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NASA Space Entertainment Games

An Early Look at the NASA MMO 208

Posted by Soulskill
from the looking-for-more-to-raid-the-moon dept.
Big Download is running an article with details and screenshots from the MMO under development by NASA. The game makes use of Unreal Engine 3, and it's titled Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond. A demo is planned for later this year, and in 2010 they expect "the first episodic installment of the game" to come out. Jerry Heneghan, founder and CEO of Virtual Heroes, described it thus: "This game is going to be a fresh look at the future circa about 2035. ... The core of the gameplay is going to be people building up their characters and as you move forward, you will have more options unlock with new places to go, new equipment to use and new things to do. We are not so much focused on interstellar flight and all that entails... the gameplay is actually about being in a habitat on a planetary surface and doing things like mining Helium-3 for fuel, operating a hydroponics facility to grow plants and create oxygen and operating robots and vehicles."
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An Early Look at the NASA MMO

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  • A game? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by clarkkent09 (1104833) * on Monday February 23, 2009 @05:22AM (#26955519)
    What's up with everybody using my money to make games these days. It's the latest fad in government agencies or what?
    • Re:A game? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday February 23, 2009 @05:26AM (#26955539) Homepage Journal
      I think it is an outreach thing, which for part of the Government amounts to advertising. Basically they are marketing themselves to future voters.

      Maybe there is a lesson in this for other advertisers. Will there be a "Coca Cola" and "Tesla" MMOs in the future?
      • I may be cynical but after playing spacestationsim which proclaimed on the cover to be made in collaboration with NASA I am convinced that this will suck just as much.

        That was one awful game. I mean the interface was one of the worst I've ever seen.
        Good idea but I could see it had been designed by a committee which had no members who knew how to make a game playable.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Felix Da Rat (93827)

        Shhhhhhh!!!

        I was planing on pitching 'Kingdom of the Colonel: Quest for the 11 Herbs and Spices' to KFC.

      • Re:A game? (Score:5, Funny)

        by gad_zuki! (70830) on Monday February 23, 2009 @11:30AM (#26957725)

        "Tesla" MMOs in the future?

        You are a long-haired early 1990s rocker standing in studio. What do you want to do?

        > sing signs

        You are now singing a protest song about trespassing and signage. Stupid people think its "deep."

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          You are now singing a protest song about trespassing and signage. Stupid people think its "deep."

          This is the only song your band will be remembered for, and it was just a cover of a song by a 70s band who is similarly remembered for nothing else. You vanish into obscurity/rehab.

          The End.

      • Well, maybe, but exactly what idea or notion are they trying to get the people interested in? They can basically,

        1. Actually show what life in such a colony would be like. Which is probably going to be as boring as paint dry.

        It won't even be some kind of a wild-west lone-frontierman scenario. It won't even be a WoW-crafting-only scenario. Most likely you'll just be an employee doing a job there. Maybe an employee of NASA or maybe an employee of whichever corporation thinks they can make a fortune mining tha

        • by Tycho (11893)

          And if it involves any fighting aliens, it's giving up any hope of realism or education in another fine aspect. Considering the billions of years available on its home planet, and the very early stage we're at, chances are far greater that if we run into a civilization alone, it will be 1-2 billion years older and more advanced than us. We don't want to start that relationship with dick-waving and delusions of having any chance in a fight, because we won't. We're talking not just the same difference as between us and a paleolithic tribe, we're talking that difference _squared_ and then some.

          Yes, but through the use of trickery a paleolithic tribe could lure a number of fully-armed, modern day soldiers and throw many sharp rocks at them until the soldiers were knocked unconscious. Then a member of the tribe could stab the soldiers to death with a spear. Granted this would be after some confusion about the soldier's armor. Then the tribe is fucked, however, and will lose any further engagements. The soldiers would not fall for the same trick again.

          As an insurgent, never overestimate the gull

        • by Chabo (880571)

          blah blah

          Too long, didn't read.

          This is /., where some people don't even read the summary, and you expect us to read your comment?

          • by Moraelin (679338)

            Too long, didn't read.

            This is /., where some people don't even read the summary, and you expect us to read your comment?

            Heh. Whatever kind of confusion of mind gave you the idea that anyone _cares_ whether your highness has read or not read a particular message? Did I ask you to read it in the first place?

