Actually….it’s looking REAL Good! The updates from Microsoft over the past few weeks have been extraordinarily awesome. Just this week more news was made available to us regarding the Airbus A-320 and the Boeing 747-8i which will be just two of the default aircraft made available in the new simulator. You can read more about this here.
Video Killed the Radio Star
Yes, it’s time for one of my 80’s music references which I do tend to use from time to time and also time to interject my opinion. Remember, my opinion is just that. It’s my opinion! It belongs to me. We may or may not agree and that’s OK. I’ll respect you and your opinion and likewise, I hope you’ll do the same.
I’ve been discussing MSFS2020 on this blog site since the news first broke almost a year ago. As a matter of fact, this news surprised absolutely everyone in the flight sim community. No one saw this coming. At the time Microsoft made this announcement the FlightSimExpo in Orlando was taking place and before we learned about MSFS2020 the community had two clear (and mostly equal) platforms to saddle their horse to and of course I’m talking about Prepar3D and X-Plane. But should we begin planning the funeral of these two major players?
Rock You Like A Hurricane
I personally believe Microsoft learned a very valuable lesson from their “Flight” experience, or should I say fiasco from 8 years ago. I believe Microsoft knew in order to truly catch and captivate the attention of the flight sim community they needed to step up to the plate, swing and hit the ball out of the park. They did just this and they’ve kept hitting home runs since.
Is This Love?
The “Flight Fiasco” I mentioned earlier scarred the community. Many of us we were wondering what the heck was Microsoft thinking? I will also admit that I too was first skeptical about MSFS2020 when I learned MS also planned to make this available on the Xbox platform. But over time we’ve heard from add-on developers like PMDG, FSLabs and Aerosoft have plans to release add-on aircraft for the new platform. I’m sure others like A2A, TFDi, QualityWings etc. will follow suit.
Only time will tell exactly what the impact will be to both Prepar3D and X-Plane. After all, there are still a lot of FSX and even FS9 users in our community. I personally believe the impact won’t be known until we learn more about the pricing strategy with MSFS2020. Many (including myself) believe there most likely will be a base price cost along with a monthly subscription. As I’ve stated in previous postings about MSFS2020, the monthly subscription doesn’t scare me away pending it’s reasonable. Of course what is reasonable to me, may not be so to others. But as I’ve also pointed out before, I don’t expect any add-on from FSX –> P3Dv5.x to be made available for MSFS for free (as we’ve seen in the past). I believe any add-on developed for FSX –> P3Dv5.x will require a significant amount of re-development efforts to justify a fee of some kind. We’re even seeing some developers take this position with their P3Dv4.5 –> P3Dv5.x work. Anyway…..
Feels Like the First Time
While my journey from P3Dv4.x –> P3Dv5.x hasn’t required any hardware upgrades, I do remember the days where each time Microsoft released a new flight simulator I was always a day late and a dollar or three short when it came to hardware requirements. However, most who have built systems over the past few years and beefed them up should be OK when it comes to MSFS2020. After all, so much of the underlying code of even P3Dv5 is still built on the original FSX code. So I’m hopeful my hardware will allow MSFS2020 to perform even better than how my P3D versions are performing.
There’s still so much we really don’t know about the Microsoft Flight Simulator. While I’m not sure COVID-19 will play a part in the release schedule, I would estimate a late fall/early winter release to coincide with the 2020 Christmas holiday. As for everything else, I believe Microsoft will continue to release chunks of information over the next several months and build up the anticipation and hype.
Of course, much like my current experience with P3Dv5….after initial release of MSFS2020 I would anticipate it will be a few weeks (or even months) before study level aircraft are available and it be ready for VATSIM use. But I’m sure I’ll do exactly what everyone else will do within 5 minutes of install. That is to fire up the sim, load myself up near my closest airport (KAPA) and fly over my house.
In addition to sore, tired muscles from a weekend of major DIY work (see photo below), I also woke up to some really awesome news about the upcoming (sometime in 2020) Microsoft Flight Simulator. More about this in just a bit.
