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Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002

It seems just like we are just about used to one program and some add-ons and have downloaded some wonderful plane and scenery files, when Microsoft forces us to part with some more money.

INTRODUCTION

Well FS2002 is finally on the market. Early critics did not think they could exceed FS2000 and still allow purchasers to run computers which were not built with the absolute fastest CPUs available. Yet FS2002 has achieved precisely that and added an artificial intelligence traffic generator, plus an interactive Air Traffic control, so you can have flight following etc. and an autogen scenery generator which has definitely put FS2002 a long way ahead of Fs2000. It seems just like we are just about used to one program and some add-ons and have downloaded some wonderful plane and scenery files, when Microsoft forces us to part with some more money. Yet for somewhere around $75 the professional version of FS2002 is well worth it. There is little point in getting the cheaper version because as soon as you start downloading some interesting stuff, you will find it demands the professional version.

» Cessna 182 Approaching Toronto

The FS2002 CDs load easily but this time there is no manual to speak of. You have to go to help files from within the program. Cheap feature, but one becoming more common as the software developers realize that they just have to burn CDs after the initial program is written.

What will it run on? Well Microsoft say 300MHz and 8Mb 3D video with 64 Mbs of RAM etc etc. Well it does actually run OK on the slower machines but as usual it likes an 800+ MHz way better and now that the GeForce 2 MX cards are so cheap, the 32 Mb cards run it way better than the older AGP cards. RAM is so cheap, an upgrade to 128 Mbs minimum is recommended, the computer just runs better anyway. I installed 512 on my newly assembled Athlon 1.4 model, networked in to the last overclocked Celeron (1147 MHz) model. Frame rates may still be 15-25 on most machines and it will run just fine at that. I set mine to a maximum of 32 FPS for drawing textures more easily.

AIRCRAFT

The main panels have not changed much from FS2000 and there are a couple of new planes (such as a good 747 and a couple of nice Cessna Caravan models, one on amphibs). FS2002 still lags behind some of the technical nuances of X-Plane, for instance on X-wind drift on floats. The planes fly more realistically but the 172 is almost too easy to fly. On the more complex 182RG I noticed immediately that Microsoft had not corrected a blaring error on the pitch control. When you coarsen the pitch the sound goes to a higher frequency not lower. All the allied instruments reflect the pitch change however. Hard to believe they did not get that right, and I even wrote them about it in FS2000! However the sound files are not that hard to play around with. The inside views are as good as ever. The revolution in FS2002 is the new virtual cockpit. This is quite amazing. Using a hat switch on a joystick you can look around a fully working, moving parts cockpit and plane. This has already spawned a $3000 virtual reality unit, worn on the head. I also noticed that when the autopilot is set to altitude hold alone, that it locks the DG and you cannot turn, there is now a patch to fix that. www.flightsim.com as usual, has all the answers. You can also fly in various modes, pressing W. Panel mode, lets you see the scenery, or the runway and makes it easier to manage, especially in aerobatics.

