We participated in a talk in front of those responsible for Microsoft Flight Simulator and we checked what it feels like to fly through the skies of the entire Earth.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is back. The longest-running brand in Microsoft’s portfolio returns because “the time is right,” according to its managers. Since 1982, we have known how it feels to fly the best steel birds, fly through the skies and imagine being, for a few hours, a civil aviation pilot. Because Flight Simulator is above all the key to fulfill your dreams on wings.
Just three weeks after its official launch, we sat down in front of the Asobo team to learn in depth what they have learned from all these years of development. A squad that knew how to adapt to the world of aviation as any player who tries himself in it would do from August 18. We have already felt what it means to take off in the simulator.
Path to Microsoft Flight Simulator
In this presentation we are led by three key development voices: Jorg Neumann, Head of Microsof Flight Simulator; Sebastian Wloch, Chief Executive Officer; and Martial Bossard, Lead Software Engineer. Since its inception, the franchise has valued four basic pillars, fundamental to achieve its simulation objectives, such as realism, authenticity, freedom and precision.
It was in 2006 when the last installment arrived. Microsoft Flight Simulator X was quickly surpassed by other rivals, such as X-Plane or DCS World. Something must, something felt that it had to be done to make a one hundred and eighty degree turn. Why did it take no less than 14 years to return? Simply because “the next step needed to go further.” It should no longer be simply a traditional video game, but expand in relation to the functions and technology present today.
To fulfill such a high ambition at a technological level, it is necessary to find the ideal partner. In this history of coincidences, a title comes into play that, although it went unnoticed at the controls, has the honor of being one of the largest open worlds seen so far in the industry. Asobo Studio joined Codemasters in 2009 to publish FUEL, a kind of Motorstorm in sandbox format. The map had an atypical size for those moments: 14 square kilometers to drive from cover to cover without load times and for hardware like the one mounted by PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. At those moments they did not know that a five and a half later would become in a particular interactive CV.
We witnessed the first prototype demo. “It is the first time that we show it outside the studio,” the trio acknowledged, but not before revealing the main differences with the final build, such as the incorporation of 3D clouds, real-time aerodynamic force effects and global illumination, among other aspects. technicians. From there to E3 2019, its presentation in society.
What makes Microsoft Flight Simulator special? Mainly two things: one, being able to offer the entire planet Earth at the click of a button, and two, doing it with the maximum fidelity possible. As we knew from its detailed development journals, the company has worked with Bing’s satellite maps to translate the entire orography of the globe. When moving it, Azure servers allow them to obtain accurate data on elevation, detection of buildings and urban areas against nature.
Specifically, the company has artificial intelligence that selects the type of building from the architectural design of a city and gives it group coherence. The same goes for water. The color is different depending on the ocean, the river or the force emitted by the terrain below it when reaching the shore. In this sense, it seeks to be as realistic as possible, and in some cases they have had to design by hand to fill the holes that the automated system may have left.
Obsession with detail
The obsession with realism is transferred directly to night sailing. During the presentation they made special emphasis on the improvements made to the lighting when the moon sets. They give us the example of Las Vegas, and that is that from a distance we can see the light radiation that leaves the city in the middle of the desert. This is useful since we can do without the instruments and make an organic foray simply by looking from the cockpit.
And yes, all airports in the world are available for use, including private ones. This is because the satellite does not screen, so the map collects exactly what is on the ground. More than 37,000 landing strips have been drawn by hand so that they function correctly, that is, that the ground taxi phase and the air traffic around it are adequate. Can you land in Area 51? Yes, it is possible, although we are warned that clues of this nature are not faithful for obvious reasons.
Will we see people from heaven? No, and for a very simple reason: from a plane they are not noticeable. Currently they do have an automated traffic system that varies its density depending on the time of day. They have also left for the future the possibility of designing the most important cities in the world by hand. It will take place during the post-launch period.
If on the one hand the satellites transfer the visual part, the close collaboration with Meteo Blue allows them to offer real-time weather conditions for the entire planet. It’s that simple. If in Madrid the miracle of rain occurs, if we fly over it we will do so during that same storm. Everything is achieved thanks to the flow of information that is transmitted through the internet when we play. On the other hand, if you want to fly under the conditions that you prefer, you can adjust the weather in real time from the cabin itself. It is amazing how we can trace the clouds in a matter of tenths of a second.
You should bear in mind that Microsoft Flight Simulator only targets civil aviation. No shocks, no cosmetic damage and no explosions. When the game detects a violent approach to a structure outside the circumstances of the flight, a screen jumps that indicates the loss of the plane. We are told that the game will have some leeway when that violence is determined by a hard landing due to some internal damage to the plane. You can also land on water surfaces.
