Let me get this out of the way immediately. This is a Flight Simulator. There is no doubt in my mind that Microsoft’s latest entry in their longest-running series (it’s older than Windows) will be the simulator many of you have been dreaming off. Highly detailed scenery, gorgeous weather effects and no restrictions on where in the world you can go. Forget everything that happened with Microsoft Flight (Microsoft sure did with their lack of reference to the game during the press event), as this is a simulator. They made it clear in their recent blog entries, but after trying it, my mind is now at rest. It’s worth noting that what I played earlier this week was a pre-alpha build. Despite that, I am confident in saying that this will be the next generation of flight simulation.
Before you read on, grab a pen, paper and 5 minutes of time. Write down a list of features you would love to see in a simulator. After speaking to many of you online, at events and in other capacities, I’m sure that many of you will list the following as some of those fundamental features:
- Taking advantage of new hardware and technologies
- Ability to explore the world in high-quality detail
- Dynamic and detailed weather systems in real-time
- Sloped runways
- Detailed default airports
- Detailed default aircraft
- A brand-new aerodynamics engine
- Third-party support
- Ability for cockpit builders to continue building their systems
- Solid performance
That’s a fairly ambitious list by anyone’s standards. However, that hasn’t stopped either Microsoft nor Asobo Studios from tackling this momentous task. Whilst you can read more about the features and technical aspects of this new simulator in this article, I wanted to also break down my hands-on experience with Microsoft Flight Simulator. All of those bullet points were part of my wish-list for a new simulator, so of course, they are what I will be focusing on during this hands-on.
My First Flight
My initial thoughts for the day were that Microsoft was going to be extremely restrictive in what we could do with the new simulator. To that end, I was incredibly pleased when, actually, the whole world was immediately open for me to explore. Like any good simmer, the first location I loaded up was my home airport, Bristol (EGGD), in the UK. Loading up the default included Cessna 172, I took off runway 27 and banked to the left to head towards the A38 road and follow it all the way to the city centre. Now, I am fully aware that exploring Bristol will not be the first thing everyone will do, nor will it show off the capabilities of the new simulator. But I was very keen to try out the Bing Maps technology which will power the world of the new Flight Simulator, which was so prevalent during their technical presentation (which you can read more about here).
The city of Paris as represented in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
I was able to follow the road all the way to Bristol pretty easily, with many distinguishing points of interest all along the way. From small town houses to larger town shops and flats. Whilst the buildings didn’t display as much detail as the focus cities, they were accurately placed overlaid the high-resolution Bing Maps orthoimagery. Whilst not exact replicas, the Azure technology was in place to automatically inject accurate buildings where there was a lack of data. This certainly helped create an immersive environment more impressive than anything seen in a flight simulator before. There was certainly a feeling of familiarity as I cruised around in the Cessna over my home city, with train stations visible below, plenty of cars and traffic filling the streets and more. During the clear skies, finding my way over recognisable parks, housing estates and local amenities meant finding my old house was incredibly easy. I could even see my garden where I spent many hours watching planes fly overhead. It was an odd, but exciting sensation to see on a PC screen.