By Paul Lange – 5 March 2007
Paul Lange, Lead Game Designer on Microsoft Flight Simulator X, originally published this piece on his blog. For more from Paul, check out his online home at P-12C Pilot.
Is that a meow I hear or a roar? Definitely a roar and the cat’s got claws, sharp teeth and over 4,000 horsepower. They don’t call it the fastest motor sport on earth for nothing!
Other than the absence of hot air balloon racing, there is racing for every taste in the FSX expansion pack. So now that the cat is out of the bag, I can talk a little about what we have been working on. It’s no secret that I’m an air racing fan and make a pilgrimage to Reno every year that I can. It’s just too cool seeing Mustangs, Sea Furies, and other hot-rod aircraft fly at 500 mph 50 ft off the deck (not to mention all the other classes of racing aircraft). Of course we aren’t only supporting Reno style racing, but we are expanding on Red Bull racing, sailplane racing, and cross country racing. All with several of your best friends or complete strangers.
So how did we end up deciding to do air racing? Well, real-life interest in air racing has been active and popular since shortly after the first aircraft took to the air in the early 1900’s. People will race anything and aircraft are an obvious choice. Some of the greatest advancements have been from the technology advances developed as part of air racing and the competition to be the fastest. In the 1930’s several custom racers were faster than their military counterparts and were built at a fraction of the cost. Although air racing events are limited today, hundreds of thousands of aviation fans go to Reno every year, and at some Red Bull events there are 2 million fans watching on the side-lines and even more on television. These are all good reasons, but the real reason is because we feel we need to get some competitive action into FSX. We really want to do combat again, but we didn’t feel we could do that justice (i.e. do it right) in the timeline we have for this expansion pack. Racing is a great way to get competition into the product while building on the platform that can eventually bring combat back (and much of what we are doing will help support combat later). We’ve been building and testing race courses and even though I’m biased, it’s a blast (even when Brandon kicks my butt almost every race). The man’s a racing machine!
Obviously, the FSX expansion pack does have multi-player racing, and that is a big part of the package, but it’s only a large third of the deal. For those of you that don’t think you want to race (maybe the same people that didn’t think they would like missions…) we have more missions to offer with new experiences and things to do. Of course along with those missions, you get new scenery enhancements, new functionality, and new aircraft. Plus the mission system gets some upgrades along the way too.
The aircraft are not all racing aircraft as the P-51 is really the only “pure” racer we are adding, but what I am excited about is that the new aircraft are really bringing some significant new functionality to the sim. This new functionality will likely be something that third party developers will want to build on in the future, so don’t be surprised when a new aircraft is offered and uses something from the FSX expansion pack. Until the new aircraft line-up is announced (we’re still working on some logistics getting these done) I can’t go into the details about what these new systems are. Besides, you know how averse we are to making promises when we know the feature list can always be pruned to hit a date.
And then there is the new scenery. For our racing venues, we are developing scenery that is much more advanced and beautiful than we have ever attempted before. I can hear the moaning now about how more detail will just bring FSX to its knees even further, but we have been testing these new techniques and they seem relatively frame friendly while looking absolutely great. And with the great new SP1 perf gains, I think we will be just fine. With the new aerial imagery, new objects and such, it really brings the areas alive.
For how much development time we have been allotted, we are doing a ton of work and it really shows. So for the same cost of a typical third party add-on you get a lot of stuff. Even if you don’t care about any of the new content, the new systems and general enhancements should be worth the cost.
To say I’m excited about this chapter in FS history is an understatement of giant proportions!
We don’t have screenshot worthy material yet as we need to get our aerial imagery past the placeholder stage and get our new aircraft completed, but I hope to have something to show in a while.
I’ve still got a few mission scripts to write, so maybe I better get back to work…