Microsoft, an American multinational company whose purpose is to manufacture, develop, license, support and even sell software products, including both computer and simple electronics all around the globe. It is best known for its famous operating system known as Microsoft Windows. Despite all of its accomplishments and investments in the software world, one of its hardware products include the Xbox video game console. Among one of its most popular games that are still not publicly released but is highly trending nowadays because of its versatility is Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is a series of flight simulator programs that are marketed as video games. And as the name suggests it is a simulation game that consists of light planes to wide-body jets and the user can experience what it feels like to pilot a specific type of aircraft. See how the world looks like but in virtual reality. It was one of the most successful applications of VR (virtual reality) technology. Microsoft Flight Simulator may be the longest-running PC game series of all time. Microsoft Flight Simulator X is the latest major release of Microsoft Flight Simulator. However, we will be talking about the upcoming version that is, the Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 developed by Asobo Studios and published by Xbox Game Studios exclusively for Windows 10 and Xbox One. It will be released in the year 2020.
The success of the Microsoft Flight Simulator series has led them to even Guinness World Records awarding the series seven world records in the Guinness World Record: Gaming Edition.
On the 9th of June, 2019, in a small gaming conference called E3, Microsoft astonished the flight simulator community by announcing a new installment titled as Microsoft Flight Simulator. Moreover, during the Xbox gaming conference, they played a trailer for the new Microsoft Flight Simulator title. The first edition to the flight simulator franchise in ten years after Ace Game Studios was closed back in 2009. The trailer was very good. Many people were excited to see how they will make the trailer a reality yet some were concerned and skeptical. It was because how could Microsoft achieve that level of visual graphics and fidelity in real-time. Since Microsoft was making a comeback after 10 years it also led people to think that, was this another Xbox arcaded game or an authentic flight simulator.
Microsoft gave all these answers telling that they believe several technologies have evolved to such extent where they can be brought together and converged to leap forward in-flight simulation. They focused on four key areas, the world, the sky, aerodynamics, and the cockpit. Throughout the history of flight simulation, one goal was always there i.e. to present the world more accurately and realistically. From textured building to solid trees, to ortho scenery and OSM road, it’s been a long journey for flight simulators. So, what makes the Microsoft Flight Simulator different from other flight simulators? Microsoft thinks that the Microsoft Flight Simulator will give a representation of the entire world with accuracy down to centimeters. Difficult but not impossible. Microsoft Bing maps have a ton of data, which will help in Flight Simulator to shift the accuracy down to centimeters. With only two petabytes of Bing data, all cities, airports, roads, and mountains in the whole world have been represented. Forget your country; imagine flying over your own house in a virtually realistic environment, Microsoft Flight Simulator will provide you the smallest details. Microsoft Flight Simulator has the complete representation of the Earth. The photogrammetry will have accuracy down to three centimeters, satellite images down to three centimeters, and Ariel imagery down to five centimeters, it consists of 3D scans of over 400 cities and all of this is done, as mentioned before, using 2 petabytes of data. Flight Simulator uses a clever integration of procedural generation of assets with real-time Bing map integration. That means every country, every location, every airport and even dirt islands, which are remote across the map, will be accurate to VFR (visual flight rules). Considering all the data that Bing has, it’s still not enough to visually represent everything down to a centimeter across the whole world. To counter problems like these, machine learning and computer vision-based algorithms also known as Azure Cloud services come into place. Things left by the Bing, such as trees, ground, or building details are handled by these concepts. In addition to that, the details such as dirt and grass are procedurally generated. Thus, you can go anywhere in the Microsoft Flight Simulator and wherever you go it will represent the real world.
But since flight simulators normally require the internet, what happens if my internet speed or bandwidth is not good? What if the user doesn’t even have an internet connection?
The answer is that Microsoft Flight Simulator uses adaptive streaming which measures your bandwidth. It checks if you have an internet connection and adapts to its bandwidth. However, the better your bandwidth the better your experience. Now the question remains about what to do if you don’t have an internet connection, well Microsoft Flight Simulator got you covered because there is a full offline mode available which is based on real-life data is and is reasonably accurate. Now an additional feature that the Microsoft Flight Simulator provides is that you can save arbitrary regions of the world that is pre-cache areas when you have the connection, and view them offline with the same details, as you would have seen in an online simulation.
Next comes the skies, the skies are complex and difficult to add realism to. The skies are very difficult to render, they scatter light and create shadows. Microsoft Flight Simulator allows you to render the clouds approximately up to 600km. Even the night sky is accurately modeled and all stars are correctly represented. The simulator supports everything the natural factors do such as planes affected by storm, wind gust or lightning. The simulator also makes reflection possible. And when I say reflection I mean of all types, like the reflection of clouds and buildings on the water. On days with little sunlight the reflections will be darker thus providing a better experience All the clouds are volumetric, so even passing through those clouds will feel real.
There are realistic physics and weather systems present in the Microsoft Flight Simulator and it also utilizes real-world weather data. At E3 2019, an example was given how it would be like if the plane was being driven during rainy weather. Microsoft Flight Simulator has captured the details to such an extent that the rain droplets can be seen and the way they appear on the windscreen of the plane is informed by the speed of the plane. The water droplets will even stretch on the pretty neat windscreen. Similarly, like rain, volumetric rainbows will be present depending on the real-life scenario.
The Microsoft Flight Simulator has been built on the FSX but the aerodynamic part of the FSX has been re-written i.e. it is a new aerodynamic simulation from scratch. A new worldwide atmospheric air mass simulation will now be present. The simulation can now make emergency landings anywhere, even in mountains. The tires of the planes are correctly simulated with dynamic and static friction. Rubber tires will behave differently on grass, cement or on slopes. Not only that, but the framerate will be adjusted to the framerate of the user’s system thus developing an even smoother experience for the user. Another addition to the simulator is making the plane flight look smoother and it is not as if the planes are on some kind of rail. Another thing was added which is related to icing. It simulates icing based on the humidity of the air. Microsoft Flight Simulator consists of a legacy code from Flight Simulator X, so if you don’t like the new simulation you can switch the other simulation, I’d say this is one of the best things about Microsoft Flight Simulator. The new aerodynamics simulation is more advanced as it subdivides the aircraft into thousands of surfaces, which are mapped over the airframe, which will allow more aerobatics that are realistic. One of the main improvements was the new air mass simulation, which is now realistically simulated on the whole globe.
In Microsoft Flight Simulator, a new day and night cycle is added. The position of the sun will now be determined by the moment in the year, for example, it may be a bit higher this summer and a bit lower in winter. Even the lights at night will affect the clouds.
The last and main point is the aircraft we’ll be flying. Only three aircraft were given to simulate at the global preview event, the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, the Robin DR400 and the SOCATA TBM 900. Though a new Microsoft Flight Simulator aircraft list was uploaded and there are a dozen planes in the list.