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.

SOTTR (2)

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”.

SOTTR

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.

SOTTR_gif(1)

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.

SOTTR_gif(3)

 

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.

SOTTR_gif(5)

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.

SOTTR_gif(4)

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

SOTTR_gif(6)

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:

SOTTR_gif(7)

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.

SOTTR_Nov19(13)SOTTR_Nov19(14)

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.

SOTTR_gif(8)

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:

SOTTR_gif(9)

And then this:

SOTTR_gif(10)

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?

SOTTR_Nov19(21)

SOTTR_gif(11)

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

SOTTR_GCaiman Gif (2)

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.

From Dust(46)

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.

From Dust_gif10

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!

From Dust(63)

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

From Dust_gif12

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

 

 

Pokemon Silver: a volcanism-videogame review

We have another volcano-videogame review, with Ed McGowan (he has been busy whilst I have been finishing up my PhD). Last week, he wrote about submarine volcanism in Subnautica and previously wrote about Death Mountain in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Today, we have an exciting review from an absolute classic: Pokemon Silver.

***

It’s time to dust off an old classic for this volcanic game review! In my case, dust off the very first game I ever played, back on my Pikachu/Pichu Gameboy Colour that both console and cartridge still work to this day!

Pokémon (originally called ‘Pocket Monsters’) is one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises. First released in 1996 with Red and Blue (and Green in Japan), a new generation of games or a graphically updated remake of an old game is released nearly every year, with high anticipation from fans of all ages. Each installment adds new Pokémon to catch to the ever-growing list, currently at 809 (with more being added in November’s Sword and Shield release) and new mechanics for traveling around or battling players, just to keep an old franchise fresh.

In the case of Pokémon Silver, it was released alongside Gold and later Crystal as the second generation of the franchise in 2000. Set three years after the events of the first generation, it provided fans with a whole new region to explore and for the first time, new Mons to catch. One of the greatest inclusions in the game is that once you managed to beat all the gym leaders and Elite Four (the best trainers in the region), you were granted access to the region from the previous games! Still to this date it is the only Pokémon game to give players access to two regions within one game. For us, this gives us more to play and more to volcanically review!

As always, 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: Real-life ‘the floor is lava’ is a health and safety nightmare! And it’s a shame we missed the volcano erupting.

With every generation of games there are always two important questions to consider: which version to get (each has two or three versions with an exclusive legendary or two to catch), and which starter Pokémon to choose (always a choice of the fire, water or grass-type). The starter choice always divides players, leading to heated arguments amongst fans. In the case of the second generation to me there is only one choice: the fire-type Pokémon, Cyndaquil!

Described as the ‘fire-mouse’ Pokémon, Cyndaquil is actually based on an echidna, with flames replacing the spines of the real-life species. On a biological side note, the echidna shares a common ancestor with the platypus, and both species are the only living mammals that lay eggs. But the real selling point for Cyndaquil for me (other than its cute awesomeness) is that it eventually evolves into Quilava and later into Typhlosion. As evident from the origin of their names (‘lava’ and ‘explosion’), these two are described as ‘volcano’ Pokémon. Need I give any other reason to choose them?

Thinking about it now, Cyndaquil’s evolutionary line was probably the first indication of my eventual academic path to volcanology. Just goes to prove those early years in line have a big impact on where you eventually end up…

Johto Region

Because Pokémon games focus more on walking around through tall grass and in caves in search of wild Mons to catch, and the low graphic quality of GameBoy games, volcanism is hard to find within Silver. It took me until the final gym of Johto (the region you explore at the start) to find actual lava!

It would seem that in order to try and display a sense of power, the dragon-type gym leader Clair thought it would be a good idea to have a maze puzzle with an actual flow of lava within his gym… While lava is a very cool way to display power, I don’t think the health and safety risk assessment conducted on the building would be worth the effort. Although this is 20 years ago, so maybe safety was a lot more relaxed back then?

My main concern is that in order to cross from island to island, eventually making your way to Clair, you have to push boulders on the second floor down holes for them to land in the lava and form a bridge. Given the small size of the gym, many of the trainers working there are definitely within splash range of the molten hot lava, especially the red-haired woman in the top right (she most certainly got burnt).

The other concern is the bubbling gases being released from the lava. If these gases are the same of those released from volcanic lava then it is water vapour (fine), carbon dioxide (less fine), sulphur dioxide (not good), hydrogen sulphide (really not good) and much more. With an air inside the gym like this, I’d expect the trainers to either be wearing a gas mask, or the building must have an excellent ventilation system!

