Combining Art and Science: The Making of Moon Rush, the People’s Choice in Our Shoot for the Moon Contest

[This interview originally appeared on the Schusterman Foundation’s blog.]

Cheng Zhang (right) and Sheri Larimer of the Ohio State University won the People’s Choice Award in the Shoot for the Moon game design contest for their concept Moon Rush.

As part of the 11th Annual Games for Change Festival, the Schusterman Foundation teamed up with Games for Change to sponsor a game design contest. Contestants were charged with designing a game that would support SpaceIL’s mission to the Moon. SpaceIL, a front-runner for the Google Lunar X Prize, is an Israel-based nonprofit organization aiming to land a spacecraft on the Moon by 2015.

Submissions were pared down to three finalists who received two complimentary passes to the 2014 Games for Change Festival, where they presented their concepts in front of a live jury and top funders. Among the finalists was Lunar Rocks, a two-person team from the Ohio State University who presented the game Moon Rush.

For the first time, we opened voting to the public with the People’s Choice Award, which went to Lunar Rocks’ game Moon Rush. Although Lunar Rocks was not selected for the $25,000 grand prize, which went to Theorify for SpaceIL Academy, they were still a crowd favorite as shown by the hundreds of votes they received online.

We also offered three passes to next year’s Festival (2015) to three lucky voters. These randomly selected voters are: Diane H., Melissa T., and Olga B. Congratulations!

Learn more about the People’s Choice award-winning game from Lunar Rocks’ Cheng Zhang, who took a few minutes to answer questions about her experience in creating Moon Rush.

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, 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 Ph.D. 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 at the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at The Ohio State University.


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?

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 to 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 Ph.D. 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!


On June 18, Schusterman will host its #NetTalks webinar, Gaming For Good, where attendees can learn how digital games can support organization’s mission. Register here to hear from G4C President Asi Burak, Kfir Damari of SpaceIL, and Theorify’s Jasmine Bulin, who will show the latest demo of SpaceIL Academy.


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