While you could argue this isn't a review, it's a discussion and analysis of the narrative element of T.I.M.E Stories, which is the essence of the game. If you'd like to read a proper review of the game (spoiler free), you can find my take here.
This article assumes you have played all T.I.M.E Stories scenarios through Under The Mask. Spoilers be here like flies on a corpse. You have been warned.
T.I.M.E Stories has dug through my skull and is firing electric right into my dopamine receptors. As soon as it starts to fade at the back of my mind, like that picture of Marty McFly's siblings, a new chapter hits and I'm 9 year old Charlie tearing into the latest LEGO set on Christmas morn.
While The Asylum and Marcy Case were my two favorite scenarios, my focus has been maintained on the edge of an overarching plot brooding in the background. The designers seem to get pleasure out of teasing us, throwing scraps like a master demanding tricks from his starving dog. And we keep offering our paw to shake hands.
This meta-level story of the Syaans and Elois is fascinating. The game really feels like those first two seasons of the fantastic television show Lost where a mythology seemed to be presented in a semi-coherent and seductive fashion. The mystery is compelling and offers enough blanks to keep your mind racing, trying to solve a two thousand piece puzzle with only a dozen little twisted cardboard shapes.
After blowing through Under The Mask last night we sat in contemplative discussion for a long while, attempting to champion this puzzle. The result was additional research pouring over old adventures and the idea to scattershot these words across the monitor like buckshot from a sawed-off.
Before we get into theory-crafting and Rust Cohle decides to weigh in, let’s take a step back.
Perhaps someone who isn't afraid of spoilers has happened upon this discourse, or maybe your minds just a bit addled from long nights of carousing with Jack Daniels. For these reasons let’s quickly reiterate the basis of each scenario.
Our first taste of this narcotic came in the form of The Asylum. This story had us chasing down a female patient in a 1920's mental facility that was involved in a ritual to summon a Manticore. At minimum the woman had help from doctors and other staff at the facility and a conspiracy was underway.
The Marcy Case continued the horrific trend by throwing us into a town in 1992 infested with the dreams of George Romero. Zombies were everywhere and proved a huge impediment to tracking down the missing patient. Marcy was among a group of young women who were being experimented on and tested for nefarious motives. It was stated that the procedure failed to take on all of the girls except for, of course, Marcy. She was important and we needed to recover her and get her out alive.
Then we moved on to the stuff of Gary Gygax with A Prophecy Of Dragons. Inhabiting a fantasy adventuring party a group of teenage basement dwellers would kill for, we trekked a foreign planet and majestic city to confront a mad King who we believed to be fulfilling the evil titular prophecy. No women were tortured, mauled, or clinging to the vestiges of Satan in this story so we could sleep easy.
Finally, we arrived at Under The Mask which took place in the Egypt of 1146 NT (don't worry, we'll get back to that). We inhabit local receptacles to infiltrate high and low society, recapture the mask of King Tut, and ninja it back into its resting place where we confront a dog-man and owl-dude. Everything was so serene and calm until we tripped that sweet Elois acid and started seeing crazy shit.
So we're all on the same page now and you're memory is jogged? Great, let's tear open Pandora's Box.
The Syaans vs. The Elois
These two races/groups and their struggle forms the overarching plot of T.I.M.E Stories - this much is at least explicit. It appears as though the main culprit we have been contending with in each of these stories has been a receptacle inhabited by a Syaan or at least an effect or outcome perpetrated by a Syaan agent. It's unclear whether the troubled woman in the Asylum was a Syaan receptacle or merely an unwitting agent affecting events that they would find beneficial.
While it is not altogether certain, I believe the agency we are working for is run by the Elois. It's also possible that we are in fact Elois, if this speaks to a race or culture. You could make the argument that the T.I.M.E agency is neutral to the two parties but I don't believe this to be true.
There appears to be a perpetual struggle with key components based around the fact that the Syaans invented time travel and our agency (likely the Elois) stole it. This is believed to be probable and is stated from King Milyafin who we encountered in the final location in A Prophecy of Dragons. King Milyafin is a receptable inhabited by a Syaan and offers the first real information we can scrounge up on this background narrative. Could it be a lie? Of course, but with such few information nuggets tossed out during the course of play I have to believe the designers would give us a few juicy bones. It seems very unlikely for this morsel to be offered up as a gotcha.
