Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition

How do you review a sim that’s been out since 2006? Well, you don’t, and this article talks about what FSX Steam Edition is and how it is different from the original FSX and FSX Acceleration releases.

It’s Alive!

In the lead up to the annual ‘Steam Winter (don’t say Christmas, whew, got away with it, close one) Sale’ Microsoft’s FSX appeared on sale for a pretty low price of around $5. The developer was still listed as Microsoft, but the publisher was Dovetail Games, or more commonly known as ‘The Train Simulator’ people. This release caused quite a fair bit of confusion. Was it the same as the one we have on DVD’s already, would it be 64-bit, or DX-10 with better shaders, would it just be FSX but with really detailed trains on the ground? Is there now deeply unflattering Steam lipstick on our beloved fresh-faced FSX pig? Here’s the store page:

http://store.steampowered.com/app/314160/

Inquiring minds needed to know, but more importantly for the Steam Sale crowd, it was *really cheap*, so pretty much an insta-buy for anyone who could spell ‘plain’. It sold like hot sausages in a dog shelter. For me personally, the price fell under the ‘Too lazy that I don’t want to walk down to the basement and get a disk’ must buy purchase category.

So what is FSX Steam Edition? In summary it is the same sim (FSX and the Acceleration disks) we all know and love, but with a couple of tweaks to allow it to work on more modern computers. Dovetail have struck a deal with Microsoft to update the base code, but only in terms of recompiling it for some basic optimizations, some tweaks for the beloved Windows 8, Multiplayer updates for Steam (rest in pieces Gamespy) and the incorporation of Dovetails ‘add-on’ licensing DLC. Dovetail can tweak but not alter the codebase radically. This is not a true sequel, but more a ‘The DLC Shot First, Special Edition’. Prepare3D is still for the ‘pro market’ and with licensing costs to match, and that’s where the FSX code will continue to evolve. Dovetail have announced they are working on an actual flight sim sequel, but that is still some way away and this isn’t it.

Do My FSX Add-Ons Still Work?

In summary, maybe. Some of the more active FSX add-on developers are updating their installers to work with the Steam edition, as really the only change has been to the location of the Program Files and the default naming of settings from fsx.cfg to fsx-se.cfg. Things like FSUIPC have also been updated to include the new (recompiled) SDK libraries for this edition and TrackIR etc uses a newer simconnect.dll. It isn’t recommended you have both Steam and non-Steam versions installed, although I didn’t seem to have any issues with this. Popular payware like PMDG have updated, while I’ve read things like Captain Sim do not work so far. Dovetail have set up a compatbility list here:

http://steamcommunity.com/app/314160/discussions/2/

The general advice is certainly check before purchasing anything new, but unless the installer is especially custom or the integration complex, then it will probably just work fine.

Is It Any Better?

It seems more or less the same, maybe marginally better on a modern PC. On an [email protected], 16GB, R9290 it finally handles 60 frames per second over an airport (as long as the airport is small). With the initial release of FSX we all struggled manically to maximize performance, when really the solution was just to hibernate for 9 years and wait it out – so simple on retrospect. Unfortunately the ‘preview DX10’ mode is still very poor, and doesn’t have the same sort of optimizations that have been available via the popular ‘Steve’s DX10 fixer’. Those sort of optimizations may be not allowed as part of Dovetails/Microsoft’s agreement.

The start-up screen has been altered, in that awful ‘web aware’ way, but essentially nobody has moved your cheese – all options and menus are more or less as is.

web

The download size was about 10GB, and came out to be 16.4GB when on disk. The convenience factor (if on a decent internet connection, as a lot who use Steam are) is nice, and there have been a couple of minor patches out already. The multiplayer options are nice and simple, with integration of the Steamworks stuff of ‘friends’ and server browsing.

mp2 mp1

Can I Interest You In the Rust Protection?

So what we have so far is actually some pretty good value. For the regular price of $25-ish you get an old but extensive flight simulator with 24,000 airports, the complete set of 24 aircraft from FSX Acceleration, and some fixes for stability and multiplayer. If you haven’t already got FSX, or are interested in civil aviation then it seems like a slam-dunk. What could possibly go wrong?

The plan for FSX Steam edition now seems to be a platform where paid add-ons will be provided from Dovetail (and their first-party developers). Train Simulator and its DLC packs have been very successful on Steam for model train hobbyists, and this seems like the same plan for flight sims. There will be many (many) aircraft and mission packs now offered on Steam for this edition.

