The concept of infinity can be hard to grasp. Other than the Energizer Bunny, space, and Buzz Lightyear, there is not much regular exposure to the concept of something that goes on forever and ever and doesn't stop. Our puny human brains are only capable of so much!
Leave it to Jason Rohrer, creator of Passage, Sleep is Death, and more recently Diamond Trust of London, to create a videogame that explores the concept of infinity so incredibly well. Inside a Star-filled Sky presents you with so many opportunities to fix your setbacks, all while exploring infinite space inside what is essentially a twin-stick shooter. Seeing as it takes place in infinite space, there are no win or loss conditions -- just moving forwards and backwards continuously. And it's incredibly entertaining.
You start off as some sort of germ-looking creature, though it's not really important what you are since there's no plot to speak of. It's just you, powerups, enemies, and an endless sea of places to go. You can hold up to three powerups at a time, and they all work in tandem creating a vast amount of possible bullet combinations.
For example, you can have a powerup that increases your range, one that gives you a spread shot, and one that makes your bullets stick to the ground for a moment before disappearing. Each powerup will also increase the difficulty of the enemies -- the better the powerup, the more difficult the game becomes. It's crucial that you pay attention to which powerups you're getting, since they won't directly affect you. Instead, they affect the future you. That is to say, when you advance a level, you will have the powerups you acquired in the previous level.
It all ties in with the game's core mechanic: entering objects. You can go inside of any enemy, powerup, and even yourself to change the makeup of that object. So for example, if you come across an enemy who is just blasting bullets across your path and you know you don't have enough health or the correct powerups to take him out, you can enter that enemy, collect powerups which then alter the enemy's powerups in your favor, leave the enemy, and then take the enemy out.
Oh, but what if, while inside the enemy, you find no powerups that will help your scenario? Well, you can then enter a powerup and change its makeup! If you want to change a powerup from "longer range" to "more health" you can do just that. However, you might need to go a few levels deeper to get it just right. In that time, you might even come across more impenetrable enemies, starting the entire process over again. If you had a hard time understanding Inception, then Inside a Star-filled Sky is likely to blow your mind.
It's very easy to get lost in what you're doing and just pause and think "Wait, what was the purpose of me doing this again?" only to come back out of it and go "Oh yeah, this asshole was blocking my way!" If I get flustered after going ten levels deep in a videogame, I could only imagine how poor I'd perform if I were in the movie Inception.
There's also something that is not found in videogames frequently enough: interactive music. When you're isolated and alone, the music is incredibly dull and simple. As more enemies come close and appear on screen, the music will begin to pick up, resulting in a bigger sense of tension. It seems like a small addition, and you may not even notice it at first, but it goes a long way once you pick up on it.
Inside a Star-filled Sky is a game that makes me uncomfortable after playing for too long. My brain starts to wonder about how something can actually never end. I know that my life is finite, so how could I possibly explore something that never ends? Thinking about it makes chills go down my spine and a feeling of insignificance washes over me.
It's that same feeling I get when I think about the atomic layer of science. Trying to comprehend such an intense thought isn't a pleasant experience for me. The game itself, however, is a blast to play since it allows you to approach each scenario knowing that you can overcome it eventually; without the threat of failure, you keep striving forward. You never feel feeble or weak because you know that you can form a solution all by yourself.
You can buy Inside a Star-filled Sky here, and I recommend you do.
What's Up? Our panel at PAX Prime 2014, Far Cry 4, Destiny Beta, Vietnam & a ferret
8:00 PM on 07.25.2014