austin

austin_walker

@austin

here comes the boy

writer | storyteller | podcaster | ???


it could just as easily be a dice game

I've owned Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 since it came out, and both me and Daria have spent A Number Of Hours, But Not Remarkably That Many, flying planes in it. It is a phenomenally well made title, uh, as far as I know.

How accurate is the flight model, or the map, or... anything? I don't know. I'm not enough of a sim nerd (or a real pilot) to know that. Maybe it has Problems. But who cares?

It doesn't really matter whether it's good or bad, because it exists, and a problem with flight sims you might not be aware of is that, prior to this game, there hadn't been a single new flightsim worth mentioning for fourteen years. The last release of any significance was Microsoft Flight Simulator X, which came out in the Devil's year of 2006. The only thing in between was some abortive mess called Flight, also from Microsoft, that lasted a few months before being forgotten.

FS2020 wins by default, by simply being something made after the Xbox 360. And I think it's beautiful and mostly plays very well, but I'm pretty sure that hasn't mattered in the least to "the flight sim community," who have been playing FSX or even X-Plane* for "almost decades" and have never cared what either one looked like.

* Originally a Mac app from 2001 with UI that looks like the Trillian default skin. It refuses to die.

They have Reasonably Decent flight models, which is all that matters to Serious Simulationists. If you're enough of a dork to have a 747 cockpit mockup in your house, you'd be willing to use one of those late-80s sims that look like Tron as long as it correctly calculates V-speeds and fuel weight. Hell, if you're doing airliner flights, you're pretty much married to IFR and never see the outside world anyway.

FS2020 is a fascinating entry in the series because, frankly, I have no idea who it was made for.

The flightsim market is dead as fried chicken, and has been for decades. Without getting deeply into it (because it's a whole essay on its own,) the simulation genre probably represents a hundredth of a percent of the PC gaming market, which is a huge swing from where it used to be - namely, sims used to be the only kind of "game" the PC could run reasonably well, and were also sufficiently "Not Fun" that dads and businessmen could buy them without feeling emasculated.

Nowadays, while I'm sure the number of people who want to buy simulators has grown in an absolute sense, it's probably a slimmer segment than it has ever been before - and how easy is it, Under Late Capitalism, to get any publisher to fund any project that isn't going to sell to Pretty Much Everyone? It seems like it should be hard, so why Microsoft bankrolled this after having given up on the Flight Simulator series for over a decade is anyone's guess.

This isn't to say there wasn't a market for the game. Those of us who were paying attention at the time of its release will be telling the story of Yokepocalypse '20 for the rest of our days. FS2020 came out, and immediately you could not buy a piece of flightsim hardware, anywhere. No yokes, no sticks, nothing with two axes or a throttle. Microsoft Sidewinders were being hawked on ebay with "FS2020" in the name. 15-pin analog gameport yokes from 1995 were selling for over a hundred bucks. People were smoking the wood in their pipes for months, man. It was pure chaos, and it went on for a year or longer.

So FS2020 definitely sold, but my guess is that it mostly sold to people who didn't care that much about perfect simulations, and were just bored and miserable. I Mean, Covid. The game came out in August of that year, we all had cabin fever, the vaccines were still a distant possibility, and we were more than willing to pick up something new just to be distracted from our probable impending deaths.

I'm sure that the developers (and whoever is left at Microsoft who even knows or cares that they have an original games division) knew that they were probably not going to be selling this entirely to the set of guys who turn on the physical No Smoking sign before they begin takeoff, then pick up the mic and actually read off the entire Captain's Spiel (gooooooood eveningladiesandgentlemen thiiiiiis is your captain speaking) without a hint of irony. And yet, out of the box (and two years later) FS2020 contained very, very little for anyone who wasn't like that to do.

I mean, that's a universal problem with simulations, right? Except for military sims (where the primary verb is Shoot, and everything else is just a way to line the gun up) what do you do in a simulator?

Flying a plane is "fun," right? Well... I think taking off and landing is fun. Not so sure about the rest. It smells suspiciously like "work."

I would assert that "a whole lot of people", if sat in front of a flight sim of any stripe, would probably curiously push the throttle forward, wrestle the craft into the air, and make a college try at coming around and landing if they don't Flight 191 themselves before rotation. But that's not, if you will, "a game."

