back to article Gamers are replacing Bing Maps objects in Microsoft Flight Simulator with rips from Google Earth

Microsoft’s flagship 2020 game Flight Simulator was supposed to showcase Bing Maps and Azure’s streaming capabilities. There’s just one small problem: gamers are overwriting Bing’s in-game 3D photogrammetry with entire cities ripped from Google Earth. “When playing the game, you're essentially looking at an extremely high …

  1. Dinanziame Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Where does Bing Maps have 3D buildings? Google Maps has it for some cities, but it's very inconsistent.

    1. Magani
      Happy

      3D

      My understanding is that MSFS uses some algorithm to insert 'appropriate' buildings according to location, country, etc. Hence the ever so slightly iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge is depicted as flat and at sea level.

      Roll on Google imports to MSFS!

    2. 0laf Silver badge

      If you follow the link to the game review it has a bit more detail. Buildings are procedurally generated by an MS AI. Which means that it get a lot right but there are some notable exceptions which stand out.

    3. greenawayr

      Bing Maps App

      You may not have even realised, but there is an app on windows called maps. This is powered, of course, by Bing Maps. Click on the menu in the top right and you'll see an option called 3D cities.

      These are the cities that Bing maps has captured photogrammetry imaging for.

      Flight simulator is a bit of a mish-mash of techniques. The 3D cities around the world that have been captured are rendered as such in the game. Not tremendous detail, but for the purpose of a flight simulator, really good. Then you have the AI generated content, that detects trees, buildings etc from a flat map and places generic models in their place. These models are geographically representative, so different countries will have different types of building, typical of the area, placed. Again, on the whole, this works great from up high but there are inevitably errors. For example, my hometown of Plymouth has a Lido on the seafront. That lido is a building in the game. Football Stadiums tend to turn into office blocks with a nice patch of green in the middle.

      Then the final technique is the rendered model of specific landmarks. Paris and London is a good example of this. The city isn't 3D mapped, but does have many of the iconic buildings represented in very high quality models on the map.

      What myself and a number of others have been doing is using the Google data to overlay on the game. This only applies to the local version of the game obviously, but allows you to fix some of these AI generated issues, especially in areas you might fly around regularly. It started off with just landmarks, but is now much easier to do with large areas of the map. You do get a somewhat jarring experience moving from google map data to the game generated landscape though.

      It needs to be said, that I think Microsoft expected this, as they provided a publicly available SDK and Dev mode with which to do all this, and it's surprisingly simple. So I don't think too much mud should be slung at Asobo.

      And regardless of the mapping issues, it's still one of the most visually stunning sims out there in my opinion. It's a 10 year project and I look forward to watching it grow and develop.

      https://youtu.be/vFbmPP8G1UM?t=695

      1. greenawayr

        Re: Bing Maps App

        apologies for the stutter in the video of my link. I'm absolutely due a new GPU. If only there were some nice new shiny ones on the market right now.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bing Maps App

        Nice video. The view inside the cockpit when the plane banked made me feel airsick!

        1. greenawayr

          Re: Bing Maps App

          yeah? Looking forward to VR support to help double down on the airsickness.

          (also looking forward to cinematic replays so I don't have to fly, record, mess with autopilot etc all at the same time)

        2. greenawayr

          Re: Bing Maps App

          also, Rennes and Rouen, the first two cities in that sequence, are 3D cities, Paris is not. However, the amount of drawing the GPU needs to do for Paris, plus the night lights and the volumetric clouds, make it a bit heavy for my old 1080.

      3. NATTtrash Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Bing Maps App

        Very nice video, THX for sharing!

        I'm not into flight sims and all that, but I was kind of surprised (and listen very carefully, I'll only say this once) by the thick American accents on your radio feeds ;)

        1. greenawayr

          Re: Bing Maps App

          Thanks. Really am just starting out on this flying and video editing lark, but it's fun, albeit time consuming. There's only so many evenings a week you can neglect the wife.

          I definitely need to work on my "Like and Subscribe" tagline/plea/YoutTube whoring.

          And yes, all ATC around the world ever, are American didn't you know?

          I'm sure it's only a matter of time before a 3rd party or keen community modder produces a regionalised ATC. You could of course use VATSIM for a more authentic experience.

          It's a bit surprising really as Asobo are a French studio, but obviously M$ have got a market to think about. I imagine that's why there's also hundreds of US cities captured in 3D and only a handful from other countries.

