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!
At the end of the day, are we to blame? Did we, the flight simulation community play a role in the demise of Dovetail Games Flight Sim World? For the record, while I only spent about 12-15 hours in Flight Sim World and most of these hours were spent playing back in the June/July 2017 timeframe…I have made every effort to keep my eyes and ears open to the news regarding updates, future plans etc. From much of the information I read prior to the announcement FSW would be cancelled, I found both the progress and the direction the game was headed to be mostly favorable. While I personally don’t mind owning early access game titles, I never saw FSW (in its current state) as a viable replacement to Prepar3D which is my flight simulator of choice. But this certainly doesn’t mean it couldn’t at some point became a replacement for P3D.
A Brief History of Flight Simulation
For me to truly do this article justice and hopefully communicate my thoughts appropriately, especially considering the title of this blog post. I would like to briefly share the history of this wonderful hobby. I promise it will be brief…
Really it all goes back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and a game developer called subLOGIC founded by Bruce Artwick. The first generation subLOGIC Flight Simulator was originally offered for the Apple II (1979) and TRS-80 (1980) computers. The second generation came about in December 1983 (again for the Apple II) and eventually for the Commodore 64 in June of 1984. This was my first experience AND when the passion of flight simulation hit me as a teenager.
In the early 80’s (81-82), Microsoft obtained the license to port the subLOGIC Flight Simulator to IBM compatible PC’s. This would be called Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.0 and was released in November 1982. I’ve often heard this was at the direction of Bill Gates and this is an important fact to remember as I’ll reference this again later in this article.
Between the release of MSFS 1.0 (1982) and the year 1995, Microsoft released versions 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0 and 5.1. Between the years of 1996 and 2012, Microsoft released Flight Simulator 95 (mid 1996), Flight Simulator 98 (mid 1997), Flight Simulator 2000 (late 1999), Flight Simulator 2002 (October 2001), Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight (FS9) (July 2003), Flight Simulator X (FSX) (October 2006) and finally Microsoft Flight (February 2012).
The year 2006 is an important year to focus on during our little history lesson. Not only was Microsoft FSX released in 2006, but it was also the same year Bill Gates announced he would transition from full-time work at Microsoft to part-time.
Each of these official Microsoft releases, spanning over 30 years, continued building on the progress from what subLOGIC released in 1979. We can argue that really FSX was the final true simulator Microsoft released….but that is a discussion for another time. The key point I am wanting to make here is between MSFS 1.0 and MS Flight, 30 years of development, 30 years of improvements and simply…30 years of enjoyment passed by.
Remember… THIRTY YEARS!
Before we depart from our walk down memory lane, let me just throw out a few additional dates. In 2009, we learned that Lockheed Martin purchased the IP and source code for Microsoft ESP (commercial use of FSX) and in 2014 we learned that Dovetail Games had a license agreement to distribute FSX Steam Edition and develop further products based on Microsoft’s technology (spanning 30 years) for the entertainment market.
Now Prepare Yourself
When Lockheed Martin released P3D version 1.0, it pretty much was a rebranded FSX. While we can assume LM may have applied some fixes which hadn’t been addressed in the FSX SP2 update, very little was done to the core application. Actually, almost the same can be said for P3D versions 2.x (2013) and even to some extent version 3.x (2015). The major shift didn’t really occur until 2017 when LM released the 64bit version of Prepar3D version 4.x. But let’s now add another 5 years to our original MSFS timeline and we get a total of 35 Years.
Remember… THIRTY-FIVE YEARS!
While we’re still somewhat in our history lesson, let me just remind everyone that X-Plane wasn’t born yesterday or even the day before. Interestingly enough, when researching information for this article, I have found it somewhat difficult to nail down exactly when the first version of X-Plane was released. Even Wikipedia fails to provide any exact dates. I did find one fan created website which identifies X-Plane version 1 with a release date of 1994. X-Plane v2 released in 1996 with v3, v4 and v5 releasing in 1997, 1998 and 1999. X-Plane v6 through versions 10 released between 2001 and 2011.
Even most die-hard X-Plane fans admit that it wasn’t until the current release of X-Plane 11 (May 2017) when X-Plane really began to shine. So if we calculate the amount of time in years for X-Plane we have 23 years between X-Plane v1 and the current version 11. 23 Years!
Are we responsible?
Yes, I believe so and here’s why. I’ve just spelled out 35 years of blood, sweat and tears which have passed by from MSFS version 1.0 and Prepar3D version 4.x. Everything that is wonderful about P3D v4.x is tied back to MSFS 1.0, actually further…but for the sake of this article we’ll start with 1.0. All the goodness, all the beauty, all the awesomeness is THIRTY FIVE YEARS in the making. As I just pointed out, even X-Plane’s development spans over 20 years.
