Sunday, November 27, 2022

SIGNALIS (feat. LSTR Unit Class for Mothership)


Signalis is a survival horror game in the style of classic Resident Evil and Silent Hill where you play as 90s anime cyborg lady descending into a mining facility gone to hell on a faraway planet and it's the sort of game where, if you like Mothership - or survival horror at all - and have 20 bucks to spare, go buy it immediately. It's on literally everything. Play it, then come back to this post when you're done. Steam's telling me it took 9.7 hours to beat on normal difficulty.

That's it, that's the pitch. This is a recommendation without reservation. The only negative thing I can say about this game is the restrictive inventory, but the devs have said they're looking for a solution and even without a change it is a survivable frustration greatly outweighed by everything else.

The post will wait. Play it.

(Steam page. Trailer. As requested by Claytonian down below)

If you are really impatient or only care about the Mothership component but still care about spoilers, ctrl+F "equipment". This is your only warning.


Right then, done? What a fucking ride. I have thoughts.

In a lot of modern Lovecraftiana, the King in Yellow / Carcosa is used as a sort of infectious idea that carries with it a sort of ontological breakdown. The Delta Green Handler's Guide uses the phrase "slurry of thought and quantum possibility" and while I have my problems with DG (and people over-explaining their spooky shit in general), I must admit that this is a fucking strong concept.

Signalis is the only game I've seen where the constant, unsubtle references to other works are part of the thematic core. Fragments and memories, ideas and symbols, suspended in a slurry of thought and quantum possibility. It could have just stopped with picking up a copy of The King in Yellow, plenty of lesser games would have. But the title sequence that follows, whirling together East German numbers stations, obscure Lovecraft quotes (no one's read "The Festival", come on), flashes of Die Toteninsel, Chopin's Raindrop Prelude - perfect encapsulation of what you're getting yourself into.

And it just keeps going. So much from Resident Evil. "Some parts of this game may be considered violent or cruel." Silent Hill's blinding red save screens and much more besides. The carpet from the Shining. The Major tearing off her arm. Gestalts and Replicants from Nier. The fucking 'THIS IS NOT A PLACE OF HONOR' warning.

It just keeps on going.

And if that's not fucking enough, it's not just the references and details of it all - Elster's mind is decaying from being copied over and over again. All the Replikas' minds are. Memories from different people are blurring together, cycles of actions are repeating, dreams leaking out and mingling.

A slurry of thought and quantum possibility.

Something might live beneath the ice.

There are visions of a coastline and of still, black water.


I recently ran a game of Mothership, where the players found a pair of misshapen, naked humanoids standing ankle-deep in a stream. They didn't do anything besides stand there and point out towards the western horizon. One of the players, a longtime friend, said "Dan this is such a fucking you thing" as soon as I was done describing it, and she was absolutely correct. My favorite horror is that of the indelible, inexplicable image. Can't stand jumpscares and gore, tension can often be too much, but imagery, pump that directly into my veins. The uncanny, the anomalous, the unsettling, the unheimlich, the inexplicable, the fundamentally wrong. If doesn't have to do anything but exist, if the image is good enough.


You'll notice, in the medical files, that most of the people have some sort of permanent lung damage or long-term infection.


I do have some story analysis, of course, cobbled together into a rough timeline.

1) A soldier from the Vinetan (Earth) war is used as the basis for the LSTR line of Replika units. (This event is likely some years in the past)

2) Ariane Yeong is born on Leng (Pluto), moves to Rotfront (Ganymede or Europa), lives with her mother in a radio station for a time, attends Mandelbrot Polytechnic, works part-time in a photo store owned by the Itou family. After graduation, she applies to join the Penrose Program - the documentation states that if she is rejected, she will be assigned to the S-23 Sierpinski mining station on Leng.

3) A Penrose vessel is launched from Jovian orbit via mass driver with Ariane Yeong and LSTR-512 on board, aimed at the Oort Cloud with the intention of finding icy bodies that can be Klimaformed using bioresponant technology.

