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Video Game / Superliminal

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Hello. My name is Dr. Glenn Pierce, and I'd like to tell you all about the game Superliminal.

Superliminal is Depth Deception: The Game. A Puzzle Game by Pillow Castle Games, released through the Epic Games digital store on November 12, 2019, then on Steam and on November 5, 2020. It is an expansion of a tech demo by Pillow Castle Games titled The Museum of Simulation Technology, adding a plot and utilizing different puzzles while retaining the same main gimmick: the size of any object the player can interact with, from chess pieces to the moon, can be changed by interacting with it and perceiving it differently (specifically, if you grab, say, a block and hold it up to a distant object such that they appear the same size, the block will actually become that size, and large, distant objects can be made small and near in the same manner). A trailer for Superliminal can be found here, while a full run of the original version of The Museum of Simulation Technology recorded by Pillow Castle themselves can be found here.

The plot of Superliminal focuses on an unnamed protagonist learning about dream therapy technology called "SomnaSculpt", capable of helping to deal with problems such as not accurately perceiving the problems of their life. However, something goes wrong during the procedure, and the player must navigate their own mind with the power of enforcing their perceptions onto the environment, hopefully finding a way to wake back up in reality.

On November 5, 2021, the game received a free update titled Group Therapy, a multiplayer mode pitting up to twelve people against each other in randomly generated puzzle environments.


  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Portable stereos and clunky computer monitors abound, along with explicit environmental mentions that the year is 1991. However, environmental text also include notes made in 2014 and 2008.
  • 555: SomnaSculpt's phone number is 1-555-SOMSCULPT.
  • An Aesop: Don't be afraid to fail, life has many paths that lead to success. A message that, according to some, is often undermined or misrepresented.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Played with: The Standard Orientation Protocol AI goes from being generally unhelpful, through blocking Dr. Pierce from contacting you, to deleting the emergency exit and trapping you in the dream permanently. But then it turns out that this was all supposed to happen, so the AI was probably Obfuscating Insanity instead.
  • Alien Geometries: Some areas have endless loops of doorways and others can be connected by doors on items you can pick up and move around, such as the trailer's example of a bouncy castle leading to a brick corridor. In the game itself, this corridor leads to an air vent overlooking the pool and bouncy castle.
  • All Just a Dream: A rare example where both the characters and audience are fully aware of this fact from the get-go.
  • All the Worlds Are a Stage:
    • The penultimate stage, Labyrinth, revisits several rooms and gimmicks from previous stages/dreams while flipping each of them on their heads (sometimes literally), subverting the player's past expectations and building tension as their sense of reality falls apart.
    • The epilogue, Retrospect, is a slow walkthrough as the game SmashCuts through different parts of your journey, starting in Whitespace and working backwards to the first room of Induction, as Dr. Pierce explains that your entire dream therapy experience was pre-designed and everything that seemed to go Off the Rails in fact went exactly as planned.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • For objects generated from viewing at a certain perspective the game will gently slide you into the right place if you're close enough.
    • The Level Selection screen will tell you whether you've collected all the Blueprints, Fire Extinguishers, Fire Alarms, and Chess Pieces. It also tells you whether you've found that level's Constellation Room.
    • Extinguishers and Alarms you've already activated will, respectively, squib after only one click, or remain visibly pulled even on repeat playthroughs, tipping the player off as to whether they've already found them.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In one of the hallways, there is a list of the days of the week, with "Murder" listed for Monday-Saturday, but Sunday says "Beans." Which becomes something of a Brick Joke at the end of the chapter, where several cans of beans can be found.
  • Astral Checkerboard Decor: The dream world features heavy chess motifs and the checkerboard pattern also serves to make certain areas more stylized or abstract.
  • Based on a Dream: In-universe: toward the end, Dr. Pierce describes a dream he once had about a white-space world where perceptions influenced reality. The ending reveals that the protagonist's similar experiences were secretly part of Dr. Pierce's therapy plan, meaning that Dr. Pierce's dream inspired the whole shebang.
  • Bland-Name Product: Some boxes are labelled "Idea" (over the IKEA logo).
  • Book Ends:
    • The first object the player will have to manipulate is a chess piece blocking their path. The penultimate puzzle also involves chess pieces, as you have to alternate them across a chess board to make a path, with the squares otherwise functioning as pits back to the room's entrance.
