Commercial FSX/Prepar3D Scenery Review


Orbx FTX Global




Publisher/Developer: Orbx
Description: FTX Global is a reality!
Software Source / Size: Download / 4.18GB
Flight Simulator: FSX/Prepar3D (only tested on FSX)
Reviewed by: Julio Monsalve
Published: September 16th, 2013


Computer / Software Specifications
Computer System: - Asus P5Q Pro with Intel E8500 OC 4.2 GHz
- 4 GB Kingston HyperX 1066
- GIGABYTE Nvidia 460 GTX + O
- SB X-Fi Xtreme Music
Software: - Flight Simulator X with Acceleration
- Active Sky 2012 (Weather Engine)
- REX (Textures)
- Shade




















Introduction

At the beginning of 2013, there was an announcement from one of the most popular Flight Simulator scenery developers, ORBX. “FTX Global is a reality!” For some, this evolution of FSX scenery is what FSX needs. For others, it's a commitment that needs to be avoided.

In the back of my mind, ORBX was a small company that created an amazing scenery package called FTX Australia (Well, actually 3 areas), but my thoughts were focused on other matters, such as learning about building and overclocking my PC. Also, I didn’t fly in Australia so I preferred to use my dollars with other developers or hardware.

For those reasons I managed to avoid ORBX products for a long while. Everything changed when they published their road map and with it, the mission to create a scenery for USA. This road map got my attention and then I remember finding their free scenery, the whole of Tasmania. So, I gave it a try. The result was that I couldn’t stop exploring Tasmania and then Australia (which I haven’t finished!). By the time FTX Pacific North West was published, I was hooked.

Since then, I can't remember a scenery add-on which has been more anticipated than Orbx’s FTX Global (Full Terrain). More recently, I got the feeling that every ORBX product is anticipated, not only for their fans, but also for people to explore new areas, looking for realism and immersion.

My idea with this review is not only to show you the characteristics and features of the product, but also the details needed to take the most enjoyment from it.


What it is

Full Terrain X Global, commonly known as FTX Global, is a package for Flight Simulator X (FSX) Prepar3D (P3D) and is essentially a set of textures that “produce a radical and complete makeover” of FSX’s/P3D’s scenery. Although this is a simple definition, the package includes much more than a set of textures as it allows the integration between FTX regional areas, adds 3D lights for the whole world, make some corrections to land class and some additional ORBX integration.

The list of features from ORBX Fullterrain website is:
- Total upgrade of your FSX or P3D!
- Many new gorgeous ground textures
- New autogen textures for buildings
- 3D night lighting with zero FPS impact
- Base land class updated to enhance Asia etc.
- Unlocks dormant M-tiles for perfect blending
- Works with all 3rd party land class products
- Works with all 3rd party mesh products
- Free service packs and patches from Orbx
- Same sized textures as default
- "Hybrid" mode for FTX Central regions
- Expandable with ORBX openLC packs!

ORBX FTX Global is not a cheap addon. It's cost is about $91.91 US or approximately 69.00 Euros. Orbx justification for that cost is based on the fact that it's a global package and compared to their closest competitor, is much cheaper.

In order to understand little bit more about what FTX Global is, some theory needs to be learned. FSX scenery is created by the combination of 4 main layers: The Mesh terrain:
This is the layer responsible for terrain generation or grid. In other words the contours of the earth.

Landclass Data:
Is the definition about the terrain characteristics and its usage. In different words, landclass is responsible for areas definitions, such as cities, crops, forests, deserts, beaches, rural towns, etc.

Textures and Autogen:
Once the landclass is defined, everything you see over it is a texture. It's like a skin that defines the color plus the entire auto generated scenery (generic buildings, generic houses, generic factories, etc).

The Vector Data:
This is everything in the scenery that can be defined by a line. Think of roads, railways, rivers, power lines, etc. Once each layer is defined, they are combined to create the FSX world. Any discrepancy between the reality and FSX can be targeted to one of these layers. For example, if there is a cliff where you should be seeing a valley then the mesh is wrong. If the mesh is OK but you have a town where you're supposed to have a forest, then the landclass is not properly defined. If the mesh and landclass are ok but a forest looks too brown, monotonous and boring, then the textures are to blame. If you have a river over a mountain, then the vector data is not synchronised against the mesh.

Learning about these layers, is the key to understand which of the features are ORBX products and more importantly, understand the differences between FTX Global and FTX Regions. The regions are created from the mesh all the way up to the vector data, using all sources of information available and optimised by their local textures, while FTX Global is a set of generic textures that take advantage of landclass definitions. So, don’t expect to see FTX regions precision. At least not yet!

