Screaming skulls and garbage collection in Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor

You even get to keep your own in-game diary.

I'm not sure exactly what is going on in Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, but I do know that on my first day of picking up trash in a bustling alien bazaar I wound up eating an eyeball, wandering a labyrinth, and being cursed with a hovering skull that now follows me everywhere, periodically roaring and lunging at me. I met an alien who told me that I could remove the curse, but I haven't attempted to do so yet because having a screaming skull follow me everywhere is kind of cool. It's the closest thing I've got to a friend, and I'm not ready to shed it quite yet.

In this "anti-adventure game" from developer Sundae Month you play as a custodian, picking up garbage, trinkets, food or food-ish items, vomit (sometimes your own, depending on what sort of food-ish items you were brave enough to eat), and either incinerating these items, trying to sell them to vendors, or holding onto them in hopes they might come in handy later. The stated goal is to earn enough money to leave the spaceport, but I always seem to be short of cash since I'm not paid much for my job, vendors almost never want to buy my crap, and, on one occasion, an alien stopped me on the street and simply ate most of my money.

The spaceport itself is an enjoyable place to wander: colorful and filled with shops and sights, a 3D environment populated by 2D aliens and monsters. Some look like fried eggs on legs, some look like walking turnips, and there are lizard guys and bird people and ghosts and robots and blobs and aliens. It really does feel like an interplanetary flea market.

I've been alternating my activities, spending one day picking up and burning as much trash as I can find—there's a lot—and spending the following day just exploring, seeing what vendors have for sale, trying to learn my way around, and getting shrieked at by the ever-present floating skull. I don't know the purpose of most of the trinkets I find, if they indeed have one, but I've discovered that candles can be placed outside shrines as an offering, which may improve my character's luck. Luck comes in handy at lotto machines, which reward you, once a day, with a free item. My luck, thus far, has not been good, which may be due to that damned skull curse that I'm unwilling to cure.

Most NPCs are just scenery, but there are a number you can talk to and accept quests from. I'm currently bringing any empty containers I find to one of them, who has promised me a reward when I bring him a certain amount. I'm not sure what that amount is—he won't tell me—and I'm a little exasperated at what he considers a container. An empty coffee cup I found apparently doesn't count. He's picky like that.

You do need to eat at least once a day (I'd recommend buying food rather than eating stuff off the ground) or you won't be able to sleep, which you also need to do once a day. You also need to visit a 'gendershift' terminal every few days, and if you delay the screen begins to go a bit wonky and the text becomes garbled. The genders are alien ones: so far, I've been Hellgender, Artisnal Femme, Aggramoprh, and was once even told "Your gender is now DIRT. You feel amazing!" I did feel amazing, in fact. The skull roared, perhaps in agreement.

I found a post from a member of the development team on the Steam forums about the idea behind changing and choosing your character's gender:

"Multiple people on the team are nonbinary, trans, or otherwise gender nonconforming," the post reads.

"Gender in the game reflects the way gender in real life works (tho certain aspects are maybe emphasized). Gender is highly pathologized in our society and feeling okay about it often requires spending money on expensive treatments, or struggling through constant dysphoria—something represented by the screen and text effects. And, as an alien, it doesn't really make sense to have gender that aligns with human social expectations, so we felt this was an opportunity to do something potentially interesting.

"As with everything about the game, we totally encourage people to form their own interpretations! "

Much as I like my pet skull, lately I've been considering trying to break the curse. I'm afraid I might regret it, but its roaring is getting a little tiresome. I found a ziggurat I could climb, the one place in the game the skull will not follow me, and it was very peaceful up there without all its screaming. It was waiting patiently for me at the bottom of the steps, however, when I came back down. Like a dog. A loyal, shrieking, skeletal dog.

By the way, a wonderful thing about Diaries is that you can even keep your own in-game diary. Every night before you go to sleep, you can write up the day's events. Below you can page through a few of my diary entries. I guess it's a bit of a bleak read, but the life of a cursed alien spaceport janitor isn't an easy one.

You can find Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor on Steam.

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The first PC game Chris owned was Choplifter in 1982, and since then our staff writer has played at least three other games. He has a love/hate relationship with Early Access survival games and an odd fascination with the lives of NPCs.
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