Two research astronomers (Dr. Thomas Targett & Dr. Duncan Forgan), as part of a public outreach project to increase the understanding of the scientific method, have used the outcomes of online player vs. player matches in the Blizzard Entertainment computer game StarCraft 2 to develop models of interstellar colonisation. Despite the fictitious nature of these data, the strategies developed by human players provide an excellent test case for the development of numerical models (click graphic above for full study).
This science outreach project certainly does not represent any development in our understanding of possible extra-terrestrial life. However, we hope to highlight the increasing scientific potential of the rapidly expanding video-game industry, while also increasing public understanding of the scientific method. To this end, we demonstrate how to translate parameters from the StarCraft 2 universe into a numerical simulation, which are then explored in a setting based upon real-world physics. It is our hope that this study will demonstrate the core properties of a research paper, and provide a greater understanding to how data are collected and analysed in scientific research.
Within the StarCraft universe, three alien civilisations are in conflict for a region of space known as the Koprulu Sector, supposedly situated on the galactic fringe of the Milky Way. These civilisations comprise a human penal colony offshoot group known as the ''Terran Dominion'', the insect-like hive-minded ''Zerg'', and the technologically advanced telepathic ''Protoss''. As a result of our modelling, it was found that the deliberate in-built balance between civilisations prevented any one species/strategy from obtaining complete dominance in any single simulation. However, by observing the average success of each civilisation over many simulations, we are able to trace smaller effects which present only on the larger statistical level. It was found that the Terran inhabitants of the fictitious Koprulu sector, pursuing a strategy of early pressure against their opponents, would eventually conquer their Zerg and Protoss adversaries.
An example of a single simulation is presented in the movie below. It shows the six civilisation/strategy combinations (Terran/Zerg/Protoss following a macro/micro economic strategy) modelled in this study expanding into, and eventually fighting for, star systems in a simulated sector representative of the Milky Way.
With future modifications to StarCraft 2, the balance of power will certainly shift in the ever-changing Koprulu Sector. Humanity's future in space looks promising for now; however, based upon these results, it seems like “the sooner the better” when it comes to our expansion into the Milky Way!
Read the full study by clicking the image at the top of the page or the link below:
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