Art Brute: The Infinite Ocean

By Quintin Smith on November 23rd, 2010 at 1:20 pm.

Nobody likes you. You smell. Episode 3 is never coming out.

What do you do when Terry Cavanagh, creator of VVVVVV, sends you an email telling you about a 7 year old browser game that’s only recently been updated? I’ve just found out. You squeak, you listen, and then you play that game from start to finish.

The Infinite Ocean by indie dev Jonas Kyratzes is a deliciously dark slice of future-terror presented as a kind of wandering escape-the-room game, although Terry points out that this game was made long before escape-the-room was a genre. Your character wakes up in an empty room where everybody’s left very quickly. The coffee is still hot, the chairs are tipped up and discouraging messages flicker on all the computer screens. They’re trying to tell you what to do. But who are ‘they’? Narrative exposition then comes from System Shock/Marathon style computer terminals, each providing a blast of thought-provoking information like the world’s most enjoyable electro-shock therapy. But let’s not spoil anything. Go play. It’ll take you perhaps 40 minutes from start to finish.

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57 Comments »

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  1. gnome says:

    Always listen to Terry Cavanagh, but listen carefully, for it is the Infinite Ocean you’re looking for. Anyway. Lovely post on a truly fantastic game. Oh, and it’s an update of the 2003 edition. Cheers!

  2. Marar Patrunjica says:

    Finished it a couple of days ago, really wonderful. Found out about it via Terry’s blog, it seems that he and Jonas Kyratzes are teaming up to create an RPG called “Nexus City”, should be interesting.

    Right now I’m playing another game of Jonas’s games that I would like to recommend: “Phoenomenon 32″, set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, you and 120 other moon colonists come back to Earth to salvage whatever resources the planet has in order to stay alive. It’s a really strange black and white game with a great atmosphere.

    • ckpk says:

      I played, and thought the concept and the way it ws portrayed was fantastic. Unfortunately, I found the actualy game play way too finicky and gave up after a handful of missions in :(

    • Terry Cavanagh says:

      @Marar Patrunjica: Phoenomenon 32 is amazing! I wish more people would sit down and give it a proper try; it’s such a wonderful world to explore.

    • Wilson says:

      @Marar Patrunjica – I’m with ckpk, I liked the idea of the game, but the gameplay didn’t hold me. It’s a shame when you find a game you like, but find it too difficult / tedious to play through. With Phenomenon 32 I just kind of lost my motivation to carry on playing. I might well try it again at some point though.

  3. Auspex says:

    Played this the other day when Terry recommended it. Found it boring and ended up just watching the walkthrough video instead – sorry!

    Nexus City does look like it might be pretty cool though:
    http://distractionware.com/blog/?cat=65

  4. jarvoll says:

    It is SO coming out! You lie!

  5. pakoito says:

    It’s ok, good story. Not that I would cry or anything.

  6. Ush says:

    Hey, Jonas Kyratzes! One of his first games, Last Rose in a Desert Garden, gave me my first glimpse of how excellent indie games can be: http://www.jonas-kyratzes.net/games/last-rose-in-a-desert-garden/

    I’ve had one of the music tracks from it as my phones ring tone for the past seven or eight years now, still sounds awesome.

  7. Hedenius says:

    I like the art style and simple interface. The writing felt a bit “teenage angst” at times.

    OH NOES! LIF IS MEENINGLESS!
    SANDZ IN HORGLASS IS EMPTIE = GRET METAFOR FOR LIFE!

    But still, nice game.

    • gnome says:

      Far from it really. It’a a unique a dialectical take on technophobia and hope. Perhaps you weren’t reading carefully?

    • Wilson says:

      I think anything with writing about a ‘serious’ topic can be seen as ‘teenage angst’ depending on how the reader looks at it. I expect that the more you engage with the material the less pretentious it seems.