            What was the exact information and insight that you were trying to impart there? That you don't have the attention span to read, but are here to skip directly to the trolling? Or what? Should I send you so

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zxjio (1475207)
      Your share of the game's development budget will be measured in cents, unless you're rich. What's wrong with inspiring a generation of kids for that little money? I'd imagine many intelligent people went into aerospace after Apollo and so made our lives better far in excess of what was spent.
      • Re:A game? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by clarkkent09 (1104833) * on Monday February 23, 2009 @05:39AM (#26955579)
        So what's next, Dept of Agriculture getting in on the game with SimFarmer? It's wrong because there are very few ways for the government to spend taxpayers' money that is justifiable and sorry but this isn't one of them. It's wrong to the game companies too who now face a competitor with huge guaranteed budget obtained by force, and no expectation of profit, in fact who probably will be giving the game out for free.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anenome (1250374)
          In Soviet Russia, government pays you!
        • by Jurily (900488)

          a competitor with huge guaranteed budget obtained by force, and no expectation of profit

          Translation: the game will suck.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Why is it wrong? It promotes education in the sciences; it's a way to get kids interested in something else besides the Power Rangers or whatever it is kids watch these days, something that might make this world a better place for a change.

          Education matters, you know, and getting kids to set their sights on things like these keeps getting harder. Specially in times like these, that are so harsh on people's dreams.

          From TFA:

          ...the ultimate goal of his team is to inspire generations of future space explorers...and encourage game players to pursue careers on science, math and engineering careers.

          As an aside, don't worry about the gaming companies. Free, government-sponsored compe [americasarmy.com]

        • Re:A game? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Skuld-Chan (302449) on Monday February 23, 2009 @06:28AM (#26955743)

          The game is actually being developed by Virtual Heroes and from what I understand is being offered as a educational tool for 9th graders and they are encouraged to use development tools to build content for the game themselves.

          If this isn't a good investment for our country - not sure what is - especially if its an educational game that is fun to play.

          Dept of Agriculture should do the same thing - to help younger generations get interested in working on and developing technology in the field of agriculture. If it works - I'd be for it - America needs more good farmers and people working in that field.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by drinkypoo (153816)

            Dept of Agriculture should do the same thing

            No, they shouldn't, and neither should NASA, because it will be used to push an agenda. If it was the DoA they would be championing the Green Revolution, which is responsible for a great deal of topsoil loss and in general the loss of soil diversity which is necessary to produce healthy crops. The soil on the average American farm has been all but sterilized with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, sits on top of a layer of hardpan produced by repeated tilling (you can do it with oxen, but hardpan is prod

            • From the article: "One of the story arcs that will take place over the course of the game's first year is the very real threat of global warming."
              • by drinkypoo (153816)

                From the article: "One of the story arcs that will take place over the course of the game's first year is the very real threat of global warming."

                Nice. So we get the official government picture of climate change personified right up front. Good times.

                All I need to know about global warming I learned from Civilization 2. :)

                • ... but peer reviewed science. Read this and learn something. From the peer reviewed science journal, Science:

                  "Others agree. The American Meteorological Society (6), the American Geophysical Union (7), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) all have issued statements in recent years concluding that the evidence for human modification of climate is compelling (8).

                  The drafting of such reports and statements involves many opportunities for comment, criticism, and revision, and it i

          • by mbius (890083)

            The game is actually being developed by Virtual Heroes and from what I understand is being offered as a educational tool for 9th graders and they are encouraged to use development tools to build content for the game themselves.

            In point of fact, they're being encouraged to go buy UT: "We want anybody that can go pick up a copy of Unreal Tournament III for probably $19 at the store now to be able to get content that could be submitted for inclusion in the game," said Heneghan.

            If this isn't a good investment for our country - not sure what is

            That much is clear. I had more sciencey stuff to learn about in 9th grade than fooling around in a 3D construction set, not that the school's hardware could have run it.

          • by Locke2005 (849178)
            If the Department of Agriculture could develop an MMO simulation of gold farming, I'm sure it would be popular -- at least in Asia.
        • Looking through the article and the NASA press release linked therein, NASA seems to be treating this as an educational tool:

          The NASA Learning Technologies (LT) project supports the development of projects that deliver NASA content through innovative applications of technologies to enhance education in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Research and development are at the core of the LT mission. LT seeks to enhance formal and informal education in STEM fields with the goal of increasing the number of students in those fields of study and is currently investigating the development of a NASA-based massively multiplayer online educational game (MMO).

          Now, I don't know about you, but I can see a lot of worse things to spend some money on than getting people interested in science.

          • by jlarocco (851450)

            Now, I don't know about you, but I can see a lot of worse things to spend some money on than getting people interested in science.

            Yeah, but I can think of a lot of better things to spend money on, too.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by LingNoi (1066278)

              Yet, you didn't mention one thing..

          • Depends what you want from your government.

