Exclusive FS2002 Interview - April 10, 2001
FS2002 Questions and Answers with Bruce Williams (Product Planner, Flight Simulations)
FlightSim.Com wants to thank Bruce for answering all the questions we asked of him. Please stay tuned for more on FS2002 as we obtain details.
1) Please introduce the entire team if you would. Their names, position, and related background. Digital photos would be great, if possible. Our readers would love to put the faces behind the team, much like I did back at the MicroWINGS conference back in May.
Unfortunately, we can't release the names and photos of team members. I can, however, provide some general background.
The Flight Simulator team is made up largely of veterans who have worked on many versions of the product. Although some of us devote time to related products (such as Combat Flight Simulator), most of the team focuses on Flight Simulator full-time.
Some of the staff started years ago with the Bruce Artwick Organization (BAO), the original developer of Flight Simulator back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Others have joined the team--from other groups at Microsoft or from other companies--since Microsoft acquired BAO several years ago.
Every team in the Flight Simulator group--development, art, testing, user assistance, planning, and marketing--is led by a pilot and/or includes several active pilots. Some of us are new student or private pilots; others have been flying for years--even decades. When we're not at work on Flight Simulator, we fly a variety of aircraft ranging from familiar Cessna and Piper models to Bonanzas, a Grumman Tiger, a Maule, hang gliders--even an Extra 300L. One of our testers spends some of his weekends flying Cessna 182 jump planes for a popular skydiving operation. Two of us are active flight instructors at Seattle-area flight schools.
The Flight Simulator group also includes three aeronautical engineers (two of whom are also active pilots), a former FAA lighting engineer, and several program managers and engineers who previously worked in the aerospace industry. In short, no matter what job we do, we're aviation enthusiasts.
2) How long have you been working on FS2002?
We're always working on the next version of Flight Simulator. Some members of the team started planning before the last version was released. Other people come on board as the project gets underway. And we learn from work done for other products, so it's impossible to say exactly how long we've been working on any particular version.
3) When is the preliminary release date?
Both Flight Simulator 2002 and Flight Simulator 2002 Professional Edition will be released simultaneously this fall. The exact on-shelf dates vary from country to country.
4) We have seen some pretty nice screen shots. Tantalizing for sure, with aircraft looking far better than we have even at this time. The scenery looks new, the clouds similar to what we have. Be honest now. Here's the big question. We can all handle the truth. Would it be wise to scrap our PIII500s, 850s, and 950s? We've all had a hard time getting FS2000 to run with great frame rates. Only now with those machines and the latest video, are we all getting 15 to 50 fps. When FS2000 came out, as you know, most were depressed by the horrible performance. Stutters (fixed in a patch by MS...thank you!) and other slowdowns. But then came the new technology add-on panels, that again became a performance hitting issue.
Will we have to "start all over" with FS2002?
We haven't set the final system specs yet. But we're confident that the product will run well on a variety of mid-range systems. Some features (e.g., auto-gen scenery, virtual cockpits, and some special effects) will require a 3D card. Flight Simulator 2002 will work with a wide variety of video cards. We've made an extra effort to allow more scaling of specific features so that users can easily fine-tune their systems for best performance.
We've learned a lot from developing Combat Flight Simulator 2, and we continue to work on performance. We all realize that snazzy new visual effects and detailed cockpits don't mean much if Flight Simulator doesn't run smoothly and reliably. The entire team is focused on performance, and we have a special group of developers and testers who rigorously test each interim build of the product. We're testing and benchmarking performance on a wide variety of systems, and so far the news is very encouraging. If you're familiar with the improvements we made in Combat Flight Simulator 2 even as we added more detailed scenery and visual effects, I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised with the performance of Flight Simulator 2002.
5) If you can answer the above, then maybe you can answer this one too... what new changes have been made to the rendering that enable smoother performance?
I can't get into the specifics of all the improvements we've made to the graphics engine. As noted above, we've worked on lots of areas and applied lessons learned from Combat Flight Simulator 2. The most obvious improvements are in the textures applied to the landscapes and special effects.
As for auto-gen, the scenery system in Flight Simulator includes detailed information about type of landscape you're flying over. We know if you're above a city, town, farmland, wilderness, etc. The auto-gen system takes advantage of that information and automatically places appropriate 3D objects on top of the scenery textures. Over a city, you see multi-story office buildings and factories. Over farmland, you'll see barns and farm houses. Over forests, we fill in the scene with trees. It's important to understand that the placement of the objects is not random. Every time you fly over a location all of the buildings will be in the same place.
Auto-gen scenery revolutionizes the experience of flying Flight Simulator, because now-- even when you fly outside of so-called detailed scenery areas where we formerly had to place every object manually--you see lots of objects that add depth and realism to the scene.
6) How are sounds going to be improved? Will better turbine engine sounds be implemented based more on a tighter accuracy of RPMs, and a better reverse thrust representation. (In FS2000, reverse sounds for the jets are based on just a single wav file playing, not actual engine thrust and its associated noise as air tumbles forward and around the engines).
Will there be more detailed touchdown rumbles, rattles, squeaks and vibrational sound effects?
As always, we're improving sounds along with other aspects of the simulation. I recently spent an entire day at the flight school where I teach starting and running the engines on a C172SP and a C182S so that our sound engineers could capture the sounds from inside the cowling. We also recorded cockpit sounds, and we've visited many certificated simulators to capture the sounds of warning systems, automated callouts, etc.
7) What, if anything can you comment on the weather?
The real world weather system will include winds aloft based on the same forecasts that pilots and dispatchers use. We've always had cumulonimbus clouds, and you can set turbulence and wind shear in levels, just as you could in Flight Simulator 2000.
8) Will FS2002 be based on some things we see in Combat Sim 2, or in the new TrainSim?
Train Simulator is being developed by an outside company in the UK. It uses a completely different code base. But we have learned a lot from Combat Flight Simulator 2, and we're bringing that knowledge and experience to Flight Simulator 2002.
9) How will flight modeling be different vs. the current version?
We always fine-tune the flight models, just as we improve other parts of the simulation. We go back over the data we receive from aircraft manufacturers and re-test the flight models against those data so that we can tweak the performance. We also fly the airplanes or certificated simulators to cross-check our models. Just as in the real world of aircraft design, this is a never-ending, iterative process. Our team produces outstanding flight models, but we're never completely satisfied, and as more computing power becomes available and we gather more information about the aircraft in Flight Simulator, we'll continue to make the models better.
10) What kind of new gizmos are going to be included in the instrument panels?
We're not adding new gizmos as much as we're trying to improve the experience of being in the cockpit by adding new "virtual" cockpits with working gauges and improving the 2D panels. Again, the process of improving the panels is a gradual, iterative one, and we'll continue to work on more features with each new version.
11) Does Bill Gates ever flightsim?
Bill sees new versions of the product during development, and when we demonstrate them, he always expresses interest in many aspects of the product. I don't think he's a dedicated Flight Simulator pilot, however.
12) If one member or more of the team could list one thing they are most excited about the new version, what would it be? Pick one favorite!
It's impossible to pick just one thing that's exciting about Flight Simulator 2002. What you think is most exciting depends on what you enjoy most about flying. Some people really want to try the 747-400. Others are excited about practicing their skills in the new C172SP. The devious instructors among us like the new instructor's station in Professional Edition--it will be a great training aid. And everyone oohs and ahhs over the new scenery textures and auto-gen.
Visit the official Microsoft FS2002 page here.