Atmospheres and aesthetics #1 -DOOM.

So over the last few months I’ve come to realize that the most important thing to me within a video game is the soundtrack, the ambient sounds in which can be heard, and the general mood that is created through these sounds as well as the aesthetics of the game. It’s the art style, and the ambient sounds and soundtrack that fuse together to create the general tone and atmosphere of a game. They make the world that you’re delving deep into come alive, and they give the soul to the experience itself. At least in my opinion. I often find myself simply listening to ambient sounds of a game on YouTube, or the official soundtrack itself so often. I reflect on the emotions that I feel as a result of playing these games, and I take vast amounts of inspiration from these worlds at the same time, which I then spin into writings that I enjoy to create. It’s for these reasons that I have decided to venture out unto a journey where I write about my favourite video game atmospheres and aesthetics in a new series called AAA games (Atmospheres and Aesthetics)

 

To get this series off the ground, I wanted to start with an incredible game that has an extremely in your face tone to it the entire time. The DOOM series was re-booted earlier in 2016, and the game features an explosive soundtrack in which was composed by the extremely talented Mick Gordon. As modern metal riffs fill your ears, you’re encouraged to continue mowing down all in your path. The absolutely devastating sound of an 8-string guitar’s lowest string being smashed constantly gives the player the motivation to continue traversing their way through this hellish world. People say that many different games make you feel like a true hero or “badass”, however in my opinion, DOOM truly lives up to that claim; through fast fast paced smooth, gore filled gameplay, and a melodic, eerie, and low toned soundtrack. DOOM makes you feel like a badass more than any other game has managed to over the last couple of years.

 

Crimson blood stains tattoo the surfaces that you climb and sprint past, while the sky above is cracked open with pure hell energy pouring out of it. The game is pure mayhem and it truly doesn’t let up. However if you just stand still in an area after you’ve cleared it out of the demons that sprawled themselves around it, and take in the smokey, deep orange ruins of the world that sort of remind me of The Pitt from Fallout 3, but with a slightly deeper and darker colour tone, then you’ll hear the howling of the winds, combining with occasional audio flashes of synthesized ambiance. There’s an edge to this ambiance. It’s relaxing to listen to, but when you’re in the game, and you’re staring out into the distance at a broken, desolate world, you are reminded through the ambient music that hell awaits around every corner. I was watching Mick Gordon’s Pax Australia panel from this year and he was discussing the DOOM soundtrack. Something very interesting that he talked about was how the thrash metal riffs that find their way into early DOOM games in 1993, didn’t so much fit into DOOM 2016. Gaming and technology has evolved since then, and so has music, particularly within the Metal scene. I particularly like the following quote from Mick that touched on this.

“The difference we realized between DOOM in 2016 and DOOM in 1993, is that you’re the bad guy. The Demon’s are scared of you. You’re the enemy, so the music for that guy needed to be evil music.” Mick Gordon  then went on to explain that that’s how the use of 8 string guitars came about. He wanted lower, heavy, mean and evil sounding riffs instead of upbeat Metallica like riffs for DOOM 2016. That whole story and Mick’s Pax Panel in general led to me to realize another reason that I love DOOM. I already knew from the word go that I loved the gameplay, and I fell in love with the OST instantly, however it opened my eyes to the fact that the evolution of games and music have been recognized and combined skilfully. First Person Shooters have only become more and more fluid and smooth over the years, with the opportunity for gore to look very realistic and sickening. While metal music has taken the road of getting lower and heavier all the time with bands like Black Tongue and Meshuggah pioneer this energy filled devastating sound. The two just go hand in hand so so well. It’s the perfect concoction.

 

The technical side of games doesn’t really fit into this series that I am starting up, however I find it essential to mention that this game runs so well. Even on consoles the game maintains (for the most part) a 60FPS frame rate, despite the constant flow of destruction and enemies, as well as the gorgeous graphics.

 

Bethesda and Mick Gordon teamed up, and created something of a masterclass level. Smooth, relentless gameplay in a bloody, broken dystopia of a world, combined with modern, low metal riffs, make for something of a masterpiece. The ambient sounds that can be appreciated at quieter points of the game, are eerie and relatively spooky. The sounds remind the player of the hell that they are going to face (literally) and the monsters and enemies displayed are brilliant representations of hell. DOOM overall is an amazing game; one that I feel developers across the world could learn a thing or two from.

