Microsoft Flight Simulator began as a set of articles written by Bruce Artwick in 1976 about a 3D computer graphics program. When the magazine editor said that subscribers wanted to buy the program, Bruce Artwick set to work to create it and incorporated a company called subLOGIC Corporation in 1977. The company began selling flight simulators for several computer platforms, including the 8080, Altair 8800 and IMSAI 8080. In 1979 subLOGIC released FS1 Flight Simulator for the Apple II. In 1980, subLOGIC released a version for the TRS-80, and in 1982 they licensed an IBM PC version with CGA graphics to Microsoft, which was released as Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.00. It was unusual in that it was not an application program requiring an operating system, but contained its own operating system, which displaced the installed one as long as the program was running. In the early days of less-than-100% IBM PC compatible systems, Flight Simulator and Lotus 1-2-3 were used as unofficial compatibility test software for new PC clone models. subLOGIC continued to develop for other platforms and ported Flight Simulator II to the Apple II in 1983, the Commodore 64, MSX and Atari 800 in 1984, and to the Amiga and Atari ST in 1986. Meanwhile, Bruce Artwick left subLOGIC and founded The Bruce Artwick Organization to continue his work on subsequent Microsoft releases, beginning with Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 in 1988. Microsoft Flight Simulator reached commercial maturity with version 3.1, and went on to encompass the use of 3D graphics and graphic hardware acceleration.
Microsoft continued to produce newer versions of the flight simulation software, adding features, such as new aircraft types and augmented scenery. The 2000 and 2002 versions were available in "Standard" and "Professional" editions, where the latter included more aircraft, tools and scenery options. The 2004 release (version 9) marked the celebration of one hundred years of powered flight and had only one edition. Flight Simulator X, released in 2006, returned to dual versions with a "Standard" and a "Deluxe" edition.
The flying area encompasses planet Earth with varying degrees of detail and includes over 24,000 airports. There is an ever growing list of scenery representing major landmarks and popular cities. Landscape details become sparse as game play moves away from population centers within the flight simulator, particularly outside the United States, although a variety of Web sites offer scenery add-ons to remedy this.
The three latest versions incorporate sophisticated weather simulation, along with the ability to download real world weather data (first available with "Flight Simulator 2000"). Additional features in these newer versions include air traffic environments with interactive air traffic control functions, new aircraft models from the historical Douglas DC-3 to the modern Boeing 777, interactive lessons, challenges and aircraft checklists. The two latest versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator have a "kiosk mode", which allows the application to be run in electronic kiosks located in public places like shopping malls. Microsoft Flight Simulator has a wide selection of upgrades and add-ons, both free and commercial, official and fan-made.
On January 22, 2009, it was reported that the development team was heavily affected by Microsoft's ongoing job cuts, with indications that the entire Microsoft Flight Simulator team had been laid off. Microsoft confirmed the closure of the ACES studio on January 26, 2009, in a post on the official FSInsider Web site. stating " This difficult decision was made to align Microsoft's resources with our strategic priorities. Microsoft Flight Simulator X will remain available at retail stores and Web retailers, the Flight Sim community will continue to learn from and encourage one another, and we remain committed to the Flight Simulator franchise for the long term."
According to former ACES employee Phil Taylor, the shutdown was not due to sales performance of FSX, but due to management issues and delays in project delivery, combined with increased demand for staff. Speculation in the mainstream and gaming media was that future versions could be released as an Internet-based version, or on Microsoft's Xbox platform.
In October 2009, two (out of over 50) former members of the Aces Studio, formed a new game studio called the Cascade Game Foundry for the development of simulation games.
In 2009 Lockheed Martin announced that they had negotiated with Microsoft to purchase the intellectual property (including source code) for the Microsoft ESP (Enterprise Simulation Platform) product. Microsoft ESP is the commercial-use version of "Flight Simulator X SP2". On May 17, 2010, Lockheed announced that the new product based upon the ESP source code would be called Lockheed Martin Prepar3D (pronounced "Prepared"). Lockheed hired members of the original ACES Studio team to continue development of the product. Version 1.1 was released in April 2011, with a retail license cost of US$499. A developer license is also available for a monthly fee of US$9.95. In March 2012, along with the release of version 1.3, the pricing strategy was revised. The Professional edition is now available for US$199, with an Entertainment License available for US$59.95.
