I’ve learned a little more about the aftermath of Microsoft’s decision to close the Aces studio and end development of its longest-running title, Microsoft Flight Simulator.
The games group has formed a new team, apparently called something like "Flight/Live," which ties into the Games for Windows Live initiative. Details about the flight-related game that the group may produce are sketchy. Apparently it will be designed to have "broad appeal." At present, the flying game doesn’t have a name.
Now, I don’t know whether the new title will offer races, aerobatics, or other forms of competition in the world of civilian aviation, or whether it will feature an air-combat model–for example, dogfights from World War II or high-tech jet fighters launching missiles and zooming around the sky.
In the end, however, the setting probably won’t be the new game’s most salient departure from the old Flight Simulator model. The big difference is more likely to be one of perspective–from a detailed representation of an aircraft cockpit and a world based on real airports, air traffic control, weather, and the like to what I call an "out-of-cockpit experience." (Here’s a example: Air Conflicts for the PSP, as previewed at PSP World.)
Note that in games like Air Conflicts, you, "the pilot," see the action from a hybrid third-person point of view. The bottom of your screen includes a few generic instruments (most of which have no real-world counterparts). Your "pilot seat" is a position in space, typically above and behind your aircraft or vehicle (see the screen shots of Air Conflicts here). This view, the standard for most console games regardless of genre, combines the perspective we all recognize from television with elements necessary for an interactive game.
That change in point of view is more than just cosmetics. It’s a clear visual representation of the difference between a game and a simulation.
The essence of Flight Simulator was always putting you, the virtual aviator, in the pilot’s seat, so that you could, as nearly as current PC technology allowed, experience what it’s like to fly an aircraft in a detailed, realistic representation of the world. That Flight Simulator enjoyed such a long run is evidence that millions of people around the world found that experience challenging, compelling, and deeply satisfying.
Of course, Flight Simulator has long offered multiple views, including outside-the-cockpit perspectives (see Using Views and Windows [pdf] in the Flight Simulator Learning Center). Those outside views are popular with virtual aviators who enjoy replaying their aerial adventures in everything from aerobatic airplanes like the Extra 300 to airliners like the Boeing 747. But those outside views are"eye candy," special effects that ultimately are incidental to the core of the simulation.
The gamer’s perspective, however, delivers an alternative, simplified world that cuts to the chase. Nothing wrong with that, to be sure. TV shows, movies, and novels all compress, distort, and play with reality, and they’re wonderful forms of entertainment. It’s just sad to see another equally engaging experience disappear.
Some popular movies are fast-paced, one-car-crash-after-another, explosion-laden extravaganzas. Others are funny buddy films or chic-flicks. But dramas also tell compelling stories and feature believable characters, and they endure, win critical acclaim, and earn their share of cash in at the box office, too.