Last month, we sat down with Head of Microsoft Flight Simulator, Jorg Neumann to talk all about the Game of the Year Edition, Reno Air Racing and what 2022 is going to look like for the team. We had recorded the interview in mid-November, but with the site launch, party and backlog of other items to complete, we are a little late publishing this. Nonetheless, you can read this in-depth interview with Jorg and get some more insight into the developers who helped create the 40 planes for Reno, along with some of the 2022 plans.
Note: This is a transcript of a video call. Some edits were made in order to retain clarity and to make sense in written format. The information has not changed from what was said on the call.
Calum: So let’s talk about the Game of the Year Edition.
Jorg: I’ve been reflecting before these interviews and it’s shocking that it’s been only 2 and a half years since we announced the [simulator]. We said it was a journey and we’ve delivered on regular updates and the Xbox launch. The Game of the Year Edition, as I said in the dev Q&A, is a thank you to the community.
I was sitting here in the summer thinking “man it’s been going awesome,” and figuring out a way to say thanks. The GOTY Edition is really in the spirit of that as a thank you. I tried my best to fulfil some of the core wishes; fighters, helicopters (with the Volocopter) and some other things that people wanted to put a nice package together.
When I reflect on how it came together, it is so typical of how our development works. The tutorials were written by FS Academy, the discovery flights are done by Perfect Flight, the Porter is done by Hans and Alexander from Germany and Switzerland – the community is really helping make stuff. That makes me really happy. It’s not just on the backs of the Asobo team, which we’re now 50 bigger than we were a year ago. It’s good to see that people with expertise help us with the base sim; that’s a great sign.
We have the [volocopter] flight model straight in the sim. They tell us how it flies and there’s only one in the world and one pilot who has flown it, but they created it for the simulator.
Calum: Now there’s a community full of experts flying this virtual aircraft before there are experts in the real world!
Jorg: That’s true! That’s ultimately why collaborating with them was so fun. We tried to get the cockpit as close as possible – which, by the way, is not entirely finished in real life! They’re still thinking about the components, but it is as legit as possible.
There’s quite a bit of that going on right now; most of it unannounced. I get phone calls from random CEOs asking for their plane to be in the sim. I reply “that’s cool, you want to give us the models and data” and they replay “yep, let’s do it.”
Calum: The GOTY Edition comes with a collection of planes with a lot of variety. Why are they coming as free content? Some of the content seems it should’ve been payware.
Jorg: We just feel thankful, myself and the team. Feeling thankful for how we have been received by the community, by the press and by how much people are helping us.
You’re right that the Porter was meant to be payware. When we first spoke to Hans and we said it would be payware, but then it felt right [to make it free]. There’s no business reason or big plan; we had an awesome first year and a half and let’s celebrate.
Every existing customer gets new cool stuff and newcomers get a better base sim, which is cool!
Calum: Don’t worry, I’m not asking for it to be paid!
I just thought that the GOTY Edition would just be a few free airports and updated cities. So to see the F18 and the other aircraft was a real bonus. Do you have a personal favourite?
Jorg: The Porter is one of the coolest planes the short take-off and landing capabilities of the plane is crazy; you can land almost anywhere. I think it looks super cool, it flies cool and you can do loads with it. I love it! Love, love, love that plane.
Fighter jet stuff – I fly DCS a fair bit. I think it’s good for the third parties as we had to add afterburners, supersonic, etc so it’s good for the community that we did all this. But it’s not the focus of our product; companies will benefit from the work we’ve done with it.
The Volocopter, I call it Aviation of the Future, sits alongside the Local Legends. Then there’s the Famous Flyers, which is the next thing with the Antonov. I think there’s a lot going on in aviation with future aircraft. I spoke to a university the other day and they’re taking a GA aircraft and turning it into an e-model. It’s great! It’s a zero-emission, environmentally friendly aircraft and they asked if we can put it in the sim. I said, “yes, let’s do it.” After all, this is what’s going on in the real world. There’s a lot of cool things coming. Often, we’ll find ways to give those types of things away for free. We want to make a point of what’s going on in the world and I want as many people in the world to understand it. It’s great for the community and the real world.
