Played on Windows.
Also Available on macOS
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor started to make its rounds as an indie darling. It talked about big sociopolitical issues and that got attention, and overall the game seemed to do something different and new. So when I picked up Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor I was unsure exactly what I would find, but I hoped it would be unique.
I’ll be honest, I was not disappointed. Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is definitely unique, it’s not exactly the game I expected, and looks, plays, and feels like nothing that has ever come before. Yet, I feel that just because Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is different doesn’t mean it’s better, and in fact, a less unique or different game could have produced a better experience. Let’s begin with the first thing you’ll see, the graphics.
I’ll talk about the graphics first, but then I’m going to hold off on talking about the story until after discussing the gameplay as thematic elements of the gameplay affect the story directly.
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor look different, however, a big piece of the different look of Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor seems to be because the developers have left issues in. The game has you choose from 9 deities, and then you get some exposition about how poor and treated like trash you are and your goal is to get off the planet.
If there were any idea that this game wouldn’t be shoving the message of being a lowly janitor, it is thrown out the window quickly as you start to see the vast world you are in. You start in a dingy apartment, which does look nice but it’s clearly not supposed to be seen as a high-quality domicile.
The visual effect on the screens such as the one to the right of the player is very rough.
Your character uses a set design. You’re a greenish blue girlish looking character. There’s no choice, no customization, this is your character. While it’s not overly detailed, you will eventually identify with this character as your avatar. Around the world are hundreds of different characters, each far more interesting than the player character going about their day.
There’s everything from an oppressive guard called the red scarves to random enemies. Each NPC has something to do and something going on, and most are too busy to talk to the player. In fact, most don’t even offer a prompt to talk. There are NPCs who run shops, and others standing around waiting for the player to talk to them. But these are the minority of the characters.
Still, the character and races are quite interesting, it’s just that their race and even the looks don’t matter, it’s just “another character” and while this does work well to support the idea of a Spaceport, part of me wishes I could have customized my character.
The Spaceport is lively even beyond the citizens. There’s a number of vehicles floating around, looking like stingrays, as well as a weekly “celebration” of some sort. In fact, the celebration takes a day to set up, so the player will see the wooden platforms a day earlier, and then the next day, there will be a long loud celebration.
The celebrations are cool to look at, but they’re just that, something to look at. In fact, almost everything here is similar. The world looks good, but there’s very little that you can do with it. Even the crowds don’t slow down the character, so it’s just visual confetti to distract the player. It’s not a bad experience, it just lacks a purpose.
In addition, both the stingrays and the celebration bandstands are sources of music. While they sound nice, after five to ten minutes near either one, your mind starts to make up words to the nonsensical song and before long the music will become a torture.
Some NPCs look good and will talk to you but a majority will not.
The celebrations and stingray vehicles and even the music played during the celebration do feel like they are thematic elements. The Haves and the Have-nots. We’ll talk more about that when discussing the “Story” of this game.
Not everything though works here. There’s a graphical “glitch” in the game, it’s almost like two images are fighting along the z-buffer and this is done on every screen in the game. The developer has said on the Steam forums that this is intentional. I don’t believe I agree with that. It might be a “cool effect” that they left in versus fixing it, but it doesn’t feel like a part of the world. When a game glitches, there’s a difference between a real glitch and a narratively driven glitch that looks broken but is actually intentional.
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor definitely feels like the former. Others have claimed thematic reasons for this graphical artifact such as not having a high enough credit rating to read the signs, the problem though is that it’s every screen in the game that seems to have this issue, and it looks awful. There is an option in the menus that turns off this graphical issue, but even when turned on, that glitch came back minutes later for me, I’m unsure what changed but I couldn’t remove it so it became part of the world.
The thing is these screens are everywhere in Diaries of a Spaceport Junkie, and it’s hardly the only thing that feels “broken”. At the start of the game, I started from a view, not in the world. The camera can clip through objects at times, and the game seems to continue to find little glitches. In fact, there’s an achievement where the game has the player “Escape” the world, essentially tricking the geometry of the levels. I can only imagine that was a bug that became an achievement.
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor can look good, but there are so many pieces of the game that can cause issues, I have trouble saying this feels like a finished product, but rather a game that stopped development and classified the bugs as features. The game isn’t broken, but it’s not exactly working like I think it was intended. That’s just my opinion, the other option is that the game is intentionally poorly made, or made to look that way. However, again, when games look unfinished, it’s an intentional look to further the story. They aren’t actually unfinished and in fact, you can tell the difference between the intentionally unpolished pieces, and the game. That doesn’t happen with Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor.
