Hurrah! The previously covered Moonbase Alpha is available to play. You can go and get your copy, for free, on Steam (So has Steamworks supports for leaderboards and similar). Those interested in digging further will see NASA's press-release here, and have more info on the game's site and NASA's portal. Anyway, Jim and I had a crack at the Beta last week, and had a chat about our time on our favourite lunar body...
Kieron: Where have we been recently, Jim?
Jim: Kieron, we have been to The Moon.
Kieron: WE HAVE BEEN ON THE MOON.
Jim: We were on the moon. And there was an emergency.
Kieron: The moon is a place where we have been. And when we were there, an emergency occurred. ON THE MOON.
Jim: Emergencies on The Moon are serious business. Fortunately we had the equipment to deal with it. Equipment provided by NASA.
Kieron: And on-the-job training. None of the messing around in Flight Training or whatever. Straight there, on the moon, saving the day. And also messing around
Jim: Astronauts learn a lot as they go along, I understand. All instructions are written on the spaceship.
Kieron: Rule 1) Go up. 2) When you are in space, go to the moon. 3) Land. 4) Make Moonbase Alpha. 5) When an accident happens, get Kieron and Jim to sort it out.
Jim: 6) You are on The Moon.
Kieron: Er... I suspect we should proabably say why we're gibbering like idiots here. But the main thing really was the whole WE ARE ON THE MOON-iness of it all.
Jim: Yes, we were meddling with Moonbase Alpha beta, which is a funny name for a thing. It's an Unreal-engine On The Moon game, with multiplayer activities... and is now available for everyone to play, for free
Jim: Crucially, non-violent. Shattered Horizon it is not.
Kieron: Well, we tried our best to make it violent. I tried to set upon you with my soldering iron and I repeatedly ran into your legs with my little robo, but to no avail.
Jim: Astronauts are lovers, not fighters.
Kieron: Yes. It's basically like a engineer game... but on the moon. As in, there's a series of damaged systems which make oxygen, and you have to make them all work and the quicker that you do it, the higher you score.
Jim: We have only played the beta scenario, but I presume there are a couple more in the release? Or not....
Kieron: I dunno. We'll have to check - but it's free, so there may not be. The mission basically can be played with up to 6, with more stuff to fix with more people. The thing which we didn't really try when we played is ways to make fixing stuff more efficient. As in, there's a lot of tools we didn't use. I imagine if we were playing it more seriously we'd have actually filled a toolbox with circuitry and replaced broken stuff rather than spending our time making too many robots and driving them in circles and just having jumping competitions.
Jim: Yes. it's essentially a bunch of small puzzles, based on wheter replacing components or fixing them is more efficient. When you go to fix or replace, you then have a mini-game to do. The mini-games get seriously hard.
Kieron: I imagine soldering circuits together while wearing those gloves would be tricky
Jim: Astronauts have to have steady hands, which would count me right out.
Kieron: I imagine they also don't get tired getting out of bed, so I'm out. I was also amused by how when we were finished with our tools, we just dropped them and left them lying around. We're over 200,000 miles from our mums. You can't make us tidy up now.
Jim: Well, I'm fine with leaving stuff lying around. It's not as if chavs are going to come along and nick it.
Kieron: CHAVS... IN... SPACE. Er... what did you make of it, then?
Jim: I thought this was an interesting little game, anyway, partly because it's relatively polished and high-budget, and partly because it's basically space propaganda.
Kieron: Yes. Totally. And we're on side with space-propaganda, being basically of futurist pro-science bent.
Jim: Yes, it's great. There should be more games about being agents of humanity's faltering techno-future
Kieron: That's what excites me about it - it's sort of a proof of concept for this kind of stuff. Something a little like Wurm or any of those construction games, but a little more focused or structured.
Jim: But it is a proof-of concept, isn't it? Because NASA are working on a fully-fledged solar system-colonising MMO, aren't they?
Kieron: That's what they say. As in, crew-based solar-system travelling thing. This makes me excited to see what they do with it, as it would be a joy to, instead of accusing John of being a bad healer, say he's a bad welder
Jim: He is a terrible welder. But yeah, I think more and more we're going to see non-violent stuff spring up in game design. It's not like people are getting bored of violence (who could?) but more that people are expanding their field of exploration. Game designers want to design new things. And it's awesome that projects like this can start paying for it
Kieron: Exactly. And, to quote Robin Hunicke , developers working on something no-one else has really tried is a far more productive thing to do than trying to top something that's a mature genre
Jim: Another random thing about this. It's basically George Bush's fiction, isn't it?
Jim: Like he said "back to the moon within 20 years" and this isn't a game of what astronauts actually do, since there is no moonbase. This is that 20 year scenario in game form.
Jim: It's a kind of hopeful simulation.
Kieron: I've interiewed the devs - should be up tomorrow - and I kinda like that it's stating THIS IS POSSIBLE. As you say, it's propaganda. It's treating a moon-base as something that'll just happen.
Jim: It must happen.
Moonbase Alpha is available to download, for free, from Steam.