Microsoft Flight Simulator Has Me Hungering for a Road Trip Simulator
Flying a plane is great and everything, but what if I wanted to unleash a few horsepowers down a highway?
Asobo Studio has done incredible work with its 2020 launch of the PC version of Microsoft Flight Simulator — due to be heading to Xbox Series X | S this year. It’s an utterly breathtaking game to experience if you’re a fan of flying planes and simulators. But its true selling point sits in its ability to allow you to fly literally anywhere in our world. And the addition of using real-world data makes it feel like immersion at its finest, especially when you wake up at 5 in the morning and fly over your local area just to see what the misty morning looks like from above.
But you see, as much of a fan of the game I am, I’m not entirely a huge fan of seeing the world from above. Hell, I am more of a car person, and one that likes driving and road trips. I want to be down there on the ground, driving stick through small towns, twisting and turning through busy city streets. And when I’m up among the clouds seeing these dirt roads through vast tropics and winding roads through lush mountains, my hunger for a road trip increases tenfold.
Microsoft Flight Simulator lets you explore the entire world. It uses fancy-pants technology to generate an accurate world as you fly somewhere 50,000ft above it all. And from the comfort of the air, the graphics appear spectacularly realistic. A sea of trees, the textures of grass blending into dirt and rocks, buildings and cars make towns and cities look believable. Sometimes I go and land my plane on the M46 and drive around the British countryside with Radiohead – Lotus Flower playing in the cockpit. But that’s where I ruin my immersion because in flying low to get a closer look, everything changes.
Textures are more distorted, trees appear more pixelated, cars float several feet above the roads, elephants look smudged. It’s a game that’s best viewed up in the heavens of fluffy clouds. And it’s in this moment where I dream of a game that uses a similar map-generation system that Microsoft Flight Simulator uses to allow you to travel anywhere in the world, but as a car using similar driving mechanics to Playground Games’ Forza games.
Ubisoft managed to achieve a fully-drivable America in The Crew 2 where you can travel across the 5 000 – 7 000 km² map freely in a car, boat, or plane. And I loved it as a road trip game, but being restricted to just America felt uninteresting at times. Forza Horizon 4 is restricted to only a chunk of the UK, Test Drive Unlimited 2 had Ibiza and Oahu, Hawaii. But each game comes with its own mechanics that make the cars a joy to drive, or a nuisance.
After seeing the sheer freedom Asobo Studio has opened up to me, all I want to do is browse a world map, set a departure point, and drive at the legal speed limit in a range of countries. Taking inspiration from shows that involve dramatic road trips such as Long Way Up, Top Gear, The Grand Tour. I want to drive amongst Zurich’s towering mountains on a Yamaha MT-09, I want to drive through Chernobyl in a Chevrolet Impala 1967, I want to park on an Australian beach and watch the sunset in an Aston Martin DB9.
This is all likely impossible, I realize that. Being over 10,000ft in the air makes things from a distance look great. Being on the ground level and travelling such a large map would probably cause a wealth of graphical requirements to keep the rendering up to scratch, and to have so many things detailed in your viewable area. Then there’s the addition of surrounding traffic information as well as car physics being simulated and how the types of terrain is affecting your car. It feels like an idea that’s incredibly unachievable.
But let’s imagine if this was possible. Pulling real-world traffic data to populate certain areas with NPC cars would be fantastic, allowing you to get stuck in traffic in New York. Using real-world weather data to make a road icy or dry would be brilliant for keeping areas challenging as well as setting off with the correct wheels, etc. Having friends driving alongside you as you obey the laws of the road while on your journey would be enjoyable, right up until the fun starts when you all start speeding across the Sahara Desert with no worries about police pursuits because it would be a game about exploration.
The added gem would be being able to go down every road that you usually see when you’re up at 11:15pm browsing Google Maps for no reason other than curiosity. And in using the road map data, you’d be able to turn off from main roads and explore the parts of countries that are tucked away. A massively-interactive Street View-Esque game if you will. Of course, landmarks would have to still be feature pieces of the world as they are in Microsoft Flight Simulator. Areas such as the Eiffel Tower, Hoover Dam, and more would potentially require additional graphical information to ensure these areas are presented in the best quality, to really help bring them and their surrounding areas to life.
It’d have to have online capabilities as well, allowing you and a friend to set up waypoints and a GPS system. But if we’re going to include the scale that Microsoft Flight Simulator uses for its map, some of those trips could go on for…a long time. Having gas stations on your planned routes would be a nifty way to keep the journey dotted with rest stops and save your trip progress and return to it at a later time. It’d also allow you the opportunity to make tweaks to your car by branching off into some sort of car mechanic simulator vibe.
I’ve been sat staring into space and thinking about how this sort of a game would be incredible to play, but whichever studio that would develop it would likely face a laughable number of years in development. Not only that, but the game would probably end up exceeding 200GB just to install the base game. The number of different building models and textures, the foliage, the weather, the details of the cars, and their individual mechanics. The list goes on.
All of it would add up and probably just outright dissolve your graphics card. Then there would no doubt be the added DLC to keep the game updated with new car models, new enhancements to key locations, heck, maybe even a HD Texture Pack would make its way down the post-launch line.
You know what? The process of making a game on this scale I’m envisioning sounds far too problematic and massive. I’d argue that a game on this sort of scale would clearly be from one of those new-fangled AAAA studios, maybe even AAAAA. I’d probably need to splash out on a new PC as well just to run it. Either way, this is something that would be a dream concept, but something that will remain a dream for far too many technical reasons.
If we ever got a game on this sort of scale I’d be incredibly over the moon, but after reflection, on all of the above, I think I’m okay with one not existing. I guess I’ll just have to get out and do a road trip in real-life rather than in the comfort of my dressing gown and slippers. Perhaps just sticking to nabbing different open-world games, from different studios, with different driving mechanics. Failing that, it seems that the best way to explore the world without leaving the house remains to be Google Earth or Microsoft Flight Simulator.