4) Roughly 14 years pass as the Penrose 512 mission heads towards the outer system. The mission is revealed to be a death sentence, and is subsequently stretched out long past its intended end by Ariane and LSTR-512. The ship begins to fall apart, Ariane's health fails, and is kept in cryo to prevent her from dying.

5) Penrose 512 crashes on an icy body and god damn it I cannot figure out where. My initial thought was that it crashed on Leng, but that's looking less and less likely the more I think about it. The sticking point is this line in the REPLIKA OVERVIEW: LSTR document.

New LSTR units have been produced based on a decommissioned unit from the Penrose Program.

And this is the sort of note that plants a link between LSTR-512 and Elster in our brains. But then how did the Nation recover LSTR-512? I have settled on two major options, which will have major ramifications down the line.

  • Option A - Penrose 512 crashed on Leng. Potentially caused by either LSTR-512 or Ariane, or both, redirecting the ship to the nearest safe location. it would even be possibly to turn the ship around with Ariane's help - we know that bioresonance is used in artificial gravity it would be possible to generate a slingshot orbit around an artificial gravity well. The Nation physically recovers LSTR-512.
  • Option B - Penrose 512 crashed on an unknown planet. Let's call it Carcosa. The Nation recovers LSTR-512's consciousness through Ariane's bioresonant projection. More on this later.

6) There is Something under the ice of Leng / Carcosa, and it, being what I presume is an enormous bioresonant flesh monstrosity, is stirred awake by the presence of the dying Ariane. With bioresonant fuckery in play, they might not even be in the same place. Even more confusing, there might be MULTIPLE flesh monstrosities, if the Moon bit of the tarot card puzzle is to be taken literally, as it describes an entity living in a subglacial ocean as one would expect to find on Europa or Ganymede...

Actually, multiple entities, or multiple nodes of the same entity, makes everything so, so much cleaner.

Regardless if Option A or Option B was picked last step, the Entity serves as a bioresonant amplifier for Ariane.

7) The opening of the game happens. LSTR-512 steps out onto Leng / Carcosa, finds the Gate and the Pit, and already starts tumbling into the Nowhere hellscape that has been formed by the dying Ariane projecting her thoughts and memories through the Entity.

DIVERGENCE POINT: It is entirely possible that the entirety of the game takes place within the Entity+Ariane's mindscape. I don't find this likely enough to subscribe to, but if Ariane was, say, born and spent early childhood inside Seirpinski station, it might bleed through into the Nowhere. But, as I prefer the train of thought where Seirpinski is real, I am mentioning this only for thoroughness.

8) Ariane dies in the real world, but continues to exist (constructed out of her own memories) via the Entity's projection. LSTR-512 reaches the end of her operational lifespan (possibly while plunging through Nowhere). (Ordering of deaths is important, and uncertain)

9) LSTR-512 is recovered, either physically or through Alina's Entity-amplified projection, and used as the base template for all future LSTRs.


11) Alina Seo arrives at Sierpinski.

12) Excavations at Sierpinski disturb the Entity (or an Entity), and it notices that Falke (a powerful bioresonant) is present. Entity starts projecting Nowhere as a defense mechanism against Falke. (Unconsciously, like an immune system response)

13) The entity's normal response carries the imprint of Ariane's dying mind on it. This shapes how Nowhere manifests (as the Entity itself is not conscious)

14) Shit becomes fucked at Sierpinski. Falke won't die, and so the Entity just keeps the projection up. Cycles begin. Nowhere starts bleeding over into the facility. Everything gets very Wibbly. Falke starts taking on memories and traits of LSTR-512. Alina Seo starts taking on traits of Ariana Yeong. Isa Itou is formed from Ariane's memories of Erika and Isolde Itou.

15) An LSTR unit (we'll call her Elster) - already suffering from mental degradation and carrying forward the memories of LSTR-512 - arrives at Sierpinski base, treating Alina Seo as a surrogate Ariana Yeong (as the old memories are corroded and repressed and are leaking through strangely, plus Entity influence and dream-bleed). It is possible that the Entity's influence has drawn her to Leng.

