Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Dakota Tebaldi

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I may be the only one here really excited about this; but I think I'm going to be posting about it kinda often? Maybe? Maybe not; but in any case I think I'll make a thread to put these things in instead of clogging up the general game thread.

To recap in case you missed the posts I made in the Nobody Cares thread, at its June E3 conference last year (lol I can say that now), which usually covers Xbox games except when the odd PC version is released, Microsoft released this teaser trailer. It's in 4K, so full-screen it and force the setting to at least 1080HD so YouTube doesn't ruin it for you:


This was a hugenormous surprise; for one thing, absolutely nobody (seriously!) in the flight simming community was aware that Microsoft was making a new version of Flight Simulator to begin with; for another, look at those freaking visuals. LOOK AT THEM. I can't tell you how many times I've watched that video because it makes me feel feelings, for reasons I'll get into later. Flight simmers the world over creamed their jeans at that trailer.

Why? Bottom line, there hasn't been much new in flight simming for quite a while. Flight Simulator X came out in 2006 and didn't really have any huge competitors at that time. They released an expansion a year later, but in 2009 as part of larger corporate downsizing, Microsoft closed the studio that had been producing Flight Simulator, essentially ending the franchise. Right now people are either still using FSX with tons of addons (the addon community is thriving), or they've moved to X-Plane, a competitor that came into its own post-FSX which has continuously developed their product in the years between FSX and now, and offers an unquestionably superior flight physics model to FSX, and at least is a 64bit application, and has the benefit of arguably improved graphics. It too has a thriving addon community, with some payware developers making addons for both platforms. But since X-Plane has been able to operate pretty much unchallenged for the last decade or so, innovation on the platform has stagnated. X-Plane 11 came out in 2017, but there wasn't an enormous lot to distinguish it from X-Plane 10 except some UI elements. I do not know what the current state of development for X-Plane 12 (if such a thing is planned) is and neither does anyone else on the internet seem to; but for now it seems that with the June announcement of Flight Simulator, Microsoft has eaten X-Plane's lunch, and also its dinner and tomorrow's breakfast.

Okay, so there's more videos, but I have to spread this out over a couple of posts because there's a limit on how many embedded YouTube videos the forum software will allow before it just starts turning them into links.

In October, Microsoft released this short video, teasing the "Feature Discovery series":


It contains more images of the world environment. It is so good to look at; but it did little to settle certain concerns that had been growing since June - people wondered, although the game is unquestionably beautiful at least in these carefully-chosen screenshots, about the actual simulation aspect of the game. The number one complaint that people who prefer X-Plane over FSX has been the more realistic flight modeling in the former. As all the teasers had been all about sexy scenery and didn't disclose much about the simulation aspect, or others such as the quality of the plane interiors and so forth, some began to theorize that the game was all glam but wouldn't impress when we finally got to look under the hood. But the videos of the Feature Discovery series have been putting those fears to rest at least in my mind. Most people's, too, I think, although there's some die-hard holdouts.

Anyways, posting those next.
 

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So the first Feature Discovery video that came out was called "World", and it answered some questions that people had been asking ever since that first announcement trailer began with "POWERED BY SATELLITE DATA AND AZURE AI":


In all previous Flight Simulator games, the world's landscapes and natural and manmade features were all stored on your computer. Naturally, there were space limitations that led to compromises. In the new game, world data based on satellite photography and remote sensing for the area you're flying in is streamed to your computer (or you can preselect certain areas to download ahead of time and store locally, if you wish) and rendered in the game. Famous and prominent building-scapes are handmade as in older sims, but AI image detection is used to interpret the satellite imagery and produce convincing 3D representations of all the less-important structures like houses, factories, and gas stations. But, they will all be there. In this game, you will literally be able to see your house, on your actual street; and not as a flat texture on the ground below you, but as an actual 3D little box. And you'll also be able to see your workplace, the grocery store you shop at, and the jogging track behind the local high school.

IMO this plays to and improves one advantage FSX has always had over X-Plane from the very beginning - the realism of the world. X-Plane has the pretty graphics; but the realism advantage of its flight model is not extended to almost anything outside the airplane. X-Plane uses what's called a "plausible world" model; its world was generated using data that tells it where a city is, but not what it looks like or how it is laid out; so X-Plane knows that "in this location there is city" and autogens "generic random city" there; but except for where skylines have been hand-made and installed as addons, cities are indistinguishable from each other in X-Plane. Conversely, the last few iterations of Flight Simulator used real-world aviation map databases that included terrain and road information. You could not "see your literal, exact house" in FSX - it also used "generic big/medium/small city" tiles to fill in the spaces - but you could definitely identify your town's major streets, and the interstate, right where they should be in relation to each other and the landscape. World-wise, about the only thing X-Plane had that FSX didn't was that in FSX airports had to be flat, while X-Plane could put runways on slopes.

