Surviving Mars ‘Curiosity’ update teaches old domes new tricks


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.


  1. Excors says:

    I played through Surviving Mars and found it adequately enjoyable (particularly with the Quantum Sonics radio station that is weirdly only included in the Deluxe edition – why keep the best part of the game hidden away from most players?), but was disappointed by its lack of any kind of satisfying ending.

    I completed the tech tree and had a self-sufficient colony with a thousand citizens, but they kept breeding uncontrollably, so I had to keep building more domes and spending more resources on keeping them alive; and the map only has finite mineable resources, plus an unlimited but much slower supply from one-off special buildings, if I remember correctly. I assumed that once the finite resources were gone there would be a horrific population crash, followed by a constant level of homelessness and starvation because they would still keep breeding. That seems a very bleak end to what is otherwise a reasonably optimistic view of our species’ future. So I quit, and didn’t feel any desire to play again and start another doomed colony.

    • pookie191 says:

      Well you could always send them outside to die..

      That comment is probably a side effect of playing too much Frostpunk recently

      • Excors says:

        I refused to let anyone die in Frostpunk too, apart from one suicidal poet. I guess I’m just a big softie.

        In some ways the games are exact opposites – Frostpunk is about surviving through a challenging and bleak situation with a hopeful ending, while Surviving Mars is a challenging but hopeful situation with a presumedly bleak ending.

    • maninahat says:

      Apparently the trick is to separate the domes by sex, which feels a tad draconian but is 100% effective at stopping the late game sprog tsunami.

    • Scelous says:

      They patched in the ability to force birth control on the populace. So the problem has been fixed.

      Like you, I don’t really like the game due to lack of a satisfying conclusion. But the overpopulation problem has been solved, at least.

  2. racccoon says:

    Nice game I got it, I would of thought overtime like years of being there the pipes and cables would of been put under ground.

  3. Raoul Duke says:

    Always with the domes on Mars. Has anyone ever studied how often stuff falls out of the sky there, given there’s minimal atmosphere to slow down asteroids and the like? Would domes just be a fundamentally terrible idea?

    • Dust and Cobwebs says:

      You bet they study that! Basically they calculate the rate of impact from the appearance of new craters on the surface. All the studies I found used data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, but it should work with images taken by other spacecraft as well. NASA’s InSight mission will be landing a seismometer in the Elysium Planitia region in late November, so they should be able to get some data from that as well.

      My understanding is the rate of impact is low enough that a dome would be relatively safe–from rocks, at least. Radiation, not so much. That and construction costs are the main reasons underground colonies were in favor last time I checked. (Which was over ten years ago, so don’t quote me on that.)

    • Sophistry says:

      I think in one of the dev diaries, they basically said “Underground colonies would be more scientifically accurate – but wouldn’t look as awesome, and would be hard to include in an intuitive way”

  4. Beaver says:

    did you forgot CK2 exists? I think it’s the oldest still supported Paradox game?

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