Flight Sim is one of the oldest games in the world and, as the venerable series approaches its twenty fifth anniversary (it's nearly as old as CVG), Microsoft's Flight Sim X is preparing to take to the skies and it's going to be one of the flagship titles for Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system and DirectX 10.
So it was with great pleasure that during a recent big flying day out, we managed to catch a lengthy word with Mike Gilbert, Lead Program Manager at Microsoft's ACES Game Studio to discuss the relaunch of the much-loved aviation classic.
Herein Capt Gilbert has much to say on the fascinating return of the series, including Microsoft's plan to broaden the appeal of the game to catch a new, more casual audience, as well as trying to satisfy its many true hardcore fans. You can read on to learn more about the new mission-led game design which includes events like the Redbull air race, how the title has expanded to encompass a real authentic living aviation world and all the goods on the much expanded mulitplayer component of the game, including an excellent new co-op mode so we can all learn to fly together.
There's even time for a late dispatch on whether we might see a return of the much-loved classic Combat Flight sim. So without further ado, it's chocks away and Capt. Gilbert, you have the controls...
Could you start us off with an overview of Flight Sim X, its new features and major areas in which you feel that it has expanded and improved?
Mike Gilbert: It's been one of the longest releases for us for quite some time - over three years since the 2004 edition came out and we took the extra time to really re-think our approach to designing the produce from the customer's point of view. For a long time I think rightfully criticised, we were very pilot or enthusiast orientated, focussing on the realism of the aircraft and the instrumentation and procedures and air traffic control, that sort of thing that works really well for a lot of people.
But there are a lot of folks with a passion for aviation that find that a little bit daunting and not their cup of tea so we actually went and did quite a bit of research on the users of the product, we did customer satisfaction surveys in the UK and France to get an international feel.
What we learned were a couple of key things: that the product as it existed was hard to approach from a novice perspective and also it didn't provide a lot of direction for how to get the most out of the product. So, the key investments we made for the new version were around three areas, one is something we call the 'dynamic living world', and that you can think of as an evolution of the core technology, the core engine if you will, which makes the world look better with higher resolutions, scenery, graphics and better looking skies.
The dynamic component, which is a new feature for us this time, is moving traffic on the roads and busy airports with moving jetways and fuel trucks and baggage loaders. That's really the foundation of the product and provides the long-time users with another reason to upgrade.
The other areas are focussed at the different ways that other people use the product. The structural experience of missions, is the one that speaks most directly at that group, a little bit of direction on how to get the most out of the product. They cover a variety of different facets of aviation from training or tutorials through general aviation and sport flying, aerobatics, airline flying, search-and-rescue and so on and so forth.