Brittney Griner Plays First WNBA Game Since Detainment In Russia

Brittney Griner has played in her first WNBA preseason game after returning to the US from her detainment in Russia.


Rare “Nintendo Playstation” Prototype to be Sold at Auction

If you’re at all familiar with the world of video games, you know that Nintendo and Sony, which makes the popular Playstation series of gaming consoles, have been fierce competitors for many years. But before Sony entered the video game industry with the release of the original Playstation, it had actually cooperated with Nintendo to develop a gaming system, though the results of this effort never saw the light of day. In fact, the name “Playstation” comes from this collaboration, as Sony adopted the moniker for itself after its relationship with Nintendo fell apart. Engineers from both companies worked to develop a prototype, the so-called “Nintendo Playstation,” which had both a cartridge slot and a CD slot, taking advantage of Sony’s expertise with the then-new digital storage medium. Only about 200 of these prototypes were ever created, with nearly all of them thought to have been lost or destroyed; the only known remaining prototype was discovered in a box full of junk after being sold at an auction for $75. Now, the prototype’s owner has announced he would sell it at an auction, and it is expected to sell for over a million dollars.

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For technology and video game enthusiasts, the Nintendo Playstation prototype is a fascinating historical artifact that suggests how the world of video games today could be vastly different if the relationship between Nintendo and Sony hadn’t turned sour. The Nintendo Playstation was intended to be built on top of the wildly successful Super Nintendo console, adding the feature of a CD-ROM drive as well as enhanced processing power. The device would have been sold in two forms: an accessory to the Super Nintendo called the Super NES CD-ROM, and a standalone console, which would have been called the Playstation and would have offered full compatibility with Super Nintendo games. However, in large part as a result of the breakdown of negotiations between the two companies and Nintendo’s collaboration with Phillips, one of Sony’s main competitors at the time, plans to release the device were cancelled. In the aftermath, the Sony Playstation went on to compete directly with the console that succeeded the Super Nintendo, the Nintendo 64.

It’s unclear as of yet exactly how much the system will sell for at the February 27th auction, but the Diebolds are sure to profit handsomely from the sale.

Few people know exactly what ended up happening to the 200 or so prototypes that were developed. But one of them ended up being sold in an auction held by Advanta Corporation, a company connected with Sony’s former CEO, for $75, with no one at the time recognizing the real value of the prototype. It sat in a box in an attic for years before being re-discovered by the son of the man who bought the prototype, who then shared pictures of the device online, drawing the attention of a large Internet community that immediately recognized the device, who described it as “priceless” and a “piece of history.” Dan Diebold, the man who shared pictures of the prototype online, also posted a video showcasing the device, which ended up getting over a million views. But people still doubted the authenticity of his claim, accusing Diebold of having orchestrated a hoax.

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Dan and his father, Terry, recognize the historicity of their possession, and have done their best to preserve and study the device. Fortunately, it still works, though the software being developed for it was never completed and thus its functionality is limited. That being said, it is fully compatible with existing Super Nintendo games, and it is also capable of playing back audio CDs. The console’s owners brought it to Ben Heck, a technology expert, who tore down the console to learn more about how it was built and also fixed some small problems with the device. Additionally, the father-and-son team spent years touring the system around the world, giving global fans an opportunity to see the device in person, an endeavor which they claim made them no money. Someone in Norway offered to buy the device for $1.2 million, but the Diebolds refused this offer. The upcoming auction will be hosted by Heritage Auctions, which previously sold video game artifacts like a sealed copy of the first Mega Man game for $75,000. It’s unclear as of yet exactly how much the system will sell for at the February 27th auction, but the Diebolds are sure to profit handsomely from the sale.

Golf Ball

News From The Presidents Cup

The Presidents Cup in Melbourne, Australia has seen a last minute attempt in day two’s foursomes from the United States that has seen them stay within three points of the International team.

After being in the lead overnight by 4-1, the International team stayed in front for the five matches at the prestigious The Royal Melbourne Golf Club, finishing the day winners at 5-1.

And although the International Team are still in the lead, the United States seems to have the momentum going forward.

However both teams exchanged points before United States’ Justin Thomas and captain Tiger Woods won another match in the competition.
Friday’s final match was halved, leaving the score 6½-3½.