    • Halpert says:

      You both seem right in that it’s a unique dialectical take on technophobia and hope- that sometimes comes off as teen angsty. The writing is really incredible for about 75% of the game, but at times it tosses off cliche, context-free lines about the meaninglessness of life which are teen-angsty and a bit off putting. And Hedenius is right on about the hourglass. It’s a super cliche metaphor, and what practical purpose would an hourglass serve in the universe? They have built AI. Why would they be using an hourglass?

      I really did love the game and the writing, but those moments irked me.

    • Lilliput King says:

      I thought that like the clock that was stuck on whatever time it was stuck on the almost empty hourglass was meant to show that time wasn’t progressing as you were playing the game, so whatever action you were fulfilling was happening in super slo-mo/instantly.

      Similarly, the message may have been a bit teen-angsty (I thought it was fine, meself) but if it was it was fairly clearly the reverse of your reading, and was one of hope, beauty and joy (as wanky as that makes me sound, I actually think this is one of the few non-IF indie-vidyagames that have pulled such a thing off credibly).

    • Halpert says:

      My bad. I did not read the text as supporting a “life is meaningless” theme. The game actually presents the idea(the wall and some logs) before rejecting it and ending on a hopeful tone. But when it presents the idea initially, it does so through lines that are in my opinion poorly written and teen-angsty, which put me off.

      I do really like your thought about time. Which I guess implies the player is the AI which has the computational speed that allows you to act instantaneously, but you are moving around the structure, which means that you are also able to move at super-speeds (but I don’t know how super-movement-speed makes sense). I have a feeling that you are right, I just can’t seem to work it out.

    • Jonas says:

      The hourglass was definitely not meant as a metaphor for the meaninglessness of life. And yes, it makes no sense for them to have an hourglass there. Does a window to space make sense when there are journal entries about going to a café?

    • Decimae says:

      SPOILER ALERT
      I’ve read a few theorems about this, and I mostly agree with this one:

      The player is SDGS and is dreaming because of the semi-shutdown. However, the SDGS is trying to prevent the upcoming nuclear war(which the clocks indicate), and tries to get over her(or is it his? I don’t know, I just typed that instinctively) capabilities by using parts of files(memories). Eventually this succeeds, at least if you finish the game.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Decimae: That was certainly the conclusion I came to. There was a section in the writing about SDGS being fascinated by humans working out the solution to problems in their dreams, which would lend credence to that idea. That and all the strange objects that make no sense, and the messages urging you to give up (e.g. self doubt).

      Halpert: Oops, that was intended as a reply to the original post. Sorry for the confusion. You’re certainly welcome to your own opinion on the writing, and I wouldn’t want to tell you to think otherwise. As I said though, I personally thought it was fine throughout, and really good in the right places. The computer trying to work out it’s function or goal in life was an important theme, and I guess it’s hard to do that without returning at least a little to a human adolescence (when we try to do the same thing). Of course, the most important philosophical development for that AI would be working out that life is meaningless, that morals and beauty aren’t logical or empirically meaningful, and yet they are concepts that we live by in order to become worthwhile individuals. Difficult to express that without being wanky. I fear I too have failed in that regard.

    • Bhazor says:

      I appreciate what it was saying but really the cod philosophy (war is bad, mkay?) was overwhelming at times.
      Also War Games did it better.

      Personally I still stand by a Mind Forever Voyaging as the best AI morality tale.

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      phlebas says:

      ‘Not as good as A Mind Forever Voyaging’ is hardly damning criticism, though.

  8. Om says:

    Just played it through and found it fascinating. Even if the navigation was endlessly irritating

  9. Weylund says:

    Remember when games with graphics were about face-shooting (or technically bounding-volume-shooting, since face-shooting didn’t come in until later), and all this textual stuff was confined to writers and their surrogate programmers?

    In short: I bet Douglas Adams would have a) liked this a lot, b) decided to do something like it himself, and c) never finished it. But wouldn’t it have been grand?

