Sagan, Sagan 4 and Mason.
Sagan 4 is a collaborative Speculative Biology Worldbuilding
project originally created by Hydromancerx in 2006, which was rebooted in August 2019. In both the original (Alpha) and the reboot (Beta), all life on the planet is "evolved" by its contributing artists from a single cell. It was originally hosted on its own website, but lacking funds led to the website being taken down in 2017 and the project being transferred to the Speculative Evolution Forum
. Although a backup was made, the data was presumed corrupted and apparently unrecoverable; after 2 years of failed attempts to recover or repair the lost data, some members decided to continue with a reboot, reverting to the state it was in just 7 days after it began
. Not long afterwards, however, all data for the original version was recovered, and members wanted to continue both, so there are 2 timelines now.
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- Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: Many species are of vivid, "unnatural" colors such as purple, pink, blue, and red. This is more prevalent in Alpha, but present in Beta as well. Possibly justified, as the flora are also quite colorful and being just as colorful can serve as camouflage.
- Animals Lack Attributes: Depending on the Artist, species may or may not be depicted with anuses or genitalia.
- Bizarre Alien Locomotion: A number of species in Alpha are bipeds which walked with their forelimbs. In Beta, a handful of species such as the Goblati and the Hedgestar are "quadrupeds" which have left and right legs and a single front and single hind leg.
- Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": A common theme in Alpha, and generally obvious from name alone ("planda" and "nodent" being a few examples). Subverted by the Shrews, which were called exactly what they are. There is also a case in Beta, the "cish" — which, as their name suggests, are just fish.
- Crystal Landscape: The crystal flora commonly resemble crystals, as their name would suggest, though they usually coexist with other flora. Crystal-only landscapes were occasionally seen in Alpha, but became far more common early on in Beta as a result of all plants except for the crystal flora going extinct.
- Early Installment Weirdness: In Alpha (and, to a more limited extent, Beta), the world and rules were not fully established early on and some of the team members had false impressions of how the project worked; in particular, although all species were supposed to have been evolved individually, there were early assumptions that submitted species were part of unseen larger clades and that microbial niches had already been filled in. Descriptions were also not required to be detailed early on in Alpha, resulting in rampant misinterpretations. As a result, strange things happened such as backbones evolving several times and herbivores using gut microbes that did not actually exist.
- In Beta, due to the existing knowledge and experience of the team members from 10 years of trial and error, this issue is mostly restricted to the earliest parts of the project that are canon to both timelines. However, a few early reboot species also fall under this:
- Early into Beta, a number of species (particularly, descendants of Carpotesta Devoratori) moved directly from the coasts to the abyss and vice-versa in a single generation—something which was later disallowed.
- At least partially due to the rules for the genus system being lost with the original website, early genus submissions such as the Globanitros and the Flying Melter Detritis have lacking or even useless information in their descriptions.
- One species shared between Alpha and Beta, the Binucleus Stellarcrystal, was misinterpreted as a free-floating microbe instead of a rooted bush- or moss-like plant, and the error went unnoticed and uncorrected until after it had already produced the Caltrops—which essentially evolved features to solve problems that did not exist.
- Eyeless Face: Many organisms in both timelines lack eyes, either having lost them from disuse or never evolving them at all, similar to many animals in real life.
- Most fauna with eyes can be traced to eyeless ancestors.
- Alpha's Saucebacks, which have come in many megafaunal forms, lack eyes and use echolocation to sense their environment. Although some such as descendants of the beach sauceback and the hearthead did evolve the ability to see, they do not make up the majority and all descendants of the former are extinct.
- Fantastic Flora: The crystal flora, which are fully-functional analogs to plants and fungi which happen to look like crystals, certainly give Sagan 4's environments a fantastical flair.
- Lamprey Mouth: Many jawless lineages have mouths similar to lampreys, such as basal saucebacks in Alpha and some ceratoastermorphs in Beta.
- Living Polyhedron: Many crystal flora are examples of this. More prevalent in Alpha, and restricted mostly to microscopic species in Beta.
