You can't get your kicks by getting around"
Most Space Opera stories are lifted from other genres, then transposed into outer space. And the most obvious way to do it is to make everything take place on a planet. Not just any planet, but Planetville, the planet that serves the same function in space that towns and countries do in Earth-based stories. It's basically Adventure Towns IN SPACE!
Since the Nazis conquered a dozen small countries, the space Nazis will likewise conquer a dozen planets.
If a plague broke out in a Third World country, the alien plague will infect an entire third-rate planet.
By extension, if a planet represents a country, an alien race represents an ethnic group, and an empire that spans Earth becomes a multi-planet empire.
Unfortunately, because Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale, and making up 200 planets with 200 countries each is hard, stories about Planetville make no sense in reality. Nobody seems to realize how BIG a planet is — everything in Planetville takes the same amount of time as stories set in towns or countries. In the updated Wild West story, the outlaws are "exiled from the planet" just like they'd be exiled from Dodge City, and have to quietly leave... instead of flat out challenging the authorities to find them when they have an entire planet on which to hide. When the space Nazis invade, they seem to need the same number of soldiers and time as the Earth Nazis needed to invade Europe. And when the crew of the Cool Starship finds the cure for the alien plague, the logistical issues of distributing it to an entire planet rarely get mentioned at all. These considerations are minimized or left out entirely in many stories.
This might work if technology was really advanced — if transport were so fast that crossing a planet took as much time as crossing a town or Earth country does today. But that almost never happens. Besides, even if Planetville were a global village in terms of travel time, a planet still has thousands of times as many people, thousands of times as many hiding-places, thousands of times as many strategic locations, thousands of times as many and as much of everything as a city on Earth today has. The only exception to this is the Baby Planet which is indeed small enough to be a Planetville though that has a different set of rules.
A side effect of this is that the characters never realize that things can happen in parts of planets. You will never see aliens trying to capture a planet's equator, or its polar caps — it's the whole planet or bust.
Planetville instantly explains these Speculative Fiction Tropes:
- Ditto Aliens: To outsiders, most any human ethnic group looks alike.
- It's a Small World, After All: Planetville is as small as a town, so finding things is the same.
- Planetary Nation: A country has one government except in civil wars. Planetville has only one except in civil wars (they may or may not be Scary Dogmatic Aliens).
- Planet of Hats: It's just like the wacky Adventure Towns of Earth.
- Single-Biome Planet: Do Earth towns have both a frozen and a jungle region? Planetville doesn't have them either.
This trope is sometimes extended further still, with each star system apparently only having a single planet in it... every body in the system aside from Planetville itself is merely decoration if it is considered at all.
Sometimes a result of the Law of Conservation of Detail in universes with dozens or hundreds of planets/star systems. The "planet with one small settlement" subtrope can be justified in stories about human colonization of planets with no native sentients, because it's plausible that colonies wouldn't leap from a couple of spaceships full of initial settlers to occupying the entire planet in a few short years.
Not to be confused with planets that are literally covered by a single city—that's City Planet (aka Ecumenopolis), a subtype of the aforementioned Single-Biome Planet (and one of the few that is remotely within the realm of possibility). Supertrope of Creator Provincialism, where the Planetville is the Earth.
- A popular set of British Gas adverts in the UK takes place in a galaxy where each household has their own personal mini-planet, playing on their slogan "look after your world".
- In Wataru 2, Wataru was sent across the universe to Soukaizan's neighboring planet, a Dipper-like constellation planet named "Seikaizan (Stellar Realm Mountain)" to take out the army lead by Doakudar's younger brother, Dowarudar. The seven "stars" of Seikaizan are provinces, therefore Wataru's gang has to travel across space to reach the next province; usually via a rainbow bridge.
- Star★Twinkle Pretty Cure takes this approach to their space travel theme, as their standard twenty minute episode length and requisite battle doesn't allow for much world-building. One of the planets they head to, Planet Zeni, is outside of the regulations of the Starry Sky Galaxy Association and is stated to be the home of a lawless metropolis with a high population-density and money as the end-all be-all. Which is the extent of what we learn about Zeni.
- Oddly inverted in a Marvel Comics miniseries, Captain Universe. Gladiator, a Flying Brick alien flies to Earth from across the galaxy. That sort of travel is usually hand waved in comics as those characters being just that darn powerful. It gets odd when Gladiator has to fly from one part of the globe to another once he gets there and uses the Captain Universe Power-Up in order to grant himself enough speed to make the flight in time. So essentially, space is smaller than the planet Earth, according to this story.
