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Screenshot-Original (1)Last year I wrote about a game called LIMBO, an indie platformer that I really enjoyed. So did critics and gamers as it earned rave reviews and was ported to several different platforms and consoles. The sales and support allowed developer Playdead, a small independent studio based in Denmark, to begin work on a second project, and INSIDE is the result of six years work and development. While it benefits from improved graphics and audio that games can now offer in 2016, spiritually it stays true to a lot of the values that made LIMBO such a unique game.

Screenshot-Original (4)You, the player, control a boy and must keep him away from danger (guards and dogs initially chase him down) while guiding him forward through dangerous and increasingly strange scenes simultaneously beautiful and eerie. Inside’s several similarities to its ‘little brother’ LIMBO include a unique graphical style, a 2D perspective, a minimalist (or, not immediately obvious) story, and very unsettling, creepy undertones. But the experience of Limbo has allowed Playdead to build on their talent of creating disturbing worlds with vague and haunting themes.

Screenshot-Original (5)The graphics are outstandingly beautiful. Limbo was set in a monochromatic landscape but with Inside the black-and-white environments contain dashes of colour. However there is far more detail on show.T he screens don’t do Playdead’s artistic direction justice. Lighting and particle effects, rippling puddles and dripping water; the level of detail in the varied environments (where you explore farms, factories, offices and science labs) is outstanding. There were times I had to stop to take it all in.

Screenshot-Original (6)And while I’ve said Inside is a 2D sidescroller, that’s not strictly true. At key moments in the gameplay, the camera will pan to give breathtaking angles of the environment. Movement is still restricted to left and right, up and down, but the depth of the world makes it seem much more grander in scale. Animations are superb all round; the boy runs, jumps and climbs in a way that feels organic and true, and when matched with sounds of his panting and grunts of pain, the need to get him through these ordeals is that much stronger.  

Screenshot-Original (7)Inside initially follows a similar theme to Limbo: a boy needs to find his way through a series of seemingly abandoned environments, avoiding hostile enemies (guards, dogs, other…things) and the hazards around him. These involve circumventing traps and puzzles, some of which really caused me to scratch my head. It’s a short game, but you will die frequently and some of the puzzles require an element of trial and error. As to what the boy is doing here, what he is looking for, and what the hell is going on in this world, I will not even speculate on. There is a message, or a theme, and I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts and interpretations, but I won’t spoil anything here. Inside needs to be experienced, and the less you know the better. I can’t stop thinking about the whole thing.

Screenshot-Original (9)I said something similar when I wrote about Limbo, but Inside is a piece of interactive art. The dividing lines between a game, a story and art is blurred into something undefinable. Without any words being spoken, Inside is compelling and thought-provoking, subtle and creepy, beautiful and unmissable. It needs to be experienced.

“Boy, have we got a vacation for you!”

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James Brolin (left) plays Blane, a frequent visitor of West World who brings his recently divorced friend Martin, played by Richard Benjamin, for the first time to let off some steam. Apprehensive at first, Martin soon starts to enjoy himself.

Before creating a theme park full of dinosaurs which turned on its visitors (Jurassic Park, 1990 – and the subsequent Spielberg adaption in 1993), Michael Crichton wrote and directed Westworld, released in 1973. A similar situation in some ways – the attractions of an amusement park end up killing the visitors. Delos is a state-of-the-art, hyper realistic amusement park for adults, with three themed ‘worlds’ to explore, depending on the visitors preference: Roman World, Medieval World and the titular West World – a Western themed area where for $1000 a day, visitors can live in an authentic experience of the lawless, thrilling cowboy lifestyle of the West.

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Androids populate West World to give a highly authentic experience – they can be killed in brawls and showdowns but are programmed to always ‘lose’ to the guests, ensuring no visitors are ever in danger of harm.

The three ‘worlds’ in Delos are populated by androids who with the latest technology are modelled to look and behave like their human counterparts from the selected era. So in Westworld, there are sheriffs, bartenders, prostitutes and outlaws. These androids are scheduled to behave in a certain way each day, serving guests, cheating at poker, starting bar fights and engaging in quick draw pistol showdowns, to create a fully interactive world for the visitors. The androids are programmed to never harm guests – they will always lose gunfights and when shot they bleed and do not get back up, dragged away by park workers to be repaired and returned to service for the next day. While Blane has visited West World several times, it is Martin’s first visit and at first he doesn’t seem won over despite the astounding technology. But after shooting an android (Yul Brynner’s ominous Gunslinger) over a disagreement over a spilt drink, and later visiting a brothel where the pair sleep with two attractive androids, Martin is enamoured by the feeling of being a real cowboy.

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Every night the damaged androids are fixed and analysed, before being wheeled back out for the next day of wild west activities.

Predictably, things go wrong. An android rattlesnake bites Blane, a seductive android rejects a visitor’s sexual advances. The Delos scientists speculate that a ‘virus’ is spreading through the androids, causing the malfunctions. Initially laughed off (how can a virus spread through machines?), the problem escalates rapidly when a knight, programmed to lose a sword fight in Medieval World, kills its visitor opponent. The technicians watch on monitors in shock, unable to shut down the androids as they begin to rampage on reserve power. In West World, the Gunslinger again provokes a now hungover Blane and Martin to a showdown in the street. Blane, assuming the Gunslinger’s safety procedures are still operational, is killed in the draw and a shocked Martin flees in terror as the android pursues him with unstoppable intensity and its heightened senses.

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Yul Brynner is excellent as the terrifying Gunsligner, a deadly and relentless android who chases Martin through West World when its programming fails.

As a film Westworld is a good, if not great, sci-fi thriller. What grabbed my attention is the ideas and concepts that are raised. Man tries to harness science, technology and artificial intelligence, fails. How aware are the androids of their ‘job’? Do the androids feel used? Do they have any understanding of their (lack of) sentience? Is there any moral implication of destroying an anthropomorphised machine, when it looks and acts exactly like a real man, only to fix and reconstruct it in order for it to be shot and killed all over again? The film barely scratches the surface of some of these questions, which is a shame as it’s a concept that really interests me.

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You might ask why I have suddenly taken an interest in a film, not exactly well known, released back in 1973? Westworld is being adapted into a television miniseries for HBO, created by Jonathan Nolan and starring Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, James Marsden and Thandie Newton. Described as “a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin”, I’m hoping the extended format of a miniseries will allow some of the questions I raised above to be explored in more detail. With a talented cast and excellent directors behind the scenes (including JJ Abrams) I’m intrigued to see how such a concept is realised and investigated, over forty years after the original film was released.