Magnificent And Important Advent Calendar: Day Three

Take our hand. Take our whole life too. For we can’t help falling into door number three of our advent calendar with you.

It’s… Waking Mars!


How many times have you been to Mars? The butterscotch planet and its moons are popular spots for a bout of the old ultraviolence but there’s more to them than devilry, destruction and dicking about with Philip K Dick. I’d be surprised if you haven’t visited at least once and the tour could well have been a thoughtful one, with no angry fist, chainsaw or gun to block the view.

The Ultima series followed a Victorian detour and discovered the Martian dreamspaces, and there are ideological and scientific treatments of the possibilities that planets offer, including the words of Kim Stanley Robinson and Alexander Bogdanov.

No matter how many times you’ve taken the trip, you won’t have seen anything quite like Waking Mars. Rejecting the god of war, it’s a game in which progress is enabled by understanding; a journey with a genuine learning curve.

Waking Mars is Metroid with a different set of questions for the player to answer: ‘How will this plant react to these conditions and to this creature?’ rather than ‘Will I need more missiles to kill the giant brain?’ It contains nature red in pod and jaw but despite the conflict and collapsing tunnels, its story is gentle.

Waking Mars is an adventure game in which solutions aren’t concealed in a forest of dialogue trees or the abstract interactions between objects. It rewards observation and the toolset that the player gathers is made up of knowledge rather than things.

Waking Mars is a simulation of fascinating fictions and a reframed god game. It’s utterly compelling and in a year that has offered so much to celebrate, and so much that brings to mind the splendours of the past, Tiger Style’s ecologies felt like the hatching of something new.


Growing up in middle-of-nowhere-but-sort-of-close-to-somewhere, Texas, my childhood home was always overrun with animals. (Pets, mostly – and the occasional stampede of ostriches or whatever it is people think we have there.) Cats, dogs, turtles, rabbits, a supremely loud parrot, a small shark for a brief period of time, etc. But for me, having zillions of tiny creatures underfoot always meant home, and watching them form their own little ecosystem that openly spat in the face of Mother Nature was a marvelously fascinating part of my formative years.

In its own way, Waking Mars took me back to that place. And also to, um, Mars. At first, it struck me as almost suffocatingly solitary – I was one puny human rooting around in the larger-than-life guts of a silent colossus – but then I really took stock of all the life around me. These methodically undulating tentacle creatures and gnarled creepy crawlies that looked like deep-fried spiders weren’t out to get me. Sometimes, they were simply content to exist. Other times, they were hungry. And when their tiny virtual lives intertwined, I couldn’t help but just stand there and watch. Whether I was rooting for a terrified, helpless creature to escape from a looming predator or gawking at a once-empty room suddenly teeming with life, it was easy to forget that these were – at their heart – systems designed to help me solve puzzles. I liked forgetting.

Others still, they were my friends. Or at least, it felt that way. When the enormity of some dank Mars cavern threatened to swallow me whole, a wonderful plant-animal would skitter or fly or gyrate by, and I’d feel safe. Suddenly, this achingly lonely place innumerable miles from home wasn’t so foreign anymore.

And yeah, OK, sometimes they’d attack me. But it’s like they say: you only hurt the ones you love, or anybody in a fairly indiscriminate fashion if you’re a cold, uncaring Mars space alien.


(Whispers) I’ve only played this on eyeTablet so far. Is that OK? I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry. I’m sure it’s 1000x times better on PC, though. In any case, I thought it was smart and charming and refreshingly cheerful, with lovely movement and a tendency to regularly bring abut visual awe. Plus I developed a bit of a crush on the girl in it – that smile! – and so I was disappointed when an update replaced the photos of her with drawings instead. WOE IS ME.


  1. RuySan says:

    Alec, are you mentioning the girl in the last picture?

    • Snidesworth says:

      Pretty sure he is. The original version just used stock photography for the characters, with Liang getting a space helmet drawn over his head. When they added voice acting (a very nice touch) they also upgraded the art assets by redrawing the people from the stock photos, dressing them up and making a few minor changes.

      • Danny252 says:

        And I have to say, it’s some of the best voice acting I’ve heard in a while. The script was a bit iffy at times, but I really did enjoy listening to them chatter away.

        • jessicahutchins7 says:

          If you think Jeremy`s story is flabbergasting…, in the last month my brother in-law basically made the small fortune of $7661 putting in a thirteen hour week from there house and there co-worker’s mom`s neighbour did this for five months and made more than $7661 part-time on there mac. applie the guidelines on this page.. http://www.Google.MEL7.CoM

          • Lupinstein says:

            good for them

          • MiKHEILL says:

            Golly, Jeremy’s story has nothing on that. I almost thought you were a robot, but of course robots know how to spell. Silly me.

