Videogame / Submachine

Submachine is the title of a series of Flash games created by Polish game designer Mateusz Skutnik and is the flagship series of Pastel Games.

All of the games are point-and-click style puzzles and (excepting the four AU games) follow a continuous storyline. The general object of each game is to escape from an enclosed (and usually submerged) location that houses a mysterious machine. As the story progresses, the player finds more and more about the history of the "submachines" through clues left behind by a mysterious figure named Murtaugh. One of the well-known characteristics of the game is a complete and total lack of any other living being, even animals. This often leads to the games being filed under Nightmare Fuel.

The puzzles within the game rely on acute observation, a willingness to hunt for objects hidden in the exact opposite of plain sight, and other such tasks. However, the puzzles are very cleverly made, and on completion one usually feels some degree of self-satisfaction.

There are 10 main entries in the series, with 4 side-entries that sit outside the main series.

The games so far are:

The four side entries are:

Mateusz's main Web site also has his other games.

Some of the tropes found within these games are:

  • After the End: This is debatable, as the games haven't revealed what happened to everybody else. Given some of the desperate-sounding letters in the more remote locations you visit, it wasn't pleasant.
    • According to The Core, Murtaugh's karma portals have been slowly tearing apart the subnet the more he uses them. On top of this, everything outside the Core is a twisted, self-grown mess that is infinite and cannot be properly mapped. Given the aforementioned fates hinted at in many of the letters, it puts a lot of them in a new light.
  • Alien Geometries: Several of the rooms in Subnet are warped in weird ways - one is Escher-like, one is a Mobile Maze, one takes you to a random room every time you go through a door...
    • The Submachine itself loops vertically; a room in 10 suggest that all the contents of the Submachine repeat at the subatomic level infinitely.
  • All Myths Are True: At the very least, 32 Chambers suggests the Mayan Apocalypse has some truth to it, and Sub 9 reveals Mur's karma arm was provided by the Hindu god Shiva. It's possible Thoth is real as well.
    • Subverted in the case of Shiva- it's revealed in The Exit that the ending of the ninth game was actually referring to S.H.I.V.A., the sentient computer at the heart of the Subnet.
  • The Atoner: In the Sub 9 bonus material we learn that after his "second enlightenment" Mur dedicated himself to rebuilding the worlds damaged by his karma portals. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do to repair the third layer.
  • Another Dimension: The seven "layers" in Sub 8 appear to be the same location in different dimensions.
  • Arc Number: In addition to certain recurring teleporter codes, the number 32 and variations thereupon (23, 3.2) can be found somewhere in most of the games. This is possibly a reference to Discordianism, or just coincidence.
  • Art Evolution: The design and intricacy of each game has gotten more convoluted and complex; structures like the many detailed Mayan statues in 32 Chambers or the gigantic Shiva statue in 9 would have been unthinkable around the time of the first game. This is especially noticeable in some of the later parts of Submachine 10 when you revisit the Basement from the first game and the Lighthouse from the second; the style change is quite simply jarring.
  • Author Stand-In: Murtaugh, the mysterious figure that leaves you clues and interacts with you during the fourth game talks about having a pet black cat named Einstein. Mateusz has two black cats. Coincidence? ...Quite possibly, yes (especially after The Edge).
  • Back from the Dead: The two people that appear at the end of Submachine 10 are heavily implied to be Murtaugh, based on his Karma hand, and Elizabeth, even though the player has personally seen their mummified corpses by this point in the series. This is explained as the result of time travel occurring when you travel through the Subnet, as Murtaugh remarks upon having seen his own tomb in a note found in Submachine 10.
  • Bag of Spilling: Averted, and played straight. There's no good reason for you to lose your stuff between (2 and 3) and (4 and 5), but every other game gives a concise explanation for why you don't have any of the nick-nacks from the last game.
    • 6 toys with this trope rather beautifully, as you do start out with all the items you ended 5 with... and then, 3 rooms later, you're forced to dump them into a trash hopper to get through a security room. D'oh!
    • Since 5 opens with you apparently just woken up in a new lab, it could be assumed you simply put them down somewhere between games, possibly in the part of the lab you can no longer reach.
  • Bamboo Technology: One area of Submachine 8 is made of bamboo, and has a bamboo technology version of the recurring valve puzzle.
  • Beautiful Void: unless you find the structural decay, haunting minimalist music and utter lack of population unnerving (see Nightmare Fuel in the YMMV tab).