- No Sense of Time: Especially prevalent in Alpha, where plate tectonics didn't match the actual timescale and new kingdoms of animals would evolve from scratch in just a few million years. The latter is also seen in Beta, but was quickly snuffed out by the addition of a specific rule against doing so.
- In both Alpha and Beta, it can take tens of millions of years for a lineage to spread across an entire continent due to the timescale system being disconnected from the per-species habitat rules. However, this is somewhat mitigated in Beta with the addition of wildcard species, which can be in as many habitats as can be justified.
- Not all lacking senses of time are equal, however. In Alpha, the rules about size increases were so restrictive that plants would take too long to grow large and only reach the size of large shrubs before the next extinction event, sometimes as much as 100 million years later, would kill them off—resulting in there never being any realistically large flora. In Beta, this is addressed and averted with new rules allowing flora to grow large much faster than fauna, and when Alpha was revived these rules were added there as well.
- Panspermia: Life first arrived on the planet because it was seeded there by the Nauceans (another creature concept by Hydromancerx, made in anticipation of Spore). In Alpha, panspermia occurred again later as microbes hitched a ride on the seeds of the orbit voltflora and were shot directly to Mason, Sagan 4's moon.
- Plant Aliens: The Plents of Alpha and the Leafstars of Beta . Both are animal-like organisms with plant-like biology and characteristics, with several even becoming sessile like actual plants.
- Retcon: A few times in Alpha, massive changes were made to older species and lineages retroactively as a result of them being widely misinterpreted by later contributors.
- The most notable case of this is the skeletal anatomy of Plents. They were originally intended as soft-bodied organisms which walked on powerful muscles alone, but some later contributors assumed they had full vertebrate skeletons because they resembled Earth tetrapods; as a result, there was a mixture of species that clearly had bones and ones that clearly did not later on, sometimes seemingly gaining and losing them several times in a single evolutionary line. Eventually, they were retconned to have had complete vertebrate skeletons made of wood all along, despite this not only not being biologically feasible but also never being the artistic intent of Oviraptor, who created the ancestors of the Plent lineage.
- Large-scale retcons also occur in Beta, but they primarily exist to correct organisms that are actually scientifically impossible and add in important missing details.
- Revision: A number of times in both Alpha and Beta, species or events were modified to correct errors or to clarify when features that just seemed to phase into existence first appeared.
- In Alpha, a missing link, known as Binucluse Icosahedron Truncated Icosahedron, was eventually created between the Binucleusdetritivorus Worm and the Binucleus Stella Dodecahedron, as they were both the result of symbiosis of the same two microbial ancestors.
- In Beta, Ceratoastermorphsnote were eventually revised to have evolved abdominal cavities despite this never being mentioned previously in order to explain their complexity—which far exceeded that of any organism on Earth without one.
- Solar Flare Disaster: The first mass extinction event of the project, which is also the point of divergence between Alpha and Beta, was originally stated to be caused by a solar flare.
- Starfish Aliens: Inconsistently present in both, more common in Beta. Although all species have recognizable features, even some that are directly lifted from Earth fauna, comparatively few are recognizable as any one kind of creature from Earth and their internal anatomy can sometimes be completely alien.
- Beta's analogs to vertebrates only bear a passing resemblance to terran fish. They evolved from radially symmetric ancestors and gained bilateral symmetry secondarily, but retain radial symmetry as larvae. Their tails are modified arms, and nearly all of their bones—including their limbs, skull, and digits—are derived from their "vertebrae". Their tail fins move up and down instead of side to side, and they only have one pair of fins, more like a cetacean. Their radial ancestry has resulted in many of their body parts, such as gills and jaws, being in sets of four.
- The Plague: In Alpha, it was not uncommon for there to be extinction events targeting specific species or lineages with a plague. This was generally done to eliminate implausible or extremely earth-like species (Shrew Plague, Nodent Plague, Sky Sickness), though one, the Sauceback Plague, was done to solve the problem of there being More Predators Than Prey. The first extinction event of Beta was also a plague, which similarly wiped out a group of extremely earth-like species—the cish.
- Tuckerization: Continents, rivers, oceans, hydrothermal vents, cold seeps, volcanoes, mountains, caves, islands, reefs, and other features of the world map are named after contributors and other fans.
