More than a year ago, it seemed impossible that the Flight Simulator franchise would make a comeback. Fast-forward to now and we have Microsoft Flight Simulator set to release on August 18th for PC (with an Xbox One version coming later). Developed by Asobo Studio, there’s a lot going on in this iteration so let’s break down 15 things you need to know before picking it up.
The main appeal of Microsoft Flight Simulator is that you can fly anywhere in the world. This may seem like an exaggeration but it’s true. You can start from literally anywhere on the globe, be it New York City or Egypt, and fly to your heart’s content. How is the game rendered at this scale? It all comes down to a rather unlikely source.
Simulates the Entire Earth
Essentially, the game generates its world based on topographic data from Bing Maps. This is then rendered using photogrammetry with Azure AI, from various elevations to objects like trees and different buildings. So it’s possible to fly over photo-realistic mountain ranges in New Zealand, visit the Grand Canyon or simply gaze upon a busy metropolis. It’s something that we’ve never seen before in a video game but works remarkably well here.
Two Million Cities
The other benefit of using Bing Maps is the sheer amount of square miles and cities that can be recreated. There’s a whopping 197 million square miles of land to cover and more than two million cities and towns to fly over. Some serious asset streaming is at play here, which benefits players with faster connections, but certain areas will be pre-loaded to allow for offline play as well.
Asobo Studio is also including 37,000 real world airports. These are divided into manually edited and handcrafted. The former is based off of satellite data. The handcrafted airports, of which there are 40 in total, comprise the more famous locations like Los Angeles International, Queenstown Airport and Heathrow. Along with way more detail, they have their own custom lighting models as well.
Physics and Weather Systems
The Flight Simulator franchise has always been about realistic physics and this iteration is no different. To that end, the developer is taking extra care to capture details like light reflection and refraction, air flow and the effect of turbulence. Seasonal weather is included as the game draws on the real world’s weather to accurately depict snowstorms, rain, and much more wherever they’re actually happening. They’ll actually affect your flying as well so caution is advised.
A special note on the clouds – not only do they create their own shadows but they’re formed using 32 volumetric layers. This results in a variety of different clouds while also ensuring that they look downright gorgeous. Microsoft Flight Simulator will likely have the most realistic sky-boxes in a video game, if not some of the best-looking ever.
Of course, the main point of a flight simulator is to realistically simulate the experience of flying in a plane (shocker, we know). Asobo Studio has you covered on that end, with realistically modeled cock-pits and high-fidelity audio that properly captures the thrill of takeoff, flight and landing. CEO Sebastian Wloch told Geekwire that, “All of the aircraft have been designed and/or reviewed by people who have a lot of hours on the aircraft. Every aircraft is different. We wanted them to not only be right on the numbers, but also feel right.” This includes comparing an in-game plane’s performance with actual flight data. Those new to the series can simply jump in and start flying (though it’ll still be a challenge) while hardcore players can partake in each and every aspect of the piloting experience.
Real-Time Air Traffic
Another key data metric that the development team is pulling from is real-time air traffic. “Most” of the airplanes that are traveling the world at a given time, if not all of them will be simulated. This works in conjunction with the shared world multiplayer as AI planes will co-exist with real players. You can still access this feature while playing offline as well so don’t worry.
Regarding multiplayer, it’s powered by Azure and described as a “seamless” experience that allows for simply jumping in and playing together. There are two filters for the experience – Live Players Only, which is for those who want a stricter flying space with real-time weather and air traffic; and All Players, which lets you set the weather, time of day, and whatnot while showing every player. You can also create a Group and customize every setting while inviting people to join. Only those who join your session or “shard” will see you.
Let’s say you live in Europe and want a physical version of the game, that too with a printed manual. You’re in luck then because Microsoft has partnered with Aerosoft to release a 10 disc retail version consisting of dual-layer DVDs. You’ll still need to play online to get the most out of the game but for those who seek offline play or simply want a physical copy and manual, this is the way.
PC System Requirements
In terms of system requirements on PC, Microsoft Flight Simulator needs a Ryzen 3 1200 or Intel i5-4460 with a Radeon RX 570 or Nvidia GTX 770 with 2 GB VRAM at minimum. It also needs 8 GB of memory and a 5 Mbps connection on top of this. The recommended specs include an Intel i5-8400 or Ryzen 5 1500X, an Nvidia GTX 970 or Radeon RX 590 with 4 GB of VRAM, 16 GB memory and a 20 Mbps connection. Finally, the “ideal” specs demand the best of the best – an Intel i7-9800X or Ryzen 7 Pro 2700X, an Nvidia RTX 2080 or Radeon VII with 8 GB VRAM, 32 GB of memory and a 50 Mbps connection. All of these set-ups require 150 GB of installation space with the “ideal” set-up requiring a solid state drive.
4K and Ray-Tracing
For those with the best hardware, Microsoft Flight Simulator not only supports 4K resolution but ray-tracing as well (which project manager Jörg Neumann confirmed in an interview with Der Standard). How good the game will look on Xbox One remains to be seen but we’re eager to see how Xbox Series X will handle it, especially with its SSD and support for ray-tracing. Asobo Studios is interested in VR support as well but it’ll likely be some time before it’s implemented.
Standard, Deluxe and Premium Deluxe Editions
Three different versions of the game will be available at launch. The Standard Edition is $59.99 and includes 20 planes and 30 hand-crafted airports, and is the same version that will be available at launch on Xbox Game Pass for PC. The Deluxe Edition costs $89.99 and features 25 planes and 35 handcrafted airports while the Premium Deluxe Edition will cost $119.99 and includes a total of 30 planes and 40 handcrafted airports.
Marketplace for Mods
Players will undoubtedly demand more content after launch, hence the announcement of the Marketplace Partner Program for modders to sell their creations. The program will require becoming a partner and content on the marketplace can’t be sold anywhere else. It’s a great way to cater to modders while also ensuring a steady flow of content for the game but the initially approved slate of partners will be limited.
Asobo Studio and ACE
Asobo Studio has been mentioned quite a bit and it’s no slouch when it comes to graphics. The developer released the critically acclaimed A Plague Tale: Innocence, which was also praised for its graphics (among many other things). For Microsoft Flight Simulator, it went as far as to create ACE, a bespoke engine which can fully simulate thousands of different surfaces. The name may also be an homage to Aces Games Studio, the original developer for the old-school Flight Simulator games.