I’m a pilot!

I’m a pilot. At least in my own imaginings. The closest I’ll ever come is combining my life long video game addiction with my aviation geekiness. There are two kinds of simulators out there. The simulators that want to be totally realistic to the last detail or video games with only a hint of realism.

It all started when my sister gave me the first flight simulation game way back in the days of my beloved Commodore 64. At the time the program was subLOGIC Flight Simulator. The cutting-edge software and graphics featured a crude rendering of the John Hancock building along with the landscape of Meigs Field in Chicago. As the years went by, the program came out in more and more versions on many platforms with increasing realism and sophistication. Microsoft ended up buying out subLOGIC and the program lives on as the Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Flight Simulator wants to be as realistic as possible. The entire cockpit is rendered and you have to learn to be a true pilot. To succeed, you have to do everything perfectly down to the tiniest detail. I’ve given up on these kinds of programs as they are simply too complex. Flap and engine settings, weather, air traffic control, and thousands of other adjustments just aren’t fun for me.

The other types of flight simulators are the ones that fall squarely into the video game category. Some of my favorites include Star Fox 64 and Pilotwings 64 for the Nintendo 64.

Star Fox and Pilotwings make no attempt to create the feel of a true flight simulator. How could a flying fox be realistic? Star Fox was closer to recreating the dog fights from the Star Wars franchise. It is silly fun but hardly realistic. Pilotwings has somewhat accurate physics modeling based on real world conditions that one must learn in order to master the game.

My current obsessions are Airmail and  Airplane! for iOS. Airmail is stunningly  beautiful. The graphics have nothing to do with the real world. To me it feels like a grown up version of Pilotwings. Airmail has great flight physics that include details such as the control surfaces of the wing and moving as any aircraft in the real world would. It has an engaging story narrative. Every aspect of Airmail adds up to a highly entertaining  experience.

Airplane! for iOS is the most “video game” of anything I’ve played. The aircraft, even though modeled after real-world examples, are the exact opposite of Flight Simulator. The control surfaces don’t move on the aircraft at all. If your airspeed falls too low, you kind of hover in the air or if you are too fast, the aircraft doesn’t shake itself to pieces. Airplane is a fun waste of time, but I find it frustrating because real-world flight physics are totally ignored. The aircraft even lowers the landing gear for you.

I want to find a happy medium. I don’t want to have to learn the flight manual for an aircraft and spend my time worrying about minutiae so complex that it takes the fun out of feeling like I’m soaring around the world. Yet, on the simple end (Airplane!), I am frustrated by the lack of realism. I still have yet to find the anything that combines real-world physics with a balance of ease of control.