Making a scifi game lets you bend all the rules. You don't have to use real science at all, but it's rewarding when the genre takes a page out of a real textbook. While playing Waking Mars is a balance of flora, developing it is about the balance between real science and making a fun game.
“After working on Waking Mars for two years, I feel like I’ve gone through a self-taught crash course in planetary science, organic chemistry, genealogy, zoology, cave formation, and the geophysical history of Mars,” Smith quipped. “One reason for all the research is that I wanted to bring our love for science, space exploration, and discovery into the game as one of its core appeals, which necessitated a careful balance between credible science and fun speculation. Kind of like a pop Wikipedia about our game fiction to spark the imagination.”
The game takes liberties with science as much as it adheres to it.
Ultimately, then, Waking Mars isn’t so much about the tug-of-war between science and fun as it is the moments when the two come together. One minute, Smith explains how his game leverages the laws of conservation and mass as central gameplay mechanics, and the next, he tells me a story of the time he accidentally turned a frightening flying Cycot into his “pet puppy” by repeatedly stealing a seed from it as it was on the way back to its nest and, as a result, playing fetch. Scientifically-grounded systems produced a delightful moment of discovery, and that – as it turns out – is its own sort of fun.
Waking Mars succeds because it knows when to follow the rules and when to let them go.