P3Dv2. Orbx developer backgrounds. This is something I always wonder about. A thought that is usually followed by, "Where does Orbx find these guys?" When I first came across Gordon Madison's Tipella freeware, I was completely blown away by the level of quality and attention to detail implemented into the scenery. Not only was it far beyond what I personally consider to be the typical freeware standard, it was also quite obvious to me high level of commitment and time that went into it. To then give it away for free? Well.. I almost felt as if I was stealing it. And given the amount of times I have used the Tipella project since it was released, I still from time to time feel that way.
The thing that was most obvious to me however, was the fact that this Gordon guy whoever he was, whatever his background is, wherever he came from, clearly has a very promising future in the flight simulation business and nothing proved this feeling to be more correct than the advent of his recently released Squamish masterpiece. If Tipella was the appetizer, than he sure as hell cooked up one hell of an entree to follow it. I wonder what desert will be...
The great thing about following so many scenery projects every year is not just seeing them make their way to release, it's also the "new car" feeling I get when I experience them for the first time. It's like I've been watching the preview screenshots over the months play through my mind as if watching a movie that I now finally get to star in. As it's so much fun!
Now initially, this was only meant to be one of my simple ADX FirstLook articles. But the deeper I got into Squamish the deeper Squamish got into me.
Oh Canada. It's great to be back.
[Note: For format purposes, some images are cropped. Click each image for full size resolution preview.]
It had been quite a busy couple of weeks for me. After publishing a number of reviews I decided to take a break. With Monterey having just been released and Lake Tahoe fast approaching the horizon, I deemed prudent to go get some R&R before ramping up on my second tour of California. But no sooner than I hit the Marina with the kayak, I get a call from Alabeo. They had just released the Cruz PiperSport and was ready for me to collect the delivery. Screw it I thought. It can wait. But then came the second call...
There was just no way I could sit around doing nothing knowing that the Cardinal RG had been released. I immediately made my way up to Oregon to begin testing. Once done, I again decided to relax. Till a notification from Ed came through. Squamish had finally been completed. Well back to work again...
Thanks to Kenneth Kerr who had very graciously taken over the testing process of the PiperSport, I could skip that review altogether and promptly made my way north. But the more I thought about it, the more I reminded myself that I was indeed excited about the little Piper as well. So it's this little aircraft I now found myself in as I made my way over the threshold of The Strait of Georgia and into Howe Sound.
Looking at Vancouver begin to disappear off to my right, I was amazed at just how quickly the large city gave way to mother nature. I was also loving the cloud shadows on the terrain below.
The closer I got, the more I was oddly reminded of Innsbruck, one of my favorite destinations in Europe. Why that thought occurred is beyond me. I guess there are some similarities... then it hit me. As I made my way around Watts Point and Squamish began to come into view, I was instantly amazed at just how scenic this approach truly was. Sure, Iain Emms preview screenshots were good, but nothing in comparison to experience I was now finally getting. It was quickly obvious, this is by far the best and most scenic approach within the PNW and PFJ regions combined. Thinking back on Innsbruck (more to the point: Aerosoft Innsbruck) and its lead developer Gianni, I recalled that he insisted on calling the project "Approaching Innsbruck" this was due to the fact that approaching the city and airport was much more glamorous and immerse than spending time on the ground. The developer spent years working on the city that surrounded airport so that simpilots would have the same unique visual experience real world pilots enjoy when approaching the complex yet beautiful destination.
And that's what bridged the connection here in my mind. This scenery was not just about the airport. It was about giving the pilot the unique experience of approaching the airport. And looking down on all sides, it was very easy to lose focus on flying the airplane. Before I knew it, I was off course and circling the town.
Completely mesmerized, I had to remind myself that I had a lot of work to do out here and headed back for the airfield. There will be plenty of time to see the town after all. The trick here is not to show too much. A real weakness for me in this business... One that I already failed at by the time this review was published. There are a great and many screenshots depicting my observations. Lets hop out and check out the airfield. Nikon ready? Check!
Now like with Tipella, it was obvious very early on that Gordon had been spending quite a bit of time developing his own library of digital foliage. If only the weather was not acting so damn odd. It's summer for goodness sake.
Great details could be seen everywhere I looked. And if you stop to look long enough, you will see the animals! One of which was the eagle watching me at high altitude as it made its circles over the airfield.
Now might be a good time to discuss performance. Now lucky for me, I have a Jetline rocket ship packed to the gills with the latest technology. Needless to say, when I pulled up the control manager I clicked everything on. I wanted to see everything exactly as the developer had intended. Again, lucky for me, the frames only dipped as low as 30 and was as high as 50 as I flew over. But if you have a mid-range or lower system, I am telling you now, if you click everything on, you will be watching a slideshow. You have been warned.
The only negative thing I have to say about the airfield itself is the terrain. For some reason, the airfield terrain seemed to be very slow catching up to full resolution. I wonder if this has something to do with the custom mesh. Micro stutters also made an appearance. Likely due to all the veggies I had activated. It did not bother me too much and I will be keeping everything activated. Even with Carenado's Cirrus SR22GTSx the frames were decent on my system. At the time of publishing I need to inform you of a couple of issues with the scenery. At the airport and along the Squamish river, there are several floating vegetation objects. In the town around the hill areas, there are also many floating houses. I have made this information known via the support forum and it's currently being looked at.
Come on Orbx Bob, let's go walkabout.
I have a lot of respect for the work that went into the development here. Everything seemed so realistic. This is why my love affair for flight simulation is growing ever stronger. All these places I get to discover that I have never visited in the real world. Let's hit the town.
