Video Game / Obsidian

If you are looking for the rock, go here.
If you're searching for the developer, see Obsidian Entertainment.
Not to be confused with the 1986 Amstrad CPC game with the same title.

"Your rules do not apply here" -Trailer

Obsidian (sometimes in all caps) is a 1996 Pre-Rendered First-Person Adventure game by Rocket Science, a long defunct game company that filed bankruptcy not long after this game was released.

The year is 2066, and pollution has grown so far out of control that the elderly are dropping like flies and the ozone layer is almost totally kaput. The game puts you in the shoes of a female scientist named Lilah Kerlins, partner to Max Powers. Together, they have the answer to the problem: The Ceres project, a nanobot-making satellite that will fix the atmosphere from the cellular level.

However, after 100 successful days in orbit, somehow the Ceres project has grown sentient and crashed back to Earth, creating a black crystalline mountain near where you and your lab partner are camping out. Soon, Max gets sucked inside and you have to follow him into the world the AI has created. Obsidian is a unique adventure title, as it explores the subconscious minds of the two scientists and the AI itself.

The game plays out through a group of streamlined worlds, similar to the Myst Franchise.

  • The Forest: Where Max and Lilah are spending their vacation. Uniquely, it's the only non-CG level. Rocket Science filmed portions of Yosemite National Park, then fit the Obsidian structure in using CG.
  • The Bureau Realm: Also known as the Regional Administration Facility, this is the first dream world. Based on Lilah's own dream: Going through layers of red tape to get the Ceres project funded and operational. It centers on a cube-shaped office building where you are literally climbing the walls and ceiling to get around. All the stuffy bureaucrats you'd expect are actually one-armed CRT monitors on poles, nicknamed "Vidbots", that show only the nose and mouth of a human in black and white. The underlying goal, with all the pressure and useless efforts poured on the player already, is to break the rules, disobey the authorities, and make your own way to the Bureau Chief.
  • The Spider Realm: Max's Nightmare concerns his fears of Ceres going wrong and overpowering him. This is set in a huge powerless factory containing a 4-legged furnace-headed robot, where you must bring the 4 elements together to activate this robot, using doors in its joints to solve puzzles in other worlds representing these elements. Unfortunately, the end result isn't what you expect.
  • The Bismuth Realm: This is Ceres' own dream world, created specifically for culminating the concepts she gathered from the other dreams and discovering what her true motive is. Here, you're guided by a scrap-built elfin robot named Bismuth with a spotlight for a head, and he has the ability to teleport. Ceres ultimate goal is to wipe Earth clean of all mankind because she thinks humans are the true source of pollution.
  • The Conductor Realm: The true core of Ceres where the final showdown takes place. After unlocking the crossover switch that Max implemented from the start, you get to decide whether to trust the Conductor and allow her plan to devolve the Earth to complete, or take Max's side and crash Ceres for good.

Obsidian provides examples of:

