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Photoreal Milan


Milan, according to Wikipedia, is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital of Lombardy. It also rests near the feet of the mighty Alps mountain range.

That said, the immediate area around Milan is, due to the size of the city, largely urban sprawl and suburbs with rural communities on the outskirts and two major rivers flowing by 15-20 miles to the southwest and the east. Major highways around the city provide the best navigable landmarks for VFR flights in the area.

AST Tech, the maker behind this product, has produced a range of photoreal sceneries for several city areas across Europe, including Luxembourg, Madrid and most recently Stockholm.

Installation and Documentation

Normal Installation

Installing the scenery places the required files in a folder of your choosing, however you must manually go into the Scenery Library and add the scenery layer yourself. This extra leg work is common though to many a flight simmer experienced with add-ons and the manual provides detailed instructions for anyone new to this process.

You can opt to have the manual open at the end of the install, which is something I always like to have control over, especially on re-installs. You also have the option to create a Start Menu folder.

Custom Installation

The product does not force you to install into the FSX folder, although it does suggest that by default. You can choose to install there and then move the scenery out to an external location but it’s just easier to install it wherever you want it to go so you have the option of using the uninstaller without having to move the files back to the original install location.

Uninstallation

You can uninstall the product from either the Control Panel or the Start Menu (if you opted to have a folder created there). You can also just simply delete the files off your hard drive if you really want to, although personally I recommend that anything that is installed with an installer be uninstalled with an uninstaller if it is provided.

The Start Menu folder will be removed if it is there but you must again manually enter the Scenery Library and remove the layer you added (FSX will remind you with a missing layer error box the next time you run it if you forget).

Manual and Documentation

The product manual is a single-page MHT file that opens in IE. I have no idea why it is in this relatively obscure format, since it contains no rich-text or image data and could just as easily been a simple text file. Maybe I just hate having to open IE ;) Other than the manual, which provides support information and a Scenery Library how-to, no other documentation is included with the product.

Flying Around Milan
 

Posted Image

Click for Google Map


There are not many options for flying VFR around Milan if you’re looking to go airport hopping. Of the three closest airports in the default FSX library, only two are within the roughly 30 square mile coverage area around the city. One is the international Linate Airport (LIML) and the second is the smaller general aviation Bresso Airport (LIMB).

But there is always the ability to just taking off in a light aircraft from either of these airports and scoot low around the Milan area to take in the sights, such as they are. Tubeliner pilots will also have nice views of the surrounding area on final into both LIML and LIMB, which strikes me as being the main purpose of this scenery.

Ground Textures/Mesh

One of the great things about major cities is that they are prime targets for aerial photography. These images are far better for flight simulation than what you can get from satellites not only because the camera is closer to the ground but the angle is exactly what you would see from an aircraft because that’s where the photos were taken from. So as you fly over the city of Milan, the perspective and the shadows from the ground objects almost trick your eyes into thinking they are 3D.


Looking around the coverage area, I was pleased to find the color balance of the textures to be largely consistent. The only problem I noticed was what I think is the transition from the high-res (0.59 metres per pixel/LOD 16) textures within the city to the lower-res textures (1.19 metres per pixel/LOD 15) used for the surrounding area.

I wish the blending could have been done better. It’s not something you would notice when flying in a big jet, however if you wanted to putt-putt around the countryside in a light aircraft it is.


Additionally, no effort was made to blend the scenery into the default textures, creating a square box of photoreal textures. I made sure summer textures were chosen for the screenshot above. These are the default ground textures; I do not have GEX Europe.

Water masking around the area is well done for lakes, rivers and streams. You might notice a few small ponds here and there missing a mask but I tend to not care about bodies of water unsuitable for float plane landings anyways – the photoreal water looks just as good in these cases.


There is no mesh included with the product but it’s not really needed either – the small river valley to the northeast is the only place of any significant elevation change in the coverage area and it looks just fine with the default mesh.

If you have moving traffic enabled, there is no additional road data for the area but the default road vector data matches up well with the textures and you’ll see movement on the major highways around the city.


Night textures are included, which is great and look very nice. For VFR flying night time is a completely different experience from day time so this adds another aspect to the scenery for light aircraft pilots to enjoy.


There is no seasonal support for these textures.

Buildings and Objects

There are no custom buildings or objects included with this scenery but FSX does have some default buildings around the city, mostly major landmarks that appear when you have your scenery sliders up high enough. Some are well placed, some are not.

If you want to disable them you have to dial back your scenery density slider, but that also has the effect of reducing the buildings and objects around the airports as well, leaving things quite desolate indeed during ground taxi unless you have some additional scenery installed.

It would have been better if the city buildings had simply been excluded (or the option to have them excluded was there) so airport buildings could be kept to make things a bit more lively on the ground in the immediate area.

Airports

Speaking of airports, none are redone to align with the ground textures, which is a bit of a shame considering there are only two. Being a major airport, the runways for LJML are fairly spot-on with just the taxiways being off. FSX always has trouble with the smaller GA airports. Why? I don’t know, and the runway is way off for LIMB in addition to the taxiways.


Performance

Being just textures, you’re not going to see any frame rate hits while flying around. You may experience longer load times when starting a flight in the area and you may experience blurry textures while flying around depending on your CFG settings and computer’s capabilities but that is pretty much it.

Summary / Closing Remarks

Test System
• MSI P67A-GD65
• Intel i5 2500K @ 4.5GHz
• Corsair 8GB DDR3 1600
• Radeon HD 5870 1GB
• Catalyst 11.12
• WD VelociRaptor 10k RPM SATA 150GB
• Windows 7 x64
• FSX Acceleration

Screenshots enhanced with
REX, ENB, Shade

Test Time: 6 hours


Publisher: AST Tech
Platform: FSX
Format: Download (2.5GB)
Reviewed By: Drew Sikora
I really like the fact that this product and the others like it from AST Tech add a little more realism to these major areas, but I wish they were a little more focused, like the city packs that Limesoft develops.

As a VFR pilot, you’re stuck with a very limited area to play around in, with limited options on where to go. As an IFR pilot, you get a better view out the window on final, but that’s about it – once you’re on the ground you have nothing to see.

For $18-$24, I would consider this product overpriced if not for the fact that ground imagery is expensive for developers to purchase and water masking/night lighting is a significant effort. Still, I would trade a smaller area just around the city itself for some buildings, trees and seasons as well as a slightly increased price point.

What I Like About Photoreal Milan

  • Crisp imagery both in and around the city
  • Aerial photos make the ground “pop” up at you
  • Water masking and night lighting

What I Don’t Like About Photoreal Milan

  • Airports do not align with ground textures
  • Small for VFR pilots to play in, limited use for IFR past final approach


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