Let’s start by adressing that this article is entirely positive. Surviving Mars is a fantastic game with developers that care about the game and the people playing it. As time has gone by the players have learned about the game and tried to squeeze all they can out of it and the developers have learned about the players and learned just how far they are willing to go to completely do everything they can do to mars. So what is my title about? What did they say they would not do? And why are they doing it?
Let me take you back to E3 2017, when they first told me ‘terraforming will not be included in Surviving Mars, there are currently no plans for it’.
I was at E3 when the sign for Paradox caught my eye. I loved Stellaris and Cities: Skylines and thought I’d drop by, say hi, and try to talk to them about those games. They had no info for those games. While some of the developers present had worked on those titles, they were here entirely to talk about their new game, Surviving Mars. Since I was a fan, and someone who’d researched Mars colonization, they invited me to a demo they had scheduled the next day. The demo was fantastic, not just because of what they had to show but because of the three developers in the room talking enthusiastically about everything they had done and will do for the game. They had researched martian colonization extensively, argued endlessly with experts and layman alike, and made hard decisions on what could and not be included in order to keep the game fun and interesting without straying too far from the vision of having a realistic game like Cities: Skylines but on mars. Inevitably the subject of terraforming came up.
One of the developers stated, “The game covers the management of one colony, so terraforming just doesn’t happen at this scale. It’s not in the game’s focus.” It made sense with what was being shown to me. It made sense at launch and continued to make sense to me for a little while after. You run a single colony, a mere speck on an immense world. And you run it for basically it’s opening days, you simply survive Mars. Terraforming can take several centuries of global effort, a couple centuries at most of local effort just wouldn’t do anything for terraforming. They were absolutely right to keep the game focused and not just throw fancy things at the player. There was plenty to do just with a dry valley and a century.
Then the game was launched and in our hands and things started to change. Early on plenty of players kept playing the same colony for hundreds of turns beyond the ‘final stage’. They were in love with these colonies. In love with the people they’d brought and helped survive. In love with the culture of martianborns they’d developed. The players were desperate to leave no stone unturned on mars and make use of every single bit of ground they could. Clusters of dome cities, full starports running trade around the clock, every resource under human control. As more features were added to the game the players became even more willing to stick with their colonies for even longer periods of time. Those features adjusted the scope of the game as much as the players did with them.
The new game features changed the scope of the game slightly. Players took that and ran with it as far as they could as well. Some of the features include ‘rival colonies’ the AI controls that the player must compete with. Mars was more than just a personal development of a few square kilometers of ground now. It was turning into a more realized full planet colonization effort. Another feature of note was the ability to send ‘expeditions’ to other locations on mars. The player could effect and be effected by more than just their little space. Their ships could do more than stay in contact with earth. Their ships could now effect Mars on a global scale. Mars as a globe was now under player influnce and players had shown they were willing to keep it that way for centuries and centuries.
That was the two things that were missing during development and on launch day. Before the game launched terraforming didn’t make sense. After seeing what the players have done with the tools given to them it appears that terraforming is the only choice, the next step. Players can effect all of Mars, and are willing to put in the time even without the greater goal of terraforming. So terraforming is on the way.
Everything said about terraforming in that little office in 2017 has remained true. While those were reasons not to include terraforming at the time, those reasons now appear to shape the terraforming features of Surviving Mars. Terraforming is late game. It takes hundreds of ‘Sols’, the game’s bizarre time scale that seems to be a year and a day at the same time. Mars has no magnetosphere and the gravity won’t allow Mars to keep an atmosphere either. It’s an uphill battle. A battle that players have been showing repeatedly they’re going to win anyway.
To sum up, the developers really care about this game and the people playing it. The game changes with them and for them. Mars will now change too.