Sunday, January 26, 2014

FSDG Thessaloniki X: Our impression!

P3D. Well here is a review that pretty much sucked up my entire weekend. Had it only been the airport, a few hours work as best and I'd be done. But an entire city? There was just no way all this would fit into a typical ADX FirstLook. FSDG has created a masterpiece so refined, I don't think there is a single person that has experienced this product that wouldn't put it on their top 10 all time favorite destinations. It is only the beginning of 2014 and already it is cemented as a top release of 2014. I'll even take it a step further and say it is a top 10 release of 2013, 2012, and 2011. A step even further and I'll say it is one of the top ten of the last 10 years. Thessaloniki is a very small airport and yet somehow, it's absolutely huge. It's gargantuan! "Hmm... I have always liked that word gargantuan. It's so rare I've had the opportunity to use it in a sentence." And as large scale sceneries go, so do my reviews. And this time, when I say Bandwidth Warning! I really mean it with over 200 digital simtography shots crammed in here! Let's go see what exactly FSDG has done and what makes Thessaloniki X a must have for every flight simulation enthusiast!

A quick note before we get started for those who may be new to my review style.

My reviews tend to defy convention and thus do not conform to the standard format you may be used to. I will not be getting into the download and install processes or the Wikipedia histories. I assume if you discover this review, then you are more than intelligent enough with the wherewithal to figure all that out on your own. I also do not summarize the pros and cons at the end of my reviews. This just allows lazy folks to skip all my hard working thoughtful gibber-jabber and skip right to the end. All these words were written for a reason in an effort to give you an honest finding of the product while also entertaining you a bit in the process. 

If you want to know what was good vs. bad, you are just going to have to read the entire review. The developers worked very hard over a period of several months of their lives delivering these products, they deserve reviews that reflect their efforts. Which is why my full reviews typically contain between 100 to 200 screenshots instead of the typical 30-40 shots you might see elsewhere. Needless to say, I take this shit seriously. So with that said, let's discover the destination everyone is talking about!
Being aware that FSDG would be releasing Thessaloniki X this month, I decided to get out ahead of the 8ball and make my way to Greece a week early. With all the amazing destinations to choose from in this scenic country, I choose the destination that is the most remote and one of my favorite among the Greek isles: Kastellorizo! This island is the perfect place to relax, enjoy great food, and most of all, fly into and out of. The tiny airport on Kastellorizo, has a very exciting approach, which leave no margin for error. Either you will nail it, or you will wind up in a catastrophe. No doubts about it! This is why FSDG decided to recreate the island and its airport and a great excuse to show it off in this review. I also decided to show off a very nice turboprop that sits in the shadow of the Majestic Q400. I won't show off the entire island today, but you can find my first discovery of the island last year here: 
If you don't have Kastellorizo yet, I highly recommend you add it to your Greek airports collection! You will enjoy some very fun, challenging, and scenic sorties out here. Okay passengers loaded, engines running, let's get this show on the road!

Top photo: Top of ascent.

Bottom photo: Bottom of decent.
Here we are out over Kolpos Thessalonikis approaching Nea Malgara where we will follow the coast line till we are put into the flight pattern for Thessaloniki. This area is Orbx FTX Global+Vector.

Above in the distance you see the coverage area start to come into view. Below you see the borderline between Orbx and FSDG coverage areas and how the 2 products blend together. 

All the custom autogen starts to come into view as we follow the coast. I am amazed there was no drop in performance as I approached. Not even micro stutters.

Feet and flippers down for final. Must remain focused on the task at hand and not on those beautiful cities packed with historical landmarks clearly visible from the VC on approach. It's all easily distracting which creates the challenge of flying into Thessaloniki.

I had to come in a bit below the glideslope to get these shots. I really, really love the approach lead in here. Terrific work and looks even better when lit at night.

"Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Thessaloniki where the current time is 3pm. Weather is a warm 73 degrees with a nice breeze out of the northwest. We hope you have enjoyed your flight with us this afternoon and wish you a pleasant stay in Thessaloniki." Indeed, I was expecting a very pleasant stay here!

The airport.

