Following the recent announcement of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024, Jorg Neumann, Head of Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Sebastian Wloch, CEO of Asobo, have revealed further details about the upcoming sim during a keynote speech at FlightSimExpo in Houston, Texas.
MSFS 2024’s initial announcement as part of the Xbox Games Showcase was met with some concern among the flight sim community, with questions raised around the commitment to MSFS 2020 moving forward, and compatibility of addons with the new sim. The MSFS team subsequently confirmed that it would “continue to support Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020) post the Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024 launch”, adding that: “With very few exceptions, virtually all add-ons that work in Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020) today will function in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024. Add-ons that were purchased from the in-simulator Marketplace will not need to be re-purchased in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024.”
Speaking at FlightSimExpo, Neumann said MSFS 2024 was “the biggest undertaking ever in flight simulation”, revealing a host of improvements from the 2020 simulator, including pilot activities, a new physics and aerodynamics engine, updates to default aircraft systems and avionics, an overhaul of default terrain and the “tin”, and revamped air, maritime, and vehicle traffic.
Neumann began by explaining the new activities that will be part of MSFS 2024. Referring to today’s news that MSFS 2020 has been played by over 12 million users, Neumann said: “What’s interesting about the 12 million people is that we think about three million are core simmers, and the rest of them are more casual people. The one common thing of all of these people was that people wanted more stuff to do….but we are not a game, so we’re not making gamey type missions. What we’re doing is accurate aviation activities working with lots of organisations across the planet that do these things.”
The initial trailer showcased activities including firefighting, search and rescue, cargo transport, air ambulance, crop spraying, executive charter, VIP transport, and hot air balloon trips. Neumann added that the activities available would also feature “a lot of airliners…[that are] not announced yet”. He also said that he anticipated the community would be “happily surprised” by these new aircraft.
Moving on to the underlying simulator, Wloch said a core focus was on a “thin client”: reducing the base size of the simulator installation by ensuring users would only have to download what was needed, with increased amounts of the architecture instead streamed from the cloud. He said this would decrease loading times, as well as keeping the minimum system requirements low.
Crucially though, he added: “We’re doing all this by staying backwards compatible. We’re keeping the same old community folder…addons are still going to work, it’s just that we’re moving more of our stuff up in the cloud.”
Physics and aerodynamics
Wloch then moved on to the new physics and aerodynamics engine for MSFS 2024, outlining how the existing engine only provides minimal levels of control and “tuning” to developers. The new engine by contrast will give developers “extreme control”, and, having been rewritten, will offer a “massive performance improvement”.
Again, Wloch sought to reassure developers of existing aircraft, saying: “Everything is easy, it’s backwards compatible, aircraft still work, and it’s also easy to upgrade. If you just want to pick one little improvement you don’t have to redo [the addon]. You can pick and add new things, and then slowly you can take out old things, or you can redo it entirely if you want.”
He then showcased the default Cessna 172, comparing it in the 2020 physics engine to the 2024 engine, where a far greater range of accuracy can be seen on the fuselage.
Wloch also touched on a range of improvements to default aircraft, including a failure and wear and tear system, a payload and passenger system, a new avionics package, and a cockpit tablet included “by default”.
Neumann then showcased MSFS 2024’s new terrain and “tin”: “This is just random tin somewhere in southern France. We do machine learning in Azure, detecting all kinds of surfaces – in this case bushes and trees. Once we know that we flatten those bushes and trees because they are ugly, and we replace them with our own so then you have 3D. Then we add rocks…then we add surface material detail maps, and then later we’re gonna add tessellation.”
The result of this work, seen in the screenshots below, is a vastly more authentic representation of rural environments.
Static, dynamic, and living world
Finally, Neumann explained some of the upcoming improvements to the so-called static, dynamic, and living world in MSFS 2024. Starting with static, the sim will feature improved gound details, 3D tessellated ground materials, enhanced tree diversity, with trees now appearing in the regions they should, and improved cliffs.
The dynamic world meanwhile will feature, for the first time, “full seasons”, and the team is looking into whether elements of this can be “backported” into MSFS 2020. Aurora borealis, tornados, and enhanced storms will also be added.
Finally in the living world, MSFS 2024 will include animal herds and animal migration, worldwide live ship traffic, including ships that can be landed on, live air traffic, and improved vehicle traffic.
Regarding the live air traffic, Neumann said: “We’re trying to get as many liveries as we can. We’re making progress, so you will see a much more realistic air traffic than what we have right now.”
After Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024’s somewhat ambiguous initial announcement, this keynote speech provided some welcome clarity to the flight sim community, and much to look forward to. Both Neumann and Wloch sought to reassure developers that while a significant amount of work is going on behind the scenes to dramatically improve the simulator, existing addons will remain compatible and won’t need reworking; the new physics and aerodynamics engine though will allow greater flexibility for developers should they choose to utilise it.
Improvements to the terrain, weather, and aircraft traffic are also likely to be hugely welcome, especially the given the shortcomings in the existing AI traffic within MSFS 2020. Finally, modelling different seasons, which has long been a request from the community, will add a new layer of authenticity to the environment.
Reflecting therefore, Neumann and Wloch struck an excellent balance between allaying the concerns of developers and users alike, and previewing some of the improvements that can be expected in the next iteration of Microsoft Flight Simulator.