Writing archive

Guestblog: Joe McCulloch on “Amerzone: The Explorer’s Legacy” and Graphic Adventure Games

— Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

We here at Project: Ballad are excited, proud and honored to be able to present this guest post from yet another leading critical voice — this time from the esteemed Joe McCulloch. As both Michael and I are unashamedly huge fans of Joe’s work, you can imagine the fits of squeals and giggles we launched into when Joe actually volunteered to write something for the site.

Be sure that you’re keeping up with Joe’s weekly column on The Comics Journal, “This Week in Comics,” as well as the new podcast “Comic Books are Burning In Hell,” co-hosted by Tucker Stone, Matt Seneca and Chris Mautner. Joe also has a weighty backlog of writing spread across the internet, though his personal blog would be a good place to start.

And with that, please enjoy. Thanks so much Joe!

Hello, and welcome to the gala return of Project: Ballad. I am flattered to have invited myself to deliver a few remarks, the first of which will be that I do not understand this comic in the slightest. I mean, come on.

What fantasy. Implausibility!

Who on earth plays games with friends?

FACT: nobody. Nobody normal. I mean, not me, and I’m the most normal person I know! Let me describe normalcy for you, as it appears to be in short supply.

What is normal, is what Alison Bechdel wrote of in Fun Home, for a youth to be terrified of crossing invisible lines on the ground, lest the universe itself collapse from her breach of its laws. I was one of those miracle children, touching a wall with one hand and then immediately the other, so as to maintain my body’s temperature; if you bake one loaf, I’d think, you have to bake another. Had Google existed at that time, zealous searches would have no doubt identified an adequate diagnosis and several hundreds of avenues for worry.

But like an older cartoonist, the great Justin Green, I knew only a higher authority.

I’ve since been told it’s narcissistic to believe that God will obliterate the universe on my inadvertent command, yet I’ve only smiled in response, as the interrogator always thus betrays his lack of imagination. Genesis says God created man in his own image, but what boy of that age would more respect Alex Kidd than Sonic the Hedgehog? Fuck humanity. God, to me, was something different, something magnificent and boggling – a shimmering web, a crackling supercomputer with instant access to the minds of every human being, so that every human emotion would register upon the Divine in flawless parity, rendering all of our prayers equal. And all of our sins.

For minutes, or forty minutes, or hours, nightly, I would be tempted to ask God to destroy the world, and then I’d repent: “Please don’t let anything happen.” Kill my parents. “Please don’t let anything happen.” Give me a heart attack, I’m nine. “Please don’t let anything happen. Please don’t let anything happen. Please don’t let anything happen.” Ad infinitum. Pax vobiscum?

Ah, but I was a Catholic, dear reader, and we Catholics have rituals as our balm, and intermediaries for good counsel. Let me introduce you to one such blessed:

Oh he had never seen such finger speed indeed. Like a butoh dancer consolidating his art into only an obscure series of repetitive flicks of his thumbs and knuckles, I could sit content before Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! and react perfectly to a closed system of discreet stimuli: belly punch on the third hop; star uppercut at the bouncing jaw; dodge to the left at the first crack of glowing white. Other games didn’t quite confuse me, no, but Tyson was succinct. There — finally! — you could enjoy perfect interaction with an orderly universe, a cosmos distilled to a rich pattern of button taps.

Games, of course, in that era, were generally patterns of taps, but the illusion of random activity could be created by especially complex enemy commands – or the dread specter of a second player. But my patron would stand for nothing of the sort in the midst of our communion, and miracles would duly occur. Once, a kid appeared at my door demanding to know how I could possibly beat Mike Tyson.

And years later, when I was home from college in the summer, I went to a party thrown by a friend-of-a-friend who had a house to himself. The place was full of high school kids drinking heavily and making out and jumping naked down a creek in the backyard. An NES was live in the parlor.

“Y’know,” my friend said to his friend, “this kid can beat Mike Tyson.”

Obediently — clothed — I sat down on the couch. Someone in the room knew the password from memory. I went all three rounds, which made it so exciting as the old gears turned again. Kids lowered their red cups and peeled themselves off of one another’s sweaty beet faces while I remembered everything.

I hadn’t believed God would destroy the world from my lack of faith in a long time, but oh how I recalled my benedictions.

***

Like many children, such transcendental aptitude faded as I grew; these days it manifests primarily in the frantic study of production histories for European comic books I unleash on a rapt audience practically countless on my fingers and toes.

