Six things that Microsoft Flight Simulator should have at launch

For almost a year now I’ve been reading and anticipating the launch of the new Microsoft Flight Simulator. What we’ve seen from the various Feature Discovery episodes has been downright impressive and it has me very excited for the sim and for the future of flight simming in general. I felt that in what is likely to be a slow run up towards launch (which I still think will happen this fall) I decided that I would put together a list of the things that I really want to see from the sim at launch.

In a lot of ways, this is a list that is not as much about Flight Simulator itself, but rather the current civilian flight sim market on the whole. From P3D to X-Plane to even the venerable FSX… there’s some big shoes to fill but there are also some barriers to entry that I want to see cut down or eliminated. Many of the features I think are essential do appear to becoming in Flight Simulator if they work the way I think they will work but for the sake of argument, lets go through them and why I think they will make for an essential and successful experience.

#1: Ease of setup

The first thing I think Microsoft Flight Simulator needs to succeed is an easy setup process. You might be saying, yes of course, install the software and go. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case and the level of tinkering required to get a lot of simulators up and running for the first time with a decent feature-set (i.e. detailed aircraft, scenery, etc.) can be a major barrier for entry for a lot of potential simmers and so getting this right is important.

Wide support and default profiles for a variety of peripherals so you can plugin and just play for the first time would be a key piece of this. Editing control setups is almost like a “bonus” mini-game that ships with a lot of flight sims and while having the ability to customize your control scheme is also essential, making it easy for first time simmers or those who don’t want to be bothered with having to mess around with these types of things will be very valuable.

That does mean providing support and default profiles for a wide variety of hardware. From the VIRPIL, VKB and Honeycomb products to the more wildly known Thrustmaster, Logitech and CH Products equipment. It sounds like even an XBox controller is a potential way to play this sim so I’d love for all of these pieces of hardware to work and have profiles right from day one of the official launch.

Another will be the setting up of scenery and visuals for the sim. On this point it sounds like Microsoft and Asobo have it covered with their gorgeous scenery system driven by petabytes of satellite and Azure AI enhanced scenery likely to load in relatively seamlessly. If some user intervention is required, I hope that it’s handled in an easy to manage way (i.e. if you wanted to preload a specific area that you always fly in, that should be easy to manage).

#2: Good training modules and materials

Flight Simulator, with its combination of name, company backing, powerful marketing, beautiful graphics and future XBox plans has captured the attention and hype like no other simulator. It’s made the rounds in the mainstream gaming press that normally focus their attention on the next FPS title and we’ve even seen articles in the wider non-gaming press. There are going to be a lot of new people coming into flight simulator and a lot of them are going to need help to get up and running.

The key piece here will be to provide an excellent learning environment with interactive tutorials, checklists, and walk-throughs that get people up and running. The more the Asobo and Microsoft can do to make this feel less like you’re missing out on the rest of the fun and instead are learning by doing, the better. This is no small feat that I’m asking for but we have already seen evidence in past Feature Discovery episodes of features like interactive checklists that can get you started from cold and dark to flying around.

I want to do more with the G-series of avionics suites, learn more about flight planning, as well as go old school by navigating using older methods such as VOR beacons. These are things that I’m only starting to learn about in civil aviation and I want to learn more. All the better if I can do that through interactive means via tutorials in the sim.

#3: VR and non-VR headtracking

Virtual reality was not a planned feature when Microsoft Flight Simulator was announced last year but Asobo Studios and Microsoft quickly got an earful from everyone across the industry. VR is the killer feature for flight sims that has gone beyond novelty to essential for some to even buy-in in the first place. It has been announced that VR is a feature they are looking into and likely working on and hopefully they have done the necessary under the hood changes to their engine now to make it work so that it can release either at launch or soon after launch with full support.

At the same time, many are also using standard 2D displays and are using TrackIR or some substitute (I use OpenTrack and a Delanclip). Microsoft Flight Simulator needs to ship with these IR or face based head tracking solutions as they are essential fare for a top notch flight sim experience.

