Basically all the player (who is never shown onscreen) has to do is use the mouse to search for onscreen items and clues and click on them in order to place them somewhere or store them into their inventory for later use, or to press a button or move a lever, switch, or other device to perform a function that will solve the mysteries of the game. The games are sparse as far as sound goes, although most of them have hand-drawn graphics and eerie music to suggest something sinister is going on, although nothing jumps out at the player, unlike how the gaming ambiance may imply.
There is also a sci-fi storyline that the player is given clues about throughout the games, which no one really knows what exactly that story is, although many players have theories about it (see "Reception" area).
The games can be played on many internet gaming sites, many of such sites allow them to be downloaded so they can be played on the player's computer offline, and the series is also currently being adapted for mobile usage (i. e. cell phone and other portable devices) as well.
Submachine games (main storyline)
Submachine 1: The Basement
At first glance, this just seems to be a simple "escape from the room" (or area, rather) game with only a few objects to gather and figure out how to escape, although there is a diary page that is found that hints at a bizarre story in regards to someone losing one of their arms in an accident, but then he was somehow able to grow an invisible, third "karma arm" that can manipulate time and space.
Other than that, there are only a few rooms and objects that will open up a few things to lead to the player's escape. The object of the game is to find four gray tiles and put them in their proper place, which will lead to an elevator that will allow the player to escape from wherever it is that they are trapped. Other than the "bell puzzle", where the player needs to ring four bells in a certain order to reveal a tile piece, the majority of the game can be solved with just using a few everyday objects such as a spoon, a pearl and a coin.
There were also several versions made, such as the later Submachine: Extended Version, with several more rooms and objects added, although if one action was performed incorrectly the player would not be able to beat the game. This was removed in a (yet again) slightly different, later version.
Submachine 2: The Lighthouse
For anyone who thought the original Submachine was just an "escape from the room" puzzle without a story, this quickly becomes evident that this is not the case, as during the cinematic intro it tells of the player remembering playing a game called Submachine in a dream, but they don't recall waking up from the dream (which one would wonder if any of this is really happening at all).
The player begins the game outside of a lighthouse with a Wisdom Gem (which is included in a couple of the Basement Extended Versions) and the odd diary page from the original game in their inventory. A Submachine arcade cab is one of the few items outside the lighthouse, but it appears nothing can get it to work, as nothing will respond when the player manipulates the controls, as the gaming screen appears to be frozen.
Upon gathering an object and performing a couple of actions, the player starts accessing areas of the lighthouse. Rooms, staircases, crawlspaces, additional floors and other areas become available, as well as the plot unfolding, as a pamphlet for the lighthouse can be acquired and read, welcoming visitors to it, telling the story of the lighthouse's origins (it was rumored to have been built over what was originally a dungeon) and how it was open for tours.
Unfortunately the more the player opens up of the lighthouse, more of the story unfolds as well, due to several notes left behind from Mur (or "M"), the person who's diary page the player found. It said at first he was content for being the sole person managing the lighthouse, but then later that changed to the point of paranoia of fearing becoming buried inside of it (which the burial was started by finding several areas with mounds of debris filling a few rooms). He also mentioned a cat named Einstein who seemingly appeared out of nowhere, then disappeared, typed out letters to someone named Liz, and told of creating a portal, but it was not steady.
Once the player opens up all areas, gathered objects and performed all functions to beat the game, an ending cutscene shows the player walking out of the lighthouse, but as it turned out, that was just on a video screen; so could all of this have just been a game after all? It is not clear, but the game is to be continued later.
Submachine 3: The Loop
This entry in the series is totally different from the previous two games.
It isn't made clear how the player arrives in this area as it is. There are almost no items to collect at all in this game: just one at the beginning and another one at the very end. Like the name implies, it's a giant loop: the player is in an unending loop of corridors, as they can move straight up, down, left or right, and the corridors will never end. This is also the only Submachine game where the player can die at the end if they perform the wrong action in the final area.
Supposedly in a showdown against the Submachine itself, the player must solve a series of puzzles in this maze of corridors. Some involve manipulating various machines, levers and buttons found in the corridors or on machines, and others are in regards to the map itself that is usually found not far from the player's starting point in a level.
The game ends by the player either incorrectly taking the wrong action in the last level and dying, or by collecting one last object and taking it to a statue, which warps them to The Lab...Submachine 4.
Submachine 4: The Lab
This takes place right after Submachine 3 ends, as it reads "see you at the lab" as a final message when the game is beaten.
At first the game might look deceptive, as this is not a technologically advanced, modern lab like a person might expect (as the lab's computer seems to employ a very dated dot matrix printer), but it is rather mundane and seems to just be an ordinary house at first, especially when the player has to combine a few chemical elements to short out a panel later in order to gain more access to the lab.
However, the player will surprisingly not only make contact with an actual person (no people have ever been seen in any of the games thus far) through the lab's computer, but also that person turns out to be Mur as well. The game also becomes a bit of a treat for Submachine fans not long afterwards (especially since it placed pretty highly in a Submachine Wikia poll for favorite Submachine games), once the player accesses an area with a teleportation device, as they will be able to start "jumping" to various sites, several of which are settings from earlier Submachine games, although with some graphical changes.