  • Big Brother Is Watching: There's always a feeling that you are being watched by some unknown entity, especially after game #3. The floating security cameras at Location 317 in SubNet Exploration Project imply this even more heavily.
    • In the Subnet, one portal code takes you to the exterior of Submachine 0 ... and the blue sky from the earlier game turns out to be a backdrop against the black void of Submachine 5. Truman Show Plot?
  • Book Ends: Submachine 2 begins begins with you escaping the lighthouse. In Submachine 10, you ultimately escape the subnet by escaping through the lighthouse. While this event doesn't take place at the exact beginning, this repeated gesture still provides the same sense of closure as the trope normally provides.
  • Broken Pedestal: In Submachine 6: The Edge (huge spoilers), Mur abandons you in the Submachine after you disable its defences; you had no importance outside of enabling his invasion plan.
    • Some of the notes left in Submachine 4: The Lab already hinted at this.
  • Call Back: In Submachine 4 you visit various locations that are similar (but not identical) to areas of the previous games. In Submachine 5, you return to the lighthouse from Submachine 2, and collect the Wisdom Gem you left there, as well as the last screen from Submachine 0 and its respective wisdom gem.
    • Subnet lets you revisit every previous room. At one point in Submachine 4, you have to shut off the water in a pipe and bash it open. When you revisit the area in Subnet, it's flooded because somebody broke the switch in another room after placing their transmitter.
    • The HD version of The Loop adds four notes to the the first level of the loop. One of these is the note in the looping traps from the following game, The Lab.
    • Similarly, the HD version of The Basement puts the elevator in a dark red room of the basement, separate from the rest of the game. You explore more of this place in The Exit.
    • The Exit reprises a lot of previous rooms, like the entirety of The Basement, the dungeon and top floor of The Lighthouse, an unknown floor of The Loop, the roof of The Lab, the citric acid room from The Root, the cliffsides surrounding The Edge, the interior of the Winter Palace from The Core, the first layer of The Plan, and the bottom of The Temple. However, instead of simply including them as a nod to the previous games, new areas that couldn't be reached before are included.
      • There's a point in The Exit where you go through the end of Sub 1/ beginning of Sub 2 transition backwards. The game machine in the lighthouse turns out to be a portal which takes you to the fake ending of Sub 1, and you then take the elevator to (a version of) the basement.
      • If you touch the lamp in the lighthouse while it's still active, it sends you back to the Loop, since that's what it did at the end of Sub 2.
  • Cats Are Magic: Murtagh discovered a cat with the power to move between the layers that he named Einstein, and wondered later if perhaps all cats can do this.
  • Cosmetic Award: In Submachine 2, collecting all the "secrets" (tiny spheres hidden around the world) yields ... absolutely nothing. (In 4, 5, and 7 they unlock a "Making of" section and in 8 and 9 they unlock conversations between the explorers. 6 has five secret areas which yield extra information.)
  • Dead All Along: In Submachine 9, the catacombs of the eponymous temple contain the tombs of Murtaugh and Elizabeth. It's not clear how long they've been there, but the information in the secrets suggests that the computer messages you were receiving from Mur may have been automated.
    • Subverted. Those are their tombs, but they haven't died. Yet.
  • Deus Est Machina: In Submachine 8, it's revealed that they built a computer and asked it why we exist. They weren't expecting it to have an answer. Submachine 10 reveals said computer was the Submachine itself.
  • Disability Superpower: Mur's diary entry in the first game mentions the loss of his arm on vacation, and later gaining a "karma arm."
  • Doing In the Wizard: Downplayed. All those notes that mention the Hindu god Shiva? They actually refer to a computer system called S.H.I.V.A., heavily implied to be the submachine itself.
  • DVD Commentary: From the fourth game onward, there are bonus areas containing commentary and behind-the-scenes info from Skutnik. You usually need to collect tiny marbles hidden throughout the game proper in order to gain full access to said bonus areas.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: If you had played the original Submachine without any knowledge of later episodes, you'd have probably guessed that the series would just be another set of escape-the-room series that happened to have a suitably creepy atmosphere. Then they introduced the stuff about teleportation, alternate dimensions, relics from forgotten civilizations, strange futuristic technology of an unknown source, etc., and the first game just seems sparse in comparison. Then again, the first game is just being played by the protagonist of Sub 2 in the base of the lighthouse...
  • Ghost City: You never encounter any people or animals in the Subnet.