    • The ending sequence also includes a puzzle where you get pulled out of a doorway by holding an object on the other side, echoing an early puzzle where you have to reach through a doorway to pull the object through.
  • Can't Take Anything with You: Like in Portal, certain barriers will prevent you from taking puzzle objects outside the bounds of the puzzle (or in specific areas within some puzzles).
  • Catchphrase: Almost every single radio transmission begins with the words "Hello. My name is Dr. Glenn Pierce." Becomes lampshaded by the Standard Orientation Protocol when she starts blocking him. "Hello. My introductions are redundant." And the kicker is that it's all scripted, so this is a case of Dr. Pierce engaging in some Self-Deprecation for the sake of humor.
  • Chess Motifs: With the sheer amount of chess pieces everywhere one must wonder if Dr. Glenn Pierce is some kind of huge chess fan.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: One of the final sequences is purely black and white.
  • Depth Deception: The central theme. The game is loaded with puzzles that depend on playing with perspective. The various puzzles are based around picking up items, whether near or far, and using the camera's perspective to "adjust" their size. In addition to objects being only as close or as far away as the player perceives them to be, there are occasionally walls painted with illusions, such as a corridor that looks just like an ordinary wall until you walk down it. Some objects have to be created by lining up the depth deception properly, and others can disappear into depth deception illusions.
  • Double Subversion: The blood in the Blackout chapter is revealed to be red paint. Later, the warehouse hallway to the emergency exit features a darker patch of red liquid that looks considerably more like real blood. However, further on, you can see a simple can of darker red paint, meaning it wasn't blood that time either.
  • Dream Emergency Exit: The game revolves around SomnaSculpt, which uses dreams as therapy, and an automated process dictates how long the patient stays in the dream. Except, in the protagonist's case, it doesn't. After the protagonist finds themselves stuck in their SomnaSculpt session, SomnaSculpt's inventor, Dr. Glenn Pierce, spends a large stretch of the game trying to help the protagonist exit their dream by finding a specific elevator that should wake them up when they enter it.
  • Dream Within a Dream: You sign up for an experimental dream therapy session, only to find yourself trapped in a seemingly endless series of dreams where you have to solve puzzles based on Perspective Magic to proceed. The "orientation accident" turns out to have been staged, as part of a ploy by your therapist to demonstrate to yourself your determination and ability to overcome obstacles.
  • Easter Egg: Literal Easter eggs are hidden in various obscure places in the game. They serve no function and don't count toward any completion reward, but some have interesting visual effects.
    • A TV can be found in one of the last areas of the game. It mostly displays a test pattern, but occasionally will flash images of areas from The Museum of Simulation Technology.
  • Featureless Protagonist: Nothing is told about the protagonist of the game, nor do we learn anything about their appearance. All that we end up knowing is that they were likely suffering from anxiety or another similar mental illness, and volunteered to enter the dreamscape as a form of therapy. The developer commentaries imply that their intent was for the player to be the protagonist, however.
  • Flat Scare: Parodied in the Developer Commentary for Blackout, where one of the nodes doesn’t provide any developer info, and is just Director Albert Shih saying “Boo”, fitting in with the level’s whole theme of scaring you with things that are ultimately harmless.
  • Forced Perspective: The core mechanic of the game, where objects change to match the size they look while in perspective and flat representations of objects on walls and furniture can be viewed at a certain angle to become convincing 3D which point they are also interactive 3D objects.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Things start to look out of sorts pretty early, with one test room having broken windows. The fact that the puzzle there can only be solved by putting an object into the room visible through the broken windows that aren't "supposed" to be broken is a sign that there's actually nothing unplanned about it and that none of the errors and negative circumstances are actually out of the program's control.
    • The whiteboard beside the first elevator says the average adult has 3-5 dreams per night. The player will then wake up five times, the alarm clock advancing forward one hour each time.
    • An early whiteboard has a few; it contains diagrams of the modular portal frontage and cloud inserts seen in later chapters, as well as a reminder to buy more red paint, which makes sense after the horror-esque segment ends with a reveal that all of the 'blood' the player's been seeing is just paint.
    • The horror chapter heavily foreshadows the fact that the game's hints of a deeper conspiracy and sinister undertones are just there to get the player thinking, as well as showing that things "going wrong" are completely intended by the session in the first place.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The player's dreamself has been placed into SomnaSculpt's Interactive, Lucid-Induction Dream State, or I-LIDS.
