Humans have consumed our world’s resources as if they were infinite. However, Earth remains a finite planet. Without significant structural and behavioral change — the kind that are difficult to achieve en masse — the long-term consequences of our self-sabotage choices seem serious. In an upcoming BBC documentary titled Expedition New Earth English physicist Stephen Hawking estimates that we may only have 100 years to colonize a new planet to escape the extinction of our species.
It’s a huge challenge. Leaving aside the mechanical issue of planetary emigration, there’s the issue of where the hell are we going? The moon is an uninhabitable rock sphere where temperatures can drop below minus 200 degrees Celsius at night, low enough to freeze steel. Mars isn’t much more attractive. His air is unbreathable. Its soil is poisonous.
For centuries, astronomers suspected that there could be other planets in addition to the eight in our own solar system that, just maybe, could support human life. It was not until 1992 that there was a confirmed discovery of a so-called exoplanet, which was found using powerful telescopes and spectrometer technology. Since then, more than 3,600 exoplanets have been discovered. In recent years, computer algorithms have been able to sift through much of the vast amount of data collected by various satellites and telescopes hunting exoplanets, recently leading to the discovery of three potentially life-supporting planets in the relatively nearby TRAPPIST-1 system.
Aven Colony (released on July 25) is a city-building game that ignores the seemingly insurmountable issue of how humans can reach a habitable exoplanet to focus on the issue of how we can rebuild civilization from the ground up once we arrive. As in Sim CityWill Wright’s classic metropolis-building strategy game, you must manage the growing infrastructure of a human settlement as it grows from town to town to town and beyond. You must ensure that sufficient food, water and electricity reach your citizens.
Unlike in Sim Cityhowever, in Aven Colony you’ll also have to deal with plague-causing dust storms, cold, harsh winters where solar energy is limited and crops don’t grow outside, storms that produce building-gobbling lightning bolts as high as a mountain, eruptions that can spew deadly hydrogen sulfide gases, and of course the strange attack of a local giant sandworm.
“There are only a handful of movies and games that take on the challenges of building a colony on a truly alien world,” said Paul Tozour, co-founder of Aven Colony‘s developer, Mothership Entertainment. “But nothing quite resembles what we wanted to build: a game that takes you all the way from a small, vulnerable, fragile outpost in an exotic, alien world to a huge, sprawling sci-fi city full of flying drones and huge skyscrapers.”
Although the game has a sandbox mode, Sim City, Aven Colony is a more structured affair, with ten sprawling missions taking you through the various imagined challenges of setting up a booth in a hostile environment. Along the way, you’ll receive “Shype” calls from your team of advisors to teach you the basics and make sure your colony has the basic necessities for survival. Deeper into the story, however, you’re left to your own devices as you pounce on broad, difficult targets.
Aven Colony is therefore science fiction, but the fiction is based on reality. “While we do not strive for complete scientific rigor, most of the challenges you face are, Aven Colony have a solid foundation in science: provide enough food, water and electricity to your settlers, build enough storage space for your colony’s inventory, keep the air oxygenated in a hermetically sealed environment, and drill for resources to support expansion,” says Tozour To provide a foundation of hard science to the fantasy, the team headed to the door of Abel Mendez, associate professor of physics and director of the Astrobiology Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico, who has provided extensive advice on the game design.
Science vs video games
“My research focuses on developing theoretical models to understand the potential habitability of planetary bodies, including exoplanets,” Mendez says. Over the years, Mendez and his teams have created models dealing with ways to measure the habitability of exoplanets, while trying to understand other biologically relevant properties such as temperature. The data for these models is not fabricated, but comes directly from the Kepler mission, a space observatory launched by NASA in 2009 that has verified the existence of more than 2,300 exoplanets to date.
Mendez was delighted when he heard of Mothership Entertainment. “Every science fiction story becomes more believable with a good scientific background,” he says. “Games like Aven Colony not only entertain but also educate new generations about many scientific and technical issues. Exoplanets and their potential for life or colonization is a fascinating topic for decades and centuries to come.”
One of the first challenges for the developers was determining the astronomical and planetary properties of Aven Prime, the planet that would settle in the game. Mendez advised the team to explore the possibility of a planet with large crystals in its surface. We know that such structures are possible in nature because they can be seen on our planet, in remote locations such as the Cave of the Crystals in Naica, Chihuahua, Mexico.
“They require more special conditions to form on the surface all over the planet,” Mendez says. “For example, they could form on timescales of hundreds of thousands of years in a calm, shallow ocean that evaporated or emptied, exposing the crystals. Once these structures are exposed, they slowly become subject to wind erosion and meteorite impacts, so they won’t last forever.” .”
“A few of our colleagues were skeptical about the existence of the large crystals in our ‘wetlands’ biome,” Tozour says. “But when we started researching all the science with Professor Mendez, we found that there are at least some types of extra-solar worlds that can support anything we wanted to include in our game, including the giant crystals. Partly, of course, we understood the science behind what we wanted to build, but it was also partly wanting to prove our friends wrong.”
What amazed Tozour about his encounters with Mendez was the sheer number of planet types that could potentially exist in our solar system and beyond.
“It’s very easy to look at the current concepts of colonization of Mars and the moon and narrow your concept of colonization to that very narrow window,” he explains. “But other worlds are radically different, and we haven’t actually colonized anything yet. There are a million different parameters that can affect a planet’s habitability, including temperature, gravity, atmosphere density and composition, orbital cycle, soil chemistry.” , how much water is available, the size and brightness and color and stability of the local stars, the position within that solar system’s habitable zone and the shape of its orbit, and much more.”
He points out that every day we make new discoveries that dramatically increase our understanding of what is there.