The Science of TerraGenesis Podcast: Christmas Magic (Bonus Episode)

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Hey, folks. Today I’d like to share a post I made on the TerraGenesis Facebook page in December of 2016, just a few months after TerraGenesis was first released. I was sitting in a cabin on the North Island of New Zealand with my wife and my mom, enjoying the disconcertingly warm weather and dreaming of where this journey might take us in the years to come. Some of our oldest players may have read this post already on the Facebook page back in the day, but given the fact that the community was much smaller back then, and the fact that mathematics NEVER goes out of style, I thought I’d share it again. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas I hope you’re having a wonderful day, and as usual, happy terraforming!

So, I don’t think it’s going to come as a great galloping shock to hear that the guy who single-handedly designed and created a science-based planet simulator app is a bit of a math nerd. But what you may not know is that I also happen to be a HUGE Christmas nerd. I look forward to it all year, and it holds a very special place in my heart.

So, in honor of one of my favorite days of the year, let’s do a bit of holiday number crunching!

In December of 1990, SPY Magazine published an article written by Bruce Handy and Joel Potischman called “Santa Math.” In it they calculated just how fast Santa Claus would have to travel to visit every child’s home on Earth in a single day. Their conclusion was a staggering 650 miles per second. In TerraGenesis we use metric, so that’s 1,046 kilometers per second. 

But of course, this is TerraGenesis, and we don’t care about boring-old Earth. We want to hear about Mars.

On average Earth and Mars are about 225 million km apart, so at that rate Santa would need to fly at his top Christmas-speed for 215,105 seconds (or almost 60 hours) just to get to Mars. Venus would be 45 hours away, the Moon would be just 6 minutes away, and the moons of Uranus would be just over a month of hard flying for Rudolph and the gang.

Of course, a Martian day isn’t the same length as an Earth day. It’s close, but it’s about 40 minutes longer, or about 3% longer than an Earth day. That means Santa has more time to work once he gets there, albeit not much: instead of going 1,046 km/s he’d only have to go 1,015 km/s. I suppose every little bit helps.

Except, Mars is also a lot smaller than Earth: surface area 145 million square kilometers, as opposed to Earth’s 510 million. That’s only 28.4% the amount of ground to cover, meaning that between the smaller surface and the longer day, Santa would only have to go about 27.5% as fast to get the job done on Mars (about 288 km/s), for a similar population.

But then, why assume a similar population? The original “Santa Math” article assumed 91.8 million households eligible for a visit from Santa. In 2015 the average American household included 2.54 people. What’s the population of your Mars in TerraGenesis, divided into households of 2-3 people, relative to that number on Earth? Use this formula to figure it out:

[PopulationRatio] = ( [PlanetPopulation] / 2.54 ) / 92,000,000

Then you can figure out how fast Santa would have to go on your particular Mars using this formula…

[SantaSpeedKm/s] = 288 * [PopulationRatio]

Share your Santa speeds on Facebook and Twitter and see how they compare! And for bonus points and super-nerd cred, look up the surface area of the world you’re currently playing on and the length of its day, and use those in your calculations. Pro-tip: a day on Venus is longer than a year on Venus, so Santa has all the time in the world to glide through those sulfuric acid clouds.

Anyway, I’m just saying, math is cool. And if you happen to still be in school, you have my permission to tell your math teacher that the creator of the greatest app ever says that if they’re not teaching class by calculating the trajectory of reindeer across semi-spherical objects in space, they’re doing their job wrong.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a quote from the once-great Billy Mack: Christmas is the time to be with the people you love. Well corny as it may sound, I love all you folks. It’s no exaggeration to say that this community has changed my life, and I wake up grateful every day to be able to do this, and talk to you, for a living.

So whether you celebrate Christmas in your own home or not, just know that you’re getting good wishes and holiday cheer sent to you direct from Edgeworks Entertainment. I know some people get worked up about the whole “Happy Holidays” vs “Merry Christmas” thing, but to me a big part of the joy of this season is that almost every culture in the world has sensed the beauty of this season, and everyone has something to celebrate. So to everyone out there playing TerraGenesis all across the Earth and beyond: Season’s Greetings, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Midwinter, Glückliches Yule, Happy Kwanzaa, Feliz Posadas, Happy New Year, Jolly Boxing Day, Joyous Soyal, and a very, very Merry Christmas to you all.

That’s it for this bonus episode of The Science of TerraGenesis. 

Be sure to subscribe for more episodes, and in the meantime you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Discord, YouTube, everywhere really. You can also check us out at EdgeworksEntertainment.com and TerraGenesisGame.com, and don’t forget to leave a review for the podcast, it really does help!

And if you haven’t played it yet, be sure to check out TerraGenesis, it’s a free download on iOS or Android, and coming soon to Windows.

Oh, and one more thing: take a moment to check in on your worlds on Christmas Day. You might find a few unusual things waiting for you…

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Did ‘No Man’s Sky’ Redeem Itself?

No Man's Sky
When I first got wind of “No Man’s Sky” just weeks before its release in 2016, I jumped onto the caboose of that hype train and rode those glorious tracks into 18 quintillion procedurally generated sunsets.

