Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020 video game)

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Microsoft Flight Simulator
A series of general aviation and commercial aircraft flying in unison above three different areas with different climates, bordered by triangles. In the center, slightly diagonal, is the Microsoft Flight Simulator title.
Developer(s)Asobo Studio
Publisher(s)Xbox Game Studios
Director(s)David Dedeine
Designer(s)Damien Cuzacq
Programmer(s)Alain Guyet
Artist(s)Patrice Bourroncle
Composer(s)Finishing Move Inc.
SeriesMicrosoft Flight Simulator
EngineFTech Engine
Platform(s)
ReleaseMicrosoft Windows
  • WW: August 18, 2020
Xbox One / Xbox Series X/S
  • WW: 2021
Genre(s)Amateur flight simulation
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

Microsoft Flight Simulator (colloquially known as Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020)[note 1] is a flight simulator developed by Asobo Studio and published by Xbox Game Studios. It is the eleventh major entry in the Microsoft Flight Simulator series, which was first released in 1982, and preceded by Microsoft Flight Simulator X. It was released on August 18, 2020 for Microsoft Windows. It is the first game in the series to also get a console release, expected for the Xbox family in 2021.[1]

Flight Simulator simulates the entire Earth using textures and data from Bing Maps, whilst three-dimensional representations of the world's features are generated by Microsoft Azure technology. Through the use of the Azure cloud to render visuals, enhance visual fidelity, and simulate real-world data and effects, as well as calculate physics, the title has been viewed as the culmination of Microsoft's "power of the cloud" mantra.[2][3][4][5][6] Some players received the alpha version as part of the game's Insider program.[7] On July 13, 2020, Microsoft opened up preorders, and the PC version became available on August 18, 2020.

Flight Simulator was released to critical acclaim, with praise for its graphical fidelity, but criticism for its loading times and some inaccurate rendering of landmarks. Many critics considered it a technical achievement.

Overview[edit]

Flight Simulator uses Turn 10 Studios's in-house developed game engine, and leverages Microsoft Azure data, accessing over two petabytes of data from the cloud on demand.[8] Microsoft partnered up with Blackshark.ai[9] who developed a solution that uses the Microsoft Azure cloud and artificial intelligence that analyzes map data and photogrammetry to generate photorealistic 3D models of buildings, trees, terrain, and so on. This allows the simulator to depict most parts of the world in 3D photorealism, and other parts in high definition.[10] The game's engine utilizes satellite imagery or fly-by image scans as the basis for height and terrain texture data. An offline procedural generation AI then reads these textures based on their own parameters and properly populates terrain with materials, roads, buildings, bushes, trees and more based on brush set assets the developers have made. Afterwards, artists can further go in and embellish specific locations with even more detail with photogrammetrically captured materials and textures. Flight Simulator features multiple terabytes of texture and height map data. Using a base mesh and textures, the game uses the Internet connection to stream even higher quality terrain data onto the PC or console through the Azure cloud as the player plays, boosting the game's fidelity and graphical diversity.[4]

Asobo has created their own flight model engine, allowing thousands of surfaces and 3D forces and moments to be fully simulated.[8] There are also realistic physics and weather systems, and utilization of real-world weather data. An example used at E3 2019 was that if it was raining somewhere in real life, it would be raining in-game. Individual clouds will have their own behaviors and they will impact aircraft performance depending on its location within the system.[11] Flight Simulator features a 600-kilometre (370 mi) draw distance and allows the player to see storms hundreds of miles away, with lightning cracking inside of clouds.[12]

Through cloud-based technology, Flight Simulator streams data to the computer or console in real time, with AI being utilized to extrapolate geometry from a blend of satellite and flyover imagery.[13] Flight Simulator converts 3D scans of the environment into the game world. Other sources of data include terrain data for landscaping, data for foliage density, real-time meteorological data, and air traffic updates.[14] A separate atmospheric renderer simulates accurate humidity and pollution.[15] Microsoft has stated that the player's aircraft feels air as it lifts, drags, or slides as they come in contact with it, accounting for ice on the wings, pollution particles, or how wind moves through buildings or across tree tops, as well as friction of rubber to asphalt when the aircraft touches down, with the aircraft responding accurately to each of these instances.[16] Skyscrapers cast shadows over each other that darken as the player reaches street level and cities will disperse light at night that radiates the sky.[17] Cloud technology is also used to calculate things such as the way air flows around natural structures such as mountains to cause pockets of turbulence, or stream in air traffic, time of day and weather from the real world.[3] In regards to foliage, the game geometrically renders individual blades of grass and seas also contain waves created by the wind.[18]

