Planting Starseeds

Starseed Pilgrim turns a repetitive, frustrating exercise into a game of discovery and wonder.

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There are actual lines of poetry in Starseed Pilgrim, but that’s the least poetic part of the game. Playing the wildly unique retro-style platformer made me feel like I was back in college, trying to wrap my head around “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” for the first time. Like Darryl, I had a hard time appreciating poetry on my own. For whatever reason, it just never clicked for me when I read it alone. I’d try to bang my head against the page until meaning fell out, but of course, that didn’t work.

When I went to class, however, things changed. Someone would make an interesting point, and that gave me a little push. The messages behind the verse snapped into focus. I could leap from that idea to my own, and would somehow end up in a group discussion about something that seemed blank to me just hours before. It was almost as if there was a point to liberal arts education.

After Starseed Pilgrim‘s brief tutorial, when I found myself in the real game for the first time, I had no idea what to do. I was standing on a small platform floating in a white void. The only thing on the platform was a portal to the next level, so I stepped through. When I got there, I planted seeds in the blocks of the level. They grew in unpredictable ways, making beautiful sounds as they appeared. I tried to use these new blocks to climb as high as I could, but a creeping darkness followed me, eating away at the blocks I cultivated. Soon enough, it caught me. The world flipped, I was inside the level, and I didn’t know how to get out. I got trapped, or fell to my death, or one time even grabbed key and opened a lock at the bottom of the inside of the level. But it didn’t matter what I did. I always ended up back where I started, on the small platform facing the portal.

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So, I turned to YouTube. I watched a tiny snip of the game, just past where I got stuck, and I found the push I needed. I should build out not up; falling through the floor is the whole point; there are more platforms beyond the first. From those fragmented images, I could see the game laid out before me. What had been a cramped, frustrating, repetitive exercise blossomed into an expanse of possibility.

On my next run through the level, I unlocked the floor and returned to the platform, but this time, I brought seeds back with me. I planted them on the platform, careful to guide them out, not up. Blocks bloomed, I walked across them, and planted some more. They reached out into the void, slowly becoming a bridge to another world, and I followed them.

Nick Martens is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. You can email him, if you like.