Among my most recent subjects was one Benoît Sokal, a Belgian artist responsible for the still-running Une enquête de l’inspecteur Canardo series of dirty ‘funny animal’ comics. Synched up with a similarly sexualized and neurotic tone as Robert Crumb’s Fritz the Cat — yet drawn in a lush, dinner roll-footed cartoon style derived from mid-century Eurofunnies ultra-god André Franquin — Sokal presents his Canardo, a duck in a trench coat ostensibly based upon television’s Lt. Columbo, with grim scenarios typically ending in chaos and ruin, including at least one in which the title character commits suicide via gunshot to the head.

Needless to say, this series was once considered a real contender for English-language popular dollars, though all attempts to license the books for translation stalled after the same two introductory volumes. Pity he couldn’t stay longer.

Had there been more, English readers would have stood in goggle-eyed witness to Sokal widening the scope of his noirish misanthropy to epic proportions. The fifth book in the Canardo series, L’Amerzone (1986), opens with a troop of literal dog soldiers storming the palace of the dictatorial President Alvarez, a fat bulldog dressed like a tin pot dictator and muttering of power amounting to little more than longer nights with bored whores. A wolf in a flak jacket shoots him in the head, gore leaping voluptuously into the frame as a droopy underling praises the nation’s new ruler with a look of boredom suggesting no small ease with municipal turnover.

Canardo enters the scene at a government office where a European dog, Valembois, is zealously disputing his imminent deportation as a remnant of the prior regime; the detective had been hired by Valembois’ daughter to ensure daddy’s safe return, but Canardo finds himself out of favor with the local authorities after the almost entirely accidental shooting of a soldier. Hiding out with the detective at a bordello, Valembois strips his heart bare; he was a student idealist once, but his sponsorship of classmate Alvarez’s
rise to absolute power left him a veritable prisoner in the Amerzone. Now he wants nothing more than to trek to a mighty volcanic landscape, where tales tell of legendary white birds: fecund, soaring symbols that might enflame the hearts of the people and soothe the awful guilt in whitey’s heart.

Adventures follow, enough so that the devout reader eventually questions Sokal’s commitment to his dirty furry roots – there’s a fraud missionary who dresses the native people in Western underpants, a conniving prostitute looking to install a pliable john as (yet another) president, and even a cute teen girl sidekick for reluctant Canardo, albeit the sort of kid who’s liable to hand out gut-shots for the uncles who’ve attempted to sell her into sex slavery. And at the summit of the volcanoes indeed fly those white birds, around and around in circles, gliding on hot air so steady that even the dead continue their circulation as skeletons in an orbiting cemetery.

Yet as Valembois fashions a makeshift aircraft to ascend with the flock, Canardo — a duck plainly not used to flight — derides him as a New Age bore, seduced by a phony, sentimentalized primitivism demonstrably inferior to the hazards and pleasures of civilization. He is ostensibly speaking of any old hazardous, pleasure city, perhaps, but we learned sophisticates might divine some rejection on Sokal’s part of the post-colonial white guilt endemic to Franco-Belgian comics mindful of the racist excesses of early Hergé, which represented the Catholic Church’s interest in foreign terrains. Any glee we might take from this scene, however, only serves to maneuver us into Sokal’s cruel sights.

Near the border, having descended, Canardo and the young girl are stopped by the police. As a European, Canardo is permitted to leave, but the girl is not. He tells her democracy will have to wait in the Amerzone. As he leaves, a police officer leers at the girl. The panels in this sequence are wide, stacked in tiers from top to bottom, stretching all the way from the left of the page to the right. The girl is going to be raped by the police. A dialogue bubble begins to issue from her mouth as tears stream down her face, but it is solid blue, with no words. It becomes bigger and bigger in each wide panel, eventually filling the entire right of the frame. It is an image of a white bird. The girl is smiling as she cries. The next bubble fills an entire panel, and then the final one erupts into a large image of the bird and the sky, breaching spatial confines to fill half of the album’s final page, thereby ending the story.

What is indicated is that these religious fantasies, stupid as they seem, mean something genuine to real people. Canardo, the sophisticate, the proud atheist, we might think, the reader surrogate who does not look back to see what will surely happen to the child he’s left, is a monster of privilege, and the high-fives his vulgar know-something populism elicit from L’Amerzone’s readership is which makes Sokal unique, as it is rare to encounter a creator who so derides his creation, and through it the impulses of his audience.