But this frankly blows that out of the water.

So all right; Microsoft took one of the previous franchise's strengths and kept it a strength. But what else?

Episode two was called "Weather":


In the last couple of MSFS versions, extensive cloud types were available in the form of "billboards". These were flat (i.e., 2D) animated texture planes that always rotated to face your airplane, lending the illusion of 3D clouds. They did not look bad at all; although you could break this illusion by for instance using the outside spot-plane view and looking directly down at your airplane while flying through clouds - you could actually watch the flat planes rotate as your plane flew past them. But new tech brings new toys, and the new game will simulate actual volumetric clouds that you can fly inside of. On top of this, the Sun and Moon positions are accurate for the time, lattitude, and day of year, and an accurate starmap to boot! That's swell; I'm pretty sure FSX's sun was always at the same place in the sky at a given time of day no matter the season; it accurately made days shorter or longer, but just by speeding up the sun across the sky to match the day length rather than by simulating its actual seasonal procession. The sun angle is important to realistic lighting of the world.

The one thing that the devs initially announced during one of their public events that FS2020 would be missing at launch weather-wise is seasonal world textures - in other words, warm colored trees for autumn and snow during the winter in the appropriate places. They were working on those things, they would definitely be added eventually, they just wouldn't be ready when the game was released. There was a development yesterday along those lines but I'll get there in a bit.
 

Dakota Tebaldi

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Episode 3 is "Aerodynamics" and it and the fourth video are the ones that I think put the "but how will it compare to X-Plane" question to rest. Okay so the world in FS2020 is gorgeous, but what about that flight model?

The flight model was X-Plane's strength. It does a better job of simulating flight than FSX does. X-Plane actually calculates physics over several areas of the plane's surface - so it simulates air interaction with say each control surface and airfoil separately and then juxtaposes all this data to give a better picture of how different parts of the plane are impacted by maneuvers during flight. FSX's flight model in the other hand, calculates physics for each aircraft as one point in space. It programmatically replicates rather than simulates certain dynamic forces under the right conditions; so like adverse yaw - the plane's tendency to yaw to the left when you add power, which in real life is a result of things like torque and certain wind forces pushing the tail to the right as a natural consequence of planes having a rightward-spinning propeller - happens in FSX because the flight model is programmed to "set yaw force to X% whenever power is at Y%", not because it actually physically detects wind blowing the tail to the right. So the yaw happens, but it doesn't "feel" as natural and dynamic compared to X-Plane's.

Now then, the vijeo. By the way you've been full-screening and forcing these videos to HD, right?


FS2020 now simulates airflow over the whole plane, using thousands of surface point references. Also, this video shows that the new weather engine showed off in the previous video isn't just pretty clouds; the atmosphere is actually simulated, and this in turn informs the plane's physics. FSX again had programmatic updrafts and downdrafts; "when plane crosses to leeward side of mountain ridge, reduce lift X%", which was certainly better than nothing at all; but this is definitely better - downdrafts are physically simulated by interaction of the air with the world surface. Turbulence isn't just basically random choppy control movements added by the sim because the weather report said there was "turbulence here", but happens because the simulated air is pushing down on this side of the plane and up on that side.

This blows X-Plane's current biggest advantage out of the water. Unless they plan to come back with an announcement about OUR NEW FLIGHT MODEL HAS BAJILLIONS OF SURFACE POINTS, which certainly could happen; but it's been six months since the MS2020 announcement and there just hasn't been any news from the X-Plane people about what they're planning or developing.

Then there was episode 4, "Cockpits".


Okay so obviously this game was going to have PBR, that's just the modern standard for video games these days. In the days of FSX it was basically just flat textures, and X-Plane hasn't really improved on this. You can create a better-looking cockpit by using larger texture maps at the cost of performance, and so addon planes and "new texture packs" for old planes have tended to come with larger and larger textures. Honestly this was fine, since a PBR materials system isn't really useful without a PBR lighting system to match. But, FS2020 will have both.

