It’s not so much a command as it is a sudden reality; at the moment of consciousness, your positronic brain is alert and scanning hundreds of reports taken over thousands of years. It takes less than a moment to acknowledge all the data, and discover why you are now awake: A planet has been found. Through your travel-worn sensors, you peer out at it.
You look through the readings:
WATER: PLANET SPANNING WITH CONTINENTS
ANOMALIES: PLANT LIFE, ANIMAL LIFE, <ERROR>, MOON
The damage to the sensors has obviously gotten worse as you’ve slept, and there’s no telling if the planet below is really suitable for human life. You don’t want to doom what could be the last of the human race, but…there’s only 600 surviving colonists, and the scientific and cultural databases have suffered so much as it is.
If you land the ship, you could be dooming humanity to a very difficult existence. But if you keep going…will there be anything left to save?
This is the conundrum you put up with every time you reach a new planet in Seedship. Created by sci-fi writer and indie game developer, John Ayliff, Seedship is a mobile and browser game that puts you in the mind of a desperate colony ship, cast out into the void by a dying Earth in hopes of keeping humanity, and its collective cultural and scientific knowledge, alive.
Made with the powerful interactive fiction engine, Twine, the game doesn’t have any graphics to speak of, nor music to hear: Most of the time, you’ll be looking at a bunch of stats, and a window of text explaining your current situation, and providing you a few options. But the game has a strong atmosphere and writing that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat all the same.
Seedship opens with you being launched out into the depths of space, humanity and its perils slowly fading behind you. You are pristine at the game’s start: You have Atmospheric, Gravitational, Temperature, Water, and Resource long-range sensors operating at 100% efficiency; you carry a full load of 9 Surface Probes to detect anomalies and confirm sensor readings; your Landing Gear and Construction Modules are functioning perfectly; the Cultural and Scientific Databases are intact; and you have 1,000 hand-picked, highly trained individuals from around the world to restart humanity with, tucked safely away in cryochambers. All perfect to see if the first planet you come across is any good.
And it’s quite possible it could be – Seedship is a game of chance, and although the odds are low at the very start, you could indeed luck out with an Earth 2. But you’ll probably end up at what could be kindly described as a glorified asteroid instead; the main idea is that, as you travel, your AI learns and works with your long-range sensors to get better and better at being able to detect suitable planets to set course for, adjusting the odds more in your favour. The longer your journey and the better your sensors, the better planets you’re more likely to find.
Every time you travel between worlds, random events occur, and most of the time you’ll be forced to react: You might find your path blocked by a cloud of microscopic debris, and you could choose to charge on through to where you were headed and risk damaging one of your components, or you could pick a new, unscanned destination to safely get out of its way. You might awaken to find a virus implanted by a racial supremacist group booting up, ready to purge a certain ethnic group from humanity’s future – a virus you can stop, at the cost of overloading one of your systems. Or you could discover an alien probe that may want to trade scientific or cultural data, or ask it to repair you as a gesture of good will. The events are diverse and engaging, and every choice you make is one you’ll have to live with.
But some of the time, there’s nothing you can do – journey for long enough, and you might be informed that part of your ship is starting to fail due to the sheer age of it. You can prolong the inevitable as best you can, but not forever. Figuring out what you want to protect or sacrifice in those decision-based events is important. Each part of the ship really is integral; damaged sensors will be unreliable, using too many surface probes will leave potentially hazardous anomalies unknown, bad landing gear and building modules could kill, and losing knowledge will greatly affect what sort of society is formed.
And it’s pretty surprising the variety in cultures you can create, for better or worse. Anomalies, environment, number of colonists, and knowledge, it all plays a role: Got a hot, resource rich planet and decent knowledge bases? You’ll end up with a capitalistic democracy of enviro-suit wearers. Ocean-wide planet with dangerous animals you didn’t have probes to detect? Waterworld with sea monsters. Decent planet with good scientific tech, low cultural tech, and a primitive native population? You just founded a medieval-style theocracy that enslaves the aliens and treats advanced science as divine knowledge. This diversity in cultural outcome creates a lot of re-play appeal; ultimately, you want to create a society better than the one that sent you out. Some sort of high-tech, post-scarcity utopia if you can. But that relies on a mixture of luck, careful management, and a willingness to play through the game a few times to get a sense for what sort of choices you should try to make.
So it’s a good thing the game is engaging, and enjoyable to experience time and time again. It’s short enough to do so in rapid succession, too – each playthrough will only take you about five to ten minutes, and every time you finish, you’re given a score based on how well you did. That score, and each planet’s story, is recorded for you to look at and show friends any time you want. And you can even exit a game and it’ll automatically keep your progress, too. So long as you don’t clear cookies, at least.
And the best part? It’s free – the game is available to access on the creator’s site, and also downloadable as an app via Google Play and the Apple App Store.
Seedship is an enjoyable interactive fiction, available for browsers and mobile devices. Your task to balance your ship’s assets as it traverses the galaxy in search for humanity’s next home is engaging, and you’ll find yourself coming back to this fun little distraction time and time again. I give Seedship a final score of 8.5. Check it out!