Kanto Region

The best volcanology, as it seems with most video games is left inaccessible until near the end of the game. Not that it was due to a lack of trying. In the first game you could access Cinnabar Island, which is a known active volcano from the animes, via Route 19. However, as that would let you reach the island too quickly in Gen 2, the developers came up with a clever way to stop you: have a volcanic eruption block your path…

While volcanic eruptions can indeed block off roads and paths as demonstrated in these amazing time-lapses from Hawaii’s volcanic eruptions last year, the Route Officer states the boulders were “hurled”. Volcanic bombs (volcanic rocks launched in the air with force during an eruption) can be found a very long way from their source vent. However, it seems highly unlikely these boulders are volcanic bombs when you look at how far away Route 19 is from Cinnabar Island.

Unfortunately, it is near impossible to gauge distance in any Pokémon game, as nothing is to scale. It takes less than a minute to cross a major city, which would take more than an hour in real life. The animes have a more realistic view on distance as pointed out by the meme above, taking a number of episodes to walk a distance that takes mere minutes in the game. However, again it is extremely difficult to calculate distance in the animes to relay over to the games.

What can be said for sure, is that Route 19 is too far away for the rocks blocking access to be volcanic bombs. However, the eruption could have easily caused tremors and/or a tsunami that would have shook the coast of Route 19, and destabilised boulders in the cliffs. Therefore, the eruption was the cause of the blockage, just not in the ‘hurling’ way the game describes.

After taking a very long route around, you can finally reach what remains of Cinnabar Island. Once a thriving island with a gym, mansion to explore and a state-of-the-art laboratory that could resurrect fossils! Now it is no more than a rocky outcrop with a Poké Centre that actually had to be rebuilt after the eruption.

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It is in this remaining Poké Centre that one of the occupants says that it’s been one year since the eruption, which is how I know the timing of events, and how poor communication is in Kanto as the officer at Route 19 didn’t know if the ‘Cinnabarians’ were safe or not…

However, the other indicator that it has been some time and that the volcano has resumed is dormancy is the small lake that has formed in the remains of Cinnabar Volcano’s crater. Crater lakes are actually common sights within volcanic craters, as they form a nature depression made of impermeable volcanic rock. Based on the size of the volcano, lava domes can continue to grow and result in an island within the lake. Here is an example of me at Taal Lake in the Philippines. There is a small lake on what is known as ‘Volcano Island’ in the middle of Taal Lake, which is within Taal Caldera (a very large volcanic crater). As a result, there is a lake on an island, in a lake, on an island, in an ocean… it sounds more confusing than it really is.

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The eruption of Cinnabar Island highlights the very real danger that those living on or near volcanoes across the globe today. The advancing lava forced nearly the entire island’s inhabitants (only 3 remained) to permanently leave and thus made homeless. It even forced the fire-type gym leader, Blaine, to set up his gym in a sorrowful cave on the Seafoam Islands off the east coast of Cinnabar (the big red dot to the right on the map above).

And now I shall end my main review with a very deep conversation with the Generation 1 rival, Blue (this definitely went right over my four-year old mind when I first played this game).

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And so, for the results of Pokémon Silver’s critiquing:

  1. Aesthetics
    • It’s hard to fault Silver’s poor graphics. These were the first portable games in full colour, designed using the standard graphics of the era for the GameBoy. So, taking that into account, I’ll give it a 7. I can tell what lava is, it looks like a hot, bubbling liquid. Cinnabar looks like a newly formed mountain. That’s all that is necessary.
  2. Accessibility
    • Silver is pretty poor for accessibility. You can walk around the base of Cinnabar Volcano (in the graphic remake, SoulSilver, you can climb the volcano, but this review is purely based on the original 2000 edition).
  3. Viscosity
    • The lava within Claire’s gym shows a very large amount of degassing, producing large lava bubbles. This not only indicates a large volume of gases passing through the lava, but also that it is of a low viscosity. If the viscosity was high, then the bubbles would pass through slowly and less bubbles would be popping at the surface (unless there was a ridiculous volume of gas being pumped into it).
  4. Death
    • Straight up 0. That woman in Claire’s gym should be in the hospital from lava burns, but no, she just stands there waiting to battle the next passer-by.
  5. Overall plausibility
    • Claire’s gym is a definite 0. The health and safety regulations alone to have a lava floor with no barriers in a building accessible to all members of the public would shut the place down straight away.
    • The boulders blocking route 19 are a 6 for plausibility. As said its highly unlikely that they are volcanic bombs flung all that way. However, falling cliff boulders triggered by volcanic tremors, or a tsunami during the eruption could be likely.
    • Cinnabar’s newly emerged volcano and the destruction of the town I’d give a 9. This is a real risk that can and does happen in the real world. You only have to read up about Hawaii’s fissure eruptions from last year to see the truth.
    • So, (0+6+9)/3 = 5 on overall plausibility.

