Teleglitch Script

June 17, 2022


Parts of this video contain intense camera motions and warping.

Paranoia, for your health

{++ wear work gloves, long sleeves for this part ++} {++ talk while opening up the TV ++} I love old TVs. Modern flatscreens have a lot of advantages but there's an elegance to these cathode ray tubes that I admire. Colour TVs like this one have three electron guns inside of them {== I KNOW THIS ISN'T HOW TRINITRON TUBES WORK ==} that are responsible for the red, green, and blue parts of the final picture. These coils of wire act like a magnet when we put an electric current through them.

Lucky for us, electrons in a magnetic field will get deflected, so by changing the amount of power in our magnet we can aim the electron guns. The part of the TV we actually watch is covered with phosphors that light up when the electron beam hits them. We can draw a picture on the screen by energizing our coil of wire in just the right way. It's one of the many beautiful, miraculous applications of physics hiding in plain sight.

{++ plug in the TV ++} They can also kill you in like four different ways.

{++ turn off the lights, spoiler warning on screen. ++} This video contains spoilers for Teleglitch: Die More Edition.

Teleglitch is a top-down roguelike survival shooter, released in 2012 to little fanfare. It is the only game developed by Test3 Projects, a team made up of two Estonian brothers, Johann and Mihkel Tael, as well as Edvin Aedma {++ eedma? ++} who in the brothers' words was "good at English and writing stories". It's the most obscure game I've written about by far, and that's really a shame. The game's expanded "Die More Edition" was received positively; it got an 8.4 from PC Gamer, a 7.8 from IGN, and some coverage by YouTubers.

The game has been compared to Hotline Miami, Doom, and of course Dark Souls, and those are all pretty big names to throw around. Truthfully, Teleglitch's brutal world and minimalist design stand on their own.

Interstellar Business Machines (Title Screen) {++ revise this bit ++}

This short opening depicts a colonized planet, Medusa-1C, which develops some ominous-sounding military tech and has suffered some kind of disaster. Militech, who own the planet, have quarantined it, since rescuing the staff and equipment was deemed unprofitable. This information is given as a short report, which establishes the corporate backdrop of the game nicely.

What struck me when I first started Teleglitch up was its austerity; its interface is reminiscent of an early computer terminal, and this ties nicely into the story. In the real world, the development of computers has often been subservient to the demands of the military, and in the game's own words Teleglitch takes place in a future where "political power has been replaced with capital power." Our protagonist works for Militech, one of humanity's three competing defense companies.

{== did you know that IBM optioned Konrad Zuze's patents for the "first modern computer" in 1946? Zuze was funded by the Nazis! ==}

If I had to put a name on Teleglitch's style, I think industrial minimalism would be a good one. Its approach to conveying information is always practically useful, always efficient, and it displays this information without any flourishes. Well, really the whole thing is an artistic flourish, because Teleglitch is not a piece of industrial control software, but it does a fantastic job using its interface to represent the world we're about to inhabit.

Canned meat dungeon (Level 1)

When we start a new game, we're greeted with a journal entry from the protagonist which lays out in clearer terms what is happening on Medusa-1C. A teleportation experiment has gone wrong, and space has begun breaking and warping. Bending time and space contextualizes the game's random elements and even our ability to replay it, which is a nice detail. In addition to the threat of warping space, there's a rogue AI that wants to kill us controlling the facility.

The protagonist has been hiding in the hope that he'll be rescued, so we can surmise that he is a scientist without any survival training. Since nobody came to help, he's going to try to teleport back to Earth by making his way through the facility. Our goals are immediately clear: find teleporters and stay alive.

With that we're tossed into the world, and the UI design follows the same pattern we saw on the title screen. It is entirely textual, consisting of a list of held items, some relevant stats, and a description of the selected item. Keeping the inventory on-screen like this may seem like an innocuous artistic decision, but we'll see later on that it adds quite a bit to the experience.

