I recently had the pleasure of talking with Philip Buchanan, the creator of the new game 39 Days to Mars, and founder of indie studio It’s Anecdotal about his upcoming title. The charming little puzzler featuring two ambitious explorers trying to reach Mars in their Victorian-era vessel should pique your interest as it’s the perfect way to clear an evening with your favorite gaming partner. Check out the interview about the quirky co-op experience below.
The Outerhaven: So Philip what’s been the most fun part of developing 39 Days?
Philip: There are two parts of development I’ve found a lot of fun. In the beginning, there’s a lot of content to design and create, and writing the dialogue for the two characters was great fun. It was a fun challenge to strike the right balance between a dry, slightly self-referential humor without going too far and making the entire game a farce. Closer to the end of development, I’ve really enjoyed playtesting the game with people. The main reason for testing is to turn up bugs and problems in the design, but it also gave me the opportunity to watch people enjoy the game. The little moments where somebody who is stuck on a puzzle has an insight or sudden understanding – the “ah ha” moment – helped to make me feel that all the work has been worth it.
TOH: And your biggest challenge?
Philip: Don’t make a monochrome game! It’s been surprisingly difficult to design the artwork and the interface in a way that preserves the unique style while also being easily readable. A lot of indications I took for granted (such as green and red for active and inactive) don’t work anymore when your color palette is greyscale. Finding alternative options have been fun, but challenging.
TOH: What do you think players will enjoy most about the game?
Philip: I feel that 39 Days to Mars is a very unique game because it’s an adventure game that’s designed specifically to be played co-operatively. You can, of course, play solo, but it will really shine when played with another person – friend, partner, family, worst enemy – anyone really! A nice point as well is that the whole story is both unique, and short. It’s a game that you can play in an evening that offers you an incredibly varied experience without overstaying its welcome.
TOH: Sir Albert and Clarence seem like quite the dynamic duo with loads of charisma between them. What was your inspiration for the two gentlemen? The Victorian era setting feels inspired as well, what influenced that decision?
Philip: Both the characters and the setting were inspired by my love of old sci-fi and adventure books. I’m an avid reader, and everything from classic books to more obscure childhood favorites – Jules Verne, Asimov, W. E. Johns, Norman Hunter – gave the background for the two intrepid but slightly incompetent characters. Growing up in New Zealand, I’m sure some of the dry NZ humor has slipped into their personalities as well. The setting and art style came from a mix of engineering drawings & architectural plans from the time and the crazy inventions of illustrators such as Heath Robinson.
TOH: What have you learned from starting your own studio?
Philip: Leading up to launch, I never appreciated how much time you spend working on things that aren’t the actual game. Developing the game is really only half the battle – connecting with players who will enjoy it is just as important!
TOH: Did you always set out to provide the couch co-op experience the game offers? Was there ever a different vision you had for the title?
Philip: From the very first prototype, 39 Days to Mars has been a co-operative game. Some of my best gaming moments when I was young were playing local multiplayer games with my brother (although this also resulted in many arguments), and the cooperative element in 39 Days to Mars is inspired by this type of collective experience. One thing that did change from early concepts is that the initial version had many more puzzles that would be swapped in procedurally as you played. Each time you went on a voyage, the experience would be different. However it turned out that developing these co-operative puzzles was a tricky and time-consuming exercise, and in the end, the procedural element was (mostly) dropped.
TOH: With just two weeks until the release of 39 Days is there anything you’d like to tell our readers?
Philip: Now’s the perfect time to start hunting for a second-in-command to play 39 Days to Mars with! And if you add it to your Steam wishlist, you’ll be notified when it’s released and ready to play.
TOH: Thanks for taking the time to chat about the game!
Philip: It’s a pleasure! I hope you enjoy playing it.
Be sure to check out 39 Days to Mars when it reaches steam April 25th, and follow Philip (@philipbuchanan) on Twitter. For more information about the game visit, It’s Anecdotal’s official website and check out the game’s page on Steam. A big thanks to Philip for a great interview and for providing us with some more insight into the unique co-op adventure that is 39 Days.