Microsoft Flight Simulator AI generated scenery oddity – Maenwrog, Wales, UK

Microsoft Flight Simulator uses Blackshark.ai to generate 3d scenery buildings from interpreting patterns like shadows in the 2d photo map imagery. In most cases this works great, but occasionally there’s some weird interpretations of the imagery that generates some incredible structures.

Here’s one example south-west of Maenwrog in Wales. If you look at Google Maps of this area, there is line casting a shadow on the ground and some regularly spaces structures along the shadow. I’m guessing these are power lines and pylons. However, in the sim this is interpreted as this very impressive and incredibly large bridge to no-where structure:

Location in Volanta moving map app:

It will be interesting after the upcoming UK scenery World Update if this is still here or if it gets fixed.

Oculus Quest 2 settings for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

The current state of PC based VR in 2021 ranges from:

  • OMG this is incredible, it’s so immersive it feels like you’re really there!

to

  • The low FPS is terrible, stuttering and motion tracking lag, ugh this is making me seasick

I just got an Oculus Quest 2 to use with Microsoft Flight Simulator with the Link cable. I was surprised that out of the box it’s actually a terrible experience with MSFS, horrible framerate (< 10fps), and jerky, laggy head tracking. I could only handle it for about 5 mins before taking it off. My initial reaction was that I was disappointed. I know from reading online though that plenty of people are using a Quest 2 over Link successfully and are pleased with the results, so some searching around found a number of threads recommending optimal settings.

tldr; if you’re prepared to spend time tweaking driver and and app settings, the Quest 2 with MSFS really is an incredible experience, and for the low cost (compared to something like the G2 Reverb), I’d definitely recommend it. To get it running smoothly though, you need to make a number of updates and config changes in a number of different places:

  • Disable any onscreen display overlay type apps, e.g. in onscreen display in Ndivida settings and disable the Window 10 Game bar. There seems to be a known issue with onscreen display apps that either the Quest, the Link drivers, or MSFS cannot handle correctly right now, resulting in the display in the headset flickering back and forth between MSFS and the Oculus Home app
  • Update the Oculus software to Beta and accept the updates to run latest beta versions
  • ymmv but for me the SteamVR approach was much less smooth than the Oculus OpenXR software. Try both and see what works best for you. Others reported the SteamVR software was smoother for them

Here’s my specs for comparison (specific details here):

Asus X570 mobo

Ryzen 5 3600XT

32GB DDR4 RAM

Corsair MP600 m2 NVMe SSD PCIe Gen4

RTX 2060

There are a couple of useful threads where you can find the majority of these tuning tips, these 2 specifically:

https://forums.flightsimulator.com/t/quest-2-2080ti-link-fs2020-set-in-ultra-best-performance-simple-setup-guide/346291

and

https://forums.flightsimulator.com/t/my-2070-super-vr-settings-and-suggestions-index-steamvr/321913

For the majority of my settings I followed these exactly and tweaked slightly to get the smoothest settings I was comfortable. Here’s screenshots of the relevant parts:

Nvidia control panel:

Oculus app: 90hz and 1.3 was recommended in one of the threads, but I went with 80hz and 1.0 that I found was much smoother:

Oculus Tray App – start as Administrator and leave running when you run MSFS:

0.8,0.8 FOV had a significant improvement to the framerate. Any smaller than this, like 0.7,0.7 and I could noticably see the reduced field of view in the headset.

Link settings:

I’m not sure how much difference these settings made. I played around with the Bitrate for example between 250 and 500 and didn’t notice any improvement to the quality or the framerate.

For me, the combination of all the above settings with my hardware resulted in very playable and smooth output in the headset. I don’t think the graphics are as sharp as they could be, but I’d rather have smooth and less sharp than super sharp and detailed but juddering around when I move my head.

I was very surprised that the Quest 2 does not produce good results with MSFS and the link cable out of the box, but following some of the recommendations you find in the linked forums threads should get you good results.

Two weeks later: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 – what’s good (and what’s not)?

I’m two weeks into playing the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 and in general, it’s awesome. Completely awesome. The graphics really are eye popping, however there’s a surprising number of scenery glitches, annoyances and other bugs. A lot of bugs. But is it still playable? Yes. Definitely. Issues and bugs aside, it’s incredibly good.

First, what’s good?

A lot. Too much to summarize really. Here’s a few key features:

The new globe map

… is awesome. I’ve no idea why FSX still used the incredibly simple map that wasn’t even draggable with your mouse; you needed to move it around clicking 4 cursor icons. This was probably my biggest pet peeve with previous MS FS versions. Dragging the globe around to select an airport to depart from or even a flight plan is quick and easy. One minor issue, given that the maps and scenery are based on Bing maps it’s odd that if you zoom in on the globe to even citywide level the map displays as a blurry nondescript mess with zero detail. At a much higher regional level there is a satellite level of landscape detail and real weather patterns fly by – which is also a very nice touch.