For instance, one jump point is the Basement, although with several big machines scattered around that were not there before, along with several holes in the walls. The Loop area also doesn't have the original unending looping corridors as before, and the Lighthouse area has a few new items as well. There is also an expansion of the Ancient game, but one area on a boat is totally new.
There are also major clues as to the nature of the Submachine, as notes have been left behind from various other teams that have been exploring these sections. It is unknown what has happened to the teams though, as well as what their current whereabouts are, although it does fit in well with the feeling of dread and isolation presented throughout the series.
The game ends rather similarly to Submachine 3, which again a statue somehow is the key to the final puzzle, which a message says that you passed all the tests flawlessly, which you may now begin working at the lab, leading to The Root.
Submachine 5: The Root
This chapter of the series starts off not long after the player is accepted by Mur to begin working with him at the end of Submachine 4, although it looks to be several days later, due to marks on a wall, which could mean several days have passed since the player took up residence for wherever it is they are stationed (or perhaps this is from an earlier team, since a message from Mur states he hopes you slept well, meaning possibly only one night has been spent at this place), as there is a bathroom and bunking quarters in the area.
Upon searching around, the player will come across a computer with notes from Mur instructing them they need to find three Wisdom Gems, and the player is reacquainted with the teleporter. After a jump to "The Root", the majority of the game appears to take place in a series of caverns. With another notation, there is a mention of (Submachine?) experiments that were conducted in the 1950s, as this note comes about (notes are automatically written, which is a feature in this game) in an observation area with a rusted machine, although it does not appear to be functioning.
Due to sparse facilities, the player must get the power working again (one machine will crudely provide temporary power to an object) in order to advance through the game, and two cipher plates are introduced in this installment, which are used to teleport the player to new areas of the game unreachable through the cavern corridors.
Once all Wisdom Crystals are found, what appears to be an entire room (or is it?) separates from its building and starts moving to who knows where...to set up the sequel to Submachine 6.
Submachine 6: The Edge
Starting off right where Submachine 5 ends, the intro cutscene shows where the "mover" (what appears to be a cubicle from the end of 5) has been intercepted by something and is sectioned off. It could be this wasn't a full-scale cockpit after all, as some of the game involves disabling a defense systems’ protocols in an infected area of the Submachine subnet.
However, some of it is set in a real, physical world, as, at the beginning, you will be scanned, but if you do not perform a certain action, the scanner won't let you pass into the next section (as the player starts off with their notes, wrench, and cipher plates from Submachine 5 in their inventory). Other areas have to be accessed by elevators, as well as other earlier parts of the game also involves more cavern crawling (similar to the sewer section in Submachine 2), as puzzles dictate moving various devices to change passageways so the player can access more areas.
However, even though there are no onscreen prompts dictating a change, later settings/puzzles involve disabling defense systems and all, and in a surprise move, the last message from Murtaugh (obviously the earlier “Mur” is an abbreviation) when the game is beaten is a curt goodbye, as it could be he possibly dumped the player (after all, an earlier note that is found says not to believe his lies). Perhaps more in regards to Mur will be unraveled with the release of Submachine 7: The Core and what his true nature/intentions are.
Submachine games (off main storyline)
There are several Submachine games that do not follow the "official", main storyline of Submachines 1-6.
Submachine: Future Loop Foundation
This game was created for the music group Future Loop Foundation, which can be found and played on their website (among others). The general consensus of gamers is that it is one of the easiest Submachine games, as the game was not meant to be real difficult in order to be enjoyed on the band's site.
Going totally off the Submachine story, the player appears to be in a mental hospital, starting the game (after a brief intro) in a padded room. After finding a few objects and activating a mechanism, this does indeed seem to take place inside a mental patient's head, as an entire building section comes crashing down across from the room the player starts off in, and a bridge extends so the player can explore the area. Also, after activating a slide projector not long afterwards, the image that is shown on a wall becomes a doorway to access even more areas of the game.
There are old photos found on many walls of the place (it is not known if these are related to the patient), album covers and a couple of sound clips from the Future Loop Foundation band can be found in several of the rooms.
There are a few nods to other Submachine games (graffiti/a clue on a wall is exactly the same in an area of Submachine 2), especially when the game is beaten, which a closing cutscene states that the patient can almost remember their name, and hopes to get back to the "root of all this", as Submachine 5's surname is The Root.
Submachine 0: The Ancient Adventure
Written for a gaming contest entry, this is pretty comparable to the original Submachine, being small, not having many rooms or objects and all.
Like the title suggests, this is an ancient adventure, as there are no modern devices to be found, save for a lighter. The surroundings are stone, as the player starts off the game outside a structure with what appears to be two gargoyles in front of a stone door. Upon finding two of the very few items, putting them in their proper places and turning the knob, the stone door will open, allowing the player admittance to several chambers.
Inside are mostly stone structures, one of which is a cube that will assist in opening up more areas. There are also a few statues (presumably made in gold), a few jewels to be used as devices to help win the game, spiked gates that will block a player's progress through the game until they perform the proper actions to access those areas, and several rooms have to be lit by the lighter in order to proceed as well.
The player is awarded with a Wisdom Gem when the game is solved.
Submachine Network Exploration Experience
Skutnik insists that, with this entry, this isn't a game at all, although it might eventually become one.
Starting out like the setup in Submachine 5, there are a few familiar rooms (the bathroom) to look at and a computer with a message on it. The teleporter is also present, and there is a note in regards to several jump coordinates for the player to travel to.
Due to massive fan speculation as to what the Submachine games are supposed to be about, Skutnik compiled many of their theories and posted them in areas of this entry. The player just jumps from area to area to look at rooms, manipulate an object or two, and read the theories, and that's pretty much the entire summary for this Submachine chapter. There's a slight puzzle aspect with clues in several rooms that lead to other jump coordinates, although the player can just look at the pastelstories forums or the Submachine Wikia entry in order to just go through a list and jump from room to room without having to figure out the clues as it is.
Some of the rooms contain reworked Submachine items—such as the arcade cab from Submachine 2, which is very weathered and doesn't appear to be functioning, along with what appears to be holders for many more cipher plates from Submachine 5 in another room, etc. -- others might possibly appear in the upcoming Submachine 7, and others are brand new, never seen before rooms.
There could be a possibility of a thousand rooms eventually to see in this release, although right now there are just several dozen. This chapter is pretty much just for Submachine fans only, since there is very little to do, and won't make any sense for those who are new to the series and sees this first.
Submachine: 32 Chambers
While playing through the Submachine 4 game, the player could come across a note in an area at one point telling of someone being in an area with 32 chambers full of sand, which this game is a spin-off from that note.
This game's setting is a bit like the Ancient Adventure/the Ancient area in Submachine 4, what with having several stone statues and bricks, along with having, yes, sand everywhere. There is also a stone mosaic covering parts of two screens and a few crude items to help the player beat the game that could have been from whatever time period this takes place in (a simple wooden bowl and stick, for instance).
A couple of chambers nearly defy description as well, what with having two paths blocked/blacked out if a device isn't positioned correctly and it won't allow the player to proceed. There are also two sets of gems that need to be found and collected in order to beat the game (topaz' and jadeites), which, when that happens, it gives a date for the end of the year, possibly signifying the release of Submachine 7...but then the date changes to several thousand years later, possibly signifying that a future Submachine game will jump forward into the future? Perhaps time will tell...
Submachine 2 early sketch
This was posted on the pastelstories site in October, 2009, showing a bit of a different, early sketch of Submachine 2. Rather than having the more "rough" look of the finished game, several of the rooms have the green-blue tiles that is found in only a few rooms of the finished version. The entire area takes place inside the lighthouse, rather than starting the game outside. A holographic-like door is how the player gains entry (which doesn't appear in the final version), objects in the viewing area are a lot bigger than in the final release, most of the rooms are designed differently or are just flat-out left out (there is a closeup of windows and light fixtures that can't be zoomed in on the released version), and there is the infamous "blood door" that is locked, with a lot of what appears to be blood coming from underneath the door. When the player zooms in on the floor and takes an item from it, the writing in the blood changes, signifying a possible clue for later.
After walking through only a few areas, the game ends at a doorway at the top of the stairs, which is only how far Skutnik got in the original design of the game before redoing the whole thing.
Skutnik stated on his forums that there are no other "early sketches" of other Submachine games.
The series has done very well, as it is assumed there are over 10 million Submachine players all over the world, the games have won several awards (32 Chambers won the gaming contest for which it was written for and entered), and fans have done all kinds of things with the Submachine theme, from commissioning Submachine tattoos, making computer models of several Submachine areas (The Lab, and "The Mover" from the end of Submachine 5/the beginning intro of Submachine 6) and even coming up with several spoof videos. There are also many theories as to what the Submachine games are about, verging from Mur being dead, the player being Mur, Submachines are self-aware, aliens from space or another dimension are involved with them, etc...over 100 in all to date.
The pastelstories forums (Skutnik's official site) are also very busy, easily seeing dozens of visitors on any given day. Granted, Skutnik has also done similar-themed point and click games, such as the Covert Front and DayMare Town series, along with dozens of other games (the 10 Gnomes series, Journey, and Squirrel games), although the Submachine threads are the most active as compared to any of Skutnik's other games in the forums.
- Submachine 0 was the first Submachine game where it had an item (the lighter) that could be reused multiple times. (Usually for the most part, once an item is used, it vanishes from the player's inventory.)
- In Submachine 2, there are 20 secrets to be found in the form of red dots throughout the game. However, nothing special happens if the player finds all the secrets, they are just tallied at the end of the game. Other games that have similar secrets (such as Submachine 4) have a reward for finding them all though.
- Submachine 3 is the only game so far that has passwords for its levels; several of the other games have multiple automatic save slots.
- Submachine 5 has an automated note feature, where, when the player comes across something new, the game notes it for them.