July 25, 2024

mMeteors hurtling at planet-destroying speeds, bright balls of hot gas, black holes from which not even light can escape: outer space can fuel nightmares, but for Céline Veltman, a 28-year-old Dutch game developer who spent her childhood with stargazing. , this is the stuff of dreams. She translates this wide-eyed wonder about the universe into a video game with the biggest ambitions: the creation of a solar system. Rocks collide with each other, chemical reactions take place: behold, a planet – and life itself – is born in the depths of the cosmos.

The bright, illustrative visuals of Curiosmos are more children’s picture book than Terrence Malick, an expression of Veltman’s aims for the project and the moment of inception. “I want to make everyone as enthusiastic about space as I am,” she says, talking exuberantly about supernovae and protoplanetary disks.

The idea came to Veltman in 2018 while visiting a friend with two young children. The youngsters would pester the developer for her iPad, so Veltman imagined what she’d like them to play: a “silly” game about astronomy, she thought, one that might “make them laugh” while he was teaching lessons. give the building blocks of life. self.

As Veltman explains from her artist studio in Utrecht in the Netherlands, with sculptures visible on shelves in the background, this whimsical space adventure relies on the rock-solid physics and programming of her colleagues, Guillaume Pauli and Robin de Paepe. Curiosmos is a game of interlocking systems capable of producing unpredictable outcomes: asteroids blow up parts of a planet to reveal a molten core; blowing clouds create the optimal conditions for plant life; before long strange, clumsy creatures start waddling around. There is a touch of 2008s Tracks in this primordial take on the life simulator, but the games of famed designer Keita Takahashi (specifically Noby Noby Boy and Wattam) are specifically referenced by Veltman, as she works with “goofy, out-of-the-box concepts”.

The task of translating the almost unfathomably complex secrets of the universe into play proved challenging. “Sometimes I almost regret it,” says Veltman, who relies on her own instincts about what important information to include. Magnetic fields are out; rings of rubbish are in. After all, she says with a wry smile, people need to understand that “planets can be fragile too – that they might just turn into a big pile of dust”.

While the subject matter might inspire a bit of existential dread, Curiosmos is designed to feel good in the hands of players — “a big part of the design,” Veltman says. Asteroids hurling around have a pleasant snap, and the terrain explodes with a satisfying pop. A hobby potter, Veltman understands the power of touch. Even the deforming planets of Curiosmos look like they’re made of clay.

Curiosmos also holds personal meaning for Veltman. “During development, I realized that I was sad to become an artist instead of a scientist,” she says. The game is her attempt to reconcile this tension, to “mean something in the sciences by creating art”.

Veltman hopes to have a similar kind (if not size) of impact on the educational YouTube channel In a nutshell, which translates wonky scientific concepts into videos of “optimistic nihilism” for 22.5 million subscribers. Curiosmos possesses a similar energy: it seeks to make the most far-flung, strange and uncomfortable mysteries of the universe “accessible to all”. Perhaps, Veltman believes, this could spark the curiosity of more than a few new stargazers.

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Curiosmos will be released in 2025 for PC, Nintendo Switch and smartphones

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