On July 9, 2014, Dovetail Games announced that Microsoft had granted them rights to develop the next Flight Simulator in the series. Dovetail Games also announced the release of Flight Simulator X: Gold Edition on Steam for late 2014, named Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition. Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition was released on 18 December 2014, and is a re-release of the FSX Gold Edition, which includes the Deluxe and Acceleration packs and both Service Packs. It includes "all standard Steam functionality", and replaces the GameSpy multiplayer system with Steam's multiplayer system.1982 – Flight Simulator 1.0
1983 – Flight Simulator 2.0
1988 – Flight Simulator 3.0
1989 – Flight Simulator 4.0
1993 – Flight Simulator 5.0
1995 – Flight Simulator 5.1
1996 – Flight Simulator 95
1997 – Flight Simulator 98
1999 – Flight Simulator 2000
2001 – Flight Simulator 2002
2003 – Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight
2006 – Flight Simulator X
2014 – Microsoft Flight Simulator X|Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition
Flight Simulator X is the most recent version of Microsoft Flight Simulator. It includes a graphics engine upgrade and compatibility with preview DirectX 10 and Windows Vista. It was released on October 17, 2006 in North America. There are two versions of the game, both on two DVDs. The "Deluxe" edition contains the new Garmin G1000 integrated flight instrument system in three cockpits, additional aircraft and missions, Tower Control capability in multiplayer mode, higher detail scenery for cities and airports and a Software Development Kit (SDK) for development. The main improvements are graphical.
Microsoft has also released a Flight Simulator X Demo, which contains three aircraft, two airports, and two missions. It is compatible with Windows XP SP2 and Windows Vista.
On December 18, 2014, Dovetail Games released Flight Simulator X on Steam titled Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition. It includes content that was provided with the original FSX: Gold Edition which includes FSX: Deluxe Edition, the Acceleration expansion pack and both official Service Packs and repackages them in one bundle and a single installation. The Steam Edition includes an overhaul of the multiplayer support to go through Steam rather than the now-defunct GameSpy, improved stability on Windows 7 and 8, and features minor performance tweaks including a complete recompile using VS2013.
Additionally, Dovetail Games has worked with existing developers and publishers to distribute their content on Steam as DLC. Currently, there are over 100 add-ons for FSX: Steam Edition from over 35 developers available on the Steam store including Aerosoft, Orbx Simulation Systems, Real Environment Xtreme (REX), Carenado, Virtavia, and others.
Microsoft released a new simulator in February 2012, developed and aimed at drawing new users into flight gaming. While claiming to be simpler to use for inexperienced users, it is incompatible with Flight Simulator, and does not allow the use of existing Flight Simulator add-ons (including aircraft, objects, and photographic scenery). On July 26, 2012, Microsoft cancelled further development of Flight.
In August 2013, Microsoft announced they would be closing the XBox.com PC Marketplace on August 22, 2013, and cease sale of all content on the marketplace. Previous items purchased would still be usable, but acquiring new items through the marketplace would be eliminated. The Flight software may still be downloadable, however content will not be available for purchase.
The long history and consistent popularity of Flight Simulator has encouraged a very large body of add-on packages to be developed as both commercial and volunteer ventures. A formal software development kit and other tools for the simulator exist to further facilitate third-party efforts, and some third parties have also learned to 'tweak' the simulator in various ways by trial and error. As for number of add-ons, tweaks, and modifications FS can accommodate solely depends on the users hardware setup. The number is not limited by the simulator, and when multiple computers are linked together with multiple monitors and 3rd party software and controls, Flight Sim Enthusiasts can build their own realistic home cockpits.
Individual attributes of Flight Simulator aircraft that can be customized include: cockpit layout, cockpit image, aircraft model, aircraft model textures, aircraft flight characteristics, scenery models, scenery layouts and scenery textures, often with simple-to-use programs, or only a text editor such as 'Notepad'. Dedicated 'flightsimmers' have taken advantage of Flight Simulator's vast add-on capabilities, having successfully linked Flight Simulator to homebuilt hardware, some of which approaches the complexity of commercial full-motion flight simulators.
The simulator's aircraft are made up of five parts:The model, which is a 3D CAD-style model of the aircraft's exterior and virtual cockpit, if applicable. Models consist of two distinct sections - the main chassis or "core", and accessories or dynamic parts, such as the landing gear or ailerons.
The textures, bitmap images which the game layers onto the model. These can be easily edited (known as repainting), so that a model can adopt any paint scheme imaginable, fictional or real.
The sounds, literally what the aircraft sounds like. This is determined by defining which WAV files the aircraft uses as its sound-set.
The panel, a representation of the aircraft's cockpit. This includes one or more bitmap images of the panel, instrument gauge files, and sometimes its own sounds.
The FDE, or Flight Dynamics Engine. This consists of the airfile (a *.air file), which contains hundreds of parameters that define the aircraft's flight characteristics, and the aircraft.cfg file, which contains more and easier-to-edit parameters.
Most versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator include some of the world's most popular aircraft from different categories, such as the Mooney Bravo and Beechcraft Baron 58, which fall into the general aviation category, the Airbus A321 and Boeing 737, which fall into the civil jets category, the Robinson R22, which falls into the helicopter category, the Air Scheffel 738, which falls into the general aviation category again, and many other planes commonly used around the world.
Not being limited to using the default aircraft, add-on planes can be downloaded from many sources for free or purchased, which can then be installed into Microsoft Flight Simulator. The Beechcraft 1900D pictured above, is an add-on aircraft.
