The brass ring for so many iOS games is addiction, that "just one more round" feeling that keeps you playing even after you've finished using the bathroom. But Star Billions — just released today on iOS — takes a different approach. It doesn't want all the player's free time; in fact, the game isn't shy about dismissing the player until it needs them again to help tell its story.
Star Billions turns the player's phone into the sole means of communicating with a hopelessly lost starship called the Little Brother. Without a crew to speak of, the ship is run by four very different AIs, each of which have their own personalities and methods of resolving problems. SARGE, for example, always prefers a direct, guns-blazing approach, where one of the other AIs will generally take a less confrontational path.
When the AIs find themselves at an impasse, they alert the player via notification and the player decides which of the four should win out. All that's left for the player to do is to sit back until they're needed again (which is also when they'll find out how their decision shaped the story).
The idea of letting the game dictate pace isn't entirely uncharted; Lifeline had a lot of success a similar approach earlier this year. But James Tillman, co-founder of Catch & Release (the studio behind Star Billions), said he thought it was an integral part of making the player feel connected to the characters aboard the Little Brother.
"In short, I wanted to make a game about trust," Tillman told Polygon. "I wanted the player to feel like a parent speaking to their kid on the phone, asking them to make the right decision and hoping that they will, but understanding that it's their decision to make. We decided to make players wait for notifications so that they would agonize a little over what's going on as a result of each decision."
Star Billions is available now on iOS for $2.99.