Using the mouse or a series of key presses or a hat switch is certainly an alternative for people without that technology but I do see headtracking as essential to the experience. Multiple methods and options will hopefully be embraced.

#4: A high quality marketplace

A capable and powerful marketplace for the sim I think is going to be essential for the title going forward. This is a place that needs to offer both free and paid content and with some essential levels of curation so that some of the best content is easy to access. There’s a business case to be made here where a strong marketplace can support the sim’s overall maintenance and development going forward, but I also think there’s a strong user focused piece here too.

The marketplace as I see it is also your mod manager. Letting you plug in and out different add-ons to Flight Simulator in a controlled way can remove a lot of the frustration of tweaking manually and having to work your way through seemingly endless folder structures. While I understand that some will desire to be able to operate that way (and I’d love to have my cake and eat it too here), I think the vast majority don’t and would prefer it be done with a few button clicks. Think Orbx Direct but on the scale of the whole sim from aircraft to upgraded airports and more.

The announcement that PMDG is bringing four of their aircraft to Microsoft Flight Simulator in the future is likely just the tip of the iceberg and there are likely to be many more announcements in the coming months.

A marketplace of course is also something I do fully expect to see. It offers the potential for the sim to sustain itself, even without a subscription model, by offering endless expansions by third parties and taking a cut of the sales and using the scale of the sims likely substantial installed user base to keep going.

#5: A good multiplayer experience

I’ve been mostly disappointed by the multiplayer experience that I’ve seen from civil aviation sims. Indeed it’s only over the last several years that the combat flight sims have really embraced the multiplayer experience but it looks like, from the Discovery video released earlier this year on multiplayer, that Asobo Studios and Microsoft are building what looks like a solid multiplayer experience.

This is both a technological solution and a “game design” solution. The technical part ensures that the sim uses modern coding techniques to ensure that the experience is as smooth as possible, that glitches from network sources don’t cause overemphasized hassle for the player, and that it all “just works” as much as possible. Of course Microsoft can’t account for unreliable network connections themselves but they can make it so that those connections don’t ruin the experience for other players.

The design side is of course more centered around ensuring that the experience is good. If you just want to fly with friends, then let us set that up quickly and easily. If we want to participate in a busy and crowded multiplayer session, let us do that as well. Indeed it does look like Asobo Studios intends to deliver that and hopefully what we’ve seen in the Feature Discovery series will play out successfully in practice.

#6: A good single player experience

Technically a flight sim can get away without a single player experience. In a flight simulator you can theoretically load your plane on a runway and go exploring. That’s something I fully intend to do in the new Microsoft Flight Simulator. Exploring and hopefully taking in all of the beautiful scenery that this new sim has to offer will be a significant part of the experience. But I do want something more too.

Other sim titles have solved this, not on their own, but through third parties that offer things like FSEconomy which gives your virtual sim pilot something to do. It is my hope that Asobo studios has built in an experience that encourages players to fulfill missions, take basic care of their virtual aircraft, and helps to encourage that exploration through accomplishing goals.

We haven’t seen much of what Asobo and Microsoft plan to deliver here, however, I do hope that they have some of this in mind. A deeper experience with a true economy and aircraft maintenance system may be too far to do for launch but even a more surface experience with missions that are generated and accomplished would really help the “game” part of the experience.

I don’t think I can say this enough that the possibility of so many new non-sim players potentially jumping in for the first time means that a few more “game” features need to be here that work optionally on top of the more hardcore flight sim experience. It’s my hope that they have something very entertaining planned here!

