Game design

Inspector Space Ace


Target Audience

Subject Areas



Simulation, Strategy

Middle school and above.  Ages 12+

STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Michelle Starcher, Anita Knox, and Jason Bickle

Solar system/planets, space travel, sample collection and analysis, problem solving, physics.

Learning Standards

  • Science TEKS 6,7,8.2B: Design and implement experimental investigations by making observations, asking well defined questions, formulating testable hypotheses, and using appropriate equipment and technology
  • Science TEKS 6.6C:  Test the physical properties of minerals, including hardness, color, luster, and streak
  • Science TEKS 6.8C:  Calculate average speed using distance and time measurements
  • Science TEKS 6.11 B:  Understand that gravity is the force that governs the motion of our solar system
  • Science TEKS 7.9A:  Analyze the characteristics of objects in our solar system that allow life to exist such as the proximity of the Sun, presence of water, and composition of the atmosphere
  • Social Studies TEKS 6.22A, 7.23A, 8.31A :  Use problem‐solving and decision‐making processes to identify a problem, gather information, list and consider options, consider advantages and disadvantages, choose and implement a solution, and evaluate the effectiveness of the solution
  • Social Studies TEKS 6.19C, 7.20C, 8.29C : Organize and interpret information from outlines, reports, databases, and visuals, including graphs, charts, timelines, and maps
  • Math TEKS 6,7, 8.1B:  Use a problem‐solving model that incorporates analyzing given information, formulating a plan or strategy, determining a solution, justifying the solution, and evaluating the problem‐solving process and the reasonableness of the solution
  • Math TEKS 7.5C:  Solve mathematical and real‐world problems involving similar shape and scale drawings

Goals of the game

Players operate the spacecraft (read gauges, calculate distance, and make decisions), learn how-to live-in space (gravity, temperature, sound, etc), explore tools used for material collection (space suit, utility tools), and consume information about specific environments that are encountered, and identify available resources.  Finally, players will have the resources and knowledge to build a planet that can sustain life.


Players must complete three missions based on resources provided in the game, and prior skills in math and science. Each mission must be completed to move on to the next, the game will not progress until all related tasks, interactions and learning is done.


After what appears to be a restful sleep you start to blink your eyes open and stretch not fully tuned in to where you are.  You sleepily attempt to roll off the side of the bed, which launches you into a spin in mid-air.  You’re awake now, but you aren’t in bed.  You reach for a metal pole to stop yourself from spinning, and slowly take in the environment, but where are you? Better explore your environment and figure out where you are.

Finally making your way through the ship you approach a desk with lots of buttons, gauges, and levers.  You stand in amazement trying to figure out what they could be for when a monitor comes to life.  You recognize the face, it’s Commander Martin.  He explains the desperate need for materials for water and fuel and goes over how to operate the control panel. Before the commander signs off, he gives you coordinates and direction as to what you need to collect and reminds you to keep an eye on the fuel gauge…and you are off to complete your first challenge.


  • Inspector Space Ace: A scientist in training who fell asleep at his desk and woke up in outer space.
  • Commander Martin: appears on a computer screen to give Inspector Space Ace direction for challenges, guidance, and mentorship.
  • Aeiri: AI GPS device that provides coordinates and more information about destinations and ship’s speed capabilities.


Operational Tasks:

  • As Inspector Space Ace players need to perform routine tasks to maintain survival in space.  This includes operating the ship, as well as maintaining fuel and supplies.
  • Life in space poses some challenges that could influence the success of a mission.  Learning elements include information about life in space like climate, gravity, and sound.  This supportive information may be applied in some challenges.

Leveling Tasks:

  •  Successful progress in the game requires completion of missions which incorporate a variety of tasks.
  • Foundational mission: learning about the spaceship like fuel, how to fly and how to maintain.  In addition, learning about life in space, tools, and game resources. Successful progress will result in moving on to the first exploration challenge.
  • Exploration missions: calculate path/distance then visit planets to gather gases and materials. This requires deciphering word problems, performing calculations, analyzing information, and making decisions.
  • Planet challenge: the final step where learning from game play explorations are applied to create a planet. 