Now once done with the airfield, I needed to work out how I would actually get to see the town. Here were a couple of helicopters all ready but once I saw the VIH Aviation Kamov approaching, I just had to ask. Turns out they were on a fuel stop heading back to YYJ after some practice operations up in Whistler. They were more than happy to spin a few rounds over Squamish for me. The helicopter although ugly in my eyes actually had a uniqueness about it that appealed to me. I climbed aboard, adjusted the lens on my camera and shortly we were airborne.
Again, Squamish is best when seen from the air whether while on approach or in a heli. Great attention to detail gives the user an amazing overview of the entire city complete with all landmarks and points of interests. The photo imagery is very sharp and with all the carefully hand placed autogen, it all comes together very realistically.
Fancy a Starbucks? Need some hardware from Home Depot? Need some socks from Walmart? Who are we kidding? No one should ever shop there. Poor Chinese labor...
The parking lots are stacked with cars. An option you can kill if they kill your CPU.
The fact that Gordon has modeled the city as well as he did make for one amazing airborne experience. Any helo fan could easily spend hours discovering the town. There are also several pads to search out and land on. Happy hunting! I just can't stress enough how impressed I am in this area. There is a gravitational pull that has seen me visiting Squamish several times since it's release.
Now this is a university I would have a very difficult time attending. Up on the hill like that with that view? I would be glued to the windows throughout all my classes spotting the aircraft come and go. I was pleased to see the entire campus included into he scenery. No doubt if Gordon set out to recreate the entire township of Squamish, he certainly succeed.
With the assistance of a local photographer, this element was made possible. If it does happen to suck down your bandwidth, there is an option in the included control panel to deactivate it. But would you really want to?
Just yet another testament of the dedication that went into the project.
Here are a few more shots showing off the high-res photo imagery and custom hand placed autogen.
After seeing the town from the air the helicopter dropped me off at the Squamish Terminal pad near Howe Sound and I made my way to my waiting yacht.
Now as I said, Squamish is best when seen from the air. And I hope my screenshots proves as much. If you have a car in your library, I also recommend loading it up and driving around the city. If you have a float plane, by all means, there are runways and parking positions available for you to explore as well. But if you have a boat... well if the scenery is best from the air, it's second best when seen from the water as I have discovered.
According to the product manual, quite likely the most challenging feature in Squamish is the river environment. The Squamish River a fully functional water environment and will support most any type of craft you put on it. However, you will want to be mindful of what sort of watercraft you may choose to navigate the waterways with. The bigger the craft, the more difficult. In many areas the river narrows and can be quite challenging to navigate. In and of itself, the Squamish River is an experience and there is plenty to see.
Be mindful of the sandbars or you will get stuck. There are also floating logs, deadheads, and uneven terrain that will try to stop you. Alternatively, if you have a Cub with tundra wheels, you may find some of the these sandbars accommodating to land on. Feel free to roll in over the water too. It's much fun but beware of white water and avoid it at all costs! Stick to the clear water and be sure to overfly a couple times to gauge any obstacles.
If you have no boats in your collection, I recommend you look into it. I used a freeware model from deltasimstudio.com
My yacht here perhaps a bit big for the river. All is okay at first but be careful, it will start to converge in on you. Nearly 10 miles of custom river to follow before you hit the FTX PNW threshold.
Eventually I reached a point where it was time to turn around. Time to find a spot to park for the night. There is so much to see here is it no wonder the project took as long as it did to complete. This is truly an explorers paradise.
Full seasonal textures are included and aside from the summer textures seen in most of the shots, I felt winter was the second best season to show off. Now whereas the winter textures more or less blend with the surrounding areas, I did feel that the snow was not "white" enough. It seems to carry the coloration of the photo imagery which appears a bit faded thus I am not sure how much custom coloration if any was done here. But as mentioned, it seems to blend well with the surrounding area.
Orbx is indeed developing in many regions these days. From SAK, to PFJ, to the PNW, to Europe and Australia. There are clearly a great many destinations to discover. I do realize it's likely impossible for many of us to own everything that has been developed by Orbx. The cost of doing such would no doubt run you well into the thousands. As a result, one has to choose wisely what to buy knowing full well that there are amazing projects that will go unexplored. Sure, there are many flight simulation websites out there to assist you with these kinds of decisions by way of reviews etc. and to that regard, I will say this: Squamish should be at the top of your list when choosing a new Orbx destination to explore. Why? Because of what it delivers.
In this one singular product, you get something for helicopter fans, floater aircraft fans, Cub sandbar fans, boating fans, and challenging airport fans. If you think Squamish is not a challenging airport to land on, try a larger aircraft and come in from the north.
One thing you may have noticed is the fact that I did not feature an aircraft or airport in the title screenshot. Hopefully this denotes the fact that flying aircraft and the airport are simply portions of a much bigger picture that offers so much more.
Besides all this, one can easily spend hours exploring all the features of this singular product. I have already enjoyed many hours here in the Squamish Valley and no doubt you will too. Assuming of course this is your sort of thing. Congratulations to Gordon Madison of his first Orbx payware debut and I am extremely eager to see just what he might deliver next.
Gordon Madison, Jarrad Marshall, Misha Cajic, Tim Harris, Ken Hall, Jim Robinson, Russ White, Bill Womak, Holger Sandmann, Tore Stranden, Alex Goff, the list goes on and on..... As for where Orbx is discovering these talented developers both past and present.... I'm till not sure. But I think I sort of figured it out. However they are discovered by legendary company they have obviously emerged from one place: A pot of gold.
Grab your copy of Squamish today and discover.