Flawed but Popular Simulators – Microsoft Flight Simulator X

It probably doesn’t make sense to point out the flaws of a game that’s over 11 years old, but I’m going to do it anyway. Mind you, I’ve put about 667 hours into it so far, which goes to show that despite my gripes I can’t help but play it. Even so, there are some notable issues with this simulator that I can’t help but notice with each play session.

YOU HAVE TO TAKE OUT A MORTGAGE FOR ALL THE ADD-ONS
It might be high-quality, but $90 for a single aircraft? Huh?!

It’s always nice for a game to get extra content, but it isn’t always nice to have to pay for it. DLC came about in full-force on consoles during the era of the 360 and PS3, but buying extra content has been a thing on PC for years. ‘Expansion packs’/’add-ons’ were quite commonplace before digital distribution took over, but they’re essentially the same thing. My beef with Flight Simulator add-ons is definitely the price. There are thousands upon thousands of different add-ons out there, both free and paid. While a lot of the freeware releases are decent, payware definitely has the quality. You’re paying for the quality, or at least that’s what the developers have put into the minds of simulator fans—that right there happens to be the catch. To me, it’s like paying for name-brand clothes: the quality may be better, but you’re really paying a premium just for the name.

I may sound like a cheapskate, but level with me. A lot of payware add-ons go for $20, $30 or even more. Some of them are for utilities like graphics enhancements and scenery packs, but a lot of time that’s the price for just one new aircraft. It may be highly-detailed, but come on, I can get a whole new game for that price. I have a few payware add-ons, but they’ve all cost less than $20, and the majority have actually been less than $10. The quality difference between the higher-priced add-ons is noticeable, but I honestly don’t care. I can’t really justify spending that much for a single add-on. If it were multiple add-ons, then maybe, but definitely not just one. Still, what good are add-ons anyway if the core program only decides to behave ‘sometimes’?

YOUR COMPUTER HAS TO HAVE THE HORSEPOWER OF A 747 TO RUN IT

Even some modern PCs have trouble running this nearly 12-year old sim… 

While PCs are constantly touted as being the ‘best’ for gaming, there’s one very important detail that I see left out a lot: you need to have the right hardware. You can game on just about any PC, but the question is: ‘how competent is my machine?’ FSX made a whole lot of simmers ask that question when it released. Like Windows Vista, the OS it launched alongside of, FSX quickly became notorious for being a very demanding game. Like most simulators, it does rely heavily on CPU-power, but it even brought systems of that time that met the recommended settings to their knees; this has more to do with sloppy coding than weak systems.

It seems that machines have to be powerful enough to ‘brute force’ the game’s performance, which is clearly evident even today. Despite PC hardware having advanced leaps and bounds over what was available in 2006, even modern systems have a hard time running this game properly. I should know, since I keep the framerate limited to about 35FPS despite having a 6th generation Core i7 processor. The minimum specifications for this simulator was a 2GHz single-core processor. My processor is clocked at 3.2GHz and has four cores. Yet, I get FPS dips all the time. Which brings me to the next point:

IT NEEDS SO MUCH TWEAKING YOU MIGHT AS WELL BE A MECHANIC

I think I need aircraft mechanic certification after pouring through all these guides.

What really separates PCs from consoles is that PCs are incredibly open, allowing you to tinker with virtually everything. That also applies to most PC games. The Microsoft Flight Simulators are no exception, but the problem with FSX is that the tinkering usually isn’t being done just for the fun of it, but rather, it’s to get the thing working correctly. Like an old car that you’re always carrying to the mechanic, FSX is an incredibly temperamental game with a whole lot of stuff that needs to be looked at. It’s as if any little issue will cause the whole program to just fall apart. There have been so many times where I’ve spent hours trying to fix just a single problem such as textures not displaying correctly. But the real issue is, as mentioned the previous point, is trying to get the framerate to be decent. Just type ‘FSX Tweaking Guide’ into the YouTube search bar and see how many entries come up; do the same in Google too. There’s guide after guide and tutorial after tutorial dedicated to changing files and settings to get the game to run as smoothly as possible. Like a college textbook, it’s like every year there’s a ‘revised edition’ of an FSX tweaking guide.

