re-designing a popular videogame – a final year project

Hello everyone, it has been a while! Sorry about that, things have been super busy. Today I want to share work a New York Gallatin University Student, Geneva, I had the outmost pleasure in providing advice and feedback on. It was such a pleasure to work with Geneva and they did an outstanding job! This post if quite long, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey of adding to the educational value of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, without taking away the entertainment factor.

Jazmin

***

Hello fellow video game-volcanologists! For those of you who have been following Dr. Scarlett’s volcano video game reviews, it comes at no surprise to say that our video game realm is overflowing with misinformed and inaccurate representations of volcanoes. If you, like I, have read many of Jazmin’s and Ed’s video game reviews, we can all agree that with a little more effort on the part of video game developers than perhaps gamers worldwide would be a little more informed about the workings and handlings of volcanoes and their eruptions. Whether education be the intended purpose or not, video games have the power to be educational resources while still maintaining its entertainment factor. That is why I sought out to test whether entertainment-intended video games hold the ability to be scientifically accurate—in terms of volcanoes—while not taking away from its entertainment factor. In fact, I aimed to add fun. I did what I like to call a video game redesign where I choose one video game with a volcano that is part of the storyline to analyze, work with, and alter in a way that makes the volcano factual.

With Dr. Scarlett’s help I chose Shadow of the Tomb Raider because: 1) the volcano is influential to the storyline and 2) the storyline and the volcano were made to be realistic (for example, there were no fictional creatures in the storyline who decided that the volcano was the best place to live). If you would like more background information on the game itself or what Jazmin noted about the game, you can refer to her post on The Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

In any case, to approach this project, I examined what a volcano would look like and be like if it were realistically placed in the part of the world that fictional Paititi takes place (although the volcanic eruption takes place in the Church of San Juan in the game, it is noted that the Church is close to Paititi). Although Paititi is a fictional location in the game, it has legendary significance by being a lost Inca city that supposedly lies East of the Andes and within the rainforests of Southwest Peru (Dobson 2016). Inca traditions mention a city near the area of Cuzco, deep in the jungle (Dobson 2016). Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the volcano within The Shadow of the Tomb Raider is located somewhere in or around the city of Cuzco. To begin constructing the characteristics of the volcano within the game, information on four real-life nearby volcanoes were collected to analyze their behaviors and rock composition.

Sabancaya is a stratovolcano with andesite, basaltic andesite, and dacite composition and mainly consisted of Plinian eruptions with andesitic and dacitic lava flows (Degg and Chester 2005). Chachani is a stratovolcano with andesite, basaltic andesite, dacite, and rhyolite composition with a high summit and hydrothermal activity (Degg and Chester 2005). Coropuna is a stratovolcano with andesite, basaltic andesite, and dacite composition that is covered by ice with the potential to produce lahars, as well as lava flows that generally descend the NE, SE, and W flanks and canyons (Degg and Chester 2005). El Misti is a stratovolcano with andesite, basaltic andesite, dacite, and rhyolite composition, tephra-fall deposits, numerous pyroclastic flows, volcanic ash extending up to 20 km downwind, and dominated by volcano-tectonic earthquakes (Degg and Chester 2005). By accumulating basic knowledge of such nearby volcanoes, there is a better understanding of what is typical for volcanoes in this region. By following the common characteristics of Peru’s nearby volcanoes, it was made clear that the volcano by Paititi would most likely be composed of andesite and basaltic andesite rock composition and be a stratovolcano. This would result in explosive eruptions with a large eruptive column and strong pyroclastic flows (USGS 2015). It is important to note that pyroclastic flows typically travel 10-15 km, but can reach up to 100 km (UMass n.d.). There
would also likely be valleys and canyons running along the side of the volcano and into the nearby rainforest, acting as possible pathways for pyroclastic flows and lahars.

Next, it is also important to also seismic activity in this region of Peru when constructing a fictional volcano. Seismicity varies in the regions of Peru. The country is part of the ‘Circum-Pacific Ring of Fire’ that is known for its high levels of seismic activity and volcanic activity that accounts for around 76% of the global annual seismic energy release (Degg and Chester 2005). Still, areas East of the Andes are part of the tectonically stable Brazilian shield (Degg and Chester 2005). The central segment of Peru was most active during the historical period while coastal cities are now the ones severely exposed to earthquakes (Degg and Chester 2005). All of the Peruvian active volcanoes lie in what is called the ‘Central Volcano Zone’ that is high in seismic activity and, of course, high volcanic activity (Degg and Chester 2005). Many of the coastal, southern cities, for example Arequipa, are at risk of both earthquakes and volcanic eruptions (Degg and Chester 2005). Cuzco and the area around it is not in the active volcanic zone, however, the area can reach medium-high seismic activity (Degg and Chester 2005). The highest magnitude can be 7.9, based on fig. 1. Fig. 2 illustrates that seismic intensity can reach strong levels, similar to the intensity of the sixteen active volcanoes in Peru’s southwestern region (Degg and Chester 2005). All of this is to say that earthquakes, especially in association with volcanic activity, are likely to occur. In regards to the volcano around the town of Paititi, earthquakes may serve as a useful precursor indicating that the volcano may erupt.

Fig. 1: “Peruvian seismicity (M ≥5.0), 1900-1998.” Created by Degg and Chester. [2005]. From The Geographical Journal. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3451364.pdf
Fig. 2: “Earthquake hazard map of Peru.” Created by Deggs and Chester. [2005]. From The Geographical Journal. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3451364.pdf

Another geographic consideration when constructing a fictional volcano in Peru is climate. Heavy precipitation can increase the likelihood of rain-induced lahars. Although for the most part the temperature in Cuzco is spring-like, there are heavy rain periods between the months of November to March—rainy days mostly occur in the December and January months—where there are around 15 to 23 rainy days during these months (World Weather n.d.). The average amount of annual precipitation is 736.0 mm and the average amount of rainy days is 102.0 (Weather and Climate). All of this is to say that there can be high precipitation levels in Cuzco. Therefore, rain-induced lahars are likely to occur on this volcano, especially between the months of November to March.

Now that a general overview of what a fictional volcano in the region of Peru has been made, I began to think about the placement of the volcano in relation to the Church of San Juan. In the game we notice that the volcano looms over the village and not much is given besides that. Therefore, based on my personal interpretation of the game, I created a hazard map to illustrate a possible design of what this volcano could possibly look like in relation to the Church of San Juan and in Peru, and the possible locations pyroclastic flows and lahars would reach (see fig. 3). The hazard map was made based on information pulled from the video game itself, including wind direction and waterways, and scientific understanding of volcanoes in Peru, pyroclastic flows, and lahars.

Fig. 3: The Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s volcano hazard map*

Before getting into the changes I made to the game, it is also important to think about the impact the volcano has on the village where the Church of San Juan is located. This is significant. Volcanic knowledge can be limited and evacuations may not be taken seriously. Residents may feel tied to their lands and refuse to leave, others may be fearful at the first possible precursors for an eruption and leave immediately. Either way, there are always mixed reactions to the possibility of an eruption and recognizing those diverse perspectives is important.

In the case of Paititi’s volcano in The Shadow of the Tomb Raider, this exact community impact would be experienced.

Finally to get into the redesign idea I had in mind.

In the current version of The Shadow of the Tomb Raider the volcano is presented in a very realistic way; however, based on the factual volcanic characteristics that have been laid out so far, from the geography of the volcano to common community impact, added hazards, information, and activities in the game would make Paititi’s volcano more accurate and entertaining:

First, in the game, there are no precursors to indicate an impending eruption. So, in the redesign, three volcanic precursor earthquakes are added. Two occur before the main characters, Lara and Jonah, arrive at the Church of San Juan to insinuate that there is dialogue around a possible eruption within the townspeople. The dialogue is made by a radio broadcaster as a side comment but is meant to tell Lara and Jonah, and the users, about possible volcanic precursors. The third occurs during one of the climactic scenes in the game where Lara hands over the ancient artifact that the entire game is spent in search for. It is added to initiate a dramatic “chase” scene and the splitting up of the two main characters, while also to serve as an indication that the eruption is soon to happen. It serves to build the storyline, add suspense to the looming eruption, and add realistic volcanic behavior.

Second, in the game, there is no dialogue about the volcano or about a possible eruption among the townspeople. Business is being carried out as usual. Although it is possible that no one would suspect a future eruption to occur, especially since there seems to be no precursors, it seems unlikely that Lara would not warn individuals living within the town of a possible eruption given that she knows a volcanic eruption is the fourth and final cataclysm event. Therefore, with the addition of the volcanic precursor earthquakes, a conversation is added between Lara and two townspeople about the volcano. The conversation shows two different perspectives about how an eruption could be perceived in the town. One gentleman expresses his reluctance to leave because of his tie to his land while another gentleman is getting ready to leave immediately. The conversation also aims to reveal another visible precursor for an eruption: rockslides. This is all to show the tension and discussion that can occur when the possibility of an eruption hangs in the air. The conversation also aims to hint towards the location of protective equipment that individuals should wear if there would be an eruption. This is to insinuate that the characters are going to have to look for such protective equipment before the eruption—adding a small activity to the game—and to demonstrate the danger in volcanic ash and the health necessity for protective equipment. In addition to this specific dialogue, one other piece of dialogue is added when Lara, Jonah, and a friend are arriving at the Church of San Juan. A short comment is made by a radio broadcaster who talks about the two precursor earthquakes. It is meant to demonstrate awareness that the earthquakes may be associated with the volcano without true scientific understanding. Essentially, it is there to show slight uncertainty and confusion about a possible eruption in town, while also showing that people are aware of what is going on but that the general public is remaining calm.

Third, as previously mentioned, an activity is added to the game. This is for Lara and Jonah to find protective masks ahead of the eruption so that they could be protected from volcanic ash. Once again, this is meant to demonstrate the danger of volcanic ash and the importance of protective equipment. The original gameplay has Jonah punch a gunman and run off with the ancient artifact that they have finally found to ensure that the villain, Dominguez, does not use it. Jonah and Lara then split up. Instead of punching the gunman to escape, a volcanic earthquake is added to distract everyone so that Jonah can retrieve back the artifact and run away, leaving Lara to realize that the eruption is very close and that they will need masks. Lara must then find the equipment at the location that is given to her earlier in the game. This adds suspense and “build-up” as Lara must find the masks, fight gunmen, and find Jonah all before the eruption. Later in the game, Lara tells Jonah to put on his mask because the ash is starting to fall. They both wear their masks till the eruption ends.

Fourth, in the original gameplay, the eruption is downplayed. As the biggest cataclysm that is to occur in the storyline, the eruption is anti-climatic because it is only felt, not seen, so it is difficult to tell that the eruption actually occurred. Many users commented on their confusion with the volcanic eruption—they were unsure when or whether the volcano had truly erupted. In addition, during the eruption, the original gameplay shows a small lava fountain with no pyroclastic flows, despite the likelihood of a huge lava fountain and pyroclastic flows based on the eruption size, volcano shape, and composition. It can be reasonable to assume that the volcanic eruption is the largest that the area of Cuzco has ever experienced because of how much fear and importance the game places on it as being the last of the big four cataclysms. For entertainment purposes, this also makes sense. Therefore, to include stronger emphasis on the volcano and its eruption, a large eruption is included that shocks the town and can be seen by the user playing the game. A large ash column—similar to the original gameplay—rises up, the lava foundation is large, and the wind is made clear to be in the direction of the Church of San Juan—indicating that the ash column is to make its way over in their direction (the original game does a good job demonstrating wind direction). As Lara is looking up at the eruption, a pyroclastic flow is added. It runs down the side of the volcano, just north of Lara, indicating that it will not hit the Church of San Juan directly, but that it is close. Although it is not meant to head in the direction of the town, it is meant to show another danger associated with volcanic eruptions. This addition is meant to illustrate a more realistic representation of the likelihood of pyroclastic flows. Overall, the additions made to the game are made to indicate that this is the most dangerous event. All the precursors, dialogue, and activities are added to build up anticipation and suspense for the eruption.

Fifth, in the game there is already a lahar, however, the game makes the lahar move through city streets, not valleys. Also, the game does not give any reason as to why there is a lahar. Although one of the challenges that Lara and Jonah must overcome right before they go to Paititi shows it to be raining, there is no indication as to how much time passes between that event and them heading to Paititi. Therefore, rain is added from the moment Lara and Jonah arrive at the Church of San Juan to indicate that the mudflow is rain-induced after the eruption. This seems plausible because in the beginning of the game, Lara and Jonah are attending a Día de Muertos celebration in Mexico, which is in the month of November. The rest of the game takes place days and weeks after the initial scene, which is exactly when Peru experiences it’s rainiest season. Moreover, another additional activity is added where Lara is forced into a river valley when chasing down the falling helicopter of Dominguez. When Lara falls into the valley, a mudflow comes after her, implying that the lahar followed the pathway of the valley and will continue to do so. Lara is forced to climb her way out as she has to try and balance between different-sized rocks and debris and not fall into the moving lahar. Not only is this intended to make the location and production of the mudflow realistic, but it is meant to add an additional activity that the user must maneuver Lara through to stay alive. It adds to the thrill, excitement,
and complexity of the game.

Lastly, the sixth addition to the game is disaster recovery efforts. In this additional dialogue segment—after Jonah picks up Lara after escaping the lahar—Lara and Jonah have a conversation about the consequences and impact the volcano left on the town, including the domestic animals and the people. It is intended to demonstrate what happens when there is no disaster preparedness for volcanic eruptions and the suffering that follows. Dialogue regarding possible recovery efforts for the people is also included to show the user possible action steps people and leaders can take after a disaster occurs that will bring relief to the people affected. All in all, it is meant to wrap up the volcano’s appearance in the video game, show the importance of recovery efforts, Lara’s accountability for her actions, her compassion, and foreshadow her future plans after defeating Dominguez, and show realistic recovery efforts that occur after an eruption—eruptions take time to recover from and leave nothing the same.

To properly convey the changes I aimed to make, I created a script that depicts the dialogue and physical changes I made to the game and how it would fit within the original storyline. This script can be found here those of you who would like to check it out. It also includes illustrations to show some of the changes I made.