3D Environments

  • Spacecraft:
    • The bottom floor is the engine room.  This is where materials are added and then converted into fuel to run the ship. A small metal ladder sits beneath an opening to the next floor.
    • The middle floor is the living area, which includes a sleeping station, galley, kitchen, and hygiene center.  Narrow metal steps lead up to a doorway to the top floor. 
    • Most actions in the spacecraft will take place on the top floor.
      • Proceeding through the doorway and down the corridor to find gear used for leaving the spacecraft, like the suit, helmet, and boots.  As well as small utility tools used in exploring planets.
      • Just past the main doorway to enter/exit the spacecraft is a small pedestal with the mission control guide, which keeps track of progress on missions, and materials gathered.
      • The corridor ends with a large window view of space above and the control panel underneath.
        • The control panel has gauges, buttons, switches, and levers used for flying the spacecraft. These include altimeter, velocity, and fuel gauges. Thrust lever, as well as function and mode switches, and abort and warning lights.
        • In the center of the control panel is a large computer screen where Commander Martin appears to give information about challenges and offer mentoring.
        • Mounted to the far-right side of the control panel is the AI GPS named Aeiri.  This offers coordinates to destinations, and then projects more information about the destination onto the computer screen.

Levels & Progression

Mission 1

The player (as Inspector Space Ace) is working and learning within the ship, information resources, logs, gauges, and learning about space suit. Mission completion may require a variety of tasks including: Solving word problems, analyzing chemical elements, and decision making.

  • Navigate through the ship, gathering information about the environment and related tools.
  • Interact with the space suit to learn about the design, and why features are necessary for use in space.
  • Review missions logs to identify assets.
  • Identify and interact with game resources.
  • Introduction to planet information, and the gas and mineral analysis required to sustain life.
  • Introduction to solid fuel and fission based engine speed simulations.

Mission 2

Complete each mission by calculating space travel time and miles to visit a destination set of planets in outer space and collecting the required materials and gases. Materials collected are used for making fuel or water.

  • Water Element routes:
    • Earth > Mars > Jupiter> Earth
    • Earth > Venus > Saturn > Earth
  • Fuel Element Routes:
    • Saturn > Mercury > Earth
    • Jupiter > Venus > Earth

Spacecraft can only travel at specific speeds based on solid fuel or fusion fuel.

  • Fuel Types
    • Solid – 19,000 MPH
    • Fusion – 62,000,000 MPH

Mission 3

Apply what has been learned, and resources gathered throughout the game to create a life sustainable planet. The player will consider:

  • Distance from sun
  • Planet mass
  • Rotation
  • Element Introduction
  • Meteors/Asteroids – gases, elements and water
  • Volcanoes – build land masses
  • Gases in Atmosphere – traps heat and gases
  • Add moon/s?

Scrolls billion years scroll bar back and forth in time over 10 billion years to analyze the sustainability.

Water Elements:
Carbon Dioxide (Mars & Venus), Hydrogen (Jupiter & Saturn)
Fuel Elements:
Aluminum (Mercury, Venus, Mars), Ammonia (Jupiter & Saturn)

Number of players

1 player, however there is potential to make this a multiplayer, allowing student collaboration.

Estimated length of play

60-90 minutes

Cognitive processes required for game play

RememberingRecall facts about planets and space.
UnderstandingMake observations; Use appropriate equipment and technology.
ApplyingCalculate distance and average speed. Determine a route for travel; Organize and interpret information; Use problem-solving and decision making processes.
AnalyzingAnalyze results and modify future decisions; Formulate a plan for landing and collecting samples on various planets; Analyze the characteristics of objects in space that allow life to exist.
EvaluatingEvaluate samples and determine their usefulness in creating a new planet.
CreatingDesign a planet that can sustain life.

Skills required for game play

Critical ThinkingAnalyze information and evidence in order to make decisions throughout their mission in space.  Use information collected throughout the journey to design and start a new planet that can sustain life.
Problem SolvingMission tasks will pose several problems that require solutions to progress in the game.  Including mathematical problems and situation-based problems that occur on the ship and in space. 
Decision MakingPlayers must use relevant information to make informed decisions to ensure they survive and fulfill their missions.
CreativityPlanet design requires application of previous learning in a novel way.
CommunicationInteractions with Commander Martin & Aeiri. Course integration can has potential to add additional communication elements.
CollaborationSingle player game. Potential for collaboration, but depends on how the game is integrated into the classroom.
Psychomotor SkillsMinimal. Use keys to move through space, explore planets, collect samples, etc.

