Gamers are replacing Bing Maps objects in Microsoft Flight Simulator with rips from Google Earth

So much for showcasing Redmond's Chocolate Factory alternative


Microsoft’s flagship 2020 game Flight Simulator was supposed to showcase Bing Maps and Azure’s streaming capabilities. There’s just one small problem: gamers are overwriting Bing’s in-game 3D photogrammetry with entire cities ripped from Google Earth.

“When playing the game, you're essentially looking at an extremely high resolution image of the entire globe in 3D - think Google Earth but of a much higher quality,” gushed one Flight Simulator reviewer earlier this summer.

It may come as a shock to him and Redmond alike that gamers are importing Google photogrammetry into the simulator to replace the default Bing 3D buildings.

A spot of low-level Visual Flight Rules over Bedfordshire in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. Note the instruments' reflection on the cockpit canopy

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Microsoft made a big deal of how Flight Simulator’s depiction of the entire world would be powered by Bing Maps and data extrapolated from Bing Maps to create reasonably accurate 3D buildings (stand fast, accidental skyscrapers) in the same places as their real-world counterparts.

Wired magazine reported last year: “Jorg Neumann, head of Flight Simulator, says the revival [of the age-old franchise] began with an app he was developing for Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality goggles. ‘We wanted people to be able to use the goggles to go anywhere in the world for a tour,’ Neumann said. ‘It used data from Bing, so the rendering capability was ready five years ago.’”

That rendering capability appears to have fallen flat with some flight simulation gamers, however, who have begun replacing Neumann and Co’s lovingly procedurally generated world objects with ones created by Google.

Indeed, unofficial Flight Simulator add-on websites run by enthusiasts are filled with whole cities slurped out of Google Maps and converted to run in the game, wiping Bing’s not-quite-generic efforts out altogether.

Our Extra 300, mere moments before being flung around like a leaf in a gale thanks to the Rock of Gibraltar's famous rotors

Rock of Gibraltar depicted in the original 3D Bing graphics

“Maps imported from Google Earth (owned by Google)” states one addon for the Spanish city of Ibiza. Another on the same site said: “Made using Gmaps photogrammetry.”

A hint on why this rather embarrassing situation has arisen comes from the official Flight Simulator forums, where a user tremulously asked: “In regard to photogrammetry, we often talked about number of cities or places that have it on Bing vs. Google. However, when I was examining the same area on both platforms, to my surprise (or not), the quality of photogrammetry on Bing is a lot worse, both in texture quality and polygon counts.”

A third-party forum discussion, started just five days after the simulator’s official release date in August, went even further with video tutorials on how to insert Google Earth objects into MSFS. Doubtless Microsoft and game developers Asobo Studio are sucking their teeth at how their showcase has been hijacked by its own users and turned into an advert for their biggest mapping rival of all. ®

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Microsoft also let El Reg play with the final release version of Flight Simulator shortly before the great unwashed were allowed to get their mitts on it. Although the presentation of real-world data is truly a light year ahead of current desktop flight sims, we were otherwise ambivalent about it.


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