Over Christmas the flight sim world was rocked by what could only be described as a 'seismic' event. X-Plane 11 arrived, and with it a new wave of interest and hope. The sim looked pretty, featured new cutting edge technology, and lots of little fixes that add up to something good. At least that's the hope. With the new sim came new possibilities. It also came with interest from new third party developers. However, the 'event' that shook the world came from an unlikely place. Out of nowhere, FSX and P3D scenery gods, Orbx, popped up with a picture of Meigs Field in X-Plane. Cue the meltdown. To say I was excited was an understatement. Orbx airfields with X-Plane visuals and complete with 64 bit technology. Imagine the regions, and not a OOM in sight. It was to be a perfect marriage. Sadly, this perfect marriage turned out to be more Britney Spears and her Las Vegas fling. Just a short 20 days later, the dream was gone as Orbx announced they would not be coming to X-Plane after all. Many theories arose as to why, none of which are particularly useful to this review. However, whilst many were keen to debate the why, there were some that asked the more pointed question, did X-Plane really need Orbx after all? Now, that is an interesting question. To find an answer of sorts, I'm heading north into the back country of British Columbia, Canada. Welcome to Bella Coola.
Beti-X shot to prominence a few years ago with a jaw dropping debut scenery, the wonderful Stewart, British Columbia. Stewart set a high standard, as not content with modelling the small airfield in near forensic detail, the whole town got a full model along with the surrounding mountainsides, saw mill, and river area. It was a tour de force and it earned Beti-X a pretty penny in terms of reputation.
Now they're back with Bella Coola. It could be a case of a difficult second album, but somehow I doubt it. My initial thoughts are more wow than nope. There is a wealth of detail to take in, and that's just from the main ramp. For starters, there's the grass. Volumetric grass is all the rage these days, but finding a really good grass can be difficult. I often find that some volumetric grass can seem a little, well, Lego like. Here though, it's gorgeous. Is it a taste of things to come, or has it all peaked to soon? That's the question.
Key features of Beti-X CYBD - Bella Coola include:faithful replica of real airport with HD buildings and pre-rendered ambient occlusion;
Bella Coola is available from the Beti-X web site as a 'download only' product. It is priced at US$24.00, or the equivalent on currency cross rates.
Bella Coola isn't the biggest of places to visit. The town itself has a population of just 148 whilst the whole Bella Coola Valley is home to just shy of 2,000 people. There's no such thing as the 'hustle bustle' up here. It's the kind of place where everyone knows your name. You don't come here for the people though, you come to Bella Coola for the scenery. The valley is surrounded by gorgeous forests, towering peaks, and the kind of peace that death itself struggles to offer. Perhaps that's why the producers of 'The Incredible Hulk' film, starring Edward Norton, chose to film here. If it's quiet enough for Bruce Banner, then I expect a lot.
The airport is where we're at though. It sits a few miles from the main town. It's stunning location provides pilots with two beautiful approaches, Runways 10 and 26. From the ramp I take in the surroundings. I've already mentioned the volumetric grass. The grass is nearly the prelude to a fantastic assault on the eyes. The textures here are simply stunning. Making use of X-Plane's 64bit technology, every major object has high definition level textures. The asphalt is crisp, the taxi lines detailed and appropriately worn. Even the underlying photo scenery base around the airport is sharp - at 2cm per pixel though, it should be. Turning to the buildings, the appropriate phrase is 'huwahwahwah, yowza!'. Each building has HD textures, but it also features pre baked ambient occlusion, giving each one an extra air of realism. At night, X-Plane lights the buildings nicely. This isn't an airport that you want to fly in to after dark though, as there's no night lighting for the runways. Finally the buildings are all solid. That may sound like an odd thing to say, but if you hit one, you'll crash. These are ideal for whirlybird pilots, providing plenty of opportunities to practice those difficult rooftop landings.
Airports are more than just runways and buildings. The clutter, for want of a better description, will provide any airport with character. There's plenty of character here. The airfield has a cast of human characters filling up the aprons and hangars. They don't move much, which is actually ok with me. I'm not really a fan of 'zombies' wandering around. For the more non human clutter, well, it's all pretty nice. From the chain link fences to the traffic cones, the various vehicles to the signage, it's all top quality stuff. For best effect, take a trip outside the main terminal. There's a bus that's stunningly textured. Plenty of signs to view and places to explore. There's also a dumpster with the best finish you'll ever see.
Away from the airport itself, the Beti-X team have been spending countless hours tweaking the roads, hand editing the underlying mesh, and hand placing points of interest. It must have been a huge task as the coverage area that they've chosen is huge. No figures are given for the size of the area, but the manual has a lovely map that outlines the coverage area - it speaks for itself. Best of all, the underlying photo scenery base is a cracking 50cm per pixel. More than enough for any pilot.
At the far west of the coverage area sits the main town of Bella Coola. Here the streets have been edited to look identical to the real thing, to the point of being almost indistinguishable from the Google Earth image. In town itself there are many buildings that are modelled identically to the real life versions, the biggest of which is the hospital. It's not all identical to the real town. There are a few buildings that double up to fill the town, but that will cut down on draw calls for the GPU.
Heading to the river, where the inlet meets the town, you'll find lots of logs, obviously. There's also a marina and ferry dock. Again, this is modelled perfectly, with high definition textures and ambient occlusion all around - only a ferry is missing. To the east of the airport there are a plethora of little hamlets, isolated homes, and all sorts of things to explore. The valley also opens up as a second valley joins, creating a bowl like area that allows you to turn for the approach to Runway 26. Here there are more trees than people. It shouldn't be surprising to discover that the trees aren't your default kind. Instead there are several varieties of HD trees. The trees are everywhere, from the valley floor to the peaks of the valleys.
There's no denying that Bella Coola is stunningly beautiful. All this beauty comes at a cost. On a single screen, my ageing 4GB, NVidia 680 copes okay. Without any AA, frame rates sit happily in the 25 to 30 fps range. Take that up a notch and that performance halves. With three screens, the results are tough. With the higher resolutions, it's not just that the GPU begins to struggle, but the GPU's memory starts to get flooded. For best performance, you really need a 6GB GPU at a minimum. X-Plane is known to work GPUs hard, with Bella Coola, it just gets tougher.
Included with Bella Coola, Beti-X have produced a set of winter textures that give the airport that 'let it snow' feel. It's best used with a winter texture plug in though, as the airport will look odd if its frozen in a world of evergreen. As with the regular textures, it's all high detail and exceptionally finished. The annoying thing with the textures is that you'll need an external plugin to get them to work correctly. Even with the plugin, it's awkward to set up.
The specifications of the computer on which the review was conducted are as follows:
Intel i7 4770K, 4.4GHz;
NVidia GTX680, 4GB, x2;
16GB, DDR3, 1866MHz;
Windows 10 Professional, (64bit); and
British Columbia has some of the best bush flying scenery in the world. It's long been a favourite of mine since the release of FSX itself. The tight valleys just begging to be explored, the mountainous peaks just asking to be concurred, and the tiny landing strips you're not sure you'll fit onto, all make British Columbia one of the best places to fly. Bella Coola is just such a place. Beti-X have reproduced this beautiful place in exquisite detail. Almost everything is perfect. If I had to be harsh, and it would be really harsh, the only place that the scenery falls down is where the inlet meets the shoreline. In places it looses definition and becomes blocky. That's the only bad thing I have to say about this stunning work or art. From the beautiful buildings, HD trees, optional winter textures, and an eye for detail that borders on obsession, Beti-X's Bella Coola is simply stunning. Priced at just $24 it's a stunning deal for a beautiful area.