Sagan 4 Alpha
- Alien Animals: A common trope on Sagan 4 Alpha, where some species are inexplicably almost identical to common Earth animals.
- All Flyers Are Birds: Both the Skysnappers and the Flying Plents, despite not being much like birds originally, both inexplicably evolved to become increasingly bird-like.
- Armless Biped: There are several examples of this. A handful of them actually walked with their arms and instead lost their legs.
- Capis lost their hind legs sometime during their evolution and walk on their forelegs.
- Saucebacks never had arms in the first place.
- Tasertongues and their closest relatives are bipedal and lack arms—instead manipulating objects with their long prehensile tongues.
- Artistic License Biology: Sagan 4 Alpha is notorious for this.
- The Orbit Voltflora, which is a 2-km long plant made of iron which is powered by lightning, lives in volcanoes, and uses biological rocket fuel to fire its seeds into orbit to reproduce.
- Radiodurans Maximae, a microbe which somehow performs nuclear fusion.
- "Fatty lumps", a recurring integumentary feature for coping with the cold in place of fur which would actually have the exact opposite effect in real life.
- Animals evolved from cells several times. For reference, on Earth animals only evolved from cells once.
- Similarly, vertebrates also evolved several times across multiple kingdoms, including in sessile plants. Multiple arthropod-like lineages even lost their exoskeletons to replace them with backbones.
- Bizarre Alien Limbs
- Many of the terrestrial carpozoan species are tripods or pentapeds. One lineage modified its fingers into five pairs of limbs.
- The Eardigger and its descendants use their ears as an extra pair of limbs.
- Butt Biter: The Beastworm and its early descendants hunted Plents by biting down on their so-called "butt nostrils".
- Depending on the Writer: Early on, Alpha had a lot of consistency issues caused by the large number of creators involved and the fact that they only had a single day to finish each species. As a result, strange things happened such as Plents seemingly gaining and losing full-body skeletons depending on who made a particular species, and in some cases the intention of one creator was completely ignored—for example, Segmentocauda primus was intended to be a unique animal-like organism made up of a small number of large specialized cells, but when Yokto took over the lineage in week 2, he interpreted it as a normal arthropod-like organism, and so the unique cellular nature was ignored and permanently lost.
- Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: Alpha has a myriad of dinosaur-like animals from unrelated lineages—some of which, such as the Saucebacks, even evolved feathers. Other examples include the Tasertongues, which resemble pachycephalosaurus, and Glowtails, which resembled outdated interpretations of raptors, ankylosaurs, sauropods, and even one looking like a somewhat-accurate take on an Allosaurus.
- Exposed Extraterrestrials: Out of the 3 sapient species to evolve, not a single one wore clothes.
- Flying Seafood Special: A branch of flying plents became flying whales, known as Plentwhales, which were also somehow capable of filter-feeding in the sky.
- Giant Squid: The Rainbow Kraken, at a whopping 50 meters in length, is exactly this.
- Glowing Flora: Many types of flora can glow, including flashkelps, glowshrooms, and nightcrystals.
- Goal-Oriented Evolution: Present especially early on.
- Nearly everything living on land inexplicably evolved mammalian ears under the justification that they were the most "advanced".
- The shrews were a very explicit attempt to evolve mammals, and the unrelated Nodents were an explicit attempt to evolve rodents specifically.
- Headbutting Pachy: While not technically real pachycephalosaurs, the dome-headed gulpers are clear pachycephalosaur expies and fall under this trope.
- Living Gasbag: On several different occasions, Alpha's skies were filled with plants and animals that floated with hydrogen sacs.
- Mechanical Lifeforms: The iron fauna often resemble robots.
- More Predators Than Prey: A prevalent issue, to the point that there was even an extinction event specifically to wipe out an excessive number of large predators in an environment with comparatively few herbivores.
- Multiple-Tailed Beast: The two-tailed saucebacks.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Cruelfang and Terrorfang Hafgufas live up to their names, having proportionally massive teeth and some of the most powerful bite forces of any predators on the planet, which they use to maim their prey.
- Not So Extinct: Multiple examples.
