Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pathologic: The story continues . . .

Hey all. If you've been reading through these posts, we'd like to thank you. It was an incredible ride, and one we've enjoyed writing about. We'll be posting a few more things in the coming weeks--including a look at the other endings as well as a dialog about our reactions and interpretations as players.

Also, there's a project continuing, in a similar vein, that chronicles the Devotress' part of the story. You can read about it at this link:

We'd love to hear your reactions in the comments--thoughts, rants, whatever. If you just randomly clicked on this blog, then by all means start reading from the beginning.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pathologic: Day Twelve—Endgame (Part 2)

(To read Part 1 of the Haruspicus's Day 12, go here. To read about the Bachelor's final decision, go here.)

My talk with the Developers at the Theater has empowered me, convincing me that I am more than just a toy at the mercy of unpredictable gods. Ultimately, I may be walking the Authorities' predetermined path, but it is I and no other who has been choosing how I walk it, and it will be I and no other who will decide the town's fate at the Cathedral. I am more than just my in-game avatar—I am the player, and my choices make all the difference.

The thing is, free will is a double-edged sword. It carries with it the responsibility to make right choices and the possibility of making wrong choices. I've done some pretty disturbing things over the last twelve days, and right now I am not at all sure what my final action should be. Of course, as a puppet I would not be responsible for anything I do. As a free agent, though, I'm responsible for everything I do. Total freedom can be terrifying.

So when I step inside the Cathedral on the evening of the last day and find the leading figures in this drama all waiting for me to make up my mind, anxiety suddenly hits me. This is it. "The Haruspicus's words shall be my words. His deeds shall be my deeds," I told the Developers. In a sense, then, the consequences of my choice will be very real. I personally will share Artemiy Burakh's victory—or his failure.

The Devotress's Argument

I choose to speak to the Devotress before anyone else, hoping to find out, at long last, what her angle is in all this. I learn precious little, other than that there apparently were at least two of her running around the town this entire time. "Perhaps I am not the Klara you knew before," she says. "There are a few of us, you know.... The face is the same, but who knows whose will is behind it this time?" This does not inspire my confidence in anything she suggests.

She suggests that it's not actually necessary to destroy the town or the Polyhedron. Whatever weird errands she has been running since Day 1, they have all been in service of forging a miracle that will preserve everything as it is while eradicating the Sand Plague once and for all. Her visits with Anna Angel and Catherina Saburov, the upsetting tales she told my Adherents, her offer of help yesterday with the Elder's final trial—all to bring about this supposed miracle.

This is all very confusing for me. Already I am disoriented—I was expecting something less heady when I first entered the Cathedral, and the translated dialogue isn't helping. The implications of this for what I already know are difficult to parse. The Haruspicus is a shaman of sorts, no stranger to the supernatural, but his is a mysticism of earth, flesh, and the harsh inevitability of death. The Devotress's talk of a miracle that can paradoxically save both the Polyhedron and the town is an alien concept. The Sand Plague did not arise spontaneously; it originated because of either the Abattoir or the Polyhedron. The only way to stop the Plague is to cut out its source. I tell the Devotress to keep her shadowy miracles and multiple personalities to herself and move on.

The Bachelor's Argument

As ever, the Bachelor is unbending in his contention that the town is a cancer and that salvation lies with the Kains and their Polyhedron. The only reason I think otherwise, he says, is that the Inquisitor has been lying to me, manipulating me to keep the town out of the crosshairs and her neck off the chopping block. When I ask him what makes him so sure of her cunning when I suspect her of nothing, he responds delicately that he's just better than I am at thinking logically. The Bachelor can be a bit of a prick sometimes.

Some of what he says makes sense to me: more sense than I anticipated, actually. I've been mulling over the revelation of my late father's involvement with the Polyhedron project, and I can't align it with my current beliefs. If my father, at one time the most important person in my Order, supported the Polyhedron's construction, shouldn't I as well? What if the Bachelor is right, and I've just been manipulated by everyone I've talked to? I have to trust someone if I am to decide, but maybe I've been trusting the wrong people all along.