» View from pilot's window, Toronto

» View of the Baron, Virtual Reality Cockpit

» Showing Panel Mode

SCENERY

The new mesh scenery and the autogen, together, provide far greater coverage of buildings and terrain than ever before. Flying around most big cities is quite breathtaking now. Try Manhattan (minus the Twin Towers, as a last minute panic alteration, according to my information from a friend who works there), or fly along the Thames in London and you will get the picture. I found Vancouver lacking in some details from my FS2000 edition, but I have placed so many add-ons in FS2000 that I just wait for the after-market developers to improve. Microsoft has yet to release the SDK (source for developers), which always starts the whole add-on market. Gone are most of the floating rivers 500' above ground and we are only left with some peculiar anti-gravity flows of water, where it seems to flow effortlessly uphill. Landing at Crawford Bay, a little grass strip near my home base of Nelson BC, involves short finals over a small uphill waterfall. Nelson runway is also elevated on a land rise which is not quite accurate. But the digital elevation model (DEM) has problems with fluctuating water levelsanyway. It has to interpret and match with the Jeppesen Data, which itself has many errors. For however many years GPS units have been on the market, I have yet to find one with the Coquihalla Highway, between Vancouver and Merritt, on the maps. The highway was built many years ago but it hasn't made it onto GPS databases yet. Emails to Jeppesen were not answered. Nelson runway ends up in the Kootenay River on Jeppesen data but Microsoft have got it more accurately placed. On FS2000 I previously reviewed the Netherlands Scenery package, and it will be most exciting to see to what further levels of virtual reality the really good programmers take FS2000. Stanley Park, in Vancouver, sadly lacks the numbers of trees it needs and I have already found the first few essential add-ons for FS2000, one of which is a scenery package. Lago have always pushed Microsoft to improve their product and already they have releases a completely user-friendly scenery generator. With 'FS Scenery Enhancer' you can add aircraft around the ramp and hangars and houses, fences, trees, ambulances etc. etc. to your hearts content. As usual it comes in two versions, trial (limited but still worth downloading) and a full version, which will let you, add other's scenery from the net.

» Toronto Island Airport

Microsoft has really worked on textures and things like sun reflecting off the plane, or the moon at night, or the variable density of clouds, have all been improved. Remember to try and set visibility to 20nms or 30nms to improve the scenery generation. Errors will be found in FS2002 but bear in mind that it has over 20,000 airports in it.

GENERAL AI and ATC.

As before, there is a video playback so you can watch your disastrous approaches, and as before you cannot completely rely on autopilots. I have found some peculiarities, such as locking a heading when trying to lock altitude, as mentioned above. I have the correction to the aircraft.cfg file for this. Also I let a 747 do a full autopilot ILS approach and had the plane in outside view and it crashed into the ground about ½ mile short of the runway. I was too far away across the room to help out. Lesson, switch off the autopilot at 400' and land it yourself!

» Illustration of ATC overlay

The new AI is great in that there are lots more planes, actually in the sky when you fly. However once again, I must praise Lago for pushing the buttons on this one as I still have more traffic with FS2000 due to their add-on. The Microsoft AI is more random it seems. The ATC is superb however and adds a whole new dimension to Fs2002, which was available in complex add-ons in FS2000 but is automatic in FS2002. Generate a flight plan and fire up the plane and get on the radio, very realistic. A translucent screen overlay pops up and voices are heard on both sides of the communication. You can enter your own plane N-number at an earlier stage. There is an automatic control over frame rates, pioneered once again by Lago in FS2000, which lets you set a target frame rate. This works well as you can let it run automatically and decide on detail-v-frame rate on its' own. To get maximum detail you may need even more than a 32Mb graphic card.

3-D ADD-ON GLASSES

Just as this review was winding down, I received in the mail a pair of 3-D glasses from E-Dimensional, They are sold in two forms, one wired to the computer and the other wireless, I received the wireless pair and would opt for these to save looking geekier than ever. The wireless ones look OK. They have a small infrared receiver built in and there is an infrared transmitter mounted on top of your monitor. The main unit sits at the back of your computer plugged in to the keyboard and main monitor plug-ins. The glasses can be worn direct or on top of your normal glasses or, of course, over contacts.

The system works with a computerized fast switching dual image mode. I found that it required careful tuning on each of the flight simulators. The views on still pictures are stunning and the depth of 3-D mode quite amazing. In certain games it would add a great deal of realism to objects coming at you. In Combat flight games it can be disconcerting as certain names of enemy planes are at the very front of your field and the 'enemy' plane is way back and in some ways harder to find and fight than in 2-D. They do take some getting used to in Combat games. They work wonderfully in Crimson Skies, and in Flight Simulator 2000 and FS2002 they work quite well. They have an excellent money back policy and are very quick to respond online to queries. I found them most helpful as I had video card driver update problems. If you check your video card drivers you may find that the company has issued stereo drivers, which are better than E-Dimensional's, and the E-Dimensional company put me on to that. The glasses have a wide range of compatibility and will probably write software drivers for your card of it is not covered. In FS2002 I did find that the glasses made the scenery darker and you may need to up brightness while wearing them. One word of warning, if you have bad frame rates already, then these are not for you, I found doing aerobatics a little weird in 3-D and frame rates made the flying jerky. But for cruising around looking at scenery they bring the countryside alive in 3-D and I am hooked enough to keep my pair. The price starts at somewhere around $60 U.S. so they are not cheap but then they are technologically quite advanced. The next step up, already available for FS2002 is a complete virtual reality pair of glasses, where you do not need your monitor at all, and they start at $2000 U.S.

