ActiveSky for MSFS

Well blow me down…a few days ago HiFi Simulation Technologies have announced, and somewhat out of the blue I must add, that ActiveSky FS is coming for Microsoft Flight Simulator.  Actually by the time I got around to writing this it is already out.  ActiveSky FS is officially available for MSFS as of 18 April and many of the Twitch and YouTube content creators have already begun showcasing the new weather engine.  Before I provide my opinion, let me say the following.

In the olden days…

Back in my FSX and P3D days, ActiveSky was an absolute must have in the sim.  It was truly a game changing 3rd party product.  When MSFS first came out and because Asobo/Microsoft didn’t open up the API for 3rd party weather systems, HiFi Simulations made the announcement that at that time there would be no way for them to bring live weather into the sim.  I discussed this in greater detail in this blog post titled “Confused in Cleveland – Weather Addon for MSFS“.  According to what I’ve heard, Microsoft has made no changes to the sim as we know it to allow any 3rd party weather systems to function.  So essentially ActiveSky FS must have found a way for it to finally work.  But it appears all ActiveSky FS is doing is reading the METAR and using default MSFS clouds and other weather elements to depict what is going on around you.

After the initial release of Microsoft Flight Simulator almost four years ago, the built-in weather engine wasn’t very solid.  But over the years and especially the last 2+ years that I’ve been using MSFS exclusively, there have been vast improvements made to the weather engine and I personally have been very pleased with what I experience in the sim.  I’ve actually been so pleased with it that I really haven’t felt a need to think about any sort of 3rd party weather add-on.  Which is why the announcement from HiFi Simulation Technologies comes as such a surprise to myself and many others.

My Impressions

First, let me state up front that I do not own ActiveSky FS for MSFS.  Some could argue and question why I would even write a blog post about something that I don’t have any first hand experience with.  While this could be a good argument, I’m stubborn and this is my blog site and I can write about what I want to write about and you can read what you want to read.  LOL  I have plenty of loyal readers of this blog site that look to me for honest reviews and opinions and while I haven’t purchased and used ActiveSky FS, the information I do have is certainly worthy to share.

Like I said, I have viewed several hours of content from both YouTube and Twitch in the past 24 hours and have come to the conclusion that in the grand scheme of things, at this immediate point in time  there is no discernable difference between what I saw with my own eyes when showing MSFS with built in weather active versus with using ActiveSky FS.  If anything….one of the content creators who I watch often, discovered a couple of bugs in ActiveSky FS which are worthy enough to take  a more wait and see approach to this add-on.

I do believe in time, ActiveSky FS would be something I would purchase if and when 3rd party developers such as PMDG, Fenix etc. are able to connect into the ActiveSky FS API for possible weather radar depiction functions which obviously still are missing in MSFS.  However, I just can’t see a reason to spend my money on something that at this time doesn’t offer anything better than the default MSFS weather.  Of course, one other big advantage of ActiveSky FS at this time is the historical weather options which have been sadly missed in the default system.  But this isn’t something I use very often and honestly haven’t missed it that much over these past few years.

The other slightly disappointing fact in my observations with regards to the new ActiveSky FS is their UI or User Interface.  It’s basically the same UI from years ago.  Of course one could say if that works, why change it?  If felt clunky way back in the days of FSX/P3D and still looks the same way today.  Perhaps this is something they’ll change in time.  But who knows.

Like I said, I’ll keep an eye on ActiveSky FS and hopefully in time the product will offer a lot more than what is available in the default MSFS weather systems.  While ActiveSky FS is reasonably priced at $24.99, it’s just not something I’m ready to commit to at this time.  But I would encourage anyone reading this to do their own research.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

New REX Environment Force

As most will already know, the new REX Environment Force add-on was released a few weeks ago.  Over the course of this article I’m going to share some opinions, show some evidence and basically discuss how I moved from the Envtex/Envshade products to REX and what my overall impressions are.  Spoiler:  I’m happy as a pig in mud!

If anyone tries to tell you the industry built around and supporting the flight simulation hobby is dead, dying or even stagnant…..they are wrong.  In addition, if anyone tries to tell you the industry supporting Prepar3D is dead, dying or stagnant….They too are WRONG!  The level of creativity coming from our 3rd party developers is very much alive and kicking.  The proof is certainly in the pudding and boy does this pudding taste good. 

I’m Getting Old

I can’t remember much about the selection of add-ons available for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 (FS9) nor my direct involvement with them.   When FS9 was the sim of choice, I was super busy traveling and had many irons in the fire.  But I do know (at least for me) with Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) and certainly through each of the iterations of Prepar3D I’ve owned (P3D 2.x, 3.x and 4.x) I’ve literally poured hundreds of dollars down the ole proverbial rat hole in an attempt to achieve maximum eye-candy.  It’s truly a constant struggle and balancing act as I explained in a recent writing titled “Flight Simulation – The Struggle for Balance”. 

