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Earth Primer (earthprimer.com)
170 points by dluan on Feb 4, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 30 comments

This is very cool indead. Reminds me of my time as an undergrad at uni, where one of our projects revolved around making a game/sim like this. Everybody else was trying to make 3D adventure games, but we were interested in "good quality" (I put that in quotes because I just went back to look at the code and shuddered) 2D games, that were more polished.

Our game was called "Land of Life" [0] (or Geco, according to the source code, not sure why). It was a basic, fixed size, isometric tile game. To start with, you are presented with a desert. The only thing you can do is add mountains, and then hit play and watch clouds form and move over the mountains. If you constructed your mountains well, you'd get nice oasis' with rivers flowing out of the mountains, and greenery around it. If, you probably wouldn't get any rivers, but would get some small shrubs.

From memory, the only heuristics about adding mountains were: You can only make a mountain bigger if there are a certain number of mountains of a certain size adjacent to it. It was a bit like game-of-life in that way, hence the name "land of life". This worked surprisingly well for constructing mountain ranges.

One main difference from our approach and the one linked to here is that theirs looks absolutely amazing and educational, whereas ours used heuristics that we dreamed up via trial and error.

[0] Screenshot (missing assets for river tiles, because I couldn't find the final source code) - https://raw.githubusercontent.com/pserwylo/land-of-life/mast...


Here is a screencast [1]. I still think it is nice how the first river which heads off to the top right (rendered in black due to no river assets) gets surrounded by trees because it is a source of water in the desert. This is not based on any geological/ecological/climate knowledge on our part, but was still fun to tinker with.

[1] https://raw.githubusercontent.com/pserwylo/land-of-life/mast...

This looks pretty great.

Getting closer to a world where The Young Lady's Primer is possible :)

I don't think the name similarity was a coincidence.

For context, The Young Lady's Primer is a fictional book in Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age sci-fi novel. It's a electronic choose-your-own-adventure book that tailors itself to the user, and is narrated by anonymized actors on the background (think mechanical turkey). It's highly interactive, in much the same way as Earth's Primer.

Is there any other fiction that explores the idea?

The Diamond Age spoilers follow.

One of many disappointments[1] for me past about 1/3 of the way in to the The Diamond Age was that the Primer didn't continue to exhibit new, interesting behavior. It seemed like the promise of the Primer at the beginning was that it would be a companion that grew with Nell and continued to react to what was going on around her, but past a certain point it's just a smarter-than-average interactive fiction edutainment game, so that the in-the-book scenes increasingly felt like digressions in to World-of-Warcraft-plus-math than anything really innovative (or narratively interesting for that matter), as they have less and less to do with Nell's immediate environment and don't change as she grows older, aside from the material getting more difficult. Even Nell often seems bored by it in the later chapters.

Maybe that's a subtle nod to how some video games have more resources put in to the first few levels to generate good reviews, then phone it in for the rest :-)

I'd love to see the idea of the nanotech educational book-companion (or similar) explored more fully. Those early scenes are so powerful.

[1] Oh man, that pages-long part near the end that exists solely for one character to tell us what another's motivations had been for the second half of the book, since there'd have been no way for the reader to guess otherwise. Closest I've ever come to punching a book.

Sounds like a Peter Molyneux game.

*Mechanical Turk

A Mechanical Turkey would be really great, something like the Rat Things?

That's really awesome. I'd love an app like that for the human body, electronics and more subjects.

Any plans for Android?

Depending on how the iPad reception goes, I will entertain the possibility of translations to other languages and ports to other platforms. I'm a one man show (despite having an excellent illustrator and composer and video producer), and have been working on this for over four years. This isn't a full time project for me right now, so I would have to enlist help.

It's really looking good, I would give it a try on Android. It looks like a nice way to blend knowledge and fun.

Chaim Gingold the creator of this is pretty awesome. Here's some more of his work http://levitylab.com/cog/

There's an interesting post on the motivation for this here, http://www.levitylab.com/blog/2011/06/geology-an-interactive... (note the post date).

Looks like the site is having some weird DNS problems (I'm getting a 'host not found' from the nameserver. Direct link to the video for anyone else having problems getting to it - http://vimeo.com/116182914

This is what the future should look like when it comes to learning materials in k-12 schools. $9.99 is worth it. Please keep it up and make other resources like this for other areas of science!

Bought this yesterday. My kindergarten son has been asking a lot about volcanoes, islands, and continents recently so this is a perfect fit. Good mix of learning with interactivity.

Great job! My child is going to love this. He spends time just tooling around Google Earth for fun. To be able to create volcanos and shape land is going to delight him.


The author has chosen some really great examples of engaging phenomena - rain shadows, plate tectonics. Very nice work.

That video is very elegant. Can you say what software/techniques you used to create it?

The trailer video was produced by Laura Kaltman. We scripted/wrote it together, and iterated it many times. Laura wanted to make a 16:9 HD video, but the iPad is 4:3, so many of the video captures were done with a special developer Mac version of the app configured to output at a much higher resolution and with custom screen layouts. (The Mac version, otherwise, looks identical—all the same GLSL shaders and GL code.) This enabled us to get big, high quality video for use in the trailer. Storyboards were vital for conceiving, refining, and communicating about the script. These were made in illustration programs.

Developing this video was one of the most important parts of explaining the project; from this effort came the web site and other materials. I've uploaded some storyboard PDFs to give some insight into this process. If there's enough interest I could share the 1st revision of the trailer—which didn't work in all kinds of interesting ways.

1st major revision notes: http://www.earthprimer.com/misc/Movie%20Rough%20notes%20v1.1...

2nd major revision notes: http://www.earthprimer.com/misc/Movie%20Rough%20notes%20v2.p...

Trying to figure out why 1st take wasn't working: http://www.earthprimer.com/misc/Trailer%20Notes%20Meta.pdf

Please do share the 1st version of the trailer. Seeing intermediate steps is always more insightful than the trying to back out the decision behind a final product.

(Oh yeah, and she used After Effects mostly, I think)

Thanks for the comprehensive feedback!

This is super cool. I can see this idea being used for other specialties.

So earth works by being controlled by a god?

Was my first though. I don't know if this is more in support of science or religion.

One could also think that while playing SimCity. It haven't gone through my mind though.

Well, there goes my afternoon.

I like to see how the Earth works but it doesn't run on the most popular mobile OS in the world. Sigh...

HN is probably not the place that can change it.


I'm disappointed too, but don't pretend to be bewildered. iOS has a smaller installed base, but it's much easier to produce something that will reliably run on all current iOS devices that all current Android devices. If you want maximum mobile exposure for minimum effort, iOS is unfortunately the way to go.

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