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Talking with Lunar Rocks, the People's Choice Game Design Team!

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As part of the 11th Annual Games for Change Festival, Schusterman teamed up with Games for Change to sponsor a game design contest! Games for Change is a nonprofit organization that catalyzes social impact through inventive digital games. 

Contestants were charged with designing a game that would support SpaceIL’s mission to the moon. SpaceIL is an Israel-based nonprofit organization aiming to land a spacecraft on the moon by 2015.

Festival attendees had the opportunity to vote in the People's Choice Award. They chose "Moon Rush" as their Choice, designed by the two-person team Lunar Rocks. Cheng Zhang took a few minutes to answer our questions about their experience.  

What motivated you to enter the Shoot for the Moon game design competition and where did you find inspiration to create "Moon Rush"?

I have a passion for space exploration and astronomy and have accumulated a great amount of knowledge about the moon, particularly in the historic Apollo mission through my MFA thesis project "The Moon Experience."

When I saw the announcement, I knew this is a great opportunity for me to further develop "The Moon Experience" and to make it more useful and more accessible. I found many things inspired me to create "Moon Rush," the prototype including the Apollo program, Google Lunar X Prize, SpaceIL's mission and popular games such as Minecraft.

Tell us a little bit about your team. Who is part of the team? How did you get together to create "Moon Rush"?
The Lunar Rocks team includes two graduate students, Cheng Zhang and Sheri Larrimer.

Cheng Zhang is a PhD student in Computer Science & Engineering Department at The Ohio State University. Her research interests includes computer games, virtual reality, computer animation and general topics in computer graphics. Cheng was a software engineer developing commercial software in Silicon Valley for several years and has a passion for space exploration and astronomy.

Sheri Larrimer is an MFA candidate at The Ohio State University studying design with a focus on digital animation and interactive media. In the last week before the contest deadline, Sheri saw Cheng was busy with her proposal and wanted to help so she joined the team.

Finally, Dr. Roger Crawfis is our team’s advisor. He is an Associate Professor in Department of Computer Science & Engineering at The Ohio State University. His expertise will help our team to meet this challenge.

We want to hear more about your game! What does it accomplish? How did you come up with the concept? How does the game work? Who is the audience? Do you have to know a lot of about science and math in order to play?

"Moon Rush" tries to accomplish two goals: (1) crowdsource useful, scientific data and creative ideas for SpaceIL; (2) help players to learn the basic concepts of physics, math and related science.

Our proposed prototype contains a two-module structure based on these two goals. One module is for the SpaceIL team to customize the game and gameplay through loading up different simulation models to the game or filtering out the players’ data that don’t meet the SpaceIL team’s criteria. The other module is for players, which allows players to load up their own designs of rockets, spaceships or robots in their personal game space. If the designs are promising and approved by the SpaceIL team, the designs are available to all players.

We designed the game with 15 - 25 year olds in mind and we hope the game inspires the younger generation to think differently about science, technology, engineering and math.

Our audience doesn’t have to know a lot of about science and math to play the game. However, through the gameplay, the audience should be able to figure out a lot of basic concepts while advanced audiences could contribute reliable, useful simulation data to the SpaceIL team via the gameplay.

What tools did you use to create your prototype and why? How long did it take to create the game from start to finish?

Brainstorming is one of my favorite approaches for prototyping, but specifically, "Moon Rush" was created with Unity, Maya and other software. The time to finish the game really depends on the specification of the SpaceIL team. I would say it could take from six months to one year based on the current prototype and current member of the team.

How will the game help the SpaceIL mission to the moon?

As mentioned, SpaceIL mission has two concrete goals – one is for SpaceIL teams to collect useful and reliable scientific data. The other is for end players to be engaged and to promote studies of physics, math, and the related science. Our two-module game design helps the SpaceIL team collect useful data while engaging players to the gameplay and promote science study.

What is the biggest risk you have ever taken personally or professionally? How did it pay off?

The biggest risk I have taken is that taking the design MFA program during my Computer Science PhD program. In the end, I think it was worth pursuing both art and science in my career.

I know this because my work has been recognized a few times now: "Moon Rush" won the People’s Choice Award in the Shoot for the Moon game design contest at the Games for Change festival. "The Moon Experience" was selected and demoed at the Center of Science and Industry (the science Museum in Columbus, Ohio) and in STEAM factory and "The Solar System," a short educational animation, was adapted by a Netherlands national television program.

If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

I would like to have dinner with Leonardo De Vinci, Nikola Tesla or Neil Armstrong. I’m curious how Leonardo used his superb intellect, unusual powers of observation and mastery of the art of drawing to study nature itself, a line of inquiry that allowed his dual pursuits of art and science to flourish.

Who or what inspires you to get out of bed every day?

All good things in the world motivate me to work hard every day.

Tell us one thing about you we might not know by looking at you.

I love gardening. I have more than 20 indoor plants in my home!

Register for this month’s #NetTalks webinar, Gaming For Good, to learn how you can use digital games to support your organization’s mission!

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.