Author’s note: This essay was written based on Version 15 of Inside a Star-filled Sky. On March 22, 2011, Version 16 was released. It introduced major changes regarding the game’s structure. Unlike Version 15, players of Version 16 all inhabit the same procedurally generated world and also have the ability to place flags marking their progress on a global server.
Obviously, this undermines certain themes in the essay, particularly the ones regarding the individuality and isolation inherent in each player’s experience. However, most of the material remains relevant.
Although they throw a monkey wrench into my essay, I think these changes are quite interesting, especially in light of the game’s previous versions. What started out as a unique, solitary journey has slowly become a more uniform, social experience. Inside a Star-filled Sky is still a big place, but players are no longer alone in its universe.
Additionally, this event is yet another example of the medium’s ephemeral nature. The game I wrote about is substantially different from the game as it now exists. What are the implications of such malleability? How do we study the history of the medium in light of its ever-changing nature? Is there a way to determine the “canonical” version of a particular game? Is a game ever truly finished? Are these questions even worth pursuing? In any case, they are questions for another day.
I hope you enjoy this piece on Inside a Star-filled Sky, Version 15. Thanks for reading.
Jason Rohrer’s Inside a Star-filled Sky is a difficult game to grasp, not only due to the game’s ambitious scale, but because its layers aspire to divergent goals and achieve varying levels of success. It’s nearly impossible to offer a single evaluation of a game that defies boundaries, so perhaps the best way to evaluate it is to mimic its own structure, zooming in and out between its nested layers of meaning.
On a macro level, the game encapsulates the medium’s current thematic fascinations with recursion, randomness, and challenge. These ideas are clever, but their implementation is hobbled by mechanical weaknesses that illustrate the difficulty of marrying an artistic vision with elegant craftsmanship. Finally, and most broadly, the game’s overarching themes offer philosophical messages about the humbling search for meaning in video games and beyond. Inside a Star-Filled Sky may be composed of simple little sprites, but those unassuming figures house sophisticated concepts.