New Generation Flight Simulator
Flight Simulator was once one of the jewels in Microsoft’s crown, as close to synonymous with PC gaming as it’s possible to get. The series debuted a staggering 37 years ago, pre-dating even Windows as an operating system, and demanded exacting attention from players as they guided increasingly detailed planes safely through the skies. Over the course of a dozen iterations spanning nearly four decades, the flying experience evolved from blocky cockpit views to full aerial tours with a hangar’s worth of realistically modelled aircraft to get to grips with. It’s been running so long that even Microsoft does not know its sales figures, but Flight Simulator has certainly been played by millions.
Yet as PC gaming blossomed, becoming home to everything from competitive shooters to arthouse narrative games, Flight Simulator’s star began to wane. The last major release was 2006’s Microsoft Flight Simulator X (eventually revamped and repackaged for Steam in 2014), while 2012’s simplified spin-off, Microsoft Flight, had an aborted takeoff, cancelled a mere five months after launch. The golden age of flight (simulators) has long been over.
Until, that is, this year’s E3 in Los Angeles, where a brand new Microsoft Flight Simulator made a surprise appearance. It was announced during the Xbox conference, for Xbox consoles as well as its more familiar PC home. The franchise’s shock reappearance was very well-received, but even Microsoft’s head of Xbox Phil Spencer wasn’t confident about debuting a flight sim alongside the likes of Gears of War and Forza.
New Breathtaking Visuals
“I remember we were going through the planning, and I was like, ‘could we really get Flight Sim on our stage?’,” Spencer says. “I thought for sure, there’s just no way. But then we saw the visuals.”
As the trailer above demonstrates, the new Flight Simulator looks absolutely astounding. Real-world locations including Dubai, San Francisco, and Egypt are recreated in photorealistic 4K resolution, with geography and textures captured from satellite imagery. Players will be able to control numerous authentic planes from light aircrafts to passenger vehicles, set their own flight paths, and navigate through unpredictable scenarios thrown up by Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform, which leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to dynamically shift flight conditions. This will keep players on their toes – get too comfortable running a commuter flight, and Azure might throw up sudden shifts in the weather, turning a sunny flight into a battle to keep aloft as storm conditions roll in.
Spencer first saw footage of Flight Simulator in “probably February or March”, and was so taken aback that he had to confirm with Microsoft’s studios head Shannon Loftis that it was actually real. “There were scenes that look better than photorealistic,” he recalls.
If Flight Simulator looks ahead of its time, that’s because, in many ways, it is. Not only do the underlying AI and graphical technologies behind its creation push current gaming technology to its limits, but they begin to surpass them. The geographic data alone, needed to render the world players will be flying around, comes in at two petabytes – equivalent to 20,000 Blu-ray discs.
What are your thoughts on the new game?