Microsoft Flight: Incessnant Questions

By Tim Stone on January 25th, 2012 at 12:31 pm.

Pressing the ‘SUBMIT’ button on the Microsoft Flight beta application page does one of two things. if you’re lucky it propels your application down PTT tube ‘A’ – a trans-global conduit that terminates just above the desk of Merlin Packard, the MS Flight beta manager. If you’re unlucky it sends your missive down PTT tube ‘B’ – a trans-global conduit that terminates just above the maw of Kīlauea, Hawaii’s most energetic lava vent. Unfortunately, my application seems to have ended-up in the volcano. Deprived of first-hand Flight experience I’ve been forced to fact-gather by quizzing the developer. Descend ten thousand micrometers to see the result of that quizzing.

RPS: Do you think Flight will have anything to offer the Microsoft Flight Simulator hardcore – the people with simpits and hundreds of pounds’ worth of high fidelity third-party aircraft and sceneries on their HDs?

Joshua Howard: Microsoft Flight leverages the best of what core fans have always loved about the franchise; there are a variety of ways to fly with better aircraft models and better graphics than ever before. It will also evolve over time through game add-ons, giving sim fans a rich experience. We’re aiming to honor the legacy of the Flight Simulator franchise while also expanding the experience to brand new audiences. It’s about growing the experience, not watering it down. Many of the hardcore beta testers tell us that once they fly in Flight (especially with the flight assists turned off), they can’t imagine going back – the authenticity of the flight model is better than it’s ever been.

RPS:  What facilities have you laid on for those, possibly nervous, new audiences? 

Joshua Howard: We worked hard on finding ways to make the experience more approachable than ever. Whether it’s the care taken to give a complete newbie the satisfaction of success in the very first tutorial, the range of optional flight assists, or the easy to use mouse controls (which still feel ‘connected’ and authentic, while being very easy to use), Flight includes a number of features specifically intended to bring inexperienced players into the game.

RPS: What made you plump for Hawaii as a venue?

Joshua Howard:  Hawaii was chosen due to its beautiful, exciting terrain. The lush, breathtaking cliffs of the historic Waipio Valley, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park… the islands are an internationally recognized destination, which was an important part of our effort to ensure our initial release had broad appeal. We’re still defining future regions and releases. If players decide they’d like to explore more of Hawaii, they can purchase the remaining islands as part of a game add-on that will be available at launch. Additional expansion packs will be released on an ongoing basis, and we’re excited to share more on that later this year.

RPS: How much are the extra regions and aircraft likely to cost?

Joshua Howard: There’s hours of exciting gameplay for free with the initial download. I don’t have details to share at this time regarding specific game add-ons, but we’re happy to share more information on that later.

RPS: Will all of the add-ons be produced internally?

Joshua Howard: We will be managing all of the add-ons, at least for the foreseeable future, whether we build them in house or partner with external developers. To enable the needed improvements in performance, visuals, and new experiences, Microsoft Flight is a completely new product with an entirely new code base, architecture, toolset, and even a new distribution model. Therefore, add-ons developed for FSX will not be compatible with Microsoft Flight. One of the biggest frustrations for our customer base has been locating new content online and finding where the top quality products can be purchased. By consolidating all of our new content under one roof, we can simplify the process for the customer and deliver a consistent level of quality through all of our releases. As a result, we will be taking the lead role in new downloadable content for the initial launch and first months of content deployment. As we gain more experience with the distribution model and gain better insight into how our users are enjoying the experiences, we will explore opportunities to grow our content offerings.

RPS:  Can you give an example of a mission?

Joshua Howard: Missions cover a lot of ground, and can be very diverse. My two favorite examples are the Kayaker Rescue mission and the Aerobatic Competition missions. In the Kayaker Rescue mission, the player is asked to participate in a search and rescue effort along the coast. You are being given updates from the overall search and rescue effort as you go, and you really feel like you are part of this larger effort. You don’t know exactly where the missing kayaker is, so you have to fly low enough and close enough to the coast line to spot him. It’s a great example of how missions can tell a story, while making you feel like you are part of something larger.

The Aerobatic Competitions also involve some story, but give the player a chance to show off their flying skills in ways that a standard delivery type mission never would. This is a mission type that encourages players to experience flight in ways they may not otherwise have the confidence to try. Even in the safety of a virtual flight, successfully driving your plane through hair-raising maneuvers delivers a rush like none other.