Even if a lot of people would dink around in a simulator a little, only a few would keep doing it, and find that weird satisfaction that doing a fake job and not getting paid for it can sometimes bring - most, however would probably get bored and do something else, because... what is there to do other than fly? And flying takes a long, long time. And it's hard.

You take off, which is easy enough and pretty cool, but to actually make it to a destination you have to learn so much actual job training. Even reading the GPS is hard. Programming in a destination is hard. Planes don't stay steady, and autopilots are... not very automated in reality, so flying is constant work, and takes hours of real-world time. Landing is the hardest part of the whole job, and if you mess it up, all that effort and time is wasted.

But then, it was wasted anyway, right? Just what is the point? Why are you flying these planes? You can pick a destination... but why would you? Sure, you start out in your home airport - haha, look! it's seatac! there's seattle! - and you buzz around your city a bit, then maybe you fly to one other place you know, but then what?

The "then what" is why simulators are not a larger part of the market. I mean, there's more than that, certainly, but the fact that there are rarely any concrete goals makes them very inaccessible to, I assert, most people. What can be done about that?

Where's The Campaign?

I am not aware of a major (civilian) flight sim with a "campaign" - that is, a series of tasks that, when accomplished, cause some kind of progression, and possibly even advance a narrative or lead to an "end."

I admit, I am not the person to ask. I have played a bunch of flight sims, but only for an hour or two each. Maybe there are some with campaigns, but I haven't noticed one before, and if they do exist, they use game mechanics from at least 16 years ago. Bad!

FS2020... also does not have a campaign.

The base game is a phenomenally polished simulation, where you can flip individual switches inside a Cessna 152, 162, 172, an airliner, a stuntplane, etc. and have them all do what they're supposed to. I don't know for sure that simulationists adore it, but judging from youtube and reddit, I suspect that it is simply objectively superior to the previous, decades-old crap, and every single person who plays flight sims switched to it overnight and never looked back.

But if you aren't looking for a realistic experience of Just Flying From Sea-Tac To San Diego For Five Hours, there isn't much there. The only thing the game offers to Filthy Casuals (or even just Moderately Dirty Folks Who Aren't Total Lifers, like me) are some challenge modes, where you have to fly some tough courses or land on difficult runways. Some are easy, some are very (realistically) hard, but either way they're just minigames, basically. They're very simple and very finite.

To get someone like me really, properly interested in putting many hours into a game, it would need to have a progression mechanic. But how do you put a single player campaign into a simulator?

The only answers that make sense are "ridiculous, campy story mode," which is I think how Madden has handled this, or something like "career mode" - in other words, combining a Flight Simulator with a Business Simulator.

Business sims were a genre that Existed As Hell on the PC in the 80s and 90s and then largely petered out, as far as I know. I mean, I'm sure people still make them, but it's such a niche thing that they're completely buried by Everything Else, and have arguably been replaced by deeper, more interesting, and less realistic simulations (I guess I'm thinking of, like, Zachtronics stuff.)

The basic idea with a business sim is that it's Spreadsheet: The Game, in more ways than one. You start a company with some amount of seed capital or a loan, you make widgets (specified or not), you hire and fire people, give money to R&D departments, buy companies, that kind of thing - imagine playing, like, Rollercoaster Tycoon, but with no rollercoaster, just the tycoon.

I can't find examples offhand, but I swear some of these were literally a spreadsheet. You were looking at a bunch of columns and rows. Maybe it had a nice VGA texture behind it, but otherwise it could literally have been an Excel workbook with a VBA timer making a hidden cell increment every 15 seconds. You pressed the plus icon next to a field to Hire More Workers, and that made a progress bar go up, while another went down. Purely, totally abstract. I believe this has sort of carried on into some of the modern sports management sims.

I don't want to do that, I find that whole sort of thing dreadful - but the only real story that can reasonably be attached to a pure flight sim is, "you are an airline / cargo company trying to make a profit." And if FS2020 had come with a mode like that, I definitely would have gotten into it right away.

It didn't. But, you know, neither did FSX... and yet, The Community Delivered.

