Shape land like Slartibartfast with an augmented reality sandbox

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Shape land like a God

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Yet it is told among the Eldar that the Valar endeavored ever, in despite of Melkor, to rule the earth and to prepare it for the coming of the Firstborn; and they built lands and Melkor destroyed them; valleys they delved and Melkor raised them up; mountains they carved and Melkor threw them down, seas they hollowed and Melkor spilled them; and naught might have peace or come to lasting growth, for as surely as the Valar began a labour so would Melkor undo it or corrupt it. And yet their labour was not all in vain; and though nowhere and in no work was their will and purpose wholly fulfilled, and all things were in hue and shape other than the Valar had at first intended, slowly nonetheless the earth was fashioned and made firm.
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, “Ainulindalë”


I once gave a presentation at a conference immediately after someone demoed the early technology for this–to be used for visualizing wildfires or something. They gave a demo and there were gasps of “oh my god” from the audience. The speaker literally took out a cigarette lighter and set the table on fire and the virtual wildfire spread across the projection table. Nobody remembers the act that followed Hendrix when he burned his guitar.


The Book of Genesis takes on a whole different tone when you think of it as the work of a young deity just playing around in His sandbox. The dinosaurs make a lot more sense though.

So what was the Great Flood? Bath time?


More like a missed bathroom break


It would be a great aid for teaching people how to read topo maps. For me they were one of those things that I just didn’t get, until suddenly I GOT it.


Watching stuff like this just reminds me how much i really want a Black & White sequel.


There are also tables where there are a sort of rod and actuator arrangement like those toys where you press your hand against a few thousand moveable pins and a low res metal 3d image of your hand is produced on the other side. In this set-up you can feed shapes into the table and the rods rise up to form a topo or a bowl or a face. It is low res right now, but one could see this getting very interesting in a few years/decades.


God I hate the new trend of adding overly loud ambient music underneath every video. I can barely focus on what the guy’s saying!


We built one of those AR sandboxes here at work. My major complaint is, while I could play around with the damned thing for hours, the sand we use although labeled “low-dust” leaves a silica grime on one’s hands which is tactilely unpleasant.

I’m thinking of replacing the sand with the plastic bead material they use in those automatic self-cleaning cat boxes…

… which led me to another thought, that if you build one of these sandboxes, keep the cats out of the room. Even the nicest kitty could augment the reality of your sandbox to detrimental effect.


Oh man, Populous. That brings me back.


A confused cat with a full bladder.

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An epic game that I played The Shit Out Of. Totally agreed!


I never played it sadly, my home PC at the time was not great and couldn’t run it. But my neighbors next door had the game and i watched them play most of B&W 1 and 2. Really great titles, i mostly like that it’s a mix of different things… a bit of RTS, a bit of exploration, some puzzles, the stuff with the pet was great.

I don’t know if Peter Molyneux would ever go back to that series or if he’d be cool with letting someone else take the reigns on it.

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He only did Norway, but he’s very proud of it.


Shape land like a God

Slowly, over the course of millions of years using plate tectonics, waterway erosion, glaciers, and volcanic activity?

Oh, something I’m even less likely to go for.


That was probably Stephen Guerin from RedFish Group in Santa Fe ( They’ve been doing stuff like this for years, and their SimTables are widely in use for wildfire management out in the western US. It’s a pretty lightweight setup, too, relying on a camera/projector duo and some custom software, all of which packs down into a briefcase. As long as you have a flat surface you can set it up and have teams interact with it seamlessly.

The sand table part is a bonus that is really good for topographic visualization – give the system an existing topo map and it will scan the surface of your table and tell you where to add/remove sand to match the terrain. My coworker (my company has worked with RedFish to do Cool Stuff in the past) currently has our sand table in his office.

Here’s a video of the “starting a simulated wildfire with a lighter” demonstration:


I have updated the headline and appended a correction.

Correction: this post originally likened the shaping of land to the activities of God. Slartibartfast is the correct object of comparison. Boing Boing regrets the error.