Understanding Scenery Order in X-Plane

Scenery Order in X-Plane determines which scenery is visible and how the various sceneries you have installed are layered. It’s very important to get the order correct as having incorrectly ordered scenery can cause strange problems, such as trees on a runway, or a completely blocked scenery.
Before going into ordering scenery, it’s important to understand the different types of scenery available:

Scenery Types
Base/Mesh Scenery

A base/mesh scenery is a full scenery designed not to be placed on top of something else. The default global scenery, Alpilotx’s HD Mesh v4 and Ortho4XP photo sceneries are all mesh sceneries. If a mesh scenery is placed on top of another mesh scenery, it will completely block it out. This is a key point here, if you have, for example, HD Mesh v4 and Ortho4XP photo sceneries, whichever one is higher priority will block the other. They cannot be used together

Overlay Scenery

An overlay scenery is a scenery designed to be “overlayed” on top of another scenery or mesh. Overlay sceneries are always placed on top of base/mesh sceneries. Examples of overlay sceneries are World2XPlane sceneries, Simheaven sceneries containing landmarks or a scenery containing roads, etc.. Airport sceneries are also considered overlays, i.e. They are placed on top of other sceneries, however as we will see, it’s important that airport sceneries are placed above other overlay sceneries because of something called an exclusion.

Exclusions

An exclusion is a rectangular area which tells X-Plane to block a specific type of scenery below it. This is important, because without exclusions, one overlay scenery’s objects could conflict with another. The global scenery and HD Mesh, for example, include autogen, and if an overlay scenery provides its own houses (such as World2XPlane), then it will have to exclude the autogen from the base mesh below. If you place an airport below an overlay scenery which has exclusions, the exclusion might block out the airport.

Smart Exclusions

World2XPlane scenery, and OSM scenery from Simheaven have smart exclusions which is a feature that only creates exclusions where there is scenery. e.g. If you have a village where half of it has data/buildings in OpenStreetMap, and the other half is empty, an exclusion will only be created around the part of the village that has the buildings. This way, the default scenery and autogen will show through in otherwise empty areas.

Types of Exclusions

To complicate matters slightly, there are several types of exclusions. A scenery can be told just to block forests, or roads, or houses, etc. World2XPlane sceneries include their own roads, and as such always include an exclusion to block all roads from the scenery below. Without such an exclusion, the roads would be drawn twice and look a mess. As long as you follow the simple rules (to follow), then you shouldn’t have any issues with the sceneries.

Airport Exclusions

An airport should include exclusions to prevent objects, trees and roads appearing on the airport grounds (or runway). Whilst some airport developers do correctly create exclusion zones, others don’t, and airports without exclusion zones are the main cause of seeing trees or objects on an airport ground. It should be the responsibility of the airport developer to create the exclusions, however not everyone does. If you find such an airport, I’d suggest contacting the author to get this fixed.

Ordering your scenery

When installing scenery, you should always make sure that you correctly layer it. There are a few simple rules to follow, and this is shown in the diagram below:

1) Mesh and Photo Sceneries should ALWAYS be below any other scenery. A mesh scenery will block out anything below it, so should be at the bottom of the list.

2) Overlay sceneries, e.g. OSM, city sceneries, landmarks etc should always be placed above mesh sceneries. Also, if an overlay scenery has an exclusion, then it should be placed above the scenery the exclusion is intended to block. e.g. If you have a city scenery for Berlin which has an exclusion zone for the city, it should be placed on top of a scenery you may have for all of Germany. Overlay sceneries are generally ordered from most specific to least specific.

3) At the top of the list should be airports. Airports should block out any overlay sceneries below. If you place an airport below an overlay scenery, it may end up being blocked out or behave unexpectedly, e.g. by having trees on the runway. For airports without exclusion zones, you may still get objects and trees on a runway.

How do I order my scenery?

By default, X-Plane orders scenery alphabetically. This is why you often see mesh sceneries beginning with a “z” so that they will appear on the bottom, whereas airports are often prefixed with “Airport”, e.g. “Airport – EDDB”, so that they appear above other sceneries. However, not every developer follows these rules, and there can be conflicts. Also, once X-Plane has created the scenery order file “scenery_packs.ini”, any new sceneries you add will be placed on the top of the list regardless of their name. Sometimes it’s possible to resolve scenery order conflicts by simply deleting the “scenery_packs.ini” file, and letting X-Plane regenerate it (However, this only works if all scenery you have follows the alphabetical naming rules).

scenery_packs.ini

All scenery you have installed inside Custom Scenery is listed in a file called scenery_packs.ini, also placed inside Custom Scenery. This file is a simple text file which contains a list of all your scenery in priority order, i.e. Entries at the top of the file will have priority over items at the bottom.
Here is an example scenery_packs.ini file, which has been correctly ordered:

I
1000 version
SCENERY

SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EBBR Brussels/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EDDF Frankfurt/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EDDH Hamburg/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EDDK Cologne/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EDDM Munich/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EDDS Stuttgart/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EDDT Berlin Tegel/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EDDV Hannover/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EDLP Paderborn-Lippstadt/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EGBB Birmingham/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EGKK London-Gatwick/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EGLL Heathrow/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EGPF Glasgow/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EGSS London-Stansted/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - EIDW Dublin/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - LEBL Barcelona/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - LEMD Madrid/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - LFMN Nice Cote d Azur X/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - LFPG Paris CDG/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - LFPO Paris Orly/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - LPFR Faro/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Aerosoft - LSGG Genf/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Airport LOWI Innsbruck Hospital/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Airport LOWI Innsbruck Kranebitten 1.01/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Austria_Latest_World2XPlane
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Germany_Latest_World2XPlane
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/Europe_Library/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/ff_library_extended_LOD/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/OpenSceneryX/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/R2_Library/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/world-models/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/z+47+011_AUT_Innsbruck_bc17/
SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/z+52+013_D_Berlin_bx17/

In the above example, all airports are placed at the top, followed by the overlay sceneries for Austria and Germany. At the bottom of the list are the  photo and mesh sceneries for Innsbruck and Berlin (which include HD Mesh as part of them). The libraries can be placed anywhere you want, as these aren’t sceneries.

To change scenery order, open up the file Custom Scenery/scenery_packs.ini in your X-Plane folder using a program such as notepad, and simply swap the lines around. Whenever you install a new scenery, open up this file and place the new scenery into the correct place. e.g. If I add a photo/mesh scenery called z+52+012_D, I’d place “SCENERY_PACK Custom Scenery/z+52+012_D” at the bottom of my file.

IMPORTANT!: Whenever you drop a new scenery into your custom scenery folder and start X-Plane it will add an entry automatically into this file. Always make sure it has added it correctly and doesn’t block out other scenery by using the rules listed above.

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