It's unknown when the Syaans invented time travel and what effect it has had up to this point. I'm inclined to believe it is relatively new, or at least its utilization is, and this framework of connected narrative via ongoing individual stories is a direct result of the invention and the Elois' response.
First off, it's established that the Syaans are messing with the space time continuum and altering the past, at least this is what we've been told/shown. Each story is a response to a shift in history or the creation of a cataclysmic event (of which I am skeptical) that we are urged to shut down. The Syaans are altering the timeline and we're thrust back into the quantum murk to mop it up and close the door. Much of this is conveyed through Bob and mission briefings, which can raise skepticism, but we have to go with what we have.
The Past, Present, And Future
So, what are the Syaans doing? Why go back in time and shove a hand grenade into the threads of fate? What's the long game here?
To address this we need to look for connections. There's a common thread linking the scenarios and an emergent narrative that can be deciphered.
In The Asylum it can be inferred that the woman and doctor are attempting to summon the Manticore to create a powerful entity, perhaps a hybrid of human and mythological creature to achieve a greater being. There is clearly a conspiracy and some greater direction as the ritual was the culmination of long term events and assisted by authority figures (the doctors and other staff in the know). It was organized.
The Marcy Case had a very similar theme of experimentation with the idea of creating a super-human or soldier. Marcy was the first successful test subject and we don't know the outcome or downstream effects. It was a more sophisticated, and perhaps science driven procedure as opposed to the occult nature of the previous story.
Now, it's never stated who patient zero was or where the zombies actually came from. It's implied they may have been a result of the failed experiments but it's not clear. Since it is known that we are sent back in time to rescue Marcy and ensure she makes it out because she is "important", we can make a few conclusions.
First, I believe the zombies were a result of Syaan interference or nefarious activity, perhaps even sabotage. Again, I believe they are attempting to alter history and interfere with the actions of the Elois. This is at the heart of the theory presented in this article and a basis for much that will be discussed.
The fragments of story lead me to postulate that the Syaans are in fact the super-humans that exist as a result of this experimentation highlighted in both The Asylum and The Marcy Case.
Marcy - The First Syaan
Yes, I believe Marcy is the first Syaan, or at least a genetic base for their existence. Maybe that asylum nutjob was an ancestor of Marcy and the ritual needed to be halted as it would throw off the timeline. Maybe the spiritual alteration of her body would be the basis for Marcy? Hard to say exactly and I'm most fuzzy on the necessity of the first case.
The idea of the Syaans being genetically altered humans/Elois is grounded in the fact that the Syaans have a vested interest in Marcy coupled with the idea that they themselves are physically freaks of nature. I've come to this conclusion based on the exceptional final scene in Under The Mask.
The latest story concludes with the possibility of the players encountering one of the most interesting choices we've seen in this game. It can be skipped entirely if you look to place the mask back in the tomb too quickly - hopefully that's a pitfall you avoided. If you just put the mask back instantly and ended the scenario, for your sanity go back and look at those other cards in the room at the very least.
What we run into is an enormous dog-head being guarding the tomb at the center. To the left is a dark archway that when investigated reveals an equally impressive monstrosity bearing a bird's head on a human body. Peculiarly enough, they both go by the same name and tell you to kill the other forcing a choice with lasting consequences. This is awesome stuff and really hits home why I love this game. It lifts up the mundane atmosphere of the rest of this story and really cements a memorable impression.
But don't get caught up gawking, there's important stuff going on here.
The fact that these two people go by the same name is extremely important. I believe them to be the same person from different points in the future. The dog-man is explicitly noted to be a person upon stilts, clearly faking their imposing nature while the bird man is not noted as such. He is said to stand 3 meters tall (nearly 10 feet for us 'Mericans).
Dialogue lends credence to the idea that Lassie works for our agency as he makes reference to putting the mask back and succeeding at our mission. This of course means Birdman opposes the agency and is probably a Cylon, er, Syaan. Fueled by the anecdotes of the Elois stealing time travel, coupled with sheer hate for Bob and all things in the agency, we stabbed the hell out of that poor puppy.
To take all of this to its inevitable conclusion, is it not possible that the Birdman Syaan is a 10 foot tall super-human as a result of genetic testing accomplished on Marcy? Bloody likely I'd say.
