Warning: includes spoilers for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014).
Do you remember how the middle act of Interstellar involved scouting different planets that could be suitable for human life? And how different individuals in that story had differing opinions on how suitable the planets may be, the best option possibly being the planet furthest out, which no one had visited before?
Well, imagine if an AI protocol with a colony of cryo-state humans on a big space ship was wandering the galaxy in search of a suitable home, but could never seem to find one that met all the criteria. And then, imagine a second entity—unknown to the player if it, too, was AI or human—recognized that time and resources were running scarce, and the mission parameters would have to undergo some kind of compromise if humans were to live? And now, imagine you are the entity tasked with terraforming the “kind of okay” planet, all while trying to trick the all-powerful AI that does not approve of your new home? You also get to navigate through some very challenging, enclosed space puzzle platforming between the “hub” of different open-world continents which allow you to bring flora and fauna back to the planet.
This is the strange yet wondrous indie A song in the void—a game that comes with no prologue or explanation. You learn as you go: who you are, what you’re meant to accomplish and why. This has recently become more common in many 3D puzzle platformers (Portal, Talos Principle, etc). But despite having that “I’ve done this before—too many times” feeling as I started, it was a concern that left quickly within the first hour of gameplay.
I’ll share with you one “meta” moment I experienced while playing. When I called this game an indie, I meant that in the most authentic sense of the word. It was clear that this game came from a small crew of artists and programmers. Resources are not allocated appropriately, to the point where even on the lowest graphical settings, I would experience significant lag and hear my GPU grinding along. This on the same PC that runs Fallout 4 on “medium” settings at a smooth 30 FPS. There is a lot less happening in A song in the void than in Fallout 4. In other words, while playing this game, I felt like I was “settling” for a game that could have been better, just as my protagonist was settling for a planet that may not have been ideal. Too much void, not enough song.This experience of settling, especially in the context of finding a new home, makes me think a lot about my life and my vision for the future.
Speaking of “song”—one thing that kept me coming back to A song in the void was the surprisingly strong and dynamic soundtrack. Each continent on this planet had its own musical theme, with more layers added with each puzzle solved. As the continent became appropriately terraformed, and life began to blossom, so too did the music. In fact, non-lyrical vocal performances show up in most continents once you have reached a certain percentage complete. So there were beautiful aesthetic rewards, both audio and visual, in completing sections of the game.
Another thing that held my interest was the overarching plot, as well as the endgame plot “twist” (which I will not spoil for you). I wanted to see how things would resolve between the primary AI and … whoever that other voice was, telling me to terraform this planet at all costs. I wanted to see if I had a choice to make at the end, and if so, what was it? I wanted to know if I, the player, was a human or some sort of robotic AI construct sent to the planet. The developers most certainly back-loaded the story, so there is a lot of pay-off for those willing to stick it out. Fair warning: this game is packed with content, so be ready for some intense, action-packed puzzle solving complete with first-person 3D jumping. Which, for the record, is something I have hated doing even in the best of games (like Metroid Prime). One more area where I have to surrender my desire for the best and “settle” for less.
This experience of settling, especially in the context of finding a new home, makes me think a lot about my life and my vision for the future. Currently, I am living in a home that my family has “outgrown.” So we are house shopping. There is no such thing as the perfect house and there will be compromises. There may be things my wife finds more important than I do. Imagine if we were settling on a new planet!
My hope remains steadfast that someday, there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth where we will not settle for less; where we will have opportunity to participate in a bold, new way of life that balances work and leisure. Where man lives in harmony with nature and where imperfect social systems are replaced by what Jesus called The Kingdom of God. Whether that occurs on the planet we call “earth” or on some terraformed planet in another galaxy millions of years in the future, I remain an optimist. I’m glad I am not left with the protagonists’ dilemma in A song in the void. But our descendants may be, someday, if we cannot learn from our mistakes. The ecological ramifications of stories such as those in Interstellar and A song in the void remind us all that, to whatever extent we have to “settle” in maintaining our current home or searching out a new one, the responsibility falls on our shoulders.