Bohemia Interactive's latest venture into the simulation genre doesn't feature military battles or helicopters, but goes far beyond planet Earth to the rock-covered surface of Mars. In the recently-released Take On Mars, players are given access to an assortment of rovers and landers in hopes of exploring the vast expanse of Mars' surface and in the process conduct various research missions. I was able to catch up with Take On Mars' Project Lead Martin Melicharek to learn more details about the game's features ranging from the various gameplay modes to the dynamic destruction system of vehicles.
Interview with Martin Melicharek
Could you introduce yourself and talk about your various roles with the development of Take On Mars?
My name is Martin Melicharek and my role in Take On Mars is Project Lead. As part of this role I write up project task logs, plans, and ensure the project is keeping to a set style. However, as the project is smaller than ArmA 3 or DayZ, I get the opportunity to write major game features, such as the dynamic destruction system, as well as the rover controls, among many other features.
What previous projects have you been a part of at Bohemia and how did you begin in game development?
I have been editing games since about 12 years of age, starting simply by editing values in The Elder Scrolls: Redguard and then started scripting and level design in Unreal 1. Since then I've been making many smaller mods in various game engines, as well as the Dark Mod, a Thief-style total conversion mod for Doom 3. Then in 2009 I was hired by Bohemia Interactive where I worked on ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead, and then later Carrier Command: Gaea Mission.
Switching from helicopters to space is a large transition for the Take On series, what were the decisions and inspiration behind creating a game focused on Mars?
A while after we released Carrier Command Gaea Mission, NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars, sparking world-wide public interest. As I had been tracking the rovers since Sojourner first drove across its surface back in 1997, it struck my appeal to make a rover mod for CCGM. After doing some work on the mod, we decided to up-scale it into a standalone game, title Take On Mars. The Take On series has always been about the player experience, so although the leap from helicopters to space is a large one, the idea behind the series is the same.
Can you tell us about the game's various modes, in particular the Space Program mode and what options are provided to players in exploring Mars?
The game has 3 modes available. The space program is a mode where you run a science driven space agency, titled MARS-X (Multinational Agency for Robotic Space eXploration), sending rovers and landers to Mars to complete various scientific missions, increasing your budget as you go. You improve your technology as you go as well, and are able to build and test your own rover in the game's Rover Lab and Mars Yard. The Scenario mode has you placed in a specific situation, which is great for jumping in and trying the game out. Lastly, the Editor allows you to create your own scenarios as well as play around with what the game has to offer.
With both ArmA 3 and the standalone DayZ in development, how closely do your developers work alongside the other teams? What sort of interactions between the teams are a result of this type of development atmosphere?
The Take On Mars team is located in our Prague studio, while the teams working on DayZ and ArmA 3 are in Brno and Mnisek pod Brdy, so while there is contact between our teams, there is no direct cooperation at this point in time.
What graphical upgrades have been made with the engine behind Take On Mars since the previous entry in the series? Can users expect a high degree of customization with visual settings as in other Bohemia titles?
Take On Mars uses an upgraded version of our Enforce engine, which Carrier Command Gaea Mission was built on, while Take On Helicopters used the Real Virtuality engine, so in effect the graphical representations of the games are quite different. Each engine has its pluses and minuses, but the choice for Take On Mars was a given due to the size of the game itself, as well as the versatility of the open-source Bullet physics engine, utilized in Enforce. Regarding customization, yes there are many adjustable settings present, including a rather interesting one which is 3D resolution scaling, which leaves your HUD the way it is but renders the 3D scene in a higher or lower resolution. We've clamped this limit from 0.1x to 2x, so at the lowest setting you get a retro-flashback, so it's more for fun.
How is the control of rovers and landers handled in the game? How much control do players have in regards to the control of equipment and such on the vehicles?
Due to the fact that the player can mount masts, robotic arms, cameras, and instruments onto the vehicle himself, the control system works in "subsystems". You can control two at a time as primary and secondary (which works really well on a controller I might add). This means that you can, for example, control the 6-wheel drive as the primary system, and the mast (where cameras are located) as the secondary system. The system really provides a great level of usability, though may take a little getting used to, especially as you may be peering through a camera which doesn't necessarily need to have a view of the subsystem you are controlling. You may control the systems through the GUI, keyboard, controller, or mouse.
Can you provide further detail on the dynamic destruction system with vehicles and how that will affect gameplay, in particular during the Space Program mode?
Due to the fact that all vehicle parts are simulated, including struts, wheels, instruments, cameras, and so on, you can break each object off individually. This means that if you drive off a cliff or too fast through a rocky plain, you may damage parts via impacts. The part may start to malfunction as it is damaged, so a wheel will start to jam for example. Additionally, a strong impact may snap off the part entirely, leaving you without a wheel, for example. So the situations this can get you into are quite varied, which in turn affects the Space Program mode because it can mean your mission is over and you must send a new vehicle.
What are your development plans for after the game is released through Steam's Early Access program in terms of interval between updates and such?
We plan on releasing an update every week or two, but work-in-progress versions will be uploaded almost daily, very similar to the way we are doing it with ArmA 3.
As with past games released by Bohemia, modding has remained a vital aspect of each game's community. What tools and options will be available to players looking to mod Take On Mars?
The base game contains the in-game editor for creating scenarios and such, and about a week after release on early access we plan to give modders the Workbench editing suite, where players can make their own terrain, particle effects, and so on. A mod may be as simple as a new vehicle preset, or may scale up in complexity and be an entirely new vehicle or location. We also hope to support total-conversion mods as well, and considering the entire game is written in script, it means you can change everything about the game if you so choose. Mod distribution will be handled through Steam Workshop.
Is there anything we missed that you would like to mention about Take On Mars?
One question I always get asked is whether the game will feature multiplayer. The answer to this is no at this point, due to the time-consuming implementation involved, which is not within the bounds of this project at present. That being said, I personally would love to ram my colleague's rover off a cliff, so I cannot say for sure it will not get added, though neither will I provide an empty promise, so we will see how the game is absorbed by the gaming community.
We'd like to thank Martin for taking the time to answer our questions. Keep a look out for my impressions of the game and what I assume will be many stories of my failed missions to Mars. Take On Mars is available now
through the Steam Early Access program.