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Screenshot: Microsoft

Microsoft is reviving one of its oldest game franchises — Microsoft Flight Simulator — with a new version that uses ultra-realistic map data to fuel its sky-high ambitions.

The big picture: The new airplane simulator is both a nod to Microsoft's past and an advertisement for the company's present, relying on Bing Maps and Azure to build a game intended exclusively for Windows and Xbox users. It's also a technological marvel, recreating the entire planet in virtual space and setting players loose to fly every inch of it.

Details: The planes in the game and the overall flying experience are getting high marks for their fidelity to the real thing. But it's the game world that's drawing the most attention.

  • The game, built by French developer Asobo, uses Azure cloud-computing technology, pulling data from Bing Maps, to render the world as the player navigates it, filling it out with buildings, flora, fauna and dynamic weather.
  • The technique lets the game render faithful versions of real-world buildings and entire cities, as Azure synthesizes realistic models from different angles and data in Bing Maps' vast database of satellite and aerial imagery.

It's not perfect. There are varying levels of photorealism, with the game putting greater focus on closely simulating 341 world cities than other locales. (Not all airports are created equal, either. Some major airports were painstakingly built in-game by hand, while most are generated algorithmically.)

  • And Azure makes mistakes. For instance, it assumed Buckingham Palace — a large, blocky building in a prime London location — was an office complex and rendered it from certain angles accordingly.
  • But it is still a far more expansive, detailed and photoreal version of the world than its closest forebears, the built-in flight simulator in Google Earth and GeoFS, a flight simulator built around open-source maps.

Between the lines: Microsoft is looking to draw people into its ecosystem.

  • Mac users and PlayStation players are out of luck. Microsoft Flight Simulator only available for Windows to start — including on Xbox Game Pass for PC, Microsoft's subscription PC gaming service. It's slated to later come out for Xbox One and the next-generation Xbox Series X console.

Go deeper

The Microsoft case's long shadow over Google

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Microsoft's epic battle with the U.S. government from 1997-2002, the last major federal antitrust action in tech, casts a long shadow over today's Department of Justice lawsuit against Google — but the industry landscape today is profoundly different.

The big picture: Microsoft's legal ordeal came at a moment when its old competitors, like Apple, were on the ropes, and new competitors, like Google, were just launching. The antitrust case preoccupied Bill Gates and the rest of Microsoft's leadership for years and arguably gave all those competitors the breathing room to grow toward their current success.

27 mins ago - Health

CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers

Travelers with their luggage arrive at a COVID-19 testing location at the airport in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 23, 2021. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday night that it is working to impose stricter testing requirements for international travelers due to the spread of the new Omicron variant.

The big picture: The new rules would require all international travelers, regardless of vaccination status, to show a negative test taken a day before their flight to the U.S. Currently, the CDC says fully vaccinated travelers are allowed to show a test taken no more than three days before their departure, AP reports.

Republicans threaten to shut down government over vaccine mandates

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Capitol in November 2020. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Conservative Republicans in the House and Senate are planning to force a government shutdown Friday to deny funding needed to enforce the Biden administration's vaccine mandates on the private sector, according to Politico.

Why it matters: Congress has until the end of the week to pass a stopgap measure to extend funding into 2022, though objection from a small group of Republicans could shut down the government.