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Simulator Config Settings

It certainly is a strength that FS2004 allows us to configure our display settings with almost infinite variations. This can certainly help each individual user get the most from their flight simulation software. Providing they have the time to devote to getting it set just the way they desire, for their unique use of the software.

We all have different ways of using the sim. We each prefer our own geographies, aircraft, weather, and even traffic settings. All of which can have various impact on the performance of the simulation.

I decided to write this article not to show how everyone should have their display settings configured, but to share my settings and how they relate to my use of the simulation software. In hopes that they might help someone else get more from their software, or to perhaps give them a baseline from which they can start their own experimenting.

The following is a simple screenshot from my game, to try and give a view of the type of visual quality I am currently achieving. Although it would take many screenshots to fully convey my sim experience, I think this will at least give you an idea as to the color, detail, and quality of my aircraft and scenery settings. My system and configuration is by no means set up for the ultimate experience, instead it matches what I need from the software most. Which I will try to explain.

A simple shot using the settings discussed.

Lets start by sharing my hardware specfications, which are not bragging material, but not the bottom of the bucket either. This will help create a starting point for the discussion on what I expect from my sim experience.

1. Intel Pentium 4 2.6ghz - 800mhz bus.
2. 1 Gigabyte DDR 333mhz Ram
3. Nvidia FX 5900 Ultra 256MB Video Card
4. Intel Motherboard sound set. No Audio card.

The next step is for me to explain how I use my sim software and what is important to me as a flight simulation enthusiast.

When it comes to the simulation experience I prefer:

1. Good Terrain detail over Lots of Autogen
2. No traffic unless I am on Multiplayer
3. Light-weight aircraft (in terms of frames hit)
4. Beautiful weather, but willing to slightly scale it down for performance.
5. Extra framerates over dense default scenery.
6. Rural and terrain rich flying environments over urban cities with lots of default scenery.
7. Lower but steady framerates over high framerates that get spiked occasionally.

With those preferences in mind, lets get to some of the settings I have used in the Options->Settings->Display menus to successfuly achieve my desired results.

Options->Settings->Display->Scenery Tab

You can see that I have favored the settings that increase the terrain and terrain texturing, while slightly limiting the settings that would produce more default scenery and autogen scenery. I have also turned off ground shadows, as I find that I do not miss them, and its a great way to get some frame-rates back from the software. I have also set my water effects so that I get the dark blue water with the ripples and shoreline waves, but I do not have the milky colored bubble-gum water that casts reflections from the sun. I am offering the screenshots so that you can simply look at the settings for yourself, and decide if you see anything worth trying. Perhaps you'll see a setting that you never touched before and give it a test-run.

Next I'll move on to the Options->Settings->Display aircraft tab menu. This is a fairly simple menu, and there is not a lot to change. You'll see that I am not willing to scimp on any of these settings. There was a time when I did not use the Virtual Cockpits as often as I do now, and so could have spared the virtual cockpit gauge quality some...but these days I find the Virtual Cockpit becoming more and more important to my experience.

Options->Settings->Display->Aircraft Tab

Virtual Cockpit Quality is Improving!

Now moving on to my Options->Settings->Display weather tab menu. I found this menu to be very important for performance selection. As even a small change here could produce a large effect on my simulator's performance capabilities. The graphics card I have now (as mentioned above) played a major role in improving just how much weather quality I could expect from the simulator while continuing to preserve my minimum level of acceptable performance. It is also very likely that different video cards produced by different manufacturer's will have different results when it comes to increasing weather quality in the simulator.

Options->Settings->Display->Weather Tab

Now on to what many consider the most important display setting menu. The Options->Settings->Display Hardware tab menu. You can see that I have locked my frame rates at 25. I do this because by locking the frame rates down a little lower than my hardware can handle, not only are they a little more consistent (no spikes) but it frees the simulation software up greatly to pour its resources into other tasks such as making sure terrain has been properly textured by the time I look at it! This is an often over-looked behavior by new flight-simmers. It is very important to remember that as flight simulator has gotten more inteligent about performance, that the target frame rate number has come to be quite important. I would say here that it is just as important not to set it too high, as it is not to set it too low. For helicopters the concensus has generally been that you will need above 15 frames-per-second consistently in order to fully enjoy the experience. You can be the final judge!

The other important points on this menu are that I am using Bilinear Filtering, My screen resolution is set to 1024x768 (I use sim in windows mode which actually ends up being 1280x1024 no matter what). And last but not least I have set my MIP MAPPING value to 4 because I prefer a smoother and perhaps blurrier look to my scenery than the jagged edges you will get as you increase that number. Test for yourself to get what works for you!

Options->Settings->Display->Hardware Tab

Finally, there are 2 other menus that you need to take a peek at, as they can affect your overall performance and experience. They are the Settings menus for Traffic and Weather. I have a feeling that I might be in a minority of users who prefer not to use built-in AI traffic while flying offline. As mentioned, these are all settings that should work towards achieving your desired experience. Just keep in mind that by adding quality in one area...you may need to take some away in another area if you wish to maintain your desired performance results.

Here is the Settings->Traffic menu. Notice I have mine set to 0% percent. I also have the labels configured because the they are still used when connected to multiplayer flight. The less information you have changing on your screen every few seconds, the more your hardware can concentrate on other performance areas.

Options->Settings->Traffic Menu

And finally the Settings->Weather menu. Now honestly, I haven't touched this menu in a long time, but I know that I am happy with my current flight simulation performance and quality. So if it helps you in any way, I guess it will have been worth including it here!

Options->Settings->Weather Menu

When I first installed FS2004, I was no stranger to any of the previous versions. I could "tweak" my settings with the best of em! But I have to share with you just how surprised I was by how long it took me to get FS2004 set up in such a way where I was happy to fly. It took at least 2 weeks for me to finally sit back and say "That's It..I got it!". Which is funny, because I just changed a setting slightly..yesterday! Really it is something that you can get just about right at first, but as your tastes change and your flight types evolve you no doubt be back under the hood trying to bring it back to perfect!

Good Luck, I hope I have helped a few people with this article. It is not meant to be a cure-all, but an example of what is working well for one happy flight simmer!