During its recent Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase, Microsoft announced the 40th Anniversary edition for Microsoft Flight Simulator.
While the name may make you think about a fancy (and pricey) limited edition, this is actually a completely free update to the base simulator, featuring plenty of new aircraft, including a high-definition airliner, four historical planes, two helicopters, and two gliders. And there appears to be more that has not been announced yet.
Large amounts of content provided at no additional cost are not new for Microsoft Flight Simulator fans, but this goes much beyond what we’ve seen before.
In order to learn more about the edition and what we can expect over the next few months from the popular simulator, Twinfinite had a chat with the head of Microsoft Flight Simulator, Jorg Neumann.
Giuseppe: Microsoft is already providing simmers with a ton of content at no additional cost with Microsoft Flight Simulator. Yet, you always manage to surprise us with even more, to the point that this seems pretty crazy even for a game as a service. Just how well is Microsoft Flight Simulator doing, that it feels like Microsoft has basically signed you a blank check?
Jorg Neumann: First of all, I’m glad that you think we’re generous because that’s kind of the whole point, honestly. How well are we doing? Really well. It’s an unspecific answer, but I think it has exceeded our expectations.
When we first launched on PC in 2020, it did well. It brought in lots of the core simmers that we were hoping for, and we tried to do good. We Tried to listen and still do, obviously.
And then we launched on Xbox, and that basically doubled our audience. Then we launched on cloud streaming just in March, and that again brought in a large, large amount of people who have clearly never played flight simulators before, so we’re really really happy about how many people are enjoying the sim, and are learning about it.
We can sort of see that they come in without really knowing much, and you can tell because they start with the tutorials and then they spend more and more time in Free Flight, and then they try some other stuff, and then they try some airliners… You can sort of see them migrating, which is great.
When you think about this, after being absent for all this time and coming back and being really welcomed back, it’s also time to give back. It’s as simple as that. We tried this last year with the Game of the Year Edition, and we always knew that it was the 40th anniversary this year. It was always clear that in November 2022 we’d have the big anniversary, and we’ve always said: “We have to do something.”
I was actually on vacation… it’s good to take a vacation sometimes. I had a little bit of distance and said, ok, we’re doing gliders, we’re doing helicopters… I had talked to the iniSimulations folks for while about doing a true-to-life level airliner, and then there was the 40th anniversary. Instead of doing it one bit at a time, I wanted to do something really big.
I also love historical planes. I look at my shelf and I see all these cool planes to be made. I had this idea probably in November or December last year, and it actually started with me seeing the Aeroplane Heaven DC-3, and I was like, “man, this looks awesome!” and I realized it was also in our older simulators. so I called Barry (Aeroplane Heaven CEO Barry Bromley) and asked him if he wanted to be part of the 40th anniversary and he was totally on board. So we found an agreement that instead of him selling that plane as payware, it would be free for everybody so that everybody can celebrate the franchise.
Then it grew from there. I had talked to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, and they have a perfect scan of the Spirit of St. Louis, so we got that, and I talked to BlueMesh for a while – Jimmy (Jimmy Battut, BlueMesh’s founder) is his name – I was impressed with some of the planes he’d made, and I asked him about the Spirit of St. Louis. He was “Yeah, I want to do it!” The Smithsonian has every image you could possibly imagine, and it’s so well photographed and captured.
Then I looked back at Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight, and saw the Wright Flyer, so I thought I had to make that as well, so I acquired a scan for it since it’s also available at the Smithsonian.
Then I had a different conversation with Jim at MilViz (Jim Stewart, in charge of MSFS product development at MilViz) about doing something together, and I was like, “Hey, the Beaver!” It all kept rolling forward, and I haven’t even announced all o them yet. There are quite a few things that we’re still doing. Let’s keep some surprises but… It was just great. We want to celebrate the franchise, and the community of creators wants to celebrate with us. How cool is that?
Giuseppe: Since you touched on it in passing, in the official announcement, you mention, and I quote, “here is just a small sampling of what simmers will find in the Microsoft Flight Simulator 40th Anniversary Edition.” Could you elaborate a bit more on what you mean by “small sampling?” Because that looks like a pretty big sampling to me.
Jorg Neumann: Well, we’re planning to do two helicopters. Asobo is working on the Guimbal Cabri G2, and that’s sort of not-so-super-complex, but it’s used by Sebastian to write the fluid dynamics system and he’s testing everything with it, in part because they’re in France right next to Asobo and it’s very helpful just to drive over there. As a matter of fact, they’re driving over there on Thursday. It’s really great to have relationships like that with the manufacturers, and when the manufacturers actually care about us getting it right, that’s the best-case scenario.
The other helicopter, the Bell-407, it’s not announced who’s making that, but I think I can tell you, and that’s by Nemeth Design. That’s Tamas and his team, and they’re very well-known helicopter people.
I’ve actually asked Sérgio (Sérgio Costa from Helisimmer) who would be the best people for this, and he gave me a short list of folks and I talked to them. These guys are just super-nice, they really care, and they have the required knowledge.
For the gliders, we’re doing two DG Flugzeugbau and we’re working with FFS, which is a new company associated with Aerosoft. We’ve announced that before in one of our streams. And then we have announced I think five planes, and there are more planes.
