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.

State of the Colony

You don’t realize how many things can be interconnected in a simulator until you have to write the code for it. In order to create a level of realism we have to consider what I call effecters on everything in the simulation. Take the character for instance; each one has health and stamina. The overall health of a player is affected by food, water, temperature and oxygen levels. Depending on the activity, the stamina level will go up and down. A person exerting energy to climb a hill or carry a heavy object will lose stamina and over time will cause a decrease in overall health. You get too cold or are depleted of oxygen and your health will go down. Depending on the situation like going outside with no EVA gear in freezing cold, the characters will lose health and die rather quickly. During the simulation we have to constantly monitor the player position, mounted gear, activity levels, food, water and oxygen mixture levels.

The same methods apply to all the equipment in the simulation. An object that is outside in the freezing weather with dust blowing over it will suffer failures much faster than equipment inside. The other factor that applies here is if the equipment is being used or running will tend to wear out and break faster than a unit not being used. Time will cause mechanical objects to break if they are constantly being operated. So everything that can be used or is affecting some portion of the simulation needs to be monitored and the calculation for failure is dependent on its run time and environmental conditions of operation..

Then we have the “jack random” failures where things just break with no reason. It is part of reality and we try to minimize this issue by building objects with the best materials and engineering practices we have but still things will break for no reason. This can be a difficult mode to inject into the simulation but still needs to be allowed to happen.

Every time we add an object to the simulation we have to decide if it can break, how it will break, what will cause it to break and how do we decide to break it. In a perfect world/simulation nothing will break and we just go about the task of completing the tasks given by the simulation. Most testers we have encountered to this point want the failure modes in the simulation to add more challenge or reality to the environment. Without challenge or the possibility of failure the simulation has no validity and generates a lower interest level.

The general operation of executing the mission orders is another level of decision making left to the user. Mission one is the geology survey and the hopes of finding liquid water under the surface. There are enough tools in the simulation to complete this task and the challenge is to do it in an efficient manner. Situations may occur that alter your methodology so it is up to the users to make decisions on how to accomplish the tasks required by the mission.

The latest version of the simulator we added the oxygen mixture valves. A higher concentration of oxygen will allow the characters to heal faster while a lower mixture will cause a faster loss of health and stamina. We added a failure mode for the oxygen tanks in the COHAB so users are faced with the dilemma of mixture settings. If you are low on oxygen you might want to cut back on the mixture to conserve but you do so at the expense of crew health. Set the levels too high and you do so at a higher consumption rate. We also changed the Photo Voltaic array to be 8 separate panels. Any one of the panels can fail and may cause the batteries to drain faster than they are being charged. You can shut down some systems like the lights to conserve energy or stop using some of the equipment that consumes energy. Again, this is a simulation decision that has to be made by the crew on a per incident basis.

As we add more things to the simulation we also add more challenge in the overall operation of creating and maintaining the colony. The next major phase will introduce food production in the form of algae and plant production in a greenhouse environment. The code is in now to actually allow the users to plant seeds and grow plants, harvest and convert the bio material to food or medicine. Users will have to constantly monitor soil, water and temperature to create enough food for survival.

Good luck to all the testers out there, time for me to get back to writing code……