Whether it started in 1979 or 1980, it’s fair to speak of a Legend, when we talk about (Microsoft) Flight Simulator. A legend that has been around since 36 years and is reportedly the program in the public sector, of which the most copies are sold. This post is dedicated to this legend and to its genius creator: Bruce Artwick. But let’s not forget the important role of subLOGIC and Microsoft as distributors.
In the mid-70’s Bruce Artwick was an electrical engineering graduate student at the University of Illinois. Being a passionate pilot, it was only natural that the principles of flight became the focus of his master’s work. In his thesis of May 1975, called “A versatile computer-generated dynamic flight display”, he presented a model of the flight of an aircraft, displayed on a computer screen. He proved that the 6800 processor (the first available microcomputer) was able to handle both the arithmetic and the graphic display, needed for real-time flight simulation. In short: the first Flight Simulator was born.
In 1978 Bruce Artwick, together with Stu Moment, founded his own software company by the name of SubLOGIC and started developing graphic software for the 6800, 6502, 8080 and other processors. In 1979 he decided to take the model from his thesis one step further and developed the first Flight Simulator program for the Apple-II (based on the 6502 processor), followed shortly by a version for the Radio Shack TRS-80. Both versions completely coded in their respective machine-code. In January 1980 SubLOGIC FS1 hit the consumer market. By 1981 Flight Simulator was reportedly the best selling title for the Apple. By the end of 1997 Microsoft claimed to have sold not less than 10 million copies of all versions of FS, making it the best sold software title in the entertainment sector. And in 2000 Microsoft Flight Simulator was taken up in the Guinness Book of Records with 21 million copies sold per June 1999. We certainly owe one to Bruce Artwick.
His work didn’t go unnoticed. Another nerd from Redmond had just set up his own small software company called Microsoft and was shifting his attention from the C64 to the newly developed IBM-PC. This fellow Gates entered a bidding war with IBM to obtain a license for FS. Microsoft won the courtship because as Artwick said: “its nice small company atmosphere and the genuine interest of Vern Raburn, head of the consumer products division”. So Microsoft obtained a joint license with Bruce Artwick.
In November 1982 Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.01 hit the stores as one of the first PC entertainment titles, shortly after followed by version 2. MS-FS featured a new and sophisticated co-ordinate system for the FS-world, developed by Bruce Artwick. And as with all subsequent releases this first version already demanded so much from computer resources that people had to run to the computer stores to buy bigger and faster machines, primarily for the sake of running Flight Simulator.
When looking from a distance this version already has a marked resemblance in structure with even the latest versions. The next few years saw a continuing of new releases.
In the next years SubLOGIC itself first released a parallel line in the form of a new version FS II for the Apple II (1984), which itself was in improved version of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2, made possible by the superior color display of the Apple. Between 1984 and 1987 another 14 versions or releases followed for a lot of different personal computers, notably the Commodore 64 and Amiga, Atari 800 and ST and Apple MacIntosh.
In 1988 Bruce Artwick split with Stu Moment, left SubLOGIC and started his own company: BAO Ltd (Bruce Artwick Organisation), solely for the purpose of developing and marketing flightsimulation products, concentrated on Microsoft Flight Simulator. Later that year Microsoft FS 3.0 was released, which featured separate windows and for the first time (Microsoft FS) allowed the aircraft to be seen from the outside! The previous releases (1987/88) of FS II for the Atari ST, Amiga and MacIntosh already showed most of these features.
In 1989 this was followed by a similar, but improved version 4.0, which was released also as the last version for the Apple Macintosh. A whole new era started in 1990, when Microsoft for the first time made a kind of opening in the up till then hermetically sealed product. This by releasing the first add-on product in the form of the BAO-developed Aircraft and Scenery Designer (A&SD), which for the first time allowed users to generate their own scenery and aircraft.
New versions of Flight Simulator for the PC kept coming from the BAO/Microsoft tandem. As Bruce Artwick himself once mentioned; “the odd versions containing the new features and techniques, the even versions the refinements”. Other companies participated as well, like Microscene that developed a lot of the standard and add-on scenery for Microsoft Flight Simulator with BAO as the producer. A noted example: the very nice Caribbean Scenery.
In 1993 FS 5.0 was released, containing new scenery based upon a true world-co-ordinate system (making FS 4.0 scenery obsolete) and with lots of other new features. In 1995 MS released FS 5.1, the first version on CD-Rom. In between in 1994 BAO released the add-on scenery Europe-1, developed by the Alting Brothers from the Netherlands. And in 1995 the long awaited FLIGHTSHOP program finally arrived, which started the ever-continuing stream of new aircraft we still witness today.
