Generation X – Vol. 5 Review
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VFR Photographic Scenery Vol. 5 - Orkney & Shetland Isles
For FSX Published by Playsims Publishing
Reviewed by Brian Buckley
December 2010


Another release from the (Horizon Simulation) Playsims Publishing stable, is the long awaited Orkney & Shetland Isles, which makes it the 5th volume in the ‘VFR Photographic Scenery: Generation X’ series to date.

Since the release of Vol.4: The Western Isles, flight simmers in Scotland and around the world have waited with baited breath for another area of Scotland to be released. Using the best aerial photographic imagery and terrain data available, Vol.5 promises to give us unparalleled, detailed scenery quality, which will allow us to fly around and explore the myriad of islands that make up the two huge archipelagos of the Orkney Isles and the Shetland Isles.

Flying around these islands is best done in either, a single or twin engine prop’ aircraft, as there are some very small airfields dotted around these islands. Low and slow is the order of the day.

Installation

Cautionary Advice
VFR Generation X, like most large coverage scenery packages, needs quite a substantial amount of hard drive space to install. Horizon Simulations suggest that you undertake a complete defragmentation of your hard drive before installing this scenery package. This will ensure that the scenery files are placed on the hard drive in the most efficient manner during installation. This may also significantly improve the performance of this software during flight.

VFR Generation X, has been designed to give you various options for installation, but this depends on your individual system specifications and how much hard drive space you have available to use for this package. I must admit that I have a 1.5Tb hard drive so I went for the complete install.

The following components are what you have available to install:

0.60m Photographic Scenery

Since the area covered by the Orkney and Shetland Isles is much smaller that that of other VFR Generation X volumes, disk space savings have allowed the developers to generate this scenery at 0.60m/pixel, as opposed to the 1.2m/pixel (max) resolution of that covered in the England and Wales series. This results in a much more detailed scenery experience for you to enjoy during flights over the islands. Also, unlike other volumes in this series, the Orkney and Shetland Isles volume is provided at a single level of detail (as opposed to multiple files of the same area at different levels of detail). As a result, the 0.60m photographic scenery is part of the default installation process.

5m Terrain Mesh
The terrain mesh provided with VFR Generation X uses the most detailed and accurate data available – 5m/pixel. The terrain mesh, provided at this level of detail, adds significantly to the realism of the scenery however, file sizes are relatively small, when compared with the photographic scenery. For these reasons, the 5m terrain mesh is also a default installation option with this package.

Night Lighting
The night lighting scenery does what it says on the tin – it installs the night time scenery textures that are darker than those for the daytime and includes lights along roads and on buildings.

Again, given the relative size of the coverage area in respect of other volumes in this series and the subsequent disk space savings, the night-lighting scenery in the Orkney & Shetland Isles volume is also provided at 0.60m/pixel.

Note:
You cannot install the night-lighting scenery independently of the photographic scenery and terrain (unless you are adding it to (modifying) an existing installation of this package). The daytime photographic scenery must therefore be installed first in order for the night time scenery to be added.


KIRKWALL

VFR Photographic Scenery
Generation X Vol.5 Scotland – Orkney & Shetland Isles comes on 2 DVDs
Insert disk 1, go and make a cup of coffee/tea, as this scenery does take quite a while to install.

On my system (Specs’ at the end), it took between 15 – 20 minutes for both disks.

On inserting disk 1, auto-run should start the process unless you have this option inactivated on your system. If this is the case just browse the disk and double click on setup.exe. Alternatively, right click on it and select ‘Run as Administrator’.

Follow the usual on-screen advice for installation, and select which options you wish to install. If, like me you wish to go for a complete install, then grab a few biscuits as well as your cuppa. You are in for a wait. That said, the wait was definitely worth it for me.

If the complete installation takes up too much of your precious disk space, there is the option to modify your installation. To add/remove the Night Lighting separately from the photographic scenery, simply insert disk1, choose Modify and follow the on-screen instructions presented by the installer.

Horizon Simulations, suggest the following settings for FSX.
‘Contrary to popular belief, it is not possible to set all sliders and settings within FSX to the highest/maximum level and still expect to get silky smooth frame rates with currently available hardware. There will be some compromises for you to make so that you can enjoy the features that are most important to you. For example, some users may want lots of AI traffic, others may wish to have better weather visuals and scenery complexity.’- (Taken from the manual)

Suggested Display Settings
The Graphics tab should be set like this:


The Full Screen Resolution setting depends on a couple of things: firstly, the maximum resolution that your monitor can handle and secondly, your system’s specification.

You can adjust the Global Texture Resolution to suit your particular system. Try out different settings to find the optimum for your requirements.

  On the Aircraft tab, settings should be as follows:


The Aircraft Casts Shadows on the ground setting can cause a drain on resources so if you are flying under clouds it is not needed. 

However, it can add more dramatics to landing screenshots!
On the Scenery tab set the following:


Play around with your Scenery Complexity and Autogen Density as I have done to find the best balance between detail and frame rates that you are comfortable with.

