The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
DON'T BOGART THOSE OLD DISKS
In a pinch, Flight Sim 4.0 scenery files and disks will work with Flight Sim 5.0, but the older files won't show the outside world in photorealistic detail. The difference between the old and the new is dramatic. Gone is the crisp, hard-edged schematic look: the featureless plains, the cardboard-cutout mountains, the two-dimensional rivers and oceans, and the poster-paint colors.
The new scenery is rendered in 256 high-resolution Super VGA colors, 640 by 400 pixels, and if it looks like a photograph, it's because it probably is a photograph—a digitized version of 3-D satellite photography. The views are the most convincing from high altitudes. Down on the ground, the scenery has a fuzzy, soft-edged look, like a blurry 110-format snapshot.
Superimposed on this warm, textured ground terrain are sharp, man-made objects like buildings and other aircraft. The graphics "styles" (real-time ray tracing for the scenery and what Artwick's people call "Cyberspace" for the computer-generated shapes) don't quite match, but both are such improvements on the oversimplified line drawings of the old scenery that you'll be willing to forgive the incongruities.
Once these scenery files are mounted on your hard disk, you site yourself by going to the "Scenery" menu and making a geographical selection, or by going to the "Situations" menu and choosing an event which has previously been saved (in Flight Sim 4.0, this was called the "Mode" menu). Whereas the "Scenery" selection simply places you at the head of a runway, ready for takeoff, the "Situations" (see "Mode") selection returns you to the precise moment it was saved to disk (at the top of a Hammerhead turn, say, or poised to buzz a control tower, or simply flying straight and level at five thousand feet).
You can also transport yourself anywhere by simply entering the real-world coordinates for north/south latitude and east/west longitude from the "World" menu. (Of course, unless your scenery files contain specific details for that location, you may see nothing but fruited plains or purple mountains' generic majesty from horizon to horizon.)
Or you can make use of the altogether wonderful "Slew" mode from the "World" menu, wherein you don't fly from place to place, you use the controls to slide your plane to a new location—as if you were on a magic carpet—and then re-enter real-time animation, taking up where you left off (speed, altitude, heading, etc.).
If you don't know where you are, tapping the "Num Lock" key brings up a map inside a little window (like the other views, you decide how big you want the window to be, where you want it, and so on). The "plus" and "minus" keys zoom out to show the whole world as seen from space or zoom in to let you count the fibers in the carpet of the Clipper Club.
If you want to follow other aircraft on wild-goose chases around New York, San Francisco, and a couple of Alice-in-Wonderland locations, you go to the "Entertainment" menu and select "Formation Flying."
Or you can pick the "Dual-Player" mode and connect with another computer that is running Flight Simulator, over the phone lines via modem or—if the other computer is nearby—direct serial-port-to-serial-port via null-modem. You'll each be able to clearly see each other's plane, and you'll marvel at the near impossibility of keeping a fixed distance from another airplane as you chase each other around the sky.