Scenery add-on for Microsoft FS2004


Flying Vancouver+ÖThe City

I departed from CYPK runway 26L and once my wheels left the runway I banked left and decided to follow the Fraser River westward towards Vancouver International. Once safely airborne, I began to pan around from the 3D cockpit and was astonished by what I saw below. The scenery was an exact match for the map that I had on my computer desk and I immediately realized that I could easily navigate this scenery using a real-world map. As I flew, using the Fraser as my guide, I could see the wake from boats travelling up and down the river. The AI boats were a pleasure to watch and I circled a few times and buzzed them. As I continue down the river I could see a number of bridges in the distance. In particular, I was looking for two things. One, I wanted to see how well the Alex Fraser Bridge had been re-created and two, I was also looking to see if there were any indications of where the George Massey Tunnel should be. Its inclusion or absence obviously wouldn't be critical or even of any importance to the enjoyment of Vancouver+, but it would be a good indicator of just how accurate this scenery program actually was.

The Alex Fraser Bridge incidentally, is a cable-stayed bridge and has won awards for its design. As I flew over the Port Mann and the Pattullo Bridges, it became obvious that these were the best renditions of bridges I'd ever seen in FS9. They are highly detailed, even to the point of having highway signs which are clearly legible. There are also railway bridges that cross the Fraser River and these too are meticulously re-created and placed in their correct positions. Needless to say; the bridges all lined-up correctly with the adjacent roads. I then approached the Alex Fraser Bridge and its attention to detail is nothing less than picture perfect. Its accuracy is uncanny and you can actually count the individual cables that are used to support it. It's truly stunning and has to be seen to be appreciated. It's not the only cable bridge in Vancouver, but I specifically earmarked it on my real-world map as one in particular that I wanted to investigate. I then flew a little further down the river and looked for the George Massey Tunnel. Sure enough (to be honest, I expected it at this point) the entrance and exit to the tunnel were clearly visible. It's located 7 miles due South from Vancouver International. At this point I should add the entire area is gorgeous. Regardless of the direction your eyes take you as you peer out of the cockpit, everything is crystal clear, lifelike, active and a pleasure to view.





I turned northward to fly over the Vancouver skyline. As I looked out over the expanses of Vancouver City I could see smoke coming from various factories. I then began to crisscross the area to get a closer look and atypically, they too are done in great detail. Because of my erratic flying, I was far removed from Vancouver International and was now on the northeast side of the city. At this point I saw some of the huge AI cruise ships and went to investigate. These ships move with a purpose (they actually follow specific routes) and as I flew over Stanley Park, a small tugboat was steaming its way inland while the Island Princess was heading out to sea. I followed the Island Princess for a few miles and then turned and headed back to Stanley Park. I was now flying without any purpose. There was just too much to see and so much activity taking place on the ground that I gave up any hope of sticking to even a rudimentary flight plan. There was also considerable activity in the air with AI helicopters and AI planes coming and going throughout the city. I then flew over the boat docks at Canada Place Pier and admired the numerous varieties of boats waiting to set sail. These particular boats are not AI, but they add to the pleasing ambience of the area. I then flew northward and followed the Capilano River to see the Cleveland Dam. As I approached the entrance to the river, I expected to see a rail bridge followed by a couple of traffic bridges further up the river. I was navigating using the map next to my keyboard and true to fashion; Vancouver+ displayed these bridges in their correct locations. I then followed the riverís trail up to the dam and saw millions of gallons of water pouring down into the valley below. I used the reservoir as a turning point, did a 180 degree turn and headed back to view the skyscrapers that dot Vancouverís skyline. At this point Iíd only had a glimpse of them since Iíd approached the area from the northeast and I wanted to catch the Island Princess before she got too far out to sea.

Once again I relied upon my maps, only this time, I was now using a highly detailed map of the exact locations of each and every building in the downtown area. I switched to my Aerosoft Seahawk (after loading-up the CAK7 included flight file) so I could explore the buildings at my leisure and with the aid of the autopilot I could now safely hover as I took my eyes off the screen to study my map when making comparisons. I should also add at this point that my frame rates were remarkable considering all of the details that I was experiencing. I didnít (nor do I at any time) keep track of the FPS counter. I fly with one and only one expectation, a smooth and fluid flying experience regardless of what an FPS counter displays at the top of my screen. Up to this point I hadnít noticed anything unusual and my flying experience was fun and frames didnít enter my mind. My flight so far was fluid and dynamic and I was thoroughly enjoying my tour of the city. Using the Seahawk would obviously lower my frame rates, but this is because of the high polygon count of the Seahawk which is to be expected.