 

 

 

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Dark Souls 2’s unique charm.

Dark Souls 2. Criticized for it’s lack of creativity when it comes to boss fights, boss arenas and areas in general, when compared with the original Dark Souls. Criticized for it’s game changing fast travel system which is accessible from the start of the game, slashing apart the chance for a naturally entwining and linking world. Empty box rooms plague Drangleic, as do randomly scattered enemies who feel like they have no purpose being where they are. All of these criticisms that Dark Souls 2 receives, and more, however I still love this game nonetheless. I feel that while the original Dark Souls and Dark Souls 3 share similarities in the charm that it emits onto the player, Dark Souls 2 has a very unique aura about it. Characteristics which are unseen in the original game or the third, however just fit right in with Dark Souls 2. A different director overseeing Dark Souls 2, was obviously going to have an effect on the games direction and was going to give the game a unique personality. It’s also important to remember that Dark Souls 2 had a rough time in development. Director Tanimura quotes:

“Yes, this game actually went through quite a troubled development process. Due to a number of factors we were actually forced to re-think the entire game midway into development. We really had to go back to the drawing board and think once more about what a Dark Souls game should be.” – Design Works Interview.

 

Immediately, when you begin your journey through Dark Souls 2 you find yourself in a dank and dark cave, a very familiar location description after playing the original Dark Souls. Light is seeping through a crack on the other side of the cave, and within a few minutes you find yourself basking in that very light in a beautiful sun set safe haven. The surrounding waters serenaded by the golden glistening sun, under the evening sky. This gorgeous location is called Majula, and is your safe haven as well as a checkpoint between very important areas within the game. As you enter, the sound track that played at the start of the game repeats, however this time at a higher pitch. I believe this correlates to the increase in light that is exposed unto you, as you enter Majula from Things Betwixt. An increase in the softness of the sound track, when an increase in light occurs. They compliment each other very well in my opinion. Connecting areas such as Heide’s Tower Of Flame and Forest Of Fallen Giants are also day time orientated, and this leads me to speak about the charm that I think is created partly by the day-time and more colourful areas of Dark Soul 2. Yes there are day time areas in the original game, places such as Undead Parish see sunshine trying to burst through the clouds unto Solaire and the player, however Dark Souls 2 is a much more colourful game with a deeper emphasis on the colour schemes in certain environments. This was of course to be expected, because Dark Souls 2 came out later, and so was developed with better technology.  However nonetheless I feel that having bright and colourful areas such as Forest Of Fallen Giants, in innocent and relatable seeming places such as a forest, suggest that there is no escape from the harshness of Dark Souls 2. Enemies aren’t just coming at you in a crypt, the abyss, or a fear instilling cathedral, but instead a Forest of bright beauty. A forest, also being a place that one might find themselves in within the real world, makes the experience that little bit more believable.

Continuing on, after the player traverses their way around the Forest, they will encounter a boss called The Pursuer. This fights arena takes on the aesthetic properties of Majula. The evening sun returns in full force to cover the dance like fight in a glaze of gold. This light hearted, gorgeous, and romantic arena, is heavily contrasted by a brutal and hate fueled fight. Dark Souls always shines at creating paradoxical scenarios in which the player questions while scratching their head in confusion, but as I mentioned, I feel that Dark Souls 2 had a unique way of doing this, with some of its unique environments combined with a more popping colour pallet. In Dark Souls 3 for example, we have the chance to explore Archdragon Peak. An area that basks in mid day sunlight, however Dark Souls 2 brings us these areas in a unique kind of way, that I guess I just can’t completely put my finger on.

 

Often I see Dark Souls and Dark Souls 3 grouped together as similar games in the series, while Dark Souls 2 is set aside as it’s own experience. A failure in many peoples eyes. Unique features and gameplay mechanics such as Life gems, very fast weapon degradation, unique parrying, Pharro’s Lockstones, Fragrant Branches of Yore set this game apart from the others. While many of these features aren’t the best ever seen in a souls game, they give Dark Souls 2 a very quirky feel which I have learned to fall in love with. Dark Souls 2 certainly isn’t my favourite game in the series, however it is special to me in a unique kind of way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Embers – A tribute to ‘Dark Souls’.

