FlightSim.Com Visits Microsoft Aces Studio
Since its first release over 25 years ago, Microsoft Flight Simulator has grown to be one of the most recognized PC titles with some of the most loyal and educated followers of any computer game/simulation in existence. Both the program and the community itself have changed greatly since the first edition came out in 1981. While the scenery, aircraft and weather have improved due to great enhancement in PC technology, the community has grown globally with more and more enthusiasts and independent developers now than ever before.
In the past Microsoft was very protective over the development of Flight Simulator, and very few outsiders had the chance to witness what went on behind the doors of the Flight Simulator Development Headquarters. This practice has changed with the development plan for the new Microsoft FSX software. Microsoft and the FSX Community Development Team realize that it is the community that has greatly expanded the horizons of the Flight Simulator platform and therefore they have opened up the line of communication with us, the enthusiasts and software developers.
I was invited to attend a 2 day conference and tour of the Aces Studio Complex in Redmond, Washington where Flight Simulator is created.
THE TOURAs soon as I arrived, I was lucky to be greeted by Brett Schnepf, The Microsoft FSX Community Development Team Leader. I was given a tour around the building and met many people from the development team including Michael Zyskowski, Program Manager / Aerospace Engineer, Hal Bryan, Software Test Engineer and Paul Lange, Lead Game Designer. Microsoft Flight Simulator is created by a group of people that are extremely dedicated and knowledgeable about what they do. Everyone in the team has a certain task that they specialize in, and the group has been selected with great care to make sure that the product is superior when it is released. I was also very surprised to see how excited and interested the team was about some of the aftermarket, third party developed products that are available for sale currently. The team stated that these products add inspiration and excitement to the platforms they create, and many of the team members are avid users of these products themselves.
I was introduced to most of the development team and was shown many screen shots of the new product. Not only will the scenery and aircraft improvements significant over those of FS2004, but it only added to the excitement of actually being able to try a working demo of the product the following day.
Bright and early the next morning I arrived at the Microsoft
Millennium F Building (Aces HQ) for the debut of the new software.
We were briefed on the new features and improvements we should
expect from FSX when it debuts "Holiday 2006".
Two versions of Microsoft FSX will be released. There will be a Standard Version and a Deluxe Version. The difference? The Deluxe version contains the new Garmin G1000 in three cockpits, additional aircraft in the fleet, Tower Control capability and an SDK pack for development.
Both versions will also enjoy an updated sound package with 5.1 capabilities. One of these capabilities is the option of using a headset and speaker system at the same time. This would enable the sound of the engine and wind to be broadcasted through your speaker system, while controlling all radio operations through a headset separately.
Flight Simulator X will provide pilots with the ability to fly one of 24 new aircraft. From the DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver floatplane and Grumman G-21A Goose to the AirCreation 582SL Ultralight and Maule M7-260C Orion with wheels and skis. Players will be amazed at the details, such as shaded rivets, reflective paint, and glint from glass and chrome. FSX will also contain an Airbus for the first time with an accurate A321A! Most of the historic aircraft from FS2004 have been dropped. Fancy the sailplane in FS but can't stand that there is no tow plane? FSX will also have that tow plane accurately represented with accurate tension modeling for realism.
A Dynamic WorldThe development team has gone to great depths to improve on the stock dull world we all grew to accept in previous versions of Flight Simulator. The sky has been greatly improved with more realistic weather and graphics. Weather data was painstakingly collected from over 5000 weather stations worldwide to accurately reproduce regional behavior. There are also 5 separate seasonal textures with 23 environmental zones that change depending on your specific location on the globe. This means not only will snow be on the ground in Montreal during the winter time, but you will only see appropriate foliage and vegetation on the ground as well. I also noticed the rain effects that have improved greatly since the last version. Not only has the rain on the windshield improved during flight, but the glaze effects on roads and taxiways are simply stimulating as well. In addition, animals and their patterns will be represented in extraordinary detail. From giraffes and lions in Africa, to whales in the ocean, you can track each animal and its movements from the ground or the sky.
Also for the first time, star gazing/navigation will be possible
within your simming experience. The FSX team has accurately placed
over 10,000 stars in their correct locations. These stars will also
be easy to see considering the maximum viewing altitude has been
increased to 18,000 miles high.
The airport database has also been upgraded and improved. FSX will contain 24,000 airports internationally with 1200 being highly detailed due to popularity. Each airport features artificial intelligence-controlled jetways, fuel trucks and moving baggage carts, allowing players to explore their hometown or venture to a favorite far-off city. The FSX design team emphasized their goal of expanding the realism seen in many of the stock North American airports to other parts of the world.
24 million roads have been accurately modeled in to the FSX scenery database. Much of the ground elevations, roads and textures have been pulled from imaging collected from the space shuttle itself! On these roads, users will notice traffic for the first time. The effect is brilliant. Not only will the vehicles move down the road, they will also change lanes and use signal indicators. At night, each vehicle has a pair of headlights and taillights you will see and can follow on any particular road you are near. If you are flying over water, you will notice a complete new assortment of boats which follow their own accurate path internationally. This means that you will be able to see oil tankers and cruise ships on those long Trans-Atlantic flights.
