Hello to you all from the Mars4 dev team! This month's devblog will focus on sharing the most recent development progress in the game through April. This month’s AMA had a few technical difficulties, but we’ll be happy to go over in greater detail the work and efforts taken by the team.
The Build: Coding and Creation
The video on the current build was originally meant to be shared in the AMA hosted at the end of March, but due to the team deciding to simultaneously push multiple builds from different departments the result was a series of compile errors. This was unfortunately a crime of enthusiasm with the various teams all eager to add as much as they could to the build for the AMA. Needless to say, work on Mars1 continues.
The efforts of the team have been largely focused on introducing the coding that controls the subtler mechanics and systems that underpin the Mars1 game. For example, our Junior Game Designer, Domantas, handled the deployment and adjustments behind the mining mechanics. This refers to the parts of the game that handle how a colonist and player interacts with the mining and extends to the additional issues that relate to them. The mining mechanics govern the player’s interactions with resources and allow a colonist to scan rocks to determine their mineral value and extract minerals from them. These minerals need to be held in a colonist’s inventory and interact correctly so that they can be used to survive on Mars. One of the larger issues that affects mining (and indeed much of the other mechanics) is oxygen consumption. The rate of oxygen consumption by machines and colonists directly affects the time a colonist can spend outside of their base and the difficulty of travelling across Mars. This in turn has a direct effect on how much resources a colonist can expect to mine easily and therefore the decisions around the cost of materials for items and more.
These interlinked components extend to the game’s production chains and represent one of the harder challenges the team has had to handle. This is namely creating production chains that help foster player interest and progression while keeping the early stages of the game, the beginning, accessible and enjoyable. In other words, the early game should still be fun and not punishing to players who aren’t able to immediately make use of larger production chains. This can be seen in the design of the fabricator which occupies the keystone spot of the game’s machine crafting. All colonists have access to a fabricator that is assembled without resources from mining which allows them to create the other machines including additional fabricators. The Red Planet has significant deposits of resources that are easily obtained, but it will need the work of colonists and their machines to put them to good use. The fabricator represents a level of compressed industrial capacity that currently does not exist on Earth. The utility of such a device would make future expeditions to Mars significantly easier if long-term colonies could move from being reliant on Earth and its industrial base to being self-sufficient.
Programming: Domes, Wiring and Compiling
The work handled by our programmer, Dennis, extends to content for Mars2 as he has completed his particular tasks for Mars1. One of the harder aspects of Dennis’ work is the creation of the wiring system, which will be used in Mars2 and later games to allow power generators and machines that draw power to operate without requiring a colonist to change their energy cells. From a design and narrative perspective this makes more sense than manually shoring up power in static machines via energy cells, but the mechanisms behind this are more complicated than they would first appear. The current work is first ensuring that these wires conform to the environment they are placed in by attaching correctly to each other and to base components (such as walls, doors, floors, and ceilings).
In addition to preparing the wiring system for use in Mars2 and beyond, the programming team was also working on preparing domes which as mentioned before are part and parcel of the Mars experience despite the unusual problems that their structural designs create. One of the proposed solutions to the pressure differences that large domes must handle is the use of aerogels for the dome segments or panels. Aerogels are synthetic materials derived from gels where the liquid parts have been replaced with gas without compromising the gel’s structure. Their low density and heat-insulating properties make them ideal for effectively coating domes, supporting their structure and also making it possible to allow a large volume to be pressurised and prevent water evaporation within them. Effectively, a dome coated in aerogels can be thought of as a miniature terraforming project.
As part of the delegation of tasks and streamlining of the development process David, one of our other programmers, handles the compilation for the game’s builds in the Unreal Engine. Each part of the development team provides their work to David who then ensures that the work compiles and runs correctly. By having a single point of contact for the compilation, this helps reduce problems and ensures that David’s expertise is applied to all content provided for the game’s builds. In addition to his duties with the build compiling, his work also includes the preparation of Mars1’s patcher. As a live operations game which will need to add content or fix unseen problems that pop up, it naturally makes sense to build in a patcher that can handle, check and verify all updates that are needed.
Beyond the patcher, David also worked on integrating the inventory system for colonists, machines and vehicles (and of course, the ability to manage that) as well as mining and the mechanics that control vehicle fuel usage and efficiency.
Design: Environments, 3D Modelling and Vehicles
From environments to vehicles, our design team’s work focuses on the creative aspects that become the game’s core assets. This past month has seen our Technical Artist, Danijel, focus his efforts on the introduction for Mars1, a crash site that couples with the quest system to introduce players to the game. He and the technical team also worked on the lighting changes being introduced to ‘sharpen’ the environmental aesthetic.
Deividas and Edgaras are our main harsurface 3D modellers. Their roles and efforts over the past month of development have been focused on vehicles and tools, with the former prioritising vehicles that are soon to come to the future Mars versions and the latter focusing on tools (which all colonists, from Mars1 to Mars4 will no doubt become intimately familiar with).
Davor, also a technical artist, prioritises the conversion of NASA data into maps for terrain generation. This represents a key part of the game as each NFT land plot will use this data to model the in-game lands. This includes everything from heightmaps to texturing.
The latter half of the design team works primarily with conceptualisation. This is a step that covers several stages. Most assets used in the game start their lives with Anderzak who creates what is often referred to as ‘high concept’. These pieces focus on evoking an emotional response and are not intended to be mechanically accurate.
The image above is the basis for the Karkanda Exo Transport, the mining vehicle that will be introduced in later versions of the Mars4 game. The concept piece is then handed over to Spyros who creates a more mechanically accurate version that will be then produced as an asset.
This month saw Steve and Vlaad, our 3D artists and modellers then take the final concept created by Spyros and produce it for use in the game. The production stage works on developing an entire three-dimensional version of the final design. Additional focus is placed on the vehicle’s suspension and undercarriage to help create realism by ensuring that the entire design appears visually coherent. As an example, Vlaad’s work includes ensuring a vehicle model’s wheels and suspension are joint correctly and resemble what might be found on real-world vehicles.
Beyond the vehicle design pipelines, portions of the design team work alongside the programming team to finalise features and assets such as character customisation and internal building design. This past month has seen one of our programmers, Mohamed, work on the design of colonists and the creation of the systems that govern their generation as characters as well as their aesthetic customisation. Another of the team’s programmers, Omar, focused on preparing the internal environment design as can best be seen by the rendering of office structures for use in Mars4.
This month has seen a significant amount of work proceed towards Mars1 and Mars2 while also laying the groundwork for the systems that will govern the later version of the Mars4 game. These efforts help pave the way to seeing colonists make planetfall on Mars and so, as before, we look forward to seeing you on the Red Planet.