Pieces: Flint is a very short puzzle game by developer kimsan, available for download on itch.io. It’s shorter than I expected, actually, and from what I could gather the solution is much more straightforward than I originally assumed.
The Unity game is split into three chapters, denoted by three stanzas of a poem listed with Roman numerals. The first opens on a confession: “on the morrow, I woke in a deep dark hole. A Haphaestean joy I sought…” The game fades in from black to a god’s eye view of a cute little druid fast asleep on a sacrificial stone platform in what appears to be a dungeon, lit only by the fire of the five lamps that surround the platform, and this snippet of poetry which soon fades out. Do nothing and the tiny druid will continue to slumber peacefully by lamplight—but the second you click your mouse, the druid will awaken, and a timer in the middle of the screen where the poem used to be and will begin to count up by the second.
The player is now locked in a race against time to relight the lamps as they go out, which is achieved by clicking on them with the mouse. This causes the druid to slowly walk up to them and strike a flint. This is what “Haphaestean joy” referred to; the line evokes the Greek god of fire, and fire-lighting is the central mechanic in this game. But it can also be read as meaning that the speaker is trapped in obscurity, and the fire represents clarity and safety that keeps one from being consumed by dark thoughts or intentions. Presumably, doing this will keep the slumbering beast beneath the suspended platform from feeding on the druid. I say “presumably” because I’ve played through the game numerous times, and each time I was unable to last more than a few seconds before the growling behemoth smashed its head through the platform and ate my druid in one fell gulp.
I admit that there’s a distinct possibility that I just suck, that I or my ailing old laptop weren’t fast enough to light the lamps in time to keep my avatar alive. But the sense I get from Pieces: Flint is that this isn’t the case. This game is reminiscent of other Unity indie games such as ceMuseline’s east van EP, which is a 4-game collection that includes the titles ORACLE, Summon the Apgrod, Star Swim and Scary Tapes. These games are hardly puzzle-oriented (arguably, Pieces: Flint isn’t either), but they are warmly and richly hued the way that Pieces: Flint is, overflowing with red and yellow from firelight, pinks and purples radiating against pitch black. They sound and feel similar, their atmospheres a mix of whimsy and phantasm and ominous dread. In the case of east van EP, and especially ORACLE which is essentially a fortune-telling game, there’s a pensiveness to the game where the player derives a certain general sensation from playing, but the ultimate meaning can vary somewhat based on how the games are played. There’s no real “solution” to any of them, but they’re more like interactive digital vignettes than puzzles.
Pieces: Flint is far more straightforward than that. The only real solution, or so it seems to me, is not to play. I was thoroughly unable to make a go of lighting the lamps with my pathetic little flint for more than a few seconds, but I was more than capable of keeping my character asleep by not so much as touching my laptop. In fact, the game itself seems to suggest that this is the case: the final stanza literally says “I must do naught, let life unwind.” It seems that by doing nothing, the game will eternally run, and the druid will eternally sleep.
But that seems like no way to live! The ultimate fate of any player may be death, but remaining in a coma doesn’t seem like much of an alternative. Even if it’s hopeless, then, the better option seems to be the one that makes things happen. It’s more fun to fight against the futility of one’s situation than to lay down and accept it.
The game logs how long the player stays alive, according to its own internal sense of time, and lets the player know how they fared once the main stage fades back to black. My best time was 104 “days” , before succumbing to my fate. In this sense Pieces: Flint feels closer to an endless runner, where death is assured but what matters is what one is able to accomplish before the final curtain—even if, in this case, it means literally walking in circles, doing the same thing over and over again, relighting lamps by hitting rocks together for as long as you can.
The game can be read within that frame as a direct metaphor for the inevitability of death, but I think there is the possibility of reading it as something less concrete. It could be read, for example, as a metaphor for being trapped in an abusive situation, or an exploitative system, and of not being given adequate tools in that situation to resist one’s attacker. It could refer to the coping strategies people develop for dealing with trauma or illness—the “black hole” isn’t a literal place, but a metaphor for dark parts of a person’s psyche—and what happens when those strategies are too feeble to sustain. One can only prolong their suffering and their precarity by ignoring the reality of their conditions—by staying asleep.
This is a bleak and pessimistic reading, but it also accurately captures a real feeling of helplessness that anybody who has felt disempowered has felt. I think this game could be fleshed out a little more—perhaps, for example, the lamps could go out faster or in more complex patterns over time (they seem to go out at a steady clip from what I could tell, so failure results from the player slowing down or accidentally clicking on the wrong lamp). Something like that might hammer home the feelings of wasted time and futility, and actually amplify the themes of entrapment and suffering that are at the forefront of Pieces: Flint.
That said, I love it when a game is able to communicate its ideas on a sensory level, through play, rather than on just a conceptual one, and I think kimsan is onto something with Pieces: Flint. I look forward to more things from this developer, but for now Pieces: Flint is available for $2.00 on itch.io. Play it and see if you can last longer than me.