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The state of Helicopter Flight Simulators

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The last 2-3 years in helicopter flight simulation have been a significant test for this community, as well as the flight simulation community in general. The following events stand out as those that most profoundly impacted the direction and momentum of our hobby and community:

Signficant Events
1. 2005 - Microsoft Announces FSX
2. FS9 Developers Pause and Wait
3. Oct. 2006 - FSX is released
4. 2 Years of turbulence for many users due to FSX performance problems, installation issues, and general compability woes.
5. 2009 - FSX Begins to reach adoption of 50% or more among flight simulation community.
6. 2010 - FSX reaches adoption of 70% or more

Consequences

To summarize how the handling of the release of Flight Simulator X affected the flight simulation community is very difficult. As a product, it impacted different elements of the flight simulation community differently. Some communities revelled in the positive changes FSX brought on board, while others lamented the problems they were experiencing. Some of these problems continue today.

The affect of Microsoft Flight Simulator X on the developers of flight simulation add-ons can not be understated. Flight Simulator 9 (FS2004) was at the pinnacle of its development momentum when FSX was announced. This caused a massive disruption in the output of developers, both commercial and hobby-oriented freeware developers.

Commercial developers struggled to maintain a functional relationship with Microsoft as changes in product behavior and backward compatibility caused massive disruptions to upcoming product release plans.

Freeware developers buckled under the complexity of changes, and the feeling that development for the latest version of flight simulator was simply becoming too difficult, too time consuming, and unrewarding.

As it turns out, some of these issues were overstated, and some turned out to be very valid.

Where we stand now

The success of helicopter related simulation sites like Hovercontrol and the release of FSX has had some interesting implications for helicopter flight simulator addon developers. The primary trends we see at this point are:

1. More commercial helicopter packages being developed
2. Less freeware helicotper packages being developed
3. A continuation of package customization and some development for FS9/FS2004.

Good or bad?

One of the goals that Hovercontrol.com had from day one was too boost awareness of the helicopter flight simulation community and to encourage new development both by freeware authors and commercial vendors.

We are excited to see so many new commercial releases of helicopter related products from commercial developers. Though remain concerned at the absense of hobby-oriented freeware development among the flight simulation community in general.

Consequences of Commercial-Only Development

Commercial developers have been creating some very beautiful helicopter flight simulation products over the last couple of years. We have found that they certainly have not been skimping on 3d modeling and texturing detailing. However, we continue to see products that look fantastic but have standard un-customized flight dynamics and systems that do not take advantage of any of the techniques discovered within the helicopter flight simulation development community over the last 4-5 years.

We need the hobby-oriented developers more than ever. While commercial developers tend to focus on what they think will have the broadest appeal among the flight simulation community, it is the hobby-oriented (mostly freeware) developers that tend to uncover the hidden techniques that have really moved this community forward. Hobby developers also have the freedom to work on whatever packages they feel passionate about, regardless of return on investment. This alone helps to broaden the horizon of helicopter flight simulation and helps organizations such as Hovercontrol to reach a wide variety of helicopter flight simulation enthusiasts.

Tools remain effective

Hobby oriented developers for FS9/FS2004 would be happy to know, that for the most part, many of the tools and techniques that they utilized to create new addons for FS9/FS2004 are still available and continue to work in much the same way for Flight Simulator X development. Communities like Hovercontrol will need to help educated existing developers and new ones alike, that there is still as much opportunity as ever to contribute creative works to the flight simulation community. Encouraging gifted developers to start new projects, and linking them to the tools and information that they will need to move forward will be beneficial to the entire flight simulation community.

Platform more stable?

Many have said that with the Flight Simulator software platform being stable for the next 2-3 years (minimum) that now is the time for developers to really stretch their wings. It remains to be seen which commercial and freeware developers will see things this way. While commercial developers may appreciate the stability, they may also feel motivated to diversify their product development efforts into other areas and games. Freeware developers may or may not feel that developing new ideas is worth their free time. It is difficult to predict how each developer views the current flight simulation ecosystem.

Some things have not changed

For those that truly enjoy flying helicopters in flight simulator, there are still many bright days a head. Multiplayer and Voice servers still offer opportunities for users of Flight Simulator X and FS9/FS2004 to get together and fly. Multiplayer capabilities built into Flight Simulator X allow for shared cockpit flying that works much better than most people know.

There is an opportunity to refocus on community, flying, and a true appreciation for what we enjoyed about this hobby all along. Flying, fellowship, and fun.

Hovercontrol's part in this

Hovercontrol can not be all things to all people. However, most of our core values and goals remain the same as they ever were:

1. Help new users of helicopter flight simulation by providing setup information, configuration advice, and help in getting connected with multiplayer flight and voice servers.

2. Encourage simulated flying in all its forms. Missions, navigation, multiplayer, military & civilian.

3. Encourage learning about helicopter flight by educating users about how flight simulator works, its strengths & weaknesses, and by one-on-one mentoring with human instructors that can teach about helicopter flight and system setup.

4. Encourage development among hobby developers and commercial developers. Provide an audience and community for developers that take a special interest in helicopter flight simulation. Help provide them feedback, information, and techniques that will assist them in being successful. Whatever their goals may be.


Summary

The last 4 years have been a community-splitting, system crashing, and unstable ride for enthusiasts in the helicopter flight simulation community. We are only now starting to see the light that new hardware and understanding of Flight Simulator X configuration can provide.

Development activity is at an all time low within the community and it will take a concerted effort to encourage new and existing developers to pick up the torch.

Existing members of the helicopter flight simulation community, as well as recent arrivals, are beginning to see that the hobby still exists. Our community is smaller, and more focused than it has ever been. But there remains a large number of people out there that are fascinated by helicopter flight simulation and getting together to fly with other like-minded friends on line.

For the foreseeable future, Hovercontrol will stay focused on bringing these enthusiasts together and providing the tools they need to fly, learn, and develop together.

Hovercontrol's motto for the next few years:

Friends and Flying First!








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