Follow TV Tropes


Video Game / Submachine

Go To
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 objective 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 series is a complete and total lack of any other living being, even animals, in every game.

The puzzles within the games 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 ten main entries in the series, with four side-entries that sit outside the main series.

The main-series games are:

The four side entries are:

A remaster of every game titled Submachine: Legacy released October 13, 2023. You can see its Steam page here. Though it does not include Submachine Universe, it introduces a lengthy new section called the Shattered Quadrant, only completeable through collecting the secrets hidden within the other games and activating mysterious monoliths, which contains some of the locations from Universe. At the end of Legacy is an announcement that the story is set to continue in a new game titled Submachine: The Engine.

Mateusz's main website also has his other games.

With the end of browser-based Flash support in 2020, the free online versions of the games are only available via emulation like how Kongregate uses Ruffle.

Some of the tropes found within these games are:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Legacy literally fills in the gaps between games (most apparent in the earlier entries) by having the Player actually move from location to location (like getting out of the Basement, and climbing up some stairs to enter the Lighthouse).
  • Adaptation Distillation: Legacy also omits much of the meta, developer, and pop culture references from the original Flash versions, isolating the game entirely to its own story. Shattered Quadrant in particular removes all of the fan theories from Submachine Universe.
  • Alien Geometries:
    • Several of the rooms in Universe 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 The Exit suggest that all the contents of the Submachine repeat at the subatomic level infinitely.
  • Alien Sky: The final scene of The Exit and Universe features a night sky with two celestial bodies. It is not known whether this suggests the series takes place on an alien planet or on an alternate-layer version of Earth
  • All Myths Are True:
    • 32 Chambers suggests the Mayan Apocalypse has some truth to it, and The Temple reveals Mur's karma arm was provided by the Hindu god Shiva.
    • Subverted in the case of Shiva—it is later revealed in The Exit that the ending of The Temple was actually referring to S.H.I.V.A., the supercomputer/artificial intelligence at the heart of the Subnet.
  • Alternate Universe: The seven "layers" in Sub 8 appear to be the same location in different dimensions.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Art Evolution:
    • Structures like the many detailed Mayan statues in 32 Chambers or the gigantic Shiva statue in The Temple would have been unthinkable around the time of the first game. This is especially noticeable in some of the later parts of The Exit when you revisit the Basement from the first game and the Lighthouse from the second; the style change is quite simply jarring.
    • The later installments really put a lot of detail into the objects, architectural structures (only natural, given how Skutnik is an architect) and scenery.
  • Artifact Title: The downloadable HD version of Submachine FLF has had all the Future Loop Foundation references removed, but still has FLF in the title.
  • 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.
  • 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: Played with a fair bit:
    • You start The Lighthouse with the Wisdom Gem and Diary Page from The Basement. The Coin is absent (implied to have been inserted into the coin-op Submachine cabinet you start in front of), and the Wisdom Gem is used in an early puzzle.
    • You start The Loop with an empty inventory, implicitly because due to having lost them travelling through the portal at the end of The Lighthouse. The opening implicitly lampshades this with the phrase "THERE IS NO DIARY PAGE".
    • The Loop's sole collectible is used to escape the titular location, so you start The Lab with an empty inventory.
    • The Root begins with you in a different part of The Lab's titular location, an unspecified time after being hired by Murtaugh. Given your empty inventory, you had presumably put your knife, hammer, screwdriver and lighter away somewhere.
    • You retain the notes, cipher plates and wrench from The Root at the start of The Edge, but you are forced to deposit them in a bin after the subnet defense system intercepts you.
    • You end The Edge with an empty inventory (you just read the notes without collecting them this time), and so start The Core with an empty inventory.
    • You start The Plan without the notes from The Core, having presumably lost them due to having reached Sector 9 through an unstable karma portal.
    • The Temple starts with you still having the hammer and navigator from The Plan. Whilst the navigator is used to solve puzzles, the hammer is exclusively used to find a secret.
    • The Exit opens with you going through the white karma portal seen at the end of The Temple, giving an implicit justification for your inventory being empty.
  • Bamboo Technology: One area of Submachine 8 is an archaeological site located in a mountainous area with white sky, and has a bamboo technology version of the recurring valve puzzle.
  • Beeping Computer: Heard whenever you use the Connection Pods in Submachine 6 to access the Edge's systems, listed on the soundtrack as "The Hardware".
  • Big Brother Is Watching:
