FlightBeam Denver: Our impression!
FSX/P3D. Magnificence personified. If there were a term to better describe the talent of Amir Salehi and his expert team of simulation development engineers, I am hard pressed to find one. Now, indeed, my interpretation and subsequent expression of this development team is bold. Seriously bold. And the rationale behind my feelings here are not only purely driven by this team's obvious defiance of convention as it relates to the generalized status quo of known flight simulation innovation and development techniques, it's also driven by the pristine and practically unmatched visual recreations of the popular and necessary destinations from the modern world this team sets out to bring to life in virtual form.
That said, I imagine many of you are asking yourselves what exactly the F^&K am I going on about. Well, in a nutshell, the point I am aiming to drive across is the undeniable fact that this team is good. Damn good. Beyond good. And the quality delivered here in their latest product is not only that of a work of art, it just might be the very best scenery I have ever laid my eyes on. But before I allow myself to believe this, I need to think very long and hard. No doubt, I have seen, reviewed, and experienced many flight simulation scenery products over the years but none of them has exactly caught my attention in the same way Denver has.
So just how might I categorize my feelings as they pertain to this product vs other products that I hold in the highest of regards. I thought and thought about this for like three days in a row and the ending conclusion I arrived to is that of a mother of three children. Now mind you, no self respecting mother would ever allow herself to believe she has a favorite child among her offspring and if ever asked, the most diplomatic response would or at least should be: "I love you all differently, but equally."
Now as for what sort of poor mentally tormented nonsense a bloke such as myself is struggling with trying to determine my favorite simulation product to the point of nearly driving myself crazy is likely ludicrous at best. But the truth is, I am extremely perhaps extraordinarily passionate about flight simulation. Very much so. Thus, to find myself in the shoes of the proverbial mother among all my favorite scenery products and finding that I am torn only because I refuse to admit to myself Denver is the best, is perhaps demented indeed. And mind you, I have not officially arrived to this conclusion. And likely might not. But I might. Or at least, I could. But don't want to. But damn, that's just downright mean.
The thing is, I am not even much of a fan of Denver airport as a destination which makes things even worse. But at the end of the day, it's the quality that brought me here and it's the quality that has officially made this a prime destination for me and why I will keep coming back. It's because I want to continuously be immersed in everything FlightBeam's Denver has to offer. Many features that at present, exist nowhere else.
Taking two steps back, there are qualities in other sceneries I highly respect and desire that FlightBeam's Denver here falls short of and yet, I almost don't care. It's as if there is an internal battle going on in my mind preventing me from just making a clear and concise decision in regards to admitting to myself how I feel about this project... or how I might be feeling about it... and the largest cannon firing the turrets in this ridiculous brain of mine are primarily principal based. The refusal of outright saying this is my favorite all time scenery based on a matter of principle. So I choose to simply waive the white flag and go off on another tangent which ultimately became another internal battle: Is this my favorite developer?
Well shit. I'm stuck in another bloody vortex completely unsure how to emerge from it. But perhaps, through this journey I am inviting you to take part of, perhaps together, by the end of this review, I will arrive to my conclusions and thus put an end to these internal battles so I can finally get back to the real impetus of my passion and rationale for being here serving you all everyday: flying in simulation form.
So I have chosen an airline and departure point, let's get underway. Besides, if it's anything that can ease my stress and calm my mind, it's my wife. But she is not here right now, so the second best thing is a nice uneventful flight in the world of the simulator. Let's get going.
By the way, I have broken this review into several sections in case it's too long to follow in one pop. Unlike many other reviews you may find, I dont bother with the lousy 2 or 3 paragraph texts with over edited photoshoped screenshots. The format should be simple enough for you to read it in its various sections when you have free time, or skip to the section that has your greatest interest.. As you know, I don't screw around with my reviews and as always, it's pretty freaking extensive.
This is how ADX rolls. Time to bounce.
[Note: For format purposes, images are cropped. Click each image for full size resolution preview.]
A return to the beginning.
I remember quite vividly the very beginnings of what we now know as FlightBeam and it all started with a single screenshot on FSDeveloper.com. Here was a new developer (like all new developers who utilised FSD to get their start and introduction to the FS community) who was a big fan of flight simulation and only wanted his home airport created in proper form. FlyTampa, the original masterminds who delivered us San Francisco began to show no indication that they would be returning to the famous Bay Area airport for an all new rendition. FSDT were not showing any signs of interest either. Besides those two, I am not sure who else could have matched that level of quality. So, Amir set out to do something we all wish we could do and set out to do it himself: "If you built it, they will come." Lucky for him, and fortunate for us, he already possessed the necessary skills to began development based on his background in professional video game development.
