Electron Dance

The Secret of Kairo


Richard Perrin's first-person exploration/puzzle game Kairo (available on Steam tomorrow) is a great example of environmental narrative taken to the extreme, because it tells a story eschewing words almost completely.

Yet after browsing reviews and impressions pieces, I discovered some players had trouble figuring out the story.

At The Border House, Michelle Ealey wrote: “After my first playthrough of Kairo, I was frustrated. I didn’t get it; I really didn’t know what had happened and why.”

John Walker at Rock Paper Shotgun wrote that "your purpose in Kairo is never explained" and "quite what Kairo is about entirely eludes me".

And Andrew Plotkin: “If I were to level a charge, it would be that the game world never really coheres, beyond the visual level. An adventure can set up its narrative drive through discovered texts and journals (old gag though that is). Or it can build a narrative out of its artistic details, the discovered connections and implications hidden in the visual world. Or this structure can come from the gameplay itself -- the connections you discover between the puzzles and mechanisms that make up the game. By solving, you learn what it's for.”

I'm going to let you decide. In this image-heavy post, I'm going to take you through my deconstruction of Kairo's story, start to finish. This means spoilers, of course. Massive spoilers the size of the Death Star.    

Auxiliary Power

We start in a white void, staring into a fog of questions. Who are we? Why are we here? What is this place? Is this a virtual construct or real?


We only really have one option - to explore the structure in the distance.

The game, at this early stage, suggests we are exploring the ruins of an ancient culture. Just inside the building, we find a throne – a recurring theme in Kairo – which suggests this was a seat for a monarch or similar figure, someone of importance. This is also the first time you see the tree symbol; perhaps it is the insignia of a leader or clan? We’ll come back to what this represents much later.


However, we are already made aware of the tone of this place, signalled via the disquieting ambient soundtrack by Wounds (Bartosz Szturgiewicz). In the original alpha, the soundtrack also demonstrated feelings of wonder and awe which lead me to write that Kairo was “calming and reassuring”. In the release version, this positive spark has all but been snuffed out and Wounds' music is mysterious and threatening. We are in an alien domain. Perhaps we do not belong here.


Soon, we will find the first hub chamber and from here we can find four puzzles that await us. Before I get to what these puzzles represent, there are a few rooms that carry information for us, if we're willing to take notice.

There's a pink space containing a platform that erupts to life when we step onto it. The crackle of static fills our ears and several panels appear, each one depicting an image of destruction. Is this a warning? A prophecy? Has this already happened? If we listen carefully, the ambient music develops a more sinister undertone when we stand on this platform. These visions are important.


There's also a corridor that I refer to as the mausoleum, because it contains nothing but coffins. Our current theory of ancient ruins suggests that these are the bodies of the people who built this place. But each coffin bears a screen and all of them display white noise… except two.


One of the screens relays a scene where we are moving through a continuous series of arches; the “camera” is heading into the distance. On the other screen, the image moves and twists as we step around the coffin. Examine it closely enough, and we will observe that the screen is reflecting what we are seeing. What does this mean?


The first structure in Kairo provides only questions; answers are for later.

It is time to review the puzzles, each of which has a particular function. Before we can descend into the underground chamber below the hub room, we need to accomplish four tasks.

One – generate a concentrated beam of light. I refer to this as the “sun room”.


Two – release water into channels that feed into the hub room.


Three – activate the power generator.


Four – touch a tree symbol.


Impossibly large locations seem to overlap, suggesting each doorway is more of a gateway between constructed spaces, as if we are moving through the infinitely complex bowels of the TARDIS from Doctor Who. The light beam that goes up from the “sun room” comes down into the hub.

The hub will only open once all four puzzles are completed. We can interpret this in many ways, although here is my breakdown: the tree symbol unlocks the lower chamber; the generator enables the “lift” which takes us down; the water powers the chamber through hydroelectric conversion; and the light beam... well, that's the whole point. (I’d argue, however, that Kairo does not provide enough feedback to let us figure out exactly what each component is for.)


Our task is to redirect the light beam out of the structure which, once we are back outside, activates a vast new structure that was previously hidden. This is a momentous moment that will trigger euphoria in any explorer-player: if you thought the first structure was big, well, zowee, look at the size of that.


The purpose of the first building is to awaken the second and we can think of it as an auxiliary power supply. It is in the second building, however, where Kairo begins to spill its secrets.


Inside the second building, we are funnelled through a chamber containing a sunken column and a battery of empty screens. Once we trigger the column, the screens activate – and it looks like someone is watching us. Who is out there? Who is the Big Brother of Kairo?


Beyond this chamber, we encounter another throne, bearing a new mouth symbol. It soon becomes clear that the symbol is the structure's name and not representative of some past clan or political power.


After this, a new hub area awaits us which connects to three new puzzles. Each puzzle has a specific role as in the first structure.

Let's consider the first puzzle, deep underground, in which we have to activate a machine for mining. But inside the machine is a clue that changes the meaning of the game. On the wall is a map.


This alien world has something to do with Earth. Now we begin to connect some worrying dots – images of ruin, coffins, a map of Earth. Is Kairo carrying the last humans after Earth was devastated? Is Kairo, in fact, a man-made artefact?

The second puzzle is a manufacturing machine, which converts mined materials into useful products. Once activated, it starts processing the mined “cubes” into different colours. But what will these materials be used for?


Once the machine is active, we can see materials being carried alongside an adjacent corridor. There's another slight narrative hiccup here, because the machine will process mined cubes even if the mining machine puzzle is not solved first and unable to provide raw materials.


The third puzzle appears to be a giant reactor of some sort. Kairo needs enormous reserves of power for something. But what is that something?


All together, these elements are the “engine” of Kairo. Once the three machines are activated, we are permitted to use a domed elevator that takes us to the second level of the complex and face a new puzzle hub.

There are four new puzzles that need to be solved here, which do not appear to relate explicitly to machinery. Here's where I think Kairo becomes a little unstuck, because these machines do not appear to have any direct purpose and are more like challenges. In fact, I wasn't able to figure out their meaning without, uh, looking under the hood of the game. It seems that they are merely challenges, designed to test your worth before we are allowed to proceed to the next section of Kairo.

Possibly there is a more metaphysical explanation for these chambers, but that feels unsatisfactory. Up to now, each machine has had a specific purpose, so the thematic switch feels inconsistent and Kairo appears far more game-like.

However, all four puzzles contain images from human culture – again reinforcing the connection between Kairo and Earth. Kairo knows humanity very well.


There is another hint in Kairo’s structure. In one connecting tunnel, a wall is broken revealing DNA. Why does Kairo carry DNA in its memory?


After besting the four new challenges, we ascend to the monitoring station to discover the identity of the Kairo Big Brother. We know how 3D games made on shoestring budgets play out, so we know there isn't going to be a fully interactive character to meet. So in a sense, the revelation shouldn't be a shock – but it is.


It's disheartening to discover someone was here before us and died alone. While it felt like Kairo was a safe place and would never let any harm come to us, we discover someone else has already died here, deep in the bowels of Kairo. Were they also tasked with solving the mystery of Kairo… and failed? Or did they accept the task of maintenance, watching over Kairo so that it did not collapse?

They've scratched on the station throne in English. This suggests Kairo is not man-made, because there is no recognizable human script used in Kairo – merely characters taken from an alien language. We humans are trapped here.