But the LOD improvement in the planes is only one side of it. In FSX, and to a point in X-Plane, some parts of the cockpit were depicted but couldn't really be interacted with. In the video, the developer points out that for instance the electrical systems of planes are now simulated; before now, flight sim programs just put static textures over the electrical system gauges (ammeter, voltmeter, etc) on panels because there was no information from the sim to drive actual gauges there. Switches that wouldn't actually have an effect on the sim - like circuit breakers for instance, or climate controls - couldn't be interacted with. Often they were weren't even modeled; the circuit breaker panel was usually just a flat texture of a row of switches in stock planes. Some payware addon planes took the time to model all these switches and maybe even have them move if clicked, because it turns out flight simmers place a premium on being able to flip any switch in the cockpit as part of procedures even if there isn't any real consequence to doing so - especially players who favor flying airliners with their miles and miles of switches that do things there's really no need (or no way) to simulate, like turning on the Fasten Seatbelts sign. Is there a point to pulling the cabin heat knob in a computer flight sim? No, but people want to be able to do it anyway, I guess...? But yeah so apparently in FS2020 if there's a gauge in the plane, it works as part of a simulated system and isn't just painted there. The devs have said that if there's a switch or knob in the real plane, it's there in the sim and can be flipped or turned or whatever. Crank that cabin heater.

To me those glass cockpit systems are really interesting though. FSX featured the Garmin G1000 glass cockpit in a few select planes, and the GPS 500 navigator, but they only simulated critical functions. From the video, more than just the G1000 will be available in FS2020, including some newer touch-screen systems; and reportedly, ALL of the systems' functions are there. This does raise a couple of questions for me that aren't brought up in the video. For instance - the real-world G1000 and systems like it, are able to give you a radar-like map of ADS-B-reporting airplane traffic around you. FSX addons managed to make this work but it was never a stock feature; will it work in FS2020? Will weather radar work and give you a precip display? One of the planes shown in the very first trailer is a TBM 940 with a weather radar dome in its wing, and it sure would be cool if that actually "worked".

So then lastly, yesterday Microsoft popped this little 4k clip, with no elaboration


Right now it seems to be the case that this is suggesting seasonal changes - or at the very least, snow accumulation - might be included in the initial release after all. TBD if fall colors will be a part of that...
 
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Dakota Tebaldi

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So anyways, why do I even care about all this? Well I really like Flight Simulator. I understand that simulators in general are things that you either really are into, or just are 100% completely bored by, so I don't expect everyone to be geeking out over this by a long shot. And that's fine.

The reason I really like Flight Simulator and always have is that it's really the first PC game that grabbed my attention, when I was like 7 years old. An uncle of mine had Flight Simulator 5.1 on his computer. It was a DOS game (although he had Windows 95) and came on floppy disks; so yes, I am a millennial who knows what floppy disks are... :p It also came with some scenery expansion packs for New York, Paris, the Caribbean, and Hawaii, which he had as well - stock, the game only included scenery and airports for the Chicago, SoCal, and (non-enhanced) New York areas. The game looked like this:


That looks almost painful to watch now, but it was reasonably modern back then. I played it every chance I got - which wasn't often - and I permanently borrowed the game's user manual, which at that time was the hugest user manual for a game I'd ever seen, and read it front to back over and over again because I was just so fascinated with the whole thing. A couple of years later my uncle upgraded his computer, and he gave me his old one - along with all the games and programs he had for it, including Flight Simulator and its expansion packs (and also WordPerfect, which I never used, but boy did I find out that Flight Simulator's user manual wasn't so big after all). Soon after, I learned that there was a Flight Simulator 98, and I begged and begged my parents for it until they relented. Flight Simulator included basic scenery for the whole world and every airport known to man in its database, so there was no need for expansion packs anymore.

Since then Flight Simulator and another franchise, Chessmaster (starting with 5500) are the only two game titles that I made an effort to get every new version of when it came out. I still have the last a couple of Chessmasters; but with the exception of Flight Simulator 2000 which got lost during a move, I still have every single FS version including the DOS floppy-disk version I got back when I was nine. It's still in the original box, with that old huge user manual and everything. I can't even use it anymore, my present computer doesn't have a floppy drive. But I don't want to get rid of it.

FS sort of kindled this childhood dream of learning to fly someday that never panned out. I'm a poor person and will never be able to afford flying lessons, and I'm pretty much at peace with that now; so the simulator gives me the opportunity to play pretend for a while. And as they've gotten better and better, they've done a better and better job at helping me be okay that that wish never really came true.

Anyway, so that might explain in a way why something as nice-looking but ultimately maybe boring as a flight simulator program has me so excited.
 
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Dakota Tebaldi

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So hey, here's another trailer. This was released in November, and is also 4K. I'll never get tired of watching these; whoever's been making the trailers needs a raise for real.


Now a little trivia - in the last post, then one with Flight Simulator 5.1.....the airport the plane starts from in that video is a real airport; it's Meigs Field, a single-runway airport which is on an artificial island in Lake Michigan attached to downtown Chicago.