Content Integration

  • Prior Knowledge: Players should have prior knowledge of science concepts including the solar system, physical properties, and scientific investigation.  The game requires players to solve word problems and perform basic mathematical calculations of distance, time and speed.
  • Academic Content: This game teaches academic content in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.

  • Content Integration Strategies and Rationale:  In having to learn about ship and planets, content is integrated through the natural need to look for both elements to make fuel and water. Then the player has to select fuel type and speed and calculate time and distance to each planet.
  • Extra Credit/Exercise: Player research methods to stay alive or sleep for hundreds of years of space travel if only average space travel speeds are achieved.

Engagement Strategies

Various engagement strategies are used within the game.  The initial hook for the game is the mystery surrounding why the player is in space.  Active role play and the storyline surrounding the mission delivers an extra level of motivation for players by requiring them to analyze information, make decisions, and solve problems that will impact the survival of the people on their home planet. 

  • Tasks done to complete each mission are attainable but require dedication and critical thinking, giving the player a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. 
  • The game provides clear goals and tasks, immediate feedback, and progressive challenges. 
  • The 3D environment immerses the players in space and allows them to explore places beyond their reach in the real-world. 
  • Interactions with information and the game’s environment allow players to analyze, evaluate, and think critically as they make decisions and determine their course of action, keeping them engaged and on task. 

Scaffolding Strategies

Commander Martin:

  • Explains the player’s mission and the desperate need for materials to build a new home planet.
  • Training to operate and manage the ship in order to complete the missions.
  • Continued support, guidance, mentorship, and direction throughout game play.


  • AI GPS, provides scaffolding support throughout the game by sharing coordinates, dispensing guidance and relaying information regarding locations and travel strategy.

Mission guide:

  • Provides big picture view of what has been accomplished during game play.
  • Resource for game features.

Assessment Strategies

Formative Assessment

  • The game utilizes in-game challenges to assess players as they progress through the various levels of play. 
  • Players will complete tasks throughout the game that assess their content area knowledge as well as their ability to make decisions and solve problems. 
  • Tasks requires to complete each mission include: deciphering word problems, performing calculations, and analyzing information. 

Summative Assessment

  • In the final stage of the game, players are required to design a planet based on the information collected in the game. 
  • A rubric will be used to assess the planet’s ability to sustain life. 

Major purpose for game integration

Inspector Space Ace will be used as an engaging primer for instructional unit on our Solar System and challenges of space travel, to level-set students on basic knowledge of our solar system planets, space, and distances. Building a sustainable planet enables the student to build, test and reflect on our the Earth and why it sustains life while the others do not.

Implementation Plan

  • The game will be built to be played within a browser or as an app on any device. Animations and graphics will be vector or .svg for responsive design and different screen aspect ratios and built in Articulate Storyline or similar tool with scenario based architecture that can be converted to browser player and mobile app.
  • It is possible, the game could be utilized as a platform where other missions could be added to make the game more specific for different instructional needs, for example, studies on gravity, lightspeed, and black holes.
  • Mission Guide Workbooks and worksheets could be developed to support game and concepts.

Perceived Barriers/Support Needed

Creating this game requires development, testing, and funding. Resources are needed to build media, program interaction, test, then move the game to browser and app platforms.

Skill Requirements:

  • Graphic Designer
  • 3D Modeler
  • Instructional Designer
  • Sound/Music creation and editing
  • Storyline or other programming/multimedia development
  • HTML/CSS/Responsive Design for browser version
  • App development and deployment for mobile applications

Funding and Grant Proposals: May be possible to fund project through NSF or other educational grant, therefore, grant application and approval time required.

Personal Reflection on designing the game

Team members hold a variety of expertise which fostered a progressive evolution in the planning, design and pedagogical integration. Concepts started very simple, then elements were layered on with each stage progressing from the previous. In the end the design could be executed as a straight forward path from start to finish, or with a complexity that allows for a higher rate of error. Both experiences will offer knowledge gains within the game, and promote exploration beyond game play.