Speaking afterwards, self chosen wildcard Woods said “at one point it looked pretty bleak, but the guys turned it around. They played phenomenal coming in.
It was important for us to end the way we did and it totally changed the last hour.

The energy has been there. These guys are all young and extremely excited about being part of this team.

I think more than anything, it’s just getting a feel for this golf course. It is fast.”

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On the second day Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson were beaten 3&2 by International’s Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen in their first foursomes match.

However Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay were able to gain a much needed point to earn the United States a 1UP victory over Joaquin Niemann and Adam Hadwin yet the International team’s lead was restored to four points thanks to Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer beating Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed with a 3&2 win.

Afterwards Cantlay commented that “it was a hard-fought match all day. We played really well, both sides. Fortunately we came out on top. That putt was just a little right-to-left and really fast, so just had to get it started.”

After only claiming a single point during the opening day, Woods and Thomas managed to beat Hideki Matsuyama and An Byeong-hun with a 1UP victory.

Im Sung-jae and Cameron Smith were up again United States’ Gary Woodland and Rickie Fowler for the final match and ended with the game being halved therefore enabling the U.S. to steal a half-point from the Internationals.

“Momentum is huge,” Woodland said. “That was a huge half-point. Any time you can scrape out something; we did it. Now we have to regroup. We have 36 ahead of us tomorrow and hopefully go out and flip this a little bit.”

International captain Ernie Els commented that “they (the US) played good at the end there. But hey, look at the record we’ve had in the foursomes the last 25 years and for us to come out 2½-2½ in the session is like a win for us. We would have taken that at the start of the day.”

On Saturday morning Woods opted to not play himself during the fourball matches and instead played Rickie Fowler alongside Justin Thomas, commenting:

“That was kind of the game plan. It would be hard for me to go all the sessions. I’ve been fortunate enough to go out there with JT (Justin Thomas) and we’ve got two points.

JT played great and Rickie [Fowler] played awesome this afternoon. They have been looking forward to playing with one another and they have had success before, and send them back out.”

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Although Woods did go on to comment that he knew he would be “stressed out watching these guys play.”

Mark Leishman and China’s Haotong Li – who is making his tournament debut after Ernie Els had dropped him for the first few days – will be playing against Thomas and Fowler.

While session winner Adam Scott will partner An Byeong-hun who both play against Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar.

And after winning their foursomes match on Friday, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay will be taking on Abraham Ancer and Sungjae Im.

Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed are hoping to end their losing streak playing against CT Pan and Hideki Matsuyama. Recently, many fans have been questioning Woods’ choice of pairing however he has defended his decision saying:

“They have done all the little things right. It’s just a matter of having things go your way, and that’s part of playing these team sessions. You know, a putt here, a shot here or there, or you just get outplayed, it happens. But these guys have paired up really well. They are excited about being with one another, and they have handled everything extremely well.

Unfortunately, they just haven’t won points.”

With points being the main purpose of any competition many in America are hoping they will start to win some, particularly with the International Team potentially looking at an end to their run of defeats after losing the last eight biennial competitions.

Girl Vaping

Researchers at Yale use Virtual Reality to Fight Teen Vaping

The phenomenon of teen vaping has certainly drawn a tremendous amount of concern this year, as a record number of teens report using vaping products and public health officials worry that a generation of kids will grow up to suffer from lifelong nicotine addictions due to the explosion in popularity of e-cigarette brands like Juul. Regrettably, while much of the work that’s been done to discourage young people from smoking cigarettes has been successful, teens are developing nicotine addictions nonetheless due to the marketing success of e-cigarette companies, which have been found to deliberately market tobacco products to young people and non-smokers. While vaping is widely considered to be healthier than other forms of tobacco consumption, it carries with it its own set of health risks, as the long-term effects of consuming nicotine via vapor are as-of-yet unknown and a series of vaping-relating hospitalizations earlier this year demonstrated that some vape products can be dangerous and even deadly.

