Atmospheres And Aesthetics #2 -Skyrim

Recently, I begun a new Blog series titled ‘AAA Games’ or ‘Atmospheres And Aesthetics’. The series sees me discuss with you, the internet, my favourite art styles, soundtracks and general atmospheres found within video games. Last week in the first entry into the series we talked about the bloody, demonic, and very eerie re-boot of the classic DOOM. This week we’re taking a slightly different turn, as we are going to be taking a look at Bethesda’s Skyrim. This Open-World RPG was originally released in 2011, with a Special Edition released this year in 2016 in which included higher resolutions, smoother textures, improved lighting as well as some small bug fixes. The game itself is renowned for the freedom it gives you the player. A vast open-world that is easy to jump into, as well as being sprinkled generously with quests, miscellaneous tasks, secrets, random encounters and more sees the player constantly immersed with things to keep them busy. Over two years ago in 2014, Skyrim had sold a staggering twenty million copies of the RPG, making it one of the highest selling games of all time, so without further ado, let’s get right into why I personally love the atmospheres and aesthetics of this game.

 

I briefly mentioned in the opening paragraph that Skyrim gives the player a lot of freedom in a vast world, and I wanted to delve deeper into that. Due to the huge scale of the world in Skyrim, a lot of travelling is required. Even if the player chooses to fast travel to as many locations as they possibly can, a lot of walking, running or horse riding will be required to get from place to place. It is during this time of wandering through this lush fantasy world, that I always remember why I love Skyrim. Even just walking through the world, allows the player to take in fruitful, expansive, contrasting and downright inspiring terrains. Snow sprinkled mountains in which are indeed climbable, autumn infected forests nearby to a town called Riften in which display deep lovable colours. Long forgotten, trap ridden caves in which foliage is beginning to take over and so many more terrains make this world one to remember. This world is one of the reasons why I have uploaded hundreds upon hundreds of screenshots to Steam for everyone to be tormented with. Well, blessed with really. The games aesthetical basis really means something to me, due to the fact that I in the real world am a true admirer of woodland terrains, particularly within the autumn period.

 

Continuing on, I wanted to move onto something that has a very strong correlation with the terrains of this game. The weather. Like most Open World games of the modern era, there are various weather types that are implemented into this game, and the game randomly selects a different type of weather as the day progresses, or as you move around the world. A very cosy and homely atmosphere is created by the tapping of the rain, as it is by the soft howling of the winds during a white out Blizzard. I feel that there is a comfort that comes with things such as the rain, or cold winter howling winds when we’re admiring those particular weathers from the comfort of a warm place. Whether that be as we admire the blustery conditions within a video game, or through pictures on the internet, I do feel that I, as well as many people love to be immersed in these weathers as they essentially create a mood. I certainly have a love for the autumn in particular when it comes to real life. Continuing, I know many people who aren’t big fans of video games in general however show a keen interest and love for Skyrim, and I do feel that that is because of the homely nature of the game; the deep, immersive ambient soundtrack to this game, infuses with the immaculately detailed world that Bethesda have created. Furthermore when I find myself inside a local pub within Skyrim, and there’s a lute player literally taking requests, there’s a cracking clementine fire and a warm room to rent, I get that feeling of relief when you come inside from a freezing cold day. You essentially, feel like you’re, well… Home. Skyrim just creates a true escapist experience.

 

Skyrim’s soundtrack makes for the perfect companion when travelling the Province. Tranquil pieces such as ‘From Past To Present’ which caress your ears convert to tracks such as ‘Steel On Steel’ when you must fight an incoming group of bandits, or a dragon. The soundtrack was composed by Jeremy Soule, a man whom I don’t know much about, however I do know that he created a masterpiece soundtrack that I, and many others hold dear to our hearts. The accompanying music is soft, and always appropriate for the situation at hand. It meshes perfectly with the high fantasy setting. The game understands well, that you might be taking in some gorgeous scenery, or if you’ve entered a dark and dank cave and so the game caters to those situations, making you feel even more immersed in the experience. As solo violins intersperse with the rest of a creeping orchestra to create a sudden, epic piece of music it really does take you the player back. It truly is a soundtrack that I appreciate.

