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 v4.0 as my main simulator, although I do have v3 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.
Update: the new simulators which I am considering for 'Real NZ' treatment through the 'Kickstarter' funding promotion:
There are two newcomers which are gaining traction, and I undertook the 'Kickstarter' fundraising to fund a project which will look at these as an additional supported simulator for Real NZ multi-platform scenery.
Both are 'early access, which effectively means they are still being developed, but you can buy the early release version now, and follow the development process. Both are available on Steam. They are also both 64-bit, which overcomes the limitations of FSX and Prepar3d versions prior to v4. (V4 is the first x64-only version of Prepar3d.)
Flight Simulator World by Dovetail Games is the logical development path for FSX. Dovetail Games purchased the right to improve on FSX for the home market, while Lockheed Martin purchased the 'professional' market version. At the time I'm writing this, FSW is in the very early stages, having just picked up updates to add 'cold and dark' starts, and trueSKY weather depiction support. There is no development kit available to third-party developers yet, but it does support simple FSX scenery, including photoscenery.
Personally I find FSW very promising, but it does have a long way to go to take the crown from Prepar3d.
Aerofly FS 2 is even more of a long-shot, but it does have a keen following, including me. It's main strength is the graphics, which are a huge improvement on any of the MSFS-based simulators. However there's a lot of work to be done expanding the world-wide scenery, and adding 3D objects similar to 'autogen'. FS 2 uses photoscenery only, which is a big risk for a new simulator, but it is also the area which many consider to be it's strength -- as a big fan of photoscenery, I am keen to see what NZ would look like here.
I have just begun evaluating whether or not it is worthwhile supporting these two new simulators, and I have tried some NZ photoscenery in both. As I'm also evaluating X-plane, it is very likely that not all of these will end up with long-term support, but so far all are possibilities!