Dev Diary 7: For Science!

Boyan Ivanov is one of the lead designer of Surviving Mars and in this article he tells more about the research in Surviving Mars and how it allows us to make every playthrough feel and play differently.

The Basics[​IMG]Some of you have already seen our research screen in previews and let’s plays. There are 5 tech fields – Biotech, Engineering, Robotics, Physics and Social as well as a secret field that contains the most awesome techs in the game, but more on that a bit later… You can queue up techs from the fields for research. Each tech has a cost in research points which are generated gradually from different sources. Every time you research a tech in a given field a new one will be unlocked in that field. You can start researching and planning your progress through the tech tree the moment you arrive on Mars. Your sponsor will provide you with a basic research point production back on Earth (unless you are playing the Church of the New Ark) and you can even outsource additional research by spending some funding. However, the main way to generate research points is by building research buildings on Mars.



Exploring the Martian environment plays an important role in research, especially early on. As you scan the surface of Mars you will find anomalies which can be analyzed by Explorer rovers. There are different types of anomalies to find – some will provide research points and help you research techs faster; others will unlock new techs providing you with a wider choice of techs to research; some will trigger events where you’ll have to make a choice.


The most exciting anomalies unlock breakthrough techs – very powerful technologies that take a bit more to research but can have game-changing effects on the colony. Here are several interesting examples:


As you can see breakthroughs have very strong effects. Our goal was to make each breakthrough affect the way you play the game and make you reevaluate your strategy. For example, when you research Nocturnal Adaptation you can reorder the shifts of your factories to work at night to get the production boost. That, however, may result in having to rethink your power network if you rely heavily on solar panels which can’t provide power at night.

Chaos Theory

Breakthroughs are indeed very awesome but you can’t have all of them in a single playthrough. When you pick a map the game chooses a random subset of breakthroughs that will be available this game. Combined with the fact that you unlock the available breakthroughs in a random order it makes for a very different experience each time you play the game.

For example, if I get the Hypersensitive Photovoltaics breakthrough that doubles the power production from solar panels I will heavily depend on solar panels during this playthrough and set up a very day oriented industry as opposed to the example with Nocturnal Adaptation. Or if I research the Positronic Brain and get the ability to build biorobots – I might steer my game towards a colony without any human colonists.


To build upon the variety of breakthroughs there’s another random element to technologies in Surviving Mars. Each game the main tech fields are slightly randomized – moving techs left or right in each field. Thus in one game, you will get the ability to construct Stirling Generators for example, very early in the game, while other times that tech will be deeper in the field. Still, some technologies are guaranteed to appear early, while others are guaranteed to appear late.

This approach to the research system is one of the main things that makes each new game of Surviving Mars so exciting – what am I going to get this time?


Collaboration, scientists and night shifts

As you progress through the tech fields, techs will have a higher cost in research points. Constructing more research buildings will help you keep up with the costs. However, there are some drawbacks to just spamming new buildings – buildings of the same type amass collaboration losses lowering their combined output. Building a second Research Lab will increase your research output but not outright double it. It is a good idea to vary sources of research points in the colony as collaboration losses affect only buildings of the same type.


Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to maximize the output of a research building. The number of workers defines how many research points will be generated. Having the maximum number of workers in each of the three shifts will guarantee constant research progress but colonists working during the night shift will lose some Sanity and may suffer a mental breakdown. You can set a shift to work on a heavy workload to boost production but that will also affect the worker’s sanity.

The worker’s specialization is another major factor in their productivity – having a Research Lab fully staffed with scientists will greatly outperform a lab working with unspecialized colonists. Morale and workers’ traits will also affect the performance of the building.

You can manage all of these factors to maximize the productivity of your research buildings and speed up technological progress.



When designing the individual techs and fields we wanted to capture the feeling of progress and growth – starting from a remote-controlled outpost ending up with a large self-sustaining colony with thousands of permanent inhabitants. The early technologies you research in Surviving Mars are about adapting to the Martian environment and learning how to apply existing technologies to Mars. Gradually techs become more futuristic and grander in scope like researching fusion power or stem cell treatments to slow the ageing process.


Research is one of our most ambitious systems and with 95 base technologies and 55 total breakthroughs there’s a lot to explore. There are very few city builders with a comprehensive Research mechanic out there, so I guess this makes Surviving Mars kinda special. Research feels thematically right for a sci-fi game and it really adds quite a lot of variety and replayability, so it is the good kind of “special”

Release day is almost upon us and I’m sure that you’ll have a lot of fun stories to share very soon. Which techs did you research first? What was the first game-changing breakthrough that you discovered? What new breakthroughs would you like to see modded in the game?

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