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  • An Analysis Of The Mechanics And Narrative Of Superliminal

    - Erik Dewhurst

  • Level 5 - Clone


    An alarm wakes you up in a sleep-study bedroom. It's 6am and the halls are empty. The repetition is deliberately numbing, reinforcing the dream state and the feeling of being stuck in an endless loop. This disorientation is further reiterated by the introduction of mechanics that clone objects as you touch them.


    Once introduced to the cloning mechanic, the Orientation Protocol returns to note the dangers of dream overexposure. She warns you of "hallucinations of dreaded or annoying objects" as you walk into a room with a ringing alarm clock and "unrealistic beliefs about the lengths of hallways," which you've experienced multiple times already. This dialog continues to raise the stakes and is a good bit of self awareness that grabs the player's attention. The cloning puzzles continue throughout the level, but the most iconic is the dreaded alarm clock being used as building blocks to escape a room.

    In the latter half of the level, the Orientation Protocol lets you know Dr. Pierce was attempting to contact you, but she's unwilling to relay his messages. Again, this raises the stakes. Your lifeline is cut off. In a brief moment of hope, Dr. Pierce's radio appears again, but his speech is garbled nonsense. The level ends there as you step into yet another elevator.


    As mentioned, the key developments in the narrative are A) the threat that you are being overexposed to dreams and B) you've lost contact with Dr. Pierce. These messages being delivered by the Orientation Protocol gives more of a dream like feeling.


    This level introduces one mechanic and one modifier of that mechanic: 

    • Cloning Objects

    • Returning Cloned objects to their originating object

    Level 6 - Dollhouse


    Sleep-study bedroom. 7am. There's a vignette filter on the camera. The music, which has been diegetic jazz appropriate for hotels and art galleries, is replaced with a calming cinematic score. It's like the game has stopped trying to convince you that you've woken up. You step out of the bedroom into a film theater playing a loop of clouds. Around a corner is a radio. Dr. Pierce provides a calming message. "You have reappeared on our monitors". This is the light at the end of the tunnel. There's a sense that things will get better soon. But before long, you're back to the puzzles. The theme herein is non-Euclidean objects and spaces -- doorways and hallways that lead to spaces with differing scales. The level explores this idea in ways that work with the scaling mechanic. The first puzzle forces you to expand a dollhouse until you can enter it. Then exit it through a different door and ultimately enlarge it enough to fit through a small door inside the dollhouse.


    Except for periodic check-ins from Dr. Pierce, the majority of this level involves "Alice in Wonderland" puzzles that shrink you to the size of a dollhouse or smaller than a chess set.


    The most notable change in the narrative is the upbeat prognosis that you are headed in the right direction. The Doctor thinks so at least. Aside from the soothing environment at the beginning of this level, the narrative and gameplay have little interplay. The "Alice in Wonderland" theme is a great reinforcement of the dream state, but Dr. Pierce's dialog doesn't reference it, or play into it.


    Like previous levels, there's a central reliance on a single mechanic. But this central mechanic isn't new. The non-Euclidean idea was introduced in the first level and again in the second.


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