After Morgan deals with the mess in Cargo Bay, she moves on to Life Support. Here she bumps into ex-girlfriend Mikhaila Ilyushin.
Mikhaila is currently slumped on the floor, paralyzed in her extremities. She has a rare neurological condition called Paraplexis. She’s fine as long as she gets regular medication, but with the station in disarray she’s missed her dose and is thus helpless.
People with this condition are excluded from orbital duty, but Mikhaila faked some paperwork to get around that. She began dating Morgan at one point, and eventually Morgan found out.
Morgan broke off the relationship because she was about to enter the testing program where she would be memory-wiped over and over, and you can’t really maintain a relationship while that sort of nonsense is going on. At the same time, she never gave Mikhaila a reason for the break-up, so Mikhaila sort of assumed she was being dumped because of her condition. So the entire situation was mostly awkwardness all around.
We need Mikhaila’s help right now because Alex has locked down the entire station. She has a plan to shut down the entire reactor and start it up again to clear the lockdown. I don’t know if we should be using Windows 95 troubleshooting techniques on a nuclear reactor, but Mikhaila is the expert and she seems to think it’ll work.
The Old Morgan
Over in the adjacent RPG genre, players usually expect to be able to choose the sexual orientation of their character. For example, having a Mass Effect game where the main character could only be a straight woman would be a huge no-no. Gender / orientation is really important to a lot of people. It’s one thing when you’re watching a movie, but it’s another thing when you’re inhabiting a specific character within the story. Some people will get uncomfortable if you force them into the shoes of someone with a different sexuality alignment and then shove them into a romance. Other people will feel excluded if you don’t include their alignment. Others don’t seem to care one way or another and are happy to go through whatever pairing the game throws at them, as long as it makes for a good story. Still others don’t care what the rest of you horny teenagers do, as long as there’s a way to opt out of the entire romance thing.
Even if the player is aligned with their character on the gender / orientation matrix, there’s still the chance that the player just won’t take a shine to their romantic partner. Again, it’s fine if I don’t agree with a movie character regarding who they decide to smooch, but it’s another matter entirely if I’m going to be the one doing the smooching. This holds true even outside of the RPG genre. Designers need to be careful with what sorts of things they make the player do, because there’s a huge difference between watching a character kiss someone and being a character kissing someone. This distinction cuts to the heart of the difference between games and movies.
I ran into this problem in Metro: Last Light. In that story, the protagonist Artyom hooks up with a woman named Anna. I strongly disliked her as a person and wanted nothing to do with her, so I really hated sitting through the first person scenes of their romance. Artyom, I don’t care if you want to make out with this obnoxious jerk, but please do it when I’m not riding shotgun, okay? Just let me out here and come pick me up when the two of you are done.
It’s complicated tracking what people are willing to do, what they’d like to do, and what it’s possible for them to do. A game designer probably can’t reflect every choice people want to make – particularly when operating on a AAA scale with AAA assets – but in general it’s nice when a game offers players lots of choices so most people can find something they’re comfortable with.
Here in Prey, Morgan is always Mikhaila’s ex. Which means that if you’re male Morgan you’re straight, and if you’re female then you’re a lesbian.Or bisexual or whatever. You can see what I’m getting at. I don’t need to map the whole thing out here. Normally this would violate the above idea by shoving you into shoes that potentially make you uncomfortable, as it were.
But Prey has an interesting way of dealing with past-Morgan. Within the game, past-Morgan is very much her own person, and she’s explicitly different from the player’s Morgan. Past-Morgian is supposed to feel alien to you. It’s fine if the player objects with “Hey! I’m not a lesbian!” You’re probably not a murderer either, but past-Morgan totally was, and coming to terms with that is part of the struggle that present-Morgan has to deal with. In fact, I think a version of the game where you’re uncomfortable with the orientation or preferences of past-Morgan makes for a more interesting story because it turns up the volume on the central questions about who Morgan is and how the neuromods have changed her.
The game leaves you free to define present-Morgan however you like. Maybe past-Morgan was into her, but you’re free to decide that Mikhaila isn’t your type.
Time to Take Your Medicine!
You’re free to leave Mikhaila to her fate and let her disability kill her, or you can backtrack a bit, go on a spacewalk, and recover her medicine. The game offers this choice without comment, which I really appreciate. Then again, the developer feels the need to put their thumb on the scale. From inside the station you can see some juicy neuromods floating just outside her office, thus giving you an explicit reward for taking the high road. Like, even if you don’t care about Mikhaila and you’re happy to let her die, you’re probably not going to want to leave that loot floating out there. And if you’re going to get the loot, then you might as well take an extra six seconds and grab her medication floating in the next room.
I think this is actually a pretty sloppy move on the part of the game designer, but I’ll come back to this topic when we get to the end of the game.
And speaking of doing the right thing, let’s jump ahead a bit. If you save Mikhaila, then she will eventually make her way back to Morgan’s office. Then later, once things have stabilized a bit, she’ll give you a sidequest. The entire reason she hid her disease was because she wanted to be stationed here on Talos-1. Her father was sent here as a political prisoner and she wants to know what happened to him. She seems to suspect that he’s long dead, but she still wants the messy details, which should be available in the archives in Deep Storage. (This sidequest is available once you’ve cleared the lockdown and can return to Deep Storage without worrying you’ll get locked in again.)
If you choose to do the job, then January will phone you up quietly to let you know that, “Hey, by the way. You might not want to pull on this particular thread. If you do choose to go to Deep Storage then it would really be in your best interest to delete these records.”