Major “Honey Do” list work
One of the reasons why I haven’t been very active posting articles on my blog site has been primarily due to the fact that most weekends since I’ve returned from my European Vacation, I’ve been either up a ladder or crawling around on my hands and knees. Long story short, we returned from vacation in early August to find an upstairs leak that had ruined our kitchen ceiling. While much of the work to repair the kitchen ceiling was covered by insurance (and performed by contractors), we decided to also repaint and redecorate much of the rest of the house in the process. After all, new paint in the kitchen will just make the 12+ year old paint in the rest of the house look dingy.
The above picture is me working on painting the edges where the wall meets the ceiling.
The second photo is me preparing to install a new light fixture in the entry hall way.
We still have a few more weekends of work before it’s all done. But once it’s done, the entire interior of the house will have a fresh, new coat of paint. But enough about this. I’m getting tired just thinking about it.
Microsoft Flight Simulator News
You may recall, I discussed the new Microsoft Flight Simulator which we all first heard about back in June. You can find these two articles here and here. In both articles, I expressed my guarded reservations but tried to be as optimistic as possible on this news which hit the flight simulation community by complete surprise. After all, many of us are still bitter about Microsoft turning their back to the community not once, but twice and we all questioned why they would want to re-enter the flight simulation space.
Watch This Video
If you have 32 minutes of spare time, I would like to direct you to a video by FroogleSim. Pete discusses his recent trip out to Microsoft to see and experience the brand new Microsoft Flight Simulator which has been in development for the past 5 years. Unlike some of Pete’s other videos on this subject, he actually did a very good job and he admits he was initially wrong about the opinions he first expressed back in June. Again, if flight simulation interests you…then the video below is a must-see.
OMG! Yes, literally…Oh My God! Bottom line, we still just have to wait and see. But I’ve seen enough and heard enough to realize that 2020 is going to be an amazing year in flight simulation. We don’t have all the answers to the million and one questions yet to be asked. Initially this new sim from Microsoft may not be able to tick all the boxes (multiplayer, third-party add-ons etc.), but I believe Microsoft Flight Simulator will once again regain its place at the top and re-write history. I personally don’t see it immediately replacing P3D/X-Plane, but once we can begin to have access to a wide range of study level aircraft, online multiplayer (VATSIM) then I believe both P3D and X-Plane will begin to see a decline.
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. I hopefully will return soon to posting more content about flight simulation and other simulation based game topics here. Until then….
A few weeks ago I discussed the completely out of the blue announcement Microsoft dropped on the world regarding their planned release of what they have titled “Microsoft Flight Simulator”. Of course depending on what you are reading and where you are reading it, you might also see it referenced as Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. The 2020 has been added by folks in the community simply because the anticipated release date is sometime in the year 2020.
Beware False Prophets
Almost overnight we’ve seen many in the community come out as “Experts” and “Insiders” when just about the only thing they are an expert or insider on is the art of BS. I find it extremely interesting that literally a few “no bodies” in the community were some how, or another privy to info from Microsoft, when many of the legit major players in the FSX and P3D communities were just as blinded sided as the rest of us. So my advice, is take anything you see/hear from some folks on YouTube as complete and udder BS for now. Some folks will do just about anything for a few extra clicks here and a few extra subs there….With that said….I’ll continue.
Word From Microsoft
Microsoft provided a bit of additional information a few weeks ago in the form of an announcement which can be read here. In this announcement, Microsoft attempted to clear the air on several important areas in the bullet points I’ve pasted below:
We are making Microsoft Flight Simulator. Emphasis on the word SIMULATOR.
Designed for PC, optimized for multiplatform support (e.g. Xbox).
Yes. We are supporting 3rd Party Content Development and Community Content creation. We are aware of the concerns in the current eco-system and are working to address them.
Yes. We genuinely want to work closely with the community in the development of this title.
Accessibility is important to us. Whatever your abilities are, if you want to fly, we are going to do whatever we can to make that happen. Yoke and pedals, mouse and keyboard, controller, etc. No pilot should be left behind.
I’ve received a few emails from some of you asking about my thoughts and even asking for advice regarding the subject of MSFS 2020. Bottom line is I’m still hopeful and I’m also excited about what this could mean for the future of flight simulation. However, until we know even more than what we do now (and let me just say, we still don’t know a whole lot), I’m going to continue flying and enjoying Prepar3D version 4.