Now recall the mausoleum. There were two coffins with functioning monitors. One of them twisted and turned as we gazed at it, reflecting our own view. The other was travelling forever into the distance. It is now much more likely the coffins contain humans; the first human emerged, got as far as the monitoring station, and died. Kairo eventually reset and let out a second human. We are that second human.

We might wonder if we are still in that coffin, but it's unlikely considering we have discovered the corpse of our predecessor.

Kairo has woken us to complete the mission. But what is the mission?


Beyond the monitoring station, we find four pads. Each one takes us to a different destination. We recognise only two of the symbols.


The torii symbol on the far left takes our starting point in the void and the one of the far right, the fern, is where we are headed next. The third and final complex which reveals Kairo's true purpose.

We enter a vast hub area in which three puzzles are hidden. The first puzzle is a machine that collects the prepared materials from the engine complex.


The second puzzle is a machine that produces water. The interesting point about the water room is that the puzzle involves four bodies. Four bodies means they are unlikely to represent the Earth, Sun and Moon. Do they represent the Sun, Mercury, Venus and Earth? Or something else?


Once the puzzle is solved, it begins to rain outside the water machine and streams form in the hub area. The machine produces real water, not the “Kairo water” we saw in the auxiliary power section.


The last puzzle unlocks Kairo's genetic memory.


Once we solve it, birds fly overhead the “life temple” which contained the puzzle.


And images of Earth animals dot the hub landscape.


Kairo is Noah’s Ark. The purpose of Kairo is to breathe life back into Earth after some terrible disaster in the distant past. Kairo is part-machine, part-test. Only if the few survivors can figure out how Kairo works will Earth be reborn. They are tasked with proving themselves worthy, worthy of a second chance.

After the puzzles, there is just one place left to go. There is another room in the hub area that offers no puzzle, but is home to plenty of interesting imagery.

First note the final throne, before which is a map of the world. This rough, stone-looking map evokes a dead world more than some of the other images we have seen.



And here is something that bears closer inspection; a ghostly image of a dead Earth, with two spheres either side.


Look at the projection of the image onto on the floor. We’ve seen this peculiar shape only once before in the game: on the Kairo title screen.


That symbol, which has been staring us in the face from the very start of the game, is Kairo. Two artificial moons orbiting the Earth. That's why the water room had four bodies: the Earth, the Moon and Kairo.

We proceed onwards to the final chamber that contains a single floor pad. Once we step onto it, we witness the Earth being invigorated by two spheres spinning about it. In the background, a statue of a humanoid figure is illuminated.


All of Kairo's machines awaken and perform their mighty work. After the credits finish, we are allowed one brief glimpse of life on Earth, now reborn.


The Biggest Secret

I wrote last October that “Dear Esther doesn't need collectibles. Neither does Proteus. Nor Kairo.” Well, I was wrong. Kairo has collectible runes hidden in the most obnoxious places. These runes contribute nothing to the story of Kairo and only count towards the “secret ending”, unlocked if you discover all of Kairo's secrets. Further, the secret ending is a fourth-wall breaking tribute for dedicated players and yields no additional revelations about Kairo.

Yet, there are some secrets that do require discussion because they have narrative importance.

If we solve the optional music room puzzle in the auxiliary power structure or the hex room in the final control complex, we will be offered a brief vision of Earth in ruins. These merely confirm our understanding of the story and do not actually add anything.


However, if we solve the Skylab puzzle – which can only be done if multiple Kairo players work together – we will be rewarded with a very special vision.


This vision allows you to witness dead Earth from space, its signature blue replaced with a dark, caramelised brown. But move the mouse. The first thing we notice are the two artificial satellites of Kairo.

The second thing... is a NASA Space Shuttle drifting in space.


It is my belief that Kairo's human survivors are the astronauts stranded on this shuttle when the disaster occurred. (See Manny Coto's aborted series Odyssey 5 for a similar storyline.)


This, of course, is just my interpretation, but I dare say close to what Richard Perrin envisioned. And Perrin wanted to foster some ambiguity so there are no perfect answers to some of these questions. Maybe Kairo is man-made? Maybe the previous human in the monitoring station was simply watching over Kairo? As the Moon is not visible in the shuttle scene - maybe Kairo was constructed from the Moon?

But I'm unsure why Kairo was left for such a long time. It’s possible that Kairo was searching the universe for a “job” to do and happened upon Earth. It’s even possible that Kairo was responsible for the devastation of Earth but, considering the final message of the game as deserving second chances, this seems unlikely. Were the surviving humans dead when Kairo found them on the space shuttle?

There are also some narrative oddities throughout, some of which I've discussed. Let me pick out a few others. I find the distinction between “Kairo water” and “Earth water” strange. Also, Kairo sometimes implies every location is physically connected but at other times it embraces my TARDIS analogy.

In the latest build of Kairo, there's an addition to one of the secret rooms that clashes with the mausoleum. In the secret room, there are active screens just like on the coffins except instead of the camera travelling into infinity, it shows the view in the monitoring room from the perspective of the corpse. This suggests a little retconning and perhaps it would have been better to fix the mausoleum screen to match. Then again, I can see issues with that approach.

Also, I was unhappy most of the secrets build towards the fourth-wall breaking secret ending, which undermines the sense of place. I had hoped the secrets were part of Kairo's strange tapestry... but most of them weren't.

Nonetheless, I fell in love with Kairo and enjoyed every hour I spent in its company. The game delivers an environmental narrative showcase that stands apart from what we typically see in AAA titles and relies on it exclusively, doing away with exposition.

For that achievement alone, I congratulate Richard Perrin.

Bonus Crazy Theory Corner

I spent an absolute vomitload of time playing Kairo. To prove how far down the rabbit hole I went, here is one of my crazy theories. Is the garden near the start of the game actually a representation of the apocalypse?


Secret Addendum (25 Apr)

I just gave the new version on Steam a quick go, which is Kairo version 2.0. The above essay was prepared using version 1.2. The game has had some graphical improvements since then, but Perrin has dabbled with a few important additions that are relevant to the story.

There's indecipherable text on the back of the first structure, for example, lending more weight to the theory that Kairo is of alien origin.


Also, each of the three visions now reveals signs of previous life. The city ruins shows a sleeping bag with a knife beside it; the desert sports a tent and extinguished campfire; the space shuttle now has an astronaut floating near it, obviously dead - or at the very least, we are looking at an empty space suit.

It's now clear that these locations are where Kairo took its three "survivors" from. You are obviously one of these survivors. Another is dead at the monitoring station. Where is the third?

There is a purple-coloured secret room that has monitors tracking all three. The third survivor is apparently here:


The location shown on the monitor is unfamiliar and doesn't seem to be a part of Kairo that we are able to explore. So it was time for crazy theories again. I suspected there was one brief moment when we would be able to check this place ourselves.

I finished the game, waited for all of Kairo's other machines to wake up - and took the following screenshot.


We were never alone.

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Comments (62) Trackbacks (2)
  1. Well damn, that’s some heady stuff. I lack the presence of mind to pick up on details like this, so the analysis is much appreciated. It seems like my graphics card is just the right amount of weakness needed to make this not a good idea on my current laptop, but I want to give this a spin when I can.

    So, is the critical response a sign that narrative this environmental needs to wean people on its methods, or that even people that want environmental narrative don’t necessarily know what to look for?

  2. Really incredible stuff. I had picked up on the concept that I was on a man made installation, that Earth was in ruins, and that I was revitalizing the machines that would give Earth a second chance, but I never picked up on the second moon concept.

