Moon Safari: Moonbase Alpha Interview

Sorry, there's nothing I can do to get better reception. You're on the bloody moon.

Following on from yesterday’s release of Moonbase Alpha (and Jim and my gleeful jumping around ON THE MOON!), we took the chance to ask some questions to Daniel Laughlin (Ph.D) of NASA Learning Technologies about the Moonbase Alpha…

RPS: Can we start at the top – how did the project come to be? What’s it’s aims?

Daniel Laughlin: The project was inspired in part by America’s Army. It started as an effort to prove we could create a commercial quality game using NASA content that is fun. We also hope it will inspire young people to consider studying in technical fields. Moonbase Alpha is a preview of bigger project. A NASA-themed MMO being developed as Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond.

RPS: And the game’s free to play, yes?

Daniel Laughlin: Moonbase Alpha is free to play. It will be available on Steam so we can support a sizeable distribution and take advantage of popular Steamworks features like server browsing and leaderboards.

RPS: Could you talk about the research for the science. Who did you consult with? What sort of points were key?

Daniel Laughlin: It was important to get both the lunar environment and the equipment right. It was a great help to get the models of NASA’s lunar architecture from Pat Troutman and his colleagues at NASA Langley Research Center. For specifics on the lunar surface and sky, Chuck Wood at Wheeling Jesuit University’s Center for Educational Technology was a great help. It also helped that Virtual Heroes has an astronomer turned coder on their team. There was a lot of back and forth between NASA, the Army Game Studio and Virtual Heroes/ARA to make sure we got things right.

RPS: It’s set in the the very near future. How much of the tech actually exists right now? I mean, clearly, the soldering irons are, but what about the oxygen generators and similar?

Daniel Laughlin: The technology is mostly based on NASA’s planned lunar architecture. Some of it is still only models, but the lunar rover, the space suits and the robots are all based on existing equipment.

RPS: The game focuses on Co-op, placing the extreme nature environment at the adversary. It’s a game not about creating the moonbase, but about maintaining it. Why did you decide to focus on this approach? I quite like the idea that a moonbase is an accepted given in the game. As in, it’s just part of the future. That’s an optimistic view, yes?

Daniel Laughlin: We did talk about building a base early in the planning stages, but it didn’t fit the time scale we were shooting for in the game. The established base gives a deeper experience from the first moments of play.

It’s important to remember that Moonbase Alpha is a game and not a policy document. But the moon is not going anywhere any time soon. I am pretty certain that sooner or later people will go back.

RPS: When playing the Beta, my comrade and I spent a lot of the time just writing WE ARE ON THE MOON! Did you feel like that developing it? Astronauts are a hero type we haven’t really seen much in games, up to now.

Daniel Laughlin: The development happened at the Army Game Studio and Virtual Heroes, but when I got into the first working building I had the same reaction. I found myself holding my breath while playing trying to conserve oxygen.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Moonbase Alpha is available on Steam.


  1. Xercies says:

    is he dead now because he held his breath for to long?

  2. Lack_26 says:

    You didn’t get him to say ‘ON THE MOON!’, I’m disappointed.

  3. Alexander Norris says:

    It’s nice to see how savvy the NASA people are with regards to digital distribution and the state of the games market today.

    • Lack_26 says:

      That’s why we haven’t got actual moon-bases, they’re all playing PC games. Engineers, eh.

    • stahlwerk says:

      There seems to be a natural understanding between game developers and NASA, since evidently the future of space colonization is measured in Valve-Time.

    • Urthman says:

      Not savvy enough to let me re-map my keys and invert my mouse.

      On the other hand, I think I like that the controls are not what I would choose. I really doubt astronauts get to remap their controls so that the lunar lander controls exactly the same as the lunar rover. If anything, it might be cool if the controls were weirder, not letting you move with the WADS keys. Having to get used to a new control scheme makes me feel more like an astronaut than if I were just zooming around with my familiar Quake setup.

    • Matt says:

      Clearly there is a simple message to take away from this: In the future, invert-mouse users will not be allowed on the moon. (ON THE MOON!?)

  4. Brumisator says:


  5. stahlwerk says:

    “But the moon
    is not going
    any time

    How feasible is a moonbase at the moment? How would we go about transporting crew back and forth? Would it be a series of one-off missions like apollo but with equipment reuse, a permanently crewed station but with a high replacement rate like the ISS, or a full on settlement with long time missions (like the Mir).

    • Ravenger says:

      A moon base is technologically possible with current technology, as is a manned trip to Mars.
      However, given the priorities of the world’s governments it’s probably not financially or politically possible.

      It’d take another space race (probably China vs USA and Europe) or an outbreak of world peace, harmony and cooperation to do it. Neither looks likely.

      There are some very exciting developments in electric propulsion technology though, which if fully developed could reduce the travel time of a Mars misson from months to a few weeks. That’d hopefully make a Mars mission cheaper and more likely.

    • medwards says:

      Tbh I feel like a China v Japan v India space race is more likely at this rate…. and with Russia so close maybe they’ll feel the heat and compete. (that was a deliberate rhyme for those who are wondering)

  6. jonfitt says:

    Did you get any indication about further maps/scenarios?

  7. innociv says:

    Er. The moon is not very far away at all.

    405,000km at the Apogee

    at 30,000 KM/H that’s only 13.5 hours.(Not counting acceleration/deceleration, but still.)
    Compared to Mars which would take months to reach, the our Moon is very-very-very-very close.

    If we can’t master regular trips to the moon, we suck.

