Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator
Event: MS CFS Press Conference
Time: September 21, 1998
Place: Santa Monica, California
Report By: Arnie Lee
|Combat Flight Simulator Launch
Microsoft is currently finalizing plans for the
launch of Combat Flight Simulator on
To explain and demonstrate the new features of this
upcoming product, members of Microsoft's Game Group today held
a press conference for a large group from the editorial press. The
official title of the meeting was appropriate Mission Briefing:
Combat Flight Simulator. Microsoft assembled several key
players from the development and marketing team who we'll meet
shortly. And Microsoft also introduced us to some of their other
friends from the aviation world.
||Santa Monica Flying
In keeping with the historical bent of this new program, the
meeting was held at the Santa Monica Museum of Flying, home
to a large number of vintage war planes. The museum is conveniently
located in the heart of Santa Monica and adjacent to the Santa
Monica Municipal Airport. We had the museum to ourself and were
free to roam through the three floors of aircraft displays since
the museum is closed to the public on Mondays.
Two Years In The Planning
Ed Fries, Microsoft's General
Manager, Entertainment Business Unit kicked off the conference.
Based on feedback and focus groups conducted with flight sim users,
Microsoft has been working for two years to create this new
product. To pull it off, the games unit needed more help and were
able to recruit staff and developers from other parts of the
Meet Some of the CFS Team
||Product Manager Jose
Pinero explained Microsoft's "vision". They are creating two
distinct lines: the well-know, extremly succesful Flight
Simulator and the new Combat Flight Simulator. While the
two lines will share common technology, Microsoft believes that the
user requirments of these products are different. Like Flight
Simulator, CFS is an open system so it's possible for the user or
third-parties to add components which enhance and extend its
||Product Planner Bruce
Williams. As Jose puts it, Bruce is the "keeper of the
feature list". For those of you who have ever submitted a
suggestion or your wish list for Flight Simulator (and in the
future for CFS), you should know that they don't fall on deaf ears.
Bruce has been charged with determining what users are asking for
and has worked hard to make them happen.
||CFS flight modeling was designed under the eye
of Mike Schroeter. Mike is an aeronautical
engineer and did stints as a flight instructor and corporate pilot.
CFS is based on six-degree of freedom modeling and the design group
included details such as the change in aircraft weight and moments
as fuel and amunition is expended.
||Bob Day, who
previously worked on Microsoft's NT operating system, designed
CFS's damage modeling. It works something like this: critical
aircraft components are identified, for example a wing or an
engine. Each component is "containerized" or surrounded by an
invisible box. If a round of ammunition passes through the
container, then damage is said to have occurred. CFS refers to a
tabluar "damage profile" to determine the extent of the damage to
the component. By tabluarizing this information, you can see that
this is a very flexible modeling technique.
||I talked to Kris
Shankar about CFS's missions. Although it will ship with
many pre-built missions, CFS also includes a "mission
editor". To make a new mission, you specify a geographical
area, the number and type of enemy aircraft, etc. What's more, you
can use the mission editor to build "mini-sceneries" adding ground
vehicles, barracks and fuel tanks, for example. These ground object
can be targets which can sustain damage similar to CFS aircraft.
The "mission editor" is an Excel-like spreadsheet that contains the
||Jon Seal has spent
more than a year collecting background information for CFS. For
example, his research involved tracking down actual World War II
mission charts, aircraft performance profiles, enemy logs and
conducting personal interviews with combat aviators. A look at
CFS's Pilot's Manual will show you the extent of research
that went into this package.
implemented the artificial intelligence portion of CFS. The result
is that you end up doing battle with a very challenging enemy. Like
many of the other team members, Jeremy was very anxious to share
his insites with the press.
Meet Combat Flight
|So what's Combat Flight Simulator
In short, it's a World War II air combat package. CFS
is based on the proven Flight Simulator "engine". Most of you are
familiar with Flight Simulator and will be able to jump into the
cockpit and feel right at home. Yes, they'll be a short learning
curve as you learn the new controls, but it's no more difficult
than a check ride when you're transitioning from a one
single engine plane to another.
The similarity of CFS to Flight Simulator is a very
powerful incentive for most flight sim fans. Microsoft is betting
that it can leverage its huge installed based of civilian
cyber-pilots to attract them to CFS.
When I first heard about CFS earlier this year, I was
a little skeptical. I expected repainted aircraft with
"strapped-on" guns. But after using early betas of CFS for the past
several months, I'm no longer skeptical. Yes, CFS uses FS
technology. But CFS adds a exciting and enjoyable dimension for
If I were to select one area in which I think CFS
excels is in giving your an wonderful visual impression. Here's how:
The cockpits are very well done. You feel as if
you're in a World War II plane, not a converted Cessna. The
instrumentation looks authentic and dated from 50 years ago. Here's
a close up look at the Hawker panel.