Or, it was a real airport. It was also the default starting airport of every edition of MSFS through Flight Simulator 2002. In 2003, the airport was very suddenly closed. Chicago's mayor at the time, Richard Daley, had wanted to close the airport for years and turn it into a park, but met resistance the whole way from the airport itself, the aviation community, and local interested businesses, and the result was a protracted legal battle which stretched out for a couple of years. Daley rendered the legal battle moot; citing 9/11 and an unspecified "security threat" against Chicago by little airplanes, in the middle of the night he ordered construction workers under police escort to break into the airport property with bulldozers, using them to carve gigantic trenches in the runway. He did this without notifying the FAA or the airport itself, which was open at the time of the runway demolition; at least one incoming aircraft had to be diverted by air traffic control when it was coming to land and noticed heavy machinery all over the runway. Over a dozen airplanes were still parked either on the ramp or in hangars at the airport and effectively stranded there until a few days later when the FAA gave their owners special permission to take off using the airport's taxiway.

RL picture:


There were immediate legal challenges of course, and the City of Chicago eventually was ordered to pay over a million dollars in fines for the stunt and for misappropriating federal airport improvement money in order to build the park on the island after the airport was demolished; but it was demolished and Daley got his park so it matters little.

This airport closure happened only a couple of months before Flight Simulator 2004 was scheduled to be released. At that time things weren't settled yet 100% as to whether Meigs would remain closed forever so Microsoft left the airport in the game (for the nostalgia), but Seattle-Tacoma International Airport became the default starting airport in FS2004. In Flight Simulator X there is no default airport as such; the default flight scenario begins in midair over Friday Harbor, in the San Juan Islands in Washington State. Meigs Field does not exist in FSX because...the airport doesn't exist anymore, and hadn't for a few years by that point; it's now a park, and part of the whole point of MSFS is realism so they put a park there. Nevertheless this angered some old MSFS fans who felt Microsoft should've put the airport in anyway, just for the feels. They didn't, probably because they figured the community would make a Meigs Field addon for people who just had to have it in their game. Which of course is what happened.

RL pilots really loved and sorely miss Meigs Field because it was such a cool airport. Just look at that picture up there; it's a little airstrip out in the lake, right off downtown Chicago - the views when landing or taking off from that airport must've been spectacular, it's probably the whole reason FS used it for their default starting airport to begin with. I think there may be a couple of other city-waterfront airports like that in the whole country, but the only one I know about for sure is Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland.



Cleveland has never gotten a lot of love in Flight Simulator so the airport and its environment, while there, has always been kinda meh; but I can't freaking wait to see it in this new one coming out.
 

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Shit is starting to look so real I might be afraid to fly it.
 
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Dakota Tebaldi

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New video, peeps! Episode 5: "Soundscape". This is a surprise to me because I had thought that there were only going to be those four episodes of the Feature Discovery series.

Two things - first, again, it's worth forcing this one to HD and fullscreening because there is some game-footage in it, including some close-ups of aircraft and views of the airport environments even though that's not the focus of the video (the grass, my god). But the main thing about this one is sound, and I highly recommend wearing some gaming headphones while watching.


So yeah, there's going to be biome-specific soundscapes, as well as different night and day ones for each biome. There will be Doppler-effect for airplanes from certain camera views. And all airplane and engine sounds will be driven by sim variables, allowing for a greater realism than just "prop idle" vs "prop at speed" vs "prop at speed LOUDER".

Also there will by dynamic wind noise, and weather-sounds as well. Have a listen!
 
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Dakota Tebaldi

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Screenshot from the alpha, from MSFS's Facebook page:

 
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Roxie Marten

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Thanks for the info, I have a extreme case of happy over this.
I have been a Flight Sim head ever since the days of Sub Logic Flight Sim on my C-64.
It was tradition that every new computer the first thing installed was Flight Sim.
The only down side was when I learned to fly for real, breaking bad Flight Sim habits LOL
 

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Ashiri

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I wonder how well it works for my local airport. Just got ATR72s and some private planes here. Must try it out.
 
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The question for me is: from where do they get this data? Is it a public source? If not, how is this data protected from being abused?
There are lots of sites and apps that have this type of data. I am not sure what the requirements are, though a cursory search shows it must be licensed.
 
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I wonder how well it works for my local airport. Just got ATR72s and some private planes here. Must try it out.
It supposedly will have over 40,000 airports so your local airport should be there. Both of our local airports were on the last MS flight sim.

 
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Ashiri

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It supposedly will have over 40,000 airports so your local airport should be there. Both of our local airports were on the last MS flight sim.

That could be interesting... there would be some extremely dangerous airports on that list.
 
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Roxanne Blue

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You shouldn't give me both motivation to buy all new flight sim gear to run on Windows 10 when I have both the time and the budget (hello bar tab) to pay for this. Now all I need do is convince Margo and I can virtually buzz my house and my own local Navy base.
 

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I think I will live the rest of my life without purchasing Call of Duty or Flight Simulator.
Madness.
 
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