Like Valve, US video game developer NASA chose not appear at the E3 Expo, instead opting to stream live footage of their latest game from Houston earlier today.
On reviewing the footage, it is little wonder NASA were unwilling to show their faces or their product at E3 – it was unlikely to have received much attention, or at least nothing positive.
The as yet untitled game, which appears to be a multiplayer space docking simulator, is painfully slow and even the 30+ participants in the demonstration were in desperate need of stimulation – one woman broadcasting on voice-comms was calling for “coffee” after every sentence.
NASA also appear to have borrowed heavily from EVE Online, with some of the game environments bearing a striking resemblance to the celebrated Captain’s Quarters found in EVE’s space stations – even down to the scale model/holoprojection on the table.
NASA: The US Control Room environment is where players can control their vessels and communicate with other teams.
EVE Online: The Captain’s Quarters is where players can… erm… get dressed, sit on a sofa and watch future TV.
Also possibly of interest to CCP’s copyright lawyers is some of the gameplay – the sheer investment of time required to achieve anything in NASA’s game owes much to EVE Online’s waiting mechanic design philosophy, with the docking process taking as much time as the preparation for an EVE fleet operation.
NASA: The French controlled ATV-4 with a cargo of fuel and supplies coming very slowly into dock at the International Space Station orbiting Earth.
EVE Online: A Gallente Iteron-class hauler carrying fuel, supplies and exotic dancers coming into dock at Zoar & Sons Factory Station orbiting Nakatre IX
In the two-hour gameplay session we observed, it took the three teams—located in the United States, Russia and France—the entire time to dock a single Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), with no discernable PvP mechanic throughout the entire process (unless we can count what may have been a brief flash of weapon fire toward the end of the operation).
NASA: Did an unknown assailant open fire with a multispectral laser barrage as the ATV docked? Bloody station campers.
EVE Online: Brightly-coloured weapon fire done right.
The poor fidelity of the visuals shows that NASA has a long way to go if they think they can reach the heights already achieved within the video game industry. The ship and station designs are unimaginative and tubular…
NASA: The International Space Station (not actual gameplay footage).
EVE Online: A Caldari military station (actual gameplay footage).
The strategy elements on the campaign map are poorly presented with planetary interaction being even less interactive than EVE’s much loved equivalent. There’s not even the option for planetary bombardment as found in EVE Online‘s link with DUST 514.
NASA: Zoe has claimed Southern Asia and Shakira seems to be holding the Baltics. Who says girls don’t like sci-fi and strategy?
EVE Online: Interacting with planets since 2010.
To be perfectly frank, NASA need to go back to the drawing board, the user interface is unacceptable in the modern age of computing and makes the creakiest elements of EVE’s decade-old UI look positively fresh.
NASA: With this lack of polish on their UI, their claims of “NO_FAILURE” may be a little optimistic.
EVE Online: Actually pretty damn stunning apart from the ugly text boxes.
I’m sorry to say that the space sci-fi niche is comfortably occupied by EVE Online and this NASA thing will never take off. They should probably consider another line of work if they can’t even get the basics of video game design right. After all, it’s not rocket science.
[NASA screenshots taken from today’s livestream of the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle ‘Albert Einstein’ docking with the International Space Station. Amazing stuff. EVE Online is also pretty cool and almost as real.]