Microsoft's team did extensive research on both the
flight model and history to design these aircraft. CFS will ship
for eight aircraft: Spitfire MkI, Hurricane MK I, Messerschmitt Me
109E, Messerschmitt Me 109G, Focke Wulf Fw 190 A8, P-47D
Thunderbolt, P-51D Mustant and Spitfire Mk IX. Here's a shot of the
P-51D Mustang. Click for larger image.
Not only are the panels and aircraft top notch, so
is the scenery.
The computers at the Press Conference were equipped
with high end Diamond Monster 3D II video cards. The result is
astouding - dazzling, fluid scenery and great special effects. The
smoke and haze effects are realistically displayed.
CFS also performs well using my P200 and a more
modest 3D video card.
Click for larger image.
I talked at length to Microsoft Engineer
Bob Day about CFS scenery. Here's what I
The CFS scenery engine is very similar to that of
FS. However, CFS makes extensive use of the texture
relief method of painting the screen. Most FS sceneries are
made by laying down a texture over an area on the ground at a
According to Full Throttle's Editor-in-Chief
Tim Dickens: "With texture relief, any
given area in a scenery is described as a set of coordinates having
a latitude, longitude and multiple elevation points within the
defined area. An associated bitmap (texture) is overlayed on top of
this. The result is that the previously 'flat' ground texture is
now rendered into a natural looking terrain with varying elevation
When the texture relief command is performed, the
scenery engine converts this data so that the video card (using
DirectX) can efficiently draw the area. The result: CFS will
deliver great looking detailed scenery right out of the box. Can
3rd parties sceneries be far behind?
Compatibility with FS98
Here's where Microsoft will be able to capture a
ready-made audience. Much of the technology in FS can be used
without change in CFS.
For example, Bruce Williams dragged the Boeing 737
from FS98 into the CFS folder and soon he was flying a machine-gun
equipped airliner! In addition to the default weapon supplies, the
747 also has a default damage model. So you can shoot at it and it
will sustain damage accordingly. Bob Day demonstrated how it was
possible to change the vulnerability of an aircraft using the
If you've designed your own or have collected Flight
Shop, you'll be able to easily convert them to use with CFS. Are
you ready for a Piper Cherokee with bombs or an ultralight with
A Ready Made Fleet
What a concept! Create a new combat flight simulator
that is able to immediately use the thousands of
existing Flight Shop aircraft . This will be a tremendous
selling feature for CFS.
Existing FS scenery is also compatible with CFS.
While the entire world exists in CFS, only the 400
or so miles of Western Europe - from U.K. to east to Germany and
from Switzerland to north to the Baltics - are covered in
Here's a view of a fighter over the Mirage in Las
Vegas. I don't think the Mirage was there in 1942. Yet this shows you that the scenery possibilities for CFS is
Click for larger image.
Meet the Special Guests
|For me, one of the neatest things about the
press conference was getting to meet the group of gentlemen below.
During the day, I was able to speak with all of these individuals
and found them to be knowledgable and at the same time modest about
their wartime participation.
In particular, Mr. Jack
Stafford, an RAF Ace (New Zealand group) expressed his
regrets about how many men - from both the Allies and the Axis -
who were lost in battle.
Mr. Jack Stafford
(L. to R.) Mr. Robert Ashby, Mr. Woodrow Crockett
and Mr. Robert Lawrence - all Tuskegee Airmen; Mr. Jack Morgan of
the Confederate Air Force; Mr. Al Jones and Mr. Jack Stafford -
World War II veteran pilots.
Feedback from the Flight Sim
|Microsoft invited Robert Mackay, founder and
President of MicroWings, to
talk about the feedback that he's been hearing about CFS from the
flight sim community. He's heard extremely positive things from
users. He attributes the "yeahs" to CFS's strong compatibility to
FS. He says that with so many third party add-ons available for FS
currently, there's bound to be a large number of similar offerings
for CFS in a very short while. He's already familiar with several
CFS add-ons that are already in the planning stage.
We have a lot more information to
share with you about Microsoft's Combat Flight Simulator.
We'll continue this extensive report shortly. Please return
In addition, the next issue of
Full Throttle will have a complete review
of Combat Flight Simulator. If you'd like to subscribe,
Report Wrap Up
I hope that this report gives you a closer
understanding of just what you can expect when Combat Flight
Simulator begins shipping in early November.
I'd like to thank all of the folks at Microsoft and
their P.R. firm Shandwick & Associates for inviting us to the
If you have any comments about this report, please
address them to Arnie