"Mars Plane" Unity educational flight simulator for NASA...

The Unity game engine had become a popular platform for creating eduational interactive content. Its toolset has much in common with animation and visual effects applications. As part of a summer program involving students interesting in gaming, NASA funded a project involving the creation of various simulations, animator, Warren Casey, working with four other students in Houston were tasked with programming the simulations using Unity. Home Run Pictures' task was to create a realistic Mars plane.

The plane had to be designed to realistically fly and be controlled aerodynamically as if it was in the lower gravity and thinner atmosphere of Mars. Autodesk Maya spftware was used to model the plane and it;s control surfaces. Flight control was with standard Logitek and X-Box controllers. Also, a real canyon area, the Ophir Chasma on Mars was created using NASA elevation data and surface textures. Addional detailing was added by Home Run Pictures animator Glen Johnson using Autodesk Mudbox. He also had to come up with techniques to allow the Unity package to display the large area of the canyon quickly without any lag in the visual presentation.

The task for students playing the game was to quickly fly the plane to the main base and sucessfully land. avoiding a sandstorm that was coming. Various starting points could be selected as well as many control and display options geared to allow various computer platforms to be able to use the simulator.

Optional cameras were incorporated in the simulator to allow the game to be played in portable planetarium domes, giving the students attempting to fly the plane the immersive feel of playing in a 360 degree view of the planet Mars. The Houston Museum of Natural History has been usiing the simulator to teach students about the planetary science of Mars.

Click here for a short movie of the Mars Plane game in action

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