- Lucifer: The birth of a new "creation"—explicitly described as a new "multiverse"—seems to consist of approximately one region the size of Europe being made. Except that's just where all the interesting stuff happens (following in daddy's footsteps). Twenty six pages showing the inky blackness of space in order to demonstrate scale does not make for a fun story.
- Star Trek: Insurrection: The Federation engages in a shady deal with some aliens to secretly relocate a total planetary population of 600 in order to harvest the planet's radiation for medical purposes, which would require a process that would make the planet hostile to life.
- Star Wars is made of this trope. Luke is supposed to find Yoda, but he's simply told to find him in the Dagobah system (although in that case he only succeeds because Yoda crashes him near his hut). Obi-Wan is told that General Grievous is in the Utapau system, and the first place he lands is the city that Grievous has taken as his headquarters. Anakin tells Padme that he's going to Mustafar, then she has no trouble at all finding him later. Granted, a combination of the Force and on-ship guidance systems can be (and in the Star Wars Expanded Universe and Legends, have been) used to Hand Wave all of those.
- A Hand Wave excuse for Planetvilleism in Star Wars is that because of the nature of the galaxy being centered around space travel, if something isn't within an hour's flight of the nearest space port, it's probably not important.
- In The Phantom Menace, all that's needed to conquer Naboo is simply taking the capital city, and "blockading" the whole planet from surrounding space with a handful of ships. A small or medium-sized country on Earth probably couldn't keep fighting once the capital was lost, but large nations typically have military districts that are able to operate independently of the capital. Unless the enemy fleet deployed millions of ships, they couldn't possibly cover all of the sky above Naboo, so the protagonists trying to flee the planet could select to go through an open area to leave the gravity well and jump to hyperspace rather than aiming their ship straight at the enemy fleet to "break through the blockage".
- Justified at one point in The Phantom Menace: when Darth Maul traces Queen Amidala's ship to Tatooine, he points out that the planet is very sparsely populated, with only three major cities across the entire thing, which simplifies his search greatly. He is then shown dispatching groups of scout droids to each of the cities rather than trying to search them personally.
- Inverted in Attack of the Clones, where seemingly the entire Republic except for Palpatine is unaware that Count Dooku is on Coruscant, the Republic's capital, at the end of the film.
- In The Empire Strikes Back, the Empire finds the Rebel base simply by launching scouting droids at various planets. Sure, it apparently took a few years but that would be an insanely short amount of time for even one planet, to say nothing of an entire galaxy's worth. Keep in mind the scouting droid that eventually finds Echo Base does so after conveniently landing about a mile away. Though extras in the scenes do note that this scout droid strategy is a supreme longshot, and the chances of the droids finding a Rebel base are extremely remote. They only attack the base on Hoth because Vader used the Force to intuit that that droid had actually succeeded instead of finding a random smuggler's outpost.
- The tradition continues in The Force Awakens, when Finn repeatedly insists it's a bad idea to go back to Jakku because he's sure the First Order will find them there, never mind that Jakku is, you know, a planet. In this case, at least, they're going back to pick up a droid that was left there the night before by the same character, so they're specifically limiting themselves to one night's roll from its starting point (just as the troopers searching for it would be doing).
- Fantasy fiction can make similar errors, but with Planevilles instead of Planetvilles. It's particularly egregious when other planes/realities are considered infinite, yet are ruled over by a single archdemon, fey lord, or the like.
- Jack Vance's science fiction abounds with Planetvilles. Typical is The Demon Princes series, where, for example, one planet is organized around its publishing industry, being the source of the main magazine found throughout a star cluster in the manner of a dominant regional town paper. However, such immediacy is central: it is hard to see how it could be written more realistically without spoiling the story and its setting. A redeeming justification is the incredibly sparse nature of settlement, where a planet might only have a single town. Or Smade's World: halfway between Smade Mountains and Smade Ocean lies Smade's tavern. All else is wilderness. It's also completely averted with several worlds that are the settings of entire novels: Tschai, Durdane, Big Planet. These are diverse and rich in detail. Except Pao, whose Planetville nature caused the crisis that gets the plot started.