Now there are some developers out there that develop sceneries with the notion that properties and areas located within the non-airside portions of airports are unimportant to scenery design. There is something of a misnomer that sim-pilots have no interests in these areas and thus, will restrict their eyepoints to the areas immediately surrounding their aircraft. If an aircraft is not meant to be in a certain area say the parking lot, the end user will never go into that area and thus there is little or no point in rendering these areas in detail thus saving time, money, and effort. 

Developers operating under that Modus Operandi are incorrect in that thought process. Why? Because there are people like me who will rip a developer apart for not modeling an entire airport and its immediate surroundings. In the case of Thessaloniki here, not only was the non-airside areas modeled in splendid detail, but the developers went ahead and expanded on that and rendered nearly fifty square miles in stunning detail. Let's start with that parking lot area and see if it meets my seal of approval which I will go ahead and say now: It totally does!

Several different species of trees and automobiles are present and perfectly hand placed throughout the area giving a very realistic look and feel. Couple all that with the custom light posts, signs, curbs, footpaths, medians, and fencing, and you get a very realistic and environmentally immersive feel of the place. It feels so real in fact, it almost makes me a bit uncomfortable...

Custom autogenic towns surround the airport on all sides giving feeling that there really is a world alive outside the airport.

You see, I was a huge fan of the old FS9 GAP Thessaloniki freeware release many years ago. For its time, it was what I considered to be highly detailed and it really put many payware products to shame. But one thing I hated about it as with many airports of the time was the complete and total lack of autogen in the area. It was as if I was landing on Mars or something. It felt totally void of life. Needless to say, in the case with FSDG here, I almost forget I am sitting at my computer in my underwear.

See what I mean by the custom fencing, curbs, and cars. Nicely done here. I just love how the terminal architecture looms in the background.

I am very impressed with how the arrival and departure areas are presented. Every support steel beam is present at their various angles. Just looking at this, it's obvious this work was not easy to render but it all comes together perfectly.

And here we are at the departure level. You can see Thessaloniki way off in the distance there. Yes the autogen is there and can be seen from afar with no performance impact. That is just cool.
I'll reiterate, it looks and feels very real with the proper ground paint representing walk areas, lanes, and footpaths. Hey, are those speedbumps? Wow! Now that is attention to detail! Well done. I think they knew I would check.
Totally digging the terminal architecture.

Oops! Here is a failure! Nearly everyone by now is aware of how much I can make a fuss about airport perimeter fencing. This area was a let down to me. Not only is the airport blocked from all non sterile areas, but some areas like the shot above are too obvious. At worst, a potential Orbx "People Flow" terrorist could just walk right in there and hijack an AI airplane. At best, somebody could drive their cars in and drag race right on the runway. Jokes aside, I do hope the fencing issue get's improved with a future update.
I can even make out the Mitsubishi icon on the air conditioning systems. Wow!

Need a car rental? It's all there as it should be!
Moving airside we get a good look at the airfield vegetation separating the runways from the taxiways etc. Sort of a "desertesque" brush which I determine to be correct for this region. Careful, that stuff can catch fire quick. 
The main terminal texturing looks superb and I like the texture baking methods used here. It really has that concrete&glass feel. If I were to do anything different, I would have gone from the matte windows to interior modeling. But hey, these guys just created an entire city composed of several towns consisting of thousands of objects. So the matte windows do just fine. And yes, environmental reflections are present on the "glass".
No jetbridges here, so watch your step. Note the baggage carousel.

Yes, I keep all my AI in the sim. Both present and past! For my next flight out of here, I am thinking of taking the Agean QW Avro back into Kastellorizo. The terminal just doesn't look right without the old Olympic jets sitting out here. 

Just look at that terminal modeling. These guys nailed it perfectly! A lot of corners and edges. You could put your eye out on that thing. Don't stare at it too long. Looks mighty solid though.
Lots of ramp objects present and not too many either. All well modeled and detailed.

Really digging the texture work.

Nice static aircraft!
Well done on the firehouse detail and modeling.
I really love the sunken creek that lets out to the ocean. Good crisp detail here with real water masking. Taxi bridges present!