The last version of MS Flight Simulator developed by Artwick (BAO) was FS for Windows 95 (FSW95 or FS 6.0 as it is called internally). According to Artwick, being an even-numbered release, this would have been a refinement-release. In fact it can be regarded as such, as most of its improvements related to better aircraft-models, better panels, more and fully-textured scenery, more buildings, bridges etc. The most interesting thing however was that with the porting to Windows, frame rates improved with a factor of 1½, even while the resolution also had been improved. This was contrary to what was expected by all the Windows-haters, who remembered the woes of trying to run Flight Simulator 4 and 5 under Windows 3.11. In one of his columns in MicroWINGS Magazine Bruce Artwick explained how and why that was possible.
Shortly before the release of FSW95, Artwick sold BAO to Microsoft. As he pointed out in a column in MW Magazine he was convinced that a small firm like BAO would not be able to generate the resources needed to survive in the ever more demanding world of computer entertainment in general and Flight Simulation in special. Most developers of BAO joined Microsoft. Bruce Artwick himself did not make the switch, but he remained involved in the development of MS-FS as a consultant and supervisor. Around the same time SubLOGIC was taken over by Sierra, another big marketer of entertainment titles, to develop a rival flightsim called Pro Pilot.
Between 1996 and 2000 two new versions of MS-Flight Simulator have been released. The one, Microsoft Flight Simulator 98, was brought to market in August 1997 as the 15th year anniversary of FS, touting more than 10 million copies sold world-wide. This can indeed be seen as being mostly a maintenance release, nevertheless including a lot of new features. The most important of those being a true rotary wing helicopter simulation. This version also brings a lot of handling ease, compared to its predecessors.
The current version is MS-FS2000, also designed to run under the Windows 95/98/Me/2000 system. This again is a groundbreaking version as it features a 3D-elevation grid for the scenery database. This made in fact all earlier scenery more or less obsolete, but improved the realisticity of the scenery by a large factor. Here it also becomes clear that Artwick was right by selling BAO to Microsoft, as reportedly more than 130 developers were involved in this new version. And than still it needed two succeeding patches to get rid of some terrible mistakes and to get the shadows back! But this version surely is almost “as real as it gets”.
And in Oct 2001 eighth generation: FS 2002 (FS 8.0), embellished version, in which many of the then existing wishes were fulfilled. Improved 3D-elevation (mesh-scenery), AutoGen buildings, trees, virtual cockpit with working instruments, AI aircraft at airports and in the air, “live” ATC. Smooth performance.
In July 2003 ninth generation: FS 2004 (FS 9.0) – “A Century of Flight”. More or less the FS 2002 as we would have liked it. Great weather and clouds. Improved mesh and autogen, much better AI aircraft and ATC. Nice old planes in keeping with the theme, better aircraft in general. Very smooth performance.
In Oct 2004 (FS 9.1) – Patch to version 9.1 by Microsoft, solving a number of problems, including fixes for crashes, Autogen and multiplayer support, improved mesh support and re-installment of missing bridges. New problems with existing add-on programs.
Article Writer: Jos Grupping, Overasselt, The Netherlands
subLOGIC FS1 for the Apple II (1980)
The first ever Flight Simulator was FS1 for the Apple II, written by Bruce Artwick in 1979 and released by subLOGIC in January 1980. A few months later followed by a similar version for the TRS-80. Both were written in their respective assembly language for optimal speed and capabilities. The program screen of the Apple version already had the familiar division we still see when starting the very latest release of Flight Simulator, with a (simple) panel below and a 3D “out of the window” view above. On the main page of this website you can see an animated sequence of pictures from this A2-FS1.
The medium of that time was a version of the audio tape cassette most of us will still remember. Awfully slow and not very reliable. See the picture below. It needed very careful handling in order to load correctly.
subLOGIC FS 1 for the TRS-80 (1980)
FS1 for the TRS-80 was released in March 1980 as a sequel to FS1 for the Apple II. As the introduction states: “The T80-FS1 is the second version of the FS1 program. Feedback from users of our initial Apple II version of FS1 has been used extensively in the TRS-80 version.” Because of the poor graphic resolution (128 x 48) of the TRS-80 there is no panel in this version, but some parameters and controls around the edges. See the second picture below. To the right the “cardboard” mountains.