The Airbus A310 is a big deal and makes me very happy. The conversation I had with Ubaid (Ubaid Mussa, CEO of iniSimulations) clearly showed that he has a vision of what he cares about. They’re at the very high end of what’s possible and I think he was really sold when I told him that I wanted the aircraft for free and not as a $60 payware aircraft. I wanted everybody in the sim to be able to enjoy it, and he wanted to be part of that.
We’re also making some other stuff. The reason why I wrote the press release the way I did is that I think of this as a long-term relationship. The 310 is a good entry-level, obviously a slightly older plane, but it’s very complex, so if you really want to go deep into the systems, this is a good one to start with, and then we’ll announce more as we go.
Let’s go beyond the 40th anniversary. This is, in my opinion, a long-term relationship. That’s what I want. That’s what Ubaid wants, so… You know, not all the plans are set in stone. We’re talking about all kinds of things.
Giuseppe: So there could be more planes and more content for the 40th-Anniversary Edition?
Jorg Neumann: Yeah, but I also want to be flexible. If you make too many plans, then, at some point, you’re not flexible anymore, which is not what we want.
And then the four historical planes… there will be more than four.
Giuseppe: So there indeed is more content that you have not announced yet.
Jorg Neumann: There are some planes, there are some airports, and things that mean a lot to the… you know… just go back and think about what means something. There are planes that mean something; there may be some mission sets that mean something.
Giuseppe: Of course, you can’t tell everything yet.
Jorg Neumann: Actually, I don’t know! There are so many things going on. Not everything will make it on time. We want to make sure the quality is great, so we’ll see. We’re launching in November, and we have a few months left, and we’ll work hard to make something that hopefully people will love.
Giuseppe: Another thing that’s quite interesting is the Pelican, which has become my guilty pleasure. Is that kind of collaboration something we can expect more of in the future?
Jorg Neumann: You know, it’s a good question. I think it would be silly not to say “yes,” because I think there are too many things… This is something that isn’t going to happen at all, but the team at some point was like, “Hey, can we get the aircraft carrier from the Avengers?” Ok… I don’t know anyone at Marvel, but I guess I can give them a call.
I mean, Halo is who we are here at Xbox. Many things were defined by Halo, so they actually approached us, and it was an automatic yes.
It’s like the Top Gun relationship which was such a no-brainer to decide that it fits. We are not an arcade game. We don’t ever want to be an arcade game. We want to be a sim. The Halo people gave us a lot of freedom. They gave us the stats, and then they said, “Please make it as good and as deep as you can.”
Of course, there is some invention that you have to do. Halo is not exactly a systems-deep thing, but we wanted an autopilot and you saw the things that we did. I think that as long as it feels like you have to learn it and it’s a simulation and not like a rocket ship flying at Mach 10 to space…
Giuseppe: It’s actually fairly challenging to fly at high altitude…
Jorg Neumann: Yes. We learned that lesson from the Darkstar, which was super interesting. We were lucky enough to work with an engineer from a manufacturer that is not making that plane but they’ve done some of these things in the past, and it’s not just a rocket going straight.
I think that made us appreciate that there needs to be skill. There are tradeoffs in the physical space, so how do these things actually work? There is a lot more going on to it than simply making a nice model and making it fly around fast. That’s not really what we do.
So to answer your question, I am interested but with caution. If you ever catch us doing something that feels thin or superficial, then I think we are losing our soul, and I’m very, very, very conscious of what our soul is.
Giuseppe: Let’s talk briefly about what was missing from the announcement, and that’s the next world update. It’s supposed to come out tomorrow and we still don’t know [Editor’s note: The interview was conducted on June 13, 2022]. Is it still coming?
Jorg Neumann: It is coming out tomorrow. I actually don’t like doing this, to be honest. I want to be transparent to the community. I usually like to release a world update and then announce the next one. So we broke that trend and it has something to do with trade shows. It looked like there was an E3 but then…
Anyway, I wanted to announce it there because it is the United States and its territories. In November 2020, we did the World Update United States, but it was only the second, and we were still defining what a World Update really is. It was good, but it wasn’t as good as we hoped in some ways, and the United States is huge.
What drove all this was the fact that we got great new data. I think people think Jorg decides what goes into the World Updates, but actually, I simply chase the data a lot. If there’s cool data, I’m interested because it makes life for the simmers better.
So we have completely new aerials for almost the entire country, which is great, and 42 new sources for DEM (Digital Elevation Model). The height field is important to me. It makes the mountains look right, we can go closer to the ground, and it looks like the actual place…
We started with that, and then we got another dozen cities, 87 points of interest, and airports are Valdez Airport (PAVD) in Alaska, then we did Catalina (KAVX) because it’s lovely, Lake Tahoe (KTVL), and Block Island (KBID), so we tried to find places to get you around.
And then there are new bush trips, discovery flights, and landing challenges. We think it’s a good package, and when we look where our simmers are flying, I think a lot of them are doing it in the United States, and general aviation here is huge.
I’m very happy that we can do the United States. And you’re right, in theory, I should now announce what the next one is, but I don’t know about that.
