The Austin Chronicle

Making Curiosity a Reality With 'Waking Mars'

By James Renovitch, August 22, 2012, 4:52pm, Picture in Picture

First there was the much maligned (unjustly in my opinion) John Carter, set on a Mars populated by cast members of The Wire and Friday Night Lights. Then the Total Recall remake doesn't even make the trek. Thankfully NASA decided to bring sexy back to the planet via Curiosity which touched down a few weeks back.

Local game developer Tiger Style Games can brag that they were virtually exploring the red planet before it was cool. Not that they're rubbing it in or anything.

Before Curiosity was getting intimate photos of the Gale Crater, the small independent team at Tiger Style was digging into Mars’ scientific history and developing a game that insists you be both an exploration adventurer and interplanetary environmental steward to succeed. That game, released earlier this year, is appropriately titled Waking Mars and set in a decreasingly fantastical world where life exists beneath the planet’s red surface. Decreasingly because the idea of past water and life on Mars continues to look more plausible with each new hi res image.

The team at Tiger Style took this idea and ran with it. Randy Smith, co-owner of the studio talks about the process of moving from hard science to slightly more fantastical science: "We started with the basis of real Mars science today: the dusty, cold, dry surface, the marks left by flowing water, the real caves that actually have been discovered, and embarked on a giant campaign to research the question that no legit scientific text will come right out and answer: if life might have existed on Mars once, what was it like?  How long ago, under what conditions, how much of it, and what was its fate?" All of that research time paid off when the game was released for iPhones and iPads letting players fly around the caves of Mars and discover a lost civilization while attempting to replant the seeds of life and make a balanced ecosystem. All while avoiding malevolent plant life, fiery pits, and dripping acid.

Just when sales of the game would be expected to slow to a crawl, suddenly everyone was talking about Mars and the possibility of landing a vehicle there to snap pics. Well, people were also talking about that mohawked guy in the control room back on Earth, but I don't think that helped generate interest in Waking Mars. "Space enthusiasts out there had their imaginations sparked by this amazing piece of human technology exploring the red planet on humanity's behalf, and our game couldn't satisfy that itch more," Smith explains, "Heck, the most prominent mission in the game is to track down a robotic explorer that discovered life but then went missing under mysterious circumstances."

So, did the Curiosity really land on Mars or is the whole thing really just Tiger Style's faked promotional ploy to sell more copies of their startlingly prescient game? "As far as we know, there really are other planets, including one called Mars, and there really is a group of smart people in California who have managed to fly an SUV-sized, autonomous, robotic, mobile science laboratory to the surface of it through space without breaking anything," says Smith.

Sounds pretty fishy to us.

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