OBDUCTION – Story Analysis/Review

WARNING. Review Contains Spoilers. Open at your own risk.

NOTE: This is a VERY LONG POST! You might wanna take breaks every now and then?

Obduction is a game made by Cyan Worlds and first posted on Kickstarter some years ago. It was fully funded, and now, this year, it was released on August 24th, 2016. It runs on the UNITY Engine, and was originally designed with V.R. as an end goal. This means that if your computer isn’t cutting edge specs, you might not be able to play it to its fullest graphical capabilities. But, if you’re like me and ended up with the same gaming laptop that’s lasted through Portal 2, Bioshock Infinite, and Elder Scrolls Online for the last five years, then you’ll probably be able to play it at Medium graphics and still have it look amazing.

You'll find it to be a decent place.

“Welcome to Hunrath.”

 

“Obduction.” Such a simple word- at first thought a misspelling of “Abduction”, but in reality, that’s the play on words they’re going for.  It’s a Geology Term that can mean “An act or instance of drawing or laying something (as a covering) over.” 

Cyan Worlds has created a game that is both beautiful, and intriguing. There are bugs, yes, but what game doesn’t have bugs? I mean the actual, literal, bugs. As in flying beetles with glowing wings. (There are also some more conventional digital bugs as well, but more on that later.)  The Arai are arguably one of the main Characters of the game- silent, but ever present. You interact with more Arai than you do any of the human characters, but that’s mostly through their sheer numbers and swarm like tendencies.

Yah. Alien Bugs.

Did I mention they’re Aliens?

Cyan World’s latest game is a tale of Alien Abductions through a mysterious process of glowing orbs. Of the four races that end up in this system, they are all mutually Alien to each other. You might expect with such vastly different physiology, that some might suspect themselves better than others. But, then again, that’s true within single species as well as we see with the Mofang. And it’s on them that I’d like to focus this review of the game on, as the story of Obduction is as much about them as it is the main character and the Four worlds they visit.

In some reviews, I see that people have a hard time understanding the story of this game. That “I read it all, but I don’t get why these things have happened” feeling that some people will look at and be confused. The thing here is that Cyan Worlds are great at writing the subtext of a situation into a world without directly spelling it out in black and white, which is a thing a lot of modern games do.

Some people call it “Hand Holding” and to some degree, that’s true, but then again that’s the same kind of difference between a detective novel or a police serial on TV- things which are inherently in their nature a puzzler type of story and ask the viewer to puzzle along with the characters- and a fantasy novel or a sci-fi movie that tells you in explicit terms what’s going on, even if they do attempt to pull off a “Plot Twist! Things aren’t what they seem.”

It’s not a fault of the people playing the game, or watching the show, or reading the book if they don’t understand the subtext of a puzzler plot when they’re *expecting the story itself* to tell them in main text what is going on. It’s a mere difference of being the person reading the after action report, and the person who had to write the report in the first place.

Obduction, in terms of gameplay, is very much a breath of fresh air after a constant slew of games that failed to deliver on their promise. (Take a look at the recent game “No Man’s Sky” which was a definite flop, and see how the developers there bit off a bit more than they could chew.) With it’s story telling, it’s also a fresh breath of air. With a lot of games that flat out explain their story (Or lack there of, depending on the title) a modern gaming audience is ready for all story clues to be laid out in front of them with all the necessary logic jumps included in those same hints. Obduction doesn’t do that- making figuring the story itself out part of the puzzle of the game. It is a game of Observation.

Of Cyan’s direct work, only Myst did this to some degree, being a Who-dun-it style story that was resolved properly upon meeting Atrus. Riven was a Rescue Mission with almost all facts laid out before you. And URU… While there is tons of room for speculation in URU, it was always designed first and foremost as an MMO, where the story would be explained later on through live action events, and most of the visual hints and puzzles towards the story that you see in URU were laid in foundation for those events. The less said about Myst 5’s development history the better- save that it was originally intended as URU content.

What’s interesting about Obduction, unlike previous Cyan games like Myst and Riven and even URU, in which journals are written whole months or even years after the events leading up to the present have happened- where journals can be written with the perspective of a historian writing on the past- Obduction takes place what can only be barely a week after events exploded dramatically in the local Seed Cluster.

Soria's scorched walls.

It’s a dry heat.

There is a question I’ve seen in a few reviews as well, “Why is the last world so barren?” The answers are right there in the game world if you’re willing to piece it all together.

The Mofang would Argue that RED is clearly the best color. >:]

What a strange shade of Blue.

