Dovetail Games released their fully fledged flight simulator, Flight Sim World, just over a month ago. The announcement trailer highlighted some key aspects of the sim including the rain-windshield effects, the use of third party applications to enhance the sim and of course, being 64-bit ready. The launch of the sim was also before Lockheed Martin finally revealed their entry into a 64-bit era with version 4 of Prepar3D, so many flight simmers were excited to see the full ESP engine running with more advance coding. It didn’t take long for some of the community heavy weights to have their say on what they believe the product should be and the impact it will have on them. Whether this be from the development community, publishing partners or long-term flight sim personalities – there was a feeling that this wasn’t going to be the next-generation sim everyone wanted it to be.
With the launch of early access on Steam, reception of the sim was lukewarm to say the least. There were still plenty of questions surrounding third party support, how people will buy products in the future and also what features the sim will roll out next. If I’m being honest, FSElite really had no opinion at this time as many of us were too busy to be able to try out the simulator to form a valid opinion. I’m pleased to say that during Flight Sim Con 2017, I was able to get my hands on it as well as talk to a few of the core team who helped bring the sim to life. It’s by talking to the developers that I’ve been able to really dig deep into what the sim is, what it wants to be and where it’s heading. This is why I finally know the direction Dovetail Games are looking to take Flight Sim World.
The first thing we need to remember is that this is a sim that is currently in “early access”. This is no secret that Dovetail are hiding. They’re proud of the feat as it truly allows the team to listen to feedback from the wider community and work on fixing, adding and changing to suit the audience. This will take time and Dovetail are in no rush to release this as a “full version” until they’re happy with what they produce. In our interview with executive producer, Stephen Hood, he made it clear that the team are taking a module approach to development. And this makes total sense. Instead of focusing their attention to multiple aspects of the game and spreading themselves too thin, they’re instead choosing the focus on one element at a time. It just so happened to be that they wanted to focus on GA aircraft moreso than the jets. You’ve heard plenty of times that this was done to “set a benchmark” and it really is. The fact that you get these high-quality, payware-like GA aircraft as default aeroplanes makes for good value for money.
The time I spent in the cockpit of these GA aircraft proved to be higher in detail than any default aircraft you will find in FSX or Prepar3D – in both flight modelling and texturing. Flying around felt really good with responsive controls, fluid motions and great sound effects. The interior texturing and modelling were also extremely well represented. From the trailer you may remember the realistic shaking of the needle within the gauges and this translates well into flying for real. It’s these small little details that highlight this desired “benchmark” that Dovetail are setting. If this is the minimum standard for what you can expect in the sim, then this should be exciting news for simmers. It doesn’t reach the dizzying heights found in your A2A aircraft, but is highly impressive nonetheless.
What else that was made clear was that Dovetail are hoping to completely start the add-on community afresh with this new sim. There’s certainly this feeling within the community that all of our add-ons should work for every sim, even if it came out back in 2006. Whilst Dovetail understands the investment simmers have made to their respective sims, they also believe it’s important to take the next step. By using Steam as their platform of choice, buying, downloading and installing add-ons is as easy as ever. No need to go to multiple shops or check multiple websites to see if your favourite add-on has been updated. No need to have a different developer manager systems or pieces of software to track your add-ons. It’s all within a single eco-system and one that’s been proven to be effective with multiple other types of games – including other simulators. For me, this is a dream come true. With so many add-ons out there with multiple sim updates, managing the download process is timely and far away from simple.
This sort of system is vital to make the transition as easy as possible for simmers. It’s understandable from a developer and publisher point of view as Steam are known to take large chunks of the share, but when they offer a service as they do, you can see why. It’s disappointing that right now, there isn’t more information on how developers can distribute their products; is it just through Steam or can third-parties acquire some kind of “Approved by Dovetail” stamp which allows them to sell through their own sites without impairing the quality of the sim.