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Subnautica

Welcome back volcano-videogame enthusiasts, and a big welcome back to Ed McGowan with his second review. Do check out his amazing review of volcanism in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, if you have not already.

***

Subnautica is a fantastic survival game, giving you all the classic traits of gathering resources and maintaining health metres with one additional twist. This survival game is played underwater! Because an oxygen metre and giant scary fish were what was lacking from the other games in the genre… After crash landing in the ocean of an alien planet excitedly named 4546B, you quickly discover that the only way to get off the planet is to take the plunge, catch every little fishy swimming by, collect all the scraps of your crashed ship and all the locally found resources in order to dive deeper into the depths of the planet before being allowed to blast on out.

In order to keep players contained without the use of invisible walls at the edge of the map, the developers of Subnautica used geology! As it happens, the shallow waters you crash land in are an anomaly on 4546B, which for the most part is made up of an 8200 m deep dark ocean, full of super scary Ghost Leviathans, known as the Void. The geology used to form the shallow waters is actually a 2×2 km wide volcanic crater. Having erupted a long, long time before arriving, the volcanic crater has formed an oasis for small organisms to thrive, much like Yellowstone National Park today (only less tourists and more fish). There is actually one submarine volcano in the Solomon Islands that is known to be home to large fish such as sharks! Check out the brilliant video!

Armed with the knowledge the game contains an exciting volcano to explore it’s time to dive in deep (quite literally) into the volcanology of Subnautica!

Continuing with the standard criteria out of 10, 1 being unrealistic and 10 being realistic for:

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

Results: I wouldn’t recommend swimming in an active volcano, even in a videogame…

One of the first times volcanism is encountered in Subnautica is in the form of black smokers. Found in the deeper regions of the volcano’s surface, the smokers have a multitude of benefits. They are an easy to find source of rare mid-tier resources that are needed to build many tools and submarines. The rubies in particular can be used to make treated glass that is needed to build the ‘Seamoth’, a small, maneuverable sub.

Another use of them is as a source of thermal power for your base. When starting in the shallows solar power is the first form of power. However, deeper down the solar panels become insufficient, thus alternative sources must be found. With enough thermal plants I was able to keep my sizeable base going.

Black smokers in real life are a fascinating biome. Being so rich in organic elements, they are believed to be the site of the origin of life. Our original ancestral home, although certainly not one we can easily return to. They are commonly found at depths of 2500-3000 m on the sea floor, much deeper than in Subnautica, and heat the nearby seawater to temperatures exceeding 400 °C.  First discovered off the coast of the Galapagos Islands at an oceanic spreading ridge in 1977, these unique smoking structures were teaming with life. This life is like none found anywhere else. Feeding off the nutrient rich fluids, giant tube worms, clams, shrimps and much more thrive in large communities.

The other interest in black smokers most people have is in their economical value. The hydrothermal waters emitted from black smokers bring rich metals with them, forming what are known as ‘Volcanic Massive Sulphide’ (VMS) deposits. Such deposits contain lithium (like in Subnautica, no rubies though… they got it half right at least), lead, copper and zinc to name a few. However, due to the extreme depth that most black smokers are found it, it is not cost effective to attempt any mining of them, for now…

Any real volcanism isn’t seen in Subnautica again until much later on in the game. Having discovered all the blueprints for the large submarine (called a Cyclops), the exo-suit (Prawn Suit, shown in all its glory below) and maxed their ‘depth’ modules to allow them to venture to the depths of the game, you are finally ready to enter into the volcano itself!

After hunting around the various caves dotted around the map (or looking at the map on the game’s wiki) for one of the four entrances into the fabled ‘Lost River’, a briny river home to lots of scary monsters, you are finally able to reach the volcano’s inner depth, humbly named ‘Lava Zone’.

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The ‘Lava Zone’ is essentially the still active magma reservoir/chamber of the volcano, of which the thermal heat generated has been fueling the hydrothermal waters emitted by the black smokers above. Molten lava is flowing all around and cascading down pretty waterfall (or should I say lavafalls?) with a very low viscosity, suggesting a more basaltic composition.

