Saturday 18 February, 2017
Look at me, being all responsible and remembering to start my class Game Logs before the last minute this time. Gold star me. Speaking of gold stars, apparently there is one somewhere in the game? Based on the locked gate in the temple, and one of the achievements. Alas, I'm getting ahead of myself. I get pretty verbose here, so if you're interested specifically on story/ethical thoughts skip to the fifth paragraph. I started The Talos Principle earlier because it's been on my to-play list for forever and HowLongToBeat estimates its play time at less than Deus Ex, which means I can bash it out fast on top of all my other current projects and then try to tackle Deus Ex for my last OPA. That's the plan, but we'll see what actually happens.
Anyway, about the Talos Principle. I've been working recently on trying to train myself to play like a designer instead of just someone who enjoys games, so starting out I've been going through kind of slowly, because I'm spending lots of time looking at level design and trying to break the game. Other than finding one place where I could trap myself such that death/reset was the only option, the game has held up pretty well. No camera/player getting stuck or glitching, no other ways to trap myself in unsolvable places, and no success in trying to get to places I shouldn't be able to get to. I have had a couple of moments where I saw a background object instantiate when it probably should have already been there, and I've caught quick glimpses of small graphical glitches, but given the nature of this game I'm not entirely sure whether those were actual bugs or intentional events to hint that in-game the player and map may both be virtual.
On the note of the player and map being virtual, I find it interesting that death is canonically impermanent. Many games have ways of explaining away the player's death before resetting, and the Talos Principle seems to be one of them. When you die your 'program' restarts, and on one of the first deaths Elohim tells you that you shouldn't hold it against the guardians if they kill you. So that in itself is something I find interesting, as the way a game handles death or a lose state shapes a large amount of the play experience.
Up to this point, I have played all of Level/World/Door 1, one puzzle from door 6 (reading the signs, it was the furthest puzzle I could solve without going to other worlds to unlock the box and refractor) and I stumbled into an easter egg world that looks like it was an homage to the developers and playtesters. Again, I was looking specifically to find ways to "play the game wrong" to see what would happen from a design perspective. This gave me an interesting insight into what is coming up as I learned a few things. First, the easter egg place showcased some mechanics that I anticipate are upcoming (the refractor, for instance, which I had only seen the symbol do but now think I understand). Second, I was able to completely solve the one puzzle in 6 that wasn't marked as needing the refractor or box. This is interesting to me because, from a design perspective it raises the question of "why was this simple puzzle all the way in level 6?" Normally puzzle games build on the things before it and become progressively more difficult. The entry to level six is biblical Adam/Eve type narration, where "do not eat the fruit" is replaced with "do not enter the tower," so a forbidden location. Looking around within the solvable puzzle in 6, I'm pretty sure if I had the box (which I now realize is probably just a stepping stone) I'll be able to access a part of the map not connected to the puzzles. This would explain the sudden easy puzzle, as from a design perspective the point of that puzzle is not to be "a puzzle to be solved" but rather "an opportunity to get off the rails." Getting off the "correct" path here is clearly intentional in game, but probably a direct violation of Elohim's will. I'm excited to see how that plays out.
Now, onto story/ethics. Given that this game was on the list of acceptable Analysis games in an Video Games Ethics class, I went into it expecting some degree of moral question or conflict. And I see the potential for that developing, both in and out of game. From the very first Narration provided by Elohim, the game clearly has Judaic/Christian influences as Elohim is the Hebrew for gods and is used as a proper noun in the Hebrew Bible. This face is cited within the first level on a computer terminal. In addition to just the name, much of Elohim's phrasing and attitude are deific, from his introduction as the creator of the world and the protagonist, to his granting of trials and choice and guidance. From a perspective outside of the game, I could see some zealous worshipers finding such reference specifically to the god of the Hebrew Bible blasphemous. I personally haven't seen anything in game that I think would merit such an offense, as so far nothing Elohim has done has struck me as an offensive portrayal or commentary on his namesake, but I still acknowledge the possibility of controversy being raised there. A quick google search of "The Talos Principle Controversy" doesn't seem to yield any results of that nature, though, which I am pleased to see.
That out of game concern aside, the game definitely seems to touch on Phenomenology early on, with an option at the first accessed terminal being to ask "what am I?" The protagonist is aware that they exist, but doesn't know anything about themselves or the world around them beyond what they can glean from Elohim, the MLA, QR codes, and various local files pulled from terminals. This isn't a moral question, but a definite branch of philosophy that I hope the game continues to explore.
And while I have only touched it by going to world 6 without visiting 2-5, I suspect the question of "do I obey the commands of god" is going to become a central point of the game. Elohim has forbidden the protagonist from going to the tower, saying that the protagonist will die if they do, so I would be very surprised if going to the tower was not a choice later on. And I will be very disappointed if going to the tower is mandatory, as I think based on the current setup of the game forcing the player to disobey Elohim would remove much of the meaning behind the potential exploration of the relationship between choice and god. I am definitely excited to see how things progress.