It’s all about the Scenery!

A great many flight simulator users are as interested in geography as they are in flying. The joke about not being content with any scenery until their own house is included has been done to death. Joking aside, realistic scenery is one of the most desired improvements in each new version of flight simulator.

One of the major improvements over FSX in the upcoming Flight seems to be more accurate and realistic scenery, at least in Hawaii, which is the only area included in the videos and screenshots released by Microsoft.  The latest screenshots from X-Plane 10 also looks very promising. But as much as I’d like flight simulator scenery to be as accurate and realistic as Google Earth Street View, most of the virtual world will for economic and practical reasons still remain generic and dull.

Microsoft has a history of being generous in providing Software Development Kits (SDK) with their flight simulators. It all started with the Aircraft and Scenery Designer software that was sold as an addon to Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 4 back in 1989. But generosity doesn’t equal usability. 99% of all flight simulator users don’t have the knowledge or patience to use the SDKs for anything useful. It is a set of tools catering to the needs of professional addon developers.

While professional scenery developers like Aerosoft and ORBX are capable of increasing the realism and geographic accuracy of the default scenery, they only manage to do that to small parts of the world. For those of us who want to fly in “undeveloped” areas of the world we’ll have to create our very own scenery. With the right tools though, scenery creation and virtual travel could become the single most enjoyable feature of flight simulators. But the tools need to be user friendly and super easy to use to get people interested.

A scenery creation mode and/or some sort of stand alone scenery creation software would add tremendous value to any modern world covering flight simulator. The technology and ideas are already out there, it’s all about adapting and simplifying them further. Here are some examples of great usability that has already been implemented in various other software:

Procedurals City Engine 2010:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXVIuoPlMpY

Outerra:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_BJLfq1ntI
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evGEPdAc67Y
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AoDOPFIiesg

Sim City:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Wze4DA64Zo

Roller Coaster Tycoon:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ejq7HpdGuok&feature=fvsr

The Sims:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTrHnhJ0jdE

Google Sketchup:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMLmfrRsu6M

Platinum Arts Sandbox:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qymKiot7Cc&feature=fvsr

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