Starseed Pilgrim is a game made by Alexander Martin, Ryan Roth, Mert Bartirbaygil, and Allan Offal which I just started playing this week. It’s a game that dissects video game literacy, attempting to capture the feeling of what it means to not know how video games work and how to introduce outsiders into new and unfamiliar terrains. Not only does it invite outsiders in, it asks them to change its world through experimentation with abstract tools. Martin says: “Create systems that are interesting to explore, and people will get more out of their own learning than any tutorial would ever give them.” The game does not have a tutorial, or instructions besides vague poems strewn across its surface. Interactions must be paid attention to- you’ll probably need notes to understand the elements you are playing with. However, in the end, the game asks the player to construct its world, to plan and ultimately make the chain of building blocks that will let their goals be realized. In a way, there is no one way to solve its puzzles. The game is completely emergent, assigning you the role of gardener, refugee, and builder. Abstraction through cellular automatic blocks and corruption are your only real visual guides on the journey.
In the designer’s words: “I really don’t like describing Starseed Pilgrim! But if I don’t, I’m pretty much asking you to buy it based on… images, and that’s worse. It’s a game about discovery and learning, and eventually about mastery of a strange set of tools. It’s been said, and echoed, that it’s a game you have to experience for yourself.”
Martin built Starseed Pilgrim in Flash. It took a year to do- “Starseed Pilgrim had been 90% done for a year and a half before I finally finished it. This wasn’t even a case of “the last 10% takes 90% of the work,” there was honestly almost nothing left to do but to make some tough tiny decisions, write some super easy code, and get sound. Sound ended up being the dealbreaker, though; it was worth the wait.”
I would say it is certainly time consuming, and I just started it. If you are willing to feel like you did the first time you played a videogame, unsure how it worked or how to interact with it, then Starseed Pilgrim should be of interest to you.