Well, today I wrote my first Op-Ed. I got to thinking about the old days of flight simming and on a whim just sat down and typed out a bit, long Op-Ed. I don't really know what the point of my Op-Ed is, but I thought I'd post it here for you all to read if you're interested.
It's kinda long, I admit. But I dont know how to submit an op-ed for flightsim.com to put on the main page so I'll just put it here, I guess. Maybe someone can tell me how to submit it. ;-)
What I'm really looking for is some feedback though...do you think this Op-Ed is good enough to publish? If so then I'll submit it, if not, I'll just save it and keep it for myself. You be the judge. :D I appreciate your comments though.
Okay, here goes. Hope you enjoy reading it:
Being obsessed with aviation as I am, I have owned many flight simulators over the years. Each tiem Microsoft released their latest version of Flight Simulator, I was right out there to get it. The earliest flight sim I had was FS5.1, back in 1994. The graphics were simple, but very realistic for their time. The clouds were white sheets that when viewsed from afar, looked somewhat realistic, but up close they would turn to huge white blocks floating in the sky, with a texturd quiilt pattern of grey and white squares.
One could entertain one's self simply by flying just above these clouds and watching the patterns go by. :)
The sky was rather good for the time too, there was no sun, but there was sunlight, and the sky turned pink and orange on the horizon when the "sun" began to go down. It was quite pretty for it's time. The sound was very simple...at first coming out of my PC speaker as a simple "din-din-din" fo the engines, but when I managed to buy speakers, it was a rather grainy, rough, but somehow believable sound that each plane had.
the planes were textured...but only simply, and the Learjet had no texturing at all. Still somehow it was fun taking off and heading somewhere, having no idea at all where you were going. I didnt know how to land the planes at the time, either...so often I'd have to let the simulator fly the plane to the runway, and then I'd try and take over, and susequently crash. but it was fun. And over time I began to truly understand how planes, and aviation, really worked.
You could say a big part of why I'm a pilot right now, is because of those first early days of Flight Simulator. Because it put a person who knew really little about the field, behind the pilot's seat, in the safety of your own computer chair. Crash and burn? Reset the game and try again until you got it right. It truly was as real as it got back then. :)
I feel that without flight simulator, I may never have become interested enough in flying to continue on and make my first discovery flight in a real aircraft...which incidentally was a Cessna 172 witha cockpit identical to that in FS5.1, for the most part. :)
As the years went by, flight sims got ever more realistic. With FS98, I was able to fly to a realistic looking Hawaii for the first time. I could actually visit the south pacific and I didn't need a BAO flight shop to fly my favourite planes anymore. I got my first tastes of ATC thanks to ProFlight 98, and for the first time, was able to fly into my own home airport, which had been missing in previous sims.
Texture was better than ever, the sky was still beautiful...although the clouds still turned into blocks of white when you got close to them, but that was no matter, the sim had come a long way since FS5.1. I spent my days flying pretty much everywhere I could, from the North Pole to the South Pacific, from Hawaii to Japan, using a whole new array of aircraft built for FS98 with ever increasing quality of textures. I'd enjoy struggling to land an Airbus A340 at Lihua, Kauai, or fly a Boeing 727 in the old Delta Air Lines scheme from Salt Lake City to some midwestern metropolis.
I'd fly over the Caribbean in a spectacualer Eastern Airlines 727, or create thunderstorms in an area and wrestle with the turbulence as the skies grew dark from the fading daylight. I was coming into my own as an aviator, even if I only had 1 hour of cockpit time in real life. None of it mattered. I'd fly my Delta Boeing 757-200 out of Seattle, past Mt. Ranier and heading for SLC as I played "Another Day in Paradise" and set the date in the sim back to the early 1980s...when flying was flying, when the old airlines like Pan Am and PSA still ruled the skies. The true golden era of aviation.
Id' even dare myself to get my Continental MD-82 in old colours from Seattle or Portland to Honolulu, or fly an American Airlines DC-10 from any point on the West Coast to pretty much any point on the Pacific ocean. An island, Hawaii, Japan, you name it. Even the long, long journeys in old QANTAS 747s from Australia or Air New Zealand 747s from Auckland, crossing the pacific and ending up wherever my fual load would take me, would be an absolute adventure with Proflight 98 giving me ATC and numourous downloaded sceneries that I picked up over time.
when FS2000 came out I of course was one of the first to go out and get it...and the new features it offered further blew me away. I now could have more than three layers of clouds in the atmosphere, all kinds of weather, rain drops actually hit the windshield and made their pattering noises, and I could for the first time see rain falling from the sky outside. I could see the sun itself in the sky for the first time as well, and sunsets were as brilliant as ever, stretching to every colour of the rainbow, depending on where you were at.
The textures of the world had further improved, and for the first time, out airplanes actually had night texturing, with windows that glowed with the soft light of the aircraft's cabin lights, and the landing lights themselves actually illuminated the side of the plane...like in the real world. More airports could be flown into...and for the first time, The islands of the South Pacific were included as part of the default scenery...even though most or all of them were untextured.
The new maps and charts in the sim were an amazing new feature, the navigational aids greatly improved. Overall, alot more realism and alot more of the piloting experience was to be had, if not for one small problem that gradually got worse:
FS2000 had about the worst frame rate problems I've ever encountered, and even on a relatively good system like mine which got me about 60-90 FPS in FS98, the most I ever got out of FS2000, in any configuration, was probably 15 FPS, and even if 15 isn't that bad, those frame rates were certainly far from smooth.
