Exciting Boredom

After almost a year of testing the online version of Mars Colony we have come to some interesting conclusions about the reality of the mission versus the reality of the game. One of the tests for the online version was to see how many people would dedicate the time and effort to maintain the colony and how many would just drop in to see what is happening. As in all games of this type there will be users that won’t leave as long as the server is up and others want to just look in on things to see what has changed.

The difficulty in creating this as a game is all about the level of activity for the users. I set the game up to require constant attention. The plants need water and fertilizer, the solar array needs cleaned, the Fuel Cells need recharged, the fish need fed and the equipment needs serviced. If no one logs in and keeps after all this work things fall into disarray. It was my hope that the users would organize a bit and get a schedule for maintaining the colony but I haven’t seen that happen yet. The game will have to be a bit more casual and some of the systems will have to be put into automatic mode in order to keep things working properly. I can’t know when people will jump in and do things so I have to change the methods a bit.

On the reality side, if you don’t water the plants they will die. If you dont keep the power systems running and the hubs warm, the fish will freeze and the plants will die. Having to live in this situation you would be more energetic about keeping yourself alive, warm and fed. Just having to keep after all the equipment would cut way down on the boredom of living in such a hostile environment.

The issue of transporting this extreme living condition to a simple, more or less casual game is one of the greatest challenges a designer will have to face. I can’t force people to log into the game to make sure the generator has fuel so how do I give the user the Mars experience when they are only occasional visitors. Most of the systems will have to be auto-magic and take care of themselves and it would be hard to plan a crisis to challenge the users when the users may or may not log on at any given time and stay for an undetermined amount of time. I am left with offering simple tasks for the user. Go fix unit A, take this load of X over to camp B etc…. As I see it this will get boring rather quick and the game will lose any value after a dozen log-ins.

We will be going through a second phase of testing in the near future to see if we can balance the casual user with some excitement in the colony. One of the tests will be to have things work automatically until someone logs into the game then have “issues” that will require user attention. This will be a delicate balance to code in order to keep things fresh and challenging for the constant users as well as the casual users.

6 thoughts on “Exciting Boredom

  1. Eldruin

    that’s sad to hear!.. the constant attention of equipment and such is what seems to make this game what it is. as for automation, perhaps a toggle or servers with and without the automation is something to think about?.


  2. AndrewS

    I’ve only just discovered this game three days ago (MarsColonySim Demo). I’ve only played it in my LAN, on 3 computers. It runs great. Although, if I don’t get my wife or son to help, I’m pretty busy between computers trying to be more than one person. If MCO is different than this demo, then I’m probably missing something. As to this post about no one can participate often enough to keep things up…what if you have AI to run things nominally while no one is present? Or, freeze the server state until someone logs in again? Or, what if there are always a couple AI colonists doing things. Then when someone logs in, one of the AI’s tells them, “Here take over these tasks, I’m going to the ‘COHAB’ to get some much needed sleep.” Then if the person quits and logs off, the AI goes back to work and says to itself, “We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.” (C3PO quote). Otherwise, it will be up to the logged-in player to get things done or the colony will suffer. Perhaps, another way to keep interest might be to allow longer range travels to other colonies. In this way one might be able to explore some of the Martian surface from a sort of pressurized motorhome point of view. A long range rover with a roof of PV panels. Could you simulate accurate, true-to-life Martian terrain for at least part of the surface? Everyone likes to explore new sights, to see what’s over the next hill, even if it is just desert, desert, desert.

  3. Hyper’s post was less about the plan than about the challenges off offering a commercial product. Please don’t be discouraged – there are no intentions to dumb down the products, rather focus on what makes the most sense, and allows reasonable time to market.

    By having a fully hardcore simulation, the market potential is tremendously limited by its approachability and usability… hence the planned stages. That said, there are a lot of options; ala a fully automated system with light controls, like something you would see in Civilization, or something with the serious manual setup, like a flight simulator on manual.

    The “MMO” version is really the difficult model. Persistence where there is no real time interactivity 24 hours a day… if you look at most MMORPG, this is managed by tasks that do not necessary progress, progression is made outside the “time stream” of the game for guilds and players… Mars Colony is unique in that the development of the Colony must proceed to be real, regardless of the players time, and is totally dependent on real humans – rather than AI to complete. For success there must be a regular turn over of players in real time with the same goals and capability. So then a compromise must be made that is acceptable to both the hardcore sim fan and a more casual player.

  4. Eldruin

    i agree with you there Kraniel, the concept of the game is human input and finding a balance would be a rather difficult task, and to andrewS there is an idea pitched on the forum about reducing time to 1/4th when no one is online. i think that’s the best solution so far.. oh and iam the same there, i managed to rope a friend into playing the demo LAN with me ;D

    PS: i love the way you said (dumb down the product) 😉

  5. Andon Zebal

    In truth, many of the systems in a successful martian colony would be automated eventually (watering, mining, even construction, depending on what level of technology you are using).

    So one approach might be to encourage the player to automate things by installing systems that do the grunt work, so that they can focus on colony expansion, exploration, and other game elements such as genetic engineering.

    Also, I’ve been looking for a game like this for a long time, and even thought about making one, though I am not a game designer.

    I have a BS in biology and am a hard sci-fi fan, and have a lot of ideas about elements that could go into a game like this.

    How can I get in on testing?

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