Where are the new posts?

This site still gets a lot of traffic, despite a calendar quarter of lack of fresh posts.

Here’s why… there are a couple of “big” things happening. Those of you that are actively testing each week with Hyper in the Mars Colony Online alpha are aware, but for the rest…

MCO has been ported to a new and more capable engine. This gives the engineers and artists many more tools to make the environment much more immersive and leverage Shader technology in modern graphics cards. The result is considerable hand work in porting core logic and rendering systems into the new engine. The good news is that the bulk of the work is completed, and the team is back on mechanics and fixing minor bugs as they pop up.

Secondly, MCO is beginning to mature to the point that actual plans for release are forming. So for all of you Mars simulation fans… stay tuned!

Mars Colony: Stage Two, Survival

The colony has been set up, the settlers have come to the planet and the challenge of survival has begun. The life support systems function well but we have the occasional noob (affectionate term for “I’ve never played this game before and I’m gonna twist knobs till something breaks”) will turn off the pumps. We try to train people as they come to the surface to minimize the damage.

Everyone has settled into a routine of checking the valves on the life support, cleaning the PV array and servicing the wind generators. Job one is to stay breathing and stay warm and we are all aware of the severe consequences of losing either. We got the software running on the main computer now and that has been a great help finding lost equipment, keeping track of the weather and communications.

The farm has provided a lot of work for the crew. Trying to balance the soil nutrients has been a bit of a challenge since the Martian dirt has no inherent value to a plant. The agriculture team has started to produce food now so that is a good sign. It seems the biggest issue we have there is making enough organic compost to keep the cycle working from seed to food and produce enough seed to plant the next round. We are using human waste mixed with plant material and some chemical seasoning to make our own fertilizer. We can’t forget our little friend the worm either. This little ground dweller has been our best friend. They really grind up the soil and finally someone found a recipe that makes them taste like chicken……

It took quite a while to get the fish tanks full of water and an even greater challenge to keep the water warm enough to hatch fish. One of the Hub units we call the Bio Lab is a magic place indeed. We have two tanks with fish and frogs to provide the colony with something other than salad. So far that is working well as long as we can keep the water from freezing. It takes a lot of power to keep that much water from being a block of ice. The Bio Lab is also home to the mushroom farm, the worm beds and some medical plants. We decided to keep the plants and animals separate for a couple of reasons. If either of the units failed in the early stages we would at least have a source for food with the other one and since this is such a closed system of air circulation we wanted to control any contamination that might occur.

The Mine Hub is where we keep all the drilling and mining equipment. There is a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectrometer in this unit that we use to test core samples. There are two ground penetrating radar units, two core drillers and two mining augers as portable equipment to gather samples, and extract minerals. This unit also houses the ore processing unit with a kiln and material separators. For now we have the machine shop set up in the west wing of this Hub since the production Hub equipment got destroyed during landing. We hope to have it online sometime this year or next depending on parts.

The shuttle pad will be finished soon and we can’t wait for care packages from home. As you might guess the mail here is rather slow. Everything from Earth is routed through the main colony then when and if we can get a shuttle up this way we can get fresh supplies.

The Main Hub is where we sleep and play when we get the chance. This unit is also home to the repair shop for most of the equipment. All the pumps, condensers, valves have spare parts in the Main Hub so it is a busy when things break. There is a Rover garage in the service module on the East side for fixing and or patching up the Rovers. They are strong little buggies but our colonists are determined to break them. One of the exciting events we have is the Rover Races. When all the work is done and we have some spare time we like to see who can get from point a to point b in the fastest time. Boys being boys are always up for a little challenge.

This may seem like a fictional tale but most of this is being done right now by the testers in Mars Colony Online. www.hyperkat.com/MarsOnline.html Yes all this is real. We have a online colony with around 50 users and they are building this colony. Every week we try to add new systems for testing and the gang at Hyperia Base go to work running the equipment, searching for ores, growing food and performing the general maintenance required to keep the colony going. We have had a few mishaps but for the most part the software is working well. I would like to thank the testers for the many hours they spend on the planet to help make this Simulation realistic and fun. Join the forums at www.hyperkat.com/litterbox and read up on the adventure.