Some might experience terrain issues with the creek though. This is being worked on.

Nice crisp ground texturing. FSDG always excels well in this area. Lots of cracks in the ground paint is many areas such as the runway. As for the roof textures, lots of depth. No complaints there.

Cargo area is well detailed.

A sign cementing a legacy of times past.

Arial shot. This airport is fun to approach on both active runways offering scenic views in both directions.
Got some Canadians hanging out here in case a fire breaks out on that brush I mentioned earlier.

This little helicopter guy will be your very first impression of the airport as it's the very first thing you will hear. In my opinion, it's a bit too loud on the audio but fun to watch and follow. I had a bit of fun with it. I grabbed a spinner of my own and practiced following it around. Landing with it, and taking off with it. Something to do if you happen to get bored out here. Note: you will not get bored out here.
Love the attention to detail in this area just before the runway 10/28 threshold which is currently closed and under construction is expected to be extended out into the bay, allowing a longer safety distance and enabling wide body aircraft. A number of issues have continued to put this project on hold with 2015 now slated for completion. If you choose to land on it anyway, watch out for the chopper.

The cities.

We will take a break from the airport and come back later on this evening to see it under the night lighting. Let's head out to town and see the sights. Right away I can tell you Thessaloniki and it's surrounding cities are not composed of cheaply made generic looking autogen. Whereas many houses and buildings are duplicated, they are made of good quality. At no point did I get a feeling as if anything was rushed. Depending on where you are within the scenery will reflect the type of house or building you will see. This is most obvious from afar just by judging from the color of the rooftops you see.

I am rather pleased the team choose to model the cities. It was indeed a risk to establish such an undertaking with the notion that it could wind up becoming a memory crashing waste of time. FSDG has never set out to develop a scenery of this size before and in an effort to raise their own bar, they took the chance. The result?

I just can't imagine how long it took to hand place all those objects. And yes, they were hand placed on top of the photo scenery. This allows you to clearly see the roads and streets between the objects. And yes, there is car traffic enabled on them unlike at FT Dubai where the auto traffic was disabled in the city. This particular area is Kalamaria. Thessaloniki proper is a few miles to the North. 

All your sports stadiums and arenas are present. Yes, all of them.

There are your cars moving about the city! Very busy place!
Damn! Look at all those buildings! Now you see, it's obvious they are hand placed. I just can't imagine how long this took!

Just about every historical landmark and point of interest is present in the scenery. I will not go after them here. I'll let you explore that yourself. I personally recommend Alabeo's R66. The big bubble canopy will afford you great views of the city as you fly.

A lot of objects.
OMG that is incredible! Fear not pilots, it performs very well!

Great photo coverage!

And it all looks so well when lit at night! Every street! Every building!

All the custom objects from every corner of Thessaloniki is present. These guys are very passionate about the work they do. Their attention to detail is uncanny. I highly respect that. I'll hush up a bit and let you enjoy the sights.

Let's follow this guy back to the airport for some night shots!

Almost forgot! The scenery covers the following cities and townships to the west of the airport: Neo Riso, Perea, and Ag. Triada, Aggelochori just to name a few giving you dense scenic autogenic city coverage from every direction except from the water!

Now this is not only a very scenic approach with Thessaloniki at your 12, it is also bit of a speed challenge descending with the terrain.
The taxiway lighting is spot on. As well as the elevated edge lighting.

Everything looks even better at night!

The airport in the foreground with Kalamaria visible across the bay.

The terminal really stands out at night like an abstract art piece. I applaud the night lighting methods used.
If you get down on your hands and knees like I did and crawl around, you will find the bag room under the terminal complete with odd stickers pasted on the conveyor. Why do handlers do that? I have been in bag rooms from LAX to JFK to LHR to DXB and it's the same everywhere. Good on FSDG to add it here too.

Ah! My parking lots are well lit!

Wow this place looks realistic! The light falls in all the right places in a very realistic manner.

Final Thoughts.

