NASA had been planning to create its own massively multi-player online game but its Glenn Research Center’s Educational Programs Office has decided to enter the games arena with a request for proposals for a $200,000 contract to develop an interactive educational lunar base design and exploration simulation
NASA has also been interested in video game technology for its own development of its Constellation programme systems. It has worked with Vision Videogames on something called SIMConstellation and also uses a visualisation system that is based on a first-person shooter game engine
However LunarSIM is aimed at “middle school” students in grades six to eight (is that 11 to 13 year olds?) and with a 15-month contract duration and a further three months for beta testing aftre that. I guess we could see the game in about two years time
NASA is recommending to developers tha they use two books for reference, the Lunar Base Handbook by Peter Eckart and Project Constellation: Moon, Mars, and Beyond by Tim McElyea. Sadly Eckert’s book is not available on Amazon.com so I can’t imagine that will be easy to find anywhere, while McElyea’s book can be purchased
The game can be no larger than 4.7Gbytes, has to be able to run on both PC and Mac and will be distributed free by the internet and DVD
Players will explore the lunar base in the first-person, either on-foot or while driving a pressurized rover. When driving by each Lunar Surface element an explanation will be provided of what it is and how it is used
LunarSIM has to use the Constellation programme vehicles and lunar surface element designs and it has to use realistic physics
While players will design a lunar base using the default set of Constellation lunar surface elements “NASA subject matter experts” and teachers must be able to add more themselves
Like games such as Civilisation players will have to consider resources and NASA wants real engineering and science challenges that encourage students to “think like engineers” and while the players walk or drive around the base they should “think like astronauts”
At the start players will see a NASA provided video of an unnamed Lunar Lander (not Altair?) separating from the Orion crew exploration vehicle and the lander’s descent and landing on the lunar surface where the base will be constructed. The game will also allow NASA to change this video
The game will be customisable so that NASA subject matter experts and teachers can add, delete “3D surface elements and animations” included in the basic installation to give players different elements to work with. Other than habitats NASA envisages drilling rigs
Ares V, Orion, drilling rigs, asteroids, “Armageddon” the game anyone?
The lunar surface elements will be created using industry standard modeling/animation software such as Maya, 3D studio, Lightwave 3D, etc and then imported into the LunarSim software
Apparently “development using an open-source software 3D development environment is permitted and encouraged”. So how long will it be before the online community start inserting weapons and aliens? Or even adding Chinese Shenzhou lunar spacecraft and ESA-Russian lunar Crew Space Transportation System vehicles for some geopolitical interplanetary warfare?
NASA also wants to have the option of enhancing the game and adding mission scenarios, Apollo 13 redux anyone?
The games will use “realistic terrain models”, as realistic as 4.7Gbytes allows I guess and the missions will be able to run for an “unlimited amount of time”. It is going to have some stiff competition though