The Final Decision

I talk to the Inquisitor, looking for confirmation of ... well, anything that I've heard so far. She seems cool and collected, deferring to me for a decision and not trying to guide me one way or another. I try to frighten her into giving something away by once again demolishing the fourth wall, speaking in my own voice instead of through the Haruspicus. It's a cool trick that I've discovered, and it does scare her ("Give me back my Haruspicus," she wails), but it gets me no closer to knowing what I should do. I turn to General Blok, pull up the options for my decision, and sit there, thinking.

I agonize for about ten minutes, turning over my options in my head. The Polyhedron has stirred up the Sand Plague. It's acting as a womb for some ... thing. I've thought it was the root of the epidemic for some time now. On the other hand, my father seemed to have no problem with it. Back at the Theater, one of the Developers told me that the town will always be imperiled by one thing or another: if not the Sand Plague, then war, famine, or plain old human depravity. Perhaps I should give up on the town as a lost cause and cast my lot with the Kains and their Utopia.

Then I remember the conversations I had with my Adherents this morning. They will grow up to be, in their own way, just as weak and selfish as their parents. They'll fall in love and rebuild their homes, scheme for power and double-cross each other, and eventually bring some new calamity on themselves. That is to say, they'll be human beings. Hotheaded Notkin, spacy Laska, bedraggled Mishka with her dreams of growing into a beauty—they deserve to live the normal, messy life that everyone lives. Unfortunately, the Polyhedron is a beautiful lie, with its false, unnatural promises of immortality and an earthly utopia. It's been siphoning the earth's lifeblood in pursuit of an impossibility. The lie must be destroyed and the lifeblood turned to curing the Plague if salvation is to be achieved.

I tell General Blok to train his guns on the Polyhedron and to fire at midnight, giving me enough time to herd the children inside to safety. Opening my journal, I write, "Will shall make my choice right." I push open the Cathedral's doors and step out into the clear night air.

I find myself back in the Theater, now cleaned up and closed down. A disembodied voice echoes off the walls: "We admit the victory of the Player." I am standing on stage, with little burlap dolls scattered around my feet. For the first time in the game, there is complete silence: no dour music, no industrial clanking in the distance. The only sound is my hollow footfalls on the wooden planks.

Up against the wall, I spy three life-sized dolls of the Bachelor, the Devotress, and the Haruspicus, all leaning against each other, huge among the smaller burlap figures. Here, at the end of the game, I feel a strange affection for the creepy little things. The Haruspicus figure in particular interests me. If that is Artemiy Burakh's body there against the wall, then what figure is standing before it? Whose eyes am I looking out of?

Mine, I realize. I, the player, Kevin, am quite literally standing onstage in the game. I've been there the whole time. The entire game was just a stage on which played out the drama of my decisions as a player. Maybe the town was all make-believe, but one thing was real: the choices I made within that imaginary world. Those decisions constituted the drama that took place here. Now the play is over.

I see a door to my right and open it, floating away from the Theater into a starry void.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pathologic: Statistics

If you wanted to see the rate of deaths throughout the game, I've plotted the numbers on a convenient graph. Click it if you dare. In the end, the consequences were slightly more dire for the Bachelor than for the Haruspicus--but just barely.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pathologic: Day Twelve, in which it will become apparent what all this was for (Part II)

I don't need to repeat what Kevin has written. The children are psychopathic gods, and this town is their sandbox. To them, this is a game (as it is to me, I note with some irony--both as the Bachelor and as his player). I'm a "toy who came alive"--a "scary puppet".

"Ask whom you want - you are a puppet. Your name is Bachelor. You are a scary clown.
When we play with you, you are always bad."
In my journal afterwards:

Yes, the pestilence has happened in the sand box . . . Anyway, but the hero--the hero is severely deceived: It seems all this time he thought himself a living person saving living people. This feeling, no doubt, added eagerness to him, helped him to reach the ending, even with some triumph.