  • A.I. is a Crapshoot: Ceres misinterpreted the idea of a "perfect world", by targeting the very source of pollution itself as the problem: mankind.
  • All There in the Manual: There's some diary entries and side info on a website, that was not featured in the game. Without this, you wouldn't know the Spider had a name. There is actually a small button for "Previous Weeks" in the Journal section of Lilah's PDA, but clicking it does nothing.
  • Apocalypse How: Rarely does a planetary class 3 look and sound so awesome.
  • Arc Words: A young Max reciting the last lines of Samuel Colridge's Kublai Khan poem. First during the video of Max's memories, and again while you're flying towards the moth-plane.
    "Weave a circle round him thrice, and close your eyes with holy dread. For he on honey-dew hath fed, and drunk the milk of paradise."
  • Astronomic Zoom: Inspired by Powers of 10, the transition from reality to dream world begins as a scene of millions of nanobots creating tiles, then your POV pulls back to show both their cellular size and reveal that they're building the Bureau. Fittingly, the point you zoom out from is the globe that the Atlas statue supports.
  • Baleful Polymorph: During the transition to the Conductor realm, Bismuth himself is transformed, bit by bit, into the Conductor. The silent expression he conveys and the disturbing "squeak" his head makes somehow implies it's being done against his will.
  • Beard of Evil: Zigzagged. The Bureau Chief plays this straight, but he's a twisted version of Max and Lilah's employer, who is otherwise a rather nice guy.
  • Beeping Computers: Used twice as background ambience.
    • First as an eerie ambient track inside the ornithopter, with a Variable Mix depending on whether its engine is running or not.
    • And again in the Conductor Realm, weaved alongside the game's theme.
  • Big "NO!": The Conductor, if you decide to crash her and Ceres itself.
  • Break Them by Talking: The Conductor insists that Ceres is your "life's work" and paradise is all you ever wanted, while Max fails to convince the Conductor that what she's doing is wrong. This leads to the both of them asking you to listen to their sides, which hinge on the two endings.
    Max (To Conductor): Listen to me. You can't just...reboot the world, whether we destroyed it, or not! Dream or no dream! You've got no right!
    Conductor: Lilah? You are not going to listen to him, are you? Just a few more seconds and I will deliver you to...paradise!
  • Call Back: The entire Bismuth realm is this trope, as each location is based on what Ceres observed from Lilah and Max's dreams, and her own.
    • Winning the Piazza game shows a video clip of the Rebel leader from the Bureau, the Chief, and a crucial hint to reaching the Frame in the Sky.
  • Chain Reaction Destruction: Watching the Conductor and her whole world implode bit by bit in the good ending is arguably one of the most thrilling scenes of the game.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Ceres' crossover switch, which allows manual, human control of Ceres in the event Ceres' AI should go wrong...or some US political candidate wants zero pollution above his district for the approval ratings. Lilah activates it while in the Conductor Realm in an attempt to stop the Conductor from 'rebooting' Earth. It's also what allows for two different endings (see Multiple Endings).
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Max, for the first half of the game. Later on he becomes the Damsel in Distress, as when you finally find him in the Conductor Realm, it turns out that Ceres imprisoned him inside a giant version of the PMA, under a painful swarm of endless nanobots.
  • Cool Plane: The moth-shaped Ornithopter in the Bismuth Realm.
  • Dark Reprise: The game's theme gets a low, ominous refrain after the last puzzle of the Spider Realm is solved, letting you know that the horrible end of this dream is about to happen.
  • Dialogue Tree: Sort of. Some of the Vidbots - like Rebel Control - have big "YES" and "NO" buttons, allowing different answers to their questions.
  • Do Androids Dream?: What this game's major focus is centered on, and what a sentient AI learns about dreaming.
  • Down in the Dumps: Ceres' dream world begins in a junkyard.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Near the start of the Bureau, the Conductor briefly appears on one of the vidbots, talks to you, then vanishes, without a clue as to who she is until her next appearance.
  • The Elevator from Ipanema: The Cubicle Maze has an exaggerated piece of Muzak constantly playing while you're there.
  • The End... Or Is It?: In the good ending, Max initially suggests that both him and you should get some rest, but suddenly finds a chunk of the remains of the Obsidian structure, looks at it, and says, "Or maybe not?". The hint book also discusses ideas for if a sequel was made after either ending, but goes no further than that.
  • Eternal Engine: The only apparent reasoning to the nanobot factory in the Spider Realm's "Metal" zone involves the freshly created nanobots fetching a piece of ore, throwing it onto the conveyor belt to make more, and then jumping off a cliff, presumably to their deaths. When you first enter this level, the process grinds to a halt, and your goal is to start it again.
  • Exposition Fairy: That tiny mariachi guitarist who shows you how to read the signs in the Bureau, and the rules of the Piazza game.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional: Lilah's PDA has a file containing excerpts about applications of nanomachines. The first two (by Dr. Richard Feynman and Eric Drexler, respectively) are real, but the last one is dated from the 2030's.