Here’s a quick peek at the first three already, with the suspicion that 4E24 more are waiting in the wings:

DLC: Around The World In 80 Flights

Here you get the 1937 Lockheed Electra 10E to fly, and a series of 80(!) mission flight plans for legs that take you on a scenic tour of the entire world. The Pacific leg out from Hawaii comes with a free hallucinogenic effect on hour four, where two blue horizontal bars come alive and eat you. This was originally offered by First Class Sims for FS 2004 back in the day.

electra

DLC: Early Years of Flight

Another First Class Sims FS2004 add-on re-issue, this pack contains a series of 5 vintage aircraft, some missions and scenery for the period. A nice collection of early aviation of rare aircraft, with that feeling of ‘flying tent poles’ and imminent death built-in.

early

DLC: Discover Arabia

Hot off the presses today, the fire hose of add-ons continues, with this one having the award for Most Flowery Description so far ‘This odyssey of exploration takes you to the sun-drenched Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East.’. Includes the SeaRey float-plane, plus 44 flight plans. RWR not included.

arabia

Summary

So how to feel about the FSX Steam edition? On one hand what we have is a re-issue of a classic flight sim at a low price and some rough edges hewn off. People that wouldn’t normally get to experience a decent flight sim now have the chance with a reasonably priced and conveniently downloadable title. The multiplayer is now easier than ever. A good thing I think.

For the strategy of the add-ons via Steam I can see it both ways, in that by providing a new and large market, then existing 3rd parties will hopefully see some sales and that this provides a stimulus to the civil sim market. The fact that existing add-ons work without having to be distributed through Steam is important, and I can see very little chance of anything in that area changing. For people happy with FSX as it is, they can safely ignore this edition if they want to.

In some way this is an unexpected second-wind for FSX and will hopefully introduce a lot of new people to flight sims. After the rocky road of Microsoft Flight edutainment experiment, and the premature demise of the ACES Game Studio team, then this certainly represents a new an interesting direction for the franchise. I hope our beloved FSX does well, and that the new foster parents take good care.

14 comments

  1. That compatibility link is going to get trampled! As of this post, there are 135 items on the “Addons That Are Working Fine” list, which is reassuring. I don’t see Flighsim Labs’ Concorde X on the list; but I’ll be watching for it!

    It’d also be interesting to know if the infamous FSX memory leak is as prevalent with this updated version as they were with the out-of-the-box install. e.g., Can I fly transatlantic from DLC JFK to DLC Heathrow and be able to land and taxi to my gate without that dratted OOM (Out Of Memory) crash?

    With Dovetail games running it, I’ll bet FSX will soon challenge Train Simulator 2015 for the most expensive total DLC set* available on Steam! 😉

    (*I own TS2015 and several DLC packs and enjoy them all immensely. Anybody who thinks you have to buy ALL the DLC to enjoy the experience doesn’t understand TS2015 or its DLC).

  2. One additional thing for compatibility that I found helped a lot is that some older add-ons can get prompted back into life with the Steam edition by installing the older SDK bits. They include them in the install here:

    SteamApps\common\FSX\SDK\Core Utilities Kit\SimConnect SDK\LegacyInterfaces\FSX-XPACK

    The SimConnect.msi in there when installed will bring add-ons back to life, at least until any updates for the add-ons come out.

    For the DLC, I know what you mean in terms of people remarking on how much there is on the Trainsim side. It’s odd they think it’s competitive advantage DLC or something.

    I had a Steam friend comment on a TS2015 route purchase I had just made with a “Why did you buy that, you are getting ripped off man!”. I had quite of bit of fun misleading him that it was so I would “win all the train races that day”. “Come at me bro, you’re looking at the wrong end of a Norfolk Southern GP38-2 High Hood Loco. You’re going down! “. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the writeup! Threw it in the basket when it was like $5 and never installed it. May be time to get it running.

  4. I’ve been thinking about A2A’s B-17, and apparently it is compatible with the Steam version, so now I just need to figure out when I am going to find all this spare time to justify buying it 🙂

  5. It’s a good review.

    However you missed the main advantage FSX-SE has over FSX-MS.

    VAS management have been quite improved. On heavy load scenarios some memory is released after a while you are flying, that pretty much make the OOM errors and crashes disappear.

    1. Good point. I did used to get memory issues running a lot of add-ins or large scenarios with FSX, and the recompilation to MSVC2012 dist does seem to have helped stability.

      I haven’t yet added too many add-ons back in to FSX-SE, but will watch out for it.

    1. I haven’t tried the Mustang – is it included as part of one of the Steam DLC packs or something? I’m actually looking forward to trying out the Carenado Citation II since I have quite a bit of time in one of those.

  6. Built a new machine recently. NVIDIA 980, i7-4790K, 16GB RAM, SSDs… Could hardly wait to load up FSX on it. So I slammed every settings needle to the right and took off. Almost. Still had to turn down a couple of things. But FSX in FSAA is beee-u-tee-full. Next is the Active Sky add-on. Need to find the best Alaskan eye candy add-on to swoop around mountains.

    1. That’s a monster machine. When you say you loaded FSX – was it FSX or the FSX Steam Edition? I’m going to install the Steam Edition today just to see what kind of performance I get. I think I’m also going to purchase/install Prepar3D this weekend too to see what all the buzz is about.

      Wish I could help you with an Alaska scenery recommendation. Back in the day, I think Misty Fjords was the nice scenery package, but I don’t know that they do total scenery (like landclass, overlay, and scenery objects). You might want to see what ORBX has going on up in that area – they seem to be one of the best in this day and age (but $$$)…

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