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Paul Braren and Alfred Poor: MS Flight Simulator Dreaming (video)

Written by Paul Braren

Our Paul Braren and Alfred Poor do some serious MS Flight Simulator dreaming — and reminiscing. Do you remember when …

 aNewDomain.net — Paul Braren, who recently joined aNewDomain, told us he was always a huge fan of Alfred Poor’s Computer Cures columns in Computer Shopper. The two first met in 1992 at Cornell University at a Microsoft Flight Simulator conference. At the time, Braren was a teaching assistant with Cornell professor and world renowned sleep expert Jim Maas. But no one was sleeping at this event. Back then, Microsoft Flight Simulator had everyone on the edge of their seats. Here’s Paul Braren with more.

A screenshot from subLOGIC FS1 for the Apple II, courtesy of The Old Flight Simulator Vault.

A screenshot from subLOGIC FS1 for the Apple II, courtesy: The Old Flight Simulator Vault.

There once was a time when an ordinary guy, with otherworldly programming skills, could single-handedly create entertainment software that’d go on to sell better than anything before it. That ordinary guy is Bruce A. Artwick, the rock star programmer whose huge hit Flight Simulator really helped the PC gaming industry take off. This was the late 70s, very-early 80s. Flight Simulator had versions on the Apple II and the Radio Shack TRS-80, and by 1981 it was the best-selling title for Apple. I wonder how many members of today’s large teams of programmers really know who their forefather was, as they code some little piece of their company’s next big hit designed to make a billion dollars. Yes, those were simpler times, with floppy disks. But writing a flight simulator that’d run well on the extremely-limited hardware of the time meant it had to be painstakingly crafted in assembly language. Not at all simple.

Recently, I had the opportunity to enjoy the gift of an actual flight lesson, something I hadn’t done since the 80s. This time, I actually got to land a sleek parachute-equipped Cirrus SR-22. Perhaps all that simulation paid off — see my final approach and landing video here. Soon after this exhilarating aerial experience, I happened to run across a 4K TV article on aNewDomain by Alfred Poor. Quickly my thoughts ran to what a small world it is, and how nice a flight simulator would look on a 4K display! I also began to think, Why not catch up with Alfred, who I hadn’t seen in decades?

Check out the video below, to enjoy the fun replay of our Google Hangout together. We reminisce about the history of flight simulators, his amazing book, and our getting to meet with Bruce Artwick himself at that original conference. The video also touches upon my tale of getting my first “real” PC during college, 1987’s IBM PS/2 Model 50. Like many others PC owners of that time, I just had to test whether this Micro Channel architecture system was truly PC compatible by running Microsoft Flight Simulator 2.0 on it. On Christmas, of course. And boy did I ever test it! I also tested my parents’ belief, as I tried to convince them running Microsoft Flight Simulator was a good use of this expensive word-processing machine.

I had outgrown my Atari 2600 BASIC programming cartridge, and the Commodore VIC-20, with all those PEEK and POKE BASIC commands that motivated me to learn to touch-type. I even attempted to create basic flying games on those under-powered systems. All I could come up with was a tilting horizontal line that represented the horizon, moving in response to joystick inputs. It sure strained my imagination to pretend I was actually flying.

As a college student with an IBM PC in my dorm room, I was fortunate indeed. But that beloved machine also left me with a profound scarcity of funds to fuel my love of actual flight. This meant I desperately needed a “real” flight simulator. Thanks to Bruce Artwick, millions of folks like me sure did get to enjoy many wonderful fantasy flights, on a joy ride that lasted for decades. And thanks to Alfred, for helping me with this little journey back in time. Enjoy the video!

Alfred Poor video interview thumbnail

Video Credit: Paul Braren

In the video, Alfred mentions:

  • Microsoft encouraged 3rd party development, with folks creating scenery and add-ons for Flight Simulator. The very dynamic and excited world wide community behind the product were key social reasons for its success.
  • Pictured above, Alfred is holding up Applied Concepts in Microcomputer Graphics by Bruce A. Artwick. The book actually has screenshots of the precursor of what would eventually become Flight Simulator.
  • Don’t forget Alfred Poor’s own masterpiece, CROSS COUNTRY, 30 VFR Flights for Microsoft Flight Simulator.
  • Jim Maas somehow managed to convince Cornell University to host the CPAA (Computer Pilots Association of America) Flight Simulator Conference in 1992, which was later taken over by MicroWings. Even Microsoft was in attendance, to give us an early preview of a future version. That wheel-smoke-upon-landing that we all enjoyed seeing for the very first time sure got a huge reaction from the crowd!

You may have noticed that Alfred Poor is now a senior editor at aNewDomain.net. See more about his incredible career in his full bio here.

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For aNewDomain.net, I’m Paul Braren.

Flight Simulator ad on TinkerTry.comBased in historic Wethersfield, CT, Paul Braren is an IT Pro, senior contributor at aNewDomain.net, and the author of hundreds of hands-on technical articles about efficiency, storage, backup and home lab projects at TinkerTry.com. Paul enjoys podcasting, presenting at user groups, and most of all, tinkering with technology. With IBM since 1995, he’s currently enjoying his day job there as a storage technical advisor. Follow him at +PaulBraren and @tinkererguy, contact him at Paul.Braren@aNewDomain.net, and check out his TinkerTry IT @ home YouTube channel.

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Paul Braren