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No more flying solo… we got passengers

The introduction of passengers in Flight Sim World has both received support and critics, but is it really something uninteresting as some seem to suggest? Then why did people get excited with PeopleFlow or FsPassengers?

When Dovetail Games announced for its 6th update that animated passengers were coming to the simulator, I was happy, I must say. Being one of those people who downloaded the Mission Editor and tried to explore it, to understand its mechanics, I felt from the initial moment that it made sense to have passengers sitting with the pilot in the missions in which you take passengers along. Apparently, now I can, although I’ve not tried it yet.

What I did, though, as soon as the update was available, was to explore what could be the visual experience with the passengers, and that’s how I ended creating a video, No More Flying Solo, which is a celebration of the introduction of animated passengers in Flight Sim World. Now, some will say that these passengers add nothing to the simulation, in fact may even lower the framerate, and are perfectly dispensable when there is so much else to introduce, adjust and create for Flight Sim World. Yes and no.

When asked about the reason for putting the passengers ahead of so much code that is needed for FSW, Dovetail Games replied that the graphic artists responsible for the passengers don’t write the code that moves the other parts of the simulation, so they thought it made sense to get passengers. After, all, we already had a pilot, which was a step in the right direction.

Although we had pilots, and in most flight a passenger, if we so decided, we had or at least I had, a problem. The pilot on the PA-28 Cherokee never had company, no matter how much I tried it. I wrote a post on Steam about the fact, when update 4 was launched, because being an user of the Cherokee — which complements well with my REAL WORLD old 4x4 Cherokee XJ — it created a problem for me not having company up there. I did ask DTG if Cherokee pilots were condemned to fly alone. Apparently no, because now I’ve all the pax I need. I only wish I could define exactly where they sit, although that may be asking too much, for now.

Because the Cherokee had no passengers, and I wanted to try a mission with one specific passenger, I moved on to the Ryan RV-7, which shows pilot and copilot or passenger. Unfortunately, the mission editor would never recognize the added passenger, so I left my mission in standby, waiting for an update that would make it work.

Now with animated passengers, if it all works, missions in particular can be interesting, as are flights in general, if you’re the type of simmer that likes to see how your plane looks from the outside. I know I like to see the aircraft and landscape, so for me it was an exciting update, allowing me to see those animated figures looking out of the window, waving their arms. So much exciting, in fact, that I ended creating the video that led me to write this note, which may interest some of you.

Passengers may not be perfect — yet — by they add an interesting element. I believe the video I created gives you an idea. Is like watching a group of Sims (from the game) flying, and enjoying it. That’s how I felt while capturing the sequences for the video. I understand that some people, those who say they never leave the cockpit, don’t care a bit about animated passengers, but the thousands of images, available online, of flight simulations taken from outside the plane — in every different simulator existing — confirms me that many people do take that opportunity, which is not available in REAL LIFE. So, if you’ve another element that makes the sim more realistic, as planes do not fly without people inside them, why not applaud the idea?

Some other people took things a step further. They accept the little figures, but then complain that we do not see the passengers when inside the cockpit, and that breaks the illusion. To those I should say: imagine a little bit harder. After all you’re already sitting in front of your monitor and computer imagining you’re flying… can you not take the next step? Also, while the miniature passengers we see now work well, I doubt that having passengers viewable when you’re in the cockpit is an easy task. It would be either a mass of blurred pictures, or a detailed figure, which would bring your framerate to a halt. There are also other problems, like reduced visibility, with passengers inside the cockpit, so I am not sure DTG will implement them.

Looking back to the past there are not many implementations of passengers, or even co-pilots in flight simulators, probably because it is not easy to create quality representations to go inside the planes. You do have some, especially in large commercial airplanes, but in smaller craft I can only remember one: the passenger in A2A’s Super Cub, which as far as I remember was not used again. If DTG can create in-cockpit viewable passengers and it looks good, great! But then, an option to either show them or not must be available. As it should be now, for those animated passengers we see. Some people have computers with limited power so giving them the chance to adjust the level of animations is, probably, a good idea.

The idea of having passengers in the aircraft in flight simulations is not new. Since at least 2005 that people expect the technology available — then in Microsoft Flight Simulator — to allow for the creation of passengers, but as I mentioned above, the results have not been the best. For some people, though, they are more of a nuisance than anything else, so they do not want to see them in their sim.

The truth, though, is that you can have virtual passengers in your flight, even if you don’t see them. The magic for that has a name: FsPassengers 2016, available for FSX (boxed) and Steam edition and Prepar3D, soon even for the new version of Lockheed Martin’s simulator. “Since 2005, FsPassengers has carried more than 91 million passengers within flight simulators!” claims the author.

FSPassengers does not have viewable passengers, but that has apparently not stopped people from imagining they exist. The software does its part, too: passengers react to how you fly your plane. Hear them scream if you make drastic mistakes, and get their opinion of your flight — in real time, and when the flight ends you’ll see a very detailed post-flight report that will describe how the flight went. If you run a company you will be rewarded with money based on ticket prices, oil prices, distance flown, number of passengers, cargo weight, airport taxes and other things. If you crash, you will lose money (your insurance will have to pay the damages) and your company’s reputation will suffer.