- Justified also in Dan Simmon's Hyperion Cantos series. Millions of Farcaster portals mean that pretty much anywhere on a world (indeed, a couple of hundred worlds) are rarely more than a few steps away. Some houses are built on multiple planets, with farcasters serving in place of doors. Martin Silenus had one; the bathroom is a raft on the ocean planet Mare Infinitus. And this trope is also averted: most planets are clearly stated to have multiple, distinct locations.
- Justified and Deconstructed in Dan Simmons' Illium. Fax Portals (teleportation booths) are all pervasive and no one needs to walk more than half a mile to get anywhere (no planes, no cars, no boats). The problem is that they start thinking they really do live in a Planetville, most of the planet has been completely forgotten.
- Played straight and justified in Larry Niven's Known Space series, as teleportation and other technology all but eliminate differing cultures across Earth.
- Not just on Earth. Earth colonies are all varying degrees of this, largely because the worlds humanity's ramrobot scouts found for humans to colonize rarely have more than a few places humans can live safely. The world of Plateau is one giant mountain (Mt. Lookatthat) on a Venus like planet, only the upper parts are habitable. On Jinx the planet's shape and gravity mean that only narrow areas between the poles and the equator are habitable, and then only just. We Made It is earthlike, but has a nasty storm season that means you can't build above ground. Naturally the first colony dug out a city (Crashlanding City), and has just expanded that as needed. And so on. Largely averted later on with Wunderland (Alpha Centauri), which initially came across as a monoculture Planetville, but was greatly expanded on in the Man-Kzin wars collections.
- Averted however, with the Ringworld itself an artificial ring-shaped structure, surrounding a sun at about the Earth's distance from our sun, which is also 1,000,000 miles or so wide. Let's put it this way... the first Ringworld novel chronicles a months-long journey by the main characters, across a wildly diverse area of the Ring, from one edge. They only explore about a fifth of the way across from that edge and back. That's the sort of scale we're dealing with.
- Justified to an extent in Dune, where planet Arrakis has only its polar region colonized because almost everywhere else is too dangerous for even the native Fremen to survive.
- Murray Leinster several times used this trope, justified strongly by the worlds in question being new, young colonies with only one settlement established, or exotic worlds with very little human-habitable land.
- A very literal example is found in The Little Prince, who is the sole inhabitant of a planet about the size of a house.
- Played straight in The Lost Fleet, in which a hundred million people is considered quite a significant population for an entire Colonized Solar System, but justified by deep cultural hang-ups about the dangers of overpopulation that came scarily close to wiping humanity out completely before the first off-world colonies were founded. Apparently even the Syndicate Worlds haven't completely abandoned such considerations in the name of greed.
- The Pendragon Adventure features ten Territories, essentially different planets or time periods of other dimensions (such as Earth in three time periods). Almost all of the action takes place in very small areas, generally very close to the flumes (inter-territory portals). Justified because the antagonist, Saint Dane, is using the flumes to target very specific turning points on each territory, singular events that can turn the Territory towards chaos if influenced the "right" way.
- On Denduron, everything important is within walking distance, such as the arena, the Bedoowan castle, the Milago village, and the mines.
- On Cloral, only three floating cities ("Habitats") are seen, and two of them are colliding. High-speed watercraft do take the main characters far from Habitats, however.
- On the three Earths, almost everything takes place in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The battle for First Earth is pretty much almost all New York City.
- Eelong takes the main characters far from the city of Leeandra, but except for the journey to Black Water, everything is within walking distance of Leeandra.
- Veelox all takes place within one city. Justified, since most of the population is inside virtual reality.
- Ibara is almost entirely on a single island, with some action in a city on the mainland. This is mainly because Ibara is the future of Veelox, when most of the civilized citizens live on the island Ibara.
- The battle for Quillan is entirely in the limits of a single city approximately the size of Los Angeles.
- The action on Zadaa is mostly in the city of Xhaxu, a thinly-veiled Africa. Indeed, the entire conflict in The Rivers of Zadaa is similar to the South African apartheid.
- Justified with Yellowstone in the Revelation Space Series. The planet is described as being somewhere between Mars and Titan; i.e. a Death World, bar its capital, Chasm City, which is a massive domed city covering a volcanic vent that spews out breathable air. Outside of a few scientific and industrial towns, the rest of the planet is unpopulated; if something is on Yellowstone, it's in Chasm City. Yellowstone's Glitter Belt - a ring of hundreds of orbiting space stations featured primarily in The Prefect - however, has extremely diverse cultures, ranging from voluntary dictatorships to Brain in a Jar virtual realities. Sky's Edge was colonized by multiple Generation Ships that broke out into war shortly after landing, and has at least three warring nations with unique cultures descended from their generation ship's source culture/population.