One of the big questions I’ve been asked more than once is whether or not I’m going to stop investing in P3D and P3D scenery. The assumption (and I agree) is anything currently available for FSX/P3D will not be compatible with MSFS 2020. I’ve often said that I believe at some point we’re going to need to yank the band-aid off and say goodbye to old/outdated add-ons that will only continue to be a boat anchor to any forward progress we want to have in any simulator. But in the mean time, if an add-on comes out for P3D that I’m truly interested in…then most likely I’ll purchase that add-on.
These are very exciting times we live in and I believe we best buckle our seat belt, as it looks like it will only get better. Remember, competition is always a good thing. Competition helps to produce better products, more affordable products and sometimes forces those who can’t keep up out of business. It’s just how business works.
The expectation is we may start hearing more from Microsoft later this summer (August timeframe). I’ll certainly be watching, listening and reading and may from time to time provide my opinions here on my blog site. But I think we’re all in a holding pattern until more is known. This is really all I know.
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.
Back in the early days, we didn’t have much choice when it came to selecting flight simulator software. When I was a teen back in the early 80’s, I had a Commodore 64 computer. I had a version of flight simulator which ran on the Commodore 64 computer. In those days you only had a small selection of airports to fly to and from and typically only one type of aircraft. I spent many, many hours flying the Cessna around Meig’s Field in Chicago.
As time passed, the sophistication of the various flight simulator software titles evolved from just one aircraft and a few airports to any aircraft one could imagine and an entire globe full of airports with tons of eye candy to look at while flying from point A to point B. Today, flight simulator enthusiasts have many different software platforms to choose from when it comes to setting up their flight simulator.
I’m going to break down the options you have in the various flight simulators available today and provide a brief description and even some opinion regarding each of the available options.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
I’m starting off with Microsoft Flight Simulator since I very much consider this the grandfather of all today’s flight sim applications. While Microsoft discontinued their popular Flight Simulator franchise many years ago, many enthusiasts continue to use their two previous editions of Flight Simulator 2004 (FS9) and Flight Simulator X (FSX). Actually, the first several titles I’m going to list below were all born from much of the original FSX code. As I stated, many still use both FS9 and the original FSX boxed edition today. However, due to their age…I feel for those looking to get started in this exciting hobby entertain other available options.
Dovetail Games – Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition
In July 2014, Dovetail Games announced a licensing agreement with Microsoft to distribute the popular Microsoft FSX via Steam. Dovetail Games made a few minor tweaks to the application to help improve performance and fix many issues which Microsoft had failed to patch before they mothballed the flight simulator projects. The Dovetail Games Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition (FSX SE) is still available to purchase via Steam for $24.99. Since the release of FSX SE, many third party payware add-ons or DLC have been made available.
While FSX SE remains a 32 bit application, with the impressive list of available add-ons (which most have been optimized to function well with FSX SE) this simulator remains an excellent starting platform for the brand new flight sim enthusiast.
Dovetail Games – Flight Sim World
Around the same time Dovetail Games announced their licensing agreement to distribute the above mentioned FSX SE, they also announced they had plans to develop their own flight simulator platform. Just last month, Dovetail Games announced and released Flight Sim World as an early release (beta) product. Flight Sim World currently sells for $24.99 on Steam.
At this point in time, not a whole lot is known about the future of Flight Sim World (FSW). There’s a wide variety of opinions regarding this simulator and how much support it will receive from 3rd party developers. I recently wrote an opinion piece regarding my experience with FSW which you can read here.
In a nutshell, Flight Sim World is not a complete re-write. There’s still a lot of the old FSX baseline code which exists within the sim. However, Dovetail has developed it into a 64 bit application and of course this is great news from a systems performance perspective.
Unfortunately, the “what we don’t know” about Flight Sim World is about the only thing giving me some pause. The way I see it, (and this is just my opinion) but as FSW is born from FSX…if Dovetail doesn’t get the 3rd party developers involved and allow them to develop the content we all expect to see in a sim, then this may never get off the ground.
The Importance of 64 Bit
Before I proceed with my article, I just want to touch on one very important piece and that is the importance of a 64 bit application in today’s modern technology world compared to the older 32 bit architecture.
I’ve written many pieces regarding the obstacles we’ve all faced in trying to wring out as much performance as we can from the older 32 bit applications like FSX (and early versions of P3D). As we drifted further and further away from the date the original FSX code was developed, we’ve pushed harder and harder on that ever important envelope referred to as VAS or Virtual Address Space. Essentially available RAM.
