Explore Strange New Worlds, Get Weird Emails: Extrasolar

By Alec Meer on March 4th, 2014 at 4:00 pm.

So, a clever thing happened before I’d even started playing the game which has me on Spoiler Protection Alert, and thus rather ill-placed to say useful things about Extrasolar. Added to that is that this planetary exploration game itself plays in real-time, which means I need to wait several hours for my interstellar rover to trek across miles of alien terrain before I can usefully report back on the unfolding adventure. Which does, of course, mean I’ve spent far too much of today starting a timer in a browser window, desperate to see what’s going to happen when it reaches zero.

Extrasolar is free, though optional paid upgrades are available. You should sign up while you wait for me to file a longer report. Though I do believe there are limited spaces. Perhaps you’ll find a way to get in anyway.

Extrasolar is – or at least, I think Extrasolar is – a game about sending remote orders to a rover exploring the surface of a distant planet known as Epsilon Prime. You’re in the employ of the eXoplanetary Research Institute (XRI), a private organisation trying to achieve what NASA cannot. It is seeking life on other worlds. This entails its crowd-sourced employees sending their rovers all over the place and photographing what they come across, to be sent back to XRI for analysis. This takes rather a long time, because it it science, not action-adventure. The thrill, I hope, is in the anticipation, but again I have some time to go before I can usefully report back on what this experience really is.

In the meantime, you will receive messages from people inside and outside XRI. There are hints that there is more than meets the eye to all this. There are hints that, behind the slow, careful exploration and photography aspect, this is also an ARG. I shall report back, later. My rover arrives at its first destination in four minutes. What then? What then?

Probably not a lot. Probably, I will receive a photograph of an alien landscape, if I’m lucky with alien plantlife in it. And yet, somehow I’m extremely excited.

Here are some scene-setting videos, but they purposefully reveal little.


More soon. Meanwhile, see if Extrasolar is currently accepting any new explorers. Again, it’s free, though you can optionally pay to upgrade the photographic capabilities of your rover (I’ve yet to ascertain how useful that will actually be, however).

Iiiiiiiiiiinteresting.

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17 Comments »

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  1. Kollega says:

    ARG, you say? And “xri”. X-R-I. Three letters. STOP THE PRESSES, HALF-LIFE 3 CONFIRMED!

    • kevmscotland says:

      Today that maybe true.
      Gabe is doing an AMA on reddit at 2pm PST. (10pm GMT)

  2. wererogue says:

    I keep wanting to tell people about this game but the ARG story is done so well that I want them to play it without knowing it’s a game. I had a ton of fun with it, and it’s the only free-to-play I’ve ever seen where the wait-to-play aspect not only made sense, but made the game more immersive.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    Been playing this about a week, it’s great.

    I’m sure some more spots will open up soon…

  4. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    I paid for the ‘cheaper’ option on this, if only because it grabbed me and I wanted to find out more.

    It gets more interesting the more you play too. Sign up people!

  5. brgillespie says:

    I think RPS swamped the game with new applications. There are “no new rovers” available for me to try.

  6. MuscleHorse says:

    Is anyone else getting a Doom-y vibe from this? After you apply and get in, the logo ident’s little tune sounded just like UAC’s from Doom 3.

    I liked Doom 3. I’d like more Doom.

  7. Tiax says:

    Ooooooh, clever.

  8. Tei says:

    I am playing this since 2 days ago. Already on the task to identify 10 aliens plants. I think theres something weird here. Why would alien plants evolve spikes??? this has to be “animals” or any type of lifeform here to have plants defend using spikes.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      If I may say so, that is actually a slight misunderstanding of evolution. Nothing evolves something “in order to” – this is the illusion of purpose that evolutionary folks talk about. All you have is a genetic mutation that leads to some new feature that HAPPENS to convey a survival advantage. A plant could have spikes even if no animals are around – you would just also find plants with no spikes at all, or just vestigial spikes / nubs, because both remain unmolested. If animals start eating them however, you may see that the plants with the ‘best’ spikes predominate, giving the appearance of having ‘refined’ its defence.

      Think of it as being like a man who grows to be 6 foot tall, living in a room with head choppers at 5.5 feet. He is more likely to die because his neck is at chopping height. All his friends that are 5 foot tall will not get chopped – however, they did not “evolve” a 5 foot height “in order to” protect themselves against choppers – they just had a natural genetic mutation that gave them an advantage in that particular place. However there is the illusion that this trait evolved “in order to” counteract the choppers, because they survived. Subsequent offspring will be more likely to be under 5.5 feet (heredity), and they will also survive. Short dudes win. Whoooo!

      I may be splitting hairs though, apologies if this is essentially what you meant.

      • Premium User Badge

        Gap Gen says:

        CookPassBabtridge is not amused.

      • SillyWizard says:

        Hasn’t Dawkins started arguing for conscious-mutations? That somehow genes are aware of what will be most beneficial, and then purposefully evolve?

  9. CookPassBabtridge says:

    I signed up. Now stuff is up. Serious stuff. Can’t say anymore. If you don’t hear from me, send my Horace plushie to my nephew. Goodbye. I love you all.

  10. The Army of None says:

    So, I went through all the content there is currently a while back. Pretty fun, pretty entertaining stuff. Recommended.

  11. The Random One says:

    I don’t think I could take it if I went through all the trouble of identifying weird extrasolar alien plants to later find out it was an enormous Mountain Dew: Slightly Different Flavour ad.

  12. Deano2099 says:

    That pre-game awesome thing is the first thing to truly surprise and delight me in gaming for years. Worked even better when the game was actually in closed beta.

  13. Deano2099 says:

    And remember how awesome and cool that moment felt? Maybe don’t rob other people of it by spoiling it?