The screen lights up, viewing a remote corner of the Moon. A small rover drops down to the lunar surface and exits its pod, ready to explore and help to build a human habitat.
This is the crux of Roving Rovers, a game designed to simulate the design and use of lunar rovers for setting up a lunar colony.
Camryn Schriever, chief technical officer at Mini Mammoth Games, says the game’s been designed to get kids interested in space.
“You’ll be able to create your own colony of rovers using AI, and your own designs, to see how long people could potentially survive on the Moon with the project that you built,” says Schriever.
That interest certainly seems to be sparked: at the Australian Space Forum, where Cosmos spoke to Schriever, school students were crowding around the controllers to have a shot.
Born out of last year’s Australian Rover Challenge at the University of Adelaide, Mini Mammoth has been working with the Andy Thomas Space Centre, as well as the universities of Adelaide and Flinders, to develop the game.
While the rover designs can get quirky, they’re placed in a very realistic simulation.
“The landscape in this version of the project is taken from actual lunar topography,” says Schriever.
“NASA has height map scans of the moon – we’ve managed to take that and import it into our gamebuild.”
Next, the team is adding a simulation of the Shackleton Crater, at the Moon’s south pole: one of the most promising landing sites for a lunar colony.
“That crater is practically always in darkness, which is why they’re expecting find ice in it,” says Schriever.
The walls of the crater, meanwhile, enjoy near-permanent sunlight, making them prime candidates for solar panels.
But Shackleton Crater is not the best-mapped part of the Moon.
“Tracking down the data was the hardest part,” says Schriever.
“Thankfully, our contacts in the space industry were really helpful in pointing out where it is.”
Finding the data is one thing – turning it into a game is another.
“We got, almost, a tutorial on how to import lunar topography using the NASA scans, because they’re not in a standard format – they’re in their own specific format with a lot of data in it,” says Schriever.
“Exporting that into something that a game engine can read was not the most straightforward process.”
There are plans to launch a demo of the game later this year, with a full release slated for July 2025.