The problem with FSDeveloper's product showcase forum is, of all the developers that have started projects and shown them off there, very, very, VERY few of them actually see their through to completion and release. With SFO, all I could do is sit back and hope beyond all measure this guy who calls himself Mir, would deliver.
And he did.
But not only did he deliver, he presented an end product that was so damn good, it actually made me glad it was not delivered by FlyTampa, FSDT or the likes. Why? It's obvious. Because FlightBeam. That's why. If SFO was going to be good, then it could mean that Amir would quite possibly create another airport and start his own development company. And if it's something this community needs, it's more passionate high quality talented developers.
Well, my hopes had paid off. FlightBeam was formed and shortly thereafter SFO was released to high acclaim. It seemed my hopes had come to fruition that this guy would stick around after all when the next airport was announced. PHX.
Phoenix was released and the quality was so damn good, it almost made SFO look bad. What was even better about Mir's second project was the new development techniques he learned along the way. Coupling his extensive development skills as a video game developer, he was able to include techniques and features never before seen in FS scenery products. A notable feature with PHX was its performance. Mir had developed a way to code the way FS loaded his scenery forcing more load into the GPU alleviating stress from the CPU. It seemed, he was truly enjoying this innovative journey through FS development and began to truly see a future for himself as a leading developer. Dulles followed next.
Just 2 years ago, with Microsoft bowing out of flight simulation development only to return with the agenda of shoving "Flight" down our throats only to fail miserably, the future of the flight simulation looked bleak and almost no one was looking in the direction of XPlane. It truly is thanks to the developers who have chosen to stick around, and to oncoming new developers like Mir and his team that continues to keep the dream of PC flight alive. Couple this with the great folks over at Lockheed Martin and never before has the community's future looked more promising. Denver is the latest testament to just how promising the future is for us.
As homage, we began at FlightBeam's first project: SFO and make our way to Denver via Frontier's little A320. I am very excited. Besides, this is my first proper review of a FlightBeam product. Long past due I know. I can only hope my efforts here will reflect and give the product the spotlight it truly deserves.
"Flight attendants, please arm doors and cross check."
Now one of the best performance features about Denver its location. But it's also one that lacks one of my favorite features. You see, in my little personal opinion, approaches make up part of the experiences. Take FlyTampa's Kaitak, or Dubai hmm? Or how about FSDG's Thessaloniki. I really enjoy scenic and complex approaches. Denver offers none of these making it low on my want list. It's out in the sticks, in the boonies. Nothing to see out here folks.
But the plus side of all this is that the airfield far enough from Denver and the surrounding towns that you can actually increase your visual or traffic settings. Basically, it's so far from high autogen zones that the system doesn't really have much at all to load besides the airport itself. Depending on the direction you approach from (here you can arrive from just about every direction with all those freaking runways) you can practically plan to avoid any autogen on approach. And the autogen you do overfly is minimal. Add FlightBeam's ability to create great quality with amazing performance and yes, you can actually increase your visual or traffic settings for a better experience. It's just that good.
Now on the ground I realize, Denver is not at all what I expected it to be. I'll explain. With every new project this team sets out to create, there are many new enhancements never before seen in flight simulation. With Dulles, no doubt it was that incredible night lighting effects that were most obvious. But with Denver here, the most overwhelming feature in your face is the terrain.
Overflying the airport or while on approach, the horizon seems very flat and boring. Not much to see. That is, at least till you are on the ground.
My first impression in this area was almost as if there was a major error with the terrain. Sure, we have seen terrain issues before usually dealing with compatibility between addons. Right after my touchdown on 34L, of to my left I noticed how the terrain seemed to just fall away right beyond the runway edge line forcing me to exit the VC view to see just what the issue was. Then it hit me. Mir had spoken quite a bit about this feature throughout the development process. He mentioned the terrain at Denver was not only not flat, but quite erratic. This was confirmed as I continued to pan around. There were gullies and trenches everywhere. An aircraft could really get stuck in one of those if it went off pavement. But the terrain did not just dip into these huge pits, it also rose upward above the tarmac in many areas. Hills and dips. This was totally crazy. How the hell did he manipulate FS to do this? How did the photo image get applied in such a manner? I have no clue, but I totally love it! The immersion is incredibly immersed... for lack of better terminology.
