Lights Out: Time to go home

I suppose that hitting the ending prematurely gave me a sense of license. I wound up impatiently looking at walkthroughs to find the rest of the story, and was puzzled by the fact that they seemed to differ from what I had played in a number of small details. It turns out to be the difference between the original release and the “director’s cut”. Most walkthroughs cover only the former, but the latter is what’s on Steam. I hadn’t even considered that the Steam version might be significantly different from the CD-ROM. Would I need to play both to satisfy my sense of completion?

After finishing the game, I inspected the walkthroughs in detail, and the differences between the versions are not great. Mostly the director’s cut shifts information around a bit, putting more content into the player’s path and cutting out some shortcuts that would allow you to miss stuff. A couple of obtuse-UI puzzles are gone, and to make up for it, a couple of combination lock solutions are split into two pieces and hidden separately. I think what I played is probably an overall improvement, but I don’t understand why certain random things like the access code to the museum’s front door got changed. It’s just a four-digit number. Using a different four-digit number doesn’t significantly alter the player experience.

Most of my final session was spent in a fourth time period that I had failed to find without hints, although I should have suspected it existed for symmetry reasons: the final puzzle involves a sequence of four glyphs, and each of the three ages I had found contained one of them. I really think this age is too hard to find. The sole entrance isn’t even a photograph like the other magic goggles transit points. It’s just a brick wall. The original release provided an alternate entrance through a photograph, but it skips the entire introduction to the area. I imagine it was intended mainly as a quick exit rather than an entrance, but wound up being a lot easier to find than the proper entrance, and so it got cut. This could have used some more iteration, frankly.

This fourth age is the year 2090, when the lighthouse is long gone. The site is instead home to a deep space research facility, now just as deserted as the lighthouse was, and for the same reasons. Between the stark metal corridors, the red emergency lighting, and the time travel, I was strongly reminded of the first Journeyman Project. The staff quarters area is kind of like the Ghosthunter HQ in the previous game: it’s what fills in the rest of the story. It also has most of the game’s inventory items, and a sudden resurgence of Doctor Who references. 1One of the major characters — the glowing possessed guy in this time period — is named “Griel Magnus“. Long-range teleportation is called “transmat“. A “Doctor Romana” is mentioned. There’s a very familiar-looking “laser screwdriver“. Ironically, when you find some old sci-fi TV comics in one of the bedrooms, they’re of Sapphire and Steel. So this area is pretty much the heart of the game, which makes it all the worse that it’s so easy to miss.

At any rate, I have most of an explanation of what was going on. The people of 2090 know all about Malakai, because they built it. Malakai is a space probe with artificial intelligence, teleportation capability, and some kind of matter-manipulation device. That metal barrel I found in the past doesn’t just contain Malakai, it is Malakai. Something went wrong when it was launched, and it wound up returning to Earth thousands of years earlier, with its on-board ethical watchdog severely damaged. Everything it’s done since then, including possessing people and imprisoning souls, was for one purpose: manipulating you into finding it and entering the return coordinates so it can go back where it came from and complete its mission. But being so manipulated is not such a bad thing. When you finally do it, you do it in the distant past, which means Malakai leaves before it can commit any of its crimes. Just like in Dark Fall: The Journal, your victory rewrites history.

Now, this leaves something to be desired as an explanation. Leave aside the question of how the time travel works — I can accept that Malakai is facilitating it somehow. The thing that bothers me is how you get the return coordinates. Everything you enter into Malakai’s interface at the end of the game is revealed to you by the goggles, burned into the landscape in ghost energy, usually in ways that are difficult to understand. Is this Malakai’s doing? Does Malakai know the coordinates, then? If so, wasn’t there some more straightforward way for it to use them than by scattering them through the centuries in the form of ghost riddles? Maybe to a machine anything that works is good enough. Or maybe I’m just supposed to chalk it up to insanity. Either way, I find it unsatisfying. I can accept contrived adventure-game puzzles on their own terms, or with a touch of supernatural handwaving, but if you’re going to say it’s all the doing of a certain character in your story, I’m going to want it to make sense in terms of that character’s motivations. Even if those motivations are just “It seemed like a good idea at the time”.

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1. One of the major characters — the glowing possessed guy in this time period — is named “Griel Magnus“. Long-range teleportation is called “transmat“. A “Doctor Romana” is mentioned. There’s a very familiar-looking “laser screwdriver“. Ironically, when you find some old sci-fi TV comics in one of the bedrooms, they’re of Sapphire and Steel.

2 Comments so far

  1. Ethereal on 9 Apr 2015

    > Using a different four-digit number doesn’t significantly alter the player experience.

    It does, though — for returning players who might remember the original combination and would be thus constantly tempted to shortcut through the game. Especially since solving the puzzle might conceivably involve brute force. Same reason why many games randomize codes between playthroughs.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 11 Apr 2015

    Ah, that makes sense. The process of learning the access code to the museum was changed significantly: where the original had it written in one place, the Director’s Cut split it into two pieces and hid one of them behind an entirely new puzzle. So changing the code was a way to guarantee that returning players would see the new puzzle.

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