In T3P’s Teleglitch, the phrase “game saved” just means “game paused” because gosh it’s a roguelike that rolls around in permadeath like it’s won the permadeath lottery.
The first time I made it to Level 3, I lasted around two minutes. I know that’s longer than a typical male sexual engagement but, please, these are experienced hands on the keyboard. So the second time I made it to Level 3, I “saved” my game and shut down the PC. Maybe I’d never play again and assume the survivor I was playing actually made it out without me, unlike what happened to poor Gwaul in Mount & Blade.
But I kept putting it off. Somehow playing Level 3 sounded like a lot of work just to reward myself with a predictable disaster. For motivation, I figured I’d make the game important: take dozens of screenshots and chart my progress through Level 3 to death… or victory, perhaps? I would give Teleglitch the Zaga-33 treatment.
I launched Teleglitch at 21:00 on Thursday, July 11, 2013.
I quit Teleglitch just 34 minutes later, even though my survivor was still alive at the time.
Something strange had happened.
The boom of the teleporter was followed by an eerie hum.
Teleglitch’s procedural generator peppers every level with eerie silences, eerie hums and sometimes eerie crackles. Let’s not ride roughshod over that boom though. The boom is the one moment where I believe that I’ve got the cojones to take the level on. As the boom fades away, the eerie hum poisons that confidence. A part of me wanted to hang out in the teleporter for a little while. At least it was safe.
I was kitted out pretty well with a double shotgun and a trinailgun, but health was down to just 17 and my nail ammo was running out. I could have built a detector but I’d never figured out how to make the damn thing work.
Teleglitch adores wide open spaces, an agoraphobic’s nightmare. Almost every chance it gets, the game will populate such a space with an army of Awful Things that wish to kill me. Whenever a door opens and I can’t see the other side of the chamber immediately, my fingers grip the mouse a little tighter.
Have you played Serious Sam (Croteam, 2001)? Same deal, right? Big spaces, lotsa critters. The standard Sam survival tactic is circle-strafing and a similar tactic works in Teleglitch. Everything I’ve encountered in the game moves 28-Days-Later-fast, so once I’ve acquired an army of Awful Things in pursuit, it’s time to run around in big circles, shooting behind me, desperately attempting to make each shot count. It’s not just a question of ammunition because if I take aim at something, I stop running. If I stop running, the Awful Things will catch up and start… punching me.
Everything I’d encountered so far wanted to punch me. There had been no ripping of limbs or devouring of flesh. However, for the first time I encountered a guard that the base AI had “chipped” and turned into an automaton to do its bidding. According to the in-game notes, the original human consciousness is likely aware of everything they are forced to do but have no agency. A bit like playing a mainstream FPS, then. Anyway, the guard wasn’t trying to punch me – he or she was discharging a goddamn firearm at my face. I didn’t like it.
Even though I killed everything in this room, bodies kept emerging from the ground. It was wearing down my ammunition level and, frankly, freaked me out. Just standing here, minding my own business, was dangerous. I’ve written that shooting games are about cleaning but when a game prevents you from ever finishing that job, well, that’s deeply uncomfortable for the player.
But I’m an explorer, a hunter of trinkets. Trinkets are crucial in Teleglitch because without them I wouldn’t have had my double shotgun and trinailgun. To be thorough, I had to grin and bear the anxiety that something could clamber out of the floor at any given moment.
Something that wanted to punch me to death.
The truth is opening any door is a nerve-wracking experience and I have my gun aim pointed ready when approaching a door. Nonetheless, each door is also my best friend, a chokepoint to hold off a horde and the place where Awful Things can be funnelled into my sights.
Yeah, well, none of that good stuff happened here. I was locked into this particular room and then ambushed by a truckload of Awful Things. Any Teleglitch encounter can result in a quick death if I get cornered because I can’t just walk through enemies, this isn’t that sort of game. With such a tight space and so many adversaries, I expected to end up as dead meat. Actually, with all that punching, more likely dead tenderized meat.
I enticed as many of Awful Things into the anomaly outcrop at the top of the chamber as I could. Tricking enemies in this way is a great way to save ammunition but it’s a bit like running along the edge of a cliff. One false step and the anomaly will have you; it’s rare to survive its gloopy embrace.
Did I tell you that Teleglitch adores small, closed spaces? It’s a claustrophobic’s nightmare, especially when the zoom kicks in, paradoxically making the surroundings seem smaller and tighter. As I prodded around in the corridors further down, I spotted the outline of a giant zombie. Still hurting from the ambush, I reversed course immediately.
It seemed the zombie didn’t see me. Phew.
That “zombie who didn’t see me” was foreshadowing.
I wasn’t sure what was going on. All of the rooms seemed to be filled with the bodies of previously defeated enemies. Except, they didn’t look like they were dead so much. They looked alive yet still, as if posing for a portrait. I could touch them and push them around like any other base debris. Were they… waiting to be triggered? Was the base AI toying with me?
It was terrifying. I felt like the creatures of the base were… staring at me. Waiting to make their move. Any moment now… BOO!
Dread stalked the corridors and it was unbearable.
Right, well, let me now tell you about a second theory I formulated. Rather than some creepy game AI trying to scare me it was more likely I’d hit a glitch in the game.
I knew this theory was correct when I found the exit teleporter without firing a single shot. Nothing had jumped me, nothing had even twitched. This was clearly not right.
The question was whether I should quit the game. Level 3 had been tainted so continuing felt like cheating myself of the experience. But Teleglitch is a permadeath game with a brutal saving system so I couldn’t just roll back to the start of the level. That ship had sailed. If I really believed in purity, I’d start the game again.
Ha, that wasn’t going to happen. Not with a double shotgun and a trinailgun poking out of my back pockets. I decided to save the game and come back for Level 4 another day.
To survive on Level 4, no doubt I would need to collect plenty of ammunition, health kits and machinery from Level 3. If I exited the level now, what chance would I have on the next one?
It was necessity and not greed that compelled me to loot the rest of the level. I departed the teleporter room, deciding the risk of the level re-animating while I was deep in its belly was worth the potential reward. Hopefully, the game wouldn’t notice the glitch and fix it.
It’s not what you think, the level didn’t re-animate. Ha, ha. I might have been able to do something about that.
I had wandered into this vast chamber, looked like some sort of workshop or hangar. Inside were some heavily armoured Things I didn’t recognise that I’m sure would’ve tried to do something painful to me, if it weren’t for the Teleglitch glitch.
But I suspected the hangar was meant to be the location of an epic battle: the doors had locked behind me. No doubt the only way to escape would have been to kill everything… but the glitch state precluded the frozen enemies from being injured.
I suppose I could have interpreted the glitch as my special story with the base AI lulling me into a false sense of security then coaxing me into a hangar that it could down lock tight. From fear to hubris to starvation, in half an hour. But the glitch was too obvious and I could only interpret it as a breakdown of the game. Although the events were detached from the narrative, it still became part of the mechanics: an unexpected roll of the dice. Do I exit the level or try my luck with looting? Decisions, decisions.
Of course, trapped forever, I was left with only one option: to commit suicide via Exit Game. The worst way to die.