The recent developments of Microsoft shutting down the ACES studio are making me a bit sad. Let me try to explain why.
When FSX was released it included some great improvements over FS2004. I am talking from a scenery designer perspective of course, so I was most happy about the improved terrain engine, that allows more resultion that 4.8 meter on the photo scenery, a better autogen system and the improvements to the modelling SDK, which means that more things can be done without tweaking the code. In my job I am also working with visual simulations and I can assure you that most of these systems can simulate the entire world with the ease that FSX can, so from that point of view it is a great product.
But from a developer point of view FSX is also a big step backwards. Personally I think developing for FS2002 and FS2004 was most fun. In these two versions you could really build anything you imagined. The scenery design techniques were very flexible. Want to make a completely working docking system, of course you can. Want to make an animation of a hangar door that is trigger by the approaching aircraft, of course you can. I have great memories of how we were searching for those limits in the community.
But in FSX that is all no longer. The scenery format is so restricted that I don’t even have to think about a conditional scenery object, triggered hangar door animations or seasonal textures on my object. And then I am not even considering a completely working docking system, which is much more complex. The progress on the points I mentioned above have removed all the flexiblity to make interesting and nice things for the developer.
All this time I was hoping that this step backwards with FSX, would be the price we had to pay to make three steps forward again in the next version. I believed that if we would use the product we might find some work arounds and in the same time we could make sure ACES knew about the flexibility we wanted, so that the next version would be better again.
Now ACES is closed, the development of a next version will at least take longer. And personally I am not sure if I can keep motivated to develop for FSX given all the restrictions it puts on the developer. I have always enjoyed most to find the edge of the product, make realistic and complex objects, like working docking systems. FS2004 was great for that and FSX makes that almost impossible. Maybe it is time to move back to the FS2004 techniques and start making those interesting and challenging objects again? I guess the future will tell…