Human Orbit: Look At What I Did, Dave

As quotable as 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s HAL is, he’s not a character whose shoes – erm, digital footprint – many games have allowed us to fill. Human Orbit promises to change this, enabling us to finally live out our ambitions of being an all-seeing, all-interfering artificial intelligence aboard a space station filled to the brim with squishy fleshbags.

A new trailer for the game has been released, and although it’s classic pre-alpha footage – jerky, unashamed of its typos and not exactly showing off in terms of visual fidelity – it’s a tasty little teaser for how the game might ultimately be played.

As the camera whizzes over the heads of station residents, automatic systems read their emotional states: “Isaac is unusually withdrawn”, “Joshua and Ha-sun’s relationship is going from strength to strength”. There’s evidence of the station AI’s previous interference, too, with the latter relationship status appended with the wry remark “Just as planned”.

Exactly how we as players will tinker with the minds and lives of the station’s crew remains to be seen, but the concept remains a highly interesting one. The trailer suggests that external factors may also need to be reckoned with: when something dark and colossal emerges from behind a planet, a power loss cuts the video feed, and when we return everything that we previously saw has turned poisonous, with lovers coming to blows and the hapless Isaac fleeing two assailants (who run like they’ve shat their pants, but I’m sure many animations will be improved long before the game is released).

It’s equally possible that the trailer is just showing us both sides of the coin: the disasters we see could well be the result of poor decision-making on the player’s part, or outright malevolence. At this point, it’s all speculation. Roll on the day when we can speculate on the lives of our human playthings.


  1. AngoraFish says:

    Yeah, the final sequence looks like poor decision-making on the player’s part.

    If you reflect on it, what’s being shown is still just domestics (“Sam and Emma have finally come to blows”, with one punching the other) and petty crime (someone getting chased by two other people) – hardly the stuff of an armed insurrection or natural disaster. A bot appears to be malfuncting, and the medical centre is understaffed, suggesting the AI has been failing in its micromanagement tasks. The AI at the end simply sighs and gives up in order to start again (“Resetting mission goals. Powering down life support.”).

    Seems unlikely to be malevolence, since the AI indicates that it isn’t happy with the result by desiding to reset/restart the game.

    It’s not entitely clear what the blackout was about, but seems likely that it was just a convenient segway, or perhaps failure to adequately maintain the power systems was the one critical management error that triggered a cascade of additional negative consequences.

    • tormos says:

      I would agree had I not rewatched the video around where the power goes out and seen the creepy black shape start to come out from behind the sun. Definitely looks like some sort of malevolent force at work here.

      • tormos says:

        which I like because it seems like it might draw on a lot of the same tropes as e.g. the fluff for Human Resources, taking the game from an unrestrained Mess With The Humans sandbox into a Prevent the Others from Messing With The Humans (so that you can do it yourself) game, which I think is both more distinct from other games and more interesting as a concept.

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          particlese says:

          Yeah, I also completely missed the creepy black shape before I finished reading the article — hooray for subtlety! I also really like that concept you came up with. The surprise may be spoiled if that’s what they had in mind, but it could still be pretty cool depending on the execution.

      • AngoraFish says:

        Interesting. I did miss the back shape, although that doesn’t explain why the disaster is not especially disastrous, and the AI more resigned than panicked. I’d almost be inclined to chalk it up to a graphic artefact given the 1990s graphic engine.

    • Harlander says:

      the blackout was just a convenient segway

      Yeah, those scooters draw more power than you think…

  2. BooleanBob says:

    Sounds like an undeniably cool concept. A new spin on the old god game (though not on the Old God game).

  3. Random Integer says:

    Interesting and also probably about as close to a Culture game as we’re ever going to get.

    • MrBehemoth says:

      That was my first thought. Chances of an official spinnoff are now very slim.

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    particlese says:

    Zainab has regained consciousness
    Zainab stole my pants!

  5. Zallgrin says:

    This is the very concept featured in Ancillary Justice, an spaceship AI subtly manipulating or helping its favourite denizens. Been wishing for that as a game ever since!

  6. LionsPhil says:

    So, it’s Space Colony with an extra layer of fluff?

    It’s not undesirable fluff, but in your average management game you’re already a quasiomniscient/omnipotent entity toying with the lives of your subjects. (And some other genres. One of the nice touches of C&C: Tiberian Sun’s NOD campaign is that at one point you have to rescue the NOD commander, who the cutscenes kind of imply you’re playing. Except, when selected, he says “Yes, CABAL?”, the NOD AI.)

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Your CABAL comment nails exactly what this game has that most management/god games don’t – AI. I can already tell I’ll be buying it, I am just such a sucker for anything related to that topic.

  7. Britzy says:

    If you are looking to scratch the whole ‘play as AI of a space station’ itch, you should check out Space Station 13. It’s a byond based multiplayer game with everyone playing as roles on a station. It usually descends into chaos with various characters having secret missions and the rest trying to keep the station in order. You can play as the AI and help or hinder as you see fit. Love the game, never been any good at it though, always seem to end up naked and suffocating in a blacked out section of the station.

    • LionsPhil says:

      The AI role in SS13 is more interesting because the meatbags give you directives you must obey.

      Maybe this game will have something that, but it’s not shown in the trailer.

  8. Jstn says:

    This reminds me a lot of Infocom’s A Mind Forever Voyaging… including figuring out how to deal with real-world emergencies when you’re a disembodied AI.