Invincible Games & Omnipresent Simulations
Invincible Games & Omnipresent Simulations

This presentation was delivered during the Mars Society Convention 2022.


All graphics used in the presentation are promotion pictures of various games, or are designed by the creators of the Invincible game -- presented with permission and attribution to Starward Industries Studio.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


This presentation deals with the possible influence and interplay between games, simulations, and space exploration.

Today I will present advantages of a few games, and I will try to argue for a wider recognition of games as sources of knowledge and training.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Let me start with a selection of video games and board games that I believe can or even do have a large impact on the perception of space travel and possible colonizations of the Solar system.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Probably the most important game is Kerbal Space Program. At this moment this single game is growing into a larger series with expanding tools, resources, and accessibility. In Kerbal, players need to build spacecraft that can fly while still obeying the laws of physics, gravity, avionics…The game allows discovering, probing, and colonizing of a whole solar system with planets, moons, comets, and asteroids. Players become both engineers, managers of projects, and pilots at the same time.

Usually players start from building simple rockets. Then they need to add different stages, engines, fuel types and fuel tanks to reach the orbit. However, this is only enough to for simple satellites. Reaching moons requires much more practice and using planet’s gravity for acceleration. Building a space station requires dozens or even hundreds of trips to the orbit. And this is only within the vicinity of one planet. Kerbal gives acces to the whole solar system with planets, moons, comets, and asteroids. All of them can be reached but technologies have to be tested, rockets built, crafts need piloting, and all of that is happening in real in-game time. There are no shortcuts.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


However not all games go into the creation of rockets, stations, and shuttles. Some games offer ready-made craft and focus much more on the experience and perception of the flight itself. Lunar Flight allows full immersion, as with VR goggles players can feel as if they were sitting in a cockpit, pressing real buttons, and piloting a moon lander like in a proper simulator. Taking into consideration the immense computation power of today's computers, Lunar Flight is a VR simulation of a Moon lander. Moon’s gravity is different from that of the Earth, and there is no atmosphere to hinder our movement, but this means that the experience from other VR games does not help so much. If we fly various craft in the asteroid belt, then we lose gravity, and the lander flies differently again. With a full 360 degree view, access to buttons like in a real cockpit, view limited by the type of craft we are in, the experience and immersion are immense. This feels like sitting in a simulator, and not like playing a casual game.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


If building or flying is not enough for you, you should try Buzz Aldrin’s Space Manager. This game is nearly 10 years old but its predecessors are turning 30 next year! That’s 30 years of experience and development. In Buz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager, you become a fully-fledged CEO responsible for all aspects of running and managing a space association. Imagine you are the head of NASA and you love micromanagement. And your tenure is 50 years… You need to hire astronauts and engineers, you need to pay attention to their weak spots, trainings, assignments, and what not. And all of that is just the beginning. You still need to coordinate how those people support your projects and missions, your research and development, your finances, and so on and so forth.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Buzz Aldrin’s Space Manager is actually a very demanding game as it simulates numerous aspects of running a space agency. If you scale it down, Mars Horizon is your pick. It is more colourful and has some additional game elements, but it still requires you to plan, test, develop, build, and manage the whole process of running a space agency. It also punishes severely any misconceptions about the time it takes to reach planets in the Solar system. Missions can take anything from 5 to 10 to 20 years depending on your planning. So if you want to colonize Mars -- that’s how you win the game -- first you need to reach it, probe it, return with samples, deliver a variety of payloads to Mars’ orbit and Mars surface, and only then you can start thinking about transferring people from Earth to Mars. But you must succeed multiple times in order to establish a functional and sustainable Mars base. Mistakes in planning can cost you months or even years of delay at every stage. Like in real life.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


However, not all games we should be discussing at the Mars Society are resource management simulations. The 2016 game aDrift puts players in the shoes of a sole survivor of a space station accident. With VR technology to push the immersion to the limit, players experience both the claustrophoby of tight rooms and agoraphoby of open space. To push players even more, oxygen is running out while searching the station for resources and a safe way back home. aDrifts is one of the games that takes advantage of VR headsets and move controllers. This means that players can how their hands operate various objects in the game. Head movements are registered instantly, so looking around feels natural, and after a few minutes of playtime, the experience is extremely immersive.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


So video games offer a variety of products which present realistic physics, experiences, and simulations. On the other hand, board games and card games excel in the presentation of real and futuristic technologies as part of game mechanics. Terraforming Mars games -- because the franchise is still growing -- depict hundreds of technologies that interact with each other, depend on specific geological or weather conditions, or belong to the future that we can already foresee. There is a plethora of real science information embedded in the cards. The game references producing and trapping heat, shipyards in orbits and on asteroids, towing comets, obtaining methane from Titan, inserting telescopes in lagrange points, mining ice asteroids, importing hydrogen from Earth, creating fuel on Mars, investigating lava tunnels, melting ice caps, and so on. The game mentions lichen, fungus, photosynthesis, and so forth.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


However, it is High Frontier 4 All that turns casual gaming into a detailed and unforgiving simulation of organisations managing space exploration. Necessary technologies and travel times are realistic as the whole game was developed by scientists and NASA engineers. Despite very long play-time and high difficulty, this game has remained on top of game charts for a decade. And the system has been developed for more than 20 years if you look at its predecessors. The game publishers even claim that “The iconic map of High Frontier is the most comprehensive map of the solar system ever published!” The complexity of the game and the number of available technologies and colonization goals grows with each expansion.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


However, this is just a glimpse at what games can do and what they can offer.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Apogee is a small card game that reminds players about real engineers who pioneered space travel. It also references real technologies, rockets, and craft.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


First Martians feels more like a model of a Mars base or a training session of “What will you do when everything is going to break down?”



