Editor’s note: the Grey Goo France team and I first bumped into each other thanks to Petroglyph’s 2015 RTS Grey Goo, and we’ve kept in friendly touch since that time, mostly on twitter and on a Facebook group (now on Discord as well) called RTS Games Lovers. Thanks to that wonderful group, we bumped into a team working on a new RTS called Mars 2000, a love letter to classic Westwood titles, focusing on the Dune series.
As a longtime lover of C&C-style gameplay, they’ve come to the attention of both GGF (I hope they don’t mind if I shorten their name this way!) and myself. Recently, GGF did an exhaustive long-form interview with Space Crap Development, the creators of Mars 2000, and have asked me to signal boost that interview by posting it on my blog, which I have happily done below.
I’ve done some light editing of the interview for readability, and have broken it up with some screenshots I took from the Mars 2000 Facebook page. A disclaimer, for whatever that is worth: I support the Mars 2000 team on Patreon.
I hope you enjoy. Thanks again to Space Crab and to Grey Goo France!
Grey Goo France: Hi, first of all, can you introduce yourself? Who you are, how long have you been developing video games (i know you have modding experience on games like CnC3), and why decide to go on your own project?
Space Crab Development: Hi! First, we would like to say thank you for the attention you’ve paid to our project. We are small indie development team, which we’ve named Space Crab Development. Yeah we know it’s a funny name.
There are 4 of us: a lead programmer (Vsevolod Miroshnikov), a lead 3d artist (known as Kivi The Bird) who has made some amazing models entirely by himself; our game designer (Ivan Sokolov), who also writes the plot and is working with in-game video and sound, and a person (Vladimir Skorin) who makes animations, writes shaders and imports all of our work in Unity game engine. We have to recognize 2 others as well – our composer (Roman Levin) and a sketch artist (Constantin Fedorov).
They are also doing a marvelous job! Why we are going to make our own project? Hmmm – the first answer will be “Because we can”. Please allow us to go deeper though – it all comes from our sacred love of RTS games. Once upon a time, we asked ourselves – why should we couldn’t try and make a game, which we can play with a lot of joy. Something like in old times, while we were running home from school to play Tiberian Sun or Red Alert?
So our story begins somewhere between this question and our first project, when we were trying to make a mod for Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars based on the Dune 2000 videogame.
GGF:What are your two favorite RTS, and why?
SCG: Well, you want to hear something like early Westwood Command and Conquer and Dune? Ok, you’re goddamn right!
GGF: What do you think is most underrated game, and why?
SCG: We’re not sure ‘underrated’ applies here, but KKND is a really good strategy game. And… Hmm. Maybe Battle Realms? That was a really interesting project.
GGF: More about your game now. You’ve got three factions (the golden number for any RTS) – can you tell us a bit about their background, and their influences?
SCG: Okay. In our single player campaign you will experience confrontation between 3 factions: the First Industrial Cohort, the Earth Liberating Force and a scary and mysterious faction known as “Those Robots.” We feel like we’ve done a pretty good job with the lore on each side.
Briefly about all the guys and… er… plastic dudes: the First Industrial Cohort is a faction, which represents the descendants of the original Mars сolonists. They’re brutal, heavy and, blunt. They were inspired in part by the Harkonnen, and by Soviet forces in C&C. Also, we’ve put some our own vision in this faction – so they won’t just be evil. But, let’s maintain some intrigue! We don’t want to spoil our plot for you.
Ah! and our Supreme Marshal of Cohort is acted by our game designer, and our 3d artist is his dim-witted Sergeant [this is in reference to live-action cutscenes, which they’re using in the game – wayward].
What about the Earth Liberating Force? This is a classical mix of Atreides and USA forces in C&C Generals. The ELFs are using rare military technologies from the 60s-80s. And they aren’t a national army: they’re soldiers of fortune. Dogs of war, if you like.
What about the Robots… That’s is a hard question, because we want to keep a sense of mystery abou them. All we want to disclose now, is that it will be really different faction with very special game mechanics. We’re working hard though to ensure they’re well balanced against the more traditional factions.
GGF: Why did you choose the name MARS 2000? When i think of MARS, I think of red earth as an analoge to the world desert of Dune2. I see you have developed a mod for CnC3, did your project mutate and you decide to go bigger?
SCG: Mars – because all the action takes place on the panet Mars, and 2000 – because our game takes plase in an alternate timeline, so it is only a date. In our alternate history, this is when the ‘fun’ starts.
GGF: Dieselpunk is really rare in the RTS space. I only know one game that’s done something like that before: the amazing Rise of Legends with its steampunk Vinci faction. Can you tell us what you love about this setting? What does it allow you to do or introduce?
SCG: At first we have to admit that despite of the fact that dieselpunk style is used for a big part of the game, primarily this is just the First Industrial Cohort’s style. The Earthlings faction will resemble military units from the 60s-80s, with some walker vehicles.
The Robots will be a pure sci-fi with a strange and alien aesthetic.
