Mars Crisis: Iteration Zero

I’m pleased to announce the very first release of Mars Crisis.

In the game you play Kelly Parker, appointed Special Advisor to humankind’s very first colony on Mars, as she explores and tries to resolve the issues that threaten to tear the colony apart.

Iteration Zero demonstrates all major features of the game. It includes a single story (or chapter) about a threatening strike at Mars Drilling. This version is free to play. Feedback is very welcome.

Mars Crisis is a one man project, started 2 weeks ago (August 24th). It’s based on Twine 2 and Harlowe 3.2.2. I took it on as a personal (and fun) challenge.

The inspiration for the game came from the game Mars Colony by Tim C. Koppang. In 2018 I ran a version of Mars Colony as play-by-chat and this version is a further development of the game engine and story line.

Mars Crisis title for iteration zero

Features in Iteration Zero

Features included in this release:

Create Kelly. Player can customise Kelly by answering a series of questions. Player can opt for a “standard Kelly” and jump right into the story.

Messages. Player can read messages sent from contacts, providing leads to things to do.

News. Player can read the colony newsfeed, providing insight into what is going on in the colony.

Notes. Player can read Kelly’s notes. Topics are presented alphabetically and notes are added as Kelly explores the colony.

Locations to explore and move between. A handful of locations in the colony are available to explore, including Kelly’s quarters and the Mayor’s office. Story hooks are revealed in different locations and at different times, drawing the player into conflicts to be explored and resolved.

Custom game engine with Explain/Tell/Sell options and outcomes. To solve issues Kelly must influence one key stakeholder to support her idea. There is a game economy where Kelly trades integrity, popularity, and reserves for resolving the conflicts before running out of time. The Strike at Mars Drilling story demonstrates this.

Game options with save and load game, help and credits. I includes an Xray page for testing that reveals the underlying game state.

The game ends when time runs out, Kelly’s resources are depleted, or the player resigns. A final page outlines the fate of the colony and how Kelly’s term on Mars will be remembered.

A rock on Mars with a drilled hole by NASA
Mars Drilling 2021. Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.


The current backlog of features and stories to add:

  • Call a contact
  • Details added to notes as Kelly explores the stories and the colony
  • Sick children story
  • Kelly at 24:37 story
  • Mars Drilling productivity story
  • Tanya and the Procreation laws story
  • Idling Replicator story
  • Stalled research at Project Nebula story
  • Alien artefact story
Mars Airlines 2021. Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.


The syntax is unfamiliar to me in some places and takes some time getting my head around. But so far I have found ways to do what I wanted. I’m very pleased that I to a large extent can work in “story mode” thinking about the fiction and the flow of the story without being constantly distracted by implementation details. Still, having the transcript from the play-by-chat game was a great way to bootstrap the game.

I ran into a few very time consuming issues, including some that boiled down to bugs and gaps in the underlying engine. Harlowe 3.2.2 is fairly recent (from May 2021) and that release added quite significant features like custom macros. So I wonder if the maturity of Twine/Harlowe will keep up? Time will tell.

So far I’ve manage to balance family time with game design time and to keep the number of hours per day acceptable for the harmony of the family. I’ve kept clear from going too much into the visual design and kept focus on the functionality.