Seedship is a text-only game of interstellar exploration and settlement. You’re the sentient AI of a generation ship containing 1000 humans fleeing a doomed Earth, and you must deal with threats in deep space and evaluate target worlds for suitability. There are always tradeoffs: a world with breathable air and charming wildlife may guarantee comfort, but without resources will end in a genteel return to the stone age. A barren world rich in minerals and alien ruins means advancing human technology and culture, but at the cost of being enslaved to whomever owns the water generation plants.
If the aim is to find the best world for mankind, the fun is found subjecting it to the most punishing hell planets the cosmos offers. When I came across this total nightmare, I knew we had found home:
Things didn’t work out. Most colonists died and the rest descended to savagery.
I haven’t found a perfect world, but the following one got me to 10,000 civilization points, which feels like the threshold for success:
Every compromise matters. Even with such a lush world, its ecologically exhaustion (presumably thanks to whatever left the monumental ruins) resulted in a technological collapse described as "bronze-age cosmic enlightenment." If it were an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, we would most certainly be wearing textured earth tones.
Each combination is worth exploring, to find what sort of environments get you to theocracies or into endless war with natives. When I spotted the following world, I immediately thought "cybyerpunk corporate dystopia!" and was not disappointed by the results:
Created by SF writer John Ayliff (Twitter, Patreon), it’s incredibly addictive, and a great example of Twine’s potential for offbeat games where generative elements combine with handwritten storytelling. I was up to 2 a.m. last night exploring!
Two criticisms. First, the perils of space, which limit your ability to scan worlds and your potential to successfully colonize them, create gameplay but cut the drug. (What if we assumed we get there in one piece, traveling on Battlestar Kishōtenketsu?)
Second, the stories generated, by their nature, become repetitive. Posed as historical footnotes, they create an appropriate atmosphere of clinical, encyclopedic distance, but it can only tickle the imagination for so long. Games like this often come down to Attribute Bingo: hunting for particular combinations in search of a story one expects to find there.
I understand a little about the use of grammars and madlibs in code, though, and appreciate just how skilfully Seedship embodies its own ambition. The next level—telling generative stories with characters and details that truly engage us—lies over a vast gulf of complexity and cost. We might need generations, and a powerful AI, to get there.