And that is about it! The six features added to The Shadow of the Tomb Raider are meant to make volcano representation in the game more realistic while not attempting to take away any of the entertainment factors. In fact, I attempted to increase the entertainment quality by adding more hazards to navigate. Although educational games are impactful tools when trying to educate in an exciting way, video games meant for entertainment, or commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games—such as The Shadow of the Tomb Raider—reach a larger audience and have the ability to also be a teaching tool (McGowan and Scarlett 2021). Mcgowan and Scarlett (2021) state that “one of the major negative sides to using COTS games as a form of tangential learning is that they can often contain inaccurate features that would misinform players and lead to erroneous learning.” If implemented correctly, the opposite may be true. That is what I hope to have done.

Let me know what you think about this idea! I am always open to suggestions in my design.

To close, I would like to give a big thank you to Dr. Jazmin Scarlett for giving me the platform to share my work on The Shadow of the Tomb Raider! I wish you all the very best in your video game endeavors!

All the best, Geneva

References

  1. “Climate and Average Monthly Weather in Cusco (Cusco), Peru.” n.d. World Weather & Climate Information. https://weather-and-climate.com/average-monthly-Rainfall-Temperature-Sunshine, Cusco, Peru.
  2. Dobson, Jim. 2016. “How the Discovery Of Paititi, The Lost City Of Gold, May Change Peru Forever.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/jimdobson/2016/01/11/move-over-machu-picchu-the-discovery-of-paititi-the-secret-city-of-gold-may-change-peru-forever/?sh=26c7f3695e85.
  3. E. G. McGowan, and J. P. Scarlett. 2021. “Volcanoes in Video Games: The Portrayal of Volcanoes in Commercial off-the-Shelf (COTS) Video Games and Their Learning Potential.” Geoscience Communication 4 (February): 11–31. doi:10.5194/gc-4-11-2021.
  4. Degg Martin R., and Chester David K. 2005. “Seismic and Volcanic Hazards in Peru: Changing Attitudes to Disaster Mitigation.” The Geographical Journal 171 (2): 125–45. http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy.library.nyu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.3451364&site=eds-live.
  5. “Pyroclastic Flows and Surges.” n.d. University of Massachusetts.
    http://www.geo.umass.edu/courses/volcanology/Pyroclastic%202.pdf.
  6. “Volcano Hazards Program Glossary – Andesite.” 2015. USGS.
    https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/vsc/glossary/andesite.html.

Immortals: God of the Forge and the Fire

Immortals: Fenyx Rising is currently the latest game from Ubisoft. With graphics and game mechanics that can make you believe you are playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild instead, the game tries to paint itself differently by having a Greek myth storyline. 

The game sees the terrifying monster Typhon awake and finally defeat the Olympian deities. Zeus, out of options visits his old frenemy Prometheus, who is still chained up and having his liver eaten out daily by an eagle – his punishment for giving fire from Olympus to mortals (us humans). 

As Zeus pleads, the titan says he will help by telling a story about a mortal named Fenyx, who will undo the damage Typhon did, returning the fallen deities to their former glory and undoing Typhon’s mess. And so, begins the game, as you venture out as Fenyx, with Prometheus narrating your journey across the Golden Isles.

Typhon’s Tomb

Compared to the game’s original counterpart, Breath of the Wild, and every other game we’ve reviewed, Immortals has a surprising lack of volcanic activity. The only area main area of volcanic activity is the central region, known as ‘The Gates of Tartaros’. Tartarus is the Greek mytho’s Hell of hells. A place deep down in the Earth, even deeper than Hades the Underworld. Most portrayals of the hellscape class it as the afterlife for slain monsters. 

The map of the Golden Isles. Each zone is the home of a different god/goddess, with the exception of the Gates of Tartaros, where Typhon lives

At the heart of this hellish landscape rises what appears to be a volcano! While it may have a faint pinky-red magical glow rising from it, and several floating rocks for added effect, it is most certainly a volcanic peak in appearance. The crater itself is a direct decent to the depths of heart of Tartarus.

Given this is where Typhon resides, it could be said that this volcano is Mt Etna, making the Golden Isles (the map in which you run around on), Sicily. In most of the ancient stories – many of the Greek myths were rewritten numerous times – Zeus cast Typhon into Tartarus, with the scriptures stating he lies directly under Etna itself. And it is his rage that triggers the volcanic eruptions as he yells out in frustration. 

These outbursts of rage plague Fenyx, as Typhon send the wraith of a great hero after you, while flinging bombs across the map, with many being aimed at you. Just like the theatrical look of Mt Etna, these lava bombs aren’t the most accurate as they can be launched all the way across the map to wherever you are standing. After crashing down and scorching the ground around them, they have a short delay before exploding.

The central volcano is not the only entrance to Tartarus. Dotted around the map are numerous smaller ‘volcanic vent’ looking structures, caused by Typhon’s awakening. Each lead to a different ‘vault’ that contains a puzzle, which can gain Fenyx a lightning bolt of Zeus’ to boost his stamina (questionably similar to the shrines in BotW…). From a volcanological point of view, these smaller vents could be considered similar to parasitic cones. These occur from magma erupt away from the main vent by passing through fractures within the volcano’s internal structure. However, instead of peeking out from the volcanic slopes they are found throughout the island. 

There are a few reddy-brown bubbling pools that do erupt in places from time to time found within the Gates of Tartaros. At I first believed them be lava, however, seeing as you can swim in them without taking any damage, and are clear under the surface then I guess these are just normal pools of dirty water. The bubbling and eruptions could be caused by hydrothermal activity, with some near-surface magma. 

Beyond this I have experienced very little volcanism in the game. That being said, there is still one other volcano-related thing I can talk about in this game. 

Spiritual Volcanism

While the study of volcanoes is very important for a large number of reasons (hazard-mitigation, climate, geothermal energy etc), they also have a very deep-seeded root in human culture. All over the world volcanoes have captured the spiritual imagination of countless civilisations. 

On Hawaii they worship the volcano goddess Pele. Māori believe in god of earthquakes, volcanoes and seasons, Rūaumoko. Filipinos have Lalahon, goddess of harvests and volcanoes. No matter where you look, or how far you trace back, they are always there in our cultures. And the Greeks, from whom Immortals is based off, were no exception.

The Olympian of the Forgeland

One of the four Olympians you are tasked with saving from Typhon is Hephaestus, god of the forge and the fire in Greek mythology. His Roman persona is Vulcan, who gave his name to the volcanic island Vulcano, from which we get the word ‘volcano’ from. Therefore, Hephaestus has some serious ties to volcanoes. 

Hephaestus, the god of the forge and the fire, in all his glory

When Typhon defeats each of the Olympians he weakens them by removing parts of their essence (parts of their soul and memories), which results in them becoming either physically weak (like with Athena and Ares), or mentally complacent with their new lives (Aphrodite and Heph). For Hephaestus, he loses his pain and suffering. This may not seem like a bad thing; however, it results in him becoming one of his automatons – willing to take orders but lacking in creative and original thought. 

When you first find Hephaestus, he believes he is just another automaton, and doesn’t even know he’s missing his hands

This sends you on one of the best story-arcs in the game, roaming the Forgelands to reignite Heph’s forge and get his essence back! On the way you learn a lot about the god, from his extremely rough upbringing, to his attempts at earning his place back home. Seeing as he has decent ties to volcanoes, I am going to go through his story, as mostly told by Immortals: Fenyx Rising.

Fenyx looking out to Heph’s forge that needs reigniting to bring the great god back to his old self

The Cast Out Baby

Hephaestus’ struggles start from Day 1. Being the son of the king and queen of Olympus meant there were high expectations for him to be born this amazing specimen of a god. At the first sight of his ugly baby face and deformed body, both Zeus and Hera were so ashamed of themselves that they cast him out. But instead of kindly placing him on the doorstep of someone else and running away, they literally threw him out of Olympus! The baby bounced down the rocky mountain for a full day before reaching the bottom, causing further disfigurement to his repulsive body. 

He’s not wrong…

Thankfully not all characters are unkind on the ancient stories. The broken baby was found by the nymphs Thetis and Eurynome, who raised him on an island safe from his heartless parents. It was here that his skills with metalwork and craftsmanship developed. 

Take a seat

Eventually as Hephaestus grew up, the desire to return home to Olympus grew too. But that would be no easy task. Even though his godly skills and heritage certainly were deserving of a spot in the great mountain-top palace, his appearance still wasn’t. If he was to stay in Olympus without his father, Zeus, kicking him back down again he would need to earn his way back.

His opportunity came when Hera wished for a throne fit for an Olympian queen. Stories vary from the throne being a wedding gift to Hera after getting hitched to Zeus, to a competition of who could make the best. Given his natural talents, Hephaestus was more than capable of creating such a throne. As soon as Hera saw it, she knew it was the one. But no sooner has she sat in it did she regret her choice. Heph had rigged the throne to trap Hera from ever escaping the throne. The trap was so well made in fact that none of the other deities should break her free. 

Eventually after much cursing from Hera, the orphaned god made his way back home. Everyone was shocked at the sight of him walking into the palace. For most they probably didn’t even know who he was. But Heph announced himself and claimed that only he was able to release his mother. Against their best wishes, his parents had to admit defeat to the child they threw off a mountain to die. The only price they had to pay was to accept their son back and let him have a throne next to them as one of the twelve Olympians. With no other choice, as every other option had proved useless against his ingenious trap, Hephaestus was finally home. 

A mural puzzle depicting Hera’s rage at being trapped in her new throne by the onlooking Heph

Beauty and the Beast

Not long after returning home to Olympus wedding bells were ringing out for Hephaestus! The ugliest sight in all of the godly halls was to marry the most beautiful goddess of them all, Aphrodite, the goddess of love! 

Stories vary about how their marriage came about. One was that he won her hand in marriage for releasing Hera from the throne. After Zeus failed to free his wife, and with Aphrodite’s beauty causing fighting to breakout with the male gods (Hermes, Ares, Apollo and any others), the king of gods announced a competition. Whoever freed Hera would be rewarded the goddess of love’s hand in marriage. 

In reality, Zeus was looking for an excuse to marry his son Ares, god of war to Aphrodite. The couple already had a thing going and they appeared to be a perfect match. Afterall, name a more iconic duo than Love and War. Ares was Zeus’ strongest child, so Zeus didn’t fear that he was giving chance gave the other gods a chance to earn Aphrodite. It would at least stop them arguing over her after they failed. But as we know, that plan epically backfired.

I still think getting thrown off a mountain is worse

In Immortals, Fenyx stumbles across a memorial to the event, with automatons enacting the wedding. While you explore the scene, Zeus can be heard sharing his discontented opinion of the union. Just one more reason for Zeus to not like his son… 

As with nearly every Greek deity out there, Aphrodite didn’t remain faithful to Heph, having multiple affairs, often with Ares. This is something you can hear the three discussing from time to time in the Hall of the Gods (the game’s main hub) while Fenyx continues his adventures.  

Worthy of a God

As much as Zeus tried to despise his son, there is no way that he could fault Heph’s creations. In fact, he was so good at creating things many of the gods, goddesses and even Greek heroes asked for commissions:

  • Designed Zeus’ lightning bolts
  • Artemis and Apollo’s bow and arrows 
  • Athena’s Aegis shield
  • Hermes’ winged helmet and sandals
  • Perseus’ knife
  • Achille’s armour (though he should have done a better job with the boots…)
  • Pandora’s Box (yes, he actually made that!)
  • Automatons for himself and as guards to protected locals

And so much more!

Whilst having a forge on Olympus, his main workshop was said to be within Mt Etna. Typhon’s rage was meant to be the trigger for it erupting, but it was said that the loud bangs heard from within the crater was the sound of Hephaestus striking his hammer down on his anvil (and sometimes erupting when he accidentally hit his thumb…).

Hephaestus’ anvil, where so many great creations were made! (Fenyx for scale)

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

It’s fair to say that Hephaestus didn’t have the easiest life, even if he was one of the greatest gods in the mythos. From being thrown off a mountain, to having an unfaithful wife and being bullied all the time. In Immortals, Typhon bottles all of the negative emotions that came from these moments and stores them in the Pandora’s Box. 

Prometheus sums it up pretty well

While Heph is enjoying his new life as a nameless automaton, Fenyx convinces him that it was these painful memories that helped the god to craft some of his greatest inventions. It was Zeus’ constant displeasure for his son that drove Heph to build the best things possible and change his father’s mind. And so, he eventually agrees to take back his essence and become a fully formed god once more to help take down Typhon. 

Immortals: Fenyx Rising may not be the best commercial video game to be used as an educational tool for volcanoes like the others we have reviewed. However, it is an amazing game for teaching the player about the stories of a volcanic god, which is almost as important. The ancient stories of Greece may now be considered myths but to all the other cultures around the world it is very important for us to understand and respect them. This is particularly important within geology/volcanology, where we could trample across sacred land or take rocks that the locals consider holy. By understanding the stories behind such deities, we can learn to be a little more respectful in such situations. Even Zeus learns to be more respectful of his son by the end. 

I hope you enjoyed the story of the Greek volcanic god, Hephaestus as told by a video game! 

If you are interested in more volcanic video game education then please make sure to check out our other blogs! 

Groudon, Use Total Eruption!

I recently gave a podcast interview to the awesome The Science of Pokémon team (if you haven’t listened to their stuff, I highly recommend them). In the podcast I talk about volcanoes and we discuss particular volcanic-orientated Pokémon. Obviously, we had to mention the great legendary Groudon.

Groudon, the continent Pokémon, was exploited by Team Magma in Ruby/Omega Ruby in hopes of using its abilities to cause immense droughts and trigger volcanic eruptions. For some unknown reason Team Magma thought it would be a fantastic idea to increase the total landmass available on Earth, shrinking the seas and reaping the ‘rewards’… 

First talked about in The Science of Pokémon lecture: “Worst. Plan. Ever”, Lucas gives a broad overview of how terrible an idea this is. In my interview Lucas asked me how bad this idea would be if Groudon was to cause every volcano erupted on Earth at the same time? While my answer is relatively brief because you don’t want to bore an audience with a long interview, my mind kept going back to my answer, thinking of new reasons for how bad things would turn out. And because I can’t stop the curiosity inside of me, I have decided to give this question a second go, but this time as in depth as I can possibly come up with.

Groudon, I choose you!

Pokémon: Mega Evolution Special III

One Problem at a Time

Trying to imagine the total chaos and destruction that would ensue if every single volcano on the planet erupted at the same time is extremely difficult. The easiest thing to do is start by looking at how bad individual hazards can be, and then stack all the hazards on top of each other. 

