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1000xResist is a time travel story inspired by Star Trek, the pandemic and immigrant trauma

And also, a work of experimental theatre

A painted close-up of the face of a woman with purple hair, alongside the logo for 1000xResist
Image credit: Fellow Traveller

1000xResist, from Vancouver-based sunset visitor 斜陽過客, is one of those high-concept sci-fi yarns that easily unravels into a million, bewildering threads of ambition and inspiration. Let me try to pack the premise, at least, into a clean paragraph: you are the Watcher, a clone of the immortal ALLMOTHER, who herself is the sole survivor of a disease spread by the arrival of enormous aliens, the Occupants. The ALLMOTHER's many clones reside in an underground bunker, the Orchard, while their deified parent fights the Occupants elsewhere. Your job within the Orchard’s theocratic hierarchy is to relive and interpret the ALLMOTHER's memories of life before the fall, a thousand years ago.

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These memory sequences, or Communions, form the game's 10 chapters, which are spread across centuries and feature different generations of characters. But there's a twist: you learn early on in the story that the ALLMOTHER has been lying to you. Your job as Watcher accordingly shifts from piously chronicling the ALLMOTHER's endeavours to the role of detective, unearthing blasphemous truths hidden in your progenitor's recollections. In the parts of the game I've played - there's a demo on Steam - this translates to roaming half-tangible, starkly coloured locations that are viewed from fixed perspectives, switching between timeframes to make connections between certain events and complete environmental puzzles. Each Communion has its themed mechanics: at one point in my demo, I had to ghost between hovering points of energy in a vertiginous, abstract representation of a high school classroom.

It reminds me a little of synchronising with the Animus to unlock the map in Assassin's Creed, which is not cited on the Steam page as an influence. Here are some artworks that are: NieR: Automata and Yoko Taro's games at large, Satoshi Kon's film Perfect Blue, Naoka Yamada'a A Silent Voice, and Robert Wilson's play Einstein On The Beach. When I catch up with Remy Siu, creative director and founder of sunset visitor, he adds a couple more to the pile: Star Trek Deep Space Nine episodes 'The Visitor', in which Commander Sisko is trapped outside of time, watching his son grow old, and 'Far Beyond The Stars', in which Sisko is somehow reborn as a science fiction writer in 1950s America.

"How that episode kind of deals with race and with history is something we're really influenced by, as we look into different aspects of our main character's cultural identity," Siu says. The TV parallels don't end with Star Trek: there's also Season 5 of quintessential conspiracy thriller Lost and the wonderful animated series Adventure Time - both of which experiment with characters being dislodged from their right and proper chronology. Capital-L literary influences, meanwhile, include Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse Five, whose fucked-up sense of cause-and-effect is an expression of the narrator's war trauma.

All these influences form a "larger tapestry", Siu says. What could that tapestry be? I'm still untangling myself from the game's influences, but to me, 1000xResist feels like an exploration of how time itself is structured and perceived. During my chat with Siu he frames that exploration in a couple of ways. One is that 1000xResist pursues the understanding of time created by the experience of being an immigrant and the child of immigrants – caught between times and places. "One of the main characters of the game is a Hong Kong Canadian immigrant," Siu says. "And she deals with racism and she is dealing with kind of tricky feelings toward her friends. And there's a character who is also conflicted in regards to her own identity, her own insecurities, and taking it out on her friend, and it's a big part of her immigrant trauma - intergenerational trauma from her family, that leaks into the society that forms around her in the future."

To put that in my own words, the game explores the formation of a society based on the feeling of living between societies and their timelines. "It's taking that internal struggle for that character, and her wrestling with her own identity, and then having that strangely play out on a societal level, in the future," Siu says. He doesn't clarify whether the character in question is the ALLMOTHER, or some other figure from her past.

A woman in a metallic blue uniform on a walkway in a sealed futuristic bunker
Image credit: Fellow Traveller

The other way Siu frames the game's exploration of time is in response to the Covid pandemic - that is, both the feelings of rupture produced by the stay-at-home lockdowns themselves, and the process of adjusting to a post-lockdown world. "We felt really alienated from that very recent past that we have - I'm sure many people have this experience as well," he says. "And that's kind of where this time travel mechanic came in - this past that we can go back to feels so far away. We're in some weird future that we don't understand."

As with its articulation of immigrant trauma across generations, the game spins those feelings out across centuries, asking what "weird societies would form in these kinds of strange scenarios". When you as the Watcher revisit the ALLMOTHER's past in our present day, this reflects Siu's surprise - palpable even during our conversation - that the beginning of the Covid pandemic was half a decade ago. The lives of the ALLMOTHER's clones, trapped in their far-future bunker, are a more direct representation of lockdown claustrophobia.

These inquiries into the nature of time were both provoked and energised by the professional constraints of social-distancing. The sunset visitor team are made up of experimental performing artists, working across theatre, dance and music. All these disciplines were, of course, severely constrained by the pandemic lockdowns, so Siu and his collaborators have taken their expertise and reapplied it to games development. "We were trying to process our grief of not being able to do the thing we spent most of our life doing," he says. "We were cut off from it, and, yes, a lot of that energy was kind of put back into this game."

Developing a videogame allows sunset visitor to do things "that would be impossible for theatre - or at least for the kind of resources that we had, even before the pandemic," Sui continues. "We got to do things like tell the story over a chronology that lasts about 1000 years. That's something that's really hard to do in theatre or film, even." But lest this become a pean to videogame exceptionalism, 1000xResist can just as easily be interpreted as a work of experimental theatre. Take the game's posed and stylised character performances, which reflect writer Natalie Tin Yin Gan's background in choreography and dance, or the use of colour and lighting to split timeframe from timeframe, which builds on Sui's work for the stage.

A purple-hued shot of a staircase in a high school
Image credit: Fellow Traveller

"We're trying to tell you a lot with just light," he says. "I think that will continue through the game. And it was helpful because like, it has been a challenge with the time-shifting - you want to communicate to the player that yeah, there's some difference, but it's the same space." Siu notes of the game's sci-fi influences that 'time travel' isn't just a feat or technology within a story - transporting the reader through time is the definition of narrative. "It's not just a literal thing that happens, it's a storytelling mechanic. Merging those together allowed us to kind of do more, and explore different things thematically." Perhaps that's what this “tapestry” is about, once you lean back from the threads - it’s a story about how stories are paced, interrogated, broken and retold as we bring a range of complex and difficult life experiences to bear.

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