Unfortunately, simply adding more RAM to a PC isn’t the solution. A 32 bit application (like FSX) will only utilize up to 4 GB of available RAM regardless of the amount available in the PC. Running down to the local hardware store and buying an extra 8 GB of RAM will do nothing to help prevent those pesky OOM’s or Out Of Memory Errors. Of course, these OOM’s are (for the most part) self-inflicted by piling on visually stunning add-on payware in the form of ground textures, enhanced airport scenery and highly detailed study level type aircraft. In other words, for the most part….the base FSX application works well until you begin adding the eye candy.
Let’s continue with the list….
Lockheed Martin – Prepar3D
In 2009, Lockheed Martin announced they had negotiated with Microsoft to purchase the intellectual property (including source code) from the Microsoft ESP side of their flight simulation division. ESP was the commercial side of Microsoft’s business in developing flight simulation applications. Prepar3d version 1.1 was released in 2011, P3D v2 in 2013, P3D v3 in 2015 and finally Prepar3d version 4 (64 bit) in May 2017.
For me, P3D v4 has become my personal standard and it is what I use for my day to day flight simulation enjoyment. While P3D v4 (just like versions 1-3) still very much contain original baseline ESP code, and much of the base scenery hasn’t been updated since the days of FSX….the 64 bit architecture is a noticeable “night versus day” difference maker for this very popular flight sim application.
Unfortunately, the only real drawback to P3D comes down to their EULA or End-User License Agreement. To put it mildly, it’s confusing. Essentially, P3D is licensed under the following structure:
Academic – ($59.95) Designed to offer the academic community a platform to develop hands-on STEM lessons. While the academic version of the software is the same as the professional version, there is a watermark visible signifying the acceptable use of the license. The academic license is provided at a discount for students. Currently, there are no requirements to prove eligibility for the academic license.
Professional – ($199.00) The P3D Professional license does allow for training, instruction, simulation and learning.
Professional Plus – ($2300.00) The P3D Professional Plus license is designed for real world business customers who are going to use the software for extensive training purposes.
Developer – ($9.95/Month) Registered software developers can subscribe and receive two full copies.
I’ve written about the confusion of how the P3D EULA simply doesn’t offer a license for basic entertainment purposes only. It is for this purpose, I personally purchase the “Professional” level which does specifically identify simulation as part of the acceptable use of the software. I feel this is also the right thing to do considering that I do often stream and record my flights on YouTube, Twitch etc. Plus….I’m not a student.
All versions of P3D are still available for purchase on the Prepar3D website and all are offered at the same price. So if you are truly interested in the P3D platform, I would saddle up with the brand new P3D version 4.
Before I venture away from the topic of P3D allow me to address one thing. Many are upset, disappointed etc. with the fact that Prepar3D version 4 is simply a 64 bit update of the original ESP code. Meaning, much of how P3D looks by default hasn’t changed since FSX hit the store shelves almost a dozen years ago. While I truly understand what many are saying….I must also remind everyone that P3D has never been directly marketed to the general consumer for mere entertainment purposes. The real target audience of P3D is the commercial, professional and academic side of things and I suggest that perhaps…just perhaps the criteria is just different.
Needless to say, I for one am extremely pleased with P3D v4. If Lockheed Martin had followed the suggestions from those demanding a new game engine, the wait would be much, much longer. P3D v4 is performing extremely well on my gaming system and is allowing me to finally enjoy ultimate realism without the need to worry about the crash due to running out of memory.
Just a reminder, my list is not ranking the titles in any particular order. X-Plane has been around for a number of years and it should be noted that X-Plane was the absolute very first to release their flight sim platform built on the 64 bit architecture. Their recent release of X-Plane 11 has been making news and is certainly a worthy consideration. One of the great things about X-Plane is the community behind it. It truly reminds me of the old Microsoft Flight Sim days where the community truly worked together to develop quality freeware add-ons. Unfortunately, for the FSX, FSX SE and P3D titles….most add-ons will be payware (with a few exceptions).
For me personally, while I do own X-Plane 11, I’ve really found it to be a struggle to forget the old Microsoft ways of controlling the sim application. Fortunately for my old mind, much of how FSX was controlled (again from the application level) is absolutely the same in the most recent version of P3D v4. Plus my extensive collection of add-ons continue to work well.