Molten Rock

When you think of volcanic hazards, the mind usually immediately jumps to lava. A near unstoppable force of molten hot rock. If lava starts flowing, the best you can do is grab your possessions and move out of its way. Seeing as this will be one of Team Magma’s most exploited feature of Groudon to achieve their ridiculous goal of expanding the landmass, it is a great place to start. 

The last major outpouring of lava was the 2018 Hawaii fissure eruptions. Beginning on the 3rd May, and lasting four months, the lava was supplied through numerous fissures. In total an estimated 35 km2 of land had been covered by lava. Over 3 km2of this was new land that had been created in the Pacific. For the local human population, over 2,000 people have been evacuated and 700 homes engulfed. However, this eruption was only relatively small in comparison to many others.

Hawaii 2018 fissure eruptions. Source: Wikipedia

One of the crowning lava eruptions goes to Iceland’s Laki volcanic eruption in 1783. Unlike Hawaii’s 2018 eruption that spewed from several small fissures, Laki’s 1783 eruption resulted in a 25 km long fissure! Rising magma also interacted with groundwater, creating over 100 phreatomagmatic (water interacting with lava) craters that exploded from the ground. It is estimated the lava covered a staggering 2,500 km2 of land! 

While lava does tend to flow at a decent walking pace, meaning we could easily outrun it if needs, there have been cases were lava with low enough viscosity – how sticky the lava is – can flow at insane speeds. This video of lava from Hawaii is both mesmerising and terrifying. Couple that with the large land areas it can cover like with Laki, and lava soon becomes a serious problem. 

Burning Clouds of Death

Next up we have one of the most extreme volcanic hazards of all, pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) are massive, dark bellowing clouds of scorching hot volcanic gases and molten rock that avalanche their way down volcanoes. While mostly gravity driven (flowing downhill), they can travel with such a force that they actually go up hills! And if you are to see a PDC heading your way, may the odds be ever in your favour. A single breath of the 1,000 °C gases will incinerate your lungs. 

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Pyroclastic flow produced by Sinabung in 2017. Source: Endro Lewa

They can form in different ways, from a lateral blast that destroys the side of a volcano (Mt. St. Helens, 1980), the lava dome collapsing (Soufrière Hills, 1997), or when the ash plume above a volcano becomes unstable and collapses. One the most famous PDCs of all time is the 79AD eruption of Vesuvius. Formed by a collapsing eruption column, the PDC cemented itself into nearly every Roman history book after it buried the settlements of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Not only did the PDC produce so much material that it buried entire towns 15 km away from the crater, but it was so hot that one unlucky person in Pompeii had their brain turn to glass! As if pyroclastic flows weren’t scary enough… I hope Team Magma’s leader, Maxie is reconsidering at this point.

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A Pompeii resident on display. Source: Ed McGowan, 2016

Going Out with a Bang

Sometimes volcanoes can explode with such a devastating force that they actually destroy themselves in the blast. The size of the explosion and the strength of the volcano’s slopes ultimately determine how much is lost. But in some cases, entire volcanoes are wiped from the skyline. The infamous 1883 eruption of Krakatoa obliterated two-thirds of the island in an eruption so explosive it claimed the title of the loudest natural sound ever recorded. 

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Krakatoa eruption. Dotted area shows the island surface area prior to the 1883 eruption. Source: USGS

The most devasting part these sorts of explosions is the resulting debris avalanche. With tens to hundreds of km3 of material displaced, it can come crashing down across the nearby landscape with massive blocks of rock, destroying everything in their path. If such an avalanche crashes into the sea, they can form gigantic tsunamis (more on them later). 

But like a phoenix, volcanoes can rise from their ashes. Mt. St. Helens has a new lava dome. Where Krakatoa once stood now stands Anak Krakatoa – the child of Krakatoa. And there is also Volcano Island in the middle of Taal Caldera to name a few. 

Just Add Water

I’ve briefly mentioned how lava meeting water does not end well but let me expand on that. When water interacts with lava it quickly boils and rapidly expands. It is this rapid expansion of the water that results in dangerously explosive volcanic eruptions. Phreatic, or Phreatomagmatic eruptions can occur because magma either rises up into groundwater, seawater, surface water, or the water can seep through cracks in the earth, down into a magmatic reservoir. The latter is believed to be what caused the sudden Whakaari/White Island eruption at the end of 2019 that sadly killed 23 people who were visiting the volcano. 

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Surtseyan eruption in Iceland. Source: Geology In

The Minoan eruption around 1600 BC was perhaps the most catastrophic phreatomagmatic ever recorded. Occurring on the Greek Island of what was once Thera, now called Santorini, the explosion devastated eventually led to the collapse of the mighty Minoan civilisation and is widely believed to have been the inspiration for the legend of Atlantis. 

Tsunamis, as mentioned earlier, are another major hazard that can have severe consequences for coastal locals. In the case of Krakatoa’s 1883 tsunami creating from the volcano’s destruction, the 30 m wave is believed to have caused 36,000 people across the Sunda Strait. The great wave was even felt as far away as South Africa. With many volcanoes around the world being in coastal locations they can easily create tsunamis that extend the deadly reaches of a single volcano.

The final water-based interaction with a volcano is what is known as a lahar. These are volcanic mudflows formed from the mixing of pyroclastic material, debris and water. The source of the water can take many forms, including crater lakes, melting of snow or glaciers and even heavy rainfall. One of the worst things about lahars is that they can be triggered years after the actual volcanic event, particularly in regions that experience intense wet seasons such as Mexico

Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Columbia caused devasting lahars after pyroclastic flows melted the mountain top glaciers. The resulting outwash swept through the town of Armero, killing over 20,000 inhabitants and thousands more in other nearby settlements, making it the deadliest laharic event of all time.

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Lahars devastating regions around Nevado del Ruiz in 1985. Source: Jacques Langevin via Getty Images

Another major lahar-causing eruption occurring in 1991 when Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines. The eruption created large volumes of ash and pyroclastic flows that blanketed the landscape. To make things worse, the eruption occurred just at the same time a typhoon passed over. Intense rainfall from the typhoon triggered numerous lahars that killed hundreds nearby, caused billions of damages in infrastructure and clogged several major river systems. 

Aerial Assault

As if the volcanic assaults from the land and sea weren’t enough, volcanoes can throw tephra (small volcanic material) and gases high into the atmosphere. Depending on the height, these can end up travelling across large portions of the earth, causing severe health problems on a global scale and even worst problems. 

Volcanic ash is a major aerial problem. Ash is commonly mistaken for being like soft flour. In reality they are tiny, sharp pieces of volcanic glass that were formed when the magma was violently ripped apart in the eruption. After knowing this you can now understand why being out while volcanic ash falls is such a bad thing. Not only irritating your eyes, but it can also play havoc with your lungs.

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Ash particles under a microscope. Source: Reddit

Iceland’s 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull hit the headlines after producing so much ash that it shut down the airspace over Europe. Such quantities were produced because of an overlying glacier that melted. The subsequence water flowed into the volcanic crater, mixing with the magma and causing the eruption to become much more explosive, fragmenting the material into ash. Coupled with a strong, south-western wind, Europe was forced to cancel all its flights. Thankfully there were no casualties associated with the eruption, but the economic impact relating to the flight industry was heavy. It also illustrates how far reaching the effects of volcanic ash can be if it is able to reach high enough into the atmosphere!

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Ash coverage over Europe from Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. Source: Met Office, UK

Ash is such a problem to aircrafts and other vehicles because the ash is melted in the heart of the engines. Once molten it can then stick to the sides of the engines or turbines, clogging them up and leading to system failures. While this does not directly harm humans or animals, it does add an additional problem to Team Magma’s plans. They will seriously affect the economy on a global scale in numerous ways, leading to a total economic collapse!

An additional problem with ash – beyond health and aircraft issues – comes into play when the ash settles. In small quantities ash can blanket vegetation, destroying crops. It can also get into water supplies, poisoning local drinking water. 

In larger quantities ash can pile up into such thick layers that roofs can collapse under its weight. Mt Pinatubo reported to have over 850 deaths linked to collapsing roofs during its 1991 eruption. Rain can also make the ash clump together, adding to the weight. But it can also trigger lahars as the loose ash gets washed away.

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Houses buried in extremely thick layers on ash produced by Mt Pinatubo, 1991. Source: USGS

There is even the potential, that if enough volcanic ash is ejected into the air that it can block out the sun! Tambora produced the largest volcanic eruption on record. In 1815 the powerful eruption blew roughly 150 km3 of ash, pumice and aerosols (more about them in a bit) into the air. This ultimately blacked out the skies and caused widespread panic.

What’s That Smell?

It is not just tephra that is blown into the air during an eruption. Volcanoes also release vast quantities of gases. For many of these volcanic gases, they can be harmful to life in high volumes as we’ll see.

Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is perhaps the major volcanic gas produced. Starting the problems off, it can mix with water vapour in the atmosphere, causing acid rain which is an irritant to eyes, skin and respiratory systems. Revisiting the Laki eruption in 1783, it is estimated 122 million tonnes of SO2 was released into the atmosphere! Just like with the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, winds blew the toxic gas towards Europe. The thick cloud, known as ‘Laki Haze’, killed thousands. Humans and livestock suffered together. As crops and animals died a severe famine set in. The famine caused by Laki is believed to be one of the final ‘nails in the coffin’ for the outrage that triggered the French Revolution.

As if the SO2 wasn’t bad enough on the ground level, the high reaching gases reacted with water in the atmosphere to form sulphuric acid aerosols. The aerosol is extremely good at reflecting the sun’s heat back into space, resulting in the temperature dropping 1°C in the Northern Hemisphere. Similar cooling effects have been linked to other volcanic eruptions in the past. Mt Pinatubo’s 1991 eruption saw global cooling of 0.5°C. And Tambora took things even more to the extreme with a roughly 3 °C drop in global temperatures, in the event that became known as ‘The Year without Summer’. Widespread crop failure from the cold led to extreme famine and the death of thousands worldwide!

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Volcanic winter. Illustration of the cooling effect on the climate of a volcanic eruption. Sunlight (yellow arrows) is being reflected by the clouds of ash ejected into the stratosphere. Source: SciencePhotoLibrary

It is slightly ironic that Team Magma’s plan of heating up the planet to evaporate the oceans and create more land could be offset by their other land-making method of volcanic eruptions. But SO2 is not the only volcanic gas. CO2 is also emitted from volcanoes. While volcanic eruptions do not produce nearly as much CO2 as we humans do, it is theorised that the release of the greenhouse gas from volcanoes can help to rebalance the cooling effect of the SO2, just at a much slower rate. Therefore, we could eventually see global warming sometime after the initial eruptions.

Volcanic eruptions can also release small quantities of other toxic or harmful gases such as CO, H2S, HF and HCl. While these gases don’t tend to be as much of a problem during singular events, the global eruption of every single volcano would create concentrations that would be severe enough to cause death on a global scale. 

The Big Guns

Tambora is estimated to have killed up to (and maybe even more than) 71,000 people worldwide. But this is a very difficult number to calculate given the global scale of the event. Also, because of Tambora’s effect on the global climate, it is argued as to what cause of death is to be associated with the volcano, and which had only slightly volcanic assists. One way or another, this was still a very devasting eruption. 

But Tambora is still just a B-list volcanic eruption. For the A-listers, we need to look at the supervolcanoes. These heavy hitting super-eruptions are without a doubt the greatest, most violent volcanic events on Earth.

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Toba was one such A-lister. 74,000 years ago, the supervolcano erupted with such a force that it is theorized the eruption created a volcanic winter that could have lasted six years. The harsh climatic change even led to such a reduction in the global human population it caused a genetic ‘bottleneck’ – a drastic reduction in the genetic variation within a species – with some believing there were only 10,000-30,000 of us left in the world. 

However, recent research into the eruption is now suggesting the climatic change was not as extreme as previously believed, and that global temperatures actually bounced back much faster, meaning the human race did not come close that to extinction.

Obviously, I cannot talk about a volcanic apocalypse without mentioning Yellowstone. The infamous caldera volcano is fed by a volcanic hotspot, similar to that of Hawaii. Along the great Yellowstone hotspot track there have been several enormous volcanic eruptions. In the past 2.1 million years alone there have been three super-eruptions that produced over 1000 km3 of volcanic material. And while there has not been such a major eruption since the last one 640,000 years ago, the hydrothermal system underneath the caldera reminds us that Yellowstone is not done yet.

Yellowstone’s biggest question is always “what will happen if it was to erupt?”. Because a volcanic eruption on the scale of Yellowstone has not happened in recorded human history, determining what will happen is down to educated guessing. 

The ash and volcanic gases would follow Toba’s example and possibly cause a long-spanning volcanic winter (if that is what truly happened). Even so, the ash would blanket vast amounts of America. Plants and crops would surely die. Livestock and humans would not only suffer from the famine, but also health issues from inhaling the ash particles and drinking contaminated water. More locally, pyroclastic flows would scorch and alter the landscapes beyond recognition in all of the surrounding states. 

The Deadly Slow Burn

One final volcanic event I want to cover are Large Igneous Provinces, or LIPs. These are very rare on earth, but maybe if Team Magma use Groudon’s Primal form, it could have the power to create one. And if it did, things would get even worse for us all!

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As the name suggests, these events produce vast areas in igneous material on a scale that dwarfs what has been previously mentioned. While they do take longer to form than normal volcanic eruptions – a couple of million years on average – they can have dramatic consequences for life on Earth. 

It is too much of a coincidence that two LIPs happen to share the same date as two of the six Mass Extinctions. The Siberian Traps in Russia dates back to the P/T extinction 250 million years ago, when an estimated 70-80% of species went extinct. And the Deccan Traps in India dates back to 66 million years ago, leading some to believe it could be a contributing factor – along with the meteorite impact – that caused the dinosaur’s extinction. 

Whether or not Groudon would have the power to create a LIP would be questionable. It would also be up for debate if we survive long enough for a full LIP to develop. I guess we’d just have to wait and see. 

Bringing it all together

Throughout this piece I have tried to discuss each problem separately. In reality many volcanic features are produced at the same time, or lead to another, compounding the destruction of a single eruption. For example, Krakatoa’s 1883 eruption had violent phreatomagmatic submarine (in the sea) explosions, coupled with subaerial (above the sea) explosions. In addition, massive pyroclastic flows swept out across the sea to other nearby islands. Ash rained down on those both near and far. And then for the crescendo, the decimating blast that tore the island apart. The subsequent debris avalanche triggering the famous tsunami… 

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Numerous volcanic hazards that can occur within a single volcanic eruption. Source: WorldlyWise Wiki

All in all, it is easy to see why volcanic eruptions are so terrifying when you think this is just a single event. And while it is true that not every volcanic eruption is as bad, the ones we mention here do show off their extreme power. Now let’s try and imagine what would happen if you have every single volcano erupt at once, big and small… 

Global 1-Hit KO!

