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Mars Sucks - Can Games Fly on Google Earth?

December 28, 2006 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

Introduction

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.

Google 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

We 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:

Martian 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!

The 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.

To wrap 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.


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