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Speculation! [Evidence-based]

Started by ArtDrake, August 04, 2015, 02:12:43 PM

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All right! Everyone's curious about the mysterious ??? project, and none of us have real answers. I am certain, however, that many people have ideas about what the images we've been shown reveal about the nature of this project. That's where this thread comes in.

The plan at the moment is to split this discussion into two threads: one (this one!) is for speculation based firmly in the evidence given in ???, mostly involving some form of interpretation of those images. Feel free to incorporate knowledge from previous games, but keep in mind that theories posted here should be derived largely from what you see in the pictures.

The second thread is for freer speculation, derived mostly from knowledge of previous games and, for example, their thematic progression. It's equally acceptable to post your own pet theories that have little basis or grounding in reality at all there, but the key thing is that they're based on some other source than the images in ???.

The reason for this separation is to allow a cohesive discussion on the content of the released concept art, while still maintaining a forum for other kinds of prediction about the upcoming project.




I was looking at the first image for clues; it's probably the most information-laden one.

[spoiler=Flogging]We have figures dressed in red, and in the case of the apparent local leader of this group, red and white (or are they simply brown with red hoods? The lighting is a bit weird, and I'm red-green colorblind). What looks like a public flogging is in progress, with a very serious three-tailed whip in use. The robed figures have covered faces, so their humanity can't be confirmed that way, but they do have human-looking hands and arms.

Their victims are almost certainly indistinguishable from humans, though I can't really discern what that metal-looking device that seems to span the shoulder blades of the one being actively flogged is. The victim on the left might be wearing nicer clothing with a high collar, but I can't tell what those little spikes things coming out of his back are.

Some other details about the robed figured worth mentioning -- the insides of the cowls are a little too dark for the level of ambient lighting in this scene. That might just be an artistic choice, but it might be supernatural. Whatever it is, it feels like they're hiding their faces, if for no other reason than intimidation. Also worthy of note is the (silver?) cross hanging from the flogger' neck. That suggests this is a form of religious persecution.[/spoiler]

[spoiler=Scenery]A fire rages behind and to the sides of the raised (metal, since it's not burning?) platform on which this is taking place, and yet the crowd seems largely unconcerned. That suggests the fire is a part of the demonstration, supported by the lead flogger seeming unconcerned with the fire licking at his cloak. The air is thick with smoke, so they're burning something, not just a clean, powerful fuel to create dramatic fire. Could be books, or corpses, or anything else.

The building on the left seems completely intact, but the ones on the right in the background seem maybe a bit burnt out? It's hard to tell from this distance, but the fire might be larger than just the flames we see in the foreground. However, the sky doesn't have any red hue to it, so I'm less inclined towards that theory. Also, the crowd looks largely civilian, though I definitely can't be sure about that -- there's no one in the crowd who really looks like they couldn't possibly be at least a mercenary -- but it would suggest that this is a crowd of people who live in that city to the right, and they wouldn't be collected here so calmly if their homes were burning.

The banner on the building to the left looks like it reads (3E)][-<ivKF".N' ... which is obviously nonsense, but assuming it's a banner, it might be language. I might try to compare the characters I see here with known Cera Bella languages, though the [-< symbol looks more like a pictograph than an alphabetical character.

The last remaining point is the architecture of the building on the left. It looks imposing and dark, but I don't know a thing about determining time period from architectural features, so if someone knows a bit about that, identification of any notable features would be helpful. Anything style can tell us about geography or culture would be helpful, too.[/spoiler]

[spoiler=Crowd]Now for the crowd.

[spoiler=Leather-Masked Figure]The person on the far left looks like they're wearing some sort of leather hood/helmet/mask, with a tube in the front -- with the way it's pieced together, it resembles a primitive gas mask. But that's not even the weirdest thing about this one. If you look closely, you'll see a couple of little bright orange circles. That's the fire in the background. You're seeing through this person's head. Also, note the copious head-spikes. Kinda weird.[/spoiler]

The next person to the right looks pretty male, and looks nicely dressed, with some kind of weird dramatic collar-like thing at his neck. I think he's wearing a headband, or maybe just a bandage for a head wound?

