Game Design

listening to the voice of elohim in the talos principle

When I played The Talos Principle, the puzzle game by Croteam released in 2014, it brought to mind other great puzzle games.  Though it can get lost in the shuffle between the legacy of Myst (1993) and the star power of Jonathan Blow’s The Witness (2016), Talos does manage to stand on its own.

Playing any puzzle game requires a level of disconnect from the real world.  In these single-player games, players have to tackle puzzle after puzzle on their own, which can be a daunting task, especially when the puzzles become tougher.

Both Myst and The Witness lean into the players’ immersion and concentration to create a sense of zen around the puzzles.  They provide no narration or hints and leave the player to their own devices, something that can be effective for puzzle solvers, but also lead to isolation and frustration.

The Talos Principle does something different.  Throughout the game, Talos includes narration by a voice called Elohim.  In this post, I will discuss several purposes that this voice fulfills in the game design of a puzzle game like Talos.

Image from: Croteam

1. Instruction

All across this land I have created trials for you to overcome, and within each I have hidden a sigil.  It is your purpose to seek these sigils…

— Elohim, The Talos Principle

The most obvious use of a narrator in a game is to provide the player with instructions.  In The Talos Principle, Elohim’s clearly worded tutorial weaves in elements of the story and the world, while telling the player what to do and where to go.  Doing this reduces confusion and frustration at the outset of the game, which could be a big hurdle for new players to the genre.

Conversely, Myst struggles with capturing anyone outside of the puzzler demographic because it leaves the player without any information at the beginning of the game.  The Witness’ open-world design also causes players who end up in more challenging areas first to struggle to solve the puzzles without any directions.


2. Indirect control

Let this be our covenant.  These worlds are yours and you are free to walk amongst them and subdue them.  But the great tower, there, you may not go.  For in the day that you do, you shall surely die.

— Elohim, The Talos Principle

Indirect control is a technique used by game designers to guide players to do what the game requires without explicitly telling the player.  There are many ways of doing this, from visual cues to music to limiting the number of options for a player choice.

In a sense, it’s the opposite of instructing the player, while expecting the same result.  For The Talos Principle, the voice of Elohim cleverly uses indirect control by telling players what not to do, and expecting them to do it anyway.

Throughout the game, Elohim repeatedly instructs the player not to approach the tower.  But it’s obvious that climbing this tower is the main goal of this game.  In a move that’s equal parts reverse psychology and game design, the voice of Elohim tells the player what to do by telling the player not to do it.

Image from: Croteam

There’s a similar central goal in The Witness, but it’s more difficult to find.  After completing an area of puzzles, you can activate a turret.  A number of activated turrets unlocks a final area that includes the final puzzles and endgame.  However, there are no clues that this can be done before all the puzzles on the island are complete, and no clear indication of where the final puzzles might be.

Using Elohim’s voice to subtly direct the player is more effective.  Even better, this expected defiance of the player against Elohim feeds into the storytelling and progression of The Talos Principle’s story.


3. World-building

A new land stands before you, my child.  And know that this is a land of death, but also great beauty.  As you walk amongst these tombs, consider all those who came before you, and how they served the greater purpose of which you are also part.

— Elohim, The Talos Principle

Perhaps more than any other game genre, puzzle games are isolating.  They force the player to look internally, into their own mind, to contemplate and solve puzzles.  It’s a different sort of action than fighting orcs or racing against other players, and it can feel lonely.

The added voice in The Talos Principle serves to immediately create atmosphere and put the player in a time and place.  It also populates the world, and makes the player feel like they are not alone in a single-player world that can feel empty.

As the narrator who is also the primary character, Elohim provides information coloured by his opinions, adding another layer to the world-building of The Talos Principle.

4. Character development

Please, listen to me.  Yes, the tower leads out of this world.  It leads to freedom and truth.  But it also leads to the end of us…  Please, stay here.  Let the story go on forever.

— Elohim, The Talos Principle

The best narrators in video games are ones that have stakes in the game’s outcome.  In-game characters with strong personalities, nefarious or good intentions, and hidden agendas are intriguing to use as narrators because they end up setting the tone of the whole game.

A good example is GLaDOS in Portal, who provides guidance peppered with sarcastic undertones.  Elohim’s paternal tone is different from GLaDOS’, but his character also informs the mood and feeling of The Talos Principle.


What’s more, by using Elohim as the narrator, the player experiences Elohim’s character development as they progress through the game, which ties back into the story.  Elohim goes from commanding the player who knows little at the start of the game, to pleading with them as they end up straying from the path he has laid out.  Finally, Elohim reaches acceptance and understanding in the conclusion of Talos’ story.

Image from: Croteam

5. Alleviating  frustration

My child, there is no shame in seeking another path.  Leave this mystery for another day.

— Elohim, The Talos Principle

One of the pain points of puzzle games is reaching a spot when you feel like you’ve hit a wall and are stuck.  The Talos Principle uses Elohim’s voice to alleviate this frustration, which I think shows great understanding about the nature of puzzle games on the developers’ part.

By keeping his narration in character and in service to the story, the designers use Elohim to give the players a little bit of grace and understanding when it seems like they are struggling to solve a puzzle.  This is something not many puzzle games do, so I was impressed to see it in The Talos Principle.

Elohim’s Voice Makes The Talos Principle What It Is

Obviously, the focus of games like The Talos Principle should be on the puzzles.  But while the puzzle caliber of The Talos Principle rivals Myst‘s and The Witness‘, it is Elohim’s voice that sets Talos apart.  By including the narration, game designers gave themselves an extra tool to accomplish many other things within the game that would have been more difficult otherwise.

Granted, players might find this voice annoying or disruptive to their puzzle solving.  There ought to be an option to turn it off, for those who really aren’t into his nagging philosophical musings.  However, Elohim also elevates the storytelling of The Talos Principle and makes the game what it is.

Fittingly, Talos transcends the puzzle game formula and becomes a game about more than that.  It has philosophy and story and character largely due to the voice of Elohim.  One could argue that Myst and The Witness try to do this too, but their storytelling admittedly takes a backseat to the puzzle-solving.  This key difference gives Talos its own niche, a spot amongst the other great puzzle games that it can call its own.