It flew under the radar – Microsoft Flight Simulator was “quietly” announced at E3 this year to be released in 2020.
It reminded me of how I forced myself to learn to enjoy flight sims.
Here’s a story for you:
In the beginning…
I didn’t enjoy flight sims until very recently.
In fact, I couldn’t figure out why people would spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on hardware to be able to fly virtually.
This topic first came to me quite a few years ago. An old gentleman at the local electronics store prompted my colleague about his newly-bought computer hardware. He was unsure whether his graphics card was good enough when compared to whatever was out there on the market.
Now, I don’t really keep up to date with hardware parts and their specs – but my friend does – and he was baffled.
Apparently, he had bought THE most expensive graphics card at the time. That graphics card wasn’t even being sold in my country yet.
He was asking my friend on how to “assemble” it. He clearly had no idea what he was doing.
-But something drove that old man to spend that much money on a piece of hardware. We talked for a little longer and eventually found out he was a flight sim enthusiast.
It all sounded very alien – and outrageous to us – poor Medal of Honor (1999) players. To spend that much and waste it on a flight sim? Pffft!
He certainly did not look like a gamer… But flight sims aren’t games… are they? How can you enjoy spending time on them?
I’ll admit it, I had a certain prejudice and naivety towards flight sims. Back then flight sims looked ugly, boring, complex and geeky.
I was young and unprepared.
But that encounter really stuck with me for quite a few more years and it gently brewed questions in my mind.
It triggered my need to understand flight sims and their appeal.
It took me on the most unexpected voyage in my whole gaming life. One that would consume a few thousand hours and a few hundred bucks.
Surprisingly, the real turning point was Star Citizen.
And Freelancer (2003).
And Freespace (1999).
I’ve talked about Freespace in this blog before. A space fighter game which truly opened my eyes to the beauty of sci-fi themes. Then Freelancer, another space sim, came along and it blew my mind with its unprecedented freedom of exploration and trading.
One day I was casually going through Kickstarter titles and I noticed Star Citizen – a space sim from the creator of Freelancer.
That description was all it took to get me hooked.
Star Citizen was the game that Chris Roberts dreamed of making all along. With the massive support from the fans, he now had the chance to make the “Best Damn Space Sim Ever“. His vision was so expansive and focused so much on immersion that it triggered in me a need to become one with the game.
So… I bought a joystick!
…A HOTAS actually (it has the thrust control)!
One day I was casually setting up my joystick to try out the WW2 flight sim War Thunder, (in “Realistic” mode). I was having some trouble figuring out how to take off from the runway… and then it clicked.
The large hunk of scrap slowly started to move. It made a lot of noise, the plane jiggled, the aluminum frame clanked… and then… I was flying.
Fighting was awful with a joystick in War Thunder
…But the views were absurdly beautiful. The sunlight bouncing off the wings and the cockpit. The dials, knobs, and buttons begging to be read and squeezed.
That’s when flight Simming started to make sense to me.
Sure, I had flown planes in the past: Grand Theft Auto, Battlefield, Arma. None had the unavoidable and demanding level of detail you’d find in War Thunder.
I accepted the challenge.
If I was able to appreciate the non-combat aspects of War Thunder or World of Warplanes, maybe I was now able to put prejudice aside and try a real flight sim.
It was the 25th of January of 2015 and I had just bought the oldie Microsoft’s Flight Simulator: X (FSX, 2006).
That horrible AND EXTREMELY LOUD music played.
The dark omen for all the pain and pleasure I would endure in the upcoming months.
It took me hours of reading tutorials on how to start a plane. You need to check the levels, man the radios, get the injectors flowing, magnetos, batteries, fuel, parking brakes… -> or instead just press Ctrl+E and it does all of that for you – and off you go!
In a couple of minutes, I was flying over my small town.
-It looked terrible.
But there was potential there!
So I decided to install a couple of free HD textures mods to update the old graphics engine.
I live in a very dense, steep-mountainous wine region.
The birds-eye view of the Douro valley near Porto, in Portugal, was absurd.
It felt great to be able to go anywhere in the world and see the landmarks, the rivers, the cities, and the mountain tops. Feeling the old C172 (small plane) engine growling to my command was awesome.
Preparing to land is surprisingly tense – your attention levels skyrocket!
My perception of what flight simming was had changed dramatically.
Some people care about all the engineering parts of a plane or the technical aspects of flight – I don’t.
What I love is that each trip feels like a long cargo run in Freelancer, where, if you’re not careful, you might lose your cargo, your plane, your life! I also only do low-altitude flights as I love watching the views in my tiny paper planes.
Over time I realized that flight simming represents freedom. Freedom to go anywhere and to decide what to do next.
Flight simming is made of layers.
If you truly enjoy flight simulators, then you’ll be spending quite a lot of money on hardware and software. Here’s some of the stuff I bought (I get no commission!):
- If you follow this blog or my Twitch stream, I’m sure you’ve noticed how I love management games.
I found out that by using AirHauler you can turn flight sims into an amazing online management game. You’re able to build airports, buy planes, do cargo runs, manage other pilots, build a fleet!
- By using Flyinside to add Virtual Reality to the simulation, you’ll be blown away by the realism you get – and the real fear of heights when you open the plane’s door mid-flight (I almost fell off my chair…).
- If immersion is your thing, the Buttkicker bass shaker makes your chair rumble to the plane’s engine and the wind and rain effects on your plane! Hands-down the most surprising piece of hardware I ever bought!
- Also check out the really cool custom button boxes out there!
Add to that the mandatory joystick and the processor and graphics card upgrades – and now your wallet cries.
It took me years to understand the hobby.
Flight Sims truly push the limits of your hardware in exchange for immersion and fun.
I can FINALLY relate to that old man, who spent that much money on a graphics card that he wasn’t even sure how to install.
We’ll celebrate 14 years between Microsoft’s Flight Simulator: X (2006) and Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020).
I will be reviewing this on my following post – next week!
Subscribe to the blog and stay tuned!
Thank you DCS, X-Plane, War Thunder, Prepar3D, FSX, Microsoft Flight Simulator – and the amazing Pickinthatbanjo!