Enter: NeoFly

There is only so much "take off, fly, and land" that one can tolerate before even the more extreme simulationists start to feel numb in the head, it seems. So, a number of bolt-on career mode addons were created for FSX. I have looked at none of them, but I did get one for FS2020, and honestly I kind of love it. If the FSX ones were like this, then I missed a bet by not checking it out back when it was less ancient.

The main NeoFly window, an incredibly busy mess of text and icons, with a map absolutely peppered with colorful icons.

NeoFly is a fairly involved business simulation. You begin by creating a pilot, and picking one of three single-prop planes. Your pilot is given a rank of Cadet, and starts out at an airport of your choosing.

From there, you need to make money. Your goal is to grow your business: fly errands and missions, make money based on the amount of work you do. Build experience, gain rank, get access to tougher and more profitable missions. Earn money, buy new planes, hire more pilots (AI), and have them fly additional missions to earn more money.

The main interface consists of a very large, very busy window with tabs for Mission, Market, Flying, Staff, Hangar, FBO, Log, Finance, and Multi (it has some kind of multiplayer mode.) This is the Spreadsheet: The Game part: these all contain nothing more than tables, columns and cells. Everything you do here is abstract.

Fuel your plane. Buy insurance for it. Repair it - or don't, just float the check and hope it makes it through another couple missions. Sell planes, rent planes (if you have the qualifications to fly them.) Look at commodities, buy and sell them. Charts! Stonks! *Number go up! *

The meat and potatoes are on the Mission tab, where you search for a mission that fits your capabilities and needs. Missions come in a few flavors, from simple cargo or passenger transport, or towing an advertising banner back and forth, to "emergency" missions, where you need to land in an area with no airstrip, to deliver a doctor to an accident scene.

The emergency missions are punishingly hard; I haven't passed one yet, but they pay mondo bucks. At higher ranks, you unlock more skilled missions, like VIP or even "secret passenger" transport, or fragile cargo missions, which will fail if the ride or landing are too bumpy.

Missions are local; tied to airports. If you're in KSEA (Sea-Tac, my starting base), you can only pick up missions flying out of that airport. If you don't see anything you want, you need to actually fly to another airport to find new missions. As in, you have to actually get in your plane, turn on the engine, fly there and land - or pay a fee to move your pilot there, followed by another fee to move your plane. Probably not worth it unless you're really in the sticks.

Once you find a mission, you sign up for it. You can hire a pilot if you're late enough in the game - but if you aren't, you'll have to fly it yourself.

This is where things get wonderfully tenuous.

The Jank Pile Doesn't Stop From Getting Taller

NeoFly is a beautifully designed campaign addon. It doesn't have an "end," but a lot of people are less picky than me and don't mind playing games with no end. It has a remarkable number of parameters, there's plenty to think about, and while the missions are simplistic, they give you something to do. But there's a problem.

I'm pretty sure... that FS2020... doesn't... have... an addon system.

I could be wrong, I haven't digested the API docs in their entirety, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't support the degree of alteration they're going for. There are lots of APIs, and you can add objects and models and new aircraft and scripts, but I get the strong impression that it's all just flavor that can only exist within FS2020's single, free-flight game mode.

I don't think it's possible to e.g. add a new main menu item that says, "Career Mode," have it take you through new dialogs, and then put you into a game world that enforces specific rules, and triggers a "You Failed - Restart?" if you violate them.

I don't think you can even teleport the player's craft to a given airport - certainly, I can't find any addons or tools for doing that specific thing, and if it was possible, people definitely would have done it by now, because the process of doing this even in the normal game is slow and clunky.

Maybe the games scripts and resources could be hacked to extend it, but FS2020 is a "living" game, constantly receiving updates from the mothership. If hacking all this functionality in is even possible, it probably wouldn't last through the first minor patch, and would certainly break multiplayer. I doubt you can even play the game without a connection back to the official servers.

So, to the best of my knowledge, there simply aren't any hardpoints onto which to bolt a mod like this. The game exposes little infrastructure, except for that required to add new planes, add static props with limited scripting, and to interop with third party components.

There is a rich set of APIs, but as far as I can tell they're mostly meant to tie into things like realtime ATC websites that you can use to supplement the experience by adding in more real-world data, or to enable real-world dashboards, so your physical gauges, radio, GPS, gear and flaps controls, etc. can function. NeoFly does add one UI element, but it's clearly just a WebView, so I suspect you can't add any actual dialogs.

