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Microsoft Flight Simulator’s visual glitches sprinkle in a dose of cosmic horror

Welcome to a new algorithmically generated dimension

A plane flies over fields of colorful farmland in Microsoft Flight Simulator Image: Asobo Studio/Xbox Game Studios
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Microsoft Flight Simulator is an incredible piece of software that allows players to fly around a virtual re-creation of Earth and glimpse stunning vistas. Feeling cooped up? Why not stretch your legs by going on a luxurious flight around the world?

It is so well-crafted and lifelike that when the seams in the simulation inevitably appear, they’re alarming. There’s a weird cosmic horror sense to some of these in-game errors; they look exactly like our world, except just different enough that you have to stop and do a double-take.

For instance, consider Melbourne, Australia. Microsoft Flight Simulator delivers a very realistic portrayal of the city — except for the towering skyscraper that looms over every other building, like an impossibly tall obsidian monolith engineered to eclipse anything mortal hands could build.

As it turns out, this isn’t a warning from an uncaring god, but rather, the result of a stray typo that wandered into the code from a publicly editable map database. The two-story building became 212 stories tall. Concerning!

There are some more complex issues with Microsoft Flight Simulator. The game generates landscapes largely through AI, using algorithms and reams of mapping data and photography to craft its virtual world. It works great until there’s a hiccough. For instance, consider this wall of ice that’s the height of Mount Everest, just chilling out in Greenland.

Not even royalty is safe. In a stunning act of praxis, Microsoft Flight Simulator updated London’s Buckingham Palace by turning it into a block of flats.

The algorithm also can’t quite figure out palm trees, so your normal California scenery is replaced by a series of obelisks.

Polygon ran into some similar uncanny issues. Pilot Charlie Hall experienced a relaxing flight down the warped, sinister Thames. Presumably, this would be a circumstance where passengers would want to remain seated and keep their seat belts buckled. (In addition to the ... hilly river, note the ghost ships floating just beneath the water’s surface.)

Would you like to see the ancient wonder of Stonehenge? Pilot Jeff Ramos has stumbled across an alternate universe where it was never really raised. But don’t worry! In its place stands another landmark: a bunch of stones and a solitary tree. Mysterious!

Microsoft Flight Simulator - a bugged version of Stonehenge Image: Asobo Studio/Xbox Game Studios via Jeff Ramos

These kinds of visual glitches don’t spoil the experience of Microsoft Flight Simulator; they just stand out as bizarre computer-generated oddities in an otherwise spot-on game. The end result is a little surreal and spooky. Developer Asobo Studio has said it’ll be working on free updates and improvements in the future to deal with issues like this, and it also plans to update the game’s underlying Bing Maps data regularly. But in the meantime, I, for one, welcome our new 212-story overlord.

For more on Microsoft Flight Simulator, check out our guides.