      • randyo says:

        As one of the artists, I just have to put in that those photos are not, in fact, stock photos. We found inspiration online, and then found actors for the final photos. They probably look stock because Amani’s emotions are pretty much worn on her sleeve.

        And some trivia: Liang’s origins were inspired by one of China’s star astronauts, Fei Junlong: link to

        And thanks so much for all the thoughts and appreciation and critiques! We’re super honored to be on this list!

        • Schaap says:

          I just wanted to say I think you did fantastic work on this game. I love the style and atmosphere, definitely made the game for me.

  2. WoundedBum says:

    Yay, glad this made it. Having a great time so far, I find it nice and relaxing.

    Speaking of which are there any other exploration-type games like this where the environment is part of the charm. I don’t mean non-gamey type stuff like Dear Esther, but something that is…I can’t quite put what I’m thinking of to e-paper but like this and Trine etc.

    Anyway, glad to see this on here.

    • TomxJ says:

      I’m still waiting for potholing simulator.

    • Kitsuninc says:

      Knytt and Knytt stories if you haven’t tried them. From a gameplay perspective they’re pretty reasonable, if not particularly original, but there are some absolutely wondrous worlds people have created.
      Gaia is the only world I can remember off the top of my head, though there are some other excellent ones Gaia is so, so beautiful and huge, if nostalgia isn’t blinding me completely.

      Why, I think I’ll go back and play it again now that I’ve been reminded.

      • WoundedBum says:

        Looks great to me, thanks for the recommendation/s.

      • Christian Dannie Storgaard says:

        Do you mean Gaia Online or Journey: The Heart of Gaia? I haven’t played either and these are the only ones I could find, so I really don’t know. There also seems to be Gaia PC Jigsaw Puzzle 2, but that seems to be quite irrelevant.

    • jearl says:

      Aquaria has some gorgeous environments to explore.

    • jrod says:

      Don’t Starve has a fantastic exploration component to it and the environment is damn charming to me

  3. cptgone says:

    another little gem i wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for RPS (and Robert Florence’s lovely write up in particular).

  4. Roz says:

    Great game, glad it appeared on here, shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that it made the list.

  5. InternetBatman says:

    I’m excited to try this. I installed it on my Linux-based TV rig last night, but it stuck at the splash screen. Not sure if it’s the old computer or linux weirdness that is causing it.

    • uh20 says:

      yea, in the 2 indie bundles i got, there 3 games that just refuse to work in linux, you might want to make sure you installed the required packages, and find some forums about that, get out of unity, it is… well… the worst desktop since metro (hah) and can cause some problems with games

      • InternetBatman says:

        Oh, I’m in Mint 13 on a very, very old computer I bought at a yardsale (with integrated intel graphics) hooked up to a TV. Braid, World of Goo, and Sword and Sworcery refuse to open at all; if you manually set the resolution, Braid will make a big black screen that locks up the computer. Aquaria crashes after the movie. And this crashes at the splash screen.

        Night Sky, And Yet it Moves, and Bit Trip work perfectly.

        It’s an interesting process.

  6. Kobest says:

    Could someone tell me how long this game is? I’m happy to lose myself in this one, but I just don’t have that much time on my hands these days.

  7. Bhazor says:

    I was pretty disapointed really. Theres a great idea there but it just becomes rote towards the end. When you’ve seen every type of plant and worked out each reaction you’re only half way through the game. Everything after that is just tedious farming
    1) Feed healing zoa seeds to the bugs
    2) Feed bugs to fertilizers
    3) Use fertilizer on grass
    4) Plant healing zoa

    That was basically all I was doing for the last half of the game. Seeing a whole room self sustaining is great but getting there was just a chore. Crucially the research/experimentation ran out very quickly and there just wasn’t enough depth in the biome.

    That said I loved the hard sci-fi setting characters and interplay between them was great it’s just a shame the mechanics ran out of ideas long before the credits rolled.

    • Xzi says:

      So it’s basically just a simpler form of Harvest Moon at some point? I’m immediately turned off by the graphics, not because they’re 2D or low-res, mind, but because of the aesthetic. This seems like less a platformer, more an exploration/adventure game, so I don’t think it would be something I’d be into with those visuals. Primordia, OTOH, looks like EXACTLY the type of game where similar gameplay would interest me.

      I do have a list of 2D games that I think should qualify for the advent calendar, but since this isn’t a voting process, I’ll keep my mouth shut.