Maybe there's more functionality than it looks, but fundamentally, I just don't think FS2020 is meant for this. And that's probably why NeoFly doesn't install into the game folder at all.

The entirety of NeoFly consists of a standalone C# app (somehow not electron??? not just a webpage?? it's a real program!!!) and the only thing it puts in the game folder is the NeoPad, which is an addon, yes, but it consists only of couple html files - and it's optional.

With so little control, how did they make this all work?

The answer is: They didn't. NeoFly isn't real. But you make it real.

You pretend the game is modded, and NeoFly pretends along with you - and it works so much better than you'd think.

Welcome To The Fantasy Zone

NeoFly can be described as, "a standalone simulation game which uses data from FS2020 as input to game logic."

Imagine a hypothetical "business simulator:"


You, the player, "run the business." You get loans, hire staff, buy materials, and take on jobs. In other words, you push a lot of + and - buttons and type numbers in spreadsheet cells. This is all the input you get, and at some point, the game has to take all that input and simulate the actual... you know, work. The production of products or services which your company supposedly does.

The players actions, then, only set up the starting conditions for the simulation. If they absolutely knew the outcomes however, well, what fun would that be? Capitalists think it's very cool that business is a gamble, but regardless of how wrong they are, that is essentialy what you're doing here.

You bet that your workers will churn out X amount of goods for Y amount of cost, and Z amount of customers will buy them for R amount of profit - so you commit to spend N amount on goods, and add on L% to the price for margin.

Once you make all those calls, the game has to find out if all those things worked or not.

Did the workers produce, or did someone call out sick? Were there yield issues? Was there a strike? Did trucks break down? The, uh, "Dow dipped?" Your customers found other sources? All these external factors affect whether your bets landed on win or bust... and of course, they all boil down to "the PC does some D20 rolls."

A few pseudorandom numbers later, the game applies some math, and the player gets a big fat red -$1,513,299 in their Monthly Profit/Loss column. Them's the breaks.


Now, imagine if, instead of taking those numbers from virtual dice rolls, you took them from the outcome of a human being playing a real, unrelated game for several hours. That's NeoFly.

The NeoFly 'Flying' tab, showing the details of a mission, and a series of red and green pips representing the preconditions that are or aren't satisfied, plus a map showing a path between two airports.

When you select a mission, NeoFly connects to the game and reads all your current state - but it only reads, it can't write. So in order to get the mission started, you have to set up the preconditions of the flight, because NeoFly can't.

If your pilot is supposed to be in a Cessna 172 at KSEA, you have to:

  • Open FS2020
  • Go to Explore The World
  • Select the Cessna 172
  • Pick KSEA as your departure point
  • Start

NeoFly just sits and waits while this is going on, polling periodically, until it sees that your plane and location match what it asked for. You could pick another plane and take off from somewhere else - but NeoFly would refuse to acknowledge that flight.

Next, you might need to load cargo or board passengers. FS2020's "cargo" and "passengers" concepts barely exist. There are no "load cargo" or "start boarding" buttons. There are, literally, three boxes labeled "Passenger Right kg", "Passenger Left kg" and "Cargo kg" in the Payload dialog, and you can type numbers in them.

This program is - I can't stress this enough - a simulator. It's a box of tools for you to create a scenario and see how it would play out. So it doesn't care what you do, and it does not think in terms beyond those of a pure flight model.

That means that you can, for instance, simply change the weather or time of day in the middle of a flight. It doesn't mind that - and it also doesn't mind if you open the payload dialog and delete your cargo and passengers, midflight. These aren't "cheats," because this isn't a game. There is no "game logic" in FS2020, and NeoFly can't add any. It can't actually enforce any of its rules, so you need to play along and do it yourself.

If NeoFly tells you that your mission requires transporting 360kg of cargo, you have to go into the Fuel & Payload dialog, click in the Cargo box and type 360. Bing! The light goes green in NeoFly. You "loaded cargo."

This would also have worked if you'd put that 360kg in the "passenger" field, however. NeoFly is simply looking at your total weight. That is how tenuous the connection is here, you actually have to play by the honor system.