Giuseppe: Can you give us a hint?
Jorg Neumann: Eeeh… I’d rather not. Give me just a little break, but I can show you the new Local Legend that’s also coming tomorrow.
[At this point Jorg showed me the trailer featuring the Beechcraft Model 18. Which you can see below]
Giuseppe: That’s definitely a classic. It’s just lovely. Who made this, Carenado?
Jorg Neumann: Yeah!
Giuseppe: It definitely looks like a Carenado model. It’s beautiful.
Jorg Neumann: I went to the Smithsonian, and this exact model and livery [one of those shown in the trailer] is hanging from the ceiling of the museum. The hope is that as we go forward, we’ll actually do quite a bit with the Smithsonian. They have a lot of planes, super-cool stuff.
Giuseppe: That’s a fantastic plane, and it’s probably my favorite Local legend so far. I’m honestly not so much into aircraft that are too vintage.
Jorg Neumann: Then you’ll like some of those that come up next. I’ve read a lot of the feedback and wrote a long document this weekend about starting cold and dark on water, the fact that we need more places to start from… that’s understood. I hear you, some of these aircraft are not everybody’s cup of tea, and I need to get out of the twenties.
Giuseppe: You know, don’t get me wrong. I think there are a lot of people who appreciate the value of these and I do as well, at the very least from the historical conservation point of view.
Jorg Neumann: You know what it really is, Giuseppe? These planes are not economically wise things to make. I’m losing money, and I don’t care. There’s only one Savoia-Marchetti S.55 left in the world, and if we don’t do this, it may be gone forever at some point. We’re preserving history, we’re ok doing it, and this is in perpetuity. People will have this now and forever.
Giuseppe: Speaking of planes to conserve in perpetuity, since you mentioned it a few weeks ago, did you actually start negotiations for the Antonov An-225?
Jorg Neumann: We did… and then we lost contact with Antonov again. I’m determined to make the plane. If we really want to celebrate what that plane was, then we need to do it right. We have some of the data because the airplane was very well archived. They have all of the data still and I’ve talked to one of the pilots.
Unfortunately, there is a war going on, and Antonov has other problems besides talking to Jorg about making a simulated plane. But I never break my word. I’ve said I’m going to make this plane, and the proceeds will go either to Antonov or to Ukraine, one or the other.
Giuseppe: Speaking of the 40th Anniversary Edition. We’ve been talking about the refactoring of AI traffic. Thinking about what you’ve told me in the past and what you’ve told the community, perhaps that could be ready for November. It’s certainly a big feature that could be a great addition to the 40th Anniversary celebrations. Can we expect something like that?
Jorg Neumann: There are all sorts of things going on with AI traffic. The thing that really bothers me about it… there is ATC, and we really need to look into ATC more deeply because people talk about it a lot… but the thing that bothers me about the air traffic is that we have sort of chopped-off low-flying traffic completely. We have all the data from FlightAware, and we are cutting off anything below 5,000 feet, which is a lot of stuff.
It’s a little brutal what we’ve done. I actually think it wasn’t due to performance at all. It was some sort of steering problem. So we’re looking at that.
But here’s the thing I’ve learned with the sim updates starting with Sim Update 9. We’ve gotta be careful. We want to do good, and we want to make people happy, but when we do too much and we break stuff, all the good work is overshadowed by the sometimes small and sometimes bigger bugs that we introduce.
We have the DX12 stuff. We have DLSS. We have multi-monitor support. There are a whole bunch of things planned for the next sim update. If we load up more and more and more, we’re gonna go unstable. If there’s too much at the same time, we risk it being detrimental.
I want to destress development a little bit. The team has told me for a long time that an update a month is crazy, so now we have a little bit more space between updates and that allows us to test longer and therefore we’re going to be more stable.
I think we’re going to look into AI more. We’re committed to making it better but I can’t tell you it’s going to be November.
Giuseppe: Are you still planning more improvements to the carriers now that they’re finally in the sim?
Jorg Neumann: We wanted to do catapult starts, and we ended up not doing it because it’s not in the movie at all, and then people clearly want to use them in free flight. We know. That’s definitely something we have to look into. We didn’t quite expect that much of a reaction.
I can tell you, Top Gun has been super successful. I think two weeks ago, 50% of all flights were related to Top Gun. That’s like ten million flights, just for Top Gun in a week or so.
I think we can take this further. When exactly we’re going to do it, I don’t know, but the community has spoken, and it’s very clear that they want it in free flight, so we’re, “Ok, cool, let’s put it on the list.”
Giuseppe: So now that we’re at the 40th anniversary of the franchise, what is the message for the simmers and for those who are just starting out?
Jorg Neumann: For the simmers, this is for them. This is just us celebrating our history together. And for those who aren’t simmers yet, thank you for all the energy you bring in. It makes us all better. Having new eyes on things will probably take us to places otherwise we wouldn’t have gone and I think they’re going to be good.
I honestly think – as I know what our plans are going to be for the next few years – It’ll be a crazy, awesome ride for Flight Simulator. We have so much stuff that’s coming and it’s going to be super-cool.