The rest of the area is covered in cooled lava (top of fig a) that show the distinctive form of the outer lava cooling and forming a hardened shell, while the still hot molten lava bursts out before cooling and forming a new hardened shell, brilliantly videos and posted on YouTube here (ignore the title of the video). In other places where the graphic artists decided to change things up, the lava shows a more ropey texture (bottom of fig a). Both other these textures (the shells and rope) are characteristic of pahoehoe lava (fig b & c), a basaltic lava type who’s name means ‘smooth’. This lava is very commonly associated with Hawaii, along with a’a (spikey) lava.

While a very cool and exciting scenery to swim around in, it is sadly an unrealistic one for the setting. When lava meets water, it is very quickly quenched, adding the pressures found 1300 m below sea level and the possibility of actual flowing lava underwater as seen here is very slim, even if it is in the heart of an active volcano. Instead of pahoehoe lava textures, the basalt would form pillow lavas. The high temperature of the lava would also vaporise the water, producing a fair amount of steam, which is lacking from Subnautica’s visuals.

Here is a great video of a real submarine volcanic eruption:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmMlspNoZMs&frags=pl%2Cwn

The other unrealistic part of the Lava Zone (and I’m very thankful of this), is the massive half dragon, half squid monster living within the volcano (fig a)… I thought I had found a lava bomb produced by the volcano (fig b), until I realised more were being vomited up by the leviathan as a form of attack. And if that wasn’t enough, he tried to eat my submarine. And so, on that scary note I will end my critical scoring of Subnautica. Onto the summaries!

Aesthetics

    • A solid 9 with the combined look of the black smokers, the texture of the molten lava and the pahoehoe lava.
  1. Accessibility: 7
    • The black smokers are pretty easy to get to. One upgrade to a seamoth’s depth module and you can easily start building a base around them. The Lava Zone on the other hand is tricky to find. Both trying to find the entrance to the Lost River and navigate down to the Lava Zone takes a lot of upgrades and time. But it is meant to be the final chapter of the game, so I’ll let them off.
  2. Viscosity: 7
    • The fast-flowing lava indicates a low viscosity matches the basaltic pahoehoe texture of the cooled lava. However, if you attempt to swim in the lava the viscosity is so low it’s like water, which is not what you would expect from real lava.
  3. Death: 0
    • Dying in lava is really difficult in this game. I died many times and not once from burning to death in a molten river despite trying. The only thing that happens is the screen becomes slightly patchy with burn marks and you slowly take health damage.
  4. Overall plausibility: 6
    • An underwater Yellowstone is highly plausible as proven by the Solomon Islands and that one regularly erupts, so isn’t even as safe as 4546B’s caldera. The black smokers are accurate with the thermal energy and lithium deposits, not so much with rubies. Low viscosity flowing lava matching the pahoehoe texture is another tick to Subnautica.
    • However, despite all the accuracy I’m forced to give a low score of 6 because of the implausibility of free-flowing lava, with no steam underwater. Close but no cigar.

***

If you enjoyed this review, remember to check out other reviews of volcanism/geology in videogames and also what is on my to-do list:

 

The Dark Geocultural Heritage of Volcanoes

*Content warning*

Near the end of this post when talking about Vesuvius is an image of skeletons.

Earlier this year, my first ever peer-reviewed journal article came out. This was the result of collaborative work as a visiting researcher in the archaeology department of Aarhus University, Denmark. I’m going to summarise the thought process behind the piece and what we focused on with the four volcanoes we chose.

How did it happen?

Well…the power of Twitter! Felix contacted me as he was interested in combining my knowledge of social volcanology with his interests in cultural heritage in some way. So with a little planning, I ended up living in Denmark for 5 months, working on this paper as well as finishing writing up my PhD, was fun.

Why dark/geo/cultural heritage?

From the start, we knew that volcanoes and their landforms have a special place in societal culture around the world. We revisited the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a United Nations report published in the early 2000s. The assessment was focusing on the consequences of ecosystem change for human wellbeing, looking at the different “services” ecosystems provide, but we decided to look at one particular area called “Cultural Services”. Cultural services of ecosystems provide more “invisible” and most of the time, immeasurable benefits for humans. This include education, aesthetics and sense of place.

Categories of cultural ecosystem services

When I looked at this graphic, I could see that volcanoes can fit into all of those subcategories one way or another. So, for the cultural heritage side of volcanoes, we kept this graphic in mind throughout. But we also wanted to keep in mind that heritage is also contested, and fed into the way we looked at geoheritage and dark heritage as well. This is because in some cases, it is clear that geo and dark heritage, are also contested.

