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 March. We're excited to share these glimpses into the upcoming game and what they mean now and in future.
Heightmaps, Terrain Generation and Background Lighting
The team's work this past month has seen the creation of landscapes using NASA's data on Mars to generate heightmaps. This data forms part of the steps toward generating a landscape in the game engine and creating the right amount of 3D displacement. Effectively, it ensures that the images of Mars can be sculpted into full 3D environments that correctly model the height and shape of terrain. This step is necessary to pave the way to generating the full 3D Mars NFT land plots that will form the basis of each area in Mars4. Mars4 NFT land plots are unique, each based on the data available from NASA and assembled heightmaps represent the basis for each plot's shape.
Alongside the creation of 3D terrain comes the introduction of the less glamorous but equally important immersive elements of the game design. Landscape backgrounds and shading, much like an actual canvassed art piece, help create and emphasise depth perception. In game development terms, shading handles the perception of light across a surface and is responsible for detailing colour gradients, shadows and lighting.
Given that Mars4 will have different forms of inclement weather and a day/night cycle, shading is an important element that creates a visceral and living Mars. With regards to the landscape background, this step creates the correct perception of colour in an environment.
On Earth, the colour that one perceives when looking towards the horizon and sky is usually blue. This is due to a process called Rayleigh Scattering, where light from the Sun strikes our nitrogen and oxygen-rich atmosphere and the shorter wavelength, higher frequency radiation scatters easier than their opposites. For our visible spectrum, this means blue light over red light and is the reason why the sky appears blue. The horizon at its lowest point often appears white due to the relatively greater amount of atmosphere that the sunlight passes through, resulting in a more uniform scattering. Tying this back to the Mars landscape being created, the background must mimic the effects of Rayleigh Scattering so that the visual effect created by the horizon and weather obscuration simulate the Red Planet's actual environment.
Mars' atmosphere is notoriously thinner than ours and its composition differs slightly to ours, resulting in its light red coloration except for the sunsets which are blue due to the same phenomenon.
Resources and Resourcefulness
Surviving on Mars will require more than just a spacesuit and hand tools. This March saw the introduction of the resourcing system, from mineable assets to the mechanics for scanning mineral nodes. This forms part of the survival gameplay by encouraging colonists to be discerning in their resourcing. Colonists scan mineable nodes to determine their material composition and thus whether or not the mineral yield suits their purposes. Particularly resourceful colonists will no doubt be discerning over where and what they mine to maximise their resource gains.
Machines and Habitation
This brings us neatly to machines which were introduced in the recent AMA with Nick. While the name for this category is still subject to change, 'machines' refers broadly to devices that are operated but not man-portable and includes heaters, oxygen-generators and arc furnaces to name a few. From a technical perspective, it was how these devices interact with the martian environment that was the major introduced change. During the AMA we showcased these machines in operation and demonstrated the mechanics that they interact with. In the case of oxygen generators, they are able to bring a room to Earth-standard atmospheric pressure. This requires a constructed area to be fully enclosed and exposing that area to the external environment will decompress the space. In addition to that, the volume of a space affects how quickly it can be brought up to pressure, resulting in greater resource requirements for larger volumes. Heaters function in a similar fashion and are able to bring an enclosed pressurised space to a comfortable room temperature. As Nick has mentioned in the AMA, the use of an airlock will help prevent decompressing the entire space each and every time a colonist moves in and out of their base.
Meanwhile, the arc furnace represents a class of machine that covers the refining and crafting elements of the game. While colonists themselves can operate devices and craft rudimentary objects themselves, the more advanced forms of crafting and refining of gathered resources is handled by specialised machines. These are supported and powered by a range of planned generators which include solar, hydrogen cell and even nuclear power (for that warm glow).
We have also further increased the building system with the introduction of domed spaces in several sizes, up to a maximum of 20m. Domes occupy an unusual spot when talking about Mars as their design is ubiquitous in colony concepts. However, a pressurised dome on Mars has to contend with an immense amount of vertical force acting upon it due to the pressure differences between the interior and exterior, roughly estimated at 10 tons of force per meter squared making extremely large domes unviable. The domes provided in the building system are a nod to a long standing trope without being entirely unrealistic, especially with the potential application of aerogels.
In previous AMAs, we touched on the vehicle systems and the mechanics and code that underpinned their use. This past month saw the team putting together fully 3D models for use in the game, taking them past their conceptualised stages and rendering them in the game. The coding that underpins these vehicles now includes inventory, power supply and consumption.
Vehicles have their own pressurised internals and help provide shielding and thermal insulation from the Martian environment. To date, two vehicles have been fully modelled and usable, one designed to support mining operations and another designed for hauling and logistics. These vehicles are intended to support greater communities and colonies that form up across Mars, serving the role of larger scale trade and production.
Everyone is a beginner in a game at some point and tutorials help ease people into new situations, it is no different with Mars. A series of tutorials have been developed by the team that will introduce players into the full 3D game, covering movement all the way to construction and using the minimap. This is slightly more complicated than other elements in development because creating a tutorial also means building the infrastructure to support one and this includes functional user interfaces, visual feedback, positional data and maps as well as the coding that ties instructions and tutorial stages together.
With Mars1, the single player version, soon arriving and Mars2 not far beyond that, we look forward to seeing you touchdown onto the Red Planet.
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