- In Star Trek: The Battle of Betazed, Cort Enaran is leading the Betazoid Resistance. Having one group of resistance fighters under one mountain chain referred to as "the Betazoid Resistance" seems to take us into Planetville territory. That said, Enaran and other leaders are former members of the parliament, so their resistance cell (near the capital) might be considered the resistance. Still, the novel probably runs afoul of this trope.
- Star Wars Legends:
- In The Thrawn Trilogy, Luke thinks being given a planet as a location for a warehouse means the informer will not need come with them. Han points out that a planet is a big place to hide one building in. The Thrawn Trilogy also explains away the Dagobah example when Luke theorizes that Yoda used the Force to blank his sensors and bring him to the correct location.
- In Shatterpoint, Mace Windu's homeworld Haruun Kal is a planet-sized Bulungi, but this is because only one landmass is both habitable (to an extent) and of significant size, not much larger than the average African nation. The rest of the planet is submerged under a thick atmosphere of toxic volcanic gases.
- In Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War books, while a single star system frequently has a system-wide government, various lower levels of government seem to exist. Also, one-Hat planets tend to have been originally colonized by racists or religious extremists.
- Avoided in regards to Earth in Harry Turtledove's World War series - the difference in national identities confuses the Lizards, as does the human propensity to keep fighting even after the capitals and major cities have been subjugated. The tropes is in full effect on the Lizards' homeworld, however, and to some extent justified in that it is (mostly) a Single-Biome Planet that has had a single, united monarchy for millennia.
- Both Justified and Averted in Babylon 5, depending on the occasion:
- Mars is given on-screen a population of two million. That's Justified in that Mars is still being terraformed, thus the population is concentrated in a few large Domed Cities, and possibly Averted, as the statement was ambiguous enough it could have been referring to Mars Dome One, the capital. In fact the show implies that Mars is one of the largest colonies if not the largest one, thus indicating a far larger population when compared to the known ones.
- Averted by Earth Alliance in general: Earth has a population of ten billion, and the only reason Earth colonies (such as Mars and Proxima) never even reach two hundred million is that Earth is relatively new to space and has managed to colonize multiple systems in a previously unexplored area of space, thus having dozens of worlds to settle the five billion people that don't live on Earth.
- The entire population of Centauri Prime, capital of the largest polity in the show, is a mere three billion. Justified as the Centauri purposefully moved large numbers of their population offworld in their glory days, thus they have multiple worlds with a population in the high millions and even billions with a total number given on-screen of forty billion, without counting their subject species.
- Justified and Invoked with Vreetan: the Vree simply built a large city and concentrated almost their entire population there for better efficiency for their factories and to not spoil the rest of their homeworld, with the remaining settlements being necessary to extract resources or feed their population.
- Played painfully straight in the RPG, that tends to give ridiculously low population figures, often contradicting the show (for example the RPG gives Proxima a population of 900,000 and Mars 3 million, contradicting the show that gives Proxima a population of 130 million and implies that Mars is at least comparable to that).
- Blake's 7: Commander Travis says on one occasion, "There's Blake's ship! I knew he'd have to return to this galaxy!"
- Doctor Who is a constant offender in stories set on non-Earth planets, whether they're inhabited by human colonies or native alien cultures.
- Gallifrey originally only had one city, the Capitol. In "The Day of the Doctor", we learn there is a second city, called Arcadia (the Doctor actually refers to it as "Gallifrey's second city" - though this could be in the same sense as Birmingham or Manchester get referred to as the UK's or England's second city) However, we also learn that there were 2.47 billion children living on Gallifrey when the Doctor seemingly destroyed it. As Gallifreyans are Long-Lived, the planetary population would likely be quite high. They have room for it. In "The End of Time", Gallifrey was brought out of the Time War and into near-Earth space, where it was seen to easily be several times the size of Earth. But this is also the species that invented Bigger on the Inside! Only they know how big the interiors of their cities really are . . .
- Farscape occasionally does this, although it's better than many space opera shows in regularly making it explicit that stories are taking place in a single community that isn't necessarily the only one on the planet.