Starting at the Vancouver Children & Women's Health Centre, I headed west and then banked right so that I could approach the downtown region while flying over the Grandville Bridge. I'm not personally familiar with downtown Vancouver, so I had to rely upon pictures that I'd garnered off of the Internet. What I was looking for though, and this would apply to any scenery program, was the use of repetitious buildings and textures in an effort to make an area look populated. As I crossed over the Grandville Bridge I was now in the heart of downtown Vancouver and I maintained a varying altitude of 150 to 200 feet with a speed of around 20 knots. This allowed me to inspect the buildings in great detail.

As my eyes panned the area it was evident that each and every building had its own distinctive characteristics. The buildings are rendered cleanly, crisply and in great detail typically reflecting their real-world counterparts. Many of the buildings, as in real life, have their company's logo displayed at or near the top floor, examples of which are the Scotia Bank, Toronto Dominion and the Shaw Tower. Once I was satisfied that there was no repetition and the buildings were indeed unique, I turned the autopilot off so that I could fly above the skyline. At this point I noticed an odd-shaped structure just a few blocks southwest of the Burrand Bridge in Vanier Park. I landed in front of it and discovered that it was the H.R MacMillan Space Centre. This is but one of many examples of the attention to detail that has been thoughtfully added to Vancouver+.

There is more, much more, but it's impossible to cover everything in the short space of a review. The City of Vancouver provides you with a vast area to explore. Because there are so many things to see, so many buildings and landmarks to discover and the entire area is such a hub of activity, I decided to use a helicopter for most of my subsequent flights. As I became more familiar with the area I used the helicopter pad on the rooftop of the Vancouver General Hospital as a staging point for many of my flights. Before leaving the city and heading out to the rest of the coverage area, I did some night flying and true to form, the night lighting is excellent. The bridges and their traffic signs are lit; with their warning beacon lights flashing, plus there are marine lights in the water to warn boaters of an approaching island, well-lit buildings, monuments andÖ well the list goes on and on. I was now leaving the city and planning to explore many of the other areas within the Vancouver+ coverage area. Itís worthy of note at this point to mention that the included flight files were indispensable to me. Using them allowed me to start from a wide variety of locations. I used them to see the city at dusk when the city begins to come alive with lights, to watch the large AI ships leaving port, to find helicopter pads for my Seahawk, to take-off in a floatplane and generally to get a real feel for what the City of Vancouver has to offer to the virtual pilot.

Using my maps and the virtual world of Vancouver+, I now had an intimate knowledge of the city. I can confidently navigate its many waterways, streets, downtown section, harbour and its huge variety of bridges; in addition, I've gained an uncanny familiarity with a city that I've only visited on my computer's monitor. This is a true testament to the accuracy of Vancouver+ and were I to visit Vancouver in real life, I don't doubt for a second that I wouldn't feel like a tourist, rather Iíd feel more like a native of the city since the last thing I'd need to do is to ask for directions. What also impressed me with Vancouver+ is the delicate balancing act between adding so many objects, while keeping frame rates paramount and acceptable for most computers. As I mentioned previously, I wasn't aware of frame rates and this is surprising considering the incredible amount of detail that's been added to the city. My computer is mid-range and yet it displayed Vancouver+ flawlessly.




A Typical Day at Canada Place Pier

My review of the city of Vancouver is complete, but before I briefly talk about the rest of the coverage area, I'd like to describe to you just one of the many flights that I took around the city while I was writing this review. Now being an avid simmer myself, I made a number of subsequent flights around the city with nothing more in mind than just having fun flying. I wasn't reviewing per se and I wasn't taking more than marginal notes, I was just enjoying the program.