That said, they did manage to dress this up, a tiny bit. When you start a mission, a "copilot" voice tells you to "activate the parking brake and we'll start loading cargo." When you do this, you hear sounds of boxes being moved behind you. When loading is complete, you're advised that you can now take off.

It turns out these come from the NeoFly window itself. In-game, nothing is happening while this is going on. You are simply sitting on the runway, idling, for no reason. Nothing stops you from simply popping the brakes and taking off in the middle of this, except that NeoFly will then refuse to recognize your mission.

So I think I've made my point. NeoFly invites you to play make-believe, to simply agree with one another that you added a cargo mechanic to FS2020, even though the game itself doesn't know or care about the little fantasy world you two are sharing.

And it's fucking beautiful. It's a labor of love that I cannot express my respect for. I can see a time in my life where I would have thought "let's add a career mode to this game," and about fifteen minutes into skimming the API docs, I would have closed them and said "Well, the game just isn't that flexible. Oh well." These people went ahead and did it anyway.

What a stupid thing to do, and what a wonderful thing to do. It's Dungeons and Dragons: Airline Edition. It's a tabletop game, converted to a CRPG, and wired up to a modern videogame. It's glorious, horrible, meticulously crafted, janky, fake - and fun! It's fun! I like playing it!

It's Fun! (Or: Google It, With Bing)

After all of NeoFly's status lights go green - meaning you've satisfied the preconditions for your imaginary mission - you can take off and fly to your destination. This all goes exactly the way that a normal flight goes in FS2020, which is good, because flying in FS2020 feels great, but it's also kind of a bummer, because this is sorta where the loose integration of NeoFly starts to show.

The mod tries to provide as many creature comforts as possible, but there are some clearly desperate attempts to paper over gaps in what is possible. Most significantly, NeoFly cannot feed your in-game instruments with flight data.

Whether this matters depends on your level of expertise, of course. If you're an experienced (sim)pilot, you won't care at all. If not, it can be... extremely tedious, to say the least. The mod does provide a solution, fortunately, but I'll describe the problem first.

Every mission asks you to go to a specific location, but it can't show you how to get there ingame - so you have to use your instruments. In some planes this is easy. If going to an airport, you turn to your MFD, hit DIRECT TO and dial in KCTL or S71. If it's a lat/long, you put in a custom waypoint. If there's no GPS, then you just gotta know how to fly on basic instruments, and that's a core skill that any experienced pilot will breeze through.

But if you aren't experienced, well... avionics are hard to use. I've been doing all my missions with a Cessna 172 with the Garmin G1000 nav package. This is extremely modern and full of assists, but even so, it's a tremendous pain that you will not figure out without tremendous patience or by reading a tutorial.

It's even worse in older craft. If your plane doesn't have a GPS, you're literally going to need to draw on charts with a pencil, but even if it just has one of the older nav systems, they are incredibly obtuse.

A couple weeks after I wrote this review I attempted to fly a Concorde, and in half an hour of dicking with the onboard computer I absolutely could not figure out how to simply pick a fly-to destination. I still don't know.

Now, to me, a big value prop for something like NeoFly is the potential to make FS2020's high quality, beautiful flight experience accessible to people who are not lifers. Giving you a goal other than "Fly Correctly, As You Would In A Real Plane" offers you something to do other than Git Gud.

To this end, NeoFly would ideally just insert guidance into the game, by putting your destination into the game's internal destination tracker, or by stuffing it into your flight computer. Hell, it could even put a big floating pointer in-game. But it can't do those things.

This means that you have to learn how to reach a destination diegetically, relying on the games ingame instruments. This is bad enough with a single destination; with multiple, you're going to need to learn a lot in order to create a multi-waypoint trip. If you can't do that, you're going to need to figure out how to program in new coordinates mid-flight, either by pausing, or just... getting really fast at it.

This limitation is really a gut-punch for casual accessibility. Fortunately, they did the best they can to address it.

A window in Flight Simulator 2020 labeled NeoPad, showing a map and several icons at the top and bottom for navigating the map and other info pages.

NeoFly's single actual addition to the game is the NeoPad, and frankly, I think this solves the problem. From the looks of it, I believe it's simply a webview to a server being hosted by NeoFly.exe, which it uses to show you NeoFly's internal tracking.