    • The "extras" in Submachine 8 reveal that Murtagh is so focused on what he does that he can't even see the other Submachine explorers, except Liz. Raising the question: is the Subnet empty when the player gets there, or is the player just as focused? However, Submachine 9 reveals that this was because of Murtaugh's inability to focus on only a single layer. In Submachine 10 Mur explains that there are an infinite number of sublayers in each layer, and everyone exploring the machine is on a different one.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: One of the notes you find in Submachine 4 (by someone named sunshine_bunnygirl_17 who stumbled into the submachine network and can't find her way out) reads suspiciously like a call for help on an escape game discussion board, complete with a description of how far they've come and a cute username.
    • In Submachine Universe, if you visit the Loop from the third game (coordinates 555), you'll find a "Submachine As Perpetual Maze theory" which ends with a short plea for help in escaping from the area, and you find it is also written by sunshine_bunnygirl_17. This one isn't actually the case, it's just a person who was dared on the forum and Mateusz agreed to place that first character's username.
    • In the secrets for Submachine 10, It's revealed that Liz and Mur have rescued sunshine_bunnygirl_17, and she now takes care of Einstein while they're gone.
  • Left the Background Music On: Inverted; Submachine Future Loop Foundation starts in silence. Solving the first puzzle involves switching on a tape recorder, which also starts the BGM for the rest of the game.
  • Lighthouse Point: The second game takes place primarily within a lighthouse buried underground.
  • Lost Forever: In Submachine 9, it's possible to for two secrets to be lost. One requires you to use a ladder rung as a lever. If you attempt to use it as a ladder rung, it's stuck. The other requires a balance you pick up just before the endgame, and if you enter the endgame before getting it, you can't go back. And you can't even pick it up in the New Game+, because that route is now blocked.
  • Master Computer: In Submachine 3, the "Loop" was a Matrix-style sort of computer in the sense that it separated people's consciousness from reality, engaging them in puzzles to keep them from questioning their surroundings.
    • Submachine 6 also sees players engage with the computer elements of the machine.
    • Submachine 10 reveals this computer to be the entire submachine network.
  • Mind Screw: Becomes particularly prominent in the second installment.
    • Submachine Universe is devoted largely to presenting many of the various fan theories as to what's really going on.
  • New Game+: In Sub 9 returning to the temple after completing the game lets you explore what the area looks like in the eighth layer. There aren't many differences, but it's the only way to access the bonus section.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The bonus material at the end of Submachine 8 reveals Mur really regrets having abandoned you (and all those who went before you) in Sub 6.
    • The bonus material in part 9 describes it hitting even harder when the other explorers lured Murtaugh to "the Knot", the place where all the layers meet and the one place Mur could perceive in less than 7 layers. The text describes him falling to his knees in horror when he finally discovered the damage he'd previously caused but couldn't see. Ultimately, he finds a way around this via the Karma Stabilizer as shown in Submachine 10.
  • Mysterious Backer: Murtaugh to the player.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The empty places and eerie, creepy music throughout the series have this effect on some people (also noted in the YMMV tab).
    • When you first start Submachine 2, there is a record player providing background noise of chirping crickets and other peaceful woodsy sounds. When you turn it off, the actual soundtrack kicks in, which begins with a near-Scare Chord and is full of creaking and electronic distortion sounds. Nothing horrific happens, but you might spend a good few minutes waiting for it anyway.
    • The "Hell" room in Submachine Universe (Location 666) can be this, given that all the scary stuff in the room is only suggested or ambient. Visually it's a small room, dimly lit with red light, with a ladder that you cannot climb to the top of because it leads into absolute darkness... and the audio is loud, intense distortion noises, some of which sound like growling and shrieking.
  • Numbers Stations: Radios are generally tuned in to a numbers station. The significance of this is yet to be revealed (assuming it's not just a general Mind Screw).
  • Ontological Mystery
  • Or Was It a Dream?: The second game starts with you completing the first game on an arcade machine, and ends with you realizing your "escape" was just another game. The "or was it?" part comes in when you realize what your inventory is at the beginning of the second game - the diary entry, as well as the Wisdom Gem you can find in the extended version of the first. You no longer have the coin, but then again, you did just play an arcade game.