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Dissuading young people from vaping is a difficult task for a number of reasons. For one, nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs that exists, and vaping products allow users to easily consume very large amounts of nicotine relative to smoking cigarettes or other methods of tobacco use. Additionally, as their brains are still developing, teenagers have difficulty assessing risk and making smart long-term decisions for the future, making it harder for them to appreciate the dangerous impact vaping could have on their lives. Teenagers are also notorious for their resistance to authority, and can have a natural inclination to reject messages from authority figures, instead taking cues from their peers in order to fit in with their social environment. Many young people believe vaping to be safer than other forms of nicotine addiction, and while this could be true, such a belief can cloud a person’s judgment when considering whether to start vaping. As such, researchers and doctors must come up with novel solutions for persuading children and teenagers not to engage in dangerous behaviors like vaping.

Like vaping, virtual reality is a new technology that has taken off in recent years

One such solution was imagined at Yale University, where researchers developed a virtual reality video game with the intent of discouraging vaping among teenagers. Like vaping, virtual reality is a new technology that has taken off in recent years, as display technology and advancements in computer graphics have made a product which for decades has been confined to science-fiction stories a reality. The game is called “Invite Only,” and puts players in the role of a student in a high school environment as they engage in scenarios such as being offered a vape pen at school or at a party and encouraging a friend to quit vaping. In addition to its educational value, the game is meant to be fun, engaging players with various activities and mini-games.

Though the project was developed at Yale, it was funded by Oculus, a virtual reality technology company owned by Facebook, and was created in collaboration with PreviewLabs Inc., a New Haven-based game developer. The game is the subject of an ongoing experiment, involving 300 students, designed to assess whether virtual reality technology holds promise as an educational and public health tool. The educational aspect of game-play involves players choosing from a number of dialogue options when engaging in conversations with in-game characters, which tests their knowledge about the effects of vaping products and the availability of resources to help people who want to quit. For instance, the game teaches players that they can text the word “quit” to 47848 for information about vaping-cessation resources, and that they should consult with a trusted adult, such as a parent or doctor, for help with their nicotine addictions.

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In the past, similar programs that leverage gaming to send an anti-drug-use message have been developed, with varying success. But the researchers hope that virtual reality will do a better job by immersing children and teenagers in a virtual environment that helps them imagine how drug use can impact their own lives as well as the lives of their peers, particularly in a world that is densely saturated with tablets and smartphones, which compete for young people’s attention. While the cost of virtual reality has decreased dramatically in recent years, the price of a virtual reality headset can still impose a burden on some, as the Oculus Go headset for which “Invite Only” was developed costs $150 or more. However, if schools are willing to invest in virtual reality technology, researchers hope that this platform can be leveraged not only to dissuade kids from vaping, but for other educational opportunities as well. The Yale researchers expect to have final results from the experiment by next year.

Hurling Sport

Hurling is a Fast Growing Sport in America, But What is it?

The annual Hurling Classic has come to New York City which is certainly a far cry from its early days in Ireland. Yet the sport appears to be growing in popularity amongst Americans, particularly the younger generation. But what actually is hurling?

Hurling is arguably the world’s fastest field sport as well as one of it’s oldest and is played with sticks known as hurleys as well as a ball called a sliotar, by two teams of 15 members. It is also reportedly the most skillful fame in the world, a claim many other sports will try to refute.

Mixing skills from other games including field hockey, baseball and lacrosse, hurling is definitely a ‘hard-hitting, highly paced game’.

It is now known as one of Ireland’s major national sports with its history dating back to 7th and 8th century AD where Irish laws have listed the many different injuries that had occurred through playing the sport.

However, its history most likely goes back even further due to the Irish Olympics starting in 1600BC, nearly 1,000 before the Greek’s started their event.

This November saw the Hurling Classic – an annual round of games designed to draw attention from sports fans around the country to the merits of this captivating game – move away from Boston’s Fenway Park and head to Citi Field, the home ground of MLB’s New York Mets.

And with the All-Ireland Senior Hurling competition sending the top four counties to participate, it was always going to be a good tournament.

In Boston, Fenway Sports Management (FSM) managed to gain more than 30,000 spectators and were hoping by moving the games to New York they would gain a bigger audience with FSM spokesman Mark Lev commenting:

‘We’re aiming to replicate that success in New York and hope to introduce hurling to new audiences and generate more interest in the sport.’

While Wexford were due to take on reigning champions Limerick, Tipperary and Kilkenny re-enacted 2019’s All-Ireland final. The winners of each game then played each other for the title.
But what actually is hurling?

