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How Microsoft Flight Simulator is back in the sky

Let’s play a quick word association game: Microsoft – Windows? Excel? Xbox? All firm answers. But for me for a while, at least the 90s, I would immediately answer “Flight Simulator”. Microsoft Flight Simulator it’s the first thing I remember ever doing at the computer, sitting on my grandfather’s lap as we soared through the crystal clear landscapes with the Sidewinder joystick. It is one of Microsoft’s most iconic brands of all time.

It is also a brand that the company has more or less ignored in recent decades plus. Last release, Flight simulator X, released in 2006, and a few years later its developer, Aces Game Studio, was shut down as part of widespread layoffs at Microsoft. In 201

2, he won the spinoff for a free game Microsoft Flight was less than well received.

However, in a few weeks, Microsoft will release perhaps the largest update of the series in its 38-year history. A new title, developed by the French studio Asobo and simply named Microsoft Flight Simulator, is an ambitious attempt to use Microsoft’s Bing Maps data and Azure-based procedural generation technology to make our planet an unprecedented detail.

I’ve been playing the previous version of the alpha version for a couple of weeks, and it’s downright impressive. This is a full-fledged effort by Microsoft to restore the natural world and the magic of flight. And although he carries the weight of iconic series, he feels that he came from nowhere. Why Microsoft is reviving Flight simulator now?

“After Flight simulator XFrankly, I think we just focused more and more on the Xbox and actually just got the team at the time, “said the head of Microsoft. Flight Simulator, Jörg Neumann, he tells me. “Why did it take us so long to get back? Honestly, I’ve been at Microsoft for a long time, and the desire to make another flight sim has really always been. And people talked about it in the hallway, but it was always, “What are we going to add? What should we say? Do you know if we can really take a significant step forward? “

In recent years, Neumann has worked on projects for HoloLens, a Microsoft headset with augmented reality. The HoloTour demonstration, which allowed players to fly around Rome and Machu Picchu, marked the first collaboration with Microsoft’s Bing Maps team. “I remember when I first put on the headset, the spectacles and the sounds were so real,” Neumann recalls. “I mean, I’ve never been to Peru, but it was real for me. And even then, in early 2016 or something. I just thought to myself, “Man, if we could do this all over the planet, wouldn’t it be something?”

In 2017, Neumann contacted Asobo and asked if they were ready to give the project. Using data from Microsoft’s home city of Seattle, which Bing Maps released up to a five-centimeter resolution using photogrammetry, it took Asobo several weeks to make a demonstration of the flying center of Cessna. Neumann then showed it to Phil Spencer, then vice president, who is now the head of Xbox.

“He just looked at me and said, ‘Why are you showing me a video from Seattle with a plane?’ “- says Neumann.” And then the plane came back, and we flew over the Microsoft campus, where we were sitting at the same time. And it’s like, “Is it real-time? Does it work?” And I like, “Yeah, yeah!” And we knew we had something special then. “

Showing someone a video of a plane flying over photorealistic Seattle is one thing, but convincing a player that they are flying a plane is quite another. Although Asobo had never developed a flight sim before, Neumann thought the team would be a good fit for technical reasons. Especially sent before Fuel, a 2009 off – road racer who used procedural techniques and satellite data to create what was at the time the largest video game environment to date.

“It took us a long, long time to figure out what it’s like to be on fire, what it means to be on fire, what a simer wants,” says Asobo co-founder Martial Bossard. “So we figured out what it means to bring a family to the community, from going to flight school and understanding exactly what needs to be on the plane. You just need to go to the flight club and you can talk to these people. They are so passionate about what they do. And you know, we weren’t beginners. I have the same story as you – I started to pay with aircraft sims.

Neumann quickly points out that Asobo did not start from scratch. “I sent them Flight simulator X engine, ”he laughs. “And the great thing was that they integrated the seven that we had one after the other. And it worked almost from day one. You know, sometimes you work on a product and nothing works for the first two years. In this case, we can fly literally from day one and just bring up different systems, which, in my opinion, were key.

I will tell about it Microsoft Flight Simulator in its current state: it is a very flight simulator – no more, no less. So far, the focus has been clearly on flight models and basic technology, and I think that’s the best. Flying a stick feels great, and the visuals are second to none. A special highlight is the reactive weather and clouds. This afternoon I just flew over my parents’ house in overcast England and felt at home. Doing this in the same package that allows you to search for animals while flying over the African savannah is something special.