MissionsAlthough FSX will debut as the most detailed and realistic Microsoft Flight Simulator to date, the FSX Development Team wanted to improve the fun of the simulation by offering a variety of new missions to keep the enthusiasts occupied, young and old alike. With more than 50 new missions to choose from, aviators can build their skill levels and engage in even more stimulating game play than before. Players can choose to compete in the Red Bull air race, landing on a moving school bus, racing a jet propelled truck racer, rescuing workers off an exploding oil rig, or bring relief materiel to the Congo, while being able to keep track of their progress on each mission. In addition to the mission layout and database being greatly improved, there are also rewards for good technique and reached goals. The basis behind the improvement in the mission database is to give enthusiasts the ability to have fun while honing their skills for more difficult flying. What better way to learn? More missions will also be available for download from the FSX web site when the product debuts. Enthusiasts will also be able to create and edit missions of their own with the Deluxe Edition!
Shared SkiesThrough increased online gameplay capabilities, "Flight Simulator X" offers players a connected world where they can choose whom they want to be, from air-traffic controller to pilot or co-pilot, as they interact with other aviators from around the globe by chatting in real time via headset and keyboard. One of the most exciting features that will be available with the new FSX software is the "Shared Skies" capability. Shared Skies enables two users to connect on separate computers to fly a single aircraft together. This has limitless simulation possibilities. When you connect through the multiplayer mode, you can pass control of the airplane to each other. This means that you can act as Pilot in Command or Co-Pilot depending on the flight and or mission at hand. Instructors can also instruct trainees how to fly, while keeping a constant watch on the controls if anything goes wrong. The Shared Skies mode combined with the VOLP voice communication chat software works great. Communication is clear and non-delayed.
Another feature in the Shared Skies mode is called "Tower Controller". This feature comes on the FSX Deluxe Version and allows a user to sit behind one of 3100 tower controls to play a role as ATC. During my demo of the product, I shared the cockpit with another pilot on two separate computers, while being directed by someone in Tower Mode on a third computer. You can only imagine how this feature will enhance the way we interact with one another during simulated flight.
Aftermarket SupportOne of my biggest inquiries with the FSX Development Team was if the large majority of popular third party development software will work with the new FSX. The Team assured me that they have been working closely with many of the freeware and payware developers to make sure that FSX is compatible with most of these offerings. This was confirmed when I did get the chance to fly a popular aftermarket payware aircraft on the FSX demo. Not only did the aircraft function well, but there seemed to be no negative effects from the changeover.
ClosingI would like to thank Aces Studios for accommodating me and for taking the time to introduce the new software. As said before, the Flight Simulator Development Team is made up of not only extremely knowledgably people, but enthusiasts at heart. The development of FSX was a massive undertaking and took some of the most leading edge technology and thinking to put together.
QUICK FAQQ: What's new in "Microsoft Flight Simulator X"?
A: Many of the new features in "Flight Simulator X" are based on requests from our loyal community who have provided creative input into our decision process. Therefore, we are excited to bring our fans the most revolutionary addition to the "Flight Simulator" franchise yet. We take full advantage of Windows Vista and the latest Windows gaming hardware to create a beautifully rich and immersive 3D world for aviation fans, young and old, to explore and experience. The new enhancements extend beyond the look and feel of the planet_the advances in graphics will benefit the aircraft as well, and fans will be amazed at the new level of detail in the models and the realistic effects like sun glint off the glass and chrome, reflective paint, and even shaded rivets on the fuselage. For the more gameplay-minded, we are adding a new mission-based element to give fans a more objective driven experience with a sense of progression and skill development. We are also improving the multiplayer technology to allow the community to connect in new ways. This is just the beginning and, in the coming months, we look forward to sharing more information about "Flight Simulator X" as we lead up to launch at the end of the year.
Q: Will "Flight Simulator X" require Windows Vista?
A: No. While "Flight Simulator X" will not require Windows Vista, it will be optimized for the latest in Windows gaming hardware and fans will get the best experience by running on Windows Vista.
Q: What type of computer hardware will I need to run "Flight Simulator X"?
A: While we are still determining exact hardware requirements, we do know that it will run on a wide range of configurations because we want to make "Flight Simulator X" accessible to a wide range of fans.
Q: Will "Flight Simulator X" ship on DVD only?
A: Yes, for the first time "Flight Simulator" will ship on DVD only in order to provide the highest level of detail and realism for the product and we do not plan to offer a CD-based version.
Q: Will aircraft from FS2004 be compatible with "Flight Simulator X"?
A: Backward compatibly with existing 3rd party content is and has always been a priority for us, and we attempt to test as many add-ons as possible in order to provide the greatest level of compatibility.
Q: What are the types of aircraft featured in "Flight Simulator X"?
A: We will offer a range of aircraft to support a wide variety of flying experiences and many of the aircraft will be tied to specific mission-based experiences. Our basic fleet is merely the starting point because we are going to make it easier to download additional aircraft created by the many accomplished add-on developers in the community.
Q: How many airports are included in "Flight Simulator X?"
A: We have included more than 24,000 airports in "Flight Simulator X" and the coverage extends to every continent. We also focused a select number of high-detail airports and added a new level of "interactivity" that the add-on community will certainly expand upon.
Q: What new partners or endorsements will "Flight Simulator X" carry?
A: We are not quite ready to shine the spotlight on our new partners and endorsements, but they will be taking center stage in the months leading up to our launch.
Want to see more? Then check out this FSX video provided by Microsoft:
FlightSim.Com and FSPilotshop.com are proud to announce that we have set up an exclusive pre-order promotion for Flight Simulator X. We will be taking pre-orders for the new FSX software prior to release. Reserve your copy today!
Click HERE for more information.