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Surviving Mars 'Curiosity' update teaches old domes new tricks

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Red planet colonisation sim Surviving Mars did a mostly stand-up job of transplanting Sim City tropes to a hostile new world, but a slightly iffy interface and an inflexible aesthetic perhaps meant that its high-stakes potato-farming wasn’t always as epic as hoped. As is increasingly tradition for Paradox-published games – hey-o, Stellaris and Cities: Skylines – it seems long-term refinement is very much plan. We’ve had two major updates since its March launch, adding features and tweaking annoyances, and this week sees the third, ‘Curiosity.’

This performs some pretty signficant user interface-reworking, but clearly the first thing we’ll all be cooing at is the different dome designs it’s adding to the hitherto ‘any shape you want, so long as it’s an upside-down pudding bowl’ options. In other words, Surviving Mars is now even better suited to taking screenshots that look like prog-rock LP covers.
“Curiosity introduces five new Dome types to the game,” devs Haemimont explain. “These are not skins or variants of the old Domes, but entirely new models with new shapes, functionality and costs. With one exception, they do not require new techs to be researched.”

What this means is that you can add these absolute units directly into an existing save if you like, but whether you do that or start afresh, the net result is a much more varied-looking colony. Tubular domes and panelled domes and domes that look like breakfast pastries: the screenshots so far suggest that a (relatively) small change makes a big difference. And not just aesthetically: assigning certain dome-themes to certain dome-purposes can, I suspect, really help in terms of at-a-glance grokking of what building does what, which can otherwise get a bit tricky as a colony becomes enormous.

Also helping us to keep tabs on a big colony’s status quo are a couple of big interface tweaks, designed to shovel what become significant amounts of resource and settler well-being info into our eyes at speed, without requiring quite so much clicking around. A new top-of-the-screen status bar, inspired by Waywocket’s Info Bar mod, keeps a whole bunch of vital data in plain sight at at all times, where formerly you’d have to dive repeatedly in and out of the colonly overview menus. “Thanks for the great idea, Waywocket, may your nickname live forever in our credits,” say Haemimont.

In a similar vein, the new Command Centre screen provides a giant list of everything in your colony – buildings, settlers, drones, vehicles – so that you can ascertain what’s working well, what isn’t, what’s understaffed and what’s idle in one fell swoop, as opposed to manually scouring the entire map for problems. Which should, all being well, leave you a little more free to focus on the bigger picture, instead of getting bogged down in inefficient micro-management.

Also added in Curiosity is a new and much-expanded tutorial – formerly, the game’s starting minutes did neglect to cover a few concepts, plus you could quickly end up with so many fires to fight that the bare necessities of e.g. cable management and maintenance could get skipped over. “Creating a tutorial after release may seem like a waste of effort,” explain the devs, “but we really want to make our game more welcoming to newcomers and we see this tutorial as very important for the future health of Surviving Mars.”

More details on all this are here. I am very tempted to return now, I must say – three updates in, SM should be significantly different and expanded enough that I won’t just feel like I’m repeating myself. The devs said on Friday that they hoped to get the update out yesterday, but it looks like that didn’t happen – I’ve just fired up the game and there are no fancy new domes or info bars. Hopefully it’ll land at some point today, and I’ll update this post when it does.

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