 

There are a lot of games that have Atmospheres and aesthetics that I appreciate, however only some of them can inspire me to try to create my own thing outside of the game. Skyrim is a game that has inspired me to write certain pieces of poetry, and to start writing a fiction story. I have written a fantasy short story in the past, however after getting back into Skyrim, I became so inspired by the terrain, the soundtrack and the general aura of the game that surrounds the player, that It made me want to create my own universe, and I think that is truly amazing. A piece of art, leading the viewer and or player to want to create their own piece of art is something truly special. Of course I’m not the only one who has been inspired by this game. Impressive photo edits, GIF sets, fan art, fan fiction and more have been created as a result of people playing this game, and it really brings to light the passion that people feel for this game.

 

To wrap this entry up, Skyrim includes a soothing soundtrack which is extremely appropriate for the game you are playing. The high fantasy aesthetic of the game, combined with the dynamic weather systems and ambience of the experience really make for a truly immersive experience. While gameplay mechanics are not a spotlight topic for this blog series, it is important to note that the vast nature of the world in Skyrim, and the uncanny ability to explore so many terrains truly makes the game feel like a second home in many ways. While writing this, all I can hear in my headphones is the soughing wind  of the fantasy universe and it only makes me yearn for a warm bed in Riverwood. Thanks to Bethesda for creating a truly incredible world which includes beautiful fantasy terrains and never ending exploration.

The Last Of Us Part II is coming.

So at PSX 2016 just last week, Publishers Sony Computer Entertainment, as well as developers Naughty Dog announced part two of their critically acclaimed game in which millions of people hold dear to their hearts. The Last Of Us was released in 2013, and  captured the minds and hearts of so many people; through a harrowing, emotionally captivating storyline, which followed the lives of two very special characters, Ellie and Joel. Through post-apocalyptic America in 2033 we followed them on their emotional journey of love, hate, friendship and despair. The one of a kind storyline was infused with gritty, and well polished game mechanics such as the ability to scavenge parts to upgrade weapons, and intense third-person combat, as well as a beautiful soundtrack composed by Gustavo Santaolalla which fits like a glove into the world of the Last Of Us. Colin Moriarty, a former writer for IGN; and the man who reviewed The original game, said the following.

“It’s PlayStation 3’s best exclusive, and the entire experience, from start to finish, is remarkable.” The Last Of Us went on to score a perfect 10 from IGN and received outstanding reviews from other video game outlets also.

After being given a peek into the world of The Last Of Us Part II, in the form of a trailer, and discussion interview in which Ashley Johnson (voice actor for Ellie), Troy Baker (voice actor for Joel) And Neil Druckmann ( writer of Last Of Us Part II), I wanted to talk about some very interesting things that we learned during the trailer, and interview.

 

To kick it all off; the thing that stood out the most to me, was the games title. The new Last Of Us game is not a direct sequel, but instead an extension onto the tale of the first game. I felt this was an interesting and credible move by Naughty Dog, due to the fact that not all that many developers title their game “Part II”. Instead a direct sequel is usually the path taken. Of course, since the original games release and exceptional reception, fans have been skeptical as to whether a second game would be released. It was thought by so many people that The Last Of Us was perhaps too good for a sequel. There has always been a notion that the original game could not be beaten, and would be tarnished by a follow-up. Talk of The Last Of Us 2 occurred all the time, and through all the speculation I do not  believe that many people expected this title. It was a clever move by Naughty Dog, as I feel that they have taken away some of the stigma behind a sequel, by essentially extending the already released game, instead of having something completely new. This ideology that I am talking about works both ways though however, just let me explain. For those who were all for a sequel or a second game, ever since the original, and they wanted to see a similar game with the same characters, then this idea of titling the new release “Part II” gives those fans the notion that the game will indeed be similar. It won’t stray far from the path of what they were given in 2013, as it is an extension rather than a whole new thing, or sequel, and this has been proven already slightly, because of the fact that adored characters Ellie and Joel are returning.