A growing add-on category for the series is AI (Artificial Intelligence) Traffic. AI Traffic is the simulation of other vehicles in the FS landscape. This traffic plays an important role in the simulator, as it is possible to crash into traffic (this can be disabled), thus ending your session, and to interact with the traffic via the radio and ATC. This feature is active even with 3rd party traffic. Microsoft introduced AI traffic in MSFS 2002 with several airliners and private aircraft. This has since been supplemented with many files created by third party developers. Typically, third party aircraft models have multiple levels of detail, which allow the AI traffic to be better on frame rates, while still being detailed during close looks. There are several prominent freeware developers. Some third party AI traffic can even be configured for "real time" departures.
Scenery add-ons usually involve replacements for existing airports, with enhanced and more accurate detail, or large expanses of highly detailed ground scenery for specific regions of the world. Some types of scenery add-on replace or add structures to the simulator. Both freeware and payware scenery add-ons are very widely available. Airport enhancements, for example, range from simple add-ons that update runways or taxiways to very elaborate packages that reproduce every lamp, pavement marking, and structure at an airport with near-total accuracy, including animated effects such as baggage cars or marshalling agents. Wide-area scenery enhancements may use detailed satellite photos and 3-D structures to closely reproduce real-world regions, particularly those including large cities, landmarks, or spectacular natural wonders.
Virtual flight networks such as IVAO, VATSIM and Pilot Edge as well as Virtual Skies use special, small add-on modules for Flight Simulator to enable connection to their proprietary networks in multiplayer mode, and to allow for voice and text communication with other virtual pilots and controllers over the network. These networks allow players to enjoy and enhance realism in their game. These networks are for ATC (air traffic control).
Some utilities, such as FSUIPC, merely provide useful tweaks for the simulator to overcome design limitations or bugs, or to allow more extensive interfacing with other third-party add-ons. Sometimes certain add-ons require other utility add-ons in order to work correctly with the simulator.
Other add-ons provide navigation tools, simulation of passengers, and cameras that can view aircraft or scenery from any angle, more realistic instrument panels and gauges, and so on.
Some software add-ons provide operability with specific hardware, such as game controllers and optical motion sensors.
FSDeveloper.com is one website that host a forum style knowledge base aimed at the development of add-on items, tools, and software.
A number of websites are dedicated to providing users with add-on files (such as airplanes from actual airlines, airport utility cars, actual buildings located in specific cities, textures, and city files). The wide availability over the internet of freeware add-on files for the simulation package has encouraged the development of a large and diverse virtual community, linked up by design group and enthusiast message boards, online multiplayer flying, and 'virtual airlines'. The internet has also facilitated the distribution of 'payware' add-ons for the simulator, with the option of downloading the files, which reduces distribution costs.
PC Magazine in January 1983 called Flight Simulator "extraordinarily realistic ... a classic program, unique in the market". It praised the graphics and detailed scenery, and concluded "I think it's going to sell its share of IBM PCs, and will certainly sell some color/graphics adapters". BYTE in December 1983 wrote that "this amazing package does an incredible job of making you think you're actually flying a small plane". While it noted the inability to use a RGB monitor or a joystick, the magazine concluded that "for $49.95 you can't have everything". A pilot wrote in the magazine in March 1984 that he found the simulated Cessna 182 to be "surprisingly realistic". While criticizing the requirement of using the keyboard to fly, he concluded "Microsoft Fight Simulator is a tour de force of the programmer's art ... It can be an excellent introduction to how an aircraft actually operates for a budding or student pilot and can even help instrument pilots or those going for an instrument rating sharpen their skills". Another pilot similarly praised Flight Simulator in PC Magazine that year, giving it 18 out of 18 points. He reported that its realism compared well to two $3 million hardware flight simulators he had recently flown, and that he could use real approach plates to land at and navigate airports Flight Simulator's manual did not document. Compute! warned "if you don't know much about flying, this program may overwhelm you. It's not a simple simulation. It's a challenging program even for experienced pilots". The magazine concluded that Flight Simulator "is interesting, challenging, graphically superb, diverse, rewarding, and just plain fun ... sheer delight".
Microsoft Flight Simulator, Version 2.0 was reviewed in 1989 in Dragon #142 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 5 out of 5 stars.
"Microsoft Flight Simulator X" was reviewed in 2006 by GameSpot. The reviewer gave the game an 8.4 out of 10 and commented on how it was realistic enough to be used for real-life flight training.
The success of the Microsoft Flight Simulator series has led to Guinness World Records awarding the series seven world records in the Guinness World Records: Gamer's Edition 2008. These records include "Longest Running Flight Sim Series", "Most Successful Flight Simulator Series", and "Most Expensive Home Flight Simulator Cockpit", which was built by Australian trucking tycoon Matthew Sheil, and cost around $200,000 to build.