            Do you want one that does as much as possible in what it considers the public good, or as little as possible and leaves the market and people to sort themselves out. At one extreme you have capitalism, at the other you have socialism; I'm not saying anyone is inherently better than the other, but realise that by encouraging spending public money on encouraging your agenda of more science that that is what you are doing.

            If you're going to say that XYZ is a good thin

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by ArsonSmith (13997)

              At one extreme you have Anarchy/Capitalism at the other extreme you have Fascist/Communism.

              Everything in between is socialism.

        • by wisty (1335733)

          Dept Agriculture might do OK, but NASA will flop. It won't be monotonous enough.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Pecisk (688001)

          Yeah, such companies are really into such sims. Wait...they are more willing to crunch out dysopian shooters than any real life sim. Where is my copter sim? Where is living city sim? Ahhh right, they are hard to do, expensive, and doesn't pay back so well as dump shooters.

          Actually SimFarmer would make huge sense for small kids to learn about how food gets to the supermarket.

          • by LingNoi (1066278)

            What are you talking about we had both sim city and sim copter which allowed you to import your city from sim city.

        • In the early 1900s "Uncle Sam Wants You" was a big promotional push by the armed forces, competing with all kinds of other industries for recruits and using any and all popular media of the time.

          Is this really any different?
        • Re:A game? (Score:5, Informative)

          by SGDarkKnight (253157) on Monday February 23, 2009 @08:44AM (#26956205)

          Actually, Maxis already created a game called SimFarm which more or less simulated all the activities of a farm, i remember playing it way back in the day, but i'm sure if some government agency made one, it would be far different... or would it? Anywho, here is the wiki link to the description, and if im not mistaken, you may even be able to downlaod a freeware version of the game as well.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SimFarm [wikipedia.org]

          • In the Government version of SimFarm, you don't even get out of the chair at your PC. The whole Sim involves filing for subsidies, and email exchanges with USDA clerks. There is a section with a simulation of a tractor, but you just go out there once in a spell and blow the dust off it before returning to your desktop to answer another query from the subsidy payout clerk at USDA.

          • Actually, Maxis already created a game called SimFarm which more or less simulated all the activities of a farm, i remember playing it way back in the day, but i'm sure if some government agency made one, it would be far different...

            If they made it you'd just sit there doing nothing leaving your fields fallow while the government sends you a check. You get to sit on your porch drinking a beer and bitch about all them lazy no-good welfare niggers sucking at the government teat, blissfully aware of the irony of the situation.

        • by drerwk (695572)
          http://www.simtractor.com/ [simtractor.com]
          The funniest thing I've read in a long while was a post from a guy complaining bitterly that a bug in Simtractor caused him to lose a whole season worth of beats.
        • It's wrong because there are very few ways for the government to spend taxpayers' money that is justifiable...

          I'm sure it's in the Constitution that Congress can fund MMORPGs! It's right there next to pensions and health care.
    • Re:A game? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Yvanhoe (564877) on Monday February 23, 2009 @06:03AM (#26955659) Journal
      Mars Rovers were in fact a secret plane to create a massive FPS arena. The next batch will be able to fire rockets. The 40 mins lag is a bitch however.
      Seriously, the rovers did no serious science (yes I saw the article about drops, they see a drop they are unsure of what it is. Genius) and were just PR toys. All real science was made from orbit where satellites did stuff like map the entire planet for underground stocks of water (and found plenty)
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by MichaelSmith (789609)

        the rovers did no serious science

        Oh really? [nasa.gov]

      • by Tom (822)

        Like the GP, you miss the political component entirely.

        PR stunts on this kind of stuff are important. If you ask the general public to give you a billion bucks for science, you better have something to show for it. Now the actual science, that isn't very show-worthy. But a remote-controlled car driving around on the surface of a foreign planet and sending home vacation pictures - that is something that John Doe can relate to.

        It's like Vietnam, Iraq or whatever you have - the actual cruelty of war is never i

    • by damburger (981828)

      Yes, your government are spending fractions of pennies of the taxes you pay them to try and get your countries children excited about science and space exploration.

      What a bunch of bastards.

      • by balthan (130165)

        your government are spending fractions of pennies

        Besides, what's the big deal about trillion dollar deficit anyway?

    • Conclusion mat... (Score:3, Informative)

      by TapeCutter (624760)
      What evidence do you have that this is your money?

      The article gives a hint with the words "subscription based", three clicks and I managed to find the RFP [nasa.gov], a quick skim gives the following quote: "Funding to design, develop, and deploy the MMO should be included in the proposer's business plan."

      Apologies for interupting everyone's political flame fest, please continue...
      • What evidence do you have that this is your money?

