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NASA working with three game studios to help develop its MMORPG

After announcing its intentions early last year to create a new MMO video game, both the gaming world and space community became interested to hear more about what kind of game is in the works from NASA.

NASA is in a position to develop an online game that functions as a “persistent, synthetic environment supporting education as a laboratory, a massive visualization tools and collaborative workspace while simultaneously drawing users into a challenging, game-play immersion," the U.S. space agency said in a statement.

NASA's Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond will be developed by Information In Place, Virtual Heroes, and Project Whitecard, NASA recently announced -- there were rumors swirling for more than a month regarding the studios that would be selected for the project.

The subscription-based video game will run on Unreal Engine 3 engine and will offer gamers the opportunity to head into space serving as several roles related to space exploration.  For example, gamers can play as a roboticist, space geologist, astrobiologist or mechanical engineer while helping create space outposts or travel around the solar system.

Both individual challenges and team-based objectives will be available in the game, with vehicles, spacesuits and other items able to be unlocked when gamers solve real science, math or engineering problems along the way.  Similar to hit the game Spore, gamers will have the opportunity to explore space in user-created space ships, but NASA remains rather tight-lipped about other features of the new game.

"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," NASA Learning Technologies research scientist Daniel Laughlin said.

A beta for Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond is expected sometime in late 2009, and the full version is expected to ship in 2010.



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what about the fun?
By kattanna on 2/23/2009 10:11:52 AM , Rating: 2
i have read about the games and what they are going to be trying, but beyond a " wow neat" factor, im not seeing a long term fun factor.

though, granted, LOL i dont see that in most online MMO games nowadays anyways.




RE: what about the fun?
By grath on 2/23/2009 10:46:41 AM , Rating: 2
It will definetly be a challenge for them to design something worth playing. They are working without some of the fundamental tools used to develop these games, those being the existence of an antagonist to combat against, and the various plot devices and deus ex machina inherent to the fantasy/scifi genre that these games are typically set in.

Most MMOGs have a variety of non-combat activities such as crafting, entertaining, or economics, but these usually serve to ultimately support the combat activity of yourself or other players. Sometimes, the economic and crafting systems of a game are so complex and interdependent that they can be even more diverting and engaging to a player than combat, although this tends to apply to the already more technically and mathematically inclined players. This has led to a trend of the more complex non-combat systems being "dumbed down" by popular demand of the players who just want to shoot things and not be bothered with crafting or economics.

So this NASA MMO sounds like the extreme opposite of the dumbing down of non-combat trend, presumably eliminating combat entirely. Assuming they build the rest of the game properly, it would certainly appeal to those of us predisposed toward such things, but the general shoot-em-up public will be very difficult to appeal to. If they intend to target a wider player base, I worry that even this will be unacceptably dumbed down.


RE: what about the fun?
By Bremen7000 on 2/23/2009 8:30:55 PM , Rating: 2
Crafting and non-combat skills were invented to lower the average CPU load. Thanks for being easy to please. :)


Neat, but
By ZachDontScare on 2/23/2009 1:47:09 PM , Rating: 2
Its certainly a neat idea, and that type of game would appeal to me more than something like WoW does, but....

Is this really in the realm of what a government agency should be doing? It says its subscription based, so it sounds like it'd be competing directly with private businesses for game players' money.




RE: Neat, but
By grath on 2/23/2009 4:23:35 PM , Rating: 2
I doubt that the taxpayer will end up paying for this. Whatever work on the project that NASA has done to this point may have come out of their own budget, but the game studios they have partenered with will likely pay for most of the development and infrastructure, and any revenue the game generates will go through the studios first, assuming any gets back to NASA at all. I see it more as licensing the intellectual property that is the US space program. There is much in the way technological extrapolation needed to reach the setting of 2035, and while the NASA material is the starting point and they will provide guidance, developing the material into a playable game is better suited to the game studio rather than NASA itself.


I can see some opportunities here...
By Hawkido on 2/23/2009 1:47:41 PM , Rating: 2
But I can't see people paying for them.

If they made it free and allowed people to design and test space stations, vechicles, and the like, then let NASA use the designs, but give the "Players" credit (and maybe job opportunities), I could see the benefit. I just don't feel that the fun factor would be there for a fee. Granted I am such a geek I would probably pay for a while to mess around with it.

I always thought an educational MMO would be neat as a learning tool to show people why science and math are useful. Plus make more complex (read Epic) developments require a better mastery of scientific or math skills.

But, as stated, without the Bang Bang Boom! factor 99.95% of the population wouldn't bother with such a square game.

I always thought calculating Volume, Mass distribution, Total mass, Inertia, Structural integrety, Trajectory, and the like would be interesting for a challenge to overcome in order to outfit the "Epic" ship in Eve Online or the like. That way the true geeks and not the button mashers of the world would be the MVPs in the guild. Plus it would make real world skills desired and therefor far more socially acceptable.

If they would make a version for high scool math and science students, and a more advanced "area" for undergrad or grad level courses.

If you design a component it can either be named by you or something. Wouldn't it be cool if you could say you designed a component or the whole vehicle of the next mars rover?




By Starcub on 2/23/2009 7:21:53 PM , Rating: 2
The Sims online got pretty popular and it's not exactly a shoot-em up game. In fact, I remember playing quite a lot of flight sim and air traffic control sim games when I was younger. Those games gave me hours of fun and a huge appreciation for the challenges those jobs can present.

Seems like every time I turn around I see NASA doing something interesting -- really a great organization.


MMO Explosion!
By Shig on 2/23/2009 10:07:16 AM , Rating: 2
So many are coming out in 2009/2010.

I guess Blizzard's 10 million subscribers made all the game devs jelous ;)




Wait...
By Reclaimer77 on 2/23/2009 1:42:17 PM , Rating: 1
I'm all for MMO's, I love em. But let me get this straight, NASA, a publicly funded branch of the government, is going to develop an MMO ?

Good MMO's aren't cheap. Go ask Blizzard how much capital it took just to get WoW off the ground. Both in hardware and development costs.

I'm all for NASA flushing my tax money down the toilet to go dig up Mars rocks, fine. But video games now ?

First off, the game is going to suck balls anyway. Why would I pay a monthly subscription fee to be educated ? I can learn about all of those scientific fields for FREE. It's called Google, the LIBRARY, and Youtube.

Wheres the fun factor ? Also it's an MMO, and that means a PERSISTENT online world. What happens when 5 or 10 thousand players ALL want to pilot Space Shuttles ? What happens when some kid decides to build a space station directly in an orbital path or right over Cape Canavral or something ? Give me a break NASA, you don't have a clue what you are getting yourself into.




"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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