  • Gameplay Randomization: The maps for the Group Therapy multiplayer mode are randomly generated, with the release trailer advertising trillions of possible level permutations.
  • Gotta Catch 'Em All: The game features a few collectibles; they're not required to complete the game, but they do offer rewards for thorough players. There are Pink and Blue chess pieces hidden in various nooks throughout the levels, Blueprints tucked in out-of-the-way or secret areas, Constellation Rooms concealed in dark areas, and literal Easter Eggs - actual painted easter eggs that are usually the best-hidden of all collectibles.
  • Hidden Purpose Test: Everything that goes wrong... doesn't. It's the real test, to force the protagonist to look at problems in new ways, even when they seem impossible or frightening.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: You can create this effect by using portable objects with doorways to alter your size, either by increasing the size of the environment or by using linked doors to make yourself progressively smaller. As such, objects like dollhouses or architectural models can be explored.
  • Journey to the Center of the Mind: Superliminal takes place entirely within the protagonist's dream world.
  • Jump Scare: In Blackout, there's a trail of blood to a door that's ajar with a handprint on it. Approach and look at it for a couple of seconds (as if to enter), and it briskly slams closed.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The fourth wall is extremely thin in this game, not least because you're placed as the protagonist. Ultimately, the nature of the story is that the whole dream-sim-gone-wrong narrative was actually the intended therapy, designed to allow the subject to prove their perseverance and puzzle solving ability to themself. And the game itself presents itself as a dream gone wrong as a vehicle for puzzle mechanics, with the doctors and designers in the story being analogous to the game devs, even with whiteboards brainstorming notes for the dream world that look as though they could have come from the real devs.
  • Loading Screen: The game has a few different gimmicks for the loading screens to keep you entertained. For instance, it might start at 100% and count up to 1000%, the loading bar might shoot out the side of the screen, it might zoom in on itself in a recursive loop.
  • Matter Replicator: The gimmick for the Clone chapter of the game is that, instead of picking up and altering an object, you make a copy of it at whatever distance away you could have perceived it to be.
  • Meta Twist:
    • The first two areas are meant to be an introduction to the game's mechanics, such as resizing objects and turning images into real things. In contrast, the third area is themed entirely around a single object (dice) but changes their properties with every single puzzle. A whole die may actually be two halves put closely together, or the end of a huge column you can only slide around instead of pick up, or a bunch of very tiny boxes that only break apart when you first attempt to use it as a platform...
    • The Labyrinth chapter attempts to undermine and reverse the previous credo of "perception is reality" (even showing signs with "NOT" scribbled into the slogan) by having things work in opposite or wonky ways. For instance, the Optical chapter focused on aligning flat images to turn them into 3D objects, but two scenarios in Labyrinth feature 3D objects turning into illusionistic flat images when interacted with, and some scenes are navigated with strange rotation so you're not oriented properly in the room.
  • Mind Screw: The whole game can feel rather screwy, as altering perceptions is a key mechanic. For example, you may need to stand in a specific location so an image of an object becomes real, and then turn it around to find parts you could not have seen before. Some areas feature nested realities and bizarre duplication scenarios, like entering the bouncy castle to get to another part of the room you just left, allowing you to change the placement of the bouncy castle while you're still somehow "inside" the castle, and when you leave, the castle is where you put it in the version of the outer room you accessed within the castle.
  • Mission Control: The entire procedure the player is undertaking is overseen by Dr. Glenn Pierce, of the Pierce Institute, as well as an artificial intelligence with a female voice. Unfortunately, after the initial observations, they lose track of where exactly the player is within their own mind, and can only occasionally chime in to offer advice.
  • Mission Control Is Off Its Meds: Despite declaring itself to be a neutral, even apathetic party at the start, the Standard Orientation Protocol AI takes personal offense to the idea of something going wrong with itself, so it pressures you to fix it instead and when you can't, decides to remove the emergency failsafe and give up on you, keeping you in the dream. Since the entire disaster scenario is revealed to be a fabrication, the AI is unlikely to actually have a personality to behave this way and is implied to just be reading a script from Dr. Pierce.
  • Multiple Endings: While the standard ending is reached by progressing through the game, there's also a secret ending earned by turning on the lights in "Blackout", and then backtracking to follow a white pawn all the way back to the level's beginning.