The embers were dancing. Such coordination and glowing grace to fill only one man’s eyes with beauty. The fallen cinders sat below and spectated; their dying breaths used to be reminded of what they once were. At the centre of the performance, stood a steel long sword, the heart and soul of the embers. Though engulfed by the scolding dancers that had been recently en-kindled It possessed a firm stance, with an aura of pride and protection about it; nothing would be hurt here. A safe haven for the endangered, comfort for the hunted and a beacon for the lost, however the amenity found in this decrepit land would soon be left behind. For he who wishes to link the first fire and break the undead curse must venture forth into the unknown, leaving divine embers behind.

Dark Souls is an artistic masterpiece.

Dark Souls, the game released in 2011 by From Software, first for consoles and later for PC. The game famous for its vicious and punishing world. The game famous for its tendency to make players throw their controller down in anger, to never return again. Dark Souls is an absolute artistic masterpiece for these reasons and so many others.

The developers at From Software did such an excellent job at combining so many flavorful aspects of Dark Souls together to create something that in my opinion is unrivaled. The incredibly deep lore which caresses the world that players traverse in such a subtle manner, gives reason for hundreds, if not thousands of hours of exploration. The beautiful landscapes that players may gaze at, are varying and contrasting to one another, always keeping the inspiring and curious flames inside our heads enkindled. The way that the distant areas become out of focus and blurred, give off a mysterious feel to that area. The area may not be fully visible to me now, but what secrets are held there? What creatures are there to slay or co-operate with? Continuing, the beautifully designed characters of Dark Souls, whether they be lore based, NPC’s, or enemies to fight, are beautifully and carefully crafted, and the back stories to many of these characters compliments their physical appearance and apparent behaviour so well.’ The Great Grey Wolf Sif’ optional boss fight stands out to me here. This boss does not actually want to fight you. Instead, it is valiantly trying to stop you from proceeding to the dangerous ‘Abyss’ where his previous master met an uncanny fate. And so he fights you to attempt to ward you away. Jumping back to the lore, you can only discover this fact after carefully observing the lore of Dark Souls. You won’t be directly told these things, and so you the player must set out to discover them for yourself. This skilfully adds a layer of mystique to the Dark Souls world.

The word perspective runs through my mind when I think of Dark Souls. This is because the game teaches you to really look at situations carefully and to even empathize with people. In video games, we are usually the good guy fighting the bad guys and the evils of that universe. In Dark Souls, the line is effectively blurred in various cases. An excellent example of this is the boss fight ‘Pinwheel’. Pinwheel is a necromancer who’s wife and child tragically died. In his peak of loneliness and despair he attempted to bring them back to life through necromancy, however failed and instead created a grotesque fusion form of his wife and child. He tirelessly attempts to undo the damage but doesn’t manage to as you, the player and chosen undead, arrive in his home to end his life, as well as his research. Pinwheel did nothing to hurt the chosen dead, or anyone for that matter. He just wanted to fix his mistakes but in a cruel manner, you slay him. and his family. After learning the story behind pinwheel, the way I looked at Dark Souls changed forever. I realised the depth of the game I was playing.

One of my personal favourite aspects of Dark Souls is the soundtrack that accompanies the already excellent game. The tracks included range from aggressive and tense pieces of music which coincide with the heart rate raising boss fights, all the way to the likes of the Firelink Shrine piece as well as my personal favourite track, the character select theme which is a mellow track which calms and soothes all before being tossed into a world of torment and death. Dark Souls’ soundtrack is masterfully orchestrated and composed which for me is the very thick and flavourful icing on top of the cake.

All of the various fragments of Dark Souls which I have spoken about are excellent. However it is the graceful way that they are all fused together that create an artistic and cultural masterpiece, which for the rest of my life will continue to inspire and move me. Thank you Dark Souls, and thank you From Software.