The Battle for the Costa Brava

MK-Studios and RD-Presets release Girona for MSFS – but which is better?

The Battle for the Costa Brava

Over the last year of flight simming, and with such an abundance of freeware and payware scenery enhancements available for Microsoft Flight Simulator, I have found it increasingly difficult to get excited about flying to auto-gen airports. Sure, they might be in locations that are significant to me personally – but taxiing along the same old plain, untextured aprons bordered by a terminal with about as many defining features as an NPC in Skyrim gets stale very quickly.

On the opposite end of the excitement spectrum, there are on occasion multiple scenery options that exist covering the same airstrip. That presents us as simmers with a dilemma- which product is better? That’s a tough question to answer because much of what makes a scenery ‘good’ to us is personal and subjective. For me, it tends to be ground textures that make or break a scenery product. You could give me the best modelled terminal ever created, but if the tarmac is all the same shade of grey I’m going to hate it. Other simmers like you, the reader, might prioritise different aspects of a scenery, though. You might want high resolution textures, or PBR materials. You might be keen to explore the land-side of the airport, or want to explore a modelled terminal interior that provides opportunities for gorgeous screenshots. Or you might even prioritise the terrain and details around the approach path, so that you can enjoy stunning visuals as you fly an ILS.

Evaluating scenery products is therefore a very subjective process, and I must point out before going any further that I will be comparing these two products based on what I personally like about each of them. However, I have provided lots of screenshots alongside the written element so that you can see and compare for yourself which product is going to be of the greatest value to you.

That being said, let’s dive into Girona Airport. Built in the late 20th century, it’s a single runway field with enough length to fit in your 737s and A320s. Situated 46 nm north-east of Barcelona, it serves as an alternate should the weather in El Prat turn nasty. There are also good links to the Bay of Roses and Northern Spain. Today, the airport serves as a regional hub for Ryanair, who operate year-round flights from major European cities. It’s also significant to me as my family often went holidaying in a town called L’Escala nearby when I was younger, and we would always fly in on a Ryanair flight from Bournemouth. So I was delighted when both RD-Presets and MK-Studios offered me copies of their product so that I could settle, once and for all, the Battle for the Costa Brava.

Ground Textures

I’ve decided to look at the ground textures first because they are the most important feature of any scenery product to me. Most of our time at an airport is spent on either a taxiway or the apron, and when landing the ground textures at an airport are one of the first things you’ll notice that give you an impression as to the quality of a scenery product.

To start, I looked at the runway thresholds on both sceneries. Here I think both products do well. MK-Studios have opted for a much more weathered look, and this appearance extends throughout their modelling and texturing work. RD-Presets on the other hand have opted for a newer feel and appearance, with a darker tarmac texture that looks as if it was laid more recently.

Further down the runway, the theme of new vs used continues. Examining the touchdown zones, I noticed MK-Studios’ scenery has clearly visible dark tyre marks around the zones of both ends of the runway, and around the vacation points. On the flip side, RD-Presets again goes for a more ‘fresh’ look and feel with far fewer visible tyre marks around the touchdown zones.

After examining the runway I turned my attention to the taxiways. The same themes that I saw on the runway continued here. Both sceneries model the taxiways with accurate lighting and lines, however, I feel that MK-Studios’ scenery gives you a better sensation of being at a ‘used’ airport, with visible wear and markings as opposed to RD-Presets’ textures.

Next I moved onto the apron area. Here I was looking for crisp, clear line markings and colours that looked slightly washed out (not the bright banana yellow we see at auto-gen airports), and accurate placement of said markings.

On the apron I think the sceneries are very closely matched. Both include good ground markings and texture resolution, so when I taxied up to stand 2 in both sceneries I could clearly see the markings guiding me to the stand. RD-Presets here makes a departure from the newer looking textures on the runways and taxiways and depicts an apron with visible discoloration and cracks forming after years of use. MK-Studios follows in much the same way, showing where some of the square concrete slabs have been swapped out over the years with some being a darker shade of grey than others, along with the visible signs of dirt and tyre wear we have already seen elsewhere in their version of the airport.