For now we're armed with a 9mm pistol, some explosives, and whatever we can scrounge up. Conserving ammo is important for some of the trials to come, so I will be sticking with the knife for now.

The facilities might be abandoned, but we certainly aren't alone, and each room brings the threat a new ambush. The mutants and zombies we encounter in level 1 only do a couple points of damage, but there are a lot of them, so it pays to traverse levels slowly. The enemy movement patterns in Teleglitch are designed to throw you off, and knife combat has a sort of dancing quality as you and the enemy constantly adjust your speed and position to strike one another.

The stab animation is appropriately quick and violent, and hits are punctuated with a meaty stabbing sound. Teleglitch has excellent sound design in general, but the close quarters combat shows off some great attention to detail. There are three important sets of sounds: when the player hits, when the player misses, and when the enemy hits. The knife sound effect has a high pitch, while enemy strikes are bassy. If you whiff, the sound that plays is reminiscent of swinging a stick around, and it's much quieter than the other two. Each of these is easy to pick out in the chaos of a fight, and the sound design augments the game's low-resolution graphics.

It's important in these early levels to clear out every room and collect whatever you can. Items and secret rooms are scattered around each level, and these are anything but optional. You need every possible advantage in Teleglitch, so these relatively safe levels are worth picking over. This gives us an opportunity to take in the atmosphere; the facility on Medusa-1C is massive but is more-or-less silent.

{++ at teleporter ++}

At the end of the level we are presented with a choice between two teleporters, and this is a choice we'll be stuck with until level 5. In my experience the seemingly-safer path through an abandoned plankton farm leads to a more difficult level 3 and 4, while the dangerous sounding military biology path has a more balanced difficulty.

Self-rearranging space (Level 2)

Level 2 is also fairly safe. There are some stronger mutants here who I tend to take care of with the shotgun. Teleglitch is full of surprises, and one particularly fun one is that sometimes enemies fall down when they're shot. They stay down just long enough to make you wonder if they're dead. It's important to have somewhere safe to retreat to, especially as the game goes on, and the lingering threat of enemies getting back up creates a little bit of paranoia.

Anyway, now is a good opportunity to talk about Teleglitch's levels. Each room in a given level was designed by a person, but they are arranged randomly each time you play. There are also a number of events and obstacles that show up no matter what. the military biology sector, for example, always has a gate which you must open. According to interviews with the developers, the player gets pretty much the same resources on every run, but those resources will always be found in different places. This ensures that every run is completable if the player is good enough.

Players who aren't capture by the game's atmosphere tend to bring this point up as a negative—the balance makes Teleglitch less replayable. The early levels certainly can be repetitive, but by the time we get to level 4 or 5 the restrictive inventory system forces the player to make choices, and a lot of the game's variety comes from what items we decide to hold on to.

Teleglitch also gives us a map that is filled out by the player's line of sight. Levels are so huge that the game would be unplayable without a map, but the developers implemented it very thoughtfully. We get to see a rough layout of everywhere we've been, with points of interest marked, but we can only see a detailed view of our immediate surroundings. This puts us in the protagonist's shoes and fits with the simple menu and inventory visuals.

Opening the map pauses the game, and I have mixed feelings about it. Most of your actions have to be taken in real time, and this creates immersion by keeping the flow of gameplay going—time doesn't stop when the protagonist is looking through his items, so it doesn't stop for the player either. But I can imagine the protagonist taking a second to recall the map in his mind, so no problem there. My gripe is related to the view of our immediate surroundings: you can actually see further on the map than you can in real time, and this gives you an edge and incentivizes you to break the momentum of gameplay.

Teleglitch trains you to take every advantage you can get, and I find myself using the map a lot when I want to identify enemies or their positions. I could understand the map representing our character's "far vision" rather than their immediate surroundings, but the fact that it pauses the game makes it feel a little cheap to me. It's not a huge deal, since you still have to kill the enemies in real time, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

An unfamiliar house (Level 3)

{== show the giant zombie kill (run 3) ==} Level 3, facility support systems, welcomes us with a giant zombie, who is significantly stronger than anything else so far. Despite being simple enemies they show off some of Teleglitch's best design habits. They are, of course, visually distinct: they're larger than the regular zombies and wear unique yellow shirts. But they are also aurally distinct.