16) The events of the game keep playing out, over and over again. Elster dies again and again, trapped in the Entity's bioresonant immune system. (Also possible: multiple LSTR units have arrived at Seirpinski)

17) The cycle where we get an end happens. The end reflects, perhaps not entirely accurately, what happened to Ariane and LSTR-512, as an expression of Elster trying to reach some sort of catharsis between her memories, and the remaining imprint of Ariane on the Entity's bioresonant field. With Falke dead, and imprint-Ariane dealt with, this might (in at least one ending, perhaps) end the Nowhere incursion into Seirpinski base.

Memory Ending - Imprint-Ariane is so degraded by time and the Entity that she does not remember Elster. Elster dies.

Promise Ending - Imprint-Ariane remembers Elster. Elster fulfills the promise and kills Imprint-Ariane. Elster dies.

Leave Ending - Elster is unable to fulfill the promise, returns to the surface of Leng, and dies. Throwing a wrench in the works, we see a crashed spaceship...but it's not a Penrose one. Possibly the one LSTR arrived in. 

Artifact Ending - Elster takes some potted lilies to a location in Nowhere, and dies. Five other Elsters have already arrived and died. There is a cube. Possibly frees Ariane from the Entity? Not a fuckin' clue.


If you thought I was going to get through this post without making MoSh-compatible material, you got another thing coming.


Land Survey / Ship Technician Replika 'Magpie'
Generation 5 Kosmo-Pioneer Specialist
Biomechanical with carbon fiber-reinforced polyethylene shell and titanium skeleton
178 cm

A versatile combat engineer unit.

SKILLS: Industrial Equipment, Mechanical Repair, Computers, Firearms

  • Allies make FEAR saves at [-]
  • You may turn a failed roll into a success by spending SAN at a 1:1 ratio
  • You gain INSTABILITY (see below)

STARTING EQUIPMENT: Revolver (3d10), shoulder-mounted flashlight, shortwave radio module, cyberbrain (computer link, file storage, text log), cybernetic diagnostic scanner module, eidetic record module (6 slots, 1 minute each), AP 5 armored carapace (+2 AP if wearing armored vest overtop).


INSTABILITY: Operates similarly to THE BENDS in Gradient Descent. You begin play with 5 INSTABILITY, and gain it as follows:

  • 1d5 points for failing a SAN roll  
  • 1d5 points for encountering any triggering stimuli regarding [THE WAR], including: film footage, visual or auditory propaganda, photographs, music, interactions with veterans, and open conversation.
  • 1d5 points for encountering a bioresonant enemy

You may decrease INSTABILITY by 1d5 by spending a full day in a stabilization chamber (standard issue on all ships with a LSTR unit on crew)

INSTABILITY rolls can be triggered by:

  • Encountering a bioresonant enemy
  • Critically failing a SAN save
  • Waking from a period of unconsciousness
  • Losing a Wound


  • 00-09 - [SCREEN INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK] - Gain 1 Stress when seeing triggering stimuli (see above)
  • 10-14 - MEMORY BLEED - Experiences not your own overpower your awareness. Gain 1d10 INSTABILITY.
  • 15-20 - SAFE ROOM - This place is safe. You will refuse to leave it for 24 hours.
  • 21-24 - WAKE UP - You are dreaming, you are dreaming inside a dream. Gain 1 INSTABILITY every round you do not pass a SAN save for 1d10 rounds.
  • 25-29 - DREAMS OF THE BLACK SHORE - Your waking hours are filled with visions of cold, grey sand and still black water. Gain 1d10 INSTABILITY.
  • 30-34 - WE HAVE DONE THIS BEFORE - Rooms with encounters now have a 50% chance of containing your own corpse. Others do not seem to notice.
  • 35-39 - ACHTUNG, ACHTUNG - Codes over the radio. Voices from beyond. Keep your radio tuned and listen carefully...
  • 40-44 - DETERMINATOR - You endure brutal injury without flinching, without slowing down. Allies gain 1 Stress / round from watching you in combat.
  • 45-49 - FATAL ERROR - Bluescreen. Reboot. Restart. Reload. Lose 1d5 SAN.
  • 50-99 - REMEMBER OUR PROMISE - You know what you must do. You know where to find her.