It all has to do with the aforementioned sloppy coding. I just have to nervously chuckle when it comes to games like FSX and Forza Horizon 3 & Motorsport 7. These are Microsoft titles—fundamentally the equivalent of a first-party release—yet they’re so temperamental. Seriously, these games gave me more of a headache than virtually any other title I’ve had on PC. There are always some bad apples out there, but I just find it kind of sad that Microsoft-made games are among them. Now, in the case of those Forza titles, things have been patched up. Clearly the same isn’t true for FSX. The sad reality is that it will virtually always remain in this state, since the Flight Simulator series is no longer an active Microsoft franchise.

MICROSOFT ABANDONED ONE OF THEIR BIGGEST SUCCESSES

A million-seller of a series just vanished into thin…air.

As I mentioned before, the technical issues of FSX stem from bad coding. While I’m sure it originally being built for Vista probably gave it a few cancer cells, perhaps the real reason why things turned out so messy was probably due to the development team being put under pressure. The Flight Simulator series had been running for about 24 years by the time FSX came around. It had been on every single Microsoft OS since DOS, up until that point. As a result, millions of people were introduced to the world of flight simulation, myself included. I started playing around the age of four or five, and haven’t stopped since. But you know who did stop? Microsoft!

The company shut down the ACES Game Studio in 2009, who was responsible for the development of the Flight Simulator series. This really was the end of era. As mentioned earlier, FS had been around since the days of DOS. The first-entry was one of the earliest releases in the realm of PC gaming. When Windows came around, the series advanced significantly as computer technology rapidly improved. Microsoft developed quite a number of different games for Windows back in the 90s and early 2000s, but after the original Xbox came around, the company shifted its game development focus to the console world rather than PC. Even so, Flight Simulator continued to live on for three more Windows generations before coming to an end with X. Except, the legacy hasn’t actually come to a complete end.

THE FUTURE IS UNCERTAIN

Where to next?

Like flying through a thick layer of clouds, the true future of the Flight Simulator series is hard to see. Although the original Microsoft development team was dissolved all those years ago, FSX is still supported today in different forms. The original boxed game is dead, but its semi-successor FSX: Steam Edition is quite alive. Dovetail Games was granted the rights to the series in 2014, which has led to some interesting developments. FSX: Steam Edition is a re-release of the original which includes all of the official expansion packs. On top of that, Dovetail made some edits to the sim’s code in order to fix some of the technical issues and give it better compatibility with modern systems (although it’s clearly still flawed, since this is the version I use). The sim’s multiplayer community is also alive and well again thanks to the servers now being powered by Steam. In addition to this version of the game, Lockheed Martin also has their own modified version called Prepar3D. This came from the company’s acquisition of FSX’s source code back in 2010 and they even picked up some of the original developers from ACES. Even more altered than FSX, Prepar3D has been designed for students and developers.

As for Dovetail, they and the aforementioned add-on developers continue to support FSX: Steam Edition, but the true future of Flight Simulator lies in the hands of Dovetail’s own new simulator Flight Sim World. It recently left Steam Early Access and is the true next step forward for the series.The DNA of FSX is still thriving deep within its code, but similar to that of Prepar3D, this version of the simulator has been altered heavily. Most of the changes have to do with bringing the game’s architecture much more in line with modern standards. Although, this has led to it now being very demanding for modern PCs just as the original FSX was back in 2006. Flight Sim World is still in its infancy, so only time will tell if it truly becomes the next generation of the late Flight Simulator series.

I know I’ve done a whole lot of complaining, but I still happen to really like FSX.  Again, I’ve put 667 hours into it so far, and this is just for FSX: Steam Edition. I’ve been a fan of this series since Flight Simulator 2002. I spent years with FS2004 before moving onto FSX. If I were to combine all of my flight hours between these three entries, I’d probably be qualified to fly a 747 by now. While FSX continues to give me a lot of headaches, I still love it to death. I have a passion for flying; a passion that’s ingrained in me, and playing this simulator allows me to fuel that passion. As long as that’s the case, I’ll continue playing it until something truly better comes along.

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