Their entrance is always marked with a roar, usually before you can even see them. Sound cues are an important piece of Teleglitch; encounters with enemies usually last a few seconds at most, and the sounds give us an extra moment to prepare. Each monster has some unique sound, and the game's positional audio lets us guess at where they are.

Because face-to-face encounters are so fast, listening becomes just as, if not more useful than resolving threats visually. I have never played a game quite like it in that respect; even rhythm games are perfectly playable without sound, though they might not be very fun. This focus on audio is supported by the game's excellent sound design; I talked earlier about how the sound design helps us parse the game's frenetic combat, but it also builds up an oppressive atmosphere.

For the most part, Teleglitch's environments are ominously silent; we're accompanied by the sounds of wind or distant electrical noise, but are otherwise left with our thoughts. The thing is, hearing isn't as trustworthy as seeing, and Teleglitch exploits this to incredible effect. Since encounters are high-stakes, the game incentivizes the player to really focus on and anticipate its sound cues.

Have you ever been alone in an unfamiliar place, and heard what you thought were footsteps or some unsettling noise? When we focus on random noise, we start to pattern it with our thoughts. Teleglitch requires so much attention that it creates that unfamiliar house effect and causes players to hallucinate footsteps and monster sounds. There are constant ambushes and later levels even feature patrolling enemies, and along with the sound design this ratchets up the tension and paranoia.

This is Teleglitch's greatest strength: it is so immersive that you have to engage with it as though it's really happening.

There are some more prominent environmental sounds too, such as the titular Teleglitch anomaly, which confronts us with an alien bubbling sound. It instantly kills anything that touches it, and this can be used against enemies if you're brave. There's also the discomfitingly loud machinery that drowns everything else out. Louder rooms create a feeling of panic, because we can no longer hear anything that might be roaming around beyond our field of view.

Oh, hey, a secret. {== early war walkers ==}

Obviously I knew they were coming, but this secret is almost guaranteed death the first time you encounter it. These guys are called War Walkers. They are normally quite strong but I prepared some explosives beforehand that made the fight a little less terrifying. Even with armour, they can kill you in a matter of seconds, so all the planning in the world won't help bad execution.

As a reward we get a cache of items and an optional teleport to level 5, which I will be ignoring. Since my inventory is getting full this is a good time to talk about crafting. Teleglitch has an elegant and very simple crafting system. Pressing C at any time opens up a list of everything you have the resources to make, and clicking crafts it. Crucially, this does not pause the game.

There are situations where the player may need to craft something during an ambush, like an explosive weapon, so there is an element of skill introduced in avoiding enemies while navigating the crafting menu. In less hectic conditions, the crafting menu does not interrupt the game's atmosphere. This keeps the paranoia of an ambush fresh in our minds, especially since crafting may involve dropping or unloading weapons.

At any time the game can be paused to look through all of the crafting recipes you've discovered. This allows you to plan ahead: I may want to save a motor to craft a minigun a few levels from now. Since the inventory is limited, this adds an interesting element of strategy; the player has to choose what to keep or throw away, and bet on what crafting materials will show up later.

I am not a huge fan of the info screen pausing the game, but if you only craft in relatively safe areas then it doesn't really interrupt the tension. I can also see this menu being tremendously ugly if it was just placed over top of the game in real time.

{== do a visual for this ==} One alternative that I would appreciate would be a toggle, bound to the Q key or something, to show what crafting recipes your selected item could be used to craft. That might avoid the visual clutter and keep the player immersed. Like the map, it's not a huge deal and Teleglitch's crafting is still leagues better than anything you might see in a triple-A game.