  3. @Beam: I don’t know. I found the main thrust of Kairo’s story “obvious” – that Kairo was here to reboot the planet. So I don’t know. I think if you intend to blow through the game’s puzzles, maybe you’re going to miss the clues? I really engaged with Kairo and spent way too much time tinkering, exploring and re-evaluating. I didn’t rush the game at all, treated it as a contemplative experience. I also had far too much fun exploring the Windows Kairo registry, which is a spoiler in some ways. For example, you learn the names that Richard Perrin gave each location but I pretended I didn’t know that information except for the bit where I explain the “four tests” were actually just tests.

    Incidentally, Perrin shared a few things with me on Twitter last night. He told me I got “80% of the story”. Apparently those four tests were actually building components of Kairo’s brain – which I can see now that I’ve been told – but I don’t think that comes across in the game at all.

    Second, he said there’s a reason the number of screens in one of the secret rooms is the same as the number of visions of the real world (three). Now I don’t think I would ever have got this, but it implies that there are only three survivors and the visions are where their bodies were recovered. Two on Earth (in ruins and a desert) and one is space. We are the second of only three survivors.

    This changes things a little. It means there’s a clear problem in the mausoleum area, that there should have been three “active” coffins; Perrin admitted that on Twitter as well. It also means Kairo has capacity for many more survivors: from this it would sort of confirm a theory that Kairo is an alien machine that drifts through space, giving dead planets a second chance.

    I don’t know. There’s a lot to speculate on here.

    @Dan: It’s great to hear that someone else picked up a lot of the narrative. I was starting to think it was just me! I admit I was still a little nervous about the two-moon concept, because it could have just been a metaphor, until the Skylab secret proved their existence.

    I managed to find/solve all of the optional secrets of Kairo myself except for the Skylab and one of the runes. I turned to the jayisgames thread for those. I remember thinking I was almost done when I accidentally found a secret door while searching for runes! That was an amazing moment.

  4. I also feel like the throne motif was important, but never figured out why.

  5. I enjoyed this photostory!

    It is a little saddening that despite constant cries for more games exhibiting depth and subtlety, when one comes along a lot of those writing about it protest that it is obtuse or incoherent. Have games trained our brains to be lazy? Do professional journalists try too hard to understand a game quickly, in order to meet deadlines or get that article written? Are hardcore gamers too obsessed with ‘beating’ a game to pick up on what it’s trying to say? Are players prepared to do the mental legwork only when trying to understand mechanics and systems?

    I feel almost as if the responses to Kairo say more about gaming than the game itself.

  6. Amazing piece indeed.

    @ShaunCG – as a professional journalist, I can sadly say that much of your fear is true. Many critics have no choice but to rush in order to meet deadlines (my personal horror story of having four days to play Two Worlds and write a review is an example); this eliminates much opportunity for consideration. But I also think that few people have the inquisitive patience of our Harbour Master here. Looking at these shots from the game, I was sort of transported by his interpretation of the story, and while I’m gratified to hear that most of it was accurate from the creator’s perspective, I daresay this narrative was more engrossing to me than actually playing the game might have been.

    I didn’t mind the spoilers since I’m too full of games right now to possibly take another on, but as I read I wondered how much I’d have been able to glean from Kairo’s mysteries. There’s a certain sense of inferiority in people – in me at least – that leads to worry, worry that maybe they won’t “get” it. Looking at HM’s photo-essay, not only did I see everything he pointed out, it was very obvious to me. Because he told me. I do kind of wonder what would have happened if I’d played Kairo without this; would I have understood enough to get fascinated? Or would I have missed it and become frustrated, only to read something like this and facepalm, realizing how dense I truly am?

    So HM, was there a point when you sensed Kairo “had” you? A point when you realized that you’d be spending an absolute vomitload of time with it? Or did that just happen organically, like you looked up and saw to your surprise how long it had been?

    Figuring out mysteries like this can be one of the most rewarding, most gratifying aspects of interactive gaming, and one of the things that only games can do so profoundly. What we see in Kairo here, the stunning twist in Pathologic, the abrupt ideological branch in Dark Souls, these are things that don’t happen in other media. I love hearing about them!

  7. @Steerpike: I’m not surprised to hear that – I recall reading an opinion piece about eight or nine years ago in which a game journo talked about the difficulty of being offered x sum to write a review and going through the exercise of converting that into a liveable hourly wage.

    Agreed about HM; one of the reasons why I find his output is so engaging is the depth of his own engagement with what he plays. Electron Dance inspires me to be a more thoughtful gamer.

    There is a fuzzy distinction to be made between reviewing and criticism, and I’m a bit embarrassed I fell into that trap with my previous comment (since I so often find myself pointing it out).

    I’d expect a critic’s engagement to extend beyond superficial personal responses (“I was frustrated”) and not be concerned with acting as a ‘buyer’s guide’ or about spoilers (which are essential to articulate and support an all-encompassing argument), and in that sense this piece from HM is clearly criticism. Given that, it is arguably unfair to compare this to other writing about Kairo, which may have had a different objective in mind.

  8. P.S. speaking of inspiration, HM, perhaps I will write something akin to this in which I explore the rich seams of environmental narrative to found in TripleTown.

  9. @ShaunCG: I must admit I got the feeling that John Walker had played quickly. He was annoyed by the last puzzle hub, for example, and I’m not sure he savoured the experience that much. Because Kairo, to be honest, can be over pretty quickly. There’s definitely a problem with having to rush through experience. It’s a problem with games writing that, say, people who write about books or movies don’t have. The quintessential example of this is “how to review an MMO” which was, of course, the subject of Kieron Gillen’s last piece on Eurogamer and Steerpike’s choice example.

    @Steerpike: “There’s a certain sense of inferiority in people–” To some extent, putting my interpretation of Kairo out there is a little bold because I’m was not 100% sure I was correct. There was a small terrified part of me thinking that Richard Perrin would say, “Well, not really–” Someone could have come in and shot down the interpretation to bits because, well, it does have holes which I’ve glossed over. But no one was exploring the story and so I knew that was the blog gap I had to fill – that’s my unique angle.

    I crafted the article specifically to lead you through the story beats in a particular order. Yes, Kairo is roughly organised like this (you have to go from auxiliary power through the engine and then onto control) but I was extremely deliberate in structuring the piece. I posed the questions you should be asking at each point. Playing Kairo in real-time, you wouldn’t hit these story notes straight away and sometimes in different order: so you have to go back and forth in your head, sifting possibilities until you left with ideas that make sense. There are other aspects of Kairo that I have not included that I think also broadcast some element of story, but was never able to pin their meaning down.

    I never intended to spend so much time in Kairo but when I started to find the secret stuff… oh my God. I went searching for all the runes which were hidden in horrible places and hard to see. So I went exploring everywhere and then come across the secret doors. FUCK. SECRET DOORS. HOW DO I OPEN THEM. I wasn’t sure if the three vision rooms had a secret puzzle to solve – because the game hints are very coy, saying the rooms are just to have some fun “…mostly.” When I found the solution to the hex vision room, I was like LOOK OMG LOOK THE SOLUTION IS RIGHT THERE IN PLAIN SIGHT. Then I knew I had to solve the other two vision rooms – the music room and the skylab. I had a crazy theory about the former which turned out to be true (I used FRAPS to record a movie to solve it!) but the Skylab, shit, I just couldn’t figure it out. (Because multiple Kairo players need to work together.)

