Managing an in-game economy is a strangely soothing task. While I dread budgeting in real life, with dull choices like paying the electric bill unfortunately taking precedence over a PlayStation 5 preorder, balancing out economies in virtual worlds is immensely pleasing, the constant uptick of numbers flicking the dopamine centers in my brain. Rarely, however, do we consider the true cost of ultra-efficient output and what can be lost in the quest for ever greater riches. Everything Is Garbage is an absurd factory game where everything is expendable, including human life, in the name of powering a mysterious obelisk. Created in just 72 hours for Ludum Dare Jam 47, this free, strange simulation is an enjoyable puzzle composed of creepy components.
Everything Is Garbage is an extremely literal game, with each daisy chain of production spiraling from a pit of rubbish. Starting out with only 15 dollars, the numbers quickly grow as new buildings are added to the production line. Garbage can be used to fuel a turnip farm, which in turn can be sold directly to market or fed to cows for more valuable produce. Turnips and steaks feed babies, who can be sent to school to create adults or into mines for a decidedly less wholesome childhood. The structures vary in size and need to be linked in a straight line, resulting in some careful puzzling to line up an efficient chain of production across multiple islands.
Everything Is Garbage separates itself from similar games with its high level of flexibility. Buildings can be unlinked with the click of a button, so reorganizing a route as needs change is simple. Almost every piece of the puzzle can be monetized, too. Excess children clogging up the production line? Send them through the steak house so they can be sold on the market as nondescript slabs of meat. One pile of garbage run dry? Link a pit from a neighboring island. Every structure can be removed for a full refund, too, so a sub-optimal arrangement can be detangled for a more efficient layout. With little risk of failure, Everything Is Garbage becomes a pleasingly chill puzzle box, where the player can take their time figuring out each step in the chain towards powering the ominous obelisk.
Satisfying puzzling is backed by the lovely soft visual style, which is both playful and easily readable. Every resource, be it a baby, banker, or woollen jumper, slowly spirals through the air from one building to the next, arriving at its destination with a unique sound effect. The steady thuds of turnips, squalling of babies, and shuffling of money create a pleasing kinetic beat that lets the player know how well their factory is faring. A sudden silence may mean the garbage needs to be restocked or that the university students do not have enough jumpers.
While I enjoyed the core gameplay of Everything Is Garbage, I feel the user interface could use more work. The central mechanic of clicking and linking buildings is explained, but otherwise the player is left to their own devices. This hands-off approach works for most things, but several important features are not mentioned in-game. Initially I thought the game could be played with the mouse only, but the only way to look around the screen is with the WASD keys. Some more conventional mouselook options, like dragging the cursor to the corner of the screen or clicking and dragging, would be more intuitive.
The option to refund buildings — which is done with a right mouse click — is also not explained. I reset my first, messy attempt at the game, not realizing that the buildings could be rearranged. I would also like the ability to zoom out further: By the endgame, the chain of production had sprawled a long way across the map. A proper way to exit out of the game, rather than bringing up Task Manager, would also be a plus.
Everything Is Garbage is a creative take on the factory simulator. The different parts in the chain of production interact in unexpected ways, and the vision of a cow somersaulting through the air never failed to put a smile on my face. While a few interface aspects are rough, this omission is understandable given the incredibly short development time. If you enjoyed Everything Is Garbage, you can see developer vfqd’s other work on itch.io.
Next week we will be playing Grimm’s Hollow, a spooky RPG just in time for Halloween. The game can be downloaded from itch.io. If you would like to share your thoughts, discussions will be happening on the Discord server.