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Education Space Games Science

Learning Rocket Science With Video Games 64

GNUman writes "Wired has an article about using videogames to get kids into engineering, starting with Kerbal Space Program, a indie physics-driven sandbox where you build your own spaceship and explore space. I have had much fun with this game the past year and I have actually learned a bit of rocket engineering and orbital mechanics while at it. The article also mentions Minecraft, World of Goo, Amazing Alex, Patterns, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, Fantastic Contraption and SpaceChem. I really like the idea of games that are great fun while fostering creativity and even learning in the process. What games would you add to this list?"
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Learning Rocket Science With Video Games

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  • Scorched Earth! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Iniamyen ( 2440798 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @06:56PM (#42266595)
    Or "Worms," if you are from a younger generation.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Or "Gorillas", that came with QBasic 5.0

  • TIM (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @06:56PM (#42266597)

    The Incredible Machine.

  • Lunar Lander! (Score:4, Informative)

    by HEMI426 ( 715714 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @07:01PM (#42266641) Homepage
    No mention of Lunar Lander?! :) ... No, I'm not serious.
    • was this from the early 70s? used alot of college computer time to play something that i think had a similar name. i loved that game, if it is the one mentioned!!
    • Ok, maybe not lunar lander but Lunar Flight [] is worth a look, or Garys Mod [].
    • I was going to *seriously* mention Lunar Lander. And/or one of the zillion cannon games to teach trajectory.

      • by HEMI426 ( 715714 )
        Yeah, I considered a Scorched Earth mention, too...Fun games, and actually useful to some degree.
        • No, I didn't mean Scorched Earth, I'd never heard of it before. I meant []

          Though I'm guessing it was one of the later Apple II versions that I saw first, though maybe I'm mixing up the gun from Sabotage ( in my mind for a cannon in one of the Artillery games. (I do see also that the Atari 2600 Artillery Duel has visual cannons, but I never owned that, but may have played it elsewhere.)

    • by dak664 ( 1992350 )

      The first Lunar Lander was written for the CDC6400 around 1965 and used both console high-speed vector displays. It was amusing enough as a video game but to actually land without running out of fuel required some knowledge of physics. Can't find any images of it, but from this link []:

      The 6600 featured parallel functional units and used 10 peripheral processors (PPUs) for distributed processing. It sported the fastest clock speed for its day (100 nanoseconds). The 6600 was the first commercial computer to use a CRT console; CRTs and radar screens had been used on earlier machines. CDC checkout engineers created computer games such as Baseball, Lunar Lander, and Space Wars, which became incentives for getting the machines operational. These are thought to be the first computer games that used monitors.

  • KSP FTW (Score:5, Informative)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @07:07PM (#42266689) Homepage Journal
    If you haven't checked out KSP yet, do it now. It is worth it.

    Side note: I showed the demo to a middle school administrator at a yard sale I had a few months ago. She was so impressed, she decided to make the game part of the science curriculum.

    Like I said, if you haven't checked it out, do it now. [] You will (probably) not go unimpressed.
    • KSP is one of the best things to happen in gaming lately. Even though I had a basic understanding of orbital mechanics, playing around with the rockets in KSP makes the whole thing seem so much more intuitive since you're looking at Duna thinking "right, I need to get at least 2 tanks of fuel into orbit to do a landing...".

    • KSP is FOR THE WIN. []

      Disclaimer: that's my video

    • by Ocker3 ( 1232550 )
      That looks quite interesting (I work at a high school), thank you
    • I've been playing KSP for over a year now (since 0.8x). The best part about it is that there are NO RAILS in the game. You build your ship, you launch it, it flies. If you screw up, it wrecks. There's no fake scripted shit going on in the game. Though I believe the physics are not 100% accurate (for example, it won't do Lagrange points in orbit) they are close enough for most of the things you'd want to do, and the universe is scaled-down so that missions don't actually take months. You do have time-

      • I've been playing KSP for a while too and it's a fantastic game. The reason you can't do Lagrange points is that it uses patched conics which does "spheres of influence" around planetary bodies and doesn't do gravity interpolation. That being said, the math was good enough to get us to the moon, so for a game as fun as KSP I'm not too upset.
  • Was there ever an updated/modernized version of Rocky's Boots? I remember that one VERY well as being something that got me into logic, circuits, and programming all in one place. Yes, I'm showing my age. Whippersnappers.

  • It's similar in game play to World of Goo, but more technical, and more varied. It's rather old, but it appears that it can still be purchased. []

    • I'd say it's Bridge Builder (or Pontifex) meets World of Goo. Except your tools are more straightforward than in WoG and more fun than in the Bridge Builder games.

    • I don't see much of World of Goo, but what I see is awesome! []

  • by theskunkmonkey ( 839144 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @07:14PM (#42266745) Homepage

    Capt'n Skunky here! I'm one of the Community Managers over at KSP and wanted everyone to come on by the forums or stop by our IRC channel on #kspofficial. We've got a great community full of people willing to help you get that rocket into orbit.

