ES - Isle Of Man review
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Isle of Man
For FSX / Prepar3D Published by Earth Simulations
Reviewed by Kevin Firth
January 2014

Introduction

One of my many hotly awaited releases this year has been Earth Simulations' Isle of Man. Following on from Shawbury Fields, Scilly Isles, and Guernsey, this scenery has been a little delayed due to Darren, the developer, being ill. Now his health has improved and with significant help from Ted Ted Andrews, Tony Meredith and Gerry Winskill, the Isle of Man has been released. But given some of the highly detailed and accurate sceneries Earth Simulations have produced over the past couple of years, does it live up to my expectations? Let's find out!

Features

Here are just some of the many features quoted by Earth Simulations on their web site:
    ● 12GB of scenery coverage;
    ● 30 cm per pixel photographic scenery;
    ● seasonal textures and night lighting;
    ● intricately detailed 1.2 m post hand edited enhanced terrain, looks especially impressive at coastal cliffs;
    ● full accurate coverage of new improved Earth Simulations' advanced autogen;
    ● full coverage of Earth Simulations' unique environmental soundscapes;
    ● realistically scaled, and hugely varied trees and buildings modelled in local character;
    ● unique objects;
    ● many animations, including:
        ● animals/bird life/marine life;
        ● working machinery;
        ● road traffic;
        ● shipping and boat traffic; and
        ● special effects.
    ● extremely detailed Ronaldsway Airport (EGNS), including:
        ● detailed ground polys and markings;
        ● all buildings modelled accurately and using Earth Simulations' shadow lighting techniques;
        ● 3D signs and lighting for terminal area, taxi ways, and runways;
        ● working windsock; and
        ●lots of small detail, realistic grass, airport clutter, animations.
    ● Jurby and Andreas Airfields, Mount Rule grass strip and eleven real world helicopter pads included; and
    ● bespoke modelling make the Isle of Man towns instantly recognizable.

So Where is the Isle of Man?

The Isle of Man is located within the British Isles, in the middle of the northern Irish Sea, approximately equidistant from the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. The closest landmass is southern Scotland. It is 52 kilometres (32 miles) long and, at its widest point, is 22 kilometres (14 miles) wide. It has an area of around 572 square kilometres (221 square miles). This means it is easily flyable to from virtually any part of the UK.

Download, Installation, and Setup

The first line of the features will give you some idea of what lies in wait - 12Gb!!! - yes that is not a typo. Earth Simulations have stopped providing DVD products so this is a download only product. It took me only about an hour to download the whole package, but I do have a fairly high speed connection. If you have a slow connection, this may take you significantly longer. It is worth noting Earth Simulations have moved away from their ESI installer in favour of a more user friendly solution. Personally, I always managed to use ESI with no problems, but it was fairly cluttered in its look and was not the easiest app to navigate, so it is good to see Earth Simulations have listened to feedback and decided to do it differently.

The actual installation was done manually as this was a preview copy, but even so this did not take too long and was not at all complicated. I used the MergES utility that Earth Simulations provide to maintain compatibility with existing add-ons with custom autogen and did not find any problems at all. Most people should find that the Isle of Man works seamlessly out of the box. Whether you think you would benefit from following my example will depend on which other add-ons you use. For example, if you only use Orbx sceneries, then you will not need to worry at all about any autogen issues as Earth Simulations and Orbx have agreed to include each other's autogen definitions in their distributed libraries. If you use certain other sceneries though, you may need to do a slight bit of jiggery-pokery to get everything working correctly at the same time. It does need to be said this is not a problem of Earth Simulation's making, it is purely down to the way Microsoft made autogen work in FSX. In my experience, Earth Simulations have been very good at recognising this potential issue and working to solve autogen issues between their products and others in the past. MergES is a prime example of this. How many other developers have given you an easy to use tool to allow you to fix your own autogen issues?

