Grand Canyon will leave you breathless

Grand Canyon
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Oh, Ain’t it Grand?

After downloading megabyte upon megabyte of scenery from the Internet in the past, I was eager to see how the “professional” scenery compared. Everyone knows that the scenery which ships with Flight Simulator is pretty sparse and that there have been a lot of sims lately that boast their superior scenery as a major selling point. This would be my chance to see how good scenery could be with Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 98 by experimenting with Grand Canyon for Microsoft Flight Simulator & Combat Flight Simulator from Wilco Publishing.

Grand Canyon covers about 12,000 square miles, needs about 110 meg. of space for a full installation, and even comes with some new planes. I installed everything, loaded FS, set my 3D accelerator’s resolution to 1600×1200, changed all the scenery and dynamic traffic settings to maximum and picked the first Grand Canyon Adventure on the list, eagerly awaiting a visual overload.

The airport looked okay. I had downloaded some that were better, but still had high hopes for the canyon itself. The trees that surrounded the runway area looked pretty nice, okay, maybe photo-realistic (don’t push it), until you moved away from the tarmac. Hey! They’re paper-thin trees (no pun intended)! Okay, this must be some limitation of FS & how it does scenery. Actually, from above, they look more like cardboard props. The dynamic scenery wasn’t bad, though. Helicopters and planes going about their business…Hey! What’s with the people-props? I had flashbacks to a few really bad westerns…

The buildings were nice and the plane’s panel looked good. It was nice to be flying a small passenger plane, rather than using the old standards. Okay…passengers are all on board…taxi to runway…hold short…taxi onto runway…cleared for takeoff. Then I actually saw it: the canyon. It was incredible. Everything was textured. From a normal altitude, it was simply amazing. You could see the Colorado River, areas of vegetation, the canyon flowing off into the horizon…sigh…I changed the season… snow everywhere… time of day… shadows…sigh… Just look at the screen shots… Wow!

Overall, the canyon scenery is very good from normal altitudes. The textures map a pixel to several feet, so don’t expect to see any detail in the rock face, or in the river itself. In a few spots, the textures aren’t quite aligned properly, making the river appear to run a little bit up the bank. The buildings and airports are of average quality, but I don’t think FS has any way of making scenery with good trees, people, or other small objects. I doubt that you’ll find a better scenery package anywhere.

Most FS add-ons are, like FS itself, geared toward the serious or hobbyist pilot, rather than die-hard gamers or those after an eye-popping graphics-high. The scenery ships with a real aeronautical map and follows the FS tradition of accurate airport information, COM and NAV frequencies, VOR, etc.

The new planes, adventures, and challenges are an added treat. The Bell 430 helicopter is much easier to fly than the standard Bell 206B. There’s the Twin Otter Vistaliner and the Stationair, but I enjoyed the Spitfire Mk the most. It’s obvious that a lot of work went into its creation. Even if you don’t have the Combat Simulator, it’s a real treat to fly. If you are a big fan of Combat Simulator, this scenery will add a lot to your dogfights. For all the aircraft, the instrumentation and sounds are very good. My only complaint is the low quality of the “virtual cockpit” views. The “tour guide” flights are a great way to get familiar with some of the canyon’s landmarks, and the highly-accurate map and VOR information are a great way to practice navigating the area for real pilots.

I give “Grand Canyon” 4 1/2 GIN Gems, with the1/2 off for not having higher-res textures as an option for us graphics nuts that don’t care if the scenery takes 500 meg or more, or that you need a 32mb video card. Hopefully, MS will have a better graphics engine in the future to allow for trees, moving people, etc.

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One thought on “Grand Canyon will leave you breathless”

  1. I am the guy who created this scenery which, to my knowledge, was the first photo scenery ever done of the Grand Canyon and Painted Desert area, some 12,000 square miles. It was created during the latter part of the 90’s. Now, as for the reviewer docking me a 1/2 point for not having higher resolution, this was the maximum rez that FS95/FS98 had to offer. This scenery was my second title following on the heels of the Safari Fliteware Scenery San Diego, the first ever photoscenery done from color arial photos. These sceneries boasted many firsts for Microsoft Flight Simulator including the use of tiled scenery for areas of little or no photos, advanced color depth management, and morning, daytime, evening as well as Summer/Winter depictions of the area. Prior to the release, the stock scenery in MSFS was very nondescript and few colors. The sceneries were also generated using elevation-based color mapping techniques and efficient use of the limitated 256 color palette used in Flight Sim. All elevation data was accurately converted from USGS elevation data. For the first time you could experience dog fights in the canyon or go on a scenic arial tour with voice narration. The scenery was bought and released by Wilco in Austria.
    Before the release of this scenery, I had often wondered if or when there would finally be a more realistic version of the Grand Canyon little knowing it would be myself that would later do it. Overall, the scenery only took 3 months to complete as I had already developed supporting s/w to do it.
    Very few companies were even doing photo sceneries at that time because of the outrageous costs of obtaining satellite imagery, most of which only had 2 colors, red and green, which is why I opted for using full color arial photography. This also meant that considerable time was spent to align all of the plates to their geographic coordinates.
    Now days it all pales in comparison but we were dedicated to bringing to the public the best that flight simulator had to offer.

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