VR@ H o m e R u n P i c t u r e s
INSIDE THE PRODUCTION: THE MARS PLANE
Welcome to another Home Run Pictures "Inside the Production" page. An early Unity game developed for use as an educational tool to teach the physics of flying... well on Mars that is, where the thin atmosphere creates unique problems. As always, hoping everyone reading this can gleen something that will help in their own production process.
In 2006, we created a fulldome show about Mars for the Pittsburgh Buhl Planetarium. Included was a scene where a "Mars plane" flew through the big canyon on the planet. The scene was one of the more memorable in the show.
AN EXTENDED USE :
In 2012, in response to a request from the Houston Museum of Natural Science, we wondered if the same idea could be used as a real-time simulation. Since flight on Mars would involve creating lift in the thinner atmosphere, what differences would there be compared to flight on Earth.
Production for the Unity based game would be similar to the production for the fulldome show. We selected a smaller canyon off of the huge Valles Marineris called Ophir Chasma to avoid having too large an area for the simulation. NASA MOLA data was again used to create a real Mars terrain to fly over.
The terrain meshes created from the real elevation data were broken into many smaller tiles to allow "level of detail" optimizations in the game engine. An actual Mars sky from a NASA image was used as the basis for an environment sky.
THE PLANE :
The existing model of the concept NASA had at the time of the fulldome show which was a more futuristic vision was seen as not a good choice for the simulation. We found newer designs that were seen as more a feasable plane for exploration, so we scrapped the older model for a new version.
Control of the plane was programmed to be similar to the typical flight simulator setup that any gamer would be used to. This would allow a quick start to the game and prevent frustration for the player. Since the game was to be first used in the Houston "Expedition Center" where students visiting were challenged to complete a task like they were in a real NASA mission control situation, goals were set up just like NASA would. Three starting locations were able to be selected and a mission to find a destination like an old rover, a communication tower, or flight to another landing site were a protective hanger was because a sand storm was approaching were possibilities.
An overall map of the area is provided so the navigation player can direct the flyer. Real longitude and lattitude data along with speed and altitude data is provided.
The game is also now playable in an immersive fulldome setup in small portable domes and will be adapted to play in VR headsets also.
That's a short description of the production pipeline for transferring the original prerendered fulldome scene into the Unity real-time game engine. Work is continuing to complete the immersive versions for Oculous and VIVE VR headsets.
Click on the link below to see a Quicktime® movie of a screen grab of a user exploring the Ophir Chasma with the Mars Plane.