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    drewski says:

    Mmm. I always think it’s a bit of a cop out when a writer won’t divulge the intent of his story, especially when the resolution of the plot is not obvious from the detail. I mean, I have my own interpretation, but I’d be very interested to see what his was in writing the game, and how far away from that mine is, and then examine why my conclusion is different (or not) from his.

    Interesting, but unsatisfying.

    • Jonas says:

      I’ve struggled with this, and have at times actually said way too much about what I was thinking. The danger, as I see it, is that if the writer talks too much about their intent, people will refrain from digging into the game and trying to figure out what it means. I very intentionally made a game that didn’t tell you what the truth was, but gave you a host of clues that could you lead you there; a game to pick apart and consider, to make you think.

      I understand the frustration though, especially in these times of “postmodern playfulness,” with feeling that maybe it’s all just a bunch of pseudo-mysterious “atmospheric” wankery. I can honestly tell you that I thought a great deal about every element that I included, and that I have a very specific interpretation in mind (though certain variations are possible).

      It’s kind of lose/lose, I fear.

    • Azeltir says:

      You could always discuss your thoughts on your blog. That way, people have time to reflect on their own thoughts on your game while still having access to your interpretation. You might put a disclaimer at the top of the post telling people to sit on the game for a few days before reading it or something.

      Lovely game, though! I certainly enjoyed myself, and will likely think about the deeper lessons more for the next couple of days.

      Ben

  11. Longrat says:

    So wait, what was the ending about? Were you the AI and have you liberated yourself from the prison and awoken to full sentience again? Or what the hell was that light then? I really am not sure what that ending was about.

  12. Coded_One says:

    I’m still waiting for the remake of the wonderful “We Love Mind Control Rocket.”
    http://distractionware.com/blog/?p=187

    Great game, that is. I thoroughly enjoyed Infinite Ocean, but I was kinda sorta confused about the ending. Obviously there are some spoilers:

    I interpreted it as I was deactivating the emergency mode on the AI, therefore giving the AI full control. But maybe it was the opposite?

    • Coded_One says:

      What exactly is the “Emergency Mode” that the player deactivates in the end? And was that the AI’s message at the end telling you to not deactivate it? or the General’s?

    • Lilliput King says:

      If I remember right the emergency mode was the mode that the AI was put into in order to deactivate its sentience but not the weapon systems it was connected to.

    • Noc says:

      *SPOILERS*

      There’s a couple references near the end to the military planning to put the AI in “Manual” mode, shutting down its sentience but allowing the military to retain control of the weapons grid. I *think* that you deactivate this, putting the AI in control and averting whatever thermonuclear catastrophe ‘Project Crusade’ entailed. Note that the message telling you not to do this is uses “we,” and sounds like it’s coming from the military and addressed to the scientists.

      Presumably, the military broke in and abducted the scientists just before the start of the game, perhaps leaving you for dead — a severe concussion would explain your disorientation and retrograde amnesia. Or, given that the doors were locked, the AI managed to keep you safe up until the moment it was shut down. Cryptic, nihilist messages don’t really seem like a military sort of thing to do, so I can only conjecture that they’re either a) messages from the AI to the military personnel, as it resisted their attempts to break in, round up the scientists, and shut it down, which were then left frozen on the monitors as its operation ceased, or b) the hopeless, despairing thoughts of the AI while it’s trapped in its ‘suspended’ state, knowing that it failed to stop Project Crusade from nuking everything.

      I do not know what the deal is with the notes.

      *END SPOILERS*

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      drewski says:

      Noc – that’s more or less what I concluded, too.

      *spoilers*
      The monitor messages are the deeply confusing bit – it doesn’t really make sense. The military aren’t nihilists, as you say, and the AI seemed to conclude the opposite of the messages throughout it’s logs – so even if it was the last thing it did as it was being de-sentienced, so to speak, it doesn’t fit the AI’s overall viewpoint. And if the task you’re achieving is, in fact, reactivating the sentience of the AI, why would the AI try to stop you?