  • Never My Fault: The Standard Orientation Protocol blames you for the disaster and places the onus of rectifying it onto you as well since it would have to acknowledge a flaw within itself otherwise.
  • Nightmare Retardant invoked Invoked in the Blackout level, which operates on fear being a matter of perception. Many of the creepy things are soon unmasked as simple tricks and can even be quite silly, such as the blood splatters being red paint, a figure behind a window being a silhouetted chess pawn, and boxes peeking through a door saying "DIE DIE DIE" quickly being revealed to be stacked boxes of diet soda blocked by the doorframe. Ultimately, the Blackout floor is (mostly) only as scary as you make it, which fits with Dr. Pierce faking the experiment-gone-wrong premise to test and observe the willpower and rethinking capabilities of his subjects.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Blackout takes place in a dark area with flickering fluorescent lights, blood smears, ominous red lighting and even a huge pit in the middle of one room. There are moments that make you feel watched or in danger, but nothing comes of it. Also, several of the scares are undone by the reveal that they're simple props and paint. The door that slams closed and the disappearing knife, however, never receive any cathartic explanation and remain unnerving.
  • Partially-Concealed-Label Gag: In the Blackout level, the player sees a sign through a doorway that reads "DIE". Going through the doorway reveals the "sign" to actually be stacked cases that read "DIET SODA".
  • Perspective Magic: The main mechanic of the game. You travel through a dream world where you solve various puzzles based on picking things up and placing them in a way so that they change size based on your point of view, shrinking obstacles or enlarging ordinary objects to serve as ramps and stepping stones.
  • Puzzle Reset: There is always an option to reset to the last checkpoint when you get stuck, located in the pause menu.
  • Reality-Breaking Paradox: The protagonist must intentionally cause one to escape, by throwing a replica of the institute's strip mall storefront out its front door from inside of itself.
  • Recursive Reality: Some levels contain rooms/portals contained inside themselves, with you changing size as you exit or enter.
  • Set Piece Puzzle: Most of the game's puzzles are in distinct groups of rooms, with barriers preventing the player from carrying items from one to another.
  • Shout-Out: The totems from Inception appear in spots in the game, with the red die, gold chess bishop, poker chip, and top being objects you can discover hidden in the levels.
    • Early in the game, a small room full of blinking alarm clocks can be seen through a window. Each clock reads 12:05 AM, but several can be found which display 0:04, 0:08, 0:15, 0:16, 0:23 and 0:42.
    • There is a fake ending that parodies the famous "Dog Ending" from Silent Hill 2, complete with pictures of the dev team's dogs showing over the credits.
  • Sizeshifter: Because any portable doorway can change size and you enter each door seamlessly, the player will enter the room behind the doorway at the size relative to that of the room beyond the door. If you scale up a doorway beyond normal size, the room you enter will be huge compared to you. If you use linked portal doorways and make them different sizes, whichever door you come out of will change your relative size, so increasing the size of a door and entering the smaller one of the pair will put you out of the larger door, larger within the space, and vice versa. These ideas are used primarily in the Dollhouse chapter, but come up for secrets in the Whitespace chapter.
  • The Lonely Door: Several freestanding doors leading to rooms through the doorways are in the game. A few of them are even objects that can be manipulated, which alters the relative size of the room the player enters through them.
  • Unintentionally Unwinnable: Due to the way the physics & map loading works, there are multiple ways to induce a Game-Breaking Bug. One example is the bouncy castle & pool room you can break the game by manipulating the castle & your movements in such a way that you can fit through the vent at the top of the map instead of completing the puzzle as expected. This breaks the physics and textures on the map. Fortunately, the game provides a Puzzle Reset to get out of such a situation. Another involves using size manipulation to make yourself unfathomably small and then going underneath a door the game did not intend for you to go through, ending up outside the game geometry itself.
  • Unnaturally Looping Location: These feature a couple of times. One is a looping side path of hallways in the tutorial to show off how weird the game will be getting, and another is a puzzle of branching hallways where whichever of the two paths the player looks down first will be sealed off. If the player does not look at the sign in the middle to know which path is correct so they can look down and seal off the wrong one, they'll be caught in a loop forever, and even the correct path will send you through a few repetitions of the hallway before you escape to ensure you understand the puzzle.
  • Word-Salad Humor: In the Clone level, where nothing is operating normally, one of Dr. Pierce's messages is played with words omitted and in the wrong order, but read out as if it's exactly the way it's supposed to be.