  The Weather tab settings should be as follows:


Again, the weather settings are purely down to user preference. I used a Thermal Visualisation setting of natural and detailed clouds. In my Simulation Settings I use the settings shown above.

Just remember that high weather settings can be very memory intensive which could lead to poor frame rates, so again, try and get the right balance for you personally.
On the Traffic tab, settings should be set as follows:

 
  Aviation traffic is very resource hungry when used in abundance, therefore, Horizon Simulation recommend turning all settings down whilst flying with the VFR Generation X series. But they also suggest using your own settings to achieve the balance you want.

I would say keep the Airline Traffic to a minimum and the GA Traffic to around 5 -15 %

As this is islands scenery, ships and boats feature highly so a setting up to 50% should give a good result.

Road Vehicles should be left at zero unless you enjoy watching their awkward movements.  

THE FUN BEGINS HERE!

Now that we have the technical jargon and installation needs out of the way, I will get down to the business of describing what VFR Generation X Vol.5 is capable of.

After the lengthy install period, close down any running programs which are not required. (For example, any programs in your task bar such as, messenger, anti-virus programs etc) This will allow FSX to use as much system resources as possible.

Whenever I install any scenery add-on, I always open FSX and take a look at the scenery library to make sure that the scenery is in the correct place. Run FSX, on the welcome screen click on settings, then click on Scenery library. You should see the following two scenery files added to priority 1 and 2. 
 

It is suggested that you use a Cessna 172SP Skyhawk for flying around the islands and at an altitude between 1000ft – 6000ft. Flying low and slow will give you chance to see the scenery in all its glory. And I mean ‘glory’ as the detail in this scenery is really something special. You could also fly around this area in a Heli’ as there are numerous helipads here too. In my opinion, if you fly fast jets or jets in general you will cover too much of the area in too short a time therefore you will not benefit from the very detailed scenery on offer.

Seasons
It is suggested that you start exploring this area in the summer season and during the day to take advantage of the detail.

Due to the constraints of flying and photographing this area of the UK, there are no seasonal variations supplied with VFR Generation X Vol.5, because all the photographic sorties were flown during the best available light, in the summer months to minimise colour variations of the vegetation and the length of shadows cast.

Start your exploration of Shetland & Orkney around noon and in the summer, that way you will get the best light and detail. The rest is up to you. In my opinion the best view point is the Spot View.

Here are the differences you will experience, between both FSX Default scenery and that of VFR Generation X Vol.5. The time of all these shots was around 11.00am throughout the series of shots.

Default FSX VFR Generation X Vol. 5
Spring
Summer
Autumn
Winter

As you can see above (Fair Isle), the variation is very subtle but if you use different weather settings you may get strange colourations especially the greens.

Having spent a good time flying during daylight hours, I thought I must show you some of the night-time shots including Horizon's night-time lighting effects.

The next set of night time shots show clearly the differences between FSX Default and Generation X Vol.5. The first set are shots using FSX Default, the second set using Generation X Vol.5

As you will see there are marked differences with each additional software package.

Kirkwall - Orkney


This is the FSX Default scenery for Kirkwall, the capital town of Mainland Orkney. I have visited these islands and I can tell you that the default scenery leaves a whole lot to be desired.

Approaching from the west you can just make out the airport in the distance.

 


Here we have Kirkwall shown in all its night lighting glory, using Generation X Vol.5. As you can see not only do you get highly detailed ground scenery taken from ‘Getmapping’ images but also with enhanced night lighting features.

On closer inspection you can make out that certain buildings and landmarks (Jetty’s and sports buildings) have been highlighted also. Making for a better night flying experience.


The second main town on Mainland Orkney is Stromness. This is a leading ferry port town with a bustling harbour during daylight hours.

Ferries from here go to Scrabster on the Scottish Mainland but there are also several private boat owners who do ferry trips to outlying islands also.
 

Here, you can see more detail of the night lighting in Stromness. Horizon Simulation have spent a great deal of time on this feature and I believe they have done it justice.

Above is Stromness harbour taken during a night time flight. Again the detail is quite brilliant, in my opinion.

The night lighting detail is consistent across the whole area covered by Generation X Vol.5 – Orkney & Shetland Isles.

Having installed this scenery you will probably be thinking to yourself, surely there aren’t that many places to fly to and from within these Isles. You would be quite wrong.

For there are more than enough airports or airstrips to keep you busy for quite a while. Listed below are the ones I have found. There may be more!