First and foremost is the handy dandy piece of paper written in a bright shade of blue scattered around Hunrath. “Do Not Approach Unless Disabled.” What are these things? Why is Hunrath so locked down? More importantly, why is it in such a peculiar shade of *blue*? The people of Hunrath have made it a *point* to put these flyers everywhere. It’s impossible *not* to see them. And there in begs another question. What is so dangerous about these devices? When we finally encounter one in Maray, we find it on a piece of Soria stone swapped into the jungle- sitting next to an Abassador Seed, and its Mofang escort near by. Approaching the device causes it to expand suddenly, and generate massive waves of energy that- well, we don’t know what happens exactly after that because we’re dead.

Except, we do. This device is a *Bomb.*

When we finally get to Soria- the Cell the Mofang lived in- we find it an empty, barren piece of rock with no immediate signs of life. And then we find a massive crater near a half-dead tree, miraculously still hanging on to life for just long enough to fulfill its purpose. The side that is dead is facing the explosion, as well. So how did this happen? How did one of the Mofang’s Bombs detonate in their home cell? Surely it wasn’t an accidental detonation!

But this begs the question of *Why* did the Mofang swap a *bomb* into Maray? As we find out elsewhere, it wasn’t just Maray. In Kaptar, we first find this sheet of paper next to a desk and the peculiar sight of an obduction circle inside another circle… and a dead Mofang- cut in half by the transportation. This sheet of paper, too, is printed in the same shade of blue, and it contains instructions that read off as marching orders for people who have their fingers on a bomb trigger.

It seems that a few people have a hard time understanding the blue ink.

Remainer Marching Orders.

Except, it’s less a bomb trigger, and more a swapping trigger. The bomb is already going to explode, after all, as it’s proximity based as we’ve seen in the Maray Bad Ending. “Remainers” are set to stay behind and swap out these bombs when they arrive- simply by standing where the bombs will appear with a “Hands on Swap Device” and waiting for the other side to swap *first.* From there, it’s a simple matter of reversing the teleport and–

But wait just a moment. It only worked once. Why is there still a device in Maray? The answer is simple- they were disabled *before* they could swap back. How? Either the Mofang stopped them first, or they were caught up in the explosion of the one swapped from Kaptar. Either way- it’s clear they did not survive. These swaps and a single detonation, of course, happened before the Hunrath bomb could be sent, leaving behind a very perplexed C.W.

But this is all still besides the point- why the blue ink, why the bombs, and HOW did the humans know what was coming? Let’s answer these in order.

1. The Blue ink, as we find out via a note in the “Gauntlet” Section of Hunrath, is a shade of blue the Mofang cannot see. To any Mofang that visited Hunrath before these plans were completed, those blue diagrams and warning messages are *invisible* and all they’d see is blank paper.

2a. Why the bombs? It seems that, at some point during their interactions with the three other races, a large portion of the Mofang decided that, where-ever the Cells were going, they wanted to go *alone.* To that end- they don’t want to Colonize the other Cells. They want them *dead.* These bombs, if Soria is any indication, annihilates every trace of life within a Cell. Make no mistake, the Mofang wanted the other races *dead.*

2b. What prompts this? The only hint we have to their possible motive is the world outside of Soria- the Arizona desert that the Hunrath Cell came from. On one side of the bubble, we see it caked with black gunk (See that one picture a few pictures up)- on the other, we see a town that is smoking, abandoned, and looks vaguely apocalyptic.

Though we cannot see it easily, there *are* signs of craters out in the desert around the town, and in the battery ending, the giant dust cloud we see emerges from one of these craters. It’s been speculated, though we really have no proof, that this is the end result of a war of some kind on Earth. If it were, it would be enough to put the fear into the Mofang that the Humans, or the Arai, or the Villien, could potentially end up being self destructive and kill everyone else in the process.

In the end, though, it was the Mofang’s own actions that proved to be their downfall.

3. How did the Humans/Villiens/Arai Know enough to prepare? The answer is found through several different documents, hinted at in some vaguely, and flat out declared in others. A section of the Mofang in their Celled City did NOT want the death of the others, and realized what a bad idea it was. These Mofang warned the others through Farley, and through espionage, stole the information of the Bomb Swap Coordinates and gave it to the others so their counter plan could be put into motion. What the bombs look like, why there are notes that some Mofang were not told about Villien devices that could disrupt their technology, why so many important messages are written in that shade of blue ink…

It all ties back to the fact that they were divided as a culture, and so those who sought the destruction of the others had their bombs returned to the sender. Save for the Mofang who allied with the other races and were Chambered away? Their race is now in even more of a threat of extinction than they were before being pulled into the Seed selection process. Their tree, as it were, was trimmed of the rotten branches.