RPS: Can you explain how the aerocache challenges will work?

Joshua Howard:  These are a brand new kind of activity of play for a flight game, and are something we are pretty excited about. Aerocaches are hidden points in the terrain that players can discover by using hints about the location. Those familiar with geocaching will immediately recognize the experience. There is something really satisfying about having to figure out where a particular aerocache should be, searching around to spot it, then successfully collecting it without prematurely ending your flight.

Some aerocaches are pretty straightforward, but they can also get much much harder, from clues that take some effort to puzzle out, to locations that are genuinely difficult to maneuver to. For users who sign into Live, there is a new aerocache every day. Over time, as we add more locations, we will also add more aerocaches.

RPS: All the videos and screenshots released so far have featured single planes. Will Flight fliers ever share skies?

Joshua Howard: Yes, players will be able to host or join in on multiplayer matches with up to 16 others. Players can team up with friends in the LIVE community to fly and explore terrain together.

RPS: Is there any chance we’ll ever see jetliners or dogfighting in Flight?

Joshua Howard: We can’t confirm specific details regarding future content, but look forward to sharing more information.

RPS:  Can you recommend a route for my first Flight flight?

Joshua Howard: Fresh off your success with the first tutorial, I like to point people to the aerocache hunts. The first aerocache you do will features a short introduction explaining how aerocaches work, then drops you in the air over Hilo airport. Within a few moments you find you are closing in your goal, and when you see it (I won’t give away where exactly) it’s very satisfying to swoop down and collect it. In just a few minutes, even someone who has never played a flight game, discovers both how thrilling flying can be, as well as how much fun exploring from the air can be. Then again, if you consider yourself an old hand at flight games, consider diving right into the Stearman Introduction; it’s a very different experience than the Icon A5, and opens up a whole new set of possibilities in the game.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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60 Comments »

  1. The Tupper says:

    I’m in the beta, but unfortunately the terms and conditions prevent me from discussing it with anyone. Anyone at all.

    • Khemm says:

      You can tell us, we won’t divulge anything to anyone. Your impressions are safe here.

    • Matt says:

      BUSTED! You just violated the T&Cs by admitting you were in the beta. (Really.)

    • The Tupper says:

      Oh, okay. I’ll say you beat it out of me. Jeez, I’m easy to corrupt.

      First thing I noticed was how like a proper flight sim it is. The flight model and environment is very reminiscent of FSX and while the visuals don’t seem quite as nice (especially clouds) I have to disclose that I’m running under Dx9 in Win XP, so it’s probably engineered for more recent operating systems.

      The focus is very much on missions and exploration (which many non-simmers will, I suspect, welcome) and eases the player through the first tutorials. The default view is 3rd person but all the traditional views are also selectable.

      All in all it’s pretty nice for what it is – still simmy (the plethora of realism options have however been, ahem, trimmed down) but I doubt it’ll kill the existing FS9 and X communities. It’s very obviously part of a plan to make a new edition of Flight Simulator with Microsoft owning the entire community and for that reason I think it’ll do well with people who haven’t previously played the series but will leave others cold. Personally, I don’t think it’s a particularly essential engagement if you already play an earlier title.

      On the plus side, it gives incomparably-more content and playability in this initial release than I got when I shelled out about 50 quid for FS 2 on the Commodore 64 all those years ago and I’m sure it’ll grab more than a few new followers to the genre.

    • The Tupper says:

      @ Matt: they’ll never take me alive.

    • Khemm says:

      @The Tupper
      Sounds really good, thanks!

    • metalangel says:

      @Matt: MS breaks their own Ts&Cs by announcing on Live (and anything else that shows what you’re doing on Live, like TrueAchievements or Raptr) that you are currently playing the Microsoft Flight Beta. (Really.)

  2. jon_hill987 says:

    The aerocache feature sounds a lot like what Nintendo did in Pilotwings on the 3DS and Wii Sports Resort on the Wii…

  3. The Tupper says:

    “One of the biggest frustrations for our customer base has been locating new content online and finding where the top quality products can be purchased.”

    Bullshit.

    • Untruth says:

      It’s a strange comment as there are a number of high profile boxed-distributors of quality add-on content, as well as hugely profitable flight sim websites.

