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VDA Q&A: Mars Odyssey





You’ve just been nominated for a Viveport Developer award - how do you feel?


We’re exhausted! Also very excited that Mars Odyssey has been well received. We’re very proud of the team and the passion project they’ve brought to life.


Where did the idea for Mars Odyssey come from?


We’ve always had a strong passion for education and science. Joshua Qualtieri, one of our studio co-founders, studied Astrophysics in college with the goal of eventually working for NASA on their Mars missions, but instead he ended up making films and games. Using VR to experience Mars and simulate space exploration has been a dream come true for Joshua and Steel Wool Studios.


Do you really think there is life on Mars?


We think it’s possible. If there is life on Mars, it is some form of super hardy microbial organism that’s yet to be discovered. There’s a lot of interest in Mars these days. If Mars Odyssey can add to that excitement and motivate someone in the not too distant future to get on a rocket to have a look around on Mars, that would be awesome.


How big is your team and how long did it take to develop?


The Mars Odyssey team is relatively small. About eight or nine members were involved with the project from beginning to end. In total, it took about 10 months to develop and put final touches on the project working on it part-time for most of the Mars Odyssey team.


Tell us something about Mars Odyssey that we wouldn’t know from just experiencing it on Viveport?


Mars Odyssey was built to possibly be part of a larger educational narrative structure. In Mars Odyssey you are simply “The Traveler” and your guide is “Athena”. Our concept is to continue developing educational simulations in which the Traveler and Athena jump from experience to experience, not just space exploration themes. Think “Quantum Leap” meets The Discovery Channel.


During the development process, did anything surprise you along the way you didn’t expect?


Actually, we never realized how large Olympus Mons and Valles Marineris truly are. Mars is a little over half the size of Earth but it is home to the largest volcano and canyon in the solar system.


What do you hope people take away from Mars Odyssey overall?


I hope that people find Mars as fascinating as we do. We get so focused on our lives that we sometimes forget to look up at the night sky. We are amazing, albeit flawed, creatures. We have landed humans on our Moon, shot probes deep into space, and sent robots to Mars, concepts that even now sound insane if you really think about it. Mars is an incredible world and worth exploring. Landing humans on Mars will teach and further inspire us. We are not meant to stay solely on Earth; hopefully we’ll soon take those first steps towards the Red planet.


Are you planning future updates and adding more features to Mars Odyssey? What’s next for Steel Wool?


There are some tweaks we have in an upcoming patch to allow the player to replay the Rover and Lander sequences without having to accomplish the tasks -- tourist mode, essentially. Beyond that, we’re gearing up for our next project coming out later this year, Bounce. It’s a VR physics-based puzzle adventure that’s getting great feedback. It’s totally different from Mars Odyssey, but that’s one of the best parts about being an independent studio - we get to work on cool stuff that excites us.


If you could have anyone experience Mars Odyssey who would it be? Has Matt Damon tried it yet?


Unfortunately, Matt hasn’t returned our calls, yet. If we could have anyone experience Mars Odyssey, we’d be honored to help Buzz Aldrin to virtually step onto the surface of the red planet.


What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other developers?


Keep your artists and engineers collaborating at all times. It’s important for us that both groups understand each other's concerns, and learn from each other.


Mars Odyssey is available now on Viveport.


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