Now, wasn’t that a nice story?

Wait. Hang on.

I know what you’re thinking.

THIS OUGHTA BE A VIDEO GAME.

***

“Sokal?”

“He did Syberia, right?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “and the sequel too. They kind of helped revive the genre. Graphic adventures. Like, Roberta Williams.”

“I played most of the first one. Then I had to make tea for someone, and I quit. Did you know I met my wife playing Myst?”

“No.”

“I mean, I didn’t meet her like that, but when we were dating, she’d stand over my shoulder while I played and we’d just… talk.”

He said some other things, but everything after my “[n]o” — which was more of an involuntary jerk than a bona fide word, to be honest — was so utterly foreign to my corporeal and metaphysical existence at that time I’ve been forced to reconstruct the dialogue from naked presumption.

A graphic adventure game, you see, is not something you share.

Believe me, I tried, and indigestive lava memories of friends sitting around my computer while I navigated dialogue trees to uninspiring effect are burbling right now into my throat. To merely watch a graphic adventure game is to witness some broken and uncanny simulacra of a cinematographic experience, a tortured thing wherein protagonists listlessly circle the same rooms over and over, asking the same questions and getting the same answers, with no shift in inflection or connotation, seeking some obscure
means of moving negligibly forward to little guaranteed result.

Still, more and more, games seek to approximate a cinematic experience; we speak of ‘cameras,’ shooting footage, I guess, in the world of the game, and we mean it. This metaphor can be instructive in examining ‘retro’ genres such as the graphic adventure; in his landmark study of pre-sound movie slapstick, The Silent Clowns, Walter Kerr theorized that the underlying factualness of the moving picture — the record it makes of reality, moving in the way reality is understood to move by anyone awake and sane — is most fundamentally undercut by the absence of sound, leaving “serious film” of the era compromised, while comedy, fantasy, can simply divorce itself from approximations of the spectator’s daily experience, and indeed benefit from deviations out of such. We laugh when things are unexpectedly wrong.

Maybe this is why there is so much comedy in graphic adventure games, beyond the useful attribute of having characters stand still a lot to deliver their jokes – isolated from ‘action,’ focused on ‘plot,’ there are so many more storytelling expectations for the graphic adventure to hilariously frustrate, strengthening the pact the designer has formed with the gamer to abide by the little difficulties of puzzling and interaction that would have any corner-working kamishibai narrator pelted with candy by his juvenile audience had he tried to tell a story in such a retarded manner.

Me? I played a ton of those things, but my way. Logically. Normally.

And I didn’t give a shit about plot or storytelling.

Not with whole universes in my hands, and challenges issued by a series of New Gods I was more than prepared to wallop across the face, having entered my angry adolescence without prompting global extinction.

The graphic adventure game, fundamentally, is allegorical combat between you, the player, and the god of the simulated reality, the designer. Perhaps this is true for any game, but by this construct the cinematic and storytelling frustrations detailed above become especially valid and meaningful challenges, as the graphic adventure genre is the closest gaming has to dull reality — the “fact” of cinema — without generally introducing the randomesque aspect of reflex or timing necessary for a QTE or a battle or jumping onto
a platform. You can imagine for yourself how reality is supposed to function in these games, and this clarifies the competition you have entered into with the designer, while at the same time the stillness and distance observed in comparison to waking, continuous reality emphasizes reflection upon the rigid rules of the game: those very dialogue trees and revisited locations.

To load a graphic adventure game is to descend into a bottled world and pursue the reward of capturing all the things that elude you outside the bottle.

For these reasons, I have never liked text adventure games; they demand far too complicated an interaction with the fabric of the game’s reality, and I don’t need to be condescended to with illusions of divinity.

For these reasons, I have found it best to adopt the first-person Myst style, so that it is truly you tasked with the mission, instead of some fabricated yapping avatar.

This mission.

To load a Roberta Williams game is to declare war on God.

***

In the end, it was the cruelty of Benoît Sokal, master manipulator of L’Amerzone — who, ironically, had become reputable as a twinkling daemon of wonder in gaming circles, utterly replacing the raunchy bastard of Canardo in English-leaded minds — that made the existence of Amerzone: The Explorer’s Legacy irresistible to me, despite my long-dormant interest in the genre. It had been released in North America quite soon after its European debut in 1999, and GOG had it priced to move.