Played on a field that is slightly bigger than a soccer pitch with ‘H’ shaped goals at each end, the game is played for 70 minutes with extra time added to each 35 minute half depending on injuries, with a break in the middle.

However due to the field sizes in America being slightly smaller to those in Ireland The Hurling Classic will be fielding teams of 11 players with the points from the ball crossing the bar not counting, meaning the rules have had to be changed slightly from the original game.

Teams play with sticks that are akin to hockey sticks, however the ‘hurleys’ have a larger ‘toe’ enabling the player to lift the ball and therefore having a better chance of hitting it.

Each team has 15 amateur players meaning there are no big salaries to pay and points are scored through either scoring a goal with the sliotar making its way into the net (3 points) or by hitting it over the crossbar (1 point). Whichever team has the highest score at the end is the winner.

In New York there are already five senior teams with a playing level almost the same as the level in Ireland. This means that the competition is ‘pretty good’.

Tommy Kavanagh, a 27 year old hurler from County Tipperary in Ireland has been quoted as saying ‘the majority of the American born players’ parents were born in Ireland, and their skill set would be at 17 or 18 as good as any 17 or 18 year old in Ireland.

Moving to New York three years ago, Kavanagh plays hurling for Tipperary. Founded in the 1890s, the club was originally known as the Kickhams until they were forced to change their name in 1904.

Kavanagh explains, ‘anyone that emigrates, either to the US or the UK, that has played hurling, once they arrive in a new location, their first port of call is to join a local club, and to try and meet similar people to yourself.’

As well as keeping players connected with Ireland hurling is a key part of may players Irish identity with Kavanagh acknowledging ‘just because you move to a new country doesn’t mean you stop playing the game’.

However, being a hurler has raised a few eyebrows, not just in New York but across the United States as a whole, with many Americans curious to understand what the game is.

‘Hurling is the national game of Ireland. If you carry a hurley down the street, people are very inquisitive to know what’s the game, and what is that bat. I have that sense of spreading the game.’

Although the Hurling Classic has visited New York City for the first time this year, the game has been around since 1772, with Irish soldiers in the British Army introducing it to the country.

Super Mario

Super Mario 64 Land Reimagines a 23-year-old Classic

Millennials who grew up playing video games likely have fond memories of their favorite classics from the 90’s, particularly the groundbreaking and wildly successful early 3D titles such as Super Mario 64. This nostalgia is so widespread that it’s led enterprising fans to create their own reimaginings of classic games, using emulators and clever programming tricks to modify the original code. These fan-made projects have become so ambitious in scope that they can rival and even exceed the quality of the games they’re based on, replacing nearly every element of the original titles with custom content. This is perhaps best exemplified by the recent Super Mario 64 Land, a total conversion mod of Super Mario 64 that introduces unique art, level design, and gameplay mechanics to the game engine of the celebrated Nintendo 64 launch title.

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Despite legal challenges from Nintendo concerning the redistribution of their intellectual property, the emulation and modding community for classic Nintendo platforms including the Nintendo 64 has perhaps never been more active, as talented programmers and artists donate their time to create free, fan-made works inspired by their favorite titles. Due to its status as a best-selling classic and the litany of modding tools that have been developed for the title, Super Mario 64, released in 1996 to widespread critical acclaim, is the most popular N64 game to modify. Many of these mods exhibit impressive feats of programming and reverse-engineering, as in the cases of a mod that adds a 24-person online multiplayer feature to the game, a mod that lets you play the entire game from a first-person perspective, and even a custom level editor inspired by the recent Nintendo hits Super Mario Maker and Super Mario Maker 2.

The more inventive and creative mods, however, are those that replace existing game content with custom assets, including levels, character models, gameplay features, and music, to create an entirely new experience. Many such total conversion mods have been released over the past several years, including the popular Super Mario Star Road, released in 2011, and the cleverly-themed Super Mario 64: Halloween Edition. But the most recent release, created by a developer with years of experience creating custom content for Super Mario 64, aims to replicate the style and level of polish Nintendo is known for, and draws inspiration from the celebrated 3DS title Super Mario 3D Land. 

