Inspiring Young Scientists

When you first start playing Extrasolar, you'll be greeted with so many surprises that you probably won't think of it as an educational game. From the very beginning, you'll be drawn into a sci-fi story where you play a central character, helping to explore an alien planet with a rover while simultaneously trying to uncover the truth behind a conspiracy back on Earth. But underneath this compelling story, Extrasolar is inspired by science to its very core.

But you don't have to take my word for it. You can start your journey into Extrasolar right now and we're even offering the entire first season for free. So before you read any further, go sign up!

Our entire development team is deeply passionate about science and its importance in our everyday lives. We've tried to keep the content as accurate as possible and let the science drive the story rather than vice-versa. We even hired a biologist, Jane Van Susteren, who plays the character Jane Eastwood within the game. The analysis you see about biology, evolution, and methods of scientific analysis were all written by Jane with a focus on scientific fidelity. As a preview, you can see an example blog post that you'll encounter during the story.

Best Desktop Game, Indie Prize Showcase USA 2014Nominee: Most Innovative, Indie Prize Showcase USA 2014Bronze Winner, 2014 International Serious Play ConferenceNominee, Nuovo Award for Innovation, IGF 2014

Finalist, Indiecade 2013Nominee, South by Southwest Gamer's Voice 2014

  • Up to 80% off for schools.

    In our effort to reach young audiences, we recently started distributing Extrasolar through Edmodo. If you're not already familiar with Edmodo, you can think of it as Facebook for schools. Through their interface, you can purchase Extrasolar for your entire classroom at a discounted rate that's up to 80% off the regular price. The currently available content takes most players about a month to complete. Two additional seasons are currently in production and will be included without any additional purchase.

    For more information on our discount program or to purchase academic copies of Extrasolar without going through Edmodo, please send an email to Rob Jagnow at rob@lazy8studios.com.

  • What is Extrasolar like?

    The core mechanic in Extrasolar is simple: Using a map interface, tell your rover where you want it to go, what time of day you want your photo, and what direction you want to aim your rover's camera. Hours later, when your rover arrives at that destination and transmits the image data back to Earth, you'll be asked to tag areas of interest in your photos to identify species and alert the science team to new discoveries.

    In the same way that NASA explores Mars, exploring Epsilon Eridani e will require time and patience. At a minimum, it will take your rover an hour to reach its next destination and transmit the data back to Earth. Some of the tools that you're using to gather information will fail and the research team will be forced to fall back on old fashioned observation techniques to learn about entirely new biological kingdoms.

  • Lesson Plans

    If you purchase Extrasolar for your class through Edmodo, then as a teacher, you'll get access to a specially designed interface that will let you monitor the progress of all of the students in your class.

    To help even more, we've developed lesson plans to help guide discussion related to the science topics that make up part of the Extrasolar story.

  • Science Topics

    As with most scientific endeavors, the observations that you'll make in Extrasolar cross a number of disciplines, including astronomy, biology, and physics. In the following section, we've included a few example questions that might be used to create a discussion around each of these topics.

  • Discussion Questions

    To help develop lessons around the content in Extrasolar, we're providing a few questions to help get discussion started on various topics. You can find more on our lesson plans page.

    Q (Astronomy): If you look closely at your night photos, you may recognize some familiar constellations that look almost identical to the constellations that you would see here on earth. That may seem surprising since the planet that you're exploring orbits a star -- Epsilon Eridani -- that is nearly 10.5 light years (100 trillion kilometers) away. Why would the night sky look so similar to ours?

    A: 10.5 light years may seem like a huge distance -- and it is -- but relative to the size of the milky way galaxy, it's hardly any distance at all. The Milky Way is more than 100,000 light years across. By comparison, the closest star to Earth -- Proxima Centauri -- is 4.2 light years away. If you were to travel 10.5 light years, only a few stars would appear to noticeably change their position.

    Q (Biology): Almost none of the species on Epsilon Eridani e are green in color. Why is this surprising and what might be your hypothesis about how species get energy for life?

    A: On Earth, chlorophyll a is one of the principle molecules used for photosynthesis. It reflects a green color, giving plants their characteristic green look. Since we don't see green on Epsilon Eridani e, we can hypothesize that the species get their energy from somewhere else -- it could be a different molecule that they use for photosynthesis, or it might be that they get their energy from some other source entirely.