Perfect.

What follows is a brief chronicle of my time spent in the bottle.

***

I. GOD THE FATHER/IN HIS KINGDOM

Amerzone: The Explorer’s Legacy is a Myst-style game in which the player moves the mouse in order to look around 360º ‘slides,’ utilizing a cursor to interact with elements of the screen or move to different screens, sometimes with interstitial animation or sound effects added to facilitate the illusion of spatial travel between slides. There is an inventory, from which you can examine items or use them with onscreen elements; the cursor changes shape when it falls atop an interactive element, such as a monitor, a lever or a person, automatically providing the applicable action (looking, pulling, talking) unless an item is needed.

It is all very streamlined, perhaps because the production team was as green as its debutante designer. Indeed, I wonder how much designing the comics-bred Sokal actually did, since he is only the third-credited designer in the official credits roll, after Eric Brouillat and first-credited Emmanuel Dexet, the latter also the game’s director and top-noted programmer. Sokal seems to have been more heavily involved on the visual end; he is the credited art director, and apparently created some of the onscreen 2D and 3D art
himself, along with more traditional illustrations — seen mainly in a huge in-game guidebook — produced with Vincent Boulanger and “guest star” François Schuiten, one of the giants of Belgian comics, whose frequent scriptwriter, Benoît Peeters, was also involved as a storyboard assistant.

Still, Sokal’s is the name you see appearing alongside the title as the game loads, doubtlessly due to the game’s status as an adaptation of a Canardo album; it was even produced in association with the comic’s publisher, Casterman, and one can imagine the primary appeal being some fantasy entrance into the Sokal world, which would likewise render the game’s simplicity a positive.

But there are no funny animals in Amerzone. Remorseful Valembois is now an elderly human, made in his creator’s image to cough out the basics of the story’s background dropping dead at his kitchen table, or maybe just falling asleep really hard; the animation is none too specific. It’s up to you, the player — a curious journalist now, instead of a bitter duck dick — to find some way of soothing the old git’s maybe-posthumous Euro-guilt by returning the stolen egg of a white bird to the volcanic region of the Amerzone and hatching it. To do this, you must first get the lighthouse’s convenient submarine/sailboat/flying contraption to work.

As with every graphic adventure game in history, it’s very easy until it’s hard, until you hit a wall and you’re made to backtrack and circle and harrumph at your lack of progress, acutely aware of your life ticking away and quietly wishing to consult the walkthrough included with the download, though you know that’s admitting defeat.

I got stuck inside the sub/boat/plane itself, staring at its onboard monitor, which prior to launch required unspecified “DETAILS” to be entered: a three-digit number. Previously, I’d been confronted with a monitor demanding a six-digit password to open a door; I got it on the first try, because in my inventory there was exactly one indication of a six-digit number: the birth date of Valembois on the in-game guide.

There is some verisimilitude to that. People use dates of birth as passwords all the time.

But I was playing against Sokal, and on the playfield there are certain boundaries. Once you can progress no further, the options for interacting with puzzles exponentially decrease with attempted interactions, so that if Item A does not work, Item B is more likely. Further, if the puzzle involves the entry of a password, then the normal player must associate the attributes of the environment to the contours of the password.

That’s why these games are so much better than reality: everything has meaning. Analogies are clean, and useful. Explore far out enough, thoroughly enough, and the signals you will decipher become no different than staring out the eyes of crackling God, omnipotent.

Three digits. Examine the details.

Up in the lighthouse, at the top of the tower, there is a panel likewise bearing three empty number slots.

Down an elevator tube, there is a telescope, wherein you can see birds fluttering toward a three-digit coordinate, 140º, marked in red.

Had I read the in-game guide closely, I’d have noticed a small notation drawn atop what I presume is actual productions art related to the lighthouse tower: “+5”.

He is letting you behind the curtain.

The number of the tower is 145, which I found through trial and error, just counting up.

He is inviting you in.

The sub detail was “145” – I was off.

***

II. CHRIST THE SON/UPON THE EARTH

It then came to pass that I was stuck in the river.

The theme of Amerzone, to read it literarily, is post-colonialism. There are few NPCs to interact with, and a worrying number of them die shortly after imparting some vital information. Through it all, President Alvarez also sits dying, mostly off-screen. It is the twilight of western-backed tinpot dictators, men descended from superpowers to meddle in the lives of the crowd, and to the sensitive European there is no finer use of such an open playfield than psychic healing by woolly way of parable. It is ridiculous to this American mind, of course; we are nothing if not certain in our prejudices.

