A Puzzle Game With Roots in Resnais and Resident Evil

The puzzle game Lorelei and the Laser Eyes opens with the protagonist — a well-dressed woman with the solemnity of a catwalk model — inside a forest where boreal owls roam. Ahead looms a secluded hotel whose secrets include art exhibits, mathematical puzzles and a pettable Labrador.

That mysterious estate, which has its roots in horror games like Resident Evil, is a place shaped as much by its own architecture as by character psychology and surrealism.

In addition to reflections about the medium itself, Lorelei contains traces of postmodern novels and the cinema of the French New Wave. The video game is “like wandering in memories and dreams,” said Simon Flesser, one of the founders of the game’s developer, Simogo.

Simogo has acknowledged an eclectic list of inspirations, including “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “Twin Peaks: The Return,” The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and John Fowles’s 1965 novel, “The Magus.”

Other references include the parallel realities in Paul Auster’s fiction and the enigmas of “Last Year at Marienbad,” an Alain Resnais film from the early 1960s in which characters explore palatial spaces and contemplate the past. (The name of the game’s hotel is Letztes Jahr, which is German for “Last Year.”)

The minigames within Lorelei almost included Nim, an ancient combinatorial game that appears in “Last Year at Marienbad.” In the film, memories intrude and elude; interpersonal dynamics shift unpredictably, like Nim’s matchsticks. Yesterday’s pastime is tomorrow’s existential crisis.

“It’s a labyrinth of a movie,” Flesser said. “You always have new ideas about what it is. And I think that’s a thing that we want for this game.”

Lorelei, which is available on the PC and the Switch, has a metatextual quality. Glimpses of the past emerge in vignettes modeled after retro computer games, and stashed within the hotel are documents about a piece of software called Lorelei and the Laser Eyes.

“Media and entertainment become their own realities,” Flesser said. “We sort of find ourselves in them.”

The developer Sam Barlow, whose own work combines interactivity, literature and cinema, is a fan of Simogo’s games. He viewed Lorelei as a story about trying to remember, and said he was intrigued by its ritualistic use of motifs. A set of fetishized years in Lorelei are connected to many puzzle-related objects, including piano keys, a grandfather clock and the gates to an orangery.

Playing the game is akin to a compulsive turning over of details, a retracing of past events involving a fateful collaboration with a filmmaker — and a subterranean supercomputer.

In one kinetic series of puzzles, the player uses movie cameras to find patterns hidden in art installations.

According to the game’s twisty story, these decades-old installations were created by an artist named Lorelei Weiss. Curiously, an older Weiss seems to reside in the hotel as a bedridden convalescent. Then again, Flesser says the characters are never unambiguously identified.

“There’s a thesis at play in the game that is connecting the high and low arts and is going, look, ‘There is actually a huge similarity between the puzzle-box mansion of a Resident Evil and an art installation,’” Barlow said.

With its locked doors and elegant interiors, the manor of the first Resident Evil (1996) is at once a brain-teasing riddle and an artisanal spectacle. The player must study, use and repurpose objects; vestiges of the past haunt the halls.

The similarities with Lorelei do not end there. As with the early Resident Evil games, most of the camera positions in Lorelei are fixed and cinematic. Elsewhere, looser camerawork tracks the protagonist as the player guides her past the rippling walls of a maze. Flesser said he was interested in what a camera could be in the video game sphere.

“It feels like we’ve just said: ‘OK, we’ve solved the 3-D camera now, just let the player control the camera,’” Flesser said.

(The filmmaker Gus Van Sant has also pondered the potential of video game cameras, noting the way the camera in Tomb Raider, the 1996 game, “swings and swims around, always keeping the central figure somewhere in the middle of the frame.” He dreamed of bringing this effect into a live-action film.)

Far-flung reference points, such as those seen in Lorelei, enliven the video game form.

Barlow’s 2022 game, Immortality, adapts M.G. Lewis’s 1796 novel “The Monk,” and he wants to see a game that thoughtfully captures the “shifting-sands feel” of “Ubik,” Philip K. Dick’s bewildering 1969 novel. In its sci-fi world, time and reality become unruly things; even mundane objects can suddenly change.

Barlow’s emphasis on the novel’s precise “feel” and “texture” signals an open-minded perspective, one in which other works are not properties to mine for cachet or profit, but catalysts for surprising artistic combinations.

“The No. 1 way you can differentiate yourself is through your inspirations and your research,” Barlow said. “Going and finding interesting things.”

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