As I continued to taxi, I also noticed just how sharp and crisp the terrain and ground textures were. Clearly, no expense was spared on the cost of the imagery. I choose to take the long taxi so I could scope out the airfield and taxi under that awesome passenger bridge. I'm like a kid in a candy store in this place.
Well done on the fence work too!
Welcome to Denver. Home of the largest airport and runway in the US.
Like many of my reviews, I like to start off landside and work my way inwards. There is not much surrounding KDEN and everything you would typically find around the airport was included in the simulated version in very good detail such as the many various car rental lots.
On your way into the airport, it's not easy to miss the cargo facilities. I imagine I will be arriving here in my future PMDG 777F. If only PMDG could actually finally crack out the P3D versions...
Besides, it's going to be really cool to take off from here in the hot&high summer climate in a fully loaded freighter on that long runway and make those GE90's scream!
Okay I'm ready to announce a disappointment. Mir? Why you no add animated train? Why you no? This was really my only disappointment with the scenery so I guess we might as well get that out of the way... At the very least, a static train should have been thrown in there. Why go through all the other work of putting in the rail system if you are not going to compliment it.
I will also say that the new Hotel and transit center is my favorite part of the scenery and compliments it very nicely like a nice set of wings pinned on the airport. The reflective technology is wonderful. The entrance area has an almost desert appearance complete with solar panels.
I liked the appearance of the east and west parking areas.
But ooh.. What is this menacing horse with the bloody red eyes?? Freaked me out... If you think this thing is freakish in the sim, check out the real thing!
Now who the hell approved this? As if those Nazi runways weren't enough. I suppose the “Blue Mustang” statue that resides just beyond the roadway leading up to the Jeppsen Terminal is meant to depict the toughness of the people of Denver. If the architecture of the Jeppsen Terminal was meant to calm travelers, it has to do so quite quickly after coming across this beast.
Want to know the freakiest thing about this hand crafted sculpture? It actually killed its artist. Yep, a large portion of the 9,000-pound fiberglass horse killed its designer/sculptor Luis Jiménez when it fell on him during construction.
As it turns out, according to Wikipedia, Denver is the subject of many conspiracy theories relating to the airport's design and construction such as the runways being laid out in a shape similar to a swastika. Murals painted in the baggage claim area have been claimed to contain themes referring to future military oppression and a one-world government.
Conspiracists have also claim to have seen unusual markings in the terminals and have recorded them as templar markings. They have pointed to unusual words cut into the floor as being Satanic, Masonic, or some impenetrable secret code of the New World Order.
There is a dedication marker in the airport inscribed with words, "New World Airport Commission". It also is inscribed with the Square and Compasses of the Freemasons, along with a listing of the two Grand Lodges of Freemasonry in Colorado. It is mounted over a time capsule that was sealed during the dedication of the airport, to be opened in 2094. The Freemasons participated in laying this “capstone” (the last, finishing stone) of the airport project.
As for why the airport authority thought this menacing looking horse would be a welcoming sight for an airport entrance? Totally beyond me. Why not put that thing outside the Denver broncos stadium? So it can help them not lose so damn badly in the next Superbowl.
Totally digging the airport signage. A lot of work and attention to detail was added in this area and I am quite impressed with the end result.
Some very nice artful sculpturing on behalf of the scenery developers here. A little too void of trees but I guess the last thing KDEN needs is more birds in the area. This a notorious destination for turbofan bird slayings.
Lets take a close up look at all that amazing architecture! We need more representations like this in FS!
The Jeppesn terminal is well represented with its snow caped Indian Tee-pee style architecture so aptly named after Elrey Borge Jeppesen, a name every pilot in the world should be familiar with. I won't dare insult your intelligence by explaining who he was or what his name represents in modern day.
On a side note, the landscaping was very nicely done. Let's head in airside and get to the meat of the product.
Full speed ahead through the fence! I know someone in Florida with a nice jeep that can climb those rocks!
The home of Frontier! Not doing too well these days but let's hope they stick around. Now one might think at first glance that all three concourses look exactly the same minus their various sizes and whereas you would be right, you would also be wrong. There are many various differences to the terminals here which is why I chose to separate them for purposes of this review. You should know what you are looking and where you are within the airport given the fact that they are so similar in appearance. Needless to say, I am not just going to throw a bunch of screenshots at you and expect you to figure it out.
With Concorse A, perhaps the most defining feature is the passenger bridge making its way over the taxiways from the Jeppsen Terminal. It is highly realistic and authentic in its appearance. It's also fun to taxi under. Giggle, giggle...