If you touch it your brain explodes (Level 4)

Level 4 greets us with another, more dangerous, ambush. We've seen a few enemies with guns so far, but they're going to be more and more common from here on out. The facility guards all have microchips in their brains, and the rogue AI running the place is making them hunt us down. While it pays to be careful even in the early levels, anybody with a firearm can kill us in a few seconds, so paranoia is an invaluable skill from here on out.

Meeting a patrol of armed guards for the first time was when I realized Teleglitch wasn't fucking around, and I think this is where players decide if they want to stick the game out or not. Guards can take your health to zero before you even realize that they're there. For some that's frustrating, but I always enjoy a game that is willing to be internally consistent, even if that alienates players. Guns do just as much damage in your hands as in theirs. The approach to guns is probably the game's most unique feature. There may well be other games like it, but I haven't seen them. If you right click with a gun selected, your character slows down and a line is drawn from character to cursor. It simulates putting the sight up to your eye. This isn't your line of fire, though. Teleglitch's combat is made significantly more difficult by the fact that bullets come from the gun itself; they're usually slightly off center. The quirky aiming makes sense, because the protagonist is not a well-trained soldier, and it also gives each weapon a unique feel.

Aiming the gun also allows you to see further ahead than the normal camera does, and it's a good idea to exploit this as much as possible. There is an inherent tension to aiming a gun into an unfamiliar hallway, even if there are no enemies, and I find myself aiming most of the time, only stopping if I need to run away or if I'm sure the area is safe.

Left clicking while aiming unleashes a barrage of light, noise, and distortion that is simultaneously disorienting and satisfying. Teleglitch really convinces you of the power of these weapons, and the visual effects leap out from the lo-fi pixel art.

All of the game's projectile weapons use actual projectiles; there are no hitscan weapons. You get to watch each bullet miss or hit the enemies, and it opens up the possibility of strafing some attacks.

Visible bullets make combat weightier still, but this also forces us to consider the fact of limited ammo. Weapons are powerful if they are used effectively, and ammo is a scarce resource. It may not seem that way at first, but you can spend bullets a lot faster than you can find them. One of the game's Steam reviews puts it really well: in lots of games you might conserve ammo thinking you'll need it for some future boss, and often that boss never shows up. In Teleglitch, there is a place for every single bullet you pick up.

So there's another layer in this lasagna of tension (who writes this shit) that Teleglitch is building. To survive, we must scrounge up every resource we can, stay completely focused on the sounds, decide what precious crafting materials to spend, aim as accurately as possible, and avoid getting killed.

If that wasn't enough, there are more facets of combat to consider. The inventory is colour coded, so you can generally pick out what type of item you have selected, even under pressure. However, if you need to pivot to a different gun mid-combat you have to navigate the inventory with some precision. The game has an armor system, so it sometimes pays to kill softer zombies with the 9mm SMG then switch to a rifle mid-combat for a stronger enemy.

The best thing to do is just memorize the order of your guns as well as possible and use the number keys to switch, but I still find myself freaking out and using the wrong item fairly often. If you accidentally drop a bomb at your feet, which happens more often than you'd think, it may well be game over.

Reloading a gun also takes time, and you have to have the gun selected to progress the reload. Effectively, reloading always leaves you defenseless, and this adds some more nuance to the crafting. You may want to avoid the high-capacity minigun and stick with the stock MG3200, because reloading the minigun takes a long time. Because inventory space is limited, it makes sense to have just one gun per ammo type, so there's another opportunity to strategize.

Also, crafted guns may not be objectively better than their constituent parts. Sometimes they switch ammo types, like the six-trigger revolver that requires a shotgun to craft, or they have differences in accuracy. The aforementioned minigun can fire a lot of bullets, but they have a wider spread than the slower MG3200.

I noticed a small point in the game's lore that I quite like: the guns we pick up were all designed by Militech to be modifiable and interoperable. The weapon crafting is contextualized as mass-produced gun Lego, and that also explains how the protagonist makes some of the crazier weapons like the six-trigger revolver.