There is a perfectly smooth pit in the ground. Metal slats, unconnected, spiral down to the bottom. There is a crawlspace at the bottom - just enough to drag yourself through on your belly. You cannot turn around, you cannot move to the side, you can only go forward. there is a room at the end. There is a desk, with a computer console and an old radio. There is a cot with thin sheets, and a safe bound in chains. Three padlocks. Faded propaganda posters of the Nation on the walls. A red door. The crawlspace is missing. There was a hole here - it's gone now. On the desk there is an ancient book, black cover with a gold figure. Crown and sword. You pick up the book, and the katakana title is THE KING IN YELLOW. The radio crackles to life. Three notes ascending. Three notes ascending. A woman's voice. Achtung...achtung...


  1. Absolutely game of the year, no questions. Elden Ring was great, Tunic was wonderful, but I can't think of another game with gameplay as well-tuned as this one right here.

  2. "(Also possible: multiple LSTR units have arrived at Seirpinski)"

    This is my personal theory. You can find a broken elevator very early in the game: at the bottom of the shaft, broken Replika bodies are overflowing onto the landing. They all seem to have a red triangle across the chest, like Elster does.

    And what does Adler do when he meets Elster?

    "You shouldn't have returned."

  3. Regarding atmospheric horror games: Have you seen/played Scorn? Anyhow, I think that positevely Lovecraftian things are difficult to pull off - this is a nice one.

    1. I have not tried Scorn, nor looked much into it. I did see someone mention that it would be better as a walking sim, which is a rough review to land.

  4. This post inspired me to play through the game, and all I have to say is wow. One of the very few times I wept at a game's ending.

    As for Alina Seo, my theory is that the original Gestalt iteration of Elster - the Vinetan soldier Lilith Itou - held a memory of her serving alongside her (judging by the photograph you find near the end of the game) which was then carried over to the Replikas. It's mentioned in the Replika issue file you find on the Penrose that Elsters are forbidden from experiencing friendship, music, culture, and discussing the conflict, lest they get a bit loopy.

    Ariane violates all of these tenets during the Penrose mission; Ariane is also mentioned in a note that she resembles Alina Seo.

    Rather than Alina being the surrogate, I reckon it's Ariane. The Replika Elster saw Ariane and, combined with exposure to forbidden material + entering a relationship, led the Replika to perceiving herself as Lilith, and Ariane as Alina.

    At least initially. By the end of the game, Alina falls very much to the wayside as you get closer to Ariane's dreaming form.

  5. Aha! My cunning plan worked!

    I really like this theory you've got going on. It fits very neatly into events and just feels right, you know? I think I'm going to adopt it.

  6. I've just finished playing signalis (decided to play it solely on the basis of this article).

    Aside from the deep points raise above, more mundanely this is another example of why robotic/artificial minds are terrifying (not just from a human point of view, but the replikas frequently were scared and confused themselves, and the player was too). Thankfully all the AIs we currently have are crude in comparison, but you could easily imagine pattern-detection abilities being a stepping stone to something more like the copying of a brain pattern etc.

    There was also the all-too believable idea of sentient beings being sent to some bleak mining facility on some obscure planet, with little/no hope of ever leaving, facing a lifetime of work. I'm not sure if it was established if the gestalts had an easier time than the replikas (I didn't even find out what a gestalt was).

    All mixed in with the alien-ness of a culture/society we as a player are given little info to understand. It's a bizarre experience seeing propaganda posters and not being clear on what they were even trying to convey (e.g. the Buyan poster).

    Regarding gameplay, to be honest, personally I would've preferred to have a walking simulator mode, as much as I like the RE-style mechanics, the general stress of dodging enemies and fumbling through doors would put me off going back in (as it is I had to use a bunch of internet guides to cheat all the puzzles and figure out the 'critical path'). SOMA had an invulnerable mode and it was still sufficiently creepy that I couldn't finish it.

    Overall thanks for the recommendation, it was a singular experience.