Luna’s Wandering Stars Hands-on Preview: Fun with Physics
PAX South 2015 was full of great indie games and development studios, but one developer in particular left a lasting impression on me after visiting its booth. Meet Serenity Forge, a studio of 8-10 bright young minds who pride themselves on tricking gamers into learning advanced scientific concepts like astrophysics while playing the games they dream up. Thanks to their dedication to real life physics in gaming, the Serenity Forge team has attracted the attention of the space community, so much so that the team was invited to a NASA summit to talk about the games they make and how they focus on true to life physics in said games. Yes, they are indeed highly intelligent developers, which is why its first commercial game, Luna’s Wandering Stars, is an Indie title to keep your eye on.
While at the show I got to spend a fair amount of time playing through sample levels of what Luna’s Wandering Stars has to offer, and while I won’t be challenging Einstein’s theory of relativity anytime soon based on what I played, it was very apparent that this game has some serious physics going on, which makes up the crux of its gameplay. You control a moon and must navigate our solar system planet by planet while leveraging the game’s physics to carefully orbit each planet and collect asteroids to advance to the next level. What makes this concept even more interesting than it sounds is the fact that each of the nine main levels (one for each planet) feature completely unique gameplay thanks to the focus on real life physics, namely the effects of gravity on different sized masses.
For example, while playing the Mercury levels the effects of gravity aren’t as great as playing on the Earth levels, so you must take that into account while lining up the intended projection path for your moon to ensure it will orbit the planets without drifting off into space, smashing into the planet itself, or missing the asteroids required to advance. The team takes this concept even further in each level by completely changing the gameplay mechanics, so you can’t rely on strategies used for previous planets when you move on to the next. Mercury offers the most simple gameplay, only requiring you to chart your orbit around the planet before ejecting the moon into its circular flight path. Once you send the moon into its orbit it will follow the path you chose, which hopefully adheres to the planet’s physics and will gently settle into its circular trajectory and hit all of the required asteroids to move on to the next level. Earth on the other hand requires you to use the mouse in a side to side motion to fluctuate the flight of the moon, while Venus incorporates boosters that you must use to get into the correct flight path to pick up the goods.
What starts out as an easy task on the Mercury levels only gets more difficult as you progress through the solar system, which is why you’ll have to learn to adapt and adjust your understandings of the game’s physics. This is where Serenity Forge’s penchant for tricking gamers to learn advanced scientific concepts without making them feel like they’re learning shines. While playing through a few of the Mercury levels I thought I had Luna’s gameplay mastered and wondered how entertaining it truly could be over the promised 100 levels, but after trying a few levels on Earth and Venus it was clear that relying on my previous experiences was pointless, and that the only way to succeed is to adapt my thinking each time I enter the orbit of a new planet.
In addition to the intelligent gameplay Luna’s Wandering Stars also features a hidden story that is told through an ominous narrator who takes pleasure in making you feel dumb. This helps to give the game a bit of personality making it more than just an exercise in astrophysics, and it also compels you to keep playing to see what sort of cheeky dialogue he’ll have for you on the next level.
The game world also looks serenely beautiful, making you feel like you’re an omnipotent God looking at the solar system as your sandbox that is full of planets, asteroids, and moons to hurl at them. Each planet obviously reflects what they look like in real life, so there is variety in the environments just like there is variety in the gameplay for each level.
A Tour of Luna’s Various Art Styles
Luna’s Wandering Stars is set to hit Steam this March for just $9.95. Its focus on real life physics and the variety of gameplay it offers make it an Indie title worth picking up. What starts as a simple game can get mentally challenging quick thanks to the powers of gravity over different sized masses, so no two planets will feature identical gameplay. This helps to keep each level feeling fresh while also forcing you to think outside of the box to adapt to the new gameplay mechanics that you thought you knew how to master. It also helps that Luna’s Wandering Stars is a gem to look at thanks to its simple, yet engaging visual design that may cause you to hear Neil deGrasse Tyson’s voice in your head as if you were watching an episode of Cosmos.
You can see Luna’s Wandering Stars in action below via its official trailer. If you like what you see make sure to head over to the game’s website to get it locked and loaded for its March 2015 Steam release.
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