Super Mario 64 Land is, of course, of dubious legality, as the mod directly incorporates and redistributes Nintendo’s intellectual property

Super Mario 64 is not the only classic Nintendo title that has received attention from the modding community. Ocarina of Time: Four Swords Arena Edition allows you to play the critically-acclaimed N64 Zelda title with three friends, and another mod adds custom stages to the classic fighting game Super Smash Brothers. Perhaps the most impressive fan-made Nintendo project from recent years was the remake called AM2R, a total re-imagining of the Game Boy title Metroid II: Return of Samus for PC. While the developer was ultimately forced to remove access to the fangame by Nintendo’s legal team, the project ultimately allowed the developer to teach himself game design and programming, leading him to be hired by a professional game studio.

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Super Mario 64 Land is, of course, of dubious legality, as the mod directly incorporates and redistributes Nintendo’s intellectual property, borrowing concepts from newer Mario titles such as their power ups and enemies. The Japanese company is notorious for issuing takedown notices to developers who modify their games, who generally capitulate to the entertainment giant by deleting links to their creations under threat of legal action. As such, the future availability of Super Mario 64 Land on the internet is uncertain, so if you’re interested in playing it, it’s a good idea to download the mod to your computer ASAP. Links to the mod, which is free but requires a ROM image of Super Mario 64 and a Nintendo 64 emulator, can be found in the description for the mod’s YouTube trailer

Video Game Controller

Kojima’s Unique “Death Stranding” Met with Polarized Reception

Death Stranding has become an almost-mythical title in the video gaming world, owing to the legacy of its director, Hideo Kojima, its impenetrably weird style, and the years-long gap between its confusing initial announcement and its release. The title is perhaps the most anxiously anticipated game on the PS4, as it promises to offer a gameplay experience that represents a radical departure from titles that came before it. The game is the first one created by Kojima, famed for his work on the Metal Gear Solid franchise, after he left Konami and formed his own studio, Kojima Productions. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic America comprised of small, isolated communities which the player is tasked with connecting, Death Stranding is advertised as a new type of action game with a heavy focus on exploration and interaction with other players, as well as a strange, dense, and dream-like narrative.

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Though the game is not out yet, reviews have appeared on the internet, and critics have confirmed that the title is as unusual as its extensive marketing has made it seem. At its core, the game mainly tasks players with making package deliveries across expansive landscapes, while managing resources and navigating obstacles. But along the way, the player character, portrayed by Norman Reedus, must do things like carry around an infant in a pod that alerts him to the presence of enemies, which the player character can kill by crafting weapons made from his own sweat and blood. The game’s narrative weirdness doesn’t stop there, and its long story, which critics have complained was often unsubtle and pretentious, is nevertheless unique.

“Death Stranding could receive a review calling it a revolution in gaming, another could call it the most boring and pointless trash ever, and yet another could call it a middle-of-the-road effort that ends up being completely average, and all of those opinions might be right.” — Mollie L. Patterson, EGM

Despite these complaints, critics have praised the game’s deep metaphorical resonance, as it serves as a commentary on everything from the human cost of social media to the implications of climate change to the gradual collapse of American political norms. Fundamentally, reviewers agree, the game enticingly explores the theme of human connections through its narrative as well as its gameplay. The game integrates a social-media-like system, where the player can deploy useful tools in the game environment which can be used by other players who stumble across them, and players can give “likes” to objects placed by other players that are particularly useful. And while the story may be at times overwrought, reviewers preferred it to the even lengthier and more complex dialogue scenes of Metal Gear Solid titles, claiming that Kojima has refined his unique brand of interactive storytelling. The acting, represented in-game through motion-capture technology, was also praised.