There are roughly ~1,500 potentially active volcanoes on Earth for Groudon to trigger. Evenly spaced out across the world (with the exceptions of central Russia and Greenland), if all 1,500 were to erupt at once it is fair to say there are few places that would be safe. 

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Interactive map of every known active volcano on Earth, represented by a single coloured point. Source: National Geographic 2020

It is estimated that ~500 million people live within close radius of a volcano, meaning that a very large number would have little time to evacuate and get to a safer location if Team Magma’s plans succeeded. The biggest risk would be of the pyroclastic flows burying the unsuspecting world population. However, they would also have to face the pouring lava, projectile lava bombs and ash raining down on them, just as an initial threat. Some may even be so unfortunate that they witness a collapsing volcanic slope.

With many of the Earth’s volcanoes being located within the Pacific Ring of Fire it is likely that many of the 500 million volcanic locals would be at a very high risk of tsunamis.

Further still, with all the ash choking the atmosphere, the falling pumice floating on the ocean and the towering tsunamis battering ports, trying to evacuate via air or sea would be near impossible. Many planes would have their engines clogged if they attempted to fly. 

For the rest of the world who live out of range of the devasting PDCs, lava, flank collapses and tsunamis, they shouldn’t think they are safe. The sheer volume of ash and volcanic gases released would not olny poison the air we breathe, but also the SO2 aerosols would drive the Earth into a volcanic winter unlike anything we’ve any seen in the rock records. 

Groudon does has have sunny day abilities ‘drought’ and ‘desolate land’, which intensify the sun’s output (so to speak). With this, it may be able to reverse the volcanic winter. Coupled with the immense CO2 output from the volcanoes, the planet would surely bake to death. 

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Artists representation of the Archean eon (primal earth), which is probably what things would look like when all dies down after Groudon’s Total Eruption. Source: EGU Blogs

Widespread vegetation loss, including crop failure, and livestock poisoning from the volcanic material would lead to global famine.  On top of that, a lack of global transport would mean no supporting aid from other countries, leaving every country to defend for itself.

If you thought food sources would be safe in the ocean than you’d be mistaken. Sure, we could fish for food once the tsunamis have stopped churning things up. But it wouldn’t last for long. The volcanic gases, particularly the SO2 and CO2, would dissolve into the seas, decreasing the pH. This acidification of the oceans would have catastrophic effects on the wildlife. Calcific organisms, from foraminifera to corals, molluscs to crustacean would perish, significantly weakening the oceanic food chain. 

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Chemical reaction of CO2 triggering ocean acidification and damaging calcific organisms. Source: NAOO

So how bad is Team Magma’s plan?

All in all, it is safe to say there is very little life on Earth that would be able to survive Groudon’s total eruption. There are some amazing extremophiles out there, so I have no doubt something will be able to survive. 

That being said, we humans would most likely not, along with many other species. If the volcanoes don’t get you outright, then the toxic gases might poison you instead. If not the gases, then the extreme weather changes (whether the planet freezes or burns) might be the end. And to those hardy enough to last longer, then the worldwide collapse of food chains would result in death by starvation.

There is very little benefit from this plan. Team Magma’s idea was that we need land to live on, and if they provide it then we will be able to expand further. While they will definitely achieve the goal of expanded landmass, I highly doubt there will be many organisms around to live on it. 

For any Team Magma followers out there reading this, please tell Maxie. If he doesn’t realise how bad an idea he has after reading this, I will send a 10-year-old after him! You have been warned Maxie. 

Pokémon: Mega Evolution Special III

The Floor is Hot Lava! A Volcanic Game Review

Stick your hand up if are guilty of trying to stretch yourself from your sofa to a nearby chair that is annoying just out of reach, while someone is standing there watching you with confusion. When asked what you are doing you simply reply, “the floor is lava, I don’t want to burn my leg off!” For those of you who didn’t raise their hands, the Floor of Lava is age-old game of an imaginary lava lake that suddenly appears, turning a child’s living room into a dangerous obstacle course. At the same time parent’s watch with fear of which will break first: the child after falling off the furniture, or the furniture after the child goes through it?

The major downside to this epic parkour adventure is that as you grow older you start to realise the adults may have had reason to be concerned about your safety beyond the non-existent lava. You just have to watch a couple of #TheFloorIsLavaChallenge2017 videos to understand… 

Thankfully, there is a new solution to our craving for re-living those good old days! Hot Lava is the brand new game available on Steam and Apple Arcade that takes the classic real-world game and turns it into a virtual parkour race game, which actually forces you to retry if you fail a jump instead of blagging that you didn’t touch the floor. 

As with all previous reviews we are keeping to our standard gaming review criteria out of 10, 1 being unrealistic and 10 being realistic for:

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Accessibility
  3. Viscosity
  4. Death
  5. Overall plausibility

Results: Brilliant lava visuals, which is great when that is what the game centres around. Any other volcanism is very limited. 

Let’s jump in (pun fully intended)!


Hot Lava throws you right into it with a tutorial set in a house that appears to have had the misfortune of having a volcano grown right in the middle of it (Fig. 1). The only way out is to jump! 

The first and most striking thing to notice is the lava (which is good for a game that centres itself around it). There is a massive range in the ‘hot’ colours of yellow through to red in the molten, churning substance. What makes it stand out even more is the dark, solidified lava that can be found on the surface of the molten pools. Not only does this add more diversity to the visuals, but also a great deal of realism, especially as the solidified lava is found in greater concentrations along the edges of rooms and in stagnant areas (Fig. 2).   

Heading up the stairs the lava has completely solidified, with no molten lava flowing under the crust (Fig. 3). This allows you to take a well-earned break from the jumping and instead run across the rocky surface (it also makes it much harder to fall up the stairs for any character with two left feet).

The lava texture used down the stairs is very well designed, reflecting the nature of ropey-like pãhoehoe lava, which is a common texture found in basaltic lava flows. However, it is clear that they designed this as a generic texture pattern to use when looking for clues on the lava’s flow direction. Upon reaching the midstairs landing, the lava actually indicates it managed to flow up the stairs (red arrows in Fig 4)! The lava coming from the top of the stairs to the midway section does however appear to have correctly flowed down the stairs. 


After clearing the tutorial, you arrive in a school which has a safe practice zone in the gymnasium, with vaulting blocks and bars to jump and swing across with no risk of death on the wooden floor. Dotted around the room (and throughout the school as you progress) however, are several portals to numerous hellscapes, including a rocky version of the gym you were just in, a questionably located outdoor play area, what most would say is a accurate visualisation of a classroom and many more locations (Fig. 5).

One major question I had while running and jumping through, the maps is where on earth does all this lava come from? Fissure style eruptions would make the most sense, which are essentially cracks in the surface of the earth that lava can erupt out of (Fig. 6a). They can produce vast quantities of low viscosity lava that can spread out and cover large areas. Prime real-world examples include the 2018 Hawaii fissures that covered 35.5 km2 and the 1783-84 Lakagígar fissures in Iceland, covering 565 km2. The downside to this theory is the lack of lava fountains. At the fissures (the cracks), lava can be ejected out like a bar-sprinkler, only it is lava that is sprayed out everywhere instead of water (Fig. 6b). In some occasions the lava can reach spectacular heights of 2,000 m in the air (this record is held by Mt. Etna in 1999)! This makes locating the fissure much easier and is something I have yet to see in Hot Lava. 

Instead, the source of the lava appears to be small-scaled volcanic vents (Fig. 7). From these mini volcanoes the fresh lava is cascading out. While they are nicely designed in a visual sense, they are few in number and it is hard to believe that all the lava that has flooded an entire school playground has been covered and maintained in a molten state by such small outlets. 

The other very questionable aspect of this game is the furniture and decorations that allow you to cross from one part of the map to another. They just sit there, either in or on the lava. Some do have scorch/burn marks (Fig. 8), but for the most part they remain unscathed (Fig. 9), including cat litter bags, plastic toys and wooden logs. All of these items would easily be melted or burnt to ashes by the lava, no questions asked. 

But I suppose without these magically non-flammable/ combustible objects in the game things would be much harder because there would be fewer things to jump to. That and it would look a lot less interesting as just a barren, scorched hell-scape. So, the items like the little dino toy do add a bit of an entertainment factor to the game to improve it. 

The final thing to look at with this game is what happens when you don’t land the jump? In the real-world version of the game you just make a little additional hop and claim you made it really. Hot Lava is less forgiving.  Instead you re-enact the infamous Terminator 2 death, raising your thumb up as you sink into the molten lava as the screen whites out. Now while I could explain how this won’t happen in real life, I am instead going to leave you with this Because Science video explaining what death by lava would really be like…

And with that covered there is just the summary scoring left.

  1. Aesthetics: 9/10

The lava aesthetics are one of the best I have seen while playing video games. While most tend to just stick with molten lava flowing consistently, Hot Lava has a much more realistic take, with cooled black surfaces and a swirl of different hot spots.

  1. Accessibility: 3/10
    Because Hot Lava is an obstacle course type game, where the aim is to get from A to B as quickly as possible, the game has a fairly restricted amount of accessibility to prevent players getting lost. However, I did find that if you try hard enough and spam the keys you can make it to ledges that were probably unintended for access. This is actually where I found most of the volcanic vents, hidden away. 
  1. Viscosity: 6/10

Without a doubt, the lava found within Hot Lava should be basaltic. Only such a high viscosity lava would be able to pool out and cover such an area. The flow mechanics do show a relatively ‘lively’ lava, as it flows with ease around the map, which would be expected from basalt. However, as pointed out in the Because Science video, the lava’s density should be much much lower to allow the avatar to sink that easily into the lava. 

  1. Death:  2/10

While the death in Hot Lava is entertaining, especially from a nerdy Easter egg point of view, the Because Sciencevideo brilliantly explains how instead of sinking into the lava, you are more likely to float on the molten surface. However, the whiting out is potentially realistic (I can’t say for saw because I haven’t been killed by lava before), because we do tend to envision bright white when touching hot objects. There is also the fact that Kyle in the video points out that the air above the lava would be so hot your avatar would actually burn their lungs out while making the first jump. But that doesn’t make for very fun game play. 

  1. Overall plausibility: 1/10 
    The Floor is Lava is always a great game to play. However, if trying to play the game in real life it would be impossible. In terms of Hot Lava, the lava itself would have melted/ burnt nearly all of the furniture and would weaken the structural integrity of the buildings that you end up jumping through due to them having mostly a wooden frame. 
    On top of this, the ability to maintain just a widespread molten pool of lava is near impossible. In real world fissure eruptions, the molten lava is only found directly next to the active fissures and in the currently active streams of flowing lava. The rest has cooled to a solidified, rocky surface. This can be seen in some stagnant parts of the lava pools, but not to the extent that would be expected. 

As always, I hope you enjoyed the review. If you’re looking for a fun obstacle course game I’d recommend Hot Lava to try out. And if you want to read some more video game goodness, please check out our other blogs!

Animal Crossing: Where is my new Horizon?

The latest game in the Animal Crossing franchise, New Horizons became a massive success when released in March earlier this year. The combination of a large fan base and a perfectly timed release just before a global lockdown due to COVID that saw many stuck at home with little to do (a little suspicious) saw the game take the podium as the best-selling game on the Nintendo Switch. 

Within the game the player takes control of a human avatar that buys a vacation package from a talking racoon. What originally starts off as nothing more than a camping holiday on a deserted island soon develops into a vibrant town with permanent residents, a town hall, museum and monuments to spare.

Having spent a vast number of hours myself running around my own island paradise, my mind has often gone off wondering itself. One question that often crops up is ‘where would this island actually be in the real world?’ 

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Where in the world are we?

To some this maybe an easy question to answer. Given the game’s Nintendo origins, one could easily assume the island is found somewhere off the coast of Japan. With Japanese themed furniture such as the Imperial set, zen pits and autographed cards written in Japanese to back as evidence. Alongside every Islander’s obsession with making their own bamboo garden (guilty), it is a very safe bet. 

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My hilltop bamboo garden

However, the game also has other furniture sets and items to appease its global range of players. And the bamboo gardens are player optional. I just haven’t found a friend who hasn’t dedicated a section to their island yet to the green shoots. So, if we are to be able to say where exactly in the world our island is, we shall need more substantial evidence.

Such evidence can be found on display in your local island museum (if you’ve donate it that is…)! Well, in three of the four rooms that is… While the art donatable to Blathers is based off of famous irl examples, they are all obtained from sales with Jolly/Crazy Redd (or the odd rare present from neighbours). How he gets hold of these priceless works of art is anyone’s guess. However, the one thing that is certain is they aren’t acquired legally. More importantly for our question at hand, they are unlikely to be sourced locally! 

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Bugs to the left, fish to the right, fossils straight down the middle. Ignore the upstairs and welcome to my museum!

The bugs, fish, (newly added) sea critters and fossils on the other hand all naturally spawn on your island for you to catch/find and donate, thus allowing them to be classed as ‘locally sourced’. Seeing as all of these animals, both living and extinct, are examples of themselves in the real world, by finding out where each one is found in the world, we can plot up maps to determine where the most likely location is for our island. 

If the game is purely based in Japan, then all the creatures would come from there. However, Animal Crossing is a prime example of an educational COTS game. That is, Commercial-Off-The-Shelf game. For those who actually say yes to Blather and listen to his facts about each and every donation made, you can learn a lot about all of the wonderful species. With the franchise having a massive global audience and the world being full of amazing creatures, it would be a shame to not include some non-native species. Therefore, we can already say it is most likely going to be a case of best fit instead of being a sure-fire location. 

As much as he hates talking about the bugs they do have some very interesting facts, so suck it up Blathers!

Starting off

The first thing we have to realise is that this is a fictional game. While Animal Crossing does incorporate a lot of real-world aspects into it, from catchable creatures to architectural styles, at the end of the day it is just a game. 

As said above, the world is full of a lot of amazing animals, and so it would be a shame for the developers of Animal Crossing to just stick with those native to a single location. Many of the weird, wonderful and valuable (I’ve got to be able to afford new furniture somehow) species would never be included if some of the laws of reality weren’t bent a little. So, we can’t really hold it against Nintendo for including these species when commercial video games are designed primarily for entertainment and only sometimes for education.