      I actually understand their want to make a ‘marketplace’, and I suspect it’s to prevent a duplication of the same content….. but the issue with flight models was always that duplication wasn’t always a bad thing – people often improved on other’s flight models with their own version.

    • The Tupper says:

      Yeah, as I say in my additional comment (above) it’s a land-grab for the community. They’re a corporation: it’s what they do.

    • xfxian says:

      Yep, it’s the good old App Store model. More monies for Microsoft, also more relatively unobstrusive DRM…

  4. Zeewolf says:

    Kinda interesting, I like the aerocache idea (geocaching is awesome btw).

    But for a civilian flight sim, the area is just too small I think. The first thing I always did when I played a flight sim was to load up my local airport and explore my own neck of the woods from the sky. Hawaii may be fun, but it’s not the same.

    The next thing I’d do was to try out a bunch of different airplanes. Specifically I’d try to land them. I’m not interested in buying a bunch of DLC-planes just for that, so that won’t happen either.

    • Optimaximal says:

      You have to remember the default ‘game’ (and I’d presume some content releases) is F2P.

      Of course DLC is going to fuel this game, just as it has with Railworks 3/Train Sim 2012/whatever it’s called on Steam.

  5. Khemm says:

    If they keep releasing new content on a regular basis – by content, I mean various places around the world – this could actually be something I could see myself dedicate a lot of time into.

    Provided the core experience is great, of course.

  6. Premium User Badge

    sonofsanta says:

    I can’t confirm specific details regarding my comment, but look forward to sharing more information.

  7. Patches the Hyena says:

    Oh God, his comments made me want to gouge my eyes out.

  8. Inigo says:

    It’s not so much an interview as it is “you ask me questions and wait while I copy and paste the appropriate parts from this press release”.

    • Untruth says:

      Thanks for your interest!

    • El_Emmental says:

      bah, you can’t really blame Microsoft for acting like that, at least it seems it’s a human copy-pasting parts, not an AI drone determining what was the question is about, then throw some vaguely related pre-wrote answers… or their AI department did a pretty good job lately

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      I’m currently evaluating the potential for interest in this game, leveraged against the rising knowledge of how it will shift flight sim paradigms forward or backward along a feature set that I find attractive.

  9. Untruth says:

    Thanks for your interest in the [REDACTED], I’m pleased to announce that [REDACTED] will be great fun!

  10. asshibbitty says:

    Man, some schmendrick such as myself gets the beta access, and Tim doesn’t? That’s a good opportunity to use the popular three-letter meme, if you know what I’m talking about. That’s “WTH” in case you don’t.

    Every time I read a MS interview it’s like I’m watching Christian television. The game is good and there is no need for PR bs to be so thick.

    • roryok says:

      “Every time I read a MS interview it’s like I’m watching Christian television.”

      All these years I’ve been trying to figure out what it is that’s ‘off’ about microsoft PR. You’ve just hit on it.

  11. roryok says:

    It’s plane to see it’ll be a great game.

  12. eks says:

    ..what core fans have always loved about the franchise…
    ..will also evolve over time..
    ..give fans a rich experience..
    ..honor the legacy of the franchise..
    ..expanding the experience..
    ..It’s about growing the experience..
    ..make the experience more approachable..
    ..deliver a consistent level of quality ..
    ..our users are enjoying the experiences..
    ..we will explore opportunities to grow ..

    I could do this all day.

    • Adriaan says:

      You missed a bit on this one, my favourite part actually (talk about setting the tone right away): “Microsoft Flight leverages the best of” … “what core fans have always loved about the franchise”.

      Nevertheless it actually looks kind of nice.

  13. The Tupper says:

    Did anyone see the ‘Wonderland’ documentary on BBC2 a couple of nights ago about the round-Britain microlight rally? It was brilliant. Watch it on iPlayer if you have the means.

  14. Neurotic says:

    It’s immediately apparent when you’ve got a genuine, face-to-face talk like the Levine Bioshock: Infinite two-parter here or on PCG, and when it’s just a copy/paste by email. Still, the information is solid, and that’s what counts. (Even if its presentation was snooze-inducing) I just wish Stoney would have more stuff here, I do miss his fiddle-faddle so.