Of course, there’s already plenty of third party content within the base sim itself. As I flew around New York’s LaGuardia, the detail on the ground was crisp and clear. No blurry textures and no stuttering from the sim. The default sim uses Orbx’s fantastic FTX Global as the ground textures, which adds tremendous detail to the sim. By the way, if you were to buy FTX Global as a standalone, it’ll cost you around $75 – you can buy three copies of Dovetail’s Flight Sim World for the same amount. That’s insane value!
I admit that I am worried about future developers using Flight Sim World as a viable platform. We’ve had dedication from various developers, but there’s still plenty yet to confirm their commitment to the platform. From a business standpoint, this is reasonable as an early access game still has the potential to change large chunks of code which may force developers to edit their products. Both Stephen and Aimee reaffirmed me that they’re always in communication with developers about their platform and working with them to create a rich ecosystem – one that will last for years to come.
What’s really cool is that Dovetail are focusing the sim on current hardware. The Jetline System test kits on display at Flight Sim Con were running GTX 1070s, which is well above the recommended specs of a GTX 970. I hear the outcry that this filters out many simmers unable to afford higher spec’d PCs, and I know that many have complained about performance despite their equipment. What I urge you to remember is that even add-ons are requiring more and more power these days. Take a look at PMDG’s 747 – it recommends that you use a 4GB video card. Remember, FSX only required you to have a minimum card with 128MB of VRAM. You can’t blame Dovetail for requiring a higher entry requirement as this is a sim built to last – not to be maxed out by current hardware. Don’t forget that it took 10 years for FSX to finally run beautifully and smoothly.
I know that there was an expectation for Dovetail to blow the other sims out of the water with the visual and smoothness. It’s an argument of two sides:
- Dovetail could have developed a sim that runs at max settings for today’s hardware. This would please people in 2017. Or;
- Dovetail could have developed a sim that runs well at medium settings for today’s hardware. In a few years time, hardware will catch up and the sim will look even more stunning. This would please people in 2019 – 202X.
If they chose the first option, we would have limited number of years running the sim at good settings before demanding further refinements in the future. Me personally? I’m glad they chose to look towards the future and enable growth for the platform.
As for the growth of Flight Sim World, Stephen made it clear that there’s an internal roadmap that the team are excited to work towards. Whilst he wouldn’t share specific details nor a timeline, he made it clear why: they don’t want to feel the pressure of rushing a feature out quickly only to break the sim. It’s important to him and the team that each element is given the attention they deserve. What he did reveal was that the weather engine will be given significant attention. What this looks like is currently unknown to anyone outside of Dovetail, but they’re always listening to feedback from the community.
Some of that feedback is the fear that Flight Sim World is geared more towards the casual simming audience – the types of people who play Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. This was something brought up in the flight simulator developers panel and made clear by Dovetail that they’re appealing to all kinds of audiences. There’s a robust training and mission package within the sim which enables first time users to pick up and fly a plane, whilst also allowing people to design and create a challenging experience even the most experienced simmer will have trouble with. It was mentioned there’s scope for future console versions, but right now their sole focus is developing the PC version of Flight Sim World.
To me, Dovetail’s biggest challenge thus far has been communication. When Flight Sim World was released, I heard the cries of an incomplete sim, poor performance and lack of third party support. My perception had been influenced and I had my reservations, but after talking to the team, trying out the sim, it’s clear that the Dovetail team do have a vision – just maybe one that not everyone agrees with. The team were very clear to me: this is a simulator with a long road ahead of it. Early Access is a new model for releasing a flight simulator and one that will take simmers a lot of time to get used to. I’m sure in months to come as the updates roll in, the tide will turn and simmers will start to see the vision that Dovetail has for the series.
With much consideration, I am a lot more aware of what the team at Dovetail Games are looking to do with their fully-fledged entry into the simming market. Time will certainly tell if the future of simming is through Flight Sim World. I think I now finally understand what Flight Sim World is, where it will be in the future and what to expect.