How Microsoft Flight Simulator Returned to the Sky

Let’s play a quick game of word association: Microsoft – Windows? Excel? Xbox? All solid answers. But for me, at least in the 90s, I would have immediately responded to “Flight Simulator”. Microsoft flight simulator The first thing I could ever do on a computer was remember sitting on my grandpa’s lap as we hiked into the blockchain landscape together with a sidewinder joystick. It is one of Microsoft’s all-time reputed brands.

It is also a brand that the company has largely ignored in the past decade. Final release, Flight simulator x, Surfaced in 2006, and a few years later, its developer, Aces Game Studio, was shut down as part of extensive layoffs at Microsoft. 2012 is called a free-to-play spinoff Microsoft flight Was less than that of well received.

However, in just a few weeks, Microsoft is releasing perhaps the biggest upgrade to the series in its 38-year history. The new title, developed by French studio Asobo and simply called Microsoft flight simulator, Is an ambitious attempt to leverage Microsoft’s Bing Maps data and Azure-driven procedural generation technology to represent our planet in unprecedented detail.

I’ve been playing a pre-release alpha version for a couple of weeks, and it’s frankly surprising. This is a complete effort by Microsoft to recreate the magic of the natural world and flight. And while it bears the weight of an iconic series, it seems to come from nowhere. Why is microsoft revived Airplane simulator now?

“After Flight simulator x“Obviously, I think we just focus more and more on Xbox and essentially just split the team at the time,” Microsoft chief Airplane simulator, Jorg Newman, tells me. “Why did it take us so long to come back? Honestly, I’ve been at Microsoft for a long time, and the desire to make another flight sim was really always there. And people talked about it in the hall, but it was always, ‘What are we going to add? What do we have to say You know, can we really take a meaningful step forward? ”

In recent years, Neumann HoloLens was working on projects for Microsoft’s Augmented Reality headset. A demo called HoloTour, which lets players fly around Rome and Machu Picchu, marked the first collaboration with Microsoft’s Bing Maps team. “I remember the first time I put on a headset, the sights and sounds were very real,” Newman recalls. “I mean, I’ve never been to Peru, but it was real for me. And yet, in early 2016 or something. I just thought to myself, ‘Man, if we can do this all over the planet, then Will this happen? ‘ ‘

In 2017, Newman got in touch with Asobo and asked if they would be ready to give the project a shot. Using data from Microsoft’s home city of Seattle, which Bing Maps has delivered to five-centimeter resolution with photogrammetry, Asobo took a few weeks to put together a demo of Cessna Flying Downtown. Newman then showed Phil Spencer, who was then a VP, now the head of Xbox.

“He just looked at me and said, ‘Why are you showing me a video of Seattle with a plane?” “Newman says.” And then the plane turned, and we flew over the Microsoft campus sitting in that exact spot. And he’s like, ‘Is this real-time? Is this going on?’ And I like it Is, ‘Yes, it is!’ And we knew we had something special. “

It is one thing to show someone a video of a plane flying over photorealistic Seattle, but assuring the player that they are flying the plane on their own is quite different. Despite Asobo never developing a flight sim before, Newman thought the team would be a good fit on technical grounds. Asobo shipped earlier The fuel, A 2009 open-world all-terrain racer that used procedural techniques and satellite data to create what was then the largest video game of the time.

“We have spent a long, long time talking about what it means to be a boil, what it means to be a boil,” says Assoba co-founder Marshall Bossard. “We did not understand what it is like to be in an airplane, from going to flight school to bringing a sim to the community,” he said. All you have to do is go to a flying club, and you can talk to these types of people. They are so passionate about what they are doing. And you know, we were not beginners. I’ve got the same story as you – I’ve started computing with a flight sim. “

Neumann is quick to point out that Asobo did not start from scratch. “I sent them Flight simulator x Engine, “he laughs.” And the great thing was, they integrated the sim we had one piece at a time. And a lot of work from day one. You know, sometimes you work on a product and for the first two years, nothing works. In this case, we could virtually fly from day one and just bring in different systems, which I think was important. “

I will say about Microsoft flight simulator In its current state: It is very much a flight simulator – no more, no less. The focus so far has clearly been on flight models and the underlying technology, and I think this is one of the best. It feels great to fly with a stick, and the visuals are unique. Reactive weather and clouds are a special attraction. This afternoon, I just flew over to my parents’ house in England and I felt like I was at home. To be able to do this in a single package that makes you look for animals while flying over the African savannah.

