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

Can you cut it? We need testers…

Hi gang,

Well, Mars Colony Simulator is well on its way to a public demo release, but we need fresh eyes and strong backs to polish this up. A few of you have already been to Mars, but we need a few more pioneers!

Because the bug fix schedule is unpredictable, we are building an invitation list to query when we need a new test run. Usually we will need 2-3 hours of your time. Oh there are some requirements…

1. Windows users only… there is no Mac port of this project.

2. We will screen for system specifications… so will ask that you send some system information ahead of time. We have tested on laptops and mid-high end desktop computers so you will most likely pass. A good graphics card is useful. You can find out your specifications by running DXDIAG from your Start/Run menu.

3. You need broadband internet access… we don’t really care what brand, although GPRS or 3G modems will experience significant lag problems.

4. We prefer you use a headset with microphone and require Teamspeak. This information will be forwarded to you in the invitation.

Why Teamspeak? There is currently no in game radio system. Teamspeak will run in the background allowing you to talk with other testers during the game… this is far more efficient for communication than the console chat.

Teamspeak is a free client download – you can find it at http://www.teamspeak.com/ . Those of you that play a lot of FPS or MMO games maybe familiar with Teamspeak already. Teamspeak will require a microphone, configured through your system’s “Sounds” control panel.

Please setup “Push to talk” hotkey, we suggest the left CTRL button, if you are not using a headset mic. This prevents echo problems and feedback when using live speakers, and keeps the background noise down. 

In the invitation, you will be provided with the server IP address to join. While only 4 people are supported in a given Colony instance, feel free to join in. There may be people dropping out because of schedule – freeing a slot.

How to join…

Please send an email to hdortch@hyperkat.com. Include your name, location, email address and a general description of your PC. It is also useful to know if you are a space enthusiast or professional.

Testing sessions are happening about 3-4 times a week, during major updates and bug fixes, and occur during evenings on weekdays – and anytime on the weekends.

Storyline: Colony Reports, Zeus found

12/15/2012, 13:15 PHX

I found the remains of the Zeus Rover this morning while on a hike searching for new geologic samples. Since I have finally gotten the routine maintenance down to a couple of hours, and the fuel conversion is fully supplied, I decided to take on the extended sampling mission. 

The Zeus Rover went silent several years past its prime and expected functionality, I think late 2009. It seemed that an unusual storm was heading into the area near the rover, and after the storm passed, no new signals were sent. Interestingly, the original Phoenix and Opportunity took on a special “life” at NASA and JPL, and were bestowed a kind of honorary status. My understanding is that I am to only recover a key memory module, and leave the wreckage intact, while carefully marking the spot.

I set out about 10:15 PHX this morning heading north, intending to climb out of the crater, and sample at 100 meter points on tangent from the lander. This process is extremely tiring and time consuming, and I can only carry 4 properly bagged 15 gram samples at a time, due to limitations in the suit. I found an unusual shape, a long cylinder, with a shiny black window, barely peeking out of a rock pile. This took me about 20 meters off my target tangent, about 380 meters from the COHAB. I logged this into the GPS and took two samples nearby.

It took me a couple of hours to carefully remove the rocks and dust from the top of the rover. The damage is extensive, the camera boom is entirely detached from core body, and the solar panels are smashed. Protocol requires a system check, however the rover was unresponsive. I could not locate any of the external access hatches, and did not have the proper toolkit with me in any case. 

I returned to the COHAB, and will make another EVA to the site later.

12/15/2012, 16:12 PHX

A minor dust storm swept through on my way back to the COHAB. I am simply not prepared to deal with these amazing winds, nor the noise they generate. While minor in comparison to other such storms, a very strong gust was blowing nearly vertical up the crater, and I could barely move against the wind, and visibility was nearly zero. It took me almost a full 40 minutes to fight my way back to the COHAB.

