Roger Wilco of Space Quest fame had it good. Even though he had litter-ally the scrappiest job in the galaxy as the lowest ranking sanitation engineer (read: janitor), he got whisked away to exciting adventures. It's a whole different world for an Alaensee girlbeast serving as a municipally-subsidized trash incinerator at the spaceport in Xabran's Rock. Every day she gets up in her simple apartment, picks up her salary and prays to one of the nine goddesses of Xabran before setting out to the bustling streets of alien bazaars to incinerate trash the wild and wonderful population has left behind. She has to eat to keep going and before nightfall she has to be well-fed so she can sleep to recharge her incinerator pack. It's the same cycle every day. All nine working days in a week. Week after week.
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is strangely enchanting for a game where seemingly nothing substantial happens. There are vague quests like getting a cure for the curse of a floating skull you catch early on. The thing is, the skull who follows you all the time and screams at you every so often becomes so familiar in your daily drudgery that you begin to think of it as your friend. The lengths and the municipal credits you need to go to get rid of it becomes almost secondary and the ultimate goal of leaving the smelly rock of the planet behind you feels like a distant dream.
The numerous vendors at many bazaars of Xabran's Rock sell everything from food (needed) to overpriced junk (not needed!). Some items required for quests are priced so highly you need either to do a helluva lot of work or have a helluva good luck. Indeed, religion and luck go hand to hand in this world. You pray for luck and leave gifts at the shrines put up for each of the nine goddesses. You're going to need every ounce of a good omen, usually coming in a form of more trash to incinerate in the next street or finding an item of value you can sell to a specific vendor - for a too low a price of their listed value anyway.
Despite of disarmingly cutesy, colorful and intentionally blocky appearance of the game there's a melancholic undercurrent to it. It's always the juggle of mundane needs. You can't die or do wrong in the game so there's no fear of "game over" but low money equals more dreary working days. You may have higher goals but most often you just to need to feed yourself. If you settle with the cheapest vendor food all the time you get easily sick. Of course you can incinerate your own puddles of vomit to increase your daily income but by treating yourself with a good meal once in a while can also garner some good luck.
If a constant nourishing wasn't enough, your species being an Alaensee comes with a perpetual condition. When your vision goes wonky and the on-screen text becomes incomprehensible garble, you're going to need a quick gender fix. It doesn't change the appearance, just how you feel and may bring in some luck too. When the sun sets the streets get more sparse and the guards start their patrol. They have no respect for lowly-paid alien janitors and can rob a hefty deal of your hard-earned credits if you bump into one.
It's true, nothing substantial happens but at the same time you begin to hold dear all those little things that make up your daily life. You happened to find a goddess idol from a lottery kiosk, you found a particularly nice trash which has some vague value to you and decided to keep it to decorate your room with and you afforded yourself a warm meal. Suddenly those little things grow into bigger things, making a meaning to your measly life. Then you realize the game is a stripped down simulation of life. Ask yourself, how many of your days are exactly like the one before it?
I don't usually mind a good grind now and then but if that's all to the game I oppose. Basically Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is nothing but a grind all day long. But here I didn't grind for a better loot, experience or any other superficial attributes associated with gaming. Instead I kept playing and grinding for hope. The hope the next day would be better. The hope I can eventually book a seat in a spaceship blasting off from the cursed pile of rocks. Usually the next day isn't any better, it may be far, far worse but that didn't stop me from trying. Some day I'm going to make it. Even if I did nothing else than just incinerated lots of trash and picked up my crappy salary in the next morning, it alone felt like a huge achievement.
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor has already won an award at IndieCade 2016 indie game festival for Best Story/World Design. I wholeheartedly agree with the jury. The spaceport is populated with so many different species you're bound to see something new every day. Trash and item descriptions give tidbits of these inhabitants, their world and even the janitor herself. The best stories and adventures though are those you make up yourself as you go. Here it comes in the form of titular diaries you write at the end of the each day. I chose to write frankly about my janitor's dreary mundane life. Someone else could have come up with wonderful make-belief stories the poor girl escapes into after a hard day's night, as my friend suggested when I showed the game to him. It could be as personal as a real diary if you choose so.
I fell in love with my little blue poor janitor in her small alien world. I don't know if the game started its life as something of a jest against usual gaming trends but it has turned into a poignant metaphor of today's world, like how it feels to be struggling, different or alien to your surroundings. I must warn you though, this game is not for everyone and certainly not for those who only seek their thrills from the latest big-budget extravaganza. Or is it? Maybe a modest but honest game like Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor can help to see these strange new worlds beyond AAA-games.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.