloading mid-flight.  But any day now should see the release of FTX Global, the package that applies OrbX textures to the whole of the world.  This will include a "hybrid mode" which lets you have all OrbX regions active at the same time, alongside the enhanced FTXG "new default" scenery.  That seems to offer the best of both worlds - much greater detail in the areas that the OrbX regions cover, while the rest of the world at least looks like it's been painted with the same palette, all blending together seamlessly.

Last year I kept seeing posts from some overenthusiastic souls claiming you could grow your own "FS11" or FS2012 by upgrading FSX with a particular set of add-ons, including all the regions that OrbX covered (at the time, basically Australia and parts of the US).  While I think they may have been reaching a bit at the time, this time next week we might be looking at FSX in a whole new light.

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