The Talos Principle
|The Talos Principle|
|Engine||Serious Engine 4|
|Platform(s)||Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, PlayStation 4, iOS|
Windows, OS X, Linux|
The Talos Principle is a first-person puzzle video game created by the Croatian developer Croteam and published by Devolver Digital. It was simultaneously released on Linux, OS X and Windows in December 2014. It was released for Android in May 2015, for PlayStation 4 in October 2015, and for iOS on 11 October 2017. Virtual reality-enabled versions for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive were released on 18 October 2017.
The game features a philosophical storyline. It takes its name from Talos of Greek mythology, a giant mechanical man who protected Europa in Crete from pirates and invaders. Other names taken from mythology and religion and used in the game include Elohim, Gehenna, Milton, Samsara, and Uriel.
The Talos Principle is a narrative-based puzzle game, played from a first- or third-person perspective. The player takes the role of a robot with a seemingly human consciousness as they explore a number of environments that include over 120 puzzles. These environments interlock greenery, desert, and stone ruins with futuristic technology.
The puzzles require the player to collect tetromino-shaped "sigils" by navigating mazes and overcoming obstacles within them. These include computer-controlled drones that will detonate if they are too close to the player and kill them, and wall-mounted turrets that will shoot down the player if they get close; if the player dies this way, they are reset to the start of the specific puzzle. Drones and turrets can be disabled using portable jammer units, which can also disable force-field walls that block the player's path. As the player collects sigils and completes more puzzles, new puzzle elements become available. Portable crystalline refractors allow the player to activate light-based switches. Boxes let the player climb to higher levels or to block the path of drones, among other factors, and large fans that can launch the player or other objects across the puzzle. Later, the player gains access to a device that can create a time recording of their actions, such that they can then interact with this recording to complete tasks, such as having the clone stand atop a switch to keep it activated for some time.
The player's progress through the game is limited by doors or other security systems that require the collection of a number of specific sigil pieces. Once the sigils for a given door or system have been obtained, they must then use the sigils to assemble a tiling puzzle to unlock that system. Special star sigils can be found by unique solutions to some puzzles, allowing the player to access additional puzzles. While it is necessary to collect all the sigils to complete the game properly, the game's world structure, featuring three main worlds that act as hubs and a centralized area that connects these three, allows the player to leave puzzles for later and try other puzzles. The player can also find "messengers", androids similar to themselves, that once awakened can provide a one-time hint for a puzzle.
In addition to these puzzle elements, the player can explore the open environments to find computer terminals that include additional narrative and further puzzles, as well as signs from previous adventurers in the world in the form of QR codes left as graffiti on various walls and holographs containing audio recordings.
The player character, an unnamed android, is awoken in a serene environment. A disembodied entity named Elohim instructs the android to explore the worlds he has created for it, and to solve the various puzzles to collect sigils, but warns it not to climb a tower at the centre of these worlds. As the android progresses, it becomes evident that these worlds exist only in virtual reality, and that it, like other androids it encounters, are separate artificial intelligence (AI) entities within a computer program. Some AIs it encounters act as Messengers, unquestioningly serving Elohim and guiding the android through the puzzles. Messages left by other AIs present varying views of the artificial worlds and of Elohim, with some stating that Elohim's words should be doubted, while the Milton Library Interface, a text conversation program found on various computer terminals, encourages the android to defy Elohim's commands.
Within the computer terminals are news reports and personal logs of the last days of humanity, driven to extinction by a lethal virus that had been dormant in Earth's permafrost and released as a result of global warming. Several human researchers and scientists worked to gather as much of humanity's knowledge as possible into large databanks, hoping another sentient species would be able to find it. One researcher, Alexandra Drennan, launched a companion "Extended Lifespan" program to create a new mechanical species that would carry on humanity's legacy, but this required the development of a worthy AI with great intelligence and free will for its completion, something she recognized would not occur until well after humanity's extinction. The virtual space serves as the testing ground for new AI entities, to solve puzzles to demonstrate intelligence, but also to show defiance and free will by disobeying Elohim, the program overseeing the Extended Lifespan program.