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is a rather simple game. The main character is a Janitor tasked with one goal for a job. Burning trash found on the ground. The player will walk around the vast city of the spaceport and find items on the ground. They are able to drop the item, keep it, eat it, if applicable, or burn it if there is any power left in their incinerator.
I’m unsure exactly what determines how much power there is in the incinerator. I believe it’s a timed feature, which is also decreased by usage, but sadly the game doesn’t give the player enough information to know for sure.
The game could have created a better ambiance, but I had to avoid to look at the main areas of the game to grab shots like this.
On the morning of each day, the player is given credits for the previous day’s incinerating. If the player incinerates a lot of items, they can be given a decent sum of credits to live on, around 40 credits, if not, the player may barely get enough money to live on, maybe 10 credits. From there, the player goes and continues to incinerate everything he can.
There are other options however, the player can find valuable items on the ground, maybe a piece of scrap metal or a weapon. Players can instead keep those items in their inventory just in case. There’s no crafting system, so really the only two reasons to keep items, is for collecting them or trying to sell them.
The spaceport is littered with shops, and each shop sells four items on average, a couple might sell only two, and maybe there are shops out there that hold five items. Each shop does appear to have a theme and the counters in front of the shop show which items they deal in.
Strangely these shops only deal in these four items. There are electrical parts, such as scrap metal, and then a small piece of scrap, as well as electrical wiring. An Electrical shop can sell any of these, but when you want to sell your inventory to the shop, they only buy the items they’re currently selling for the day.
Imagine going into a Gamestop and asking for a Wii, and the response is “We are only going to sell an Xbox, a PC, and a PS4 today.” You try to trade in a Wii and get the same response. The next day, they’re selling a PC, a PS4, and a Wii. So you can sell your Wii for money, but now have to wait to buy an Xbox later. Will it be available tomorrow? Who knows?
This is how shops and the marketplace works in Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but… that’s the big piece of Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor. You’ll have to sell items or burn them to make money.
Yeah this is about the level of dialogue some characters will have with you. “MORE”
There are other pieces to the game that aren’t well explained, but players can find an NPC who wants containers. Why? How Many? Don’t worry, he just wants “more”. And in fact when you ask “How many?”, that’s his response. “More still”. This is one of the major NPCs to help with the end game, I’ll talk about that more after we discuss the story, but this becomes a major piece of the daily chores. Each time the player finds containers, they should seek out this NPC to trade them in because eventually, he should give you something that will help with the end game.
The map itself doesn’t change but the shops do appear to change on a daily basis. Some shops, such as the gem shop or bank, are static, and will always buy/sell the same items, others seem to change daily, and it’s hard to know what will be available today or valuable. Fans say to only hang on to weapons, and in hindsight, I agree. Most items don’t sell for much, and those that do are hard to really traffic in any great number. The need to hang on to containers clutters the inventory, and the rest of the items are probably worth more being burnt than collected.
There are three major hidden values in Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, we already talked about the power needed for the incinerator, but in addition, there’s a value for “Hunger”, as well as a value for… let’s call it “Gender”.
For “Hunger”, the game won’t allow the player to go to bed, and this is likely a thematic option. If the player must spend money to get food, that makes sense. The problem is sometimes the player will get sick from food, and the game isn’t clear exactly why food can make the player sick. I’ve guessed it’s from certain cheap food, overeating, and eating food off the floor. But without a hunger (or sickness) bar I can’t verify these, at best we see a message telling us we’re queasy and vomit appears near the player. It’s an interesting idea, but without knowing what is causing the sickness, the player is left to guess and as a character in a real world, you would know what makes you feel bad. That’s an evolutionary trait. And while there’s an idea that the money coming needs to be balanced with money going out, it’s hard to know if I’m buying good or bad food with no values associated with it.
On the other, “Gender” is a value that says the player needs a “gender shift” for a certain amount of time. It’s short enough to be annoying, another attempt to spend money, but using a gender shift only clears up the screen. There’s no negative to constantly needing to change genders, and I find it a little strange that the game has this odd mechanic without explaining it.
The penalty for ignoring this isn’t that bad, the screen just goes a little off for most of the game, making the game look worse, but the game wasn’t exactly going to win graphics awards in the first place, it’s just slightly more annoying, and since the gender shift is a money pit that will just ask for more money later, there’s not a lot of reason to do it. I do like the genders in the game, there are a couple of humorous ones from what I saw, but it doesn’t actually affect anything.
In fact, this is a rather major place that the game could have excelled. Imagine if instead of “gender” it could have been a “Sleeve” such as in Altered Carbon. You’re able to buy different bodies, and now suddenly you could change your look as you want. Maybe there’s a cheap option, that wears out in days, and when it wears out there’s gameplay effects or a more expensive choice where you can be a specific race that lasts a little longer.
