Welcome back to Discovering Alone™. In our previous entries, we introduced the game and we described the gameplay mechanics for both the Hero and the Evil players, and we gave you a taste of the game’s background story. In today’s update, we will analyze the various creatures of Alone, from a biological and ethological point of view.
First of all, let’s spend a couple of words on the planet where most of the action is set. Don’t worry, this will be a spoiler-free description! It is a bit like Mars, a very arid and apparently sterile planet. The star it is orbiting is much hotter than our sun. It burns at about 12000 K (that equates to about 11700 °C, or 21000 °F) as opposed to our sun’s 5000 K (4700 °C, 8500 °F). This means that, while our sun’s light emission nicely peaks in the middle of the visible spectrum, the light this star emits peaks well above that, in the UV range. This means that our human eye would register the light on that planet to have an odd blueish tone, but it also has more important consequences on life itself. As you probably know, UV radiation is quite dangerous, because it can severely damage biological tissues: this is true also for the indigenous creatures of the planet. Life on the surface of the Alone planet is basically impossible. This is why all the indigenous lifeforms evolved to live beneath the surface, in the underground, where they are repaired from the dangerous radiations that hit the surface. Even humans can’t survive long without proper UV shielding (and an abundant supply of oxygen).
There are three main kinds of indigenous creatures among the Hero’s foes: the colonial Spores, the so-called Worms, and their aggressive Parasites.
The Spores are rather simple colonial creatures (like corals). Each single individual is interconnected to the rest of the colony. Like corals, they feed on whatever happens to pass near them, but if you stay away from them, they’re not very dangerous. If they do manage to catch you, though, they’re very, very dangerous.
The Worms, instead, are huge creatures with a termite-like social structure. They dig tunnels and build in huge hives to live in. They may superficially look like huge earthworms, but that’s where the similarities end. They don’t have a “head” and a “tail”. Both their ends are “mouths”, with sharp beaks and teeth that are used to dig (and occasionally, for defense against attacking creatures). Their central nervous system is roughly in the middle of their bodies, and they don’t have bilateral symmetry (like us), but radial symmetry (like anemones, starfish, or sea cucumbers). This means that they have no right/left sides, either. They can indifferently use both mouths to dig in either direction (for example: if they find a rock too hard to dig through, they don’t need to make a U-turn: they can just start digging in another direction with the other mouth). They also ingest the dirt they are digging with one mouth, process it inside their body to transform it into a sort of cement, and then expel it from the other mouth to build and consolidate the tunnels that compose their hive.
They don’t use these mouths for feeding. To feed, they have a series of “tentacles” that, in the absence of preys, they can use like roots to absorb nutritive ions directly from the soil. Living beings are far more nutritious, though, so the worms will gladly attack other life forms to feed, if given the chance. Some can be seen carrying their preys on their body, using their tentacles entangle them while slowly sucking them dry of their fluids (a process that can last several, horrific days). They even appreciate exotic food, like human astronauts stranded on an unknown planet.
Their weirdest characteristics, though, is their reproductive cycle. They are asexual organisms. When an individual is sexually mature, it starts to produce “eggs” inside its body. The peculiar thing is that these eggs cannot hatch into the body of their parent. When a worm’s eggs are ready, the worm will go back to the hive “nursery” and let himself to be slain by another worm. This second worm torns the egg-filled one apart, then it ingests its flesh (eggs included) through its mouths into its “digging stomach”. Into this organ, usually used to transform dirt into cement, the eggs can complete their maturation and finally hatch. The newborn worms can then get out of their “host” through the mouths, and start their life.
The Parasites have an even weirder reproductive cycle. They spend most of their lives as free-roaming, opportunistic predators (like hyenas or coyotes), feeding on whatever easy prey they can find, like young worms, spores, or unaware engineers. When they are approaching the end of their lives, they become ready to reproduce; in order to do so, they need to parasitize a worm. They can’t produce eggs of their own; they use their tentacles to attach themselves to a sexually mature worm, filled with eggs, and suck them out of it through their mouths. Their hard upper shell protects them from the worm’s attempts to get rid of them. With time, their bellies fill with eggs, and they become so huge that the parasite can’t detach itself from the worm anymore: it relies on the worm’s fluids for its nourishment, too. Their body is somehow capable to turn the “worm eggs” into “parasite eggs”. When these transformed eggs are mature, they hatch inside of their parent, that undergoes a tragic fate: the newborn parasites devour it and eventually swarm out of its empty shell. Since the parasitized worm is most probably completely devoid of eggs, they have no reason to stay there, and they start roaming around, in search for preys to feed upon, and a new cycle starts. One parasite dies, to give birth to many more. Deprived of eggs to steal, the parasitized worm will be left alone by the parasites for a while; it will still be able to produce more eggs and, if he manages to avoid more parasites, he will have the chance to finally mature, be devoured by another worm and thus contribute to the perpetuation of its species.
Like we said last time, we don’t want to disclose too much, to avoid spoilers. To entice your appetite, though, there’s a few things more to say about these alien creatures, and their possible interactions with humans (feel free to skip the next paragraph, should you prefer to enjoy the game 100% spoiler-free). Ready? Last warning!
>>> THE SPOILER LINE – SELECT TEXT TO READ <<<
Weird things happen if you’re forced to eat alien meat. It contains psychotropic substances that alters the chemistry of our brain; the more you eat of it, the crazier you become. This is how the Cult of the Worm was born: hunger led the former settlers to feed on the aliens, to avoid starvation, but it eventually turned them crazy. Other than that, it has no other unpleasant side effects. What is really disgusting is what happens if a human eats either parasite eggs or worm eggs. Parasite eggs, simply, will hatch inside the human’s body and do what they regularly do when they hatch: they devour everything tasty until they eventually swarm out of their host’s body. An horrible fate, for sure (and a lesson the Cultists learned quite soon), but eating a worm egg is even worse.
Worm eggs try to mature too, but to do so they need to integrate with their host’s body much more than the parasite ones: this would generate regular worms, if the process happens inside a worm’s body. Our organism is not made for that though; they still manage to grow, somehow, but the result is that the human and the egg form a sort of symbiosis, and an Hybrid is born: a creature half human, half worm, 100% ferocious without any trace of rationality left.
>>> END OF THE SPOILERS <<<
This is all for today’s update. Thanks for reading! If you liked it and you want to know more, keep following our website, our facebook page and our twitter profile to know when the next installments of this series will be published. To stay updated on all things Horrible, you can also subscribe to our newsletter, of course.
In the next update, we will chat with Steve Hamilton, our marvelous illustrator, about the art style of Alone. See you next time!