Saturday, April 21, 2018

Surviving Mars review

Ever since Elon Musk told us about his plans to race NASA (or anyone else for that matter) to Mars, the idea of sending people to the red planet has become a common topic of discussion. Well, now thanks to the awesome folks at Haemimont Games, you can try your hand at establishing a working Mars colony in the latest planning simulation game - Surviving Mars, which was released March 15th 2018.

I heard about this game more than a month before it was released and began watching demos and tutorials from people who got pre-release versions of the game. I put my money down immediately. This is yet another example of a sim that would work wonders in schools, to give students an idea of what needs to be managed in order to build and keep a living colony of humans on another planet that has no breathable air or surface water.

You start by choosing your mission sponsor and a few other details that essentially affect the difficulty level of the mission, including how many rockets you get, how much money you start out with, and what technologies you are gifted with out of the gate. Then you pick a spot to establish your colony, which could throw things like regular dust storms, meteor showers, cold spells and more your way.

Once your first rocket lands, robot drones will build anything you command them to, as long as the raw material resources are available. The idea is that you can use whatever money you have to order raw material from earth in subsequent rocket launches, but your goal is to start finding or mining everything you need to eventually become self-sufficient. Higher level resources have to be manufactured using the kinds of raw materials you'd get from the land, so once you are able to extract water from the soil, you can then start making other things which need water as an ingredient, like fuel. You learn that just because you have the material, you also have to have power cables, and possibly water and oxygen pipes if you want to build something new. But you also need rovers in range of the thing you're building, so they can carry the material to the build site and perform the construction.

Everything needs power, so you need to slowly build out a working grid supplied by solar, wind, and other futuristic power sources, with storage capability. As you collect materials and harvest power, you can watch your stockpile grow and shrink, while monitoring power, water and oxygen.

You need to have built a sustainable water, power and oxygen supply, plus a dome with living quarters and hopefully a food supply, before your first colonists even arrive by rocket. Once they arrive, they'll need a place to live, jobs and ways to be entertained. So, before long, you're managing things like work shifts in factories, farms and diners, while watching their morale and comfort. You can even be picky about the skills and personality traits of the colonists before they board the rocket from Earth.

You even have to monitor the battery levels of all your robot vehicles so that they don't get stranded far away from base. I like that you can override to a certain extent what vehicles are doing, to help focus on tasks that are falling behind, like emptying a cargo rocket of its load, or moving a bunch of rovers closer to a dome you're trying to build more quickly.

While all of this is going on, you can decide which research projects get prioritized in the background, as each researched technology unlocks more research, and the ability to build new structures or enhance existing ones. The research also evolves your biotechnology, engineering, transport, mining and extraction, social resources, and more.

In addition, you can send an explorer vehicle out to newly scanned sectors of the map to scan anomalies, some of which reveal new technologies to you, some of which make the mission a bit strange and mysterious.

Mars is a harsh environment though, so even while you're building and exploring, your infrastructure is being punished with dust, radiation and other Mars mysteries, wreaking all sorts of havoc on the health of your colony even if you chose a location that is relatively meteor and dust storm free. Thankfully, as long as you have time, materials and working rovers in range, whatever is broken can get fixed.

Ultimately, once you have the infrastructure built and colonists living and working in your colony, the rest of the game becomes one of sustaining what you have and keeping your colonists from getting bored or going crazy while starting a new generation of humans born on another planet.

Since research is what unveils technologies to make life easier, getting that research becomes a priority. You can accelerate things by selling rare metals to Earth, which allows you to spend that earned money on outsourcing some research.

Depending on the level of difficulty you chose at the beginning, you might get a decent colony built and then start seeing things get sabotaged by the tough Mars environment. Let that damage get out of control and your colonists will die. Not to worry, you can fire up a brand new mission and try, try again.

No comments: