Microsoft Flight Simulator

As I often say, unless you’ve had your head under a rock the past 48-72 hours, you’ve certainly heard about the BIG flight sim news.  No, the biggest flight sim related news to break over this past weekend didn’t come from the halls of FSExpo19.  As the curtains were all about to close on what appears to have been another extremely successful FlightSimExpo, Microsoft (yes…Microsoft) was making an announcement waaaaay over on the other side of the country,  at the hugely popular E3 gaming conference in Los Angeles that they were returning to the flight simulation market in 2020 with Microsoft Flight Simulator.

My Initial Reaction

The first I heard of this was on Sunday afternoon.  I was kicked back in my lazy boy recliner and saw a Facebook post stating something about a new version of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020.  My first thought was someone’s made a YouTube video and in true “click bait” fashion titled it that way and all it will end up being is P3D with a ton of addons.  But….but…much to my surprise that was not the case.

The Website

In addition to the E3 announcement, Microsoft has a fancy website and an “Insider Program” already setup to support the announcement.   On this website it states, “Microsoft Flight Simulator is the next generation of one of the most beloved simulation franchises.  From light planes to wide-body jets, fly highly detailed and stunning aircraft in an incredibly realistic world.  Create your flight plan and fly anywhere on the planet.  Enjoy flying day or night, and face realistic, challenging weather conditions”

The Video

Take a Deep Breath and slowly Exhale……

Here’s what we know so far.  Not much!   It appears Microsoft Flight Simulator will release sometime in 2020.  It appears it will be available for both XBOX and Windows 10.  It appears (based on the info available) the video was “captured in real-time 4K”.  In the grand scheme of things this really isn’t enough information to even warrant talking about it,  yet here we are….talking about it! You literally will not find a single flight sim community NOT talking about it.  It’s everywhere…yet what we know is…not much!

Opinions, Opinions…

In addition to not really knowing much (at this stage) about this new Microsoft Flight Simulator everyone has opinions.  Yes, this includes yours truly.  Of course I do!  Simply, you can’t have been involved the hobby as long as I have and not have an opinion or three.  I’m human…I do and I’m going to share a few of my thoughts with you.  Whether you care to read them, agree with them is up to you.  Here goes….

Negative Nancy

There seems to be a lot of criticism from some regarding the opinions and comments made by others with regards to this announcement.  A lot of what I’m reading which would fall into this category is being made by those who have only been involved in this hobby 5 minutes.  They weren’t around a decade or more ago to read/hear about all the things Microsoft Flight Simulator was to become.  They weren’t around when the hype surrounding Microsoft Flight could be cut with a knife and the giant sucking sound which occurred when all the excitement evaporated when reality set in.

Most who will read the words I’ve written can be grouped into the hardcore flight simulation community segment.  We’ve all grown up through the various iterations of the wonderful Microsoft Flight Simulator product and were all equally let down when it became no more.  Yet, we tightened our laces and settled into one of two courts with that being Prepar3D and the second being X-Plane.  Some are successfully straddling the fence of both and there’s a small segment which have stayed behind with FSX or FSX Steam Edition and yes, as funny as this may sound….a portion are still stuck on the FS2004/FS9 island.  But regardless, we all shed our tears for what was Microsoft Flight Simulator and we’ve moved on.  So yes, we have a right to our opinions and we have a right to be somewhat skeptical of this new project. 

Niche Community

You’ve often heard myself and others talk about what a niche community we have.  It’s true!  The flight simulation community isn’t as big as some might want to make it out to be.  While competition is a good thing, over saturation isn’t so much.  Can our community support three major flight simulation platforms?  I’m not so sure, but could Microsoft have a trick up their sleeve?

I Love History

As previously stated, our community is small compared to other popular “gaming”communities.  While many of us don’t consider our flight simulation to be a game, by the way it’s not…it’s a simulator.  We still get compared to other communities.  Anyway….

Despite the fact there are a few other simulator options out there, the two major players at this point in time are Prepar3D and X-Plane.  Before we dive too deep in discussing these, let’s take a minute or two for a history lesson.

Microsoft released FSX in 2006 and FSX Acceleration (SP2) a year later 2007.