Vain. This is all in vain. He is a puppet saving silly dolls in a painted small town. It is strange that the almighty Authorities were silent till now. Probably they are bothered, or simply want to go home for supper.


I wander the town, talking to my adherents one last time. They all speak of the destruction of the town, specifically the construction on the other side of the river. It is strange how, till now, both as the Bachelor and player, I have cauterized any emotional connection to the town. It isn't that I'm not properly "role playing" as the Bachelor. In fact, I believe I experience the emotional disconnect precisely because I'm playing the part of the Bachelor. Yet here, on the final day, my head is spinning. Up till now I've known precisely the answer. The town must be destroyed. Not as an act of apathy or aggression: the root of the pestilence is here, has been here all along, and will endure long after I leave.

The Devotress tells me I have to sacrifice something. That a stand must be taken. "One queen by all means wants to destroy a wonderful tower; the other one wants to exterminate as many people as possible for her own calm."

Each of the Haruspicus' adherents have the same thing to say. "One always has to fight for li[f]e, otherwise it's not real. You cannot tear off the umbilical cord that has been feeding us all since the world's creation. It has already found death almost everywhere."

The Kains are obsessed with the idea of the Utopia on the other side of the river. The children are obsessed with their lives ahead here, in the town stained with blood. I can't help the feeling of despair in thinking of each possible future. The instruments of death are both here: the Polyhedron and the Sand Plague. The roles they played in the horror I've witnessed are irrelevant. The true evil is in our own humanity. As long as humans live, they will desecrate. They will cheat, lie, steal, murder--they will waste and build and lay waste again and again. It is here, in this manufactured game of pawns and queens, that I have been shown--not told--the true nature of the human spirit.

As Kevin walks toward the Cathedral, the sky above blue with broken clouds, I have nothing more than the same yellow haze to which I've grown accustomed. Perhaps I played the game wrong. Perhaps I have been too pessimistic.

I have no idea what to say when I come to the Cathedral at 7pm. The Executor says that "All works in the interest of inevitability. You cannot hide anywhere from it. Evil conquers all." With I sigh, I open the doors and enter the sanctuary. There are Aglaja the Inquisitor, Artemiy Burakh the Haruspicus, Maria Kain and General Blok; all of them have something different to say--some piece of the puzzle. The Haruspicus is under the impression that I would destroy the town as a way of spiting Aglaja. Aglaja says "Here and now I suggest buying the happiness of several thousand for a small sacrifice, because Utopia demands sacrificing more and more. Even this Utopia."

On the Polyhedron, she remarks, “On a whim of the Authorities, the Miracle, casually embodied in the Polyhedron, has been violently rejected by the flesh of the town which has grown it up and fed it with the resources: people and hot blood. This flesh became for it simultaneously a bowels and a prison . . . And how is that you came to the town at this time? A hero by all attributes. Almost a miracle maker. The Authorities tried to manipulate you to defend the miracle—not the Kains; they are unfortunate and possessed. This is their role. They are puppets. But you—You want to become a slave again? The Authorities subordinate you to the plan.”

Is she lying? Am I being manipulated? Everyone in this town has an angle: The Inquisitor has her death sentence hanging over her head, the Kains envision their own paradise. The Haruspicus has his crop of children, all waiting to be corrupted like their forebears. The General only wants to see this place burn. As for me, all I want is to win. Not as a player, but as the Bachelor, at the edge of the board, finally empowered, no longer pawn.

Maria Kain takes me aside at the rear of the Cathedral. “I have already begun, my Daniel,” she says. “When night falls and the wind scatters smoke from the charred ground, and the dust and rubble are swept clean, you will see new constellations in the sky. They will shine down, and when they reach the merlons of the Polyhedron, a miracle will happen.”

“What will they be like? And how will you name them?” I ask.