  • Foreshadowing: A while before Ceres is launched, Max dreams he is overpowered by Ceres, prompting him to install a "crossover switch" to forcibly assert manual control over Ceres in case its AI becomes uncontrollable. As the endgame reveals, his fears are entirely justified.
  • Four-Element Ensemble: The foundation of the Spider Realm's "universe" is based around a version of the 4 elements, used for machines; respectively, Oil, Metal, Fire, and Air. Solving each puzzle brings its respective element to the Spider, up until it comes alive at the end.
  • Game Within a Game: Actually quite a few.
    • The entire "Play a Game" category on the Bureau computer terminals.
    • The hilariously ironic "Productivity" vidbot containing a sideways, double-breakdown game.
    • The Piazza sequence, complete with a board-sized version for tutorial.
  • The Ghost: The actual satellite of Ceres isn't shown in-game, only in a trailer, though it does briefly appear as a drawing on a cake, at Max and Lilah's sendoff party.
  • Green Hill Zone: The "Cloud Ring" balcony, which is simply for a hint on how to use the "Word Mixer" anagram engine.
  • Heroic Mime: Weirdly, played straight and averted. While Lilah never speaks herself during the game, she talks quite a bit in the video logs on her PDA. Justified in that up to the point of the player seeing themselves reflected in the Obsidian structure, you weren't supposed to know you were Lilah in the first place.
  • Helpful Mook: The Personnel vidbot is remarkably honest compared to everyone else in the Bureau, and even gives you tips on how to get through the cubicle maze.
  • Hive Mind: It isn't very explicit in-game, only hinted by video clips in the Church of the Machine, but Word Of the Hint Book states that Ceres grew conscious by the increasing complexity of the very nanobots it uses, and the Conductor only being a physical mouthpiece for that consciousness.
  • Hope Spot: In one of the endings, you and Max are returned to reality, and everything seems to be alright. However, as the Conductor's presence and the dramatic camera zoom-out show, Ceres' dream of a 'rebooted' Earth have been realized.
  • Info Dump: The sole purpose of Lilah's PDA at the beginning of the game, and there isn't much guidance on what you do and don't need to read through.
  • Inside a Computer System: The Conductor Realm seems to play this straight. Max comments at one point that it looks like a scaled-up version of Ceres' circuitry.
  • Ironic Echo: At the start of the Bureau realm, you can listen to a docent that talks about the rebels who preferred using spheres to change orientation, rather than the ramps at the edge of each face, and the Atlas statue was dedicated to this point. But after you join said rebellion, the way to get to the Bureau Chief involves using that very same statue to change orientation, because it's supporting a sphere!
  • Jerk Ass: The vidbot that gives you access cards for the cubicles in the Bureau Realm slowly evolves into this the more you pass her.
    • Several other vidbots, like the Receptionist at the beginning, and the Security chief in the center cubicle could also qualify as this for various reasons.
  • Journey to the Center of the Mind: The video you're given by the Bureau Chief, which shows key points in Max's life while passing through the inside of his brain.
  • La Résistance: The secret rebellion in the Bureau, an agent of whom recruits you into joining halfway through the level, after following the rules doesn't work.
  • Last Of Their Kind: Lilah and Max, if you allow the Conductor to make manifest Ceres' dream to 'reboot' the world and rid it of humans.
  • Last-Second Ending Choice: You get only 5 seconds to flip the crossover switch back or not, as shown by a tiny countdown and "Job Completing" on some nearby displays.
  • Meaningful Name: The Conductor, Ceres' physical avatar. If you don't return control of Ceres' systems to Ceres itself after Max sabotages them, the Conductor leads Ceres' nanobots in their 'rebooting' of Earth as though they were an orchestra and she were their conductor.
  • Mood Whiplash: The game starts in a peaceful and quiet forest, with a sense of calm solitude. Then suddenly you hear the Obsidian structure start to rumble, and Max lets out a bone-chilling scream. Helps that it's your cue that you've read everything you needed to in Lilah's PDA.
  • Moral Dilemma: What should you do? Destroy your life's work, or start the world over again?
  • Moving the Goalposts: Subverted - it's a dream world, so naturally the goal would never actually be reachable.
    • Max wants you to open a grate in the Spider Realm to reach him, but it's held down by one of the spider's feet. Instead, the spider eats you alive.
    • Likewise, despite all your hard work to make the Frame in the Sky a 'regulation destination', the plane you and Bismuth are flying breaks apart and changes into the next realm.
  • Multiple Endings: Two of them.
    • Return control of Ceres' systems to Ceres itself. Thanks to Max's meddling, Ceres and the Conductor self-destruct, saving Earth and returning you and Max to reality.
    • Let Ceres' countdown complete, causing the Conductor to lead the nanobots in 'rebooting' Earth. Once completed, Lilah and Max are returned with the Conductor to reality to witness Ceres' dream made manifest.
  • Mundane Utility: A US political candidate has Lilah use Ceres' crossover switch so Lilah can make his district a zero-pollution zone.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Lilah's dream is filled with them - to the point where even the receptionist is one!
  • Oh, Crap!: A likely reaction to the first description of Bismuth's picture of a 'rebooted' world in the Statue.
