Microsoft is gearing up for the debut of its new “Microsoft Flight” franchise for Windows PCs, announcing a Feb. 29 launch and providing new details on the free experience and premium content that will be available at launch.

Leading up to the official release, the company has had a tough time winning over fans of Microsoft Flight Simulator — the pilots and experienced Flight Simmers who contend that Microsoft has taken a step back by discontinuing development of the classic Flight Sim franchise and trying to broaden the audience by making Microsoft Flight more approachable and easier to use by default.

(To get a sense for the mood, see the comment thread on my earlier post about my hands-on with Microsoft Flight at CES.)

Microsoft’s Joshua Howard, executive producer for Microsoft Flight, says he hopes those folks will take a closer look.

“Actually the simulation in here is a more robust simulation than we’ve ever seen,” he said in an interview this week at the Microsoft Flight studio, giving a demonstration of the near-final product.

“The fact that we’ve layered on top of it a variety of ways to make it also easy isn’t a contradiction. This is one of the areas where a lot of the simmers have a hard time. They see things we’ve put on top of the game to make it easier, and they feel like that makes it less of a simulation.”

From the behind-the-scenes video, inside the Microsoft Flight studios

He added, “We feel like this really is a step up from all of our previous efforts.”

Even though Microsoft Flight defaults to friendlier controls for non-pilots, the company says the key is people who want a more hard-core simulation change the settings to manual controls — flying from the cockpit using instruments in some of the planes, for example.

In the online multiplayer mode, supporting up to 16 people in a session, users who are tuned to the same radio frequency in Microsoft Flight will be able to communicate with one another.

But it as much of a simulation as Flight Simulator X?

“Even more so,” Howard said. “It’s a more robust flight model under the covers than FSX ever had. The airplanes in this are more finely tuned than any of the airplanes in our products have been. We’ve had the luxury of time and a better engine.”

One of the reasons, he acknowledged, is that there’s no backward-compatibility to Flight Simulator.

“The Flight Sim franchise, for years, was trying to support this external range of products that were being developed,” Howard said. While that’s an exciting ecosystem and continues to be for FSX, the weight of carrying all that forward really limited our opportunities, performance-wise, accessibility-wise, sophistication-wise. By cutting with the past, building a better product, a better simulation, we were able to do things that we couldn’t have done in FSX.”

Microsoft says it will offering a basic version of Flight for free, giving access to the Big Island of Hawaii, with more features and content available to people who log in with a Windows Live ID. Microsoft will also be selling an expansion pack for $20 (1600 Microsoft Points) that includes the rest of the Hawaiian Islands and additional challenges and missions, plus another plane.

Additional planes will cost $8 (640 points) for a North American P-51 Mustang and $15 (1200 points) for a Maule M-7-260C.

Some members of the former Aces team that developed Flight Simulator are working on Microsoft Flight, but new people have come aboard, as well, reflecting the shift to a new model of development and distribution.

“We are really in the midst of transitioning the organization from being an old-school development studio to really being an online business,” Howard said. “I think that’s actually pretty exciting and fundamental, and we’re certainly not the only team at Microsoft going through this change. We are running a service now, not just shipping a piece of software.”

He continued, “It means I have to build a team and an organization that can always do three, four, five things at once, because I’m supporting the current release, I’ve got somebody working on the next release, I’ve got somebody working on the release after the next release and I’ve probably got somebody planning the next big expansion” after that.

Would an Xbox Live version be possible?

“I think Flight as a franchise has legs to go lots of places on lots of cool tech,” said Howard. “Today we’re a PC title. That’s the right place for us. But I don’t rule anything out.”

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  • Richard Hay

    Excellent follow up Todd – really does show the efforts to bring this franchise forward and make it enjoyable across all levels of experience.

  • Guest

    Congratulations to Microsoft on this milestone release! Going to an agile development model is one way to win. Embracing freemium is another.

  • Guest

    They’re screwed.  Nobody’s going to buy this.  FSX gave you the world, this gives you Hawaii?  Come on.

  • Guest

    Apple works on iPad. MS works on this ridiculous effort.

  • Ricardo_NY1

    Release an SDK for the freeware community to create content as well as the payware third party developers. Otherwise, no one is going to move from FSX to Flight……people like me haven’t even moved over from FS9 as of yet. No one is in a rush to buy the rest of Hawaii or a mustang, and unless Joshua;s team is going to cover the work that is out there from OrbX, PMDG, Level-D Carenado, Flytampa, Imaginesim, FSDreamteam, CaptainSim, REX, Dreamfleet, or are willing to open up the Boeing and Airbus manuals like Project Magenta has, your online sales do not stand a chance with the community. Your target audience or whatever audience the Flight team thinks they are going to attract is going to betray your bank accounts much in the same way this community has been betrayed by holding hostage the ability to create add-ons via an SDK. Please give us an SDK so that this community can continue to create add-ons inspired by more than just money.

    • mahler

      Microsoft you are going the wrong way.
      Where is the rest of the world.
      Where are the comercial airlines

      I do not think any will bay this Kinder Game

  • chuckbones

    Never before has a programming team taken a diamond (FSX and Flight Simulator) and turned it into a sparkling turd called Flight.  

  • chuckbones

    Never before has a programming team taken a diamond (FSX and Flight Simulator) and turned it into a sparkling turd called Flight.  

  • Barneypoo

    No one will buy this. 

  • Corinoco

    “No one will buy this.”

    Well, since it is being released for FREE, no-one would!

    • Rbmann25

       “Well”… it wont be free unless you just want to fly around one island. So he is right, no one will buy this… this being the Hawaiian Expansion Pack. I’m so disappointing in this Flight. I was really hoping it was going to be an upgrade to Microsoft Flight Sim X where you can fly almost anywhere. Sad…

  • Corinoco

    A very interesting read, and I’m excited by the new development paradigm. It is just the revitalisation Flight Simulation needs.

    • No-one

      does this guy work for MS or what?

  • Simmerhead

    29 years of development, then this… What a dissapointing start of the year this has been. FLIGHT? Windows 8? Office? Forget it. I’ve gone to Apple now.

  • Clinton H Davis

    “This is one of the areas where a lot of the simmers have a hard time. They see things we’ve put on top of the game to make it easier, and they feel like that makes it less of a simulation.””

    Actually, one of the biggest complaints is that they plan on nickle and diming people to death, making it cost several times (multiple times) more to ge the whole world and as many aircraft as flight simulator x had, even in the standard version.

    Of course, couple that with the fact that it looks like crap and some planes don’t even have cockpits, and the very non-simulator items they added (aero-caching, give me a break), and the fact we have not seen anything like ATC, realistic weather, proper nav aids, weather or not it has a flight planner at all etc etc etc etc, and yeah, we are having some problems believing anything that guy is spewing.

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