Monday, September 10, 2007

Google Earth flight simulator

By now the word is well out there that Google Earth has an Easter Egg flight simulator. It's even mentioned in Wikipedia. I've played with this a bit, and I think its worth having, but only because it is worth having Google Earth. It is fun, but you are not likely to get much actual flying enjoyment from it.

It made perfect sense to implement this feature, as they already had most of the ingredients: the imagery, a method to map the imagery to contours, and a way to manipulate the view so that you can it all from any perspective. All they had to come up with was a way to dynamically move through this world, with a motion that mimicked the behavior of an airplane. The result is fairly primitive flight simulator that feels like an arcade game. It's buggy too-- I can't give any better evaluation of the flight dynamics because when I fly it keeps resetting the throttle. However, there is a smidgen of realism. You can make it can stall, and it is smart enough to register a crash if you attempt to land on water.

There is no cockpit beyond a HUD, and there is no outside view, which is not surprising because that would take a major development effort. I would be very happy if they at least added the usual preset views that you could use with the number pad or hat switch. As it is, you can't see your house unless you are flying right at it. There is a way to pan the view (Alt+ arrow keys, or Ctrl+ arrow keys for slow and fast panning, respecively) but this is not easy to use in flight. As a result, landings are hard to set up.

There are 3D buildings for some major cities, which are not on by default but can be activated using the layers options. I find they really slow down the performance, and as you can see many are unpainted.

So you can have a bit of fun flying over your own house, flying to work, or zooming through the Grand Canyon. All in the daytime, in a single (mixed-up) season, and without weather. Beyond that there's not too much to do. But this is exciting because this is that clearly this is the future of flightsimming. Surely live streaming imagery will be in MSFS eventually. (I know there is a project to do this in FSX now, but someday this will be the way it is out of the box.) Maybe Flight Gear will beat them to it.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Feeding the hobby

Again, apologies to flightsimmers who come to this blog hoping for lots of flightsim info, because I have another installment in the Generic Hobby Blog. All I can say is that one of the motivations for starting this blog was to write about the experience of having an engrossing hobby, as much as to write about the hobby itself.

I notice, as I get deeper into my return to serious classical guitar playing how many of the same psychological dynamics come into play. And today, I want to discuss what I think of as "feeding the hobby". By this, I mean the sense of obligation to contribute something to the hobby on a regular basis. In flightsimming, this manifests itself as the need to throw more addons, and sometimes hardware, at the sim. For music, this can mean finding more sheet music, buying accessories, CDs, or the ultimate: upgrading the instrument itself.

Yesterday, I went to Staples and bought a new binder to hold my sheet music. I have a number of binders already, but this is to be my main binder that will hold my daily practice music. I didn't skimp and get the cheapest model, but got a deluxe version with D rings, a rubberized spine, a new and improved ring opening and closing mechanism. Then I got tab dividers and some of those post-it flag thingies for marking groups of music. The reason I mention all of this is that I noticed how it felt good, and I realized once again that I was feeding the hobby.

If this description might strike some as sinister, as if the hobby has become some kind of idol, demanding regular sacrifices. However, I think the explanation is more benign. This is a form of compensation: I'm not able to spend as much time on music as I would like, so I buy stuff for it, or find more public domain music online to print out. It is a kind of vicarious enjoyment of the hobby.

Do you feel the need to feed the hobby?

Oh, I haven't posted a screen shot here in a while, so here's a quick one to show you that I still get a little flying in, now and then. This is on final approach into KPVD, with the marvelous Flight Scenery addon scenery. I personally know all of these stores and restaurants, as I've driven my car this way often.