Secret Project: The Dream Twister

“Mary had a little lamb,
Little lamb little lamb,
Mary had a little lamb,
whose fleece was white as snow.”

— Assassins’ Redoubt, Final Transmission

The Dream Twister is based on The Will To Power. In addition to having a pretty awesome name, it has a single, simple mechanical effect: it grants a bonus to all the faction’s units when on the attack in psi combat. In essence, the effect is the inverse of the previous Neural Amplifier secret project, which provided a similar bonus to psionic defense.

This symmetry should explain the reasoning behind Reynolds’s choice to reuse many of the images from that previous video here. The terrified screaming person, the snake, and the spider are all reprised. But there are a few key changes that flip the valence this time around.

First, notice that there’s no voice reading a quote over the action. The only sound effect is this eerie, tinny pulse which repeats over and over as the images bombard the viewer. Neither is there repeated interjections of that trio of human faces as there were before. This time, nothing stands between the viewer and the madness.

Second, there is a new image of a cot in a bare room with what appears to be a rat. This is mildly creepy on its own. But I believe that it was chosen here as a reference to George Orwell’s 1984. In that book, Room 101 was the regime’s most diabolical torture chamber, in which they would use the victim’s deepest fear in order to break his mind. And our protagonist’s deepest fear – the one the reader sees them use in the book – just so happened to be rats.

Third, as the imagery escalates past what we had seen before, we are treated to a couple of repeated shots of a pile of skulls. These are interspersed with what appears to be a shot of a burnt corpse. There’s nothing too explicit here. But the implications are pretty horrifying.

Each one of those bleached, stacked skulls was a person. Hundreds upon hundreds of people, if the pile extends back into the room. Which happens to be just enough to be maximally creepy. Any more than that would get processed as a statistic. But there’s just enough here to give the imagination a handle to start to humanize each victim. Then the viewer is encouraged to attempt to multiply that out to all the skulls in the shot. Then once he tries to take into account all skulls that are implied to be behind the ones we see, and it just becomes impossible to process.

Then the video ends with what is, in my opinion, one of the very best quotes in the game. Which is quite the trick, given that on the surface, the quote doesn’t seem like it should be anything special. It’s just the first four lines of a traditional nursery rhyme.

Part of the genius is that it breaks the established pattern for these videos by refraining from reading it out loud. Instead, it’s just printed out in stark white text on a black background.

The rest of it comes from the context. Assassins’ Redoubt is a default Spartan base name. Why was this, of all things, their final transmission?

The beginning of the answer has to be that they were under psionic attack. Presumably by a faction employing the Dream Twister to overcome their Neural Amplified defense. We know that the Gaians have been associated with psionic attack up until now, and we know that they’ve been at war with the Spartans, so it is a safe bet that this was from the Gaian conquest of Assassins’ Redoubt.

Given that, why the nursery rhyme? Ever since the discovery of Secrets of the Human Brain at the beginning of the game, the player has been aware that hypnotic trances can serve as a defense against psionic attack. By now, even if they can’t afford to teach every unit to slip into a deep, collective trance, similar techniques must be part of standard army training. On the defense, you’re taught to repeat a calming, repetitive, safe mantra to keep yourself on your gun.

Nursery rhymes are therefore a natural fit. So it would seem a typical late-game psionic battle is made up of a collection of powerful cyborg-psychics on one hand, and a bunch of soldiers trying to hold fast to their weapons while desperately chanting nursery rhymes to themselves on the other. And the guy who made this last transmission is doing so as he’s feeling the last fraying threads of his sanity slip away.

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2 thoughts on “Secret Project: The Dream Twister

  1. Jack

    Interesting. I would have imagined the Spartans using something more like jody calls to maintain focus and morale. So what, then, is the nursery rhyme? I imagine the Gaians’ new Dream Twister reducing the Spartan defenses to a state of childlike obliviousness and then simply walking past the disabled guards, who are repeating nursery rhymes to each other.

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    1. Nick Stipanovich Post author

      To my knowledge there isn’t enough detail provided by the canon to answer this one way or the other. You could very well be right. But I considered and tentatively rejected that explanation in favor of this one for the following reasons.

      1) We have inferred from the Citizen’s Defense Project video and quote that the Gaians overcame a Spartan force in the early game that was using what we’d consider to be traditional military leadership techniques. “Stay calm! Use your flameguns!” was the cry that came out from the doomed commander as his troops were overrun.

      2) We know from the later Neural Amplifier video that the Spartans have thought long and hard about their psi-combat doctrine since that defeat. Their conclusion was that a strong and able mind could defend the many. I inferred from that and the video, possibly erroneously, that the way this works “under the covers” is that people do much better against psi-attack when they don’t feel like they’re alone.

      3) We know from the Recon Rover Rick quote (Hologram Theater) that people die in a very undignified way under psi-attack. Rick supposedly died clawing his eyes out, screaming for mercy. The images we see in both the Dream Twister and the Neural Amplifier videos seem much more likely to cause inchoate screaming and crying than a reversion to a naive childlike state.

      4) Therefore, I believe the Spartans’ psi-defense doctrine is a defense-in-depth: a motte-and-bailey pattern. The first line of defense is a collective response designed to psyche the unit up. Probably something like the Jody calls you suggest and we’ve seen them use before. Though, theoretically, it could maybe even use old-school 19th Century tactics like drums, fifes, and marching songs. Getting this all spun up and the guys ready to go could be a big part of where the 3:2 attackers’ bonus in land psi-combat comes from.

      But what do you do after the unit starts to break down? Or when you are under such intense psionic attack that all your senses are reporting are the crazy visions and that eerie pulse? After your macho outer walls get torn down, which I assume tends to happen rather quickly given all the bonuses to psi-combat the canonical Gaians have piled up, the second line of defense is to mentally retreat to your “happy place” and wait for help to come from the psionics working the Neural Amplifier.

      5) In the game, the Dream Twister grants a +50% bonus to attack and the Neural Amplifier grants a +50% bonus to defense. I think the math is multiplicative there, so it doesn’t exactly cancel out, but I think the intent is pretty clear. The main effect of the Dream Twister at Assassins’ Redoubt was to cut off the mental reinforcements coming from whichever base hosts the Neural Amplifier and all the Spartans’ best psychics. Thus, the video is mostly the same as before, with the crucial exception that there aren’t any friendly human faces. So the last transmission was coming from the last barely-sane guy left in the base, calling for help that was never coming.

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