12 January 2009

Colonizing Earth

Posted by Ryan Anderson


The other day I helped a race of hideous spiderlike aliens colonize Antarctica.

I’ve posted about the game Spore before, but the basic idea is that you begin as a protozoan in the primordial ooze and work your way up through various stages of evolution until you become a space-faring civilization capable of colonizing other worlds, terraforming them, and populating them with plants and animals of your choosing (or even your own design).

I’ll review the game in another post, but suffice it to say that it was good enough that after getting it for Christmas, I played it obsessively during break and finished pretty quickly. The game doesn’t really end per se, you just become a powerful enough civilization that you can travel throughout the galaxy, meeting other civilizations, discovering new solar systems and colonizing them.


I was browsing around online and found out that the solar system is in the game (at coordinates 225.06 degrees, 7,295.43 parsecs). (Note: the distance from the galactic center is just about right!) So of course I had to go find it and plant my race’s flag on the original terra firma. It took some searching to find it, even with the coordinates. The galaxy is a big place, and although Spore’s galaxy does not have hundreds of billions of stars like the real Milky Way, it does have many thousands. It was also difficult to find because from far away the sun appears to be orange in the game, which is odd because the sun is a whitish yellow star in real life, and the stars in the game have realistic colors. It looked better once I zoomed in to the solar system view as shown below. Everything in Spore is sort of cartoonish, so the scales are wrong, but the planets are there, as are the Moon, Ganymede and Titan. Sorry Pluto fans, no dwarf planets!

In Spore, there are four levels of habitability for a planet. T-zero planets are barren and lifeless, while T-3 planets are lush and teeming with life. You would think that Earth would be a T-3, but oddly it was barely habitable as a T-1. Not to worry though, I fixed that. The game designers did a great job of sculpting the Earth to have all the right features, even getting details like the mid-ocean ridges and the chain of seamounts behind Hawaii correct. Here are a few views of the Earth in Spore:




Don’t worry about the pillars of noxious yellow gas, all planets in the game have geysers of a resource called “spice” (a la Dune), and apparently the planets of our solar system bear yellow spice.

Once I had made Earth a lush oasis of life and planted my colony at the south pole, I had to go check out Mars. Happily, they did Mars pretty well too! It is too cold and has too thin an atmosphere for life, and they even included some familiar geologic features. This picture shows the monstrous canyon system Valles Marineris with the Tharsis volcanoes towering off to the west:


And here’s a similar view of the real Mars:


Of course, once I took that screenshot I promptly zapped it with my “staff of life” and watched the atmosphere thicken, the skies fill with crackling thunderstorms, oceans and temperatures rise, and plants and animals spring into existence forming a balanced T-3 environment. I now have a nice, profitable colony on Mars. If only it was really that easy! I’ll have to see if NASA is working on a “staff of life”.

I suppose I should also warn the ANSMET team down in Antarctica to watch out for a colony of spacefaring spider creatures.