As the flight simulator platform that we all know and love has expanded and grown in capability and appearance over the years, the details incorporated in helicopter models has also increased. High end models these days include all types of non-flight critical visual details. Passenger compartments for different aircraft variations, trick animations, and window/door options that have little to do with flying or the cockpit, but are common just the same.
These details come at a heavy cost to the developer. Whether the developer be a freeware or commercial developer, these features consume a large amount of time. Time that might otherwise be spent improving cockpit details, gauge capabilities, and flight dynamics. These details might also keep a developer from completing several aircraft, instead focusing on a single aircraft for an extended period of time.
In the days of FS2002 we enjoyed helicopter flight simulation just the same. It was a time when models from Ian Standfast were very popular. Some of these models included MD500s, S76s, and Dauphins to name a few. These models were generall visually appealing, but included few if any internal details. Doors were not animated, and there were no internal structures. Flight dynamics were generally close to the default, and the sound packages were usually slightly customized to somewhat represent the type of aircraft you were seeing. The panels were entirely 2d (no virtual cockpits), but they were functional and usually unique to the aircraft (not the same panel for every type).
We loved those aircraft, and flew them for hours and hours
Most of the time was spent in the cockpit, and our focus was on the outside world and the other pilots flying with us. That is important. Has that really changed? If flying is the primary reason we engage in flight simulation, do we still spend the majority of our time paying attention to the cockpit, the world around us, and the other pilots we are flying with?
What is better?
This article is not trying to set up a position. It is not a trick question. However, perhaps we have created a bad situation where aircraft take far too long to develop, and the number of aircraft available are suffering as a result. Perhaps tons of hours are being spent developing the wrong features for new helicopters. Would more helicopters be better than animated door handles?
What if a helicopter for FSX was released that had no internal details when viewed from the exterior? What if the windows were simply painted on? What if doors were not animated? However, the cockpit was well developed, unique, and the sound and flight dynamics were very enjoyable. Now also imagine that because the aircraft took 40 hours to develop instead of 400, that the developer created 3 aircraft instead of just one. Would this be a better situation? Would it let you down?
Where do you stand?
Are the visual details like obscure trick animations important to you? After the first few times that you try out the animated door handles, do you actually find yourself using such features over and over? What if the over all helicopter is not enjoyable to fly but is visually stunning and well animated? Would you rather have an enjoyable helicopter that produces 100s of hours of immersive flight hours for you, or would that not be possible if the aircraft lacked a significant amount of internal visual details and trick animations?
Everyone might have a different opinion on this one. Opinions may differ based on whether the aircraft is freeware or commercial, but one fact is clear. The bar for development is set very high for new and existing developers who desire to meet what they perceive is the current expectation for helicopter flight simulator models. They see what is available and popular, and naturally assume that is what the audience is looking for. What if that assumption is incorrect? What if this trend is actually hurting the development of new packages, and discouraging new developers from getting involved because of the incredible effort required to jump in?
Interesting questions, with no particular answers.