At this stage in detail Flight simulatorThe Russian world is not fairly evenly distributed. Microsoft’s highest quality data doesn’t cover all regions of the world, which means a lot needs to be adjusted manually, and unique objects such as landmarks and bridges need to be created manually because they can’t be created with AI. I noticed this most when I flew around my current home in Tokyo and noticed many famous buildings, but headed to my previous city of Osaka and recognized almost nothing.

“I think we’re going to have to get there almost everywhere,” Neumann said. “Commercial aircraft do not fly everywhere, and some parts of the world are considered a bit more remote. But these are really areas that I will focus on, because you know that Western Europe and the United States are good, right? But we want to focus on other areas, because, in our opinion, there were no people there, the aircraft did not really go. There’s a lot of exciting terrain. And I mean, I think we can really inspire. ”

“I now spend a lot of time in Africa. I like to fly around because it’s cool. And I just think we’re making the flight simulation industry forward if we raise those qualities qualitatively because it’s been neglected. There, all these third-party companies have been making tons and tons of things for decades, like a thousand airports or so, and modeling 1,500 planes. But if you look at the geographical distribution, it’s not the same. And I think it should be – as a matter of fact, it will be in my bucket list: “Make South America weird.” It will be on my bucket list. ”

For me, the idea of ​​flying around a beautiful edition of our planet has such an obvious appeal to the mainstream that I’m a little surprised that Microsoft is so stuck in a flight simulator template. Despite the Bing binding, for example, you actually take off at one airport and land at another, which does little to interfere with basic map navigation. I found myself flying with Google Maps open on my iPad when I was looking for a specific landmark. Bossard says the focus has been on creating a “sim to empty first,” with Bing data initially used to create flight plans and work on airport navigation data, but the studio is considering integrating it into other layers.

Despite Microsoft Flight Simulatorsim-heavy trick, however, it is inevitable that this version will be tested by a wide audience of people who may have never tried a sim flight before. One of them runs on a PC on the Xbox Game Pass version, and there is even a version for Xbox consoles, which later – the first for the franchise. Microsoft also announced today that VR support is coming to the PC version, which could further expand the user base. As Microsoft plans to present Flight simulator new audience?

“Be careful,” Neumann says, echoing Bossar’s “brewing sim.” “Because if you forget that and start thinking about a bigger audience or gamers and these types of things, you lose focus on what your core is. When we talk about what you said recently, people who may be new to sim, we call them aliens, not gamers.Because we specifically left the sim in an open sandbox, which is important for boiling.And instead of throwing anything down, we left the simulation of exactly what reality is, and went for help and tutorials and things to help newcomers on board. “

I also wonder how Microsoft Flight Simulator will run on Xbox consoles from a technical standpoint. I have a pretty good PC and a fast internet connection, which is important for streaming, but I didn’t always get reliable frame rates and visuals when working in 1440p, even at medium settings. In one flight I took off from JFK and started flying north of the southern outskirts of Manhattan. At first, everything looked great, but by the time I got to the Chrysler building, some of the skyscrapers weren’t properly decorated and looked like dirty dirt. It’s still alpha software, so don’t take this as a review, but if you’re unsure of your PC’s capabilities, you might want to try the Game Pass version first.

“We basically tried to make it an affordable exercise machine,” says Neumann. “Some people assume that you need a supercomputer to run it. This is definitely not the case. There are some rather modest video cards and PCs. And I think it’s very similar to the Xbox, where there’s a whole spectrum between the Xbox One and the Xbox Series X. Despite continuing to optimize, but the Xbox definitely boosts our optimization efforts, it’s probably the best way to say that. “

Microsoft Flight Simulator can not please everyone Undoubtedly, there will be difficult members of the community of flight sims, who will find that certain things are missing, while others who are in the idea, may consider it insurmountable. But what Microsoft has been delivering since day one looks like it’s going to be an incredible technical achievement, the central idea is so compelling that it’s easy to evaluate a release for what it is.

And this is only the first step. “When I broke this product, what Phil [Spencer] told me, “Hey, Jorge, if we come in, we’ll stay,” Neumann says. “We know we can’t just make a product and a boogie and do something else. This is not how it works. Here we take responsibility for the hobby, and people trust us, and we know it. This is our oldest franchise in the company. It is older than Windows and Office. It has a special place. “

“I often struggle to find the right words – I think there’s some inherent human desire to fly. I don’t know if it’s a flight or a change of perspective, I don’t know what it is, but it’s something like that. There’s something really special is to first see where you live, from a different perspective, and then go to other places.It doesn’t even have anything to do with imitation.I can show it to my 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 comes to Windows 10, Steam and Xbox Game Pass on August 18th.

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