It’s the year 2033. In a mission run by the International Mars Science Foundation, six astronauts make history by establishing the first permanent human colony on another planet: Mars. This is the story of the National Geographic Channel’s Mars, a six-part global event series that combines equal parts science fiction with real scientific commentary. That’s where Make Mars Home comes in, a robust online experience by West Reading, Pennsylvania–based digital agency Neo-Pangea that immerses visitors in the 2033 mission to Mars. At the core of the site stands several interactive games that gauge visitors’ skills in guiding the spacecraft on its final flight path to Mars, repairing life support, piloting a rover on the Martian surface and operate a robotic arm to sort through raw materials; these games can be played either in browser or with virtual reality (VR) headsets. “Perhaps the biggest challenge we overcame was developing a method to offer a compelling selection of virtual reality games completely in-browser without requiring any downloads or special plugins,” says Jay Tremblay, lord high Vocabumancer at Neo-Pangea. “You can pop your smartphone into any Google Cardboard setup and play the VR simulations immediately.”
To draw inspiration from the site’s design, the Neo-Pangea team combined what they imagined to be the Internet of the future’s aesthetics with present-day sensibilities. The result elegantly combines rhomboidal designs with responsive features, including a visual live tracker of the ship on its way to Mars—created with BabylonJS—a 3-D rotatable ship and topographical map of the Martian surface, and multiple social media feeds with worldbuilding elements. Several recruitment training exercises draw users further into the International Mars Science Foundation; the exercises test users on their math and science knowledge, physical fitness, and an understanding of the mission’s psychological implications. Visitors can link their Facebook profiles to the site and share their results on social media—and see how they compare to a global leaderboard. “Since the full recruitment phase launched, many people are now using the embedded social features of the site to drive new recruits to the experience via Facebook and Twitter,” Tremblay says.