We’ll use dieselpunk environmental art in many locations too, but there will be other sets in addition to those. All in all we love dieselpunk and we think that is perfectly fits to our game design and Сohort faction as well.
In the spirit of classic Command and Conquer games, we made our game’s resource special and not trivial. A Martian Gen-Lab grew a special breed of wheat. This wheat can grow everywhere – even on the Martian sands, which are full of perchlorates. When this wheat is processed it becomes a fuel for all types of vehicles and engines. Also, this grass leeches salts rare earth (or should we say mars?) metals from the soil, that are incredibly useful for a variety of industrial processes. Huge fields of this what is an important aspect in the economy and energy management of the red planet.
Players will be allowed to build their own base combining production, defense and special structures – heavily inspired by classic C&C titles. Units will have damage types and types of armor. You will build your army, trying to combine and synergize your units’ abilities. We’re working hard to provide players with lots of interesting synergetic combinations.
GGF: Will some units have special abilities, that are auto-cast, or that you need to activate?
SCG: Of course yes! Some abilities will be passive, some will be auto-activated and some will require manual activation.
GGF: How does the economy of MARS 2000 work? By flux as Command and Conquer or Supreme Commander? Meaning you can build units without spending all of the resources up front?
SCG: The economy will be almost exactly like the C&C series, with at least two exceptions. ‘Waterwells’ can boost your resource gathering production (as a boosted resources in C&C – Blue Tiberium) and Robots will have their own economy, that will depend on the special points that are gathered on “organic processors”. (you still have to gather wheat even if you are a robot)
GGF: You have three sides, what are the difference in gameplay. I think Robots faction will be later revealed faction, and it seems like we might be in for a bit of a surprise with them (as the Goo were for Grey Goo)
SCG: Cohort — it is a faction of massive, heavy-armored units, skillshots, very bad line of sight, that can be improved with some special units and abilities. All in all the Cohort can gather an armored fist that will press and crush the enemy, methodically destroying his forces step by step.
Earthlings – they are a tough, well-balanced army with a special orders systems (like USA in C&C Generals) and lots of situational abilities. One word that characterizes them well is ‘flexibility’.
Robots will have 2 types of shielding, that can be recharged only on the base. One type of shield can save a robot from a fast and weak attacks (machinegun, autocannon etc), and another will greatly helps against monster damage shots (plasma blast, vortex wave etc). Also, Robots are the only faction that could build a special structures on the sand. In a few words: consume, micro, dominate.
GGF: Can you build everywhere on the map, to have proxy rush? Or perhaps just one faction is able to do it easily.
SCG: No, building bases is allowed only on the high ground, similar to Dune 2000. Regarding rushing and proxies – Robots can build their special buffing building even on the sand.
GGF: On one animation we see a “flame tank” capable of digging …. Will there be some underground units?
SCG: It is a special “Dug In” ability that gives that unit (called the ‘Gornilo’) an armor bonus. Regarding underground units – not in the first rosters, but yes, we’ll eventually have underground units.
GGF: Will cloaked units be invited to the party?
SCG: Hmm… can you see them? We cannot. But they are here – for sure! Beware!
GGF: Will there be global/support powers? Or superweapons?
SCG: Yes there will be some global powers, we’re waiting to get them better balanced before we will reveal them. For example, there will be a scrap drop for the Cohort that heavily damages infantry. Just imagine some zeppelins and balloons throwing lots of scrap metal on their heads!
What about Superweapons? Yes, yes and yes again! Cohort will have a special Ultraheavy Cannon (called the “Molot”) that will make your enemy sad every 4 minutes. Earthlings will have a heavy air strike. Robots will have a teleporting superweapon that can teleport things everywhere on the battlefield. Yes, you can teleport enemy troops right into his structures and heavily damage it or just move a part of his base into a pool of toxic waste. Marvelous!
GGF: A bit on the campaign (yes, you reader, yes, they will have a real campaign). You have decided to use the motion capture, as it was for all CnC games.
SCG: You mean chromakey? Yes we use it. But motion capture – no. We animate our units by hand. Video making is a tough job: we are preparing green screen, using the right lighting, lots of makeup – we have to make us look older (something like +20 years) and dirtier. In real life we are not looking as a “Gastat” who was drinking “Boozy water” from a “Vedro” fueltank all life long.
We are making our suits by ourselves: finding some things second-hand, some in the junk and some via donation. Long live the wonderful people who support us! We are trying to make our video similar to early Westwood work: to show you a little bit absurd and funny, with a bit of a darker spin befitting our lore.
GGF: How many actors are working with you? Will they be directly talking at the player/commander?
SCG: Zero. All the people in the video is us, our wives and our friends. We have no money to hire professional actors. Yes we are dreaming about inviting some professional actors. But it is only a dream now. Who knows for how long. What about player… You will see an interesting surprise. And not one!
GGF: Right know, how long are these cinematics (even if unfinished)?
