A child’s-eye view of the universe: Curiosmos makes space simulation fun | Games

Meteors hurtling at planet-decimating speeds, luminous balls of hot gas, black holes from which not even light can escape: outer space can fuel nightmares, yet for Céline Veltman, a 28-year-old Dutch game-maker who spent her childhood stargazing, it is the stuff of dreams. She’s translating this wide-eyed wonder at the universe into a video game with the grandest of ambitions: the creation of a solar system. Rocks collide with one another, chemical reactions occur: lo, a planet – and life itself – is born in the depths of the cosmos.

The bright, illustrative visuals of Curiosmos are more children’s picture book than Terrence Malick, an expression of Veltman’s aims for the project and its moment of inception. “I want to make everyone as enthusiastic about space as I am,” she says, talking ebulliently about supernovae and protoplanetary disks.

The idea came to Veltman in 2018 while visiting a friend with two young children. The youngsters would pester the developer for her iPad, and so Veltman imagined what she would like them to play: a “silly” game about astronomy, she thought, one that might “make them laugh” while imparting lessons about the building blocks of life itself.

As Veltman explains from her artist’s studio in Utrecht in the Netherlands, with sculptures visible on shelves in the background, this whimsical space adventure relies on the rock-solid physics and programming of her colleagues, Guillaume Pauli and Robin de Paepe. Curiosmos is a game of interlocking systems capable of producing unpredictable outcomes: asteroids blow up parts of a planet to reveal a molten core; wafting clouds create the optimal conditions for plant life; before long, strange, ungainly creatures start to waddle about. There is a touch of 2008’s Spore in this primordial take on the life simulator, but the games of famed designer Keita Takahashi (specifically Noby Noby Boy and Wattam) are specifically referenced by Veltman, as she works with “goofy, out-of-the-box concepts”.

The task of translating the near-unfathomably complicated secrets of the universe into gameplay has proven challenging. “Sometimes I almost regret it,” says Veltman who is relying on her own instincts about what crucial information to include. Magnetic fields are out; rings of debris are in. After all, she says with a wry smile, people need to understand that “planets can also be fragile – that they might just turn into a big pile of dust”.

Though the subject matter might inspire a dash of existential dread, Curiosmos has been designed to feel good in the hands of players – “a big part of the design,” says Veltman. Flinging asteroids around has a pleasing snap, and the terrain explodes with a satisfying plop. Veltman, a hobbyist potter, understands the power of touch. Even the deforming planets of Curiosmos look as if they are made out of clay.

Curiosmos also holds personal significance for Veltman. “During development, I came to realise that I was sad about becoming an artist instead of a scientist,” she says. The game is her bid to reconcile this tension, to “mean something in the sciences by creating art”.

Veltman hopes to have a similar kind (if not size) of impact to the educational YouTube channel In a Nutshell, which translates heady scientific concepts into videos of “optimistic nihilism” for 22.5 million subscribers. Curiosmos possesses a similar energy: it attempts to make the most far-out, strange and uneasy mysteries of the universe “accessible to everyone”. Perhaps, muses Veltman, it might spark the curiosity of more than a few new stargazers.

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Curiosmos is out in 2025 for PC, Nintendo Switch and smartphones

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