    • There is always a feeling that you are being watched by some unknown entity, especially after game #3. The floating security cameras at Location 317 in Universe imply this even more heavily.
    • In Universe, 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.
    • The same comes out with the ending of Submachine 1, when the player use the Karma Portal in the lighthouse dungeon in Submachine 10 to return to it.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The ultimate end of the final game can be this. You do escape the subnet and meet up with Mur and Liz ... in a vast dry desert. Compared to that some parts of the subnet looked definitely more hospitable and while you're no longer alone, your life's going to be another struggle and now there's probably no way back to the subnet since the light sphere went poof outside.
  • Bookends: Submachine 2 ends 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.
    • Submachine: Legacy, however, is a true example: The literal first and last screens of the game are in the desert.
  • Broken Pedestal: In Submachine 6: The Edge, Mur abandons you in the Submachine after you disable its defences; you had no importance outside of enabling his invasion plan.
  • 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.
    • Universe 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 is 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.
    • 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 is 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.
  • Computer Equals Tape Drive: One puzzle in The Exit involves finding a tape reel to insert into an array of four, connected to the supercomputer running the entire Subnet.
  • 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. 10 unlocks messages to the player from Murtaugh/Mateusz Skutnik.)
  • Darker and Edgier: Submachine 6 is surprisingly despair and sorrow filled for a Submachine game.
  • Dead All Along: Subverted. In Submachine 9, the catacombs of the eponymous temple contain the tombs of Murtaugh and Elizabeth. It is 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. It turns out that while those are their tombs, they haven't died. Yet.
  • Deus est Machina: In Submachine 8, it is 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 S.H.I.V.A, the supercomputer running the entire Subnet itself.
  • Disability Superpower: Mur's diary entry in the first game mentions the loss of his left arm on vacation, and later gaining a "karma arm."
  • Doing In the Wizard: Downplayed. All the note mentioning the Hindu god Shiva actually refer to a supercomputer system called S.H.I.V.A., heavily implied to be the Submachine itself.
  • 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 on an arcade machine by the player in The Lighthouse ...except not. The Exit confirms that The Basement actually happened, and the player was deceived to think it was an arcade game.
  • Ghost City:
    • 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 each layer in Subnet is comprised of an infinite number of sublayers, and everyone exploring the Subnet is on a different one.
    • Subverted in Submachine 10, when the player finds the skulls and bodies of some explorers, and when the player sees Murtaugh, Elizabeth, and Einstein at the end of Submachine 10. But that scene takes place outside of the Subnet.
  • Guide Dang It!: There are clues that point to a specific layer in Submachine: Legacy in chapters earlier than chapter 8, but good luck finding out that you have to go to chapters 8 or 9 to access the pointed-to layer by using the navigator and then go back to the chapter that you found the clue to access whatever the clue was pointing at without a walkthrough.
  • Inside a Computer System: What the player sees when Connection Pods are used in Submachine 6, showing an array of gridlines and binary numbers, with green pathways leading to various functions of the Edge. Shown further at the end, where connecting to the Edge's mainframe starts with a scene of passing through several grids and shapes on the way in.
  • 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.
    • A hidden note in the Legacy version of The Basement lampshades how many redesigns that part of the game has gone through since its first release in 2005.
  • 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.
  • 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 sees players engage with the computer elements of the machine.
    • Submachine 10 reveals this computer to be the entire submachine network.
  • Mind Screw: Submachine Universe is devoted largely to presenting many of the various fan theories as to what's really going on.
  • 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. You can communicate him with sometimes, such as in Sub 4, but you don't know who he is or the exact details of his goals. However, in the end of Sub 10, you meet him in person.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • 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 is 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: In each game, you have no idea where you are, and you have to explore around to figure it out — if you do at all.
  • 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" (which resembles an ancient Greek drachma), 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-life Kents) tie to the real world. Ironically though, modern Greek 1 Euro coins contain a depiction of said "ancient coin".
  • Permanently Missable Content: In Submachine 9, it is possible 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 Plus, because that route is now blocked.
