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You can fly a Millennium Falcon in Outerra, the powerful Earth simulation engine


Outerra is a planet simulator. But it’s not just simulating any old planet, god no, it’s simulating our planet, the one we’re on right now! That’s a brave choice. Considering all of the planets that they could’ve chosen to simulate, they chose the one that could be held to the highest degree of scrutiny. You need only look out of your own window and spot one errantly simulated mountain to prove Outerra wrong, but you can’t, because Outerra is never wrong*.

The engine uses elevation data from satellites to render with incredible precision the valleys and plains and coastlines of our dear Earth what we live on. It’s also got aeroplane and flight physics built in, which means, thanks to modders, you can pilot a Millennium Falcon over the Alps and zip along the Pennines on a speeder bike.

*Often wrong.

Unfortunately, there’s a caveat. These Star Wars craft are all planes in disguise, at least in this version of Outerra and its accompanying mods. The Millennium Falcon is really a supercharged Boeing 747, and in that lovely screenshot above it’s been haplessly catapulted into the upper limits of the atmosphere where its engines don’t work, leaving it spinning helplessly in the freezing vacuum of space. It controls like a whale in the lower atmosphere, flying in unpredictable directions, presumably to the chagrin of a tiny virtual Wookiee inside. It’s not nearly as fun to fly as the nice pictures would suggest.

But we can still look at the nice pictures, and photoshop some engine lights in, and dream of what an X-Wing vs Tie Fighter sequel might be like.


That particular shot of Han Solo’s bouquet of bolts was taken over the Himalayas, a patch of terrain stretching hundreds of square kilometres in every direction. You can fly straight down into it, all the way to the ground. Terrain detail is downloaded and seamlessly streamed into the engine as you move, while fractal algorithms are used to generate detail beyond that provided by the satellite elevation data. That is to say, the Outerra engine will pencil in grass and trees along flat ground, spread crisp white snow at higher altitudes and create finely detailed rocks and pebbles down to one centimetre resolution. All ostensibly without a loading screen, though if you insist on zipping the camera along at maximum speed you’ll see parts of the world composed of blocky artifacts while your internet connection races to catch up and rub detail sauce over your surroundings.

To be honest, having looked out of plane windows before, I’m not sure that doesn’t happen in real life. That’s probably why they fly so high, to give the world some time to load in the details. Here’s what the Outerran mountains look like at human head height. I say mountains, I mean this exact rock, which physically exists in the real world somewhere, assuming a yeti hasn’t made off with it.


That sort of scaling, from surveying continents from orbit down to inspecting individual rocks, is impressive, and frustratingly still the domain of fancy show-off technical engines rather than actual funtime games. If you’re in doubt as to how closely the world of Outerra matches the real one, here’s a comparison shot of a random scenic location in Swiss Alps, taken in both the engine and from Google Streetview. Outerra fudges the detail for nearby geography, but the horizon is an almost pixel for pixel recreation of the real thing. I’m endlessly pleased by this, though it’s basically Google Earth beaten into a game engine.


The Outerra engine is powering the alpha version of a game called Anteworld, which hopes to be a sort of hyper-realistic multiplayer Minecraft set across all of Earth. In practice it’s just a slightly more full-featured version of the engine for just under £10. There are limited biomes in both the free and paid for versions: snowy, rocky mountains and grassy tundra, and some ground vehicles to muck about in, though if you fork over cash you can access flying vehicles such as Apache helicopters, a Cessna plane and a MIG jet fighter. The paid for alpha also allows you to install custom vehicles, making this sort of mad thing a reality.


These Star Wars add-ons are coming from the fingertips of Outerra forum user ‘adriaan’, who’s also created X-Wings, Naboo Starfighters and is now teasing an honest-to-goodness Snowspeeder. They’re all still fairly rudimentary objects however. The speeder bike above is a reskinned version of the MIG jet that comes packaged with the paid-for version of Anteworld. Here’s what happens if you take it to full throttle.


Goodbye, speeder bike.


Farewell, sweet prince.

It wouldn’t take much to strip these vehicles of their invisible wings, to have them behave more like their sci-fi counterparts, and Outerra begs to be modded and adapted to its players’ own ends. If you prefer your transporation a little more domestic, there are dozens more real world vehicles available to paid-up users on the Outerra forum.

Some of them, I’m told, don’t rocket off into space as soon as you put your foot down. But where’s the fun in that?