Friday, 15 August 2014

FSX resurrected, or another false dawn?

So I'm a little behind the news with FSX. Apparently Dove Tail Games (DTG) have licensed it and have plans to put it on Steam and they've also stated something about a release next year, without being too specific.

I would really like to be enthusiastic and hopeful, but I can't help but wish they'd left it alone, for two reasons.

Before I go into those reasons, I should give an overview of where FSX is now. It's an old engine, which has evolved through the iterations of the series. Because of that it has a lot of legacy code, particularly code to support the myriad of addons that have been released for it by the huge third party addon creators. Also it's very much a CPU bound program. It doesn't take advantage of modern graphics cards. To get FSX to run well you need to throw a fast CPU at it. The gains you'd expect just aren't there with the better GPU's.

So, problem number one is, are DTG going to undertake the rewriting of the code to fix the bugs - and the developers were forced to sign off on the service packs by Microsoft before all bugs were dealt with - and are they going to deal with the GPU issue?

The answer to that is a resounding no. Why do I say that? Well, because DTG have history, or "form" as we say here. They are best known for the Train Simulator series, which they bought from Juju, who developed it under the name Railworks. TS is well known, infamous, for the number of bugs that DTG have been notified of since they took over the title six years ago. Those bugs haven't been fixed. That's suggestive to me of a company that just doesn't have the in-house expertise to get to grips with the Railworks engine.

So they have taken an existing game engine and released DLC for it. That might be harsh and simplistic, but that's essentially what's happened.

And that brings me on to point two. DLC. We're all familiar with it, and opinions range from anger to acceptance. Personally I think we just have to accept that to develop and maintain a product we need to support the title through DLC. Content, good content, is expensive and time consuming to produce.

But DTG take the concept of DLC and milk it until its legs fall off. Take a look at TS. The base game is a full price title, but it feels like a demo. There is so little content included. To get a proper game you have to buy DLC on day one, which is why if you do buy it you should buy the base game plus DLC bundle option. It's more expensive but you get stuff to do. And then each DLC pack, which consists generally of an engine and a few stops, often costs as much as the base game itself.

I could go into more detail, but that should probably wait for the TS review I've been planning.

So, being realistic, what to expect from FS now DTG has the license? Well, it will be on Steam, which I'm personally pretty neutral about, as it's not going to add all that much. Possibly adding multiplayer back into the title, but you have FSX and VATSIM for that now, anyway. But in the future I'd expect to see a new FS game, quite possibly with a different title, with DTG having a tight grip on what's released and by who, making sure they're pocketing a sizeable percentage.

Which in itself is no bad thing. Microsoft could and should have done a much better job with Flight. The mistake they made was to not open Marketplace to third parties. As a result addons were slow to develop, and things like ATC were just never added. If MS had allowed third party access while taking a percentage through Marketplace Flight would have developed faster and had a wider base. You can argue that flight sims are a small market, but it's a market with high disposable income. MS went off chasing children eager to fly pizzas from A to B, when the graphics low down were never going to be competitive in that market, and they neglected the market that didn't care about that shortcoming, and were willing to spend big.

No wonder DTG stepped in.

But really FS should have been left to die for one simple reason. It's taking up space in the market that really needs to be filled by another flight sim. A genuine, in depth civilian plane sim, to rival X-Plane. Now FS will limp on, hogging that space.

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