One of the longest-running, best-known and most comprehensive home flight simulator series, Microsoft Flight Simulator was an early product in the Microsoft portfolio – different from its other software which was largely business-oriented – and at 25 years is its longest-running franchise, predating Windows by three years. It has been reported that Microsoft Flight Simulator may be the longest running PC game series of all time. In January 2009 it was reported that Microsoft closed down the ACES Game Studio, the design team responsible for the series.
Bruce Artwick developed the Flight Simulator program beginning in 1977 and his company, subLOGIC sold it for various personal computers. In 1982 Artwick's company licensed to Microsoft a version of Flight Simulator for the IBM PC, which was marketed as Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.00. Former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates was fascinated with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's book Night Flight, which described the sensations of flying a small aircraft in great detail.
Microsoft Flight Simulator began life as a set of articles on computer graphics written by Bruce Artwick in 1976 about a 3D computer graphics program. When the magazine editor said that subscribers wanted to buy the program, Bruce Artwick incorporated a company called subLOGIC Corporation in 1977 and began selling flight simulators for 8080 computers such as the Altair 8800 and IMSAI 8080. In 1979 subLOGIC released FS1 Flight Simulator for the Apple II. In 1980 subLOGIC released a version for the Tandy TRS-80, and in 1982 they licensed an IBM PC version with CGA graphics to Microsoft, which was released as Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.00. In the early days of less-than-100% IBM PC compatibles, Flight Simulator was used as an unofficial test of the degree of compatibility of a new PC clone model, along with Lotus 1-2-3. subLOGIC continued to develop the product for other platforms, and their improved Flight Simulator II was ported to Apple II in 1983, to the Commodore 64, MSX and Atari 800 in 1984, and to the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST in 1986. Meanwhile, Bruce Artwick left subLOGIC to found Bruce Artwick Organisation to work on subsequent Microsoft releases, beginning with Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 in 1988. Microsoft Flight Simulator reached commercial maturity with version 3.1, and then went on to encompass the use of 3D graphics and graphic hardware acceleration.
Microsoft has consistently produced newer versions of the simulation, adding features such as new aircraft types and augmented scenery. The 2000 and 2002 versions, were available in a standard edition and a Professional Edition which included more aircraft, tools and more extensive scenery than the regular version. The 2004 (version 9) release marked one hundred years of powered flight, and had only one edition. Flight Simulator X, released in 2006, has returned to dual editions with a "Standard Edition" and a "Deluxe Edition".
The most recent versions of this simulation, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 and Microsoft Flight Simulator X, cater to pilots, would-be pilots and people who once dreamed of being pilots alike. Microsoft Flight Simulator is less a game than an immersive virtual environment; it is usually frustrating, complex and difficult to new users due to its realism, but it can be rewarding for the skilled flightsimmer at the same time. The flying area encompasses the whole world, to varying levels of detail, including over 24,000 airports. Individually-detailed scenery can be found representing major landmarks and an ever-growing number of towns and cities. Landscape details are often patchy away from population centres and particularly outside the USA, although a variety of websites offer scenery add-ons (both free and commercial) to remedy this.
The three latest versions incorporate sophisticated weather simulation, along with the ability to download real-world weather data (Beginning with Flight Simulator 2000). Also included is a varied air traffic environment with interactive Air Traffic Control (although the MSFS series was not the first to implement this), player-flyable aircraft ranging from the historical Douglas DC-3 to the modern Boeing 777, interactive lessons and challenges, and finally aircraft checklists. In addition, the two latest versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator have a “kiosk mode”, which allows the application to be run in kiosks. It is the wide availability of upgrades and add-ons, both free and commercial, which give the simulator its flexibility and scope.
Closure of the ACES Game Studio
On January 22, 2009, it was reported that the development team behind the franchise was being heavily affected by Microsoft's ongoing job cuts, with indications that the entire Microsoft Flight Simulator team was laid off. Microsoft confirmed the closure of the ACES studio on 26 January 2009 in a post on the official FSInsider Web site. The article, "About the Aces Team," states in part:
According to former ACES employee Phil Taylor, the shutdown was not due to unfavorable financial results of FSX, but due to management issues and delays in project delivery combined with increased demands in headcount, at a time that Microsoft was attempting to lower costs. It has been speculated in the mainstream and gaming media that future releases on the franchise would come as part of an Internet game or on the Xbox 360.
There is an ongoing petition for Microsoft to preserve the integrity of the Flight Simulator franchise and ensure the future of Microsoft Flight Simulator development, with more than 7,500 signatures as of 30 June, 2009.
Flight Simulator X
Flight Simulator X is the most recent version of Microsoft Flight Simulator. It includes a graphics engine upgrade as well as compatibility with DirectX 10 and Windows Vista technologies. It was released on 17 October, 2006 in North America. There are two versions of the game, both on two DVDs. The Deluxe edition contains the new Garmin G1000 integrated flight instrument system in three cockpits, additional aircraft in the fleet, Tower Control capability (multiplayer only), more missions, more high-detail cities and airports, and a Service Developers Kit (SDK) pack for development. Main improvements are graphical, for instance it is the first simulator with light bloom.