As usual I took off from the roof the hospital flying a default B206 helicopter and flew towards Canada Place. My flying skills with a helicopter are acceptable, but certainly not enviable. I can handle them reasonably well, but landing is another matter. As I approached Canada Place two huge AI cruise ships were both sitting there getting ready to launch, as I was soon to discover. A few hundred meters or so in front of the Shaw Tower (it's hard to judge distances from the air) is a float plane dock. As I approached it, four AI float planes were getting ready to take-off. Three of them quickly moved out into the water while the fourth remained behind to give them room for their take-off. To get a closer view of them I lowered my altitude and was flying about 100 feet above the water. As I flew over the dock I saw four seagulls circling the area which had just been vacated by those AI planes. Two of the float planes quickly became airborne and as I approached the other two, I could hear the roar of their engines as they were preparing to get airborne. I increased my altitude to safely clear the AI ships and at that moment the Island Princess started to blow smoke from her stack as she was preparing to leave dock. Just on the other side of the cruise ships (I was flying eastward) is a helipad, so I decided to land there and watch the Island Princess steam out of the harbour and to also watch the remaining float planes take-off. To be honest, my landing was less than gracious. I sat there for about 2-3 minutes watching the planes and the Island Princess as she proceeded to head out to sea. At the same time coming in from the north were two AI helicopters. Needless to say, the area was abuzz with activity. I was using the hat switch on my joystick and was rapidly scanning the area looking for anything that moved. At this point I noticed something really odd to my immediate south. At first I thought it was the sun shining off of a smaller building, but the pulsations of light were too clock-like for it to be that so I got airborne again and went to investigate. I landed in front of the building and found the source of the lights. The building is Science World and itís covered in strobe lights. It was interesting to observe the flashing lights so I watched them for a few minutes and then gently lifted off the ground and hovered at an altitude of perhaps 10 meters. Unfortunately, I was blowing up so much dust from the ground it obscured my view and I was forced to fly higher. As I was flying I noticed a sign that read ĎSeason Starts, October 17, 2010í. This is a reference to the Hockey Strike that was in action during the development of Vancouver+, at the time it seemed no end was in sight!




Flying Vancouver+ Ö The Mountains and Surrounding Territory

I've covered the city of Vancouver in great detail, so I'll just mention a few of the highlights that lie beyond the city and I'll leave the rest of Vancouver+ for you to discover on your own.

The city of Vancouver is really just a small part of what Vancouver+ has to offer. The attention to detail and accuracy that is displayed in the city is meticulously duplicated throughout the entire coverage area. As you fly you'll see hundreds of beautiful mountains, lakes, rivers and streams re-created on your computer screen with uncanny realism, beauty and accuracy. The experience is hard to describe using words alone since you're experiencing a true-to-life re-creation of what this part of British Columbia has to offer. Naturally that also includes towns, bridges, ski resorts, glaciers, lighthouses, fishing, industry, numerous airports and heliports; well the list goes on and on. Iíve already covered much of what Vancouver+ offers while reviewing the City of Vancouver and thatís a reflection of the quality that youíll experience when you fly out of the city and into the rest of the coverage area. One needs only to look at the default FS9 screenshots of the outlying areas vs. the Vancouver+ screenshots and the differences speak volumes.

To add to the realism factor, Vancouver+ has its own water textures or water class file. This replacement set can be selected or deselected from the configuration utility. While I have my own water textures, I decided to accept the Vancouver+ water textures when I first ran the scenery configuration utility. The advantage of using the water textures that are supplied with Vancouver+ is that you'll experience a much more vivid depiction of the variety of colours that natural bodies of water display. The Fraser River for example will display a brownish colour while other rivers and lakes will take on their own specific hue depending upon their location. The number of bridges in the outlying areas is also very impressive. As you wind your way through the many valleys, you'll find bridges whenever a road crosses even a tiny stream or gorge or one of the many rivers. The bridges were correctly lined-up with the roads, again adding to the overall realism. In addition, railroad bridges also dot the landscape. The various water bodies were in perfect alignment with the land areas. There was no evidence of water creeping up the slopes of river banks, islands and so on. Both the water and land masses blend together in perfect harmony.

Actually anywhere within the coverage area is a good place to start flying, but as I logged tens of hours flying Vancouver+, I now have a few personal favourites. For helicopter flying, I would start from CGGG (Grouse Mountain), which places you at the top of the mountain with the city of Vancouver spread out below in the Fraser Valley. From this vantage point the view is nothing short of stunning as you look out over the city. From this ski resort I would lift-off, turn north and explore the mountains. Hope (CYHE) and Pemberton (CYPS) were also ideal locations as they put me right into the heart of the mountains and valleys. I would fly for hours following and exploring the many valleys and rivers while periodically skirting the mountaintops.

Abbotsford (CYXX) soon became my favourite point of departure. It's in close proximity to the mountains plus it has its own natural beauty with rolling hills, small mountains, villages and towns, all within a short flying distance of each other. For almost every flight I used my Seahawk as I followed the rivers, roads, rail lines or even the hydro towers as reference points for my VFR flights. On one particular trip I was four miles north of Abbotsford flying along Highway 11 and heading towards North Mission. Are my VFR navigational skills that good? No, in actual fact I wasn't 100% certain of where I was, so I flew down and read the sign on the bridge that crosses the Fraser River. J That particular flight was a fun flight and I wasn't using my maps and Iíll admit; I was close to being lost! I've only covered a small fraction of what Vancouver+ holds in store for you when you venture beyond the city. There's a wealth of details and objects to find and explore. The program is designed to keep and hold your interest for an extended period of time.