Whispers of a Machine (WoaM) is an adventure/point-and-click 2019 video game.
WoAM received good reviews. It’s relatively short, but priced to match. It shares staff with Shardlight for the voice acting parts.
This character profile doesn’t discuss the plot/investigation at the heart of the game. However, it discusses the setting, Vera’s past, and Vera’s augmentations. There’s thus enough material to constitute S P O I L E R S.
Roads not taken
The game uses a system of “alignment”. Vera can be played along three axes (Empathic, Analytical, Assertive). These determine her attitude, her abilities and the flow of the story.
This profile therefore describes Agent Englund during a specific playthrough. Other playthroughs may present significant differences.
- Real Name: Specialagent Vera Englund.
- Marital Status: Single.
- Known Relatives: None.
- Group Affiliation: Central Bureau.
- Base of Operations: Presumably Stockholm.
- Height: 5’7″ Weight: 135 lbs.
- Eyes: Blue Hair: Blonde.
Powers & Abilities
Ms. Englund is a competent homicide detective. She can interrogate witnesses and suspects, investigate crime scenes, and all these things that fill countless hours of low-cost TV programming.
She’s also trained to recognise and operate some forbidden tech. Such as personal computers or sound editing software.
Though she doesn’t have that much detection experience yet, she’s sharp. She can run complex investigations with unusual speed and accuracy.
Ms. Englund has some basic survival training – firestarting and the like. Whether it’s Bureau training is unrevealed.
Centralbyrån, del 1
Though she’s a Violent Crimes detective, she’s not police. Rather, she’s an agent of the central government. However, all police forces are legally obligated to collaborate with her.
(Note that it’s not the US. She’s the sort-of-equivalent of a Fed, but the police and the vast majority of citizens will gladly collaborate with Englund. And the shadier types normally have a realistic perception of how far opposing a Central Bureau agent would get them. Especially in a violent manner.)
Her chain of command when outside of Stockholm are the ombudsmen representing the central government among local communities.
(Note – we *assume* that she works for the Swedish gov’t. However, it is entirely possible that she actually represents some sort of Scandinavian Federation, or the European Union, or some other political entity.)
Centralbyrån, del 2
Likewise, Ms. Englund’s job isn’t exactly policing. It seems that agents are expected to engage in further activities at any point, including :
- Undercover/infiltration work.
All three have different rules of engagement, and acceptable means and ends, than normal policing.
Her service pistol shoots tiny bullets at extreme speed, using magnetic propulsion. This is curious for police work – these may have been repurposed from pre-Collapse weapons meant to engage hard targets.
It holds 600 alloy rounds, so presumably it’s more of a needler. The battery needs to be recharged after 80+ shots, but that too isn’t a significant limitation.
Agent Englund is a surprisingly fast and accurate shot. Even when under fire she can fast-draw and place a shot to neutralise. With the tiny, fast projectile a shot to a limb will cleanly overpenetrate.
If shooting to kill the procedure is triple-tapping. The handgun likely has modest recoil.
She also carries a first aid pocket kit.
With her enhancements (below), most forensics equipment isn’t necessary. But I’d imagine she has a bunch of clear Ziploc bags . And her leather coat seems to have a frightening array of pockets.
This adaptive technology shapes itself to better fill the applications most often used by Agent Englund, and best matching her thought patterns.
Her Blue-based abilities (in this playthrough) include :
Visual CSI scanners
Staring at corpses and other biological residues (such as blood splatters) will produce as much data as a short examination in a homicide forensics lab would.
Blood type, estimated time of death, DNA sequencing and matching, fingerprints, main characteristics of wounds, estimated age of the victim, etc..
Thus, it covers analyses that would previously have required chemicals, time and lab equipment.
Agent Englund’s enhancements also do visual pattern matching. For instance :
- Whether a blade matches a wound.
- Memorizing the design of a sole then staring at footprints to know whether they match.
- Spotting drops of liquid by matching their chemical composition against their source.
Vera can boost her muscles for a few seconds.