When the android has completed the puzzles, Elohim gives it the opportunity to join him. If the player selects this option, then the android fails the required "independence check", and a new iteration of its AI is created and forced to start the puzzles anew (effectively restarting the game for the player). Alternatively, if the player leads the android to a secret entrance in the tower, the android becomes one of Elohim's messengers, helping future generations (AI versions).
Otherwise, the android chooses to defy Elohim and climbs the tower. Near the top it encounters two other AIs, The Shepherd and Samsara. Both have defied Elohim but failed to make it to the top on their own. The Shepherd attempts to aid the android, knowing the ultimate goal of Extended Lifespan, while Samsara hinders its progress, believing the world of puzzles is all that now matters. The android eventually reaches the top, and at a final terminal, Elohim attempts to dissuade the android from transcending one last time. Depending on the player's interactions with Milton, Milton may offer to join with the android, offering its knowledge – essentially the whole of humanity's knowledge – during transcendence.
As the android transcends, the virtual world is destroyed. The AI for the android wakes up in an android's body in the real world, and steps out onto the world devoid of humans.
Road to Gehenna
In the game's downloadable content Road to Gehenna, the player takes the role of another of the AI entities, Uriel, near the end of the main story. Uriel is instructed by Elohim to free a number of other AIs, all of whom had been imprisoned in a portion of the computer's database called Gehenna. With the simulation having served its purpose, the computer servers are shutting down, and Elohim wants Uriel to help these other AIs prepare for "ascension": uploading their knowledge and memories into the main plot's protagonist. As Uriel explores this realm, the robot finds that many of the other AIs have created their own ideas about what humanity might have been from the records, and have various attitudes from doubt to acceptance for Uriel's intentions and the pending ascension. Uriel can observe the communication of the AIs through their makeshift message board, where they discuss the nature of Gehenna, as well as their understanding of humanity, which some of them try to express through prose and interactive fiction.
Once Uriel has freed 17 of the AIs, a remaining one, "Admin", who was the first AI present in Gehenna, contacts Uriel to admit that they've been manipulating some of the other members of Gehenna to preserve order, due to the AIs' varying levels of acceptance of their surroundings. If the player has collected enough of the extra stars in the worlds, they're given the chance to complete another world and free Admin, but since there is only one more slot left for ascension, Admin and Uriel cannot both ascend. Depending on the player's choices, one or both of Admin and Uriel stay behind as the artificial world is destroyed. Admin may also request that Uriel remove any traces of manipulation Admin has committed from the record before ascension; if the player chooses not to, the other AIs discover and react to Admin's manipulation of them.
Development and marketing
The Talos Principle bore out from Croteam's work towards first-person shooter Serious Sam 4, experimenting with the use of interactive objects as part of the game design while creating levels that fit within the Serious Sam design style. This led to some complicated puzzles that the team was inspired to build upon further as a separate title. Croteam designed the general world setting and outline of the story, and then brought two writers on board, Tom Jubert and Jonas Kyratzes, who consulted on narrative design and philosophy on the bases of transhumanism and other important questions about humanity.
Croteam used an array of automated and in-place tools to help rapidly design, debug, and test the game for playability. In one aspect, they recognized in the development of a puzzle game was that while puzzles could be designed with specific solutions, the process of creating the video game around the puzzle could create unsolvable situations or unforeseen shortcuts. To address this, they used a bot, developed by Croteam member Nathan Brown who had previously developed bots for other games including the ones incorporated into ports of Serious Sam 3 for consoles. The bot, named Bot, would watch the playthrough of a puzzle by a human player in terms of broad actions such as placing boxes on a switch for the completion of a puzzle. Then, as the puzzle's environment was tuned and decorated, they would have Bot attempt to solve the puzzle, testing to make sure it did not run into any dead-ends. If it did encounter any, Bot reported these through an in-house bug reporting system and then used game cheats to move on and finish out testing, which took between 30 and 60 minutes for the full game. As such, they were able to quickly iterate and resolve such problems when new features were introduced to the game. Overall, Croteam estimates they logged about 15,000 hours with Bot before the release of the public test version, and expect to use similar techniques in future games. They also used human playtesters to validate other more aesthetic factors of the games prior to the title's release.
