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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!!

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.

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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:

 

Lego Marvel-at-this-lava (and DC Supervillains)

If you have never played a Lego game, please do so. My first was the original Star Wars trilogy and it was a delight. Anyway, Lego has a small series surrounding the DC and Marvel comicbook universe, and the two most recent ones: Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 and Lego DC Supervillains are just great.

Lego Marvel has the storyline of the time-travelling villain Kang creating his own world by bringing different bits of the Marvel universe together (Xander, one of the cities in The Guardians of the Galaxy becomes neighbours with Post-Ragnarok Thor’s world Asgard). In the DC game, the Justice League’s evil counterparts, the Justice Syndicate, takeover and the villains try to stop them and in equal parts be jealous that they are better villains than them.

Volcanism was limited but still raised some interesting questions! As before, I had some criteria out of 10, 1 being unrealistic and 10 being realistic:

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

To navigate levels (only contributed to a little bit of the data for both games), I went back and made sure I was a character that could fly and regenerate health (e.g. Raven and Wonder Woman for Lego DC and Captain Marvel for Lego Marvel). Enemies were only a minor nuisance here. Most volcanism evidence was in the hub worlds, so had total freedom to explore.

Results: quality over quantity.

Lego Marvel Superheroes 2

Volcanism in this game is only limited to the Post-Ragnarok area/level. Still found some interesting stuff though.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 (1)Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 (5)

Lego Marvel Superheroes_gif (1)

A nice cone, with extensive lava flows and an ash plume drifting towards the Xander area. The ashfall was a bit unrealistic, as it only restricted to the Asgard area and did not drift. In reality, if when a volcano erupts and it produces ash, wherever the wind blows, the ash goes and falls. Relatively small eruptions that produce ash plumes can still travel far (such as the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland). Bigger eruptions that produce ash plumes however, can circle the whole world! An example is the 1812 eruption of Tambora in Indonesia.

slide_2
Image from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8634944.stm

If we look at Asgard itself, there are some interesting stuff.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 (3)Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 (3)

First is the interaction between the built environment (well…what is left of it anyway) and the lava flows. The top image shows an almost complete burial of a building and in between two lava channels and the bottom image is lava flowing under a stone bridge.

The building looks like it was destroyed by the volcano emerging right there or, buried by volcanic ash and/or pyroclastic material. Cannot say for certain what scenario it is but, all are plausible. The capital of Montserrat, Plymouth, is buried by pyroclastic material/ash/lahars (Figure a). The town of Armero is buried by lahars from the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia (Figure b) and lava from Mt. Etna in Italy, has buried buildings in the past (Figure c).

The intact stone bridge with the lava flowing underneath it interests me. Like in figures a, b and c, buildings can withstand the heat and pressures of volcanic hazards to a certain extent. What is the melting point of bricks? No idea, but luckily someone wrote a paper on it! According to Kanolt (1912), various types of brick have the following melting points (I had no idea there are so many types of brick):

  • Fire clay: 1555-1725°C (2831-3137°F)
  • Bauxite brick: 1565-1785°C (2849-3245°F)
  • Silica brick: 1700-1705°C (3092-3101°F)
  • Chromite brick: 2050°C (3722°F)
  • Magnesia brick: 2165°C (3929°F)

The melting points of “stone” really does depend on it being either sedimentary (e.g. sandstone), metamorphic (e.g. marble) or igneous (e.g. basalt). Whilst I cannot say for certain what “type” of stone is used in Asgard, I am going to say it can withstand the high temperatures of lava (700-1200°C/1300-2200°F). On a similar note, last image from Asgard is this tree that had survived:

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 (4)

If not in the direct path of lava or another volcanic hazard, trees can survive. Even still, if they are, some trunks and branches can survive but lose their vegetation, but some do not lose their leaves! For example, these trees from one of the 1902 pyroclastic density currents of La Soufrière St. Vincent (my masters and PhD study area) stayed standing, but lost their leaves:

yorym_ta123-001.jpg
From Dr. Tempest Anderson’s collection at the Yorkshire Museum, UK: https://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/collections/collections-highlights/temptest-anderson-explorer-and-surgeon/

