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Microsoft Flight Simulator’s first major update focuses on Japan

World Update 1 arrives the week after Tokyo Game Show 2020

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Less than two months after the launch of the game itself, the team behind Microsoft Flight Simulator has unveiled a major free update. The first in a series of staggered free and for-pay upgrades, this World Update focuses on Japan and will be released Sept. 29, Microsoft announced Thursday during Tokyo Game Show Online 2020.

Flight Simulator uses satellite, photographic, and other publicly and privately available data sets to recreate the entire planet for players to fly over. Prior to the game’s launch on Aug. 18, developers at Asobo Studio and Xbox Game Studios explained their post-launch roadmap to the press in a private briefing. They said that after the game’s virtual reality systems were buttoned up, the next step would be to release World Update 1. These updates, they said, would allow the developers to revisit a discrete portion of the globe and spruce the place up a bit. But at the time, it was not clear at what scale or how regularly those updates would be made.

Now, with the announcement of World Update 1: Japan, we know that it’s possible for the developers to update the look and feel of an entire country in one go.

“The update features an upgraded digital elevation map across the entire country, high-resolution 3D photogrammetry for six prominent Japanese cities (Sendai, Takamatsu, Tokushima, Tokyo, Utsunomiya and Yokohama), and six handcrafted local airports (Hachijojima, Kerama, Kushiro, Nagasaki, Shimojishima, and Suwanosejima),” said Jeremy Hinton, head of Xbox Asia, in an Xbox Wire article.

World Update 1 will also introduce new Landing Challenges set at airports across Japan.

These changes will not only adjust the look and feel of the built-up areas of Japan, but will smooth out any incongruities in the countryside as well — many of which jumped out at players soon after launch. As a result, expect much more realistic terrain at all altitudes. The trailer for World Update 1 shows off dozens of new buildings, locations, and points of interest throughout Japan. The list includes cultural sites, like Himeji Castle and the famous “floating” torii gate at Miyajima’s Itsukushima Shrine, as well as airports and urban centers. It should be great for players eager to do some virtual travel.

Getting back to the post-launch roadmap after World Update 1, fans should expect Microsoft Flight Simulator’s next update to focus on the nuts and bolts of the airplanes themselves. It’ll be called Sim Update 1, and could include anything from improved flight models to new planes altogether. Like the World Update, that content will be free.

Following the Sim Update, that’s when the team will announce its first paid downloadable content. The cycle will repeat from there — World Update, Sim Update, paid DLC. Nothing beyond the Japan update has been announced, but the developers certainly have plans in mind. They tell Polygon they’re in it for the long haul, with the goal of treating Microsoft Flight Simulator as a platform for the next decade.

There’s word yet on when Microsoft Flight Simulator will be making its promised debut on Xbox consoles. The release window of the game’s VR upgrade has also not been announced, and is expected to hinge on the release of the HP Reverb G2 headset. The game is currently available only on Windows PC, where you can purchase it outright or access it through the Xbox Game Pass for PC subscription service. For more on Microsoft Flight Simulator, check out our guide.

Update (Sept. 29): World Update 1: Japan is now live, in a decently sized patch that weighs in at approximately 9 GB. However, to get access to the new in-game scenery, you’ll need to opt in to that content. After downloading the patch, players will have to manually “claim” World Update 1: Japan in the in-game Marketplace tab, Microsoft said in an Xbox Wire post. (To check if you’ve got the latest patch, hit Alt+Enter at the main menu — the version number should be v1.9.3.0 if you’re up to date.)

You can check out the full patch notes on the Microsoft Flight Simulator website.

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