Microsoft’s New Flight Simulator, Blackshark, and Bongfish

Microsoft’s New Flight Simulator, Blackshark, and Bongfish

The New Flight Simulator from Microsoft is a technological marvel that sets a new standard for the genre. Nevertheless, to make a world that feels alive, real, and is containing billions of buildings all in the right spots, Asobo Studios and Microsoft relied on the work of multiple partners.

One of those is a small Austrian startup from Graz that recreated every town and city across the world. This happened with the help of massive computing resources in the cloud and artificial intelligence. Graz is a team of only around fifty people.

Michael Putz is Blackshark co-founder and CEO. So, ahead of the launch of the new Flight Simulator, sat down with him to talk about the company’s broader vision and working with Microsoft.

Blackshark is a spin-off of game studio Bongfish. Bongfish is the maker of World of Tanks: the stocked snowboarding game series, Frontline, and Motocross Madness. It was stoked that set the company on the way to what would become Blackshark, as Putz told me.

He explained that one of the first games they did in 2007 was a snowboarding game called S Stoked Bigger Edition and Stoked. Furthermore, the S Stoked Bigger Edition was one of the first games to have a full 360-degree mountain where you could use a helicopter to fly around and drop out, land everywhere and go down. The mountain itself was procedurally described and constructed. Also, the obstacles, including vegetation, small animals, and other snowboarders had been done procedurally. Afterward, they went more into driving, genre, racing, and shooting. Nevertheless, they still had that idea of positional placement and descriptions in the back of their minds.

New Flight Simulator

Bongfish returned to that idea when it worked successfully on the world of Tanks. This was just because of how time-consuming it is to build such a vast map where every rock is placed by hand.

Bongfish started building an in-house artificial intelligence team based on those experiences. To create a system that could learn from how designers build maps, and then at some point, build its artificial intelligence-created maps, the team used several machine-learning techniques. In the end, the team used that for some of its projects before Microsoft came into the picture.

Furthermore, Putz added that, by random chance, he met someone from Microsoft who was looking for a studio to help them out on the new Flight Simulator. The core idea of the new Flight Simulator was to use Bing Maps as a background, as a playing field, and as a map.

Nevertheless, Bing Maps’ photogrammetry data only yielded an exact 1:1 replica of four hundred cities. However, the vast majority of the planet data does not exist. Asobo Studios and Microsoft needed a system to build the rest.

There is where Blackshark comes in. The studio reconstructed 1.5 billion buildings from 2D satellite images for the flight simulator.

Putz said that he met the Microsoft team by chance. Nevertheless, there is a bit more to it than that. There was a Bing Maps team in Graz, back in the days. The team developed the first 3D versions and cameras for Bing Maps.

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