One of the thread posters has a quote from a PM lead here in ACES, Mike Gilbert. Here's the quote:
"Anyone who knows our third-party community is aware that they are ones creating the truly masterful individual aircraft and scenery. So, when we hire for an aircraft artist, for example, we don't really want the person who can create the best possible aircraft with the current technology. We want the person who will help us create the next generation of technology. " (emphasis added by the thread commenter)
The full blog post from Mike can be found here: Workin' for a Living
I'd also like to add a comment by Sean James, found on a post by Steve Lacey, graphics guru extraordinaire:
"I would hope that the default aircraft textures and virtual cockpits are looked at. 3rd party add-ons appear to have an edge over MS in this department. We all eagerly await the next release."
The thread and comment swirl a bunch of different responses from me.
Let me spew a few reactions forth--- but before I go any further, let me just state, I'm speaking about visual quality here. I'm *only* talking about visuals. Not flight models, or FMC, or drag coefficient. That hoohaw is way outside my baliwick. Just art. That's my area. I'm an art lead.
With that being said...
Now, I disagree a bit with Mike Gilbert's statement.
See, when we hire folk we do look for those "who can create the best possible aircraft." We want (and I believe we get) people on our team who can produce stellar results in the most economical fashion.
I have yet to see one third party add-on product that I thought we'd be unable to reproduce with our in house talent.
I have seen third party people produce work that is better than what we shipped.
I see a lot of third party work whose work I don't think is necessarily better than our default offerings, but is certainly different, and over the course of the lifetime of a product sometimes "different" is confused with "better." (and I will say, sometimes different is pretty spectacular!)
Please don't misconstrue what I'm saying here. There are add-on products, like PMDG for example, that produce a product that is radically different than what we shipped. They serve a different, more high-end market. Their panels are more complex, more detailed. The exterior model of their 747 for example is *much* more detailed than our default offering. People constantly compare our default version of a plane like the 747 with efforts by folk like PMDG. And in their eyes we come up short.
But let me let you in on a little secret: the default Microsoft 747 as offered in FS 2004 is the same model as what was offered in 2002. Different (and better) textures, but the model is the same one worked on nearly five years ago. (Again I'm just talking about the visuals here. There were code changes that made it a different aircraft than what we shipped before)
I can already hear the chorus: "I've been robbed! Those cheapskates wouldn't even give us a new model! They charged us for a whole brand new version and didn't even work on it! M$ sucks and even though they have billions of dollars they're out to rob me!"
Sorry. Not true. Honest.
Go back and look at a past version.
FS 2000 (professional version) had 12, yes, 12 aircraft.
FS 2002 (professional) had 16 (some of them untouched carryovers from FS 2000)
FS 2004 had 24.
That's a pretty rich selection to offer users. I understand the person who wants what PMDG (or Dreamfleet, or other makers) offer doesn't see our 747 as nearly as complete, but I argue that it gives a great introduction to what a 747-400 represents, and that it lays the groundwork for the enthusiast who wants to delve deeper as a PMDG offering does.
For FS2004 we did a bunch of new aircraft, and reworked some older favorites. It required a ton of work and many late nights. For example, the FS 2004 Lear exterior and virtual cockpit looks pretty good, in my opinion. We constantly upgrade what we offer people, and part of upgrade means we can take advantage of more capable modern computer hardware. That generally translates into things that look more real. Keep in mind that what we were capable of making in 2000 let's say, we were not necessarily capable of shipping in 2000.
Sure, you say: "The Lear looks okay. But so and so's version looks ever so much better..." Here's where I get to my point. The one about not seeing one third party add-on product that I thought we'd be unable to reproduce with our in house talent.
We fight with one hand tied behind our backs. We have tight constraints with both people, time, and material. Material? Yep. Polygon counts and textures are an example. Some of those very nice looking 3rd party aircraft use 5,6, up to 10 (or more) 1024 X 1024 textures. (that's a whole lotta memory to shoot up to a video card)
We use 1, maybe 2. Better yet, we might use 1 1024 X 1024 texture coupled with a 512 X 512 texture. Why do we do this? Performance.
We make all sorts of trade offs to get the best blend of visual fidelity and performance that we possibly can, given that we do something very few do: we build a planet. We also make an effort to be as inclusive as possible to as wide a market as possible.
What about people, and time? Well, our team is much smaller than the picture most people have in their head. A lot smaller. And a portion of the team is devoted to either management, or quality assurance (Test). Now PMDG currently lists 9 members on it's team (about 20% of the full time employees of ACES studio) producing aircraft. They've put out 6 aircrat for FS 2004, which has been on the shelves for what? close to 2 and a half years? There's a reason that it takes the amount of time to produce the level of fidelity those guys put out. (and they are to be commended for their work)
I'll comment on one more point a bit before I close. As I said before, over the course of the lifetime of a product like FS, sometimes "different" is confused with "better." We work hard to live up to the marketing tagline "as real as it gets," but the real world is so varied, and so complex, that we have to implement solutions that cover only part of the real world version. We often have to make aesthetic choices; ten sky sets, and not a thousand. Terrain textures that look more like Somerset, than say like Lyons, or Trondheim.
At the same time, a product like Flight Simulator gets used a lot over a span of a couple of years, and seeing the same thing over and over again is boring. So yes, it's understandable that when someone releases a new version of the environment maps for water, or a new texture set for Autogen, somebody will inevitably say "why couldn't Micro$oft just do it right the first time?" To those people, all I have to say is: vive la difference! I promise that if you took whichever add-on is your current favorite, went back in time, and substituted the shipped default version, in a couple of years someone would come out with a new add-on replacing that one, and everybody would rave at how much it's better than the default.
I say, embrace the different offerings. Every now and again someone'll come along with a new twist that everyone can learn from. I know that I personally have been influenced more than a few times over the years by an add-on or two: Lennart Arvidsson's texture replacements for FS 2000 were great, and influenced my future work. Gerrish Grey's tree work was also influential.
I guess my real point is that sometimes I think people read the words "Microsoft," and think "that's all the money in the world. Rich, good for nothing S.O.B.S." But you see, I happen to work with these S.O.B.s, and know that there's a lot of passion and talent that goes into programs like the Flight Simulator series.
Maybe almost as much as exists in the third party community. :)
Okay. I've rambled on enough. Hope I haven't ruffled any feathers.
I've got nothing but respect for all the people who work on titles like Flight Simulator-- whether they work in Redmond (next to a coyote infested gravel pit) for Msft, or in the real world as part of the 3rd party community.