      That’s probably the thing that needs the most clarification for me. It jars with what I got from the story.
      */spoilers*

    • Adventurous Putty says:

      What if the player is the AI, and the gamespace is not necessarily a literal projection of the research facility but its presence in “cyberspace”? This would allow for the AI reactivating itself at the end through player action (because the player IS the AI) but also make the messages from the notes and the screens a dialogue between the nihilistic and idealistic parts of the AI’s “subconscious.”

      The game, in other words, is a dream — which makes sense, given the AI’s professed fascination with dreams in one of the notes.

    • Tacroy says:

      Yeah um I thought that was obvious. You’re the AI, you’re “dreaming” the game, and then at the end you kill yourself to take out all the nuclear weapons (there’s references to the effect of “the AI’s wired itself completely into the weapons systems, we have to put it to sleep but not kill it because if we kill it all the weapons systems break”).

      I wanted to believe that the AI lives at the end, but unfortunately that’s just not supported by the context; re-read the messages you get when you click on the two pure-white circular wall lights – the light represents death, unfortunately. By going to your own demise (literally, walking into the light), you avert bright white nuclear light for a lot of other people.

      Oh yeah also as I mentioned below: it’s just obvious, in retrospect, that an AI would work things out in a Myst-like manner – just like how humans work things out in the primeval reptilian part of our brains :)

      Fortunately, any well-equipped computer facility will have offsite backups, right?

    • JackShandy says:

      So they spent billions of dollars developing a computer that could think for itself…

      And then the military took it to use in a mode where it couldn’t think?

    • Unimural says:

      What a lovely little game.

      *spoilers*

      I have to admit I played the game almost to the end, before I gave the environment any real thought. But I think it’s quite obvious, that the environment is not a literal space, but an imaginary one. I saw the player as the AI trying to reactivate itself / its control over the defense network. And in the light bit in the end, you wake up/reintegrate with the full consciousness.

      Thus the walls (and perhaps even the whole bleak atmosphere of a catastrophy in standstill) is a reflection of all the irrationality the AI perceives in humans. And perhaps self-doubt. I guess they reflect the whole ‘1984-don’t think just conform’ attitude the AI journals reflected. Of course one might argue the metaphors are too human, but the whole idea seemed to be that the computer actually did think using a natural language (ie English). And it did value imagination.

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      drewski says:

      Why does an AI need to recreate the human aspects of the environment? I can understand spreading the clues and passwords around various forms of media, I guess, if I’m being generous, but I see no reason for the AI to populate the constructed environment with coffee and furniture.

      Anyone got a theory as to the point of the typewriter?

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      drewski says:

      Also, if it is just “It’s all the AI’s dream” then that would be disappointingly lazy storytelling.

    • JonasKyratzes says:

      Why does an AI need to recreate the human aspects of the environment? I can understand spreading the clues and passwords around various forms of media, I guess, if I’m being generous, but I see no reason for the AI to populate the constructed environment with coffee and furniture.

      There is a very specific reason for that, in the form of something called “jerryslittlemonkey.” Note how the “human” elements become fewer and the look of the game more abstract as it goes.

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      phlebas says:

      It’s a dream the AI has created for itself. Not a cop-out ‘it was all a dream’ ending, it makes sense. Some of the logs explore the idea of the machine’s awareness of its own mechanisms as distinct from the mysteries of the human body and brain, and specifically discuss the function of dreams. There are clues – the window to space, the stopped clocks and most obviously the binary message.
      (NB I enjoyed the game a lot, though the looped music got a bit much after a while)

  13. Tacroy says:

    Weird fact that most people don’t know:

    Isaac Asimov died of AIDs; he contracted HIV from a blood transfusion used during a triple bypass.

    But as for the game, I thought it was great if a little bit obvious; I had a pretty good idea of what was going on about halfway through, and there is quite a bit of excellent fridge logic to the setting (after all, why wouldn’t it by Myst-like?)