Documentation

The manual is a whopping 41 pages, but in large print, and is very easy to read. Every conceivable aspect of setting this scenery up for use in Flight Simulator is covered, with screenshots to guide even a complete beginner through setup and use. The only additional things which could have been included are a set of charts for the airfields covered in the scenery. However, these are freely available in pdf format at the NATS web site where you will always find the most up to date version, so you won’t miss out.

So what do you get inside that 12Gb download? Let's look at each of the product features in turn.

30 cm per pixel Photographic Scenery

The whole island is covered by photographic scenery, which shows all the exact detail of every part of the island. Not only that, but the imagery used is 30 cm per pixel, which is similar to the kind of resolution a lot of airport designers use for their base airfield textures. However, in this case this resolution is extended across the entire Isle of Man, meaning you can fly low and slow anywhere you like and still get crisp sharp terrain textures. Unlike landclass based products, this photo scenery does not ever replicate itself. If it is there in the real world, the chances are it is there in Isle of Man.

Seasonal Textures and Night Lighting

It gets even better though. People often complain that photo scenery is not any good because it only shows one season, so the ground looks the same at whatever time of year you want to fly. With some products, this criticism is fair, however Earth Simulations have made sure they cannot be criticised in the same way as they included full seasonal variations for the entire island's photo scenery. I have to admit, whilst I have known for years this was possible through the FSX SDK, I do not know of any developer apart from Earth Simulations who has actually used it so extensively and effectively. It is impossible to say more about this in words in a meaningful way and as "a picture paints a thousand words", below are some screenshots of Douglas.


Douglas Hard Winter


Douglas Spring


Douglas Autumn


Douglas Dawn


Douglas Dusk

The variation of buildings and objects in this scenery is immense. Even in dense urban environments, you do not get the impression you are looking at repeating objects randomly placed, because you are not! These pictures of Ramsey in different seasons give a great impression of how realistic the object variation is from an aerial perspective.


Ramsey Spring


Ramsey Autumn


Ramsey Dawn


Ramsey Dusk

As for night lighting, it is a similar story. The superb quality ground images have been extensively edited to show a realistic night effect. Other photo scenery products have applied a night lighting effect to every road. It was not terribly realistic because it assumed all roads (and railways for that matter) were full of traffic and lit by street lights. This was ok for major roads, but go anywhere off the beaten track and it looked a bit unreal. Not in the Isle of Man, here night lighting effects are much more selective. I do not know the island well enough to say definitively the night lighting is 100% accurate, but I can say with certainty it feels and looks very impressively true to life.


Douglas Night


Ramsey Night

Intricately Detailed Enhanced Terrain

Another of Earth Simulations' unique selling points is the tremendously detailed terrain mesh they include with their sceneries. As most of their sceneries are islands, this is an important feature, as coastlines are usually incredibly varied and full of detail. Isle of Man does not disappoint in this respect either. You need to crank the mesh resolution right up, but in return you get wonderfully detailed terrain throughout the island. Around the coast there are wave and spray effects around rocky areas.


Coastline Example 1


Coastline Example 2


Coastline Example 3


Coastline Example 4

New Improved Earth Simulations Advanced Autogen

There is a fantastic range of bespoke autogen models and the attention to detail here is fantastic. As a test, I opened FSX and slewed to a built-up area, then opened up the same in Google Earth. I have to admit, I had to take a breath at this point. Looking at the sim, I was astounded at just how accurate and close to reality Earth Simulations have managed to get their buildings. I looked around and tried to spot features in Google Earth, then looked for them in Isle of Man. Buildings generally were excellently placed and of the right size, shape and colour. The screenshots below show a couple of the built up areas in the Isle of Man compared with a very similar perspective in Google Earth.


