The Simulation Game
After the unexpected closure of Microsoft’s Aces Game Studio, home of the Flight Simulator franchise, Kathie Flood and Rick Selby assembled a talented and diverse team of designers to start Cascade Game Foundry. We sit down with the studio’s founders to talk about its grand plans for the future of simulation.
This is reassuring to hear, because beyond the financial motives for Cascade to broaden its potential audience, the idea of simulation in game design – as represented by products like Flight Simulator – feels somewhat archaic. There was a time when the hardware was too rudimentary to achieve any level of realism without devoting a game’s entire design to it, but that has long since passed. We aren’t saying that all modern games are ‘realistic’ – far from it – but many of the features and effects that made simulators unique are now simple to achieve.
“As computing power has increased, game designers are able to work more simulation elements into their games, and simulations have worked their way into more and more non-game applications, too,” Flood says. “The possibilities for expansion are seemingly endless and the lines are blurry. We’re specifically interested in the virtual travel aspects of simulation – being able to navigate and explore the world from home and share those experiences with friends and fellow adventurers. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible with social media and other online technologies available now, so it will be exciting to see where this leads.”
Flood cites Google Maps and its Street View function as an example of simulation permeating our lives in a way that was unthinkable when Flight Simulator launched 28 years ago. “We all know people who poke around Google’s world for hours and wonder where the time went. At what point do you say this is entertainment? Understanding these new technologies and what they can and can’t bring to the simulation market is an important area to explore.”
Travel, exploration and adventure are at the very heart of what Cascade is trying to achieve. Traditionally, simulators were focussed on vehicles, and accurately representing the various controls and procedures necessary to operate them. In future, these games will place just as much emphasis on the world around the vehicle, thereby offering an alternative, more inclusive form of simulation that requires less of the player’s patience and attention.
“Realism, great attention to detail, the ability to tune and tweak game elements, and a powerful toolset are critical to our success,” Flood says. “But it’s also imperative that we present the same foundation in a more friendly way to appeal to the huge, casual audience looking for more lightweight, virtual travel adventures. The worlds we can build in games now are so beautiful, so detailed, and – if we want, so accurate – that exploration is compelling in and of itself. If you build from the ground up to accommodate that broader audience, there is enormous potential for big bang for your buck.”