  2. gobaskof Bronze badge

    I think the key point is that you CAN import from elsewhere

    I think with the way that large tech companies are putting up the walls around their gardens, it is a breath of fresh air to hear that it was possible to import your preferred maps into the Microsoft flight simulator. Yes it is not what Microsoft wanted to advertise their maps, but the fact that the option was there improves my opinion of them very slightly. Over the past few years I have moved from hatred to dislike for Microsoft, carry on like this I may move to ambivalence.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: I think the key point is that you CAN import from elsewhere

      Add-ons have always been a strong point of Flight Simulator to add more realism than the out-of-the-box experience. One reason of the Flight (without Simulator) failure was the attempt to keep out third party add-ons.

      But they also allows this kind of situation... after all data from Google Maps and Earth had been used even in FSX to improve the textture - I remember using one which was fine when flying high enough, but lacking the 3D-building in the current release was not good when flying low.

    2. anonanonanonanonanon

      Re: I think the key point is that you CAN import from elsewhere

      I don't think how they're exporting the data from google is compliant with Google's terms and conditions.

      And Bing/MS probably also has Terms and conditions against importing copyrighted 3rd party models.

      I saw a vid on this not long after MSFS came out, and it's not a simple step of hitting export in google, more like intercepting the 3d data when querying 3d data on google maps.

      1. greenawayr

        Re: I think the key point is that you CAN import from elsewhere

        Couple of apps and that's about it. Nothing too complicated.

        Because you can only run the scenery locally, I'm pretty sure there's not issue with Google T&C. MSFS has a dev mode and SDK so it's been built for community modding like that.

        If you were to try and sell your scenery package full of Google IP then I expect you might have some folks knocking on your door. But mostly people are doing their scenery packages locally then uploading them for others to import for free to their local machine.

    3. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: I think the key point is that you CAN import from elsewhere

      If I were an avid Flight Simulator player, I might move along with you.

      As it stands, I'll let you move to ambivalence while I continue gloating about how Bing is once again only used to find Google.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I think the key point is that you CAN import from elsewhere

        Bing is better than Google when looking for porn

    4. DS999

      This may not last

      If replacing Bing Maps becomes more commonplace. Not only does it make them look bad, it removes a source of information about things they've got wrong. They should rather have people using Bing Maps and letting them know about the problems (but only if they are going to fix them)

      1. greenawayr

        Re: This may not last

        Considering the game is just a couple of months old, there's already a very active and audible user base, and Asobo have done a great job in engaging that user base for feedback. It's a learning curve for them, but they're doing a great job communicating and being transparent. Yes, there are issues with the world and the planes, but they know about them and they're on the roadmap.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why?

    Sorry if I missed it in the article. But, not owning the game myself, why would people prefer the Google maps? Are they better?

    1. Dinanziame Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      Quoth the article: “In regard to photogrammetry, we often talked about number of cities or places that have it on Bing vs. Google. However, when I was examining the same area on both platforms, to my surprise (or not), the quality of photogrammetry on Bing is a lot worse, both in texture quality and polygon counts.”

      1. greenawayr

        Re: Why?

        There's also just a whole lot more.

        I think around 300 Bing Maps 3D cities.

        A few more in google maps

        https://list.fandom.com/wiki/List_of_3D_locations_in_Google_Earth

        1. Gamberoni

          Re: Why?

          I was hoping that the picture of Gibraltar in FS with Bing graphics would be followed by a similar screenshot of the same place with Google graphics? That might actually show us non-FS users what the issue is? A case of a picture (or two) being worth a thousand words?

          1. ChrisC

            Re: Why?

            If it looks anything like how it looks in Google Maps/Earth, then I'd say in this case the comparison wouldn't be flattering towards Google.

            Although they do have full photogrammetry-based 3D just up the coast in Algeciras, this doesn't quite stretch down to Gibraltar, so you're left with the standard 2D textures wrapped around the 3D terrain model. Consequently, around the base of the peak you'd be missing all of the procedurally generated buildings that are visible in FS, on the peak itself you'd be missing the trees, and around the summit area you'd have some jarringly unrealistic looking texture smearing due to the near-vertical nature of the polygons in that area.

            I have to say that, in contrast, that FS screenshot looks really rather impressive, and if that was as good as it could ever get then I'd be a very happy flight simmer indeed, so to know that MS have maintained the long tradition of enabling third party replacements for scenery, giving users the option of pulling in even better quality terrain where available, makes it all the more impressive.

