NASA may not have as much government funding as it used to, but our dreams of space exploration live on in the Kerbal Space Program. We know it, and so does NASA, apparently, which is going to partner with the game on a special downloadable mission pack.
Only NASA would have the chutzpah to begin a GDC presentation with a 15-minute trailer about how great they are. But then, every game developer in the room grew up with the dreams of being an astronaut, watched the shuttles launch and felt sad when they were grounded forever, with replacements a distant hope. Among the developers in the room, there can't have been one who didn't dream of one day floating above our insignificant green-blue orb. And NASA were here to charm, flatter and promise them the moon. Because NASA needs the games industry.
NASA's promise is that, one day, we will all be taking part in “shared immersive tele-exploration” - or what the Trekkies out there will know as the Holodeck. That's how they're selling what they're doing. In reality, of course, budgets for space exploration have been gradually falling since 2009. As the slick Jeff Norris of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory told the conference, “We want to work with your industry and your vast resources.”
No, NASA isn't starting an open-membership Pink Floyd tribute band, it's running an upcoming event for crafting educational games about space. Starting on Friday, developers will head into NASA's Ames Research Center to participate in the Dark Side of the Jam, a three-day challenge to "help capture the public's interest in the real science and technology advancements being made in aerospace exploration."
This is a picture of a panel that, on Friday, will be bolted onto the Japanese HTV-3 resupply craft and hurled into space. The craft will ferry supplies to the International Space Station and launch a little bit of Portal 2 into the cosmos. A post on the Portal 2 blog spotted by VG247 mentions that an anonymous NASA tech managed to burn the tiny picture of
Wheatley space core onto one of the craft's panels. "Please note that when we mentioned an "anonymous tech at NASA" we weren't kidding: NASA in no way officially endorses secretly laser-engraving characters from Portal onto their spacecraft," say Valve.
Hidden Object games suck... right? You're usually finding things like umbrellas and beach balls. Mapper does not suck. Mapper has you staring at the lakes of British Columbia, looking for things like "dark sediment" and super rare "microbialite." It's like Facebook with with less fancy dress and more sci-fi. You could potentially find a sea beast. Or at least end up on a leaderboard.
What's all this for? NASA are testing strategies to help us explore the moon, mars and asteroids. Do well enough and we'll be playing Mapper on Mars soon. Potentially.