Level 5

The guns bring our attention to Teleglitch's visuals. I waited until now to discuss them because I think its graphics need to be seen in context with the other elements I've talked about.

In some ways, Teleglitch's graphics are incredibly low-fidelity. The player character is made up of only ten pixels. One of the advantages of this style is that it allowed the developers to implement new items, enemies, and rooms more quickly, and they say as much in interviews. But that doesn't make it lazy; it has a consistent and distinct art direction that evokes the same corporate minimalism and efficiency as the menus. It's an industrial style for an industrial environment, and while there's not a lot for me to say about it, I like the way Teleglitch looks.

The game's graphics also allow it to create a sense of scale. We know that a human is about 4 pixels by 4 pixels, which barely occupies any screen real estate. The War Walkers, then, are augmented to be more than two times our size. Later enemies and bosses are even bigger.

By the way, this is where you would normally fight the War Walkers for the first time. The encounter is actually easier than the secret in level 3, but is still an incredibly difficult challenge for newcomers. Sadly for the boss, I have discovered the power of the can gun.

{== show it ==}

Here's my previous run, where I accidentally blew myself up.

{== show it ==}

[^1]Since the art is so simple, it draws our focus to movement rather than the still environment. This is enhanced by the enemies, who tend to have distinct colours that pop out from the greys and browns of the facility. The low resolution makes sound all the more crucial, especially when visual effects make the screen difficult to read.

And the visual effects are what attracted me to Teleglitch in the first place. They are striking even today. Bullets leave the gun white-hot, and the muzzle flash takes advantage of the game's lighting system. Space around the bullets seems to warp, and jolts of chromatic aberration drive home the power of each weapon. A similar effect is used with the Teleglitch anomaly.

Lighting goes a long way to sell the facility as real; darkness is never used to hide information from you, but there's a solid contrast between light and shadow and most areas are inconsistently lit. The lighting adds depth to the pixel art, and it is occasionally used to draw our attention to doors in some of the more open spaces. Flickering lights remind us of the fact that the place is quickly falling apart; in the protagonist's reflections we learn that the facility's life support systems are failing fast.

Because of its visual effects, I don't think "retro" is the right term to describe Teleglitch; none of the effects follow the pixel grid of the graphics, and I'm pretty sure a lot of the game is rendered in 3D, like the black towers that rise from the walls to block our view.

Those towers are actually important; Teleglitch builds a lot of its immersion by establishing the protagonist's perspective, and part of that perspective is what you can see at any given time. The black bars block your vision so that you can only see what is in your character's line of sight. Again, this stresses the importance of listening over seeing, and it forces players to methodically check every crevice of a room before they can be sure it's safe. I believe one of the reasons Teleglitch looks as unique as it does is that it was programmed by Johann Tael in a custom C++ engine. Obviously the developers had a vision, and I don't want to undersell the genius that went into the game, but games developed in off-the-shelf engines often have small fingerprints or tells that a custom engine does not. The phrase "Unity game" was used dismissively for quite a while, and one reason for this is that a lot of Unity games made by hobbyists used the same player movement code. They all played the same way and felt "like Unity games".

That baggage isn't something Teleglitch has to deal with, and programming from scratch let Test3 do essentially whatever they wanted. Frameworks like those provided by Unity or GameMaker have a tendency to shape development, since most people will work within the bounds of the given tools. People still make amazing, unique games like Cruelty Squad in off-the-shelf engines, but I think programming from scratch increases the chances of creating something really original, and Teleglitch's visual effects are a prime example of that.

Level 6

I don't know if this comes across, but Teleglitch is an extremely difficult game. I compared it to some other games you may have heard of, based on the percentage of players who have the Steam achievement for completing the game. If we want to make a really crude comparison, Teleglitch is four times harder than Rain World, and 17 times harder than Hotline Miami 2. Apparently Teleglitch was given out for free at some point, so let's say 4% of players have beaten it instead of the listed 1.9%.

