A few days ago, I was invited to check out NASA’s new game, Moonbase Alpha. Fortunately for you, it was still under wraps so you all were spared my clever, clever puns about a Moonbase Alpha beta.
Moonbase Alpha is described as multiplayer, but it’s actually for small cooperative groups, either public or passworded, not an MMO. Players work cooperatively to repair damaged life support systems to bring oxygen to save the trapped NPC astronauts. You have 25 minutes before oxygen runs out for a dramatic race against the clock, or you can turn off the timer for a low-stress version.
The game is a gorgeous grey moonscape, and it’s surprisingly fun to hop around in your spacesuit. If you get too interested in bouncing around and looking at the tiny earth in the sky, you’ll be reminded of your goal by desperate cries from your oxygen-needing crew members. Not that I did that. I’m just saying.
I found parts of the UI pretty frustrating. The radial menus were a nice stylistic choice, but I was frustrated when options were greyed out with no explanation. I often knew how to solve a puzzle but didn’t know how to use the interface to make that happen. For example, if you’re using a coupler to join two hoses, you need to be holding the hose, and activating the coupler, NOT the other way around. If you drop an item, you may need to wiggle your avatar around for a while to get into position to pick it up. I’m not sure if the goal was low-gravity, heavy suit realism or if the UI was wonky. I’ve said this before, about certain indie games, but it’s never a good thing when design choices can be mistaken for technical glitches.
And, seriously, why add frustration to an edu game about space? Was the goal to convince boys and girls that being an astronaut isn’t that cool after all, and they should be accountants instead?
The game is quite short, although there’s replay value on larger or smaller maps, and the pre-launch press release says that Moonbase Alpha is a proof of concept for a potential NASA educational game. Moonbase Alpha shows a lot of potential for a cooperative game, especially if it’s the rumored MMO.
The game is out today, and available free on Steam.
Also, if you ever forget to call your parents, tell them you were really busy all weekend, and mumble something about “NDA… NASA…tell you as soon as I can.” It works great!