Volumetric lighting is utilized for various effects, including illuminating water droplets, some of which will occupy the entirety of the cockpit window, and with everything being simulated in real time.[19] Light sources such as the Sun, Moon, or city lights scatter through the environment appropriately, pollution levels and humidity affect refraction and overall visibility, and the atmosphere is layered the same as it is in the real world. Clouds are volumetrically modelled, with 32 layers determining shape, density, and “fuzziness”.[20] Flight Simulator makes use of ray-marching. The game's reflection system also at times utilizes ray-marching by retranslating voxels. Otherwise, the reflection system uses a mix of screen-space reflections and cube maps to show reflections on more distant bodies of water.[21] In addition to a complex lighting system, Flight Simulator makes use of highly detailed shaders.[22] Flight Simulator makes extensive use of screen-space reflections and bokeh depth of field.[23]

Flight Simulator populates the world with animals and roads with vehicles, water flows realistically based on wind direction, grass has individual grass blades and trees have individual leaves, creating the illusion of a living world.[24] The game world includes over 2 million cities and towns,[25] 1.5 billion buildings, 2 trillion trees, and 37,000 real-world airports.[26] In regards to runways, dedicated tools allow Asobo to outline the site perimeter, runway footprint, orientation, as well as other properties. This approach also allows Microsoft to flag artifacts and visual anomalies from a birds-eye view, clearing up the input for a world-building algorithm. The result is fed into Microsoft's artificial intelligence, stringing the environment together in the cloud, and is streamed to the PC or console in real time.[27] Flight Simulator features various animal species that can even be viewed at ground level, including birds, elephants, giraffes and bears.[28]

Flight Simulator allows the player to scout, "chase" and interact with real-world storms as they occur in real time.[29]

Features[edit]

Aircraft[edit]

The standard edition of Flight Simulator includes 20 flyable aircraft, with the deluxe and premium edition also having 5 or 10 additional airplanes, respectively.[2] Most of the aircraft are of US, French, or German origin, with a few coming from Austrian, Czech and Slovenian companies. Aircraft included starting from the Deluxe version include aircraft manufactured by Diamond Aircraft , Cirrus Aircraft, and Textron Aviation Inc., while aircraft exclusively for the Premium Deluxe version include the Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner and the Cessna Citation Longitude, as well as several general aviation aircraft.[2]

Third-party aircraft will also be supported within the simulator, being directly purchased from the in-game marketplace. Notable confirmed third-party aircraft are the Concorde, developed by DC designs, as well as many other aircraft.[30] The Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network, also known as Vatsim, and The International Virtual Aviation Organisation, also known as IVAO, are online flight-simulation networks confirmed to be supported within Microsoft Flight Simulator.[31][32]

Airports[edit]

Flight Simulator includes around 37,000 manually edited airports from around the world based on real-world satellite images,[33] with the standard, deluxe, and premium edition respectively also including 30, 35, or 40 highly detailed "hand-crafted replicas" of their real-world counterparts. Airports included starting from the deluxe version include those from the United States, Europe, and Africa, while those exclusively for the Premium Deluxe version include the Heathrow and Dubai Airport, as well as those from the US and Europe.[2]

Development[edit]

"Using data of Microsoft’s home city of Seattle, which Bing Maps has rendered down to five-centimeter resolution [...], Asobo took a few weeks to put together a demo of a Cessna flying downtown. Neumann then showed it to Phil Spencer, a VP[-turned-head of Xbox]. “He just looked at me and said, ‘Why are you showing me a video of [...] a plane?’” Neumann says. “And then the plane turned, and we flew over the Microsoft campus where we were [... right now]. And he’s like, ‘Is this real time? Is this running?’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, it is!’ And we knew then we had something special.”

