There are hundreds of games out there. Games of all different types: first person shooters, RPGs, arcade, sports, military combat; probably a hundred or more variations of each. But, being quite big on airplanes, when I was looking for a Flight Simulator, I found I had only one commercial program available: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004. It had a lovely price tag of $50 (even after being out for a year!). I decided it was time to look into other alternatives; that being open source programs.
This week, I review FlightGear, an open source flight simulator that will match, if not beat Microsoft’s $50 alternative. Not only does it work for Windows, but also on several Linux/UNIX platforms. It has a wide variety of airplanes available to fly, and many awesome features that you can only get from an open source program. FlightGear can be downloaded here: http://www.flightgear.org.
The first thing I noticed about FlightGear was the selection of airplanes and terrains available. The list of available planes went from the Wright Brother’s first plane to today’s state-of-the-art military fighter jets. As for avaible terrains, you can download the entire planet (said to be large enough to fit on 3 DVDs), or download 10 x 10 squares off of their website (I found each square to be around 80 MB, give or take a few). There are also several attractions that were custom-made for accuracy, also available on the main site.
Based on OpenGL graphics rendering, this program can really do just about anything and make it look realistic. You can program your own graphics including: terrain, create airports, and airplanes, if the wide selection of pre-made planes are not enough for you. You can program (or reprogram) flight controls and control response. The graphics features are virtually as limited as your imagination.
Performance and ease of use are both pretty good considering the scale of the program. It is a little sluggish on old machines and video cards, but faster systems have no problem running it. It is very simple, with a limited knowledge of flying, although it may take some getting used to. There are tutorials and links on the FlightGear site that offer many beginners the direction they need to get started.
The user interface is very clean and easy to use. I enjoy being able to see my options clearly in front of me, not having to dig through menu after menu or annoying wizards. You can customize every aspect of your flight; a common feature on flight simulators. From the time of day to the type of navigation; even control over the weather and clouds, as well as the ability to toggle the 3D cockpit on and off–you can do it all! I’m very impressed with the interface overall.
A cool feature that has been toyed with in past versions of flight simulators (although a similar feature is included in M$ flight sim 2004), is the networking capability. If you have a friend over and want to practice your formation skills or just fly around for fun, you can now do that. I think it is pretty sweet that you can fly around with your buddies over the network. Although I haven’t had a chance to try it, it is said to be nearly-perfected. For those of you who are interested in trying out a flight simulator, but are not interested in paying for one, I highly recommend this program. The features are simply unlimited. It is about as realistic as you can get without overloading the memory, and files sizes are reasonable. FlightGear definitely meets my standards. Go out and give it a try for yourself!
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