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How Microsoft Flight Simulator Makes The Ground Look So Good


While in-air screenshots and footage from the latest installment of Microsoft Flight Simulator are gorgeous, it’s not too shabby at ground level either, depending on which of the three different cityscape rendering types the game uses. YouTuber ObsidianAnt shows us the difference between handcrafted, auto-generated, and photogrammetry-built cities.

In their video, ObsidianAnt uses the game’s drone camera to fly down inside various cities, getting a peek at the ground without risking a crash. Normally, if you get this low in Flight Simulator, you’ve done something wrong.

Handcrafted cities in Flight Simulator are exactly what they sound like: cities and towns built by hand, with unique buildings and layouts. In Flight Simulator the technique is used to render airport cities, areas that the player will most likely see from the ground.

Auto-generated cities are created by the game using a series of pre-set buildings and textures to approximate what a town might look like using satellite data. From the ground they look rather nice, even if they have no real correlation to the cities and towns they are meant to represent outside of general layout.

Cities built using photogrammetry are sort of like the cities you see when you zoom in close on Google Maps. Photogrammetry uses photographic data to gain information about physical objects. It was first used in the mid 1800s to create topographical maps from photos. The technology has advanced quite a bit, to the point where it can turn a flat satellite image to a detailed cityscape, like this.

It looks amazing from a certain height, but get too close and things get a little messy. Buildings and objects are extruded from the ground rather than individually modeled, with textures overlaid afterwards. It’s a weird look.

Watch all three methods in action in ObsidianAnt’s excellent and informative video. It’s an outstanding look at how one of the most data-packed games ever uses the data it is packed with.



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