Personal Computer News11th March 1983
Published in Personal Computer News #001
Microsoft Flight Simulator
There are flight simulators and there are flight simulators, but this one is the real McCoy. Far more than just a game, the Microsoft simulator is realistic enough to qualify as a serious training aid for prospective pilots, or those with a passion for flying and no cash to indulge it.
Even the simplest flight in this mock Cessna 182 plane is fraught with complexity, especially when landing, so if what you want is a cheap and cheerful flip around the block, this program is not for you.
As a pilot, you can select and fly a vast number of routes about the North American continent. You have a choice of 22 detailed airport layouts to take off from or land at, in weather conditions ranging from daylight with no wind and not a cloud in the sky through to pitch darkness and solid clouds with a tornado ranging.
And when you have had enough of serious flying, a bonus in this package is 'British Ace', a European World War I dogfight game. As the British ace pilot, you must shoot down at least five German fighters - with different capabilities - and bomb aerodromes and factories.
You battle it out in real time, so it is advisable to learn to handle your aircraft using the flight simulator program before tackling this game. This is one situation where learning on the job will not see you through.
My first attempts to take off, fly and land ended in disaster. Time after time, the messages 'Crash' or 'Splash' flashed on the screen to let me know that, once again, I had written off my aircraft and myself.
Even when I finally got the hang of it sufficiently to get off the ground and tackle a 25 knot surface wind and some cloud and turbulence, brown paper bags were called for as I steered my way through some amazing attitudes.
Then it was panic stations as I headed into cloud and the view ahead became completely opaque.
While I was recovering from this shock, my aircraft did a poor impression of a ship, till it was a relief to get back onto dry land again.
The program comes packaged simply and neatly in a green box with a glossy illustration of a cockpit and runway. There is a 100-page instruction manual, which is easy to read and understand.
Illustrations and maps explain the aircraft controls and instruments clearly, but I would advise anyone using the simulator beyond simple flights to invest in a full set of navigational maps and flying manuals, to get the most out of the program.
The program starts by asking you to select your monitor type so it can format the best possible graphic display. You then select demonstration, flight or back-up mode.
If you choose to fly, the instrument panel appears, and your aircraft is placed on the runway of Meigs airport, just outside Chicago, pointing due north. If you prefer to take off from somewhere else, it's easy to move your aircraft to any position within your program's 'world' - and that includes the whole of North America.
Once you have picked your starting point for the flight, taxi-ing is easy and take-off straightforward - unless you set adverse environmental conditions.
In the air the plane responds realistically, given the limitations of a two-dimensional cockpit view. You can choose from nine viewing angles, which helps to compensate for this. But the elevator and trim controls are distinctly sluggish, and the sound is so bad that it's best turned off.
Navigation is not all that easy, and needs to be well thought-out and planned before take-off. Once you are within range of your destination, the really difficult part begins, as it is no mean feat to gauge the distance to the runway.
Lots of practice is the only solution here. During this phase, information from the air traffic controller - scrolled across the top of the display - is rather sparse. More would help, and would add to the realism, since a pilot would normally be in radio contact with the airport at this time.
This is a program for the dedicated, suitable for people who are prepared to spend many hours in the 'cockpit' learning how to fly. Its long term appeal for them is undoubted, though less serious flyers could soon admit defeat.
The instrumentation is excellent, generally with a rapid response to the controls, and the layout is well designed. With so many variables available for the pilot to set, it can be tailored to fit just about any level of skill.
Unfortunately, with such a large area of the world to cover and display, the resolution of the screen gives a rather jerky and lumpy appearance. Colours, too, are not quite realistic, and although the graphics are excellent, I have to fault it on sound effects.
All in all, though, this is a remarkably well-designed program, and a real bargain. But don't expect to be able to fly an aircraft once you have mastered it.