When we think Haemimont Games, we think of Tropico. The series that’s all about being a dictator, lounging in a Caribbean-esque country, trying to prevent the locals from rising up but also trying to stay in power – that’s what Haemimont is usually known to give us. However, it’s next game is something different – it’s a sandbox experience that’s all about building a colony on Mars and trying to survive. Appropriately titled “Surviving Mars“, the game is slated to release in 2018 and has us incredibly curious.
GamingBolt spoke to Haemimont Games about Surviving Mars, why it’s moving away from Tropico and what its goals are for the game.
"We do not like staying in the same place for too long and at some point we always knew we will leave Tropico."
For a studio that’s been known primarily for the Tropico series, what inspired the concept for Surviving Mars?
We live in peculiar times. We are facing problems here on Earth. Right now the next big thing for humanity is to go to Mars, and hopefully establish a permanent base there.
The basic premise of Surviving Mars is to build human colonies but is there an over-arching plot dictating that goal?
Surviving Mars is an open, sandbox experience. While there can be a plot to each play-through, and we certainly hope players will explore it, there is no universal direction that we push the player towards. We want to give the players maximum freedom when they experiment with the first permanent human settlement on Mars.
What was it like moving away from a central protagonist like El Presidente into a more general, city-building persona? How did it affect the overall atmosphere and presentation?
The team at Haemimont Games has always tried to nail down the thing that makes a game a good game. We do not like staying in the same place for too long and at some point we always knew we will leave Tropico. We are happy to be able to go to Mars as our next project and join in this dream of humanity that transcends video games. That said, El Presidente has a special place in our hearts and minds, and we would love to see him travel to Mars, to convince people there to vote for him. Or establish a Tropican colony on Mars.
It seems that players can create their own colonies with different over-arching personalities. What interesting results have you noticed from making colonies that are purely science-based, economy-based and so on?
Mars throws different things at the player as he builds up his colony. Sometimes it is not easy to say if the difference in the colony is a long-term choice by the player or a result of different challenges and problems he faces. However, it is always revealing about the personality of the player to see how the colony turns up. I would say that is the most interesting result.
"As mentioned, we do not know what humanity will find on the surface of Mars. It is the big unknown. In the game the player will discover anomalies which can lead to new technologies."
What motivated the implementation of a randomized research tree? Can you tell us about some of the perks that players can pick up and how they impact multiple runs?
We have designed the game to offer a full sandbox experience on Mars. We are going for a tech tree with randomized elements to make sure the player will go a different way to solving the problems he faces in a different way. The core gameplay systems will function roughly in the same way, but the scope of the problems, the available tools to deal with them, will differ – and that is why we are implementing a randomized research tree. Besides, nobody knows for sure what we will actually find on Mars, which seems like the perfect metaphor for a randomized research tree.
What can you tell us about the individual behavior of colonists? Can you give us some examples as to how this can eventually snowball into bigger consequences for the player?
When the first colonists arrive on Mars, there are just 10 of them. They are the colony’s Founders. The player has to make sure that at least some of them stay alive, which proves the survivability of the colony as a whole. If at that moment all of your Founders die, that is a game over condition. So catering to their needs is really important in the early stage of the game.
A colonist may become Earthsick, taking the next possible ride to Earth and abandon your colony. That is usually a result of a low comfort, one of the several stats that are tracked individually for every separate colonist. Even average comfort can be a hindrance, though, as colonists will not be having kids on Mars under that condition.
Then there are the rare traits, like genius or saint, or a guru. Colonists with those traits have strong effects on different aspects of the colony or the population, and you should constantly keep those on your radar. And we are still not talking about the crazy ones…
What are these “secrets” that players can discover about Mars and how will they offer an edge while building one’s city?
As mentioned, we do not know what humanity will find on the surface of Mars. It is the big unknown. In the game the player will discover anomalies which can lead to new technologies. Certain technologies, especially breakthrough technologies, have the ability to solve a prominent problem, e.g. water production, for the colony as a whole.