            I guess if you're intimately familiar with the real Gibraltar landscape you might be seeing something that jars (just as, when I've seen example screenshots of London, I see stuff that would be a bit distracting), but as an out of the box experience it's a sign of how far we've come that we're able to nitpick over how a flight sim is rendering individual buildings in what could at first glance quite easily pass as a photo of the real world if you didn't know in advance what it was you were looking at.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Why?

              "it's a sign of how far we've come that we're able to nitpick over how a flight sim is rendering individual buildings in what could at first glance quite easily pass as a photo of the real world if you didn't know in advance what it was you were looking at."

              The first flight sim I played was on a TRS-80 with 128x48 screen resolution. Yeah, we've moved on a bit! :-)

              And there was the 4 colour, 320x200 CGA graphics on the early PCs.

          2. greenawayr

            Re: Why?

            Asobo have rendered natural landmarks as well, so there's a good job that most of that detail on the rock in the sim is handcrafted. They did the same with Mt Fuji in the recent Japan update.

            So it wouldn't be a like for like comparison as one is a photogrammetry model and the other is handcrafted.

          3. vtcodger Silver badge

            Re: Why?

            I also was hoping for a Google version of Gibraltar in the article. I don't recall the rock looking quite like that, but it was a LONG time ago when I saw it. And I must say that even if the Microsoft image turns out to have some elements that are pure fantasy, the image seems really quite nice.

  4. Michael Hoffmann
    Unhappy

    Not just lower quality but appalingly out of date

    Every 6 months or so, I look at both Google Maps/Earth and Bing Maps and have a look at our property. Regional Australia. Google Maps/Earth, it seems, is rarely out of date by more than a few months. In the most recent one, I can see our horses grazing on a newly fenced paddock with dams filled up to where the autumn rains got them around July or so. (which also shows how good the resolution is)

    Bing Maps is hopeless. Completely and utterly, pathetically hopeless: it shows our place in the state we bought it nearly 8 years ago. I can tell by every (long torn down) shed, every paddock (with the previous owner's cattle), even the size and location of trees. Can't zoom in as close as GMaps as the res isn't as good by far.

    It was a major reason I haven't yet bought FS2020, thought I have bought all editions going back to when it was Sublogic.

    If I can get our area with the way it looks in 2020, I might finally have a go.

    I wonder if I could get Nearmaps data in: a good mate is in construction and they have it fully licensed. Even if I gifted him a case of wine it'd be cheaper than Nearmap's insane licensing costs, last I checked.

    1. greenawayr

      Re: Not just lower quality but appalingly out of date

      any model that you can throw into Blender will work. Get it in Blender and then use the msfsexport add in and you should be good to go. Lots of content out there on doing this.

      1. Jim84

        Re: Not just lower quality but appalingly out of date

        I think MS should also have added the ability to map and photograph your own house and neighbourhood and add them to "Bing maps MSFS", maybe with a user rating system and even cash rewards? I don't know how hard this is to do with standard smartphone cameras or even prosumer cameras and drones?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not just lower quality but appalingly out of date

      I suspect the Google Maps vs Bing Maps is going to be very dependent on specific locations and who each company sources their data from.

      I'm in a fairly recently new build house in the midlands UK, (new built about 6 years ago), Bing was updated to show my house about 6 months or so after it was built, but it took Google about 2 years to do the same (they still had the original buildings in satellite view, despite having the new road on map view).

      More currently, close to my house is a new retail building that's gone up, which got it's roof on about 6 months ago, had its foundations laid about a year ago, and the previous building was pulled down perhaps 2 years ago now. Bing shows the foundations being dug out, so is somewhere around 6 to 12 months ago, whereas Google maps still shows the original building there, so is at least 2 years behind.

      So at least in my area, Google only seems to update about every 2 years, and seems to always be behind Bing by about 1.5 years.

      Separately, Google also seemed to have a habit of removing my street name! Listing it a 'Unknown' twice now, despite it being added 6+ years ago. I only knew it wasn't listed again last time (about a year ago) as a delivery driver, who used Google maps, couldn't find the street in Google. I checked Google maps on the PC, and sure enough my street was now listed as 'Unknown'!

    3. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Not just lower quality but appalingly out of date

      Never looked at my home in Bing maps before. This is North London, not rural anywhere.

      And it was much poorer than Google's offer. Street level data was years old. And the satellite image didn't get anywhere near as close.