So Dovetail Games comes along and announces they are developing a next generation flight simulator, it’s released (early access) in May of 2017 and less than 1 year later the project is mothballed. Why did this happen? How could this happen?
Some will tell you it was because Dovetail Games refused to listen to the flight simulation community. Not true! There is evidence (lots of it actually) that this couldn’t be further from the truth. We the community asked Dovetail Games to include missions. Dovetail Games did just that. We the community asked DTG to include jetliners and DTG was working on adding jetliners. We the community asked DTG to include helicopters and DTG was also working on adding helicopters. Many more examples of DTG actually listening to the community.
In addition, some in the community were led to believe that DTG were forcing 3rd party developers to market their add-ons exclusively through Steam. This has also been proven to be false. At the time I wrote this piece, I could purchase add-ons for FSW directly from any of my preferred online retail stores. For the sake of full disclosure, I checked both JustFlight and The FlightSim Store. Both online retail stores have add-ons available to purchase for FSW.
In the end I believe that we the flight sim community killed Flight Sim World and that my friends is a bad, bad thing. The reality of it all is we have two major players now representing the flight sim community. There are a few other titles which have been around for a number of years but I don’t see a lot of 3rd party development support available at the present time. I think AeroflyFS is gaining some momentum. Orbx has a few add-on airports for the platform and I believe a few add-on aircraft have been developed by Just Flight.
I know this blog post will be viewed by some as controversial. Many will agree with me and many will not. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. We all share a passion for flight simulation and we’re all striving to have a platform that will not only be around for many years to come, but also striving for a platform that can help introduce this wonderful hobby to the next generation of virtual pilots. Unfortunately, with Flight Sim World ending the way it has….we’ve potentially shut the door on some of the newcomers and to me this is the saddest part of this story.
In less than 24 hours, Lockheed Martin will release the highly anticipated and very long overdue 64 bit version of Prepar3D version 4. With this release, will we finally see an end to the out of memory issues we’ve all experienced with FSX and every version of P3D? Have we experienced the last OOM? Can we once and for all stop worrying about how much (or how little) VAS we have? Are those little ding, ding, ding noises just as we are on final approach after an extremely long-haul flight going to be a thing of the past? I darn well hope so….
If you are an FSX or P3D user and don’t know what the acronyms of OOM or VAS stand for, or you haven’t encountered those ding, ding, ding sounds just before you are rudely presented with the error that says “Too Bad, Too Sad…we don’t care that you’ve just spent 12 hours flying and are in the final 5 minutes of flight, but you’ve run out of memory and we’re about to ruin your fun”, then I suggested you read this post.
Taking the Plunge
Sure…I might as well! While I owe a review of Dovetail Games brand new Flight Sim World FSW (and I’ll get that done soon), in a nutshell I don’t believe (at this time) there is any chance I’ll spend a great deal of time in FSW. Reason being is lack of 3rd party aircraft, scenery and such. I don’t see FSUIPC making its way to FSW anytime soon and without that, it really limits just how much fun I can have in the sim. NOTE: I said it will lack how much fun I will have. Your mileage may vary depending on what you want from a flight sim.
But yes…I do plan to purchase P3D v4. But I’m also doing so knowing it will be some time before some of my favorite add-ons will be made available. Some developers will have content ready on day 1, others will have their content after the first few weeks etc. etc. From what I’ve read, much of the add-ons I currently own will not require a repurchase to obtain the P3D version 4 installers. This is great news…but it’s more or less the commitment that many of these developers made when we all began speculating about a 64 bit version.
By the way, I have been flying lately as I’ve been playing around with both FSW and enjoying flights in P3D v3.4. I experienced what will hopefully be one of my last OOM crashes on Sunday when I was flying from KDFW to KMEM. Just within about two minutes after landing (thankfully) the system just said..”Nope…you’re done” it has used up 100% of the available 4 GB of VAS which is the dreadful limitation of 32 bit applications we’ve all been dealing with. It was a great flight other than that.
My Future in Flight Sim
All things being equal, in the past 6 months I’ve been using P3D v3.4, X-Plane 11 and Dovetail Games new Flight Sim World. As I’ve stated many times, I have a large dollar investment in FSX/P3D, so much so that I really can’t afford to seriously look at X-Plane as being a full replacement and still be able to enjoy the hobby in the same fashion. I have many years of experience with the Microsoft Flight Sim family of products and still find the X-Plane way of doing things about as difficult as trying to hammer a nail into the wall using only my forehead.
You can expect to read my first impressions on the 64 bit version of Prepar3D version 4 in the coming days/weeks. I might even record my thoughts and make it available on my YouTube channel. Stay tuned…