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I came across this article on National Geographic's website about a new XBox Live Kinect game being released by NASA called Mars Rover Landing. The game allows players to control the descent of a digital version of the real-life Curiosity Rover that is planned to land on Mars on August 5th at 10:30 pm Pacific Daylight Time.

The game itself is pretty short and pretty simple. It's a free, educational app intended for kids, so it's kind of hard for me to judge. I actually found myself more interested in the brief documentary materials that were included in the game. There's a few descriptions of the mission, the rover itself, and a video overviewing the mission as a whole. It's not anything too terribly detailed or technical, but again, it's intended for kids. So if you're a mechanical engineer and want to know about the inner workings of the rover, then you're going to have to look somewhere else.

Mars Rover Landing

The game consists of three parts.

The first part requires the player to shift your body around in front of the camera to keep the lander within a target ring during its atmospheric descent. This is the part that I had the most trouble with, just because the Kinect sensor didn't seem to be as sensitive as I wanted it to be, and the lander seemed to veer off course suddenly and without any reason.

The second requires the player to wave your arms at locations on the screen in order to drop the heat shield and deploy the supersonic parachute.

The third and final part requires the player to lift or lower your arms to control the amount of thrust being applied to each side of the lander in order to drop the rover off softly on the target site on the ground. This part is only in two dimensions and requires the player to also manage available thruster fuel.

The whole process only takes a few minutes (considerably less than the seven minutes the actual mission landing will take). Getting a high score is pretty difficult, mostly just because the Kinect sensors just aren't precise enough.

As a debut educational game from NASA, I will go ahead and say that Mars Rover Landing is a success. I think kids who are interested in science and space exploration, in particular, will enjoy trying it out. If you're a space enthusiast (of any age), it's also worth checking out if you have access to an XBox 360 with Kinect, if for nothing else than to have a pretty Martian landscape to look at.

I hope that Mars Rover Landing will be the first of many games developed in partnership with NASA, and I look forward to seeing something a bit more meaty in the future.

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