  15. talon03 says:

    “Microsoft Flight leverages the best of what core fans have always loved about the franchise; there are a variety of ways to fly with better aircraft models and better graphics than ever before.”

    …Noooooo, I’m pretty sure my favourite thing about FSX is be able to fly anywhere I want in the world. I can only assume Flight is taking place in a post-apocolyptic future where all aircraft have been grounded as part of an executive order to decrease the likelihood of nuclear strikes, save for the rebels on the breakaway state of New Hawaii. Can’t wait to play that story mission.

    • soldant says:

      I would have agreed with that, but the fact is that 90% of the default terrain in FSX is so laughably bad that it’s not worth flying over. My home city of Brisbane, Queensland is apparently an urban circle 20km in diameter and surrounded by a desert. If Microsoft maintai-I mean, I wouldn’t know anything about the beta. Nup. Not me. But theoretically speaking, if their terrain efforts were much closer to reality, and they did produce better scenery packages (say like ORBX did for Australia), then I don’t mind that they don’t have the full world on release. I’d much rather they take their time and release quality scenery than the abysmal autogen stuff. And before anyone suggests X-Plane, XP10 seems to think that the world consists almost entirely of low-set housing.

  16. Rii says:

    The comments are far more entertaining the article. Keep it up chaps.

    Still, it looks to have the goods.

  17. gabe says:

    Did anyone else got a feeling they’re not thinking about vatsim? At all? I mean, 16 players… wtf? This looks to me as the way they found to get all the money they couldn’t get before with other developers making add-ons.

    • tentaclesex says:

      Of course they’re not thinking about VATSIM. I mean, VATSIM is great and all, but you can still use FSX or X-Plane for that. This is a different kettle of fish altogether.

  18. Premium User Badge

    deadfolk says:

    I have an opinion on this, and I look forward to sharing it with you in the future.

  19. Ashpolt says:

    “If players decide they’d like to explore more of Hawaii, they can purchase the remaining islands as part of a game add-on that will be available at launch.”

    Stopped reading right there. If something is ready and complete on launch day, that’s not an add-on, that’s something you’ve cut out to gouge further chunks from my wallet.

    • The Tupper says:

      Aye, but the base game is *I think* gonna be free-to-play with more islands and other regions released on a regular basis. As I say, the game as it is before additional scenery offers way more to do than probably any paid-for version of FS up to the legendary 5.1.

    • El_Emmental says:

      well, that’s the whole point of a Free-To-Play (F2P) game

      you play around for a few hours, then the guy in the business-friendly suit with a creepy smile on his face ask for you credit-card informations if you want to enjoy more of it

    • Ashpolt says:

      Ah, I didn’t know it was F2P. I should, perhaps, not have stopped reading where I did.

      Nothing to see here people. Move along.

  20. stele says:

    My problem with the beta “application” is there is no way at all to provide any information at all about the possible capabilities of said tester. For instance, there was nowhere on there to list that I have a private pilot’s license, I have a full-blown C172 simulator panel with a radio stack, and that I’m a software developer myself, familiar with what to look for in a beta and how to properly report bugs.

    I can only surmise that a) they don’t care about realism and b) their beta process is entirely random. Rather disappointing.

    • soldant says:

      They’re obviously looking for anyone interested. MS Flight clearly isn’t aimed entirely at the guys who spend thousands of dollars building their own Airbus A380 cockpit out of plywood. Microsoft are obviously looking for a wider appeal, which they’re not going to get if they just take the hardcore sim community. Your assumptions might possibly be wrong… not that I’d know anything about what they are or aren’t doing.

  21. Brun says:

    “while also expanding the experience to brand new audiences”

    Does anyone else despise that phrase as much as I do?

    • The Tupper says:

      Not at all, in and of itself. With specific reference to Flight I think it’ll do no harm to get more people enjoying the genre.

    • Brun says:

      I don’t disagree that having more people enjoying Flight Simulation (or gaming in general) is a good thing, but it’s a dangerous philosophy to adhere to. That sentiment has already destroyed so much of what has historically made gaming in general so great.

  22. Premium User Badge

    Wisq says:

    Unfortunately, from what I’ve heard, the Microsoft flight sim series is basically a “procedural” sim — more about switch flipping and airport procedures than about actual realistic flying. They reportedly haven’t updated their flight model since around 1995, and it’s rather broken as it stands:

    Basically the FSX flight model is so fundamentally broken, it doesn’t even understand the concept of gravity properly.