It's the scenery that Mathijs Kok himself hails as the best airport scenery he has seen and like myself, he has seen many an airport scenery in his time. It is the airport I personally hail as my top 5 favorite sceneries of all time. LHSimulations Budapest, FlyTampa Dubai, 29Palms Skiathos, and Drzewiecki Krakow sit on that list. I won't say who they just bumped but welcome to my top 5 FSDG. That is not an easy list to get on. 

If there was anyone out there who did not take FSDG seriously before, they have a huge reason to do so now. This team isn't going anywhere but up and it's very hard to imagine how they might top this project. I imagine they will have to do an entire island. Oh wait. They already did that. What's most impressive here is the face that they managed to get it all working so smoothly on my rig and without OOM's. 

If for some reason you do experience performance issues, there is help! FSDG has compiled a city configuration tool for people who run a ton of other add-ons and reach LGTS with already 3GB VAS with aircraft such as the NGX. 

Another thing I recommend you do in an effort to keep your VAS down is to carefully check your flight plan. If it takes you over other 3rd party airports, either disable them in the scenery library prior to flight or plan a flight around them. There is no point in loading an airport you have no intention of landing at and killing off more memory in the process.

I have compiled my own little video showing performance on my rig using my iPhone.

In the 4 days I have poured over this scenery, I am amazed at how well the beta team performed their duties. I only found a couple issues with the scenery as I mentioned earlier. What's even better news is with Taxi2Gate currently developing their Istanbul Ataturk, we will have some very nice nearby sorties with FlyTampa Athens including a number of Greek island airports in the region.

And to think, this was only meant to be an ADX FirstLook article. Sometimes, these products can have a serious effect on me...

As for the future of Thessaloniki, if Greece can overcome its current financial woes, there are lovely plans in the future and I'm sure our hero's at FSDG will be up to the task when the day comes. In the mean time, I look to FSDG's next project. No doubt what it will be, it's bound to be good.

You can purchase FSDG Thessaloniki X today at Aerosoft. I wish you many hours of fun and safe flights into this scenic and exciting destination. 

Happy Flighting!

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Edward Nigma said...

Outstanding work, D'Andre. An unprecedented amount of screenshots.

This is for me as well one of the best products of all time for FSX. The only thing I do not like is the Runway lighting which I find too bright and not 3D like the taxiway lighting and the other thing I do not like is the C-130 over there by the hangar, which is not stationed in Thessaloniki but in Elefsis. Other than these two things (very minor) it's the perfect scenery in terms of quality and performance.

Mattitjahu said...

I still have OOMs while approaching the city/airport! Even with the 'LITE II Scenery', the second patch. VAS usage is still to much. And my FSX settings are definitely balanced, never experienced an OOM before with similar add-ons like T2G MMMX etc...

Max Kraus said...

Beautiful airport scenery. Congratulations to all involved. Stunning work and detail.

Flyer said...

Just insane quality. But what is so special about Thessaloniki?

FSXHERON said...

I had my first, in long time OOM, when arrived from Venice on my NGX. I have to say that my rig is quit powerfull, but still! The scenery is awsome and i will keep on fly into even with OOM! Thanks for the review and tips.

Christian said...

Stunning, personally I've never seen anything like it before! The approach views and the sort of detail that awaits you at the airport :))

...Personally, agree with D'Andre, frames are too smooth to be true & never experienced OOM in LGT :) but for those who do try getting your LOD radius setting to medium ,at least for the NGX, and work with LITE scenery, you' d be fine.

Mattitjahu said...

Christian, your 'generalized' statement isn't correct at all!

Unknown said...

For people with OOM's, check for duplicate AFCADS or other possible conflicting scenery files. This scenery has a ridiculous LOW VAS footprint. If you have an OOM, it is more than likely caused by something outside the scenery.

altstiff said...

I am perplexed how some have a low footprint with this scenery and others do not (me being in the others group). Not sure what can be the issue here for me (and some others) while many others have no problems at all.

altstiff said...

Welp, my problem is having so many entries in my scenery.cfg. I started using Scenery Config Editor and only activated the sceneries I was using (for this example LGTS - LGSK). Doing that and that alone freed up 1GB of VAS for me.

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