 

Ellie And Joel returning is fantastic news in my eyes. I have only played the Last Of Us once, back in 2013 and I can still safely say after the many master-class games that I’ve played since then, that Ellie and Joel still stick in my mind as not just characters, but people. People that I actually care about. I shed tears during their original adventure multiple times and I felt a genuine attachment to them. This is not something that I feel easily with video game characters. I feel as if I have missed the two survivors, and I want to be able to live in their world again, so I essentially can see how they’re coping. I want to empathize with them. This leads me onto touch on some news surrounding Ellie and Joel’s return. Firstly, and something that I am very excited about, is the news that in The Last Of Us Part II, we actually play as Ellie primarily. This contrasts to the first game, as we played the majority of the game as father figure Joel, with hints of gameplay featuring a controllable Ellie. Furthermore, it’s great to hear that Ashley Johnson is once again voicing Ellie, as is Troy Baker voicing Joel. The two actors hold such an incredible talent. A talent that to me, takes on the form of an elixir. One that helps to immerse you into Naughty Dog’s vision of post apocalyptic America. The tension and raw emotion can literally be felt with these actors, and this is something that seriously boosts the quality of The Last Of Us. So the voice actors are the same, the characters are the same. Has anything changed? Well, Joel was already a middle aged man in the original game, so physically, he’s still his usual grizzly self it seems. However Ellie was thirteen in the first game, and now, six years down the line, she is of course nineteen. The pair of course share the same age gap between the first game and the second, however it is of far more significance for Ellie. In six years, she has gone from an early, curious adolescent, who was still discovering things such as her sexual orientation, to a grown woman. A woman who seems to have a new outlook on the world. An outlook of vengeance. A woman who will probably have new goals, beliefs and potentially a whole new personality. The same goes our grizzled lovable dad. While physically he won’t have changed as much as Ellie, emotionally and mentally perhaps he has, The pairs brutal experiences over the last six years have probably changed them forever. Many questions have arisen for me after learning about this game. Has Joel been further broken by the new world that he traverses? Does the death of his daughter still haunt him? Is he still as strong as he once was? These questions link back to the empathy that I said I feel for these characters earlier on. I don’t just want to know how they’re doing, but I want to help them on their journey. I want to ensure their survival.

 

Naughty Dog have crafted multiple master-class games over the years. The Last Of Us is of course included, however more recently we’ve seen releases such as Uncharted 4 which showed off the true capabilities of the PlayStation 4. Graphically mesmerizing, with constantly smooth gameplay, and a gripping story which makes you want to keep playing forever; The Last Of Us Part II will only build off of releases such as this. During the PSX discussion, writer Neil Druckmann mentioned that the Last Of Us Part II will feature some evolution from the first game in terms of mechanics, but also inventions, and this leads me to feel a great feeling of exhilaration. No information was given on these new mechanics, however it of course still early days, and it gives us the fans the opportunity to ponder, speculate and discuss as a community even more topics surrounding this up and coming game. No release date or even window has been given for this project as of yet, however I wouldn’t hold your breath on a 2017 release date. 2018 or maybe even 2019 are the release years that I would place my bets on. Guessing only the release year correctly probably doesn’t land you a whole lot of cash though I imagine.

 

To summarize, I am so excited for The Last Of Us Part II. I’m more than ready to see how our favourite duo Joel and Ellie have been doing, what’s changed in the post apocalyptic land of the free, and I’m just generally excited and ready for Naughty Dog to wow us yet again with another gripping story.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Itinerant…

You may ask what the point of this post is, and it may come off as a little unstructured, but I don’t mind; structure gets a little tedious and boring every now and then.

 

For years I have always had the desire to see more of the world, with a bubbling interest to go and see America. I’m fascinated by the place. The contrasting states terrains, the contrasting people, the music scenes, the food, the general aesthetic of many places in America, as well as so much more draws me in all too strongly. Wanderlust is something that I imagine most people feel in their lives. It’s natural to move around, it’s natural to move from place to place, and it’s natural to want to do that in the 21st Century when there’s so much opportunity to do so.

