Review: Seedship

4 stars
An evocative sci-fi story generator about the fate of humanity

“And when they knew the Earth was doomed, they built a ship.” In one opening sentence, John Ayliff’s text-based browser game Seedship evokes stories of the journey to another world, of efforts to settle a new planet while avoiding the mistakes of the past.

1,000 colonists are all that is left of the human race, and they are asleep in hibernation chambers. You control a shipboard Artificial Intelligence that is meant to find a new home for humanity—a mission that will take thousands of years to fulfill.

You travel from one planetary system to the next, and you use scanners and surface probes to determine the suitability of candidate planets for human settlement. Does the planet have a breathable atmosphere, Earth-like gravity, tolerable temperatures, sufficient water and other resources?

Planets may hold other surprises for the colonists, from poisonous plants to high-tech ruins of previous civilizations. Based on all available information, you can decide to found a colony, or to keep searching.

Risks and Rewards

Every part of the ship, including the hibernation chambers, may be damaged during interstellar travel. On the other hand, you also have opportunities to upgrade your ship, which may improve your odds of finding a suitable home.

Ultimately, the success of your mission comes down largely to luck. You may find a lush paradise planet early, or encounter one toxic wasteland after another.

Seedship features no graphics, but its text-based interface, such as the scan results shown here, manages to convey a lot with few words. (Credit: John Ayliff. Fair use.)

What makes the game so enjoyable is the quality of the storytelling. Ayliff has stocked Seedship with many random events, from encounters with alien spaceships to the discovery of a brutal dictator among the sleeping colonists. Your choices (eject the dictator or let him sleep?) almost always have consequences, but those are often unpredictable.

When you decide that you’ve found the perfect (or at least adequate) new home for humanity, Seedship tells you about the fate of the colony. Did humanity maintain its previous level of technological achievement, or regress to a medieval level? Is your new society an enlightened utopia, or a tyrannical police state?

A single run can take only a few minutes, but you may find yourself playing Seedship for well over an hour to discover the different possible futures for humanity. If you enjoy sci-fi stories, I highly recommend giving it a try.