What is Realism Anyway?

There are probably more forum posts and e-mails regarding realism than any other subject for FS, so I thought it might be useful to post some of my thoughts on what realism is all about. And btw, this is all just my opinion, and doesn't necessarily represent anyone else on the FS team.

We have a lot of users that are experienced real-world pilots, and truly do know how a real aircraft flies and reacts in various conditions. A few of those pilots actually have first hand experience with the specific aircraft we include in the product (although most real pilots have at least some time in a Cessna 172). As the aircraft becomes more complex, has greater performance, and costs more in real life, the pool of users that have real time in that make dwindles to a tiny percentage of our overall userbase. Not many have time in a 747 or a Lear Jet, much less the historic aircraft from FS 2004.

So what's my point? The point is that I'm guessing most of the noise on the forums about how wrong flight models are have very little knowledge about what is actually right and are basing their opinions on other user's opinions. When it's based on the opinions of those that actually know, it's probably pretty sound, but as information is passed from one to another, some distortions are inevitable.

I think the bottom line is that everyone's idea of what is realistic is likely a little different. Even for real pilots with stick time in aircraft we provide in the box, there are differences of opinion on how an aircraft should behave in specific conditions. We have arguments on a regular basis on our own team between people that have both flown the real aircraft but had different experiences.

With this in mind I think of realism a little differently. I think there are three components which define realism.

Fidelity is the degree to which any given system or behavior is simulated. You can model something with very high fidelity and cover every behavior or with low fidelity but get the most important behaviors.

Accuracy is kind of obvious, but is how close the behavior of a system is to the real-world. Exact accuracy should mirror what the manual for the aircraft flight behavior or a system says should happen in a given scenario.

Authenticity is a different kind of beast. This is where the emotion comes in and wraps up the experience as truly believable and appropriate. This could be as simple as exhaust soot on the airframe or the sounds the aircraft makes.

All three of these elements combine to make for a realistic experience. We could model a hydraulic system with great fidelity, but not have accurate pressures or accurate behavior in a failure situation. And if an aircraft has super accurate rivet patterns and panel lines, who cares if it's presented with a lame livery/skin. All of it has to be balanced to create an overall experience that works well for all users.

As I've said in the past, we ship such a large number of aircraft in the core product that we have to pick and choose how much fidelity we apply to each system and each aircraft. How accurate the behavior is when we ship is mostly a factor of available time. If we shipped fewer aircraft we would undoubtedly have greater fidelity and probably higher accuracy as well. I think we do a great job with authenticity, but time is always a factor for that as well.

What we do with our aircraft is ensure that the systems are in place to provide a unique and characteristic experience which is appropriate for that aircraft. If it's a DC-3, we want the user to feel like they are in a DC-3 and not just a glorified 172. I think you experienced some of this with historic aircraft in FS 2004.

Although I can't give you specifics on what new systems we have developed, how far we have gone with fidelity or accuracy, or any real meat at all. I can say that we have made huge leaps forward from what you have come to expect from FS releases in the past, especially considering the number of aicraft we are producing right now. That said, our poor aircraft team is being stretched beyond their limits and stress levels are very high right now as we work toward our ship date.

Even as far back as a year ago, we were negotiating features and cutting functionality we didn't have time to tackle this time. Shipping a product is an ongoing balancing act and requires managing a set of compromises. That's a reality for any software product. The plus side is that what does get developed is developed very well and in a way that is extensible so all of your third party developers can create the awesome 99% fidelity aircraft they are known for.

Those features that end up on the cutting room floor are swept up and dusted off for the next version...

Comments (5)

  1. I would tend to agree with just about everything you’ve said, but maybe a little perspective might help.

    You guys are on the front lines right now and the most visible so you’re going to get all the generalized comments about anything and everything now that you’re in the public eye.  Right or wrong that’s just the nature of the beast.

    Now, as far as the realism post.  I understand the prediciment or situation you all were or maybe still in with FS9 so if I’m criptic here you know why.

    I’ll just make this suggestion:  Just make everything you can ‘open’ as you’re doing now with most other areas, but specifically when it comes to the "airfile" or FDE or whatever we’re calling it these days.

    As a developer I can assure you that we have the same access to the same sources as you did for FS9 (some aircraft specific) and do have for FSX "in general".  I can talk you offline about this more if you like.

    Just don’t let your marketing department back you into a corner when it comes to certain areas of the sim.  I understand their might be limitations with particular "partners adn vendors", but don’t let it get in the way of moving the sim forward to the next level.

    I’m sure you all have thought of this to some extent because I’ve seen the pics so far.  That’s a good thing.

    Just keep up the good work and try not to let it get you down.  When in doubt about feature sets, if you can’t integrate them, make it possible for us to develope them.

    Thanks. 🙂

  2. Good post Paul, thanks for that !


  3. davidvoogd says:

    Well said. Something else that many sim pilots don’t know is that even among aircraft of the same type and model, they still tend to fly somewhat differently. Every 172 at the flying club has its own little perks.

    Also the controller you use makes a big difference to. It feels far more realistic flying a 172 with my CH yoke than it did using a joystick before.

  4. JayCee says:

    "realism" is of course one of the eternal hot topics among hardcore simmers, esp. those with real world flying experience.

    at one time I was so obsessed with flight dynamics realism it took all the fun out of FS. FS should at least give us the illusion of flying aircraft types we couldn’t possible dream of flying in real life, of being that handsome 737 captain capable of making perfect landings even in the worst weather conditions imaginable and with a couple of hijackers  behind him, and yes, even being a starfighter pilot chasing those elusive UFOs in the fifties – can’t understand why the ACES team refuses to include them 😉

    I dread the day FS becomes so realistic we wouldn’t have to use our imagination anymore. That would be like real flying – mostly boring or otherwise terrifyingly dangerous 🙂

  5. delmarva says:

    I would like to comment on this based on 21 years of 720 type series flying and simulator experience. My simulator experience spans rudimentary cardboard Cockpit Procedural Trainers to Full Motion Simulators. What lies in between are visual simulators like the Microsoft FS product. What MSFS lacks are the motion cues to the inner ear and G-force to the body. Although both of these are important for a truer simulator experience I think that most pilots and simulator instructors would say that accurate visual cues are more important in the world of simulation. Virtual cockpits and add-on products like IR Track have greatly enhanced the MSFS experience and hopefully signal a shift away from the 2-D cockpit. I would venture to say that most users of MSFS have never or will never have the opportunity to "fly" a full-mock up simulator. Having said all this I truly believe that MSFS provides one of the best flight experiences able to the general public. There are no masters of aviation, we are all students at different levels. I for one am looking forward to the FSX experience.


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