Microsoft FS 1 for the IBM PC (1982)
In 1982 Microsoft entered the Flight Simulator world with a version for the IBM PC of this successful title that subLOGIC had been marketing for the Apple and the TRS-80 since 1980. After a bidding war with IBM, Microsoft acquired the rights for publishing a version of FS for the just released IBM Personal Computer (PC). As you can see below this version was much advanced, compared to the earlier version FS1 for the Apple and TRS-80. Like the manual states it features a “real” panel with eight gauges and all instruments the FAA considered necessary for VFR and IFR fright. It also features “real scenery”. The starting position was at Meigs Airport, Chicago.
Although it was in fact a second generation Flight Simulator, Microsoft started the numbering with version 1.0. The picture above is a screenshot from the slightly enhanced release 1.05 (from 1983), still featuring a black and white display.
Microsoft FS 2 for the PC (1986)
After the first release in 1982 of Microsoft Flight Simulator (created for MS by subLOGIC) a few sub releases were published with slight improvements. In 1984 the first release with colour support was put on the market under version number 2.10, again followed by newer releases with improved functionality. Version 2.13, released in 1986, was the first version with both EGA colour and mouse support, as well as support for the extended keyboard and MS-DOS 3.2 and even LCD-displays! Although the IBM PC had limited 4-colour functionality, use of a clever dithering algorithm boosted the number of available colours to 10. See the picture below.
subLOGIC FS II for the Apple II (1983)
Flight Simulator II for the Apple II was first released by subLOGIC in 1983, about one year after the release of the first version of FS by Microsoft for the PC. The graphics are a bit different, especially with respect to the use of colours. The PC versions use only 4 colours and dithering, while the other versions use solid colours. But functionally both versions are the same. This version was released on a 5,25″ floppy disk. The screen has the familiar look with an almost complete panel below and the 3D scenery view above. As far as I know, the colours in the picture below are quite authentic, including the misplaced stray colours.
subLOGIC FS II for the C 64 (1984)
Flight Simulator II for the Commodore 64 was released by subLOGIC in 1984, about one year after the release of the first version of FS II for the Apple II. The graphics are a bit different, but functionally both versions are the same. This version was released on a 5,25″ floppy disk. The screen has the familiar look with an almost complete panel below and the 3D scenery view above. As far as I know, the colours in the picture below are quite authentic and much better than those of its Apple II counterpart. The real problem with the C64 version is that it takes ages to load and is very slow in the running.
subLOGIC FS II for the Atari ST (1986)
In 1985 a new breed of personal computers entered the market, based on the new Motorola 68000 processor. Among them the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga. For these machines subLOGIC decided to create a new version of Flight Simulator, oddly enough still numbered FS II and published in 1986. This was however a completely new and vastly expanded program with many new features, taking advantage of the enhanced functionality, capacity and speed of the new processor. A similar version was published in 1986 by Microsoft for the Apple Macintosh, based on the same 68000 processor.
Microsoft FS 1 for the Apple Macintosh (1986)
In 1982 Microsoft released the first version of Flight Simulator for the IBM PC. Like all other versions this one too was created by subLOGIC. Essentially this was the true predecessor of our current version with a more or less complete panel and a 3D out-of-the-window view above. The next comparable release was FS II for the Apple II in 1983 by subLOGIC itself, followed by similar releases for the Commodore 64 and Atari 400/800. In 1984 Microsoft released an improved version 2.10 for the PC. All these versions together formed the second generation of the Flight Simulator series.In 1985 subLOGIC released new versions of Flight Simulator II for the much more powerful Atari ST and Commodore Amiga computers, based on the 68000 processor and equipped with a Windows-like operating system. The new versions made good use of the new menu system and, although still numbered FS II, one could argue that based on the many new features and new menu system, these versions essentially belonged to a third generation and should have been numbered version III.
Around the same time Apple released its new Macintosh computer, also based on the 6800 processor. Macintosh users however had to wait till 1986 for their new version of FS to arrive. Like those for the IBM PC, this version was created by subLOGIC, but marketed by Microsoft. Because the Macintosh initially only had a black and white screen, FS 1 for the Mac was released as a monochrome version only, but with a much higher resolution! See below. The high quality b/w screen probably was the reason that Charlie Gulick used the Mac version for the illustrations in his famous book “Flying Flight Simulator: Co-Pilot” (1987) for the Amiga, Atari ST and Macintosh.
subLOGIC FS II for the MSX (1988)
There exists a rare and strange variant of FS II for the MSX, called Flight Simulator with Torpedo Attack. Although released by subLOGIC as late as 1988, it doesn’t look like any of the other contemporary versions for the PC, Macintosh or other computers. It can be considered as just an enhanced version of the WW I game that was included in the other versions. This version was released on MSX cartridge. The screen display is completely different as well.
