Fly! Preview

Denny Atkin takes to the skies to see if Terminal Reality's Fly! has what it takes to challenge Microsoft Flight Simulator.

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Just how much of the success of Microsoft Flight Simulator is a fluke? That's what Terminal Reality Inc. is poised to determine when it releases its civilian flight sim, Fly!, this December. Many believe that Flight Simulator's continued success (it's consistently in the top ten more than 15 years after the release of the original Apple II version) indicates a huge demand for civilian flight simulators. Cynics, on the other hand, would point out this scenario: Newbie computer buyer walks into the local software emporium wanting to try a flight simulator. "Hmm," he thinks, perusing the shelves, "this one's called Flight Simulator, and it's from Microsoft. I know that company." Ch-ching - sale goes to Microsoft by default.

Well, TRI's Fly! promises such technical superiority over MS Flight Simulator in almost every area that it will put Flight Sim's success to the test. Because if technical merit really does influence a product's success in this market, Fly! should steal a big chunk of Flight Simulator's audience.

What will Fly! have that Flight Sim doesn't? How about detailed terrain, full-fledged air traffic control, a flight planner, state-of-the-art engine with 3D support, and a more authentic instrument cluster. TRI is going full-bore to load impressive features into Fly!, because MS Flight Simulator, with its massive support for third-party planes, scenery, and add-ons, is going to be a tough king to knock off the hill.

It's a Beautiful World We Live InThe most dramatic aspect of Fly! is its graphic environment. Using the next-generation iteration of the Photex2 engine used in Monster Truck Madness 2, Fly! immediately impresses with its detailed terrain and use of true color. The simulation uses Department of Defense world elevation model maps to provide accurate terrain throughout the entire world, ranging in detail from 1000-foot elevation in primary terrain areas to 1km in other areas. This means, for instance, that while the initial release of the program may not model cities in Europe, if you fly into Switzerland, the Alps will be just where you expect them.

In addition, Fly! will have five primary scenery areas modeled in great detail, using satellite imagery. These will include San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Los Angeles, and one other city. Here you'll find detail approaching that in Looking Glass's Flight Unlimited II. In order to include more cities than that product, some sparse areas aremodeled using fairly low-resolution imagery of 100m/pixel. However, areas within 100 miles of an airport will be modeled 25m/pixel, with very-high-res 10m or 5m data used in close proximity to the runway. TRI is collecting extensive databases of the world's airports, so you'll find virtually all nonprivate airports in the US and thousands of others around the world in this sim. Your hometown might not be there, but its airport will be. The scenery formats are being made available to developers, so look for many other areas to become available in add-on packages, shareware, and freeware. A third-party European scenery CD is already planned for launch.

Look for a detailed weather environment as well. You'll see cloud layers, variable winds, rain, snow, and ice. In addition, a real-time weather mode will download current weather info for the continental US from the Internet and let you fly in current weather conditions. The detail of sky modeling extends all the way to the 400 brightest stars, which will be in the proper positions to allow you to actually navigate by dead reckoning should your instruments fail. Phases and position of the moon are accurately modeled as well.

Plane ImpressiveFly! will feature five flyable aircraft, four of them being the Cessna 172, Piper Navajo, Seneca V, and the jet-powered Cessna Citation V. The fifth plane has not yet been determined, but it will be a twin turboprop. Each plane will feature an authentic set of instruments - not only the main panel, but all appropriate side, floor, and visor panels as well. The concern for accuracy is such that the C172 panel is being redone to reflect the new radios being installed in new Cessna aircraft.

Alert readers will notice the lack of heavy iron here. TRI didn't want to include a large jet in the first iteration of Fly! and be forced to include a stripped-down instrument panel like Microsoft Flight Simulator's 737, which models only a fraction of the real plane's systems. Because of the research involved, a big jet probably won't be available until the next iteration of the program.

The instrument panels include every dial and switch found on the real aircraft. In addition to traditional navigation instruments, you'll find appropriate Global Positioning Systems (GPS) included for each aircraft. The built-in flight planner will also print navigation and approach information for use in kneeboard charts.

The radios on the panel aren't just for show. The game will feature full air traffic control, and you'll be able to contact both ground controllers and other aircraft. In multiplayer mode, the game will use "live mike" technology (similar to the technology TRI included in Monster Truck Madness 2) to allow you to communicate with other players via voice. Up to eight pilots will be able to fly on multiplayer flights.

As with the terrain, TRI will make the aircraft and instrument-panel formats available, so look for numerous third-party planes to appear after the program's release. With an interface wide open to outside developers, dramatically better graphics, detailed aircraft systems, a more complete runway database, and even a Macintosh version, Fly! is poised to shake up Flight Simulator's smooth ride.

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