Microsoft Flight Simulator is an incredible accomplishment, simulating the entire planet in remarkable detail and modeling hundreds of cities around the world. There are a few glitches in the matrix: The occasional bizarre obelisk in Australia, a reality-warping chasm in Brazil, and some towering stone spikes in Japan, for example.
And sometimes cities, buildings, and landmarks in Microsoft Flight Simulator just don’t look so great when you’re flying over them. Buckingham Palace, for instance, looks like a standard office building. Stonehenge looks like someone painted it flat on the grass. Modders have naturally been busy since the sim’s launch adding improved scenery to the sim.
And more and more, modders are taking Microsoft Flight Simulator’s data, which uses information from Bing Maps and Microsoft’s Azure AI, and replacing it with data from Google Maps.
Melbourne Cricket Ground Using Google 3D Maps – Colour corrected – (download) – Current vs New from r/MicrosoftFlightSim
The post above is from a month ago, when Reddit user High_Frame_Rates demonstrated the difference between the MFS version of the massive Melbourne Cricket Ground and an imported version which uses data from Google Maps. That is quite a startling improvement—maybe not something you’d notice while cruising five miles overhead, but definitely eye-catching if you’re flying just a few thousand feet above.
Since then more landmarks, buildings, stadiums, and even great swaths of entire cities have been remade using Google Maps data in favor of Bing. With Microsoft and Google being competitors, this has raised some caution flags over on the FS2020Creation subreddit, where many of the user-made scenery replacements are shared and catalogued. There are concerns that Microsoft probably isn’t happy about Google’s data being used in place of the Microsoft-owned Bing, as well as worries that it may be a violation of Google’s terms of service.
But, gosh, it’s hard not to be impressed by some of the replacement scenery.
Release | Perth CBD | Download from r/FS2020Creation
More detail comes with an added performance cost, however. The Perth scenery replacement you see above (which is a 76 MB download) had to be re-replaced by High_Frame_Rates with a lower-poly version due to performance issues other players were experiencing.
“Gmap slurping,” as it’s referred to, also doesn’t sound like a simple process, in case you were thinking of quickly importing your favorite city or landmark from Google into Microsoft Flight Simulator and then flying over it to snap a few shots. There are some instructions here from High_Frame_Rates and they involve a mixture of programs like Blender, Meshlab, Renderdoc, and even an out-of-date version of the Chrome Brower to accomplish. Yikes.
That’s probably a bit too complicated for most players (it certainly is for me), but you can at least easily browse the custom scenery map to see what modders and members of FS2020Creation subreddit have added and improved. Not everything listed there has been made with Google Maps data, but as nice as some of these scenery replacements look, I suspect more and more will be in the future.