Terrain Deformation Grenades

Something I mentioned the other day in my talk at the Australian National Architecture Conference – and that came up again in Peter Wilson‘s conference summary – was the game Fracture by LucasArts.
Specifically, I referred to that game’s “terrain deformation grenades” (actually, ER23-N Tectonic Grenades).

[Image: A screenshot from Fracture, courtesy of LucasArts].

The game’s own definition of terrain deformation is that it is a “warfare technology” through which “soldiers utilize specialized weaponry to reshape earth to their own strategic advantage.” In an interview with GameZone, David Perkinson, a producer from LucasArts, explains that any player “will be able to use a tectonic grenade to raise the ground and create a hill.”

He will also be able to then lower that same hill by using a subsonic grenade. From there, he could choose to throw another tectonic to rebuild that hill, or add on another subsonic to create a crater in the ground. The possibilities are, quite literally, limitless for the ways in which players can change the terrain.

Other of the game’s terrestrial weapons include a “subterranean torpedo.”
In any case, if you were at the conference and want to know more about either the game or its implications for landscape design, I thought I’d post a quick link back to the original post in which I first wrote about this: Tactical Landscaping and Terrain Deformation.
While we’re on the subject, though, it’d be interesting if terrain deformation weaponry not only was real, but if it could be demilitarized… and purchased at REI.
You load up your backpack with tectonic grenades, head off to hike the Appalachian Trail – and whenever the path gets boring, you just toss a few bombs ahead and create instant slopes and hillsides. An artificial Peak District is generated in northern England by a group of well-armed hikers from Manchester.
In other words, what recreational uses might terrain deformation also have – and need these sorts of speculative tools only be treated as weaponry?
If Capability Brown had had a box of Tectonic Grenades, for instance, England today might look like quite different…

7 thoughts on “Terrain Deformation Grenades”

  1. Although far from instant:
    This happens quite a bit on ski slopes, where you would build a hit to make the run more interesting. Quite a literal modification of a continuous surface. On the other hand and perhaps even more extravagant, are the western mountain bike trails in Washington, Colorado, Utah, etc…google Black Rock Trails.

    If you’re going for urban warfare, I’m a bit more interested in the way skaters, bmx and smokers view and use modern urban plazas differently from say, preservationists or urban planners?

  2. despite the fact this landscaping tool would never be sold to the public, i still had a visceral reaction to the idea of people walking through a place like the appalachians and altering the landscape to meet their whims. i fully realize that a state park in appalachia is already a man made terrain (thanks to fdr’s ccc program), but the idea brought shivers down my spine. that being said, i felt completely comfortable reading you in the back’s comment pointing out the ways skaters, bikers, and skiers sculpt the landscape. i could imagine other sports being enhanced. imagine how difficult a round of golf would be if your opponent could suddenly throw down a slew of bunny hills in the fairway. maybe baseball could be made more exciting as well…

  3. I had to re-format the link in this comment. At 4:22pm, Samuel wrote:

    “Hi, sorry if I’m posting in the wrong place, I couldn’t find the contact option. Somebody told me that you might be interested in my Google Map overlay: its one covering the London Underground disused stations.

    “A friend lent me a book and I did some reaserch online to find the places, simply linking to the websites that already existed. Simple, but in context (i.e. enable the transit info to show current tube lines) shines an interesting light on how money management has shaped the tube today.”

    (Thanks, Samuel!)

  4. I feel like there may be a precedent for using ground deformation as a military tactic in this way. I think during World War One, artillery was used to create cover when attacking over no mans land. While the soldier did not have direct control over the placement of the deformations, the idea of on demand cover is similar.

  5. Another game to employ terrain manipulation would be From Dust, released this past month. Apparently you can build landmass with lava, erode terrain and nourish foliage with water, shift soil: tech demo, trailer. If Wikipedia is to believed, the main game designer was inspired by volcanology. I always wonder what values these video games are instilling in us which we will port over from the virtual to the living world, and how they are training the imagination. It seems to me that in granting the player the power to (de)form terrain, From Dust also must give the player a godlike perspective, since the (in)capacity to see, foresee and reflect upon consequences on a massive physical and temporal scale is required to strategize with and enjoy that power. The forces, consequences and strategies of Fracture seem more tailored to the human scale, but it also, in my opinion, lends itself more to the reduction of nature to a standing reserve of material to be deployed for military gain. Well, that's all speculative comparing, anyhow, since I've played neither games. Imagine, what how would the terrain deformation of Fracture force us to re-conceive the meaning of 'collateral damage'?

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