No Man's Sky Rings
via Twitter / TerraGenesis

On release day, my coworkers picked up the highly anticipated title and decided to stream it for 24 hours straight — that’s how excited we all were for it — but by hour 2 we’d already lost interest; by hour 4 were so sick of the game we couldn’t bear to look at it anymore.

We weren’t alone — that hype train crashed and burned horrendously, but unlike a beautiful trainwreck, no one wanted to stick around and watch it. Steam had to issue countless refunds, and the game now holds the distinction of having one of the most disastrous launches in history.

No Man's Sky
via Twitter / Linalyx_

What happened?

We could place blame on the unfulfilled promises that lead to the overwhelming hype, such as lack of multiplayer, but a game doesn’t need such a feature to succeed if it’s good on its own. And while “No Man’s Sky”, on paper, had everything it needed to appeal to just about anybody — unique mechanic, beautiful graphics, and, of course, zooming through space discovering things — it was just missing… something.

No Man's Sky NEXT
via Twitter / Berduu

But what?

As I watched the title struggle for two years, I promised myself that I’d give it another go when it released a multiplayer option — out of principle, of course. So when “No Man’s Sky” NEXT came out, I finally caved and bought a copy of my own, jumping back on the hype train’s newfound tracks once again. Surely, adding multiplayer and the other promised features will fix this game, right? All rights have been wronged, and we can all play in peace now, right? Right?

no man's sky
via Twitter / PlayStation

Hmm.

Booting the game up two years later, I was still met with some same critiques along with a few new ones. I’m still a random explorer with a damaged ship and space amnesia, but now I have mini-objectives that, if not fulfilled, will result in death. Each mini-objective is barely explained, and understanding the controls seems to be a privilege, not a right. Nevertheless, I persisted, and managed to get off the first planet…

No Man's Sky
via Twitter / Berduu

…only to immediately land on a nearby moon and start another tutorial.

In a game that boasts endless exploration in the vastness of space, it’s frustrating to focus on something comparatively insignificant as my character not dying. Additionally, while discovering flora and fauna has to be my absolute favorite aspect of the game, there doesn’t seem to be much of a purpose to it besides gaining some credits. Am I furthering in-game knowledge of a certain species, or is this just for shits and giggles? And what’s up with the mining, AKA 300% of the game (with the remainder being not dying of course)?

No Man's Sky
via Twitter / RonanWills

Giving up on Story Mode, I boot up a new game on Creative instead. As I take a few snapshots of the nature that surrounds me and feed a few organisms, I’m reminded why I lost interest so quickly. I wanted to explore this procedurally generated universe, but with more purpose. I wanted to chart the stars with other players and look back on all our accomplishments on a shared map as we populated it with new worlds. I wanted to be a passive observer on some planets but actively settle others. I wanted to find flourishing alien civilizations mixed in with the lesser-evolved life forms.

No Man's Sky
via FaceBook / Heather E. Johnson Yu

Maybe that was too much to ask, but when a game promises something like infinite worlds, it’s easy to believe that the sky’s the limit when it comes to adding features.

Perhaps it’s this selling point that ends becomes one of its weaknesses. 18 quintillion planets sounds cool, but is it necessary? I keep hoping to run into another player’s base or some bustling city just by happenstance, but the universe is too impossibly big for that to be statistically plausible.

No Man's Sky Base
via Twitter / Linalyx_

Then again, there is a beauty to the overwhelming sense of loneliness this provides. Through all the ferrite dust mined, the sentinels avoided, the flora discovered, the fauna named, the bases built and the worlds visited, I’m obstinate in my goal to not only find a connection, but find meaning. What is the purpose of building a glorious home base, only to constantly travel many light years away from it? Why am I naming all of these animals if no one else is around to take value from my discoveries? Why bother pioneering through each planet if I can’t even map them? And why is my motivation to continue to eke out an existence in this infinite universe with no clear direction?

No Man's Sky
via Twitter / Linalyx_

Wait.

Why is this game exactly like life? Why are we here, what is our purpose, and what keeps us going as we climb over the next hill or jet off to the next world?

As I feed carbon to a strange creature and it starts to follow me, purring, I sit down and survey my base. I take a snapshot as the now friendly alien dances around me, seemingly without a care.

No Man's Sky
via FaceBook / Heather E. Johnson Yu

Playing with the lighting controls, I settle on a welcome stillness in the air, and as the sun rises over the horizon, I’m met with the beauty that can only come from a calm morning, a planet yet to awaken after a restful night. I take a photo to immortalize this feeling of “being in the now” and post it to social media, although I know no one will feel the joy I suddenly feel from this moment.

It seems silly, but in that one fragment of time, when everything was still and I could pause to take the beauty in, I was reminded of what I felt was initially missing.

No Man's Sky
via Twitter / RPGSite

Soul.

“No Man’s Sky” spoke to me in a way that only a fresh dawn can, and it healed me, if even for a little while. It reminded me to take in the beauty that is all around us and appreciate the small things that the universe throws our way. We may be lost in the desolate vastness of space, searching for meaning, but we’re always given casual prompts to stop and reflect on the beauty that is all around us.

No Man's Sky
via Twitter / lizaledwards

So, to Sean Murray and the team at Hello Games, a congratulations is in order — thank you for making such a beautiful game (but let’s work on that shared in-game map, eh?).

Feature Image via Instagram / nomansjungle