    • NukeLord says:

      It’s a pity the moon doesn’t play nice and stay in one place for us to take the easy route.

    • JonFitt says:

      It is handy that the 405,000 km is the furthest it gets though and the perigee is around 356,000 km odd.

  8. Ginger Yellow says:

    “It’s important to remember that Moonbase Alpha is a game and not a policy document.”

    A shame really.It would make appropriation committee hearings a lot more fun.

  9. Bascule42 says:

    Personally I feel that if the US government wants to collect data about me and my beloved, (AMD based system), then I’d rather they do it all shady like and behind my back. It makes me nervous when they tell me they are doing it. Read T&C…

  10. Ezhar says:

    I wonder if it’s a bit of a recruiting tool for wanna-be astronauts (or other NASA minions)? Wasn’t that the big idea behind America’s Army? Will NASA look at the leader boards and give the top ranking team a call? :)

    “Hey guys, wanna go to the moon?”

    At the very least gamers might be good at remotely operating robots. Or perhaps not, because there’s no resuming from the last save when you mess up and drive your fragile 20 million dollar robot against the outer hull of the moon base.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      They need to attract people?
      I’d kill people to go into space. Perhaps I should be playing that america’s army game instead then.

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      @Phuzz; the context of your comment is a bit nasty to those in the armed forces…

    • Truck says:

      Do you realize how many jobs there are at NASA that aren’t “astronauts”? We’re talking a handful among tens of thousands of people (maybe even hundreds?). I really don’t think the waiting list for “being an astronaut” is empty.

    • Gutter says:

      NASA needs to get talked about. Obama (and I love the guy as much as the next non-American) seems to be very close to getting nasty with their budget. They spam the Colbert Report, etc. It’s all PR, and it’s PR that I do not mind.

  11. oceanclub says:

    I hope that if you walk long enough, you’ll find a huge dump of abandoned nuclear waste. And an alien chick that can transmogrify.


  12. Scythe says:

    I must admit to being slightly concerned about their statements regarding America’s Army. That was a trainwreck of a catastrophe of a disaster.

    I downloaded it over Steam, haven’t played it yet.

  13. Serph says:

    Installed it, tried to start it up, game crashed. Went to my control panel to lower my sound quality to accomodate their messed up sound engine. Then, I tried to join a server and I got stuck in some kind of spectator mode with nobody around. I give up, some programmer must have confused feet with meters or something.

    • Torgen says:

      The only problems I’ve had is with the built in voice comms, and having to manually forward ports on my router to host games. Played for several hours last night, will be back at it this evening US East Coast time. Server is MoonbaseRPS (since Moonrock, Paper, Shotgun is too long to fit in the name field)

  14. 2GunCohen says:

    I want to go to Mars !!!

    :( Puts upp ad sad pupyface and howls to the moon

  15. Dave says:

    Every time there’s a story about this game, I think it’s somehow related to Moonbase Commander and get all excited for the 3 seconds it takes me to realize.

  16. jon_hill987 says:


  17. Ravenger says:

    Hmmm. No rebindable keys. No vsync. This is a PC game right? It’s even an Unreal engine game.

  18. Tei says:

    This reminds me of some Garrys Mod. “Survival” and the like. The gameplay is like that, streamlined. I like it for what is. There are 1 horrible bug, anyway, that crashed by comp(???).
    Go NASA, GO!!

  19. Cooper says:



    That would have been ace.

  20. Thursday says:

    I don’t see the point. After all, why bother maintaining a moon base when you can’t build a strip club on the moon.

  21. Sca1ey says:

    No reverse mouselook option – arrgh, can’t coordinate my brain and hand.

  22. MWoody says:

    Here’s what I want to know about this app: why does it install an AMD Dual-Core Optimizer on a Vista 64 Intel-based system? Everyone who installed this game: make sure you go into add/remove (or “Programs and Features”) in the control panel and uninstall this piece of shit, especially since it runs every time you start windows.

    ‘Last time I trust NASA to install an app on my machine unguided. The worst thing about Steam is the lack of custom installation options.

    • Torgen says:

      Must be just on 64-bit Vista. I have nothing of the sort on my 32-bit Vista laptop.

    • MWoody says:

      But it’s an XP program, so that doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t install to the start menu or anything, it only shows up in the registry (and programs/features to remove).

    • Torgen says:

      I’ll check my XP desktop and report back.


    • Torgen says:

      Not on XP either. Guess it’s getting flummoxed by the 64-bit OS for some reason.

  23. JuJuCam says:

    Had a couple rounds just now and enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s nice to work together in a game on something that doesn’t involve death or violence. There’s definitely room in the market for more stuff like this IMO. Like smaller scale Wurm or Tale in the Desert, both games which I feel have a good idea but are a bit too grand due to their need to be MMOey. 20 mins is a good amount of time to watch a plan come together or even a bunch of like-minded individuals work together to create / repair something.

    Having said that I reckon it could get stale fairly quickly but good for a moonwalk every once in a while.

  24. Torgen says:

    Apologies to Inubis, you entered the game as I was backing out to increase population. I tried to reinvite you, but you showed as offline.

  25. Inubis says:

    No worries Torgen, we’ll play some other time.

  26. matte_k says:

    no sign of these guys up there , then? :D

  27. Chris Krause says:

    So I tried to play this game, then realized there was no way to disable joystick input, didn’t feel like unplugging my joystick and my screen was spinning wildly. So I uninstalled it.

  28. Irish Al says:

    What happens if the damn Rooskies get hold of this?