At first I ignored it and focused on all the benefits that the sim offered but after many many botched landings and takeoffs because of the problem, I, like many others, grew frustrated. Its hard to land a plane during a slideshow, you can't control the movements as accurately and as we all know landing is one of the most critical moments in flight. Even with Crash Detection off, it was bothersome. :(
After owning the sim for about 6 months, I eventually uninstalled it and sold it on Ebay, overcome witht he frustration. I went back to good old FS98, despite the fact that it lacked all the new features. At least it gave me incredible performance, and I could actually control my plane, which, after all, is more important isn't it? Sure, it didn't have as many airports, but I could deal with that. And I could always look for scenery for the airports I didn't have, such as those in Alaska.
As it turns out I wasnt the only one who went back to FS98, and Microsoft, for the time, got the hint and kept FS98 in production as a "classic" flight sim. Meanwhile, I continued to make airplanes and sceneries for FS98, for those planes and airports that I didnt have, or wished existed.
Eventually FS2002 hit the stores and once again I was one of the first to go out there and get it. And from the moment I started up the sim, I knew that Microsoft had listened to us simmers. Not only was the terrain in mesh form (something we've wanted for a long time), but it also looked just like the real world terrain. Just flying around my own home airport, I began to recognize features in the land that exist in real life. "How could a sim be this realistic?" I asked myself. But this was only the beginning.
The clouds and weather I had loved in FS2000 were back and better than ever. The options for multiple cloud layers still existed, and the rain looked better than ever. And I could see snow this time whereas in FS2000 I never did see any snow, even when it was selected. And the frame rates....were the best I'd seen since FS98. Unfortunately the moving cars that I had seen moving along the freeways in FS2000 no longer existed, but the roads could still easily be seen crossing the land, and for the very first time, I could actually follow the very freeway that runs through my home city, all the way to Salt Lake City, and knew where I was every step of the way.
Season changing textures looked better than ever as well, and finally, Microsoft had given us a default ATC engine. The flight school program that came with the game had it's bugs, but it was great for what it was, and cabin interiors were even better than those in FS2000. Engine sounds improved, beautiful new weather textures, better Real World Weather, even more airports, even more navaids...event he ability to see your own default plane fall apart during a crash landing and have smoke spew out from the wreckage...it seemed all too good to be true. How could a sim this advanced, have such great performance?
And it didnt even stop there. Airports now had AI traffic...that could be seen pretty much anywhere you flew, not just limited to select cities like the old AI planes in FS98 at Chicago and New York airports. Remember those old blue, red, orange, and yellow 727s that used to move around? I sure do. ;)
We even had autogen scenery. You'd find palm trees in California and Hawaii, evergreen forests in Washington and Oregon, low bushes and shrubs in the deserts.Even buildings were auto generated....cities became vertical, where in the past, the most builkdings you'd see would be the downtown skyscrapers. And aircraft themselves finally had the ability to reflect the world around them, to be shiny and polished looking as the real airliners are. :)
It seemed as if MS would have to go a long way to top this. FS2002 is probably the greatest flight simulator ever created. It's as if Microsoft combined everything everybody loved about FS98, with everything everybody loved about FS2000, to create the perfect sim.
The only thing that could have been called annoying about FS2002, was how some of the older FS2000 aircraft simply weren't compatible with the new sim. But as we approach the release of FS2004- A Century Of Flight, we come to find that even THAT problem has been fixed, as the new sim boasts compatibility with every plane made since FS2000, provided that they followed the original SDKs for those sims.
So where do we go from here? Weather in FS2004 seems to be getting better and better, with even more cloud options to choose from, and new weather themes as well. More airports, more navaids, more aircraft, including the Wright Flyer, the first aircraft to achieve manned powered flight. Indeed, flight sims keep getting better and better over the years. The sky is the limit they say, and possibly sometime in the future..maybe the skies will grow darker at higher altititude and perhaps even the curvature of the earth will be seen in flight sim at high altitudes. We can only wait and see, though the future holds some exciting possibilities.
Still with all these new features, the old sims seem to still hold some kind of fascination abou them. You might ask yourself how you were ever able to cope in the old days with the blocky clouds, the rough sounds, simple textures on the ground and aircraft itself, the primitive navaids and a landscape that was barely accurate to the landscape in real life. But yet, you still got by, even if you couldnt ever land at your home airport. And if you're like me, every once in a while get get that desire to go back to the old sim, just for a day or two, to fly in that primitive world once again.
With all these new features, why would we ever go back? Perhaps it's similar to the reason why old pilots talk about the good old days of aviation, when there was less technology to rely on, and often a great deal of navigation was done by recognizing features in the land along the way. Perhaps it had something to do wtih the rawness of it all, how fresh and new flying still was, how complex and yet simple the cockpits were, and how you put your own fate in your own hands.
The early flight sims were like that. They were more simple, but they also held that feeling of adenture, of discovering something new. Despite their shortcomings, it was a real adventure. Today we look back on it all, rreflect on the old days of flightsimming, and think...."My, how far we have come."
Here's to a bright future for Flight Simulator, but let's not ever forget the old days of flightsimming. After all, that's where we first truly got our flightsim wings....it's how we started on the road to being the professional simmers we are today. Some of us even eat real airplane food while making a cross country airliner flight...all to make the experience more real. Some of us even built our own home cockpits for flightsimming, some have advanced yokes, pedals and trust levels. Obsessed? Yes, but for good reason. Flight Simulator may have even helped some of us to become real life pilots, and perhaps make aviation our lifelong career. But we all remember where we started, and it all holds a special place in our memories...those old simple textures of the early flight sims.
So go dust off that old FS5.1 CD and play it for a few hours. You never know, it might bring back some great memories. And at the end of the day, you can load up FS2002, and marvel at just how far we've some in such a short time. As real as it gets? You bet. From old to new, I'd say Microsoft has lived up to it's promise. :)
What do you think of my Op-Ed?
Brandon Williams, Aircraft developer, flightsim.com
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