I’ve been enjoying the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 which features the ability to fly anywhere in the world with often amazing displays of detail and realism, including live weather effects. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s several written reviews (IGN, Polygon, Gamerant) and a few showcase videos:
Even with the whole world available to explore, it’s particularly fun to fly around places that you know very well from the ground. I’ve created a couple of videos of such flights – here’s the Santa Cruz area, including the boardwalk, downtown, Scotts Valley, Felton and along the coast to Año Nuevo:
Some locations (like Santa Cruz above) benefit from detailed photogrammetry data providing lots of realistic detail. Other locations get carefully handcrafted buildings and objects (particularly at select airports), while the rest of the planet gets more generic textures and topographical information from satellite data and auto-generated details like trees and buildings. For example, the generic buildings populating the ghost town of Bodie are very out of place in my little tour of the Eastern Sierra – from Bishop to Mammoth and on to Mono Lake and Bodie:
Lots of folks are already making add-ons that you can drop in to enhance the rendering of a particular location or add a particular plane. Here’s one great index of available add-ons for MS Flight Simulator.
I’m running MS Flight Simulator on my 16″ 2019 MacBook Pro, an ultrawide LG monitor (3440 x 1440) and a Logitech G Pro Flight Yoke system with rudder pedals (much easier to fly with than the keyboard controls). It’s a pretty immersive experience:
Be aware that, as with the newest graphic cards, every flight yoke is pretty difficult to find anywhere at normal retail prices right now ($165-ish) as the release of this game (and the pandemic) has driven them out-of-stock everywhere.
Notably, this game can be very CPU and even network intensive (the world does not fit on your hard drive) so the game can bog down even if your GPU has cycles to spare.
The 16″ MacBook Pro (2.4GHz 8‑core Intel Core i9) can actually run MS Flight Simulator on my ultrawide monitor with just the laptop’s built-in AMD Radeon Pro 5500M GPU but at lower Medium level settings.
For not-quite-Ultra quality settings, I’m currently using a Red Devil Radeon 5700 XT graphics card in an external GPU enclosure (connected via Thunderbolt) running MSFS 2020 on Windows 10 via Apple Boot Camp. This setup allows for something between High-End and Ultra settings at 3440 x 1440 resolution.
Update (Jan 2021): I’m since been able to get one of the new, next generation GPU’s: an overclocked Radeon 6800 XT and I’m now able to run smoothly at even greater than “Ultra” settings from my 2019 MacBook Pro. It looks fantastic! However, I’ve also picked up a very high resolution HP Reverb G2 VR headset and that makes for a truly amazing and engrossing experience. With the Reverb’s 4320 x 2160 resolution, I can’t run at “Ultra” settings even with that new GPU but that incredible, brain-fooling trick of virtual reality – of feeling like you’re actually sitting in the cockpit – makes it not matter at all. You’ve got to directly experience it though to believe it. A video recording can’t convey it.
Note that you’ll likely need to go through a bit of hassle to successfully configure these AMD graphics cards under Boot Camp. See the egpu.io forums and bootcampdrivers.com for help. The Nvidia cards don’t require workarounds for Boot Camp but they’re not supported at all on macOS, whereas the AMD cards work under macOS without doing anything. (Well, not the new 6800 XT yet, but hopefully support from Apple is coming soon.)