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Indie Nation #54: Strange Adventures in Infinite Space

8:00 PM on 03.20.2009 // Anthony Burch

Time for another Indie Nation, wherein we highlight a kickass independently-made game that may be worth your time.

What with all my endless bitching about games that waste the player's time, now seems as good a moment as ever to talk about Digital Eel's indie classic, Strange Adventures in Infinite Space.

Proudly allowing players to "explore the galaxy in 20 minutes or less," as the game's official page proudly exclaims, SAIS is noteworthy in that it takes entire epic, nonlinear space exploration/RPG experiences that could easily last over forty hours and condenses them into digestable, replayable, satisfying 20-minute rounds.

Every time you boot up Strange Adventures in Infinite Space, the game randomizes an entire universe and provides the player with a simple goal: go out and explore the cosmos, get into fights, and find treasure, and get back to your starting base before your time limit is up. A few years of game time pass by in a minute or so, leading to some refreshingly fast-paced epic journeys condensed into the length of a lunch break. The incredibly short round time means not only that every playthrough is jam-packed with new and interesting stuff to do, but that (especially when combined with the randomized universe) the game lends itself to constant replayability while you're bored and have a few minutes of free time.

Granted, Strange Adventures in Infinite Space is remarkably expensive for a nearly decade-old game, so maybe you'll want to try the demo first. Alternately, you may want to try the more recent sequel, Weird Worlds in Infinite Space, which I haven't yet played but is allegedly much better. 

Or, as always, you can hit the jump as I ramble about why I like it.

On the one hand: really short games like SAIS, or Minotaur China Shop leave you wanting more, yearning to just have a little more time with them so you can just get a little more stuff for your character/spaceship/walking bull-man. They leave you inherently not-quite-satisfied, because they end before they can try your patience.

On the other hand: they end before they can try your patience.

Replayability is so seldom taken into account when people judge the quality of a game -- we still bitch when a game is "too short," even if the mechanics and/or story are interesting enough that we might well come back to it over and over. Games like SAIS or anything Blurst has made will almost always leave you wanting more after a single playthrough, or a second, or a fortieth. A week after Minotaur China Shop came out, I'd put more time into it than the second God of War -- not intentionally, but because I just so often found myself with exactly ten minutes or so to spare and I felt like completing a small, self-contained game in that timeframe. SAIS's rounds takes a little bit more time to play through than Blurst's stuff (if you haven't checked out Blush, do so), but the sheer breadth of stuff you can find and accomplish is so remarkable that every playthrough feels different from the one before it.

Now, there's also the possibility that you'll get totally screwed and find yourself roving aimlessly around the universe for fifteen minutes with nobody to fight and nothing to discover, but that's alright. Since the game is so short by its very nature, you won't feel guilty about starting from scratch and getting a brand new universe.

Strange Adventures in Infinite Space accomplishes something truly rare, and truly remarkable. It is enormous in scope, and always has something new to offer the player, yet it is remarkably intuitive, replayable, and fun. Though the game's "explore the galaxy in 20 minutes or less" catchphrase sounds like some sort of ironic or self-deprecating joke, it's 100% serious; if you give SAIS just a smidgen of your time, it won't be wasted. The random gameplay can result in some cool emergent situations, the game's blindingly fast pace gives you something to do every moment, and the concept is just so generally well-executed that I'm almost tempted to buy the game's sequel right this second.

Except Weird Worlds costs $25, which is kind of iffy. Digital Eel needs to get with the program, put their stuff on Steam, and enact a price drop.

But anyway, yeah. Demo's here, try it out.

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