The new Flight simulator X will include a major improvement in multiplayer capabilities. Amongst other enhancements it will be possible to share a plane, as pilot and co-pilot, with someone over the internet. It will also be possible to act as ATC (Air Traffic Controller). Now the ATC function has existed for several years for FS8 and FS9 through the online multiplayer communities of VATSIM and IVAO. These communities are quality controlled, mess up here and you will lose your membership and ability to log in. ATC is trained in a peer system, and only qualified ATC will be able to take control of the airspace. This is much needed since the ATC duty is not an easy one. Pilots also have to follow the same rules as real world pilots, which can be a daunting task at first.
Now the question is, is FSX going to change all this with it’s multiplayer options?
The short answer
The slightly longer answer
First of all, The VATSIM and IVAO community is going to exist with FSX as a client too. The special software designed for the interface, radio communication and logon (Squawkbox for example) works with FSUIPC as a base. FSUIPC is a 3rd party addon to Microsoft Flight Simulator that works as an interface to the Software. Using FSUIPC other software can be programmed to talk to the simulator. Microsoft has stated it works together with 3rd party developers to ensure their addons will work with FSX. This is good news, as it means FSUIPC and Squawkbox for example, will work in FSX. This probably means that addon aircraft eventually will work in FSX, probably needing an update from the manufacturer.
Another good news is that the SDK, the developer kit for FSX will be released at the same time as the FSX game. This means that 3rd party developers will have a much easier task adjusting their addons to fit the new game. FS9 SDK was released much later than the game, and I’m glad that Microsoft this time has realized the importance of 3rd party addons for the FS community. Simflight.com for example has stated that their next version of FSNavigator, v5, will work in fsx.
Another possible issue, that I at the time of writing don’t have an answer to is if the scenario is going to be compatible with FS9 senario flying online. That is, will runways and taxiways be the same in both clients? Will airport height and obstacles be the same? If not, we are going to have problems with aircraft positions between the two clients.
Finally, my conclusion is that the built-in multiplayer will be fun for the mainstream user, and used in smaller portions, say between a coulple of friends, rather than directly competing with the big structured online communities like VATSIM and IVAO. These communities are truly aiming for “as real as it gets!” and have achieved that now for quite some time. Being able to talk directly to a human ATC is breathtaking and scary at first, but it gives you a whole other insight into the world of real pilots. I would recommend it for anyone who doesn’t mind a steep learning curve, knows how to act responsibly and dosn’t fear tinkering a day or two with settings making it work 😉 Perhaps the new FSX Multiplayer options will be a step into the world of online flying in the big leagues 🙂