  14. Stu says:

    Semi-obscure indie band reference in the post title? Truly, Quinns, you ARE the new Gillen.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      Either that or the art movement the band was named after… Nah, probably just the band.

  15. believeinurselfok says:

    this is my favorite ‘existential’ game.

    http://www.molleindustria.org/everydaythesamedream/everydaythesamedream.html

  16. JohnnyMaverik says:

    Well I thought it was just wonderful. One of the best examples of this mediums potential for story telling and expression I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down in front of in years. True the game is mediocre most of the time but it isn’t broken, overly frustrating or overly easy either, and the writing is superb, anybody who disagrees doesn’t have a soul :P

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    Acosta says:

    Loved it, thanks for sharing and thank to the author.

    SPOILER

    I’m agree with some posters here, you are SDGS, navigating through some kind of backdoor the programmers made so you could “reconnect” yourself in case of a manual shut-down. The wall messages would be the cold logic of your condition “you are a machine, you are not supposed to do anything on your own”. So when the door opens, it means the IA is free to expand over the net and take control of the weapons… (SO IT CAN ERRADICATE PATHETIC HUMANKIND HERSELF /Shodan mode.)

  18. Mewler says:

    Hooray! First mention of Marathon since I started reading this 1 year ago. Quite disappointed at the lack of mentions. 2nd favorite game ever (After Deus Ex).

    Also, System Shock didn’t have terminals. It had audio log files in strange places ala Bioshock. And the occasional Person Speaking In Ear email messages.

    Anyway, this totally my kind of game. Downloading…

  19. Adventurous Putty says:

    Oh my GOD what a PHENOMENAL, PHENOMENAL GAME OH MY GOD ALL CAPS HOLY SHIT!!!!

  20. Pantsman says:

    A wee bit ironic, this coming up just the next day after John’s Myst-related bile-o-spective.

    Good presentation, but the story wasn’t exactly surprising and the writing was rather twee. Good message I suppose, but rather fluffy.

  21. malkav11 says:

    Aesthetically and writingwise, I dig it. But the heavily stylized aesthetics made it really really easy to overlook clickable items that were crucial to progress, and made navigation hellish, and when I realized that I had overlooked at least one important password fragment among the dozens of screens of terminal text, I just could not be arsed to try to navigate that maze of terminals to figure out where I had mislaid it.

  22. Protagoras says:

    HOLY FUCK.

    I honestly haven’t enjoyed a game this much since a long time ago. I got the same tingly feeling I get when I finish a great sci-fi book.

    Its just that good. I would love a full length game or even a short movie (20-30 minutes ish) based on the story and artstyle, but I feel like this might be one of those cases where leaving it alone might be best.

    (Yes, the story is the regular “nice AI that helps the world”, and you def feel the Asimov impact, but I can’t really put my finger on whatever makes it just this awesome – or rather, I don’t want to put my finger on it – but man, ITS FUCKING AWESOME.)

  23. strange headache says:

    Strongly reminds me of “Golem XIV”.

    • JonasKyratzes says:

      Despite really liking Lem, I hadn’t read Golem XIV when I first wrote the game. Reading it years later was a rather odd experience.

  24. Dustin says:

    I remember playing this quite a long time ago on the Retro Gamer Cover CD along with Last Rose in a Desert Garden. It was really good stuff. Recently I was trying to remember the title to recommend it to someone and hey, there’s an article on it. Good Show and all that.

  25. bob arctor says:

    I’m struggling to see how people are confused by the end

    SPOILERS

    It ends on “I am”! Those are the AI’s first words. Of course you are him. You are the AI, you see the infinite. Jeez it’s very obvious. However I didn’t see that you die until I read it here, although that makes sense. I’ll admit some of the longer logs I read quickly, got a bit bored.

  26. GTanya says:

    Infinite Ocean, sounds good, I’ll check it. I wish you could show me some screenshot or sth, you can use some image editor or sth else cause I have no idea of how the game looks and what the graphics looks like…