Freeware/Open-Source Alternatives and a warning
There is an open-source alternative to flight simulation software available from FlightGear. While I’ve never spent any time testing or flying using the FlightGear flight simulation software, I know others do use it and there are methods of importing planes from Microsoft Flight Simulator into FlightGear. In addition, there is also an on-line client for the VATSIM network called SquawkGear that will allow you to use FlightGear to fly on-line. It is extremely encouraging to see developers like FlightGear contribute to the flight sim community with their open-source program.
Unfortunately, there are some individuals who have taken the open-source code from FlightGear, made a few minor modifications and are attempting to market the product under various names such as Flight Pro Sim, Pro Flight Simulator etc. I first learned about this back in 2010 and blogged about it here and here. But please….don’t take my word for it. Read the official statement released by FlightGear and judge for yourself.
What should you choose?
Unfortunately, we all have different interests and we all have different budgets. If you’ve previously been involved with the flight simulation hobby and are looking to get back in…then I would recommend either Prepar3D v4 or X-Plane. What we know about these two platforms should prove these will both be around and will see continued improvements and enhancements for many years to come.
However, if you are brand new to flight simulation and are looking for simply an entry level starting point to help you understand some of the basics of flight and serve as a litmus test if you want to pursue the hobby further, then I suggested giving the new Dovetail Games Flight Sim World a solid look. While this sim is in early access (beta), the current price of $24.95 won’t be money wasted even if you decide in six months you want to move to P3D or XP. I’m very impressed with the tutorials in FSW and believe they can be most helpful in helping you achieve a better level of understanding in the principles of flight. I believe this to be extremely helpful.
As time permits, I do plan to feature more flight simulation content on the GrizzlyBearSims YouTube Channel. Most likely, I will provide some videos from Flight Sim World and of course also Prepar3D v4. While I do own XP 11, I’m really just not comfortable enough with that platform to do it justice.
The virtual world aspect is nothing new to us sim pilots. We nailed the virtual concept down many years ago and each year we’ve worked hard to make it better. While the early days were limited to a single player game, over time this has blossomed into what we enjoy today with multi-player groups like FlightSim Nation, Flight Simulator Network and even larger true-to-life experiences with VATSIM and IVAO. With Microsoft Flight Simulator X and add-on scenery such as Orbx Pacific Northwest and Stark’s Twin Oaks Airpark, one can be fully immersed in what Microsoft has been calling “As Real As It Gets” for many years. It’s hard to imagine it getting any better than this.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the online virtual community called Second Life. Second Life has been around since 2003 and as of 2010 has an estimated 18 million registered accounts. Yours truly has one of those 18 million accounts, but I’ve not visited the community in over 2 years. At a very high level glance, you register for a Second Life account and install their free client software. Second Life is absolutely free to join and use, but free accounts have many limitations. When you join you create an avatar and move around within the Second Life virtual world. Second Life has become popular in the corporate world as well as the arts, science and religious spaces as well. One can even buy property in Second Life.
I would estimate my account dates back to around 2006 or so, so I by no means can be considered as an early adopter of Second Life. I played around with it on a free account and then upgraded to a paid account and then completely lost interest even before my one-year subscription expired. While it was cool moving around the different virtual areas and meeting people, (I even explored the Titanic) I felt it was missing something to keep me fully engaged. Plus I got the impression I was mainly interacting with kids and very young adults. It got old really fast.
The one element to Second Life that I always thought about was how it might be neat to be able to combine some aspects of Second Life into the Flight Simulator hobby or vice versa. For example, as I stated earlier in Second Life one can buy land. The land purchase can be either already developed or can be undeveloped space. While I never purchased land in Second Life, the idea of being able to do something like this in relation to the Flight Simulator hobby interested me. Of course, I’m not a software designer and never really took the idea outside of my head and shared it with others. Thankfully someone else had the same idea and did act on it.
I recently learned of a project called Andras Field which has been in development for several months and available for download/purchase since 30 June 2010. Andras Field is a fictive airport located in Southern Bavaria, close to the Swiss and Austrian border. The add-on software is available through Aerosoft and as of this blog posting, the current version is 1.10 (full build) with update 1.12 applied on top. Updates are made available as property is sold. More about this later.
