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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.

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*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!!

My experience at a conference: VMSG2015

If we are to get technical here I have actually been to another one which took a conference-like approach (minus the posters). The volcanologists at Lancaster hold a ‘Volcano-Ice’ day, which brings together volcanologists who study all aspects of volcano and ice interaction. I remember most of it was centered around Icelandic volcanism but I cannot complain. I mainly went along to it to see what research was going on and it was a day to escape coursework. I enjoyed it.

Now for the Volcano and Magmatic Studies Group (VMSG) conference it was not only fun, informative, socialable but I think it was character-building for me too. One thing, I had never been to Norwich before so that was an experience to try and find the hotel I was staying at, another was stepping outside my comfort zone and having over 200 people under one roof. I am an odd person, I find being surrounded by large numbers of people uncomfortable. But I managed.

A lot of notes I have to look back over...
A lot of notes I have to look back over…

Oral and poster presentations (including my own poster) captured a whole spectrum of research. Geology, geochemistry, petrology, geophysics, serious games…that is not even all of it, it was such a rich diversity. But that is what volcanology is. You have researchers that study volcanoes and use different ways to study them. Basically, one volcano is viewed and interpreted in so many different ways.

My poster on risk perceptions was a little different (it was mainly based on socio-psychological concepts) but I never felt my work was undervalued or treated differently. Quite the opposite in fact. Volcanologists who had expertise outside my area of interest were reading my poster, asking questions and generally seemed to appreciate how I approached my research.

It was interesting to observe the social dynamics of the conference. People who knew each other really well tended to congregate together. People by university also clustered together. But at the same time, there was mingling (slipping in some magma science there!). It did find it slightly overwhelming that the larger volcano research universities greatly outmatched the tiny number of volcanologists at my university (1 academic, me and 4 students) but I suppose that does not matter, it is what makes us different as a little volcano research group (if you could even call it that?).

It reminded me of Collectormania (or any other kind of Comic Con). Full of people passionate about volcanoes (comics) but have preferences to sub-disciplines (different comic companies and characters). Minus the cosplay and fangirling. Okay that was perhaps a silly comparison.

There was also a workshop on volcanic risk so being interested in it, I went along. There was a smaller number of people and there was certainly great discussions happening around the various topics covered in the workshop. I really enjoyed that and I even added to the discussions. Everyone had different experiences to share and exchange. I will remember for a long time the experience of a woman who was involved in responding to the Mt. St. Helens eruption in the 80s.

As an early-career researcher I found it so valuable to hear the experiences of those who are well established in this vast discipline. I just hope that one day I contribute just as much.

I am looking forward to the next VMSG in Dublin…it is another place I have not been to!

Toodle-pip

Jazz

2014 Volcanism

What an explosive year 2014 was for volcanism (pun intended). In this post, I have picked 1 volcano for each month, those that made the international news and some that did not make it that far. It will be brief but I will provide some hyperlinks to places where you can read on further if you wish.

UPDATE: Glossary page has been updated to give a brief definition of some terms that are found in this post.

January

Cleveland, Chuginadak Island
Date: 28th December 2013 – 2nd January

Cleveland
Image by Anon. (2014). Taken from here.

Well I never heard about this one at all! According to the Alaska Volcano Observatory, an explosion was detected on seismic and infrasound instruments and increased surface temperatures following the explosion were also detected. The third explosion occurred on the 1st January and the next day the aviation colour code was changed to orange. The volcano erupted again in February.

February

Kelut (Kelud), Java
Date: 13th – 15th February

Image by Dzakaaul H. (2014).
Image by Dzakaaul H. (2014).

Ah yes I remember this picture. Satellites first detected the eruption plume at 23:09 local time (16:09 UTC) and parts of the ash plume reached just a short of 30 km. The large amount of heat emitted caused the plume to be buoyant over the equilibrium level which is pretty impressive but what I find interesting is that this buoyant plume did not produce any significant pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) especially since the eruption forced its way through a 2007 lava dome.
The eruption was classified as a 4 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) making it a subplinian eruption. It was one of the largest eruptions since the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle eruption in Chile which happened in 2010.

March

Pacaya, Guatemala
Date: 5th March 2013 – ongoing

Image by Conred (2014). Taken from here.
Image by Conred (2014). Taken from here.

It is one of the most active volcanoes in Guatemala and can be easily seen from the capital, Guatemala City. Its common activity is strombolian activity and lava flows. On the 6th-7th and the 9th-10th March this year, small explosions generated ash plumes, a minor avalanche and during the 8th-9th lava flows were observed along with steam plumes rising 200 m above the crater.

April

Tungurahua, Ecuador
Date: 22nd November 2010 – ongoing

Image by Anon. (2014). Taken from here.
Image by Anon. (2014). Taken from here.

This volcano is impressively persistent. On the 2nd April, it was reported that there was an explosion in the morning and at night, with large incandescent blocks tumbling down the flanks. The explosion in the night ejected incandescent blocks and produced an ash plume. On the 4th, an explosion lasted for 5 minutes and generated PDCs.
Reports about the eruption continued throughout the month. Here is a news article where you can learn what Tungurahua means. Media can be informative sometimes.

May

San Miguel, El Salvador
Date: 29th December 2013 – 28th July

Image by Zelaya E. (2013). Taken from here.
Image by Zelaya E. (2013). Taken from here.

It is amazing how often national news does not make the international stage.
On the 10th May, the volcano emitted small amounts of ash that fell as less than 1 mm, but on the 19th, the activity increased greatly. There was an increased frequency and magnitude of gas emissions and small explosions along with ashfall. San Miguel continued the on/off activity until July.