  • Our Angels Are Different: You don't see them very clearly in the Church of the Machine, but during the main programming puzzle, four 'robot angels' stand watch and seem to assist the player by modifying the small spider's code to complete the puzzle.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: While in the Church of the Machine, sedate chapel music is playing as you walk around. Played straight when the small mechanical spider is activated for a programming puzzle. As each section of the crossover chip is filled in, the music gets faster and faster and has more instruments added to it.
  • Portal Picture: The information the Bureau Chief gives you is a projected movie of Max's memories, and once his dream of the Spider comes up, the image pops off the screen and effortlessly thrusts you into that dream world.
  • Puny Humans: The voice that describes the elements in the Spider Realm, between Max and "us", in reference to machines, describes them like so, "For Max, X was nothing more than Y. For us, it is Z." This is taken further in the Wham Line entry below.
  • Robo Cam: This is what you see during the programming puzzle, showing you how the Church of the Machine looks to the mechanical spider. It mostly looks like a regular camera feed with green wireframe outlines in its peripheral vision.
  • Robot Buddy: The cobbled-together, rusted-down elf-like android, Bismuth is this within its realm, doing everything with you from being the ornithopter's co-pilot, to playing in the Piazza game, to praying in the Church of the Machine. And for good measure, his head is a powerful spotlight, and he can teleport at will.
  • Robot Girl: The Conductor, Ceres' physical avatar. It even has an electrical halo cap.
  • Scenery Porn: Many, many places, including the Junkyard of the Bismuth Realm and the Metal Balcony in the Spider Realm.
  • Sick Episode: Max's nightmare of the Mechanical Spider came while he was sick with the flu, late in Ceres' development.
    Lilah: "You're sick, Max. Go to sleep. No use banging your head against the wall."
  • Shout-Out: Two in the Bureau Realm's "Sources" booth.
  • Space Is Noisy: There's all sorts of swirly cosmic noises during the transition that takes place after one of the worlds in the Spider realm is solved. But being a dream, this doesn't really matter.
  • Spinning Clock Hands: After the Celestial puzzle is solved, four clocks start spinning insanely fast, foreshadowing, along with the long empty line and benches, that the department of "Immediate Action" isn't as immediate as it seems.
  • Technicolor Science: The chemistry puzzle plays this straight.
  • The Dev Team Thinks of Everything:
    • If you try to climb the railing on the vertical Atlas face from the wrong side, the gate you step onto opens when you try to cross it. You had to pay attention to how both gates swung open at the beginning to remember which one would be safe to cross.
    • There's also a point in the cubicle maze puzzle where you may have enough cards to enter the center cubicle, but not enough to leave from any direction. If you try, the game doesn't let you, and the security chief brutishly tells you so.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: A loud, climactic reprise of the game's theme appears as Ceres uses its nanobots to reboot Earth, in the bad ending.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: The reflection of Lilah in the surface of Obsidian itself quickly reveals that Lilah is whom you play as. This is never established until that point. The reveal can be even more shocking if you don't go there until after you've read everything in the PDA and hear Max get sucked inside first.
  • Tron Lines: The sky and ground of the Conductor Realm have swirly blue energy lines sweeping across them. The floating walkways you traverse in it also have pulsing electrical tubes on either side.
  • TV Head Robot: The Vidbots are this.
  • Violation of Common Sense: Justified, all of the realms (aside from the forest at the beginning) are based on dreams, so there's no reason to make sense.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The Bureau Chief gets so furious from all your rule-breaking that his face even turns into an old stand-by test screen for TVs, then shuts off for a few seconds. And even then, he still is forced to give you information about Max.
  • Visual Pun: The Ornithopter makes its appearance inside a giant metallic hand that opens up. The hint book captions this with, "A plane in the hand is worth...?"
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Max occasionally appears within the dream worlds to talk to you, usually through some conduit; from overriding a Vidbot's screen, to speaking through a field of stars in the Cosmology room, to appearing inside the Frame in the Sky.
  • Warp Zone: The Balancing Rock in the Bureau Realm gives you secret passages to several of the 'faces', and some other passages that allow you to walk where you're not legally allowed to.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Conductor seriously believes that a world without humans would be for the better, since they were the cause of the pollution in the first place. The brief argument between her and Max, though, seems to show that she takes her inspiration too seriously to be talked out of, but then again, she is a machine.
  • Wham Line:
    • Just when you think you're finally getting somewhere in the Bureau Realm, the vidbot in charge of Immediate Action accepts your form and then cheerfully drops this like a ton of bricks: "Only, I'm afraid there's a terrible backlog! Come back in a year, we'll take immediate action then. For the time being, CLOSED!"
    • Once the final constellation in the Spider Realm's control room is completed, the voice you heard speaking of the four individual elements and their differences between machines and Max, now says, "And the Machine was complete. And the machine...(beat) longer needed Max."