Sur­viv­ing Mars

Part-sur­vival game, part-Elon Musk sim­u­la­tor


“it was a retro-fu­ture style. But we had to make it more prac­ti­cal”

Mars, our dusty red neigh­bor, is in vogue at the mo­ment, which might ex­plain why Haemi­mont Games is leav­ing the banana re­publics of Trop­ico be­hind and head­ing off-world. Sur­viv­ingMars is a city-builder with a sur­vival bent, where man­ag­ing colonists’ san­ity is as im­por­tant as keep­ing their hab­it­able domes in tip­top shape. De­spite a light­hearted an­nounce­ment trailer, Haemi­mont CEO Gabriel Do­brev is quick to dis­tance Sur­viv­ingMars from the stu­dio’s joc­u­lar Caribbean prop­erty. “This is not Trop­ico,” he em­pha­sizes. Though it’s in­spired by sci-fi and retro-fu­tur­ism— most keenly felt in the habi­tats that evoke a ’60s take on colonis­ing the stars—it’s tak­ing a more grounded, se­ri­ous ap­proach to city-build­ing.

“Our ini­tial in­spi­ra­tion was from old-school movies,” he clar­i­fies. “So it was a retro-fu­ture style. But we had to make it more prac­ti­cal. What we went for is rem­i­nis­cent of those things, but at the same time it’s a modern take on them.”

The os­ten­si­ble ob­jec­tive is to grow a colony from one full of drones and un­manned ve­hi­cles to one that main­tains a siz­able pop­u­la­tion of hu­mans ca­pa­ble of sus­tain­ing them­selves, spread across the en­tire map. It’s a sand­box, though, with goals sit­ting next to player-cre­ated mile­stones. The first or­der of busi­ness, how­ever, is to ac­tu­ally get to Mars.

Colony man­agers will choose a spon­sor that pro­vides par­tic­u­lar ben­e­fits along with their own set of mis­sions—get a cer­tain num­ber of peo­ple on Mars, send lots of re­sources back to Earth—and then fill the rocket with es­sen­tials. Pre­fab­ri­cated build­ings, ve­hi­cles and re­sources can all be crammed in­side, ready to give the first colonists a head start. Fi­nally, a site has to be picked from a se­lec­tion that in­cludes land­marks, like the land­ing site of the Cu­rios­ity Rover.

To keep it tick­ing over, a colony needs raw ma­te­ri­als to con­struct build­ings, all the while re­search­ing new tech and Mar­tian anom­alies. That last part is go­ing to be­come a pri­or­ity. What might be found on Mars is as im­por­tant as learn­ing to sur­vive on it. “There will be, later in the game, things start­ing to get weird,” Do­brev ex­plains. “And you will be dis­cov­er­ing very in­ter­est­ing nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non, and try­ing to un­der­stand what they are.”

The sur­vival ele­ment comes from the colonists them­selves, with their needs and de­sires, health me­ters, and per­son­al­ity traits that de­fine how they’re go­ing to act. “Ev­ery sin­gle per­son on Mars has their own per­son­al­ity,” says Do­brev. “When morale drops, peo­ple will start to be­come rene­gades, and they will start look­ing out for their own in­ter­ests in­stead of those of the colony.” When things get bad, colonists can die, leave, or dis­rupt things.

red planet

Do­brev notes that this means we’ll also be able to dab­ble in some so­cial en­gi­neer­ing. What hap­pens if you put all the he­do­nists in a sin­gle dome? What about the worka­holics? It’s even pos­si­ble to ma­nip­u­late colonists through the en­vi­ron­ment, en­hanc­ing their com­fort to in­crease the chances of them knock­ing boots and fill­ing the colony with ba­bies.

Like other Para­dox In­ter­ac­tive games, Haemi­mont in­tends to make Sur­viv­ing Mars a liv­ing game via up­dates. “We want to keep the game up to date with what is go­ing to hap­pen when we go there,” Do­brev says. Ex­pect mod­ding sup­port, too. “Our tar­get is to in­vite peo­ple and change and add to what­ever we are do­ing. I imag­ine there will be a lot of peo­ple with a lot of ideas about what prob­lems we will face when we’re on Mars.” You can set foot on the Red Planet in 2018. Fraser Brown

Even on Mars we can’t es­cape phal­lic ar­chi­tec­ture.

One of the Cu­rios­ity Rover’s grand­kids.

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