FlightSimExpo came in for landing in Texas last week, during which developer Asobo gave a presentation on Microsoft Flight Simulator 24. The game was a surprise announcement during the Xbox Games Showcase, and even caused a little disquiet among its audience who were unclear about whether this was a whole new game or basically a fancy expansion with a new name.
Jorg Neumann is the head of Microsoft Flight Simulator and, after saying the Xbox announcement video had been "paper thin", came out all guns blazing (thanks, RPS). "Just to give you perspective, there's many tens of millions of people watching [the Xbox showcase]," said Neumann. "It is good for our hobby to show up in these places".
Neumann then went on to address some of that initial reaction from the core Flight Simulator audience. "Some of you correctly asked 'What the heck is this, is this just an acceleration pack or some such thing? Nope nope nope. This is the biggest undertaking ever in flight simulation. No doubt about it."
The team's focus is, perhaps unsurprisingly, aviation activities, with Neumann saying that Asobo reckons from its data that around three million of the current Microsoft Flight Simulator's players are "core gamers", while the other nine million are "more casual people". The one common element the studio found between the two types of player was that "people wanted more stuff to do" in the simulation.
"We said, 'okay, cool, fair enough, let's go make things like that,'" said Neumann. "But we are not a game. So we're not making game-y type missions at all. What we're doing is accurate aviation activities. We're working with lots of organisations across the planet that do these things. That do firefighting, that do search and rescue [...] This is why we call it 'choose your pilot lifestyle'. This is the pilot lifestyle, this is what people really do."
Neumann swiftly addressed an apparent concern about a lack of airliners in the trailer ("There are gonna be a lot of airliners, trust me [...] you're gonna be happily surprised when we get to the whole plane list") before handing over to Asobo CEO Sebastian Wloch for some tech talk.
"One of the biggest priorities for us was to make the client thinner," said Wloch. "When I read about people using the sim the first thing they say is 'it took a day to download, there are so many updates, it's filling my hard drive'"
Wloch says the problem with delivering more content is making sure the game can "continue to grow and [still] fit on people's computers". The previous game already used cloud storage but, appropriately enough, MSFS2024 is going to be even cloudier: "People who launch the sim will only download what they need," said Wloch, "not all sorts of textures that will never be displayed."
The game (sorry, Neumann) has a new physics and aerodynamics engine that includes new modelling for soft bodies like tissue and rope (Wloch gave the examples of a helicopter lifting cargo via rope, or a yaw string on the exterior being buffeted by wind). There was a lot of chat about the modelling before some before and after comparison shots of aircraft which showed just how much more physical detail is being calculated within the simulation.
One other big announcement among all the new stuff is that all changes are backwards compatible. So existing community content should transfer seamlessly into the new game, regardless of whether its creator updates it.
Easily the best bit of the presentation came when Wloch got into it and started delivering exactly what the sim crowd wanted to hear: improvement after improvement, more detail here, there, everywhere. You can simultaneously see the live chat going gaga while an absolutely beaming Neumann stands behind Wloch drinking it all in.
Then comes a demo of a hot air balloon, inflating and soaring before deflating and crumpling with the various surfaces involved colliding realistically, at which point, perfectly, the Frenchman Wloch says "so, voila". The room bursts into applause. Neumann looks like he's going to burst with happiness and pride. Say what you will about Asobo but, boy, do they love a flight simulator.