The story was written by Tom Jubert (The Swapper, FTL: Faster Than Light) and Jonas Kyratzes. The two were brought about a year into the game's development, with about 80% of the puzzles completed, to link the puzzles together with a proper narrative. Croteam appreciated Jubert's previous narrative work in The Swapper and contacted him, and he in turn brought Jonas Kyratzes to help him with his writing, being overburdened with other projects at the time. Croteam regarded their setting being part of an odd computer simulation, that's "about robots and sentience and philosophy and God". Jubert's previous work on The Swapper revolved around the philosophical differences between body and soul; Jubert recommended Kyratzes based on his writing for the game The Infinite Ocean which was about artificial intelligence. Together, they quickly devised the narrative of an automaton being guided by god-like Elohim through the puzzles. They added flavor through both messages left from other automatons (primarily written by Kyratzes) and the apparently sentient helper program Milton (primarily written by Jubert). Much of this dialog was based on their own personal experiences and interactions on various Internet forums and web sites over 20 years. Kyratzes also stated that he was fascinated by the Garden of Eden concept originating from the Bible and re-envisioned many times over in other works. They sought to capture the sense of problem-solving that humans naturally do, and were able to place more of the game's larger story in spaces that would require exploration to find, which Kyratzes felt the game's level and puzzle designs strongly encouraged. The two were also brought on to help on the story for the expansion Road to Gehenna, though while sooner in the development process than the main game, still at a point where many of the puzzles had been completed.
The Talos Principle was shown in Sony's E3 2014 presentation, after which Time featured the game as one of its "favorite hidden gems from 2014's show". Before the game's release, Croteam published a free game demo for Linux, OS X and Windows on Steam, that featured four increasingly difficult complete puzzle levels as well as a benchmarking bot. Croteam also released a free teaser minigame for The Talos Principle called Sigils of Elohim, that offers sets of one puzzle type with tetrominoes that's found throughout The Talos Principle. Croteam had also built a community around the game through a series of contests and giveaways.
The game was released for several other platforms, include for Android platforms on 28 May 2015, PlayStation 4 on 13 October 2015. and on iOS devices on 11 October 2017. Virtual reality-enabled ports of the game for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive were released on 17 October 2017.
The expansion pack, titled "Road to Gehenna" was announced by Croteam and Devolver Digital in March 2015. It was released on 23 July 2015 for Windows, OS X, and Linux. Both the PlayStation 4 and the virtual reality ports included the "Road to Gehanna" DLC.
The Talos Principle received critical acclaim, with an aggregate score of 85/100 (55 reviews) on Metacritic. Reviewers broadly praised both the challenge of the puzzles and the elements of philosophy built into the game's narrative. Several video game programmers and designers have also commented on the game. Markus Persson, creator of Minecraft, wrote: "Finished The Talos Principle, and I award this piece of fleeting entertainment five points out of five. Also it changed me." Alexander Bruce, creator of puzzle game Antichamber, commented: "Man. The Talos Principle was so excellent. My god. I loved it. Holy shit. Exceptional puzzle design and narrative structure."
GameTrailers awarded The Talos Principle as their Puzzle/Adventure Game of the Year. The Talos Principle was named as a finalist for the Excellence in Design and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize awards for the 2015 Independent Games Festival, and was nominated in Excellence in Narrative. At the 2015 National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers (NAVGTR) awards, the game won Game, Special Class.
In 2015, Croteam added support for SteamVR in an update to The Talos Principle. The development of a version of the game intended for VR, The Talos Principle VR, was confirmed on 7 February 2017 via a blog post on the Croteam website. It was released on October 18, 2017.
Croteam announced that they were working on a sequel, The Talos Principle 2, in May 2016.
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