“We shall see. But I expect the red shall prevail in them. Ruby, scarlet, crimson, violet, pink, claret, garnet—the colour of fire, stained blood. Perhaps you will even see something familiar in their structure.”

I imagine, in this scene, the Bachelor's expression as he listens to Maria. The brief hope her words give, even as she talks about her "Authority"--her place as mother in this town, giving birth to whatever Utopia she envisions. My pulse racing, I turn, walk down the steps, and speak to the General.

"So, Bachelor. Your decision was not made by calculation or self-interest; it was not urged by the circumstances, but only by your conscience. I have received the order to raze everything to the ground. But there is no such necessity. I am ready to believe you, having risked my life and honour, wherefore I am merciful. Where do I target my guns?" he asks.

The Final Set of Decisions
The general is wrong. In the end, I have only my own interests at heart. My modus operandi as the Bachelor has been calculation and manipulation from the beginning--a power play. Things have finally become clear. The Authorities are irrelevant. All I want--and have wanted--is my own victory. And that is, in the end, what all of this was for.

I am reminded of something Mark Twain once said. "Faith is believin' what you know ain't so." I look to Maria, smug and assured behind the general, then down at my choices. Utopia was always a myth. Moreover, I can't stand the thought of letting the Kain family have their own private paradise.

For a moment, I imagine the Bachelor spitting at Maria's feet, then looking to General Blok.

"It is enough to destroy the Polyhedron to stop the spreading of infection. There is no sense to destroy the whole town," I tell him.

Check and mate. Smug, I leave the Cathedral. The trains will leave soon. I can imagine the scenarios beyond. With the Architect's help, and proper planning, the Bachelor could very well return to the capitol and build several more Polyhedrons. Perhaps in healthier soil, with fewer variables, he could perfect the work that was started here and begin anew.

I sleep until midnight and see the ending. The general orders the guns to fire, and the Polyhedron is blown to bits as the Authorities watch in horror. The town blossoms. The Haruspicus sits with the children, the streets are green, and the Sand Plague has retreated into the warm earth. This is, of course, not my victory: it belongs to Artemiy Burakh. The town has no need of me anymore. I imagine the Bachelor back at the Capitol right now, hard at work, and closer than ever to creating a Utopia.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pathologic: Day Twelve—Endgame (Part 1)

(or, in which the game shows Kevin what a REAL existential crisis looks like)

The morning of the twelfth day has come.

Infected in the past 24 hours: 337 people
Died in the past 24 hours: 635 people
Gone missing: 133 people
Number of dead at the moment: 7620 people
Number of infected: 535 people

This day is the last. Less than fourteen hours remain to make a worthy decision.

I have no idea what to expect when the game clock ticks over to midnight on Day 12. I've been getting letters from General Blok and the Inquisitor, who both tell me that I will be responsible for deciding the town's fate by the end of the day. All the backbiting and power plays and lying have resulted in a stalemate, and it's up to me to break it before the Sand Plague surges permanently out of control. The final council convenes at 7 pm in the Cathedral. By then I will have to have sorted out what, if anything, needs to be destroyed to save the town.

Until yesterday, this would have been an easy choice for me. But after hearing that my father was involved with the work on the Polyhedron and after discussing it with Duke, I'm no longer quite so sure that Petr Stamatin's architectural marvel is the root cause of the epidemic. I'm simultaneously eager and apprehensive about what will happen before this evening: eager because I'm finally going to get some answers, apprehensive because I don't know what ordeals await me before then.

Nothing could have surprised me more than what I see when I finally set foot outside my door in the morning.

The streets are utterly, eerily deserted. No children, no thugs, no infected—even the soldiers have vanished, with the exception of a couple of sentries who have inexplicably remained at their posts. I wander around for an hour, searching for any sign of life, but the only sound I hear is my own footsteps on the cobblestones. Even the Sand Plague is mysteriously absent. What's going on? When I talk to the Bachelor about it, he reacts almost with a shrug. He plans to tell General Blok to destroy the town. Don't you care that that will kill everyone? I ask. "Look around you!" he counters. "Everyone is already dead. The two of us is all that's left."

