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Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Thoughts on Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

When Microsoft decided to shut down the studio responsible for development of their Flight Simulator game in 2009, I wrote an angry email to then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer complaining about that decision, explaining how wrong I think he was to do so. I wasn’t very kind in that email and to this day I think justifiably so. Flight Simulator was one of the biggest game franchises back then, and still is today, even with no significant new releases for almost 15 years. There’s an entire industry built around that title, not to mention online communities. It has an amazing history as well.

In 2012 Microsoft released another “flight simulator” game called Microsoft Flight. It was fucking pathetic; here’s what I wrote back then:

This year, 2012, would mark the 30th anniversary of Microsoft Flight Simulator which was first released in 1982. It is a shame that on the 30th anniversary of one of the biggest and most popular PC game franchises, Microsoft will launch Microsoft Flight, which is such a disgrace to what Flight Simulator represented and a huge disappointment.

Not surprisingly that game flopped big-time. I had all but given up on ever being able to play a good flight simulator again. People desperately held on to the old Microsoft Flight Simulator X which got re-released on the Steam platform later.

So you’ll never be able to imagine my surprise when Microsoft announced last year that they were picking up development again on the franchise, and this time with a French developer called Asobo Studio. When I saw videos and screenshots of early versions of the new game I was blown away like practically everyone else online. The work done by Asobo Studio looks absolutely stunning. It’s sometimes very difficult to distinguish the screenshots from real photos. Microsoft probably couldn’t have made a better choice to develop the next version of this game.

This is actually how the game looks, trust me

This game takes photo realism to the next level for PC gaming. It is jaw droppingly beautiful and realistic. The work on lighting, shadows, reflections and atmospherics is amazing. I could go on and on telling you how fucking awesome it is and not do it justice. Instead, I highly recommend watching the “Feature Discovery” video series on the game’s YouTube channel (there are 5 episodes so far), where you can see and hear members of the Asobo Studio development team explain the work that went into the game.

If I lived in France, I would have volunteered to work at Asobo Studio on this game free of charge if they would have me. I am that excited about this game.

Fortunately for me I was selected to participate in an early technical alpha testing program and have had access to an early alpha build of the game. And I can tell you, it’s exactly like what you see on the screenshots. When this game is finally done, we’re all going to be in for a real treat. Even in the very early alpha stages it’s already impressive. I’ve been feeling all tired and fatigued for the last few days because of the hours I’ve spent playing testing the game. My eyes are burning and slightly swollen. One of the “holy shit” moments that I had was when I saw my house in the game. This new game uses real-world data from the cloud while you play it, among which satellite images from Bing Maps, and it also uses artificial intelligence to create a 3D representation of the world based on that data (you’ll see this explained in the above mentioned “Feature Discovery” videos). And I can tell you, my house with its surroundings looked 90% accurate to real life. It is fucking incredible. I would post screenshots but am not allowed to due to an NDA. I suspect one of the first things people will do when they try this game is go look at their house.

The one thing that this game is currently missing is the crop dusting feature which used to be present in the early versions of the game (versions 1.0 — 3.x I believe). I know that it used to exist in Flight Simulator version 3 because that was one of the reasons why I played the game back then. Later versions didn’t have this capability (although I asked) and I relied on the community to add some of it back in, but it was always a bit lackluster. I myself maintained a version of the Ag-Cat for Flight Simulator X. I would really, seriously, love it if Microsoft and Asobo Studio would include first-class support for the crop dusting feature again in this new version of Flight Simulator, along with some modern agricultural aircraft such as the Air Tractor, but even the Cessna AgTruck or the Grumman Ag-Cat. I already emailed around last year practically begging for it and I hope it gets added. It would also make for some nice challenges in the game involving crop dusting fields in some difficult conditions (flying low to the ground, dodging obstacles such as trees, light poles, power lines etc.). Agricultural pilots are highly skilled. As one website puts it:

Aerial application, most commonly known as crop dusting, is a dangerous job and is unnoticed compared to other aviation jobs. Agriculture pilots are special people. They have to be great at multi-tasking and love adrenaline.

What is so dangerous about crop dusting? First, a pilot is carrying about 500 gallons or more of chemicals and works with them all day long. Exposure to these chemicals can be hazardous to their health. Second, they fly for many hours. Pilots can work from dawn to night. Flying hours on end can have negative effects on the pilots, but they continue to work despite the long days. Third, many objects on the ground can be hazardous to their flight. MET towers, meteorological towers, are put up in fields without warning or markings. MET towers are tall but thin, which makes it hard for the pilots to see. Many times they can crash into these towers, resulting in injury or death. Other obstacles they face are wind turbines, power lines and trees. Fourth, they fly at speeds up to 150 mph close to the ground. Finally, the maintenance of the plane can be just as dangerous for the pilot as anything else. Being aware of their surroundings, the chemicals they are spraying, and the plane itself, makes for a difficult job and proves why pilots have to be fantastic multi-taskers. Any of these reasons can result in serious injury or death.

If you agree with me on this then please spam Microsoft and Asobo Studio about this so that they know there’s interest.

I’m going back to playing testing the game now. If you notice a lack of updates on the blog in the coming weeks, you know why.

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