Expand your universe with Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s new video game

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is entering the video game business. His new game, Neil deGrasse Tyson Presents: Space Odyssey, is an educational title developed to encourage players to explore space and science.

Although in early development, it’s being designed as a building game. Space Odyssey asks players to create their own galaxies. While there are elements of MineCraft and Civilization baked into the experience, Mark Murphy, co-creator and developer of the game from Whatnot Entertainment, said it’s something unique.

Murphy said the gameplay mirrors our universe, which is growing every day, inch by inch, minute by minute. The game allows players to build and grow solar systems – even galaxies. Players can also explore galaxies created by other players, including prominent scientists and fictional world-builders like Tyson, Bill Nye, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Peter Beagle.

By succeeding in science and exploration-based challenges, players, who transport themselves in spacecraft they design, will obtain valuable assets, gadgets, minerals, knowledge and tools to enhance the colonization of their planets.

Real physics, virtual universe

Murphy said this is a game of science future that utilizes real science and real physics. It harnesses these to imagine what the future of space travel, exploration, terra-forming, colonization, and ship design could be.

“Part of the gameplay will allow you to grow a planetary system,” Murphy said. “Its size and scope is relative to the level of challenge you would like to undertake. You can grow and mature these planets as much as you’d like, creating colonies, ports, mining structures, undertake trade of elements you discover/mine or invent or innovate. We are adding strategic partners that will consult with us on design and tech possibilities, including Bigelow Aerospace and the National Space Society to name a couple.”

Lead designer Brandii Grace, who has worked on mainstream games such as The Matrix Online and Call of Duty, said too many “educational” games amount to little more than digital quizzes. Even worse are the ones that dump players in a sandbox with vague instructions, and then repeatedly punish players for experimenting — which is the very core of learning.

“Some people think the act of learning is at odds with having fun, when really they go hand-in-hand,” Grace said. “Right now, millions of people are learning the names, stats, and mechanics of catching 151 virtual creatures. Without that learning, the game wouldn’t be fun.”

What’s Tyson up to?

Grace said Tyson is not just a “name on the box.”

“He is an integral part of the creative committee guiding the development of the game,” Grace said. “While the final design decisions will fall with experienced developers; the committee is in place to advise the developers, coordinate creative developments across multiple platforms, and ensure the hard science information is accurate. You won’t catch our game perpetuating the myth that humans only use 10 percent of their brains!”

Murphy said Neil has been involved in implementing real science and real physics in the game.

“He’s helped create challenges in the game, and has challenged our creative team to entertain and inspire,” Murphy said. “He has also brought forward some incredible collaborators to our efforts, an incredible team of scientists, astronauts and explorers.”

“We want to build a community of imaginative players, that interact with us on the design side.”

Murphy said it took some convincing to get Tyson to commit to the project. Tyson originally thought kids weren’t his primary audience, but Murphy explained that they game was designed to get people of all ages into space and exploration, and engage them in science and platforms like that.

“Neil actually was convinced by his daughter, who thought the idea of a game about space sounded fun,” Murphy said. “So from then on, it’s been great. We’re trying to embody the things that he brings to space and science, which is encouraging curiosity, imagination and the idea that exploration is for everybody.”

“That follows the Minecraft model,” Murphy said. “We want to build a community of imaginative players that interact with us on the design side. It really goes back to the core things that Neil teaches about exploration, inquisition, trusting yourself and being imaginative.”

Mixed reality

Tyson will connect his National Geographic talk show, StarTalk, with the Space Odyssey world by having “all-stars” from organizations such as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab provide links to pieces that will further explain different concepts that are introduced in the game.

Murphy said these pieces will include videos (both 2D and 360-degree), multimedia presentations, comic books and touring experiences at 2017 events like WonderCon, San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con.

“We will have holographic tutorials as part of the core game that will prep you for challenges and new facets of gameplay as they are introduced,” Murphy said.

spaceodyssey_02

In addition to the PC game, which Murphy said will target Steam, the team will develop virtual reality missions. The VR game, which Tyson “teased” at VR Con during San Diego Comic Con, will complement the more technical PC experience.

Murphy said discussions are currently under way with game developers Section Studios, Big Red Button Entertainment, and Three One Zero to build out VR missions, and potentially help Whatnot Entertainment on the core game.

