dnews-files-2013-03-mars-game-660x433-130318-jpgA screenshot of Martian scenery from a video game currently under development   Image credit Tyler Owen/Random Seed Games, photos from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, HiRise (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment)

As was observed at the recent South by Southwest conference in Austin Texas, virtual exploration games and real-life space exploration capture the imagination for the same reasons:  Game designers said their excitement about exploration is closely linked to their desire to create virtual worlds for others to explore.

For those of us who’ll never actually set foot on Mars, comes the opportunity to do so virtually through the embodiment of Jessica Rainer,

an astronaut tasked with exploring the Red Planet to find out why the previous expedition had disappeared.

Jessica is the product of Tyler Owen’s imagination and enthusiasm.  Shortly after graduating from college in 2010, Owen founded Random Seed Games as a creative and independent design outlet specializing in unique gaming experiences for any platform.

All of the scenery used in his Lacuna Passage is indeed unique, in that it’s the real surface of Mars as recorded by NASA’s HiRise.

Owen will let players follow Jessica roam an authentic 25 square-mile section of Mars.  He explains that using HiRise was almost a necessity:  “I started this project as a single developer working in my free time.  In order to create an open world game with the scale that I wanted, it was almost impossible to create all the geography by hand.

“I started researching the use of actual Mars satellite data, and it seemed like a great solution to my problem.”

Because the Mars environment functions as a character in the game, it needs a great deal of detail to be authentic.  The terrain and weather events, such as Martian dust devils, will be recreated as faithfully as possible.

In regard to depicting reality, Owen said, “I think it helps add a level of real depth to the exploration in knowing that most of the features actually exist on another planet.”

LeVar Burton, who played Geordie LaForge of Star Trek:  The Next Generation, was one of the prominent panelists at the Austin conference.  He observed that some video games set in space would benefit from being less about violence and shooting and more about building experiences and keeping calm and using imagination to progress a storyline.

It sounds like Lacuna Passage is just what he’s talking about.

Source:  Discovery News, March 18, 2013

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