And this is certainly the case with endemic species. These are ones that are only found in a singular localised area or country, and there are a few examples in New Horizons. The Golden Trout for example is only found in the American state of California. The Arapaima (the world’s largest freshwater fish), Piranha, and Angelfish are only found in the Amazon Basin. Bug species such as the Madagascan Sunset Moth is endemic to Madagascar (shockingly), and there is also the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing and Blue Weevil Beetle, both endemic to Papua New Guinea.    

Therefore, when trying to locate our island paradise I will be using a tally system for all the species, giving one point per country if the creature can be found there and plotting the tally up on a map. This way I ignore all endemic species and aim for a best fit location. 

*Disclaimer* If a species was said to be found on a continent and did not specify the exact country, every country gained one count to its tally. Therefore, some countries may have a higher count then they actually should. However, the numbers will be close enough to work with.

Also, for some reason the maps I created using Excel wouldn’t let me plot data in some countries for some reason. Sorry to Honduras, Slovakia and a few others, but that is just Excel being Excel. 

Freshwater Fish

Starting off with the freshwater fish found swimming through the rivers and ponds on the island. In total there are 46 species of fish that can be caught throughout the year with many changing from season to season.

Looking at the map below the darker the shade of blue the higher the proportion of the 46 fish can be found in that country. Four species (Kilifish, Tadpole, Frogs and Catfish) have a near worldwide distribution, and so gave a point to every country. Despite this, there is a very global variation shown on the map as some fish are only found in singular states, regions or countries.

This is a clear sign we will be aiming for a best fit location. The best candidates so far based on their total tally of freshwater fish are Japan (19), China (16), Korea (15), USA (14) and Canada (12). From these scores its looking like the island is somewhere in the Pacific Ocean with the highest concentrations being in East Asia or North America. 

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Distribution map of all freshwater fish found on our AC island

Ocean Fish

Seeing as the freshwater fish suggest a Pacific island location, it’s time to see if the 34 ocean-dwelling fish agree! 

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The new ocean aquariums are awesome in this game! Hey hammerhead!

Just like the freshwater fish there are some species such as Seahorses, Sea Butterflies and Football Fish that have a near worldwide distribution. There are also some with much more local distributions. Red Snappers for example are only found in the Gulf of Mexico. Coelacanths are even more localised, having only been found in very small pockets off the coast of South Africa, Madagascar and Indonesia, but nowhere else in all the seas! However, some are also native to the waters around Japan (e.g. Moray eels, Barred Knifejaws & Japanese Horse Mackerels). 

Tallying the scores, the oceans with the highest proportions are the Pacific Ocean (12) and Atlantic and Indian Oceans (both with 6). Seeing as the Pacific Ocean has twice the count as the next runners up its definitely looking to be a winning spot. We can then use seas and oceanic regions to narrow down a location further, as the freshwater fish suggests a location either side of this vast ocean. There were 3 counts in the Indo-Pacific, a collection of waters ranging from the Pacific to Indonesia, India and across to E. Africa. Another 3 previously mentioned around Japan only. And 2 counts in the Yellow Sea off the coast of China and Korea. 

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Distribution map of all sea fish found in the coast of our AC island

So, an island off the coast of Japan, China, Korea or the Philippines is looking to be a very hot spot. But that is not all the seas have to offer for evidence. Animal Crossing’s latest update (v1.3) has given us full access to the ocean waters via wetsuits! Now we can jump and flip right in to the deep for more critters to donate to Blathers! 

Deep-Sea Critters

The latest swimming update was another perfectly timed delivery from Nintendo. Just when we had all started to put the game down after catching all we could and paying off as much of our loan as we could be bothered, the new update gave us 40 new ‘deep-sea critters’ to swim around and catch!

In terms of data, that’s 40 new points to tally up and see if they correspond with the current fishy conclusion…

And thankfully it does! Just like the ocean fish before, the deep-sea critters have the highest concentrations in the Pacific Ocean (7) out of the three oceans (Atlantic had 2 and Indian had just 1). Furthermore, there were a staggering 8 species (e.g. Gigas giant clams, Slate pencil urchins and Mantis shrimps) are found in the Indo-Pacific. 

Sea pineapples, Japanese Spider crabs and some species of Horseshoe crabs are also only found in the waters around Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China, including the Yellow Sea and East China Sea. Together a total of 34 of the 40 deep-sea species are found in the waters off of the eastern/ south-eastern coasts of Asia, making for very compelling evidence.

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Distribution map of the deep-sea critters caught while swimming in the waters around our AC island

However, why just use water creatures to pin down a location when we also have bugs and fossils? After all, the more evidence you have the more solid the conclusion.

Bugs

The bugs in Animal Crossing breath a lot of needed life onto the surface of the island. All of the fish and critters mentioned above simply appear as dark outlines under the water. You can make an educated guess at what the fish will be, but you won’t know for sure until you haul it out of the water. Bugs on the other hand can be found scuttling on the ground, flying through the air or just chilling on a tree. The diverse range of settings you can find them in means there is a wide variety for you to catch (many of which are worth a few bells and so can help to pay that ever-increasing loan off), including butterflies, dragonflies, stag beetles, diving beetles, pesky wasps and even dreaded scorpions.

Despite this great range in catchable creepy crawlies, the tally map actually shows a reduced global range than the freshwater fish did! Out of the 80 species found on the in-game island, 51 of these are found irl in Japan. 47 are found in China and 45 are found in Korea. The incredibly high number is mostly due to 18 species such as flies and ants being found worldwide. However, most of the countries outside of SE Asia, even with the worldwide assist, only score in the mid 20s, giving them a paler shade of green. 

Distribution map of the insects caught on our AC island

With the fish and now the bugs suggesting a East Asian location close to Japan, it is getting hard to argue as to where our sandy shores will be…

Fossils

Last but not least we have the ancient fossils! Fossils in Animal Crossing randomly spawn at the start of each day, forming brown star-shaped cracks in the ground for you to dig up with a shovel. However, you won’t know what kind of fossil you have dug up until you get it checked and verified by Blathers at the museum. Once Blathers has excitedly given them a quick look over, he will inform you as to whether you have given him an entire small fossil, or a part of a much larger creature. Side note, this is fairly realistic as you are more likely to find dinosaur fossils fragmented than as a complete collection (although that is not to say it isn’t impossible).  

That being said, they definitely throw a curveball into the idea of a Japanese island location as the vast majority of the 35 fossil species are actually found in North America. Not since the freshwater fish at the start did it seem possible that we could have an American island. 

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Distribution map of the fossils dug up on our AC island

The main reason for the high concentration of fossils appearing to be from North America is because many of the well known and loved dinosaurs such as the Stegosaurus, Triceratops and the infamous T-rex are found within the Mesozoic deposits here, particularly within Texas and surrounding states in the US. 

There are also some species which are only found in European countries. The renowned bird fossil of Archaeopteryx has only been discovered in Germany and Portugal. The Dorset Coast of England is famed for its Plesiosaurus fossils, and even the possibility of a living species hiding somewhere in Loch Ness. Africa as well saw our ancestors, Australopithecus, roam through the Cradle of Humankind in the east. Millions of years before them, Spinosaurus were hunting through the northern countries of the African continent. 

When it comes to Japan itself, there are no fossils which can be found in game that are only from this country. China is lucky enough to be the resting place of some species such as Juramaia and Myllokunmingia. So, SE Asia is still in the running. Just not to the same scale of America on this one. 

So where are our islands?

Looking at the evidence presented by the aquatic creatures (both freshwater and ocean-dwelling) and from the bugs there is a very strong case to make for our islands are located somewhere off the south-west coast of Japan, possibly not too far away from the coasts of Korea or China. 

The fossils are a hard one to try and explain. How is it possible to have so many living creatures be found on one side of the Pacific Ocean, while the majority of extinct creatures are found on the other side? Initially the theory of continental drift could explain it. Having the two joined, and as they came apart a small part of America stayed closer to Japan. However, this sadly cannot be the case as Japan actually became an island after rifting away from the eastern edge of Eurasia, while America rifted away from the western side of Eurasia. This means that they are actually moving towards each other, not away.

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Just a couple of million years too late to ride a T-rex

I believe in the case of the fossils this will just have to be something we have to overlook and put it down to the developers just wanting to give its audience a collection of fossils from the other side of the world to get excited about instead of a realistic local selection. But three out of four all pointing towards one place is still very good odds. 

Now it’s time to crack open Google Maps and try and find a good location to jet off to on the SW coast of Japan… 

One thing to take into account now is the only accessible mode of transport in the game, the small seaplane flown by the dynamic duo at Dodo Airlines! Given the size of the plane it is obvious it won’t be making long hauled flights everywhere. Also, the idea that the plane is always ready to take off and return very soon after (flying for less than a minute each time, but we’ll class it as same day return) to a friend’s island or a mystery tour island means these neighbouring landmasses can’t be too far away from our own. This means we need to search for a group/chain of islands instead of an isolated one. 

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Im not 100% sure they should actually let Dodos fly, but oh well…

The best candidate would be somewhere within the Ryukyu Islands. A series of volcanic chain islands stretching from SW Japan to Taiwan. More specifically I believe our islands are part of the Tokara Islands. Closer to Japan, this archipelago of small islands matches the size of our own relatively small island and the numerous even smaller islands found on the mystery tours. 

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The most probable location for our New Horizon, Tokara Islands!

And so there you have it! Thanks to the help of the wonderful creatures that call our AC island home, we have found our New Horizon in the Tokara Islands! I hope you enjoyed the read. 

Cheers, Ed

Minecraft: A review of blocky lava

The game where Lego meets computers and despite being constantly updated, the graphics look no different to when they were first released in 2011 (unless you install player-made mods to force the graphics to look nicer).

Minecraft’s gaming concept is what is known as a ‘sandbox’, which means that it is open world where you are free to roam and shape the landscape as you wish, with very few restrictions such as levels or specialised equipment. The other characteristic feature of Minecraft is that the world is fully formed of cubic blocks! Everything from trees to water are made up of cubes, even the squids! 

As always, we are keeping to our standard gaming review criteria out of 10, 1 being unrealistic and 10 being realistic for:

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Accessibility
  3. Viscosity
  4. Death
  5. Overall plausibility

Results: For a game that lets trees float in the air (Fig. 1), the lava mechanics are not as bad as expected. 

Figure 1: Exhibit A of Minecraft’s non-functional gravity

Because Minecraft is not restricted by level-access areas, hunting for lava is a simple case of roaming around the randomly generated map until you come across the orange glowing blocks. Lava itself can be found in a number of locations, from random pool on the surface (Fig. 2), to lava ‘waterfalls’ cascading down a mountain (Fig. 3). 

Figure 3: A naturally occurring ‘lavafall’ flowing out of the side of a cliff

However, it is mostly found when exploring cave systems (Fig. 4). The deeper you delve into the caves the higher the chance of coming across larger pools. Hence the reason for one of Minecraft’s most important rules: “Don’t dig straight down”! Because you will eventually fall into a pool of lava and die.

The law of physics are very limited in Minecraft. As stated in the ‘Results’ at the start, trees defy gravity and float in the air when you punch/chop through a trunk. Dirt and stone blocks too can float randomly in the air, particularly in mountainous regions. However, there are a few block types that do respect gravity: sand, gravel, water and lava. In the case of the latter, water and lava spawn new blocks flowing downwards and spread outwards, reducing in volume the further from a source block it travels (see Fig. 3 & 5). 

Figure 5: Lava will spread out bit by bit, square by square until its volume is too low (or blocked by a block).

The burning mechanics for Minecraft’s lava is pretty standard. If the lava comes into contact with or very close to wood, grass, flowers or leaves, the blocks will catch fire that spreads across to other flammable blocks, destroying them after a few seconds (Fig. 6). This can be a major issue if you accidentally place some lava too close to your wooden decorated house in an attempt to make it look cooler (learned that mistake the hard way)… 

If you decide that you do want to ‘play with fire’ it is possible to carry lava around with you through the use of an iron bucket, leaving a perfect cube-shaped void for a few seconds before nearby lava flows in (Fig. 7)! While this may seem like a very risky thing to do (and it most certainly is), collecting fresh lava in a bucket is actually something that volcanologists do! However, in the real-world case, the lava is scooped out of the flow and quickly quenched in a bucket of water to make it safer to transport. This means that the lava rapidly solidifies instead of remaining molten like in Minecraft. 

Figure 7: A scoop of lava

Also, the labs are generally so far away from the fresh lava flows that the lava would have cooled to a solid by the time you’re able to analyse it anyway. Unlike in Minecraft, where the lava somehow manages to maintain molten in the bucket for an infinite amount of time.

When lava mixes with water in Minecraft one of two things happen depending on the type of blocks. If water mix with a ‘flowing’ lava block (ie. not a full volume block) the two will produce a cobble stone block (Fig. 8a). However, if water pours on a lava source block (a full volume block) then obsidian is produced (Fig. 8b)! Going on Minecraft’s basic mechanics, both outcomes are realistic to a degree. Water can solidify lava into stone, and obsidian can form by the rapid cooling of lava in water (and even in air).


Thanks to a relatively recent update (1.8) more volcanic blocks have been included in Minecraft’s world: granite, diorite, andesite and magma (Fig. 9). For the most part I believe the first three blocks were added to provide a wider variety of colours to look at while travelling or mining, as these are quite a random selection of volcanic rocks (Fig. 10). They are also randomly spawned throughout the land with no evidence of volcanic activity to explain why they are there. There aren’t even any volcanoes in Minecraft unless you install a specific mod. Many additions into the main game like this one actually originated from a player made mod that was so popular it became mainstream (horses were also added for the same reason).

Figure 9: From left to right, the other volcanic blocks in Minecraft: granite, diorite, andesite and magma

Magma is a strange inclusion. By real world definition, magma is molten lava that has no reached the surface. Once it does it is called lava. However, when searching for the blocks in game I happened upon some on the seafloor decorating a flooded monument (Fig. 11a) and again at the bottom of a trench, complete with obsidian blocks (Fig. 11b). If this trench was a diverging plate boundary (like the Mid-Atlantic Ridge) then it could be explained. However, two plates move apart from each other at a speed of a few centimeters a year (MAR parts at 2-5 cm a year), and so is unlikely to create quantities like this. Also, Minecraft has no active plate tectonics (again, unless you install a mod). 

