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NASA Space Entertainment Games

Information Requested for NASA-Based MMORPG 144

Teancum writes "By now, most people are aware of the U.S. Army's video game, America's Army. It turns out that NASA has submitted a Request for Information for what would be a NASA-themed MMORPG of its own. The deadline for the proposals is February 15th. NASA's plans focus on education. 'A NASA-based MMO built on a game engine that includes powerful physics capabilities could support accurate in-game experimentation and research. It should simulate real NASA engineering and science missions in a medium that is comfortable and familiar to the majority of students in the United States today.' This certainly doesn't deserve to get thrown onto the traditional dust heap of educational proposals for a half-baked game that nobody will actually play."
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Information Requested for NASA-Based MMORPG

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  • How realistic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gnuman99 ( 746007 ) on Friday January 18, 2008 @02:08AM (#22090194)
    How realistic do they want the simulations? So realistic that the technology becomes classified?

    Anyway, the basic of what NASA is known for is space and rocketry missions. So for STEM (Science/Tech/Eng/Math), this covers most of this. I do not know how they will cover engineering - designing rocket engines? Heat shield tests? Vehicle-debris impact simulation?? The incredible-machine-like workshops?

    Math is the most hopeless area to try to stimulate. Since they want to gear this towards regular school (high school and younger) students, not PhD math students, all they can hope for is arithmetic. Sure, they can have "difficult problems" like "solve linear system of equations", but that is not what higher level math is about. Math is about logic and nothing else. Not arithmetic.

    I wish them luck. They should really think *hard* about what they want from something like this. The American Army (AA) game is a relatively simple shooter with emphasis on some "formal" training and more realistic combat (which is less fun, BTW). The NASA game may be ok only if it targets people already interested in science and allows these people to interact with each other. If the game is dumbed down to the "regular student" level, they'll end up with no one there. The geeks will think the game sucks as it provides not enough challenge and the others will think it is just some stupid "educational" game.

    NASA, design it for geeks first please, and maybe you'll get what you want in the end.
  • MMO or MMORPG? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Erpo ( 237853 ) on Friday January 18, 2008 @02:13AM (#22090218)
    Persistent immersive synthetic environments in the form of massive multiplayer online gaming and social virtual worlds, initially popularized as gaming and social settings, are now finding growing interest as education and training venues. There is increasing recognition that these synthetic environments can serve as powerful "hands-on" tools for teaching a range of complex subjects, including STEM-based instruction. Virtual worlds with scientifically accurate simulations could permit learners to tinker with chemical reactions in living cells, practice operating and repairing expensive equipment, and experience microgravity - making it easier to grasp complex concepts and quickly transfer this understanding to practical problems.

    Notice that it refers to MMOs and not necessarily MMORPGs which, IMHO, is the most common kind of MMO. The two primary activities in MMORPGs are questing and grinding, and I don't think those activities lend themselves to accomplishing the goals NASA has set out.

    So, how are they going to make this fun?
  • Re:How realistic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZombieRoboNinja ( 905329 ) on Friday January 18, 2008 @03:08AM (#22090426)
    Honestly, there are plenty of "educational" things they could stick in this game other than actually simulating what a rocket scientist does.

    If you think about it, most Americans don't really understand space science. They don't understand the basic theory, they don't understand the pragmatic limitations, and (perhaps most importantly) they don't necessarily see the long-term benefits of advanced scientific research. Maybe setting up the game as more of a high-level Sim type game would work.

    So you want a framework for a game? How about a Space Race. Players form guild-like Research Groups, all vying for achievements. The Groups would be striving for various achievements, like building a space telescope, landing a person on the Moon, mapping out the surface of Saturn, etc. To succeed in any of these tasks requires a lot of research (which takes in-game time and money), but you are rewarded in several ways. First off, you gain Prestige when you do something headline-worthy, especially if you're the first Group to manage it, but the Prestige is only instrumental - it earns you more funds and qualified manpower (because kids who saw your Moon Landing grow up and study astronomy), which you re-invest into new research.

    The real goal of the game, though, is unlocking Knowledge, which you do in all sorts of ways. Some achievements (Hubble) might give you not very much Prestige, but they'll continue to accrue Knowledge over time. Others (space shuttle stuff) might give you a good boost in Prestige when your Group needs it, but aren't a great investment long-term because they don't give as much Knowledge. And as the Knowledge rolls in, players start to see the consequences. Ten game-years after your telescope launch, for example, you might get a note about how medical researchers have adopted your optics research to revolutionize heart surgery (based on a true story, I think).

    I think it could definitely work as a high-level game like this; the question is how in-depth you can get. Would it make sense to have players in the Group actually playing as Aerospace Engineers, Electronics Experts, Optics Researchers, Physicists, etc.? Maybe they could manage it through a sort of abstracted skill-based minigame system: for example, the Physicist plays his minigame for as long as he wants, racking up Physics Research points (which the Group leader is responsible for funneling into the various projects the Group is running) but costing his Group money by the minute. That way, Groups could have managed budgets and so on without forcing players to play a certain number of hours every day. (The hot-shot "Physicist" players would be the ones who really excel at that minigame, so they have the best ratio of Research earned to time played.)
  • Re:How realistic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sporkme ( 983186 ) * on Friday January 18, 2008 @03:32AM (#22090506) Homepage
    Slow down there, space cowboy...

    Your points are absolutely valid in your context, but I think we are dangerously placing the cart before our collective ass.

    Just like the military, NASA has experienced declining general interest. This is not a SETI-esque venture to solve the great mysteries of space travel, nor is it some kind of "Last Starfighter" quest for an Alex Rogan []. It is a valid, overdue tossing of kerosene onto a thirsty and faltering flame; a genuine attempt to generate interest among young people regarding space exploration, and we both can support something like that.

    It's sort of a "hook em' while they're young" deal, and the casualty-to-mission rating of NASA is nothing like that of the Army. The excitement factor of NASA pales in comparison to that of the Army. Hopefully, this game lands where these demand curves intersect.

    Last Starfighter kicks ass!
  • Re:games (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nullav ( 1053766 ) <moc@lia3.14159mg.valluN minus pi> on Friday January 18, 2008 @04:44AM (#22090754)
    Yes, it's not easy to look at the world through paper windows.

    Virtual worlds with scientifically accurate simulations could permit learners to tinker with chemical reactions in living cells, practice operating and repairing expensive equipment, and experience microgravity - making it easier to grasp complex concepts and quickly transfer this understanding to practical problems.
    I've been wanting something like this for years now. It sounds like a damn good idea and I'd probably lose a few months to it if it wasn't going to be shot down before the first line could be typed out.

    It would be ungodly expensive to teach everyone the science behind it all. (And not just for NASA/schools, either.) What better solution than to allow anyone even slightly interested in space flight to learn all about it for under $200/year? Hell, NASA could even try to make use of all the idle cycles on every player's machine to run simulations (with users' permission, of course).

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell