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Video Game / Obsidian

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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" -Tagline

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.
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  • 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 Form You Are Comfortable With: Ceres created a physical avatar for itself, called the Conductor, as a way to appear to and communicate with its creators. It appears as a neu-romantic Robot Girl; complete with thigh-highs, a porcelain-like face that flashes when she speaks, and a plasma disc halo hat.
  • 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.
  • Affably Evil: The Bureau Chief maintains a confident, cheerful attitude throughout the level, and stays so even after he begins to notice that you're working with the rebels. Only when you get to the bridge and properly meet him does he finally lose his cool.
  • 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.
  • American Accents: The Bridge Repair vidbot speaks in a Brooklyn accent, and the one at the Department of Pre-Approvals has a Southern one. And neither of them can understand each other.
  • 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."
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The security chief in the middle of the cubicle maze gives you a form to fill out if you talk to him. The questions vary from things like how you'd react to a rebel, what to do if your project is stalled, and how you eat your ice cream. He only reacts to the ice cream part, and always in the same manner no matter which answer you picked.
  • 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 a creepy 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.
  • Bigger on the Inside: It's impossible to describe how any of the dream worlds could possibly fit inside the Obsidian Structure. Doesn't help that your perspective changes from realm to realm.
  • Benevolent Architecture: The Fatal Flaw to the Bureau turns out to be a pair of handrails on the Atlas Face that run flush to the Executive Face. With her orientation changed, Lilah uses one as a ladder to make her own way to the Bureau Chief.
  • 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!
  • Bizarrchitecture: The Bureau is this, being a giant cube with each section assigned to one of its faces, and walking onto any of them changes your gravity so that you're always upright while there.
    • Lampshaded by the "Travel" vidbot, who mentions that the Records face provides "a rare opportunity to ride the Bureau elevator sideways".
  • Bizarro Elements: The foundation of the Spider Realm's "universe" is based around a machine version of the four elements; respectively, Fire, Air, Metal and Oil. Solving each puzzle empowers the Spider with that element, visually shown on your elevator ride down to the hub; and all four elements are shown at once when the Spider comes alive at the end of the realm.
  • Broken Bridge:
    • The minute the Regional Administration Facility comes into existence, the Bureau Chief wishes to meet you and extends a bridge that leads to his office to do so. Except it collides with a statue of Atlas and stops midway, and the Chief instead asks you to fix the problem "through the proper channels".
    • Getting to Max in the Conductor Realm requires rearranging a series of floating planks to form a path towards him.
  • 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: If you flip the crossover switch back to machine control, Ceres' entire world self-destructs bit by bit as the AI crashes.
  • 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.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Max, for the first half of the game.
  • Concept Art Gallery: The sketches in the art gallery of the Statue are actually concept art from the developers.
  • Creation Sequence:
    • Solving the chemistry puzzle and inserting the resulting chemical starts a brief cutscene of a factory creating nanobots. It also loops until you leave.
    • Taken Up to Eleven in Astronomic Zoom above.
  • Cyber Cyclops: Bismuth is a robot with a flashlight for a head.
  • 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.
  • Department of Major Vexation: The Bureau Realm is a dream version of this.
  • Developers' Foresight:
    • There's 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.
    • At one point, Max remotely hacks into one of the Records Face computers and asks if you're there. You can type any positive response, which results in Max being cut off before he can tell you anything, or you can type "no" or just hit enter, to which he'll say, "Damn. Guess I was wrong."
    • If you manage to force the Ornithopter into "non-regulation flight" mode and try to fly it yourself, the computer sounds an alarm and states that the weather is too dangerous for a human pilot, and promptly kills the process.
  • Drone of Dread:
    • Heard in the Bureau's Nexus face, implied to be coming from the giant light bulb in the center.
    • The music in the Spider Realm's hub factory consists of descending high-pitched whines laid over a few spartan bass guitar notes. Climbing the scaffolds to the four elemental doors also brings distorted choir tracks in this fashion.
  • Dialogue Tree: Sort of. Some of the Vidbots - like Rebel Control - have big "YES" and "NO" buttons, allowing different answers to their questions.
  • Disappointed in You: At the end of the Bureau Realm, the Chief says this to you just before he checks a memo over all the rules you just broke to reach him.
  • Disconnected Side Area: Two of them, both justified with dream logic.
    • The face with the Bureau Chief's office. The only way to walk on it is to use an alternative way of changing gravity that the Chief only lets you use when you call him through the Selectaphone puzzle.
    • The Cosmology room in the Spider Realm. It's located in an oil tower very prominently shown in the main factory, but the only way in requires solving an elemental world. The elevator that takes you back down to the factory automatically returns without you, with no way to call it.
  • Do Androids Dream?: What this game's major focus is centered on, and what a sentient AI learns about dreaming.
  • Do Not Touch the Funnel Cloud: Inverted in the Spider Realm's Air puzzle, where you fire a cannon at a harmless moving tornado to trap it and give the Spider the associated element.
  • Dramatic Thunder:
    • The Obsidian structure in the beginning has storm clouds gathered around it, and it's even reflecting the lightning coming off them.
    • Also happens when you finally get within range of the Frame in the Sky. This storm starts the transition from Bismuth Realm to Conductor Realm.
  • Droste Image: On the box art.
  • Dungeon Bypass: If you visit the Pre-Approvals vidbot without the appropriate document, she'll tell you to go back and get it, and lets you enter her cubicle from the outside without having to go through the maze again. The one at the entrance also knows about this and refuses to give you any more access cards when you come back.
  • 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 Eeyore: The vidbot meant to be in charge of surveillance and photography doesn't care about anything.
    "Need an ID? Want your picture taken? Fine, what do I care?"
  • 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.
  • The Evils of Free Will: The Chief spells out what you are compared to the Bureau during his tirade.
    Bureau Chief:"Your methods represent all I DESPISE!" *takes off glasses* "Creativity? Originality? The very things that would DESTROY MY BUREAU!"
  • Exposition Fairy: That tiny mariachi guitarist who shows you how to read the signs in the Bureau, and the rules of the Piazza game.
  • Fade to White: A variation. When the Conductor shows you its dream world, she reaches out and releases a burst of electricity that fills the screen with white, which turns out to be coming from Bismuth's spotlight, who then turns around, points to the Frame in the Sky, and vanishes, leaving you in its realm.
  • 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.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Max's PMA, the Programmable Molecular Assembler, a stapler-sized device which creates Ceres' nanobots.
  • Game Within a Game: Actually quite a few.
    • The entire "Play a Game" category on the Bureau computer terminals.
    • The "Productivity" vidbot containing a sideways, double-breakdown game.
    • The Piazza, complete with a board-sized version for tutorial. You have to replay this on the plane's control panel to enable non-regulation flight.
  • Giant Spider: Or more aptly, Giant Metal Spider, which is what Max's dream centers on. It has four towering legs, a furnace for a head, and a pair of long pincers for grabbing. And once it comes alive, it immediately gains a hunger for metal and flesh. A smaller version appears in the Church of the Machine, as Ceres' own interpretation, and this one you are able to manually control.
  • 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.
  • Glowing Mechanical Eyes: The nanobots have yellow glowing eyes, and the Mechanical Spider has a pair of tiny yellow lamps attached to the top of its furnace head.
  • Green Hill Zone: The "Cloud Ring" balcony, which is simply for a hint on how to use the WordMixer 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.
  • Hint System: Parodied. The vidbot operating the department of Hints offers tips on how to get through the Bureau...only to answer with completly irrelevant advice.
    "Would you like a hint about bridges?" (Yes) "Never cross a bridge before you come to it."
  • Hive Mind: How Ceres became sentient, by the increasing complexity of its own nanobots, since it was never designed with a straight AI system.
  • 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.
  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": In keeping with the monotonous bureaucracy theme of the Bureau Realm, the person in charge of their department is literally called that department. Emphasized by the vidbot for Bridge Repair when he repeats his instructions in document form.
  • 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' dreams of a 'rebooted' Earth have been realized.
  • Huge Holographic Head: After you disconnect the giant light bulb in the Nexus Face, the Rebel leader appears in this manner.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: Said by Max during one of Lilah's video logs...when she makes fun of his shorts.