The only other place that I have been able to find magma blocks is in Minecraft’s version of Hell, The Nether. Accessible by creating a 4×5 doorway of pure obsidian (Fig. 12) and lighting it with a flint n steel. The Nether is a burning hellscape of lava, zombie pigmen and the occasional scary dark castle/maze (Fig. 13).   

The tricky thing with the Nether is that as it is Hell, technically the magma is underground as it should be. But at the same time, it also has flowing lava blocks directly next to magma blocks or even above it (Fig. 14), which the lava should be on the surface. So… it is hard to argue magma/lava terminology in this place. 


The one thing that can’t be argued is how much of a safety hazard it is to build a castle over a lava of lava. Just because Bowser did it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea! I mean just look at all this lava spilling into the hallways or leaking through the roof (Fig. 15)! Don’t build on molten lava folks! 

And now after all of that, I believe it is time for the scoring:

Aesthetics: 6

Lava is easy to spot with its orange, flowing animation that passes from block to block and glowing light in the dark. However, the texture is very basic (as to be expected from Minecraft) and the lava shows no dark batches where it is starting to cool and solidify into rock. 

Accessibility: 10

There is only one block you cannot break and that is bedrock. Below this is an empty void that you cannot build in. Otherwise, anywhere is accessible in Minecraft, either by walking to, flying (in cheat/ creative mode), digging or building a path to your destination. In fact, the land is so customisable you can shape it to however you wish (as long as you wish it to be in block form), and with enough buckets of lava you can sculpt your own volcano! Or just install this mod that spawns them within seconds!  

Viscosity: 8

If you happen to have the unfortunate chance of falling into lava you will find it very difficult to escape as your movements become slow and sluggish, wading through the thick lava. Even trying to ‘swim’ to the surface is made difficult, showing it has a high viscosity. 
When you watch the lava spread out as it ‘flows’ you can see that it moves at a very slow pace, especially if you compare the speed of flow to water in the game, which spills out and floods areas rapidly. The slow pace makes it easy to turn around and run away from it if it happens to be advancing towards you, which is realistic to most occasions in the real-world. Only in rare situations does lava flow with hazardous speed.

Death: 6

Accidentally falling into lava is a near-guaranteed death (Fig. 16). Only with a full bar of health and quick reactions can you have a chance of escaping as the lava deals 4 hearts of damage per second, meaning it only takes 2.5 seconds to die at full health with no armor and 14 seconds with diamond (the best). Even if you do manage to retreat to safety your avatar is still on fire for a short while after, dealing additional damage.

Chances are if you fell into lava in a cave, if you do manage to survive with a heart or two left, a creeper will come up behind you and finish you off for good measure. 

Overall plausibility: 3

Despite the high scores in the above categories, the volcanism in Minecraft is randomly generated so that the lava is found in pools across the land, often just found in a pit with no cooled lava around. In reality, lava is found in volcanically active area, spewing out of fissures or volcanoes, and is surrounded by solid lava from previous eruptions. 

The lava in game is also permanently molten, never solidifying regardless of a heat-source keeping it hot. Even lava poured from a bucket comes out molten after weeks of sitting in there. Which also brings me to another problem! The bucket is way too small to be able to store an entire block of lava. Volume to size ratio does not match in the slightest (Fig. 17). 

Figure 17: A bucket is way too small to hold an entire block’s worth of lava!

And so, ends our blocky adventure. I hope you enjoyed the read! If you haven’t read our other reviews, please check them out. J

Shadow of the Tomb Raider: a volcano-videogame review

Hello fellow videogame and volcano friends. I wanted to share this with you sooner, but I have been super busy and recovering from passing my PhD viva, doing my corrections and teaching duties…I also have a load of new games.

Anyway, The Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Absolutely loved this game. In part due to  loving the trilogy but also the ethical questions raised in being a coloniser and just taking stuff without understanding it (although Lara did turn it around in the end). Also because of the geohazards presented. Not only was there volcanic eruptions (and related hazards) but also tsunamis and earthquakes.

Like Spyro, Lego, BoW and others, areas of the game were revisited, and walked through the feasibility of the volcanism presented using the following criteria out of 10, 1 being unrealistic and 10 being realistic:

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Accessibility
  3. Viscosity
  4. Death
  5. Overall plausibility

Revisiting this game was tricky in places, as there are certain places you cannot return to because they have either been destroyed or I forgot where they were. So, I did as many as possible post-main storyline, where places were almost free of people/hungry animals wanting to kill Lara, but as this is a Tomb Raider game, the environment still had it out for her. For others, such as the tsunami/earthquake/volcanic eruption/lahar sequences, I did new game plus. So took a little longer than I would have hoped.

Before I go raiding however, I would like to introduce to you a feature I want seen in all future games: the photography mode.

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Just by pausing the game, you can choose the photography mode option in the menu and you are given many options to get the perfect screenshot. Not only is there a field of view and depth perception options, there is saturation, contrast, brightness and filter options. I can hide these options with “Y” and then because these images are saved in game, I just used the Xbox’s screenshot function to get the best images. More like this please!

Results of my volcano raiding adventures: logical with a dash of “not possible”.

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Because I love maps, almost the first thing I do when I start a new game, is look at the in-game map. When I saw this for a first time, my reaction was “ooohhh yes, when is the eruption?!” Turns out I had to wait a while.

During the prologue portion of the game, Lara and her friend Jonah are exploring in Mexico. The geohazards journey begins when Lara comes across a legend depicting a sequence of “cataclysms” in the form of a tsunami, storm, earthquake and a volcanic eruption.

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I like this, as I have an interest in an area of research called “geomythology”. I touched upon in my From Dust review. After existing the tomb and getting into a scuffle with the main antagonist, the first geohazard occurs.

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I cannot speak from experience, but tsunamis are a terrifying hazard. I think this sequence captures it well. There plenty of opportunities to kill Lara if not timing jumps right or you bump her into something you were not supposed to.

It is possible to survive them, but chances are not very high, mainly due to the force of the water and the many obstacles in the way. I talk more about them in my From Dust review.

Next part of the game, Lara and Jonah travel to Peru, but crash land in the jungle due to a storm that “came out of nowhere”. That was the second foreseen hazard. I shall skip onto a sidequest tomb I explored, I found the geology quite interesting. In this tomb, it was beneath(?) an old location where oil was extracted.

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Oh and it also had wolves in it. It reminds me of the Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan. Which is related to methane gas deliberately set on fire since 1971 and is still ongoing. Not oil, but it just reminded me of it. This is certainly beyond my expertise, maybe oil does behave like this? Another location, part of the main quest, has pools which maybe oil or not, which are constantly on fire.

Another sidequest tomb had natural pockets of sulphur dioxide (as Lara remarks “uhh it smells like rotten eggs”), which can be set on fire and cause some explosions. Whilst I question how people managed to construct something to concentrate the gas, it is entirely realistic to have pockets of natural gas, as societies extract them for energy.

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Next hazard was the earthquakes, first when I reach a main quest tomb:

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I have to hand it to Lara, she somehow knew that it was a foreshock? There were 2 foreshocks, before the larger, final earthquake happened within this sequence:

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I think my confusion here is the terminology used, as it conflicts with what the earthquakes were described as in the next area of San Juan’s Mission. In this area, right in the shadow of a volcano , people describe the earthquakes as volcanic tremors. Tectonic earthquakes and volcanic earthquakes are different.

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They mainly differ because of their origins: whilst tectonic earthquakes are the result of tensions within the plate tectonics and fault lines, volcanic earthquakes are related to magma movement, the fractures they cause but also strong volcanic explosions. Of course, it can be hard to distinguish between the two without the proper instruments, the perceptions and life experiences people have had.

Approaching near the end of the game and emerging from a tomb, the volcano just is…erupting. With no other earthquakes or signs that its activity was increasing. It was confusing. From the following screenshots, you can see it is a kind of eruption that would not go unnoticed. Or it is maybe because Lara was underground in between the earthquakes and the eruption taking place. I do not know, I feel like something was missing in letting me know that a full on eruption was happening.

Critiquing the eruption itself, there are some good elements and some missing opportunities. Good thing: the eruptive column. It dominates the sky, it does appear to drift in the direction of behind the volcano, making that part of the sky dark. The lava fountaining is also realistic, but I do wonder if certain hazard processes are missing here. The shape of the volcano is similar to Mt. Mayon in the Philippines. This video has shows the features I think are missing. Namely a little bit more lava spatter but also pyroclastic density currents (PDCs). But, perhaps they could have occurred behind the volcano where we cannot see? PDCs can travel down a defined river valley path but also blanket the flanks of volcanoes.

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One thing I neither fully agree with or disagree with is the depiction of ashfall. What is different compared to games reviewed so far (apart from Pokémon Emerald), is that ash actively represented. What I do question is all the little specks of embers. Volcanic ash is not as incandescent as what is shown here. On the same note, Lara and all others in the area, should have been wearing eye and breathing protection. Volcanic ash are tiny particles of rock and if inhaled, can cause serious respiratory problems and an irritant to your eyes. Nonetheless, it is the most realistic in what has been reviewed to date.

After fighting a bunch of people and losing the artefact to the antagonist of the game, something unexpected happened. Interestingly, this earthquake (and there was a distant sound of an explosion) happened first:

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And then this:

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A lahar! Lahars are volcanic mudflows: slurry mixtures of volcanic material, debris and water (or ice). Generally was surprised that this was put into the game but the rest of the sequence…I had questions. First is that this begins in a street. Has this place been built on an old river channel? If so, that is serious neglect of land-use planning. If not…I do not know, volcanologists should have mapped this area and produced a hazard map. The lahar does seem like the right consistency, then again, lahars have different categories depending on the ratio of water and sediment content. You may also see a volcanic bomb just before the camera pans around. I cannot tell what the distance from the volcano to Lara’s position is, but generally speaking, volcanic bombs do not travel beyond 5km from a volcanic centre – mainly because they are too heavy to travel any further.

Second issue I had are the huge gaps that appear in the ground? I honestly cannot explain if and how it is connected to the volcanic eruption and the lahar. Maybe loads of sinkholes just happened coincidentally?

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Actually, this was the biggest issue I had with the lahar sequence. I cannot understand it at all.

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Last issue was how the sequence ended. There just happened to be a coastal area nearby, some debris flowed out with the lahar and then it just…ends? It was quite a substantial lahar, I think it would carry on pouring into the coastal area for a lot longer than it did.

That was the last of hazards in the main game. But, there are two DLC (downloadable content) called “The Forge” and “The Grand Caiman”, where volcanism returns. The Forge started it off when you first arrive in an area where you fight off some wolves:

SOTTR_The Forge (1)

After a bit of navigating the environment, Lara reaches the main puzzle area:

SOTTR_The Forge to Gif (1)SOTTR_The Forge (4)

Exploding sulphur dioxide pockets also feature, which are used to turn the central tower. I am intrigued how a wood, metal and brick could endure the lava and extreme heat for so long, however the base of the tower seems to be constructed into the local rock. I am also uncertain how far below ground we are, but is it possible to reach a cave system that has a lava lake area? I do not think we have real life examples to help us with that answer.

The second DLC was more interesting. We have a volcano in eruption, but the ashfall is more realistic. Moreover, Lara reacts to the ash but putting her hand over her mouth and coughing. In fact, it causes damage to her.

SOTTR_GCaiman Gif (1)

She is seriously under prepared in exploring in these areas.

SOTTR_The Grand Caiman (8)SOTTR_The Grand Caiman (5)

However, further into the DLC quest tomb we hit familiar territory:

And with that, let us have the verdict on The Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s representation of volcanism (and other hazards).

  1. Aesthetics
    • 9 – It is unmistakably a beautiful game in an environment made to be as believable as possible. Texture on the lava appears accurate with the darkened patches related to cooling.
  2. Accessibility
    • 8 – If the invisible boundaries are not there, then falling into the lava is possible. The tsunami and lahar sequences put you right into the action, so highly accessible on purpose. The earthquakes and volcanic eruption are mainly for driving the story forward and are background imagery.
  3. Viscosity
    • 6 – This was hard to determine, but as per usual in videogames, it appears too runny.
  4. Death
    • 9 – If you know your Tomb Raider games, then the death sequences are sometimes too graphic. In all sequences apart from the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can you be killed by the hazards. However, and I apologise that I did not record a clip to show, if you fall in lava, you simply just disappear. Lahar was a bit more realistic by sinking into it.
  5. Overall plausibility
    • 8 – The game’s environment was made to be believable, so the hazards tried to be too. Whilst I have some issues with the earthquake and lahar sequences, overall, it does a pretty good job in my opinion.

There you have it, very long overdue. I hope it was enjoyable! I will not be reviewing for a while now, but hopefully will be back reviewing next year. There are plenty of volcano-videogame reviews if you have not already seen them:

Happy gaming 🙂

Monster Hunter: Generation Ultimate – a volcano-videogame review

Welcome back volcano-videogame friends, Ed McGowan is back with another review for a little known series called Monster Hunter.

***

*In my best John Hammond impression* Welcome, to Monster Hunter!

This is the ultimate game where Jurassic Park meets Japanese anime (very literally in the case of the MH anime), where the aim is to run across various landscapes, hunting down a multitude of dinosaurs and dragons, and repeatedly smashing them over the head with an oversized sword, club, or axe in my case (love a good switch axe).

Just like any fantasy exploring game, especially one that has literal dragons, each of the Monster Hunter installments has its own active volcanic region. All are amazingly decorated with the franchise’s signature visuals, containing flowing lava rivers and exploding volcanic peaks. In Monster Hunter Generation Ultimate (the ‘ultimate’ is MH’s way of saying ‘+’ or ‘2.0’) there are two main volcanic regions to explore. The first is accessible upon reaching level 4. The other is not available until level 8! Because it takes long enough to reach level 4 (let alone 8). I shall focus this review on the first volcanic region and leave the second region for another review.

Once again, as with all our other previous reviews, the game will be reviewed using a criteria out of 10, 1 being unrealistic and 10 being realistic for:

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Accessibility
  3. Viscosity
  4. Death
  5. Overall plausibility

Results: Visually stunning. Biodiversity interesting. Volcanic accuracy? Not quite.