[spoiler=Spikes]The next person, towards the center, looks female with short hair, but could easily be male. Wearing a yellow coat? With shoulder plates and spikes. Looks kind of mercenary. Has a nice shoulder-slung satchel with a steel(?) buckle. But the elephant in the room is that they have spikes in their hair. Does this mean they're not human? Those little bald patches -- are they spots where the spikes have fallen out or been removed? Do they have anything to do with the other spikes we see in this scene?[/spoiler]

And on the far right, two women, one in dark blue with very elegant patterns on the back, and one in plain light blue.

[spoiler=Cone-Hooded Priest(?)]A bit further ahead in the crowd, on the left, we see someone wearing a hood that presumably marks him as of the same order that the floggers on the platform are from, and at least as high-ranking as the one administering the beating; he gets a pointy hood, while the underlings on stage have more subdued hoods. On his back is probably the insignia of the order: a very wide and short rectangle, connected by a short line to an equally wide circle. Of course, it might not be their symbol, but it could also be a symbol of rank.[/spoiler]

On the right, about the same distance forward, is a man in a yellow-and-red... poncho(?). At the very least, this tells us that those exist in this world.

[spoiler=Other Spikes]And at the forefront of the crowd, we see two more figures with head-spikes or horns. One's pairs are curved, while another's pair is long and straight. These may be helmets, or they may be directly protruding from their heads, like with the central figure in the back. However, these symmetrical horns they bear look quite different from the asymmetrical little nubby spikes on the figure in the back, so they're probably not the same phenomenon.[/spoiler]

The last figure is all in white, and may have the same kind of headband as the second one in the back. The rest don't appear significant.[/spoiler]




[spoiler=Setting]This one's far more straightforward. Looks like a wartime scene, with two apparent combatants in the forefront. Neither one seems armed, though. The one on the left is pretty clearly mechanical, or is wearing a full-body clockwork(?) suit of combat armor. In the fiery background, many machines of the same make as the construct/armor are visible, and towards the very right, what may be the receding legs of something large and bipedal. However, with no motion, very well could be inactive or destroyed, littering the battlefield. But given the dominant presence of the machine combatant in the foreground, I'm going to hazard a guess that their side is winning. The skull and brain portion of the construct/armor design is deliberately fearsome, so whatever faction commands these constructs and war machines is consciously designing their units to invoke dread in the opposition, and specifically in human opponents, probably.

Note: potentially supporting the 'Construct' side of things is that accompanying 02 was the Stone Golem emoticon.[/spoiler]

[spoiler=Foreground and Alternate Hypothesis]The sky is red here with the flames of war (presumably), so this is a large-scale military devastation. But it's here that other possibilities come to light; the armored/construct combatant is kneeling over the wounded (Russian-looking?? I'm getting that from the hair and facial hair, clothing, and I'm getting early-to-mid 20th century from the attire and lack of a gun) soldier. But he hasn't been eviscerated or otherwise executed yet. It's like the picture is supposed to portray something more sinister than mere death.

If this picture is actually propaganda by the religious authority shown in Image 01, then it makes sense that the looking figure is terrifying, not simply and functionally deadly. It makes sense that something more than death is threatened -- churches deal in eternities, and what's more terrifying than the prospect of a soul-eating monster, for instance?

It makes sense that the picture shows one pair of combatants alone, as the sole focus in a field of devastation. It makes sense that the more human, empathizable figure is in a more vulnerable positioned, making a visual call to action. And it makes sense that, if you look closely, you see that the brushstrokes are more visible in this image, as opposed to the almost-photorealism of the first one.[/spoiler]




This one really sets the speculation rolling.

