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A Mars Odyssey

The very first alpha Teaser Trailer (Beta) for Red Rover is live for your viewing pleasure – check it out on our shiny new website (those with matte screens are invited instead to our fancy, non-specular new website). It’s… a little bit surreal to see this project anywhere but inside my own head, so of course I hope you will allow me to write a lot of text on the internet.

Previously, on Star Trek: The Next Generation

Red Rover – Mars Approach

Regular viewers will recall that I recently quit my day job, which is like the one thing everyone tells me not to do. (Not a regular viewer? Welcome! Try the hyperlinks; I made them myself.) It was like one of those scenes where someone throws caution to the wind and runs off into a hermitage to work on Something They Care About (or rather, Something About Which They Care), minus the obligatory montage (on a bike!) set to jangly, empowering indie folk music.

Now, I have all the spontaneity of a person sitting in their living room and not combusting, so it took my friends Saleem and Bronson founding KO_OP, and inviting me to join them, to finally move me down this path. They’ll describe it elsewhere I’m sure, but essentially, the gist is that we share a co-working space in which we work on our own games, while at the same time maintaining a vested interest in contributing to everyone’s projects. Saleem calls it the “record label” model; for the moment, it’s the three of us coding in a bedroom under a mountain of cats. Which works.

For my part, it means that I can now finally, officially, wholeheartedly work on a game that’s occupied (possessed?) my mind for years.

Come over, Red Rover. Let’s meet the nice people.

“Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance…”

Red Rover – Alignment

In my time as an internet curmudgeon, I’ve called out more than one game for taking, erm, liberties with their representations of space. It’s fine, I get the conceit, and generally I don’t mind playing along. It’s just unfortunate that it’s become so pervasive in games (and frankly, in pop culture generally): instead of celebrating our achievements and potential as a species, the medium tends to gloss them over as granted (“It’s the year 10,9X6 A.C., of course we have the Ludicrous Drive”) or as a miracle (“We could barely get our asses to Mars, but then we found an alien warp drive behind the couch and bingo: galactic domination”).

Look – space is flippin’ sweet; to assume our little backwater planet (around a backwater star, in a backwater arm of a backwater galaxy…) is somehow It is dangerously shortsighted. At the same time, our first human steps outside the 1AU neighbourhood are going to be incredibly momentous – no mere engineering feat, but transformative in a very real cosmological and spiritual sense (this coming from an atheist). When (when) human beings become an interplanetary species, a significant number of our traditional frames of reference will be rendered obsolete.

That is mind-altering. Literally.

Meanwhile – Kerbal and Noctis notwithstanding – I feel like not enough games give space exploration, the act itself, the reverence it deserves. Cue some real-life inspiration.

“The gates of the Wonderworld are opening in our time.”

Red Rover – Doorway

In early 2004, Spirit and Opportunity touched down, and NASA’s EDL animation absolutely floored me (social outreach, NASA – keep doing it); I knew I wanted to set a game on Mars. Since that time, NASA’s landed two more robots on the Red Planet, and dropped an incredible camera into orbit (among, you know, other things); in the same period, I moved into an apartment and started a Twitter account. Ahem.

The idea never left my mind that I wanted to make a game about the journey to Mars. It has, however, undergone some pretty serious revisions in that time. The first few iterations were decidedly “gamey” – more like a cross between Oregon Trail and Lunar Lander (with points and fuel and everything!). It has since evolved into a nebulous entity lost somewhere between Myst and 2001: A Space Odyssey (I can only describe games in terms of Venn diagrams – Super Mario Bros. being not unlike a cross between The Catcher in the Rye and Jūbei Ninpūchō).

I think the comparison is apt, though. Myst had a profound influence on me when I was younger – the undirected, patient exploration of these beautifully surreal worlds resonated very strongly with me (and I clearly wasn’t the only one, given the amount of Myst-em-ups in the works these days; this is A Good Thing). And 2001 – well, as my uncle said, it’s almost a religion. No explanations given; just the beauty of hard science and a lifetime of questions to explore. In our first teaser for Red Rover, we use actual topographical data from Mars (via NASA) to render the planet, as well as star maps from ESA. While there’s only a niche audience that will geek out over those details (and I count myself among them), I nevertheless think it’s important to stay true to that object’s reality: we’ve been to Mars, and this is what it looks like. I’ve mentioned it before, but Isaac Asimov was once told that he couldn’t make “realistic,” Law-abiding robots interesting. Like, this was an actual thing he was told.

(Some of the more astute viewers might also notice a similarity between the ground texture in our teaser and certain other recently-acquired interplanetary thumbnails. They would be correct. And incidentally: kudos to the whole Curiosity team. It was unreal. Only it wasn’t.)

“Maybe we’re on Mars because… we have to be.”

Red Rover – Mars Limb

In a very roundabout way, these are some of the foundations of the game I want Red Rover to become. I’ll be the first to admit there’s a long way to go. The teaser we’ve just released – well, I’m happy with it, but it’s a mere proof-of-concept; design and coding begins in earnest right now. It’s a project of unprecedented scope for me (and it’s in 3D, which is like… I mean, it has vectors, right?) – but KO_OP’s got my back. I am naive enough to think we’ll be done in 2013. Dare mighty things, I hear.

The present website will serve as a dev log for the game. I’ll try to keep the updates steady; weekly at first, until I unconsciously let it slide to the point where every post recaps the prior six months of my life (“Timmy, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”). Updates will also go out through the traditional Facebook page as well as my Twitter feed, for those bookfaced tweetors among you.

Otherwise, kiss me for luck, and head over to the main website for our very first alpha teaser:

Red Rover – now in full-time development.

I would of course be remiss not to include the following message from another of my direct, shameless inspirations:

brainpicker · Carl Sagan's message for Mars