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What’s notable about the reviews for Death Stranding is how disparate they are. Some publications ranked the game as merely mediocre, while others described it as among the best video games ever made. Video Games Chronicle, for instance, gave the game 3/5 stars, calling its story “a bloated heap of half-baked twists, laboured morals, armchair philosophy and boneheaded sci-fantasy metaphors,” whereas Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu gave it a rare perfect score. USGamer described Death Stranding as simultaneously bold, interesting, and tedious, and its reviewer had a broadly positive opinion of the game while struggling to recommend it, awarding the title 3.5/5 stars. Similarly, Game Informer gave the title a 7/10, praising the project’s ambition but commenting that its repetitive gameplay left a lot to be desired. EGM, meanwhile, gave the game a perfect 5/5 and heralded the title as a profound technical and artistic achievement. Despite giving it a perfect score, though, EGM’s reviewer characterized the game by saying “Death Stranding could receive a review calling it a revolution in gaming, another could call it the most boring and pointless trash ever, and yet another could call it a middle-of-the-road effort that ends up being completely average, and all of those opinions might be right.” Ultimately, it seems as though Death Stranding will be enjoyed mostly by a very particular kind of audience of people who have the patience for at-times tedious and boring gameplay and who aren’t turned off by an arguably pretentious and obvious narrative.

Flight Simulator

Microsoft Leverages Cutting-Edge Technology in Flight Simulator

Believe it or not, Microsoft’s longest-running franchise is its Flight Simulator series of titles which debuted in 1982 on IBM PCs. The latest release in the series, 2006’s Flight Simulator X, was widely believed to be the end of the franchise as Microsoft had not made any announcements on the subject for over a decade. That changed this year, however, as the software company announced they were working on a reboot of the franchise, simply titled Flight Simulator, which is due to release in 2020 on Windows and Xbox platforms. Though the program is still in the alpha stage of development, Microsoft showed off their progress at a press event in September, impressing journalists with the depth and complexity of various aspects of the simulation.

Perhaps the most immediate and visually striking aspect of the simulation’s design is the environment. In crafting a believable and lifelike world for users to explore, Microsoft leveraged its extensive collection of satellite and aerial imagery, creating 3D facsimiles of real-world locations using software. Whereas the environments in previous Flight Simulator titles were created by artists who placed individual objects in the virtual world, next year’s title uses machine learning to extract details about the real-world environment to represent in the simulation. For instance, the program identifies forests and other wooded areas and populates them with procedurally-generated trees and other fauna. The result is an environment so detailed and true-to-life that members of the press were even able to identify their apartment buildings while flying overhead in a small plane.

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In addition to the terrain, the simulation also attempts to replicate real-world weather conditions, constructed from data collected by weather stations around the world. The system analyzes radar imagery and other measurements in order to reconstruct cloud patterns, rain, snow, and other weather events, allowing users to fly through storms and hurricanes in real-time. As volumetric clouds are rendered dynamically, either in accordance with conditions in real life or at the user’s behest, the scattering of light through the sky is also simulated, leading to realistic shadows, sunrises, sunsets, and even rainbows where they would appear in real life.

By leveraging an approach where the environment is procedurally-generated, the developers at Microsoft are able to graphically represent the entire world, a feat that would be next to impossible if the environment were crafted by hand. There exist 44,000 airports in the real world, and Microsoft is intending to replicate all of them in their simulation. That also means that the game’s file size, relative to other games, is absolutely massive – as such, content is dynamically streamed into the simulator from the Internet. An offline mode is also available, but this mode reduces the detail of the environments considerably, causing them to look more like the simple, flat satellite imagery used in 2006’s Flight Simulator X.

Aircraft reacts realistically to changes in weather and other variables, and photogrammetry technology was used to replicate the interior of planes’ cockpits.

While the program’s simulation of the entire Earth is impressive and perhaps unprecedented, perhaps the more important aspect of the simulation is found within its collection of aircraft. Microsoft is focused on creating as realistic an experience as they can, with an additional focus on accessibility, as the team is working to ensure that a wide range of peripherals, from flight sticks to the standard Xbox gamepad, are supported. Aircraft reacts realistically to changes in weather and other variables, and photogrammetry technology was used to replicate the interior of planes’ cockpits. To demonstrate the accuracy of the simulation, Microsoft even invited a journalist to pilot a real plane after learning how to do so using the simulator.

Microsoft has very ambitious plans for this iteration of Flight Simulator. The company intends to support the product with continued development for an impressive ten years after its release, though it admits it doesn’t know yet exactly what this support will entail. Instead, Microsoft is going to release the closed alpha to a select number of users to observe how they interact with the virtual environment, and focus continued development efforts on the areas that generate the most engagement. There is certainly a lot of potential for simulation opportunities with a foundation as strong as the one Microsoft is building, and the company is going to be looking to the community for direction moving forward.