The aptly named ‘Volcano’ region in MH is one of my favourite places to quest. First arriving on a small white sandy beach within a small cove (Fig. 1), this actually kicks off the volcanic inaccuracies within this game. The cliffs that surround the cove are made up of dark grey rock (presumably lava) and the further inland you go, the darker the rocks get. Natural beaches are nearly always made up of the local rocks, eroded out of the surrounding cliffs and washed back and forth along the beach to produce the sand. This means that beaches do not have to be your standard sandy white. In circumstances like this on volcanic islands, the beaches are often black! Where the sand originates from the erosion of the local dark, mafic lavas. One of the most famous real-world examples is Hawaii, that has many black sand beaches (Fig. 2), and even green ones comprised of small olivine crystals eroded out of the nearby lava!

Venturing into Zone 1, the walls are made up of several volcanic rock layers (Fig. 3). It is unclear if these are successive layers of lava stacked up over numerous eruptions, or if they are successive pyroclastic flow deposits known as ignimbrites. Pyroclastic flows are terrifying clouds of extremely hot ash, gases and volcanic rocks that barrel down volcanic slopes at amazing speeds (they can move at 200 m/s!). Chances are you would have seen one in the latest Jurassic World movie, however, I am sorry to announce Chris Pratt should have died when he was engulfed in the cloud. The hot gases alone would have incinerated his lungs.

Based on the ~10+ ft deep incised paths and even deeper cavern through the layers I am more inclined to believe these are ignimbrites (Fig. 3). Lava is a notoriously stubborn rock to erode out paths like this. Ignimbrites on the other hand, are most up of volcanic sediment and boulders that were mixed up in the density cloud, meaning they can often end up as a sort of poorly consolidated soil. This makes them much easier to erode, especially if rain falls on the volcanic slopes, as  it rushes down as a lahar (a volcanic mudflow) that carve out deeper and deeper riverbeds with each flow. Here is an example of a lahar-cut pyroclastic deposit I had the amazing opportunity to see (Fig. 4a) and a lahar along another deposit (Fig. 4b), both around Volcán de Colima, Mexico.

In Zone 2 we get our first look at a definite lava flow! A glowing red looking mulch of an active lava flow (Fig. 5a), stuck in a constant motion of advancing forwards, but never making it any further due to the way the game was programmed with fixed maps. A path to Zone 3 looks to be a lava tube (Fig. 5b), the hollowed outer shell of a previous lava flow, where the internal, still molten lava passed through. The lava tube also directly lies on top of the layered rocks (on the right of my character’s head), showing a distinctly different texture. This adds further support to my belief the layers are successive ignimbrites.

Advancing further inland (in any direction) and the scenery changes dramatically. The greys become black and lava is everywhere, glowing a bright reddy-orange. The lava comes in two forms: 1) black advancing lava (Fig. 6) lava rivers/lakes (Fig. 7).

The advancing lava seen in Fig. 6 is a very common occurrence, where the outside has cooled to a solid black rock with patches of still hot molten liquid. This forms a very rough, craggy texture called A’a lava. Fig. 8 is an example of such lava from Parícutin volcano in Mexico that erupted between 1941-52. Here is also a video from YouTube of a’a lava advancing across a road in Hawaii during the 2018 eruptions, which brilliantly shows how the lava cools and crumbles as it moves forward. Due to MH’s graphics, this rough texture has been smoothed over. Also, because of the map being set to fixed dimensions the lava doesn’t advance otherwise after a few missions Zone 2 would be hard to run through. Instead the molten lava inside is animated to look like it is trying to advance.

Fig 13
Fig. 8

Lava rivers and lakes also occur in the real world, and are a spectacular site, as shown in this BBC clip! However, as seen in the clip, the lava flowing in the rivers has a thin black skin (like on a cold soup) of cooled lava. The only orange parts seen are in freshly exposed sections that have yet to be cooled by the open air.

Within MH they have made it so that you cannot walk on the lava, prevented so by an invisible wall. I therefore suspect that the developers removed the black ‘skin’ from the lava graphics to help these boundaries more easily visible. There is nothing more annoying than trying to dodge a monster’s attack and being unable to because of a hard-to-see obstacle!

After quite a trek you finally reach the heart of the volcano in Zone 6, where you can run up to the lower crater edge and stare into the upwelling molten liquid (Fig. 9). There are not actually many volcanoes with constantly sustained lava lakes in their crater in the world. And those that do tend to be shorter, shield volcanoes like Kilauea in Hawaii, or Erta Ale in Ethiopia (Fig. 10). Instead, with most strato-volcanoes (the taller, stereotypical mountain peak shaped) the lava within their crater solidifies, leaving a rocky pit (Fig. 10). When the volcano is active the lava is either slowly forced up by rising magma underneath forming what is called a ‘lava dome’, which looks like a giant, rocky mole hill, or, if the pressure under the solidified lava builds up enough the top can explode like a cork out a champagne bottle. Only in the latter scenario would you be temporarily able to see the molten lava within the volcanic crater. However, you would also see the lava being thrown in the air as either ‘spatter’ or more deadly volcanic bombs, along with the ash plume that we can see here in this one (Fig. 9).

Gif 1 - Fig. 9

Fig 10

There are other ways a volcano like the one here in MH can grow and erupt, such as lateral-blasts (Mt. St. Helens, USA) or sector collapse (Teide, Tenerife). But for the purpose of keeping this review short and not bore you too much, I will keep these for another review.

One of the interesting things with MH’s ash plume, which is better seen by continuing to Zone 8 (the crater summit), is the inclusion of a prevailing wind direction. This is mainly interesting because it is an animation feature that is missed out in many video game volcanoes (e.g. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2), where they simply have the ash plume rising directly upwards and outwards evenly in all directions.

MH’s ash plume being blown to one side is an accurate representation of what occurs in the real world, where the wind is blowing strong enough to direct the ash. However, this normally occurs higher up where the plume reaches maximum height, or the wind is stronger than the heat that is forcing the ash straight up. This was perfectly demonstrated in 2010 by Iceland’s famous eruption of Eyjafjallajökull.  In this case a south-westerly wind blew all the ash towards Europe, causing a major hazard to all the planes engines within Europe’s airspace. Funnily enough though, the airspace over Iceland was not shut down to planes approaching from America in the East as none of the ash was directed that way.

And this volcano is not the only one that shows a prevailing wind direction. Looking out away from the main volcano others can be seen with massive plumes blowing to the NE (Fig. 11a). In other maps within the game there are other active volcanoes, also with directed plumes (Fig.11b-c).

Now that we have managed to travel from Basecamp on the beach all the way to the summit of the active volcano, it is time for the scores.

Aesthetics: 6.5

The aesthetics of the deposits in the cliffs within the lower zones is texturally very nice. The lava takes a few points deduction due to the rounding of the texture on the end of the lava flows in Zone 2 & 9, and a lack of a black ‘soup skin’ of cooled lava. However, the rest is fairly accurate. Points are also given back due to the wind direction visible in the ash plume.

Accessibility: 5

The volcano is limited in its accessibility as there are set areas you can visit, with only an image of the map filling the screen as you transition from area to area. You can only climb up certain cliffs within the area as well. However, the map does provide you 11 areas that you can run around and explore, all with their own unique look, showing off a range of volcanic features.

Viscosity: 3

This one was going to score fairly well until I thought a Rathalos (big scary dragon) that ran, crashed on and stood on top of the lava without sinking a millimetre. It would seem that dragons can walk on lava like Jesus could walk on water (Fig. 12).

Gif 11

For lava to have travelled as far away from the Central volcano all the way down to Zone 2 (possibly even right down to the Base camp if they are lava deposits and not pyroclastic deposits) then it has to have a very low viscosity. This is especially true if it is to flow like a meandering river in Zone 7. High viscosity lava is too sticky and unable to travel as far away from its source.

However, lava with a low viscosity doesn’t tend to result in explosive eruptions that cause fragmentation that produces ash. Therefore, the lava’s viscosity does not match the massive plume being produced at the crater, nor match with the idea that there are pyroclastic deposits in Zone 1…

Low viscosity volcanoes also tend to be a flatter type of volcano known as shield volcanoes. These grow outwards more than they do upwards, and so look like a shield lying flat. Higher viscosity volcanoes, because the lava is unable to travel away from its source as well as low viscosity, grow into taller strato-volcanoes.

Despite the contradicting viscosities, it is possible for a magmatic plumbing system to be so complex that volcanoes in the real world can produce both basalt (associated with low viscosity lava) and rhyolite (associated with high viscosity lava). Examples of such ‘bimodal’ systems can be found in the Tarawera Volcanic Complex, New Zealand (Leonard et al., 2002) and the Snake River Plain, USA (Morgavi et al., 2011). So there is some plausibility for the contradicting lava, unknown bedded deposits and the volcanoes shape in MH.

But then the Rathalos happened… Nothing that size, even if it has wings, could splash into lava and not sink straight in!

Death: 6

While you cannot be killed by the lava directly due to the invisible walls (which to be honest is realistic because no one would be stupid enough to run over lava as molten as it is in this game), there are still environmental effects that can slowly kill you.

The first is the heat. As soon as you enter Zone 6 or 8 you must quickly drink a ‘Cool Drink’ to prevent taking heat damage. The heat also causes the avatar to start sweating and even keel over panting if you stand around too long without having had a drink (Fig. 13). ‘Cool Drinks’ may not be a real thing to allow volcanologists to walk around flowing lava without breaking a sweat, but it does highlight the importance of having a drink to stay hydrated in such a hot environment.

Gif 12

The other way you can take damage is if you stand on the hot surfaces at the edge of the lava/invisible wall (Fig. 14). These spots are so hot that not even a ‘Cool Drink’ can keep you safe. Although saying that, damage is slow, and my avatar didn’t seem to react at all to being burnt alive…

Gif 13

Overall plausibility: 4

I think with Monster Hunter they tried to combine too many aspects of volcanology into one area to up the dramatics and the level of hostility. As you increase through the levels the areas monster’s get tougher and deadlier, and therefore, so must the landscapes they live in.

While I do believe that there are many accurate representations in the game, such as the lava flow in Zone 2, the lahar carved trenches and the bellowing ash plume, I believe that all of these going on all at the same time is beyond the scope of what we see going on in the real world.

Once I get sufficient time, I will get around to reviewing the second volcanic region in MH, the Volcanic Hollow!

Fig 22

Don’t forget to check out our other volcanic video game reviews!!

Pokémon Emerald: a volcano-videogame review

Welcome back volcano-videogame friends, we have a new blog and a new guest! Nadine Gabriel takes us through the volcanism of another Pokémon game: Emerald version.

***

Pokémon Emerald is the enhanced version of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, and was released in 2004/2005 for Game Boy Advance. It’s the final game of the third generation of Pokémon. Although the plot is pretty similar to Ruby and Sapphire, there are some extras such as three different legendary Pokémon and the presence of both Team Aqua and Team Magma – you can read more about the differences here.

 

Pokémon Emerald takes place in Hoenn which is based on the Japanese region of Kyushu but rotated 90° anticlockwise. The map below shows the locations featured in this review.

2) Hoenn Map

As usual, the following criteria will be rated out of 10, with 1 being unrealistic and 10 being realistic:

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Accessibility
  3. Viscosity
  4. Death
  5. Overall plausibility

Verdict: Lava, lava everywhere! There are lots of chances to explore volcanic landforms in Hoenn!

Mt. Chimney

To the north of Hoenn lies the volcano Mt. Chimney. You can access its fiery peak via Jagged Pass (a steep mountain path) or the more scenic and relaxing cable car. As the cable car carries you towards the top of Mt. Chimney, ash starts to appear in the air.

3) Cable Car

Once at the top, you’re free to explore the bubbling lava in the crater or battle various Pokémon trainers. Many trainers seem fine with standing right next to a bubbling lava lake, although one person does complain about the heat. Right outside the cable car station is an old lady who sells Lava Cookies. These tasty treats don’t contain lava but they can heal your Pokémon’s status conditions.

4) Lava Cookies

Early on in the game, exploring Mt. Chimney reveals a subplot which involves stopping Team Magma from using a stolen meteorite to intensify the volcano’s activity and create new land. While it’s true that volcanism is responsible for creating various landmasses all over the world (e.g. Hawaii), Team Magma’s evil plan sounds very questionable. After you foil the meteorite plot, Team Magma resort to using jet fuel to trigger Mt. Chimney – I guess that sounds a little bit more plausible!

5) Ashy Eyelashes

To the north of Mt. Chimney lies Route 113. Along this route, ash is constantly falling from the sky and blanketing the ground in thick grey ash. Since this is the only place in Hoenn with ash, it shows that the prevailing wind direction is southerly. The ash fall is so intense it blocks out the Sun so this area doesn’t get very warm. Despite the suffocating cloak of the ash, people seem to get along with their lives: some children hide in deep piles of ash, others enjoy taking walks through ash-covered grass, and one person tries to crack a joke about it.

6) Team Magma

Once you obtain the soot sack, you can collect volcanic ash. You can only collect ash by walking through tall grass so you’ll be at risk of Pokémon battles; it’s best to collect ash while using some Repel. If you take the collected ash to the local glassmaker, they’ll be able to turn it into one of the following glass items.

  • Blue flute (250 steps): Wakes a sleeping Pokémon during battle
  • Yellow flute (500 steps): Snaps a Pokémon out of confusion during battle
  • Red flute (500 steps): Snaps a Pokémon out of infatuation during battle
  • Black flute (1000 steps): Reduces wild Pokémon encounter rate by 50%
  • White flute (1000 steps): Increases wild Pokémon encounter rate by 50%
  • Pretty chair (6000 steps): Furniture for the player’s Secret Base
  • Pretty desk (8000 steps): Furniture for the player’s Secret Base

7) Glass Workshop

On the southwestern foothills of Mt. Chimney is Lavaridge Town. It has a hot spring which is a hit with the local old people who claim it calms nervous tension, relieves aching muscles, solves romantic problems and attracts money. Next to the hot spring, other people relax by burying themselves in warm sand. This is likely based on sand bathing on Ibusuki Beach in Kyushu, Japan where people bury themselves up to their necks in sand warmed by Kaimondake Volcano.

8) Lavaridge Hot Spring

Sootopolis City

This city is built on the crater of a volcano. It’s nice that so many of the locals are happy to tell you about the geological history of the city. Many years ago, an underwater volcano erupted and soon emerged from the sea. Over time, its crater became filled with rainwater and then the city was built on the inner crater wall. Sootopolis City can only be accessed with a flying Pokémon or by diving underwater and through the crater rim. Inside the city, several houses and steps are built on the steep crater walls.

9) Sootopolis

Pokémon

It’s not just Hoenn that’s volcanic. There are a few volcanic Pokémon too!