[spoiler=Figure at Left]This image, despite being pretty impressive, is actually pretty devoid of information content. The Shadowling emoticon accompanying this picture, their stances, and their respective impressive regalia suggest strongly that these are leaders. Their decidedly distinct lighting, stances, and facing would indicate that they're leaders of opposite sides of a conflict, in keeping with the themes of war seen in 02.

The style of dress (honestly more like armor) of the figure at left suggests femininity, but nothing indicates humanity -- if the helmet is assumed to be a transparent material, it certainly reveals no human face, only a decidedly machinelike "head". However, it is superficially humanoid in appearance, indicating it was designed (whether by itself or by another) to interact with or communicate to humans and/or those familiar with them.[/spoiler]

[spoiler=Connection and Speculation]At this point, I should point something out which has been present in all three pictures thus far -- on the flogger, about the shoulders; on the looming construct, at the base of the skull-analogue; and at the thigh of the figure at left -- a loop of unexplained cord or cable. This may mean nothing, or it may mean plenty.

If this loop of cable is common, say, to all constructed beings, then it follows that some of the hooded enforcers of religious authority may be constructs. It would explain why their faces aren't visible -- they're intentionally obscured to hide the fact that they're machines. However, it's countered by the fact that the hand and arm of the flogger are visible, but perhaps the ones intended for certain roles that require a more human appearance can be disguised more cunningly.

This would imply a religious hypocrisy if the picture in 02 is in fact propaganda by the church against "soulless" constructs, a previously used theme from Servants of God, where the Cult employed powerful Psys in their upper hierarchy.[/spoiler]

[spoiler=Figure at Right]The figure at right wearing red and adorned with gold is most likely the corresponding leader of the church -- the only ones wearing red thus far have been those representing the church. Note that Shadowling emoticon used with this picture referred to the whole picture -- potentially both figures.

This would make sense if both (not just the one less illuminated and in a more powerful stance) are in some way ignoble -- an Always Chaotic Evil construct empress and a hypocritical cardinal; a construct queen created behind the scenes by the church as a foil to enhance their own power (and, given their apparent and probable male power structure, a justification of their own male-supremacism); two independent and opposed leaders who stand to gain from conflict and thus collude. Many scenarios are plausible.[/spoiler]



[spoiler=Potentially Troubling Reference Image - Octopus of Zionism][/spoiler]

[spoiler=Globe]Not nearly as much to talk about with this one. A globe, which may or may not be Earth rather than the planet on which the Telepath games take place (unless I have some coastline matching to do between the Servants of God map of Cera Bella and, say, the actual Middle East). The Earth hypothesis is supported by the barely-visible coastline of northern Russia (or something closely resembling it!) beneath the clouds on the globe.[/spoiler]

[spoiler=Cosmic Skull]The great big blue skull and hand in the sky are reminiscent of Shadowlings, but they also scream "Propaganda!" again (recall the globe-crawling Jewish octopus of Nazi propaganda fame), like the second one did. However, I'm convinced that's not the case here. The picture is again photorealistic in the same way the 01 and 03 were, and assuming the time frame is anything like the one Telepath games tend to be found in, the propagandists wouldn't have sufficient astronomical knowledge to draw the real cosmological features present in the picture.[/spoiler]

In other words, I have no idea. Apologies for the implicit comparison of this beautiful concept art to literal Nazi propaganda.




[spoiler=Overview]All right, the hooded guys are back. Those boxes and the donations they're soliciting, as well as the fact that they're soliciting them from the poor, cements in my mind that they're agents of a religious authority. The clouds are still laced with red, but not directly overhead, so maybe there's just a ritual involving lots of fire (see 01) going on elsewhere in town.[/spoiler]

[spoiler=Speculation - Setting]The buildings, I'm fairly sure, are almost all partially destroyed, with what looks like rebar poking out, so a) this setting might be a little more modern than anticipated and b) this might be a city that the church siezed by force, and the onlookers in 01 may have been a mix of ecclesiastical mercenaries, high officers/clergy, and civilians from the town that's just been taken, as a part of the ongoing war pictured in 02.

