Test Pilots Wanted: Microsoft Flight

By Alec Meer on December 2nd, 2011 at 5:31 pm.

I don't even know what kind of plane that is. It is a plane, right?

Microsoft Flight Simulator was dead for a while, but it’s due to return with one less word next year. Microsoft Flight is the name for the rebooted grandaddy of stately, faithfully-recreated aeorplanes, presumably because someone in marketing decided ‘Simulator’ didn’t sound suitably lifestyle. Microsoft Game Studios have been quietly documenting MSF’s progress over on their website for a while now, but they’ve just announced plans to open the bomb bay doors to interested beta testers next month. That all happens here.

You’ll need to sign in or sign up with multiple tiers of Microsoft online service to throw your name in the hat, but you’ve probably already registered for half of it at some point over the years. And I didn’t run into Games For Windows Live, at least not yet.

I won’t pretend to be any kind of Flight Sim expert, but I’m very interested in what they do on a graphical level here. It’s been a long time since the makers of Windows made a high-end Windows game, and as such they could play with aspects of DirectX 11 and high-end PC optimisation that most other games don’t.

Here’s the teaser from last year. There are more vids on the site, but they’ve turned off embeds, the big sillies.

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60 Comments »

  1. kert says:

    Finally a reason to dust out the trusty Sidewinder again. For the last decade that i have owned it, about 10 games total have been worthy ..

    Oh, couldnt get the signup page to work with anything but IE .. duh.

    • djbriandamage says:

      I just successfully signed up with Firefox 8.0.

    • The Tupper says:

      If you have one, I’d highly recommend trying an XBox 360 controller with it. Despite having a set of CH Yoke and pedals, I now use the pad for FSX – it’s far less hassle (attaching and removing, desk footprint) and really intuitive, without any keybinding required.

      Addition: I’ve owned two Sidewinder sticks in the past (original and force feedback) – the pad’s better than both, in my opinion.

    • DrGonzo says:

      A 360 pad does work well and is a great option if you’re low on space. I think I find it easier to control too, but its just not as much fun as using a joystick!

      My dad couldnt get his old sidewinder to work so he picked up a “Dark Tornado” which is almost identical in design and feel. Highly recommended!

      http://www.play.com/PC/PCs/4-/3385804/Speed-Link-SL-6632-Dark-Tornado-Force-Vibration-Joystick-USB/Product.html

    • Resurgam says:

      Even better, my joystick has been worthy of… Flight Sim-X, Crimson Skies, Wings of prey, Falcon 4, Rogue Squadron and wierdly enough… FX Fighter. Maybe a few more that i can remember but not a lot. Go preying Mantis dude vs Robot Guy!

  2. fwfulton says:

    Now if we can get them to Bring Back Microsoft Links I would truly be a happy camper

  3. Vinraith says:

    While I’ve never been a big flight simulator guy, I’m glad to see this series come back. There was a weird hole in the PC gaming space in its absence.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Maybe an “emotional hole,” in the sense that this series defined PC gaming in the early days. I still remember flying the first ones in glorious CGA graphics. Stick figure combat, etc.

      But the PC flight sim genre has kept moving along without Microsoft. Many FS pilots moved over to X-Plane, which has been in continuous development and runs on Windows, Mac, and Unix. The next version 10 is shipping on Dec. 7, and it’s a big release with some major changes. I hope RPS covers this new release, at some point (Edit: just saw it’s mentioned in the Flare Path post below, hadn’t seen that yet. Good show! Carry on):

      http://www.x-plane.com/

      http://www.x-plane.org/

      As for this new MS sim, I think the jury is still out on whether it’s actually coming back to anything close to what it was, which was largely determined by 3rd party support. I think one of the reasons MS bailed out, was the difficulty of monetizing the series. They sold the core product, but all the real money was being made in 3rd party add-ons. With all this new emphasis on running under GFW and social networking, they may be trying to keep things more under their own banner. Which means it might never approach what FS used to be.

      On the other hand, I’m sure there’s a market for a lightweight “fun” sim. Something like X-Plane can be a little daunting, for anyone who just wants to fly around some mountains.

    • Brun says:

      RPS covered the demo for X-Plane 10 in this week’s Flare Path.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      My memory may be in error, but the scaling accessibility was one of the great things about the early MSFS. A complete noob (me) could jump in and go zooming around the chunky blocks of Chicago or SFO, or the Chuck Yeager types could ramp the realism settings up to “takes five minutes just to start the engines” and be just as happy.

      Take that formula, add in some sort of multiplayer, maybe some optional quests (fly x to y without scaring your passengers.. or making sure you DO scare them, fly in formation, etc) and it seems like a real winner.