- 8 species native to Coolsteph Island were marked as extinct at the beginning of Week 26 due to the island sinking. However, later on during the week surviving populations were found on the nearby Ramul Island.
- Also during Week 26, a fair number of species were found to have been marked as extinct by mistake in week 21 and proceeded to be "revived", that is, re-added to the ecosystem page.
- These species would not have been revived if not for the discovery of another species, Uksip Marfinnus, which was mistakenly marked as extinct in Week 7 and was then found to have survived every mass extinction event and a massive grind of habitat loss since with two populations to spare. The Week 21 mistake was discovered when the project's staff were searching for any reason for it to have died out at all.
- Following the Marfinnus discovery, additional extinction mistakes continued to be discovered as an effort was made to record every single extinction cause in Sagan 4 history. One revived species, Rainbow Marephasmatis, is even older than Marfinnus.
- Panda-ing to the Audience: The Planda, which, as its name suggests, was just a panda.
- Ptero Soarer: The Skysnappers are sometimes treated as pterosaur expies, which better resemble inaccurate movie monster pterosaurs than actual pterosaurs.
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Or rather, rubber forehead animals, as amazingly none of the sapient races fell under this trope. Most infamous are the shrews and the nodents, which respectively look like mammals with 6 eyes and rodents made of plant material. Members of the kingdom Carpozoa make up the majority of examples, also including clones of many different types of reptile and amphibian with extra eyes as their only "alien" trait.
- Sea Serpents: Snarks and Hafgufas are large oceanic predators which often have long serpentine bodies.
- Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup: On the production side, rather than anything in-universe. With the sheer number of contributors and each "Generation" only lasting one real-world day early on in Alpha, implausible submissions were easily approved just for the sake of finishing quickly even if the ancestor species were being wildly and obviously misinterpreted, resulting in a general decay of the project's quality and scientific accuracy. While Beta has just as many contributors, this problem is avoided by better planning and moderation, as well as there being much more time to create submissions and for other members to critique them.
- Use Your Head: Dome-Headed Gulpers such as the Tasertongues battle one another through headbutting.
- You Dirty Rat!: Heavily averted with the Norats, which were depicted as being just like actual rats, except evolving from planimals from space.
Sagan 4 Beta
- Alternate Timeline: Beta is an alternate timeline in which the results of the first extinction event were different. In Alpha, the founding members each got to choose a species they wanted to spare; in Beta, although more species actually survived the event (15 instead of only 10), most of the additional survivors were microbes and, more notably, the ancestors of the iconic purple flora and plents of Alpha were among the casualties this time around. Although purple plants evolved again, it wasn't until millions of years later, by which point evolution had already taken an unrecognizable turn compared to Alpha.
- Artistic License Biology: Though there are fewer examples compared to Alpha, Beta is not immune to this trope.
- Animals evolved from cells four times, excluding extinct lineages.
- The Devorator from Beta is described as needing to swim constantly to survive, yet it has lumpy spiky armor, a stiff body, and a C-shaped tail fin which together would make it nearly incapable of swimming at all. When this error was noticed by other contributors later, it was quickly replaced with far more streamlined descendants.
- Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: The Prickle Gill, which has 49 genders—21 of which are brightly colored and venomous.
- Bizarre Alien Limbs
- Lagnodactyls have four limbs—left and right in a pair, a single front limb, and a single hind limb. Despite usually resembling a tail, the single hind limb also contains the anus is further called an "anal arm", and the digits at the end are called "anal fingers".
- The "vertebrate" lagnodactyls further have multiple "backbones" inside their limbs and digits in place of conventional limb bones.
- Bizarre Alien Sexes: The Twilight Gill has a grand total of 77 mating types.
- Goal-Oriented Evolution: This is a much rarer occurrence in Beta than in Alpha.
- Cish were an example of this, as their evolution directly mirrored that of Earth vertebrates—even including an understandably rejected, non-canon submission which evolved directly from a fish-like creature into a salamander. This is hinted at further by descriptions of early species, such as the Algae Cish, which state that their "future looks very bright indeed"—which never came to be, as that particular species went extinct without leaving any descendants.
- Reset Button: The reboot which later became Beta literally reverted the project to an earlier state.