However, the city may also have been just raided and partially destroyed by the construct army, after which the church publicly flogs people they suspect of pro-construct sympathies (for instance, those who take the side contrary to popular doctrine in the unrelated philosophical debate about the personhood of these constructs) and collects money for the purposes of rebuilding. If the religious authority is corrupt, as 03 might suggest, they'll take the money and rebuild their house of worship first, and only then proceed to rebuild other essential public institutions, potentially not as well as they build their own edifice.[/spoiler]

[spoiler=Hooded Figures]Their faces are completely obscured again, lending support to the idea that they might be constructs in disguise. Their line of work is fairly repetitive and menial, so they might be less elaborately disguised and programmed less exhaustively to be human-like. The emoticon associated with this image is the catface, which suggests something cute or, more relevantly, heartwarming. That suggests something charitable is going on; perhaps these clergy are simply collecting a pittance from everyone so they can buy in bulk and provide a soup kitchen for the hungry in the aftermath of the disaster that claimed the city.[/spoiler]

Those coins look quite golden in contrast to the destitution of these people. Maybe they're just copper.

For anyone who knows something about architecture, here's more data to work with. There are no roofs, so I can't determine approximate climate.




[spoiler=Overview]Here's another image in the vein of 04, with some very fantastical content. My first instinct is that it's just symbolism, but between the persistent skeletal imagery and the fact that again we see the strange bone-spikes along the skeletal horse's back that may bear a relation to the other spikes seen thus far, I'm starting to suspect these are real phenomena.

Note the highly anatomically accurate horse skeleton, but for the rib cage being a bit large, probably as an artistic choice, and the bone-spikes, which are not part of standard equine anatomy -- horseback riding would be a lot pointer if they were.[/spoiler]

[spoiler=Symbolism]However, there's a strong rationale for the image to be a symbolic one. The skeletal horse evokes the Apocalypse, and specifically its aspect in Death. But the horse is aflame, and lacks a rider; death by fire, literal or otherwise, sweeps ("gallops") across the land, wild, unrestrained. This is the very essence of the devastation and suffering we catch a glimpse of in 01 and 02.

The sky is clear, and the ground is littered with unidentifiable remains, perhaps a battlefield. This implies that, strangely, the horse is not acting as a harbinger or herald, but perhaps the point is that the war rages ahead even of the signs that would mark its coming. Interestingly, if you look closely at the bottom-right, the little flecks of black that seem to just be ash and char coming from the burning horse can actually be seen to have wings -- they may be a cloud of carrion-flies. If so, that tips this scene squarely over into the symbolic, or at least mythically fantastical.[/spoiler]

The only other notable piece of the scene is the full moon, but that's probably just to silhouette the horse.


I think I should point out that there's a fine line between having an open mind with regards to taking images literally, and simply handwaving details as "symbolism" when they don't fit your existing theory. I'm also aware I'm walking that line.

However, I have my reasons. Telepath games generally haven't included cosmic or supernatural phenomena -- even the most outstanding part of the 'verse, Psy, isn't supernatural -- great pains have been gone to emphasize statements along the lines of "Psy is not magic", "Telepaths aren't wizards", "Shadowlings aren't using magic to levitate" and such. So when I see a flaming horse skeleton galloping across a (burnt-out?) ruin against the full moon, yeah, I'm going to go with "symbolic".

Note especially that the other four images are consistent with what we know of the Telepath universe, if a bit on the Darker and Edgier side, so there's a reason I'd hold onto that null hypothesis. If more inexplicable images show up, yeah, I'm going to start thinking that perhaps this new project is a whole other can of worms.




There are two major components to this one: the teeth, and the symbols. Not much else to look at here.