Here are some other photos of the lava in/around Asgard and also what it looks like in the level attached to this area:

Also, this is how you die in both Lego games if you are a character that can regenerate health (characters that do not die instantly):

Lego Marvel Superheroes_gif (2)

  1. Aesthetics: 7
    • It is not bad, flow mechanics behave alright, got cooler bits forming on top of the lava, volcanic ash is visible but like Spyro, there is a lack of flow complexity.
  2. Accessibility: 9
    • In the Asgard portion of the hub, it is easy to get to if you use a flying character. The background in the level attached is not accessible.
  3. Viscosity: 7
    • Pretty good, no complaints but again, lacks complexity and seems too runny for my liking.
  4. Death: 1
    • This is Lego. It really is not in the realms of realism other than that you can die. On a similar note…Lego is plastic. It should just melt. But…I suppose that would be pretty graphic for a children’s game.
  5. Overall plausibility: 8
    • I am quite happy with it! Apart from the lack of flow complexity, the way Lego dies and the volcanic ash not impacting outside of Asgard that brought the mark down.

Lego DC Supervillains

Since this was done by the same company, there is not much difference apart from what volcanism is on offer to explore. All of it is restricted to the world Apokolips (pronounced apocalypse): home of Darkseid (kind of DC’s equivalent of Thanos), Granny Goodness (who is not good) and the Female Furies (who will hurt you).

This place is insane. It is essentially a city living on/in (?) a lava field. I just…I love it. I do not know where to begin. Okay, I will start with that this is not plausible in the slightest. What is feasible are all the lava falls, which I touched upon in my Spyro post. The texture/viscosity of them is like honey which is kind of similar to pahoehoe lava. I cannot say for certain what kind of material the buildings are made out of. It is metal, which was established in my Spyro write-up of being able to withstand the temperatures of lava. Cannot possibly imagine what it took to incorporate the lava into the infrastructure and if the eruption was happening before, during or after the construction of the city.

The background landscape in the first two images is bit confusing, but does reminds me of a fissure eruption landscape. Think 2018 Kilauea in Hawaii and 2014 Bárðabunga-Holuhraun in Iceland. Fissure eruptions produce extensive and complex flow paths, so if the sharp rock features were there before, it works out fine. Not entirely sure if an eruption could form them.

What is also interesting is the texture of the solidified areas in the last image. Looks like basalt lava textures but also like a moonscape? Also not sure about the glowing rock in the background. Unless it is ‘A’a or blocky lava (see photo below) that has been emplaced and is just taking a long while to cool.

hawaii03
A’a lava on Hawai’i. Image from: https://www.lpi.usra.edu/publications/slidesets/hawaii/slidepages/slide_03.html

I have saved the best (in my opinion) to last:

LEGO® DC Super-Villains (8)LEGO® DC Super-Villains (10)

Look.at.that.ropey.lava. It is my favourite bit of lava flows. It is very common and associated with pahoehoe lava. The texture forms when the upper crust of the flow starts to cool and behave like elastic, with the flow underneath creating the folds before it solidifies. It is just so awesome.

Pahoehoe
Image taken by Burtner A. (https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/pahoehoe)

Out of the games I have revisited so far, only this game has made an attempt to diversify in the representation of lava flow texture complexity. Give more me diversity!

  1. Aesthetics: 8
    • I am a sucker for pahoehoe.
  2. Accessibility: 9
  3. Viscosity: 9
    • One extra point for the pahoehoe. Bonus point for effort.
  4. Death: 1
  5. Overall plausibility: 9
    • Extra point for the pahoehoe! I love it okay?!

This has been fun, I can strike one more off the list. I promise the next game I do is Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

In the meantime, happy gaming!

Jazmin

Etna putting on a show

Because of the whole faff of the Oscars (honestly, why it was headline news I’ll never know), some may have missed something awesome: Mt Etna in Sicily started producing Strombolian activity at a new scoria cone at the Southeast crater last night.

Here is a link to a very stable live video feed of the ongoing eruption, the featured photo is a screenshot of tonight’s activity. Enjoy!

Jazmin