  8. PatrickSwayze says:

    It’s a nice slice of Hard SF, but it really outstays it’s welcome.

    I was happy once it was over, and felt it could’ve been half the size it was.

  9. karthink says:

    A big Thank You to Rab Florence for writing about this game!

    It is charming in all the ways that RPS has mentioned, but I’m in chapter 4 and I love how this is slowly becoming a first-contact-with-intelligent-life story. Totally did not see that coming.

    And Liang. I like that guy. His restrained enthusiasm and sense of awe tempered by ample skepticism are admirable qualities.

  10. TomxJ says:

    The only quibble i had with this game was that it ended. I could have crawled through that cavern planting little creatures until Mr Liang disappeared into the depths forever…

    That and the scrolling left in the menu, wtf?

  11. Daniel Klein says:

    I’ve not played this, but I really like the concept of having been to Mars. It’s true; gamers go place, rather than read about places or watch people in places.

    The first time I went to Mars, I fashioned a space helmet from a goldfish bowl, after flushing the gold fish down the garbage disposal. I still feel guilty about this. More relevantly, I’ve not only been to Mars thanks to Zak McKracken, I’ve also been to American kitchens and I’ve been introduced to the idea of garbage disposal units built into sinks. Because I played The Adventures of Willy Beamish, I visited American high schools and learned about hall passes.

    Uhm. Completely off topic. But I thought it was a nice thought.

  12. Vartarok says:

    I just wanted to write a little love letter to the RPS Advent Calendar:

    This is probably the thing I like the most of RPS, and it’s no lie that I spent the whole year expecting and wandering which games would appear in it or not. The idea is absolutely perfect: it offers enough space to feature all the games that were specially good in a way that allows the list to serve as a guide of what-to-play each year; it provides a lot of meaningful insight on why the games were good and what makes them truly special (and offering, in my humble opinion, more often than not a lot of thoughts more interesting, personal and relevant than what you can find in a review); and last but not least, it has the charm of expectation and thrill on what game will be mentioned each day.

    I love the calendar!

  13. pakoito says:

    I’m not convinced about this inclusion. Just wanted to voice it.

  14. Randomer says:

    I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit, but I’m still waiting for the “balancing ecosystem sim” part of the game to really come out. I’m about 6-7 hours in and (I’m guessing) 2/3rds of the way through. Mostly it seems like I just need to put a plant in every patch of viable terrain, and that basically finishes the room.

    Edit: Also, I want to say that I actually enjoy the robot’s dialogue. I think that the “intentionally bad writing” shtick is cute and funny!

  15. Teovald says:

    I am playing this on a Nexus 7. A truly great game with a gameplay that works on a touchscreen, which is very rare.

  16. adonf says:

    Is this the wrong time to remind everyone that Worlds of Ultima: Martian Dreams is free on ? I think not.
    link to

  17. webwielder says:

    Why would it be 1000 times better as a PC port?

    • sinister agent says:

      Man make joke.

      • webwielder says:

        I can never tell if the anti-Apple barbs around here are a mockery of the l33t PC gamer cliche, or are genuine.

        • Vandelay says:

          I think the fact that he owns one is a sign that it is, at least in part, a joke. I’ve personally very much enjoyed playing The Walking Dead on my iPad and see no reason why this wouldn’t work just as well.

          • Sarkhan Lol says:

            God I could never play TWD on an ipad.

            I’d be tapping away and then every time a zombie lurched out of a lunchbox or whatever mid-dialogue I’d put my fist through the screen.

        • Sarkhan Lol says:

          We’re far too busy sneering at consoles to bother with these antiquated rivalries.

        • BooleanBob says:

          He’s pre-empting a backlash in the comments from readers who assume that the mention of an iThing constitutes some kind of preference or endorsement thereof. But because pre-empting your readership is itself kind of aggressive, and might provoke its own backlash, he’s front-loaded it with enough ironic hyperbole to make complaints directed down either of these avenues seem a bit silly (as indeed they would be). Unfortunately that opens him up to a third front, as you demonstrated, the iPerson bemused at the (hyperbolic, affected) iThing ‘hate’, proving that there’s really no way to win on the internet.

          Or, you know. What sinister agent said.

  18. pravit says:

    Thanks for posting, this is fantastic. Love the sense of exploration and discovery, reminded me a lot of playing “Monument of Mars” as a kid. Probably one of the only iOS games I’ve played that have felt as fleshed out and immersive as a PC game, along with Kings of Dragon Pass.

  19. Skabooga says:

    This is one of the best bylines you’ve written.