The stereo mode can be easily toggled with Ctrl-T and I found that I might do some sightseeing in 3-D but if I need better flight control I toggle it off for landing, if scenery is very complex. As I said above company communication is among the best I have dealt with, notwithstanding that they know I am reviewing the glasses.

ESSENTIAL ADD-ONS

On previous reviews of FS2000 we added further articles as more developers jumped on board. On FS2002 there are one or two that are already here as upgrades or new software and are, in my opinion, items which really make FS2002 scream along. One is FSNavigator. This has just been released as an upgrade. (version 4.51). I considered it an essential for qualified pilots on FS2000 and I do for FS2002. It is one of those programs which elevate a game to a serious virtual reality. Now this, of course, justifies the purchase of all the new computers to our spouses. 'This is not a game, this is serious practice to make me a safer pilot, and way cheaper than renting or even flying our own plane'. FSNav 4.51 runs parallel to FS2002 as a module. It is Shareware and does not cost much. It runs on F9 key, or do what I have talked about before and run a second monitor and leave it running there. A graphic card can be obtained for $30 and a 14' or 15' monitor found anywhere nowadays. FSNav will give you real time GPS navigation and flight planning and a whole lot more. It will even display the other planes in multiplayer mode.

As mentioned before the Lago Scenery Enhancer (FSSE) is the next item which is just great. As flight simmers from around the world enhance their own areas and upload them, we can all benefit. With the Lago Scenery Enhancer, you just select the type of object you wish to add, right in the program and it drops the desired object into the scenery. You can then enlarge, rotate, or move the object up or down. All it lacks are more objects! I am sure they will come. There is an exchange online set up by Lago already. Lago need to build a searchable database on their website, I am sure that they will soon do that. You can personalize your home airport to your hearts content, adding cows, deer, ambulances, fuel trucks, people walking out to planes, mechanics etc. Whilst the trial version gives an idea of the power of the program, one should really get the full version and it can be purchased online.

» Adding a plane in FSSE

The other useful add-on is FSUIPC by Peter Dowson. This one is just a utility that runs in the background to enable modules and add-ons to blend with FS2002. Just download it from www.flightsim.com and don't worry about what it actually does. It is free. If you download the wonderful DC-3 which has already been modified for FS2002, you will need it to run the model correctly.

SUMMARY

Overall, Microsoft has done a wonderful job on FS2002, listening to their audience. FS2000 became one of their very bets World wide selling items and Fs2002 has enhanced scenery, AI, ATC, all commented on by FS2000 users. Any pilot can now enjoy virtual flying to a degree only reached by $20,000 units three years ago. There is even an instructor mode for flying schools to tap into. It will only be a matter of time before this is acceptable ground flying. There will always be improvements need but in spite of one or two glitches mentioned above, FS2002 is already my number one flightsim. Feel free to contact me with questions re add-ons etc.

Note: Any pictures taken on FS2002 do not do justice to the degree of resolution as they are not taken in Full Screen mode and by the time of publication, they do not do justice to the original. In 1024 X 768, or better, it is excellent.

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About This Author:
John Dale has been a member of COPA for thirty years, since he began to fly. He has accumulated 2500 hours on 65 types of aeroplanes and added Flight Simming to his addiction about two years ago. He is an Aviation Medical Examiner in Nelson BC, where he belongs to the Nelson Pilot’s Association. He also runs Flynorth.com, which offers aerial tours to the north, as well as a database of BC and northern flying tips. Details of this can be found at www.FlyNorth.com.
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