IOM-Google Earth Comparison 1


IOM-Google Earth Comparison 2
Realistically Modelled and Scaled Trees

The default FSX trees are well known to be somewhat larger than their real world cousins, but fortunately the vegetation in the Isle of Man does not seem to suffer from this problem. The vegetation and buildings are hugely varied, as claimed, as you can see from the screenshots. Obviously, I did not expect every individual tree to be exactly as it is in the real world, but I compared some random areas with various mapping sites and the general impression of the trees and buildings in the Isle of Man is extremely believable. I have not seen any other non Earth Simulations FSX scenery this accurate.


IOM-Google Earth Comparison 3


IOM-Google Earth Comparison 4


IOM-Google Earth Comparison 5
Unique Objects

There are animations for you to find including: animals, bird life, marine life, working machinery, road traffic, shipping and boat traffic, special effects, and more. To highlight all these in detail would spoil the fun of finding them but even on a quick flight I spotted farm machinery, construction work, dolphins, birds, crashing waves, and yachts. Clearly there is so much to explore here.

Ronaldsway Airport (EGNS)


EGNS Overview


EGNS Hard Winter


EGNS Winter


EGNS Spring


EGNS Summer


EGNS Autumn


EGNS Dawn


EGNS Dusk


EGNS Night

The layout and detail of the airport buildings at Ronaldsway is highly accurate, with a couple of exceptions. Virtually every single building or structure has been modelled with incredible attention to detail. For example, see the control tower and the radar tower. These structures are modelled with absolute meticulous attention to detail, and the texture work is extremely good. Structures are modelled with transparency effects in many places. Even the interior of hangars round the back of the airfield where some may never venture are modelled. The detail extends to peripheral airport structures including: the fire station, and a construction site. The fire station, for example, has transparent doors and the interior is modelled, including vehicles. The windsock is a custom model and is animated according to wind conditions.


Airport Buildings


Control Tower


Detailed Airport Installations 1


Detailed Airport Installations 2


Detailed Modeling


EGNS Airport Buildings


EGNS Airport Buildings - Night


EGNS Fire Station


Inside Hangars


EGNS Airport Ramp - Night

It looks like there have been a few changes to the airport in the real world which have not made it into the scenery. This is always going to be the case when trying to model a dynamic changing environment. The few minor discrepancies have been pointed out by a worker at EGNS and are listed below. I expect they will easily be patched at some point. Overall, the airport is receiving high praise for its accuracy from staff there, with one saying it is so accurate it could be used for driver training! Noted real world discrepancies include:

    ● Stand 4 does not exist any more as it has been replaced by a new baggage screening area;
    ● north of hold A9 is now the private jet centre (shown as a car park and works area);
    ● there are flashing strobe lights at the threshold that are not actually there;
    ● there are no holding point signs at Alpha 3; and
    ● there is a new radar scanner on the small hill just to the north east of the airfield.

The ground markings are detailed, clear, and accurate. The entire airport looked solid under DX9 and DX10, although I had already installed the free DX10 mods on my system. The layout depicted is very recent, as you would expect, and it is accurate according to the NATS chart   The recent runway extension, together with the associated land reclamation at the end of Runway 26 is modelled.


EGNS Runway Extension

As far as I could see, the airfield lighting is faithful to the charts, with one exception. The runway lighting for Runway 26 does not extend into the sea, it only starts at the airfield boundary and extends along the ‘starter strip’ (this can be seen on the CAA aerodrome chart). All of the stated lighting is present in the scenery, including: runway approach lighting, stop bars, runway start and edge lights, wigwags, etc. If you can find it in the real world it is there. I found the night lighting around the airport was a real immersive feature as well, with street lighting and even a nearby lit football pitch.


EGNS Ground Markings


EGNS Taxiway Night Lighting

All stated NAVAIDs are present and accurately modelled. Even the ILS for Runway 08 is offset, as stated in the NATS airport information chart.

Around the airport there are a number of animated features. Obviously the radar tower is one of them, but there are also some construction vehicles at work and there is a fire practice taking place around the back of the fire station. What you will not see is the likes of PeopleFlow, such as animated baggage handlers, or ramp marshallers. This is perhaps one area where more detail might conceivably have been included.