        Hmm, well not much to be honest. The summary said "the MMO under development by NASA", so it seems clear enough, but then summaries are often wrong here. TFA doesn't mention who pays for the development at all. I'd be surprised if there is no NASA money going towards it though and if this will be a normal commercial game since the article does mention that NASA Learning Technologies is involved.
        • Yep, NASA Learning Technologies will have had to (at a minimum) pay people to review and pick the winning tender. I'm not a US taxpayer so I will leave it to others to judge if that's a waste of their money.
        • If so, I wonder how many fans a cooperative building strategy game will have. MMORPGs tend to need significant subscriber numbers to pay the costs, and AFAIK similar games like "A Tale In The Desert" have pretty low subscriber numbers.

          So while I like the idea, it seems quite possible that the game won't get far without NASA funding.

    • Re:A game? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jandersen (462034) on Monday February 23, 2009 @07:00AM (#26955859)

      What's up with everybody using my money to make games these days.

      If it was your money, it would be in your pocket and yours to spend, wouldn't it?

      Tax is the contribution of the citizens towards the cost of running the state. The state in return provides certain services, roads, schools, military and a number of other things. Only a very minute part of your tax is spent on this sort of light entertainment - although I think this may be more in the category of edutainment, which is not a bad idea; too many people in America have no idea about astronomy and space technology, and a game like this might bring them a little bit closer to reality - and who knows, maybe even inspire some to learn more.

      • Re:A game? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by balthan (130165) on Monday February 23, 2009 @09:19AM (#26956411)

        Only a very minute part of your tax is spent on this sort of light entertainment

        By this agency, on this project. When you start adding up the hundreds of projects from dozens of agencies, it doesn't seem so minute. And when you factor in our short-term trillion dollar deficit and the long-term budgetary crisis that will happen in the next couple decades, maybe a space MMO isn't such a great use of taxpayer dollars right now.

      • Legally, there's a specific list of things the federal government may do. Building MMORPGs is not one of them.
    • by houghi (78078)

      It is called Public Relations. I assume they hope to it will increase interest. Increased interest will most likely mean increased funding.

    • Re:A game? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by GreggBz (777373) on Monday February 23, 2009 @08:38AM (#26956177) Homepage
      You know, I obsessively played a game called Starflight [wikipedia.org] when I was 11 or 12. That game was a springboard for a lifelong interest in space and astronomy. It also inspired a few years of bedroom programing [outerspacecrew.net] in an attempt to recreate it. It was pretty unique in that it was fairly hard-sci-fi with lots of accurate terms and ideas.

      Don't underestimate what capturing the imagination of a child can do for their adult life. We need better science education in this country.
      • by Goldsmith (561202)

        but... you didn't end up working for NASA (right?) Imagination is great. I think this project is justified for the reasons you gave. I disagree that it will push kids into careers in science... maybe programming and video game design.

        I would like to see more projects focused on getting kids to experience what scientists do everyday, the small moments of discovery and goal-oriented approach in an environment where everything is not known and predetermined. The idea that you're doing something no one has

    • Don't worry-- the NASA MMO deal is that the developer has to spend their own money. All NASA provides is basically licensing rights to use NASA images, the name, etc (in return for some oversight on the project). In fact, that was the big controversy last year during the NASA MMO pitches, that NASA wasn't pitching in money but expected the developers to fund it under NASA term's but with the developer's dime. That's why they ended up getting far fewer pitches then originally attended their big meeting.

      So

  • by sahonen (680948) on Monday February 23, 2009 @05:42AM (#26955591) Homepage Journal
    Will it have realistic physics? And by realistic I don't mean video game realistic, but actual rocket science physics like Orbiter [orbitersim.com] has.
    • Repeat this to yourself until you understand - it's a GAME. It's not real! It's not supposed to be real! It's entertainment, not a graduate-level physics homework exercise. If you want to spend your free time doing the calculus to figure out intercept vectors, then go right ahead with a pen & pencil. Heck, get a job in aerospace, it's pretty much the same thing. The rest of us want to fly around and shoot things with laser beams.
  • 2035? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by blackirish (794322) on Monday February 23, 2009 @05:49AM (#26955613)

    If it's set circa 2035, why is there a space shuttle docked to the ISS in the screenshots? Shouldn't it be an Orion capsule?

    • Re:2035? (Score:5, Funny)

      by GrpA (691294) on Monday February 23, 2009 @05:52AM (#26955621)

      2035, US budget cutbacks, shuttle still in use...