    Thanks for melting the servers Slashdot, and we mean that in a good way! :)

    Capt'n Skunky
    KSP Community Manager

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Fun factor: 10
    Creativity factor: 10
    Learning in the process: well, you learned many engineering principles like Murphy's Lay or "if it ain't broken, ain't fix it"

  • Orbiter (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gostu ( 2473660 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @07:20PM (#42266799) []
    Realistic space flight simulator. The most fun way of learning orbital mechanics ever!
    • Mod Parent Up (Score:5, Informative)

      by kupekhaize ( 220804 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @07:44PM (#42267041) Homepage

      Mods, please mod the parent up. Orbiter is a 100% free realistic simulator that is every geek's dream. It strives for realistic physics (in most cases, there are still some bugs); and includes lots of space vehicles including the Shuttle (which is damn near impossible to launch and achieve a stable orbit on manual control, just like you'd expect). Very entertaining simulator. It has a very extensive selection of mods ( is one of the more popular places to find them).

      My friend has modded his version so much that he's built and launched his own Space Station. He has some of the vehicles timed so well that he can launch from Cape Canaveral, and within 26 minutes match the ISS's orbital specs and dock with it. Each time he plays the game he's reloading his prior state and launching new cargo and expanding the station.

      Aside from the Shuttle there are also lots of next generation vehicles including orbiters with SCRAM engines to help achieve orbit and other items as well. There's also a recent mod to add all of the future and planned SpaceX vehicles as well.

      When I first started playing, I was familiar with some math but knew hardly anything about orbital mechanics. Playing the game at first was fun --- there's nothing quite like launching the space shuttle straight up, then turning off the shuttle engines and watching the thing do backflips at 10K off the ground -- but once you start wanting to achieve something useful, like a dock with the ISS you've really got to start to understand what is going on in order to get where you're going.

      • by barjam ( 37372 )

        The perfect game for me would be a KSP + Orbiter Mix.

        For those looking at orbiter be sure to get the directx plugin. Windows 7 pretty much requires it for decent performance @ full screen.

        • Half the fun of playing Kerbal is watching your hapless Kerbalnauts scream in terror as your shuddering monstrosity climbs through the atmosphere.

          All except Jeb. He's got nerves of steel (or brains of mud, one is never sure).

    • Orbiter and the work of its community of add-on developers allows (but doesn't require) the user to learn at least the following aspects of "rocket science":
      - What sort of path a rocket should take to get from a launchpad to a stable orbit
      - What sort of maneuvers a spacecraft needs to use to change from one orbit to another, e.g. to rendezvous with another spacecraft
      - How to plan a mission to the Moon, or another body in the solar system
      - How to use the gravity of one planet

  • The Civilization games are quite educational, you gain some understanding of a broad array of topics through your tech tree choices. While it's not science exactly you certainly need to understand the different forms of government and religion in order to grow your cities and your civilization.
    • While it's not science exactly

      No it is not science at all. Civilization is a great game but its educational value as far as science is concerned is zero and the way that government and religion (in the versions which have that) affect things is more dependent on game mechanics than history. If you want a more educational game (in terms of history) try Europa Universalis III.

  • I didn't RTFA but how on earth does Minecraft help kids learn science?

    Arithmetic maybe, since kids can learn to count the (small) number of pixels in the godawful block graphics.

  • by Sowelu ( 713889 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @07:28PM (#42266883)
    Build chips out of silicon and metal. Also, Ruckingenur II, where you reverse-engineer things. Both by ZachTronics. [] Neither of them are very long games, but the early levels of Engineer of the People could easily accompany a couple days in a high school science course.
    • by dabadab ( 126782 )

      I wonder how many /. readers realise, that KOHCTPYKTOR is basically "constructor" in lowercase Cyrillic letters.

  • Portal is the game that first got my son really thinking about concepts like conservation of momentum, even though he didn't know that's what he was thinking about.
  • Many years ago, I was playing an early RPG game, where I had named my characters after the moons of Saturn -- Titan, Mimas, Enceladus... A younger co-worker walked past and noticed. He got all excited and asked me, "So you played Starcon II?" I told him no, those were just the names of Saturn's actual moons. He thought someone had made up all those names just for the game. And all the constellations as well. Turns out he knew a lot more actual Astronomy than he realized. He just didn't know which thi

  • Widget Workshop was a great mac game back in the 90s which gave you a lot of components to build things, ranging from electronic circuits to mechanical machines.

  • Osmos by Hemisphere Games [] gives players an intuitive understanding of Newton's laws of motion and orbital mechanics. It's a great, non-mathematical introduction to physics.

  • You can build pinball games and some even non pinball stuff useing it.

  • Check out Zero Robotics []. It is an annual programming competition for high school students that runs during the fall. During the season students write C++ programs for the SPHERES satellites developed by MIT and run online simulations. After several virtual rounds, the championship competition is live from the space station hosted by an astronaut. This year's season is just finishing up, and the finals will be held on January 11. It is also expanding to a limited group of of middle schools this summer.

  • Not a scientific sim, but it does accurately describe the hardware used to get to the Moon during the space race. []
  • It is a childhood favorite [] of mine.

  • An iOS, [] and Android [] app for tablets and phones, Simple Physics works very well to educate kids on forces, leverage, relative strength, etc. Build a bridge and drop rocks on it to see how many it can hold. Build a dam to withstand a flooding river. Build a shelter to withstand a bomb blast, all from the same simple "wooden" materials. My kids play this for hours when I let them.

    There's also an excellent Wind Tunnel [] app for iOS that acts as a simple 2-D wind tunnel, with particle streams, smoke, pressure diff

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.