Lacuna Passage - Devlog #5 - Approximating real survival challenges in a virtual world

Before I started working on the survival mechanics in Lacuna Passage I did a lot of research about space travel and specifically the difficulties involved with a manned mission to Mars. There has been extensive research done on the topic including simulated missions here on Earth. Wikipedia’s Manned Mission to Mars article presents us with a concise list of the challenges associated with such a mission.

1. Physical effects of exposure to high-energy cosmic rays and other ionizing radiation. 

2. Physical effects of a prolonged low-gravity environment, including eyesight loss. 

3. Psychological effects of isolation from Earth.

4. Psychological effects of lack of community due to lack of real-time connections with Earth.

5. Social effects of several humans living under crowded conditions for over one Earth year.

6. Inaccessibility of terrestrial medical facilities.

7. Equipment failure of propulsion or life-support systems.

8. Basic human needs (I added this one, because I think the rest of the list just assumes it)

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Now let’s see how these survival challenges apply to our game:

1 and 2 are fairly irrelevant to Lacuna Passage since the game takes place after landing on Mars and in reality these hazards really only increase the astronaut’s chances of getting cancer during their lives by about 1-2%.

3 and 4 are very real contributors to the story and gameplay. Exhaustion and isolation have very real psychological effects in the game, including disorientation and perhaps even hallucinations.

5 is also not relevant because the story explores the concept of a solitary “shipwrecked” astronaut. There were other crew members on Mars at one time, but a huge part of the game is discovering why they lost contact with Earth and what exactly happened to them.

6 is certainly not an insignificant hurdle for space exploration but it is relatively unimportant in Lacuna Passage. You won’t be worrying about getting sick or breaking a leg as these are typically things that are the result of random chance. Being randomly afflicted with a potentially game-ending health issue is not the type of experience I am looking to create. All of the survival aspects of the game involve planning and concepts of conservation. You won’t be breaking a wagon axel here.

7 and 8 are probably the most important mechanics in the game. The amount of time you have to explore is directly related to how well you manage your technological and biological needs.

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I’ve broken down these survival systems into three primary categories:

1. Technological

Technological survival systems in the game include Oxygen and Battery. If you run out of oxygen while exploring that’s it… you die. If you run out of battery power while exploring your headlamps will no longer function and your digital maps and diagnostics will no longer be visible (perhaps you can use the sun’s position to find your way back).

2. Biological

Biological survival systems include Starvation, Dehydration, and Exhaustion. You would have to try pretty hard to die of starvation in the game (basically just sit around for 3+ weeks) but that’s not saying that it can’t be done. There may be ways to synthesize oxygen and water from the Martian environment, but food is a little harder to come by. Dehydration though is more of a daily survival concern. About three days without water and you’re done. Last but not least, exhaustion can contribute to some ill effects in our third survival category, psychological survival.

3. Psychological

Continued strenuous activity (running and jumping), on top of inadequate nutrition and lack of sleep, will drastically affect your state of mind. You may start hallucinating or become disoriented. The symptoms you exhibit might be different every time you play.

Hopefully this gives you a little better idea of the survival mechanics we are working on and how they will impact your exploration habits. At some point we will discuss how these survival mechanics are communicated to you the player through GUI indicators in your helmet and contextual and environmental clues.