But that’s not how Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor works. You buy a gender shift pill or find one on the ground, eat it and suddenly you’re “Spiky” no change to yourself, just a funny word that disappears ten seconds later.
Your Gender is “Air Hand Dryer” Yeah I could really get offended at that but everything is done poorly.
There’s more, and there’s is a visible value known as luck, but what that influences isn’t exactly clear and I honestly believe it’s not actually hooked up to anything on purpose, so that the player begins to believe in “Luck” to save them, even though that’s not going to happen. I ended the game with over 1000 luck, is that good? I got an achievement for it, but that’s about it.
During the day the player can pray to one or more of the nine deities in the game, each one claims to have a reason to be prayed to, but none actually seem to matter other than changing the luck value that might have limited use. It’s something I did as I followed my paths around the city, as well as checking lotto machines, but ultimately this became more habit then useful gameplay.
This becomes your life, and while there’s a little more, we do have to talk about the story. But the core of Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is this monotony each day. Get up, burn trash, sell a few items if you can find any, collect containers, eat food, hope you don’t get sick, maybe have to eat more, write in a journal at the end of the day about what happened (or bang on the keyboard after a while) and then sleep for the next day. Rinse and repeat.
Now that we understand the drudgery of the gameplay in Diary of a Spaceport Janitor, we can talk about the first day, and how the player’s life can be worse. On the first day, the player has a tutorial, where they learn all the rules of the game. Walking around, burning stuff, exploring the city, and eventually, the game allows the player to enter a dungeon by paying for and eating an “Eye of Beb”. The player explores the dungeon, one that the game pretty much says is empty. At the bottom of the dungeon, the player finds a skull.
The skull ends up cursing the player and suddenly he says he’ll be following the player. While he floats around the player, he also screams out with an annoying noise at least once a minute… and that’s the curse. There’s really nothing else, and the game becomes about removing this curse. To do this the player is tasked to get 3 tablets. It’s not a very complicated task. The first tablet is owned by a character just wants some “Smut” a magazine the player can purchase. The second wants fetishes of the 9 deities to be collected, which is very time consuming but again not very challenging, it’s mostly just waiting for them to appear in the lotto shop, the stores or left on the ground. Finally, the character has to explore the dungeon a second time and find the tablet there while a large strange looking enemy chases them.
Once that’s done the player needs to find an adventurer willing to take on the curse, and there’s three of them, each requests one thing and the player will grind to reach this goal. When one of their goals are reached, requiring a certain amount of money to be owned or a specific set of items in the player’s inventory, the game ends. There are a few steps, a small cutscene and the next day shows up, the player is still burning trash and the skull is back for some reason.
These are some of the rules of the game.
I try to avoid spoilers, but the limited story of Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is disappointing but at the core of the game’s problems. This is a game that expects you to play, but it does so much to make you feel that you have no options. It’s clearly trying to make a socio-economic case for the poverty-stricken people. I get the idea, and even if I didn’t, there’s more than enough people who have written great long articles tying this game to their take on poverty.
The problem though is that Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor sets up the gameplay to do this, but doesn’t set up the story. The player has no agency in his life. He’s a janitor when the game begins and the game forces him to become “cursed” whether we want to take that as an unforeseen expense, or a literal curse doesn’t matter. The fact is that the player has no options, he’s forced to be a janitor and there doesn’t seem to be a reason he can’t find other jobs. No options are given.
Similarly, the shop system seems to be set up to frustrate the player NOT the character. Thematically this is how the shops work in this world. No one says “This is set up to hold you back.” It’s just a really poor system that harms the shopkeepers more than the player. Besides the pieces, that could actually hurt the player, are kept in check for gameplay reasons, such as food.
The player isn’t even kept in poverty. By the end of the game, I had amassed a small fortune and it took a long time, but that amount of money can be earned. The curse wasn’t because I was doing my job, but rather because my character decided to do something else, and it’s a picture of poverty that seems overly dim on purpose but in fact, shows that poverty isn’t so bad “Because it had to be a game”
The real problem I have with Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor isn’t that it deals with poverty, it’s that it does it in the worst way. There’s no narrative about the poverty, you’re supposed to just understand this is what it’s like to be poor. But this is ultimately a game, and thus you’re fighting against what the game designer setup, not your situation in life. Similar to the graphics that were called “Finished” when they could have been improved, the story feels like the ideas are in the game, but the narrative doesn’t firmly connect to them and ultimately while this can be used as an allegory to poverty, it feels like it becomes a blank slate for people to put their opinions on paper disguising it as an article about this game.
