A flightsim Thanksgiving

December 11, 2018

The modern flight sim community may be one of the hardest lots in the world to please. When I got into the hobby almost thirty years ago, the social activities surrounding it were in their absolute infancy. Initially, bulletin board systems accessed via telephony connections were the norm, but quite soon websites like Flightsim.Com and Avsim began to emerge. VATSIM and IVAO’s predecessor network, SATCO, was in full swing. There were no such things as study-level aeroplanes or high-resolution sceneries, elements we now take for granted. Even PMDG was only founded in 1997, a good few years after I got involved.

Even real-world aviation was quite different from a technical perspective: GPS was a rarity, so even beginning virtual aviators had to familiarise themselves with ground-based navaids because it was very uncommon to have accurate enough scenery to navigate visually. Indeed, initially, graphics were mostly untextured blobs of various shapes and sizes.

Fast-forward to today, where we have at least a passable rendition of nearly every single civilian aircraft type, scenery with so much detail it makes at least I laugh out loud, and systems and flight models that approach a level of fidelity previously only available in full flight simulators. Yet, we’re also, at least in my view, more dissatisfied than ever before. Why is this?

I think it’s because we’ve come to want it all, and to want it now. Consider, by way of example, the critique received by Flight Factor for neglecting to update their A320, or by HiFi for opting to release ASXP as-is, or the mayhem that erupted on the PMDG forums (and yes, I’m considering the community as a whole here) after it was discovered that the initial release of the 747-8 would not feature reduced-thrust takeoff performance calculations. This alone led some customers to outright dismiss the whole notion of an EFB, despite the insurmountable fact that the OPT (onboard performance tool) simulation in it is a facsimile of the real thing, sans two(!) features -- namely, assumed temperature thrust reduction and fixed derate calculations, both of which are optional on the real 747. I tell you, had we had something like this in 1994, the community would have gone absolutely crazy -- and most definitely in a positive way. My point is that we should feel blessed to have these devs in the first place!

Also, most people don’t routinely consider the fact that, for some of us, simming tends to represent a much-needed escape from reality, which alone should justify a much greater appreciation of the devs that give us the goodies.  Some people justifiedly believe that a continuing demand for ever more realistic flight experiences could result in hobby-suffocating price inflation that would largely kill it for the younger folk among us. That’s why I think it’s okay to have different tiers of products, but that shouldn’t justify the bashing of devs that do provide premium experiences, especially not by other devs. Rather, we should learn to appreciate the wide variety of products available. There’s certainly space for many different product categories in the flight sim space, for different needs.

For example, I have tetraplegic cerebral palsy, and as a result of ageing-related physiological changes, among other things, I have pain that would make your significant other’s latest tantrum feel like a paradise vacation. With the recent stiffening of my arms, I have temporarily minimised actual flying until I find a suitable brain-computer interface to run my sims, choosing instead the role of an observer, pundit, and part-time developer, which, combined with experience in the aviation industry itself, gives a rather unique perspective on all things flight-sim. My suggestion, therefore, is that from now on, we ought to pull our heads out of our collective behinds and truly appreciate simming for the mesmerising enterprise that it is today, for it has not arisen without sweat and lost sleep. A cautionary example is provided by the ESP scene where the introduction of premium payware led to a -- pun intended -- virtual extinction of freeware, especially aircraft development, such that now there’s very little to be had without paying.

While, as X-Plane continues to grow, the secondary market will, without a doubt, be increasingly monetised, being thankful and positive to developers will ensure that everyone -- not just your neighbour with a BMW, will continue to be able to participate.

Here’s to the whole community:

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Threshold encourages informed discussion and debate - though this can only happen if all commenters remain civil when voicing their opinions.