Aerosoft News by Angelique Van Campen | 31/01/2013
X-plane Add-on for night and day winter tiles
Have you ever found snowy landscapes in X-Plane 9 or 10?
No matter what season you pick, the XP landscape stays green and although you’ve selected snow conditions, no white landscape appears. Time for a change! The easiest and best resolution would be if Laminar Research would offer different seasons, like Microsoft Flight Simulator X does. That seems not to be a difficult task, but for some reason it won’t happen. Even when the XP community would like to see it.
That said, I welcome you to the world of SimuTools or actually I should promote and review “SimTiles”.SimTiles is a program that allows you to create Night and Seasonal (winter) ground texture tiles from X-Plane photo real (ortho) sceneries only.
Let’s have a closer look what SimTiles does and how to use the program and of course, see the amazing result.
How does SimTiles work?
SimTiles processes all the day terrain tiles of a photo real scenery and using a set of algorithms and rules creates night textures and seasonal (winter) textures. It then modifies the X-plane terrain and polygon files in order to use the newly created textures. It does a lot more under the hood, but this is roughly how it works.
Sets of rules and colors are fully editable and scriptable and the software can be used to create seasonal (winter) as well as night textures.
It supports all X-Plane photo real sceneries for X-Plane 8.64+, 9, 10. It is natively a Windows program, but can run on Linux and Mac using Windows emulators like Parallels or, when it’s a Mac, via Apple’s Bootcamp.
You’re required to run the software from within the Windows session, but don’t forget to install “Imagemagick” for Windows before you do anything else . While there have been confirmed reports of SimTiles successfully running on Linux and Mac using emulation, SimuTools can’t support Linux or Mac Operating Systems at this stage.
Which SimuTools “SimTiles” should I buy?
To make my review complete, I decided to go for the full version. But before I continue, let me first highlight what the differences are between the SimTiles full (payware) and lite (freeware) version. The payware package offers the following additional features not included in the Lite version:
-Colors and rules presets management
-Three presets driven by tile elevation (city, hill and mountain) for each rule.
-Multiple sceneries batch creation
-Output resolution choice (from 512 to 2048pixels)
-No Resume button pushing required every 50 files
But now you could ask yourself the question, “what are the limitations of the Lite version”? The Lite version allows unlimited files to be created with hardcoded presets for Night and Seasonal (Winter) tiles, and you’re required to press the resume button every 50 files. Even knowing what this Lite version can do and keeping the reasonable price of SimTiles in mind, I suggest that you go for the full version. For that little money you’re able to create your own winter, night look and other benefits.
Let’s see how it works in its basic form.
Downloading and Installation
As stated above, we first need to install Imagemagick for Windows. At the SimuTools website there’s a step – by – step procedure on how to install ImageMagick and SimTiles. Let’s take that as an example and where needed, I’ll add some additional information.
Install Imagemagick. (http://www.imagemagick.org/script/binary-releases.php?ImageMagick=mhkbc5d550lusk5kvch9cqt7q0#windows)
During the writing of this review, January 26th, 2013, this equals file ImageMagick-6.8.1-10-Q16-x86-dll.exe. Leave the suggested directory as it is; C:\Program Files (x86)\ImageMagick-6.8.1-Q16. There’s no need to change this directory!
Extract the downloaded SimTiles zip file into a folder. Once unpacked, you can either decide to leave the SimTiles folder anywhere on your hard disk, or you can decide to copy and paste the complete SimTiles directory in your X-Plane directory.
Make sure you have installed X-Plane 10.11 or higher, 9.70 or 8.64+ and for all versions, Global Scenery should somewhere accessible on your hard disk. This is only necessary for retrieving the elevation data.
From the SimTiles folder, execute SimTiles.exe
First, you need to make some basic settings.
Under the Preferences tab, make the following adjustments:
– Verify that “Use Elevation Data (default ON)” is ticked
– Verify that”Use the original input tiles when available … “ is ticked
– Browse to the XPLANE root folder and click the Select Folder button
– Browse to the “imagemagick root folder” and click the Select Folder button
– If you purchased the full version, enter the “e-mailed code” to unlock
– Click the Exit (save settings) button
This will save all changes and closes the program.
An Example … TruSceneries “Helsinki Ortho”
The best way to show you what SimTiles can do, is to take an Ortho scenery and compile textures to create night and winter tiles. Since I had already downloaded TruScenery Helsinki Ortho, I thought we could use this Ortho scenery as an example. Since I had a lot of problems understanding what to do, I’ll give you “a kind of tutorial” description.
Once you have copied and pasted Truscenery – Helsinki-Ortho and Truscenery – Finland OSM to your X-plane Custom Scenery folder and installed OpenSceneryX, you’re ready to start with SimTiles. Additional information about how to install OpenSceneryX and TruScenery products can be found at the TruScenery (http://truscenery.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/truscenery-presents-helsinki-orthoscenery/) and OpenSceneryX (http://www.opensceneryx.com) websites.
The TruScenery Helsinki-Ortho directory comes standard with the following folders:
– Earth nav data
When the SimTiles “Truscenery – Helsinki-Ortho” compilation process is finished, the TruScenery Helsinki-Ortho directory will contain three additional SimTiles created folders, textures_day, textures_LIT, tmp and a file named simtile.dat.
That said, where and how should we start?