- Justified in Firefly, as all the planets there are colonies of varying sizes, usually initially settled by a cohesive group of people in just one area. At least a few planets/moons are shown to have multiple cities, towns, and jurisdictions. When the crew visits Ariel (a Core World), we only see the big city, but its beautiful mountains and wilderness are discussed. Being a thriving Core World, it's very advanced, with cutting-edge 26th-Century culture and technology. The recently-terraformed Rim Colonies, on the other hand, are dirt-poor, sparsely populated, and scrape by with whatever little the pioneer colonists could bring with them, relying on horses for transportation.
- Various Power Rangers series portray Earth as Planetville. Apparently, conquering whatever town the Rangers happen to live in is the key to taking the whole thing (though this could be a ploy to draw out the Rangers and then kill them).
- It tends to vary, however a particularly egregious case happens in Power Rangers in Space where the attack on Earth only seems to concern Angel Grove and no indication is given that any other part of Earth is under attack.
- In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, the villains once used the Rangers' trip to Australia as an opportunity to attack the city while they were away. Apparently, attacking a city that never had Rangers just isn't an option.
- Subverted in Power Rangers RPM, where the rest of the planet was conquered first. It is in fact one of few series to address why the one city is so important (in RPM, Corinth is the only city left; in Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, reestablishing their palace on their old sacred ground is the only way the demons can return to full strength and Mariner Bay, built upon it while they were in the can, has to go; in Power Rangers Operation Overdrive, we throw out "Earth = Angel Grove" entirely: The artifact of the week can be anywhere on Earth and we don't even learn that the city the Rangers are based in is called San Angeles until the halfway mark.)
- Both Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis are very consistent with this. Nothing of interest happens more than a few kilometers from a Stargate, most planets seem to possess a few thousand people at most, and conquering/purging/eating an entire planet is apparently a very simple affair. The characters even seem to be aware of this, as one episode featured Carter and O'Neill trapped in a frozen cave and immediately thinking they were on an ice planet — but it turned out that they were really on Earth, in the Antarctic. On the few occasions that a planet has more than one state, such as Jonas Quinn's homeworld, they are always at war with each other.
- For SG-1, this can be explained by the fact they're walking through the gate, which severely limits the amount of the planet that they're capable of exploring. So, while each destination is essentially a "planet", the area of relevance to the SGC is only a few dozen square miles.
- For their enemies, if the only methods of travel you had were by magic doorway, Learjet and massive spaceship you'd probably spend a lot of time walking too, and you'd ensure that said magic doorways were as near to your current resource pile as possible. Further, the Goa'uld are repeatedly noted as discouraging the sort of independent thinking that would involve moving away from the Stargate.
- Star Trek is a constant offender here, where everybody on a planet is the same and nothing happens on a smaller scale, ever. Possibly the only exception is the depiction of Bajor in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as its proximity to the show's main setting meant that the writers were able to focus on the planet in greater depth than any other planet depicted in Star Trek's history before or since.
- Bajoran factions are referred to in a few early episodes, but became less common after The Dominion, the Klingons, and even the Ferengi took up more time. Bajor's treated more like a single political entity with religious and political in-fights rather than regional ones. This was mostly because the major conflict was resolved early in season 2, when the main opposition faction attempted a coup and was defeated.
- Particularly conspicuous in The Next Generation episode "Reunification", in which the Romulans planned to seize control of the entire planet Vulcan with just a few thousand ground troops.
- At least two separate stories have featured autonomous colonies with populations given as being in the hundreds, acting (and recognized) as planetary governments. Several others come close.
- There have even been episodes where the Enterprise or Voyager's cargo bay has been used to evacuate a planet. Used as a plot point in one episode where the Enterprise shows up thinking they can do this, only to find out the colony has 15000 members and evacuation will take weeks for a good chunk of the fleet.
- Kesprytt is an attempt to subvert this trope. The Kes want to join the Federation, but a quarter of one of their planets is controlled by the Pritt, who are the same species but under a different government. Naturally, Picard and Crusher beam down to meet with the Kes, only to be abducted by the Pritt and end up imprisoned within walking distance of the border. Apparently, beaming the very important prisoners inland a few hundred miles never occurred to the Pritt. It ends with Riker giving a massive "Reason You Suck" Speech to both the Kes and the Pritt for not achieving planetary unification.