FsPassengers also contains a lot of unique features never seen in FSX or Prepar3D, claims the author, Daniel Polli. Things like more than 1200 sounds that you can hear in flight: co-pilot, hostess, GPWS, ATC chatter, music, sound effects, to the screaming of passengers afraid or in pain due to your reckless flying technique are present in the program, which, according to the author, will help to make you a better pilot.

The program exists since 2004, for FS9, and has evolved to new versions, reaching now FsPassengers 2016, a suggestion that there is enough interest from simmers into a program that simulates virtual passengers… that are nowhere to be seen. Orbx took things further in 2010, when they introduced PeopleFlow. If you browse the web after the term you’ll discover the excitement it created on people then. Yes, there were and always will be some naysayers who seem to take things professionally when it comes to whining, complaining, bitching & moaning. But mostly, PeopleFlow made everybody happy.

Orbx’s PeopleFlow tech adds animated people both airside and landside at Orbx airports. The first time it was demonstrated, in 2010, was at Orbx’s YBBN Brisbane international airport scenery. Since then PeopleFlow integrates all products from Orbx, so expect to see some human animation at your Orbx airports. Orbx also created Bob First Person Mode, which is not a passenger but a unique free add-on from Orbx which lets you get up close and personal with airport and scenery, anywhere in the world.

FSDreamTeam also offer their own take on human presence in flight simulators. Their GSX, Ground Services for FSX — and Prepar 3D — simulates several operations on ground, like Marshalling, Catering, Boarding/Deboarding of passengers and Baggages, Stairs, Refueling vehicles, Pushback with realistic behavior, Folllow Me cars, Docking System and more, all featuring many native FSX animations and believable human characters.

There is an interesting discussion — in French, though — on the web, about the creation of an Avatar for FSX, that those knowing French or willing to “google translate” the three pages might want to read. The author of the Avatar, 8thavenue, was active last March (2017) but seems to have vanished, and I could not find more news about the project.

Prepar3D does have its own avatars, completely free, and apparently only compatible with Prepar3D. There are multiple avatars to use, and Dino Cattaneo, author of multiple aircraft projects for flight simulators is re-launching its Military Avatars Package as freeware. The author says this: “This version features some minor changes with respect of the last payware release, such as the removal of the installer and (most important) the reintroduction of the collision detection for Prepar3d V4 compatibility. I do not like too much the collision detection as it is buggy and you cannot, in some cases, get really close to the aircraft… but its absence seems to create an issue with P3Dv4, so I have restored it.”. If you want to have an avatar for your Prepar3d V4, this is the time.

All the experiences with avatars, ground crews and animated people at airports suggest what the passengers in Flight Sim World can be: more that a visual attraction. I don’t think it is viable to imagine an airliner packed with virtual passengers, but for small GA operations animated passengers can represent a visible part of a more complex simulation, based on the idea behind FsPassengers 2016. For airliners, the logic of the program could still be used, maybe with a few animated passengers looking out from the aircraft windows. Maybe DTG can get in touch with the developer of the program and check the viability of integrating parts of it within the simulation. That would help to define some new ground, I believe, for FSW.

Using the animated passengers for more than visual delight would, probably, satisfy everybody. Still, DTG needs to work a lot on their passengers, and integrate them in a way that everybody can activate/deactivate their visibility and effect on frame rates. Allowing for a precise adjustment of weight of passengers on the plane and giving the user the choice of showing or not passengers are crucial things to integrate in the menu. The more choices people have, the more they will want to play with the sim, something that will create a growing pool of users.

The animations now available also need to be fully adjusted and probably expanded, so we do not have situations as when you fly with six passengers: you get identical twins! It is also important to be able to choose the pilot (male or female); even better if should be possible to choose who sits where. I know this does not add much to the simulation itself, but I believe it helps the immersion for those who like the sim part but also like the whole concept of flying with people through some fantastic scenery.

Animations are great, but using them as the tip of a more complex system might be an asset for a simulator that started by promising default aircraft that are above what we normally get. Visually that’s done, although there is work to do in terms of flight systems and more. But I believe, if the simulation is aiming to offer the best experience using the aircraft as starting point, that having the animated passengers contributes to the immersion. Something I think you’ll understand when you watch the video I created. Look at the animations in some sequences, admire the whole scenery, and you’ll probably feel it makes sense. Knowing it is there for a reason that expands the simulator part will make it even better.

One last note, for those interested: for this video I used a scenery of the Channel Islands as background for some images. The airliners, helicopters and ground vehicles you see are from that scenery, which is available free and works with FSW. I chose that scenery because I know Jersey, CI, having lived there for a while, and flew around the area. The mission Photo Mission French Coast published in Steam’s Workshop represents a flight made from Jersey to the French coast, during a friend’s GA training.



Outpost 2 is a “bridge” between the world of simulation and the real world, and the Universe around us. Sometimes, there will be no frontiers between reality and simulation. It’s an advanced scouting position from where, sometimes, a new view reveals hidden details.

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Jose Antunes

I am a writer and photographer based on the West coast of continental Europe, a place to see the Sun die on the Sea, every day.