Calum: With COP26 and the climate challenge, along with sustainable aircraft and fuels; this is really cool to hear!
Calum: Also in the GOTY Edition, you have new airports and photogrammetry cities. You don’t really have a specific region this time, but you have updated a number of airports and cities around the world. Any reason you chose those ones?
Jorg: You may have noticed that World Update V didn’t have any photogrammetry cities. We couldn’t get Helsinki finished in time, which was a thorn in my side, but then we finally got it done. So we got it out as fast as we could. We also have a relationship with a company called Bluesky who had some more British cities. So we worked with them to get more out. Then for the Germany update, the city I studied in, Freiburg, we couldn’t get finished in time, so when that was done, we added that. It was very much us finishing some unfinished business.
We’re always working on photogrammetry cities. In fact, just made a plan for them up to 2025. We’re not going to come back to England any time soon, not until we have better data. Some people in Scotland and Ireland were a bit grumpy, but if we can get Edinbrouhg or Glasgow, we’ll do it – even if it’s out of sequence.
As for the airports, I look at what’s going on from the developers. There’s over 1000 from third-party developers now and I have to think about how we can help them popularise their products. I wanted to keep going with airports that are really good for the base sim. We worked with Raz and Gaya Simulations on Zurich, which is cool. This is the same with Flight Sim Studio, which used to be Stairport, on the others. This was some unfinished business following the Germany World Update. It’s a nice wrap up for the year and wanted to accomplish it by the end of the year. They’re a little late, but they’re here now!
Calum: I want to talk about replay systems and DX12. By far some of the most requested features are based on your tracker. What challenges did you face and why could you implement these features now?
Jorg: We make all of our trailers by shooting a camera at the scene and the replay system we built helps us. You can tweak things a little bit and this tool helps us. It’s not really a consumer-level UI. It’s a clunky UI and has some typical quirks of an internal tool, which is why we sheepishly gave it to the community. The good news is not that it’s out there, we can get feedback to help improve the tool itself. Now the community has the same tool as we have.
We intend to improve the UI as it’s a big deal. It’s the area we need to staff up a little bit as there’s so much UI. The replay system isn’t being held back by a technical system, but the UI. We have a path throughout 2022 to make it cool and slick. I want to be able to fly somewhere and have a great experience and the tool backtracks the last 30-seconds and a button spits out what I saw and sends it to my socials. I just want to share and I know lots of other people do. I know that people also want to make some cool videos so there are some basic things we need to enhance like duplication, effects, better editing tools and a timeline – typical things you would expect.
As for DX12, we had it in the Xbox version. But as with all versions of DX, they have a base version and then update it. We ported the code to the PC branch without much investigation of what can be accomplished beyond the port. Early indications show there could be performance improvements, but we will need a few months in order to take advantage. When you put something like DX12 out, we need to see how it runs on people’s machines, as every machine is a little bit different, which is why it’s optional. We will use the feedback to do extension work and use DX12 features that are beneficial.
Calum: Does that bring the potential for things like ray-tracing and can developers take advantage of this in the future?
Jorg: Ray-tracing is a lot of different techniques but the general concept is bouncing light a number of times, but there are a lot of different ways to do it. We had ray-marching, which is a ray-tracing technique, since launch. In the hangar for example, ray-tracing will work really well, with the trees, it doesn’t as much. You need to use ray-tracing right to get the best effect. You can’t just do ray-tracing “on” and it magically make everything look good; not quite how it works. We always want to be at the bleeding edge of what a PC can do – that’s a fundamental statement. We’ll keep pushing with what is possible, but we want to do it in a measured way.
All of this stuff sets up nicely for 2022 on the graphics side of things.
Calum: We just need to hope that people can get the PC components so people can take advantage of these new techniques.
Calum: The Game of the Year Edition has so much content, but I want to talk to you about Reno Air Racing. You showed it a little bit at Gamescom originally, and then the trailer that shared all the aircraft, racing, etc. What’s the development experience been like? Have you had help?
Jorg: Any time you make anything like this and then the team getting into it, you know you have something cool. It gets into the nuance of getting better; different approach angles, do you drop or rise – there are so many options. We spoke to the pilots to get the tricks of the trade.
