In the 1980s, Microsoft was not known for gaming. At that time, the still fledging company tried to persuade the world that MS-DOS was the best thing since sliced bread, and that their VisiCalc software could take on Lotus 1-2-3 any day. There was one exception, though: Microsoft was the pioneer in civilian aviation simulators. Let me correct myself: Microsoft was the publisher of one such pioneer, Bruce Artwick, and his company, subLOGIC.
Artwick was the Richard Garriot of flight simulators. In the same year that Garriot published the first graphic role-playing game, Akalabeth, Artwick finished what some may consider a more mature project: a realistic flight simulator. He continued to work on this game for three more years, until he convinced Microsoft to publish it in 1982. Two years later, Microsoft released the second Flight Simulator, and in 1988,followed.
Version 3.0 brought yet another improvement to the series. Reviewers at that time were delighted at the heightened realism, while the fans were in ecstasy for being able to fly their Lear Jet between the World Trade Center buildings, as advertised on the game box. In addition, to realism (which was adjustable), the game let you to play with the weather conditions, create complex flight scenarios and engage into a few minigames, ranging from crop dusting to flying in formation with a couple of friends, connected via a null modem. (On a personal note, I could never understand why I was allowed to dust crops with the Lear Jet.)
The game offered very advanced scenery. While the nature was quite flat with blocky mountains and uniform forests, major US cities were recognizable by their skyline. A few monuments, such as the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge were enhanced to provide the highest possible (for its time) realism level, which added a lot to the atmosphere. The world itself covered the whole North America and then some, stretching for a square with a side of over 10,000 miles.
Technically, the game was very well done. While games didn't experience the same level of technical difficulties as they do today, I must give kudos to the development team that came with a radically new idea - pull-down menus, which made the interface much easier to use. Add to it mouse and joystick support, as well as the fact that as of 2003, the Microsoft Knowledge Base database still featured support articles for the game, and you have a solid title that is playable until this day.
However, there are also a few downsides to this game. The one that bothered me the most is that all airplanes use the same dashboard layout. As such, the only real difference in flying them is their in-flight physics, which becomes only apparent on higher realism levels. Visually, this makes the availability of different planes completely useless. The second problem I've had with this game is that the adjustable realism levels provided for some freaky extremes. On one hand, the low levels made this more an arcade game, while the higher levels made the planes almost impossible to fly. Having flown a small Cessna a few times (a long time ago, but it's hard to forget), I am aware of the fact that the plane pretty much flies itself. Once you are in the air and adjust the speed, all you have to watch for are sudden wind gusts and the dashboard for anything catastrophic. In this game, however, even with weather settings toned down it's nearly impossible to properly adjust the speed and the flaps, and you spend all your flight moving both back and forth and fly in a wave-like pattern.
Still,once again pushed the boundaries in realistic civilian flight simulators. In addition to pretty decent flight physics, the game featured a very easy to use interface, lots of adjustable options and technical stability. While later versions of the Flight Simulator would push the technological envelope even further, this was the first version that was realistic enough to engage me into several all-nighters, and which I still consider to be the first modern flight simulator.