A pilot's guide to destination cities in Flight Simulator
by Charles Gulick
It's 1987, and it's hard to believe that Flight Simulator has been airborne for five years already. I remember as though it were yesterday getting a phone call in the summer of 1981 from a small 100-employee company in Bellevue, Washington, called Microsoft. They wondered if I would consider converting my primitive Apple II Flight Simulator 1 to an obscure new machine that nobody had heard of called the “IBM Personal Computer.” They thought it would make a good demo for the machine's color graphics card. Well, the rest is history. Five years, twenty-four versions, and nine scenery disks later, the project continues.
Instead of getting stale over the years, however, the whole Flight Simulator project keeps getting more interesting. Features based on improved computer capabilities and user feedback are constantly being added, and whole new versions for new machines are being written. Add-ons such as scenery disks and explorer flight guides like Charles Gulick's excellent series (from the early 40 Great Flight Simulator Adventures up to Flight Simulator Co-Pilot and his most ambitious guide yet, Runway USA) continually add to the depth of Flight Simulator and what you can do with it.
I look on the first three years of Flight Simulator's development as years of building toward my original idea of what version 1.00 should have been. Three years is a long time, but my original ideas were quite ambitious. Most of the features on version 2.13 of Microsoft Flight Simulator (including scenery disk overlays, hidden surface removal, and a good shading system) were items intended for release in 1982 but not well-developed yet. Many of the systems in the latest version are total rewrites of original systems. A few curves were thrown my way over the early years. The PCjr, Hercules Graphics Adapter, PC AT with its 80286 processor, EGA card, RGB monitor, and, last but not least, all the “clones” had to be compensated for. I was luckier than many programmers, however, because most graphics cards and clone manufacturers used Flight Simulator to verify the compatibility of their machines, thus saving me the trouble of having to make it work on their hardware.
The years from then to the present were conversion years. Coverage spread from the IBM and Apple II to the Commodore 64/128, Atari 800/130XE, NEC 9801E Texas Instrument PC, and Tandy 1000/2000. A few new features were added along the way, but these were basically conversions of my original version 1.00 ideas to new machines.
Scenery disks were also developed over this period as a separate project. Just as it took Flight Simulator a few years to evolve, scenery disks are taking time to evolve. The correct balance among graphics complexity, coverage density, navigation-aids-to-scenery ratio, and frame rate is hard to reach. I must say, though, that I have learned a lot about mapmaking and it is now very clear to me that the USA is a big, big place, and the world is bigger yet!
That brings us to the future. As I see it, Flight Simulator-Phase One is now complete. It's time to implement a whole new set of ideas. Over the next few years you will see these unfold one-by-one. The new Macintosh, Atari ST, and Amiga versions provide a glimpse of the future. Some new features include multiple 3-D views from inside and outside the plane, multi-machine/multi-player modes, smooth zoom, and digitized sound. Atari 520 ST Flight Simulator II rolls down the runway at 15 frames per second compared to the original 2 frames per second of IBM version 1.00, and this is just the beginning. New computer graphics software techniques and high performance hardware make this possible. High speed 68000, 80386, and 68020 microprocessors will make future versions even faster.
As for future scenery, Mike Woodley and his scenery design team at SubLOGIC have finally achieved a good balance. Future scenery disks will feature wide coverage with detailed “corridors of interest.” The addition of Loren Kirk-wood, an artist, to the design team promises to bring interesting touches to everything from swamp areas to buildings.
And, finally, the future also holds some Flight Simulator hardware. A control yoke setup is in the works. The future for Flight Simulator definitely looks bright.
Runway USA is an excellent guide for exploring the scenery and capabilities of the latest versions of Flight Simulator. I've always seen Charles Gulick's books as much more than the dull, step-by-step procedure manuals that other guidebooks all too easily turn into. They offer a sense of adventure. They give procedures and point out real-world features, but they go a step beyond by telling interesting tales along the way.
Good luck on your adventures with Flight Simulator and Runway USA. Sit back in your pilot's seat and enjoy the flight and scenery of the completed Phase I Flight Simulator system. And stay tuned for Phase II.