    • The Tupper says:

      @ DigitalSignalX

      True. And (I know this is getting tiresome so I’ll stop soon), a gamepad can fly and land a simulated aircraft perfectly well. I wonder if the last decade’s move toward more elaborate dedicated flightsim controllers (of which I myself have partaken) hasn’t served to further exclude people who would otherwise enjoy the genre.

      Addition: the inclusion of analogue sticks with gamepads makes them a viable, affordable and user-friendly entry point to simming.

    • soldant says:

      I can play DCS: A10 with sim-mode avionics on a 360 gamepad. Am I awesome?

      On topic: I like the FS series, but I can’t swap to X-Plane. The entire thing feels unpolished and lacks the presentation that FSX has. The FS series is also a lot more friendly for beginners, X-Plane has nothing much in the way of learning the ropes. Must say X-Plane’s flight model is a lot better though!

    • faillord_adam says:

      @Zenicetus There’s also FlightGear. It’s open source and for Windows, Mac (I think) and Linux. the graphics isn’t as good, but it’s free!

  4. Brun says:

    Looking forward to this. It won’t scratch my ACM itch like Falcon 4, but it should be good as a modern “just flying about” game.

    Would really like to see them do another Space Simulator, but I guess Orbiter has filled that hole.

    • Mctittles says:

      Nice one on the Falcon 4 mention. To this day not only the most realistic simulator I play, but also one that managed to combine an engrossing campaign along with it. Something I do not see happening again anytime soon.

  5. kert says:

    Oh, and how about another installment of Crimson Skies, once i get tired of fiddling with trims ?

    • buzzmong says:

      Yes. A proper Crimson Skies 2 would be lovely. As long as it takes all it’s queues from the original PC version (including having seperate pitch, roll, yaw and throttle) and not copying the much much poorer xbox “Crimson Skies”.

  6. Requisition says:

    Nice, just signed up. Sounds cool!

  7. Elmar Bijlsma says:

    Looks like a Stearman 75 but I could be wrong. Lack of weapons decreases my knowledge of planes dramatically. Which incidentally is also why I’ll give this a pass. What is the point of flying a plane if you aren’t chasing a Messerschmitt around with it?

    • djbriandamage says:

      to get to the other side

    • Joshua says:

      To airlift supplies to an underdeveloped region
      To save the lives of people who find themselves on burning oil rigs.

      That sorta stuff – I hope Microsoft Flight expands on the missions in Flight Simulator X – I loved those.

  8. Dakia says:

    I’ve been wanting a good flying game. There doesn’t seem to be much out there right now that isn’t super arcadey

    • Zenicetus says:

      Current non-arcade flight sims:

      FSX or X-Plane for civilian realism. FSX is technically dead, but there’s still a lot of work being done in the add-on community. X-plane has a much-anticipated new version arriving in a few days.

      Rise of Flight is a terrific WWI prop plane/combat simulator. It’s what I’m flying the most, right now.

      Cliffs of Dover for WWII prop planes. Had a rough launch last summer, but it’s getting better.

      The DCS stuff — Black Shark, A-10 — for modern air combat.

      Take On Helicopters (maybe not 100% realistic, but doesn’t look like too arcade-like).

    • Brun says:

      Just wanted to point out that there really isn’t a great non-arcadey modern air combat game. The two DCS games you listed were Ka-50 (a helicopter) and A-10 (a ground-attack aircraft). I haven’t played either game, but when I hear “Modern Air Combat,” I expect air-to-air engagements.

      I wouldn’t mind a DCS: F-15, DCS: F-16, or DCS: F-18, or even a DCS: Su-27/35 or DCS: MiG-29 since they started with Russian aircraft.

    • Reapy says:

      I’d nudge in there that IL2 1946 is still pretty viable and has some pretty big easy to install mods. I picked it up a month or two ago playing my first flight sim in a bit, shortly thereafter getting a HOTAS flight control and rudder pedals, then using a webcam with facetracknoir to glance around the cockpit. I probably could have skipped on the rudder pedals, but all those things combined + il2 ultrapack really made for some awesome flying experiences.

      Rise of flight was the next on on my list but then I got distracted by dark souls, into skyrim.

    • The Tupper says:

      And of course nowadays most people will have a chance of FSX working on their current machines.

    • clorax says:

      In addition to the sims listed by others, the Benchmark Sims team just released the new BMS 4.32 for Falcon 4 a couple of months ago and it is brilliant.

    • Zenicetus says:

      @ Reapy: If you get Rise of Flight, you’ll be glad you bought those rudder pedals. :)

      The rudder is less useful in the faster and more stable WWII aircraft like those in IL-2. I use rudder mainly for fine-tuning aim in those games, or for spin recovery (although I don’t spin out very often in IL-2). In Rise of Flight, many of the planes have huge amounts of rudder authority, and the rudder can mean life or death when you’re staying right on the edge of spinning out in one of the trickier flight models, like the radial-engine Camel or DR.1

    • Julhelm says:

      There’s the rather excellent Strike Fighters 2 series if you want something in between HAWX and DCS.

