The Archivist | November 29, 2007
In 1984, a small Czech company was formed, named for the town in which an uncertain but significant number of its founders were born: Karvina. A year later they released their first game, delivered by an amazingly complex process to Western distributors, as cross-border traffic, in travel or trade, was not easy at the time. Throughout its lifetime, Karvina products would be all but smuggled out of the blasted coal town that served as their corporate base, passed hand to hand, envelope to envelope, on trains and through friendly couriers with dark glasses and lapel pins bearing the image of a red diamond, all conducted with a secrecy rarely equalled by government work.
What Happened to Agent Small? was a marvel of narrative complexity and surreal imagery, and as such was an almost complete failure. Despite its current reputation within a small cabal of dubious enthusiasts, it was outshone in its own time by later Karvina successes such as Gargantua, Guest at the Table of Heaven, and of course, Killswitch.
The game was a classic espionage scenario: Agent Small has disappeared, and Agent Thin, an indistinct avatar with a black hat and yellow trousers, descends into a strange country called Assumption in search of his partner. His weapon is a deck of red playing cards: each card dealt temporarily morphs into a weapon–the three of hearts is a small red pistol, the Jack of Spades a crossbow, etc. Each of these vanish within a short time frame. Thus only fifty-two weapons are available for the duration of the game, and if used too soon, leave Thin helpless long before the finale. He is pursued by the enemy agents Thomas A. Wilson and Thomas F. Wilson, (there appears to have been no translation issue, these were intentionally American names), desperately loyal lovers famous for having slit the President of Assumption’s throat with the edge of a palm leaf taken from an office topiary.
The object of the game was to acquire three scarlet diamonds before the Wilsons could–the jewels were necessary to a machine run by Agent Mire, the main antagonist, who sought to create a small, Earth-bound sun which would obliterate the world’s need for coal, and destroy several cities in the process. Agent Small had been on the same mission when she disappeared. Interestingly enough, however, the diamonds are never forthcoming at the conclusion of the levels, much like the princesses in the more popular Mario franchise. Agent Thin opens chest after chest to find them empty, unlocks door after door to find cobwebs and shadows. No message of encouragement, no friendly text to urge the player on.
Fully half of the game is spent in the Castle Hereupon, a complicated maze in which Agent Thin is repeatedly lost, battered, and tortured. At several points he is actually killed–there is no way to avoid this–and resurrected in the basement of the castle, first by a sad and helpless servant with a shock of pixellated blue hair, and subsequently by previous incarnations of himself. By the time he reaches Agent Mire, even the best players are on their third Thin Construct.
The final battle consists of a calm and ordered sniper hit (the King of Clubs becomes a rifle) on Agent Mire while he sits at an impossibly broad desk penning his autobiography, somewhat anti-climactic in the scheme of things, and the rescue of Agent Small, who had been kept in a medicine cabinet with her face pressed to the glass. Upon releasing her, she slowly opens her mouth to reveal the three red diamonds embedded in her jaw in place of the three teeth.
The game has an extraordinary amount of sexual content for its era, the Wilsons being very likely the first openly homosexual relationship in a video game narrative, and the long history of Thin and Small relayed in a series of textual cut scenes as the two leave the Castle. Apparently married and divorced twice, the doomed couple walk through the Castle grounds, which are littered with coal and machinery, returning to their world and their employers little better than they began.
Much has been made of the fact that it is a Thin Construct, and not Thin himself, who leaves the Castle with his partner. No comment can be made, as Karvina in its nascent stage may or may not have prefigured its later brilliance, may or may not have distastefully presented an infinite procession of avatars of avatars, may or may not have meant anything at all by it, and to speculate on such a matter shows a diseased mind.
The game, at any rate, was an utter catastrophe for the infant corporation. It is surprising that they recovered at all. Records indicate that a total of seventy-two copies were sold, and of those, sixty-one are now the property of the archives. The game was far below the standards of Karvina and is beneath the notice of any genuine player. It has been recommended by all high-level personnel that it be left to rot in dry storage. Its current occult popularity is entirely spurious and its acolytes to be pitied.
[[Archive Group: Pantry. Lockwords: Karvina Corporation, Alternate Distribution Streams, Orpheus Scenarios, Memory Storage, Index Librorum Prohibitorum
. Last Accessed 9.001.6.7.21, UIN# (47)663.5-9]]
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