  • Pixel Hunt: Players often have to search carefully through the scenery to find whatever objects they require to advance, particularly to unlock bonus content.
  • Playable Epilogue: 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.
  • Plunger Detonator: A used one appears on the Ship in Submachine 4, surrounded by blood, soot, and bits of clothing.
  • Portal Network: 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 navigator 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. The Shattered Quadrant in Legacy has a nine-coordinate system, although the combination of coordinates is limited owing to it working using transport tickets preset to particular locations.
  • Puzzle Box: In The Basement, Tile D at the bottom right of the basement is locked inside a block whose opening is only revealed upon finishing a Tile Flipping Puzzle.
  • Red Herring: In Submachine: Legacy, the clue in Submachine 3: The Loop to not solve the last level's puzzle should be disobeyed after you have finished Submachine 8: The Plan because doing so allows you to find Monolith III. You will need to use Submachine 8 to enter the correct layer, and then return to Submachine 3 after that to find and activate the monolith. In the original Submachine 3: The Loop, that note was a genuine clue that if disobeyed and you trigger the passage-machine to get to the next level after the final level, you would be sent to a bottomless pit that you will eventually die of dehydration in.
  • Revenue-Enhancing Devices: All 10 games and side-games are available for sale with higher-resolution graphics and music. Fair enough, since the regular online games are free. (Except for Submachine FLF, which is a pay-exclusive game. The online free version of it, Future Loop Foundation, is a different game, containing different music and less content than the HD version.
    • However, with the end of browser-based Flash support, the paid versions are now the only ones available.
  • 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. "Murtaugh never said it was about revenge. But by then he was used to not being understood."
  • Scare Chord: A rather weird one plays in Sub2 when discovering the lightbulb portal. The same chord plays to discovering the tombs of Murtaugh and Liz in the 9th game.
  • Schmuck Bait: If you disobey Murtaugh's note in the last level of the original version of Submachine 3: The Loop, triggering the passage-machine at the end of the level after solving its puzzle will send you into a bottomless pit in which you will die of dehydration due to falling an infinite distance with nowhere to land.
  • Sequel Escalation: Submachine 10 is huge. It is 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 Crimson Room.
    • The cake room from Universe provides many references from the Portal series. Similarly, the coordinates "wlq" is similar to that of the Ratman's den.
    • 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 both The Basement and The Lighthouse. This was removed in the Legacy remake, as largely the use of spoons as puzzle elements was all but replaced.
    • 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 (Series).
    • The film projector that gives you an ID card in Submachine 2 is inside a room coated wall to wall in tiles, a lot like the room where Samara Morgan was observed.
    • In Submachine Universe, type in 815. In the Shattered Quadrant this takes the form of the interior of an aeroplane caught in a spatial anomaly, with the number set on the wall.
    • One of the notes in Submachine 4 muses on the phrase 'Crew Expendable'.
    • A Weighted Companion Stone can be picked up in the Shattered Quadrant. It doesn't do anything in the game itself, but like in Portal 2, it'll appear in the final shot of the game when you reach the surface.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Although optional (and easily avoidable) you could die of dehydration in the original version of The Loop by solving the last puzzle and looping indefinitely. In Legacy, if you solve the puzzle, you get a Monolith for your trouble and get sent back to make the right decision.
  • 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.
  • Tile-Flipping Puzzle: The Basement: Tile D at the bottom right of the basement is locked inside a big stone that's unlocked when the cubes it's supporting are removed, by ringing four bells, each bell's ring adding or removing specific sets of cubes.
  • Treacherous Advisor: Subverted. Submachine 6 reveals that Murtaugh was ultimately using the player to invade the subnet, though Submachine 9's bonus content implies that Murtaugh's messages may have been automated and not actually him.
  • Underground Level: Mateusz himself says that "Submachine" is short for "Submerged Machine," which hints at the SubNet being based underground.
  • Unintentionally Unwinnable: In Submachine 10, if you remove the ladder in the dock from the ship and then teleport back to the Loop using the lighthouse portal while it's still active, the game is essentially rendered unwinnable, since the player will not be able to leave the ship. It has been referred to as an unofficial bad ending by some players. This was later remedied in the free, non-HD version of the game as well as the Legacy remaster: The player can now pull a lever inside the ship, which will correctly position the lower ladder and enable access to the dock.
  • 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.
    • An update to the entire series, including the side games, came in 2023 in the form of Submachine: Legacy, recreated in Game Maker Studio 2 due to Flash being depreciated.
  • 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.