    So all the secret stuff kept me going for more and more hours, hoping for more secret dribbles of story. It meant I was analysing the environment a lot more than I would have if I’d just played to win.

    @ShaunCG: “inspires me to be a more thoughtful gamer” — there’s the rub, in a way. If no one sees a game in a certain way, is writing about it your way truly interesting or important? I’m not just grabbing at some of the more personal pieces here, where people see their own lives in games that were never intended by the author, but where you do some mental backflips to pick out some subtext that might be just… kinda… reaching? The line between self-indulgence and bona fide revelation is rather thin and I hope, most of the time, I’m in the latter category.

    Obviously I gave up the idea of proper reviews a while back. The goal is always to write something interesting with the optional sidequest to raise the profile of some indie games. That’s why I don’t like to see myself as a critic because, for me, it’s always about the words in the end. About whether there’s a good enough reason to read them. The upcoming Starseed Pilgrim pieces are far more in the camp of criticism, but what I have planned Euro Truck Simulator 2 is totally not.

    The frustrating thing when I post at the last minute – I don’t get to apply enough wordy polish. This Kairo piece didn’t turn out the way I liked, I wanted to capture the atmosphere a lot more but I was left with something far more perfunctory (John Walker’s piece really, really does that). In contrast, I was happy with the style of The Accidental ARG which was completed well ahead of schedule.

    I don’t know much about TripleTown, so I’m all ears. Or is it eyes on the web?

  10. —“To some extent, putting my interpretation of Kairo out there is a little bold because I’m was not 100% sure I was correct.”

    Boy, I can certainly understand that. Yet at the same time, I believe much of the interpretation of art forms lie with the consumer. An artist can create a piece that he/she sees as saying , but in the end it’s what the consumer of the art hears that’s most significant. Which doesn’t make it any easier to publish a big interpretation of a major piece without being sure that you’re remotely close to what the author intended to say!

    “(Because multiple Kairo players need to work together.)”

    I noticed this line and meant to ask about it. So is Kairo a multiplayer game? Or what? Do other players influence your world like in the Souls games, or is it something entirely different?

  11. Hah, that quote without the “terrified” context makes me look like an asshole. I was similarly uncomfortable with Polymorphous Perversity whose meaning I was always uncertain about; the identity of the end game “boss” was so completely obvious – in fact a cliché that fit the material – that I never even thought of it. When a commenter finally pointed it out… I felt a little ridiculous!

    There’s no online component to Kairo. But every Kairo player will see a different part of the Skylab solution. Note that the game doesn’t even let you know this is related to the Skylab; a player will just see a mark somewhere in the game that doesn’t seem to have any purpose. Unlike Kairo’s main puzzles which have plenty of feedback and are supported by in-game hints, Kairo’s secrets are much more unforgiving – they are there for hardened explorers and veteran note-takers.

    God damn those secret doors. So exciting.

  12. If anyone is listening, I’d just like to point out I’ve added a seriously important addendum to the Kairo article.

  13. EEP. Even in a hopeful context, that survivor is so distant and other.

  14. Beam, you had to be there. I’m ascending into the sky of the white void; the music switches from discordant ambience into a piano-led piece. I see another living person at last, after all this time alone with alien machines… and I felt like waving.

  15. I’d heard of this game. Skimmed the article and comments, mostly just checked out the pictures because I’m pretty sure I want to play this and not be too filled with thoughts about it yet, but it does really look like a fascinating Myst-y experience. I’ll be back!

  16. @HM:
    I guess so. Maybe it’s just the art style and broken state of surveillance Kairo’s in that colored my view of it. Could they have been watching you? Did they know about you, or what Kairo is? I suppose that’s just my propensity to be a bit wary of people I don’t know.

    Do you think there’s any value in the idea of playing as the other survivor? Or the one that didn’t make it? Or does that harm the mystery even after the fact?

  17. @Max: Okay Max, stay WELL out of the comments here.

    @BeamSplashX: I like to think he/she was doing some other tasks which were necessary for the ending to happen. OMG. DLC.

  18. Kairo: The MLG PvP R.R. Martin MMO

  19. @HM

    Hey, thanks a lot for doing this write-up! I finished Kairo recently and got the main idea of what happened, but I never even considered that it was some sort of alien moon thing xD and I was also really dissapointed because the coffins were never really explained- I thought that the second person was seperate from the moniter dude. Now that I think about it, it could be that the infinite rail that is displayed is a kind of screensaver for after he died O_o

    The fact that there’s a third survivor is also really weird. What on earth do you think he was doing the entire time? Why wasn’t there a third coffin? I’d love to hear more of your thoughts :D

  20. Hi Adam! The the two active coffins don’t map neatly to the two survivors we’re aware of because the “infinite travelling” one is meant to be the other active survivor out there. I had assumed that meant (like you suggested) he was dead when I found the skeleton, but this explanation was broken when the later updates introduced a screen in a secret room with one showing the monitoring room. It’s a point I glossed over in the explanation, because I couldn’t nail it down.

    Truth is, there should have been a third active coffin (Richard Perrin implied this on Twitter) which had a picture of the monitoring room.

    The third survivor was only given more of a presence in much later updates. I tend to think the third survivor was also working on other machines that Kairo relied upon and, without that character, maybe you would have had to do more. Hell, there were SO many structures out there that we never explored!

  21. Hey HM, thanks for the response! At first I thought that the other coffin was showing some railway system which we would traverse later, sort of like the one in Myst. In fact, I thought for sure that the maze design in the Gray City was a map of it, and, being the Myst veteran that I am and knowing that you have to write DAT SHIT down, I spent a useless 20 minutes copying down the design xD

    But yeah, I feel much better about the game after reading this. It was fun to play and the atmosphere and environments were amazing, but I kind of felt the story was haphazard and full of holes. Your explanation made it a lot better! I really like the “worthy of a second chance” theme as well. The only thing I’m still wondering about is something you mentioned- the thrones that we discover and what they signify. We wake up in one, after all!

    Thanks again, dude! Perhaps we’ll return to Kairo someday :D

  22. Oh, and one more thing I forgot: Did you ever find the pyramid-thing in one of the later rooms that broadcasts numbers? It’s a female voice similar to the muffled one from earlier signals, and it repeats these sequences on a loop:


    Any idea what these mean? I also wrote those down, thinking they’d be useful later, but alas! xD

  23. Adam, with these things – like an ARG – you never know how far to extrapolate certain elements. With the numbers stations, I assumed they were just there to add mystery, reflect the echo of a dead Earth. This isn’t to say they don’t have relevance but, in a game where everything is so abstract and there’s little which expects you to interact on an alphanumeric level with the game, I didn’t think writing down numbers would lead to anything.

    I think there are holes in Kairo’s story – the coffin problem is one, the inconsistency with certain machine’s cause/effect relationships another – but overall I loved it. It’s not an original story or particularly deep, but it imbues the game with a certain epic gravitas and sense of place which it would not have enjoyed without it.

  24. Just reading a forum thread which crosses into Kairo because there’s a small spurt of traffic heading over here from it: “The [Electron Dance] article is one of the perks of being an artsy game dev and having no writing skill; a few dedicated players will hallucinate the story for you.”

    Awesome. You can’t convince everyone, I guess. =)

    In case anyone is wondering about this point:
    “Also, I must have paid closer attention than the author because there is in fact another orbit symbol he claims we’ve only seen once in the game.”
    The symbol referred to was not in Kairo version 1.2. Someone told me about it on Twitter which is why I went exploring version 2.0 on Steam – and ended up with the addendum.