One more thing I wanted to mention was the grass. You will see in the above set of low-angle screenshots that the RD-Presets scenery appears more green and blue. This is because of the grass, and the way that the light is interacting with that texture. MK-Studios have presumably used a satellite imagery mask that was taken during the late spring or early summer months, shown by the colour of the grass, whereas RD-Presets have gone for a greener grass more reflective of autumn/winter time. It’s difficult to argue that either is better or worse than the other, and using filters you could tune the colours to your liking, but when I imagine Spain I think of hotter temperatures. I think of a holiday destination. So, I personally prefer MK-Studios’ grass and general colour palette, although I’m not going to give it a point for that as I feel this is too deep into the reeds of subjectivity.

Terminal Building Interior

Both sceneries come with a modelled terminal interior. Let’s start with MK-Studios. Inside their terminal you will find static passengers, which compliment the atmosphere and immersion. It is complete with a couple of signs on the load-bearing columns, duty-free shops (although these textures are quite low-res) and something I love – a reflective floor tiling texture which does wonders for the lighting inside. Users on lower-on spec PCs may want to be aware of this, although in my testing both products achieved similar frame rates inside the terminal, and indeed around the field.

RD-Presets’ offering is, in comparison, a little disappointing I’m afraid. The terminal interior is still modelled, but there are no static passengers, the textures are not as detailed or reflective (which leaves the room feeling a bit flat) and the night lighting (which I will cover in more detail later) feels a bit off, with large parts of the interior being shrouded entirely in darkness. However, RD-Presets did include some things which MK-Studios missed, such as overhead gate signs and shopfront textures that are of a higher resolution.

Plenty of scenery products for Microsoft Flight Simulator, especially those released nearer to the game’s release date, do not feature modelled terminal interiors. In previous simulators, it was a rarity to have any kind of interior modelling at all. So it’s only a really quite recent thing to have interior modelling be an expectation, or ‘the standard’ for airport scenery products.

Neither of these interiors on their own are bad. However, I do think we have to ask what is the purpose of modelling an interior at all? I think it’s two-fold. For one thing, I want to see some life behind the glass when I’m parked up on stand. Second, when it comes to taking screenshots, an airport which looks and feels more ‘busy’ leads to a greater sense of immersion.

So with no disrespect to RD-Presets (they could have not bothered to model a terminal interior at all!), I would say the MK-Studios terminal is better.

Overall Modelling Quality

Both sceneries make great use of PBR materials throughout the airport to create high-quality models which bring the airport to life. This is not only present around the terminal but also in terms of the ground clutter and other models dotted around the airport that contribute to the immersion.

Around the exterior of the terminal on both products you will see the little details such as air vents on the roof, guard rails, bollards and painted pedestrian routes around and attached to the terminal. One little thing that did interest me was that MK-Studios have featured covered pedestrian walkways, whereas in the RD-Presets version these areas are not covered. It makes no practical difference to your simming experience, but does mean that when you’re on a stand near these paths the terminal feels a bit busier in MK-Studios’ version.

The little things really matter when there’s not much between these products, and I think that MK-Studios has the edge on RD-Presets just ever so slightly. Take for example, the roof over the stairs leading down from the terminal to the apron, shown in the above screenshots. Both sceneries use a corrugated metal texture here, but the RD-Presets one just looks a bit more obvious (for lack of a better word) and includes clearly visible discolouration and wear in places. MK-Studios also modelled hand rails as chains that are hung between posts, and depict the posts have a red base and white top. RD-Presets also included these rails, but theirs are completely metal structures. Fine, there’s nothing wrong with that – but they seem to have used a very dark, blacker-than-black texture which feels out of place next to the lighter sandy textures they have used elsewhere.

The texturing of the terminal building exterior is good on both products. RD-Presets have opted for a lighter, warmer texture for the structure, although I prefer the MK-Studios colour which looks more worn out and grimey. The resolution of textures on the aforementioned pathways is also noticeably lower on the RD-Presets terminal, although they have included a painted white partitioning line where MK-Studios didn’t.