    Max: Well...I'm a scientist, dammit! Not some model!
    Lilah: Oh, I think we can all attest to that!
  • 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.
  • Inkblot Test: Parodied. The psychiatrist vidbot gives you a multiple choice quiz for various Rorschach tests, he uses the same one twice, and both answers for the third are "Nothing" and "Not sure", quickly followed by a sudden fit of rage.
    "It's a DOG, you idiot! Plain as day, why can't you see that?! Are you crazy? Get the hell out of my office!"
  • Instant Thunder: Lightning acts like this in the Conductor Realm, though the game is still somewhat running on dream logic at that point.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Jerkass: 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.
  • Landfill Beyond the Stars: Ceres' dream world begins in a planet-wide junkyard, with 3 moons over it embodying this realm and the previous two realms. It also has a giant metal hand holding the Ornithopter, and a radio that temporarily makes you levitate when activated.
  • 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.
  • Lethal Lava Land: The Fire Balcony in the Spider Realm, minus the lethal part. It's also populated with some burned, yet still living trees, and one of them moves. The puzzle there involves timing lightning from the sun with crystals on the ground precisely when the tree's branches touch them in sequence; doing so kills the tree and sets it on fire.
  • Machine Worship: Max interpreted the Mechanical Spider from his nightmare as a god, with the repairs he performed on it as offerings. The voice you hear in said dream later on even calls the spider, "The Machine" in a Bible-like manner. Ceres later expresses this concept through the Church of the Machine, and Bismuth even appears praying before the Spider with a bible when you enter.
  • The Maze: The Bureau's Security Face is this, consisting of a 3x3 grid of glass-walled cubicles, connected by doors that require certain types of colored cards to open, with more given in exchange. You're given a full set at the start, but the goal lies in getting to the Department of Pre-Approvals, which requires black cards only obtainable from two offices adjacent to the goal. Unlike most mazes, any room (except the middle) can be exited at will, though this requires giving up all your cards. The maze is also home to some of the most amusing Vidbot employees in the game.
  • 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.
  • Medium Blending: CGI and Live Action. The first level starts in live action, while the dream worlds are entirely CGI, with the Obsidian Structure as the threshold between the two.
  • Musical Gameplay: In a room where you can learn how to read the various signs in the Bureau, clicking on a tiny mariachi player makes it play along to the background music, lasting until one of the letters of the alphabet finishes its animation in a book.
  • 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.
    • The Spider Realm dramatically ends with you being thrust into a raging furnace, only to transition to a calm, blue void where the Conductor appears to talk to you.
  • 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.
  • Museum of the Strange and Unusual: An art gallery, inside an enormous statue of Bismuth in its respective Realm, with pictures that reflect on everything that's come before in the game, and what Ceres intends to make of them as a result. It also has an art studio, audio docents, and a giant projector aimed at the Frame in the Sky.
  • Nervous Wreck: The Vidbot in charge of Rebel Control. His human actor constantly darts around the camera while talking, his questions get increasingly irrational as you go along ("What about your socks? Have you checked them for bugs?" "Are there extra 'Os' in your alphabet soup?!"), and every branch ends in hysteria.
  • Nice Hat: Max wears a red baseball cap during their latest video log, and it shows up at the foot of the Obsidian structure after Max vanishes inside it.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: when the Bismuth realm changes to the Conductor Realm, the Crossover Chip you helped program becomes large enough for Max to physically interact with, allowing him to hack it when you flip the Crossover Switch. Then again, the Conductor did prepare for that situation.
  • Nightmarish Factory: The main hub of the second dream world is a run-down, deserted factory, with the Spider at its center, and machines around it reflecting on the elemental puzzles therein. The utter lack of humans besides Max and the dream's ending make this trope stand.
  • No Name Given: Bismuth's name is only mentioned in the credits, and the Spider's official name, Abraxas, only appears in the game's strategy guide.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Lilah's dream is filled with them - to the point where even the receptionist is one!
  • 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. The music for the programming puzzle plays this straight, however.
  • Overworked Sleep: The vidbot whose sole job is to shred documents. If you talk to him, he'll deny he was sleeping, angrily ask why so many people come through his office for black cards, then instantly falls asleep again.