Airport Animations

Wave Effects

Earth Simulations have gone to some length to make the water masks, blends, and effects up to their usual high standard. As I was looking at some of them in close up, I noticed the wave effect seemed to be going the wrong way, that is, out to sea. Thinking I had found a glitch, or the vector wave effects had possibly been put in the wrong way round, I watched for a little longer. This is no chance error, as the wave effects first wash in, then wash out again, just like real world waves. This is not something I have noticed with any other scenery, possibly something I have been missing for a while.

Notable Landmarks

A quick Internet search revealed a fairly wide range of landmarks and attractions on the Isle of Man, so it would have been remiss of me to not check on how many of them had made it into this scenery.

Castle Rushen Included.
Laxey Wheel Included.
Peel Castle Peel Castle is a fairly notable landmark. Without it, the photo scenery looks a bit flat and missing some 3D detail.
TT Races I would have really loved to have seen crowds gathered and motorbikes racing around the island at a certain time of year. This would have been the icing on the cake, perhaps it could be added later.
Cashtal yn Ard Depicted in coastal area, as shown in screenshots.
Snaefell Tram Railway Can be included, with added models available from TonyM’s web site
Corrin's Tower This small tower on a hill overlooking Peel has been included.
Tower of Refuge Included.
 Lighthouses This seems to be a slightly overlooked area. Lighthouses can be a very distinct aid to VFR navigation but only some of them around the Isle of Man have been included. The lighthouses which are represented are the Point of Ayre and Maughold Head. Lighthouses which are represented, but not accurately, include: Douglas Head, and the Calf of Man. Douglas Head lighthouse has been represented by some autogen buildings but the lighthouse itself is missing. The Calf of Man installation is pretty unique, having three isolated buildings, but it is represented by one single autogen building. Langness and Chicken Rock are not represented at all.


Laxey Wheel


Tower of Refuge

Performance

Earth Simulations state in the manual, “As always, with our latest release we are pushing the boundaries. To run The Isle of Man on maximum settings will require a state of the art system. This is intentional because at Earth Simulations we strive to provide the highest specification sceneries at the leading edge of development.” My PC is about two years old now, so I was not expecting to run away with full detail and 60 fps throughout. The first start up with my existing settings was a little disappointing, with frames in single figures, but then I did not read the comprehensive manual which includes guidance on how to set the scenery up in FSX for maximum benefit did I! No, I attempted to run it at maximum settings, all sliders to the right, and at a 3 x 28' monitor resolution of 5100 x 1200. However, by tweaking the FSX settings only slightly and lowering the quality on my graphics settings I was able to fly around most of the scenery in my Aerosoft BroncoX at a reasonably smooth 15 to 20 fps. Remember, this is over a 5100 x 1200 display, and when run on a more standard 1920 x 1200 single monitor, I managed to achieve a solid 20 to 30 fps outside of Douglas.

In general, I found it was not possible to run with maximum settings, both in FSX and through my GPU drivers, and achieve a reasonably consistent fps with this scenery on my PC. If I dropped the autogen settings by one slider setting the scenery ran very smoothly indeed. This was quite acceptable to me, however, I do have a mid to high range PC, (although it is two years old and probably only mid-range in terms of performance now - see specs at end of review). If you run FSX on anything significantly less, you will have to make more of a sacrifice in terms of detail / performance and you will need to consider this. However, if there was a scenery which justified you making a hardware upgrade to run it properly Earth Simulations' Isle of Man is certainly up there with the front runners. All said, if you insist on running everything set to maximum, I think the sheer amount of autogen in places like Douglas will hurt your frame rates no matter what you run, but that's just the price you pay for accuracy. How much of an impact it has will depend on your hardware. Overall, the scenery is well balanced and allows you to customise the performance to match your hardware.