  9. Bhazor says:

    Are there any surviving videos of the old Flight Simulator intro where the co-pilot jokes about crashing into a sky scraper? I’ve been looking for that for ages.

    • The Tupper says:

      Can you remember what version of FS that was in? I’ve probably got the discs lying around somewhere here.

  10. Xaromir says:

    I hope it will cost a little less than what it used to cost. That program was pricey.

    • Mctittles says:

      If it’s as in depth as they were with other ones I think the price is fair really. For amount of effort put into the world and simulation aspects vs the niche sales from it I would expect a higher price point than other games.

  11. Captain Novolin says:

    The survey thing had me put in my gamertag so it’ll probably go over GFWL or something. I’d put up with (almost) anything for a new flight simulator, though.

  12. chabuhi says:

    Signed up yesterday – required Microsoft Live login, which is unsurprising, but I was a bit taken aback that they wanted an XBOX gamertag. I made one up, hopefully that won’t disqualify me … and hopefully they’re releasing this on PC as well?

  13. Kong says:

    good news indeed. Just got myself Combat Rudder Pedals and TrackIr5 for Il2-1946 and ArmA 2. Now Take On Helicopters and soon another flight sim. I feel trendy all of a sudden.

    But “The Tupper” post scares me no little. Developers care a lot what the gaming world’s tuppers have to say. The 21st century is the age of the tuppers. No smoking, no joysticks, no whatnot.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Spy-drone simulator? I think those are controlled by gamepads.

    • The Tupper says:

      Oh my god, if you could only see me: I’m an advert for no one (as Mrs The Tupper will surely attest). Do me a favour: at least TRY an XBox controller on FSX and then come back. I’m not kidding – it works brilliantly (the second stick, for example, works better for moving the pilot’s head than any hat stick I’ve ever used. Edit: the triggers work superbly for rudder control). It basically comes down to what size and shape the lump of plastic one chooses to play games with is.

      PS: I smoke like a Japanese nuclear reactor.

    • svge says:

      Regardless of how well a gamepad works, I think playing a flight sim with anything other than some kind of joystick is missing the point somewhat.

    • The Tupper says:

      @ svge

      As I say, I have both options but the convenience and functionality of the pad makes me use that more often than my pedals/yoke. When I started simming (back in the old, old days) it was a digital 8-way Kempston joysick or keyboard, but the immersion of the simulation (even at 1.5 frames per second) was still enough to bring me inside, as it were.

    • bartleby says:

      I’ve tried the 360 gamepad, but the centering on mine is so poor I have to make a huge deadzone. Throttle control is a little goofy too since you have to hold it. It’s a good idea, though. R/C plane controllers are basically just big gamepads without throttle centering, though, so it’s not that strange.

      I do use the gamepad for Steel Beasts, though!

  14. Hoaxfish says:

    So, what’s the appeal of just flight sims? They’re just flying right?

    I mean, I loved Red Baron, but there was stuff to dogfight and formation flying with wingmen etc… but just flying seems a little empty.

    • The Tupper says:

      It’s surprisingly relaxing just pootling among the beautifully-rendered clouds. I’ve not (yet) tried X-Plane, but FSX has the entire world for you to fly in and every landing (no matter how experienced the player is) has to be taken seriously. I’ve been playing every iteration of Flight Simulator since the days of SubLogic and (although I don’t put in that many hours) it’s always there if I need it.

      Addition: depending on your tastes, some ambient music (and a hefty toke) while flying can be rather pleasurable. Save file before landing.

    • Zenicetus says:

      There can be many challenges in “just flying,” but with the sims like FSX and X-Plane that aren’t scripted into linear missions, the challenge is basically what you create for yourself.

      There is challenge in learning how to fly smooth aerobatic routines, for example. Or learning how to land smoothly with a strong crosswind blowing on the runway. Some of the real-world landing approaches are pretty hairy. Like a small mountain you have to skim the top of, and then suddenly drop to reach the runway (Castlegar, Canada is like that — hairy with a big jet). I like flying the smaller bush planes in civilian sims like Otters, Beavers, or other tail-draggers like the Beech 18, and trying to see if I can land in tiny bush strips in Alaska, or jungle strips in New Guinea. Some people fly in virtual airlines, where you have to complete assigned flights and can interact with real people over virtual air traffic control. I spent a little time in one version of that, called FSEconomy.

      Finally, I think one big attraction for many sim pilots is the continuing release of cool models to fly. It takes time to learn how to fly each one, especially as the cockpits and instrumentation can be very different from one plane to the next. Just learning how to master the cockpit instrumentation on some of the modern planes like the big heavies can take months of study and practice. It appeals to the gear geeks. Me, I like to fly the smaller stuff and get into dangerous weather or terrain, and that’s enough.