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Hellion is an example of how much game developers are going to risk to create a realistic game. The project is discontinued but the plan was for a full simulation of surviving on a space station, obtaining resources, and flying in orbit..



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


The Invincible, which will be released next year, employs role-playing game solutions to present a story rooted in the science of exploring alien planets.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


The same technologies we saw in video games are already used in educational products. The question remains if educational games and tours have a wider impact than games or not.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


We should realise that numerous games are around 30 years old. And some of those oldest games are also the most demanding simulations and still have a large fan base.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Many games are already produced with the blessing or even direct cooperation of NASA or ESA.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


And again, treating games as pure entertainment is a gross oversimplification. Many successful games originated as simulators and did not diverge from that path.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Thanks to today's computers and gaming consoles, the quality of games can match the quality of knowledge base on space exploration or training stations for pilots.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Of course there are also games that are just fun to play, but the fun comes from constant tinkering.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Some of the most ambitious products aimed at recreating specific rockets and shuttles from the get-go. They aimed at simulating flight and physics at the same time.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Of course, the games industry never sleeps. There are more products coming to the market every month.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Some games only accidentally merge entertainment and space exploration. But still the quality of presented solutions often verges on modeling and simulating, and not on entertainment alone.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


I hope that this brief presentation of games, their content, and quality, convinced you that games actually have a lot to offer in terms of spreading knowledge, non-formal education, advertising space exploration, and in creating training-like environments for would be engineers and pilots. Let me explain why and how games can do that.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


According to Moore’s Law, computer components become twice cheaper every 18 months. It does not mean that computers become twice faster as well, but it's a fair approximation. VR headsets for game consoles are available from 2016, but even in 2014 we used our smartphones with Google Cardboard headsets. This gives us around 8 years of development and progress. We are talking about stepping over 18 months of Moore’s law 6 times already! The same rule applies to GPUs that are often more powerful than computers they are installed in. The quality and complexity of VR headsets and VR experience is mindblowing.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Exactly due to this reason, the rapidly increasing quality and decreasing costs, trainings, onboarding, whole simulations can be done with modern home computers and consoles. Whole realistic games or space tours can be prepared on a PC you have at home. For example, Unreal Engine 5 is available for free and while sitting on your couch you can create and play games with realistic craft and physics. Unreal Engine 5 offers you the choice of making games, creating landscapes, preparing 3D environments for films, or building architectural wonders. It’s not technology that imposes limitations but our ability and readiness to harness its powers.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


So knowing what games we already have in the market, understanding how much games are not entertainment but proper models and simulations, and understanding that it all has happened due to a technological revolution we are living in, all of that should allow us to have a more clear picture of near future and possibilities at hand.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


In various game engines, the software allows us to create alien worlds on the fly. And the quality of pictures is so sharp that the eye cannot tell the difference between real footage and game environment. Have you seen the Mandalorian? Andor? Many of those wide landscapes and cities were generated by computers while the camera was moving and rolling. The technology is here and we are already using it. And it is so powerful that it creates real-like experiences on the fly.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Video games industry has been growing at a constant rate for two decades now. It can swallow music industry, film industry, and sport as industry, and still ask for more. And all that before we even start talking about board games and card games. So the quality of equipment and the quality of software is not an issue. Not any more. They can and they do deliver proper models and simulations worthy of any training programme.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


We should face reality. Today’s gamers learn and practice skills they will use as future engineers and astronauts. Today’s astronauts probably grew on early video games and probably are still players. Games produced today are for every age -- everyone is a gamer! Everyone will be a gamer. And that is good when we realise that many of those games are models and simulations that we can take a full advantage of.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Some of the games presented today were produced with resources or even in cooperation with NASA and ESA. The quality of game software and hardware, and games themselves increased so much that many games become precise models, simulations or VR experiences worthy of our attention. Just like NASA and ESA, I believe that the Mars Society should have a more practical approach to games and incorporate them in discussions, analysis, and in growing awareness about space exploration. Many games are amazing resources of knowledge or even of training for project managers, engineers, and pilots.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


There are major game development studios who already invest millions of dollars into space exploration games. Let’s make use of the market and recognition that is already there. Let’s team up, let’s join our forces. Mensa does that, ESA does that, NASA does that. The light of distant stars is not that distant to gamers who interact with celestial bodies and spacecraft on daily basis.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


To be honest, even if we do not do anything, space exploration games and simulations will thrive. They have done so for over 30 years. But it would be a pity to miss the train when it is speeding up like a rocket.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Let me just acknowledge that some of the graphics used in this presentation were created by Starward Industries studio which is developing “The Invincible” game based on the books of Stanislaw Lem, a famous Polish futurologist and SF writer.



Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022


Thank you very much for your attention. I am looking forward to your comments and questions.


Invincible Games and Omnipresent Simulations presented at the Mars Society Convention 2022

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