Microsoft sold the intellectual property (IP) including source code for the commercial use side of FSX SP2 to Lockheed Martin in 2009. 

Lockheed Martin released Prepar3d v1 in November 2010. 

Microsoft released Microsoft Flight in February 2012 (the same year the Mayans got the end of the world wrong).

In 2014, Dovetail Games announced a license agreement with Microsoft to distribute Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition. FSX : SE was released in December 2014. 

In 2014, Dovetail Games also announced their plans to develop a “next generation” flight simulation product further developed on Microsoft’s technology and bring this to market in 2015.  However, Flight Sim World wouldn’t come to fruition until 2017.  In April 2018, Dovetail announced Flight Sim World development would be closed.

In a nutshell, while Flight Sim World was supposed to be the next generation flight simulator product developed on Microsoft technology, the end result wasn’t what the hard core flight simulation community wanted or needed. 

Will Microsoft Flight Simulator Take Flight Again?

With the history lesson out of the way, I’ve gotta say that from what I see in the 1 minute and 44 second trailer…I’m amazed, I’m impressed and I’m highly, highly optimistic.  Let me repeat that…I’m highly optimistic!  But as I stated earlier, what we actually know beyond what our eyes are taking in just isn’t that much.  For example….

What about our current add-ons which have been developed for FSX/P3D?  Will they work?  Who knows.  However, if I were to take a really big guess (and that’s all it really is at this point) I would say NO!  No, our current add-ons won’t work.  Especially not right out of the gate.  The next question folks will ponder is, will it cost to get current add-ons for the new sim?  We just don’t know.

But let me say this about “our current add-ons”.  I constantly see complaints (especially in the FSX/P3D communities) about the fact that P3D is just a rebranding of sorts of FSX.  While it is, it also isn’t.  Meaning, Lockheed Martin have done some really awesome things to make P3D v4.5 what it is today and P3D v4.5 is truly lightyears from FSX.  But…..but…I firmly believe in order for us to truly turn that corner and reach a point that we can say “THIS…THIS RIGHT HERE…Is the next generation flight simulator”, well….we’re gonna have to say goodbye to all those ancient and archaic add-ons we’re so desperately trying to hold onto.  Enough is enough. 

Having said that, (again because we just don’t know much at this point) will 3rd party scenery actually still be needed? Of the scenes depicted in the short trailer, are we looking at default?  If so, dang…that’s impressive for default scenery.  But my guess is, out of the box Microsoft Flight Simulator will have some heavily detailed areas and others not so much.  But again…we just don’ t know.

The information available today does confirm we can fly anywhere on the planet.  So most likely this will be just as inclusive as FSX was.  But does this mean every airport, every city, every town will be modeled?  Again….we just don’t know.  Of course, there is speculation some data might actually be streamed into the sim as one flies along.  But at this point we really just don’t know.

But visually impressive/immersive scenery is only part of the equation.  The hardcore flight simulation community will also expect the same impressive/immersive experience in the aircraft as well.  At this point in time, there’s no evidence proving or disproving this important fact. 

Bottom line and this is just my opinion.  If (and that’s a really big IF) Microsoft Flight Simulator provides us both the visuals and the level of immersion we have come to expect from Prepar3D and X-Plane, then I believe this could (at some point in the future) live up to being called the next generation flight sim.  But can our little community support a big three concept?

The Ace in the Hole

Several years ago I discussed at great depth the confusion surrounding a topic that I’m going to bring up once again.  This topic is possibly…the ace in the hole that Microsoft needs to have any success.  Obviously, success might simply be “If you build it, we will come”…back.  But as I pointed out earlier, it’s gotta be done right.  An arcade game isn’t what we’re looking for.  But back on topic…

Could Microsoft actually force a change in how Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D is sold?  What am I talking about?  Of course, I’m talking about that 800 lb. Gorilla sitting over there in the corner called EULA or End User License Agreement. 