  • Palatial Sandcastle: The Oil level in the Spider Realm has one, set on a beach. The goal is to use a machine on top to find enough oil that can lubricate it and transform the sand castle into a real structure.
  • 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.
  • Recurring Riff
    • The game's theme appears in several variations in each realm.
    • The frantic cello and brass theme towards the end of the Bureau, signifying the start of Lilah's rebellion.
  • 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.
  • Sassy Secretary: The Information vidbot at the start of the Bureau. She gives you vague directions on where to go to fix the bridge, and reminds you that the Bureau Chief has information about Max, but still fits the trope.
  • 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.
  • Significant Anagram: The bridge repair document and a guide to calling the Chief's phone are this, being that they're filed under two words, but each document in the Records Face is only listed by single words. The trick is to play a minigame called WordMixer that can create the longest anagram possible from two given words. For bonus points, WordMixer is an actual anagram engine.
  • Songs in the Key of Lock:
    • A 3x3 grid of waves that emit various sounds when the cursor isn't on them. They have to be aligned so that they all flow in sync together.
    • Another synchronization puzzle is the Fire balcony, where five tones will play if lightning strikes exactly when one of the branches of a moving tree touches crystals on the ground.
  • 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.
  • Sudden Lack of Signal: Lilah notes in one of her journal entries that she can't use network connectivity during her campout, which is especially odd for 2066. A later entry suggests that the Obsidian structure is responsible, leaving her and Max unable to show it to the world.
  • Surprise Creepy: One promotional trailer for Obsidian involves a man trying to slice a hard-boiled egg while calm music plays from a radio. But when the egg slips off the counter, instead of shattering, the man shatters like a china doll, while a lamp in the background gives off darkness, punctuated by the game's tagline, "YOUR RULES DO NOT APPLY HERE".
  • Tailor-Made Prison: When you finally find Max in the Conductor Realm, it turns out that Ceres imprisoned him inside a giant version of the PMA, his own invention, and suspended under a painful swarm of endless nanobots. You have to solve a bridge puzzle to get to him, but freeing Max is simply done by removing the chemical that makes the nanobots, inverse to a similar puzzle in one of the earlier dream worlds.
  • Technicolor Death: In the good ending, as Ceres' world self-destructs, the Conductor goes with it, disintegrating from the limbs backwards while her halo cap leaks energy, the head vanishing last in a shower of white particles.
  • Technicolor Science: The chemistry puzzle plays this straight, in which you must combine primary colored chemicals to make a secondary colored one that fuels a factory's assembly line.
  • Television Portal: Played for laughs when the Bureau Chief takes CGI reading glasses off his desk, and puts them on by pushing them through his monitor face, seamlessly transitioning to the on-screen actor wearing real glasses.
  • 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.
  • Theme Tune Cameo: The game's theme pops up within a few puzzles throughout the game, such as when the Bureau's Celestial Puzzle is solved, and whenever one of the camouflage buttons on the Crossover Switch happens to be pressed.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: The moth-shaped Ornithopter in the Bismuth Realm, which is powered by a group of nanobots that turn a zoetrope.
  • 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.
  • Vader Breath: Three examples. First when inside one of the spheres you shoot in the Spider Realm's Air balcony, then when said puzzle is solved - with the landscape and clouds literally breathing; and capped off with the Spider itself breathing when you return to the hub.
  • Variable Mix:
    • The music for the Bureau's Time Face adds a steady ticking beat after you fix the face's clock.
    • In the Church of the Machine, as each section of the crossover chip is filled in, the music gets faster and faster and has more instruments added to it.
  • 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 color test screen, 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 of the Legion: The Conductor's voice shifts from a female human tone to a deep computerized voice, often blending the two together. This is mirrored with the Ornithopter's computer and docents in the Bismuth Realm's art gallery.
  • 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."
    • When Bismuth puts his finished painting in the frame, the docent speech for it changes: "A new world, a new beginning. Born of the old, and yet totally transformed. Free of people, now and forever. It is therefore devoid of contamination. The artist's vision is irresistible. Inevitable."
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: Ceres is engaged in one.

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