The other major structure, the tower, has also been covered well by both teams. RD’s tower goes for a browner colour than MK’s, and includes more details on the roof such as antennae. Both towers have also got the dirt and grime marks I was looking for. One common theme that runs across RD-Presets’ scenery that I had started to pick up on by now though was their use of PBR glass. I’m not a scenery developer and have no idea how you even begin to use these materials, but somehow MK-Studios have made their glass darker. Less light passes through the panes compared to RD-Presets’ glass, which looks almost as if it isn’t there, letting almost all the light through. In contrast, I think the MK-Studios glass, used in tandem with darker textures overall, works really well and compliments the scenery.

In both MK-Studios and RD-Presets’ scenery, ground clutter has been added to the main stands in front of the terminal. In the MK-Studios scenery, this includes pushback bars modelled with the Swissport logo, baggage trolleys which are complete with Jet2’s branding, along with the odd parked pushback tug (static), baggage rack, airstairs and a generous amount of cones and other props you might find at an international airport. In addition, if you are parked further south of the terminal, you will be able to look over the fence and see that a variety of buses are parked waiting to pick up your passengers and take them to their hotels. There is a good mix of busses depicted with TUI’s blue livery, some with Jet2’s colours, and others which are just unbranded.

RD-Presets’ offering also comes with a ground power unit and chocks at each of the bigger terminal-facing stands. Parked up in front of the stands on the south side you can also find luggage carts, fuel trucks, passenger busses, and luggage conveyor belt trucks. The busses from low-cost package operator Jet2 are also present again, along with a stream of traffic passing through dual-lane drop off and pickup point outside the terminal, although this part of the scenery is not visible from the airside.

Both sceneries also go to lengths to model buildings and areas you might not normally be looking at. For instance, both sceneries modelled the interior of the airport’s control tower, which dominates the skyline. Both also include fencing around the extended centreline lights, and the little hut at the end of runway 01 which I am assuming serves a maintenance function in real life.

Terrain/Elevation Effects

The real world Girona Airport sits at an elevation above sea level of about 420 feet. The runway is on a north-to-south downslope of about 0.5 degrees, meaning that landing on runway 19 means decelerating downhill. Furthermore, between the taxiway and runway there is a ditch which I can only assume has been dug out for drainage purposes.

And in the simulator, I was pleased to see that the runway elevation and ditch were present in both sceneries. In neither scenery is the runway’s downslope constant, with both adding in a small bump towards the middle. So the only winner in this category is you, the consumer.

On shooting some approaches into both runways at each scenery while compiling this review, I noticed that landing accurately on runway 19 is a real challenge, and this is owing to the terrain. You are going to feel like you’re low until the very last second on the approach, because the runway is sloping down away from you. This would require focus and corrective input on its own – but then while flying the last couple of hundred feet down there is a ditch before you arrive at the threshold. The ditch creates some interesting air effects and so it’s likely that you’ll find yourself having to really fight to keep yourself stable and on profile for the approach before touchdown.

Other Details

Girona Airport does not sit in the middle of nowhere, and does not only serve airliners. Just across the road from the airport, there is a large DHL distribution centre, an industrial estate and a lorry park. The airport is well connected, residing next to a railway and motorway.

Beside the main apron is the Center VOI air-servicing hangar, fire station, and even a small general aviation parking area as the airport sees plenty of business jets coming through every day. There’s even a small restaurant and café which overlook the apron and the runway from the landside, just behind the fire station.

Additionally, to the north of the apron there has been a construction site since at least March 2022 (from what I could find), which is apparently controversial with the local population as Ryanair are seeking to expand the airport.

Up until I did this extra digging I was leaning into the MK-Studios scenery more-so than the RD-Presets scenery. However it is here that RD-Presets truly shines. The team went the extra mile to get the all of the little bits and pieces covered, and it shows. In their scenery, there are details in the industrial estate. You can see signs, trucks and containers from DHL. They have gone to the lengths of building a custom model for the warehouses in the business park. They also included signage and even room fronts for the nearby Hotel Vilobi. In stark contrast, the MK-Studios scenery looks completely barren in this area. There is a custom model for the DHL building but the industrial park has been completely neglected. A texture for the road connecting the terminal to these facilities has been lazily applied over existing orthographic data, but it’s not even been put in the right position and you can see the road as captured in the ortho data to the left of the road which MK-Studios have applied.

