Mars Colony Online – Developer Update 20JAN2011

For the past year of the Mars Colony development, I have read the ideas presented by the testers about the way they would like to see the game work. We have 250 users on the forums and about 20 of them chime in on a fairly consistent basis. Out of that group of 20 there are 20 different opinions on how the game should run, how it should look and what the user experience should be. I appreciate the input since it provides me a more diverse view of what it would be like to get to Mars and establish a colony of humans there. They have also challenged the science behind what I have created and presume to be the reality of living on the planet Mars. That challenge drives me to make things more realistic from an operational standpoint. I present facts and offer solutions and reasons on how to overcome the obstacles humans would face trying to survive on Mars.

Having said all that, as a game designer I have to bend the reality somewhat in order to make it enjoyable for the user. For instance, I can run the game in real time, but the reality of it would be so boring for the user I doubt many would run the game more than a couple hours. You spend most of the day doing research, maintaining the equipment and night time comes and you would sleep.

Sleeping online, think about it for a moment. You log into the game and watch your character sleep for 8 real hours? The excitement level at that point would be mind numbing. So as a designer I have to offer the compromise of time compression so the user is always active. I can put cots, bunks in some sleeping quarters and give the illusion of having that ability but for making things playable I compressed a day down to an hour real time. What we are after here is the core user experience. The user wants to drive rovers, discover new things and be put into challenging situations where they have to resolve issues of survival. That is the driving force behind this game. I want the user to experience all the action of setting up, living and surviving in a colony on an alien world with limited resources and help.

There are potentially multiple products or chapters in all of this. The first exploration mission, like the original demo is a game in and of itself. Like a camping trip, Colonists set up the tents, get the fires going, explore, get the basic necessities working, enjoy the scenary and then go home. The second trip is about establishing a permanent base, and thriving on planet and is a one way trip for those willing to take the challenge. And the last chapter is expanding the footprint of man on Mars. Humans will always want to see what is over the next hill and will set up camps along the way to make that happen. The current version of the game I am building is about the third key experience. The new base is 50 kilometers away from the main base so if things go wrong or you forget your toothbrush, you are on your own till the next shipment can get to you. I think this will give the user a lot of great Mars experiences.

Colonists will have to set up equipment, create a livable atmosphere, get the power generators running and start growing food. I may backtrack and make a prequel version of the first manned landing on the planet or setting up the first colony but from a game / development standpoint I can get more-bang-for–the-game-playing-buck with this version. Perhaps the future of this development will be to put all three chapters into one product but for now I am focused on delivering a great Mars simulation product, with a balance between game mechanics and real Mars science.

The real experience here is the human element, and human decisions and interactions with the challenges of long term survival on the planet Mars. Anything that deteriorates that experience, whether that is a game mechanics issue like where new players “spawn”, game play issues like permanent death or conflicting opinions on core science application in the Mars Environment are set aside. Those things that are perceived as critical and important, and play into situations that add to the sense of urgency and excitement add to the experience. Sweeping the dust out of the airlocks? Not so much.

3 thoughts on “Mars Colony Online – Developer Update 20JAN2011

  1. thedubman

    I have been on several testing missions, and can assure pepole that it is an facinating experience. It has so many unquie points of gameplay that the is no other game like it out there..
    ..Want to visit and live on Mars, this does it but be warned it wont be easy, with a FPS style perspective, simulated working systems (life support, power) not a gamey feature in sight, just science, logic and fun and exictment of exploring the surface of Mars..

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