- Another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation zig-zagged this trope beautifully in its teaser scene, where Worf, Data, and Dr. Crusher are sitting in a café on a planet-of-the-week that is experiencing domestic terrorism because of a conflict between the planetary government and a minority separatist group. The Ansata rebels/terrorists detonate a bomb near the cafe, and several civilians are injured. Dr. Crusher leaps into the fray to provide medical aid, with Worf and Data urging her to be more cautious. It's a great character moment for Beverly Crusher. While Crusher is tending to the wounded, Data invokes this trope by telling her that "It would be prudent to return to the ship" and then states "This planet has its own physicians." Dr. Crusher, seemingly aware of the absurdity of this trope, simply replies, "They're not here. I am," and continues doctoring.
- BattleTech has entire planets garrisoned by a single regiment of 108 giant robots (and even less in earlier eras). Major factory worlds and capitals might get 3 to 5 of them. This is like suggesting you need only one tank division to conquer Earth.
- It's been remarked upon that many worlds only really have two strategically significant features: The Spaceport and the HPG Generator. Only a very few exceptionally wealthy and populous worlds have more than one of each of these, and they're invariably located in close proximity to the largest and most important (sometimes only) city on the planet and probably the seat of government as well: Once they're under the control of the attacking forces, the remaining defenders are cut off from their supply lines and will eventually run out of fuel and munitions. Similarly, the slow, limited nature of space travel in the setting means that it's difficult to transport a force greater than a couple of regiments in strength with any amount of haste.
- There's another aspect involved in the numbers used, too: the populace is, in general, rather fatalistic about accepting their fate as serfs in the Feudal Future setting of BattleTech.
- The Houses also don't want to blow up the things they want from the planet, resulting in most invasions being just one battle and who ever wins gets the planet.
- Even with all the above factors taken into account, the people in charge of the setting have admitted that planetary populations are far too high for the levels of military forces used to defend them, but they don't to retcon either one, since at that point they'd pretty well have to keep retconning until they'd redesigned then entire setting from the ground up.
- Averted and played straight in Traveller. Planets can have many different cultures, biomes, even governments, but most players are interstellar traders who tend to stay on a given planet less than a week and the Third Imperium rarely builds more than one Starport (as opposed to spaceports built and patrolled by local governments, who tend to have tighter laws than the Imperium and thus aren't too attractive to Free Traders) on a planet. Plus many worlds have no biome and less than a million colonists.
- A number of worlds in the Spinward Marches have only a small town on them and perhaps a hinterland of agriculturalists or nomads. There are several reasons for that, such as recent settlement, low technology among natives, raids by Vargr looking for plunder and Aslan looking for land and perhaps most important constant warfare with the Zhodani-led Outward Coalition.
- Both averted and played straight in Warhammer 40,000, where the background fluff suggests that capturing a planet can involve tens of millions of soldiers and require weeks or months in order to wrest control of strategic locations, and afterwards the occupation forces might have to wage a low-intensity campaign for years in order to root out the remaining resistance... but in gameplay terms, world- or system-spanning campaigns may be decided by small-scale battles held by players around the world.
- Justified in the cases of Hive Worlds, where pollution forces the inhabitants into a few gigantic cities surrounded by endless ash wastes, and Death Worlds, where the local geography and/or wildlife makes widespread population growth impossible.
- Played straight with the Space Marines, as less than a thousand of them can crush entire rebellions and purge whole worlds. Than again, aside from being extremely powerful Super Soldiers, and most citizens thinking of Space Marines as literal angels, believing them to be divine agents of the God-Emperor, their strategies revolve around swift, brutal strikes that decapitate the enemy's command structure, before or after some judicious use of orbital bombardment, so it's less blatant than normal.
- Also justified in some locations, such as Holy Terra, which is indeed a planet-wide city... with the Emperor's palace complex taking up most of Asia.
- Played straight in Earthsearch. When they finally discover Earth at the end of season 2, the planet has been devastated by war and environmental change, so the entire planetary population consists of a single town of ten thousand inhabitants.
- Pretty much any 4X strategy game set in space will treat planets exactly like this. The most obvious sign being the total impossibility of two players, even allied ones, having a settlement on the same planet at the same time.
- The second and third Master of Orion games have buildings for specific purposes, compared to the generic "factories" of the first game that were never shown.note
- The Galactic Civilizations games also feature this, with the manual explicitly invoking The Law of Conservation of Detail; managing an interstellar government is difficult enough without the intricacies of entire planets as well.