Kudos to the engineers of the COHAB, the insulation effectively buffers the noise outside, with the occasional exception of small debris raining down. It has been several hours of silence, preceding this storm, and I had adjusted to only the sound of my breathing and the scraping sounds of the geo sampling. The storm ramped up the noise about 60 decibels inside my helmet, and the small rocks that struck my suit sounded like a fastball hitting a catcher’s mitt less the “Steeeeeriiiiike” from an umpire. It’s incredibly disorienting and I have a loud ringing in my ear. This was NOT covered in the training. Fortunately, a few meds have taken off the edge.

Another pressure system is moving in. I will not make it back to the rover today.

12/16/2012, 9:18 PHX

Beautiful calm day today. Made it back to the rover with my toolkit. I was only able to expose a bus connector, and connected my computer to download the information. Fortunately, my kit contained the proper adapter and was able to fit into the bus. It was clean and no dust or grit had gotten in. I found a couple of the wheels, one smashed and one more or less intact. and returned them to the lander. Against protocol, but I feel as if I have found the body of a former Colonist, so I stacked some rocks around the wreckage, forming a sort of cairn. I didn’t dig up the whole wreck, and certainly couldn’t lift the rover, so I wrapped some plastic around Zeus first. Perhaps someone can return and fully recover the relic.

The GPS location is 92 495 1262. The cairn fully covers the wreckage, and I have planted a pole into the cairn to mark the location. I wish I had a flag, seems more fitting. Around the cairn, I scratched out and laid out large rocks in the form of a 4 point star, aligned to the poles. We should have no problems finding it again. That said, some of these storms can bring several inches of dust and debris. I expect it will be covered again soon, leaving only the pole.

I cannot explain my feelings on this matter. I feel sad, as if I have lost a friend. I know the rover was a robot, and served well past any wild expectations. Perhaps that is it… a feeling that I should persevere and refocus. Get this done so we can return and start building the colony.

Storyline: Colony Reports, the first two days

11.18.2012, 08:17 PHX

The landing was successful, with only a few areas of damage. I have confirmed the return vehicle is operational, however significant fuel leaks will require repair, and re-composition of fuel reserves are necessary. The generation of fuel will require finding a significant source of water, which is underway.

It was a beautiful morning, but cold. I underestimated how cold it could be here. The landscape is beautiful and orange. I prefer to view it without the blue filters in my EVA suite enabled, although the brightness is a bit stark. I am surrounded by hills of painted rocks and soil, much richer than expected. I am sheltered in a large crater, that is beginning to fill in from erosion, but it creates a wonderful sunrise and sunset, particularly as the light shows through the dusty winds.

11.18.2012 12:00 PHX

Still adjusting to clock cycles. I have given up trying to keep up with earth time.

The lander module status is fine; however, I seem to be using water, food and air at a more rapid pace than predicted. This reduces the original estimate of 2 weeks down to something more like 10 days. The GPR device is functioning, however I am losing some of the results due to a glitch in GPS readings. This makes it extremely difficult to return to measurement sites as the wind quickly erodes the footprint left by the device.

I should note that I have found what appears to be icy formations about 80 centimeters below an area I have dubbed the Swamp. I have not been able to successfully analyze the crystals themselves as they evaporate in the pressure lock. I suspect these are not water, but a frozen gas. I am working to determine what possible gas formations can crystallize under the prevailing temperatures and pressures outside.

11.18.2012 20:17 PHX

Tired. Hungry. Again I underestimated the physical demands of this mission. The food is terribly bland and I am finding that spending more than a few cycles in EVA is wearing.

Found a likely sight for a water well. The oxide levels are high – so I am concerned about contamination. My estimates on current sustainability of existing resources will be further dialed back, meaning that I must bring my water levels up to 50% in about 8 days or face a prolonged stay. Our data on available water at this site, however, seem accurate. It seems that I have found a large water source about 180 meters from the lander. This is good news as lugging the drill and well head will be difficult.