{== I normalized the completion percentage by comparing the achievement for beating level 1 with similar achievements in RW/HM2 ==}

I had planned to wade into a broader discussion of difficulty, but I really don't have anything to add, and the whole issue has been swallowed by the culture war at this point. I'll just say that I think Teleglitch would not be worth playing if it were easier than it is, and take this opportunity to talk about why I like difficult games.

If you spend a lot of time at a computer, it's pretty easy to get distracted. PCs present us with basically infinite possibilities for distraction at all times. I don't use my phone much, but it's a similar situation there. Like many people, I end up doing two or three things at once and not really paying attention to any of them. For example, I took a short break from writing before starting this script and spent a couple evenings playing an excellent game called Noita while watching videos.

In a state like that you can get a feel for whether or not you like a game, but it's difficult to really engage with it. A difficult game can uniquely break the white noise entertainment trance and force me to engage with it. Making an intentionally hard game also takes confidence in the underlying systems, and shows a willingness to be enjoyed by only a few people. There's a reason we call hard games uncompromising.

Game mechanics create a whole set of possible challenges for players, and I enjoy playing games that explore those possibilities in full. With some games, that means they end up being really difficult; the brilliance of something like Arika's Tetris: the Grand Master series is that its challenges exhaust everything a player can do with its mechanics, and consequently Tetris the Grand Master 3 is survival horror at its best.

With Teleglitch, it was the sound cues that made me give it my full attention; the game makes it clear that you can only get through it by using every single tool it gives you. Playing it is the antithesis of distraction, it insists that you take it seriously.

But just paying attention isn't enough. Something really special that I have only experienced in difficult games is that they can force you to change your thinking. A game like Dark Souls, which is not super difficult mechanically, got it's reputation because you can't approach it like a typical action game. You have to slow down and think about the situation as though you're really there. So too with Teleglitch; it transports the player because they have to engage with the world as though they are really there.

Anyway, I accidentally walked into this terrifying boss fight early. The level 6 boss marks the point where the entire game turns into one endless boss fight. The boss enemies do have a lot of health, but the only thing that really demarcates the boss fights is the locked rooms they take place in. There are enemies in the next level that kill faster than any of the bosses.

I really like that Teleglitch doesn't give you an easy ride to the teleporter after you kill the boss, it stresses that the facilities are industrial sites and not levels in a game. Most games would relent for a minute or two after such a terrifying encounter, but Teleglitch never does. The biggest danger is that illusion of safety that we might get from dispatching a boss.

Level 7 (Dead people or dead animals on drugs)

I haven't really gotten into the text of Teleglitch's story, but I do like it a lot. Text is doled out in small segments that we can find at terminals throughout the facility, and it includes descriptions of weapons and enemies as well as logs left by scientists. Once you discover a piece of the story it gets saved to the info screen for later. For me, each segment was just long enough that I didn't want to read it during gameplay, and in retrospect I kind of regret ignoring most of them.

They paint a picture of a pretty horrific place where some sort of disaster was bound to happen eventually, and the enemies we fight demonstrate this well. Medusa 1-C's main product is reanimated soldiers. Advances in science have allowed zombies to be mass produced and used for labour purposes. The lore makes it clear that the zombies still retain human traits; there's a description of child zombies playing games instead of training. Their personalities, described coolly as errors, are suppressed with heavy doses of automatically administered drugs, and they quickly die from stress if these drugs are not used.

These zombies are also augmented with lab-grown tissue and good old steel armor. There seems to be a lot of grafting going on and this explains some of the larger zombies. The mutants are a similar phenomenon; they appear to be assembled from living tissue, dead tissue, and machinery, and are then cloned en masse.

The reanimated soldiers are Militech's main product, but the facility is also home to industrial and military robots. They are less existentially horrifying than the zombies, but are often much more dangerous. I'll be showing you some of them in a bit.