    I did not discuss it in the addendum because it’s one of several aspects that I haven’t figured out (just like the thrones). It’s obviously scribbled by one of the survivors but why the cross?

  25. Haha, just ignore the haters, man :)

  26. Just beat it. I said on twitter that I “liked but did not love it, but it’s a very likeable game”. It was the combo lock puzzle we talked about on Twitter which broke the game for me–I’m usually all about adventures until I get stuck, and then look at a hint, and then I’ve broken the seal and just need toget to the end.

    I am glad for this writeup and glad I can finally read it! I have some Thinking to do.

  27. Kairo is a beautiful creation. None of it has to make any sense at all, yet Richard Perrin’s efforts would have probably been wasted without all of the implications, challenges and rewards that I’m sure so many Adventurer-Explorers expect. The whole pieced-together story is a drag on what could otherwise be, and these gratuitous problems to solve are just irritating (not that there aren’t excellent puzzles as well, as in the assembling blocks that only work on a certain line and location!) Its still wonderful and another step closer to invigorating pleasure as fine art.

  28. Hi everyone. The first time I played Kairo I thought it was great. Every detail was not random and I really liked that. I had found some glyphs so I went back for a second time and that’s when i found even more details that I had bypass the first time. Details that made it even more interesting.

    I really liked this post and the way it explains the storyline. I had the same reaction when I found the dead guy in the surveillance room and was super excited when i found the screen that shows what you are seeing in the coffin hallway and when it rained with “real” water. I don’t get people who says this game is bad just because the didn’t understand the story. It is told in a subtle way and one of the main reasons that made it a good story is the amount of information it shows without almost any text at all. You have to think about what you are seeing to understand the story and that is what made it so amazing. Of course the are loose ends and that is why i hope there is a second part or an expansion but I’m happy with what it accomplish.

    I know this is not a forum but I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find a solution to my problem. I found all glyphs and complete every optional puzzle. But I made the mistake of entering the secret ending door in the secret room and now I can’t play it anymore. Every time I start the game it just shows the same screen and I can’t do anything. I really appreciate if someone told me where the saved game location is so i can to erase it or how to erase it in-game.

    Thanks for reading and best wishes from Argentina.

  29. I totally did not expect the dead guy–effective moment! I’m with you, Juan–Joel’s post gave more context to what I was doing and provided some nice retroactive insight, but I didn’t find being in the dark hurt me–frankly, I am totally into a mysterious temple that only sort of adds up. I’m totally comfortable with mystery.

  30. @Glennnn: Thank you for stopping by. When I became excited about Kairo back in 2011, I wrote an article called For The Explorers and alreday loved Kairo back then. I liked exploring. I liked its simplicity. I had a feeling I would like it from the videos alone and bought into the pre-order alpha. It was only later I became aware that Richard Perrin actually had a story in mind and I admit to being skeptical; however my skepticism drained away the further I got into the game with late alpha builds and the final release version.

    Having spoken with Richard Perrin by e-mail and in person, I believe always had a story in mind. That is to say, I don’t think he ever thought of creating the game without it.

    @Juan: Surveillance room! I like that better than “monitoring station”. Apart from some tweaks to the game I think Richard Perrin is probably done with it. He’s started work on his next project “Journal”.

    I don’t know why you’ve had that problem Juan, it certainly sounds like a bug. There should be a “New Game” option on the menu but if you can’t reach that the entire save state is held on the registry. For the pre-Steam version, I believe it is under Software/Locked Door Puzzle/Kairo while for the Steam version it is Software/Perrin/Kairo. I think you only have to delete the whole Kairo key to reset the game, but don’t quote me; I played a lot with the registry on the pre-Steam version but not the Steam version.

    You might want to send an e-mail along to Richard Perrin – he might be interested in your “crashed” position. Thanks for the comment!

    @Richard: Yeah I would’ve been happy with the game minus story. The story was a nice bonus and I was happy to have figured most of it out.

  31. Thanks HM for your answer. I went to the Locked Door Puzzle’s web page and found out the other game he made. I’ll try The White Chamber next.

    I have the pre-Steam version (1.3) so I tried your solution and IT WORKED!!! OMG!!! FINALLY!!! I’ll never enter that door again in my life.

    Thanks again.

  32. I have paid attention to games heavily since 2002 and I still have not played The White Chamber. There is no good reason for this–any time I mean to I completely forget. At this point I don’t know if it’ll ever happen.

  33. If it will make you feel any better (about missing it) The White Chamber has a different structure than Kairo. The description of it reminded me of those point&click games they had way back when. It works on another dimension, concerning itself with human interactions rather than the splendid visual feast of Kairo.

  34. @Ggggggglen I’ve been doing some thinking and I seem to remember there being two major times I considered playing The White Chamber but did not. The first was in college, when it was released, and I feel like there was some kind of technical issue–perhaps my computer couldn’t handle it or something? Is that possible? (Given my history of living among shitty computers, it’s possible.) The second I heard about the game again in the context of a spoiler, which as you might imagine, made me less inclined to the game. But that was years ago and I’ve forgotten it completely.

    Eew, human interactions–but actually I’ve been super into the oldschool point and clicks lately. Amanda recommended Cognition (still need to pick up the second episode and I think the third is coming out this weekend?) which I got in Gnome’s bundle, which I highly, highly recommend. It’s one of those gritty mystery type games, the main character has psychic abilities, and it’s one of those games that reminds me how good companies like Sierra used to be for giving different types of protagonists and having many prominent female designers. I also picked up Resonance as a two-buck Steam sale–a very flawed game in some ways but also seriously excellent: The basic plot (a race against time to find the superweapon that the murdered scientist developed and protect it from the bad guys) isn’t anything particularly innovative, but it’s very well-told.

    And THAT has gotten me to Primordia, which I’m working on now. I’m a good chunk in and I get the sense there’s a bit more to go, but I can tell you this: If this had come out when I was 12, it would have full stop been my favorite videogame.

  35. Richard- While I enjoy what I can of the Adventure/Mystery games, most of what has been produced by so many passionate authors has been missing that quality that I find so abundant in Kairo. When I discovered Myst on my (very first shitty) computer it was a delight, but now that franchise is sadly lacking in all but the original atmosphere of unimagined possibilities, offering only more questions and even more unrealistic puzzles. Its so easy to do these games badly…! After trying many and being disappointed with their bulky, clanking plots and useless tasks I got interested in Morrowind and Oblivion for the ability to “mod” but especially for the open-ended vastness that is only just touched-upon yet worth experiencing, as you really don’t have to do anything but whatever you feel like(!!!!) By contrast, Linear Games, with their tasks and rules are so constrained. I crave beautiful things, and being required to respond or even asking yourself what has to be done to accomplish the goal is being chained to the game like some kind of monkey-boy and forced to jump through flaming hoops to get to the next level: Not Really Too Excellent or Beautiful! I’m looking for Art. I’m a sculptor, done with casting bronze and carving stone as pretty much pointless compared to using the computer as a gateway to virtuality.
    -Now I’m going to google Primordia and see what turns up! Thanks!

