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.
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”.
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!
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….
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.
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.
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…