So I talked to some people, found some items, escaped an imprisonment, robbed a church, and eventually got motherfucking stuck in the motherfucking river, a fanciful rhinoceros/hippopotamus thingy having head butted my boat/whatever-the-fuck.

It is here that the temptation in the desert occurs.

“The game is broken,” Lucifer whispers. “GOG must have messed up in optimizing it. Or those Belgian guys. Belgium doesn’t even work as a country, how can they make games? You probably hit a bug earlier, made it unwinnable.”

Sweating, I scoured the contours. I couldn’t even move from the sub. All the sub would do was activate a grappling hook icon, but nothing I’d click on out the windshield created a response. There was also a lever you could pull to fire the hook, which landed in the same place every time.

“Check the walkthrough. You’ve tried everything. Check the walkthrough.”

Suddenly, without warning, on the one thousandth pull of the lever, a different animated interstitial was triggered, depicting the hook clasping onto the peak of a nearby rock and dragging my craft along.

I knew then that Sokal was playing dirty.

As it turned out, clicking the hook icon around on the screen only seemed to do nothing; the game was actually recording ‘invisible’ data, so that when you clicked on the top of the rock, despite nothing immediately happening, the Win interstitial was loaded in the event you pulled the lever.

This is an obnoxious kind of puzzle, because the player, having been lulled into expecting things to happen in a logically associative way when things are clicked on — a ‘dry’ click previously established as either a non-interactive element or something in need of an item’s intervention — is suddenly made to disbelieve the laws of the simulated reality, like they’ve tried to rest their shoulder against a wall and fallen through.

The saving grace of the scenario was that the contours to explore were so small — just the inside of the vehicle — that some association would have to be begged from merely having a grappling hook icon and a lever that fires a grappling hook in the same space, though I did spend an exorbitant amount of time looking for a screw on the floor or something to load into the onboard computer or something, something.

Thus, having invited you in, Sokal, fully man and fully god, pushes you back down.

***

III. I WILL SOONER EMPTY THE SEA INTO THIS HOLE IN THE SAND THAN YOU SHALL SOLVE THE PUZZLE OF THE TRINITY

Where I gave up was in a nearby village, because I had done everything.

The white bird’s egg had to be prepared with a special formula; I’d found all the ingredients, ground them up, and had them drilled under the shell. I was ready to set sail for the volcanoes.

Except, I was left again staring at the onboard monitor, which had no DETAILS to offer.

It had been established in prior levels that you needed to find floppy discs to insert into the craft’s high-tech European OS to navigate from area to area. Obviously, I needed another one, and I couldn’t find it.

The contours were very wide. There was a boardwalk along the river, an inoperable elevator by a waterfall, the large village, and nearly as large a jungle and mountains beyond it – a good two dozen slides, at least.

Could it have something to do with the swinging mechanism in the center of the village?

I no longer trusted the rules of my world. It was a sinister and cheating place.

Could something be stuck in the tall grass? Obscured by a skeleton? Why did my POV leer at the skeleton when I clicked on it? That had to mean something, it had to.

I began to take emergency measures, standing in every slide and trailing the cursor up and down, up and down, in columns, pixel hunting to take stock of my options, to divide them into associations, to hone it down.

Why, why did the sound shift in my headphones when I turned around? Was it an audio puzzle? Why was there extra vegetation to pick up? Could I… grow a diskette? Did I cross the bridge too many times, and now I had to reset the game because it’d fallen down? Was Daventry and its peoples doomed? This was how Roberta Williams made her money, you know – pitfalls, insurmountable obstacles and ravishing non sequiturs designed to get you to buy a hint book, to fall at her feet in shame, unable to cope with life, justifying the metaphors that sing your failure each and every day, your bank account and Twitter follower count and your relationship status and damn fucking mode of dress and your body, your body, you fucking piece of shit and your empty fucking mind you self-absorbed prick, you stupid fucking shit at hour five of a video game, a grown-ass man with zero fucking accomplishments you loathsome, pretentious fraud, you laughable fucking clown, dreaming garbage you sad little joke, you will be dead one day, you will be dead one day, you will be dead one day, you will be dead one day, you will be dead one day, you will be dead one day, and you will regret every last thing and cringe in terror at all the nothing to follow.

