Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020's AI maps and real time weather is worth knowng about, even for none flight sim fans

May 13th

There's no release date yet, but the currently-in-alpha Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 has a laundry list of features that push the boundaries of digital mapping and AI.

Beyond its gorgeous graphics, the game has:

  • Real time map data sourced from Bing Maps
  • Real time weather (and ocean wave physics based on in-game gravity, allegedly)
  • Multiplayer, which allows all players to fly inside a single game world.

Let's start with the world: it's sourced from Bing Maps and generated with incredibly realistic graphics. The data itself is over 2 petabytes, and contains 2 million cities and 45,000 airports. The world will procedurally generate underneath the player as they fly, allowing players in theory to go wherever they want, limited to the capability of the plane they're flying. To generate realistic graphics to render buildings, trees and natural phenomena, Microsoft is using Azure AI to recognize elements in Bing map imagery and then build them in the game. Developers say this allows the game to show 1.5 trillion trees in the world.

Multiplayer is especially interesting. Microsoft is building something it calls a "One shared world," that sounds like it will form the basis of the game. Instead of starting new game environments, players can join the global multiplayer world and fly with people everywhere, all reacting to the same weathe environments and timetable.

Furthermore, it sounds like Microsoft will render real world flights inside the game as well, and augment their routes with AI.

"We have most, if not all of the airplanes that are flying in the world at one moment, which are in the simulator," said Asobo CEO Sebastian Wloch. "Whenever a signal is lost, the AI will take over and fly the plane until the data comes back online."

The game also has other, less strict modes that enable multiplayer and allow users to set their own weather and casually fly where they want.

Elsewhere in the game, weather and the atmosphere itself looks like they've been convincingly recreated.

The planes themselves have been subdivided into many small surfaces, each of which react to aerodynamics and weather. Air mass and air flow is also simulated, which will allow the game to generate clouds that scientists expect would naturally form inside a given mix of air flow, mass, temperature and weather. This will allow players to enter clouds and interact with them in various ways. It will also require players to avoid sections of the sky when conditions are dangerous.