by Charles Gulick
Back in 1979, when I wrote the first Flight
Simulator for the Apple II as a demonstration program for my 3-D
graphics programs, I had no idea the project would go so far. Now,
seven years, twenty-one versions, and a million copies later, the
project goes on with no end in sight.
People often ask, "What is Flight Simulator's appeal, and why is it so popular?" I think the answer lies in the depth of the real-world scenery and with flight simulator explorer pilots like Charles Gulick who find adventure in exploring the frontiers of this computerized "world."
It pleases, surprises, and occasionally embarrasses me to hear what these explorers find. There is a lot of painstakingly designed scenery in Flight Simulator, and I'm glad to see people visiting it. I recall designing pieces of this scenery and thinking, "I hope people manage to find this." The original 40 Great Flight Simulator Adventures acted as a tour guide through much of this scenery, and 40 More Great Flight Simulator Adventures, with its interesting scenarios and anecdotes, uncovers even more.
There are also a lot of bugs in the scenery (unavoidable with over a megabyte of database source files) that produce interesting visual results ranging from buildings popping up out of nowhere to pyramids floating in the sky. 40 Great Flight Simulator Adventures and 40 More lead you through many of these "undocumented features." When you see them, believe me, they weren't designed to work the way they do. I certainly don't advocate bugs in any program, but look at it this waythese bugs exist, and nobody (including myself) really knows everything that's out there. This truly is an adventurous frontier to be explored.
What does Flight Simulator's future hold in store? While Charles Gulick and his crew of explorers (that's you as you fly along, in perfect formation, I assume) are uncovering scenery features, my staff and I at SubLogic Corporation are working to expand the world.
Two years ago we started Project USA and tried to digitize the whole country in fine detail. After completing Denver and Washington, D.C., we calculated that it would take us 1,000 scenery disks and 109 years to finish the rest of the country. Needless to say, we scaled back the detail, and improved our development tools. The result is the East and West Scenery Disks-two six-disk sets which include all major rivers, highways, cities, and larger airports. Although I'm not yet satisfied with the detail, 3,700 airports are a big improvement over 80. The limits we're running up against are those faced by any mapmaker. There is so much scenery out there, and it takes a long time to enter it.
I prefer dense scenery with lots of buildings and landmarks. We're currently working on Star Scenery disks that feature well-known areas in great detail. San Francisco is the first such area (and is included as the main flight area on the new, third-generation Macintosh, Atari 520ST, and Amiga Flight Simulators). Tokyo to Osaka from our Japanese NEC 9801F version is our next Star Scenery area for U.S. Flight Simulators. One limiting factor we're facing in international scenery design is the simulator's coordinate system. It was not designed to extend much outside the United States (astute Flight Simulator pilots may notice that the World War I Ace game, while supposedly in Europe, takes place about 250 miles north of Las Vegas in the middle of the Nevada desert). By using tricks such as reassigning coordinates to multiple areas, we're solving these coordinate grid problems, and we're always striving to maintain compatibility with all flight simulators in the field.
How long can this flight simulator project go on? Well, it looks like it's here to stay. Unlike many computer entertainment products, the new high performance computers will greatly enhance Flight Simulator. You can look forward to higher display speed, better resolution and color, and more features such as zoom and external view that allow you to watch your plane as you fly.
And as long as there are Great Flight Simulator Adventures, we'll keep opening new territory to be explored.