The record in question is an audio recording of Morgan running a Cerberus-style test where she feeds people to the Typhon to test the effects of feeding them to the Typhon. You can hear Papa Ilyushin, knowing full well that he’s about to die, demanding that his captors look him in the eye and acknowledge the evil they are doing. After the test reaches its incredibly predictable conclusion, past-Morgan makes some perfectly clinical comments and wanders off. This is no big deal to her, and you get the sense that she’s done a lot of these.
Like I said, past-Morgan was not a nice person, and coming to terms with that is an important part of the game.
Assuming present-Morgan – the Morgan piloted by the player who is most likely not a closet Nazi researcher – is not okay with Morgan’s past deeds, this puts the player is a bit of a pickle. You can be a total bastard and delete this incredibly damning evidence, thus concealing your crime and denying Mikhaila the closure she deserves. Or you can be a total dumbass and send her the recording, thus earning her hatred forever. She even promises not to play the recording until you get back to your office, so the two of you can listen to it together.
I’m not sure what she’s thinking here. She knows this is a recording of her father’s death. Even if Morgan was blameless, the gruesome death of your father in a twisted science experiment isn’t a hallmark greeting. This isn’t a sharable moment.
If you give her the recording, then she turns on you. She promises to see you brought to justice once everyone gets back to Earth. I think it’s rather sporting of her to wait until everyone is safe, and doubly so that she’s willing to take the high road. Realistically, I think Morgan ought to spend the rest of the trip looking over her shoulder. There’s so many ways to die out here. You never know when an equipment malfunction might incapacitate you, like your space suit failing to stop the bullets when your ex-girlfriend shoots you in the back a few steps shy of your escape pod.
The game only gives you the option to send the data (thus telling her everything) or delete the data (leaving her with nothing) even though it ought to be possible to weasel out of this. Morgan’s voice doesn’t show up until the very end, so it ought to be possible to exonerate your past self with some judicious editing. You might argue that it would strain credulity that Morgan could do real-time audio editing like this, but that ship has already sailed. We did exactly that back when we needed Danielle Sho’s vocal samples to bypass that nonsense she pulled with the door to Deep Storage. If we can synthesize her voice from vocal samples, then trimming the last six seconds off an audio recording ought to be super easy.
Even if we can’t tamper with the recording, we’re once again faced with a situation where our silent protagonist would benefit from the ability to talk. You ought to be able to delete the record and then make up some bullshit to tell Mikhaila.
Oh, according to the records, he was assigned to the Adorable Children and Puppies Division, where he spent his days teaching games and folksy wisdom to the next generation of cosmonauts. Then one day he hit his head while cleaning out the Zero-G Ball Pit. You know how he was. We had janitors for that sort of work, but he cared so much about the kids that he insisted on doing everything himself. The blow to the head was really sudden. Instant death. I don’t know what the deal is. Maybe the springs on the door were too strong.
Everyone was so gutted. We had a great big funeral for him. The kids cried their eyes out. I’m sure if the rest of the crew was alive they’d tell you that papa Ilyushin was like a dad to us all.
Or whatever. The point is that if you’re willing to delete the data to escape justice, then there’s no reason for you to leave Mikhaila with nothing. If you’re a big enough weasel to lie to the woman, then you’re probably also smart enough to cook up a satisfying lie. If you can devise a story to give her some closure, then maybe she’ll stop digging and your secret will remain safe in the future. Then again, since you’re planning on turning the place into a big firework when you leave, I guess your secrets are pretty safe either way. Still, why not soothe her with an impossible-to-disprove story that offers closure and doesn’t implicate you?
Anyway, jumping back to where we left off…
You can get her medicine, or you can leave her to die. But either way, she walks you through the steps of restarting the reactor. I have to say that the nuclear reactors of 2035 are amazingly turnkey.
The station goes dark and loses gravity while the reactor is down. It’s actually kind of unnerving. The weightlessness and darkness aren’t new to Morgan, but it’s kind of alarming to realize that all of the survivors are going through this, and most of them have no idea why. For all they know, the power is off for good.
Getting it all going again is a huge relief.Until you notice all the technopaths that spawned when the lights were out. Yikes. Once the power is on, the station returns to normal operation. The lockdown is cleared and all the doors work again.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping Alex from initiating another lockdown. Luckily, he calls you up and offers congratulations and promises to stay out of your way. I guess that’s better than the two of you playing tug-of-war with the station, where he keeps locking everything and you keep resetting the reactor. I imagine that would wear thin quickly for the rest of the crew, sitting there while the lights blink on and off and the Yu siblings bicker.
I think this moment is something of a relief for Alex. Sure, you circumvented his lockdown, but you did so by doing something dangerous, creating a bunch of additional structural damage, and putting the rest of the crew at risk. That sort of move reminds him of Old Morgan, his amoral pre-mindwipe sibling who wasn’t afraid to break a few eggs and murder a few trifling political prisoners in the name of gathering banal metrics on Typhon predation habits.
Just like old times, Morgan!
 Or bisexual or whatever. You can see what I’m getting at. I don’t need to map the whole thing out here.
 Until you notice all the technopaths that spawned when the lights were out. Yikes.
Quakecon Keynote 2013 Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.
The Brilliance of Mass Effect
What is "Domino Worldbuilding" and how did it help to make Mass Effect one of the most interesting settings in modern RPGs?
I Was Wrong About Borderlands 3
I really thought one thing, but then something else. There's a bunch more to it, but you'll have to read the article.
Why Google sucks, and what made me switch to crowdfunding for this site.
The Disappointment Engine
No Man's Sky is a game seemingly engineered to create a cycle of anticipation and disappointment.