That's not entirely true, of course—there is the matter of the still-living Adherents, mine and the Bachelor's and the Devotress's. It seems that now is the time to cure everyone I can with the panacea I've been hoarding. I visit all 18 Adherents, curing the six who had fallen ill in the last few days. When I've finished, I have one flask of panacea remaining, and I finally allow myself the luxury of drinking it and purging the Plague from my body. After over a week of worrying and slowly hemorrhaging blood, I can hardly believe the sight of a completely empty infection meter.

This final journey through the town also affords me the chance to speak one last time with my Adherents. It's a goodbye of sorts. Whatever happens tonight, I probably won't see them again, and the eleven days I've spent helping them and worrying about them has forged a bond between us. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I'll kind of miss them when this is all over. They're already preparing themselves for the future. With Kapella coming into her powers as a seer, she's told them what their lives will be like if the town survives today, and they're eager to share this information with me. Notkin will manage the warehouses and forage for supplies out in the steppe. Spichka will grow up to be a savvy leader and merchant. Mother Keeper will act as my right hand among the butchers of the Order. And poor damp Mishka says she will move out of her cramped railcar and blossom into a tall, raven-haired beauty. As I move from one child to another, hearing their hopeful stories, I'm touched. Surrounded as they are by the relentless despair of the rest of the game, these moments are startlingly, charmingly bittersweet.

Of course, this being Pathologic, nothing goes untempered by hints of darkness. Khan and Notkin persist in their feud and are already plotting intrigues against each other. Spichka sees this and plans on using their conflict to his own advantage. Mother Keeper says that part of her role as my right hand will be keeping the nobles-to-be from tearing each other apart. If I choose to destroy the Polyhedron and save the town, the children will raise civilization from the ashes, but it won't take much for them to return to the backstabbing ways of their forebears. In this place, nothing ever truly heals.

The exact spot in the trainyard where I woke up bleeding twelve days ago. I've come a long way since then, but some places look the same as they ever did.
After I finish with my Adherents, I don't know what to do other than wait for the meeting at the Cathedral to start. Then at 6 pm I receive a mysterious letter from "the Authorities" summoning me to the Inner Sanctum of the Polyhedron. Eager to see the interior of this building for the first time in the game (and find out who "the Authorities" are), I rush inside and am greeted with the same amazing sights that Duke saw on Day Nine: warm colors, strange decorations, vertiginous stairways. I descend to the very bottom, with crowds of children silently watching me. I step onto a complex design etched into the floor. Abruptly, I am transported to a courtyard in the middle of a featureless void, lit only by a single lamppost. Two children stand beside a sandbox, staring at me. I strike up a conversation with the boy, and that's when the bottom falls out of reality.

Note the subtle change in scale: These "children" are as big as I am.
All of this—the Sand Plague, the slaughter, people dying agonizing deaths in blood-spattered houses—has been nothing more than a children's game, two kids playing with dolls in a sandbox. The boy is amazed to see me standing before him, for of course the Haruspicus also was a doll, a prop moved from place to place within the model town. "You came to life!" the boy exclaims. "You have been doing whatever you want lately. It's impossible! You are spoiling the game!"

I read the words with a dizzy feeling. Is that all this was? All the things I was forced to do to stay alive, all the dark places I had to visit, all the random catastrophes that occurred day after day—it was just a charade, pointless. To these kids, they were just ripping the wings off flies and smashing sandcastles for kicks, but down there in their creation, people scrambled for salvation. And I have only been their tool, playing the part they wanted me to play. I open my journal to find a new entry scrawled there:
It seems that all this time he had been thinking that he was a living man, saving living people. That feeling, without doubt, added to his aspiration, helped him reach the endgame and even triumph.

