Using an interesting melding of fiction and simming, author Will Kotheimer takes us on a journey filled with intrigue, danger, and flying adventures with his simNovel – Pilate’s Ghost.
Pilate’s Ghost package
The simNovel consists of a 150 page story, divided into 28 chapters, with nine FSX missions that are to be flown at various points throughout the story. The package comes with custom scenery for the various plot locations, custom objects, custom liveries, and extensive briefings. All of this installed into FSX: Steam Edition just fine but I did have to point the Add Scenery function within the sim to the proper folder to add the custom scenery. I also attempted to use the missions in P3D with no success – probably owing to the fact that many of the assets used in the designing of the missions aren’t part of the default P3D installation.
The Plot – It was a dark, stormy night…
Well…it was! Without giving away too much of the story, you play the role of a few different pilots as the story expands. The transitions between the roles is actually done quite well, and there are just the right amount of characters in the novel to give you a familiarity with them without the family tree becoming confusing. The book starts out with a relatively benign mission (but your flying skills will be tested immediately!) and from there the plot unfolds with nice pacing and, quite honestly, a fun story. It won’t be spoiling the story to tell you that most of the flying will be around the Mount Pilatus area and throughout much of Switzerland. The setting, from a flight sim standpoint, could not be more visually appealing. The soaring heights of the Swiss Alps, woven with tight valleys with challenging airport placements, is an inherently exciting place to fly.
The instructions included with the package provide in-sim settings guidelines that should be considered in order to make the custom scenery areas appear correctly. With that said, I used the package with no problem despite having ORBX Global and Vector installed, which includes changes from the default landclass and mesh, providing for an even better visual experience in FSX. Your mileage may vary.
The story itself unfolds with a nice premise. There are some technical aspects that allude to the author’s background in intelligence, providing for a good bit of engaging storytelling. For lack of a better phrase, I’d describe the novel as a techno terrorism thriller, with a dash of CSI magic for added flavor (ENHANCE!). I was genuinely excited to see where the story was heading and found myself anticipating each mission as they were presented in order to further my progress through the novel. My one and only complaint with the novel is one that you often see leveled at self-publishers – you must proof and edit your copy with an eye toward error correction. The novel has quite a few typos and/or misplaced words that fortunately do not ruin the pacing or plot of the novel, but they are difficult to miss. I’d suggest that just a single pass through a minimally proficient editor would have caught 98% of the mistakes prior to publication. That is my one and only critical comment about the book.
Writing a novel is hard (trust me, I know). Combining the story by weaving an external sim component with the novel only adds another level of complexity to the process, and I admire Mr. Kotheimer for his ability to do it seamlessly. There are also the technical aspects of developing, testing, and perfecting an FSX mission in a way that takes into account nearly all of the possible interpretations that a sim pilot could be reasonably expected to make. In my experience, the missions were nearly perfect – I only found one instance where I took an unforeseen path and didn’t get the appropriate sequencing of the mission. The missions were developed using FSX Mission Editor.
The mission briefings are simply fantastic. There are two components to the mission briefings. The first are the Flightsim Flying Notes which are contained at the end of the associated chapter of the novel. The Notes offer an overview of the mission setup, suggests aircraft operational pointers, and explains FSX quirks that might need to be considered. Once you’ve read the Notes, you can proceed to FSX and open the mission where you’ll be provided a very detailed and well written briefing.
The mission briefings will contain a wealth of details and they must be read and understood prior to embarking on the mission. Information includes an estimated completion time, aircraft type, and objectives. Radio frequencies (both COM and NAV), courses, and various suggestions are included in the briefings. Some of the briefing components are required to be followed or you risk failing the mission, which means you’ll have to fly it again. I had good success with flying many of the missions just once, but there were a couple, and one in particular that were difficult enough that it required a second or third go at it…and not due to a mission design flaw, but simply because I wasn’t flying good enough! The maps included with the briefings are exceptionally well done. There are a couple of typos in the briefings, but again, they are inconsequential in the bigger picture.
The briefings are available during the mission by consulting your kneeboard if you need a refresher (you will). Mission objectives are also listed on the kneeboard and are ticked off as you meet each requirement. Missions include the aforementioned custom scenery and objects, both moving and static. Radio messages, warnings, and other sounds play throughout the missions and close attention must be paid to their content. I had some difficulty with some of the accents in the exchanges, as would be expected in real life. If you are in a real pinch you can open up the mission directory and replay the audio files if you happen to miss one. I can’t stress enough how well the missions play through – they are the perfect mix of attainability and challenge. As well, the diversity of the missions is a ton of fun. I found myself revisiting aircraft I had not flown in years – challenging both my memory and my ability to complete the missions according to the requirements. Some of the missions are no cake walk either, requiring precise navigation (including IFR flying) and skill to complete.
There were some unique elements to the missions that I had not seen before (the ability to use binoculars) and each mission success was met with relief and a distinct release of tension from my shoulders. Each mission end blends into the start of the next segment of the novel, providing clear continuity. You will also notice this continuity within the mission environments – but I’ll leave it at that. One final note on the missions is that they use both the weather and lighting of FSX to maximum effect – particularly when blended with the stunning Swiss landscape rolling by.
I’m officially jealous. Will Kotheimer has created exactly the kind of content I’ve both been a proponent for, and that I’ve personally wanted to create for decades. I’ve long argued that our base sims are good enough (FSX, P3D, X-Plane, DCS) and that it is the playability that is most important in gaining and retaining our user base. Yes, there are plenty of us that can simply develop a flightplan and entertain ourselves with a basic flight, but giving purpose to flying, whether through utilities such as Air Hauler or FS Economy, or a good story, is an essential component of our simming that often gets overlooked in favor of the shiny new features of the most recent sim release or update. The author of Pilate’s Ghost has provided us with an entertaining novel and a unique blend of story and sim action that scratches a specific itch. I hope to see more from esci Flightsim Publications in the near future.
Chris “BeachAV8R” Frishmuth