At this point, expand Airplane simulatorThe world is not fairly evenly distributed. Microsoft’s highest-quality data does not cover all regions of the world, meaning that much more has to be given manually, and unique objects such as landmarks and bridges must be built by hand because they are not generated with AI Can occur. I saw a lot of famous buildings flying around my current house in Tokyo, but headed to Osaka, my previous city, and recognized almost nothing.

“I think we’re going to get a lot more everywhere,” Newman says. “Commercial aircraft don’t fly everywhere, and some areas of the world are considered a bit more remote. But they’re really the areas I’m going to focus on because you know that Western Europe and America are good, Right? But we want to focus on other areas because we think people haven’t gone there, aviation hasn’t really gone there. There’s a lot of attractive areas. And I mean, I think we really Can inspire. “

“I spend a lot of time in Africa right now. I like flying around because it is quiet. And I think we are taking the flight industry forward if we bring those areas in quality because it is neglected. These have all been third-party companies for decades, they have built tons and tons of things like a thousand airports or 1,500 aircraft. But when you look at its geographical distribution, it is non-existent. And I think it should be – in fact, it’s going to be on my bucket list: ‘Make South America awesome.’ This is going to be on my bucket list. “

For me, flying around a beautiful rendition of our planet is such a clear mainstream appeal that I’m a little surprised that it’s too hard for the flight sim template Microsoft has stripped. For example, despite the binge tie-in, you are essentially landing at one airport and on the way to basic map navigation with another. Whenever I wanted to search for a particular landmark, I found myself flying with Google Maps on an iPad. Bossard says that with Bing’s data initially focused on creating “a sim for simmers”, initially used to help create flight plans and work on technical airport navigation data Was, but the studio is considering integrating it into other layers as well.

in spite of Microsoft flight simulatorSim-heavy focus, however, makes it inevitable that this version will be screened by a wide audience of people who have never tried a flight sim before. It is launching on the PC version of Xbox Game Pass for one game, and later a version for the Xbox console as well – a first for the franchise. Microsoft also announced today that VR support is coming to the PC version, which may further expand the user base. How does microsoft plan to start Airplane simulator For a new audience?

“Carefully,” Newman says, repeating Bosd’s “sim for simmers” language. “Because if you forget this and you start thinking about big audiences or gamers and those kinds of things, you focus your attention on what your fall is. When we talk about how What is said now, people who may be new to the sim, we cannot call them new, not gamers. Because we have specifically left the sim in its position of an open sandbox, which is important for simmers. And Instead of dumping anything down, we left the simulation exactly what reality is and went for help and tutorials and the kinds of things that help newcomers. “

I wonder how Microsoft flight simulator From a technical point of view Xbox will run on the console. I have a very good PC and a fast internet connection, which is important for data streaming, but I don’t always get a solid frame rate and view when running it even at medium settings at 1440p. On one flight, I flew from JFK and started flying north from the southern tip of Manhattan. Everything looked great at first, but by the time I arrived at the Chrysler Building, some of the skyscrapers had not been properly rendered and looked like a messy mess. It’s still alpha software, so don’t take it as a review, but if you’re unsure about your PC’s capabilities, it might be a good idea to try the Game Pass version first.

“We basically try to make it an accessible simulator,” Newman says. “Some people are speculating that you need some kind of supercomputer to run it. Certainly not so. There are some pretty modest video cards and PCs. And I think it is very similar on Xbox where there is a whole spectrum between Xbox One and Xbox Series X. Even though the customization has continued, the Xbox is definitely bolstering our optimization efforts, probably the best way to say it. “

Microsoft flight simulator Can not please everyone. There will be undoubtedly dead-hardened members of the flight sim community who find that some things are missing, while others new to the idea may find it overwhelming. But from the day Microsoft has been shipping, it looks like it will be an incredible technological achievement, with a central idea so compelling that it should be easy to appreciate the release for what it is.

And this is only the first step. “When I pitched this product, the thing that Phil [Spencer] I was told, “Hey, Jorg, if we go in, we’re going to stay in,” says Newman. “We know we can’t just go on making a product and boogie and do something else. That’s how it works. We’re taking responsibility for a hobby here, and people trust us and we know Is. It is our oldest franchisee in the company. It is older than Windows and Office. It has a special place. “

“I often struggle with finding the right words – I think there’s an inner human desire to fly. I don’t know if it’s a flight or if it’s a change of perspective, I don’t know what it is , But this is something. There is something really special about looking at the beginning where you live from a different point of view, and then going to other places. It has nothing to do with simulation. I call it my I can show daughters. My dad is 91. Almost everyone can relate to it because it’s real. It’s so close to feeling real. “

Microsoft flight simulator On August 18, Windows 10 is coming to Steam and Xbox Game Pass.

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