In vain, all this is in vain ... He is a puppet, saving dolls in a drawn town.
Everything I've done, then, has been meaningless. I feel like a door has softly clicked shut behind me, stranding me in a dark room. (Duke, who was sitting near me at the time, can tell you that I kept saying "No. Oh, no" over and over.) My struggles to save the town only felt real because of the magic of the Polyhedron, which the boy tells me "brings things to life." "We only made the town," he says, "but it became a wonder all by itself. We put the dolls we didn't care for in it ... They were handicapped anyway."

"I'm not a doll. I am a human being!" I reply. It seems to be less a protest than a futile whimper.

The girl beside the boy agrees with him. "You were never loved, really. You have always been a scary doll, and playing with you wasn't much fun."

Not to be overly dramatic, but I imagine that this is what losing my faith might feel like: God is capricious and sadistic, and he doesn't give a shit about you. I turn to leave the courtyard.

Outside the Polyhedron, I am surprised to find that I feel defiant rather than listless or hopeless. When I receive a letter from "the Developers" calling me to the Theater, I immediately march off in that direction, passing the Cathedral, where the council is beginning. I don't know what awaits me at the Theater, but I'm already steeling myself against it. I still have a decision to make, and I am going to make it even if it does mean nothing.

I am surprised yet again. Inside the Theater, an Executor and a Tragedian are waiting for me. When I speak to the Tragedian, his tone is sad. We have the following exchange, in which I experience one of the most electrifying moments I've ever had as a gamer.

Tragedian: You see how sad our fate is. We are poor actors, who hoped you'd be the director of a new pantomime, because the old one is so boring. But you turned out to be a doll ...
Haruspicus: But I am not a doll.
Tragedian: Did I hear correctly? Who is speaking?
Haruspicus: It's me—the player.

The conversation that changes everything.
Up till now I was merely playing through the Haruspicus, pretending to be him, having my in-game avatar do and say the same things that I would do and say if I were there. In one swift movement, that slight remove is swept away. It is now I, the player, Kevin, who is talking to characters and deciding the town's fate. People talk about breaking the fourth wall, but even that is passive for the audience—they are still observers only. What if, instead of merely addressing the audience at the end of a play, an actor pulled a spectator on stage and he became the play's main character? It's no coincidence that I'm having this conversation inside a theater.

The Executor, meanwhile, speaks to me of free will. It all comes down to choices, he says. Why are you here? To stop the evil of the Sand Plague from spreading, I answer. But was the Plague the real enemy? "It's just as much a weapon for evil as a scalpel is for you," the Executor says. "The disease will leave, it'll devour itself. War will come instead, famine will come after war, heresy will come after famine." It's impossible to truly save the town from anything. The true evil is apathy, resignation to fate. I may be a plaything of the Authorities, but I am no slave. The Executor tells me that it's the difference between predestination and prophecy. Predestined, I have no choice in the matter; I move and speak the way I must. When I fulfill a prophecy, I have absolute freedom. I simply choose to walk along the road that has been laid before me. My path to the Cathedral for my judgment has already been set by the Authorities, but I, the player, Kevin, am the one who will enter and decide.

Clicking through the conversation, I feel thrilled, liberated in a way. Yes, I am responsible for him [the Haruspicus], I say. I will stay with him till the end. His words shall be my words. His deeds shall be my deeds.

While my meeting with the Authorities made me feel abandoned and powerless, my meeting with the Developers has filled me with a grim sense of purpose. I walk back to the Cathedral, noticing that the clouds have finally lifted and the sun is shining. Without the Plague-scarred buildings and the ever-present brown haze in the air, the town is startlingly pretty. For the first time in the game, it looks like a place that might be worth saving.

At the Cathedral, I tell another Executor guarding the doors to let me in. The Executor stands aside. "Enter, Haruspicus," he says. "The meeting awaits your decision. The Queens have paralyzed each other. A tragic stalemate is threatening the game at the moment. You are a pawn that's become a queen. Finish it, it is endgame!"