Visit the planet
Due to the sanitary circumstances that we are currently experiencing, we are stressed in the value that Microsoft Flight Simulator has towards discovery. You have at your disposal a complete platform in which to discover places that you will hardly be able to visit in your life, and especially with the flight restrictions that exist due to the COVID-19 crisis. Therefore, several presets have been enabled with which to adjust the flying experience according to what peripherals you have and your level of piloting.
The game will have eight scenarios as a tutorial, where we will be taken through the different phases of the flight aboard a Cessna 152. It is ideal to complete it for someone without aeronautical knowledge, since it takes you by the hand to know how to read the instrument panel of a standard airplane and under what conditions we must perform certain actions. Believe us it works: in a couple of hours you can take off, fly and land without problem.
If we enter individual flights, the aid passes through the role of the co-pilot. Our right hand can take care of the functions you want. From the contact with the control towers, the flight check or simply taking the helm for a few moments, you can choose your level of experience in the smallest detail. If you want to sharpen your skills, there are several special scenarios dedicated to landings under special conditions. More missions will come in the future at no additional cost.
During our travels, we wanted to see how faithful the less popular cities are. We traveled to Cádiz on a journey from Gibraltar to the Rota military base. The silver cup had a very similar face to the real one, except for the type of building, since not all the designs are the real ones. For example, the Earth Gates are there, but it shows a different face. The Ramón de Carranza has no shape either, since the satellite takes the photo from above and the game does not detect that it is a soccer stadium. Bridges do not have their official shape. However, you see the city from above and it is recognizable. Achieving that level with all the cities in the world is an achievement never seen before in the video game.
The flight platform, with capital letters
Once it reaches Windows 10 and Steam on August 18, Microsoft Flight Simulator will have begun its journey through the market. A trip that, in the words of its managers, will be made “with the players.” They do not see it as an entertainment product, but as a serious flight platform, designed primarily for that user base that just wants to find the best commercial simulation.
Due to that vision, there will be no glimpse of the launch campaign, since “those who play this do not want it.” Yes it will have special scenarios, short-term objectives in circumstances and special places, such as those discussed above. All the data generated by NAVBLUE, a worldwide database that offers detailed aeronautical information, will be offered free of charge.
They acknowledge that over 400 third-party developers already work on game-specific content, such as detailed airports, cities, and more. These will go into the Marketplace space, where content creators can monetize their effort through the game itself. This guarantees security and quality of what you download external to the development team, since these must go through the company’s filter.
“When we do something it is because we can do it well.” With this phrase they begin a long list of news that they want to bring to the game throughout its cycle. The stations will arrive (if they arrive) when they can reach the level that they set themselves. Helicopters are another of the contents to include, but they do not want to catch their fingers when giving an approximate date. What it will have is features for virtual reality. Compatibility with the HP Reverb G2 device will come later this year. Implementation at other manufacturers is “on the way”.
The team’s idea is to release something relevant every month. Updates that incorporate new features and that serve as a bridge to the paid DLC, which will have a quarterly cadence, if all goes well. They make it clear that August 18 is the full launch, in no case was it designed as early access. Everyone will share the same world on multiplayer servers.
Between standard updates and DLCs, the study talks about “world updates,” a patch that will improve the quality of specific areas. Other airlines will join the game for free; Iberia images, for example, will be launching, as you can see in the launch trailer. It will be compatible with the Xbox adaptive controller and the Xbox One controller. “No pilot will be left behind”, they commented.
A bright future
The truth is that the build to which we have had access still had some room for improvement at the stability level. Despite this, the graphic and playable quality remain solid. We have rarely had the feeling of controlling a vehicle on the screen with the fidelity that Microsoft Flight Simulator achieves. Although we made this progress with a rudder and pedals supplied by the company, we wanted to know how it feels to play with a traditional controller.
The sensations when operating it with the sticks is exactly the same as an arcade. You have partial control of the plane, since even with a rudder you must use the keyboard and mouse to access the full spectrum of available instruments. It is true that it loses part of the simulator’s grace, which is having a certain difficulty, but it offers an optimal experience to simply let ourselves go. To serve, after all, as an interactive tourist tour without any pretense. We do not know any data for the console version.
Perhaps the summary of our impressions is happiness. Happiness for having managed to live the same as we lived in the best moments of the franchise. A bright future awaits you, aims to become the flight simulation platform of the decade. If the level is maintained during the final version, we will be before the best titles in the genre.
Microsoft Flight Simulator will land on August 18 on Windows 10 and Steam. It will do so in three different editions, in addition to being part of the Xbox Game Pass catalog from day one.