PAX Prime 2014: The Talos Principle Q&A With Tom Jubert

The Talos Principle was one of the shiniest indie games I saw at PAX this year. Sure, other games looked good and ran smooth, but graphically, The Talos Principle blows them out of the water. Some people, apparently, even gave it guff that it didn’t look indie enough to be considered an indie game. Really people? Just because it’s not made of super-bright pixels it’s not indie? Let’s get over our preconceived notions here and accept shiny engines too!

The first day I saw this game there were several people playing and fumbling around with the given set of puzzles and I was there for a good while watching. It was probably after a good 20 minutes of chewing the fat with one of the devs that I gave up on waiting and said I’d come back the next day. I’m glad I did. This was a very fun and imaginative puzzle game. I’m a fan of lasers and thinking puzzles and The Talos Principle also gave me the same vibe as when I played Portal. The biggest issue experienced was with not knowing all of the mechanics and how to connect multiple things to the laser stand thing. (Sorry for all of the technical mumbo-jumbo.) I hope you enjoy the read!

There's some great atmosphere in this game. Unfortunately for me, in the demo all the doors were blocked save one.

The Videogame Backlog: [Let’s] start with who you are.

Tom Jubert (Freelance Narrative Designer): My name is Tom Jubert, I’m a freelance narrative designer, currently working on The Talos Principle and I previously worked on The Swapper, FTL and Penumbra.

TVGBL: Oh, I know a few of those games; that’s awesome! Question about The Talos Principle. Could you give us the basic rundown of it? If that’s possible…

Tom: The Talos Principle is the new game from the Serious Sam developers: Croteam, and it’s a first person, philosophical puzzler. In the game you are dropped into a, what the publisher calls ‘an anachronistic juxtaposition‘ which means that we have this kind of archaic looking architecture mixed up with this sort of synthetic sci-fi technology. It feels like an odd world, an artificial world and a voice booms* down from the heavens and says, ‘I am your creator. I created this world and I created the challenges here for you to prove yourself to me.’ And through the course of the game you solve puzzles and make up your own mind about why you’re really doing these things. There will be opportunities to express your philosophy and to raise skeptical concerns about some of the things that some of the characters in the game are trying to tell you.

*EDIT: It took me a long while and a second opinion to understand what I had recorded here and for a while I had it written that ‘a voice spoons down from the heavens’.

TVGBL: That’s a bit more over-the-head than I was expecting. What exactly, other than getting to the end… is there multiple endings to this?

Tom: There are. [We] have a number of endings based on the sort of philosopher you are. It’s not a game where there’s a right answer to the philosophy. It’s more a case of, well there will be some players that will go into the game with a set of philosophical ideas and never doubt them. By the end of the game, all of the ideas are the same ideas, but there will be other players who go in and say something and then immediately start to doubt that and they maybe change their mind. Those are two very different philosophers and they need a very different narrative experience to get something meaningful out of it.

Lasers! (Not the deadly kind though; the friendly help-you-solve-a-puzzle kind.)
Lasers! (Not the deadly kind though; the friendly help-you-solve-a-puzzle kind.)

TVGBL: I’m more of a black and white guy, so would I miss out on some of this stuff?

Tom: I think that if you’re a black and white guy it’ll be… you’ll be challenged because a lot of these things aren’t immediately black and white or at least hopefully when you play the game [it will make you doubt because] the answers are not so straight forward. That’s the idea. We all make these assumptions that ‘I’m special because I’m a human being’ or ‘I’m moral because I do this’ or ‘I don’t care about morality, all that matters is me’ and it can seem black and white, but I reckon I’m going to challenge that in the game.

TVGBL: This might be a bit much, but what is the inspiration for The Talos Principle?

Tom: It’s very much a whole bunch of stuff. As far as Croteam goes, the guys were kind of messing around with door lock mechanics for Serious Sam 4 and then they found that the mechanics were so much fun, they spun it off into The Talos Principle and then I think they looked at the world and realized there wasn’t a story that makes sense [in this] weird world with these cerebral challenges in it. It’s not going to be an arcade story, it’s got to be something a bit sci-fi, a bit thinky, something that reflects the themes of the gameplay really. That’s where it comes from and the influences are really everything from the garden of Eden story to Cartesian skepticism to ancient Greek mythology about robots and academic philosophy from the current day on philosophy of mind and consciousness…

TVGBL: You seem to be pulling from a lot of different places.

Tom: Yeh, this is unlike The Swapper or Bioshock or something like that. This isn’t such a focused experience. It’s not something where we have this core philosophy we want to push at you, it’s just an exploration space and hopefully everyone gets something a bit different.

The Talos Cat

TVGLB: I like that. Soooo… what’s with the cat?

Tom: (laughs) The cat is actually one of our lead guy’s, mother-in-law’s cat. I love Croteam because they do… I’m a freelance narrative designer so I’m attached. That’s why I say they instead of us, but I’m part of the team. Every other game I work on of this scale, there’s a marketing department that do a whole bunch of marketing stuff that has nothing to do with the game really. I love Croteam because they just thought, ‘Hey! We’ve got a robot in this game and a cat is the opposite of a robot… let’s just put it together on a poster! Let’s do it!’ No triple-A studio would do that!

TVGBL: It makes enough sense.

Tom: I love it. I do love it.

TVGBL: What are you looking forward to the most, as far as someone picking up the game and experiencing?

Tom: Personally, it’s definitely the interactive dialog. Sitting here at PAX, watching people go through those dialog trees, it’s great because [I’ve been really free and] Croteam’s given me a lot of leeway to do a lot of crazy stuff with the narrative. A bit like the cat you know? They just want to go for it and see what happens. I’d just like to see people get to a computer terminal and think that it’s like a command line interface. They think that it’s a stupid machine and then the look on their faces when they realize that there’s actually conversation to be had here. There’s a character behind the words. That’s wonderful. It’s nice to mess around with people, sass them around a little bit. That’s my favorite.


TVGBL: I did enjoy the narrative quite a bit. I was kind of surprised where it was coming from though, but I did enjoy it. I’m looking forward to the rest of it. And this is out…

Tom: This year.

TVGBL: So other than the PC, what’s this coming out for?

Tom: Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4 and the new shield tablets. It runs really nice on tablets, it’s pretty much the PC version, but it’s click to move. It’s great actually. It’s a great tube/train game.

TVGBL: Thank you for your time.

Tom: Thank you.

It is a fun game and I do look forward to picking this up to support fun ideas like this! They also tout over 120 levels and laser-puzzle-fun-have(ery)! That’s got to get you in the mood, no?

Jonathan Amarelo Sig

Love it or hate it, let me know!