I’ve been studying Mars for the past few months. I learned how to extract oxygen from CO2 (of which Mars has an unlimited supply). I learned how to make water there. I learned how to build bricks, and then walls. I learned why old parachutes might be a valuable resource. It was like being back in college, with science books, with me making notes like mad, and trying to get my head around the topic. This was really a piece of hard science shit. I’ve been exploring the possibility of living on Mars.
Then I built a game around this concept. And with each rule, with each scenario, with each event I designed—I was struggling. The clash between what I knew about Mars mission plans and my need to create an exciting and interesting game was becoming apparent.
Want an example?
A big part of Robinson Crusoe, or Agricola, or Stone Age and many other modern games is food and feeding your people. On Mars? Well, it’s not the case. They have enough food. End of story.
Do you really think NASA would send a billion-dollar-worth project to Mars without providing enough food?
‘We have some good news. Our astronauts landed safely. We also have some bad news. One of them is a hungry son of a bitch and it looks like we’d underestimated the supply of steaks in their fridge.’
On the one hand, we build gameplays. We build interesting choices. We build games that have to offer the players tasks, puzzles, and challenges.
On the other hand, we want to be true to the theme. We want to keep the story coherent and we want it to make sense.
Astronauts with not enough food made no sense.
And trust me. This was just the tip of the iceberg.
To each problem you’d want to throw at the players, to every event you designed, to each scenario you developed, there is always one answer: ‘NASA has already predicted this problem. Here is how the astronauts are prepared for that.’
I truly believe that Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian’ is a masterpiece. Every page of the book is true to the theme. You feel like this is all real, like a documentary. All those numbers add up, everything makes sense.
And yet, it’s entertaining. It offers what a book should offer. We laugh, we care, we get emotional. Andy Weir did it right.
Now it’s my turn. Keep your fingers crossed.