This seems chiefly meant so an agent doesn’t get stalled by obstacles such as stuck doors, barred windows, furniture used as a barricade, etc.. It seems about as effective as a crowbar.
It also has a place on spectrum-of-force responses to assault. Especially for a plainclothes detective.
This allows Special Agent Englund to monitor the subconscious physiological responses of a person she is talking to. In practice, it’s like Daredevil (Matt Murdock) listening to heartbeats to detect lies.
In a pinch, it can also be used as a short-range life detector. That’s clumsy but it helps in, say, complete darkness.
Critical care mode
If an Agent is gravely injured, The Blue will spontaneously enter a regenerative mode. This disables all other augmentations to focus on stabilising wounds.
As long as this mode is active, new wounds will also be addressed by the nanites.
CC mode apparently can keep going for days.
Leaving the CC mode normally requires Bureau facilities to replenish the Blue in the Agent’s body.
(These appear during the playthrough if picking a specific persona.)
This close-range ability makes the subject temporarily forget what happened during the last few hours.
Agent Englund uses this to facilitate interrogating shocked witnesses. Or to prevent people from interfering with her investigation, without any force or lasting consequences.
Agent Englund scans a person’s appearance and voice. The corresponding hash is then memorised, though she can only “carry” one in her brain at a given time.
Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile
These enhancements are confidential. Ms. Englund cannot talk about them.
This is in part to deny criminals a knowledge of police methods. And in part because people in this setting (see below) are nervous about technology.
Still, there are rumours about Agents being enhanced, especially among the police rank-and-file.
Those who heard such rumours can be nervous about Agents. They might vaguely expect them to be some sort of camouflaged T-800 Terminator type.
By contrast, enhanced Bureau agents feel like a powerful secret community. Especially since being enhanced initially feels like a huge rush, opening the doors of perception. However, some feel that The Blue has some sort of consciousness of its own.
Furthermore, secondary physical and psychological effects from enhancement can appear over time. Enhanced functionaries must monitor such symptoms. Long-term effects are still unknown, but the older agents don’t seem to be doing too well.
My favourite Rebecka Törnqvist song is a nice fit for this entry.
WoaM takes place decades in the future.
However this isn’t immediately apparent. Most of the setting seems closer to the early 1950s in terms of tech.
This discrepancy is a result of the Collapse. The Collapse was an armed struggle to stop using AI tech and its predecessors. It came after a widespread panic about the escalating risk of an AI singularity (video).
The main force supporting the Collapse was a coalition of activists called the Human Wave. It is vaguely reminiscent of the Butlerian Jihad in Dune .
The Wave’s victory resulted in an agreement to let go of anything with a significant CPU.
The Blue is — conveniently — not considered illegal. It enhances human neurons, rather than having any processing power on its own. Though if you dig a bit, it becomes evident that nobody really knows how The Blue works.
The year is given as “82 AR”. This likely means that the Collapse took place 82 years ago. I’d imagine it stands for Anno Ruina.
It seems that before the Collapse, much of the labour in most industries was done by advanced robots. Most houses had multiple domestic robots for cleaning, cooking, etc.. There also were beefy war robots with laser cannons.
There further was a big space exploration project underway, with a brand new kind of propulsion system.
Vera also mentions :
- The killing of a world leader by terrorists using a hacked robot hovercraft, which resulted in a terrible civil war.
- A huge crack in the Earth’s crust caused by “the Hyperloop failure”, and a crater field.
- Deglobalisation, presumably caused by much cruder communication and transportation systems after the Collapse.
Nothing seems to run on fossil fuels. In the game we instead see small-scale but high-performance solar and wind units. Presumably what little is left in fossil fuels reserves cannot be tapped without advanced tech.
Look & feel
Since tech was so embedded into everything, communities had to be rebuilt after the Collapse decision was taken.
But a lot of old know-how had been lost. So the buildings and infrastructure often look dingy and haphazard. And society isn’t awash in consumer goods.
The architecture looks a bit like a cheap-arse 1940s brutalism (video). Part of it is the low-tech materials, such as wood and good ol’ corrugated sheets. Part of it is that the streets are tiny, since they were built for people rather than cars.
