Flutterby™! : Goodbye MS Flight Simulator

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Goodbye MS Flight Simulator

2009-01-24 18:43:17.164361+00 by Dan Lyke 2 comments

Rafe linked to James Fallows' report that Microsoft is laying off its Flight Simulator team. He amusingly includes shots from the IBM PC CGA version, but I think to understand where Flight Simulator has come from, you have to go back to Bruce Artwick's original mile by mile square with a runway on the Apple ][.

We had a copy of Flight Simulator X lying around, and when I got the new computer with its grand and glorious display and its kick-ass video card, I installed it and played a little. However, yesterday evening we were in Hobby Town and took a little spin on the in-store demo for the various RC simulators, and something struck me.

Simulating all the niggling details of flight is hard, but there are lots of close approximations nowadays, Flight Gear is decent, X-Plane is better, and Microsoft's flight simulator has been moving more towards toy. Further, a good portion of general aviation, and even commercial aviation, isn't about "flying the airplane", it's about managing aircraft systems and doing navigation and such, and for that the graphics aren't really that much of an issue. And if it's about "flying the airplane", then that's about being out on the hairy edge of the flight envelope, something that the simulators, at least of full sized aircraft, don't do well.

The graphics on the R/C simulators are spectacular. there's something about not having to simulate the world, and having a fixed view location, which lets you texture map some pretty cool stuff on some pretty simple geometry. The flight characteristics of model airplanes are easier to simulate, apparently, 'cause I had much more of a feeling of realism on those devices than I do on the ones trying to simulate the full-sized aircraft (granted, I didn't try to autorotate the model helicopter), and there's much more opportunity to put the airplane on the edge of the flight envelope when everything's happening less than 50' off the ground.

So with Flight Simulator, Microsoft had two choices: Either go for realism, via the R/C or better physics and aircraft systems at the expense of graphics, and narrow the market, or go for the mass market and become more toy-like. The former requires people passionate about the details, serious nerds, the latter... well... just isn't all that exciting to gamers. I think they just discovered that.

Bonus link: Commercial (also available as plans) mid-range simulator and R/C model helicopter controls.

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comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2009-01-25 12:03:14.251568+00 by: radix

Does this mean it will only be available as an easter egg in Excel now? :)

#Comment Re: made: 2009-01-25 17:47:08.553763+00 by: JT

Meh, I still prefer Flight Gear, I usually just play flight sim because more of my friends play it. I'm hoping Flight Gear will catch on more now so I can go back to playing games in Linux.