It’s telling, then that the Soria tree is still half alive. If the Cells and the Trees represent the races that they’ve saved from certain doom- then the Tree miraculously surviving tells us all that we need to know. There’s still a chance for the Mofang who survived.

A Message of Morality?

Trees, Seeds, and Matching Pairs.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Seed Pairs are intentionally that of “Lesser Than/Greater Than.” Of the Humans/Mofang, the Humans represent the Lower end of technology, while the Mofang represent the Higher end. Similarly, the Arai are a culture of bugs, and the only technology in their sphere is that of a now extinct race that once lived with them; the Villien, on the other hand, are a race of space faring nomads with the technology to reach space.

In terms of story telling parallels, it’s of no surprise that the Human’s outside the Cells seem to have self destructed in total warfare, and the Soria Cell Mofang similarly were eradicated due to their own bomb. As well, the two endings are a tale of hubris versus humility.

The Battery (Bad) ending tells the story of what happens when you insist that your technology is the answer. If you use Technology to overwrite the choice of others- they too will use technology to overwrite your choice. C.W. thought he knew better- says that they should have listened to him- and is proven wrong for his hubris.

The Diaspora (Good) ending tells the story of what happens when you  let nature take its course, and don’t fight the system that is trying to save you.  Farley has faith that the Seeds will take them somewhere safe from their dying worlds, and is proven correct when all four Spheres are taken to a new world.

20160901191022_1

The Game; The Bugs; The Unreal.

So, now that I’ve thoroughly dug through the hefty meat of the story, what else is there to talk about? Well.. the Bugs. And I don’t mean the Arai.

In the single month since Obduction has been released, Cyan Worlds has released two finished patches that have sought to make the game better- but as with all games, not every machine takes the same patch in the same way, and sometimes, a new patch to fix one thing may cause problems for others.

NAVIGATION- Free Roam mode has a few places where you might find yourself suddenly stuck walking onto a rock and getting stuck on the scenery. Usually, walking backwards the way I came fixed it for me, but for others, the only solution could be to switch into Node Navigation mode. There are places in Maray where you might get yourself stuck changing out pieces of the Gauntlet in the wrong order- but it’s a known issue and Cyan is working on it. And until then, as long as you work through the Gauntlet logically, you shouldn’t run into too much trouble.

TEXTURE ISSUES – Some people reported seeing Black Bars over various Books or other readables- this has been fixed in the latest patch according to some people who have had it, but unfortunately, this is one that Cyan may never be able to squash entirely, because the end result is entirely dependent on your Computer’s Graphics Card.

INTERFACE ISSUES – Some user interfaces either make little sense at first, or can fail to react to the user’s input. The Villein Number Pads are an example of both. They’re finicky if you don’t have the right angle in free roam mode. They may work better in node navigation, which I haven’t tried. I’m not sure if Cyan is working on stabilizing them, or if this is just a thing that’s computer dependent.

LOADING SCREEN LENGTH – Another one that’s entirely dependent on your computer. I’ve seen some videos from people with high end computers that have very short loading screens. People like me with older computers, however, will have to sit through the loading screens. For those of us who have played 3d games like URU over the many years, this isn’t something we haven’t seen before. It’s simply a fact that older computers may take longer to load a level. URU used to take almost half an hour on my old Windows ME computer when it first came out just to load some ages. Hunrath, by sheer fact of being the hub world, will likely always end up with the longest load times no matter how good your machine, however.

There *was* a bug that caused some save games to get stuck in a perpetual loading screen loop, however I haven’t heard any complaints of that since the first patch went live, and it seems to have been permanently fixed.

FALLING THROUGH FLOORS / VARIOUS OTHER LOADING RELATED ISSUES. – It’s not a race. You Don’t need to run everywhere all the time. I run into more invisible walls when I use the Run mode than when not. This isn’t something that can be fixed easily because- again- it’s a glitch that has more to do with your computers render speeds than anything else. Even with an MMO like Elder Scrolls Online, you will run into this bug. In ESO, they fixed it with a sudden loading screen that will pop up if it detects you’re about to run into a place where the collision hasn’t fully loaded yet. I’m not sure how easily something like that could be implemented into Obduction.

Some areas are designed to keep you from accessing them until you’ve fully loaded everything- it may bounce you backwards the way you came, or it might stop you from moving to load it- but these are areas that were designed that way and repeatably behave that way. If Cyan can pull such a similar thing to ESO’s loading screen halts off, then that’s great, but some people may find the sudden loading screens more annoying than falling through the world.

