Microsoft Flight Simulator (opens in new tab)'s technical alpha recruitment comes to an end next week, but only because the alpha build is almost ready for release. Prospective players will start receiving confirmation that they've been accepted on October 17, while access to the skies will be finally granted on October 24.
A second alpha will kick off in November, with recruitment for that expected to begin near the end of the month. In the meantime, however, the first episode of the Feature Discovery series has launched, showcasing the weird planet that you'll be flying over.
Earth's quite large, as it happens, and with this big scale comes a lot of data. Bing Maps gave the team 2 petabytes of data that included more than two million cities, 45,000 airports and all the roads and mountains of the world.
When Andy Kelly went for a fly (opens in new tab), he flew over New York, the Himalayas and then his old house in Glasgow—you can go anywhere, and it should mimic the real-world location. That means Microsoft Flight Sim pilots can fly using visual flight rules, essentially able to navigate just by looking around.
As well as the Bing Maps data, the studio uses Microsoft Azure to generate even more data, allowing it to detect all the trees in the world, which amounts to around 1.5 trillion trees. It also adds data that improves building generation, getting the shapes and colours right, along with adding missing buildings.
The video also reassures pilots that you'll still be able to play even if you don't have great bandwidth for streaming. Microsoft Flight Simulator uses adaptive streaming, and there's an offline mode that uses real-life data and is apparently still good enough so that you can use VFR. You can also choose regions to pre-cache, letting you enjoy the same quality as you would if you were online.
While the data that Microsoft has as its finger tips is mind-boggling, the smaller details need to be generated procedurally—stuff like dirt, grass, artificial lighting at night. Just to put that in perspective, this game where you will spend most of your time miles and miles above the ground still has individual blades of grass.
The video (opens in new tab) is only available to members of the Insider programme, but all you need to sign up is a Microsoft Account. Alternatively, someone has already uploaded it to YouTube (opens in new tab), so you can watch it there.