  • Slugma: This slug-like Pokémon is composed of magma and lives near volcanic areas to prevent itself from cooling down (if it does cool down, its skin will harden and become brittle)
  • Numel: This camel-like Pokémon has a volcanic hump on its back filled with 1200 °C magma (this is a similar temperature to the lava erupted by Kīlauea in Hawaii)
  • Camerupt: This Pokémon evolves from Numel when it reaches level 33. It has two volcanoes on its back which erupt every 10 years
  • Groudon: One of the three legendary Pokémon in Emerald (the other two are Rayquaza and Kyogre). Towards the end of the game, it can be found sitting in a lava lake inside Terra Cave. The location of Terra Cave moves across Hoenn, which suggests that lava lakes are common throughout the region

10) Volcanic Pokemon

Results

  1. Aesthetics: Bearing in mind that this game was released back in 2004, the graphics are pretty decent. The bubbling animation of the lava really brings it to life, there’s animated steam in volcanic regions, and the visual effects when walking through ash are nice. Score = 8
  2. Accessibility: Chimney is very accessible. If you’re not able to make the climb up the steep Jagged Pass, the cable car will take you right to the top so you can easily explore the crater. Also, there are lots of places where you can walk right to the edge of lava lakes. Score = 9
  3. Viscosity: This is a bit hard to rate as there’s no flowing lava in the game. The lava lakes bubble quite vigorously so viscosity seems to be low. Also, Groudon manages to swim quite easily through a lava lake. Score = 9
  4. Death: Several people stand right next to bubbling lava lakes without any ill effects even though they don’t have any protective equipment. Luckily it’s not possible to jump into any of the lava lakes. The glassmaker on Route 113 has a terrible wheezing cough due to ash inhalation – Mt. Chimney does have negative health effects but it doesn’t seem to be lethal. Score = 1

Overall plausibility: Other than the not so hot lava and the weird meteorite-powered eruption subplot, overall plausibility is not so bad. The hot springs and sand bathing are based on real-world examples. The ash causes realistic respiratory problems. Score = 5

***

If you enjoyed this review, do check out others by myself and guest blogger Ed McGowan.

Happy gaming 🙂

From Dust: a volcano-videogame review

Hello, welcome back volcano-videogame enthusiasts. I am on the PC this time with a game I missed out on playing when I was younger, so was happy to pick it up and give it a go.

From Dust is a short but fulfilling “God” game mixed with survival. You are the “breath”, an omnipotent spirit/God that a masked indigenous peoples command to help them repopulate and survive across 12 unforgiving, hazardous islands. You use the mouse to move the breath around, and click the right button to pick up either certain plants that store water and then burst and can cause a flood if grouped together, or burst forth flames and cause a wildfire or explode when exposed to heat, creating craters. You can also pick up water, lava, earth and the village totem. With the left button, you either drop the object or the element.

You are up against a number of hazards: flooding, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and wildfires. With every village successfully built (if the terrain is not too flooded with water or lava), you gain “powers” drawn from the totem to help make the island more habitable for people. In addition, “shamans”, can be sent out to reclaim lost knowledge in how to keep their villages safe from lava and water, and when in action, these take the form of an instrumental ensemble. Once all villages are safely built, you have to make safe passage for 5 people to the next area via a subterranean cave.

Apart from the sadness by accidentally killing the people and/or destroying villages, this game demonstrates some parts of theory and practice in my area of social volcanology in the form of indigenous knowledge, geoculture and geomythology. I will explain these terms throughout the piece.

As per usual, I had a criteria out of 10, 1 being unrealistic and 10 being realistic:

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Accessibility
  3. Viscosity
  4. Death
  5. Overall plausibility

Results: I could not complete the last level, but learned a lot.

There is quite a bit of lore within this game which you can unlock if you either find a “lore stone” and have a shaman go study it, or when you which 100 % on the vegetation metre, which slowly increases when your people plant seeds on the earth.

From Dust(30)From Dust(34)

We as humans have been living on a hazardous planet for a long time, so we naturally accumulate information about our environment in order to continue survival. Some societies live well in these environments and some do not, it depends on loads of individual, household, community and national tolerance levels. “Indigenous” or “traditional” knowledge would include an understanding of important environmental factors that people would benefit from and know what “signs” to look out for, such as animals, geology, territory and vegetation, covered within this game.

In game, there are further examples of this knowledge, as well as “geoculture” and “geomythology”:

From Dust(1)From Dust(31)

Geoculture refers to the cultural ways in which people cope with geohazards (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis), whilst geomythology are the stories, folklore, myths and legends surrounding recent to ancient hazardous (not necessarily geohazard) events. For example, some believe that the myth of Atlantis relates to an eruption of Santorini (Thera) during the Late Bronze Age and destroyed the Minoan settlement of Akrotiri. We do like to make things dramatic though, so more often than not, the stories you do hear are exaggerated in some way and the truth can be buried. Look no further then modern-day newspaper reports when any sort of hazardous event occurs or is forecast.

Let us jump into the level that first introduces us to tsunamis. I had built my first village in the level when the warning that the Shaman sensed the danger of tsunamis. I did not have long to find the “repel water” lore stone to protect the village. It was a close call between the Shaman getting back and teaching the villagers the song associated with repelling water and the tsunami arriving, but the village survived.

From Dust_gif4

In reality, we cannot escape a tsunami in such a way. But they do occur with their signs. Tsunamis are rare and can be triggered a number of ways. They are triggered by either:

  1. A high magnitude submarine earthquake for example, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.
  2. Mass movement (landslide) either from land or sea.
  3. Volcanic eruptions can also cause tsunamis from flank collapse (2018 Anak Krakatau), pyroclastic density currents entering the sea (1815 Tombora eruption) or associated landslides.

This is all down to what a difference between what a tsunami and a tidal wave is. Whilst a tidal wave is controlled by the gravitational pull of the moon/sun, a tsunami is generated when there is a large displacement of water.

Tsunami graphic

In the game, the tsunami wave appears uniform and only singular, in reality, the waves can be numerous and of different heights and speeds. This what makes them particularly dangerous and unpredictable. However, besides our early warning systems, the most immediate visual sign to know that the first tsunami wave is coming is called “drawback”. This is when the water significantly recedes from the coastline. When this happens, the only solution is to seek high ground and preferably, the highest ground possible. Take the screenshots below when playing a level later in the game, the wave nearly tops the volcano. The highest recorded tsunami wave we know of is the 524 metres (1720 feet) wave that hit Lituya Bay in Alaska, after an earthquake and subsequent rockfall in 1958.

However, we can survive them. If the warning signs are heeded, we can act quickly and get to the highest ground possible. For indigenous knowledge, this even resulted in Simeulue Island in Indonesia surviving the 2005 Boxing Day tsunami.

I will now move onto the volcanism in this game, starting with my first encounter.

From Dust(7)

The volcano starts off a safe distance from the people, so was able to build the first two villages easily enough. However…then it erupted. And then kept on erupting and slowly, the lava flows were solidifying when it met the only bit of water between the villages and the volcano. Then of course, the lava started flowing over the older lava, leading to wildfires and chaos. But that was not all…the game decides to throw me into a panic and tell me a tsunami was coming. It was intense, to say the least (and this was not even the most difficult level!)

From Dust_gif1

Lava reaching the sea and solidifying to create new land is widely documented, most recently with the 2018 eruption of Kilauea on Hawai’i. The small vent to the left of the larger volcano is also quite realistic. Smaller (or sometimes bigger) cones/mounds/domes/craters that form at the side or on the flanks of the main vent of a volcano are called parasitic cones. These are formed similarly to the main vent, whereby there is a weakened pathway for magma to ascend and sometimes can erupt either in unison or interdependently from the main vent. Here are some of the ones of Mt. Etna, Sicily.

InkedCones of Etna_LI
Left to right: Monte Nova, La Ghetto, Old South East and New South East (Scarlett, 2014)

For another interesting look of the volcanism portrayed in this game, we move to another level, where one volcano is doing a lot of things.

From Dust(17)

Here is a volcano that has two parasitic cones and two fissure eruptions (left and right of the volcano) happening at the same time. The fissure on the left gets more problematic:

Fissure eruptions occur when there is a propagation of magma away from the main vent and then erupt, usually forming multiple linear fissure vents, sometimes also called “spatter” cones. Some examples of fissure eruptions from Iceland include the 2014 eruption of Bardabunga-Holuhraun and the 1783-1784 fissure eruption of Laki, whose magma source was from the volcano Grimsvötn. What is missing is the amount of volcanic gases these types of eruptions give off, which can be deadly. So much so, that the Laki eruption caused high mortality rates in Iceland and across Europe due to the widespread famine caused.

You think this was it and all I had to deal with, right? Well reader, it was not.

From Dust_gif3

Although not as pronounced in the game, the outpouring of lava from the two parasitic cones reminds me of “breached cones”:

InkedBreached cone_Etna_LI
Breached cone of Mt. Etna (Scarlett, 2014)

Breached cones are the result of lava flowing out from underneath a cone, leading to the undermining and collapse, of the cone. Eruptions that produce some sort of cone, could be at risk of them becoming breached.

Eventually, once I had established settlements at all the totems, the volcanic activity suddenly stops and then it rained, quenching all the lava. I thought I was safe to send people onto the next area but nope. I got this message:

From Dust(21)

I will move on to a level that took way too many trial and errors to overcome, but had flooding as a more central part of the level. This one includes both flooding and a lot of lava happening side by side one another.

From Dust_gif8

Most of the time, it was the breach of lava on the left that resulted in a game over screen. This was resolved by using the lava to build up a wall and channel the lava flow:

From Dust_gif6

Barriers, either human-made or natural, can divert flow directions to a certain degree. For human-made barriers however, you cannot just stick a barrier in place. You would need to not only understand the rheology of the flow, its current and anticipated flow path, the effusive and cooling rate and among other physical volcanology properties. Then eventually, if you actually have the resources to build, place and maintain the structure(s).

After figuring out the volcano side, I then had to sort out the constant flooding side. With this I certainly paid attention to the topography and the dried riverbed in between the village and the totem. I mainly just had to form a barrier/path for the people. I was quite impressed with the topographic detail, more often than it, because of the way water can erode the landscape, it is sometimes easy to pick out a river valley not just on the ground, but by satellite too.

From Dust_gif7

However, sometimes it can be hard to determine if you are situated in a flooding zone. This maybe because rainfall patterns have changed or like from the example in this level where it comes from a lake, water levels have dropped that they are a less rare occurrence. Essentially, a change in climate.

Natural hazard management in a multi-hazard context is complicated and takes a long time. On top of the multiple hazards one volcano can produce, it takes perseverance. But sometimes, resources are limited, so sacrifices (some known now, some later) have to be made. In the case of one my gaming sessions of this level, sacrificing one village to lava as one was being built in the bit closer to the flooding. It requires some serious decision making, weighing up the costs and benefits. This essentially what risk management is.

I will quickly move onto another bit of volcanism before finishing off on the last level. The second to last level starts on an isolated island, a small bit of lava erupting in the middle of the ocean and a message that something huge once happened here. Most of the lore/knowledge stones and totems were either fully submerged, or on isolated bits of land.

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The eruption happening was slowly building up, and then another eruption started next to it. The difficulty was ramped up, so these eruptions were intense and built up quite quickly.

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Even though they were relatively close together, both volcanoes became quite different things, and this is what is so interesting about volcanology in real life! Despite all the knowledge we know about how volcanoes behave, there is still so much we do not know.

The volcano on the left (cut off in the second image and in the background of the third image) erupted the most, forming a lava lake at one point but then built up at an astonishing rate, having continuous Strombolian activity with lava flows. The other volcano on the other hand, formed a crater lake (not to be confused with the volcano Crater Lake in the US) and then eventually, stopped erupting (extinct?) and became a water source.

Water tables, the boundary between saturated and unsaturated ground, are found within volcanoes just like anywhere else. Below the table, is called an aquifer but for a volcano, the top of the table is called a “phreatic zone”, if magma reaches this zone, you are likely to get hydromagmatic eruptions. This can naturally lead to river valleys and maybe crater lakes, like at Mt. Ruapehu in New Zealand.

So, last level displays another type of volcanism and one I have not had the chance to complete yet, because it was too difficult!

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I was thinking, “Okay, no worries, the rain will not come straightaway, I can at least build one village”. Oh how I was wrong.

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The rain and the water plants were relentless. It was more problematic than the lava. I was essentially in an active caldera crater lake, apart from there was nowhere for the water to drain. But, I would like to end on a real life example that has fascinated me ever since I learned about it.

On the Indonesian island of Java, lies a caldera called Tengger Caldera. Within it, are several volcanoes: Mt. Bromo, Mt. Batok, Mt. Kursi, Mt. Watangan and Mt. Widodaren. Only Mt. Batok is extinct and there was an eruption from Mt. Bromo earlier this year. What blows my mind is that within this active caldera, people live within it. Not only that, they thrive. My PhD was looking at coexistence and adaptation in the Caribbean, and I used Tengger as the positive aspects of achieving coexistence. It is down to many complex factors but overall, it is down to the geoculture, how they heed warning signs and how they turn a negative, into a positive.

After this long review, let us go through the categories and give a score out of 10.

  1. Aesthetics: 7
    • It is a beautiful game, regardless of the “last gen” graphics. There is enough detail for the landscape and mechanics for water flow. For the lava, you do see a difference in colour with the outside of the flow being darker, meaning it is cooling, whilst the inside remains orange-red, to indicate that it is hot.
  2. Accessibility: 6
    • You can direct the people closer to the volcano/lava but then a stop and turn around when they realise I am directing them to danger. Or sometimes, the terrain is too hard to traverse that they do not go at all. Smart.
  3. Viscosity: 7
    • The lava flows are very runny and in my opinion too runny to be pahoehoe, but I can appreciate the rheology. The flows do interact with the surrounding terrain and topography.
  4. Death: 8
    • There were numerous occasions where the people were swallowed up by the lava or swept away by a flood/tsunami. Whilst death by drowning is realistic for water, I am uncertain it would be quite the same for lava.
  5. Overall plausibility: 8
    • Bringing together the different types of volcanism and landform features, plus the mechanics of how the tsunamis, floods and water behave with the landscape and topography, in addition to the people’s geoculture and geomythology, and even having a God/Spirit help protect them from harm, I would give it a pretty high score.

You have now reached the end of this review, which I believe is my longest to date. For other reviews by myself or guest blogger Ed McGowan click on the following:

Until the next time, happy gaming 🙂

Jazmin