In the January Developer Stream, Head of Microsoft Flight Simulator Jorg Neumann, CEO of Asobo Sebastian Wloch, and Executive Producer at Asobo Martial Bossard ran through upcoming updates to the sim, including Sim Update 15.
Jorg kicked off the stream with the news that the sim has seen record activity recently: “Flight simming was soaring over the last two months. We saw the highest monthly active user numbers in over a year, and we saw the second highest returning user number ever. In the 42 months since we’ve launched, the only time that was higher was actually after we launched Top Gun. I’m really delighted and the team is energised by this.”
Looking ahead to 2024, Jorg added that the roadmap for the year is “pretty full”, with further world and city updates in the pipeline, sim updates, local legends and famous fliers, the Dune expansion, and of course, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024.
Sim Update 15
The next Sim Update for Microsoft Flight Simulator is expected to release on March 12th 2024, with a wide range of improvements and new features included: despite the ongoing development of MSFS 2024, the stream covered updates on air traffic, ATC, ground control, performance, stability, and snow coverage.
A new system governing how traffic in the sim interacts with ATC and airports is coming in SU15, and with it, fixes to many of the bugs and oddities that currently impact traffic. ATC itself will also see a range of improvements, especially with regard to the voices used; the new iteration of ATC is currently in testing and, according to Seb, “so far it is looking good”, fixing “several” issues.
Seb said SU15 will bring “a few quite big performance improvements”, including a rework of the sim’s memory system. As part of MSFS 2024’s development, the team identified that the sim’s “memory allocation strategy was causing issues in some situations…[it was] way less efficient than we thought”, Seb said, adding that under the system the “inefficiency increases exponentially.”
The “whole issue was fixed in the development of 2024”, and is now being brought back into MSFS 2020 – this is in line with the team’s previous comments that some improvements for the next sim would also be implemented in 2020. Seb said that while users already experiencing excellent performance likely wouldn’t notice a different, the memory fix would make a significant difference for those who see regular stutters or have low RAM.
In addition to memory improvements, Dominik Gallus, one of Working Title’s co-founders and lead-developers, revealed a range of performance improvements for glass cockpits. The sim’s CoherentGT UI platform was optimised shortly after the sim launched, changing the refresh rate of screens and consequently improving performance. Following the updates to the 787-10 and 747-8i in AAU02 though, performance degradation returned: Dominik highlighted the 747-8i’s 17 separate instruments as a particular problem.
SU15 will bring changes to how instruments are processed, with updates distributed along idle frames, resulting in fewer frame spikes. Dominik also showcased the result of these changes, with a test system showing an impressive 10-20fps improvement.
The team has also continued work on stability, with Seb describing a recent “big chase on crashes and stability in general”; SU15 brings further fixes. Jorg added that the team continues to track crash data, adding that the sim is experiencing “the best stability we’ve ever had.”
SU15 also brings changes to the sim’s snow coverage following user feedback, in particular relating to bodies of water being frozen that shouldn’t be. The sim’s meteorological data provider, meteoblue, tracks local levels of snow cover, and the sim previously froze bodies of water if there was more than 27cm of snow cover in the vicinity.
This is an inaccurate way to determine whether a body of water is frozen, so for SU15, the level of snow cover required for frozen water to be generated will be increased, and in the medium term, Jorg said the team would be speaking to meteoblue about accessing more granular data on icing levels on bodies of water. He also showed before and after screenshots of this change in the sim, with two lakes that shouldn’t be frozen now being displayed correctly.
SU15 will bring multi-rotor support to the sim, enhancing the existing engine for developers working on aircraft such as the Chinook.
Seb showcased the multi-rotor support in action, explaining the complex process behind simulating the physics.
Finally, Jorg explained that additional support for Xbox Cloud Gaming would be released as part of SU15; 250-500k people use MSFS via the system every month, streaming the simulation to a range of endpoints, including phone and tablets. While users currently need to use an Xbox controller, SU15 will bring support for touch screens and on-device gyroscope.
Working Title G3X Touch
Working Title’s Dominik Gallus also revealed that the WT team has redone the G3X using their avionics framework, faithfully reproducing the styling, layout, and functionality of the unit. It features a fully modelled EIS and engine page, with support for a range of different aircraft-specific layouts.
The new unit will be supported in the default VL-3, XCub, and NXCub on release, with third-party developers welcome to adopt it too. Learn more details about the upcoming changes here.
Work on the iniBuilds A320neo that was originally released with Sim Update 14 Beta and then later removed as a result of stability issues remains ongoing. Jorg expressed strong support for the iniBuilds team, but added: “I’m not 100% sure it’s going to make SU15…it’s tight…[it] won’t be in the first beta for sure.”
Several questions were asked about the use of artificial intelligence within the sim, including on Bing’s satellite imagery. Jorg shared that the Bing team was exploring using machine learning to remove shadows that are “baked in” to existing satellite imagery captures.
Jorg and the team had several other updates throughout the stream. Of note: asked during the Q&A whether a feature would be added to allow users to “favourite” particular aircraft in the selection menu, he said this was in progress but didn’t provide an ETA.
The Dune expansion is expected soon: while Jorg didn’t provide an exact date, the movie will premiere on March 1st 2024.
Work continues to improve how packages are downloaded inside the sim: Martial said it was a “situation we don’t like, but we are working on that.” Following users experiencing poor download speeds when installing SU13 and SU14, the MSFS team released additional information on how the process is currently managed.
World Update XVI: Caribbean released on January 30, with some users reporting that water masks were not displaying in certain areas following installation. Jorg said the team was aware of the issue, adding that it was “server side” and would likely be resolved in “a few more days.”
Finally, a word about MSFS 2024. There were no major announcements regarding the upcoming release of this major new installment in the series, but Jorg did say that the plan is to release it “later this year.”