  36. I know I’m a bit late to the party here!

    @adam, the numbers come from a numbers station- these were stations during the cold war that emitted random sequences of stuff, probably as messages to undercover agents. You can look up number stations on wikipedia, and that specific sequence of numbers is on youtube as well-

    @HM, thank you so much for posting this thorough explanation of Kairo! I played it through slowly enough so I noticed all the major things, including that last figure in the end scene(what a mind blowing revelation- you had a partner in crime!). However, your extremely detailed explanation was great for filling in the blanks. The mouth symbol you mentioned, looked more like a boat to me- a boat with a sail. Maybe yet another allusion to Noah’s ark?

    To both of you about the thrones, I think it’s meant to symbolize/show the importance of teamwork or something or another about human nature. That skeleton has clearly been there for quite some time, and he is sitting on the throne after all. And there’s the message of being alone. A throne can only ever be sat by one person, as well. Seeing as Kairo released you and your partner in crime at the same time(I assume) Maybe Kairo figured that one human alone can’t activate all the systems, so for the second attempt released both of us?

  37. @KairoBro: Hello! I can’t believe I didn’t mention the numbers stations in the previous comment, because they were on my mind when I was playing the game.

    On the meaning of the symbols, I believe they reflect the internal names Richard Perrin had for each area. The first building is named “lighthouse” and so the symbol isn’t actually a tree. The second building is “the tower” and the “mouth” symbol is actually a rendering of a tower. The last area is the “garden” and represented by a fern. However, you can only know this if you go hacking through the game so I fell back on my initial impressions for the article.

    It’s as good as theory as any, in terms of the thrones, although I think they helped throw me off the scent – I got the impression that this was an ancient city with thrones for different kings.

    I’m certainly a believer that one person alone couldn’t activate all of the systems: there’s another story here. Kairo DLC, that’s all I’m saying. Kairo: THE OTHER ONE. (I think Perrin is done with Kairo now, I don’t think we’ll see any more!)

  38. Ahh that makes sense, I forgot that Perrin would have his own labels for the various symbols/areas. Yeah, I had a hard time deciphering what the symbols meant, since the various symbols were a mix of numbers and nouns.

    Haha, every time I think of thrones nowadays I think of Game of Thrones. Something completely different.

    I completely agree, that was definitely a second person in the end! It’s a shame that he probably won’t make another, I really loved the environment and the feel of it. Definitely simplicity at its finest.

  39. Let us not forget the staticy fuzz on the screen, either. This seems to play into the screens showing your view. As though you’re not really you, but instead watching through some kind proxy. Of course, this would follow into you actually being inside of that coffin, and then unfollow with the actual skeleton in the control room. There’s at least something more to this puzzle to be found there, methinks. But what you’ve pieced together here is amazing.

    I feel kind of guilty about not piecing most of it together, myself. I picked up on some of the clues, and I noticed I think everything that needed to be noticed to complete the story. I just… didn’t take it to any sort of conclusion. Luckily you were here to point out what had been in front of me the entire time.

  40. @Amadeus: Hello there! Ah, yes, I forgot that I’d folded the grainy screen into my earlier theory that we were still inside the coffin. But on discovering the skeleton that theory started to fall apart.

    I should be clear that I was bought into the alpha and, initially, didn’t think there was any story to Kairo when I played through the first building. My original words on Kairo did not suggest it had any story at all. At some point I learnt there was a story – whether it was via e-mail with Richard Perrin or through an interview online I don’t know – and once I got into the second building through the next alpha release, I began to see more going on. Being involved with it from early on, I’ve played Kairo several times and I think that’s what has helped cement some of my thoughts. Also, I spent a lot of time trying to find all the secrets to find all the hidden runes/glyphs, so I was processing the story in the back of my mind over an extended period.

  41. Actually, that’s not entirely true about suggesting it was story-less because I did think “something was going on”. However, I did not anticipate how important and intricate the story was – that many of our actions were tied to it.

  42. Now consider that some ancient alien galactic culture creates this world-saving device to seek out planets that have been ruined by idiots (in that stage of their evolution when there’s no other way to think of them than as crazy, stupid, greedy and self-destructive.)
    This device finds our ruined Earth and a few survivors and what does it do? It makes its existence a mystery to be solved?
    I think not!
    This is a valuable enterprise and it hasn’t been done on a whim, so whoever made it wants to make DAMNED SURE it gets used.
    There would be a greeting. There would be an introduction to familiarize you, as the prospective operator with what it does and how it works. THERE WOULD BE A MANUAL. The kind you get with your new car to help you use it. And there wouldn’t be pointless puzzles, but a key, that once it was in your possession would simply open doors and activate mechanisms. That’s where the implications of this story go completely wrong because its so unrealistic. Better no story at all.

  43. Must an alien culture be judged by the logic and standards of early 21st century humanity?

    I’ve not played Kairo so am interested to hear the response of those who have, but its a well-established truism of SF that alien cultures do or did things that don’t make any sense, probably stretching back beyond even Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama books.

    One potential response that occurs to me is that the puzzles of Kairo are a test of a culture’s ability to reflect, think, understand and intuit – important abilities to demonstrate maturity of mind. If a culture lacks that, saving it might be considered undesirable.

  44. What the Kairo device is about is function. As such the purpose would be without bias with regard to culture or standards. It would only seek to clarify and put forth in perhaps 3 or 4 alternative methods exactly what it was, like some other Rosetta Stone the intent to communicate, that if one method didn’t work than another might.
    The figuring-out of the message might be all the “test” required, if any. (The concept of “test” bringing us back to logic and standards of whatever timeframe might apply.)
    But there could be so many other qualities and choices to make. What about aesthetics? Or compassion? Or patience, to see a project through, or judgement for correctness of actions. Maturity doesn’t mean the smartest rat in the maze. It means being far and above the maze to begin with.

  45. I’m not going to argue that perceived problems with the story are not actually problems but for me I’m able to overlook the little flaws and plot holes. I mean, it’s not meant to be epic science fiction in the vein of something like Arthur C. Clarke, Greg Bear or Isaac Asimov – but Sci-Fi Lite, more like science fantasy. There are so many problems with the story if I engage with it on a deeper level, such as advanced societies using stone as a raw material, the ridiculousness of super-powerful planet-reforming devices being activated with silly push-button puzzles and why Kairo doesn’t revive all the survivors and put them in a room and say “sort this shit out”. I’m able to appreciate it for what it is.

    How far we can tolerate loose story depends on the reader and the story in question. I guess Kairo crossed that line for you, Glennnn, but doesn’t for me. The funny thing is most players didn’t seem to get much story out of it – so it’s almost a moot point!

  46. I’ll agree with you. It IS almost a moot point, since the experience itself is still wonderful and beautifully done, even if it doesn’t make all the sense it could.
    About using stone to build- I remember being irritated and confused when all sorts of manufactured items started to have plastic panels with artificial wood grain- how do we know its stone? It could just as well be rearranged atoms that only look like stone.
    You make very good comments!

  47. Glennnn, I like reading contrarian viewpoints down here in the comments, it keeps me on my toes.

    On the stone thing, it’s just one of those tropes that I’ve gradually become sensitive to over the years: the ruins of an advanced civilisation would actually resemble the ruins of a primitive one. But, as I said, it doesn’t really bother me in Kairo.

  48. I played an earlier version back when Antichamber was still called Hazard, and it certainly piqued my interest. Just picked up the full version in a Steam sale (say what you like about Valve, they sure know how to shift merchandise) and played it though yesterday solid, and this article kept me buzzing through the night up to the ungodly hour I now find myself at. As a /big/ fan of both otherworldly Lovecraftian and over-the-top Arthur C. Clarke xenotheist wackiness, it scratched a few itches I haven’t had scratched since The Infinite Ocean. Nice to see I wasn’t crazy thinking I could see some bloke remaking The Fifth Element in the distance as I returned to Earth, too (Curiously enough we ascend from the heavens up to the Earth rather than vice versa).

