39 days to mars 1Not all crowdfunding projects are $200,000 funding behemoths from industry vets.  Much of the time they’re smaller projects with much less aggressive funding goals from small teams; case in point, 39 Days to Mars.  A new adventure project from indie developer Philip Buchanan, 39 Days to Mars is a coffee break adventure title with a modest $1,000 funding goal, meant to be played for brief periods of time.  Players will take control of a pair of 19th century steampunk space explorers as they try to stay alive in the unforgiving world of that is turn of the century space travel.  It’s a world of puzzles, resource management, and curiously retro aesthetics.  We recently had an opportunity to ask Philip about his latest creation, his inspiration, and exactly how long it takes to get to Mars.


Cliqist : Can you tell me a little about yourself? How do I know you won’t steal all my money?

Philip Buchanan : I’m a game designer, programmer, and digital artist, and I’ve had commercial experience in all three fields. I’m currently finishing up a PhD in visual style and game content production, and I’ve previously worked as a project manager at a game studio where we produced a puzzle-adventure game for the Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, and PC.

I’m producing 39 Days to Mars under my own name so that people can easily verify who I am, and I hope my history of successful projects speaks for itself. You can see some of these at www.surrealix.com .  And besides, $1000NZD isn’t quite enough to purchase a new identity and retire to the tropics.


39 days to mars 2Cliqist : You’re only asking for $1000NZD, which is just over $800US. Why so little?

Philip Buchanan : 39 Days to Mars is a game I’m building because I believe in it. The funds from Kickstarter will let me add the features and content I have planned by covering out-of-pocket costs up front. I’m putting a lot of effort into 39 Days to Mars and want to see it completed, so I’d rather receive the minimum amount needed to see this project through than miss a high target and be unable to fund anything.

I don’t believe Kickstarter is the right venue to ask for a salary, and because I’m working part-time on 39 Days to Mars this wouldn’t be appropriate. The final game will be sold at a low price point, and $2 for a copy of the game seems a fair reward for people who get on board early and help me out.


Cliqist :  Can you describe the game a bit? Is it an adventure? A resource management sim? A  puzzle game?

Philip Buchanan : 39 Days to Mars is a mix of three main gameplay types: survival, puzzle, and adventure.  Each character has basic needs such as hunger and boredom that must be attended to throughout the game. This becomes harder as the game progresses because things in the ship break down. Fixing these is done via minigames and puzzles, which increase in difficulty as the game progresses.

There are some brief gameplay videos in my first update.


Cliqist : I have no friends, can I play it by myself?

Philip Buchanan : Yes! You can switch between characters and complete parts of the puzzles independently. I’ve just posted a new project update that explains this and covers the gameplay in more detail.


39 days to mars 3Cliqist : This being a coffee break game, things go by quickly; 20 minutes according to the game page. So once I play it that’s it? Is there anything to bring the player back?

Philip Buchanan : While the story itself won’t change, the puzzle and mini-game elements of the game can be randomized and increased in difficulty. This changes the experience every time you play through, and I hope the challenge will bring people back for more. And of course as a co-operative game, the play style and temperament of your friend will also give you a different experience!


Cliqist : What are some of the inspirations behind the game?

Philip Buchanan : I’m a great fan of steampunk and adventure games, and growing up I spent hours arguing with my brother while playing hot-seat multiplayer games with him. The obvious culmination of this is 39 Days to Mars, a co-operative multiplayer steampunk adventure game.

Steampunk is great fun to work with as a creator. The raw and exposed mechanical side of the genre appeals to my background as an engineer, while the traditionally rich colours make it fun to work with as an artist. My version of steampunk is influenced by countless authors – the usual suspects Jules Verne and H G Wells, as well as Philip Pullman, Philip Reeve, Neal Stephenson, and the wonderfully stilted worlds of Jane Austen. There’s a hint of absurdity that probably comes from my love of dry British comedy, mixed with melancholy and longing for a romantic age of adventure and engineering that never really existed outside of our imagination.


39 days to mars 4Cliqist : Where does the title 39 Days From Mars come from? Last I checked the actual travel time is closer to 6 months.

Philip Buchanan : Steam engines are quite obviously more efficient than our current systems, and cut the voyage from 6 months down to 39 days. I’m sure our modern engineers will catch up eventually.  The inspiration for the game came when I was reading about VASIMR (the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket). It’s a new type of ion propulsion that is more efficient current rockets, and the designers reckoned that it would allow for a mission to Mars with a travel period of just 39 days. I always get excited about new technologies and this really captured my imagination; hence the conception of 39 Days to Mars


39 days to mars 5Cliqist : You don’t appear to repeat a whole lot between your games. Given the uniqueness of 39 Days to Mars do you see yourself going back to this world once the game is complete?

Philip Buchanan : Part of the appeal of game development to me is being able to explore new worlds and ideas. However 39 Days to Mars is shaping up to be a well polished but small game, and I suspect I’ll have notebooks full of ideas that simply won’t fit into the final game. If there’s enough interest once it’s released, I wouldn’t rule out revisiting this world in future titles.


Cliqist : I don’t suppose the game will be completed in 39 days?

Philip Buchanan : I’m sure everyone, myself included, would be overjoyed if the game was finished in 39 days! Unfortunately writing a game isn’t as easy as piloting a steamship to mars, and so it’s going to take a little longer. The tentative release date is in February 2014, but as with all things so early in a project this may be subject to change.  There is a silver lining however, because backers at the $20 tier and above will be able to play the game within 39 days. If you’ve backed at this level you get access to early builds of the game.


Cliqist : Can you close things out with a 39 Days to Mars inspired haiku?

Philip Buchanan :

first steampunk spaceship

crashes into mars because

they forgot to brake


A wondrous voyage,

an engineering feat wrecked

when Baxter slept in



The 39 Days To Mars Kickstarter campaign runs until March 4th, and if the initial $1,000 goal is met there’s the possibility that the game will move beyond its PC and Xbox 360 origins and onto other platforms like Ouya, Mac, Linux, and various mobile devices.

About the Author

Greg Micek

Greg Micek has been writing on and off about games since the late nineties, always with a focus on indie games. He started DIYGames.com in 2000, which was one of the earliest gaming sites to focus exclusively on indie games.

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