Local Tech Wire

RALEIGH, N.C. – NASA, Virtual Heroes and their partners are aiming for the stars, hoping that a new generation of space explorers might result from man’s virtual return to the Moon through

“Future astronauts, explorers, scientists and engineers may very well get their initial inspiration and training through NASA’s first video game,” said Jerry Heneghan, managing director of the serious games and related technology division within Applied Research Associates.

He and his team have worked over the past year to develop “Moonbase Alpha” for NASA, which is being released Tuesday. (It’s available as a Read more about the game in today’s )

In a Q&A interview with Local Tech Wire and WRAL.com, Heneghan talked about the new game’s challenges, technology and why be believes players will enjoy the 3-D expedition on the Moon.

What were the biggest challenges in developing Moonbase?

We were part of a distributed development team on this project. NASA had representatives from Goddard and Marshall Space Flight Centers involved in leading the effort. We supported the America’s Army Team which is located at Redstone Arsenal Alabama. So, there we a lot of folks working on this effort located in many different places.

What new technology and/or improvements will players encounter in this game?

In the game, players will be (as part of a team) communicating, driving vehicles, transporting equipment, configuring robots, using tools, repairing. …

Alternate voicable text chat is a game feature – please explain what this is and why it was used?

We have two primary communication modes in the game:

Text Chat- Players without a microphone can talk to their teammates using the Chat Box. Press ENTER to activate the Chat Box, type your message, and press ENTER again to send it. If you want to hear all messages sent to the Chat Box, you can turn on the "Text to Speech" capability in the Options menu.

When this box is checked, all chat box text will be voiced by a robotic voice.

VOIP- Use VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) for instant voice communication with your team members. You must have a microphone installed in order to use this feature. Hold the ‘Z’ key to talk.

Effective communication, teamwork, critical reasoning and resource allocation will be the keys to success in the game.

‘Hey, please send that robot over here with the gripper arm’…
‘Please send the rover over with the large solar panel and toolbox’…’I need them both right away’…

Why will players like this game in your view?

Based on comments we’ve received during the Beta, players like this game because it is challenging and different…

This is a ‘First Person Exploration’ game, not a ‘First Person Shooter.’ Gameplay is still action oriented but revolves around construction, not destruction.

Players can play individually, as part of a two person team, four person team or six person team.

With multiple paths for game success, players need to learn to work effectively as a team, learn from decisions made in previous gaming sessions, and make intelligent decisions in order to top the leaderboards.

One player commented in the Beta Forums:

"I have to say, I find this game most enjoyable, but on a different level to everything else I’ve played over the last twenty odd years. It has an almost calming effect, making you happy through friendly collaboration with the aim of completing one goal."

What advantages did the Unreal game engine from Epic Games in Cary afford your development team?

Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 enabled our large, distributed team us to focus on gameplay mechanics and content creation not core technology development…

Moonbase Alpha makes use of Unreal Engine 3’s visual scripting system, multi-threaded rendering, and an extensible particle system (lens flares, beams, and trails) to enable dynamic characters to cast soft shadows on the scene. Moon Base Alpha will also feature fully integrated support for physics-based vehicles, including player control, AI, and networking.

How many people were involved?

Dozens. We were part of a distributed development team on this project.

(1) NASA had representatives from Goddard and Marshall Space Flight Centers involved in leading the effort.

(2) We supported the America’s Army Team which is located at Redstone Arsenal Alabama.

(3) Our parent company – Applied Research Associates provided resources beyond our organic resources in the Virtual Heroes Division.

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