– Jörg Neumann on presenting an early build of Flight Simulator to Xbox head Phil Spencer[34]

Flight Simulator was announced at E3 2019 on June 9, 2019.[35] It is the first major entry in the series since 2006's Flight Simulator X, following a long period of uncertainty over the future of the series after the closure of Aces Game Studio in 2009. It was developed by the French Asobo Studio and published by Xbox Game Studios.[36][37] The game was released on August 18, 2020.[38] The game is powered by Turn 10 Studios Ftech engine known from [[Forza (series)|Forza]].[39]

The franchise's return after a 14-year absence is partially credited to the business model of Xbox Game Pass allowing for a wider variety and diversity of games.[40] In addition, Xbox chief Phil Spencer had also stated that Flight Simulator is part of Microsoft's renewed commitment to PC gaming. According to Spencer: "So Sarah Bond, who's our head of global partnerships, came out, did the Game Pass work with the indie montage and all those games that were coming to Game Pass, then announced Xbox Game Pass for PC and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. The next games that were there—I didn't know if the PC community was going to be watching or not, but we went Flight Sim, we went Age, we went Wasteland—I wanted people to know that we want to make sure we're building games and supporting games that respect what the PC community loves." On bringing back Flight Simulator, Spencer stated: "We do have some pilots on the teams that are big fans of flight, and flight sims, and flying themselves, who are passionate about it, so we said, 'okay, let's see what we can do'. Flight Sim was a game in our past that sold millions and millions of units and had a very, very passionate community—in fact, they're still out there. So, okay. Can we do something new with Flight Sim? Can we actually move it forward in an interesting way?"[41]

Six years prior to release, the foundations for Flight Simulator began through work with Asobo on a product called HoloTour for Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality headset. A challenge that later inspired the Flight Simulator project was to build a digital version of Machu Picchu's vast mountainside and vistas vs. normal buildings at street level. This challenge spurred Microsoft executive and project leader Jörg Neumann to consult with the Bing Maps team to use their detailed photogrammetry data, which included the actual ruins of Machu Picchu, in order to create a HoloLens replica of Machu Picchu. Neumann later utilized Bing photogrammetry data to have Asobo build a flight demo for the city of Seattle. Neumann also met with the Swiss company Meteoblue in order to incorporate realistic, real-time and worldwide weather data into the product.[42][43][44] Technology was also incorporated from Microsoft's discontinued Photosynth project, which generates 3D models from 2D photos.[45]

In a CNN report on the franchise's history with the flight simming community and current real-world pilots, Neumann stated:

"First and foremost we're making a product for simmers. When you meet pilots a lot of them that say 'you know what? -- my interest in this whole thing started with Microsoft Flight Sim many years ago'. Some people choose that as a career, and we do hope to inspire this new generation. Ever since we showed our trailer we've been called by almost every airplane manufacturer and they all tell us there's a pilot crisis, but for us it's about priority-setting. We're excited about making a sim, and if we can help with the pilot crisis in some shape or form -- we'll try when the time is right."[46]

In regards to future aspirations for Flight Simulator's technology, according to Neumann:

"We can spin up as many virtual machines as we want. If we want to have a million-animal caribou herd where every caribou is running its own AI, we can do that. The boundary of the local machine is broken. That is no longer a barrier for us to do things. Now it really just comes down to, 'What do you want to simulate?' We dream about these things a lot. Now, the dream is no longer some vapor that goes away. It is all totally possible."[45]

Release[edit]

On July 13, 2020, Microsoft opened up preorders, and announced that Flight Simulator for PC would be available on August 18, 2020.[47] The company announced three different versions of the title — Standard, Deluxe, and Premium Deluxe, each providing an incremental set of airplanes to choose and additional airports with more detailed visuals.[48] The pricing ranged from US$59.99 for Standard, to US$89.99 for Deluxe, and US$119.99 for the Premium Deluxe edition.[48] While it is released on the PC, the date for launch on the Xbox family of consoles is awaited.[49]

In addition to digital licenses from Microsoft Store and Steam, the game is also available on the PC version of the Xbox Game Pass subscription service.[2]

Retail version[edit]

Aerosoft's physical release of the Standard edition came on ten DVDs

Aerosoft, a German developer and publisher of simulation software, announced in July 2020 that they have a partnership with Microsoft to release a physical version in Europe. It is available in two editions, Standard and Premium Deluxe (see the features comparison above), and comes with 10 dual-layer DVDs, a printed manual, and a keyboard reference chart.[50] The Premium Deluxe edition also comes with an artbook.[51] The retail version's digital license has to be redeemed on the Microsoft Store. Otherwise there is no difference between the boxed retail and digital versions.

The discs contain around 90 GB of data that consists of the installer and basic content, including aircraft and the standard-definition default world. However, the actual simulator software and patches are downloaded during installation; therefore, the game is not playable out of the box. An active internet connection is also needed for the simulator to update itself when needed. As with digital versions, after installation the game does not require an active internet connection and can be played offline; additionally, more details for the world, better ground imagery, as well as real-world weather and air traffic data can optionally be streamed from Microsoft's servers.[51]

Reception[edit]

Prior to release, game development and graphics/visual effects industry publication 80 LEVEL described Flight Simulator as "one of the most authentic-looking landscape 3D simulations ever in the history of video games," and states that "Microsoft is not only changing the face of simulators and aerial simulation, but the way companies actually build games."[15] Polygon's Charlie Hall wrote, "It's easily the most magical thing I've ever seen on a computer screen."[52] Eurogamer praised the game for creating "one of those rare wow moments that come along once a generation, or that maybe herald the next. This really is a phenomenal thing."[17] LADbible wrote that "Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 might just be the best-looking video game of all time."[53]

According to Paul Sillers, writing for CNN, Flight Simulator might be "the safest way to travel" during the COVID-19 pandemic, and due to global economic conditions in the wake of COVID-19, is currently being used by furloughed pilots to keep their skills fresh.[54]

Critical response[edit]

Reception
Aggregate score
AggregatorScore
Metacritic92/100[55]
Review scores
PublicationScore
GameSpot9/10[60]
IGN10/10[56]
PC Gamer (US)89/100[59]
PCGamesN9/10[62]
Shacknews4.5/5 stars[63]
The Guardian5/5 stars[58]
VentureBeat95/100[61]
VG2475/5 stars[57]

Microsoft Flight Simulator received "universal acclaim" from critics, according to review aggregator Metacritic, based on 63 reviews,[55] and has been rated the third-best PC game of 2020, behind Half-Life: Alyx and Hades.[64] IGN's Seth Macy praised the attention to detail and graphics, and while he criticised the long loading times, he found this unsurprising due to the game's "staggering amount of data." In summary, he called it "the most incredible experience I've ever had on a computer."[65] PC Gamer's Phil Iwaniuk described about the "impossible detail of its 1:1 world map" and that the "simulation model is more detailed than it's ever been."[66]

In a review of Flight Simulator, CNN states: "Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is truly a marvel when it comes to everything it accomplishes. From the sheer variety of planes, to the destinations you can explore across the globe, to the amount of polish it sports, it’s clear an abundance of love and care went into making the game a reality," and that "If you’re looking for a game that has a ridiculous amount of content or you’re even a smidge curious about what it’s like to fly a plane, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is a must-buy. It’s an essential buy for anyone who’s into exquisite detail, fantastic gameplay and those moments that make you marvel over what can be accomplished these days by technology. It’s a triumphant return for the Flight Simulator series and one of the best titles of 2020 thus far."[67]

On Steam, however, many users were frustrated with the long in-game installation forcing them to exceed two hours of gameplay and lose the right to a refund, resulting in a review bomb, several users demanding refunds, and the game's rating dropping to 6 out of 10 stars.[68] (Steam grants refunds on titles only if the user has played the title for less than two cumulative hours.) However, Steam has addressed this issue and has stated that "the time it takes your machine to download the additional content will not be counted against the Steam Refund Policy."[69]

Some also reported inaccuracies in rendering buildings such as the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. and Buckingham Palace in London, in which its monuments have been misrendered as a skyscraper and an office block respectively. Due to a typographical error in the height of a Melbourne suburban building in OpenStreetMap, data which had been used by Bing Maps and thence used by Asobo, the flight simulator initially rendered a two-storey building as 212 storeys—inserting an improbably thin and tall skyscraper into the suburb.[70] Some also discovered that the system is unable to render palm trees, making them into obelisks "jutting forth from the pavement like so many teeth." The TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida has also been misrendered as an office building with grass roofs. Despite this, Tom Warren of The Verge said that "the glitches are more amusing than they are game breaking." Many users on the Flight Simulator support forums also report instability and game crashes without due cause.[71]

Writing for the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo stated that "the new Flight Sim is more than a technical achievement or a marketing demo. I found it to be most compelling as a preview of a new kind of digital experience. In a way that I have never before felt from a piece of software, the game plunged me into sustained meditations on the permeability between the real world and the online one—and it offered me some hope of a more realistic kind of online life in the future."[72]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Also referred to abbreviated as MSFS or MFS 2020; often simply FS2020.

References[edit]

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External links[edit]