    I think between us we’ve all managed to piece together a fairly comprehensive idea of what’s going on, but there are still niggles for me:

    – Why does that pillar above the Prism/Refraction/Sun Room make your vision go grainy?

    The sounds it emits are similar to those of the Postapocalyptic News Bulletin in the red “Scaffolding” area, which also made heavy use of static, but to actually impose it over your vision could imply, as Amedeus said, that your vision is that of some kind of surrogate, your dying body preserved in that coffin, and the intensity of the emitted signal disrupts this mental ethernet connection. Once again, of course, that leaves the question of the skeleton.

    Something perhaps worthy of note is the humanoid statue in the final chamber, as well as the scarecrow-like ones dotted around the game. There is clearly some kind of “standard form” for Kairos’s operators to take. Maybe Kairos’s creators were just fortuitously humanoid aliens, or maybe evolutionary progenitors of humanity (which would explain their parental concern for our survival). The point being, if all refugees abducted by Kairos did take the form of one of these surrogates, it would perhaps be both humanoid and organic enough to leave a skelteton. Seems a bit of a stretch, though. Maybe Kairos broadcasts on telepathic frequencies and the grain is the mental feedback doing your head in.

    – The crossed “⦿”

    Could mean anything from “I think we’re here” to “This one is broken”. It could be that one of the Kairos pair was even more defunct than its creators predicted. Speaking of which, does Kairos take place on one sphere, or both? Does one mirror the waking actions of the other, or was one of the duo simply functional from the outset, leaving you tasked with the repair of its dysfunctional twin?

    – The thrones

    Thrones imply power, status, but most critically, /command/. The entire point of a high chair is to let you see what everyone is up to, while simulataneously reminding them, in spatial terms, of the higher level of autority you hold. We see a few dozen coffins in the mausoleum, no doubt part of a far larger complex. We see four(?) thrones in Kairos, one per building, plus the Surveillance Chair. There are only three human refugees on board, one of whom is decidedly thin. Whichever way you look at it, Kairos is critically understaffed. The implication seems to be that there should be a veritable army of displaced humans on board – one to assume command of each building (our distant friend seems to have had some success in that regard), a team of subordiante labourers each to maintain the machines, while one more assumes the role of Big Brother to watch the watchers.

    What really got me thinking about this was an easily overlooked room containing a shrine of sorts to the Ancient Mayans, the grandiosity of a temple pyramid juxtaposed with a humble labourer chipping away at a stone face; the message apparently being that honest hard work will be enough to create a new glorious society. Now look at the puzzle in that room. There are four treadmills, all of which must be run on constantly to charge that room. The overriding thought that pecked at my mind in this puzzle was that it was clearly designed to be operated by four people. It’s even got baths for cooling their blistered feet!

    The question remains, however, of why a machine created to resurrect dying planets would require so many new crew. Was Earth’s desolation simply more total than Kairos’s creators allowed for? Or have the standing staff of Kairos met a disastrous fate of their own? Speaking of which, the protaganist and their distant friend seem to be doing rather more than Kairos’s design suggests was tasked to one individual – in the absence of messianic “sacred trials”, one must wonder if this pair of “chosen ones” are really as capable as a dozen specialists, and what sort of effect this might have on Earth’s rejuvenation.

    Oh, and if it turns out the Kairo facilities were actually based on coffee machine components, I think I’m going to cry.

  49. Albert,

    It’s been a difficult few days to get into the comments mainly because the heat here in the UK has made writing soooo sloooow. But now I’m here and wanted to say thanks for the long comment. I pointed it out to Richard Perrin on Twitter earlier in the week! And amazing, another person who likes The Infinite Ocean. You are in good company.

    On what I have now dubbed the “Broadcast Obelisk” in the first building… you might be on the right track with a halfway house explanation that our consciousness is still “inside the coffin” and you are being fed the sensory feed from a makeshift body (surrogate). That would then generate better explanations the graininess and the monitor on the coffin in the mausoleum.

    On the crossed out circle – I keep wondering about the two spheres of Kairo. Was our journey, in some crazy Doctor Who physics way, actually stretched across both spheres? Or did we actually only explore one?

    On thrones – one of the problems I have when I start analysing Kairo deeply is coming up against the game’s “ludonarrative dissonance”. As Glennnn expressed earlier in the comments, he didn’t take to the story at all as the ancient machine of Kairo with nothing like an onboard tutorial didn’t make sense to him. It’s a careful balance in the mind of the player of how much they want to believe and how real they need to the game to be. I can’t help sometimes wondering whether certain design decisions were a mistake, included for a certain, original purpose which was removed but left there as interesting decoration. And then we spend all day figuring out how they are supposed to fit in =)

    I think I’ve reached about the limit of what I’m comfortable with assuming. I feel like some of the deep mysteries of Kairo – such as who built the machine and why – are beyond my analytical reach. I have fanciful thoughts (e.g. the “apocalyptic garden” interpretation above) but I wonder if I’ll ever be confident of the answers to my remaining questions. Maybe I should check out the next build of Kairo – if there is one – for more secrets and carvings =)

    Oh but it’s probably ALL about coffee.

  50. Theory that just popped into my head: Refugees. The ship’s not there to resurrect dying races, it was supposed to carry the remaining Kairosians of some distant apocalypse to an uninhabited world to act as their new home. Presumably whatever caused the death of their home caught up with them along the way.

    As you say, there’s just not enough content in the game to cover all of these questions, and the narrative probably benefits from that. But the more crackpot theories, the merrier, right?

  51. Thanks for passing me on, though. I play video games far too late at night and if I want to get any sleep I usually have to physically type all the madness out of my head.

  52. Also, I can now tell my friends that the creator of a game commented on a game commenter’s comment on my comment on his commentary of a game.

  53. Albert, here’s the tweet for your reference. And more crackpot theories are fine! Never in a million years would I have guessed the true interpretation of the second set of challenges in the second building were to “build a holographic brain” which was what Richard Perrin did let slip in Twitter after reading this breakdown of the story.

  54. I just played Kairo – About the text on the first structure: If you look in the “museum” area before the secret ending – The text is right there.

    This makes me think that the text you see first thing is just corrupted or faded away somehow.

  55. Hi Scott, I haven’t played through Kairo to its secret ending in the later build – in the original, the text was not there – hence I missed this. Thanks! I’ve now looked it up on YouTube. However, the secret ending is so fourth-wall breaking (it’s essentially behind-the-scenes) I wonder if anything there can be considered to be canon for the story. That is, is Perrin telling us “the text is just scrambled English” or is he saying “I made up some alien text using this as a baseline”?

  56. I know I’m late to the party, but there is one “colonization/recolonization of Earth” trope that I’m surprised no one else has picked up on.

    Of /course/ there has to be a second survivor. There’s always got to be an Adam and Eve. ;)

  57. Oh God Scolopendra, two people wouldn’t be a big enough gene pool! Hmm, how many coffins were in the mausoleum…?

  58. Very interesting insight. Thanks. Just a couple of points to add. Kairo = chi-rho, which is the ancient Christian symbol for Christ (the first two letters of his name in Greek). This ties in with the theme of resurrection. Secondly, I’m not sure whether this is just fanciful thinking, but the final symbol in the last throne room, which you refer to as a fern, looks more to me like three lines on one. That is, three-in-one, a symbol of the Trinity. Vast empty thrones, trees of life, arks. Is this the Judeo-Christian metanarrative or is this drawing from the Egyptian-alien creation myth? Or some amalgam of several myths?

