Threshold Review: Imaginesim Austin for X-Plane
June 22, 2019
Imaginesim have long dominated the ESP-platform scene with their high-fidelity recreations of airports such as Atlanta, Singapore and Shanghai, only recently turning their sights towards the new competitor in the flight-sim market; X-Plane.
Fittingly, the announcement of Imaginesim’s first XP scenery came just a few days after the start of the new year. The result - a conversion of their existing Austin (KAUS) scenery for Prepar3D.
For full news coverage, check out our article on it here.
The installation method strays a little from the usual we’ve come to expect from add-on developers (that is, the drag-and-drop method), though the replacement solution is still pretty simple and intuitive.
The file I was given by the Imaginesim team consisted of an executable file and an instructions PDF.
The .exe-based installation was just as easy as other scenery installations, though something to note is that it requires an internet connection for a license check.
Once I got the scenery installed, I was presented with a Configurator panel. This has a few different options relating to extra objects not necessarily required to use with the scenery, however, they’re nice touches if your PC can handle it.
The configurator tool also allows a selection of different seasons - a very unique feature in an X-Plane-based scenery. Initially, I opted to use the “Summer” preset.
Documentation is very thorough - and bundled with the incredibly helpful and virtually seamless integration with the Imaginesim Operations Center makes for a very simple installation process.
As always, once I had the scenery downloaded, the first order of business was to head outside with the free camera and have a look around.
Low angle shots around my aircraft look very nice - apron markings I found are solidly worn away to give a realistic effect. The grease effects on the apron also nicely mix with the PBR texturing Imaginesim have opted to include in their first X-Plane product.
It’s only once I lift up higher do I begin to spot some a few things I dislike in the scenery - first of all, the ground texturing is very blurred going between grass and concrete, often freeing itself from the constraints of the yellow border lines marking the edge of the taxiway.
Another thing I noticed initially was the lack of high-quality orthophotos to serve as a base layer for the scenery. I can’t comment on the availability of orthoimagery in Texas, and therefore it may well be that satellite imagery around Austin is very poor, however, I feel there could have been steps taken to rectify this, such as the use of decals on the orthophotos.
The buildings at Austin are, on the whole, pretty decent. The main terminal is modelled pretty well from immediately in front and behind, however, when you start looking a bit closer is when issues start to arise. Looking under the lifted roadway attached to the terminal, you can see that little to no attention has been given to this and other areas surrounding it.
There are no road markings, ambient vehicles or any object of any sort for that matter in this area, and it looks as though the developer has simply “plopped” the converted terminal on to the ground texture underneath.
Another complaint I have with the terminal is the way they’ve represented the atrium areas flanking either side of the main entrance. Granted, it’s not something you’ll actively be on the lookout for, I would still have appreciated some effort go into making this area look remotely like the real world counterpart, which has a small carpark and garden.
Lastly, for the main terminal, I noticed the developer has done something peculiar regarding the extension to one of the concourses. Google Maps shows an under-construction extension to one of ‘wings’ of the terminal, whereas the scenery shows it as complete. This is completely fine, however, my issue is with another quite large piece of the extension that’s missing.
Here’s a comparison shot, showing a roughly circular section of the building, present in the Google Maps shot of the in-progress extension, yet not in the scenery where the extension is supposedly completed.
Moving onwards to the infield section and your eyes are immediately drawn to the control tower. Even though it is a decidedly bland building in real life, I like how it’s represented in-sim.
Other buildings around the infield are few and far between, as it is in real life (dare I say; welcome to Texas!). I noticed a few repeated buildings around here, though it’s not really a problem in the grand scheme of things.
Moving to the outer airfield buildings, we can see they’re represented in good detail. Most signs I found were easily readable, nice touches to the general “clutter” around the place.
The Hilton Hotel is included in all it’s spaceship-like glory - though I noted here that the carparks looked very low resolution, with just a few car props plopped on top of the admittedly very low-quality ground texture.
Ground texturing at Austin is very disappointing compared to its ESP-platform cousin. The orthoimagery is not at the quality I would expect of a payware scenery, nor is the concrete texturing on the ground itself.
As for dirt textures, I feel this is represented very well, with a realistic parked aircraft dust-and-grime effect that integrates well with default static aircraft.
Moving on, I find myself looking at the taxiway textures, which is probably what I’m most disappointed about in this scenery. The tiled texture applied here appears to be painted on, with it slowly fading as you approach the edge of the tarmac. Obviously, this isn’t something real tiles are capable of doing, which takes away from the immersion when taxiing.
Another detail I noticed was how all the ground textures were ‘leaking’ into the ground texture, past the point where the taxiway ends and onto the grass section. This is improved over version 1, which seemingly had worse texture-leak issues, however, I feel this can be vastly improved to be more true to the real airport’s crisp, clean edges.