 

For the last year or so, my yearning to travel to America has grown so strong; it is now my life goal, and the thing that I think about the most.Of course it won’t take my whole life to save up the money to go, maybe a matter of months, however it is my primary objective. It gives me motivation, and something to aspire to. My desire to travel intertwines with my love of writing poetry and fiction. I want to explore these places that staple themselves in my mind, and I want to extract as much as I can from my experience away, so I can hopefully concoct something worthwhile, in terms of my writing. In addition, I possess a mindset in which becomes convoluted at times, even for myself. A mixture of frustration at being burrowed so far into my own country and regular life, of seeing the same things every single day. The fact that meaningless tasks and an unfulfilling job consume a considerable amount of my time. The overwhelming desire to just go and ‘do’ something that I can look back on with fond memories. The happiness that flows through me when I think about the possibility of travelling. The sadness that consumes me when I realize how expensive and difficult it can be to get out to a place as far away and vast as America. The strong feeling that the petty things that create and fill a void in my life aren’t enough, and that there’s more to life. This mixture just clouds my mind, but it leads me to ‘know’ that I need to go and do this.

 

People seem so scared of someone wanting to go and do something. On so many occasions, I’ve seen myself or others been dragged down by people when they opened up about their dreams and aspirations. It just saddens me that people don’t set their heights higher sometimes. I’ve by no means done anything extraordinary or incredibly different and interesting in my life, but I’ve realized my goal and now I want to set out to achieve it. If when I travel, I find a place that I think I’d like to live in, then I’d certainly want to move out and live there in the future also. I don’t want children in my life time, I’m not interested in settling down with a mortgage forever. I’d be happy with a small apartment that’s nice enough to live in, and I’d prefer to save up my money so I can go and do things that I am actually interested in. I of course understand that we need to work and earn money, however I just find it bizarre that people don’t create time to do the things that they truly want to do in life as much as they should. I say this as a 19 year old who hasn’t achieved all too much in his life time. Someone who’s very imaginative and ambitious, but hasn’t  gone through with things as much as I should have. As the cheesy and often poorly used saying goes ” You Only Live Once.” And while that saying is often ridiculed;at the end of the day it’s perfectly true. And I just want to do something that screams my understanding of having one life. I want to make life worthwhile. I don’t want to sound obnoxious; I understand that going to new places isn’t an interest everybody possesses. But for me personally, just staying in the same country forever, repeating the same tasks, working the same  job, with the same people forever just doesn’t seem like enough. I guess I’m just getting a crazy feeling that I just need to get away, and I know that eventually I will do. Things take time and that gives me motivation; something that I don’t usually have. I just want to break the mold, and the man-made structure of the life that we live. I want to take some risks, meet new people, make mistakes and find joy, have no money, be scared, be happy… All in new countries across the world. I want to be, itinerant.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rockstar Games announce Red Dead Redemption 2.

 

Rockstar games have announced the long anticipated sequel to 2010 western open-word hit Red Dead Redemption, after years of speculation, and two teaser images being posted to social media sites earlier this week.

 

Releasing in the Fall of 2017 for PS4 and Xbox One, Red Dead Redemption 2 will have a trailer to accompany the announcement this coming Thursday at 11AM EST. Rockstar games’ official site had the following to co-exist with the announcement image:

“Developed by the creators of Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption, Red Dead Redemption 2 is an epic tale of life in America’s unforgiving heartland. The game’s vast and atmospheric world will also provide the foundation for a brand new online multiplayer experience.”

 

PC players are currently expressing their disappointment at the lack of a PC release, however if history repeats itself, then Red Dead Dead Redemption 2 will release a year or two down the line from the console launch, as was seen with the launch of both Grand Theft Auto Four and Five. However no comment has been made by Rock Star as of yet.

 

In other news relating to Red Dead Redemption 2, the parent company to Rockstar Games, Take-Two Interactive, secured a domain for Reddeadonline.com which suggests that the online experience seen within Red Dead Redemption 2 will take on that name. The original Red Dead Redemption included a vast open world multiplayer experience which attracted a very impressive amount of players, as did GTA V, so it of course makes sense so have an experience similar for Rockstar’s next project.

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.