Cart Life, one of the most incredible games ever made, is coming back.

I discovered Cart Life eleven years ago. Some guy called Richard Hofmeier followed me on Twitter – a new follower was not that unusual an occurrence. But it was unusual that I clicked back through random dude’s Twitter bio. I discovered Hofmeier had released a game called Cart Life several months earlier and the trailer was wild. This was how I described my reaction:

And I was thinking: hang on, that doesn’t look like a game, it looks like the sort of stupid “ideal game” I fantasised about when I was 7 years old, where the game is so brilliantly immersive it has fractal detail.

I downloaded the free version and gave it a whirl. Reader, I was shocked. I had never experienced any game like this in my entire life. I wrote:

Cart Life depicts life as a street vendor. Each of the three playable characters (only two available in the free version) have a different business and a different life. This is the crucial point. Cart Life breaks out of its narrow confines as a “retail simulation” and bulldozes into bigger questions about personal ambition, determination and work-life balance.

Everything about Cart Life seemed to break game design taboos. It was the first game I played, for example, where a purchasing menu didn’t pause time. I rang all the village bells and sent an emergency communication to Rock Paper Shotgun begging them to take a look, which they duly did. Soon enough, Doug “JS Joust” Wilson encouraged Hofmeier to submit Cart Life to IGF. It won three awards. And I even flew to the first IndieCade East to meet Hofmeier because I really was that much of a fanboi.

However, the success of Cart Life was the ruination of Cart Life.

It was a hugely ambitious work that was infested with bugs and soon enough everyone was banging on Hofmeier’s door to fix the game. While many bugs were fixed, Hofmeier eventually pulled it from Steam and turned it over to the masses as open source. But even the source download disappeared in time, although it seems someone saved a copy on github.

Now independent game developer AdHoc Studio is working with Hofmeier to bring Cart Life back to Steam. Wired has some detail on how this came to happen but, in a nutshell, AdHoc cofounder Pierre Shorette thinks the game is too important to fall into obscurity. There’s a Steam page already and an announcement trailer I’ve embedded below.

It’s really lovely to see Cart Life being brought back to life.

I bought Hofmeier’s followup project Type Dreams and still haven’t played it – although I was wise to download a copy before it too disappeared from itch. Maybe Type Dreams will also make a comeback. I can only hope.

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6 thoughts on “Cart Life Lives

  1. This would have been at the tail end of the phase when I was trying to find Meaning™ in games. Freshly graduated from an unfulfilling English degree, at the time I would play absolutely anything and everything pointed up by RPS, and RPS-adjacent concerns. And here, at last, was the promised game!

    Only, gosh, it wasn’t terribly fun, was it? I couldn’t help ask myself the question, even as I immediately snapped back: it’s not meant to be fun! You think the source material is fun? It is embodiment of and commentary on economic hardship, all at once! Such an elegant design! That’s what makes it meaningful!

    Only.. it really wasn’t terribly fun, you know? Each attempt to access the font of Meaning became a little less ardent – and a little shorter. Eventually it was quietly forgotten about. I still have the installer, neatly preserved among hundreds of others.

    I wonder just what exactly it was I was hoping to find, all those years ago. Salvation in art? Or just consolation? If it was the former, this might well have been the game to provide it. I just didn’t want it enough!

  2. CA I meant to add a paragraph to note that not everyone was a fan. There was a talk by the developer of Diner Dash at IndieCade East which called it “drudgery” explaining “drudgery is not fun”. Also Mathew Kumar wrote something less than glowing over on Tumblr.

    I don’t know if I would ever categorise Cart Life as fun – and pardon me for weirdly invoking Godwin’s Law here but my name is Goodwin after all – but I didn’t go to watch Schindler’s List for “entertainment”. I never thought a game could push the buttons that Cart Life did – it wasn’t fun but I felt involved.

    Ori Good news!

  3. Cart Life was a small existential crisis for me, and not for the intended reasons. I just couldn’t get into it. I was a young and pretentious university student in the humanities, but I also wanted to keep playing videogames. Here comes Cart Life, an occasion to show everybody how elevated my hobby of choice is. But wait, I can’t do it. Why can’t I do it? Why do I keep liking Final Fantasy with all its anime nonsense but I can’t play Cart Life?

    So that was a thing for a while. I have since made peace with myself (not really) and tried a couple more times in the years to get into Cart Life, to play more than a couple of in-game days before getting discouraged and leaving – wait, maybe that’s the point. Anyway, I still couldn’t, but I could appreciate more what it’s trying to do. I’m glad it’s getting back. Maybe this will be the time for me. In any case, I discovered Electron Dance because of Cart Life, so all is good.

    On a different note, I’m wondering where Cart Life is situated in the genealogy of “not-fun-games-like-work-with-message”. I remember it being talked about a lot, but its legacy is maybe harder to identify than, say, Papers, Please, the other work-game with message of the period (a year later, I think), which wasn’t just acclaimed but also influential. Was Cart Life “influential”? Open quesiton, I honestly wouldn’t know, but I find it interesting to think about, seeing as this “genre” is much more… not necessarily mainstream, but at least accepted and recognised.

  4. Busy week so only had chance to respond now but it’s so great to hear Cart Life is getting some TLC. Hopefully I’ll finally be able to play it properly; back in the day I kept running into bugs and crashes, and I recall exchanging emails with Richard about some. That was obviously before the Steam release!

    CA and Lorenzo: I have lots of written up bits and pieces that threaten to escape my drafts in some form but one that I’ve never had the courage to get out there, which your comments on ‘not fun’ remind me of:

    “The Stillness of the Wind
    Or ‘The Slowness of Grandma’. I’ve no doubt the languid pace, repetition and activity bottleneck each day is intentional and a key part of the experience but after a couple of hours hobbling around I couldn’t bear it any longer. A (different) developer tweeted about the idea of making a character’s trip to a well with a couple of pails arduous and time-consuming, forcing the player to decide whether to do something boring, or die. I wanted to tell them to play The Stillness of the Wind and that the third option is to play something else.”

    It’s a bit zingy but there’s a weird line somewhere between persisting and ‘enjoying’ or appreciating an experience you’re meant to dislike, and straight up disliking it to the point that the message or intent is perhaps lost.

    Digging through my old emails with Joel from 2012, it looks like I went through an initial rough patch with Cart Life (game speed vs my speed–welcome to Cart Life!) then I started to come around to it before the bugs and crashes hit me.

  5. Aw jeez. Hadn’t intended to leave these commments for almost a week but I am so rammed at the moment. But if I don’t reply to these today it’s just not going to happen. Off to WASD tomorrow…


    I have no beef with anyone not digging Cart Life, although I can understand the distress of thinking You Must Get Into This Artistic Game But Damn It I Can’t. This happens to me allll the time. There are titles that are held in some esteem that, really, just leave me cold. I can’t feel their value. Example: I liked Papers Please and it had interesting ideas – but I really didn’t get the hype.

    I feel like Cart Life was influential. The main one is “time moves on even while shopping” which felt fresh and unexpected, but I’ve seen this many times since. There were other aspects of Cart Life I saw elsewhere afterwards but I don’t remember what they were anymore.

    Also, I’ve never played Cart Life a second time. That first time, with all the discovery, was Cart Life for me. Playing a second time, with certain surprises known and going in to “min-max” resources and stats would be the antithesis of that first kiss.


    omg we have emails on this?

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