For geoheritage, we kept it broad to include geoconservation, geotourism and geoethics as well. Volcanoes are essentially geological landforms, so it was important to understand what they represent in these disciplines. We wanted to focus on what makes volcanoes geoheritage, how can the geological features be persevered and used for educational purposes, the reasons why people engage in geotourism in volcanic areas and also any ethics attached to these sites, especially if volcanic eruptions had recently occurred and impacted communities in some way.

Lastly, Felix suggested I read up on dark heritage and dark tourism. And boy, it was fascinating. Dark heritage is related to places of human trauma and destruction of the built environment, whilst dark tourism is exploiting these sites for profit by having people visit. In the literature, many acts of violence in public and private spaces are considered as “dark”, for example: battlefield sites, abandoned prisons, places of genocide, assassination and even ghost walks. I recommend visiting the “Dark Destinations” portion of the Dark Tourism website to find out how dark on the “darkometer” scale sites are and just get lost in the dark history of some well known and not so well known sites around the world.

What was interesting is the reasons why people visit these sites. Most go to pay their respects to the deceased and learn the reasons why it happened. Some sites become popular because of TV series and movies. What is even more interesting is how these dark places are contested by being uncomfortable, unwanted and/or dissonant heritage for some (usually locals) but interesting attractions for tourists.

We kept the reasons into why people visit dark heritage sites, how they are contested and how can these places be used to educate in our minds. We believed through dark heritage, we found our way to bridge the gap between cultural and geoheritage, as volcanoes are naturally dark sites with the death and destruction they can cause.

Why these volcanoes?

We decided to suggest different reasons why Soufrière Hills Volcano on Montserrat, La Soufrière on St. Vincent, Vesuvius in Italy and Laacher See in Germany are good examples of dark geocultural heritage, by provide a few points for each and how they could be integrated. We decided to arrange them in chronological order from recent to deep history, with me focused on the Caribbean, whilst Felix focused on Europe.

I have always wanted to research Soufrière Hills, so jumped at the chance to focus on this volcano as the second Caribbean example to focus on. For the geoheritage, I focused on the volcanic hazard processes. For the dark heritage, the destruction of Plymouth and the legacy of colonialism was the focus whilst the cultural heritage, I chose an interesting perspective and focused on the significance of St. Patrick’s Day and how it connects those who were displaced by the volcano’s activity.

Abandoned Plymouth_Lally Brown1996
Plymouth, Montserrat (Brown, 1996)

As my PhD was looking at La Soufrière already, I focused on colonialism, slavery and the death and destruction caused by the volcano as dark heritage. For geoheritage, I focused on how the island, not just the volcano, provides great geological outcrops to show volcanic island processes but also the growing ecotourism sector of the island surrounding the rainforests and beaches. For the cultural heritage, I focused on the indigenous and archaeological sites.

La Soufriere trail_Jazmin Scarlett_2016
La Soufriere Rainforest Trail (Scarlett, 2016)

Vesuvius and the 79 AD eruption makes Pompeii and the surrounding areas destroyed the perfect case study for dark geocultural heritage. Felix focused on the fascination and popularity of the archaeological sites of showing what it was like to be a Roman during those times as cultural heritage. For geoheritage, the focus was how the sites destroyed by Vesuvius helped the volcanology and archaeology disciplines develop. The dark heritage was the destruction and preservation of bodies.

Pompeii
Tourists taking pictures of Vesuvius 79 AD victims, Pompeii (Scarlett, 2018)

Lastly, Felix talked about the volcano he has researched: the Laacher See. This is a Maar Lake in Germany, and erupted near the end of the last Ice Age approximately 12,900 years ago. It was a caldera forming eruption, causing damaging local pyroclastic density currents. It also disrupted the social networks of European hunter-gatherers, effecting how tools were made. This was the focus of the dark heritage, whilst the surviving roman and medieval sites and underground beer storage were the cultural heritage. The geoheritage was the ignimbrite outcrops and the chronology of the event, as it provides great learning points for volcanologists.

Laacher See
Laacher See, Germany (Sauer, 2018)

What next?

I would love to explore this concept in more detail for other volcanoes, seeing how geoheritage and cultural heritage can be integrated and used for education through the notion of dark heritage. But only time (and money) will tell where this will be. I believe the “lessons learned” approach really does benefit not only locals and volcanologists, but can be a sombre reminder for tourists in how dangerous and beautiful volcanoes can be.

Jazmin

*Featured image taken by Tabassum (2019).