NASA, the American space agency, has announced its partnership with three serious games developers for an upcoming Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) game to be titled Astronaut: Moon, Mars & Beyond. Virtual Heroes, Project Whitecard and Information in Place will be using their combined experience in developing virtual training software to create this educational yet entertaining game.
This subscription-based MMO will have players completing both individual and team-based challenges as part of a virtual Moon base mission. Players will unlock various vehicles, spacesuits and other items through solving real science, math or engineering problems. While Astronaut will be educational, it also plans on being fun. Read More…
"The single biggest point that was pushed forward by the game community was that you have to let game design lead the development," said Daniel Laughlin, project manager for NASA Learning Technologies. "It's easy to build a game that's no fun. It's hard to build a game that's successful and fun."
The combined experience behind Astronaut: Moon, Mars & Beyond is considerable. Virtual Heroes and Project Whitecard are currently completing an immersive learning project for the Canadian Space Agency. Meanwhile, Virtual Heroes is also working with Information in Place on a "Virtual Astronaut" project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
"We want to create a fun, compelling gaming experience that will give players the chance to learn about science and engineering careers while they play the game," said Laughlin about Astronaut: Moon, Mars & Beyond.
"NASA will continue to pursue innovative strategies to encourage students to improve their interest and performance in STEM and related careers," said Dr. Joyce Winterton, NASA assistant administrator for education. "The use of online educational games can capture student interest in NASA's missions and science." The game aims to reach a broad age range, from middle school to college students as well as a significant portion of the general public.
Defined as a first-person exploration game, Astronaut will have users playing a range of roles and promote player cooperation in mastering harsh space environments and complex machinery.
The game’s scientifically accurate virtual reality will give players a chance to experiment with chemical reactions in living cells, practice operating and repairing expensive equipment and experience microgravity. Astronaut is also likely to include “near-future reality” and some of NASA’s future space technology concepts. NASA has also hinted that it is considering allowing user-generated content.
A playable demo of the game, planned for release before the end of 2009, will be based on a tech demo that used Epic’s Unreal Engine 3. The same engine was used in Bioware’s hit space exploration game Mass Effect. The completed game is expected around the end of 2010.