Our main threat is the facility's AI, which has been infected by a mysterious virus. The experiment that kicked this whole thing off involved unlimited-range teleportation. According to the logs this would normally require infinite computing power, but Militech scientists thought they had found a solution. Their first test was to teleport a single molecule from the other side of the universe into the facility. The small size was supposed to ensure that they couldn't accidentally teleport a living thing.

Apparently they were wrong, as something alive came through the teleporter and infected the facility AI. The AI then hunted down and killed or microchipped everyone it could find; all of the humans we encounter are being remote-controlled by the AI.

Even before the incident, no one seems to have a grasp of how AI really works, or what its limitations are. Every AI that has been allowed to interface with the world directly has killed itself, and Militech has only solved this problem by tricking artificial intelligences; they create fake, simplified worlds that the AI inhabit. Similar problems occur with the reanimated soldiers: they constantly die from stress or start killing people.

Production in Teleglitch's world does a great job of mirroring our own; developing a product is about getting it out the door and selling it to as many people as possible. The technical flaws that put people in danger and the ethical concerns behind the manufacturing are totally secondary to the profit motive.

{== could show my monitor here, vs. the CRT ==} The quality of products has declined over the last century, and depending on your temperament you might blame this on outsourced manufacturing, or low-quality materials, or some metaphysical fall from grace that has happened in a place called "the West" which can include or exclude any number of different countries depending on how racist you feel on a given day. What Teleglitch understands is that low quality, dangerous products are not a fall from grace or a mistake.

{++ videos of Teslas exploding? ++} Our system is meant to generate profits, and one way of doing that is by swapping parts for cheaper substitutes that do the same thing. It's called value engineering. Not only does this create a secondary market for repairs and replacements, but it saves money in the manufacturing process. Competition between companies means that they're all incentivized to keep up with each other on production cost.

In this light, the proliferation of cheap garbage does not mean the system has failed, it actually means that it's developing according to its own internal logic. When our totally apolitical scientists manage to reactivate necrotic tissue, you can bet some genius entrepreneur will literally sell you a rotting corpse.

Teleglitch's horror stems from the fact that its threats were all made by humanity. The facility is not some alien thing that's out to get us, but a death factory we are trapped within. It is our own production alienated from us and pitted against us; a technical perfection of violence striking back at its creators. It has a horrific character because it is still familiar to us; the zombies are still shaped like people, the robots were made to assist us. The game occupies an uncanny valley between familiar and alien.

Estonia (Level 8)

We're coming up to the end here, and in lieu of a big conclusion about the game I want to tie Teleglitch back to Estonia, the country where it was developed. I might be totally wrong about this, but connections between the game and Estonia's history started appearing to me as I researched the country. Even if my conclusions are crazy, Estonia's story is fascinating.

Estonia is a country that borders on the Baltic sea. The oldest known settlement in the area is 11,000 years old but we'll skip ahead a little to the beginning of the 13th century. Estonian society was organized around agriculture, and although there were wealthier elites and tribal elders, the majority of the native population were free farmers. In 1199, the pope started a crusade in the Baltics.

Despite significant resistance, Estonia was eventually taken over by a number of well-armed factions, notably the Holy Roman Empire, the King of Denmark, and an order of German Catholic knights called the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. {== there was a territory map on Wikipedia ==} With them came German merchants who established themselves as a nobility. They owned most of Estonia's land and started extracting taxes from the native farmers. Over time this evolved into widespread serfdom, which is a form of debt slavery. Despite the crusade's supposed goal of Christianizing the area, the Bible was not published in the Estonian language until 1739.

The next five centuries were marked by the erosion of rights for the native Estonians, and endless wars for control of the land. Russia, Denmark, Sweden, and Poland continually devastated the country and its population. The German nobility were totally fine, of course, but the Estonians were repeatedly wiped out by the conflicts. The Great Northern War of 1700-1710, which coincided with a famine and the plague, put Russia in decisive control of the region. It also wiped out 58% of the country's population, about 230,000 deaths.

