Lacuna Passage - Video Game Uses NASA Imagery To Create Realistic Martian Gaming Environment
Pax East 2015 - Of the 140 or so indie games presented at this past weekend's event in Boston, Lacuna Passage really stood out. Created by Random Seed Games, Lacuna Passage attempts to focus on a story that's more grounded in realism, yet still has a sci-fi adventure element with which to engross its players. Following one of the first astronauts to travel to Mars, Lacuna Passage sends gamers on a scavenger hunt across a Martian landscape, which was painstakingly put together using NASA satellite imagery of Earth's planetary neighbor.
Lacuna Passage's creator, Tyler Owens, told us at Pax East that his game takes inspiration from the sci-fi movies such as Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey, which were able to use the scientific elements of sci-fi to help immerse
We use those movies as a model for how we want to convey the story to the player," said Owens. "We feel that with Science Fiction, it's much easier to get the player to buy into your fictional elements if the rest of the game is grounded in reality. Using the NASA satellite imagery just helps to really allow the player buy into the fact that they are right there on Mars."
Far from taking away from the game's ability to captivate its users, the realistic feel actually increases the sense of panic you feel when scurrying along the accurately crafted 25 square-mile stretch of Mars on which the game unfolds. Players take control of Jessica Rainer, an astronaut whose ship, The Hercules, crash lands en-route to a mission to investigate the disappearance of the first manned Mars mission. In this game, there are no endless hordes of angry aliens, and there's no need for futuristic weaponry. Instead, players are battling against the harsh Martian environment as they embark on a scavenger hunt to piece together the mystery of those missing astronauts. To succeed, the player must manage the few resources available to them and make difficult decisions regarding how far from safety they should venture in order to find the various clues dotted around the crash site.
As players shuffle across the dusty red landscape, readouts of oxygen and power levels are a constant source of tension, and Owens says that it was striking a balance between engrossing gameplay and accurate consumption levels of these life-giving systems that proved the most-challenging.
"We're restricted a little bit by the gaming nature of it," said Owens. "One of the things we've done is to increase the time of day cycle, so relative to how fast time passes the amount of oxygen you use is pretty accurate. But the distance you are going in that amount of time - an actual EVA suit would give you about 8 hours worth of Oxygen, but for us it's closer to 10 minutes - is distorted, but still pretty accurate in terms of what is unfolding in the game."
Owens used imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's Hi-RiSE camera in order to construct the game's landscape. Stitching together the various data has allowed him to create an environment which, although not an accurate mirror of any one part of Mars, is remarkably similar to the type of landscapes seen on the planet's surface.
Seeing this environment on screen led me to a rather obvious question. Are there any plans to allow players to explore Lacuna Passage via Virtual Reality? Thankfully, Owens' answer was a positive one. "We've been testing with Oculus Rift for a while now and depending on how well we're able to integrate it into the final game, that feature could be available at launch."
Regarding Lacuna Passage's launch, Owens said there's still a fair bit of work to be done on the game, but all being well a release within the next year can be expected. Personally, I can't wait for Lacuna Passage, and judging by the feedback from gamers at Pax East, this game has every chance of securing the buzz that it truly deserves.
For more information on Lacuna Passage, head over to Random Seed Games.