Well I wasn’t going to sit for King’s Quest X: No Exit, gentle reader. I was going to strike back in a metafictional demonstration of agency.

I was going to read that walkthrough.

And it was there that I found the solution to the case of the absent diskette: I was to open up a desk drawer, and retrieve the diskette.

No, really.

“In the first room take the disk from the drawer of the office desk.”

There was a desk in the main room of the village, the only modern thing there. A drawer was clearly visible underneath. Inside it, was the diskette. That was the puzzle. Actually, it probably wasn’t a puzzle, per se, more a thing you would do, if you were actually looking at the art on screen, which I was not, since my eyes were plastered onto my wobbly scanning cursor.

“I could only see points, lines, mileposts, traces of frontiers.”

That’s a line from The Invisible Frontier, a comic by François Schuiten & Benoît Peeters, aforementioned minor contributors to Amerzone. It’s funny, Franco-Belgian comics – they list the artists first, so Schuiten is the guy that drew it, and Peeters wrote the script. Wrote that line. But words and pictures combine to make a comic, as much as some readers only care for the succinct text.

The appeal of comics, it’s been said, is to create a breathing, visual world with only a few people. To make a movie with a skeleton crew. But I believe in comics more than I believe in movies as visual entertainment, because movies always remain locked into expectations for how people should look and behave, while comics, drawings, form the world completely anew, squashing and stretching with a logic understandable on its own terms.

I knew then, that for all my reading of the gaming world, I was only reading text, and not looking at pictures all around.

Things had gotten somewhat Gnostic in the Amerzone.

***

But because this is a hopeful story, and not a tale of loss of faith, and because we wish the very best for all our Project: Ballad friends — I hope the blonde kid gets stabbed again, he’s such a wuss! — indulge me this short postscript, wherein an excellent puzzle is duly encountered.

I had become interested in adventure games again, and reliable GOG was accepting preorders for Resonance, a new LucasArts-styled project jointly developed by xii games and Wadjet Eye Games; the names meant nothing, so dispersed was a scene in which you’d find scads of works by Jane Jensen and the Tex Murphy guys in cheapjack casual game clearing houses and dozens of indie upstarts wherever you‘d flick your spit, but — crucially — a preview consisting of an estimated four hours of gameplay was promised with your $8.99, and my woken skills expected to blow through it in much less than that, even while scanning every dialogue tree with goddamned military precision.

It went as easy as expected, until I got to a keypad at the very end.

I will posit this puzzle as perfect. Everything makes tactile, visceral sense, yet it is a work of double misdirection. You are told upon examination that the lights at the top and bottom of the panel indicate power flowing through the keypad, and that if you manage to normalize the bottom pin the keypad will function despite such minor inconveniences as your having ripped away the keys. No more birthday passwords. Time to get to the center of things.

You can flip the switch up top to activate the power. You can pick up the wires down bottom, and wrap them around the pins, starting up top and working down. If you look at the art, you can see impressions left on the surface of the circuitry of where the wires used to go, a series of overlapping downward triangles.

This is the first misdirection: that because it seems that something is not right, that you must fill the empty space, like inserting a key into a tantalizing lock. I spent many minutes trying to wrap the wires around every pin, to perfectly match the indentations. But every time I hit the switch, all of the lights up top would shine, but the lights down bottom would never land on the tenth, green square, obviously the point of victory.

Gradually, I realized that you don’t have to follow the indentations at all – you can stretch the wires any way you want.

This is where the second misdirection comes in.

Because while what seemed to be important was merely cosmetic, there is something apparently cosmetic about the puzzle that is, in fact, entirely crucial. The shining lights.

I noticed, from really looking at the lights, that the lights up top would match the lights down bottom, unless somehow inhibited; such inhibitions would match up with certain pins I’d ties wires around.

Having looked up to the lights, I then looked down to the earth, and realized that I was, after all, dealing with a keypad.

There were nine active pins.

Through trial and error, I discovered that each one corresponded to a number on the keypad, inhibiting the flow of energy for one, two, three blocks down bottom, all the way up to nine. I had to have a final count of ten to charge the green box down bottom, so it became simple to calculate which path it would take for that sum to be reached.

And that was that. Logic married to good observation. Sense and sensuality. A puzzle schema that encourages communion with the gaming world. A challenge of peace.

Thank heaven it’s just me and my savior down there. Human competition would only fuck it up.

Amen.