[spoiler=Teeth]The teeth, estimating based on the hardwood floor (including the grain of the wood), the size of the blood splatter, the blur at the edges of the shadows, and a couple other hints, I'm estimating the width and length of the crowns of those molars to be about three and a half to four inches, and the length as seven and a half to eight inches. I'm also going to conclude that the owner of these teeth was mammalian, or at least mammiform in nature -- other vertebrates have teeth, of course, but wouldn't have differentiated molars, and their teeth aren't so attached as to result in that quantity of blood loss.

Now, the linear size of teeth scales approximately with the three-eighths power of mass, and elephants have molars of about 27 cm in length, while the eight-inch tooth makes 20 cm or so. That ratio of tooth size corresponds to a 9:20 ratio in mass, roughly. Whatever possesses this tooth, going on general mammal data, should weigh a couple of tons or so -- 4500 pounds, give or take a large margin.

I should also point out that these giant teeth are surprisingly... human-shaped. The teeth of other mammals can look very different from our own, and these simply don't. Even the molars of chimps don't look quite like ours. If these were human teeth, they'd have come from a human at least nine times larger than normal, with a mass correspondingly at a whopping fifty tons. If one assumes that the teeth scale functionally instead of isomorphically, though, at the usual power of 3/8, we get a still-unreasonable 350:1 mass ratio, for a colossal 24 tons, and a height of almost forty feet.

I have no theories at the moment to explain this.[/spoiler]

[spoiler=Symbols]As for the symbols, the matter is far simpler. The glyphs here are all four- and five-stroke symbols, so they're too complex to be part of even a short syllabary alphabet like that of Japanese, though they may be part of a larger syllabary, like that of the Cherokee language, though even that resembles more the Old Alphabet from Servants of God than it does this script. Of course, languages with a wider breadth of syllables (like many Germanic-influenced languages) would need greater information content per symbol if converted to a syllabary, so it's still within the realm of possibility.

It's more likely, though, that these are actually whole pictographs, albeit not very complex ones -- something like the more basic set of characters found in the Simplified Chinese lexicon comes to mind. Note also that it's simply a pattern of the same eight characters repeated, so their information content can't be inferred from their relative frequencies.

Strangely, the pattern towards the foreground isn't upside-down -- the near and far rows of glyphs read in the same direction, suggesting they don't actually form a rectangle, whatever the floor patterning with the central diamond might imply. Or, if they do, it's to be read from one side only.

There's also the very real possibility that I'm going about this all wrong, and the symbols aren't language at all, but rather merely decorative features.[/spoiler]

I mean, this could just be political iconography, with the pulled teeth representing an emasculation of some human authority or power, but there aren't many details that support the imagery, and there are too many "distracting" details; I'm leaning heavily towards a literal interpretation on this one.




Not much at all to say about this one. Those red flecks coming away from the point of impact might actually suggest that someone just got gibbed by the lightning, but I wouldn't count on it. It would conflict with the :) emoticon heading the image, though of course the tone of ??? so far is quite dark, so it could be a depraved smile. Still, chances are, it's just lightning.


If this is set in the Telepath universe, I have to wonder if it's an alternate universe based around the a bad end -- either the continuation of the shadowling empire, or the continuation of the cult. Perhaps both at once? SoG and TT have both been part of "good end" universes where the evil authorities were overthrown, so it would make sense if Craig wanted to switch gears.

However, given that we've yet to see any distinct evidence that these pictures are part of the Telepath universe, I'm inclined to believe this is a completely new franchise.


When I first saw Image 02, I couldn't help but see a small association between the masked figure and a Shadowling Guardian. If this world is indeed set in "darker" future of the Telepath universe, perhaps the masked figure is the next step in shadowling evolution, or an abominable mutation between one of the bipedal races and a Shadowling. I was brought to this line of thinking by a few observations.

