Parts 1 & 2 were adaptations of existing material—namely, the first chapter of my dissertation, and this lesson plan. Parts 3 & 4 consisted mostly of newly-generated material. Part 5 returns to being an adaptation of existing writing—this time around, this blog post.
I had to scale back my ambitions for this particular video. Originally, it was going to feature a tour through some .OBJ outputs of the coastline maps, following in the footsteps of Robert Yang’s visualizations. Everything was going smoothly for awhile: I successfully extracted all the necessary textures with GCFScape, successfully opened the maps in Crafty, and got myself an education license for Maya. But try as I might, I just couldn’t quite pull off the trick that Yang did, and get the textures to affix to the .OBJ files. (He kind of glosses over that crucial step the blog post.) All I could produce were textureless grey blobs of level geometry.
So I fell back on a tried-and-true method of compositing a bunch of noclip screenshots in Photoshop. In addition to not having that cool 3D model look, it was also an enormous time sink, though, and slowed me down a lot. C’est la vie, I suppose.
Way back in January, I promised that I would write some further thoughts on 35MM (Sergei Nosgov, 2016). The more I tried to pull my thoughts together, though, it became clear that, as much as I like that game, I was lacking in concrete ideas about it. In place of the concrete, 35MM left me with nebulous impressions, feelings, and half-formed memories. My quest to craft a container for these impressions led to something that is not quite a video essay. The embedded video here is really more of a piece of meditative, impressionistic experimental machinima than it is an analytical work.
This video encapsulates my fascination with the prevalence of abandoned or poorly-maintained railroads and rail stations in post-apocalyptic games coming out of former Eastern Bloc countries. Sometimes, there is a clear lineage on display here, as when the Ukrainian studio 4A Games adapts the Russian science fiction author Dmitri Glukhovsky’s Metro books into the complementary Metro game series. More diffuse influences envelope these games as well, though. Some go back to the Soviet era. In the video, I pick out Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (USSR, 1979) as a distinct visual reference point. Although the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series developed by Ukrainian team GSC Gameworld hews much closer to the atmosphere of the Strugatsky novel Roadside Picnic on which Stalker is based, I think it’s undeniable that Tarkovsky’s film left a visual mark on post-Soviet apocalyptic fiction. (He was doing “ruin porn” before it was cool.)
As to why, exactly, the decaying rail line has become such a staple of former Eastern Bloc post-apocalyptic fiction … I have no answer. But that’s one of the things you can get away with when choosing this sort of video work over the written word.
I spent the first week of 2017 catching up on things I hadn’t played from 2016. But all play and no work makes Ian a dull boy, so it’s time to get back to writing, even if it’s of the casual sort.
Fair warning: In this post I’m going to dip into some unapologetic formalism as a way of best expressing some otherwise entirely subjective reactions. Obviously, there are pitfalls to this. Formalism puts off some. Unabashedly subjective attempts at criticism puts off others. But, whatever—this is my blog, and sometimes I like to post things that aren’t lesson plans. (Also, a note: I’m going to have fewer of those posted in the foreseeable future. I’ve posted most of my best lessons from past courses at this point, and I’m only teaching one class this term, one I’ve taught before.)
Below the fold, I play with some vocabulary, and offer thoughts on three more interesting games of 2016. These are short takes, and it is quite likely that I will be writing more on some of these in the near future.