I think they will deliver

More than graphics, flight dynamics, aircraft, or pushing buttons in the right order, Microsoft Flight Simulator has plenty of potential and it may very well upend the market for civilian flight simulation in a big way. But with so many eyes on the product and with the potential of bringing in non-simmers into a simulation environment, Flight Simulator will need to offer in a a great flight sim experience and the above are six ways that I hope that Flight Simulator will help deliver that experience.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

33 Comments Add yours

  1. BlueHeron says:

    These days, not having head tracking support is like not supporting joysticks. I’m not worried though; MSFS has been supporting TrackIR since 2004 A Century of Flight, and 6DOF since it was available.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      I’m hopeful that they will do something good here too and that its just something they haven’t revealed yet/are still working on.

      Like

  2. Francesco Kasta says:

    Good points, I hope for MFS to succeed and nail all of the above!

    P3D and X-Plane were never really able to scratch my itch for civilian aviation after FSX fell into oblivion. Somehow they just aren’t as fun to tinker with as FSX was.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Thanks! I really hope that they are able to have a brilliant launch. I’m very excited!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. TexasWarbird says:

    I haven’t tested this title due to the lack of Track IR

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fernando says:

    no TrackIR = no sale!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mischiew Rithe says:

    Those are all important features to have, you pretty much nailed it down.

    Opening a marketplace allows MS to leave some of those items to other providers, like the training, camera (good VR/non-VR camera are mostly add-ons in FSX/P3D), and single-player experience. I hope they either show a good exemple, or better, implement them as nicely as the other features, or actively drive the market so that the users don’t have to wait for years for that.

    I like the idea of training, I’m not sure if only a minority of simmers feel that way. As I like the idea of taking care of a plane if aircraft state persistence and maintenance hangars are implemented. That would give the user a good insight into this unique experience you get when learning to fly. The training part wasn’t really there in X-Plane or FSX/P3D, there were a few attempts but far from convincing. And yet that can’t be that hard to implement.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Francesco Kasta says:

      Unfortunately if the VR support is Not native and it is only implemented by a third party dev, it leaves much to be desired.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Gareth says:

      Track it now supported

      Like

      1. ShamrockOneFive says:

        You mean TrackIR? That’d be good news.

        Like

  6. Phil says:

    There is another wish from virtual pilots like me…the ones who want a mix of exactness (!) and simple fun. I’d love to have a working copilot within the aircraft, talking to me and to atc. I want immersion within the aircraft. I’d like airports to have virtual crowds of people moving to and from aircraft. You see, not everyone wants a replacement aircraft system (but that is so important to many, I know), but some want the experience of flying from A to B to be possible as though you are part of but not in control…I suppose rather like a passenger. I love being in a plane as a passenger, so why not have a passenger mode? Before everyone jumps and says this is a flying sim, think for a moment about those of us who’d love you to have everything you want (and more!), whilst letting some of us enjoy someone else doing the work! With this super scenery, I’d love to spend hours looking out the window….. I don’t want anything to be taken away from the capable pilots here, just and extra layer of enjoyment…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      I think that’s a great idea. I just wrote an article about Train Sim World where you can definitely go along in passenger mode so you can just watch the scenery go by. It’s a nice relaxing way to play the game.

      Like

  7. Diana says:

    >good multiplayer content
    You’ll see a hot air balloon perform a flyby at mach 3 regardless

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Haha yes of course! ☺️

      Like

  8. Alex says:

    Something to add to the multiplayer experience. It’s been almost two decades since VATSIM has been established, for those virtual pilots who want to simulate flying in controlled airspace with mandatory flight plan, human ATC operators, handovers and all that stuff… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_Air_Traffic_Simulation_Network

    Microsoft should continue to support that integration and I’m pretty sure they are aware of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. James D Brusseau says:

    Flight simulator needs to be bootable.i only use the flight sim on the PC I have in my simulator.i don’t need all the windows 10 **** running and slowing the system.

    Like

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      That’s an interesting proposition. I don’t think it’d be on any top 10 lists but a cut down windows and straight to sim would be interesting.