See, in the main window, there is always a map. It's a Bing map, and I'm guessing that's because integrating with Google Maps for non-commercial applications sucks donkey balls, as the kids used to say.

The Bing map actually doesn't work correctly until you sign up for a Bing developer account and get an SDK API key, which sounds miserable, but unlike Google's absurd House Of Leaves-ass warren that you have to penetrate to set something like this up, Bing has a dedicated website that takes about 30 seconds.

FS2020 actually uses Bing for its own terrain data, so this may also be a contributing factor, but it's still incredibly funny.

Once you have that hooked up, the map becomes extremely information-dense. It's actually kind of ridiculous. As usual (this being a fan project, with time to spare for heavy refinement) it puts the features in 99% of AAA videogames positively to shame.

The map shows your plane's current position; your current "base" airport; all other airports; your destination and a trace from your origin airport; waypoints; and even locations of other missions you can take. Then it gets wilder.

NeoFly's Mission page, similar to before, but now showing a complex flight path from one airport to another.

It continuously logs your flight path. This is stored indefinitely in a local database (sqlite.) You can pull up any past flight and see exactly what path you took. If you want to show someone a ridiculous approach you had the other day, it's trivial.

Did you bank too hard and lose your comfort bonus? There's an icon along your trajectory that shows you where that happened. Hover over it to see the details. There's another icon in case you pulled too many G's. There's an icon that shows where you landed, or (if you crashed) where you crashed. All of this stored indefinitely, so you can review past performances. It can't do "ghosting" but I imagine they might add that (there is a massive update in the works, currently in beta, that I have not seen.)

Neopad gives you access to a cut down version of this map in-game. You can pull it up ingame, and as you fly, you'll see your plane travel over a map of the real world, which fortunately syncs up near-perfectly with the one in-game. You can switch to satellite view or a couple other "layer" views - again, better than the map built into the game.

This is all very convenient, but the critical point is this: If you don't want to learn to use your plane's infuriating instruments, you don't have to. Just follow the line in the Neopad, which will always point straight to your current objective.

It can also be freely zoomed in and out, and it has buttons to jump instantly to your origin and destination airports, which is really handy. Real pilots bring a map of their destination airport so they can learn where the runways are. A Filthy Casual like me doesn't want to do that, and this means we don't have to - just click on destination, go to satellite view, and bam; you can see whether the airport is surrounded by trees, buildings, etc. and which directions the runways face.

This means that if you want to play NeoFly, the only thing you need to do is get off the ground and land, and in between, you can simply point your plane in the direction of the line. You never need to touch the plane's dashboard, and if you choose to stick to local, 20-minute trips, you don't even need to learn autopilot.

How It Shakes Out

When you land (or accomplish whatever other tasks the mission requires, like flying to a waypoint) NeoFly notices, and gives you credit for the mission. If you flew particularly well, didn't bank or climb too hard, didn't land too roughly and so on, you get bonuses to XP.

Or, if you crashed, you get no credit - although, at least in the easy mode I'm playing in, your plane isn't destroyed and nothing is lost, so you can try again. This is merciful in a game where a character with even the slightest progression has logged dozens of real-world hours in the cockpit.

Notably, there is no punishment for using FS2020's time acceleration feature, so even though many missions run for four, eight or twelve in-game hours, you can reduce that by a factor of 16 in fast forward mode - an enormous saving grace.

Of course, you do need to learn how to use autopilot correctly at that point, or you will most surely crash. You cannot control your plane with physical inputs at 16x. That's just how planes are however - autopilot is an essential part of long distance flight for most pilots as far as I know, and in my opinion, learning to use the Cessna+G1000, even if that's the only plane you can ever fly, is worth it, because it's a low enough bar to make this game fun for a casual player.

This is as far as I've investigated at the moment. I intend to play more, and try to buy a better plane and do some more interesting missions. They don't get much more interesting (the API interface really doesn't allow for much beyond "fly to a place and land, or fly to a waypoint") but I would love to be able to go faster, at least. To achieve that, you have to grind for a while to get a faster plane.

You can't fly anything bigger than a single-prop without getting a better license. This requires taking qualification courses, which apparently require you to complete some challenges in an appropriate aircraft. I'll probably try this next, it's likely not all that hard.

