Asteroids pose a stark threat to Earth's civilization in this challenging retro-style arcade game. Direct your indestructible Orion atomic spaceship to deflect encroaching rocks. Protect our home planet for as long as possible!
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- Your ship can pass safely through the space occupied by Earth; use this to your advantage!
- Beware of the effect of gravity close to Earth.
- Spiral out of the gravity well, or rock your ship using your drive thrust to escape.
- Use deflected rocks to deflect other rocks when you can!
- Put asteroids in orbit with a slight deflection, and deal with them when you have time later.
- Orbiting asteroids are a liability, so don't leave them unattended for long.
Not only do we at Proxima Centauri Games believe that fun games can be enhanced by realism, but we also want our games to illustrate interesting topics in space science and engineering. Torino Warning is enriched by several science topics, though in order to construct a fun game, we had to make some significant concessions (see section below).
Gravity - The behavior of the game's gravitational force is indeed realistic, despite the game's unrealistic chosen scale, so it's very possible to see hyperbolic, parabolic, and elliptical orbits, all of which we learn about in classical mechanics, resulting from the natural manipulation of the asteroid trajectories during play.
Impacts - The idea of asteroids colliding with Earth is now the source of some interesting controversies. While it's universally acknowledged that these impacts do happen and have significant effects on Earth's ecology, to what degree specific impacts have played a role in specific extinctions, and how urgent the danger of impacts is, remain continuing sources of scientific controversy. Controversies themselves are of extreme importance to the practice of science, because they help scientists decide where further data-gathering and research are needed, to build up evidence that will bring the controversy to some resolution.
The name of the game itself alludes to the Torino Scale, a descriptive method scientists use for categorizing impact threats from asteroids in analogy to the Richter scale for earthquakes. The Torino Scale is chiefly a communications method, so the warranted level of public concern about an object can be clearly and easily indicated. The record for a Torino Scale rating is held by 99942 Apophis, an object of significant concern due to its size and trajectory. Apophis was assigned a Torino Scale rating of 4 before follow-up observations by astronomers collected enough precise information about its orbit to recategorize the hazard to a lower level.
Assuming we accept that the danger from asteroid impact is real and serious, we are faced with a really interesting and significant engineering problem (which our game just glosses right over) involving how we should in all practicality go about protecting our planet in an effective manner from impacts that could seriously mess up our civilization.
There's something of a moral problem as well, related to the defense against impacts: the technology useful to protect Earth from an approaching asteroid by manipulating its path is fraught with tremendous danger, either if a mistake is made, or if some malicious and nihilistic group were to use the technology so as to deliberately cause an asteroid to strike our planet. If you play the game, you are likely to see this effect: it's relatively easy for a player in a hurry to screw up and bump a rock in such a way that it hits Earth instead of passing by. Moving asteroids can be risky.
The Ship - Torino Warning's spacecraft is based on Project Orion c. 1960, the most durable and powerful spacecraft design people have ever come up with, buildable not just using modern industry, but the industries of half a century ago. Rather than chemical rockets, Orion was intended to be propelled using the putt-putt detonations of atomic bombs. This would obviously require a very tough and large spacecraft to absorb the energy of the detonations as momentum. Orion was never launched due to a combination of bureaucracy and quite sensible concerns about the atmospheric atomic detonations required to place the craft in orbit. However, rather than the tiny three-man capsules Apollo later sent to the moon in the 1960's, the Orion team was very seriously designing a spacecraft massing hundreds of tons, carrying a crew of thirty or more people, capable of traveling to Saturn and back in a two-year mission. If we on Earth really needed a tough and capable spaceraft urgently, using today's technology with zero fiction involved, quite possibly what we would build would be an Orion.
When creating any game, rather than a direct simulation, there are concessions that need to be made in order for the game to be fun. Our experience as MMO designers dictates that the fewer concessions in the design, and the more realistic you make your game, the more like "work" playing it becomes. For Torino Warning, we decided to separate the simulation from the arcade game fairly early in development. Our first project then became the simplistic arcade game. What follows is a list of the main concessions we had to make to keep the arcade game fun.
The Ship - The spacecraft is indestructible, because the game is about keeping Earth alive, not the ship (unlike the original Asteroids game). The ship is also way out of proportion to the size of the Earth, so the player can actually see what he's doing. It's also much more maneuverable, much faster, and capable of more acceleration than any realistic spaceship. The ship also requires no fuel, though a fuel-use variant to the arcade game is likely in a later, enhanced version. The particle effect representing the ship's thrust has little in common with a nuclear detonation in space, which would realistically appear more as a bright flash.
The Earth - So that the spin of the planet is visible during a game, providing visual appeal, the representation of Earth spins at a rate of one rotation every 72 seconds. However, it does rotate in the correct direction. Population values begin at the approximate population of the Earth today, in millions, but the rate of increase was chosen to reward the player for prolonged survival. The population losses for impacts were selected based on projections for very significant impacts causing widespread devastation, but do not take into account losses due to prolonged or post-impact effects such as secondary impacts, infrastructure breakdown, famine, or climate changes, all of which are also likely results of a major asteroid strike.
The Asteroids - The speed of motion of the asteroids was chosen so the player has appreciable time to locate, approach, and deflect the rocks. At accurate, simulation speeds for both the ship and the asteroids, the approach and deflection would need to be planned months or years in advance. Much as with the size of the ship, the sizes of the asteroids were chosen to allow the player to actually see the rocks and interact with them easily. For game purposes, the asteroids come in exactly three sizes (small, medium and large), rather than the power-law distribution realistically expected. All are greatly oversized with respect to reality: the largest asteroid size is comparable to that of the Moon, at the in-game scale of the Earth. Impacts (except with Earth) do not break pieces off the asteroids, and deflect them elastically, which is simply impossible. Approach directions of the asteroids are not biased by Earth's own motion through space, which should be the case.
The Environment - The motion of all objects is two-dimensional, for simplicity of camera handling and visualization by the player. We actually had to dumb down the math in many places to accomplish this, as both the mechanics and the game engine we employed operate naturally and easily in a 3D environment. The starfield is not representative of any view from near Earth, and to preserve visibility, the in-game light source is not representative of the brightness or direction of realistic sunlight. Lastly, Earth is not treated as an obstacle to the motion of the ship.