The terminal texturing work is pristine at best. Even photo realistic in appearance. Even the exposed steel beams are authentic. Great work on the shadow work. The lights within this area is also a nice touch. Also note the signage. Hmm... I think we had an airport photographer on site.
Just look at those crisp ground textures. There are plenty of animated ramp vehicles from various airport vendors and companies roaming the airport going about their business..
I just can't stress this enough. Interior modeling is the way to go. This is one of the primary reasons this airport is fighting to be my number one. Here at Denver, the interior modeling is by far the very best I have ever seen. Ever. Period. Other developers out there, please take note of what's going on here. It's high time to abandon the photo texture baking methods in favor of something much more realistic. All this place needs is Orbx PeopleFlow roaming around in there.
Another airport that comes to mind that put this feature to tremendous use was Jo Erlend's Aerosoft Mega Airport Oslo. Absolutely stunning work over there.
Okay, another feature that I really loved. In areas where it simply did not make sense to render interior modeling, the team went with a 3D representation of depth that gives the appearance like you are looking into the building, but you are actually not. They are simply 2D images applied in a manner that fools the eyes very well. I'll take this over texture baked windows any day.
Plenty of objects everywhere you look. All the way down to the sign posts as shown in the above shot.
Even the little things like exterior staircases really grab my attention. I love things like this. Note the carpeting and ceiling textures. I love this place.
Lots of de-icers waiting for the snow among other ramp equipment just beyond A.
Now here is a fire station done right! I have had a love affair with fire trucks ever since I was a little child and there is no better fire truck than one you find at the airport. Many developers get lazy in this area and simply show the firehouses without the trucks. Whenever I see that, I feel totally jipped. Mir, found the perfect trade off. He did not have to bother modeling the entire trucks. He gave me just enough so I could see and know they are there, ready, and waiting. Well done. Off to B we go!
Now right off the bat you can see B looks pretty much just like A. Or does it? Well yes.. and uh.. no. There are some rather large fundamental differences in the way the architecture was laid out here. Let's go in closer.
Here we get an even better look at the static ramp vehicle objects that are hanging around waiting for something to do.
Are those bulk carts missing wheels? Far bottom right.
More signage. Boy-oh-boy does having direct access to an airport make a world of difference. Many will think FSDT's KLAX is spot on in its appearance but I can honestly tell that FSDT's LAX is flawed in so many areas it's hard to know where to begin. Overall it looks like LAX but having someone on the ground makes a world of difference. Here in Denver, I get the feeling the representation is damn near spot on in every area.
The back of "B".
Here we get a look at the included container roller decks out on the ramp. It's really easy to see just how the layouts of the concourses differ. Each terminal must have been almost like making a separate airport.
Note the puddles. See them? Cloud reflection artifacts can be seen moving through the simulated water as you pass over them. Great stuff. Also note the passenger bridges connecting to the commuter section.
I have included a video reel at the bottom of this review should you choose to see the features in action. This will be a new feature in every review because hey, pictures can't tell the whole story.
And here is the bigger picture of Denver's biggest Concourse with the baby "C" in the background which will be expanded to meet future demand. You can already see the space between the grass areas where the terminal can expand. Oddly enough, construction has already started, but on the west side of the terminal. Additionally, according to Wikipedia, the airport has reserved room for two more Concourses to be built beyond Concourse C for future expandability. Concourse D can be built without having to move any existing structures extending the subterranean train system. But a future Concourse E would require moving the UA hangar. But before any construction on Concourses D and E begins, Concourses A, B, and C would have to be extended in both directions. Is Denver really that popular a destination? the future will tell!
And here we arrive at Concourse C home of tower. I think this is my favorite of the concourses and I'm not really sure why. Just something about it I guess... I like that it's small. Like being at a small airport when you are actually at a big one.
It's the appearance of the little things that really gain my respect such as the K rails and concrete pillars among other things. Ultimately, it's the terminal glass that is really floating my boat. All so very well done. It's nice to be able to see inside the buildings adding to the depth of the terminal and overall experience. Pulling up to the gate has never been so much fun.
The jetways are also a nice touch for this scenery. Highly detailed.
I needed a shot to show off the volumetric grass at the airport. Not the best I have seen. Russ White can kick ass in this department. But the grass here is good nonetheless.
Here is the big picture of "C". The ramp texturing is quite lovely. Easy to see where the airplanes mark things up. Note the puddles.
