Monday, September 12, 2016


Bays, harbors, the seven seas, the open ocean: waterways connect and yet also separate the world.

I remember playing Cid Meier's Civilization games, many years ago, and having a love-hate relationship with oceans. On one hand, water-touching areas meant ports, which meant better access to exploring the the world. On the other hand, early-game play meant that oceans were barriers, limits.

This was a consistent pattern in games, actually: Final Fantasy VII, before you could cross water, it was a frustrating (if necessary) blockcade that eventually turned into open-world exploration later in the game; Chrono Cross, starting on a large island, with islands all around that you just couldn't explore (yet); even Legend of Zelda, Wind Waker, where the game is all about open-world sea exploration begins with being unable to leave your starter island.

Of course there's a reason for having a starter area. It's where you learn the rules, the functions, the basics. Your starter area teaches you what you need to survive in the greater universe and helps you level up enough that you won't immediately die the second you step out of your home base.

The new face of interstellar travel?
And the next few areas help you level up further, until you finally achieve your go-anywhere pass.

It's not far off from planetary exploration, either. Just substitute water for space and you have Kingdom Hearts. Or... Earth today. Makes you wonder, is humanity closing in on another Age of Exploration?

And if we're leveling up for open-universe exploration, what'll we find next? Guess we have to craft a few cross-universe ships before we can find out. Or whatever we use.

Hey, maybe we'll Stranger Things it instead of space travel, and discover the reason we've spent so long leveling is that there are some, uh, stranger things our descendants are about to encounter in other dimensions.


  1. Exactly right. Those islands, in the way you describe them as protected places to learn the basics, might loosely be called "Threshold Guardians" from the mythological Hero-cycle described by Joseph Campbell.

    When George Lucas grabbed onto the idea in the first Star Wars movie, the planet of Tattooine was a Threshold Guardian for Luke -- keeping him safe and letting him learn the basics before flying off into the galaxy itself. In the same way the family of his uncle were also Threshold Guardians, and so were the Imperial stormtroopers at the local trading posts who kept a modicum of law and order. Luke would have to step up to and then get past each guardian in its own way before he was ready to enter the galaxy at large.

    I like the idea that humanity might "Stranger Things" the experience though -- learn to go inward instead of outward, and find there are other sentiences (or sapiences) that are approachable during the inward journey. There's a bit of a mix of H.P. Lovecraft there swirled up in a psychedelic shamanism of Tim Leary or Robert Anton Wilson.

    1. I never thought of that interpretation of the starter islands as threshold guardians, but you're completely correct! Lightbulb moment!

      I've actually read a few dimension-hopper books lately, such as The Long Earth (Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter). Not many, but a few. Not many that offer a psychedelic look at dimensional travel, though. That would be interesting. I'd read a Lovecraftian horror that can only be reached through a certain state of mind...