Mindrover the Europa Project


Ever wanted to build a robot, arm it with weapons of mass destruction, and turn it loose to see what happens? How about getting some BattleBot action in on your home? Here's your chance. Mindrover: the Europa Project was released for Windows some time ago, but has recently been ported to Linux and is available from Loki games.

Ever wanted to build a robot, arm it with weapons of mass destruction, and turn it loose to see what happens? How about getting some BattleBot action in on your home? Here's your chance. Mindrover: the Europa Project was released for Windows some time ago, but has recently been ported to Linux and is available from Loki Games.

So what exactly do you do in this game? Well, it's fairly simple. You select a scenario, select a chassis, slap on some sensors, engines, weapons, or whatever. Then you program your machine. That's right. You have to program to play this game. It's not C however. It's a graphical programming scheme. You make wires between the components to create 'functions'. You need to keep in mind your objectives when creating the logic your machine will follow. When you think you have it wired up right. Hit "Go" and watch your creation come to life.

There are many different scenarios to choose from. These include sports, battles, races, and other miscellaneous goals. Races start with a simple drag race, then increase in difficulty until the final race which is a no holds barred, Mad Max style "if ya can't beat 'em, blast 'em" event. Sports events start with a sumo style "push your opponent off the mat" up to playing hockey - find the puck and push it into the goal. Battles are simple deathmatches with a single capture the flag scenario. The arenas increase in difficulty as you progress. Finally, in the "Miscellaneous" category there are several forms of tag, maze running, and one called "Gold Rush", where you have find loot and bring it back to base within a short time limit.

click for larger images of a Mindrover battle

After selecting the scenario, you select your vehicle. There are 3 chassis types to choose from and not all are available in every scenario. There are hover, wheeled, and treaded vehicles. In each chassis type you can select from small, medium and heavy types. Heavy types have more hit points and space for components, but weigh more, making them slower and less maneuverable. In races, a fast nimble vehicle is more desirable. In a battle or sumo event, you'll want inertia and health on your side.

Now that you've selected your chassis, it's time to outfit your vehicle. In each scenario, you are limited by weight and points. Each component has a weight and point value. As you pile on more sensors, engines, thrusters, weapons, lights, horns, navigation equipment, and such, your creation will get heavier and more complex. Some scenarios require complex vehicles. Some do not. Keep things to the minimum you think you can get away with.

After you have selected your components, you have to tell them how to talk to each other. You can also select logical components while wiring up your vehicle. These take neither space, points, nor weight. These are items such as timers, AND, NOR, OR, NOT NAND, and other logical operators. You can also have components that do math, comparisons, and switch your robot into different modes. A simple example of wiring your components together is something like this: let's take a hovercraft for example. Slap on two thrusters on each back corner. Put two sensors on the front two corners. Now offset the front sensors by 45 degrees so that their fields don't overlap. Run a wire from the left sensor to the right engine. Set it to make the thruster go off at 100%. Run a wire from the right sensor to the left engine. Have it make the engine go off at 100%. What will happen when you hit "Go" is that when something comes into the vehicles sensor range, it will turn and chase it - basic tag.

click for larger images of wiring your Mindrover bot

Mindrover's graphics are a bit dated. I have found the textures on the arenas to be very washed out with not a lot of detail. The fact that you can't change resolution is annoying as well. If your video card runs full screen anti-aliasing, it is a godsend on this game. I also found the camera controls while the game was running to be frustrating. There are predefined hotkeys to focus on the vehicles or to select a 'best view'. You can put the camera into a free roam mode, but it's difficult to control and occasionally moves too slowly to keep up with the action. This is especially bad on the race scenarios. A WASD + mouse configuration would be optimal for this rather than mouse1 to move forward, mouse2 to move back, and move the mouse to look around. There is no lateral movement at all. In the wiring screen, it gets very cluttered very quick. It would be nice to make traces like a printed circuit board rather than directly from component to component. I think the wire graphics are too thick as well. If you have a lot of wires going to one component, like an engine or mode changer, it becomes difficult to select one wire to change its properties. The vehicle explosions are disappointing as well. There is no smoke, no fire, no debris - just a yellow splut like popping a facehugger in Half-Life. It would also be nice to be able to turn on and off the sensor overlays when you're not debugging. The robots pour out smoke rather nicely as they are damaged and the thrusters have a nice flame trail out the back.

The sound in the game is minimalistic as well. This isn't Quake3 or Tribes2. Instead, lots of little clicks and whirs as rockets reload and machine guns fire. The explosions are little more than pops. There are no crashes and bangs as you run into objects or other bots. The music is average, techno-ambient stuff. Redbook audio causes lots of pauses. Doing this in mp3 format would have been much better.

Where Mindrover shines and earns your hard earned money is gameplay. In that aspect, it's very, very good. It has a very unique concept and is well executed. For the programmers out there, you know the 'high' of getting your code to execute as you have desired. Finding that nagging bug and squashing it. That is in the game as well. When your bot runs out, finds the opponent and runs him off the mat before the opponent knows what's happening, it's great. Fixing that misconfigured thruster or finding a way to make your robot sense the edge of the mat and get away from it before it's pushed off is wonderful too. The only other feature I would like to see added is a debugging overlay while the bot is in action. Having it show the values that the sensors are returning, or light up wires as they activate on a small schematic overlay in the corner would be extremely useful.

Mindrover really has no multiplayer to speak of. You can email your bots to your friends and they can import them into their game to square off against your creation, but that's it. There is no realtime connection or network play. A hot seat style match, where both parties connect, and have 5 minutes to design and deploy their bot in kind of an engineering deathmatch would be nice. www.battlespot.com has an excellent ladder system and lots of bots for you to download and square off against.

In terms of Linux specifics for the game, Loki did another great job on the port. It comes in a DVD case and the manual is not in a PDF file like they did with Tribes2 and Alpha Centauri. I would like to have seen some gory detail about the various components in the manual. But to get that, you can highlight a component and hit F1 in the game. They use the standard Loki installer which has a pretty graphical interface and works great. The Loki updater is installed as well, which automatically gets patches for Mindrover or any other Loki ports you have installed. The game uses OpenGL only, so you'll need a 3D card to play.

Cognitoy and Loki have cooked up a great game. It's not for everyone however - it requires a programmer's mind to build the logic for your bot to be able to do well. The casual gamer may find Mindrover very confusing and be turned off by the lack of flashy graphics and flat sound. But if you like logic puzzles or programming, do yourself a favor: embrace your inner geek and get this game.