Bumpy landings for nerds everywhere

I just heard that Microsoft has shut down its Flight Simulator dev team, Aces Studio. It’s not clear whether this is really the end of Flightsim or just a reorganization, but hell! I’d much rather they’d kept Flightsim and shut down Windows.

I don’t do that sort of thing now – at the age of 51 I’ve sort of grown out of it. Kinda. Mostly. But I’ve had every version of FS from V1 to X and loved them all. There are two things about computers that I deeply adore: artificial intelligence and virtual worlds (and even my approach to AI involves virtual worlds in at least three fundamental ways). I love the way we can program a computer to contain a space – a place with its own history and reality for us to explore. And nothing exemplifies that better than Flightsim.

The Flightsim world is just there. There’s no Yerhafters (as in “first yerhafter shoot the troll, then yerhafter say the magic charm”). There’s just a world, scenery to look at, airports to crash into and planes to learn to fly. And it did teach me to fly – after a few years’ practice with FS1 and FS2 it was pretty easy to get my pilot’s licence. I love the way you can make your own challenges, or just freewheel in the clouds. It’s like the way Lego used to be before the human attention span dropped to zero and Lego had to start selling little specialized packs with instructions, because nobody had an imagination any more.

I have such fond memories of the first Flightsim: taking off from Chicago Meigs, or passing over exotic sounding places like Snohomish and Everett. I swear it got colder as I flew north. Of course, less imaginative people could only see a few wireframe boxes in magenta and cyan, surrounding a couple of converging lines. But I knew I was on final approach into Sea-tac on minimums and if I screwed it up it was seriously going to hurt.

And then as the scenery got better and the aircraft more sophisticated, I used to love to step out of real life and go visit somewhere new. I saw India long before I went there for real. I’ve travelled up the Nile, buzzed the Hong Kong skyline and visited a hundred places I’ve not yet been to in this world but will one day. Thank heavens Google Earth is there to fill that gap. It even has a flightsim mode, but nothing to compare with spooling up a couple of Rolls-Royce engines and setting the navs for a night flight to Rome. 

I’m sure there will be bigger, better flightsims to come, maybe even from Microsoft, but it certainly seems like the end of an era.