CIPC #330: Syberia

No, I did not just misspell Siberia. Syberia is the actual name of a point-and-click video game released in 2002. It was written by Belgian comic artist Benoît Sokal and tells of the strange adventures that Mrs. Kate Walker,1 an American lawyer, lives through on the quest to get a signature for the sale of an automata manufacturing plant to a toy company. This mission takes her on a long, meandering trip that, at some point, lands her in a once-fancy hotel in a decrepit spa resort on lake Aral. It has a swimming pool and at some point, two guys are playing chess there.

For the general education of my esteemed audience, it is perhaps worth pointing out that this scene, which is entirely orthogonal to the plot, was almost certainly inspired by the famous Széchenyi baths in Budapest where chess playing is de rigueur.

Unfortunately, video game graphics in 2002 were not of the kind that takes kindly to zooming in too much. So a reliable reconstruction is not going to happen. Here’s an unreliable one instead:2

One important factor in the reconstruction was that there are no figures next to the board.3 Assuming nobody has criminally absconded with a piece, all chessmen must still be on the board. Weirdly, there seems to be no piece on e8 or g8, but there is one on f8. What happened to the black king, then? I decided to put it on d7 for want of better options, but I’m far from convinced. I also had to amass a bunch of white pieces in the centre since hiss queen’s side looks positively deserted.

In any case, it seems white is to move. Because when Kate tries to talk to the white player he starts mumbling to himself:

White: Hmm. I think I can thrust with my queen through there. Unless.

No one talks like that. No one even thinks like that.

White: No no no. Check in two moves. Maybe I’ll squeeze him with my bishop instead. Nothing like a good squeeze from a bishop.

Check in two moves? I’ve never heard anybody worried about a check in two moves. A checkmate, sure, or a check with a fork, but just a check? And how do you squeeze someone with a bishop?

Realism: 2/5 I’m willing to accept an intelligent automaton, a miraculous voice-restoring cocktail, and a wind-up train from France to Russia, but I draw the line at the king on d7.

Probable winner: If my reconstruction is anywhere close to reality, it’s white. But that’s far from obvious.

1. [Nomen est omen: a considerable amount of the playing time is spent watching her walk.]
2. [This diagram editor, though, is perfectly reliable.]

3. [Except for two guys in swimming gear and an American lawyer trying to liquefy some honey. Yes, really.]