And now we arrive to the airfield. It's easy to say there is not much to see out here besides a couple hangars, fire houses, and the fuel tanks. But the terrain in and of itself is fun to scope out. I easily spent an hour in the helicopter flying around the airfield. In fact, I highly recommend you do. It's the best way to get a real understanding of the terrain work here. These images just won't do it justice.
Okay it's zoom out time. Hit the right arrow. Why does this airfield give me the WW2 goosebumps when looking down from overhead? Who's freaking idea was that anyway? Design fail...
Note the parking positions. Not just a bunch of pixels. You can clearly see where your nose gear is meant to stop depending on your ride.
Here is the bigger of the passenger portion of the airfield but let's see how it all looks when the sun starts to take a bow.
Ooohhhhhhhh this place is so beautiful at dusk and lights up so damn beautifully. Note the screens at the boarding gates and interior overhead lighting. Even better is the exterior lighting. FlightBeam really knows how to light things up. No joke. No. J.O.K.E.
And a few random dusk shots for you.
I love the accurate textures on the bridges.
Nice statics and taxiway lighting. Even the signs light up!
Okay let's go full dark.
I edited one night shot for you which is the one directly below. The rest are all directly out of the sim.
Should we say Mir is the best when it comes to night lighting? Or is that going too far? You be the judge.
But why are none of the glass areas on the ramp control towers lit up? This needs to be fixed.
And as we all know, it does indeed snow in Denver during the winter seasons. This means purchasing not one, but two ground images. I must say, the winter textures were amazing to say the least. What I also appreciated was the snow texture effect on the ramp. I have seen many sceneries where the developers include winter textures but with a perfectly clean ramp. A+ on the winter seasonal variation here in Denver.
As previously stated, I would like to include video reels in my reviews going forward in an effort to show off the various effects and features of sceneries that screenshots just can't capture. This is not very smooth as it was put together on my low range PC. I'll get better at this as I progress in the future. I hope you find it helpful. If not, I'll scrap the idea.
Well here we are. You and I again.
So. Am I still perplexed? Still suffering from my internal battle?
I have made my decision. This is indeed my favorite airport. But if I could cheat, I would say this is not my favorite scenery. My favorite scenery is FlyTampa's Dubai. That is if we are referring to mega airports. I like the big cities. But where Dubai fell short if you read my review, is that the team got super lazy in the airport landside entrance area. Besides that, unlike the first rendition of DXB which had interior modeling, the team elected to go with texture baking instead for the glass surfaces on the terminal buildings. For that reason, DEN is officially #1 on my list. So that battle has been fought. But the funny thing here is I don't think Denver will be at my #1 for too long. Because I imagine FlightBeam will find some sort of way to beat this with a future scenery.
But hey, lets not jump the gun. There are a whole lot of mega airports from the community's best developers on the way and one of them just might take the cake. Honestly, when I learned FlightBeam was developing and subsequently canceled Amsterdam Schiphol I was heartbroken. Because in my opinion, FB would have done it best. But now that FSDG/FlyTampa is now taking on the project, it is my true hope they don't render it with photoreal or texture baking windows. AMS is my second favorite airport in Europe and so I hope they can follow some of the techniques used in Denver here.
Is FlightBeam my favorite developer? I'll never tell. And honestly, that battle rages on in my mind.
But i'll say this, the path FlightBeam is on is an incredible one. To be able to deliver this kind of quality on this kind of scale with this kind of performance boggles the mind. Couple that with almost near perfection, it really was difficult to find things wrong with this scenery. Same with FlyTampa and LHSimulations.
Our developers are getting better, and better. Look at recent works from Taxi2Gate ImagineSim, and LatinVFR among others. Everyone is stepping up their game and teams like FlightBeam that are leading the charge and raising the bar.
This is a great time to be in flight simulation. This might not be a billion dollar business. But it is one that is filled with more collective passion than any other technology based community I know. And as long as we continue to do our part, and support our developers. Flight simulation will have a strong foothold.
I highly recommend FlightBeam's Denver. It's not only a destination, it's a work of art worth admiration.
But by all means, everything I said here today was a load of crap. The screenshots told lies and I am nothing more than a fake salesman peddling a product.
After all, the truith about me? I am a flight simulation superfan. And i hope I sound like one too. Screw being objective, I call it like I see it and feel it.
Good thing for you, there is a full try before you buy demo so you can see for yourself. And after you do try the demo, feel free to return and tell me I am full of crap.
Check out FlightBeam's Denver here: http://www.flightbeam.net/kden.html