There are a lot of simulators around, the most popular, I guess, are the combat sims, where you get to go head-to-head with your friends, or the computer, and get yourself blown up now and then. Or all the time, if you are like me.... But I'm really just interested in the more civilized aspects of, well, civil aviation. For me, the attraction is to be able to virtually fly in a place which I know enough to recognise, so that I can orientate myself based on real landmarks, rather than some random placements which are common in computer games. This element of 'instant recognition' has always been a driving force for me, and it goes back to the days of Flight Simulator 2000, which I received as a gift from Microsoft as part of the Microsoft MVP program.
So, what are the choices today? I'll deal with only those that I support, but there are others worth trying -- in Particular, XPlane, and Aerosoft FS 2. Xplane has been around for a long time, and has a good following, but in the past I've never been impressed enough to keep it. However, with version 11, I am starting to love X-plane, and are currently investigating whether I should be developing scenery for it. The Aerosoft sim is a public beta, I guess, but users are excited about it, it looks great and has a lot of potential. It may be that it will develop enough to make it a viable choice for scenery developers like me.
The main simulators:
Flight Simulator X was 'the' choice for serious simmers for a number of years, until Microsoft ceased development. They 'sold' the rights to develop the sim -- or the ESP version -- to Lockheed Martin, and the 'home' market version to Dovetail Games. Dovetail have tweaked FSX and released it on Steam as FSX Steam Edition, and Lockheed Martin have built on ESP and released Prepar3d, which is now up to version 4. At the moment I create scenery using the FSX development tools, and the resulting scenery works in Prepar3d, but I am shifting to separate SDKs for each sim, to give my scenery the best chance to continue working through future sim updates.
You can purchase FSX Steam Edition via Steam, as a download. At the time I published this page, it costs NZ$19.99. This is a tweaked, full version of FSX, and as such all Real NZ scenery is compatible, but there may be some issues with installation -- an installation of FSX Se without previously installing FSX will include enough compatibility to fool most installers -- include mine -- into accepting it as a FSX installation, but if you have previously installed FSX, then you will need a Godzone/Real NZ Multi-installer, which is currently available for the Subscription scenery, and Real NZ Nelson.
Lockheed Martin Prepar3d can be purchased and downloaded from their site here. Note that there are various licensing options for Prepar3d, the main choices are the Academic and Professional versions. I suspect that most of my customers will quality for Academic, but there is some online confusion about the licensing. However Lockheed do not ask for proof of your qualification for any license. I neatly side-step the problem with a 'developer' license. Note that the prices on the Prepar3d website are in US dollars, and Lockheed Martin will add GST to NZ purchases.
At the moment I use Prepar3d v3.4 as my main simulator, although I do have v4 installed, and retain the old 'boxed' version of FSX for testing only. It's been a long time since I actually loaded up FSX to fly, I must prefer Prepar3d these days.
Note that Dovetail Games plan to release a major upgrade based on FSX, and I will seriously consider this as a development platform if/when it is released. You can download an 'early access' version via Steam. However as there is no development kit available yet, I'm not able to gauge whether I should include it in future development.