I'll assume that the few of us still reading this are keen enough to have joined the MSFS Insider program, so have access to the episode 1 of the Feature Discovery Series.
Another glimpse of New Zealand, the Central Plateau with Ngauruhoe in the forefront. Now this has always been a feature of flying in New Zealand, I've built more than one photoscenery covering the volcanoes, so really the ground detail etc was pretty much what I would have expected from a new sim based on aerial imagery. Still, we have never seen anything like the sky/weather/cloud/atmospheric represented here! I've spend a lot of time and effort trying to improve the atmospherics, but considering that this new sim appears to be straight out of the box (well, virtual box, anyway) it may be hard to keep using any of the older sims once this hits the shelves (virtually...) not matter which features might still be to come.
The first episode in the series was shorter than I expected, but certainly packed a lot in. And it seems that MSFS has its first pinup boy, Lionel Fuentes of Asobo Studio, with a growing fan-base on AVSIM, and he certainly did a good job presenting the episode. The way Microsoft has handled this announcement has been a marvellous thing, being a good step ahead of the community, and really making it clear that this is a dual venture. It's like they've set a bunch of flightsim enthusiasts free in a candy store, with Microsoft picking up the tab.
This has been received very well, which kind of surprises me, as the things which people love the most seem to be the things which they would normally grizzle about -- the eye candy. Now we all know that a sim is not just good-looking visuals, but it does look like good-looking visuals is a great place to start. Yes, this all blows me away, as it really does fulfil a lot of my list of what is missing in our current sims. LM have done a great job improving some things, but there's still no sign of any update to autogen etc, but the way that MS seems to handle this is kind of a dream come true. One of those things which I daydream about is the ability to place vegetation to match the actual colour of the base photo, and while this would be possible today using a lot of custom work, MSFS seems to handle this 'by default'. Landing in any meadow and seeing 3D grass is the sort of thing I think about showing up one day in the far future. Yes, I know we might have to wait for our helicopter to actually land there, but that will come probably within my lifetime:)
The Lake Takapō shot was given another glimpse, and that is where I have to think about how the sim will really look in New Zealand. Takapō has always been a favourite location of mine, and has had a lot of different iterations in the sim over the years. Takapō was in fact the first -- and only -- scenery where I actually created seasonal textures, including painting snow on the aerial images. Sure, that was back in the early days, before we has the ability to use more that 2 metre resolution, so it was manageable, but it does beg the questions of how these mountains will look during the winter.
Another aspect I've mentioned before is the water representation. In episode 1 we get to see a close-up look at the Statue of Liberty, and the water is just stunning up close. This is 'computer' water, for want of some actual terminology, the sort of thing which game developers love to feature, and it will certainly be a great improvement over what we have in our current sims. But in this particular Takapō video it is obvious that there would have to be some work done to get this very distinctive lake looking as it really should. The silty runoff from the river where it meets the lake is not represented at all, although in other places there is definitely some work done on this, with reefs and other underwater detail showing well. And of course the real lake colour is something which makes it pop enough to make it really stand out when you fly over it. The video here seems to show a generic water colour.
There are plenty of questions I still have regarding New Zealand in particular. How will the native vegetation be represented, for instance -- Orbx's NZ regions handle this beautifully, but it did take a lot of custom work. What about our homes and other buildings? Our current sims have always had trouble with New Zealand's love of low-pitched roofs, especially industrial areas, with nothing but barely-pitched iron-roofed warehousing.
Some of the things that Microsoft have said have really hit the mark, they really seem to want to make this the sim which the community really wants, despite that fact that they may be hoping to sell a lot more Xbox versions in the long run. I have been impressed with everything I've seen, but it is only just in the last week that I've begun to think that this might be the sim worth building a new system for, and that it could easily grab the lion's share of the market. Having MS staff saying that nobody wants to have to pay a subscription, and that they'll have a 'feedback snapshot' for the community really hits the spot.
The 'other' big question for me is whether I'll be developing for the new sim. I did mention on AVSIM that although I was expecting potential customers to pause for a bit to evaluate the new sim, this didn't really happen until the media frenzy was released last Monday. Since then, sales have plummeted, and although there are a lot of things I can do to handle this, it does beg the question of whether some smaller developers can actually survive until the new sim is released, and whether they will have the opportunities to take advantage of it. After all, it will be less than a year after the release of MSFS before I get to collect my pension, so maybe that might be a good time to start winding things up. Yes, at the moment I just can't wait to get stuck into the new sim, and I will hopefully end up doing this until I'm too old to sit up straight. This is the biggest thing to happen to sim development since the 'gamepack' days, but if I need to survive on dreams and hopes for a year, I'll be very peed off.