Microsoft Flight Simulator – 2020

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:

  1. We are making Microsoft Flight Simulator. Emphasis on the word SIMULATOR.
  2. Designed for PC, optimized for multiplatform support (e.g. Xbox).
  3. 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.
  4. Yes. We genuinely want to work closely with the community in the development of this title.
  5. 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.

My Thoughts

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.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

The Cost of a Hobby

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.

Until next time,

J

My new hardware

In my IT career, hardware has always been my strong point.  I learned most of what I know about hardware by taking old PC’s, taking them apart and putting them back together again.  I’ve always subscribed to the philosphy that software is only as good as the hardware it is running on.  This philosphy is especially true with regards to the flight simulator hobby.  While I’ve been working in the IT field for almost 20 years, it doesn’t mean I’ve always had powerful machines to run the simulator software on.  Much like an auto mechanic that may do quality work for customers, but drive a beat up truck….I pride myself in the work I do in the IT field, but with every release of Microsoft Flight Simulator I always found myself in the backseat and I haven’t always quickly moved up into the drivers seat until now.

As I mentioned here, I’ve been flying computer simulation  games for over 25 years.  I’ve watched a computer game grow from being a basic, no thrills (especially in comparison with today’s versions) to an almost true to life gaming experience.  An entire industry has been born to support this very fast growing hobby and from all accounts, everything is very healthy.

When I began looking at getting back into the hobby, I first had to research what version of Flight Simulator was the latest and greatest.  Flight Simulator X was released around the time I dropped out of the hobby.  I had purchased it, installed it and played around with it.  But at that time (late 2006) FSX was pretty much standalone.  The hardware I owned at the time just barely would run it and I still had that PC in operation when I began looking into the hobby again.  Since FSX was still the latest and greatest version I would build a system to fit that need. 

I’ve always wanted a machine dedicated to my flight sim hobby.  Flight simming is pretty much the only “game” I play on a computer and just wanted something I could dedicate to this software without cluttering it up with email and such.  I spent a little time researching through forums to find out what other simmers were building.  I knew I would build the machine myself with off the shelf components versus buying a brand name machine.  I needed a machine based on my specs and only wanted what I wanted.   I also wanted to stick to a budget, but I didn’t want the budget to 100% dictate all my design decisions. 

I knew I wanted to build the machine around a couple of key points.  In my mind these were requirements.  First I wanted the hardware to take advantage of a 64 bit operating system.  I’ve been testing Windows 7 at my day job and knew it was a solid OS.  The second key element was the Intel i7 processor.  I’ve heard very good things about this chip and I’ve always used Intel in my homebrew machines.   I knew the rest would fall into place.  So I made a shopping list and off to Micro Center.

My Parts List

Intel i7-930 Processor
EVGA X58 FTW3  Motherboard
GeForce GTX 460 1024MB Graphics Card
OCZ DDR3-1600 RAM (6 GB worth)
Corsair TX750W 750 watt power supply
Microsoft Windows 7 64bit OS
Antec Twelve Hundred ATX case

Once home with all the parts, I began the fun job of putting it all together.  This Antec Twelve Hundred case is much more than I need at the present time.  But I’ve never owned a case with this much ventilation and the lights are neat too.  I had the Windows 7 64 bit OS running in no time and just applying a few tweaks here and there to just get the most out of Windows 7.  After a few more hours I had Microsoft Flight Simulator X installing on the new machine.

I’ll admit I’ve spent the better part of this past weekend and many hours this week tuning and tweaking FSX.  I had a bear of a time getting my GoFlight hardware working the way it should with this setup.  The issues???  Equal parts of hardware, software and my own lack of knowledge has contributed to most of the issues.   I still am experiencing a few issues and am working directly with the awesome guys at GoFlight.  I am confident all will be resolved soon.  Anyway, I was surprised at home much I had forgotten in the almost 5 years I’ve been away from the hobby.  Of course, the information I forgot is only a small drop in the bucket compared to all the new information available now.   While what I’m going to say next is not scientific in any way…..but I personally believe that all aspects of the hobby has grown by 2x, 3x or more in these past 5 years.  I regret not being a long for the ride.

All-in-all I’m glad I chose to allow my background in hardware to make the right decisions on building this new machine.  The machine and software (Windows 7 64bit) is working great together.  I’m getting the performance from all aspects of the configuration that I expected and believe I have room to grow.  Of course, none of us know exactly what will be needed for the new Microsoft Flight.  But I’m confident my current setup running Flight Simulator X will perform just fine for the next few years.  After all, I have learned that FS9 is actually still used heavily in the community and we all know it takes the industry a little while to catch up to the latest and greatest Microsoft releases.

So for now I’ll continue to tweak this new machine to get the best from it while using FSX.  I do plan to install FS9 and all my add-ons from the old machine just to do some comparison studies.  I’ll probably blog about this experience in the future.  Stay tuned…..

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my flight sim blog.  Please tell a friend.

Until next time,

J

Hello Fellow Flight Simulator Enthuasists

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. 

Until next time,

J

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