Flight Sim World — Early Access version

Ice creams and flightsims

Thanks God there is choice when it comes to ice cream. Some people do not like chocolate, so they can have it plain vanilla. Others will prefer strawberry. Some like huge ice creams with two balls, while others prefer on can only afford a single flavor one. I believe the same thing happens when it comes to flight sims.

Flight sims are back to the market, and we’re going through a phase no one thought possible a couple of years ago. When Microsoft decided, in January 2009, to stop producing the simulator that for a quarter of a century was theirs, Flight Simulator, many thought the market segment was dead. Now we’ve choice, so rejoice!

Initially, the idea that all those interested in flight simulations had to live with a flight sim that had not evolved for quite a while, and now was left orphan, was a vision of the future. Yes, X-Plane was around, but its base was not — and I believe still isn’t — of the same dimension. Anyway, being limited to two programs, an aging Microsoft Flight Simulator (launched in 2006) and X-Plane, was not a good perspective for the future of the genre.

Surprisingly for some, Microsoft, probably sorry for having abandoned its own Flight Simulator, announced in February 2012 their new flight sim… Flight. I wrote, somewhere, then, that it was a sign of the company’s stupid decisions in terms of this specific type of program. Flight was a simplistic flightsim, built, apparently, for the masses and expected to be a DLC cash-cow — so it seemed — for Microsoft. It looked nice, at launch, but was nothing more than an empty shell. So, it folded in a very short period, with Microsoft stopping development in July 2012. Yes, 6 months after release…

Four images captured from- almost — vanilla Flight Simulator X — Steam Edition

Microsoft Flight Simulator continued to live, though, in its old version, and under another name: Prepar3D. Microsoft had, for a long time, wanted to sell a “professional” version of its flight simulator, named Microsoft ESP and in the end did reach the goal, with Lockheed Martin buying, in 2010, the rights to use the professional version — which is not that much different from FSX, in general terms.

Flight Sim World — Early Access version

Lockheed Martin wanted to use the simulation — or continue to use it, as it was already in use — for training. Lockheed Martin recruited people from the ACES Studio, responsible for the original FSX, to continue development of the product. Being based on FSX, Prepar3D is compatible with most of the addons for FSX, meaning there is a way forward for both independent developers and the public interested in flight simulation.

Flight Sim World — Early Access version

Can you fly Prepar3D?

The problem, and there has always been one, is that Prepar3D, according to the EULA conditions, can not be used for personal/consumer entertainment. Although many people simply seem to forget the EULA, and buy the Academic version to use, they are not exactly following the rules. It also means that, if at any time Lockheed Martin decides to apply the EULA in its entirety, we may see many people losing all their investment in the simulator.

This is an important discussion, but one that many people don’t want to have, because they feel they have the right to use Prepar3D for entertainment, always using the excuse that they are “using it for learning”. Right, the problem is that the EULA states this:

License Grant. Subject to the terms and conditions of this EULA, Licensor hereby grants Licensee a nontransferable, nonsublicenseable, nonexclusive license during the Term of this EULA to use the Software: (1) on a single computer, (2) by no more than one user at any one time, (3) in connection with Academic Education, (4) by students, instructors and staff associated with Licensee’s Academic Education, (5) in the Territory, and (6) for purposes other than personal/consumer entertainment.

It is obvious, from the EULA, that Prepar3D can not be used for anything else than “Academic Education”. But continuing to read the document one finds out more information that is not usually mentioned, not even in discussions, but which is important to understand the full scope of the EULA. In fact, Lockheed Martin states that:

“Academic Education” means education programs for elementary through undergraduate students in fundamental academic disciplines such as science, technology, engineering and math, including history and social sciences related thereto, but NOT in connection with graduate students, professional training or certification of any kind, including, but not limited to, military training, emergency responder training, commercial flight training, private pilot training, air traffic control training, airport ground control/logistics training, driver training or nautical training.

Having a clear understanding of the Academic Education limitations, there is another aspect that I looked at and which puzzles me, which is Territory. The EULA indicates that “Territory” means the State(s), Territory(ies), or governmental subdivision(s) thereof in which and by which Licensee is licensed, chartered or otherwise accredited to provide Academic Education.

Flight Sim World — Early Access version

Photographs from FSW

I am not sure about what it means, but it seems to suggest that Prepar3D can only be sold/acquired in the Territories “in which and by which Licensee is licensed, chartered or otherwise accredited to provide Academic Education.” If that’s correct, then Prepar3D can only be distributed to a very limited number of places, meaning those where it is possible to confirm a link between Academic Education and flight simulation.

I am not a lawyer, so I can not confirm or deny the terms of the EULA. From what I read it seems there is no way you can use the program for home entertainment. I must admit I bought the first Prepar3D to try it, and gave it up, finding that my FSX with addons worked good enough for me to be happy with it… and I was not comfortable with the EULA. Since then I moved to the FSX Steam edition, which is distributed by Dovetail Games, and that’s what I’ve used, with OrbX sceneries — the PNW mainly — and some planes, from A2A’s Cessna to a much loved Cessna 337 from Carenado, models I would love to see in Flight Sim World.