Low level flight detail

The level of detail in the scenery at ground level and even flying 100 feet from the ground is incredible. I’ve never seen this level of detail close up in a flight sim before and it opens up a whole new aspect of low level game play and realism that just wasn’t there in any previous flight sim. In FSX, above 2000 feet or so most scenery looks ok, but flying anywhere lower than 1000 feet it gets blurry. Land on the ground in a random location and the ground texture is just a blur with smeary and pixelated detail.

In FS 2020 however, the textures at ground level are rendered with an amazingly high level of detail. There’s short grass, long grass, and other bushy vegetation. The grass moves around in the wind. Trees around you look believable up close. You can fly from field to field barely above the ground, inbetween trees, over the tree tops and it looks great.

Here’s a couple of shots from landing on the surrounding mountains in the Lake District UK:

This doesn’t always work as planned though. The photogrammetry approach of rendering aerial photography on top of 3d elevation data sometimes results in some terrifying scenery glitches that look like the world has been melted by a nuclear blast. More on that at later.

Global photorealistic detail everywhere

In the past, if you wanted photorealistic scenery you could purchase add-ons for FSX and other sims, e.g. VFR Photographic Scenery from JustFlight. It’s incredible to think that we now have photorealistic scenery everywhere, for practically the whole world, without needing to purchase or download location specific addons. The combination of a massive 100GB initial install plus constantly streaming scenery as you play achieves something that only a few years ago would have seemed impossible.

If you have enough bandwidth the game will download scenery as needed, but if you don’t have enough bandwidth the game will give you a warning that it’s unable to download fast enough. You can carry on anyway, or in the menu settings you can define preload cached scenery areas and download them and cache them for when you fly into those areas. There’s 3 different scenery detail levels, low/medium/high, and you can select the level of detail depending how far you are zoomed in on the map. If you are zoomed in close you can select squares on the map to download at highlevel. If you are zoomed out at a region level, you can select large squares of area to cache at a lower level.

Ok, now on to the issues…

Scenery and rendering issues

Tall palm trees appear to get rendered as abstract rock sculptures. In areas with a lot of palm trees, the areas tend to look like some futuristic apocalyptic nightmare where trees have turned to stone:

A lot of bridges are not modeled as 3d objects and appear under water. Satellite scenery of rivers or coastlines that include boats and ships get rendered below the animated water:

Along rivers and coast lines where you’d expect to see boats and jetties, they’re rendered a few feet underwater which makes for some weirdly apocalyptic scenes:

There’s no modeling of the physics of landing on water. Yes, you can land on and take off from water with the A5, but there’s no effects that show the water reacting to the aircraft, so no splashes or wakes that we even had in FSX before. Hopefully this gets added later. Your aircraft doesn’t appear to float either. The animation of stormy sea looks completely awesome, but when landed on water the animation of the waves appears to occur in the background and you’re just greenscreened on top of it.

Scenery Issues

You don’t have to go far, especially in cities, before you come across some bizarrely wonderful scenery rendering glitches. Here are some of my favorites from 30 mins flying around the SF Bay Area:

Fisherman’s Wharf in ruins:

Image

Melted ships and cars that look like they’re burnt out and abandoned:

Image

A car crashed through the entrance of the Hyatt – what’s interesting about this one is the driveway and entrance goes underneath the building at street level, so I’m guessing the rendering engine (or Bing) doesn’t know how to handle that imagery and just pasted in vertically on the surface of the building:

Image

Tall structures like cranes and tall bridges get rendered like the scenery is draped over a solid structure, that leads to some weird abstract buildings:

More solid cranes:

Areas with docklands are full of issues, as you’ve got tall cranes and large ships where the game doesn’t really know if it’s a building or a ship, and in some cases fills ships full of autogen shrubbery, with amusing results such as these:

Most of these ‘melted’ and unusual scenery issues seem to be in areas where the photogrammetry scenery is used, in other areas where there’s only autogen buildings they don’t seem to have the same issues.

Summary

This latest version of Microsoft Flight Simulator is incredible in how far modern technology has progressed the flight sim genre from what we became used to in predecessors like FSX. However, it’s also quite alarming how many issues there are in the game on release. Given that Microsoft and Asobo are committing to a 10 year support lifetime for the game, there will be fixes and updates coming, but it will be interesting to see how often these come and how they chose to prioritize the types of issues they fix.