All posts by edmcgowan

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.


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…


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

Volcano-videogame inventory

For those of your who are new to this page, Welcome! This is where we (Jazmin Scarlett, Ed McGowan & Nadine Gabriel) review the volcanism within your favourite mainstream video games, highlighting what they get right and correcting what they get wrong!

It’s been awhile since the Inventory was updated and we’ve covered a lot of volcanism in video games since then, so its about time we added all the new completed reviews to the list.

If anyone has any suggestions of games for us to review, or you would like to review some yourself, please feel free to get in contact with us! We are open to all ideas and contributions.
Similarly, if you have your own theories on the volcanism in the games we’ve reviewed, drop us a comment.


Non Volcanic Reviews

In progress

Assassin’s Creed Origins/Odyssey

Odyssey_Foundry of Hephaistos (1)

Crash Bandicoot Trilogy

Crash3_Bone Yard (3)

The Elder Scrolls (Skyrim and Online)

Skyrim_Soltheim (2)
ESO (5)

Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves

Borderlands series


Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (part 2)
– This will be an extension of the first review as there is still much to cover, and not to be confused with a review of BotW2 (although that will be reviewed when its released)

To-do list

  • Mass Effect series
  • Dragon Age series
  • Legend of Zelda series
  • Starfox Adventures
  • Pokémon series
  • Sonic the Hedgehog series
  • Super Mario series

Happy gaming 😊🎮🎲

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

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!!