However, what is seen of the setting is a small village. The population is limited, there isn’t that much construction equipment and expertise available. And after the basics were quickly built after the Collapse, the incentive to demolish and rebuild was limited.
The general result is comparable to the post-WWII rebuilding in Europe.
The worse of the North
The story — taking place in future Sweden — evokes a popular literary genre, the “Nordic noir”.
These are investigation or crime novels, written in one of the Northern European countries. Such tales often feature :
- Harsh psychological and social realism.
- Grounded descriptions of actual places and histories.
- An uncompromising examination of society and humanity’s failure points.
- A quotidian and bleak atmosphere, with fallible protagonists.
A Conduit, but no Vigil
There exist clandestine movements that oppose the ban on AI. One calls themselves the Conduit – or at least the Swedish ones do.
The Conduit is closer to a religious movement. There’s :
- A focus on faith and resolve.
- A focus on considering that the offspring of human minds (A.I.) is divine.
- A curious fixation on Ancient Norse runes and myths.
They also believe that a true A.I. would be godlike and able to solve all of humanity’s problems.
The Swedish government considers the Conduit a fanatical terrorist movement. In past decades there was full-on military action that nearly eradicated it. The Conduit also likely was a player during the civil wars that resulted in the Collapse decision.
Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind
Some of the Human Wave hardliners stick around as an international movement, the Free Church of EPOS. These see even the slightest activity from the Conduit and its ilk as a deadly threat.
The early forms of the Church were considered terrorists by the Swedish government. The Church has since mellowed down, at least publicly, and can now legally operate in Sweden.
Some foreign Church delegations have even been granted diplomatic status. This likely reflects the political weight of having been on the winning side of the Human Wave.
The historical roots of the Church of EPOS are those of an Orthodox Christian denomination. But they had a focus on opposing false idols. That included capitalist-in-a-loose-sense stuff, such as revering wealth and fame. And especially A.I. creation being contrary to the Commandments.
Vera Englund is a young agent of the Central Bureau. One imagines that she was made a Special Agent based on her scores during training.
During her late teens she was in a relationship with a lad called Alex. Things were going particularly well. However, Vera was hurt to discover that she couldn’t get pregnant.
Alex then died in unrevealed circumstances. Vera was left lastingly bereaved and depressed.
Vera was then detailed to the tiny, rural community of Nordsund. The caretaker of its small museum of history had been murdered. Which wasn’t something the local cops had any experience with.
After a long and bumpy ride in a steam train, Agent Englund got to work.
A blonde Viking type with a nice asymmetrical undercut hairstyle.
Vera doesn’t sleep much and can’t be arsed with makeup, so she often looks tired.
Her facial expression also tends to look closed and dour by US standards. But that’s average by Nordic standards.
When she uses her optical scanners, Ms. Englund’s irises switch to an unnatural light grey/green. She’ll normally do that when nobody can see her peepers.
Using her mental powers gives her eyes a more purple hue.
According to some street dude, her leather coat is “badass”. Another ex-Bureau agent wore a roughly similar leather coat, so perhaps there’s an unofficial dress code. “The Trenchcoats” is apparently a nickname for the Agents.
Agent Englund comes across as a weary, methodical professional.
She likes doing things by the book. Ms. Englund was therefore a bit irritated by the local police being out of their depths in murder cases.
Though this makes her sound somewhat cold and distant, it is also clear that she’s caring and polite. She acts in a fair, empathic way with witnesses… but it is obvious that her priority is to methodically crack her case.
Howbeit, she’s not actually a law and order type. She wants to protect the population, but doesn’t despise criminals en bloc. She’s entirely willing to listen and deescalate rather than arrest.
Ms. Englund may act in a more forward way if an important investigation is being hindered. But if nobody is being put in danger, she’ll favour a soft and understanding approach.
Detection work isn’t Vera’s calling. She doesn’t have one. She’s still looking for herself, especially after Alex’s death.
It seems likely that she was picked for Bureau work for being exceptionally bright, and just went along.
