Microsoft Flight Simulator: UK cities with photogrammetry

At launch in September 2020, there were only two UK cities in Microsoft Flight Simulator that had photogrammetry (source) :

  • Portsmouth
  • Southampton

After the UK update in February 2021, an additional 5 cities were added (source) :

  • Birmingham
  • Bristol
  • Cambridge
  • London
  • Oxford

I’ve been checking out each of these looking for odd scenery glitches in the photogrammetry imagery, and have found some interesting examples.

In most locations even at a low altitude, the scenery is almost indistinguishable from real life:

However, where it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work with weird and comical results. Here’s some examples from Southampton:

Sunken boats along the River Itchen:

This is what happens if you don’t move your car when the city resurfaces the road:

Weird plants turned to stone:

B&Q having a meltdown:

I’ve posted a few other examples before, and I’m sure there’s plenty more weirdness to be found:

Butter verses Potato: Elite Dangerous vs Microsoft Flight Simulator using a Quest 2 VR

I bought a Quest 2 specifically to play with Microsoft Flight Simulator using a Link cable. I had a GearVR previously, but this has been my first experience with PC based VR. It’s been a mixed experience. Does it work? Sort of. But you have to put in a ton of time either following settings recommendations or spend time yourself tweaking settings to find what balance works for you. It’s currently a compromise between graphics quality and framerates – unless you drop a few thousand dollars on the fastest hardware and current top of the range Nvidia 3090 (which alone will cost you around $3000) you have to make a compromise.

I’ve followed a lot of online guides for settings recommendations and came up with a combination that worked ok for me. However, I’ve come to accept that this is really two different games with completely different experiences:

  • playing with Ultra everything on desktop and enjoying the incredible graphics (which honestly is incredible)
  • playing in VR with seriously dialed back settings to get it to run smooth, but being amazed at the emersiveness and believable feeling of being in a plane cockpit and actually flying

These are not the same two things for me, at least with the hardware I have. It’s two different games with two different experiences.

Knowing that I’d probably get a much better VR experience with native Quest 2 games, I’ve tried out a few had a great experience (Star Wars Pinball, Job Simulator). so I know the Quest can give a good experience. Standalone it works great.

I’ve played a lot of hours previously with Elite Dangerous, and I remember it was one of the earlier games to get PC VR support. I’d been so focused on getting the settings just right for MS Flight Simulator that I hadn’t even tried any other PC games. So I gave it a go.

I was surprised. So very, very surprised. Compared to MS Flight Simulator it’s a night and day experience. I didn’t bother bringing up the Oculus tray and tweaking any settings, I was just initially curious to see what it would be like. I started up the game, turned on VR headset support in game (didn’t even start it from Steam, and since I’d already started Link it just went straight in. The experience was smooth, it was fluid, no lags, no stutters, it was really an incredible experience. No tweaking settings, no lowering graphics features, it just worked.

The incredible thing was the sense of massiveness of the environment that I’d never experienced playing the game sitting in front of a monitor. The insides of the ship are massive, the ships themselves are massive when viewed from your SRV outside. Flying across the vastness of space feels like you’re there. Approaching a planet you get the sense of how massive the planets are as you approach.

In summary, MS Flight Simulator has not been optimized enough to be comfortably playable yet. Elite Dangerous on the other hand is incredible in VR. The Quest 2 with Link cable can work flawlessly out of the box. I hope MS Flight Simulator will get there but it’s hit or miss whether you can get the settings tuned enough to be playable on your hardware.

Admittedly I have’t tried any other PC games at this point, but if you want a showcase experience of what’s possible, try Elite Dangerous with the Quest 2 over Link. It’s incredible.

“Purchase Pending” error in Microsoft Flight Simulator Marketplace (if you purchased MSFS via Steam)

If you originally purchased Microsoft Flight Simulator via Steam, you may run into an error where any in-game purchases in the Marketplace never complete successfully, you yet a “Purchase Pending” message on the alerts/bell icon in the top right of the screen.

In order to complete in-game purchases, the Steam Overlay needs to be enabled in 2 places:

  1. In the Steam client settings here:

2. On the Flight Simulator game settings in Steam here (right-click game in Steam, then Properties):

By default in-game you should be able to press Shift-Tab and the Steam Overlay will open. If it doesn’ go back and check the settings above, and chec k the key combo is not mapped to anything else. If you can’t get the Overlay to open, the in-game purchase via Steam will not complete either, because the in-game purchase pops up a Steam purchase dialog.

Now when you purchase an add-on in the in-game Maretplace, you should get a Steam dialog popup to complete the purchase via Steam, and then you download will start.

MS Flight Simulator 2020: Release day 1 (8/17/2020) download issues

Seems like there’s been plenty of issues on release day 1 getting the new Flight Simulator 2020 downloaded and installed. For me, here’s a summary of some of the issues I ran into:

  • Installer crashing when using KVM to switch keyboard and mouse to second PC. It took me a while to realize the cause of this as it happens a short while after I made the switch. It seems the installer doesn’t like if you disconnect a wireless mouse or keyboard and the installer would crash without any error to the desktop. Restarting it would pick up from where it left off
  • App starting even though download had failed part way through. This happened a couple of times for me related to the above. I could get to the globe and select a start airport and destination airport, but the ‘Fly’ button wouldn’t do anything
  • Downloader/installer showing incorrect total file size download, total download size, and or percentage. This happened related to the above crashes. If the progress bar is not adding up, look in the download dir below and see where you are with the 001 to 031 files to give a rough idea how far along you are
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  • Depending on whether you purchased on Steam or the Windows Store, and where you selected to install to, your location may vary but for me the location was C:\Users\my-userid\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft Flight Simulator\Packages\Official\Steam . To get an idea how far along you are with the download if the progress bar is not making sense, look for files named fs-base-cgl-0.1.21.fspackage.nnn where nnn ranges from 001 through 031 and each of these files is approx 2GB each. Once you get to 031 there’s a handful of much smaller patch files, then the installer starts decompressing each of the 001 through 031 files (which will vary depending on the speed of your CPU and disk – on my Ryzen 5 3600 with Gen 4 m.2 SSD it was taking about 10secs per file)
  • If you get stuck on one of the numbered files and it seems like the download is not progressing at all, posts online suggest to quit the app, delete the last/most recent file in the above dir on which it’s stuck then start the installer again and it will restart with the last file again