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Meet the startup that helped Microsoft build the world of Flight Simulator

Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator is a technological marvel that sets a new standard for the genre. But to recreate a world that feels real and alive and contains billions of buildings all in the right spots, Microsoft and Asobo Studios relied on the work of multiple partners.

One of those is the small Austrian startup Blackshark.ai from Graz that, with a team of only about 50 people, recreated every city and town around the world with the help of AI and massive computing resources in the cloud.

Ahead of the launch of the new Flight Simulator, we sat down with Blackshark co-founder and CEO Michael Putz to talk about working with Microsoft and the company’s broader vision.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Blackshark is actually a spin-off of game studio Bongfish, the maker of World of Tanks: Frontline, Motocross Madness and the Stoked snowboarding game series. As Putz told me, it was actually Stoked that set the company on the way to what would become Blackshark.

“One of the first games we did in 2007 was a snowboarding game called Stoked and S Stoked Bigger Edition, which was one of the first games having a full 360-degree mountain where you could use a helicopter to fly around and drop out, land everywhere and go down,” he explained. “The mountain itself was procedurally constructed and described — and also the placement of obstacles of vegetation, of other snowboarders and small animals had been done procedurally. Then we went more into the racing, shooting, driving genre, but we still had this idea of positional placement and descriptions in the back of our minds.”

Bongfish returned to this idea when it worked on World of Tanks, simply because of how time-consuming it is to build such a huge map where every rock is placed by hand.

Based on this experience, Bongfish started building an in-house AI team. That team used a number of machine-learning techniques to build a system that could learn from how designers build maps and then, at some point, build its own AI-created maps. The team actually ended up using this for some of its projects before Microsoft came into the picture.