I wasn’t able to test the new multiplayer aspects, but based on the descriptions provided by Microsoft, they seem as if they will be very popular with the online crowd. Previous versions allowed quite a bit of online interaction in the Flight Sim virtual world, and things like virtual scheduled airlines and virtual ATC facilities have emerged and become quite common. In fact, I participated in what may have been the first Flight Sim online fly-in way back in 1990 when a group of sim pilots on Compuserve’s AVSIM forum arranged to “meet” at Indiana’s Bloomington airport. New to FSX, however, is a concept that Microsoft calls “Shared Skies.” There are two major components to this: the ability to share an airplane and the ability to man a control tower.
In addition to providing online training opportunities, sharing an airplane will also more than likely enable players to act in the roles of Captain and First Officer, with each performing the duties defined in the Crew Resource Management policies of a virtual airline. CRM separates the duties between the pilot that is focused solely on flying the plane and the non-flying pilot who is responsible for managing ATC communications, navigation, and the management of the aircraft systems. This is intended to avoid accidents where both pilots become distracted by a systems issue or something similar, and in their mutually distracted state fly the airplane into something solid.
Manning a control tower means just that: the player will occupy a control tower cab and have a radar control showing him the locations of the airplanes attempting to land at his airport, and will be able to transmit directives to the pilots of those planes. Both of these Shared Skies features will be enhanced by VOIP technology, allowing the flying and/or controlling players to communicate quickly and naturally with voice commands and responses.
While the new feature set of FSX is poised to raise simulated flying to yet another level, there are a few technical issues to be aware of. First, the installation disks will require a DVD unit to install. The deluxe version arrived on a set of two DVDs, and the installation took quite a bit of time. Once the installation is complete, the system will try to contact Microsoft via online connection to register the serial number on the disks. Without the online connection, activation has to be done via telephone. Interestingly, the activation policy is such that if you don’t do it, you will be limited to 30 minutes of flight before having to restart the simulator. Based on my observation, though, once you do complete the online activation you no longer need to have one of the installation disks in the drive for the simulator to work. That’s a nice feature – I sure get sick of having to swap disks back and forth depending on what I want to do on any given day.
It’s also important to note that increased graphics and dynamic ground traffic come at a cost in frame rate. Flight Sim has always pushed the boundaries of hardware performance with each new iteration and this upgrade is no exception. You’ll need all the computational horsepower you can get if you want to benefit from all of the newly enhanced graphics and dynamic objects. With my aging system and its GeForce 6800, I found the sweet spot to be somewhere around a ‘medium’ setting on the various display options.
It’s somewhat impressive and quite gratifying that even after more than twenty years of development, Microsoft is still finding ways to push the envelope with their Flight Simulator. Flight Simulator X has something new to benefit every sim pilot, whether it be a complete neophyte that will use it to begin the long path to understanding all of the arcane details of aviation or the seasoned professional looking for a broader exposure to other facets of flying. As both a long-time user of Microsoft Flight Sim (my first version was the SubLogic Flight Sim for the TRS-80) and a software developer, it amazes me how much capability has been built into a title that carries a suggested retail price of $69, which is less than the cost of a single hour of flying in a simple plane like a Cessna 172.
Microsoft continues to push the envelope of PC-based flight sim capabilities with their new Flight Simulator X. New levels of interactivity and performance feedback from the newly enhanced mission model will appeal to the offline flyer, and enhanced multiplayer capabilities will benefit the virtual airline crowd. This one is worth the upgrade price
Page 3 of 3