SCG: There will be about 45 minutes of video for each faction.
GGF: Did you manage to ask the awesome Joe Kucan to appear, even only for 2 seconds (sure you will never reveal it but, sounds terrific)?
SCG: Of course that sounds terrific and we would be so much happy if we could attract incredible stars like Joe Kucan for in-game videos or Frank Klepacki for music, but, alas, this is unattainable for us.
We are just an indie team of 4 people with zero budget and do everything by ourselves. As for music, we already have a great composer in our opinion, but on the other hand we believe our composer would not mind if MARS 2000 will have tracks both from him and Frank Klepacki.
But for now this is just a dream anyway. We believe that there is a possibility of attracting Mr. Kucan or Mr. Klepacki if many gamers will want to play MARS 2000 and will want stars of early Westwood C&C to work with MARS 2000.
Then, if we receive their prior consent and desired fee we can make some goals concerning this in our possible crowdfunding campaign to pay them.
GGF: Would you say the tone will be closer to Tiberium/Red Alert1 or Red Alert2/3?
SCG: It will depend on our test results. We were thinking about targeting the Dune games with our design.
A bit on multiplayer. How many kinds of map will there be? Desert is logical on MARS, but i guess we can have winter map two, or even underground, with cavern design with beautiful unknown crystals. There will be different types of environment. How many types, that depends from our few resources or from how the crowdfunding campaign will go, if we decide to pursue one.
GGF: What about weather effect? Psionic storms? Will there be a day night cycle with effect on the gameplay (like freezing of some units, or need to have fire around your infantries to support them, or effect on sight of units)?
SCG: There will be some environment mechanics, but mostly in the campaign. As you can see in our videos on youtube.com/mars2000game we have Martian dust storms for now.
GGF: Right now, is multiplayer the center of your game?
SCG: Yes. Multiplayer is one of the most important parts of our game. MARS 2000 is done with multiplayer as a central pillar of design, because it is impossible to do this in another way.
If you made just a single player RTS, then adapting it to a network play is equal to “rewrite the game from scratch.” Multiplayer is not a superstructure over the single player but its part that firmly fused with it.
GGF: Recent RTS seem to have forgotten about classical options of old RTS. Will spectator mode and replays mod available at launch?
SCG: Both times yes. They are must-haves, from our point of view.
GGF: Will there be an army painter?
SCG: Not yet. For now there are just housecolors. Maybe in some distant future.
GGF: What about color schema? Will there be some beautiful colors to choose, or perhaps even a color faction that you pick on the RGB color palette (as you are able to do on OpenRA), allowing players to play with “their color”.
SCG: Yes, you can select your housecolor and its hue.
GGF: Will you have a ranked multiplayer?
SCG: Yes, we will have ranked multiplayer. There will be an easy to start multiplayer, but it will be a hard job to climb the ladder — some tactics and unit mechanics will be strictly demanding of the good APM. There will be a lot of interesting tactics in a rookie leagues, what about our “Diamond” – we can say that it will always be supreme tactics found by players. Our team is interested what it will be.
GGF: Multiplayer is always hard work, cause you have to balance factions, but balance the map too. Do you plan to have a beta test? Will you invite some of the best players from Command and Conquer Community?
SCG: We are working hard to balance all the faction rosters, and we’re doing lots of calculations and simulations of the different cases and synergies. There are huge amount of collisions that we have to account for and balance.
Soon we will release an pre-alpha version of our game, that would be available for the streamers and maybe for huge C&C and especially MARS 2000 fans.
GGF: The first minutes of gameplay RTS can be boring, will we have a scout unit to kill time? Or even to find some bonus (as for Rise of Legends and timonium for example). Will there be special buildings to capture?
SCG: Of course there will be lots of things to do. For example, taking over Water Wells for a resource flow boost, or special buildings control. There will definitely be scout units too.
GGF: I think that now the readers can clearly identify what your game will look like. Sure they will feel that this game could be really really good…. So I’ll let you get back to working on your game.
SCG: Thank you for the warm words! We will try to do our best!
GGF: One last question when does this game will be released? (When it’s done? Hell, I love it!!!!)
SCG: Aww, release date is one of the most difficult question for almost every indie gamedev. We are a small indie team, and can’t promise anything about dates… So, our release is still TBA. Still, we are making every possible effort to do everything as soon as possible. As we have said before, for now we are working hard on pre-alpha for streamers.
GGF: So to conclude, and because bare enthusiasm is not enough… I love what I’ve seen, but you need resources, people and finances. So please, if you really love old RTS, support them. Do as I do, become a Patron (patreon.com/mars_2000)
SCG: And yes – we will be glad to receive any donation or help! Every dollar makes development faster.
GGF: Wish you the best for your project! Keep passion, that is the key of the success.
SCG: Thanks again! We are working hard – it is an extremely difficult to do a proper fully-fledged RTS on PC from zero for such a little team as we are, but we are doing it step by step and it becomes better and better. That motivates.