    First of all there are the subtle handling qualities. Because the flight dynamics are in general totally fabricated (at least, the reactions they bothered to try and simulate) the whole aircraft just doesn’t feel right. The most obvious example is prop torque. Non-existent in most FS aircraft, and where they did try, it is not nearly pronounced enough (the only people to really hit it are A2A Simulations with their range of WW2 and vintage aircraft). A friend of mine owns a Mooney – he says the FS flight model is totally dead compared to his actual aircraft. At takeoff he requires full rudder to counter yaw induced by the propeller (and that isn’t enough until he gets to VMCG). This for example, is completely wrong in FS.

    The stall in FS is screwed. Aircraft simply do not stall properly. Only one aircraft I know of (freeware) spins anything like realistically, but even that doesn’t stall properly.

    Angle of attack is totally broken. I only know this as I was a dev on a major project. We spent months trying to figure out why our FBW model wouldn’t react correctly in high altitude flight regime, until we discovered AoA is CONSTANT regardless of altitude. In short: if the aircraft stalls at 100 kts at sea level, it will stall at 100 kts at FL400. COMPLETELY INCORRECT. As a consequence, we couldn’t model other stuff correctly either. Forget trying to model stall characteristics in anything but clean configuration at sea level.

    Take any jet aircraft you like to altitude and pull it around. Nothing bad will happen. Deep stall can’t be modelled correctly either.

    Inverted flight doesn’t work properly either, and is related to the fact AoA is totally faked, and wrong at that.

    All this on top of the fact that a shutdown engine has far too much drag, and can’t be altered. Trying to correctly simulate engine-out is impossible, and is in part related to rudder behavior – the whole concept of yaw is screwed. Needless to say glide ratio is totally fucked as well.

    If I could get the funding I would create a BMS style commercial/GA sim, with a proper flight model. Eye candy is one thing, but what is the point when the aircraft flies nothing like reality?

    That is it in a nutshell. As you can tell, I appreciate the fidelity of the BMS flight model.

    One of my family is a test pilot, hence my obsession. I fly gliders IRL. That really gives you a feeling for handling.

    I haven’t had personal experience with it since around ’95, but I do remember some pretty wonky characteristics at that time, too.

  23. edwardoka says:

    The third word he said was “leverages”. Tells me all I need to know, sadly.

    • edwardoka says:

      A reference to my other main hobby (geocaching) on RPS for the save!

  24. Loiosh says:

    As a Sim guy (and PMDG fan), I found this… just depressing, especially in light of what Microsoft have been doing to their Add-on community.

    http://forum.avsim.net/topic/358874-some-thoughts-on-flight

    :/

  25. cassus says:

    “We’re aiming to honor the legacy of the Flight Simulator franchise while also expanding the experience to brand new audiences.”

    That’s all you really need to read. That’s like saying “we’re aiming to honor the legacy of the OFP and ArmA series while also expanding the experience to toddlers and dogs.”

  26. GeoGonzo says:

    I believe I’m part of the new audience Microsoft is after.

    I had a vivid dream about playing this beta and came away a bit conflicted. In this dream, the game looked pretty good (as we all knew from the screenshots). The aerocache challenges seems great for goal-oriented players, though I’m not quite sold on the meta-game about finding the cache using Bing (Is this blatant advertising or fair fight against Google’s monopoly?). Achievements popped from time to time, (Your first landing, your first crash) which is yet another thing that some would love and some would hate.

    Taking off was as simple as pressing a key to turn on the engine and accelerating down the runaway. Flying felt embarrassingly easy with all the assists on, as they were by default. Even after disabling them, I had no trouble pulling a loop or diving under a bridge with the default biplane using just an Xbox controller. I stalled on purpose and had no trouble recovering after a dive. I’m no expert but… something doesn’t feel quite right. I’m guessing that it’s more interesting or complicated with other planes, but I could see how a veteran of the series may be initially disappointed.

    Still, a dream of a single session of a very limited beta with no DLC unlocked isn’t much of an opinion to go on. Who knows how this thing will turn out… personally, I’m looking forward to at least a few more of these vivid dreams.