“People will often say that knowledge is power, but this is simply untrue. Power is power. A colonist can do without books or digital archives with relative ease, but the same does not hold for his energy cells.”
Welcome to the Mars4 development blog. Today we’re going to be sharing information about the development of the Hydrogen Energy Cell Recharger, one of the many machines that will come to be a part of life on Mars4.
The development of assets for games is an involved process that goes through several stages that have a more organic flow, but for ease of organisation we will discuss these under the following stages: First Conceptualisation, Final Design, Production, and Integration.
Machines on Mars4 need power to function. Portable devices and heavier machines use energy cells to keep them running, but to completely mangle a famous latin phrase: what powers the cells that power? This is where the brainstorming process starts. The Hydrogen Energy Cell Recharger is a machine that uses electricity generated from hydrogen to recharge several energy cells.
At the earliest stage, a concept piece is drawn up around the idea by having the team’s artists work on sketching and designing an asset for the intended machine’s role.
For Mars4, the focus is on creating devices that have a more utilitarian aesthetic. By focusing on function over form, the team hopes to inspire and bolster the immersive feeling of surviving on the red planet in the near future and also provide an intuitive understanding of each machine’s purpose.
“I wanted to evoke immediate recognition with the machine’s design and by this I mean that a player should see the recharger and be able to guess instinctively how it works.” - Spiros
The conceptual phase can take several iterations, but eventually the vague ‘idea’ of a machine is firmly set into the mould that it will come to occupy. As you can see below, the recharger’s final concept does not deviate far from the in-game asset seen lower.
Inspiration for this machine was taken from hydrolysis machines although the recharger is smaller and more compact than its real life counterpart. There are additional elements that are intended to help draw the eye to the machine’s role. At the sides are slots for energy cells to be inserted that mimic our world’s plugs, something easily associated with power and electricity, while the heavier tanks at the bottom fulfil the role of burner and storage for the intake valves found on the recharger. They are industrial in nature and bright to draw the eye before leading up to an exhaust chimney, a clear hint at industrial process. Finally, the display allows for a colonist to check on the progress the machine has made recharging their energy cells.
After sketches and early WIPs meet approval, the concept art is considered complete and ready to pass over to the production team.
The team that handles production has a somewhat unenviable task as their role is to take final designs and turn a 2D concept into a full 3D asset. The harder parts of this task are ensuring that the final product looks right at every angle and not just in partial profile as well as interpreting the portions that remain ‘unseen’ in the concept. This portion of the development is no less complicated and no less intensive as the machine is given a full 3D form and then prepared for integration with the Mars4 game client.
This particular form of modelling is referred to as hard surface modelling. This is the type of 3D production that focuses on inorganic materials and objects. Similar to the conceptualisation phase, the recharger is subject to several reviews and feedback from the team leads before it is completed. Final touches often take the form of ‘greebles’ or ‘nurnies’ which refers to the art of adding depth to 3D models by breaking up smooth surfaces.
The final 3D model is then prepared for integration into the game.
Integration of the 3D model is the last stage of development and begins with tying the machine to the ‘rules’ that will govern it, this means everything from its interactivity all the way to its physics. For a static model like the recharger, physics means surface friction or coefficient of restitution to name a few examples. This means that the machine should respond correctly if another object interacts with it and most players would probably think of this as collision. Objects that rest on its surfaces or impact the machine will need to respond correctly across its full shape such as halting a colonist that runs into it or throws an energy cell at it (neither of these are recommended courses of action).
The next step is bringing the recharger into the game proper by applying the functions that colonists will interact with. The recharger needs an inventory to hold items that are given to it such as the hydrogen that powers it or the energy cells that it charges. It needs a burn rate that controls the rate of hydrogen expenditure and power generation as well as the coding to correctly relay and accept these instructions from colonists that are using it.
The recharger also needs to be tied to the colonist’s building and placement tools.
Finally, the recharger is given a set of effects. These effects are part of the utilitarian design aesthetic and are both visual and audible. It should be clear at a glance that a machine is operating when a player decides to use it. Below, you can see the in-game model of the Hydrogen Energy Cell Recharger.
Machines have a vital role in keeping colonists alive on Mars. With Mars1, the first playable demo available to land owners due to launch this quarter, we look forward to bringing you the tools you need to enjoy and survive the red planet.