    Q (Biology): In one of your first missions, the team biologist Jane Eastwood explains you that it would be incorrect to refer to any of the species that you see on Epsilon Eridani e as "plants" and encourages you to instead use a term that she makes up -- "photobionts". They look like plants, so why isn't it scientifically correct to call them plants?

    A: Species in the plant kingdom on Earth are all related to a common evolutionary ancestor. Since the species on Epsilon Eridani e have evolved independently, they don't share any of the ancestors of the plant kingdom.

    Q (Biology): If the species on Epsilon Eridani e evolved independently from species on Earth, then why do some of the photobionts look so similar to Earth plants?

    A: The evolutionary pressures on Epsilon Eridani e are similar to those on Earth. Species need to harness energy, replicate, conserve resources, and defend against predators. The result is that species on both planets may evolve similar structures. This is known as convergent evolution.

    Q (Physics): In Extrasolar, it takes a minimum of one hour for you to send a command to your rover, wait for your rover to travel to its new location, and send a photo back to Earth. Would this speed of communication be possible in real life?

    A: If data is transmitted with electromagnetic waves, then our communications are bounded by the speed of light. Even within our own solar system, this can cause long delays. Depending on where Earth and Mars are in their orbits, it can take 5-20 minutes for light to go between them (meaning a round-trip signal time of 10-40 minutes) Since Epsilon Eridani e is 10.5 light years away, a round-trip message would take 21 years!

  • Science vs. Science Fiction

    We try to keep our science content as accurate as possible, but there are two place in particular where, to allow our story to happen, we had to break the rules.

    Propulsion Technology: Our planet orbits Epsilon Eridani, which is about 10.5 light years from here. If we were to travel at the speed of the Voyager probes -- 17km per second -- it would still take about 180,000 years to reach that star system. We're claiming we engineered a probe that was able to reach the planet in about 12 years at close to the speed of light. In reality, we're a long way away from that technology.

    Communication Technology: We're claiming that we're using near instantaneous communications. In reality, an electromagnetic signal would need 21 years to make a round trip between Earth and Epsilon Eridani. Our fictional communications technology is at least inspired by real science. We claim that the Exoplanetary Research Institute (XRI) engineered the Quantum Untangled Interstellar-Capable Binary Interchange Technology, orQUICBIT. Real science shows that quantum entangled particles appear to exchange information much faster than the speed of light -- maybe instantaneously. But once this has been done, the quantum state collapses and the particles are no longer entangled. Our claim is that we've found a loophole in the physics that allows us to send probabilistic data between quantum-entangled particles without collapsing the quantum state. If we could really do this, it would revolutionize communications.

  • The Story Arc

    If you're using Extrasolar in a classroom setting, then you probably want to know up front what will unfold in the story. This section will be jam-packed with spoilers! Are you absolutely certain you want to continue? You've been warned.

    From the very beginning, nothing goes quite as expected. When you apply to be a rover driver, you get a notice saying that the system is over capacity and that you should keep an eye on your email for openings. A few minutes later, a mysterious hacker emails you with an offer to get you in through a back door. In exchange, the hacker expects you to be their "eyes and ears on the inside."

    Within the science team, there are 2 primary characters who are assigning missions to you. Dr. Robert Turing tasks you with exploration missions and biologist Jane Eastwood gives you biology missions. Jane's missions contain a lot of the science content but are not essential for completing the story.

    In one of your first missions, Turing asks you to check out a reflective object. But once you arrive and photograph the bizarre object, Turing seems to be quite uncomfortable and sends you in a different direction. It's not clear at first, but it soon starts to become clear that this planet has remnants of an alien civilization.

    Your exploration has its share of complications. In the process, you end up destroying a couple of rovers and Jane accidentally damages some of the scientific equipment on the landing module. You make do with what you have and, as is often the case with real science, you end up learning quite a bit from your mistakes.

    Over time, you start to learn more about the hacker who got you into the program. You first learn that they believe that their father was killed when he stumbled on information about how Extrasolar was financed. He believed that it had been funded as a government defense initiative with ulterior motives. You later learn that the hacker is a young woman and, when you see her for the first time in a video message, that she's African American.

    At the conclusion of season 1, there are some big reveals -- one having to do with the hacker's father and another having to do with the possibility of intelligent life on the planet. But I'll save those for when you actually play Extrasolar yourself.

  • Contact Us

    If you're interested in inspiring young scientists with Extrasolar, don't hesitate to get in touch by sending an email to Lazy 8 Studios founder Rob Jagnow at rob@lazy8studios.com.

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