Microsoft has also released a Flight Simulator X Demo, which contains limited aircraft and area of flight. It is available for Windows XP SP2 and Windows Vista.
Add-ons and customization
The long history and consistent popularity of Flight Simulator has encouraged a very large body of add-on packages to be developed as both commercial and volunteer ventures. A formal software development kit and other tools for the simulator exist to further facilitate third-party efforts, and some third parties have also learned to "tweak" the simulator in various ways by trial and error.
Individual aspects of Flight Simulator aircraft that can be edited include cockpit layout, cockpit image, aircraft model, aircraft model textures, aircraft flight characteristics, scenery models, scenery layouts, and scenery textures, often with simple-to-use programs or only a text editor such as Notepad. Dedicated flightsimmers have taken advantage of Flight Simulator's vast add-on capabilities, having successfully linked Flight Simulator to homebuilt hardware, some of which approaches the complexity of commercial full-motion flight simulators.
The game's aircraft are made up of five parts:
A growing add-on for the series is AI (Artificially Intelligent) Traffic. AI Traffic is the simulation of other vehicles in the FS landscape. This traffic plays a real role in the simulator as it is possible to crash into traffic (this can be disabled), thus ending your session, and to interact with the traffic via the radio and ATC. This feature is possible even with 3rd party traffic. Microsoft introduced AI traffic in MSFS 2002 with several airliners and private aircraft. This has since been supplemented with many files created by third party developers. Typically 3rd party aircraft models have multiple levels of detail which allow the AI traffic to be better on frame rates while still being detailed during close looks. There are several prominent freeware developers, Project AI is a respected Civilian Airlineer and air cargo traffic creator along with the very popular World of AI. The most prominent developer of military traffic is Military AI Works (MAIW) which has released many packages and new AI models covering many countries of the world. There is a small niche market in the form of AI boat traffic as well.
Scenery add-ons usually involve replacements for existing airports with enhanced and more accurate detail, or large expanses of highly detailed ground scenery for specific regions of the world. Some types of scenery add-ons replace or add structures to the simulator. Both payware and freeware scenery add-ons are very widely available. Airport enhancements, for example, range from simple freeware add-ons that update runways or taxiways to very elaborate payware packages that reproduce every lamp, pavement marking, and structure at an airport with near-total accuracy, including animated effects such as baggage cars or marshalling agents. Geographic scenery enhancements may use detailed satellite photos and 3-D structures to closely reproduce real-world regions, particularly those including large cities, landmarks, or spectacular natural wonders.
Virtual flight networks such as IVAO and VATSIM use special, small add-on modules for Flight Simulator to enable connection to their proprietary networks in multiplayer mode, and to allow for voice and text communication with other virtual pilots and controllers over the network.
Some utilities, such as FSUIPC, merely provide useful tweaks for the simulator to overcome design limitations or bugs, or to allow more extensive interfacing with other third-party add-ons. Sometimes certain add-ons require other utility add-ons in order to work correctly with the simulator.
Other add-ons provide navigation tools, simulation of passengers, and cameras that can view aircraft or scenery from any angle, more realistic instrument panels and gauges, and so on.
Some software add-ons provide compatibility with specific hardware, such as game controllers and optical motion sensors.
A number of websites are dedicated to providing users with add-on files (such as airplanes from real airlines, airport utility cars, real buildings located in specific cities, textures, and city files). The wide availability over the Internet of freeware add-on files for the simulation has encouraged the development of a large and diverse virtual community linked up by design group/enthusiast message boards, online multiplayer flying, and 'virtual airlines'. The presence of the Internet has also facilitated the distribution of payware add-ons for the simulator, with the option of downloading the files reducing distribution costs.
There are many addons that are payware. Scenery enhancements, aircraft, sound packages, utilities, and many other kinds of programs are available under this payment method. Payware addons often tend to have larger feature sets than their freeware counterparts; extensive features are not, however, restricted to payware packages, and a select few freeware packages are renowned for offering the same functionality and professional quality at no cost.
A large community exists for the Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise, partly stemming from the open nature of the simulator structure which allows for numerous modifications to be made. There are also many virtual airlines, where pilots fly their assignments as pilots do in real airlines, as well as worldwide networks for the simulation of air traffic and air traffic control, such as IVAO and VATSIM.
The success of the Microsoft Flight Simulator series has resulted in Guinness World Records awarding the series 7 world records in the Guinness World Records: Gamer's Edition 2008. These records include "Longest Running Flight Sim Series", "Most Successful Flight Simulator Series", and "Most Expensive Home Flight Simulator Cockpit", which was built by Australian trucking tycoon Matthew Sheil, and cost over US$242,000 to build.
Published - July 2009
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