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a plane flies high above Earth in Microsoft Flight Simulator, with a stenciled number 3 superimposed on it Image: Asobo Studio/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon

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Only one company could make Microsoft Flight Simulator

When aviation lovers needed it most, Microsoft Flight Simulator landed on our PCs

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.

I first met Jorg Neumann in the fall of 2018 at the Renton Municipal Airport outside Seattle. The big, boisterous man took center stage to introduce the international press to his latest project — the highly anticipated reboot of the Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise. Nearly two years later, on the eve of Microsoft Flight Simulator’s launch, I had the chance to speak with him again. He seemed tired and quieter, like a man who’d finished a marathon.

Even as the world was reeling from a pandemic, Neumann had somehow managed to launch one of the most ambitious games of the past decade. Created by the team at Asobo Studio in France, Microsoft Flight Simulator is more than just a video game. It is a simulation of the entire world, created with the help of dozens of international technology partners. And, in no small part thanks to Neumann, it actually debuted more or less on time.

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With my final question, I asked the man who led that project for a suggestion of where in the world I should go for my first in-game flight. There was a long pause.

“I’m travel-restricted,” Neumann finally said in his delightfully accented English, his voice suddenly thick with emotion. “I’ve been in this house, basically, since March. I miss my parents, who live in Germany. So, I went home. I landed in the lake [near their house] and I called my parents.”

Like Neumann, and the millions of Americans who have been abiding CDC guidelines, I haven’t traveled farther than five miles from my home more than once or twice this year. The same goes for my kids, who haven’t set one foot in their grade school since the spring. My wife had planned a surprise trip to celebrate my 40th birthday in July, the first chance we would have had to travel alone since our honeymoon. Like Neumann’s trip to visit his parents in Europe, that adventure also had to be canceled.

Microsoft Flight Simulator has been my escape. With it I can touch every continent in the span of a single hour, and tour the great landmarks of the world by the hundreds. I can fly with my friends, sharing the sky with people I can’t be physically near in the real world. I even used it to teach my wife how to fly. So, virtually at least, we got the chance to visit Iceland after all.

a twin-engine jet high above patchy clouds in Microsoft Flight Simulator Image: Asobo Studio/Xbox Game Studios

It feels to me like Microsoft Flight Simulator arrived here in 2020 when people needed it the most. But it’s more than just good timing. This game is the rare example of the kind of project that only Microsoft could make. Who else but that company has the ability to bring together high-fidelity maps of the entire world with a skilled team of game developers? What other company — aside from maybe a Google or an Amazon — could couple that work to a dedicated cloud-based server infrastructure, and the internet bandwidth needed to support it all?

Put into that context, Microsoft Flight Simulator feels like a gift. And, thanks to its inclusion in the Xbox Game Pass collection and its planned launch on Xbox Series X next summer, millions of people will soon be able to share it. It’s an incredible technical achievement, but also an example of a billion-dollar company creating something that can give people joy, comfort, and community. That makes it worthy of inclusion in our games of the year.