    • Brun says:

      “Some of the real-world landing approaches are pretty hairy.”

      Girbraltar – you know, the one where there’s a big mountain (The Rock of Gibraltar) just to the side of the runway, and on the other side is Spain, which won’t let you fly through their airspace to land on Gibraltar – having to thread that needle during insane crosswinds is very, very tricky.

      Oh, also a major highway crosses the runway. And not underneath it either, directly across it – there are little crossing gates that stop traffic when a plane is on final.

    • The Tupper says:

      @ Brun

      I’ve never been to Gibraltar in FSX. Will try it now – you’ve described perfectly what’s great about flight sims.

  15. The Tupper says:

    @ Zenicetus:

    I agree with you. While I personally don’t have many dealings with the bigger planes (not enough second chances for landing when you’re lugging 400 tonnes of steel – for my ability) the flying itself is the challenge.

    On that note: is anyone here experienced with FSX as well as other more combat-heavy simulations? If so, are the flight models in the more ‘gamey’ sims realistic?

    I’ve flown real-life light aircraft and I can attest to FSX’s veracity, but have no experience of war planes, either simulated or real.

    • bartleby says:

      I’m only a virtual pilot, but the DCS FMs feel pretty good to me. The A-10C one is great. The LOMAC ones aren’t as detailed, but still provide a realism effect.

      I was about to say that the new Falcon 4 BMS flight model was good, but…it’s weird. The digital flight control system means that flying is way less involved than any light aircraft. It’s not on rails or anything, but it’s paradoxically an easier flight than a lot of “simpler” planes.

      I tried Take On Helicopters and was disappointed. The flight model was definitely a step up from ARMA’s (terrible) ones, but trimming was strange and responses were syrupy. It looks like the FM data can be modded, so once again the community might come to save the day.

    • The Tupper says:

      @ Bartleby:

      I remember (gawd knows how many years ago) when the Airbus fly-by-wire was brought into FS: I felt that part of the enjoyment had gone (regarding that particular type of aircraft).

      But having said that, my niece (who is, in addition to being a keen simmer, is currently training to be an airline pilot) absolutely loves the flying-by-console model of modern airliners. Your Air-Miles May Vary, I guess.

      Me? I reckon I’m always gonna be a single-prop jockey of the old-school (dangerous) kind.

    • Mctittles says:

      I’d say Falcon 4.0: Allied is a good bet for combat flight. Like was mentioned it is a little different because of the planes built in control but that is the jet itself not the simulator. The simulator is pretty accurate and the latest iteration has years and years of work put into it. If you put some time into learning the flight, the campaign is pretty great. It gives you the feeling of being one pilot in a big war but also having your own impact on that war.
      Plus you can create your own missions if you want, by plopping any of the many planes, guns, and tanks on a map and scripting them however.

  16. Tams80 says:

    If you can land a plane on a dirt road in Africa and then see it completely stripped down; I’ll buy it.

    Oh, and Lukla. I will not buy it if Lukla is not included.

  17. Mctittles says:

    Looking forward to this. Still haven’t found a system that can max FSX settings and keep up a decent frame rate in cities though :).

    One thing. Include crashes!

  18. SketchyGalore says:

    Even though Games for Windows Live hasn’t reared its ugly head yet, it was at the end of the trailer, so… *wince*

    • neolith says:

      Yeah, I lost all interest the moment I saw that.

      Also: What about a new Crimson Skies, MS? Without GFWL if you would, please.

  19. Panimala says:

    I applied, I however do not have big hopes for this. The scenery looks exactly like that of FSX. I don’t know what MS is doing with a flight sim which isn’t catering towards the “hardcore” flight sim community.

  20. DrGonzo says:

    Any news of them bringing back Combat Flight Simulator? Spent many hours with that, my favourite flight sim. I still remember being amazed that you could hear your wings creaking under the strain as you pull up violently.

  21. jeremypeel says:

    I’m fairly sure I read that Microsoft laid off the entire Flight Sim team a couple of years before work started on this.

    If so, it’s ironic that whilst Flight Sim was winding down, the only first-party dev Microsoft had any interest in funding was Forza’s Turn 10, another dedicated sim team.

  22. jeremypeel says:

    Also, what ever happened to that Looking Glass lot? I hear they were handy with an immersive flight sim.

    • Llewyn says:

      Looking Glass were handy with lots of things but sadly people didn’t seem to want to buy them.

      As for Turn10, I think it’s difficult – even as someone whose 360 was bought specifically for the Forza franchise – to describe them as a dedicated sim team. Certainly not in the way the FS team were.

  23. Iokanaan says:

    “as a kid
    I dreamt I could race cars”
    “as a kid
    I dreamt I could kill people”
    “as a kid
    I dreamt I would crash into the ocean and discover a freaky retro submarine world where I could kill daddies”

    get it?