Again, as of this blog posting Andras Field is sold through Aerosoft for $27.36 USD. This price is very competitive for all that you get with this add-on product. Andras Field is more than just an airport, it is an entire airpark including a 7,006 foot asphalt runway, 2,000 foot grass glider base and a 6,000 foot water runway. Need space to land your favorite heli? No worries…you’ll find plenty of space at Andras Field to do just that. Still want more?
Andras Field includes all the amenities one would expect in a self-contained airport city. You’ll find servicing facilities, restaurants, hotels and residential properties designed by pilots for pilots. When ready to fly, your airplane can be rolled out of your private attached garage and in minutes you’ll be on the active runway.
But how does all this tie in with Second Life? Well…like Second Life, you can buy commercial or residential property for real money at Andras Park. You can have the developers place a standard house/hangar or you can model your own to have placed on your plot for all to see including your name on the street sign. Updates are made available every ten days or so.
I haven’t decided if I’ll buy some virtual property. But I have had fun with this software add-on.
A hobby….any hobby has a cost factor associated to it. Each hobby I know of (and certainly those I’m involved with) have a cost which I like to call the introductory cost. By introductory cost I’m talking about the cost which you must pay to even participate. Now some people may not think of flight simulation as a hobby. I’m sure if you went to the streets and asked random individuals how to classify flight simulation using Microsoft Flight Simulator or X-Plane, the results would probably lean towards it being considered just a game. Perhaps to some of us that is all it is. But to many others (and probably if you are reading this) it means a lot more.
Please allow me to step away from the topic of flight simulation for a moment. I’ll get back on track in just a moment. I have many hobbies in my life. I’m a licensed amateur radio operator, I love photography and I enjoy the game of golf. Each of these hobbies include an inductory cost which I talked about just a moment ago. If you play golf you probably own your clubs and in order to play a round you have costs associated with that (green fees and cart rental). If you enjoy photography and consider that a hobby, then you probably own a camera, a collection of lenses and other accessories. Back in the day you had costs to even determine if the photos you had captured on film even looked half-way decent. Of course today with digital you can view either on camera or on a computer before you decide to print the photo. If amateur radio is your hobby, then you have costs associated with earning your license and then you have costs associated with the purchase of transceivers, antennas and power supplies.
Now in each of the three hobbies I mentioned above, excluding the introductory costs, you have varying levels of costs associated. In golf you can choose to buy your clubs second hand or select a less expensive set. Of course you can also go for the very best and use the same set of clubs the pros use. In photography you can also use a second hand camera and lenses or you can purhase any number of brands and models….the sky is the limit. With regards to amateur radio….the same applies. Used versus new and also depending on your interests of wanting to talk to people across town, across the state or around the world. The costs associated with those all range from the low end to $$$$$. By the way, if you want to learn more about the hobby of amateur radio please visit my blog and/or podcast website.
Now before I come full circle and get back on topic. Let me just make this one statement. With ANY hobby, what you get from that hobby is a direct reflection of what you are willing to put into it. Now….this doesn’t always mean money. The best golfers in the world can play with just about any club and make it work. Some pretty darn good photographs have been made with a pin hole camera and I’ve talked around the world on my ham radio with a very small and inexpensive antenna. But in each of these examples, it takes time….it takes patience and it takes a commitment. I believe the commitment actually comes from accepting something (anything) as a hobby.
OK….let’s get back on track. I hope you are still with me. Now you might be wondering why I’m blogging about the topic “The Cost of a Hobby”. What got me thinking about this? Well….if you’ve read my introduction blog post here you know that I’m a long-time flight simmer who has been flying computer simulators for over 25 years. You also know that I stepped away from the hobby about 5 years ago and now getting back onboard. In the past month I’ve spent a few dollars building a new PC which I’ve dedicated to flight simulation. You can read that blog posthere.
Last night I was using Google to find more blogs and other online resources about our hobby and stumbled on the 10 Minute Taxi YouTube channel. Each segment ArcHammer (Shane) discusses topics related to the hobby of flight simulation and typically does all this in a short 10 minute segment. Recently he discussed the cost of various flight sim add-ons with a guest host (Vance from Sonic Solutions). You can view that episode here. Specifically they discuss the issue of some flight sim add-ons actually costing more than the base software (MS Flight Simulator) does. In addition, they talk about the demographics of those participating in our hobby. We have a strong user/customer base and the point the host tries to drive home is it shouldn’t cost as much as it does for certain add-ons. Please take a few minutes to watch this episode.
