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Microsoft's Flight Simulator is a ticket to explore the world again

Faceyak

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With its stunningly realistic visuals and cutting-edge use of geographic and weather data, this flight sim offers a virtual chance to travel freely once more

For a few seconds, it seems real. A Cessna 172 Skyhawk flying low over a rural landscape dotted with fields and farmhouses, a copse of tall trees casting shadows over the swaying grass, a winding country lane. Then, on the horizon, the landscape gives way to rugged coastline, and, as the plane flies closer, we glimpse the rippling waves glinting in the evening sun. In real life, I have not seen the ocean for five months and, although I’m just sitting in my kitchen watching a virtual presentation of a video game, I feel a surge of emotion.

When the latest instalment in Microsoft’s decades-old Flight Simulator series was first shown at the E3 video game event last year, it drew gasps from the audience. Using two petabytes of geographic data culled from Bing Maps, together with cutting-edge, machine learning algorithms running on the company’s Azure cloud computing network, the game presents a near-photorealistic depiction of the entire planet.

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