Mars Colony: Stage one setup

I had mentioned in a blog earlier about how building the game is much like the real thing. This statement is proving itself again with the construction of MCO (Mars Colony Online) . We have a place for the colony now and the modules have been dropped on the surface. The advanced team has dragged all the units into position and started setting up the hardware needed for the next batch of colonists. Our first goal is to get the life support systems running. Wells were drilled on a previous mission so all we need to do is hook up the equipment and activate it. There are dual pumps feeding into a water separator that supplies oxygen and drinking water to the module and the hydrogen byproduct is sent over to the Sabatier fuel generator. The fuel generator makes oxygen and methane as a fuel for the rover hybrid turbines and later the forges. The extra oxygen can also be used as life support if needed. We have a LS (Life Support) systems computer inside the module that allows us to set the flow rates and power the systems.

This is all a reasonable fiction of how this would be done and what equipment we would need to have to make the modules habitable. Now I have to write the code to make it all work. We have the objects in place and the math behind balancing flow rates and conversion rates has to be applied to the objects so the system will do what we expect. Cut off the pumps and the water tank in the separator will empty depending on the conversion rate of the separator. When the tank is empty the separator stops producing oxygen. Users inside the module breathe oxygen and the levels of the oxygen tank will diminish. All this is a delicate balance of code and math and takes time to get the values up to a level of realism I require for the game.

It would be easy to just do the video game thing and say turn the machine on and breathe but my goal for MCO is to add a level of realism to put it a step above what is out there. Having said that I also believe this can be used to make a more realistic simulation that we can use to test the ideas of sending people to Mars and have them survive. You can draw all the pictures you want and engineer all the ideas but you never know just how things will work till you have to walk through it and live with it.

Well the code and the math are in place and we have done 2 online tests with people from all over the globe. The game characters mount the EVA gear and wander outside to check the equipment, drive the rovers and enjoy the view. Rovers run out of fuel, EVA packs run out of oxygen, users have to eat and drink and use the bathroom. I watch their actions and I am amazed and how they adapt to this alien world and the restrictions of having to survive here.

If you are interested in joining us on Mars go to www.hyperkat.com register on the forums and have your say. We welcome game players and engineers to help build this colony. We have room for 30+ colonists so don’t be shy.

Mars Colony Online!!

We have started writing the code for version 3 of the Mars Colony Simulator. This iteration will have a dedicated server that can be run 24/7 and will allow as many as 64 players to log into the game any time they wish. We will be testing this system over the next year to see how viable the product will be run from a home cable or DSL connection. Most cable companies supply a 5 meg download but only a 500k upload speed so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Having said that, what are the advantages of having a dedicated server and 30+ users in the simulation at the same time? The biggest one is the social aspect. Many online games have a draw due to the interaction with other real people. They make friends and form social groups, hang out, tell jokes and make the interaction a form of entertainment. When we go to Mars and form our first colony the social aspects will be an important part of our survival.

So is this version a simulator, a game or an educational tool? Short answer is it can be any or all of the above. It will be a simulator in as much as we are trying to replicate what you might face having to be on Mars and having to face the fact that your existence is totally dependant on how well you manage the resources.

It will be a game because it has an objective of survival and we want to add in an economy where each player can earn credits and the colony as a whole can earn credits. The game part of it will also face the possibility of failure. This will be a new model for online games where the entire server can fail. If the colony fails to survive the server will reset the game back to the start. 

The educational skew of the game will come in the form of the sciences. The Psychology of the social activity and who will be boss and who will get sent back to Earth because we just can’t stand them anymore. Team management comes to bear here as well. Who will do which job and when and how do you cover your ass in case someone fails.