If you're still not quite sure about landclass, textures, mesh terrain, and other terminology beyond my simple explanations, please visit the following links - I and II, as there is no better explanation about this topic than the one coming from ORBX.

So, returning to the initial question, “what is FTX Global?”, FTX Global is an add on created to enhance your visuals by replacing old FSX textures (as an example, other products like GEX – Ground environment X) but also allows the use of custom made landclass which are the property of ORBX, and is widely used on their FTX regions. It has the added value of enabling the possibility of flying between FTX regions without stopping your flight.

As a result, what's also very interesting about the list of features is the openLC or Open Land Class packs. These packs are continental size Landclass which will be designed and optimised to work with FTX Global textures, adding a degree of scenery precision only present in FTX regions and Ultimate Terrain X (UTX) areas. In the following image, ORBX shows how these OpenLC projects will come between the end of 2013 and 2014, starting with Europe and ending with Oceania.
Due to its nature, FTX Global cannot be compatible with all the packages in FSX, particular Ground Extreme X (GEX) as it is a textures package, so they do the same things.

Consequently if you have multiple addons already installed in your simulator, it is very important to check if FTX is compatible by checking ORBX forums.

If you own an ORBX product, there is a dedicate forum for registered users, that work as the main source of patches and the place to report and share any compatibility issue or success stories.


Download and Installation

ORBX FTX Global is a global size file with 4.18 GB. That's a huge file to be transferred, so it's highly recommended to use a download accelerator.

Once delivered, it's essential to extract the files from the compressed folder before proceeding to run the installer, otherwise it won’t work. Then, the next step is to validate your product using your order number, date of purchase and validation key. At this point I chose to use the manual validation which, oddly enough, requires internet connection. But in a couple of minutes I was able to install the product with no worries by just just following the instructions at flightsimstore.com.

Once the installation starts, the first thing to do is to save the vital texture backup so you can have all the default textures in FSX in case you want to look back. Since the amount of textures is huge, the installation takes some minutes, but sooner than later you will be able to enjoy it.

A new version of the FTX Central with a couple of new settings is also installed, together with its manual. The manual is an easy to read document with about 27 pages, which is also available to download from the ORBX website. The manual explains, in detail, all the features, capability, settings and recommendations when using FTX Global.

It also has 4 scenarios on how to use FTX Global.

Scenario 1
FTX Global is your first ORBX product, no FTX Regions Installed.
This scenario gives you two options. To install ORBX trees and to enable Vector Road Lights. These options are going to be described in the next section, but essentially they allow you to disable ORBX trees or vector lights in case you prefer to use other packages. This is the scenario when you don’t have installed any FTX region.

Scenario 2 FTX Global + Regions and want to fly between them
This scenario has an additional feature called Hybrid Mode, which ensures that all FTX areas are active and compatible. It's valuable when flying between an FTX region. It's pretty handy for Europe (from UK to the continent or the reverse!)

Scenario 3 Regions Exclusive
Once an FTX region is selected, the hybrid mode can be deactivated, so all your pc resources can be concentrated in that particular region.

Scenario 4 FTX Global+FTX Regions but flying Outside FTX Regions
This scenario recommends the deactivation of the hybrid mode. The only action is to select FTX global and by keeping trees and vector lights enabled, your scenery quality will be high, so enjoy the ride.

FTX Global is not only a set of textures, it also include Landclass fixes around Asia, South America and parts of the European continent. The

After writing such a long introduction, some learning information and explaining the theory on how to use these textures, it's finally the time to share my impressions with you. So, the next section is all about screen shots and flights

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Scenario 2
Scenario 3
Scenario 4
Scenario 4



Excellent visual at all altitudes

The methodology to analyse the textures was to select random airports in each continent and subcontinent. Each is intended to have a good sample of textures and in some occasions, comparisons and contrast pictures were taken.



In some other instances, a low and fast flight was made to judge low altitude performance, followed by a 40,000 foot climb. Therefore, it was possible to evaluate the full area and its high altitude color and general immersion factor.

Egypt: Nice at low, good at high. The sand effect is better that the default, which can be seen close to the Pyramids of Giza. By comparing Orbx effects with Google maps, the crops in the Nile delta are very close in color and size. At high altitudes, there's a more natural look than the default.



The Andes: Large Mountains are not impressive at low altitude, maybe because of the semi-dry conditions. However at high altitude they are great.



The Himalayas: Large Mountains look very green and their rocky peaks are well represented, with almost matching colors. Very nice and very credible. I especially like the rocky slopes



The Serengeti: All the area around Kilimanjaro looks amazing. I particularly like how textures and trees match together and it also reveals a good enhancement at all altitudes



Overall, the best enhancements are remote monotonous areas, as well as an enhancement for those high altitude flyers.