      Sounds like they've brought in experts to make their new game seem plausible :)

      GrpA

    • I'm wondering about the timeline for having space colonies. According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], NASA doesn't plan to send humans to Mars till at least 2030, and I think NASA has said even a return to the Moon won't happen till the 2020s. And that's assuming a rosy economic picture. So, it seems very fictional to portray any significant human presence on the Moon, let alone Mars, in a game set in 2035. And as long as we're heavily fictionalizing the experience, how about throwing in some Orc shamans?
  • Trying to capitalize on the runaway success of all those exciting first-person mining/farming simulators, are they?

  • Is that something they're spend their slice of the stimulus on?

    Really, how do people take Keynesian economics seriously today?

  • This game is going to be a fresh look at the future circa about 2035

    We're lucky if we get people beyond earth orbit again by then, let alone to Mars. The notion that we'll have Mars-based habitats (like those depicted in the game) is implausible. I think people just don't realize how ill-suited man is to space travel, how difficult and costly it is to keep people alive in space, and how costly it is to get mass up into orbit and beyond.

    Manned interplanetary travel will happen eventually (if we don't kill

  • Grinding (Score:5, Funny)

    by A. B3ttik (1344591) on Monday February 23, 2009 @06:46AM (#26955803)
    The first portion of the game will have you fighting Level 1 Obsolete Satellites, and it'll take about 70 of them to level the first few levels. You'll have missions to destroy tiny asteroids, maybe fix some GPS Satellites, or possibly collect a dozen 'Unique Space Debris' and bring them back to the Hubble Telescope.

    But by the end of the game, there will be large 40-man Raids scouring the Martian valleys, fighting Dust Golems and Communist Colonists, the final boss of which will be the long-missing rogue Mutated Mars Rover.
  • by aapold (753705) on Monday February 23, 2009 @07:27AM (#26955941) Homepage Journal

    How else are we supposed to keep the moon clear of moondust farmers?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Didn't you read the article? This is "The Sims: Space Edition"

      Theres no place for PVP

      The core of the gameplay is going to be people building up their characters...the gameplay is actually about being in a habitat on a planetary surface and doing things like mining...

  • The core of the gameplay is going to be people building up their characters and as you move forward, you will have more options unlock with new places to go, new equipment to use and new things to do.

    Wow, that doesn't sound generic at all. What exactly are people building their characters up towards? What are they moving forward to?

    Please don't make this a generic grinding game that tries to solve Global Warming...

    One of the story arcs that will take place over the course of the game's first year is the very real threat of global warming.

    Oh crap...

    "What do you do when someone is injured in space out on the surface of the moon?" asked Shariff. "One answer is a rover that can be used as an ambulance..."

    One option, and this may sound callous, is to leave them. I'm fairly sure that the astronauts would sign waivers that acknowledge the risks of space travel and the costs of rescue missions are generally not feasible. Then again, that wouldn't work well for a plot in a game.

  • by bluphysted (1340479) on Monday February 23, 2009 @07:50AM (#26956013)

    It won't take long for the Chinese Helium-3 farmers to ruin the economy.

  • Circa about? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Monday February 23, 2009 @08:12AM (#26956109)

    Does someone need to look up the term 'circa' ?

    And 2035... Unless we get a SERIOUS move on, 2035 will be very, very little different than today: No manned spacecraft to the Moon or Mars at all.

  • Crowdsourcing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by yogibaer (757010)
    Could be an interesting social experiment. With all the "human factors" involved in both success and failure of a long term Mars mission,this could be an excellent playground to find the situations that provoke irrational behaviour and which are particularly hard to simulate.
    • I was going to respond with a similar thought... this and other MMO simulations could be really really great for exploring how "humans" deal with new scenarios. You can't simulate people but you can simulate an environment and then put people in it.

  • . . . someone figures out how to gank noobs by dropping asteroids onto their facilities. . . . And imagine the PVP options. . .
  • So it's a fantasy MMO then?
  • I'm not interested unless the game will let me stage a lunar revolution with the aid of a sentient computer, and throw large rocks at my oppressors on Earth.
  • How about a game where NASA stays focused on establishing a permanent colony on the Moon? Using 2009 technology, and with real launch vehicles and people? This idea may even be better, put a rat maze on the moon, with living rats, and resupply it. Watch what happens to the rats. Put results on 7/24 Streaming Media, and clips of unusual stuff on Youtube.

  • What they should do is use the massive ability of MMO players to do hard labor. Think about all the information that could be parsed by NASA MMO players. Parts of the game should be looking at Hubble Images for specific items, or comparing red shifts. It has been fully shown that MMO players will "grind" up against a work load to get to the next whatever, so that should be something that NASA exploits.

  • I can imagine people who find crafting items in MMOs to have a lot of fun with this game.

It seems that more and more mathematicians are using a new, high level language named "research student".

Working...