Actually affording those planes will be: even a dual prop is over $700,000, and at the outset, the easy missions pay less than a grand. It's not as bad as all that, of course. I think those missions are really meant to be AI fodder, and the human player is expected to take missions like, "fly passengers eight hours across the country for $350,000." At 16x that's like 30 minutes; 1000 monopoly dollars per minute is solid ROI.

I want to try the AI pilots, see what the Markets are about, and try the bush missions again - the Emergency ones are BRUTALLY hard, and I think it would feel great to actually complete one. So for a free (it's free!) addon, I feel like I'm going to get a lot of pure entertainment out of this.

But what's really amazing about this is how much I can enjoy it despite how thin the veneer is. This is so, so, so close to closing your eyes and just imagining someone on the radio telling you to do things.

Hell, it would be easy to convert this into a genuinely abstract, conventional business sim by just removing the MSFS linkages and replacing them with dice rolls, and imo, the mod authors should do that. There are a lot of people out there with no interest in flight sims who would love it.

But I need something "physical," something that looks and feels like I'm really doing something, so I'm going to take an Emergency Mission, and fail it over and over, and when I finally touch down safely, I'm going to feel victorious. Triumphant - over something that amounts to nothing more than picking a random spot on a mountain to land on.

FS2020 doesn't care what I do. I could have taken off, picked a direction, flew until I saw a clearing, and landed at any time, without the pretext of a "career." When I do stick this landing, the game won't acknowledge it in any way. The only response will be NeoFly, in a separate window, playing an .mp3 that I can see, now, hanging out in its folder. This will only be a "victory" because me and Some Other Dude agree that it is.

But isn't that what videogames are to begin with? They're contrived challenges. You're supposed to win. The average person is meant to be able to finish them, and you only feel triumphant about some text pulled from a strings file that says you won because you agree that the rules of the game count.

This is only a little more arbitrary, and in fact, realizing and accepting this point of view several years ago is how I finally came to not just enjoy, but adore tabletop games, board games, MTG, DND, and other things like that. (Steve Jackson's Hacker is the second most entertaining thing I've ever done in a kitchen.)

All games are make-believe, and if you can enjoy the more "obvious" pretend-play just as much as the triple-A, photorealistic, "immersive" masterpieces, well, you're en route to some very cheap fun.



An exerpt from Open Veins of Latin America. Key quote: "In democratic countries the violent character inherent in the economy doesn't show itself; in authoritarian countries the same holds true for the economic character of violence."
Two pages from RAV 1st Collection.
A panel from "What If..."
The preamble to the (Proposed, 2022) Chilean Constitution.

Hello gamers. Instead of doing things like "going to a friend's wedding" and "having fun" I've been mostly just hanging out at home with a mild headache from an as-yet-undetermined mild sickness. It is what it is. After a couple weeks of feeling different kinds of unhinged and doing very little reading, however, this has been a fantastic excuse to get back into the swing of things! Here are some thoughts about three books I finished, two that I am slowly perusing, and a couple books I am just now starting (plus or minus basically rounding errors).


Open Veins of Latin America

It just now occurs to me that I kept my promise; July 2022 was finally the month that I started and finished this book. The experience of reading this book was, for me, the constant drawing of connections between present & recent geopolitical moments, cultural positions, and discursive memes. That a 50 year old book can still speak so effectively to our modern world is as illuminating as it is damning. As much as I think that the idea of a "canon" carries with it all sorts of baggage, this is a book that, to me, would be a beneficial read to anybody who picks it up. A book that could be a powerful weapon in the arsenal of radical movements and politics everywhere.

The picture that it paints of previous centuries' Spanish and Portuguese imperialism giving way to the liberal, capitalist imperialism of Britain, Europe, and the United States is beyond compelling. Galeano weaves his narrative thread through time and geography. Not constrained by bourgeoisie capitalist notions of time and geography, this book is able to draw parallels between related (politically, ideologically, economically, culturally) processes that might otherwise remain the chaotic rumblings of backwards countries struggling with fledgling democracies and strong-man authoritarian rulers. This is a book where you read it and go, "it's all right here! It's been right here for 50 years!! How¹ are we still doing this??"