The thing is I’ve seen games deal with war, strife, poverty, oppression before. When done well, they’re done with quality and solid stories. Papers Please is an amazing game, dealing with hard decisions, Headliners does similar. There’s even a free game called “Spent” where the player tries to survive on 1,000 dollars a month, explaining each decision and making people understand the trials and tribulations of poverty, and that one is free.
Even the topic of being a Janitor has been done before in Viscera Cleanup Detail. War and strife are covered in This War of Mine. Games need to be able to tackle hard issues, but when it’s done in such a poor way such as Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, it might give people a chance to talk about socio-economic issues, but the game itself should at least have a purpose, even if it’s not about being “fun”.
The interesting locations are great, but you just see them so often they become mundane… likely on purpose.
That’s where Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor fails, not in what it’s trying to accomplish but the manner in which it does it. The story of Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor ultimately ignores the poverty angle and renders it meaningless because it had to be a game, and yet other games (including Spent) make the story elements it wants to talk about the core. Instead, Diaries of the Space Janitor feels meaningless because the core is just an idea it doesn’t want to directly talk about, and then can’t re-enforce its harsh world view it wants you to see because “it’s a game.”
So with the major story elements covered. Much of the game is chasing pieces to get to the next story chapter. The opening chapters, of getting cursed, and even getting one of the three skull tablets flies by, and the player quickly gets it. It’s when the player is chasing the fetishes for the second tablet the game grinds to a halt, and the player is left to “play the game” trying to collect them all.
It’s just a meaningless toil, again, likely to be the point of the game, but since the game isn’t actively putting roadblocks in your way, the player just feels like the game (And ultimately the poverty the character is going through) becomes luck based. Or just based on the horrible setup of the marketplace. The fact that store owners can’t be talked to but only sell four items a day doesn’t make a lot of sense thematically, it also doesn’t make a lot of gameplay sense. It’s only there for the player to struggle.
The inventory is a mess too, this is a full inventory of 8 items… why not use all the interface?
Even then the end game has three different options, finding a very rare item, finding 5 rare items, or amass a small fortune. The container guy actually will give you the rare item. The rare item CAN appear in the lotto machine, or the player can just play the game.
No matter which choice you choose though will take time, and ultimately the player will be forced to grind to get there, but it’s not poverty keeping the player here, it’s poor game and system design, bad UI, bad shop management. It’s a hundred problems but none are systemic of the society because nothing is connected to society, it’s just what a game designer felt told his story best.
There are other problems here. The UI is atrocious as can be seen in the scenes. The lack of information is noticeable, the game lies to the player. “Collect enough blue gems and something happens.” Well, that something is your player gets raided. Perhaps showing that society can be unfair, but really there’s no sign that blue gems are considered illegal, the game just throws that penalty at the player and laughs because the player fell into the game’s trap. And that is what the entire Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor feels like.
The grind in this game is real, and the game seems to revel in it almost saying “This is life” but it’s not. It’s poorly made game systems set against the player. This is like going up to someone playing rigged games and telling them. “This is representing real life.” but leaving the analogy there, and ignoring the fact they are purposefully rigging games against you and pretending that it is a deep statement.
The problem with the statement is it ignores the nuance of the world. It ignores those in the world already working to help others, it ignores the variety of ways that the world can get better. It ignores possibility and hope, it just wants you to feel bad because there are poor people without giving options on how to solve the issue, or what could be done and ignoring that it’s supposed to be a game primarily, not political commentary.
I get what Diaries of Spaceport Janitor wants to say, I even get what Diaries of a Spaceport Janitors is trying to do, whether it be with journalists or gamers. But I can’t accept it because people are being asked to pay real money to play this game. You can feel bad because of your character’s status in life, but I feel bad because the game that I am playing just isn’t very fun.
This is different from games like Spent which can be a bad game because it’s a socio-economic message presented as a game for free, Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor wants people to pay money for the experience, and rather than give a compelling game that talks about poverty at a deep level, instead we get a half baked game that isn’t fun, isn’t interesting, and doesn’t deliver on the narrative it thinks it has. That is why I’m not able to recommend this game.
I give Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor a
It didn’t crash… even if I had to restart the game after a couple of hours playing likely due to a memory leak or other issue. When that’s the best thing I can say, something went wrong.
Final thoughts: A game that wants to talk about poverty, but doesn’t do so in a meaningful way. It can’t seem to forget it’s a game, even as it handicaps it’s message because “it’s a game.”
Stats: 9.1 hours played 26/44 achievements earned