Reno is just in our DNA. This was back in FSX and interesting back in those days. It is very much part of what Microsoft Flight Simulator is.
If you go and talk to the [pilots], you can tell how much the detail matters. If you want to be a sim, you need to go into detail. We ended up going in and scanning all the cockpits, we got the modifications, the plane’s stats and tried to get every plane exactly as it is in the real world. Only then are you a simulator! We don’t want to be an arcade and we didn’t want to produce 40 planes that only had livery differences. Every plane is accurate and it was super important to me to have a sign off sheet from the pilot of the plane to say it flies just like their aircraft. We did lap times to make sure it’s in the range of what’s possible.
I remember saying two years ago and saying “let’s do 4 classes and 40 planes” and people said “that’s great”, but then we realised just how much work that is. We’ve had a lot of help with Reno. Mike Johnson, who made an L39 for FSX (a well-done plane), I asked him if he wanted to work with us. He told us he knew all the pilots and he helped us with the L39. We knew the Pitts, so this was straightforward and we know the Aviat people really well. The T6 was a big challenge; if you talk to people who fly it they will tell you it’s a challenge to fly. These are some of the most famous planes there are.
Steve Hinton helped us, and they let us into their museums such as the planes of fame, the museum of flight in Florida, we went to Palm Springs to get the P51. In fact, A2A [Simulations] helped us make the P51. Jimmy from BlueMesh made one, Orbx made five – so out of the 10 aircraft, Asobo only made two. We had help with a range of aircraft. It is a village of experts to bring this to life.
Calum: That is really cool; I can’t wait to try it.
Jorg: It’s awesome. There are some cool things in there which you need to watch out for like turbulence.
Calum: What is happening in terms of balancing? There will be experienced simmers, brand new simmers and everything in between. Will people be able to drop in like a fighter jet and zip past everyone?
Jorg: Ha, no people can’t do that! We are using match-making software to help us. This is why the Reno pack exists as it is as we had to limit the planes people could use. With the base pack, we included 4 planes which is good value.
Then we had discussions about which planes went into which class.
We then thought about third party making planes for the Reno Air Racing. We thought that would be a good idea, and we’ll open up a system for them to add aircraft. They would have to adhere to certain performance parameters to be fair, but we want to be open as possible. Pretty much everything we do is to make the platform better.
One of the biggest updates was to update the updater ticker so people could do formation flights and see other planes move smoothly in the air. It’s very precise and super cool.
My real hope is that people make races for people all over the world. I keep saying to the team I want to see a Grand Canyon race; I’ll be the first to sign up! This is now another tool in the SDK set so people can make races with it.
Calum: Well that answers my next question about whether third-party developers can make their own!
Jorg: All the tech is there! The SDK has been involving and the parameters are exposed, but we need to explain a bit better how to set it up. My goal is to allow people to do whatever they want; we’ve made the playground for people.
Calum: When we last spoke, we talked about eSports. Can you elaborate a little more on that or is that to come in the future?
Jorg: My answer is that eSports aren’t designed; people make an eSport happen. If there are enough people who want to do something, then it becomes an eSport. You can’t sit there as a designer and say “I’m making an eSport” – the people need to show up and have a good time. Then you can construct something around it. There are many people in my team who are excited by this we will wait for those people to opt-in.
The Reno Race pilots would love to fly with the pilots. We could do events with us against the community.
Let’s see how this goes!
Calum: There’s still plenty of stuff coming out from you guys!
Jorg: Yes! Our goal for this release was to enjoy it for the holidays. We already said that Sim Update 8 will be a bug-fixing update so the team is excited to sit back and clean up the bugs. It’s good for the community and good for us. Our team will take a little vacation, which is important, so we can be feeling fresh and fully motivated in 2022.
2022 is going to be just as busy. Six World Updates, Six Sim Updates, Maverick, XCloud, gliders, helicopters and stuff we can’t talk about yet. It’s going to be crazy full!
We just want to clean up and have the core simmers enjoy the Game of the Year Edition and the Reno Races and then a bunch of new stuff coming in 2022.
Calum: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me! We can’t wait to see what you have in the future.
Jorg: Thanks for the support. You are one of the 3,4,5 websites that I read every day.
Calum: Thank you! Speak soon!