Red Eyes Beware., Red Rings of Death., Behold, the Solar Flare.,

The Ratings are In…

Some people will say that Cyan spent too much time making every object unique and that the game wasn’t modular enough. Some people will- and have- claimed that anyone that defends Obduction as a good game- one that could be enjoyed even with the bugs- is a “Silver tongued Liar.” To which I say, “Ow! That hurts.” Some people will say that it’s a “Buggy Beta Test Game” that shouldn’t have been released…

These are the people that either don’t yet understand that bugs will always slip through the cracks of any game, no matter the hard work put into it; or are the ones that understood the message Obduction was trying to tell, in some way or another, and have rebelled against it, striking out in the only way that seems natural to them.

Some of the most negative, vile comments I have seen towards Obduction are those that can only come from a willful desire to manipulate information, and to make others hate the game as they hate it, if they even do. Is there a point to believing them? I’m sure some people will agree with those comments. I’m sure some wont. What will the greater/lesser break down be, in the long run? I can’t say for sure.

To look at a game like No Man’s Sky, if the game is truly as bad as some people claim, it would be seen almost instantly. The overall rating for Obduction at the time of writing this is incredibly positive. It’s been a month since it came out. In about the same amount of time, No Man’s Sky became a laughing stock.

I am not claiming that Obduction is 100% perfect. Are there things that could have been done differently with the Gauntlet? Yes. Could the game have spent more time in testing? No. The game was as polished as it was going to be in-house. There are some bugs in video games that never surface until someone playing the game does something stupid that completely breaks everything… or does something insane that should have no way of working, and yet does.

Consider for a moment this video– where in a player jumps out of a plane, parachutes down to three snipers, takes them out with defibrillator paddles, and then casually parachutes down to his slowly-gliding-to-the-ground plane and gets back inside and flies off to the next battle. The general reaction from the comments of who saw it was split between “Give him a medal,” “Who even does something like that??” and “CLEAR!” Followed by insane laughter.

Now, ask yourself for a moment- what game developer would ever consider such a strategy from a player?  We humans are creatures of chaos- the things we can do in video games can sometimes be something the developers never expected. Now, this jet jump is an extreme example, and Obduction is no fighting game… But consider that same human creativity- the sheer power of the thought of “Can I do this?” and then the feeling of excitement when it *works,* or the feeling of disappointment when it fails. Apply that to any person playing Obduction- and wonder what impossible thing a player could come up with that the developers never thought would happen, and could not test for.

Now let’s think- how many of those moments did you have while Playing Obduction- if you’ve played it before reading this review, that is? How many of them panned out and worked? Did any fail? Think for a moment on if Cyan thought that someone might think of that idea, and planned for it.

When you think about all of that, and then look back upon Obduction as a whole- the game play and the story, and how intertwined it all is. No Puzzle in Obduction is simply for the sake of a Puzzle. Think about all of that, that everything in the story was built for specific purposes by the people living there…

Think about how the end conclusion is one that must be realized by those seeing with their own eyes… and it’s no wonder that the game has such a positive rating on Steam.

What Do You See?

In Conclusion….

…Cyan World’s Obduction is a puzzle game that tells a story with a message. This message, however, is one that you have to piece together to understand. To do otherwise would to bring on the claims of it being “Too Preachy!” Much like the Myst series, however, it is a Message that emphasizes the importance of Choice- both as a group, and as individuals.

It was the action of a Lone Arai Polyarch that swapped the bomb that destroyed Soira and prevented more death. It was the action of a large group of Mofang that sent the bomb in the first place. It was the actions of a few lone Mofang who told the Humans about the bomb, so that they all could prepare as a group.

Obduction is a story of observation, of taking in every detail and then asking yourself one important question at the very end of it all, even if you don’t quite realize that is the question you’re asking, you’re asking it none the less. Does the gameplay itself lend to blocking this message? At times, yes, it can. Bugs (Digital) can be frustrating. But Bugs (Arai) can be helpful. Some Arai will guide you around and generally show you where you need to go on Hunrath and Kaptar, if you’re paying attention to them.

In the end, it is the actions of the player who decides the fate of the Seed clusters.

The thing about both endings is that C.W. never left Hunrath during the time the game runs. He has the player doing all the hard work while he builds his devices. He never saw what Earth outside Soria had become, and he had no way of knowing what he would be sending us into if the Battery remained connected. He never observed any of the aftermath of what was going on. He never observed the still-ongoing fire fight in Maray. He never observed the chambers defrosting. He had no way of knowing that the people he assumed were all dead were coming back.

In the five plus days since the Mofang started their bombing run, C.W. was locked up inside his vault, considering his return to earth to be the only option. He wished to return to his family so badly that he blinded himself to the clues around him. He never gave himself the chance to ask one very important question…

What Do You See?

-Calum Traveler

 

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