Farming and the agricultural science will be a big part of the game. Users will have to plant seeds, water and fertilize the soil and maintain a suitable growing temperature in the greenhouses to produce plants that can be used for food.

Geology and Mining will be required to find minerals we need for survival and we can convert the raw rock into a product to make game credits.

Since we are in the early stages of development we can offer to educators and scientists the possibility of altering a version of the game to suit your needs. The game has a SQLite database system and that database can be setup to extract any data you would want. This would be a great classroom activity that students could run at home and discussed in class. The architectural layout of the habitation, farm and mining modules can be altered to test different theories on what this colony should look like and how humans would react to the confinement.

The first colony is being built right now. We have the modules on the ground and the advanced mission crew is busy hooking up all the equipment. Come join us and be a part of the first Mars Online Colony. You can get more information by joining the forums and following the web pages. Go to www.hyperkat.com and stay in touch. See you on the surface……

Mars Colony: A Psychological Insight

While living on Mars sounds glorious on the outside, the realities of social structure and dealing with daily activities would be a test of will. Everyone would have a job and would report to a superior and they would in turn report to someone above them until we reached the top of the food chain where we have one boss, one leader, a supreme commander of the colony. So is this a company structure or is it a dictatorship? If we are working for a company then it’s simple, you do your job, get your paycheck and stand around the water cooler on breaks talking to your cohorts about how management couldn’t get a clue if they bought one, go home and deal with your wonderful wife and 2.5 children.

If the colony is a dictatorship or monarchy, not much will change in the day to day activities so why would it matter what your position in the grand scheme of things would be? People will get moved to different jobs as needed or promoted to easier jobs and manage others more effectively due to experience. Why does a persons’ position in the pecking order mean so much to us? The dictator would have to eat and breathe just like the rest of us and the delicate nature of our existence on Mars would make the big boss less of a tyrant and more of a leader.

Can we have a democracy in the colony? Yes, we can. But what would it look like and how would it work? We are used to voicing our opinions, voting and standing up for our rights as citizens here on Earth. How would this work on a colony where almost everything you do has consequences for sustaining not just your life but the lives of others? You can’t just quit working on the only oxygen separator because you are pissed off about not getting enough internet time. In a remote colony we won’t have many of the things that allow us to tolerate the day, but humans have a way of adapting to dire circumstances. What are the rewards for our hard labor in the colony? If we don’t have something to look forward to after our work shift is over then we are nothing more than slaves or tools. What will be fun on Mars? What will we do to make living there tolerable?

I worked on a game in the late 90’s called Everquest for Sony. The company had a great game idea and a masterful crew to make it a reality. Of course Sony looked at the game as a product for sale since they were in the business of making games to make money. The game was a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game or MMORPG . Users from all over the world logged into this game for hours and days at a time and still play to this day. The game is of the swords and sorcery genre, but beyond that it lies a society of people from all over the planet interacting in a fantasy world. I play the game as well and I am amazed at the social interactivity that goes on inside. For the most part gathering up a team of adventurers and running into a dark cave and getting our asses burned of by some fire-breathing dragon is what I like to call fun. But there is a dark side to the online games. I have seen people leave their spouses and move to another state to be with a person they met in the game. I have seen good friends get mad at each other over looting some virtual sword out of turn. Cursing, bitching, complaining, and crying are all prevalent and yet players have to log in every day and get their fix.

Version 3 of our Mars Colony Simulator will be about a persistent online colony. We are going to create a virtual Martian colony and test its viability as a commercial product. Like all games there is an obstacle to overcome which creates a positive result. The goal will be the same, but the challenge for this venture will be the survival of all colony members. Food, air and water will be the primary goals for the activities presented, but we want to discover how much more entertainment we have to add to make it fun enough to bring people back. I am interested in the psychology of the simulation from a business standpoint. Can we make the simulation compelling enough that users will want to play a lot? is a question but there is a more serious lesson to be learned here. What is going to happen when we get 20 or 30 people I have never met start playing? How can I control my colony? What is to prevent someone from grabbing a rover and running amok? This is a golden opportunity for a Doctor of Psychology to jump in and observe the action. Watch a society degrade into anarchy or survive the storm and become a productive new world order. Either way it will be an interesting experiment and I think this aspect would be of interest to members of the psychological vein of study. The first test colony will be online Q4 of 2009 and we will keep everyone posted on the status of the colony.