The whole taxiway debacle is made worse by the fact that the real-world Austin does not have edge-markings on its ground surfaces, instead opting for simple concrete curbs denoting taxiway from not.
Both runways at AUS look very nice, with the tile texture mentioned earlier giving a nice sheen to the concrete in various lighting conditions. Grease and wear are once again represented very well, with a few loose rubber marks left dotted over the runway and realistic wear following the turnoff lines.
Once again though, I’m faced with the issue of texture leaking, this time with the runway markings looking relatively sharp, though the underlying ground texture - which seems to leak through the runway itself - leaving bright blobs of what can only be described as misaligned runway markings below the real, likely decal-based texture.
Towards the private aircraft side of the airport, we can once again see a small issue with textures merging into each other, as opposed to the sharp edges present in the real-world airport. Here’s a comparison between Imaginesim and the real-world versions of the airport:
Lastly for this area, the taxi lines also appear to not match up with the texture, leaving the taxiway edge awkwardly removed from the tarmac it’s supposed to be attached to.
The last topic I’ll talk about on the topic of ground textures is the orthoimagery around the airport. This, around the outskirts of the airport and in the air, looks very nice. The issues arise once you get a little closer to the ground, as they simply don’t stand up to the quality we’ve come to expect from developers nowadays. Again, as I mentioned at the top of this piece, I cannot comment on the availability of orthos around the Austin area -- so this may well be the best available.
The issue with low-resolution imagery is that when up close, the details fade completely and you’re left with a blurry mess. The main example of this in the scenery is the infield section, where most detail, such as pathways that aren’t covered by taxiway texture, is lost.
In conclusion, taxiway textures at Imaginesim Austin are severely lacking. They’re blurry, don’t stay between the lines and some markings are not representative of the real product.
The last subject I’ll cover in this section on the scenery itself - detailing. Once again, I feel Imaginesim have let their standards down in this regard, with not near the level of attention to detail you’d expect in one of their ESP sceneries.
Ground details around the gates are nice, with static vehicles dotted around the apron with appropriate density and correct branding for the location. Other static civilian vehicles are also done nicely, notably including numerous different car types and colours to distinguish from one another. Car parks are filled based on how close they are to the entrance to the terminal, a nice touch. However, a little issue I have with the car parks is that the 3D assets overlap with cars found in the orthoimagery, leading to a less-than-immersive feel around them.
Trees and vegetation surrounding the airport is done to a good detail too - nearby orchards and forested areas all have their own tree assets from what I can discern which gives a very realistic feeling when approaching or departing from the airport.
Moving on detailing around the buildings and ground textures, we begin to see a few more small errors or lapses in detail.
This area, near the entrance to the main terminal, is particularly bad. Again the “fading out” tile texture is seen again, obviously, something real tiles are not capable of doing. Lines seem to end at will in this corner, with one side of the road marking continuing for some time after the line on the other side ends.
Shifting focus to the infield once again and we see a few objects with LOD issues. This is where we can see part of the object, however another part, in this case the support, is invisible from distance due to heavy-handed optimisation. This should be an easy fix though, and I trust the developer will do so in due course.
3D grass placement also perplexes me somewhat. The developer has opted to include some 3D grass textures, however, these are only located in the direct vicinity of the taxiways and runways, leaving a distinct line of grass awkwardly stranded away from the airport fence.
Version 2 of Imaginesim's Austin features full Scenery Animation Manager compatibility, allowing for much more realistic docking to aircraft. This is a very welcome touch, even if the jetways are somewhat pixellated.
In conclusion, Imaginesim’s first release for X-Plane is a decent rendition of Austin-Bergstrom Airport, but, it is let down by its lack of fine detailing and very blurry ground texturing.
My biggest qualm with the scenery is the representation of the taxiways. It is simply not up to the standard expected in X-Plane sceneries released in 2019. The concrete texture leaks past the boundary lines, fades tiles in-and-out and gives a blurry, vaseline-type look - in contrast to the crisp, clean edges present at the real-world airport.
Would I recommend purchasing this scenery? At this stage, I would not. For the price tag, it feels too rushed and lacking in detail. I hate to be so negative, especially on a developer’s first X-Plane product, however, from an objective standpoint, it is not up to scratch for the price.
I absolutely believe that Imaginesim are able to address the issues I’ve pointed out here, and sometime in the future, I may revisit this review and everything may well have changed.
Finally, thanks to Imaginesim for providing Threshold this copy to review.
Threshold encourages informed discussion and debate - though this can only happen if all commenters remain civil when voicing their opinions.