Gaming

Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2020 Is the Safest Way to Fly in This Pandemic

You can start boarding from today.
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All photos courtesy of Xbox

For all of us who’ve missed vacationing and flying across the continent to strange, new places, Microsoft is coming out with a 2020 version of its much loved Flight Simulator.

Travel means freedom and soul-searching and winding down, but the uncertainty of the current times has replaced that with paranoia. What this simulation—that has made a comeback after it was last released 15 years ago—offers is that sense of therapy and comfort, albeit virtually. If you are tired of being inside, this simulator is a good alternative to relieve your cabin-fever without actually leaving the cabin.

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The game presents an incredible photorealistic depiction of the planet—there are 37,000 airports in the game, 1.5 billion buildings, 100 million lakes, and two trillion trees. The two petabytes of geographic data put together from high-definition satellite-generated Bing Maps imagery is what separates this sim from its rivals. Developed by French Studio Asobo with Xbox games, the data required to simulate this world in real-time is running on the company’s huge Azure cloud network. With a metacritic score of 93, this simulation is also the highest reviewed PC game of the year.

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Most cities are procedurally generated by the AI with an algorithm that provides architectural rulesets for the program to work from. The algorithm knows well how to differentiate in the architecture across distances. But, some cities are handcrafted to the very last detail. If yours is one of them, you could even fly across the world and literally back home.

Since announcing its plan to reboot Flight Simulator in June 2019, Microsoft has been honing the product by releasing trial versions. The product has been improved upon by adding and fixing minute details using feedback from the flight-sim community. The finished product now, over a year later, looks somewhat like this: seasonal variations in the simulation where you can turn snow on and off when you fly in winters in countries where it snows; night flying visuals where the team has recreated the glow above cities, for the insomniacs; different lights in sports stadiums and parking lots using Kelvin temperature of different light types.

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Even flying and airplane control feels very real, according to several reviews. For example, the rain on the airplane's windshield is affected by the propeller, because that's what happens on a real plane when a propeller spins—it drives the raindrops over the windshield. If someone wants to make landings tougher, they can turn up the wind force or direction, make the sky cloudier, or intensify rainfall to make things even more challenging. A key aspect of the flight-sim experience is the handling of the cockpit controls. Microsoft has improved the camera physics to get pilot head movements more accurate. So, if you ever had an unfulfilled dream of becoming a pilot, this is a close alternative.

The idea was conceived six years ago by the project head Jorg Neumann. “We were working on a HoloLens project called HoloTour—the whole point was that you could use AR to visit different places on Earth and we made Machu Picchu,” Neumann told The Guardian. “I’d never been to South America and it felt so real. I said to myself, ‘Can we do this for the whole planet? I want to sit on that hill in Out of Africa and look out over the plains.’ I think we can do that now.”

However, the game is not without its hurdles. In this review, a VICE writer says the game takes ages to load, has massive hitches and sudden input lags. The game download is a whopping 100 GB, and the simulation often crashes, making it a hit-or-miss experience.

This standard version costs $59.99 (Rs 4,490), the deluxe costs $89.99 (Rs 6,730), and the premium deluxe costs $119.99 (Rs 8,980). This game comes out on August 17 and 18 for PC, with times for different zones listed here. For Xbox One, it will be released at a later date.

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