June

Pavlof, Alaska
Date: 31st May – 23rd June

Image by the Alaska Volcano Observatory (2014). Taken from here.
Image by the Alaska Volcano Observatory (2014). Taken from here.

Pavlof is the most active volcano in the Alaskan region (current status is minor activity). Its eruptions are mainly strombolian to vulcanian and sometimes produces lava flows. In the above picture, to the right of Pavlof is its twin, Pavlof Sister.
On the 3rd June a steam plume was observed and PCDs generated a low-level of ash. Seismicity remained constant during this time and elevated surface temperatures were also observed. Lava fountaining was seen on the 4th. On the following day, two strong explosions were detected along with lightning. Activity continued until the 9th but at a diminished rate. Pavlof erupted again in November.

July

Sinabung, Sumatra
Date: 15th September 2013 – ongoing

Image by ATAR/AFP/Getty (2014). Taken from here.
Image by ATAR/AFP/Getty (2014). Taken from here.

People should remember the news story back in February. Evacuations were ordered when there was unrest in September 2013 but unfortunately there were still fatalities.
Activity was still persistent in July, with a white plume reaching up to 2,000 m above the crater during the 8th-14th July. The plume also changed colour between brown and blue (which is pretty awesome). PDCs were observed on the 10th, extending 3 km south and further PDCs on the 12th also travelled south by 3-4 km.
A lot of sulphur dioxide emissions (which causes the blue illumination) were emitted from Sinabung during this month: 1,252 tonnes/day between the 8th-14th July and up to 3,796 tonnes/day during the 11th to the 18th.
Although in February it was a ‘big’ eruption, it has still been categorised as a VEI 2 eruption. So 2 magnitudes smaller than Kelut.

August

Bárdarbunga, Iceland
Date: 29th August – ongoing

Image by Norddahl E. and Norddahl B. (2014).
Image by Norddahl E. and Norddahl B. (2014).

The media were all over this one in Europe because everyone thought it would be like EyafjallajÖkull back in 2011. I remember the excitement within the volcanology community and especially on my Masters course. The media left it alone when they learned it would not produce the same effect as Eya which is a shame because it is one beautiful eruption. One of the reasons why the eruptions differ from one another is due to the role of the ice.

September

Ontake, Honshu
Date: 27th September – ongoing

Image by BBC News (2014). Taken from here.
Image by BBC News (2014). Taken from here.

People started blaming the Japanese volcanologists for predicting the eruption that killed 57 people. Read my supervisor’s take on why it could not be predicted. I shall say no more, I can get passive aggressive another time.
A phreatic eruption occurred just before midday with only 11 minutes of precursory tremor and uplift detected beforehand. The eruption generated a PDC that travelled more than 3 km south and an ash plume that ascended 7-10 km and drifted east.
The eruption is still ongoing with waning strength but still…it has effectively disappeared from the international news has it not? (I am sure most people can detect my problem with the media…in another post I shall explain).

October

Turrialba, Costa Rica
Date: 29th October – 8th December

Image by BBC News (2014). Taken from here.
Image by BBC News (2014). Taken from here.

Seismic activity began in late September and in mid-October a 3 day volcanic earthquake swarm occurred. Degassing intensified on the 28th and 29th emitting sulphur dioxide up to 2,000 tons/day. A small phreatomagmatic eruption occurred at 23:10 and lasted for 25 minutes, ending with a strong explosion. This strong explosion generated an ash plume that rose 5.8 km and drifted westsouthwast.
I find it odd that some of the news articles say it is the ‘biggest eruption for the volcano in 100 years,’ because…well the Smithsonian has recorded it was categorised a VEI 2, with the previous 2 eruptions in 2013 and 2012 also at VEI 2. Like I have mentioned for Kelut already, that eruption was 2 magnitudes bigger.

November

Fogo, Cape Verde
Date: 23rd November – ongoing

Image by BBC News (2014).
Image by BBC News (2014).

I have been quite disappointed with the international media coverage of the destruction caused by Fogo, which last erupted in 1995.
This volcano’s destruction has impacted the island’s economy severely in the short term and long term. Like the activity update says, the consequences is the destruction of property, infrastructure, utilities, agriculture and tourism. It will take a considerable amount of time to get the destroyed villages of Portela and Banaeira to rebuild and for livelihoods to return back to normal. That is even if those that have been displaced are willing to return. The BBC provides some powerful photos of those displaced from the eruption.

December

Nishino-shima, Japan
Date: On-going

Image by the Japan Coast Guard (2013).
Image by the Japan Coast Guard (2013).

It is the baby volcano! The latest update is from the 27th December but the continuous Strombolian activity and lava flows has been building up the island throughout the year. Since November, the volcanic island has doubled in size. This blog post describes its evolution, comparing it to Surtsey off the coast of Iceland very nicely.

One to watch

Mayon, Philippines

Image by Esplana M. (2014). Taken from here.
Image by Esplana M. (2014). Taken from here.

A friend brought this volcano to my attention and I can see why: during August, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology reported the growth of a new lava dome, ground deformation, increased volcanic gas emissions, earthquakes and rockfalls. From mid-August there was emission of white steam plumes. Inflation was observed in the edifice throughout September, along with the first signs of incandescence in the crater. Since then, the alert level has remained on 3 (out of 5).
She is gonna blow at some point.

Of course, the 12 volcanoes featured were not the only ones to erupt this year. About 60 or more eruptions happen each year and some are continuously erupting without any sign that they will stop. 2015 is a new year for volcanoes, with some grabbing the spotlight and others not so much.

A Q&A Sunday (brother suggested it because it rhymes) will appear in the near future and a glossary page will appear soon after and will be updated often.

Toodle-pip

Jazz