There is a fine line between VR games and real-life experiences. My first taste of modern VR was in 2015 with PlayStation and their introductory game, The Deep. I was fortunate enough to compare the VR Great Barrier Reef experience with my personal real-life experience from my youth (spoiler: It was pretty damn close). Fast-forward three years and the VR offerings are even more amazing. This time I went into space; something only achieved through the hard work and collaboration between NASA and Opaque Media, a game developer group in Australia.
Let’s get the fangirling out of the way: This game is astounding. In Earthlight: Spacewalk, you are Ana, an astronaut about to perform the 76th spacewalk on the International Space Station. Everything about this game is authentic, from the images to the mechanics and the consequential actions. You are everything but… well, there. Seriously, just check this out…
Earthlight: Spacewalk received Game of the Year at the Australian Game Developer Awards 2017. It’s developed by Opaque Space, based in Melbourne (Australia), and also awarded Studio of the Year 2017.
Space: The Final VR Frontier?
Last year at PAX Aust, I was lucky enough to chat with Jennifer Scheurle, Game Design Lead. The story behind the making of Earthlight: Spacewalk is also as amazing as the game itself.
Originally, the team created a spacewalk simulator game to show-off some prototype motion mapped controllers for VR equipment. No surprise, people were really excited about the idea of doing a “spacewalk.” It was so popular, the team at Opaque realized this was an opportunity they could not ignore.
When they shared some screenshots on Reddit, the whole thing went wild. In the fantastic manner of the interwebs, the pics gained the attention of NASA… who subsequently squealed at the opportunity THEY saw.
“NASA is great at looking at others, seeing all the different regions and technologies of the world, and then seeing what can be useful for what they do. They have never tried to restrict Opaque as game developers. They have never tried to push us in a direction that is not comfortable for us and does not fit our expertise. We are the best at what we do as game developers in this space. NASA simply draws from that.”
VR Is More Than Gaming
In March this year, members of the Opaque team participated in the Gamers Developer Conference in San Francisco with NASA and Boeing. They co-convened the panel, Co-op for Humanity: Collaborative Virtual Reality for Astronaut Training, a rare opportunity to discuss the use of VR as training tools in human space exploration.
The nature of a “collaboration” is to share information and expertise. Opaque gained invaluable insight of NASA’s protocols and procedures for the International Space Station. NASA gained new ways to maintain the skills of their astronauts upon their return to Earth. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.
Scheurle explains it further: “Our study has been in game theory and quality assurance. Has this person in my game learned this specific skill? Does tying in a story with a training module enhance the way we learn? These are exciting ways to train people.”
Earthlight Is the First of Many Opportunities
To be fair, most of this talk about VR has been suggested in the past. Already hospitals are using VR for training in healthcare and research. Even retail uses it in preparation for high-intensity sales days.
Earthlight: Spacewalk, in all of its potential beauty, is still a game. The game on the show floor is a different version to what NASA has because it is specific to game development. That doesn’t make it any less amazing. Opaque is committed to authenticity; it is releasing the game in “episodes” to protect against technology redundancy (both with development and within the storyline). This keeps the development fresh for Opaque and the gamers.
As VR grows in popularity, so to will the opportunities. Independent game developers like Opaque are not afraid to embrace these opportunities. Earthlight: Spacewalk was developed without any support or funding from the Australian Government. Instead, they had faith in their expertise and went with someone who appreciates their work.
Right now, the best advice I can tell you is to check out Earthlight: Spacewalk. It is the closest many of us will ever be to walking in space. Buy it here.
Thanks to Jennifer Scheurle for chatting with me about Earthlight: Spacewalk, her team, and her passion.