Want the short version or the long version?
…. Of what?
…. …. Of Microsoft Flight!
Wait, let me give you both.
The short version
I got no idea why so many people are up in arms about a game that has one aircraft, one island, no weather, no AI traffic, no ATC and graphics that are moderate at best, sound that is even worse than FS2004 (bye bye sound cones), it forces me to create an XBOX account with an avatar (all look like teenagers on crack). And finally, it forces me to be online for many things and just handed me a Coconut Bra. I mean, it is a fine free game and the best free simulator I have ever seen, but it has very little to do with what we call our hobby.
Why do we care?
The long version
MS FLIGHT is by far the most controversial release of the long-standing line of Flight Simulators from Microsoft. After more than 20 years they change the whole idea and ‘abandon’ the many loyal MS Flight Simulation fans. I don’t like it, but I understand it. The ever increase in realism made the target group smaller and smaller and PC games are just not doing very well. Microsoft likes young people to buy games and old folks to buy Office. To get out of this hopeless corner, they reinvented Flight Simulator and squarely aim at a new group of customers. Simpler, faster, gamer look alike and above all, modern. I predicted this when they announced FSX and I was just one version of.
So why are people upset?
FS is not a program. It is more like an Operating System that you use to run modules. It’s what binds it together. And just like Windows itself, it pretty useless. You can stare at your desktop and play around with the default programs and applications that it has, but that will keep you busy for a few hours at best. For our customers, FS is the same. Sure, it is nice to explore the new interface and the way the landscape is done. And perhaps, there is a new aircraft that is at least good enough to use for a few first hops. With FSX, we had the mission system that might entertain you for a while. But within a few hours you are through.
A standard game has a ‘purpose’. You follow the plot to reach the end of the game or you fight – with weapons or with your mind – others to achieve a higher rank or get a bigger gun. Depending on your skills, this will give you a certain amount of hours of playtime. Twelve hours seems to be regarded as industry standard these days. The biggest games combine this plotted game playing with strong multiplayer parts to expand the time it will entertain users. FSX had some gameplay. You could win certificates, medals, badges, postcards (uh?). Apart from the ‘music’ that was put into the interface screens, it was probably the least popular FSX feature. I bet that you probably don’t even know where to find them.
Yet, in FLIGHT this is expanded to a system where you get the silliest awards and ‘experience points’. It seems to be at the very core of the simulator.
But generally, Flight Simulation (the non-military kind) seems to have no purpose. You can’t win, you can’t beat others and you can’t even get access to bigger aircraft.
So what was it that made the franchise such a success? Well, of course there is the tremendous fascination. Many people have, in some way, something with the “real” aviation. But it was the learning, the gaining of knowledge that made Flight Simulator great. I remember the first time I landed in FS, I remember the moment I understood how an ILS worked, I remember descending through a solid cloud deck with the runway in front of me. I remember flying from London to Paris and actually finding that city. I remember the first time I flew a correct course in crosswind. And I remember the first time I started the Lago Maddog MD80 Series and knew I could start a real MD. Recently I remember flying the Bronco and seeing one engine slowly deteriorate. I understood why it happened and by using the checklist, I was able to slow the deterioration enough to make it to my destination. What all these things have in common, is that they required me to learn, and to understand new concepts. Sometimes even to do some serious studying. In return, I got to fly in less favorable conditions and more complex aircraft.
Hopefully a new group of enthusiast flight simmers will be raised with FLIGHT, it certainly has the potential to show the fun in simulated flight to a group of, probably young people, who never have flown on a PC before. And that is great news, as FSX simply is not a very suitable simulator for people who are new to this FS hobby. In the end, the ONLY reason FLIGHT got so much attention is because it is developed and released by Microsoft. When a German/Swiss company released AeroFlyFS a few months ago, almost nobody cared. And AeroFlyFS is almost the same as FLIGHT, heck it is a whole lot better in fact!
So why do we care? Why do we discuss it so much? Why am I writing this?