      Like

  10. CanadaOne says:

    FS2020 is messing with my rig upgrade. I’d settle for a new Ryzen 3600 for DCS and IL2, but with FS2020 I’m really leaning towards a 3700X. (Not to mention more RAM and another SSD.) ‘Cause if I’m flying this sim next fall or winter, I don’t want to have to turn the settings down. I want the whole show.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Same here. I’m looking at upgrade paths and I want definitely to have the full experience when it comes out!

      Like

  11. Roy Pettit says:

    Steam has a VR benchmarking program so that you can assess weather your hardware will run a given program. FS 2020 needs to have something similar. Either the software auto adjusts to your hardware, or you can run a standalone program to see if your hardware we’ll run FS 2020 at a given level.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      That’d be a great idea! Hopefully they have something like that.

      Microsoft has a fledgling VR platform now so maybe that is coming.

      Like

  12. Novice-Flyer says:

    I would greatly like to see a Helicopter as well as missions, but I’d pick the Heli over missions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Why not both? 🙂

      I really do think we’ll see helicopters come in a future push from the team after launch. The word is that Microsoft and Asobo have a 10-year plan for the new sim and they’d be absolutely squandering the potential audience if they didn’t bring helicopters to the platform – and do them well!

      Like

  13. Roy Pettit says:

    I haven’t found a way to send feature suggestions and/or requests to the development team. Is there a way to do so? I signed up for Alpha/Beta testing last year, hoping that would open a communications channel, but have received nothing, not even an acknowledgement that I’m on their list. Is there a place to add to an official “wish list”?

    Like

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      I don’t know if there’s a way to do that. I haven’t found one anyways.

      I signed up day one for the alpha test as well but so far I haven’t seen anything come in yet either. And there’s not much confirmation. So I’m with you there!

      Like

  14. Al-Azraq says:

    #7: Become a Combat Sim as well
    Introduce a damage model and ballistics.

    Like

  15. Jerri Babarry says:

    Ease of setup LOL.

    This is a complex simulation. If you can’t find your way through the installer process, you aren’t going to be able to properly make use of the software either.

    #7 – Doubtful. Even if they did implement a rudimentary model for such things, it won’t be DCS level and then for what purpose? So you can practice shooting down commercial airliners, or blowing up buildings. With this stuff now so accessible, I don’t think they want people learning to do that.

    Like

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Ease of setup in this case refers not to the installer (I made a bit of a joke of that at the start) but what comes after. DCS World has an integrated module manager. X-Plane does not. Changes made to X-Plane are done at the file folder level.

      But if you buy a new plane for X-Plane you download a ZIP file, put the zip file in the Aircraft directory. Start up X-Plane. Start a scenario with said aircraft, input a key, restart the scenario and then you can fly. It’s about the same for scenery.

      If you use Orbx products you can go through Orbx Direct where setup is easier.

      Like

    2. Federico Arce says:

      I don’t agree, the problem with complex problems is that requires complex solutions. Most of the known flight simulators deprioritize or no invest in usability testing and user experience, they are mainly focused in the features of the simulation it same an they think the usability doesn’t add to their business, actually, that’s the difference between PC and consoles, iPhone and Android, etc… well, you just need to ask who makes more money. They just need to understand the market not by survey the customers that’s only one, but to put the proper level of investments in market and usability experts… I’m sure Microsoft FS (in 2020) will have a clean, useful, and friendly interface, that allows for a great and make the complex world of simulation and obvious design problems of the past.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Federico Arce says:

    TrackIR for god sake! I don’t know why they would think this is an optional (wish list) feature, even for testing. Imagine if they ask alpha testers to play the sim, but there is no joystick support… well… it is not a matter of priority it is a matter of basic functionality, to even enable proper testing or testing engagement.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. R Watson says:

    You forgot Nimber 7. A minimum of one helicopter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Great point! Since I wrote this post I’ve actually done a fair bit of helicopter flying and I really would like to see helicopters come to the sim.

      Talking with Sergio at HeliSimmer.com and it really sounds like it’s a matter of when and not if for the new Flight Simulator. Can’t wait!

      Like

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