DX10 and P3Dv2 Compatibility

The Isle of Man performs well under DX9. With the free DX10 shader mods, (Steve’s DX10 Fixer should work just fine as well), DX10 preview mode looks good as well. I was keen though, to install the Isle of Man in Prepar3D Version 2 (P3D2) and see what effect it would have. The visuals are just excellent. Like most sceneries I have installed in P3D2, the Isle of Man comes much more alive and looks fabulous. If your hardware can manage P3D I would really recommend this. Like many developers, Earth Simulations have not provided a custom P3D2 installer yet, but I found a manual installation was simple enough, I just copied the entire contents of my FSX/AUTOGEN folder to the P3D/AUTOGEN folder and recreated the scenery library entries manually, duplicating the ones in FSX. See the screenshots which show a really immersive Isle of Man in P3D2. I took one screenshot with the fps counter on and, as you can see, I was getting a very respectable 25 fps with everything set to maximum, apart from building, vegetation and terrain shading, and even getting nearly 15 fps over Douglas, which is the most performance sapping part of the scenery. If you have top of the range hardware you will almost certainly be able to do better than me.


IOM in P3D2 1


IOM in P3D2 2


IOM in P3D2 3 (incl fps)


IOM in P3D2 4


IOM in P3D2 5


IOM in P3D2 6

Value for Money

The retail price of this scenery is £34.99. Most of Earth Simulations' previous sceneries have been a bit cheaper. However, when you consider what you get in this package, the time and effort which has clearly gone into it, and compare it against products at a similar price point, is it? This scenery provides you with several airfields, coverage of an entire island with seasonal photo real textures, and fully annotated with autogen. On top of this there is all the animations, wildlife, etc. It is compatible with Orbx sceneries, as Earth Simulations have agreed with Orbx to include their autogen files. So users can relax in the knowledge they will not encounter any compatibility problems. Both companies are to be congratulated for this, and the practical result is users of FTX Europe series: England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland can fly to the Isle of Man quite happily. This scenery, therefore, complements any investment made in nearby Orbx region scenery perfectly. It is the only part of the British Isles not actually covered by any of the Orbx FTX regions, so it completes the set of scenery perfectly.

In short, with all the accuracy of photo scenery and all the eye candy you would expect from a landclass scenery, yes, this scenery is absolutely worth the asking price.

Scores

Scenery Coverage - 10 - The scenery covers the entire island in 30 cm seasonal, fully annotated textures, with superb attention to detail.

Level of Detail - 9.0 - There are a few minor omissions, which, if they had been added would have made this product just about perfect, i.e. Peel Castle, a few harbour features, and a couple of lighthouses. It also takes into account the lack of airport life animations which seem to be becoming standard features in scenery. Otherwise, the score reflects the almost real life level of detail contained in the scenery.

Quality of Buildings - 10 - The range and quality of models used and the way they have been deployed to create a believable Isle of Man that in some places looks just like Google Earth is excellent.

Performance - 9.5 - The performance of a scenery like this will necessarily be quite subjective depending on your hardware, what you fly, and what settings you choose to use. The score takes into account that despite the huge amount of detail, I was able to get reasonable performance almost everywhere, except over Douglas, with an appropriate choice of settings.

Documentation - 10 - The supplied documentation is extensive and covers all the necessary information. It gives good detail on how to use settings to try to get the optimal performance for the scenery.

Value for Money - 10 -  For what you get, it is excellent value.

Review PC Core Specification

* Intel i5 2500K, 3.3GHz (Overclocked to 4.7GHz);
* 12GB Corsair DDR3, 1600MHz; and
* ATi Radeon HD7950, 3GB.

 Verdict:     silver
• Scenery Coverage: 10/10
• Level of Detail: 9.0/10
• Quality of Buildings: 10/10
• Performance: 9.5/10
• Documentation: 10/10
• Value for Money: 10/10
Isle of Man is awarded a Mutley’s Hangar score of 9.8/10, with an "Outstanding" and a Mutley's Hangar Gold Award.



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