I got my hands on the beta and one such ‘Mission’ was a very simple landing tutorial that brought you into a small airfield in Sitka, Alaska on the coastline. The air traffic around you was minimal, consisting of a Cessna Caravan. I was a little confused about what to do when my virtual flight instructor who must have sensed my bewilderment and gave me some instructions in order to get in the pattern to land. ‘He’ told me to follow the Caravan in, and I did so. The frame rate even on the laptops was actually quite playable and the scenery and weather conditions around me were, in a word, stunning. I can tell you the hardware you’re going to need to get smooth frame rates will have to be gutsy.
The first version out will be a DirectX9 title it seems and once the DirectX10 hardware becomes more commercially available, a free patch will be distributed for the end user to all the goodness that this new API promises. DirectX10 will not be backwards-compatible with previous versions of DirectX. Legacy support was cut in order to gain the detail and realism that they wanted out of it. DirectX10 will also be Vista-only and using it in conjunction with FSX is going to push your rig to the very limit.
Later in the day, the ACES team members Bryan and Schnepf, along with Mike Singer and Mike Lambert held a seminar on the official release, which gave attendees the chance to pose questions directly to the development team. Of course, Capt. Mike Ray found himself with the dubious honor of having to sit between two members of the press. Dereck Scott of Computer Pilot, Capt. Ray, and I were watching with fascination and occasional amusement as the team trotted out the latest features of FSX.
Microsoft is doing the best it can this time to get a timely release of the SDK out. Hal joked that the 2004 release was really named ‘Century of Flight’ because it took a century to get the SDK in the hands of third-party developers. A question was directed to the team about flight models and whether they’d change appreciably. The team, in the person of Mike Lambert, said no they wouldn’t, but that third-party developers were doing a pretty good job without too much interference. While physics haven’t changed much, the fidelity other aspects has gone way up to include a lot more system failures than before.
There will be two different versions of FSX released, Deluxe and Standard, with a $20 difference in price between the two. Details on what would be offered in each weren’t completely finalized, but users could definitely expect a lot more content for the Deluxe version. There would be new aircraft included along with the normal stable of aircraft we’ve come to expect. The Sitka approach mission I flew was in the ubiquitous Cessna Skyhawk that everyone’s flown.
But what about the graphics? Just what can we expect? Judging from in-game footage I saw in trailers and videos the team showed the seminar attendees, a lot. Expect not just enhanced scenery, but Microsoft has endeavored to create a living, breathing world. “Expect it to feel less like flying in a post-apocalyptic world.” Bryan joked. For this kind of fidelity, Microsoft turned to its own products to get the kind of immersion they needed.
Enhanced roads and rivers have been brought in from Streets and Trips. You can actually do IFR (I Follow Roads) flying now and you’ll even see motor traffic on the streets and highways, including vehicle headlights. Zoo Tycoon contributed to the effort by lending the team the animals it would need. You’ll see herds of animals and they will follow migration patterns. They have also mapped over 6,000 stars so it’s now possible to fly by using the position of celestial bodies in the night sky. Expect about a 14GB footprint on your hard drive for all this goodness.
I can hear the question now and someone in the seminar beat you to it. If we crank up all these details, what happens to the frame rate? Bryan was honest. “It’ll choke it right down,” he admitted. FSX is designed to push your hardware to the very limit. “FSX is pretty much a benchmark platform,” Schnepf explains, “Back when the very first Flight Simulator was released, it was used to test a computer. If you had the hardware to run it, your machine was classified as a PC. FSX will be played on a new class of computers.”
The multiplayer code has been reworked from the ground up and you can now have a pilot and co-pilot flying a two-place aircraft over a LAN connection, and it will include not just control but also communication. This will bring a whole new dimension to multiplayer flying to this simulation as now you and a friend can enjoy the same scenery from the same cockpit. Unfortunately, there will be no out-of-the-box AI traffic in multiplayer.