There’s a game out there, if some are to be believed, that so few people have played it’s impossible to verify its existence. That game is Killswitch, the story of a woman waking up in a coal mine with minor wounds, and besting everything from demonic inspectors, to undead miners, to possessed machinery to make it to the surface.
Kotaku’s Stranger Things series is presented by the new Netflix original: Stranger Things. When a young boy vanishes, a town uncovers a mystery of secret experiments, supernatural forces, and one strange little girl. Watch it only on Netflix from July 15.
Meant to be one of the earliest horror adventure games, Killswitch had a side-on view with point-and-click-ish gameplay akin to Myst and King’s Quest, which would be released later on. You could click on the screen where you wanted your character, Porto, to go. Items you’ve found would appear at the bottom, and naturally you’d try every item on everything in the world to see what it does.
Exploring the mine, Porto would find pieces of a tape recorder, and she could listen to the events that transformed the mine into the hellish place it became. There were other puzzles with long arcs, including one described as “laughably complex” in the form of markings on the axes of undead enemies. The markings were in code, and figuring out the cipher for this code was the second hardest thing to do in the game.
Technically, I say “second hardest”, because Killswitch also included the ability to play as an invisible demon named Ghast, with a finite amount of fiery weaponry to use. Ghast wasn’t just invisible to enemies, it was invisible to the player — meaning after you’ve used up your flame ammo, there was no way to find your own protagonist and navigate the many dexterous challenges such as jumping across platforms and taking out enemies. No one has ever beaten the game as Ghast, so the story goes, and its inclusion was kind of a gimmick.
Ghast’s presence didn’t even offer any narrative value that the community could make sense of, until the company released a press release referring to “Porto and her beloved Ghast”, as if it were almost some kind of friend or pet. The reason for the press release is the same as the reason you won’t find anyone who has actually played the game…
That’s because, conveniently for this urban legend, Killswitch is design to self-terminate after being completed. It deletes all traces of itself on the person’s computer, and customers were angry about it. With only 5,000 copies of the game ever supposedly being made, the last few became precious. As players ascended to the top of the mine, they would see a whitened screen (which in Killswitch’s monochrome storytelling could be seen as a victorious emergence into light, similar to the beginning of a Fallout game), and suddenly the game would be gone.
That’s perhaps the most unlikely part of this myth. As knowledge of the self-nuke spread, surely the dedicated community would figure out a technical way around it. Are we expected to believe Karvina Corporation solved the piracy problem where so many others had failed? The tech behind such DRM would’ve been worth far more than the game. But the legend kind of needs you to suspend your disbelief of that weak link in the chain.
That hasn’t stopped people from making their own versions of the game though, as you can see above.
Honestly, even if I try to teleport my consciousness back into a six-year-old version of me, it doesn’t look like that fun a game to play. Who could make sense of all those monochrome riddles?
Serendipitously, it was a fabled saviour of a community member that piped up a few times with extremely valuable info, including the cipher to the incredible difficult code scribbled on the axes of mine workers. That person’s name was Porto881, who later also figured out how to stop Porto’s random growth spurts, which would otherwise prevent her from fitting through doors in the final level.
Given that Killswitch is a game about demons rising to wipe out a mine for its policies of basically torturing workers to increase output, some have drawn connections to Soviet industrial practices. It’s probably safe to assume at this point that Karvina Corporation is named after Karviná, the Czech Republic town known for its coal mining.
Now that computers have evolved and people in general know more about them, it’s perhaps a little harder to believe the line about this game deleting itself. It’d be a miracle if it even ran on modern computers. But if you can ignore that, it’s a fun little creepypasta. So the story goes, there’s at least one unfinished copy still out there… But I’d hold off refreshing eBay for the time being.