Reflecting very briefly on that history lesson from a few moments ago, in 2009 when Microsoft sold the commercial side of FSX to Lockheed Martin the intention was P3D would not be marketed as “Personal Consumer Entertainment” software.  However, nothing has prevented individuals like myself to purchase, download, install and use P3D v1, P3D v2, P3D v3 and now P3D v4.  While we can make every attempt to pick a few words out of the existing P3D EULA which gives us a right to use the software (training, simulating and learning), the very bottom line is many of us are using P3D for “personal consumer entertainment” purposes only, which is exactly how we all once used Microsoft FSX.  My fear is the right set of attorneys in the right courtroom could argue that Lockheed Martin is operating outside of the agreement established by Microsoft.  Hey, if an individual was able to sue a fast food establishment (and win) many years ago because the hot coffee she ordered through the drive thru in which she accidentally spilled on herself, then certainly anything might be possible here.

Bottom Line

We simply don’t know much!  It looks dang good and if done right, it could be a success and win many of us back to the Microsoft family. This will especially be true depending on Prepar3D v5.  Which like MSFS, we also don’t know a lot about.  As more information becomes available, I’ll certainly provide my opinion along with everyone else.  But just remember…I have my opinions and you will have your opinions.  These may be the same, may be similar or might be completely worlds apart.  But at the end of the day, they are just that.  Opinions!

Until next time…

Happy Flying!

Jerry

Audio For VATSIM–OMG

Before I get too deep in the weeds with this blog posting, let me first start off by saying a BIG THANK YOU to every single VATSIM member.  Regardless if you are a pilot, ATC, supervisor, management, technical development team etc.  Thank YOU!  I say this because I believe the success of VATSIM is down to each and every one of US.  Regardless of how many years you’ve been a member, regardless of how many hours you have accumulated on the network and regardless of your position within the VATSIM network….VATSIM is and always will be successful because of each and every one of us. 

Secondly, I do want to call out a few individuals.  These are folks I personally didn’t know until recently.  But in some way over the past 48-72 hours I’ve interacted with via Facebook, Discord or my own blog site and helped me get everything going so I could participate in the Sunday session of the Audio for VATSIM test during FSExpo19.  These individuals are: Matthew Ciafarani, Aidan Stevens, Mats Edvin Aaro and Gary Oliver. 

Finally, if you missed the previous blog posting which I detailed all the issues/frustrations I experienced in attempting to get started titled “Audio for VATSIM – FSExpo Beta Bust”, then take a few minutes to bring yourself up to speed and also read the comment left by Gary Oliver.  The issues which prevented me (and several others) from joining in on the Saturday testing are explained in Gary’s comment and are all certainly understandable.  I earn my living in the IT world and yes…”Stuff” happens.  I want to once again state for the record that I didn’t write the FSExpo Beta Bust post as a way to “hate” on VATSIM.  I believe it was well received by VATSIM management and serves to document my experiences.  That’s it!

Audio for VATSIM

By late Saturday evening I had finished up my running around, completed the chores on the “honey do” list (guys you know this has to be a priority) and settled back in the lazy-boy with a movie in the DVD player and the wife happy.  With the help of the folks mentioned above had access to both the Audio for VATSIM (AFV) Discord server and the AFV website.  I had the updated vPilot client downloaded and pretty much everything set. 

The main testing on Sunday was scheduled to begin at 1330z (7:30 AM MT).  I woke up around 6:30 and made my first stop the coffee pot.  Nothing ever really happens until I receive my first application of java in the morning.  With coffee in hand, I proceeded down to the man-cave and powered on the Beast Mark V and the other PC’s I use for flight sim.  My flight sim setup is a little more complicated as I run other applications in a networked setup to offload some of the CPU processing where I can.  Anyway, I quickly got the AFV vPilot client installed, configured and installed a brand new Southwest 737-800 livery for the event. 

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New Southwest B738 in the Heart livery.  Parked at KMSY.

The Big Easy

I decided to fly the same flight/route which I had signed up for on Saturday.  I loaded up Prepar3D v4.5 and the PMDG 737-800 in the Southwest Airlines “Heart Livery” at the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, Louisiana (KMSY).  While I didn’t have any ATC at time of departure, I did have company on the ground with an Air Canada Airbus at the nearby gate. 

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Pushback complete and ready for taxi. 