      1. greenawayr

        Re: Not just lower quality but appalingly out of date

        I would imagine M$ have plans for the UK. Currently the only UK 3D city is bizarrely, Southampton. I would envisage they will do a round of satellite imagery for the UK soon enough and add more 3D cities.

        The thing I am surprised about though, is that they added 6 3D cities to Japan in the first world update, but these don't show on Bing Maps yet.

        1. SkippyBing

          Re: Not just lower quality but appalingly out of date

          My understanding is that they have access to the Bing Maps data but aren't tied to their update cycle. They're also pretty proactive about updating stuff in the Sim if you tell them via the helpdesk so Bing Maps is more the foundation they build on than the final layer.

  5. Ari 1

    Cross post, also in review thread.

    Great graphics, so-so dynamics, questionable framerates. But probably something that can be fine polished over the coming months/years.

    The stall/spin characteristics of the Cessna 152 and the 172 discussed in the review are unrealistic, as are many others. A C152 will happily spin (and very easily) if you stall with full rudder. Engine on it will spin reasonably fast (very slow compared to an aerobatic plane or even another training plane such as a BE77 Skipper or a Pa38 Tomahawk. Stall recovery on the C152 is very easy. C172 is slightly heavier out of the dive, but also wants to help you.

    The twitchy controls that the author mentions is also something I find a bit silly. It's the same kind of thing we have seen in car games, were "more twitchy=harder and must therefore be more realistic", which is not the case.

    What's more, it feels like all aircraft have the same kind of control linkages, they all fly as if all controls use rods. No wire controls, no electronic or hydraulic controls... There is a difference in initial response and sustained response between the different control types. Rod controls on light aircraft have a much more immediate response, while most general aviation aircraft with wire controls have a more sluggish control response (wires can absolutely be tuned for more twitchiness, and more factors come into play such as control surface design and more).

    As it stands, FS2020 is cool and worth having, but for accuracy of the actual simulation then X-Plane beats it easily.

    1. greenawayr

      You see, this is the kind of knowledge I lack. I've never flown, I wouldn't know how a real plane (let alone a variety of planes) feels, so like 90% of the flight sim pilots out there, we're just enjoying the game and would probably call ourselves virtual air tourists more than pilots I guess.

      I did a bit of X-Plane and would admit, the simulation felt a bit more immersive, but the hassle of building a world that looked anything like the real world really wasn't worth it.

      I'm very much there for the eye candy. Once my GPU is upgraded, I'll be picking up a VR headset for this and my racing sims.

      I'm definitely a bit rose tinted though, as I only recently got back into PC gaming on the back of this sim. The concept just got me really excited and I think that's the same for a lot of people.

    2. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

      and...

      It's a lot harder to fly than the real thing, IMHO.

    3. SkippyBing

      I haven't noticed the twitchy controls issue, but I tweaked my joystick years ago to make the null zone more generous. However, plenty of people have fixed it adjusting the in game settings.

      I'm always a bit dubious comparing control feel in simulators as I'm flying all the aircraft through a joystick with no feedback, and frankly there are two many variables in terms of hardware for the developers to get close for one aircraft never mind a whole range.

      1. Ari 1

        I actually prefer a dumb stick to force feedback. They do an adequate job of simulating control forces, although they don't get heavier with speed. I think that force feedback can be good, but is usually abused in that they try to put too much "feel" into it, and that breaks immersion.

        Of course, a fully hydraulic full motion sim, OTOH... then my butt can feel the aircraft's behaviour.

        I used to be an airline transport pilot and flight instructor (started with sailplanes at age 14), my feel for these games is based on that. And from that perspective I think that X-plane is extremely good. That said, FS2020 may become great, if ASOBO keep at it.

        And I agree with the earlier post about the planes being harder to fly in FS2020 than in reality.

  6. Andy Non Silver badge

    BBC Click

    did an article about this on Sunday. Buckingham palace appears as an office complex and watch out for that 3 mile high skyscraper! Not impressed with the reality of famous landmarks and locations.

    1. SkippyBing

      Re: BBC Click

      Depends how obsessed you are with a particular location. London is reasonably good, and about 1000 times better than the default in any other sim, but it hasn't got the level of detail you get in say LA or Tokyo at the moment. But ASOBO and MS are planning on ten years of development, Japan got a complete upgrade about two weeks ago and there have already been two updates.

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