Recently, developments in aircraft lighting encourage me to fly more and more during night time, enjoying perfect aircraft for night flights, but having no scenery to follow. Until now! You can argue that UTX provides excellent lights, but they are a heavy punishment to your system. On the other hand, FTX Global doesn’t have a noticeable impact, so flights are smooth, even at densly populated cities. It's important to add that these 3D lights are very precise and after the Servipack V110, they also add red and green lights at junctions.



New lights




Perfect complement

To evaluate the impact of FTX Global in its maximum expression, I use 3rd party add-ons like UTX (USA, Caribbean and Europe) and the Freeware from Mr. Haruo called Japan Landclass 0.7 (http://nazo.secret.jp/fsx/index.html) together with FS Global Ultimate - Asia/Oceania to evaluate its results.

Japan Mr. Hauro Free Landclass: just one word… Astonishing! Excellent value for money!



Norway: A UTX Europe area, close to perfection and very convincing. The colours are excellent. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to their FTX Region as many coastlines errors will be fixed.



USA, Florida: One of the best results so far. It's quality is close to photo scenery. Amazing



The results are beyond my expectations, particularly for the freeware, as they are able to provide an immersion result close to FTX regions. The only comment I can add is that I’m looking forward to future landclass and vector enhancements, which can take the best from FTX Global.


Bugs and Issues

I can’t report any compatibility issues with the airports that I have installed, but there are some reports around, so it's important to do your homework. Having said that, I have evidence of work between developers working together to mitigate any issue. Some users report spikes while flying, but for me, things were as normal as default FSX.

Some users reported performance increases, as the previous point for me is the same old FSX, but with beautiful textures. The only possible bug was prior to the installation, the online validation didn’t work as it should, but doing the manual validation is just a couple of extra minutes. I also observed that in some cities, the autogen looks more disorganised. Some areas are too green, but I suspect that this is due to lack of landclass diversity perhaps.

At the time of writing this review, ORBX released an uninstaller and a service pack V110. The uninstaller was one of the most critical points and was a source of controversy, but having a good tradition of standing behind customers, a prompt action was taken. Thanks to ORBX for this commitment. The Servipack has some enhanced 3D lights that I don’t like, but it was what the public wanted (I still prefer the small ones).


Final Comments and Recommendations

After using the scenarios extensively I compiled my experience in the following results:
Scenario 1 and Scenario 4: Theses are excellent scenarios to fly complex add-ons. They're ideal for high altitude, long haul and long distance flights. During these flights, the scenery doesn’t look boring. It's beautiful and doesn’t take too much time to load. I just love it.

Scenario 2: Is excellent to fly around FTX regions with the bonus of being able to go outside these regions, keeping a nice continuation of FTX textures. The drawback is the loading time and is limited when using complex aircraft add ons, due to the amount of memory used. If abused, Out Of Memories errors (oom)could appear, so special care needs to be taken during your flight planning.

Scenario 3: Ideal and highly recommended for those low and slow flights, perfect screen shots and full immersion. But remember to switch it back to hybrid (Scenario 4) when flying outside each region.
Some comments can be taken as a negative vision about this product. FSX evolution is not an open universe where developers can work. This evolution is constrained within a limited volume, made by rigid software barriers built some 6 years ago. A limited volume means that with every new add-on, the chances of interfering with other add-ons are considerable.

Putting aside all the controversy about this product, putting aside all the forum wars and politics, FTX Global has opened the opportunity to enhance landclass and vectors which is a dormant area of the FSX scenery evolution that hasn’t openly worked before, particularly at the global level in such detail.

FTX Global is, without any hesitation, an excellent set of textures without precedent in FSX. It's definitely a clear evolution. It delivers fresh textures with great quality and when combined with detailed mesh terrain, accurate landclass and vector information, it provides a real feeling. Which is a great immersion factor, hence its value.

This review reflects that there is no need for expensive scenery add ons, as free landclass can be transformed into an amazing enhancement giving a fresh push to independent scenery developers that want to take advantage of the ORBX textures. A value that no other developer dares to share. To conclude, with FTX Global, ORBX keeps pushing the level of immersion, providing excellent results within FSX limitations.

More information can be found at the dedicated Òrbx FTX web page.

With Greetings,
Julio Monsalve


This review is written for Aerosoft Sim News and published via the Aerosoft website. While the reviewer has complete journalistic freedom, we ask the reader to keep in mind where the review is posted.