Today, I did something I never thought I’d have to do.
I said goodbye to a game that I will never be able to play again.
It’s not often that happens in the world of videogames. While dozens of consoles or computer systems have become obsolete over the years, many of the games played on them are still available—through ROMs, through ports and re-releases, through devices that work (but barely). It’s rare for a game to ever truly die. Just because it’s been awhile since you’ve played it doesn’t mean you can’t find a way.
But this time it’s different. Extrasolar, a browser game, will soon be no more. Faced with the rising costs of hosting the game’s website, the developers have recently announced that it will be shutting down on Dec. 1, leaving only a short time for Extrasolar to be played before it’s archived for good. It’s a sad denouement for an innovative title that never got the chance it deserved.
Extrasolar is special in that it initially doesn’t look like a game; its website is disguised as a sign-up page for a crowdsource project documenting a newly discovered planet. After submitting their information, the player is given access to a small rover to photograph and document unknown lifeforms, and an internal messaging system where they can communicate with biologists funded by the corporation behind the mission. As the photos are submitted and analyzed and information starts to come in, a startling discovery is made on the landscape, and the player must collaborate with a mysterious stranger to uncover the company’s sinister motivations. The game is both a mystery ARG and a botany project, exploring what life forms might look like in alien conditions and atmospheres while breaking the fourth wall to reward explorative gameplay with a satisfying sense of discovery.
With news of the game’s impending closure, I revisited my Extrasolar account this afternoon to download the old photos of all the plants and animals I saw with my rover and reminisce about how fun it was to learn that they evolved to adapt to their specific ecosystems. It’s uncommon to see a science fiction game explore the specifics of life on other planets in such an educational but interesting way. I remember how sad I was when the the Extrasolar Kickstarter, which was aimed to support the game’s next chapters, didn’t meet its goals, but I never imagined that one day there would no longer be a first chapter to revisit. It’s strange to think that Extrasolar is only four years old and yet soon it will be completely inaccessible and obsolete. It’s too soon. In a fair world, Extrasolar would have had a better shot.
With the curtain closing on this wonderful game, the only thing left to do now is play. Head over to the official website before Dec. 1, 2018 to say goodbye. The game is time sensitive, but the restrictions can be bypassed by paying a small fee, which I recommend, if at least for a parting gift to the developers, if nothing else. Farewell, Extrasolar. You will be missed.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.