While checking drill and well head status, was caught in a dust storm. The electrical and radiological activity was significant. Faced bright light but white out conditions. It took about 40 minutes to locate the lander visually as the EVA suit electronics were not functioning properly. Need to pay closer attention to pressure levels and the weather prediction systems.

11.19.2012 06:14 PHX

EVA suit is not recharging properly. I am forced to take apart the suit systems and clean all of the  connections. Significant powdery dust has accumulated in all of exposed connections and seems to be creating interference.

11.19.2012 08:47 PHX

Suit maintenance is completed. It seems that some of the materials oxidized the connections. I cleaned all of the terminals and the suite is fully charged. I must admit a bit of reluctance to climb back into the EVA suit and head out. I am still quite sore from yesterday.

11.19.2012 14:34 PHX

Success. The drill is currently pushing down to an estimated depth of 72 meters. I have found water. Tomorrow, will be setting up the well head, assuming I have hit an adequate pressure source.

The drill was a bit finicky. It seems the model provided is older than the more automated tool I trained on. Basic principles apply and I should have no issues retrieving the drill.

This was another terribly difficult day. There were three critical storms that slowed things down. In one case, I was forced to abandon the drill and return to the lander module. I am performing maintenance at every opportunity with the EVA suite. While this slows me down significantly, I am able to keep the suite at peak operating status throughout the day. Map module seems to be working again, but maintenance of all facilities are necessary and more frequently than protocol suggests.

Solar panels are covering up with the powdery dust. This dust seems to be a product of sand and soil that gets caught up in the plasma generated by storms. My analysis shows a variety of chemical traces all burned and sterilized in high temperature. After each storm, there seems to be an “ash fall” like event which is piling up on all horizontal surfaces. Also – the dust appears to be acidic, and has caused minor burns on my skin. All future maintenance of the suite will require gloves for cleaning.

Abstraction, Abstraction, Abstraction…

Have you tried out SPORE?

In the search for space colony simulators and games that are just plain fun, SPORE, recently released by EA for PC and Mac is a great diversion. So is this a game review? or commentary on simulation? Probably a little of both… A good sim abstracts difficult elements to make them approachable and Maxis did a phenomenal job of keeping this game clean, consistent and fun.

SPORE is all about customization and diversity as you grow from a single celled organism to master of all space. Customization is the key to diversity and I have never seen such an incredible and amazing assortment of choices to make your character totally unique. Breaking down into the mechanics, this is a vastly complex series of custom models, choices, attach points and very flexible animation matrix that likely yields hundred of millions options. In addition, a very custom skinning and texture engine really make this stand out. From a single celled critter into the Tribal phase, you can work through hundreds of iterations, and make either subtle or significant changes. And above all – its fun.

I am impressed that the game is so approachable, and it’s a testament to the vision of the game designers and program engineers. The added flexibility of sharing these customized elements online lets people get in and out of the game elements quickly and find ideas for their own creations.

The customization and creativity explodes when you are able in the Civilization and Space stages to create your entirely unique houses, factories and entertainment facilities, as well as your city hall. And of course, there are the vehicles for land, air, water and eventually space.

Now I should say that I have never been much of a fan of real time strategy games. I find them somewhat obnoxios overall, with the possible exception of the LOTR series (just because I am such a Tolkien freak). The offerings here are extensive, can be quite difficult, but entertaining enough to be interesting. I find myself returning time and time again to the tribal and civilization stages to meet the challenges of different play styles.

Another wonderful surprise is encountering many of the critters that I have made personally as enemies! This brings a thrill of familiarity that rewards much of the time you spend making both beings and other assets.

What about space? Well – most relevant to this blog. It is incredibly deep and featured. I have spent more hours than I care to admit playing both with the RTS game elements (encountering aliens, setting up alliances and trade routes and warring) as well as the colonization elements (including the planetary terraforming). This is the most open ended part of SPORE and easily the most confusing and challenging stage. It can be very frustrating terraforming, while receiving demands of taxes from Spode followers and defending home and allied planets!

