Surviving Mars preview: Sci-fi meets Sim City in this upcoming strategy game for PC and Xbox

Surviving Mars is an upcoming sci-fi survival simulator set on the infamous red planet. You must gather your drones, harvest resources, and build colonies fit for human habitation. But beware, dust storms, meteor showers, and all other sorts of hazards await the citizens of the new Mars, and you need to manage every aspect of the colony to keep them happy, sane, and ultimately, alive.

I've been playing Surviving Mars for the past few days and am finding it to be utterly engrossing so far, as I battle my way towards a bigger, more stable colony. Our full review is coming soon for Xbox One and PC, but until then, get an idea of how the game works with these exclusive screenshots and a Q&A with Haemimont Games' Boian Spasov, who is Surviving Mars' lead designer.

Jez Corden, Windows Central: Why did you guys choose Mars? And not say Surviving Venus or Surviving Europa?

Boian Spasov, Surviving Mars Lead Designer: Many of us in Haemimont Games grew up devouring whatever sci-fi novel we could get our hands on. And practically every renowned sci-fi author has his own take of the red planet — its secrets, its threats and, quite often, the prospects of colonizing it. With time moving forward the old dream of a human colony on Mars becomes closer and closer to reality. It is no wonder that Elon Musk managed to capture the hearts and imaginations of so many with it. A potential Mars colony quickly becomes a question of "when", not "if".

We wanted to pay homage to the classics and at the same time to be part of the zeitgeist, to offer our take on the challenges and wonders of Mars and the experience of making humanity a multi-planetary species.

There are a few space survival games on the market similar (at least superficially) to Surviving Mars, but I always find myself missing the creativity you can get out of a game like Cities: Skylines, placing trees and creating different types of areas within your civilization, whereas some of the more "survival"-styled city builders tend to focus on the danger and management aspects. Will there be room for creativity in Surviving Mars?

While survival is the main focus of the game, there is certainly a lot of room for creativity in Surviving Mars - you can place decorations, change the looks of buildings and vehicles and rename your colonists, domes and rockets as you see fit.

As is the case with Cities: Skylines, we hope that user-created mods on PC will improve the customization and beautification options immensely.

Will Surviving Mars be enhanced for the Xbox One X? And if so, what sort of enhancements can players expect?

The additional power provided by the Xbox One X let us run Surviving Mars in full (not upsampled) 4K resolution. The red planet looks really good in high res, especially when played from a comfortable couch in front of a huge screen.

Recently, Cities: Skylines received modding support on Xbox One, so we wondered if that was something you might bring to consoles as well in the future?

This is certainly something that we would very much like to do in the future. The Modding potential of Surviving Mars is huge and we would like to bring our mods to as many platforms as possible.

Can you tell us a little bit more about how the mystery system works?

The Mysteries are our way to tell stories within the game. Each mystery is a huge sequence of scripted events and custom mechanics, often taking the playthrough in a surprising direction. They take many hours to be completed and we hope that they will keep surprising the players even when they feel they are familiar with the core of the game.

**In other city builders, you have things like weather and different types of terrain to make each new game feel a little different. Considering each Surviving Mars game will take place on Mars, how will each game feel different? What sort of dynamic systems does the game have to that effect?

The inhospitable Martian weather is very much a factor. Dust storms, dust devils, cold waves, meteor showers - there are plenty of threats to keep you on your toes.

As for some of the other dynamic systems that you can interact with - you can scan for resource deposits, discover and analyze anomalies, research breakthrough technologies that change the game dramatically and build tunnels to reach previously inaccessible areas on the map.

How "difficult" is Surviving Mars in terms of survival? Can you get yourself into a "Game Over" situation if you don't look after your colonists properly?

It is certainly the most difficult city-builder that I have ever designed. You can lose the game by losing all your colonists, but the situations in which you have to sacrifice part of the colony or resources dedicated to a future project to push through a crisis are also very common.

You say that Surviving Mars is based on real world science, but there are sci-fi futuristic elements for solving some of the science community's expected problems involved with Mars colonization. How do you balance the real world aspects against some of the more sci-fi fantastical stuff?

In all honesty, it is a tough balancing act. We strive to keep the core of the game plausible, but obviously compromises are sometimes made for the sake of either gameplay or aesthetics. As I already said, there are some truly fantastic elements in the mysteries, however the mysteries are optional and can be disabled by players that want to keep things as realistic as possible.

Space exploration is an incredibly interesting topic given developments with SpaceX and beyond. Does video gaming have a role to play in engaging society with this sort of science? How do you guys approach that if so?

I'd like to think that in our small way we are inspiring people, sparkling interest in the topics that we are exploring within our games. Who knows, maybe someday an astronaut or the next Elon Musk-like visionary will say: "It all started with a video game".

Is there any form of "end game" in Surviving Mars? or does your colony simply expand forever?

Surviving Mars is a sandbox game and thus it differs from some of our previous projects, like the Tropico series. There is no predefined end game date - you can play as long as you like. There is also no story campaign beyond the scripted content provided by the mysteries - we discussed the idea and found out that it does not fit well in our desired sandbox formula.

Games published by Paradox often come with the expectation of robust post-launch support, is that something you have planned for Surviving Mars? What could future content look like?

Absolutely - you can expect the zealous post-launch support that you can see in other titles published by Paradox. We will not abandon the game on release and there will be free updates addressing bugs and incorporating the feedback we received. Since a season pass has been announced, it is no secret that expansions are planned as well. The specifics for them are still under wraps at this point, though.

Thanks a ton to Boian Spasov for taking our questions!

Surviving Mars is shaping up to be an excellent edition to the Xbox One, PC, and PS4 for city-building fans. Stay tuned for our full review, or preorder the game right now for $39.99.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!