We’re in a very unique time for flight simulation. The release of Prepar3D V4 means that the memory restrictions that shackled simmers have now been relieved and it has allowed people to increase settings and detail beyond anything they could have before. The same can be said for the development community whereby they can now include even more detail and use more advanced techniques to achieve realistic results far beyond what was possible before. It’s interesting to see so many developers take on the new sim with a fresh approach, and enabling their customers to enjoy new features and detail. With this in mind, it also allows us to revisit some of these products from the past and review them based on their new lick of paint. One said product is the brand new ImagineSim LaGuardia airport.
When ImagineSim announced they were bringing the New York airport to the sim, many worried that the dense location surrounded by other major airports would make their system completely unusable. At the time, the team did a good job at balancing performance and quality to bring the airport to life. With this new update, specifically designed for those that use Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D V4, that balance has been maintained but at a much higher level.
For those that don’t know, LaGuardia (KLGA) airport is one of the key airports in New York serving over 13 million passengers per year. Its continuous growth over the years has led it to becoming incredibly congested and required immediate reconstruction consultations to ensure it can cope with the capacity. Since then, it has acquired approval and the work is due to be completed in 2021. However, ImagineSim were keen to allow simmers to fly to a future version of the airport in the sim, and as such their rendition of KLGA LaGuardia 2016 features the concept of the 2021 airport.
It’s odd to consider that we have a simulator that will enable simmers to experience what the airport will be like in the future – but that’s the power of a sim! On the other hand, hardcore enthusiasts may be put off from flying there due to the structure, physicality and other elements not portraying a real-world approach. The documentation contains airport diagrams of the new terminals to help you navigate. For those wondering, there isn’t an option to have the airport load in its current form.
Of course, the biggest draw for the update is performance. New York is known to be an area that brings even the most powerful PCs to its knees. Luckily with P3DV4, the memory limitation has been removed – meaning an OOM error is now pretty unlikely, and the advances in technology have meant ImagineSim can ensure their airport runs as smooth as possible in the built-up city.
Without a doubt, performance has improved quite considerably since the update. In the previous version, I would roughly get 25-30FPS in most situations. Whilst still flyable, this was uncomfortable for me compared to other airports. With the new version, I will average a rock solid 40-45FPS. This is huge considering this is a free update with even more details than before! The techniques used mean that for your common, everyday use, you will see a definite improvement. Even better is that these improvements will be free for existing customers. Equally, for new customers, you will feel the benefits of the enhancements from day one.
Of course, this is New York and your mileage will vary. The simple matter is that to run the scenery on the same system and to see such gains is impressive. To help users with less powerful machines, or those who just want to increase the frame rates further, you have a huge range of options available in the ImagineSim Operations Center. You will be able to adjust things such as airport vehicles, AI parking density and also the seasonal textures. It’s a clean interface with many options. It would be nice to see how much impact each option has on the product via the Ops Center rather than changing options, loading the sim and then checking to see what impact it had. Turning off some heavy hitting options such as 3D grass and high-density AI traffic will help the more modest of machines.
With performance being relatively decent in a heavy area, that must mean that texture or modelling quality suffers. Well, that assumption would be wrong, as the level of detail found in LaGuardia by ImagineSim is extremely high. Ground textures and markings are high resolution, clear to read and contain environmental effects to give it a more realistic look. Even road and other safety signage littered the airport in a realistic way. Around the airport I saw roads, airport signage and billboards looking high in detail further enhancing the product. As mentioned earlier, you can select the seasonal textures to suit your current flying conditions.
What I found disappointing is the fact that each of the five seasons (one being ‘Hard Winter’) is supposed to provide a unique texture set for the season. Yet, as you can see below, the difference isn’t noticeable at all. Winter and summer look vastly different (as you would expect), but the difference between spring, summer and autumn is quite non-existent. Even hard winter is the same as normal winter. I would also say that the winter textures look blurry and the snow textures look blocky and unappealing. With that being said, it still blends in nicely with Orbx products that I’m currently using.
Whilst the texturing was very well done, I was even more impressed with the airport modelling. For an airport yet to be built, ImagineSim has done a great job conjuring up what the new airport will look like. They’ve clearly done a lot of research to find the materials to ensure that every bridge, pier and building looks realistic and close to the concept within the flight simulator. Yet with no real world buildings to visit, the team has also decided to include interior modelling which looks fantastic. Seats, decoration and airline advertising can all be found in their future homes. It’s a nice touch. Whether this has much impact on performance I can’t tell you as there’s no option to switch it off. I imagine that the team felt it had very little effect so kept it in there as a default option.
Something that does frustrate me is installing SODE jetways myself. By default, the airport contains static jetways. It can be configured with SODE, but to do so is a manual process. To figure it out, I first had to read the documentation file, then open up another readme file in another folder. I then had to move and delete files in order for it to work. With the Ops Center being so simple to use, I don’t understand why ImagineSim has us jumping through hoops to install SODE jetways.
Just as a side note, ImagineSim has also elected to install the product outside of the sim directory – which is good – but has placed it in ‘Program Files’ instead of the P3DV4 Add-On Files directory – which is frustrating at best.
As this update has been designed specifically for P3DV4, the scenery comes with dynamic lighting. For most, I imagine this will yield a low frame rate, but again, the flexibility of the Ops Center means you can switch them off specifically for the airport, but retain them for the aircraft – something I really appreciate.
As previously mentioned, this is a free update for existing users. As a result, the value is simply 10/10. Improved performance, better textures and new features all for free? You simply can’t go wrong. As for new customers, ImagineSim have packed an awful lot of content and technology in KLGA LaGuardia for P3DV4 meaning it’s now the best time to pick up this great scenery collection. It’s not without some flaws, but with a focus on performance and flexibility, most users will get a smooth experience with the airport.