Microsoft FS 3 for the PC (1988)
In 1986 subLOGIC released new versions of FS II for the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga; Microsoft published a similar version for the Apple Macintosh. The new version sported a new menu system, multiple windows, outside views (tower, spot), a refined co-ordinate system, addition of a Learjet 25 and a multiplayer option. And of course an enhanced and expanded scenery with much better graphics. All possible because those systems were based on the new Motorola 6800 processor, which was far superior to the contemporary PC. Because of its third generation functionality it should have been called Flight Simulator III. Users of PC’s however were left behind with their old 2.1x versions.
Finally in 1988 Microsoft caught up with the release of a new version 3.0 for the IBM PC and compatibles. This was clearly based on the version for the Amiga and the Atari ST, with the same, but slightly enhanced user interface and functionality. Together they form generation 3 of Flight Simulator. FS 3.0 made full use of the 16 colour EGA graphics of that time. However it did not make the impact it probably deserved to make, because most PC’s still had monochrome displays. This time users of the other types of computers were left in the dark as their version turned out to be the last for their systems. Except for the Apple Macintosh that would eventually see a copy of the next version 4.0!
Look at those clouds 🙂
Microsoft FS 4 for the PC (1989)
Soon after the release of Flight Simulator 3.0 in 1988 users started complaining about bugs and about mediocre flight characteristics in FS 3.0. As was said: “it felt like flying on rails”. Microsoft listened and responded by rather quickly publishing a new version 4.0 with improved flight characteristics in 1989. This version contained a lot of other improvements like a better weather system, dynamic scenery. approach lighting systems and the first attempt on ATC. Another novelty was the addition of an “experimental aircraft”, that could be modified.
FS 4.0 became a huge success, not in the last place because of the release in 1990 of the very interesting add-on: the “Aircraft and Scenery Designer (A&SD), developed for Microsoft by the “Bruce Artwick Organisation” (BAO) that Artwick had founded after leaving subLOGIC. For the first time users could create and modify their own scenery and aircraft and exchange them with other FS pilots. The up till that moment completely closed program finally had been opened for add-ons by third parties. Ultimately this would lead to the multi-billion dollar (euro) add-on industry of today.
Microsoft FS 5.0a for the PC (1993)
This is the last pure MS-DOS version, distributed on floppy only, including the additional patch to version 5.0a that was issued early 1994. It is also the first of a completely new generation, with characteristics anticipating the versions to follow. Very distinct from its predecessors in many aspects. Both reasons make it attractive to include it.
FS 5 contains a more or less photo realistic panel, which with respect to composition, lay-out and functionality however is not really different from earlier versions. See picture below. Just compare that to the panel in MS FS 1 of 1982!
FS 4, together with A&SD (Aircraft and Scenery Designer), marked the start of the add-on development, which started as a pure freeware scene, but eventually ended as the current multi million dollar industry. Many of he developers of those early days can still be found as developers or managers at the add-on companies. FS 5 upped the ante by providing a much nicer panel and much improved scenery.
Microsoft FS 5.1 for the PC (1993)
This is the last pure MS-DOS version, distributed on two different media, both on (3) floppy disks and (for the first time) on CD-ROM. The big difference was the introduction of haze and limited visibility in the distance, but there were also better clouds and improved panel night-lighting.
In reality it is a beefed up version of FS 5.0, with more and bigger sceneries in a 32 times enhanced resolution and much better textures. A cache system was included for faster loading. Better coastlines, night effects, clouds, textured and especially the addition of haze made the FS-world again look more realistic. More that 350 airports were now included and world wide airport refuelling made round the world trips feasible. Finally a performance switch was added, giving the user a trade-off between higher frame rates or better looks.
The floppy version is functionally the same, with the same more or less photorealistic panel. But it is very limited if compared to the CD-version and has still the same resolution as FS 5.0. Also otherwise it looked very much like FS 5.0. On the Old FS Vault only the floppy version is offered, as the CD version is considered to be part of the newer generations.