The robotic explorers of Mars face a number of challenges. Beyond
the obstacles in the terrain, communication is slow and limited, and
the orbit of Mars provides little energy for solar panels. A rover
simulator could allow players to take on these challenges and
challenge each other for the
fastest time through a given course.
Players would be given a set of waypoints to reach on a virtual rover
mission. Before each mission, there could even be a design phase
allowing the players to pick a landing site and design basic elements
of the rover within certain real-world constraints. There would be a
set of standard rover commands and maybe even the ability to
customize the virtual rover's software.
Gameplay would consist of a number of communications passes. Each
pass would take a set amount of time and the players would prepare
their rover commands before every pass. There would be a simulated
communications delay anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes forcing
players to anticipate disaster.
Each rover would have to spot the virtual boulders, sand traps, and
cliffs with a still camera, and there would be satellite maps to help
out. For extra realism, hazards like dust storms, cosmic rays, and
rover malfunctions could be added.
Optimally, the simulation would run on a web server to open the
game to the widest possible audience, but making the server render
all the graphics might be too difficult to scale.
Just a regular old rover simulator might be fun too, but adding
competitive elements would attract more interest in the game. You
could make it full-contact with rovers jostling for position within a
narrow pass, or just include a top scores list.