Flight Sim World — Early Access version

The whole purpose of this text, in fact, is to share images from Flight Sim World, a simulator that is now in Early Access through Steam, and which has been reviewed by many as a final product, and compared to FSX with addons and Prepar3D, X-Plane or Aerofly 2, as if it was possible to compare apples and oranges. I leave those — mostly idiotic — discussions aside. Ice creams are different, because people have different tastes. And it makes no sense to compare products at different stages of development, unless, and that’s what I believe, some people have a special agenda of their own and a goal to reach.

In fact, and I took the time to compare graphics from the base FSX and Flight Sim World, what the program from Dovetail Games offers as a start is better than what FSX offers. There are also two things to consider: 64bit and DirectX 11. These open the doors for a jump to the future, something FSX doesn’t. Another strange element of the discussion has been that Prepar3D is the way to go, and FSW is dead on arrival. It’s strange to say this when both programs derive from the same base, FSX, and both take the flightsim community to 64bit now.

Now, as I’ve stated above, Prepar3D is not, apparently, a commercial solution that one can/should buy for entertainment, meaning that if Lockheed Martin decides to follow the EULA, some people will be in for a surprise. Or maybe they won’t, as I am not sure, exactly, how or if they want to enforce the EULA. But having said this, I will immediately put Prepar3D aside, as I don’t want to buy anything that I am not entitled to use. This means that I’ve to select from what is available: FSX-SE, Aerofly 2, X-Plane 11… and FSW in the future.

Flight Sim World — Early Access version

Early Access is… early access

Using an Early Access version of Flight Sim World, it is easy to understand that the program needs to be developed further to reach a level that makes it competitive. But the start base shows some promise: the eye candy of the stock planes is superior to anything from the competition, while the presence of OrbX as part of the base layer suggests what can be expected in the future. If A2A, Carenado, OrbX and, as suggested, TrueSky, align with Dovetail Games, a bright future lies ahead for FSW.

Dovetail Games needs and deserves the support from the community, instead of the critics made to the Early Access FSW. The EA option is not for everyone, but those willing to try it, may help to build a better flightsim, trough constructive criticism that helps developers to build a better code. The flight planner interface is a welcome change from FSX, making it much easier to create flights, and explore the world. The planes available are a good choice, as a starting point, for a sim that is, essentially, at this stage, a VFR exercise. More will come, I hope, to satisfy the dreams of different categories of simmers. For me, the GA, low and slow kind are all that I need to be happy. So, I am off to a good start, what explains that I’ve, already, over 20 hours in the sim.

Flight Sim World — Early Access version

The scenery is one of the crucial aspects for me in flight simulation. I fly because I like the experience of controlling a plane, the challenge it always represents to go from point A to B, but I fly also to “see the world” in ways that I can control: time of day, time of the year, atmospheric conditions, and the geographic area chosen. Photographing that world has always been part of the fun of flying. In fact, photographing — even if through printscreens — the diverse universes of simulations and games has been part of my joy when using computer programs. Professionally, as a computer and video games writer for a period extending from the late 80 to around 2010, I’ve played hundreds of games, explored virtual worlds. When it comes to flight sims, I’ve tried everything available those years, from Jane’s collection to Microprose’s titles, programs I still have in my collection.

Early Access for Flight Sim World is not much different from having access to early alpha or betas back in the years I wrote about games and flight sims. There are differences, but the technology these days allows for this to happen. At the same time, Early Access gives developers support to work towards their goals, while the feedback from those participating may help to adjust the goals of the program itself. If all goes according to plan, it can be a win-win solution. That’s what I hope we will see happen with Flight Sim World.

A community with multiple choices

The community as a whole should rejoice for the extended choice we’ve. Not withstanding the fact that Prepar3D may or should be left out of the choices available commercially, we still have Aerofly 2, X-Plane 11, FSX-SE and Flight Sim World. While I’ve not tried Aerofly 2, it seems to be absolute eye candy, although with a limited choice of airports and areas to fly. A demo would be welcome. X-Plane 11, for example, has a demo, which gives you a 15 minute flight time windows, enough to see some of the characteristics of the simulation. I enjoyed trying it, but to be sincere, I rather stay with a program that keeps to the conventions I’ve grown used to, meaning Flight Sim World is on my radar right now.

In the end, I think it is important to define what you want from your simulation, and choose accordingly. Like we do when we choose an ice cream! Some will need Aerofly 2, some will prefer X-Plane 11, and because we’re really moving forward, it is only natural that FSX-SE begins to be left behind. Dovetail Games are aware of that, and that’s the reason why they decided to move the platform towards the future, creating Flight Sim World, which incorporates the “essay” that Flight School represented. Those who bought Flight School got FSW in their Steam account for free, what makes complete sense.

So, the industry is moving forward, to 64bit, DirectX 11 and beyond. From where I see it, it’s a great time, and developers need all the support they can have. As a community, we will be better off with more choices, and for those who can spend the money and have the time, maybe investing in the different sims, for what they offer in terms of diversity, is the logical next step. We should all be glad developers are creating worlds for us to fly. And as promised, the images I captured during some flights in Flight Sim World, reveal what the program offers, one week after being launched. I believe it’s a good start!

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