Surviving Mars is a city-building simulation game released by Paradox Interactive on March 15th, 2018. In Surviving Mars, the player tries to create and grow a space colony on Mars. Through managing resources, careful planning and decision-making, the player needs to ensure the survival of their Martian colony in this hostile environment.
The DLC project (Co-development involving Abstraction and Paradox)
Abstraction released a fully-featured Surviving Mars expansion called Below and Beyond in 2021. The expansion presented to Paradox Interactive introduced two new map types: Asteroids and the Underground. The base system required a complete overhaul to make the multiple map feature possible. The two map types in turn provide new forms of gameplay: asteroids focus on resource management and windows of opportunity, while the underground adds areas in which to explore and expand.
My work as a Technical Game Designer
Research and Concept
Before starting to work on the project, we (my colleague designer and me) were asked to make a proposal for a Surviving Mars extension. Having played the game on release helped me to understand what players were missing from the game and which direction we should take.
I analyzed data from the different available websites players and fans were using to share their point of view. Modding spaces were especially useful to identify how players reacted to new content.
Thanks to the gathered information, we built a DLC proposal that addressed late-game issues while adding and blending seamlessly to the actual content.
Learning & Teaching
Once the project was shared with my team, we had access to the proprietary engine which was tailored for Surviving Mars. I quickly learned the engine’s in and out, and taught a few colleagues, especially artists, and designers, how to execute specific tasks and how the engine was using or generating content.
I kept being a reference for the engine “how to” even though I recorded teaching sessions as tutorials.
Design and Level design
My design work was spread across content design, mission design, balancing, and level design. I had the opportunity to design the buried wonders in the underground, from concept to implementation, and the quest and events leading to them. I designed multiple quests to drive and reward exploration on both new environments (Asteroids and Undergrounds) and I balanced the randomized spawn of resources on all environments. One of my biggest assignment was to work on the level design of the undergrounds. I created tools to speed up level design and created a process with an artist colleague so that anyone could quickly create a map in the engine.
Prototyping and scripting
To design the feeling of the undergrounds based on the technology available to us and while working on the level design, I prototyped the experience by hacking some entities. This required modifying the code of those entities and tweaking them. While working on the quests, the tool provided was good, but not as versatile as we needed. I came up with workaround solutions by injecting scripts inside the quest system.
As a Technical Designer on the project, I was asked a few times to present the progress of the project in front of a crowd. I built a high-quality presentation template for the team, saving time for each presentation. I tailored my presentation style, short, concise, with a balanced dose of humor. On this project, I often referred to weekly news and made parallels to our game as space exploration companies were very active during the development of our game.