- Can be subverted in events, as the planet may technically be divided between indigenous life and your colonists, though there is no effect on gameplay outside of the event itself.
- In Beyond Good & Evil all action (apart from the endgame) takes place in and around a single town (justfied/handwaved using guard towers that drive you back if you attempt to leave "territorial waters"); yet in the beginning of the game you are given a task of completing a full photographic inventory of the species living on the planet. Likewise, there seem to be no pearls on the planet apart from the gameplay area (judging from the message you get after collecting all of them).
- Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, where the action takes place on a single planet broken up into two dozen provinces (and a single battle gives you control of the province). However, the sequel takes place over four planets, with approximately the same amount of provinces,with only two having developed cities.
- Freelancer is a major offender: every single planet is a Planetville. Without exception. Pittsburgh, for example, appears to be an entire planet with just one little mining site. And on top of that, planets usually offer the same services as a "tiny little" battleship. This is rather justified due to The Law of Conservation of Detail, though, because Freelancer has hundreds of planets and space stations within its own world. And you are a freelance trader, you only ever go as far as the single spaceport on each planet. You buy/sell resources in the port, and visit the port bar to get contracts. The rest of the planet is irrelevant to you.
- Justified in Halo. Whenever the Covenant invade a human world, they usually seem to land on only one city/country, ignoring the rest of the planet. However, the main reasons the ground assault usually exists is to recover Forerunner artifacts, which are only on whatever part of the planet they land on, and to destroy the ground-based generators which power the planet's orbital MAC cannons, which are pretty much the only weapon humans have which can reliably destroy Covenant ships. Once finished, the Covenant fly back into space and glass the entire planet, assuming they defeated the local Space Navy. Which they almost always do, given how much more advanced they are compared to humanity. In Halo 3, a character specifically notes that the Covenant's Prophet of Truth could've landed his forces anywhere, but specifically chose the area around New Mombasa, Africa.
- Mass Effect plays this straight but also averts it.
- In the Codex, it is mentioned that planetary invasions are common. However, it is also specifically noted that actually developed planets are far too big to conventionally occupy, and Citadel Space is old enough to have many such planets with populations in the billions. In such a case the invaders are just supposed to occupy key points of interest (usually a dozen or fewer major metros containing spaceports and industrial facilities) and use their orbital superiority to dissuade the people from resisting too much, effectively ceding most of the planet while securing their position on the vital points. Unmanned aerial combat vehicles are used to patrol the countryside.
- Most planets you personally visit are home to only one mission or point of interest, with most of the gameplay taking place within a few square kilometers traversed by an all terrain vehicle. Although these few square kilometers around any settlement always include (as yet) undiscovered crash sites, mineral deposits and so on, which are supposed to be rare in universe. This is usually justified as you exploring new and sparsely-peopled colonies on the frontier, as opposed to the aforementioned well-settled worlds. The colonies threatened by the geth in 1, Collectors in 2, and Cerberus in 3 are all very new and none of have populations of more than a few million (e.g. Eden Prime, Freedom's Progress, Horizon, Noveria, Terra Nova, Benning), so it's perfectly plausible that they'd all be centered around one city. In cases where you are on a planet with a significant population (e.g. Zorya, Illium, Cyone, Menae), there will usually be flavor text stating that there are obviously more points of interest on the planet, but Shepard only has objectives in this one area.
- Outpost 2 takes place on a distant planet called New Terra with only two colonies: Eden and Plymouth. While the planet was colonized several decades ago, there are several factors as to why the colonies are so small. The ship the colonists came on, the Conestoga, was hastily built to escape Earth before an asteroid impact ended human civilization, so there is no second wave of colonists coming. The cryogenic chambers were experimental and failures killed a significant portion of the colonists. Instead of finding an Earth-like planet as hoped, the crew had to settle for a Mars-like planet because the ship was running low on resources, and once on the ground, more resources had to be dedicated to survival over raising children. Plymouth didn't exist until survival became less of a struggle, and it's made up of people who didn't agree with the Eden leadership's plan to terraform New Terra. When the game kicks off, both colonies are hit by disasters (a plague called the Blight for Eden, volcanic eruptions for Plymouth), and end up in a running battle for a shrinking safe area untouched by the disasters and the resources needed to build another spaceship to leave the planet.