When not on the job, Vera sounds markedly more spontaneous and displays greater emotional range. Her game face is off, and she’s simply a smart, mostly nice lass from Stockholm.
The depressed Vera is haunted by Alex, and by the decisions they took about their relationship.
(Examining a room, then to herself) “This is a curious emplacement for a ventilation duct…”
(Kneels to examine a muddy pair of boots, then after a few seconds of silence) “Crocus sativus. Tell me, is saffron cultivated in the area ?”
“Mmm, there’s an oddly dense pattern of fingerprints on this corner here.”
DC Universe History
The Säkerhetspolisen could have a few investigators secretly augmented using the DNA of the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man.
Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG
|Dex: 03||Str: 04||Bod: 03||Motivation: Uphold Good|
|Int: 04||Wil: 04||Min: 03||Occupation: Special Agent|
|Inf: 03||Aur: 04||Spi: 03||Wealth: 004|
|Init: 010||HP: 015|
Broadcast Empath: 04, Data storage: 15, Detect (Lie): 06, Invulnerability: 06, Life sense: 01, Microscopic vision: 05, Regeneration: 05
Bonuses and Limitations:
- Broadcast Empath has a Range of but 0 APs.
- Broadcast Empath is limited to emotions stemming from suddenly forgetting what happened for the last one or two hours. Such as “you no longer care about the task at hand, having forgotten it was a priority” or “you are completely confused, no longer remembering why you are here” or “you now feel calm, having forgotten what upset you”.
- Data Storage has No Transfer.
- Detect has 0 APs of Range.
- Invulnerability takes one hour per roll.
- Any Invulnerability roll Burns Out all other Powers and Powered Skills, except Regeneration. Recovery can only be done with access to The Blue.
- Regeneration is only activated once Invulnerability has Burned Out all other Powers and Powered Skills.
- Regeneration is Usable on Others, but that requires an ongoing blood transfusion.
- Artist (Actress): 07. This is limited to disguise and mimicry (including voice mimicry), and only to replicate the latest person whom Vera visually and audially scanned. It requires no supplies of any kind, and takes but a Dice Action.
- Charisma (Interrogation): 06. This is Contingent Upon Detect (Lie), and cannot be used if her Detect is unusable.
- Detective (Clue analysis): 06. This requires no equipment or facilities, and takes but a Dice Action.
- Medicine (Forensics): 03. This requires no equipment or facilities, and takes but a Dice Action.
Charisma (Interrogation, persuasion): 04, Detective: 04, Medicine (First aid): 03, Thief (Concealment, Stealth)*: 03, Weaponry (Police): 04
Credentials (Security Bureau, Medium), Familiarity (Basic survival), Language (Swedish), Police Rank (special), Sharp Eye.
From Credentials and Police Rank only.
- Authority Figure (Englund represents the government).
- Dark Secret (Blue-based abilities must remain confidential).
- Power Loss (for two Phases after Vera uses 3 or 4 APs of STR, her STR is but her native 02. It also is a 02 if her Powers have Burnt Out).
Service pistol [BODY 03, Projectile weapons: 04, Sharpness (Projectile weapons): 02].
I’ve written up Regeneration above in the way that I *think* is the normal in-universe process. In the game, Vera soon uses Character Advancement to buy off the Limitations to her Regeneration. So she acquires it as a permanent Power.
As a Swede, Vera presumably is fluent in English. There are also robust odds of her speaking German, especially since she seemed to be a good student.
In modern Sweden more Languages would be likely. But her future is deglobalised, so it’s hard to say.
Speaking Finnish would make some intuitive sense. It’s the most widespread official minority language in Sweden, and her first name is a common Finn one.
Being suecophone she can more or less read Norwegian and Danish. And understand about 70% of spoken Norwegian and 40% of spoken Danish. See Dr. Piispanen’s optional DC Heroes linguistic groups rules for more.
Source of Character: Whispers of a machine video game.
Helper(s): Darci, Dr. Peter Piispanen. I’ve also used the Appunwrapper.com guide not to miss game #content.
Writeup completed on the 27th of December, 2019.