‘Lunar Expedition: Past,’ RIT student team creates virtual reality video game to explore moon

Video Games

HENRIETTA, N.Y. (WROC) — A team of RIT students and their professor have created a game that will enable us Earth-bound humans to “slip the surly bonds of Earth,” and re-live the iconic 1968 to 1972 Apollo missions.

The game is called “Lunar Exploration: Past,” and it’s all in virtual reality. As of right now, the game will be available on Windows 10 operating systems, and will need the Oculus Rift VR device to play. The team unveiled the game during an early December competition called “Serious Games Showcase and Challenge,” where it was selected as a finalist.

They says that its still being playtested, but says that only small tweaks are needed, and add that this just as much about the technology, entertainment, and the education.

“Many students (are) interested in the game program at RIT because they have been playing many games, so it’s very entertaining,” said Chao Peng, Assistant Professor at the School of Interactive Games and Media. “But the way I think about about gaming, it’s not just about for the entertainment purpose, they can be for education, for training.”

Gaming with a purpose, or a mind for education, is nothing inherently new. Video games and learning have often gone hand in hand, and even hit the mainstream with “Where In the World Is Carmen Santiago” decades ago. They is often balancing making a game fun enough to be engaging to make kids forget they’re learning.

Lizhou Cao, a computing and information sciences Ph.D. student, recalls when they had a team of middle schoolers — a group many can attest is difficult to please — who were enthralled with the game. Cao was beaming through a mask recalling how excited the kids were, but says this is more big picture.

“It’s very hard for normal people… to really go to the moon, and do anything,” said Lizhou Cao, a computing and information sciences Ph.D. student. “But with these VR technologies, we can send the players to a place where (they can’t go).”

But it’s one thing to make an educational game, it’s another to make a good immersive good. With VR, it is in theory easier to make a game that feels more immersive, but attention to detail is more important.

As players go through the missions, they will drive, explore the moon, and even collect samples from the moon’s surface. It wouldn’t feel much like VR if the physics, textures, and perspective of the stars were off. The teams says that much of the data and video on the actual missions is either incomplete or inaccurate, so they figured out how to create realistic 3D models of the moon’s surface, based on NASA satellite images.

“The Apollo project was a long, long time ago, so most people could only know and feel it through books or videos,” said Yue Zhang, a film and animation MFA student, who works on programming and design of the game, in a release provided by the school. “But our game allows players to stand on the moon and actually feel the environment.”

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