    Nevertheless, I’m still not sure who the figure(s) in the TV screens is (are) – I originally thought these were the souls the lost waiting for resurrection. I was expecting their release at the end of the game…

  59. Reedmace–I always thought the name, Kairo, was just the Japanese word for circuit. You know, what with death and rebirth and ouroboroses and so fourth. And solving the puzzles is a lot like completing circuits.

    We know there are at least 3 people in Kairo: the player, the skeleton, and that guy in the crucifix position that you glimpse during the end. At first I thought the creepy TV big brothers were images of the people dead in the coffins, but the numbers don’t match up. There are 24 coffins but more than 24 images of that watching head, and they’re all identical–what’s the chance that every person in the coffins has the same hairstyle, shape of head, thickness of neck, lack of beard or whiskers, etc? So it’s very likely just one guy. We know it’s not the player, so that leaves the skeleton and the crucifix guy. The skeleton can be ruled out easily: his neck is waay too thin, being just the bones, and doesn’t match that of the screens. So by elimination it must be Mr. Crucifix. The omnipresence is, as with the crucifix and the rebirth, very religious. Either that, or the screensaver on the Kairo computer is just unreasonably creepy.

    What’s more interesting, I think, is the coffin situation. I surmise that the people inside them were dead, maybe on the space shuttle or just lone survivors on post-apocalyptic Earth after whatever disaster killed not only the rest of the humans, but apparently all animal and plant life too. Kairo picked up these people, and either killed them or they were already dead. Probably the latter–Kairo doesn’t seem malicious. So it stored away the dead people it found, and woke them up one by one so they can fix the mess their kind made of the Earth.

    But note that there are 3 people in Kairo. However, it’s indicated that only 2 coffins have been opened. So one of the people wasn’t dead when they arrived, or, couldn’t die (or, at least, didn’t stay dead long enough to be put in a coffin). I agree with you, Reedmace, that although on the surface this is a sci-fi game where you need to fix the world using alien technology after an apocalypse, this seems to have strong elements of several religions in it. I mean, apart from the blatantly obvious ones like the Buddha picture or the torii Shinto gates. As much as it irked me, it reminds me of that film Promethius, where the aliens are so advanced that spirituality and science have become intimately intertwined.

  60. @Reedmace, @Gordelphus: Hi there! Yes I do believe the original intention was for Kairo to reflect the Japanese word for circuit (because each room involves “completing a circuit” is my guess).

    The symbol I call the “fern” represents the final section of the game which, in the registry, is referred to as “Garden”, so I’m feeling confident it is meant to be fern or tree or plant of some type.

    I originally thought Kairo was some sort of seed ship, full of frozen bodies ready to be woken up – but after completing the game I abandoned that theory.

    I’ve always assumed the watcher was the skeleton simply because a screen with the shadowy head obscures the skeleton as you enter the monitoring station at the top of the tower. The implication seemed to be – here is the person who has been watching you.

    I didn’t pick up on religious symbolism in the game but, then again, I wasn’t looking for any.

  61. Gordelphus, HM: Thanks for the replies.

    OK, so clearly Kairo is intended to ‘reflect’ the Japanese for circuit. But I am still left wondering whether there is intentional double entendre. ‘Gardens’ are where creation (and recreation – thinking of the Easter story) takes place.

    The 2 catacombs each contain 12 tombs – a religiously significant number indicating ‘completion’ or ‘all people’ (12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles, 12 lots of 12,000 in heaven, Rev 7). Presumably it wasn’t present in the version of Kairo HM reported above, but there are three (not two) tombs or coffins that don’t have white noise in the version I played. If we start numbering them from left to right from the entrance, the ‘wayfarer’ on his (or her) infinite journey is from (or in?) tomb 7. This must be the same one ‘swaying’ in the monitor in the final secret room, and spotted as a crucifix in the final screenshot above.

    But on tomb 10 is the static image of the control panel in front of the skeleton. This is the skeleton’s coffin. Ours is tomb 4 in the second catacomb (or 16 if you continue counting).

    The fact that we are faced with a skeleton in the control panel room means a physical body was wandering around, rather than some ethereal consciousness still linked to its body in the coffin. Also, we hear our own physical footsteps as we walk or run. Clearly, however, there is still some connection with the coffin, but what is it? Why does it display what we see? It must mean we are somehow still an integral part of Kairo itself. Maybe these ‘coffins’ are life support systems. Or maybe Kairo is somehow using a neural link between us and the coffin to monitor our activities – which is why we find our vision displayed on a screen in the secret room. Kairo, it appears, ‘knows’ more about humans than humans do.

    There are also still questions about the outside area. Why do we start the game at an abandoned throne? Why do we return to it before beginning each new phase? And why is the light beam reaching to the huge tower black, and the surrounding emptiness white, like a negative? It seems like this is ‘negative’ space – not meant for us?

    And where does the second Kairo satellite fit in? Do we unwittingly space-jump between the two as we progress through the game? What is the relations between the two satellites and ‘city’ that is revealed in the closing scenes of the game? Dunno.

    At first I thought all the thrones were huge, implying some giant alien species that had abandoned its kingdom or empire. But then seeing the skeleton sitting in one reveals that the are human size. Meant for us?

    This theme of thrones runs right through the game. Clearly it is a central motif. Power, solitude, authority, control. And yet each throne has a limited domain, defined by its symbol. All except the first, which is symbol-less and appears to be the primary one.

    But thrones and advanced machines don’t mix – at least not in modern sociological contexts. So how does this fit with a machine of human construction?

    This brings me back to the Egyptian-alien creation myth – that humanity was planted on earth, or at least influenced, by some advanced alien species several thousand years ago, resulting in an instant high culture and advanced mathematical and cosmological understanding. Everything in Kairo is built out of blocks, like the pyramids, and Kairo (Cairo – a triple entendre?) is this strange, but vaguely familiar, rescue machine devised and constructed by these same alien ‘deities’ experienced by ancient culture. Even the indecipherable writing on the back of the first ‘temple’ looks like a form of eroded Hebrew script – with shapes that look like words running in horizontal lines.

    So my take on it at the moment is that Kairo was built by an alien species, who genetically created or modified humanity at the dawn of history, came back (if they ever really left?) to save a remnant (12 + 12, symbolically the human race) from self annihilation, because ‘everyone deserve a second chance…’

    This could, of course, all be baloney – it is, after all, only a game!

  62. @Reedmace – you’re now reaching at all those questions I couldn’t answer! I’m not sold on the religious angle, myself, although I can see there might well be overlap with creation/resurrection myths in theme.

    I’m still unsure who create Kairo and why – Richard Perrin does, but I don’t find the game particularly strong at projecting that information. Maybe it was deliberately subdued. I don’t know. Alien species seems much more likely but why does it need activating? Why does some of it seem “in ruins”?

    In terms of the two Kairo satellites, I thought of Kairo as an advanced structure which manipulates spacetime – think of something like The Way in Greg Bear’s Eon or the TARDIS from Doctor Who. The space within both satellites are connected in ways we cannot comprehend. They are one and the same, but not. Some of the locations and directions in Kairo don’t make a lot of sense and there are plenty of voids.


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