The Thoughtful Absurdity of 'Spaceplan'

by Nick Dinicola

22 June 2017

Spaceplan is a goofy game that still manages to pack a potent emotional punch.
 
cover art

Spaceplan

(Devolver Digital)
US: 3 May 2017

Spaceplan begins with a few well-worn sci-fi mysteries. You wake up on a spaceship orbiting an unknown planet, the electronics are down, you don’t know who you are, and you don’t know when it is. It’s a mashup of several types of sci-fi openings.

  
However, the potential drama or horror of the situation are quickly undercut by the onboard computer that, speaking through the “Word Outputter”, wakes you up with a “Wakey, wakey” before commanding you to tap the “kinetic generator button” to generate power. This brings your “Thing Maker” online—a thing… that can be used to…
make… stuff. It’s aptly named. Unfortunately, the massive library of things in the Thing Maker database has been corrupted, so instead of being able to make literally anything, you can only make potatoes. 

Spaceplan is a goofy game that doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s wacky and genuinely funny, yet despite the absurdity of its universe, its ending still manages to pack a potent emotional punch.

Since potatoes are the only thing your Thing Maker can make, you decide to make the best of it and… make potatoes. Or rather, you make other things out of potatoes. Things like planetary probes (probetato), satellites (spudnik, or spudallite), rovers (potato plant), and even orbital projectiles (potatoes wedges).

This goes on. You and your computer solving the mystery of the planet through absurd uses of potatoes. Then, after a few hours, the game takes a turn, and the larger themes come into view. You make a plan to save Earth by traveling backwards through time, or rather forwards in time until time reverses so that you’re technically moving backwards in time, until you reach the Big Bang at which point time re-reverses and begins moving forwards again. It’s legit science.

Naturally, it doesn’t quite go according to plan, and the game hints at a Quantum Leap-like journey home. However, Spaceplan not a long game, so we play what turns out to be the prologue to that bigger adventure. We play enough for the game to establish its tone and premise—a universe of potato-based aeronautics and astrophysics—and then comes the big ending montage (think 2001: A Space Odyssey filtered through the humanist humor of Douglas Adams).

You travel through time and space and dimensions, watching the planet beneath your orbit change size and shape, into a barren planet, an exploding planet, a yellow sun, a red sun, a pink sun, a teapot, a shattered cup, a giant eye, and so much more. As the weird images go on, they never cease to be entertaining, but they do become less funny. As the montage stretches on and on it becomes exhausting, if only because this is a mobile game designed to be played in 30 second increments and this cut scene lasts a good several minutes and I really should be getting back to work like now. You want it to be over.

In this moment the game touches upon the universal truth of this absurdist universe: You’ll never understand what you’re seeing, the universe is fucking crazy and it’ll never make sense, the most you can do is bear it.

I won’t say if you make it back to Earth or not because that’s not really the point. The point is how you survive in this nonsensical universe: Make a goal for yourself and strive towards it. Tap as long as it takes.

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