  • Orwellian Retcon: The current version of The Basement is the fifth incarnation. The original notably lacks Wisdom Gems, which only became a thing with The Lighthouse. The most recent change replaces the realistically rendered Euro coin with an "ancient coin" drawn in the style of the Mayan iconography in later games, removing what would seem to be a fairly direct (unlike, for example, the vague references to the "lands of Kent", which don't seem to be any of the real Kents) tie to the real world.
  • Pixel Hunt: Quite often, a player has to search carefully through the scenery to find whatever objects they require to advance. This is especially true for the well hidden secrets needed to unlock bonus content.
  • Portal Network: In multiple flavours. Not only are there the teleporters that use the three-coordinate system, but there are a much older set of two-coordinate portals and as of The Core, Murtaugh's karma portals, and the Winter Garden doorways. The machine that lets you cross between "layers" in The Plan and The Temple probably counts as well. The Exit adds an older binary version of the three-coordinare teleporters and simple two way portals that let you pass through walls, as well as having the karma portals break through at points on the other networks.
  • Red Herring: Quite a few in Submachine F L F.
  • Revenue Enhancing Devices: Games 6 and beyond are available for sale with higher-resolution graphics and music. Fair enough, since the regular game is free.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Murtaugh's motive in returning to the core. His karma portals were damaging the submachine and possibly killing people, so they buried him in the lighthouse. He didn't like that too much.
    • Possibly subverted by the Sub 9 bonus material: "Murtagh never said it was about revenge. But by then he was used to not being understood."
  • Scare Chord: In Submachine 9, when you find the entrances to Murtaugh and Elizabeth's tombs.
  • Scenery Gorn/Scenery Porn: The later installments, after some Art Evolution, really put a lot of detail into the objects, architectural structures (only natural, given how Skutnik is an architect) and scenery.
  • Sequel Difficulty Spike: Each game can be described to be more challenging than the last, but 10 easily takes the cake. As a result of it being bigger than the first nine games combined, paired with extremely complicated puzzles and more disorienting navigation, it is much harder than any of the previous games.
  • Sequel Escalation: Submachine 10 is huge. It's larger than all of the previous games combined.
  • Shout-Out
    • Submachine 2 opens with the words "I didn't wake up. And I do remember", parodying the opening of "The Crimson Room".
    • In Submachine Universe, type in 815.
    • The cake room from Universe provides many references from Portal.
    • The text from the opening of Submachine 3 references The Matrix with the phrase "There is no spoon", but is also internally consistent, as there is a spoon in game 1.
    • invoked Mateusz himself says that the design of the computers and the Core were specifically inspired by TRON.
    • One room in Universe has three versions of the recurring horse statue: a unicorn, a pegasus and a regular horse. The three-letter portal code is mlp.
    • Future Loop Foundation opens with the words "All memories are lost in time, like tears in rain".
    • The notes in the bonus section of Submachine 7 says the idea of the layers comes from the Twilight in Night Watch.
  • Shown Their Work: All the Mayan gods and iconography in 32 Chambers? Completely accurate.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: The secrets in Sub 10 reveal sunshine_bunnygirl_17 is fine, Mur rescued her and she's taking care of the cat.
  • Treacherous Advisor: Submachine 6 reveals that Murtaugh was ultimately using you to invade the subnet. However, this is ultimately subverted, as Submachine 9's bonus content implies that Murtaugh's messages may have been automated and not actually him.
  • Underground Level: Very common. Mateusz himself says that "Submachine" is short for "Submerged Machine," which hints at the SubNet being based underground.
  • Unwinnable by Design: In Submachine Extended, the second version of The Basement, a puzzle was added where one of the four pieces you needed appeared in a teleporter once you pulled certain switches and the power was on. However, it also retained the puzzle where you had to burn out the power in order to get another piece. Blow the fuses before you've found the former piece and it disappears again, so you're screwed. This was an intentional feature, but Skutnik decided it was a mistake, so in the current version the teleporter doesn't require power.
  • Updated Re-release: The first two games were eventually given updated forms. The first game in particular has had four versions.
  • Wild Mass Guessing: The game tends to support this sort of thing, even having a page dedicated to theories that eventually got included in their own "game", Submachine Universe.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Murtaugh abandoning you in the sixth game has shades of this, though it's ultimately revealed that he sincerely regrets what he did, and felt he had no choice in order to reach the Core.
  • Zeerust: You can tell that some of the abandoned technology is old both because of the dust and rust and also because much of it just looks dated otherwise. Up to several millennia dated.

Alternative Title(s): Sub Machine