Mission 2 is Here !

As an edit would be more expedient, I will simply be updating a previous post with the following. Mars Colony Simulation 2 has been posted for public download on the HyperKat website; please follow the links at hyperkat.com. There will be ongoing changes and/or additions as time permits, so please check back every week or so for any and all updates. Inside the download is a documentation file that I would like for anyone who downloads the sim to read. This document contains very important information on the operation of the simulator and the expectations of the simulator. Previously, there were complaints of lack of documentation or help files. Also please make note of the in-sim help dialog box, which is accessed by pressing F1. These documents will make your simulator usage much easier. Thanks again to the interns for producing some new art, as I know my own artwork can be somewhat lacking.

The testers have been running mission 2 for a month or so and most of the little bugs have gone away. HyperKat will probably release this version to the public within the next month. At this point we have received many positive comments about the direction we are taking with the simulation. We didn’t want it to be a game as such where you would be given a task and a time to finish it. Our goal was to put the user into a quasi-realistic adventure. Is it a simulator or is it a role-playing game? So far the response to the question is it’s both. You are put into the role of an astronaut, dropped on the surface of Mars and forced to survive. We simulate the activity you might expect someone to deal with being on Mars. So now how do we balance the aspects of a role playing game with the realism of a simulator? Perhaps it is time to rethink what we have accomplished to this point and re design things with more of a game aspect. People like choices in games. They like to pick a character, pick the equipment, and pick the locations to run through. Choice gives the user a feeling of control and creativity that suits their specific needs. So what can we give the user for choice in this simulation? I think we can offer multiple landing sites, allow the user to pick the mission sequences, uniforms, types of gear to take on the missions and the difficulty level. After landing the craft, each user is in charge of what they want to do or what they think they need to do in order to survive. The simulation allows up to 4 players at this point. We can expand on the number of players and each user can form their own mini adventure where they can invite their friends and run the simulation as long as they might want. We would like to think this could be released as a commercial product within a year. Many of you have sent us emails about how this sim is so much different than anything currently on the market makes us believe that a commercial RPG would be worth the effort.

Now that we have a release of the mission 2 version we will take a look at the responses from the general public and make a decision to continue as is or dig into the possibility of creating a super space RPG. We would like the general public to respond and tell us what you want. Leave us some comments and lets see what happens….
I would like to thank all the testers for their help.

Mars: The Second Mission

After the discovery of liquid water below the surface, the plans for mission 2 have begun. The first mission also found the Zeus rover and retreived the information from the data recorder. There are 20 or so sub surface echoes that need to be explored some distance away from the landing site. We will need to send a 2 man rover to explore these deposits. We will need to set up a communications repeater tower on the hill to the west of the base to allow the command center to stay in touch with the rover crews. The most important function for mission 2 is to set up a greenhouse and grow food.

Now that we have access to liquid water we can stay planetside for an extended period of time. It is our hope that the rover crews find materials we can use to sustain the colony. We need to find material for fertalizer such as Phosphates, nitrates and potassium based chemicals. Everything we have or produce needs to be recycled. Unused plant material and waste products can be composted and used to treat the soil. The chemistry of the soils we find there will have to be modified to promote plant growth. The challenges we face to alter what we find to provide what we need will be difficult but I think we are up to the task.

Mission 2 will have a water scrubber to clean some of the contaminates that may be present. This scrubber will provide clean drinking water for the crew to drink and to water the plants in the greenhouse. The water scrubber will also be used to extract oxygen from the water for the crew and help balance the oxygen levels in the farm unit.