“We will have an in-house team that will provide assets and pipeline for the core-game build, as well as creating unique content for our community of users that pre-buy the game,” Murphy said.

Google is already on board as a partner for the VR missions, which is another area where deGrasse’s involvement helped open doors.

Exploration at its core

Murphy said these hyper real VR missions are designed to take you virtually into that new place. One of the missions has players explore the moon Europa, which looks like an ice planet from the outside. But if you dive through the cracks, you find the oceans beneath that are vaster than the oceans that we see on Earth. What lives in those oceans? You’ll just have to find out.

“We want people to experience these missions on HTC Vive or Oculus Rift in the home or in a science center, but we also will create a slightly different, lower resolution version for Samsung Gear and Google Cardboard so kids can experience this in the classroom,” Murphy said.

The graphics in the game are designed to be whimsical and playful, with science underneath, while the missions will be “hyper real and very immersive.”

“It’s a departure from what the core game feels like when you play it, but that’s okay. Our goal with the VR missions is to take things to an even more educational level,” Murphy said.

You can sign up for the beta, which kicks off in 2017, here.

Product Review

Gate’s Smart Lock is locked and loaded but ultimately lacks important basics

In a world of video cameras and doorbells comes the Gate Smart Lock, a lock with a video camera embedded. It’s a great idea, but lacks some crucial functionality to make it a top-notch product.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: New Motorola flip phone, ads in space, smart umbrella

On this episode of Digital Trends Live we discussed trending headlines like foldable smartphones and advertising in space. We also sat down with Caleb Denison and Ronan Glon to talk about the world of tech post CES 2019.
Web

Switch up your Reddit routine with these interesting, inspiring, and zany subs

So you've just joined the wonderful world of Reddit and want to explore it. With so many subreddits, however, navigating the "front page of the internet" can be daunting. Here are some of the best subreddits to get you started.
Gaming

Get extra life with our tips and tricks for 'New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe'

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is a much more difficult game than you'd believe based on its adorable art style and 2D perspective. Here's how you can master the game's toughest challenges.
Gaming

Find all of the secret exits and world skips in 'New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe'

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe has two distinct Mario experiences in one package. In this guide, we'll show you how to find all of the secret exits in New Super Mario Bros. U, that lead to hidden levels and let you skip worlds.
Gaming

For Netflix, ‘Fortnite’ on YouTube is a bigger threat than HBO

In a letter to shareholders, Netflix explained that it views the video game Fortnite as bigger competition than HBO, with YouTube videos of the game drawing viewers away from the streaming platform.
Gaming

Find all of the secret exits and world skips in 'New Super Luigi U Deluxe'

Just like all other 2D Mario games, New Super Mario Bros. Deluxe includes secret exits and world skips. In this guide, we'll show you how to get to all 12 secret exits in New Super Luigi U.
Gaming

Take a trip to a new virtual world with one of these awesome HTC Vive games

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.
Gaming

Here's where Xur is and what he has for wares this week in 'Destiny 2: Forsaken'

The weekly vendor in Destiny 2: Forsaken always brings Exotic weapons and armor, some of the toughest loot to find in the game. Here's everything you need to know to track down Xur: Where he is, when he shows up, and what he's stocking.
Computing

You could be gaming on AMD’s Navi graphics card before the end of the summer

If you're waiting for a new graphics card from AMD that doesn't cost $700, you may have to wait for Navi. But that card may not be far away, with new rumors suggesting we could see a July launch.
Gaming

Sharing your best gameplay moments is quick and easy on the Xbox One

The current generation of consoles make it easier than ever to share your gaming highlights with the world. Here's a quick guide on how you can record a gameplay video on Xbox One.
Gaming

Blizzard’s latest hiring spree is likely for the unannounced ‘Diablo 4’

Activision Blizzard is hiring for more than a dozen positions on unannounced Diablo projects. Some of the roles are likely for the unannounced Diablo 4, the next mainline entry in the series.
Gaming

Everything we know about 'Red Dead Online', including the new mode Gun Rush

Red Dead Online will gradually rolled out to Red Dead Redemption 2 players via a beta. We've got all the details about the beta's suite of competitive and cooperative modes, as well as what to expect going forward.