In my own opinion, I would have to agree with the point Shane and Vance are trying to make. However, I also subscribe to the philosophy that there is nothing free in life. The good thing about the Flight Sim hobby and community is there are a lot of low to no-cost accessories (panels, sounds, aircraft etc.) to help keep us entertained and help to add more realism into our hobby. The one take-away from that episode of 10 Minute Taxi was just how much these online stores charge the developers. Vance mentioned the on-line stores will take between 20 and 30%. Again, in my opinion that is a lot of money especially when you look at the volume some of these on-line retailers are selling. But I also understand these guys have costs associated with their on-line presence.
At this point, I don’t really have any answers. After all I’ve been away from the hobby for almost 5 years. I guess the business is sustaining itself. I mean, the on-line retailers are charging the developers 20-30% and the developers are successful at moving their product. I suppose us consumers are in the drivers seat in this. Meaning we either continue to pay the prices which will continue to allow these costs to be justified or we don’t. This is all a very fine line.
The last comment I’ll make about the 10 Minute Taxi episode, is I’m glad I fit smack dab in the middle of the demographics Shane discussed. I’ll turn 44 in a few weeks, I have a successful career which allows me the opportunity to do the things I want to do with regards to the flight simulation hobby (or any hobby for that matter). I’m also glad to know I’m among “like individuals”. While this hobby needs youth participation to continue to grow…it also needs those of us in the older crowd. I call this balance and it’s good.
So is there a take-away to this blog entry? Sure…if you’re reading this and not currently involved in the hobby of flight sim…don’t let the glossy pages of Computer Pilot Magazine (I’ll blog about this magazing soon) and the $$$$ for computer hardware and such scare you away. While you will need a computer and you’ll need a version of Microsoft Flight Simulator and you’ll need at a minimum a joystick of some sort….that’s it. That’s really all you need to get started. This…and only this can be considered your cost of getting started in the hobby. There is a ton of fun to be had just in this basic setup. How you continue to grow and experience the hobby is all in your control from that point forward.
OK…where to start? Oh I know…let me tell you about myself. My name is Jerry, I live in Denver, Colorado. I’m less than 5 miles from KAPA and about 20 miles from KDEN. I’m married to a wonderful woman who supports all my various hobbies. Before moving to Denver in 1998, I lived in Dallas, Texas. I lived very close to KADS and about 15 miles from the awesome KDFW airport. As a child we would visit the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and one of my two highlights would be visiting Six Flags over Texas and KDFW to watch the planes.
I’ve always been fascinated with airplanes and flight. Now the weird thing is I’ve never had any desire to learn to fly and/or pursue my private pilots license. I know….this may sound weird…but it is what it is. My Uncle has his PPL and he took me flying for the first time in a small Cessna when I was a small child. While I wouldn’t fly again for 10+ years (and my first commercial flight was around the age of 16) I always loved watching airplanes. Even as a “Big” kid, I love all aspects of travel (well perhaps not the waiting in security lines). I love getting to the airport early and watching the planes and the people.
I’ve been flying computer simulator games for over 25 years. Yes….they’ve been around that long. It all started for me with the Commodore 64 computer. The Commodore 64 computer launched my flight sim hobby, but more importanly it helped launch the career I’ve enjoyed for almost 20 years in IT. This IT career has helped to further my enjoyment of the hobby with a better understanding of how computer hardware and software functions together and has provided the opportunity for me to fly around the world.
In the early days of computer flight simulation it was all very basic compared to what we have today withMicrosoft Flight Simulator X. While a friend of mine had a TRS-80 around 1982-83, I didn’t personally own a flight simulator program until 1984 when a company called SubLOGIC created Flight Simulator II. This was the second generation flight simulator and was amazing.
While I was interested in a few other “computer games”, flight simulator was the one that I spent the most time playing. Now I already mentioned that these early versions were basic. While I haven’t played Flight Simulator II in over 20 years, I do remember you would start off at Meig’s Field in Chicago. I honestly believe that was about it. I believe (but not 100% certain) that KORD was represented in the software as well as several other smaller airports. However, that was about it. I also remember a few updates to the Commodore 64 version. Towards the end of my Commodore experience I had obtained some sectional maps and such of the areas where airports were represented. I still only flew with a joystick but my skills were improving with every hour of flying time.