RAV, 1st Collection

I first read Mickey Zacchilli's Rav 1st Collection when it was published by Youth in Decline in 2014. I do not think it would be overstating it to say that reading this comic fundamentally expanded my idea of what a comic can "do" and "be". I was talking about it with a friend recently and, after having them flip through a few pages, they asked if they could borrow it. When they returned it, we spent a while talking about it, and it occurred to me that it had been a while since I last read it. This weekend, I corrected that. And I think it's cooler than ever.

The art in this book remains just so striking. In the near-decade (yikes) that has passed since I first read this, I don't think I have read anything as just jump-off-the-page aggressive (complimentary) as this comic. The chaos of its linework, the lettering that slides out of mouths and bleeds out of the bubbles and off the page, the dream logic of its story, and Zacchilli's deadpan humor combine—and I do not say this lightly—perfectly. It is a comic that, in my view, pushes past standard conceptions of "what comics look and act like" in order to become something that is deeply, intrinsically a comic. "Gutters? Legibility?" It says. "Scott McCloud, eat your heart out." It is also funny as hell and just simply a good time. Don't think about it too hard.


What If... Captain America Had Formed The Avengers (1991)

Speaking of simply having a good time and not thinking too hard: this What If... installment from 1991 was a fun impulse read! I've been doing a deep dive on the Ranged Touch catalog of podcasts and videos, and Cameron mentioned enjoying this comic _at some point_². I figured: I've not really read any 90s Marvel, it might be fun to check it out!

And I am pleased to report: it was fun to check out! As with the rest of the What If... series, this comic presents a one-off "alt-history" to the standard³ Marvel timeline, posing the question: "what if Captain America had formed the Avengers?" As you might expect, that is not really all that is going on. To a certain extent, I don't want to say too much about the plot: if you get the chance to read it, it's just a breezy 30 page comic with some fun twists and turns, and if you don't, it's just a breezy 30 page comic with some fun twists and turns. It absolutely has some interesting hooks, though—and perhaps this is just my lack of comics literacy and also my 2022 backwards-projection speaking—I hesitate to read too much into the big ideas (around racism, nationalism, etc.) it is playing around with. It is, still a Marvel comic from 1991 after all.


La Constitución Política de la República de Chile (Propuesta, 2022) y La nueva Constitución de Chile: con peras y manzanas

To be clear: "I don't go here". I have spoken about this before, so I'll keep it short: in 2019, student protesting in Chile led to massive, sustained anti-government, anti-neoliberal protesting. I—basically just some guy in the United States—was trying to follow along, but the most reliable sources I could find (heck: most of the sources at all) were from Chile, and in Spanish. This was one of the moments that really got me to double down in my Spanish studies.

This social movement in Chile manifested into a referendum to write a new Constitution (to replace the hyperneoliberal Constitution from 1980, written during Pinochet's dictatorship). This new document would be written over the course of a year by a body of citizens (not politicians). This new proposed Constitution was finished earlier this month, having gone through a long, open, and democratic process, and the vote to adopt this new Constitution will be held on September 4. In the meantime, both the Approve (a broad coalition of left organizations, indigenous nations, and generally people interested in social justice and the environment) and Reject (conservatives, capitalists) campaigns are doing massive public-awareness campaigns.

I have been doing my best to follow along with this process, and now that the proposed document has been finalized, I thought it would be fun to get a copy to read through to the best of my ability. While I was purchasing it, I realized that the publishing house I was purchasing from, LOM, also put together a small booklet—con peras y manzanas—that, simply, breaks down the process and the output of the 2021-2022 Constitutional Convention.

Both of these will be a bit of a longer-term project, but, it's been fun to flip through a couple pages a day and do my best to closely read through them and understand what is going on.


Coming up next, I've got Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits and Mike Davis's City of Quartz. I try to keep a couple books going at once, often-but-not-always one fiction and one non-fiction, since, ya know, sometimes you're in different moods? Allende's novel was offered as part of an extra credit assignment in my Spanish class last semester. Even recognizing then that I did not have the time to read it, I picked up a copy knowing I would get to it eventually. And now is eventually! And I've had Davis's book sitting here on my shelf for probably two or three years now. With the sad news of his declining health, I figure: there has never been a better time to read this book about the city I have been in and around for a decade now (arguably longer).

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¹ This is a rhetorical question.

² The exact time and place is left as an exercise to the reader (I forget).

³ Yeah, I know.