On August 16th 2017, Rising Dawn Studios entered the stage of X-Plane scenery development and KHAF Half Moon Bay Airport was their debut product. In this review I will take a closer look at all the features and gimmicks of this product, in particular of version 1.2 of the scenery. Before we dive right into the review though, let me take you back in time a little. In 1997 Looking Glass Studios released Flight Unlimited II. Flight Unlimited II was truly revolutionary for its time and many of you may still remember it. Half Moon Bay was the game’s default starting location (just like Meigs Field for MSFS, or Seattle for X-Plane). As I found out, developer Peter Suranyi of RD Studios was a huge fan of Flight Unlimited II and his Half Moon Bay Airport is his personal tribute to Looking Glass Studios’ work! If you want to learn why, keep on reading! 😉
Half Moon Bay Airport (also known by the name Eddie Andreini Sr. Airfield) is a public airfield in San Mateo County, CA. The airfield is on the Pacific Coast, 6 miles (9 km) northwest of Half Moon Bay and about 20 miles (32 km) south of San Francisco. It was built by the California State Highway Department for the U.S. Army in 1942 as an auxiliary airfield for Salinas Army Air Base. Half Moon Bay Airport has a single runway with a length of 5,000 ft. (1.524 m; source: Wikipedia).
Lets pretend we are visiting Half Moon Bay Airport by car. The entrance to the airfield is located directly on Cabrillo Highway, which connects San Francisco in the North with Half Moon Bay in the South. The first thing you’ll notice, there is a nice little veg stall directly opposite to the doorway of the airfield. The stand is nicely modeled and is one of many little objects that create a rural feel. Once you enter the airfield’s premises you are on a parking lot. A lot of developers seem not to care about the details you would expect on such a parking lot. Often they use generic objects and low poly models, which doesn’t really matter when flying an aircraft. However Half Moon Bays’ parking lots are simply beautiful. All the textures are crisp and clear and there are a lot of tiny details to see (e.g. traffic cones, shadowing effects, baked in ambient-occlusion effects etc.). Also all the cars are models you would expect to see on a rural airfield in the US. Spot on!
The parking lot is also an area where you can find some of the many hidden Easter Eggs, all referencing to Flight Unlimited II. For example, the number plates on the cars (only visible on high texture resolution), are all page numbers and airport codes from Flight Unlimited II. This is just to give you an idea of how much love and detail went into the development of this scenery. I won’t spoil any more Easter Eggs. If you want to find them, you gotta search for yourself! 😉
OK, enough with the parking lot! Half Moon Bay features a single terminal building. It is well made, all the textures are sharp and the detail is just outstanding. The interior of the terminal building is all 3D and not just a single 2D texture. RD Studios also added a lot of new and innovative animation features. For example, the shutters on the terminal building are open during the day but closed in the night and the neon sign will change its animation depending on the time of day.
Another noticeable feature is the grass. Look at all the screenshots and ask yourself, have you ever seen such realistic grass in such a high density in any sim available on the market? I for myself have not. To me, this is the most beautiful depiction of grass I have ever seen!
You also might have noticed already that RD Studios didn’t use stock trees. Instead, Half Moon Bay features custom three-dimensional, animated trees, which sway according to the current wind speed at the ground. You gotta see this yourself. See this video here on YouTube. And it doesn’t stop there. Trees are not the only objects that utilize custom animations. All the power lines have custom animations as well. At this time I want to remind you that this is a debut work and not the output of an experienced member of the development community. I wonder what more we can expect for the future when the bar is already set at such a high level!
The next feature this product offers is a fully customizable hangar. RD Studios not only assigned several starting points inside that hangar that put your aircraft in the perfect starting position for your flight, as user you have also full control over the look of the hangar. There are several paint and cleanness options available and the possibility to choose between modern neon tubes and classic light bulbs. However the feature I liked most is the possibility to add your own image to the hangar. As you can see on the screenshot above I added a FlightDeckX poster to the hangar. If you are accustomed to image manipulation programs (e.g. GIMP etc.), this is fairly easy to do. Simply copy your image into the provided template, put the file into the right folder and “Boom”, your personal image is inside the sim! Isn’t that awesome? There are a lot more customization options available when you own this airfield. Make sure to read the manual that comes with the product or you might miss out on some of these awesome features!
Lets check the other areas of the airfield! See that lone Cessna standing at the north of the airfield? This Cessna has the same livery and starting location you had in Flight Unlimited II and its registration number is N975LG. 97 refers to 1997 and 5LG was the callsign of the aircraft in the game. OK, I promised I won’t spoil any more Easter Eggs but I couldn’t resist, it’s just utterly awesome! I just love this attention to detail!
