National Geographic Channel
Alternate Reality Campaign
The Red Planet beckons, enticing Earth-bound dreamers to ascend into the heavens with the promise of a new home for humanity. A vast alternate reality campaign to recruit the brave souls who will colonize Mars rolls across the cosmos via more stages than the mightiest rockets.
Mars, an ambitious National Geographic Global Event Series, tells the future history of humanity’s greatest adventure: the quest to colonize Mars. Beginning with the first crewed mission to the Red Planet in the year 2033, six episodes infused with pulse-pounding fictional drama and real scientific commentary from the brightest minds of today tell a gripping tale of ambition and hope. Executive producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer deliver an entertaining, realistic take on a historic endeavor that we may live to see in our lifetime thanks to the efforts of some of the visionaries featured in the series.
The Make Mars Home “alternate reality” experience invited visitors to actively participate and to feel the wonder and excitement inherent in every step of a momentous journey to Mars as if it was currently happening. The International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF), the fictional organization sponsoring the mission, and its six-person crew shared mission details from their distinct perspectives for months to expand upon this theoretical future world. A “live” mission tracker and a robust colonist recruitment program used groundbreaking virtual reality simulations, exclusive original content, and a wealth of imagination to draw visitors into the adventure.
The Journey to Mars
The ambitious scope of this project allowed us to contribute to the series narrative like never before, both in terms of content and in the techniques we used to share it with the world. Virtually all of the content, from scientific articles and mesmerizing images to video interviews and in-character social media posts, was created in-house.
Striving for Realism
Physical prototypes helped to ensure a realistic feel for simulations like Orbital Entry and Rocket Landing by enabling us to evaluate different concepts and play mechanics during early planning. Quickly exploring different flight paths using lengths of copper wire, for example, proved to be more efficient than programming and testing unsuitable paths in the digital environment.
With so many diverse and technically demanding pieces, this project featured the talents of some of our favorite long-time international partners and experiential innovators, including the core creators of the Babylonjs framework used in many of the games. Collaborating across multiple time zones allowed us to keep project development running nearly 24/7 for months.
Hundreds of unique social media posts helped build a believable alternate world over the course of half a year. Using research, text, and art provided by Neo-Pangea, the IMSF posted dozens of scientific facts about Mars and space, the mission progress, and the people behind the mission to highlight some of the considerations that a future mission to Mars would actually face.
Inspired by Reality
The team studied, and was inspired by, decades of mission details from NASA and other space agencies to make everything as believable and accurate as possible. Even though the TV series narrative begins in the year 2033, virtually every aspect of the experience is firmly rooted in the real space science of today.
Team members traveled to Budapest to capture exclusive video and photo assets on-set with the stars of the series during principal production. Each member of the Daedalus crew provided site-exclusive, in-character performances that further developed their backstories beyond what appeared in the TV series. This unprecedented access to the production talent was invaluable in our quest to create a cohesive and believable experience.
Colonist Recruitment Program
The International Mars Science Foundation is searching for the next wave of Mars colonists. Apply now!
Making Mars Home
With nearly a full year from project ideation to the final stage’s release, Make Mars Home evolved into one of our largest, most prestigious projects ever. This fully responsive, multiplatform alternate reality adventure enabled participants to experience Mars in immersive, challenging ways. Beginning with coverage of the initial Daedalus crew launch and extending beyond simulated live views of the daily operations of a thriving Martian colony, the meticulously crafted vision of Mars was filled with the science of today and the hopes of the near future.
Establishing the Mars Universe
Nearly half a year before the series premiere, a “pre-teaser” mission tracker site appeared online that only hinted at the full mission to come. Early site visitors found a live clock counting down to the Daedalus crew’s projected landing date, a 3D model of the ship and its landing site on Mars, a visualization of where the ship was in relation to Mars, and tantalizing questions about whether the mission was real. Were six people really flying to Mars? Was humanity about to become a two-planet species? Weeks later, additional information about the mission appeared, including an archival video showing the launch of the first crewed mission to Mars.
During this initial phase, daily mission update posts began appearing on Facebook and Twitter (@marsimsf, @marsdaedalus). The IMSF’s posts offered scientific facts and mission background, while the Daedalus crew’s posts gave followers a more personal, behind-the-scenes look at the human side of the mission. By the end of the active experience, approximately 200 unique posts from the IMSF and the Daedalus crew had enhanced the series narrative tidbits and kept followers informed about the latest content enhancements to the site.
Launching the Colonist Recruitment Program
With the Daedalus crew well on their way, the world got a chance to meet the six people who bravely left Earth behind forever. Crew biographies and interview videos helped visitors to empathize with Ben, Hana, Javier, Marta, Robert, and Amelie, while details about mission partners and the plans to establish a permanent base on Mars laid the foundation for the narrative of the television series to come. “Live” video feeds from two cameras attached to the Daedalus spacecraft kept site visitors apprised of the mission’s progress.
Even before the Daedalus finished its historic journey, the IMSF began searching for the next wave of Mars colonists by announcing a forthcoming recruitment drive. One month before the Mars series premiere, the colonist recruitment campaign launched, and a flood of exciting, mission-inspired interactive simulations and assessments transformed site visitors into active mission participants.
Participants were able to log in with Facebook to create their own unique colonist application profile and upload a photo to see what they would look like in the iconic space suits featured in the series.
In-browser virtual reality simulations instantly transported colonist candidates to the Red Planet, where they were able to test their abilities in spacecraft piloting, surface rover driving, life support repair, rocket landing, and robotic manipulation. For those without VR equipment, all simulations still provided responsive, engaging experiences on desktop computers and mobile devices.
Colonist candidates were also ranked by their performance in 2D interactive evaluations. Mission-critical skills, including stress endurance, Martian botany, ice purification, and others were tracked alongside important physical and mental attributes that could affect mission compatibility.
How often to you exercise? How comfortable are you in confined spaces? Do you know how the speed of light is affected by an increase in ambient temperature? Responses to scientific, mathematical, and behavioral questions, combined with performance ratings from other activities, were used throughout the experience to determine ideal mission roles.
Recruits were able to track their progress through the entire experience via a persistent achievement gallery tied to their profile. Interplanetary online leaderboards showcased the “best of the best” and enabled participants to recruit their friends and form their own Facebook crew.
National Geographic celebrated the launch of the Mars series and the Make Mars Home online experience at a multi-day interactive exhibition in New York. Prospective colonists who attended the event were rewarded with customized Google Cardboard VR headsets to get the most out of their recruitment experience.
Exploring Humanity's New Home
After the IMSF had recruited its next wave of Martian colonists, the focus of the experience shifted. Prospective colonists were still encouraged to apply for future missions, but the site began to broadcast “live” video feeds directly from the growing Mars base. As the series progressed, these video feeds changed in tandem with key episodes to reinforce various plot points.
Curious Earth-bound explorers were also given unrestricted access to various areas of the base via a 3D tour that highlighted the many hazards of Mars and the innovations that contributed to the successful colonization mission. Archival videos featuring the top scientific minds of 2016, including Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and many others, were declassified and released to the public to explain some of the early challenges that had to be overcome to make the mission possible.
Our Multi-Planet Destiny
In the end, the experience was so convincing that National Geographic commissioned an additional content piece to explain to unabashed dreamers and hopeful futurists that the mission, the series, and the recruitment campaign were, in fact, fictional… for now.
Filled with forward-looking adventurers, the Neo-Pangea team is already training for the rigors of space travel in hopes of launching the first interplanetary digital agency. We look forward to serving you from Mars.