  • My first bit of evidence comes from the black semi-wispy nature of the masked figure, as  though shadow and flesh had been melded into a pseudo-organic form (see the shoulder blades on the figure.)
  • My second bit of evidence comes from the figure's mask. Although stylistically different from the masks worn by the Shadowling Guardians, the mask appears to be made of bone just as the Guardians'
  • My third comes from the masked figure's relation to the man.  We already know that the shadowling race feeds on the suffering of others; perhaps this evolution or abomination is similar. The man is clearly injured (the bandage around his head and the blood that covers him); the man could provide an excellent source of pain and suffering for a hungry Shadowling or related.


Interestingly enough, Chocobo_Fan, I had the same thought about it potentially being a Shadowling Empire Wins AU, over in the Free Speculation thread.

Bug, now that I look again at 02, a couple of things strike me. I didn't realize the bone was a mask at first, though I shudder to think from what animal's skull it might have been fashioned. But now I'm realizing that there's no real reason that it couldn't actually be a form of power armor for a human. It looks mechanical to me, but in a way that doesn't preclude the possibility of it being a form of full-body mail suit. It seems to have claws, sure, but below the claws, it looks like a pretty normal hand swathed in a gauntlet.

As for the shadowling abomination hypothesis -- the major hole to overcome is that shadowlings are incredibly proud of their physical forms. They sneer at organic organisms that rely on squishy bits to run properly. Sure, an insane shadowling ruler could conceive of the idea, and maybe create automatons that reflected a union between shadowling and flesh, but as for actually trying to get any shadowlings to get on board with the idea and give up their purely smoky, shadowy forms? Never going to happen. They'd get overthrown.


Quote from: ArtDrake on August 22, 2015, 10:16:51 PM
shadowlings are incredibly proud of their physical forms.
True enough; a shadowling would never willingly give up its glorious smokey roundness.  But let's also not forget that it is possible to imprison a shadowling, as we saw in Telepath Tactics.  If a weaker/low level shadowling could be imprisoned by nothing more than walls and doors, I'd imagine it'd be difficult for that shadowling to escape from violent or horribly invasive scans, which could be a form of torture in their own way.

Further yet, let's not forget that Wiping and Extraction are (presumably) rare but powerful tools in a Psy's arsenal.  (This is assuming that they aren't skills known to only a few shadowlings.)  With the right amount of time and skill, even the proudest (but not necessarily strongest) shadowling could cave under pressure.  Once effectively wiped, who knows what memories, thoughts, motivations, etc. could be planted in its mind?

What I'm getting at is: what if this theoretical shadowling/human abomination wasn't willing, at first?  I have no idea how a shadowling and a humanoid could merge in such a way, as such a thing is unheard of in the Telepath universe insofar, but let's not rule it out as entirely impossible.  Just very highly improbable.

I'm not attempting to prove I'm "right", persay,  I'm just trying to bring new possibilities to light.  Wiping has always been something intriguing to me, so I'm curious to see if it plays a more prominent role in any future Telepath games.

Potential plot for the distant future: a powerful psy (stereotypically a shadowling) has started wiping and reprogramming students from the Academy. (Possibly from within the Academy! *gasp* :o)  The end result is an army of powerful telepathic drones tuned to their (stereotypically shadowling) master's will, crushing nations underfoot by invading and turning their enemies to their side! (by either overwhelming their opponents' minds with information/emotion, driving them to attack their [the hive's enemies] allies, or just inducing hallucinations.  Or maybe they just attack the delta brainwave!  Then the hero could be someone born without the delta brainwave, rendering them immune to their attack!  Wait a second... I feel like I've seen this before.)  Either way, this theoretical hive mind could be a massive threat when organized beneath a single (stereotypically shadowling) queen or (stereotypically shadowling) king.  The horror!

I think theoretical things like this are why I'm both happy and sad I don't live in the Telepath universe.  Happy, because no one would want to put up with this nonsense, but sad because if given the opportunity I would totally be the one building this army of drone-psys.


I just think there'd be more stylistic cues if it were shadowling-related. Sure, it's dark and has a bone-mask, but it's spiky and mechanical-looking and humanoid and lacks the smooth curves shadowlings like to put into their designs.