- Phantasy Star is an especially egregious example, with each planet having an average of 2-3 cities. Casual Interstellar Travel means that a quest to talk to the governor of one Single-Biome Planet will involve buying a cake from the only bakery in the star system, located at the bottom of a dungeon on another planet. Alis even has the Fly spell, designed to take you back to the last church you visited, which works without regard to whether or not it is on the same planet you are currently visiting.
- Played straight, yet averted, in Planetary Annihilation where planets are much smaller than real life planets and generally singular biomes. Yet the whole game is about taking control of the planets. Meaning that your opponent could (and probably will be) on the same hunk of rock as you.
- In the Game Mod Star Wars Conquest, each planet is only represented by a small inhabited zone which harbours the barracks, the shops, the quest-givers, etc. It is also where sieges occur.
- Star Wars Legends:
- Rogue Squadron has an aversion in the level where rebels fight for control of Gerrard V. Wedge radios in, "Luke, I'm on the other side of the planet, we got trouble". Wedge is being tailed by an Elite Tie Fighter Squadron. One of the very few senses of planetary scale in the Star Wars series.
- Knights of the Old Republic features this. In order to find the Star Maps, all the group need to learn is what planet it's on. They're even within walking distance of the starport (Manaan excepted, maybe). The sequel averts this however, you land on Telos, which is a planet recovering from war. The main first part you land on is forest and tropical, and then you fly to the polar ice caps.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic is similar: a planet is roughly equivalent to a zone in World of Warcraft, and the largest "worlds" are fleets or space stations rather than planets.
- In Empire at War a few dozen ground units land just outside a city, kill all enemy forces in the city and the entire planet is conquered.
- Star Wars Battlefront 2 has galactic conquest, where the entire conquest of a planet means one battle in one area of said planet. Whoever wins the battle has then conquered the planet, but to be fair any more than that and it might get tiresome.
- Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, being a Space Western of The '80s, rocked this Trope: Tortuna was a Wretched Hive with a few domed cites that Her Travesty didn't nuke into ashes. Ozark was an isolated Lost Colony backwater. Granna and Nebraska were farm worlds. The justification for using the Trope was that large-scale human colonization had only been going on for a decade at most, and sleeper ships only launched about 50 years prior to the series.
- The Filmation series Bravestarr is a major offender in this regard. It features New Texas, an entire futuristic western-styled planet with exactly one -1!- village-sized settlement by the name of Fort Kerium. Especially mind-blogging considering that the planet is said to be rich with the rare and valuable element Kerium.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
- In the movie, Mace Windu says Obi-Wan Kenobi captured an entire planet by himself. He probably meant "General Kenobi and the clone fleet under his command", but still that seems like a small amount to take a planet. Either that, or an overreliance on those Droid Command ships (or something similar) like in The Phantom Menace means that a conquered friendly planet could be liberated by a commando unit.
- During the invasion of Kamino, General Grievous boasted that Kamino had fallen. This is despite much of his fleet getting shot down in orbit without doing similar damage to the Republic fleet, and his crashed troop transports (which was part of the plan) only really managing to get a foothold in Tipoca City. Arguably justified in that again, the only real objective was the Cloning facility in Tipoca, which they had in fact done a lot of damage to.
- Averted hard in the third season of Star Wars Rebels. Early in the season, Maul discovers that his old enemy Obi-Wan Kenobi was on Tatooine. When we catch up to him again towards the end of the season, he is no closer to finding him, and has to resort to drastic measures to flush Kenobi out.
- Judging from the visibility of the buildings, Planet Cybertron in (the original 1980s animated series) The Transformers looks no bigger than a major city. We do get the names of cities and places of interest within Cybertron from day one; the artwork is just the worst and most literal example of Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale ever.
- The series (in all versions, actually) is, however, much better about averting "Earth = the hero's hometown" than many works (especially kids' media) where a villain wants to Take Over the World. The MacGuffin Megatron wants or the place he chooses to attack can be anywhere on Earth, and he usually has a stated reason for targeting this place this week. Transformers: Animated is the exception; it seldom leaves Detroit, but again, they've got a reason: if that's where the Allspark is, that's where the action is.
- Wander over Yonder, a bouncy Space Opera featuring two Vagabond Buddies, has this as many of its one-shot locales. Some places visited include a giant shopping mall planet, an amusement park planet, a convenience store planet, and a sad Victorian-style town planet.