IFComp 2019: Planet C

Planet C is an epistolary novel at war with an optimization puzzle. The premise is that it’s a space colony management sim, with stats about population, land use, energy generation, greenhouse gas emissions, and so forth. You make big decisions affecting these stats — usually, but not always, about which colony ship to order in next. Each ship you can choose, in addition to bringing colonists, has some kind of colony upgrade: more efficient energy generation, for example, or food preservation facilities to help you weather the winter. The goal is to reach a target population of 2000 people, and to do it sustainably. Sustainability features big in the story.

But at the same time, each round is also an exchange of letters with your lover back on Earth, who describes how things are getting worse and worse, environmentally and politically. The letters contain expressions of affection and personal photographs, but they’re also the delivery vehicle for both sci-fi technical exposition and details about your efforts in the optimization puzzle. I suppose the intent is to humanize the stats, but the juxtaposition winds up feeling weird. It’s a kind of weird that’s not out of place for hard sci-fi, though. The presentation works into it too: all the text is shown in a lightweight sans-serif font that fades in a line at a time, an effect that suggests a cleaner but less human kind of futurism.

One tangential complaint: It’s online-only. The download available at the Comp website contains just a document providing a link to different website, which means that the IF Archive won’t have any record of it when its author decides to stop hosting it or moves it to a different URL. This is far from the first time this has happened, and it’s always antithetical to the spirit of the Comp as I understand it. It also isn’t handled by the Comp front-end very well; even thought it’s web-based, it’s presented as a download of a MHT file which, as I’ve said, contains nothing but a link to the actual game. Presumably because the Comp’s “Play Online” links always link to files hosted on ifcomp.org.

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