Start SimTiles and at the Single Scenery tab, enter the correct scenery path with the help of the browser knob. Since the example deals with the Truscenery Ortho package, the path could look like “X:\Users\Angelique\Desktop\X-Plane xx\Custom Scenery\Truscenery – Helsinki-Ortho”. Of course, in your case replace the “X” drive for the one you’re using as well as your X-Plane folder name.
Next, if you have the full SimTiles package, go to the Preset In Use – Current tab. Tick Night as Output textures type and in the dropdown box below, select which Color Preset you would like. Let’s say you select night_ZL_17_1024. All other settings at this tab can be left alone, but before we let SimTiles do the work, let see how these night textures will look. Click the Preview Will take a few seconds button. After a couple of seconds, SimTiles will show you four pictures with the different night textures for hills, cities and mountains as well as the source daylight picture. This is a handy option since it shows you how the night texture will look like before compiling. When you’re happy with the night textures examples, move back to the Single Scenery tab and click the Start/Resume textures creation.
The night texture compiling process can be followed in the pop-up MS-DOS window but that will take a while since 442 textures need to be compiled. Once this is finished, it’s time to create the winter seasonal texture, so let go back to the SimTiles Preset In Use tab.
Day (seasonal) Textures
Tick Day (Seasonal) as Output textures type and in the dropdown box below, select which Color Preset you would like. Let’s say you select daySnowHeavy_ZL 16. All other settings at this tab can be left alone, but before we let SimTiles do the work, let see how these night textures will look. Click the Preview Will take a few seconds button. After a couple of seconds, SimTiles will show you four pictures with the different daylight winter textures for hills, cities and mountains as well as the source daylight picture. When you’re happy with the daylight winter textures examples, move back to the Single Scenery tab and click the Start/Resume textures creation.
As you might already have noticed, this follows more or less the same procedure as with the night textures. However there’s one big difference. The night textures are automatically activated. This means that when you start XP10 from Helsinki-Malmi airfield, the newly night textures are active. To show that looks, see the following screenshots.
Default Night Lighting XP10 Helsinki Area
SimTiles Night Lighting XP10 Helsinki Area
This is not applicable for the daylight (seasonal) or winter textures. Even when they are processed, they are not automatically activated. For this, you need to click the Enable Seasonal Tiles at the Single scenery tab. Now, when you start XP10, change the time of the day to 13:00 hours, the ground textures are all white. Hey, it’s Winter! I have one comment about that. The tiles are now showing you how a winter looks, but this is despite which month you chose in XP10. Enough on this topic, let’s have a look at the following screenshots.
Default Daylight (Seasonal) Winter XP10 Helsinki Area Tiles
SimTiles Daylight (Seasonal) Winter XP10 Helsinki Area Tiles
As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, the payware version of SimTiles comes with many possibilities to create your own day snow and night color tiles. This is well described in the online manual. This manual is accessible via the Simtiles menu Manual. You not only can create your own “Colors Presets”, but also your own “Rules Presets”.
SimTiles, an interesting X-Plane add-on!
When it comes to great night flights or winter textures, you don’t need to look any further. This is it! And yes, it would be much better if Laminar Research had added this feature as standard in X-Plane 10. But that’s not the case. When you’ve created your own night and day winter tiles, for the winter tiles it doesn’t matter which month you select in X-plane. The tiles simple replace the default XP tiles despite the month you choose.
I mentioned this before, to make your own SimTiles night and day winter tiles, you need to have an Ortho scenery, and the global scenery accessible. For this review I used the Ortho scenery from TruScenery, which covers an area in and around Helsinki. If you don’t like to fly in this area, then the SimTiles menu Downloads – Photoscenery Resources Page offers great freeware Ortho sceneries alternatives. And, not unimportant, SimTiles is an application that only works under Windows Vista, 7 and 8 (I only tested it with Windows 7). That said, you can not use SimTiles directly under Mac OS X or Linux X-Plane. But instead, you can it if you install SimTiles having Parallels running on your Mac OS X or any other Virtual Windows environment.
After reading this review and still haven’t an idea how it looks, then have a look at these YouTube movies. Keep in mind that some of the movies are already 1 year old and do not cover the latest version 1.2.52. Still, it gives you a good idea what SimTiles is and how to change settings. OK, here’s a collection of the YouTube movies:
– SimTiles Trailer Version 1.1 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=iG0jafD2akU)
– SimTiles Preview
– SimTiles Configuration (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=40XCp9tqTZ8)
– SimTiles Edit and Copy Rules Presets (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=Fc4rnv6Crjc)
As a reminder, the SimTiles Lite (freeware) version allows unlimited files to be created with hardcoded presets for Night and Seasonal (Winter) tiles and you’re required to press the resume button every 50 files.
SimTiles Full (payware) adds the following features to the Lite version:
– Preview result
– Color editing
– Rules editing
– Colors and rules presets management
– Three presets driven by tile elevation (city, hill and mountain) for each rule
– Multiple sceneries batch creation
– Output resolution choice (from 512 to 2048 pixels)
– No Resume button pushing required every 50 files
And what does the full version cost?
SimTiles cost you only $29.95 USD/22.00 Euros (currency conversion as of January 31, 2013). I mentioned this before, but the additional features are absolutely worth the costs. You can buy SimTiles at the SImuTools website (http://simultools.com) and at X-Plane.Org (http://store01.prostores.com/servlet/x-planestore/Detail?no=333).
I would like to thank SimuTools developer Luca Zappala for his time, help and effort explaining the many aspects of this X-Plane tool.
Angelique van Campen