As part of an Intel team focused on pushing the limits of PC gaming, we decided to investigate whether Google*
Earth could be used as the foundation of a video game. Of course the
best way to find out was to try it, which we did with a small prototype
we call “Mars Sucks.” This article shares what we learned
along the way. We’re giving away the art and code, and hoping that
others will pick up where we left off. We'll be offering these assets
at the end of this article, on page four.
Earth is a standalone application; it is not web browser based like
most of Google’s other tools. Google Earth also makes use of 3D
hardware acceleration and is thus quite fast and responsive on a modern
PC. There are a few games available for Google Earth such as “Find
Skull Island*” and EarthContest*. These and other existing games we
found all require switching back and forth between a web browser window
and Google Earth. Our goal was to develop a game with all the action
inside a single window, similar to a traditional video game, leading to
a more immersive and responsive experience.
The “Mars Sucks” Game Concept and Design
wanted a game concept that was simple and fun. Since the primary goal
of our project was to explore the possibilities of gaming on Google
Earth, we didn’t want a complicated concept that might distract from
the technical exploration at hand. Ultimately we chose a classic
concept that fit Google Earth—aliens invading our planet:
robotic spacecraft are invading Earth and sucking up humans for
experiments! We were able to capture one Martian spacecraft, which we
need you to pilot in an attempt to blast other Martians out of our
atmosphere. The Martians are being sent messages that direct them to
their next target. Your mission is to decipher the messages, and blast
these Martians before they can suck people off the planet. Stay tuned
for intercepted Martian messages!
game play would need to be as simple as the concept; a short prototype
project can’t require complex functionality. We decided to overlay an
image of a Martian craft cockpit over the Google Earth window and let
the standard Google Earth controls handle moving around the globe. In
the cockpit, players see a sequence of clues about the location of each
Martian invader. Each clue gets more specific about where to find the
Martian. For example, the first clue for one country is:
This middle-eastern country has almost 2 million square kilometers of land but contains no bodies of fresh water.
The third clue is:
The people in this kingdom speak Arabic in cities such as Mecca, Medina, and the capital Riyadh
The 5th and final clue identifies the country as Saudi Arabia and gives
the longitude and latitude of the country. We put the clues and
locations in a text file so that any player (or teacher) could easily
edit the clues to create a modified game.
up our simple design, when the player stops with a Martian craft in his
sights, firing begins automatically (this choice was made necessary by
issues described below). A simple scoring system rewards players for
shooting down Martian invaders as quickly as possible.
* Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.