Well, I’ve been waiting for this game since E3 2019. I was hooked on the promise of a new game from AsoboYou might remember them as the team that made FUEL, which I and six other people really liked.. I was even more hooked on the idea of a game that covers the entire planet using satellite data and buildings generated by machine learning.
The reviews on Steam are a mess. Apparently Steam just downloads an installer, and that installer downloads the game from Microsoft. This means you can’t properly pre-load the game, which means the Microsoft servers will get completely slammed at launch. Going by the reviews, this is exactly what happened.
Moreover, this is a huge game. It’s ~127GB! It will probably take you more than two hours to download the dang thing. Since Steam launches the launcher, Steam thinks you’re “playing the game” while this launcher is running. Thus, by the time the game is downloaded you’ll have in excess of two hours of “playtime”. That’s long enough to burn through your allotted playtime, so that Steam won’t allow refunds.
Microsoft is basically doing the Uplay thing where they shove their shitty platform inside of Steam. This means you need to login to Microsoft Xbox for PC Xbox Games on Windows for PC, or whatever the fuck this ridiculous contraption is called. That’s exactly the thing I wanted to avoid by getting it on Steam.
I can’t get around using Microsoft services, so I might as well get it from Microsoft directly.
Also, the game is included in the Xbox Gaming Pass on PC for Xbox, which only costs a dollar for the first month, and $5 thereafter. It’s a really good deal. I’m sure this is going to be horrible, but at least it’s not going to cost me money. I’m not worried about the $1 as much as I’m worried about how much of my time this thing is going to waste. This ain’t my first Microsoft rodeo.
The site tried to get me to download the “App”, which is confusing since it sort of sounds like this is a mobile program. Here in PC land, we call our game platforms “launchers”. The confusion doesn’t end there. I download it, and the filename is XboxInstaller.exe??? And then later in the process it talks about downloading “The App” so I can sign in with my “mobile device”. So apparently there are two different programs at work here. One is a Windows program, the other is a mobile app, and the Windows Store talks about them interchangeably by saying “Get the app” without further context.
I downloaded the XboxInstaller.exe, but I didn’t run it. Apparently I can install the game directly from the Microsoft Store page? But then what’s the .exe for?
I hit install, and it asks where I want to install the game. It gives me two options:
C: (Windows) My SSD, which I guard jealously. NOTHING goes on the SSD but Serious Programs. MFS2020 would eat half the available space on my SSD. No way.
S: (Storage) My 7TB external bulk storage drive. It’s connected via USB, which sometimes flakes out and disconnects / reconnects quickly for no apparent reason. Obviously that’s not an ideal drive for gaming.
There’s another drive in my machine, called D: (Games), which has plenty of space and is specifically set aside for games. I have no idea why it’s not in the list. Microsoft is willing to list an external drive, but not an internal hard drive?
After some Googling I find out you need to go to System Settings and find the storage option for “Choose where new apps are installed”.
Come on Microsoft, everyone else on the planet allows you to open a little dialog and set both drive and path. No other programs on my system require me to muck around with system settings just to pick an install location.
Fine. Whatever. New apps will go on D:. Hopefully this doesn’t mean Microsoft will install non-games to that location. I’m trying to keep my system organized here.
Setting up Microsoft Xbox Game Pass for Xbox Games on PC is… surprisingly easy. It’s over in seconds, and Microsoft immediately recognizes that I have the pass. I expected this to be the most painful part of the process, and it’s actually much faster and smoother than buying something on slow-ass Steam.
Well, that throws a wrench in the narrative I’m trying to build here, but I have to give credit where it’s due. That was really nice.
So the launcher launches. Full screen. It offers some usability settings and then it asks me where I want to install the game?!?
Ah, that’s better. Narrative restored.
The launcher exits full screen, then goes back to full screen, then goes back to window mode again. Then it begins the long slow download.
Here’s the problem: The installer is playing music. There’s no way to turn it off, and it plays even when the window is in the background. The only thing I can do is pause the download. There are no other controls. This thing is basically the Holly Hop Drive of launchers. I don’t want to listen to this menu music looping for the next two hours. It’s not a long loop, and I’m pretty sure I’d be out of my mind by the 10 minute mark. I have to open the Sound Mixer and turn the program down so I can do other stuff while the download runs in the background.
Note to self: Don’t forget to undo this or two hours from now you’ll be wondering why there’s no sound in the game.
About 90% of the way through the download, I decide to hit the pause button because I’m trying to watch something in another window and I don’t want the video to fight for bandwidth. I come back a minute later and hit the “Resume” button, but it still says “Resume” and doesn’t switch back to “Pause”. I hit it again a few times, but nothing happens. Is the download going again? Am I turning it on and off, or is it locked forever in pause mode?
I leave and come back twenty minutes later to see the download is done. So that problem with the resume button was just a simple interface bug. Having bugs in new software is understandable, but I feel like since THIS IS THE ONLY BUTTON IN THE ENTIRE INTERFACE for extended periods of time, it’s sort of outrageous that this slipped through. Like, any amount of QA testing would have caught this. All a QA tester would need to do is hit the only button on the screen and they’d discover the bug. Does Microsoft just ship things as soon as they get a clean compile?
Anyway, the install worked and the game launched as expected. After that, it was smooth sailing. My only real gripe now is that the game has a huge startup time. Even on my beefy machine, it takes between 3 and 4 minutes to get from clicking on the icon to actually flying a plane. This includes a head-scratching 20 second interval right at the start where there’s no window, splash screen, or anything else to indicate the program is starting, which makes you wonder if you mis-clicked. Then again, this is a huge and ambitious game and not just another cookie-cutter AAA shooter. Maybe a ~4 minute loading time is reasonable for a simulator that runs on this scale.
(And yes, I remembered to turn the volume back up.)
I began writing this because I expected the endeavor was going to be another nightmare, and it really wasn’t. I’d planned to file this post under rants, but that doesn’t feel right. This was a mild annoyance, not a cascading failure of engineering and design. Sure, this system still needs work. And yes, it once again feels like Microsoft designed a PC Gaming platform without ever looking at competing platforms. But this is light-years ahead of where we were a year ago.
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is pretty impressive. I’m sure I’ll have more posts on it in the future once I’ve seen a bit more of it.
 You might remember them as the team that made FUEL, which I and six other people really liked.
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