Pollen's [official site] trailer involves plants in space and a bee. That means it hits two of my interest groups in one go. The trailer isn't new but we hadn't posted about it so here's that missing post and also some general information about space plants and bees on sticks.
So that's the trailer.
The game is being billed as a first person exploration game for Oculus Rift based around a research station on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. I haven't had any time on the demo which they're taking to GDC so I can't say for sure but I'm wondering whether it will be similar, particularly tonally, to Fullbright's Tacoma project which was announced a little while after and also involves space station exploration - or indeed to Verde Station which involved plant-growing aboard a space station.
Plants in space is a really interesting area both in and out of games. In games those plants have the capacity to bring life and new geometries to environments I often find otherwise to be dull or oppressive. But they also have pragmatic functions.
Back in 2012 I was at a lecture the astronaut Michael Foale was giving at Kew Gardens about horticulture in space. The value of plants in space is to do with factors including how they help redistribute gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide, and their use as a source of nutrition. They also have psychological benefits, giving astronauts motivation and focus. On long manned space trips those things will be essential so figuring out how plants can grow in space is part of our long-term travel plans as a species.
I learned that the space soil they used in Foale's work was actually porous rock modules infused with nutrients. They had holes where you inserted the seedpod sticks and a whole bunch of sensors and probes. Water needed to be incredibly carefully regulated because otherwise it would block air access to the roots. There's also the problem of being in zero gravity. That means there's no gradient of humidity for them to sense and so light is vital for letting them know which direction to grow – 23 out of 24 hours-worth of light. Light adds a heat problem though so you need good air circulation to prevent the plants from cooking.
From what I can remember I think the experiments initially took place on Mir with Brassica rapa (subspecies include turnips so Animal Crossing's Joan was probably considering a jaunt into space) but there was an ethylene glycol leak and the plants ended up weak and feeble. The radiation in space also ended up causing genetic abnormalities in subsequent generations of plants and UV light can actually sterilise crops so that's a concern too.
Other experiments fared better. I remember Foale showing a picture of another astronaut – possibly from the ISS – standing next to an outrageously healthy-looking pea plant.
The thing I most remember about the talk, though was regarding bees. The astronauts had to pollinate the plants themselves and the way they did that was to use half a bee on a little stick and carefully brush the pollen from stamen to stigma on the plant. It looks like Pollen's bees fare a little better. In the trailer, at least.