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Publisher: Laminar Research    Genre: Flight Sim
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: 601 @ 400 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 250 MB    Graphics: 800x600


X-Plane 6
May 29, 2002 | Tim Morgan
Pages:1234567Gallery


Click to enlarge

A good example of the terrain engine.

The view out the window
X-Plane is sort of a mixed basket when it comes to graphics. There are periods when it looks excellent, and there are times when the graphics look only slightly better than shareware. As I will discuss later, I must point out that all graphics are alterable, and the player, if he or she is willing to sacrifice some time and effort, can tailor his or her own graphics with plenty of detail.

All terrain in X-Plane is made up of 128-by-128 tiles of repeating scenery. These tiles come in 30 different flavors, from desert to tundra. The scenery is mapped to the environment based on data from the U.S.G.S. It looks great, especially from higher altitudes. Unfortunately, the environment only extends so far; above forty or fifty thousand feet, the terrain starts to disappear. Furthermore, faint criss-crosses are occasionally visible, a small bug.

Clouds in X-Plane, though not as beautiful as those in Fly! II, certainly get the job done. Theyíre transparent and sort-of-three-dimensional, and only come in two varieties: cumulus and cirrus. However, like the rest of the graphics, there are times when the clouds really look stunning. These moments come at a price: I noticed that, when flying through clouds, the game slowed significantly, taking flight into a sort of slow motion.

The basic X-Plane package includes scenery data for the southern California area. Note that although one would have scenery covering only SoCal, the airport database has the locations for many airports worldwide. The end result is that the player can land at any airport around the world, but because there is no scenery surrounding that airport, the airport will appear to be floating over water. For a nominal fee (around $100), one can purchase a set of four CDís containing scenery data for the entire world, thus allowing players to enjoy near-worldwide scenery compiled from U.S.G.S. data. Furthermore, the CDís contain the locations of major highways, railways, and power lines, which are reflected in the landscape. These landmarks make for realistic VFR navigation in the event of a VOR or GPS failure. Laminar Research even placed cars on the highways, with variable traffic flows. The player may even notice the occasional police or fire truck pass by, sirens blazing. I noticed that some areas still do not exist even with the four global-scenery CDís; parts of Arizona were nothing but water, for instance.

Cities in X-Plane are auto-generated, and thus turn out to be a grid of residential, commercial, or industrial buildings. Although the repeating city tiles get repetitive quickly, they arenít without their charms. Buildings are softly lit at night, and when cruising low over commercial districts, one can pick up familiar brand names like Taco Bell, Hardeeís (on both sides of the U.S. for some reason), and more than a few Apple-brand convenience stores.

The cities look passable most of the time, and can occasionally look fantastic. Unfortunately, none of the buildings are solid ó aircraft fly right through them. While one is typically flying at many thousands of feet in a GA sim like X-Plane, it would still be a nice touch to add. Furthermore, cities tend to look odd when on slopes or otherwise slanted terrain ó the buildings can partially submerge under the terrain.

Currently, Laminar Research is retooling all its worldwide scenery in conjunction with the Global Scenery (GloS) project. The retooled scenery will be much more accurate to satellite data and add additional coverage for areas not covered by the world-scenery CDís.

X-Planeís scenery support does not end with the atmosphere; X-Plane fully supports the graphical representation of low-earth orbit (LEO) flight. Upon exiting the atmosphere, the player is greeted with a vista of stars and a slowly rotating, spherical planet Earth below. I will discuss the mechanics of orbital flight later. As unique as an accurate extra-atmospheric environment may be, it is not without its problems. First off, at lower graphical settings, as one ventures away from Earth into the depths of interplanetary space, the Earth begins to disappear from view. Note that it doesnít fade into the darkness; slices of the planet start to blink away from existence until the entire sphere is gone from view. This happens at a few hundred thousand feet or so, where in reality, the Earth would still be in plain and utter view. Furthermore, under low VRAM settings, the Earth was occasionally not even drawn from outer space, leaving the player with only a disorienting vista of stars. Furthermore, because of the way X-Plane draws clouds, very small and strange-looking cumulus clouds can sometimes be seen from space, creating whirlpools made of thin white slivers.



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