I cannot claim to be successful yet on the Space stage. I have played and traveled far and wide, and focused on a nearby cluster of stars and planets to keep the confusion minimized. Time will tell overall.

I highly recommend this game.

All is well, time for a break…

I just completed a drive from Austin, Texas to North Central Kansas and back, in three days, alone. Funeral trip, but not the point of this post… at best, I averaged 60 mph and the trip, just under 800 miles took about 14 hours each way. Never mind that I drove straight through – it was a bit cathartic and frankly I enjoyed it.

But here’s the question, what to do in the down time isolated on a planet? Never mind the travel there and back, but is music or television programming enough? How many hours of entertainment can be packed and stored in a space constrained vehicle? What kinds of entertainment are necessary?

I love to drive with books on CD. Listened to the entire unabridged “Deathly Hallows” Potter book for the second time this last trip. It was entertaining, but I still found myself drifting between the “zone” driving the car, emotions surrounding the funeral and family, and the material, being read read to me. Remember that I am driving, so must stay concious and aware, alert for road hazards and traffic jams (there is STILL a log jam South of Oklahoma City on I-35!). And, when I needed to – I grabbed the phone and chatted with Howard and my wife. Helped to keep me focused and awake, as well as let people know generally where I was. For myself, the key to successfully driving long distances are keeping my mind sharp, having something as “company” – in this case the CD book, and short breaks every couple of hundred miles to stretch, hydrate and consider the next leg.

When you are done for a day, or sitting out a horrible storm, do you sit there and twiddle your thumbs? Break out a book and pass the time? Take a nap? or are you alert, monitoring systems at the console hoping that the incoming 50 subzero C weather front won’t freeze up your water supply?

There is an issue here to address: keeping your mind sharp and alert while relaxing and enjoying yourself, on a volume/mass/energy budget imposed by your circumstances. We take it for granted that we can jump onto the internet and access news, YouTube, etc. or come home to the Television. We can grab a cell and be instantly connected to loved ones, friends or the contractor that cannot seem to finish his job.

While this is not a necessary mechanical element of the simulation or game, it is necessary to bring in the context of these elements into the artwork, to make the simulation feel more real, more homelike. We can break this down into a few categories:

1. Casual entertainment: music or news in the background, short games to break up the time, but don’t require 100% participation or can be left easily to deal with an issue.

2. Focused entertainment: Entertainment that requires concentration, like reading or a favorite television series or movie.

3. Casual Social outreach: Things like IM, or quick phones calls

4. Formal Social outreach: Church, Work, News, etc.

What are the analogs to these issues that are important for survival (mental and emotional) for a long term stint in planetary isolation?

Status Report and Countdown to release…

Hi friends,

We have been a bit bogged down in details, trying to sew up a demonstration version of Colony ETS. Without giving away the surprise, mission control has changed our target landing site just a little bit… and the results should be fairly exciting. Look for an update in the next few weeks, and a possible announcement.

To that end, we are going through our preliminary launch checklist and stepping through things necessary to make the mechanical simulation and systems all work… some of it is a bit touch and go as Howard has bought some cheap aftermarket fittings that just don’t fit properly… let’s hope they don’t break at a critical moment and leave some poor explorer stranded out on… well in space, all alone, with just broken lander. No dogs allowed BTW.

Features up and running so far:

  • A working environment and planetary system with weather and resource gathering simulations
  • Lander power grid and life support systems
  • A biological model to grow a space garden, as well as support life (oxygen generation, CO2 removal)
  • A computer system to tract status and determine tasks
  • A task based scenario model to help direct activities and survival
  • Basic art assets to support the above…

Again, in the next few weeks, we should have some additional screenshots and hopefully, an announcement of the Countdown to Launch…

Screenshots of planetary environments!

I added a picasa widget that will feed a random image on the right panel. If you want to see more, either refresh your browser, or click directly onto the image, hyperlinking you to a higher resolution view in the Picasa service. Feel free to comment!