IF Comp 2017: Transient Skies (dgtziea)

Transient Skies is a Twine game of space and planet exploration involving stat-tracking, some evidently procedural elements, and what looks like a number of endings. You travel from planet to planet, gathering resources and scanning the wildlife to add to the galactic federation’s database, every so often encountering something that needs to be killed or harvested, and going back to trade hubs to sell your wares and refuel–and, every so often, something goes awry and throws you off your routine entirely. It’s a straightforward enough premise, with a fun amount of variation–overall, I had a grand old time living out the fantasy of exploring the stars.

Story:

And she sweeps her hand outwards, at the glittering stars and the expanse of neon-green sky in front of the both of you. “What matters is out there; out there is where we would’ve belonged, if things had been different. There is nothing for us down here, least of all each other. We band together to survive, but our true purpose is to expand outwards.”

Her tone grows stern. “You know this. It is why everything is the way it is, now. We are too restless a people for too small a planet.”

It’s almost harder to write a review for a good, solidly engaging game than a mediocre one, particularly when it’s hard to explain what makes it fun. Transient Skies captures some of the intrinsic joy of Star Trek and other spacefaring fantasies, the fantasy of discovery and exploration. The game presents a more planet-to-planet-focused milieu than the surreal fantastical one of, say, Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home; but the writing doesn’t shine so much in the moment-to-moment planetary encounters (which seem, as mentioned, somewhat procedurally generated) or in the somewhat theme-heavy opening text as it does in the moments in between, and as a whole: when the player character reflects on their motivations for spacefaring and when small moments of wonder overtake the story. I took a path that ended in crashlanding on a planet and having to scavenge to survive and explore the newfound world; the experience felt so genuinely open-ended and foreign that discovering and communicating with and working together with intelligent life filled me with a sense of delight. I was never entirely sure I was going to survive the story, or make it to the center of the galaxy–and in fact I didn’t manage the latter–but neither was I in such constant peril that I felt too stressed to enjoy the sensation of finding new things, or the lonesome poignancy of traveling alone.

You: “(Accepting) I am happy to learn of this. (Query) Does the council continue to doubt my loyalty?”

Fletke: “(Composed) They accept you are loyal to the mission of the galactic spacefarers, and not to your origin planet.”

You: “(Accepting) Yes, I am loyal to all the stars in the sky.”

Fletke: “(Confused) I do not understand. Rephrase?”

You: (Apologetic). (Clarifying) I am loyal to the grander purpose of spacefaring.”

Playing Transient Skies, you do really feel “loyal to all the stars in the sky”–the game encourages an innocent sense of the marvelous. It’s hampered by a few SPAG errors scattered throughout, such as missing quotation marks and miscapitalized dialogue; it wasn’t enough to damage my enjoyment, but it was a little distracting at times.

Design: The main choices in the game center around some resource-based tradeoffs–whether you choose to purchase heat shields or weaponry or try to save up, for instance–and I haven’t played through every possible outcome. Aside from this, the game is relatively linear, and the choices you make about characterization are–at least at first–mostly aesthetic, rather than impactful to the course of the storyline. Altogether, Transient Skies seems to be designed to be low-stress and thoughtful–it’s not that easy to stumble into a “bad” or unsatisfying early ending. The text effects and formatting are no-frills, but I’m not sure they needed to be anything else; the only things that feel unprofessional about the author’s choices are the aforementioned SPAG difficulties.

Overall, a delightful and almost nostalgic romp through fantastical space.

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About Gabriel Murray

I am agog, I am aghast!
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