And then, there are the story arcs, which we call Mysteries. They are optional (meaning, the player can chose not to have one at all, or not to interact with one), but in every playthrough there is a separate story which starts from a single strange event. The Mysteries are where we go into science-fiction territory; it is where the aliens might be waiting. Some Mysteries may drastically change the rules of the game, unlock a new resource, research chain, etc., because we truly do not know what we will find on the surface of Mars.
"Post-launch support is always collaboration between the developer and the publisher of any game. Paradox as a publisher has great, very dedicated fans out there and we are, of course keeping that in mind."
How will Surviving Mars circumvent some of the flaws that usually crop up in city builders?
First of all we hope to avoid the “progression without challenge” issue because of the strong survival element, which is forcing the player to always keep developing his colony to overcome new obstacles and environmental threats. Secondly, the scarcity of resources is obviously telling the player that the current solution to his problems is temporary, and he has to grow. Then we add the challenges due to scale of the colony, where some hazards (e.g. meteor strikes) were minor nuisance at the start of the game but once your colony grows big enough, can no longer be ignored. The setting naturally helps us there.
Furthermore, we have designed the game with an emphasis on alternative solutions to gameplay challenges. We have decided against linear progression where the player follows the same actions pattern with every play through. We have decided to avoid the design-by-building list, and instead focus on buildings that allow the player different approaches to whatever he faces. Which will not be the same every playthrough.
How far along is development and when can we expect to see Surviving Mars release?
We are currently after alpha but not yet at beta. Surviving Mars will be released sometimes in 2018.
What kind of post-launch support can we expect from the game? Will it have the kind of support that Tropico 4 and 5 enjoyed?
Post-launch support is always collaboration between the developer and the publisher of any game. Paradox as a publisher has great, very dedicated fans out there and we are, of course keeping that in mind. We are not ready to disclose anything further at the moment, besides the fact that yes, there will be post-release support for the game.
What kind of improvements have you done to the game’s engine?
For Surviving Mars we specifically upgraded our engine to do a physically-based materials rendering for more realistic look, deferred clustered lighting for thousands of lights in nighttime, as well as support for much larger maps.
"Because of its graphical features (large maps, thousands of small objects, distant vistas) we feel resolution is of higher priority than frame rate."
The game is coming on the PS4 and Xbox One as well. What frame rate and resolution are you targeting for both? 1080p and 60fps?
We are targeting 30 fps for the game. Because of its graphical features (large maps, thousands of small objects, distant vistas) we feel resolution is of higher priority than frame rate. We’re not committing to specific resolutions at this point.
Can you tell us what frame rate and resolution will the PS4 Pro version run on? What kind of enhancements will it include?
We are targeting 30 fps, at a higher resolution, but still cannot commit to a specific number at this point.
I am a bit concerned about the Switch version. Are there any compromises being dome compared to the PS4 and X1?
We do not have a Switch version confirmed at this stage. Surviving Mars will come out to PC, Mac, Linux, PS4 and Xbox One.
"If, in years, somebody living actually on Mars, can remember playing our game, that would mean we have succeeded beyond our dreams."
Despite being powerful in the memory and GPU departments, the CPU is a tad disappointment and is slightly better than the Xbox One. Do you think that could stop developers from realizing its full potential?
The point of PS4 Pro and Xbox One X is graphical improvements, without any gameplay effect – and the slightly improved CPUs are more than adequate for that goal.
The PS4 Pro despite being a powerful system is actually weaker than the Xbox One X. As a developer, will you aim for parity between the two or will you push the Xbox One X to its strengths?
No surprise here, it’s a full year older. We’re under no pressure to maintain parity, and we’ll ship the best game we can on each platform.
The Xbox One X features 12GB of GDDR5 memory. Now that is a ton of memory…how do you think this will be beneficial for the developers?
With higher display resolution comes the need for higher-resolution textures, so this increase is welcome, especially for developers with larger art teams.
Is there anything else you want to tell our readers before we let you go?
Let’s go to Mars. We hope you will like it, and stay there for some time. And if, in years, somebody living actually on Mars, can remember playing our game, that would mean we have succeeded beyond our dreams.