My Commodore 64 computer was finally replaced in the late 80’s with an IBM PC. My flight sim hobby took off from there with the Microsoft Flight Simulator version 3.0. This was a HUGE jump from the version I had been flying on the old Commodore. In the complete history of Microsoft Flight Simulator software, I did miss out on versions 1.0 and 2.0. Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 (the first MS product I used with a PC) 3 aircraft including the Cessna we had all known to love along with a learjet and a Sopwith Camel. The graphics were much improved over the Commodore 64 version and for the first time you could actually look outside of the aircraft. From MSFS 3.0, I’ve owned every version released and each release was better and better and I couldn’t wait until the next one would come out.
Over the years as the graphics improved so did the options. Microsoft began adding more scenery and a lot more choices for aircraft to fly. With the birth of the Internet, an entire industry was born to cater to this exciting hobby. No more were you just limited to the features Microsoft provided….you had access to hundreds…probably thousands of different add-on products to enhance your experience. You could fly around the world and land just about anywhere. “Real World” airports and the accurate scenery around them was all being developed into the software or available through a third party add-on.
Again, while I’m fairly confident I’ve owned every version of Microsoft Flight Simulator since version 3.0 (circa 1988), for me personally it was Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 (aka version 7.0) that really pushed the game experience into a true hobby. I picked up a flight yoke and peddles and joined a virtual airline or VA for short. I have flown for several VA’s over the years. The first was a VA setup as American Airlines. It soon went bust. I then joined a VA operating as Air Canada and then found another American Airlines VA which looked awesome. I joined and within a short period of time had worked my way up in the management ranks to VP of Operations and also managed the DFW Hub.
In this timeframe I began flying online and experiencing operating with other online pilots and online ATC (Air Traffic Control) through a network called VATSIM. During this same timeframe I was traveling more and more both through work and for personal reasons. I would fly from KDEN to KDFW, then down to KILE (now KGRK) to visit family a few times a year. One of my favorite things to do would be to re-create the flight before and after a trip. I would fly the same aircraft at the same time of the day etc. It almost became a pre-trip ritual. My first real international (over the pond) flight was in the Spring of 2001. I was headed to our London office for 3 weeks. My real-life trip would take me from KDEN to KDFW then to London’s Gatwick airport EGKK. I simulated this trip in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 (version 7.0) before and after my real-world flight.
Microsoft has used the phrase “As Real As It Gets” since at least the days of Flight Simulator 95 (version 6.0). It all became too “As Real As It Gets” with the release of Flight Simulator 2002 (version 8.0). Microsoft had planned to release FS 2002 in mid-September 2001. When the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened, Microsoft delayed the release of 2002 so developers could remove the WTC twin towers from all copies of the software. As a way of paying respect to those who perished that day, all online flights taking place on VATSIM were suspended for the same duration that real-life air traffic operations were shut down. I was scheduled to fly to London on 14 September for business. Needless to say this trip was cancelled. I wouldn’t fly again until just before Christmas of that same year.
I continued participating with VA’s until sometime in late 2006 when life just really got busy for me. Like with any hobby, my flight simulation hobby had to be set aside. My wife and I bought a house and my job has changed dramatically over the years. Just before I put the cockpit and software in storage I had purchased the latest version of Microsoft Flight Simulator X (version 10.0). At the time of FSX release, my computer was a weakling and there wasn’t a lot of add-ons available. I’m also not even sure FSX at the time would work on the VATSIM network. But I had to have it and purchased it soon after it came out.
Now it is late Summer 2010. I was flipping through the TV channels and came across a History Channel program about to start called Extreme Airports and I was reminded of how much I loved flying the flight simulator software. The PC I used back in the 2005/06 timeframe still had FS9 and FSX installed. I connected my GoFlight gear, my yoke and peddles and flew from KDEN to KDFW in FS9. My old PC just wasn’t powerful enough to run FSX. But this was soon resolved.
I’ll blog about my new “Beast” of a PC on the next post and bring you all up to speed on what I’ve been doing to get started in this awesome hobby again.