It was whilst playing around with Universe Sandbox, from Giant Army, that I was struck with an apostrophe. Or was it an epiphany? Either way, my Higgs boson moment hit me with all the severity of a well aimed astronomical projectile, after my eighth play with Universe Sandbox. God, allegedly, created the world, critters and generally the universe in seven days, correct? What did he do on the eighth? I’ll tell you, he got bored with Universe Sandbox and bought himself a Wii.
Don’t get me wrong, Universe Sandbox is a staggering feat of technical simulation, the level and complexity of the Newtonian physics and mathematical Pythagorian tongue-twisters that have been programmed into this, rather epic, development would put NASA boffins to shame. But the problem I found, was that after creating my own solar system, seeing what would happen to Saturn’s rings should a planet stray too close, or exploding the size of the Earth to Jupiter proportions, I got slightly fed up and decided to do the ironing instead.
There are many scenarios you can play around with in Universe Sandbox. Introduce a rouge star into our solar system and watch as the gravitational forces rip the system to shreds and cause Earth to hurtle off into the void. You can blow up the Moon, should you wish, and marvel at the graphical splendour of our closest neighbour as she splatters the Earth with debris. If you’re feeling particularly evil, then consider colliding our galaxy with Andromeda, the resulting cataclysm is really something to behold, and of course, there is the option to hurtle objects of varying sizes into poor old Earth. Or, for a spot of light relief, how about having a game of zero gravity pool?
Yes, although Universe Sandbox is a serious space simulator and is probably used by very clever astro-cosmo-ologists, or whatever they’re called, the developers have added that little extra to help spark the element of fun, which I think is a good idea, and an ideal way to demonstrate the effects of gravity to the likes of school children, for instance. The same physical laws apply in the ‘fun things to do’ categories as the rest of the simulation. A potential Stephen Hawking could visualise the effects of footballs, tennis balls and such orbiting a bowling ball, and cause havoc by altering the dimensions, mass and speed of the elements. Although it may sound somewhat odd, I did admittedly learn a fair bit regarding the dynamics that make up the cold of space.
The graphics are blooming great, zooming into a planet and comparing dimensions can give you a real sense of the scale of things. Each planetary body and object is beautifully animated, spinning gracefully as it wends its way through the heavens. The destructive scenes are quite sobering, especially after you begin to comprehend the enormity of the effects of gravity, but I was rather disappointed when throwing planetoids into Earth, the only result was a slightly lighter patch on the surface of our nicely rendered planet that faded over time. Maybe it’s the evil side of me that was craving for a spot of broken, B-movie planet that shattered away from Earth and collided with the Moon. The backdrop of the Universe is similarly spectacular, and when you view the galactic clusters or track the motion of the hundreds of comets, asteroids and meteorites, the graphical capabilities of Universe Sandbox shine.
But what about the boredom bit that I mentioned earlier? Well, like I said, once you’ve done all of the above and smashed Jupiter into the Earth, there is really very little do to and you’ll find yourself, despite the wonderful physics and graphics, leaving the Universe Sandbox icon to gather dust on your desktop. The addition of Steam related achievements are a nice thought, but sadly a short lived one.
Universe Sandbox is a very good simulation, impressive, graphically fantastic and a wonderful learning tool. But unless more content and user related homebrew simulations are added fairly quickly, then I’m afraid the community will be orbiting another gaming star fairly soon.
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