It's fair to say that I don't play terrestrial flight sims very often. (The last time, with any seriousness, was when most of them came by way of MicroProse.) However, like many curious gamers, I've found myself drawn to Microsoft's newest Flight Simulator, not so much for the flying, but to see for myself how successfully a 1:1 scale Earth has been realised, especially when a 1:1 galaxy is more my bag.
After completing a couple of tutorials, I went into the main map and was immeditiately struck by the number of starting points you can choose from. Every single airport the world over (barring a few super-secret ones, no doubt) are available to fly to and between, although only a few have been given special treatment. The rest, including the vast majority of cities (and almost the entire Terran landscape), have been realised by applying complex algorithms to inconsistent sources of cartographic and photo-telemetry data. There are issues, of course, but it's a massively impressive feat to have delivered on. Not unlike, I imagine, the way Frontier extracted its version of the Milky Way by doing the math on cosmological surveys taken from one minuscule corner of it.
The results (in Flight Simulator, as in Elite Dangerous) are stunning. Where it's the sheer size of Elite's galaxy that staggers, with each of the billions of solar systems having its own population of stars, planets, moons, asteroids and resources. In Flight Simulator we get an unprecedented feel for the diversity of what can be found on a single populated planet. Sure, it's mostly superficial, but there's a warmth and familiarity to it that contrasts with the cold emptiness of flying about in a game like Elite Dangerous. It's had me wondering if one day there might be a game that has the best of both worlds; a game universe as vast as Elite's, but with each oasis of civilisation as detailed as that within Flight Simulator.
I suppose to a degree that's what Star Citizen is aiming for, with its impressive planetary terrains, weather systems and - more recently - planetary flight modelling, but for all the detail that's being lavished on Stanton and its neighbouring systems, I'm not sure anywhere quite feels like home in the same way as returning to Earth does when you fire up Flight Simulator.
For now, I don't expect to stay long in the skies over Earth, but it's heartening to know I can always come back and feel the warmth of the Sun when the infinite abyss starts getting a little cold.