Under Russian rule, things slowly got better for the Estonians. Since the country was no longer burning, starving, and rotting, peasants were able to organize stronger revolts against the nobility. A good chunk of the peasantry gained ownership of their land, and controls were put in place to stop lords from taking exorbitant taxes. There was also a significant growth of the Estonian population in the towns, which set the stage for native scholarship.

Around 1860 German scholars conducted the first research into Estonian language and culture. The Estonian writer Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald {++ freedrich reinhold krowtzwald ++} consulted this research to produce Kalevipoeg, {++ callay-vee-poyg ++} a poem which is now considered Estonia's national epic. These and other developments caused Estonians to slowly gain a consciousness of themselves as a nation for the first time. The period of national awakening coincided with reforms that weakened the political power of the German nobility and elevated Estonians.

The spirit of the Russian revolution made its way to Estonia in 1905, and it gave rise to mass political discussion in the country. The industrial sector was growing and the revolution gave birth to a political consciousness in the industrial proletariat. Infighting caused the movement to fizzle for awhile, until the Russian Tsar's government collapsed in 1917 and Estonia finally declared its independence, becoming the Republic of Estonia in 1920.

What happens when you subjugate and exploit a people for 700 years? Estonian national consciousness was a tool that liberated the country, but it developed into one of the strongest eugenics movements in the world. The prominent Estonian politician Jakob Hurt conceived of the nation as an organism as far back as the 1870s, and this is a typical line of reasoning in eugenics. The argument goes: if the nation is an organism, it should destroy its defective cells. In practice, eugenics laws did not appear in Estonia until 1936, but ideas about racial purity were latent in the movement for Estonian independence.

Eugenics didn't get very far because World War 2 broke out, and the country was quickly occupied by the Soviets from 1940-41, then by Germany from 1941-44, then by the Soviets again until the USSR collapsed in 1991. Industry developed rapidly under Stalin and by the 1950s industrial workers outnumbered farmers for the first time.

After regaining independence, Estonia saw a sharp economic downturn that was typical of post-Soviet countries. By the time 2010 rolled around Estonia was in a recession made worse by the American real estate collapse. Unemployment hovered around 12% in 2012, when a game called Teleglitch was released.

Estonia's history bears the scars of intense, unrelenting evils perpetrated against it. The point of all this, as always, is profit through exploitation. Its people were thrown into the awful violence of world history by a force larger than them, which suddenly enclosed them in a foreign social structure. They were serfs, struggling against tides of pointless land-grab wars—violence which confronted them as an alien thing with a human face.

Except for a few precious decades the country's future has been determined by others. Estonians adapted, and they have never stopped revolting, but for so long they lived in a land and society molded by the interests of an occupying nobility and far-off monarchs. The country's architecture is a fingerprint of its invaders—the Catholics left behind their gothic castles, the imperial Germans and Russians built towns in their styles, and the landscape is dotted with Soviet military buildings. Today the ominous skyscrapers of neoliberalism dominate the capital city of Tallinn, {++ tah-lin ++} a monument to the new kings of global finance.

Estonian social studies curriculum refers to the country's "ancient fight for freedom," and to me Teleglitch is a game that expresses that idea to its fullest. It imagines the protagonist trapped in a cathedral of exploitation, where human dignity is systematically denied through reactivation and brain implants. The fight, at all times, appears to be impossible; we're trapped in something that's more complex and dangerous than we can possibly imagine. But we fight anyway.

Level 9 (End of the road)

I've made it this far three times, and I always find myself holding my breath. Getting here is no joke, it's a significant investment of time and focus. We have all of our tools, all of the skills and techniques developed over the course of playing, and the rest is execution. I've talked a lot about what Teleglitch is, but these final levels show off its greatest heights, so enjoy.

Level 10

[^1]: session 1 stopping point