Friday, 10 July 2020

Space & Solitude - A Boring, Lonely Game

(Or, I think it's gonna be a long, long time)

If you click the image there's a 32-page A5 booklet you can print and run a weird, unproven game called Space & Solitude.



It's explicitly for one player, in fact you should go somewhere that you're totally alone and free from distractions aside from 9d6, some paper, and some form of minute timer/stopwatch. Ambient space noise and some sort of beverage are good additions. 

Module 08: Synthesis

It's no secret that I've been thinking about space a lot lately, but really there are different types of space game. Voidheist is about scrappy space scum and warring factions. Intergalactic Bastionland is going to be utterly unlike real Space. 

I wanted something that gave me the feeling of being alone in space, and dealing with the long stretches of time that come with space travel. Could I make a solo game with real-time elements that did this?

I considered a game that might actually make you bored, but I wanted it to provide you with things you can do with that boredom, even if they aren't all that useful. 

Just making you stare at the wall for two minutes isn't interesting. 

Making you choose between starting at the wall and doing busy-work? I don't know if interesting is the right word, but let's see where this goes. 

Your ship has 26 Modules you can interact with, most commonly in the form of a minimalist die-based solitaire game. 

Some are just nitty-gritty running of the ship.


Some are sort of useful in setting the scene. 

Some are might seem barely useful at all.

Some are basically useless. This one doesn't do anything.


But maybe it will become relevant later.


Module 10: Sensation

I tried this out yesterday morning. I shut myself away in the living room with a coffee and rumbling noise in the background. 

The book tells me to set a goal. Let's keep it simple: Explore the Unknown. 

I look through the modules, pretending I didn't write them. Let's get our bearings and start with the Module 24 (Habitat) that I showed further up the post. 

Good thing: My ship is filled with memories from home. Photos, bits and pieces. It's cosy.
Bad thing: It's cramped and claustrophobic. Would love to have more room somehow. 

I roll three dice. Two of them are 1s. 

Shit, well now I have to make my living conditions worse in two ways? 

I start to panic with the claustrophobia, and start shoving some of the useless junk into the airlock. I shove my keepsakes in there too, I want this place minimalist and clean. I blast them out into space.

Now I have space, but this place is cold and heartless. I miss home more, now.

Well this was a disaster, but at least it makes good log-fodder. I jot my thoughts down in the log to recover some dice. I finish with a new goal: "Get home"

Already abandoning my mission. But maybe I'll change my mind.

I use Module 15 (Starchart) and ask how far it is to home. 6 Jumps. The maximum possible amount.

There must be a shortcut.

I Scan my current system. Now I can ask a few questions.

Is there something here that can get me home faster?
Soft yes.
Is it alien in nature?
Hard yes.

So there's a jump gate. Sleek silver faded to grey. I send a probe, rolling a 5, so it'll take 5 minutes to return.

I watch the timer ticking down then remember this is exactly the time when I should be doing other things.

I use Module 00 (Process) to get some of my dice back. It's mindless but a little time consuming. While I was Processing I forgot to turn the timer. I flip it and make a mental note to keep an eye on the timer but definitely not to watch it. 

I have a Beverage with Module 12. I sip my coffee. 

Should I try and fix up my habitat a bit? I give it another try.

I roll a single 1, so it needs to get worse. The ship is running inefficiently, so the temperature is lower than it should be. It's outright cold in here.

I look at Module 08 (Synthesis). It would be simple enough to create some warm clothes. But I'm in no rush. Let's try and make a bowl of actual delicious food. Hot ramen. Delicious enough that it's going to be Complexity 2.

I succeed. Think that would warm me up nicely. Maybe I should write a Log?

I look at the time and it's run down again. I flip it over and slam it onto the table. I need to remember to keep one eye on that.

Module 09 (Broadcast) looks like it's unlikely to succeed, but I give it a go. I send out a message asking if there's anybody in range. 

I wait a turn while the message beams out.

I roll the dice and try to fit them into sets and straights, scouring all frequencies for contact. It's no good. I'm alone out here.

And so it went on. I won't detail the whole game here, but the alien jump gate was a dead end, I managed to make my ship a bit more comfortable again, and the long journey home continues. 

I played for just over and hour and it was interesting. Bits of it were fun, and I ended up with a more interesting narrative through-line than I was expecting. 



Module 18: Reconcile

But where did this come from? This isn't like anything else I've written. 

First I thought "is that one of those Lyric Games I keep hearing about?"

Then I reminded myself what lyric games are. I suspect any definition is going to be disputed, but here's the best fit I could find.

Lyric Games elicit feelings or tone as much in the reading of the game as playing it. They sit between a game and a poem. 

So really Space & Solitude is sort of an Inverse Lyric Game. 

That's utter nonsense, of course. 

But you won't really get anything from reading the book and not playing it. Assuming you've sat down and decided that you're playing, the act of looking through the modules and their instructions puts you in the role of the lone pilot straight away. The words aren't really evoking a feeling, but the act of reading through these modules and thinking whether any of them will be useful certainly does. If all you do is read the book then you don't get to experience the act of sitting down with the timer running, your dice ready, and thinking "what should I do"?

It doesn't talk about boredom, self-motivation, isolation, repetition. It forces you to engage with those things by playing the game. 

Maybe it's one of those Journal Games? It basically has a journal element.

Sure, but you don't need to use it. Most people will, there's even mechanical encouragement to do so, but in my play-through I found my log was more like a set of notes with the occasional candid comment. Maybe it's just because I hate writing by hand. 

Found an abandoned station, looks human. 
No threats here, seems like the exodus was peaceful and orderly.
Reminds me of home. I take a few photos with me.
They aren't my family and friends, but it's better than nothing. 

The contents of your log can overrule other things that happen in the game. If your Probe Module assures you that this abandoned outpost is safe, then later on when you're running the Exploration Module you might roll poorly and decide that it doesn't make sense. It's right there in the log.

But things happen outside the log. You might write down everything that happens, but I certainly didn't. Some things are just a fleeting moment in space. Just because they aren't in your log don't mean they didn't happen, but they only exist within you now. 

There's also more outright gameplay than you tend to see in those games. There's the macro-game of trying to reach whatever goal you've set yourself, a bit of resource-management in the dice, and a number of mini-games involving rolling and manipulating the dice.

But most of those mini-games are barely more complex than "roll and try to get a pair". Some have a bit of push-your-luck, one has some maths-skills, and some are outright impossible to fail, just there to take up time. 

I spoke about Knytt over on a recent video. It's an exploration platformer, but there are stretches of levels where there's essentially no challenge. You might be jumping up a set of stairs, running over flat ground to hop over a tiny water hazard, or just bounding over jagged hills. There's no real risk here, but something compels me to try and do it well. It's the joy of completing a small, simple task even when there's no risk. 

There's probably a word for this in a language I don't speak. 

Some modules feel that way by design, and I'm not sure whether it's some weird quirk of my own preferences or something that people will find small satisfaction in. 

So in an unhelpful conclusion I don't know what I'd call it. It's a solo game that you can run like a journal game as much or as little as you like. 

Next

If this has any legs at all there are changes I already want to make, keen to keep up the minimalist approach. 

If you decide to give the game a try then let me know how it goes.