So far I only showed you all of the major buildings and features inside the airfield’s premises. Lets take a look at the surroundings! South of the airfield is Pillar Point Harbor. On the screenshot below it’s on the right. On the far left side you can see parts of Point Pillar Air Force Station (a remote telemetry site of Vandenberg Air Force Base). Between both of them lies the industrial/commercial area of Princeton. The building behind Pillar Point Harbor with the blue rooftop is Pacifico Hotel. Check out all the detail below!
By the way, see those sailboats? The sailboats all bear the name Neurath 0451. Paul Neurath is the founder of Looking Glass Studios, and (as I found out) 0451 was kind of a ‘sacred’ number for the studio and can be found in many of their games. OK, by now you probably noticed that I can’t keep any secrets. Forget what I said about not spoiling any more Easter Eggs. Be honest with yourself though, would you have even recognized any of them so far? Well I certainly wouldn’t have. However, I find it remarkable that the developer apparently put so much love and detail in every tiny bit of this product.
Time to check the night lighting. Well, what shall I say? I like it. This review is already too long as it is so I am gonna take a shortcut now and will jump right to my verdict. Let me just express one more thought. Peter Suranyi of RD Studios could have just used simple 3D lights as a lot of devs would have done. After all, it’s his debut and it’s already a very good and feature-rich product. However, he didn’t. Instead he chose to spend a lot of time with the night lighting. When you read the manual (which you definitely should) you can see that Peter tried to create a more realistic level of light. Therefore you won’t find a lot of those strong 3D night light effects X-Plane is known for. Instead there are only subtle light sources throughout the whole scenery. I love this since it’s so much more realistic, especially at a smaller rural airfield. Anyway, see for yourself!
So what are my final thoughts? Isn’t that apparent? Peter Suranyi of RD Studios raised the bar when it comes to GA airfields and I hope other developers will follow his lead! There is so much to discover at this small airfield, you won’t be disappointed. I highly recommend you get this masterpiece! RD Studios Half Moon Bay Airport is available for $19.90 at your vendor of choice.
Version 1.4 addendum:
RD Studios’ Peter Suranyi is a developer taking good care of his products. Although his masterpiece KHAF Half Moon Bay already surpassed most available GA airfields on the market in terms of quality at time of release, he still doesn’t stop adding more and more features. Currently we are at version 1.4. This latest update, which was made available for free to all existing customers, adds the one thing that was missing before, and that is 3D people. See Peter’s announcement:
“I have included little surprise for everyone in update 1.4: people! So far, Half Moon Bay had none, and that is about to change! From now on, you have people around the airfield, so looking out of the aircraft window, you’ll get to see more than just buildings and vegetation! Back in August when I’ve released v1.0, this was unfeasible, but notion of including people (in some way or another) was always on my list.
So, people: You’ll find most of our ‘little heroes’ around the Cafe area, but some of them are scattered around the airport, too (where you can realistically expect people to appear, of course). Although the models are not the most highly detailed in the world, they don’t look bad either, and looking outside your aircraft window you’ll be hard spotted to see their non-perfect quality. And they even disappear when the night falls, just to reappear the next morning when the Cafe opens! Overall, they greatly enhance the atmosphere, and I think you’ll appreciate that! So, enjoy!”
See for yourself how the scenery benefits from this welcome addition:
As you can see, these guys are pretty faceless! The 3D folks definitely add to the liveliness of the scenery, but they are not unnecessarily over-detailed. In other words, these guys are frame rate friendly and I didn’t experience any performance loss whatsoever after installing the version 1.4 update. That said, in normal operations I didn’t really notice this lack of facial detail at all. After all, X-Plane is a sim and when I am on the ground I gotta take care of checklists or I’m taxiing around or do stuff. I am sure you’ll get my point.
Another cool feature is that the 3D folks are only visible during daylight. When the sun goes down, all these guys and gals magically disappear. Rest assured though, they will come back where you’d expect them to be once the sun rises again the next morning. See for yourself, though (also note the dynamic window blinds and the Open/Closed sign):
Peter obviously tries to raise the bar he set even more. In any case, update 1.4 cements his position as #1 developer. This latest update truly lifts KHAF Half Moon Bay into the ranks of the best X-Plane scenery ever made. However, it remains to be seen if his next project KRAL Riverside Municipial will raise the bar even more. Let’s just hope so!