It's all one ghetto man, giant gutter in outer space.
An interesting tidbit arises in Prophecy Of Dragons when you are taking down King Milyafin, inhabited by a Syaan, he states: "You'll know my name when you remember yours." The hint of being linked to a Syaan directly supports their race as altered and evolved biological creations with a human/Elois foundation.
It needs to be noted that when you kill the Dog-man in Under The Mask, Birdy also disappears - adding weight to the idea they are the same person. At what point should you just shut it down and go watch 11.22.63 instead? Hang in there, peeps.
So why kill a younger, pre-genetically modified version of yourself and end your existence? What if the Syaans are loathsome depressed beings disgusted with what they've become? Modified mutant hybrids experimented on and likely employed in exploitive tasks for the Elois, Birdman would have hated what he'd been turned into and needed to close the loop. This, in a frail and pocked nutshell, is what I believe is going on at a global scale in the background of the game. The Syaans want to undo the creation of their own race and prevent the horrific experimentation from ever succeeding.
Horus versus Seth
At the beginning of Egyptian dynastic history Seth was noted as a god of Egypt. He stands in the bow of Ra's boat and slays enemies as the ship traverses the sky. Seth was also a diety of night and darkness.
It's said Seth's followers were conquered by the adherents of Horus, a god dedicated to the sun and light. This makes up a pleasing subtext of good versus evil, light versus dark, and all that antiquated jazz. It just so happens that Horus bears the head of a bird and Seth the head of a dog.
Horus and his followers would go on to unite upper and lower Egypt and Seth would lose his place at the table of deities, his power sapped and station lowered. This is the battle that has begun and we are just pawns in the game as Bobby D. says.
There are also some writings which seem to indicate that after Seth was defeated by Horus, he took on the shape of a great snake and lived on underground. Sound familiar?
Finally, Seth was said to be destroyed by Isis, the Egyptian goddess. Isis was the first daughter of Geb, god of the Earth, and Nut, goddess of the sky. Isis conceived Horus. If you see where this leads it's not a stretch to insert ourselves into the narrative and inhabit the role of goddess, slayer of Seth. We may be able to strike Bob dead yet.
J.J. Abrams, The Jerk
While I think I've laid out a consistent theory with evidence to back it up, there are many unanswered questions and confusing fragments of the truth. Stuff like the "1146 NT" on the cover of Under The Mask. Could this refer to "New Time" where the timeline has been altered?
Also, that key on the cover of the box has no real use during the scenario. Could the head of Horus on the top be a metaphorical clue to unlocking the story? Fits my narrative speculation.
And what's with the Syaan King claiming to be attempting to save the town from the oncoming dragons? What's the purpose of this prophecy that we apparently helped fulfill and why were the Syaans trying to stop it?
The sinister and cold nature of the time agency/Elois needs to be discussed as well. It seems as though rescuing the receptacles that saved Marcy could have been trivially accomplished, yet they are left to their fate to be torn apart by zombies. The adventuring party is likewise abandoned in a town that is about to be decimated by large beasts of myth.
Does the name Under The Mask refer to what lies behind the face of Horus/Seth, i.e. ourselves? Further hinting at the nature of the Syaans being human.
What's up with that amazing QR code at the end? The audio was great but it mentions flowers and a hint of the I.T.whatever being left behind. Is there something else there I'm missing? Why is the mask not even mentioned?
Here's the thing - Lost was ultimately a philosophical failure because the answers provided by Abrams and Lindelof blew fetid chunks. Dharma went from being mysterious creeps to hippies. The Others went from dangerous cannibalistic wildlings to who gives a crap. Maintaining this balance of mystery and providing answers is a dangerous tightrope. If you feed too little then people get restless. Too much and you're likely to disappoint. The mind and fear of the unknown will never be bested by a concrete answer, so the best we can hope is that Space Cowboys can somehow traverse the wire like Philippe Petit.
This review was originally written for Ding & Dent. To view other reviews written by Charlie Theel check out this Geeklist.
You had a lot thought, but there are some facts wrong or missing. NT means Normal Timeline, AT means Alternative Timeline, so only PoD has AT.
The guys we meet in Mask have the same name as the guy we meet in marcey at the end.
Thanks, I missed those. The second one is interesting but doesn't change the theory.