Orkney Isles Shetland Isles
 
  • EDAY (aka London Airport) - EGED
  •  
  • FAIR ISLE – EGEF
  •  
  • FLOTTA – X6FL
  •  
  • FETLAR – FEA
  •  
  • HOY – EGE10
  •  
  • FOULA – KFOA
  •  
  • KIRKWALL – EGPA
  •  
  • LERWICK – EGET
  • LAMB HOLM – X6LH
  • OUT SKERRIES – X6OS
  •  
  • NORTH RONALDSAY – EGEN
  •  
  • PAPA STOUR – PSV
  •  
  • PAPA WESTRAY – EGEP
  •  
  • SCATSTA – EGPM
  •  
  • SANDAY – EGES
  •  
  • SUMBURGH – EGPB
  •  
  • SKEABRAE - 59.065595N, 3.269387W – disused
  •  
  • WHALSAY – EGEH
  •  
  • STRONSAY – EGER
  •  
  • UNST – EGPW
  •  
  • WESTRAY - EGEW
  •    

    In addition to these there are also quite a few Helipads within the bounds of these islands but I will leave them for you to find whilst you explore these wonderful islands.

    The Orkney Archipelago covers some 382 square miles and the Shetland Isles covers some 566 square miles, so there should be plenty for you to explore. Below you will find a selection of daytime scenery shots from both areas, using FSX with the settings applied that Horizon Simulation  suggest.


    SCAPA FLOW & SCAPA BAY
     
    LAMB HOLM

    STROMNESS

    FLOTTA OIL TERMINAL

    Conclusion
    The amount of time and effort that has gone into Generation X Vol.5 – Orkney & Shetland Isles, is quite astounding. The level of detail follows on in the VFR Generation X vein in that it makes your flying experience more believable, because of the effort the guys at Horizon have put into it.

    With the amount of area covered by this volume and the fact that there is such an abundance of airports, airfields and helipads to land at, makes this a superb addition to your scenery library. If you like flying GA at a low, slow pace then this volume is definitely worth contemplating. Even if you fly fast/airline jets I would still advise you to add this volume to your scenery library. Every now and then just take a look from your cockpit window and see the stunning islands below you.

    Having set my system up with the settings that Horizon suggested above, I was impressed to see that my FPS hardly dropped below my preset of 30 FPS. Even as I set the sliders higher I didn’t notice any great effect on my FPS, just a drop of around 5-7 FPS. I eventually increased my Global
    Texture Resolution to Very High. On my Scenery Tab, I set the Scenery Complexity to Sparse, Autogen Density to Extremely Dense and Special Effects to High. These adjustments did effect on my FPS but not to the extent of annoying me.

    As no two systems are identical I suggest you try the suggested settings then work your way up the scale with your sliders, until you get a good compromise between FPS and performance that suits you personally.

    I also had a drop in FPS when I increased the weather settings. The manual mentions this and advises caution when using intensive weather settings. Again it’s all about finding a suitable and visually pleasing balance.

    With the advent of the Millennium Map which ‘Getmapping PLC’ has compiled, access to this level of detail has now been acquired for the use in FSX thus making your flight simming experience more enjoyable and believable.


    Fair Isle

    Verdict
    Pros:
  • Superb 0.60m Photographic Scenery throughout.

  • 5m Terrain Mesh.

  • Very low impact on performance.

  • Stunning Detail.

  • Large area coverage.

  • Good 32 page intuitive manual.
  •   Cons:
  • No 3D Landmarks (i.e. Old man of Hoy, The Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm etc).
  • Although I understand there are products in beta at the moment and already a set of enhancements created by the Beta team available at AVSIM and Flightsim.com

  • What more can I say?

  • As Generation X Vol.5 – Orkney & Shetland Isles, is not a 3D landmark add-on for FSX, I cannot find any other real faults with this scenery. After all, it is photographic scenery. There is a misprint (I believe), in the manual, where on page 26 it asks you to choose your airport to start your flight.

    The manual suggests either (Barra, Benbecula or Stornoway); these are all airports from Generation X Vol.4 – Scotland: The Western Isles. To start your flight, just refer to the airport/ fields list above.

    As I have given most of the airports/airfields available in this package above, I suggest trying either Kirkwall –EGPA, Sumburgh – EGPB or (the most southerly Isle of this volume), Fair Isle – EGEF.
     
    If like me you like flying in Scotland, or you are just passing through I would definitely recommend Generation X Vol.5 – Orkney & Shetland Isles as an addition to your scenery library.

    My Score:
    This is an excellent scenery package and a very worthy addition to the Scotland package in my opinion, therefore I can’t see any other Mutley’s Hangar score than 10/10 being sufficient!

    Well Done to all at Horizon Simulation Ltd. A superb addition to their scenery library.

    Brian Buckley
    Review machine Spec:
    Intel Core 2 Duo @ 3.15 Ghz | 4Gb 800Mhz DDR2 Ram |GTX285 Graphics |Windows 7 64bit


          
          System Requirements
    • Flight Simulator X (Acceleration or FSX SP2 required)
    • Windows XP / Vista / Windows7 with the latest Service Packs
    • Pentium 2 GHz (Duo2Core Intel or equivalent advised)
    • 1 Gb RAM
    • 256Mb graphic card (512 MB recommended)
    • DVD Drive
    • Hard Drive Space 14 GB (Full Install)