We learned from mission 1 that there are frequent storms on the surface. The solar panels only provide power during the calm. The wind speed tests we did in mission 1 tell us we can suplement the power requirements using wind turbine generators. These generators should meet or exceed the power requirements of the farm. The biggest issue will be heat for the plants. We can’t afford to let them freeze and die. Our earth bound testing provided us with hearty plants that can grow in cold temperatures and will require less power to maintain. The crew of mission 2 will have to monitor the farm constantly until we find the magic combination that will provide a sustainable source of food.

We will set up an algae growth system in this second mission. Algae will provide food, some medicines and a small oxygen supplement. Earth researchers have discovered that algae is not really a food but we can use it for food for fish that we may bring, grow and eat . There is alot of interesting research on algae and the crew of mission 2 will be busy.

The rover we send for mission 2 has been named Hercules. It is a small truck rover that will carry two passengers and cargo. It will be powered by a methane / oxygen turbine to charge the batteries with a Photo Voltaic panel for chargeing the batteries while out at the work sites. Hercules is equipped with emergency oxygen and can sustain the occupants during storms. We will need to take enough spare parts to keep it going until mission 3. The plans are set, the mission is a go.

HyperKat Games Announces Mars Colony ETS Demo Release

For Immediate Release

HyperKat Games Announces Mars Colony ETS Demo Release

Mars Colony ETS – Independent game developer, HyperKat Games, is excited to announce the immediate release of Mars Colony ETS public demonstration. Mars Colony ETS is the first virtual Mars exploration simulator, based on existing practical science, that puts the user into an immersive first person 3D graphics experience. The demo is available as a free download at Hyperkat.com.

Inspired by JPL’s Mars Rover projects and the proposals of entities such as The Mars Society for manned exploration of Mars, Mars Colony ETS hopes to bring realistic space exploration experiences to everyone. The first mission puts up to four people on the surface of Mars, with all of the basic tools of survival and specific goals to ensure the eventual successful colonization of our sister planet. While open ended, the primary tasks are to locate water, sustain life support systems, generate fuel and gather and catalog information on local exploitable resources. The simulation has an active weather system and Colonists are required to equip EVA gear to survive the hostile Mars environment while installing and managing external activities. Things break and successful Colonists must think creatively in juggling mission requirements while maintaining critical systems. Successful missions complete all or most of the mission parameters while generating sufficient fuel and oxygen to return to earth. Additional missions are under development and will include the addition of rovers, vehicles, food production and engineering.

Colony ETS is based on a client and server model, allowing for individuals to play solo or host up to four friends in collaborative play requiring a broadband Internet connection. Mission hosts can create private or public servers, accessible through server lists in game. Game status is persistent on the host server allowing for games to be played in single or multiple sessions. Completed missions are given a score and analysis of the completed mission parameters. Hosts can also reset the mission to replay.

While this demonstration is still conceptual, there is a lot of potential to influence the development, from academic to mainstream experiences. HyperKat needs your feedback and participation to help refine and steer the development toward the best possible experience. Please join us at HyperKat.com to provide feedback, opinions and participate in testing programs for new missions. Our special thanks to “thedubman” who has shared his tremendous enthusiasm and time in testing and providing great feedback, and to the rest of our wonderful testers who have logged hundreds of hours working out the bugs in Mission 1! We have a great community and would love you to join us!

Colony ETS information: www.hyperkat.com
Colony ETS blog: www.hyperkat.com/blog
Colony ETS Testers: www.hyperkat.com/litterbox

HyperKat Games was created 2003 by Howard Dortch to design, develop and distribute fun games for all ages. The company is located in an economically depressed area of Southern Ohio in hopes of providing local college students employment in the games industry.

Howard Dortch currently teaches game design at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio. HyperKat is home to Mars Colony ETS, Virtual Rover Simulator, ScudBuster, SOF/Raiders and HyperXBall.
Company Site www.hyperkat.com