[IF Comp 2019] Planet C, by Mark Carew

Planet C is a colony simulation game in which you have to generate enough food and power for a colony of 2000 people while keeping pollution in check. That last element doesn’t make too much fictional sense – how could such a small colony generate climate change, even if they were using the worst sources of power in the world? – but we can easily suspend our disbelief. The story is told in terms of alternating letters between the protagonist and his wife, who is back on Earth working for the ministry that coordinates the colonisation process. And so we have not just the fate of the colony to contend with; we are also watching the story of the protagonist’s family unfold.

The game is far less fiddly than I had anticipated. In fact, most of the detailed decisions – say, about how much power plants you should make – are made for you based on a small number of high-level decisions. I like fiddly simulation games, so I was slightly disappointed; but I understand the reasons for this choice, and it certainly makes Planet C more accessible. And the game is accessible: good lay-out, easy to understand choices, nice atmospheric pictures. Perhaps the colony stats could have been shown in a side window, but otherwise the presentation is good.

Given that the theme of the game is environment versus efficiency, I was expecting the game to require a difficult struggle between keeping your colony alive and not generating too much pollution. What this would have required is, obviously, that if I’m making the most environmentally friendly choice all the time, things go wrong: I’m then unable to grow the colony quickly enough. But this is not the case. I did make the most environmentally friendly choice all the time, and things went perfectly well. I breezed through, really, without any sense of urgency. Sure, I ended up losing 3 out of 2300 colonists, but that may have been because of the order in which I let the ships come rather than my basic decisions about agriculture and power. What, then, is the simulation trying to convey to me? Be green and all will work out well? I don’t really know. At least on my playthrough, no clear thematic message emerged.

The frame story could certainly have been more interesting. I was not getting a sense of who the protagonist and his wife are, as persons; the descriptions of chaos on Earth are a bit formulaic; and the vapid romantic formulae at the bottom of the letters were cringe-worthy, though that may have been the intention of the author. (Reading other people’s love letters is bound to be cringe-worthy, unless those people are, let’s say, Oscar Wilde or Lord Byron.)

All in all, nothing wrong with the game, and it’s an interesting experiment. But it would have been much stronger with a more powerful narrative or tone, or with a simulation that puts more pressure on the player and thus allows us to engage with the thematic message.

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