I completely forgot about voice UNICOM, but went ahead and typed my intentions out via text.  It wasn’t until I got airborne that I heard another pilot speak on 122.80.  I must say, if everyone remains on their best behavior, then voice UNICOM will be awesome. 

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Southwest Flight 1066 wheels up

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Making our left turn to join the departure route.  Mississippi river and Lake Pontchartrain in the background. 

Once I reached my cruising altitude of FL350 and out over the Gulf of Mexico, I was able to tune into Atlanta Center and could hear through my own headset the new “Audio for VATSIM”.  I was blown away.

AFV Benefits

There’s more to the new Audio for VATSIM than what meets the eye EARS.  Of course the major benefit has been a long time coming and I’ll discuss more about this in a minute.  The two images below represent those who (at the time) were connected to the beta VATSIM server where the FSExpo AFV tests were being conducted.  I had just departed from KMSY (climbing through 17,000 for FL350) and you can see my audio range is represented by the red circle around my aircraft position.  These circles essentially represent our VHF transceiver range. 

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Upon reaching my TOC (FL350) my audio range is much greater.  With regards to voice UNICOM, I’ll only hear other pilots which fall into my VHF radio range.  Likewise, the same applies to picking up ATIS reports.  While I initially had my reservations about voice UNICOM, after more thought on the subject I believe it will be a good thing in the long run.  Yes, it will get abused…but I also know that VATSIM will hold those who abuse it accountable. 

While voice UNICOM does slightly break the immersion for those who fly commercial jets, our level of immersion is also broken anytime we fly today with out constant ATC coverage.  Voice UNICOM will certainly be a major benefit to VFR flight, of which I certainly hope to do more of.

4

ATIS Audio

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  For the past several years I’ve actually loathed the ATIS audio.  I stopped “listening” to ATIS audio a very long time ago.  This doesn’t mean I don’t pickup ATIS info, I just preferred to either receive it via text in vPilot or grab the text info from VATSpy.  I know it’s an age thing and I know my ears are paying me back from that Van Halen concert back in the late 1980’s.  But wow…what a concert and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world.  But I digress….

Yea…my hearing isn’t what it used to be and the ATIS audio of the past was most like listening to the adults speak on Charlie Brown.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have a listen to this

But I’m really pleased to say that with the new audio codec, ATIS audio is very pleasing and easy to understand.  Here’s the ATIS info from Mickey Mouse International…err, I mean Orlando International Airport. 

Let your ears be the judge

I recorded a short segment of my flight once I reached Jacksonville Center airspace.  In the span of approx. 7 minutes, 30 seconds you’ll hear several audio transmissions between ATC, myself (Southwest 1066) and several other pilots.  These were all flights arriving into Orlando KMCO during the early stages of testing on Sunday morning. 

What do you think?

While there was one pilot with much lower audio levels than anyone else, I could still make out what he was saying.  I believe once the new Audio for VATSIM becomes the new normal and everyone has a chance to adjust their audio levels, this new system will truly enhance all the wonderful things about flying in a multiplayer ATC environment. 

For me, this is the very best thing to happen to VATSIM in its (and my) 18 year history.  While I’ve been amazed at what my eyes have witnessed over the years, the lack of a truly powerful and supportive audio system has been been a major let down.  The team responsible for developing and bringing the new Audio for VATSIM into reality deserve very accolade we can give them.  Audio for VATSIM will propel the VATSIM network well into the future and beyond.

The Million Dollar Question!  When?

As we know, the testing which took place this past weekend during FSExpo19 was not the only testing held for the new audio system.  However, this weekends event was by far the largest.  From both what my ears experienced as well as what I’ve read on their Discord channel…I don’t think we’re very far away from having AFV into full production.  However, at this particular time there have been no firm announcements.  We can only speculate if we’re just days/weeks away, more than a month or ????  I have a feeling we’re closer than we might think. 

Well, that just about brings this posting to a close.  I will have a few blog posting updates this week (pending I find the time to write them).  I plan to document my thoughts on a few newsworthy items of recent and will be digging through all the info I can find on product news from FSExpo19. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!

JT

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