Mars Challenger Final Approach…

The current development cycle for Mars Challenger is close to a final product release, however we have hit many roadblocks with the core-rendering engine, and are having to make some technical compromises to create a stable experience. A message to all developers, carefully choose your game engine and make sure it is stable before you add features or cross the point of no return in your design. I have had to debug and redesign many parts of the engine because it cannot or will not work properly, and random, inconsistent crashes dramatically slow down progress. Currently the game engine really doesn’t seem to be much beyond late Alpha or early Beta. And support is poor or non-existent. You should get what you pay for – and that is a stable and commercially viable game engine. Torque 3D is not ready for a commercial complex simulation game – and Garage Games has been ignoring fundamental design flaws despite constantly adding new features and selling paid commercial licenses. The current version of Torque3D has been moved to open source so it will be anyone’s guess as to its destiny as a viable development product.

The balance between game and simulation for this project has been hard fought. There were many things I wanted to add to make it more realistic but was penalized in performance to a point the game was no fun. After many hours of play testing I think I have a version that is realistic enough to be interesting yet fast paced enough to offer challenging play.

Testing has been and always is an interesting subject. The general game playing populace likes to sign up for beta testing. Not because they want to help but to get a free look at the game before release. Bragging rights to their friends that they were accepted to a beta test is a common goal for them. Real testers in the games industry assume the role of Quality Assurance instead of just tester. They go at the products to follow the documentation and help files to see if the game works mechanically as advertised first of all then they take a look at the enjoyment value of the game itself. Industry QA or testers don’t get the respect they deserve. Most people don’t understand the many grinding hours of testing where one change can affect the whole project, so the run the game over and over. In the 3 years of this development I have run the game over 40,000 times. Think about that number, Do you know anyone that would play a game 40,000 times and not go a bit crazy?

Mars Challenger will be in Beta soon and we hope to finalize it within a month or so. This is the time I get to spend going through the help files, doc files and adding or changing all the little icons, taking screen caps to show what the equipment looks like. Then it’s off to the databases to keep track of all the game and user info. It is all about the details, lots and lots of details. We have feature locked this version so now it is a matter of finalizing all the actions. I would like to think this product has applications beyond entertainment since the original purpose was to demonstrate the issues Man will face trying to survive on Mars. Then, we have the whole education side of it. The mechanics, agriculture, biology and geology issues the game provides would be a great way to get students interested in science.

Final thoughts: This project has tested my abilities to the breaking point, especially with health issues and a rotating team of artists and testers. I am the type of person that relishes challenge and innovation, and not willing to accept failure or mediocrity. So to my game design colleagues, set your sights high and challenge yourself.


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