39 Days to Mars is a co-operative steampunk survival-adventure game. You play as Sir Albert Wickes and The Right Honourable Clarence Baxter, two 19th century explorers who have been chosen to pilot the HMS Fearful on its maiden voyage to Mars. You must keep the two explorers alive through the trip by attending to their needs, while at the same time keeping the ship from falling apart and solving the problems that arise.

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Ship Artwork


After working on gameplay for such a long time it was refreshing to get back to some artwork and design. Over the last month I tackled the massive task of designing and drawing the HMS Fearful - Albert & Baxter's un-spaceworthy space ship, and the place where you spend most of the time in the game.

Ship Artwork

I'd been delaying this because I knew what a big task it was going to be, and this meant it ended up hanging over my head for the last six months. However it turned out that thinking about the artwork was much more daunting than actually drawing it. Although it's still not quite finished, and there was a lot of code involved with the integration, finding a good look for the ship and drawing the artwork has been more straight-forward than I expected.

One of the biggest difficulties with the artwork is that the ship layout is procedurally generated, and so parts of the ship like ladders, staircases, balconies, and all the "interesting" bits needed to be aware of their surroundings and fit together. Here's just a few examples of the different ladder configurations that are possible in the game:


After drawing the artwork for the insides of the ship, I started concentrating on the bigger 'set pieces' that make the ship really feel like a crazy invention. I looked at the different shapes the ship could be generated in, and drew specific pieces that would (with a bit of programming magic) be linked up to the ship with ropes and supports.



In total, the ship is generated from 87 individual pieces that are selected according to the layout and fit together to make it look as though the ship is an organic hand-built vessel.


Removing a Cutscene

I also decided on the level transition flow, and drew the necessary artwork for it. Up to this point, I've had a cut-scene showing the HMS Fearful leaving from Earth. This is the only cutscene in the game, and it started feeling out of place. I sat down and brainstormed some ideas for keeping the level flow continuous, and I feel much happier about the new transition. The artwork is drawn, but it needs to be implemented in the game.



I didn't run any public playtests last month, but I did run the very first full-length playthrough! This was exciting to watch, and showed me many interesting points that I didn't pick up while testing individual puzzles. Some of the important points were the need for a save and load system; and the current lack of support for most types of input. These are both already on my list of features to implemented, but they will become more important as I start testing 39 Days to Mars with more people on a wider range of hardware.

Save & Load System

I started work on the save & load system. This screenshot sums up the current state of this:



So here's the monthly snapshot of progress. The lines crossed out are tasks I completed this month.

  • Gameplay & Balancing
  • Level transitions
    • Artwork
    • Integration
  • Artwork for the ship
    • Large setpiece
    • Interest pieces
    • Details and fillers
  • Steam platform integration
  • Save & Load System
  • Singleplayer Support
  • Sound & Music
  • Finalise Dialogue
  • Voice Acting
  • General Polish

Until Next Time

This month, I'll implement the level transition from the introduction to the ship. I'm running another playtesting session, and finishing off the small details in the ship so that I can cross the ship artwork completely off my list.

Don't forget you can follow @philipbuchanan on Twitter for more regular updates and development pictures!

From A to Z

From A to Z

News 2 comments

39 Days to Mars is playable from start to finish! All of the puzzles and mini-games are complete (and with artwork). There are still numerous bugs to...

Creating an Ending

Creating an Ending


I spent most of the month designing, implementing, and testing part of the game's ending. Up until this point I've been concentrating on puzzles and gameplay...

Two New Puzzles

Two New Puzzles

News 2 comments

In March I concentrated on play-testing three puzzles. Two that had improvements I wanted to test, and one I hadn't widely tested at all. I also had fun...

Puzzle Improvement

Puzzle Improvement


I spent February fixing bugs and getting some new puzzles ready for the public playtest that I ran. The playtest went well, showing me what worked, what...


As I see, obstacles of game looks like Don't Starve (Somehow). Well, it's definitely interesting. However, what exactly must keep me playing?

For example, in Don't Starve I must keep lighted areas lighted, meanwhile my health, mind or hunger level can fall down and I should plan each day to survive without any loses. Otherwise, night will catch life of player.

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surrealix Creator

I've yet to play Don't Starve, but the sense of pressure you mention is something I'm also hoping to capture in 39 Days to Mars. If you don't keep pushing forward with the puzzles & minigames, then problems compound and soon the ship is falling apart around you.

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Aaahhhh! Amazing visuals! Excited! The art style is going to be a huge selling point for this one. :) Keep it up!

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This is gonna be an awesome game !!!!!!

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Looks great! Glad to hear that it's coming to Wii U!

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39 Days to Mars
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Latest tweets from @philipbuchanan

I've been playing with some illustrative & ink style shaders to fade between scenes in 39 Days to Mars. #gamedevT.co

Dec 7 2016

This feels like a significant step! Now all that's left is to finish the game ... #screenshotsaturday T.co

Dec 3 2016

I may have spoken too soon. It's possible there's still a small problem with the pathfinding ... #screenshotsaturday T.co

Nov 21 2016

I finally fixed the last of the pathfinding bugs! #screenshotsaturday #gamedev T.co

Nov 20 2016

This weekend I'm doing controller support (aka : 'help-why-are-there-so-many-different-input-methods' weekend).… T.co

Nov 19 2016

And that wraps up day two! VR; brain dumps; cocktails; and an amazing masterclass on interactive storytelling with… T.co

Nov 15 2016

RT @jepo_au: @philipbuchanan my takeaway from the closing is that your tea making minigame is going to be a hit. #MIGS16

Nov 15 2016

Interesting talks at day one of #MIGS16, including photogrammetry, narrative design, and a short history of the Klo… T.co

Nov 14 2016

Fun fact : procedural ships require at least 9 staircase configurations. #screenshotsaturday Indiedb.com T.co

Nov 5 2016

Fixing up the last of the cutscenes. Read more on the development blog: Surrealix.com #screenshotsaturday T.co

Nov 1 2016

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