Choices & Decisions

In the area of visual add-ons to help stimulate your visual senses, there’s a lot of choice out there.  This is certainly the case for Prepar3d version 4.4/4.5, slightly less for earlier versions of P3D and FSX.  But still a lot of choice in this category of visual enhancing add-ons. 

There was a time (not too long ago) where I pretty much believed they all did just about the same thing.  Of course, each camp will have their fanboys and each will have their haters.  Remember, “haters gonna hate”, right?

I’ve honestly tried them all…well, most of them.  For the record, as I pointed out in a recent article titled, “Shaders – What’s the big deal?”, I haven’t tried Tomatoshade.  While there are plenty of Tomatoshade fanboys singing its praises…there are many others who are sitting in the corner crying because something catastrophic happened to the their sim.  I discuss some of these pitfalls here.  Yes, yes…ABSOLUTELY YES…I agree that most who are sitting in the corner crying either didn’t read the “destructions” or have/had some other issue going on which became a bigger issue when they attempted to implement a product they didn’t understand in the first place.  Bottom line for me, I just don’t like Tomatoes  LOL  and I guess I’ve never taken the time to fully understand and embrace its use and full potential.  Anyway….I digress.

Should I Stay or Should I Go…

You know how I like to intermix popular 80’s music lyrics into my writings…I had my own decisions to make and I spent about a week reading the accounts from others and literally drooling over the images I was seeing as a result of this new REX Environment Force add-on.  However, I kept flying with my previous setup using Envtex/Envshade along with ASCA/ASP4 and closely comparing what I saw on my own screens versus what others were showing in their screenshots.  The results/comparisons were almost night and day differences.  I couldn’t resist and I shelled out my hard-earned money and purchased both the new REX Environment Force and also REX Sky Force 3D.  These were on sale in a bundled deal direct from the REX store

Out With The Old…

and in with the new.  While REX Environment Force states it supports and will work along side all add-ons, there’s always a risk.  I also truly wanted to see exactly what my sim would look like with only the REX products installed and without Envtex/Envshade etc.  So the task I set out to accomplish was to remove Envtex/Envshade from my sim without blowing a hole in P3D as a result.  I said a quick little prayer and got to work. 

Step 1.  Removing Envtex/Envshade

I had done my research and had read accounts from others who had done the same thing I wanted to accomplish.  The first step was to restore the original P3D textures.  This is easily done from the Envdir program by clicking the Restore button.  This process re-installs your old textures from the backup made when you first installed/configured the Envdir/Envtex/Envshade programs. 

Step 2.  Delete P3D Shader Folder and start P3D

After restoring the P3D textures in the above step, I located my P3D shader folder (located under Users\YourUserName\AppData\Local\Lockheed Martin\Prepar3D.  Just delete the entire folder.  Launch P3D and in the process P3D will add a new shader folder and will reset shaders. 

Step 3.  Install REX Products

I installed and activated both my new REX Sky Force 3D and Environment Force products.  While REX Sky Force has a built in weather engine, I wanted to continue to use Active Sky.  So once Sky Force was installed, I simply deactivated the real-time weather function in Sky Force. 

Step 4.  Reinstall ASCA

If you’re using ASCA (Active Sky Cloud Art) with Envdir, you’ll want to reinstall it as it will error when it can’t locate certain files related to Envdir. 

Step 5.  Read, Read and Read

Both the REX products have comprehensive documentation found in the .pdf files which accompany both products.  If you’re anything like me, you want to get going as soon as possible.  But I would encourage you just the same to do some reading about these products, their settings and how to use them.  But hey…I get it. 

Step 6.  Launch REX products before P3D

I know there are various schools of thought on this.  But it’s just a habit I’ve been doing for many years.  I first launch REX Sky Force, then REX Environment Force, then ActiveSky (ASP4)/ASCA and then finally P3D v4. 

Step 7.  Fly and enjoy….

Obviously some configuration is required with the REX products.  But the real beauty of REX Environment Force (EF) is these tweaks and changes can be made while P3D is running.  So you can choose if you want to run EF in auto mode or in manual mode and tweak to your heart is content.  I’ll be honest, I’ve done a bit of both and will play around more in the manual mode.  But here’s a series of screenshots I captured on a recent flight from Miami down to St. Maarten. 

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Taxing out to the active runway (08R) while watching a company 738 land on runway 12. 

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Blasting out of Miami.  The weather is perfect for testing the new REX products. 

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Beautiful clouds and water textures.

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The PMDG Boeing 737-800 decked out in the American Airlines livery.  This is my favorite add-on aircraft.

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Getting ready to punch through the clouds.

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One of my favorites.

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Just another minute before we fly over Maho Beach and land safely at Princess Juliana International Airport.  I love this approach and landing. 

Well there you have it.  I’m truly pleased with the experience I’m getting from the new REX Environment Force and REX Sky Force products.  I’ve used REX products in the past.  Specifically REX Soft Clouds and the older REX Texture Direct.  While I moved away from these older products for something better, I believe the best at this time is these new REX products and I’m happy to be a REX Customer once again. 

Until next time…

Happy Simming!

Jerry

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