Nearer to the apron, RD-Presets have modelled the construction site and you can see where there are piles of dirt, sand, and most notably a crane which adds a lot to the area and is clearly visible from all parking spots. MK-Studios on the other hand did not include any models of the construction site, and looking at it from above you’d be forgiven for not even knowing it was a construction site!

The restaurant and cafe are modelled in both products, but again it’s RD-Presets who went into extra detailing, adding a canopy, chairs and tables as well as fencing and worn down textures only visible if your camera is land side. MK-Studios have a model, and that’s about it. What I saw in all of these areas is that RD-Presets thought ‘what happens if someone wants to explore, or take screenshots of the surrounding area?’, whereas MK-Studios put more of their time and efforts into getting the airside of Girona looking used and abused.

Night Lighting and Wet Weather Conditions

Although Girona is far from being a busy airport, typically seeing 2-3 flights per day during the winter season, some of these flights depart as late as 9pm. So night lighting will be important for simmers looking to replicate real-world rosters. Looking back at the terminal, apron and other buildings, both sceneries perform well here. In fact I found it very difficult to pick a winner in the end, so I didn’t. Both have light sources in all of the right places, the apron is well lit and in neither scenery does the terminal look so bright that it washes out everything else.

At night, reflections are more visible, so I cranked up the precipitation and added storm clouds to see if a winner could be discerned here. Again, both sceneries’ handled these more complex weather conditions flawlessly. The reflections and lighting are a real delight to look at, although I am going to give the win to MK-Studios. On the RD-Presets scenery, there is little to no lighting around the main ‘Girona Costa-Brava signage other than the letters themselves, and overall the terminal just doesn’t look as lit up as MK-Studios’ version.

Additionally, coming back inside the terminal, MK-Studios takes the cake. Remember that reflective floor texture I made a big deal about earlier? The reflections on the floor tiles line up with images I was able to track down of the terminal’s interior, and the whole space is very nicely lit. In comparison, RD-Presets’ interior doesn’t feature any ceiling lights. There is lighting, but this is achieved by invisible light sources, and I hate to say it but the building feels somewhat abandoned with no signs of life to be found.

Conclusion

The conclusions then are as follows. Both of these products have been done to what I would call a good standard. They are priced competitively and I think that the asking price for both products is fair. Both sceneries offer you a good standard of modelling, the approaches work as you would expect them to, signage is clear and well lit. There are also some areas where I feel that one scenery performs better than the other. On ground textures, I think MK-Studios has put more effort into achieving a used, weathered look across the taxiway, runway and apron. However, upon examining landside detailing and clutter, I think RD-Presets does the surrounding area justice where MK-Studios falls short.

At the terminal building, I feel that MK-Studios’ product looks and feels more atmospheric thanks to the addition of static passengers and reflective textures which work well with natural and artificial lighting. However at the drop off area outside, it’s RD-Presets who have gone to the lengths of adding traffic and signage which casts me back to those days as a kid that I would be led outside and into a taxi.

On night lighting, both sceneries do well but I think MK-Studios again gets the edge thanks to the interior lighting of the terminal bleeding out in a more natural way onto the tarmac. In addition, the lighting around the airport terminal’s sign looks more realistic in their version. In poor weather conditions, both sceneries do a good job and those PBR textures will look great once the bugs around their visibility in misty/foggy conditions are patched out of the simulator.

As I have said, I think both products represent good value and it is really hard to choose a winner. However, for me personally, the pull of having those weathered textures around the airport in the MK-Studios’ scenery just made my time at the airport feel that much better, and as much as I really missed being able to see the crane and construction site nearby in RD-Presets’ scenery, I am going to give MK-Studios the overall win in this review.

More From:   MK-STUDIOS RDPresets
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Matthew Kiff
Matt only discovered his love of flight sim with MSFS 2020, but has since made a career in aviation. As well as contributing to FSElite, he works as a flight data analyst, aiding pilots and operators worldwide in improving their flight safety.

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