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The Story Behind Waking Mars

Tiger Style was founded in the United States in 2009 by game industry veterans David Kalina and Randy Smith. Kalina had formerly worked as a programmer with a few different studios, including Ion Storm and Midway Austin. He has credits on such famous series as Deus Ex, Thief, and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell. Smith had initially worked at Looking Glass Studios, where he did design work on the first two Thief games, among other projects. It was at Ion Storm where the two first crossed paths before moving on to different paths.

Tiger Style began with Randy Smith, who was looking to set up a studio and reached out to all kinds of contacts to see who would be interested in joining up. David Kalina signed on and was so enthusiastic that Smith invited him to co-own the company. Like many game development start-ups at the time, the new team was fascinated by the possibilities the iPhone had to offer. It didn’t hurt that it was relatively easy to become a developer on the platform, which was ideal for a new name looking to establish itself.

The studio’s first project was Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, a rather unique action-adventure game where the player controls a spider who inadvertently uncovers a mystery while going about its business of catching its food. The game took about eight months to develop, twice as long as originally planned, but the hard work paid off: Spider was a genuine hit in every sense of the word, pleasing critics and players while also selling quite a few copies. Now the question was how Tiger Style would follow up such a clever, enjoyable release.

One of the core ideas behind Tiger Style’s design philosophy was to make games without guns. Or to put it another way, the team wanted to find different kinds of core gameplay mechanics than simply destroying things. If you take away destruction as a concept, the mind naturally goes towards certain other ideas: exploration, creation. One criticism of Spider was that some found it got repetitive after a while, so the challenge with the next game was to make something with a bit more complexity that still held onto the accessibility that is so vital to reach a wide audience.

Early on, the concept for the new game involved exploring caves. After spending some time kicking the idea around, the team felt like it was missing a certain something. A love of space, both in science fiction and in reality, brought in an important piece of the puzzle. Exploring caverns on Earth has certainly been done many times, but shift that setting to another planet and it becomes a little more intriguing. Mars seemed as plausible a choice as any, particularly as at the time there was a new wave of interest in the Red Planet leading up to the launch of the Curiosity rover.

NASA’s Curiosity rover took this selfie on Oct. 11, 2019, the 2,553rd Martian day of its mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Full image and caption ›

A lot of the buzz around Curiosity was in its ability to more thoroughly explore our celestial neighbor for any signs of life. To be sure, notions of little green men and UFOs were fully off the table, but it was hoped that even a simple form of life could be discovered through careful exploration of the planet’s surface. Humans have long studied Mars from a distance, but who knows what lies beneath its surface? And it’s in that question that Waking Mars found its thesis statement: If we were to explore the caverns of Mars, what would we find? If we found life, what might it look like? Influenced by several books on the subject, the Tiger Style team got to work on creating an elaborate yet believable ecosystem.

While parts of the work from Spider could be used, most of the game had to be created whole cloth. This resulted in a much longer development period, and required a lot more team members to contribute their talents. The game was finally announced in August of 2011 under the title Lost Mars. The team decided to change that name after some research turned up some potential conflicts, going with one of their first contenders for the game’s name: Waking Mars. The game released in March of 2012, and the response was extremely positive from critics and players.

Waking Mars earned high review scores from most media outlets, including a perfect five stars from TouchArcade and a Gold Award from Pocket Gamer. While end of year awards tend to favor games that hit later in the year, Waking Mars had no difficulty remaining in people’s memories. It won TouchArcade’s 2012 Game of the Year award, and was also highlighted by Apple in its end-of-year App Store awards. It didn’t hurt that in November of that year the game received a major update to coincide with its release on Android and home computers. Every line in the game was now fully voice acted, and the art received some adjustments as well.

A still shot from video of an early voiceover recording session (courtesy of Tiger Style on YouTube.)

While Tiger Style maintained its games for quite some time, the developer eventually had to move on to other projects, leaving its mobile catalog’s future in question. Fortunately, the game was picked up as part of the GameClub library in 2019. It has been fully updated and is now ready to reveal its secrets to a whole new generation of players.


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