Microsoft Flight Simulator SDK: What do we know?

July 18, 2020

Following last week's announcement from Microsoft of their latest simulator's release set for the 18th of August, there's been a scramble amongst third party developers to share their own intentions for the new platform.

Some, like Orbx, composed very carefully worded announcements, congratulating the studio on its forthcoming release. Others were more sceptical, with MK-Studios and UK2000 being just two to express concerns about the simulator's SDK in the 24 hours after the pre-order news was shared.

So, what do we know, from the publicly available information, about Microsoft Flight Simulator's software development kit?

Firstly, some background. An "SDK", or software development kit, is comprised of the tools a third party developer requires to make software for an operating system, game or program. Typically, these are all included in a single download - like here, for X-Plane 11. A similar package can be expected in Microsoft Flight Simulator's case.

So, what do we know about Microsoft Flight Simulator's kit?

In terms of core infrastructure, we know from UK2000's post on Facebook that the simulator does not support FSX-era sceneries, with the developer likening it to the change experienced when switching to Linux from Windows.

The British scenery maker also let slip that the simulator uses a new model format, different AFD structures (which, from the best of my research I've narrowed down to an AI traffic file), plus a new terrain system.

"Even the tools and workflow is different [in Microsoft Flight Simulator]."

Despite all of this information, the developer still considers the SDK 'not complete', according to the same post.

Then, more recently still, previously X-Plane-exclusive developer Verticalsim Studios publicly gave more information about the developer tools made available to him. Speaking to members of his Discord chat server, he says he'll need to relearn a number of things before beginning development for FS2020 (though this is to be expected for a newcomer to the platform).

"I've already been playing around with the SDK, but; as many other developers such as have said, the SDK is very lacking in it's abilities and documentation."

He says that the simulator currently only supports models made in 3dsMax ("which I am highly unfamiliar with") at the moment. He cites the cost of the program as a main reason behind pausing development until a Blender exporter plugin can be created by Asobo. Prices for 3ds Max - which appears to be the sole supported modelling software - begin at $205 USD per month, or$1,620 USD per year.

The high price point will almost certainly act as a turn-off for smaller developers until plugins for other programs are released.

Another clue to the completeness of the SDK could be found in the most recent Development Roadmap infographic provided to us in the July 16th update. In it, we got our first peek at what would take place during and post-release.

Interestingly, alongside a number of "Partnership Series" marketing videos, a number of 'SDK Update' points were listed. Could this mean that the publisher, Microsoft, intends on iterating upon a completed SDK post-release, or that the SDK simply won't be complete upon release on August 18th?

One could go as far as to speculate whether this is down to a disconnect between the simulator's developer, Asobo Studio - based in France - and the product's publisher, Microsoft - based in the United States.

Whichever option it turns out to be, it sounds as though some third party developers are rattled by the sudden injection of a deadline - mid-August -into their workflow. In UK2000's post addressing the simulator, it was made clear that the first scenery conversions will just be beginning this month -the aforementioned MK-Studios are also in a holding pattern pending further information from the developer.

To conclude all of this: the impression I've gotten from compiling all of this information is that it is possible to create scenery, aircraft and other software in the SDK provided, however, third party developers are looking for more specialist tools to be compatible with their previous workflows used for Prepar3D and X-Plane 11.

The problem is, while it's taken years to get Prepar3D and X-Plane 11 addons to the standard they are, there's only a month to wait until Microsoft Flight Simulator's release.

All reporting in this article and indeed our entire swathe of Microsoft Flight Simulator content is based on publicly available information. All sources have been linked for the information above.

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