In defence of Luna, and the Dark Park.

In which I demand the reinstatement of all Luna Parks in Theme Park Theory and Design.

I‘m very grateful again to my missus for digging up an essential research source, being the program for an exhibition Luna Park and the Art of Mass Delirium. Held at The Museum of Modern Art at Heide in 1998, it catalogues responses to Luna Park St Kilda by mid 20th century painters Sidney Nolan, Joy Hester et al. alongside current visual artists. The art itself is not that appealing to me, but the included essays show how ignorant I am of the entire history – as are the people that claim to teach theme park design.

luna001

Jennifer Phipps, a curator at the NGV, takes up the history of the Melbourne artists and park and makes many points, a few of which I can summarise here. In the wartime 1940’s, St Kilda housed American soldiers, about which the general consensus was they were ‘over paid, over sexed, and over here’. The park, ‘browned out’ as a war precaution, was filled with soldiers attended by young girls looking for a thrill, perhaps getting more thrill than the one they expected. Like all of Coney Island in New York, Luna Park was at the time considered a seedy place – both in Melbourne and Sydney. (When I asked my old dad about Sydney Luna, he would just say it was filled with ‘yanks and whores’).

Given the facts of the ‘Brown Out Murders’, it was a valid point of view, if unfortunate.

35.2003##S.jpg.505x403_q85

The painters had a mixture of admiration and horror for the park, which they saw in the context of the war. Nolan, generally in favour of the vitality of the park, conflated the lines of the roller coaster with the tracer lines of ack-ack guns and produced designs for the ballet Icarus where the boy falling from the sky equaled the coaster in descent. But Hester painted a darker image of woman prone on the ground, the victim of a leering Luna face.

luna002

In my own vocabulary, these painters were working with the light/dark modern/mannerist Orphic principle of the parks – the ‘mass delirium’ identified by the exhibition. There’s more context for why Disney, an artist, held such a revulsion to American parks as they were in the 1940’s and attempted Jekyll and Hyde surgery for his own land.

Ian McDougall, adjunct professor of architecture at RMIT, provides a masterful history of theme park architecture which should be mandatory reading for any study of park design. He describes what is very likely the prototype of the theme park in the circa 1550 Gardens at Bomarzo. Here are dragons and monsters, and the inscription that it’s sol per sfogare il Core … a bit like Just For Fun. He describes the 1968 study Learning From Las Vegas by Brown & Venturi, a significant work in which the pop art of the Strip was documented and became valid and worthy of inclusion in academic built environment design.

Bomarzo_parco_mostri_drago_con_leoni copy

I was most taken with his account of the 1978 book Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas that sets out the history of Coney Island, the 1939 World’s Fair, and NYC itself as an ongoing battle between light and dark. At one point the struggle is written as directly waged between Salvador Dali and Le Corbusier – both armed with Dali’s Paranoid Critical Technique. It’s not hard to find a naughty copy of the book online, and you have to read it before you can really understand the history and mentality of Luna Parks wherever they came to be.

Screen Shot 2019-01-21 at 1.19.13 pm

For me the message is good – there is a body of theoretical work, unfortunately unknown or denied by the practice where ‘imagineering’ has been set up as the whole reason. There is no justification for editing history to start in 1955 – that simply marks a reaction to what was there before. The reaction requires explanation, and that can be found as far back as 1550.

It all needs to be given some long trousers, and perhaps it’s something that I can do.

yin-yang-2102215_640-200x200

An Orphic view of the fun fair.

In which Disney’s desire to expunge Mr. Hyde from Dr. Jekyll’s fun fair is argued to be flimflam.

I’m grateful to my missus for David Younger’s Theme Park Design book, which turns out to be a long and deadly serious text. Seeing as you can have physics textbooks with colour pictures and multiple fonts, it feels as if theme parks are being presented here as no laughing matter.

From it I find that my ideas on narrative have been embarrassingly naïve. Just pretend I didn’t write any of it thank you. The discussion of theme park storytelling is long and embattled, with the Europeans somewhat skeptical and the Americans doubling down. It also depends on the era you’re talking about.

Younger has a nomenclature for design eras, very Disney-centric like everything in the book. But to my way of thinking, it starts too late in the history

‘Traditional’ is the design category for the original Disneyland, immersive and thematic. As Disney became more involved in edutainment the real world became more important, and a ‘presentational’ style downplayed theming in favour of clean and simple lines that kept out of the way. In this scheme Fantasyland is traditional, while EPCOT is presentational. When the luster of big science wore off in the 70’s, the ‘postmodern’ style began to tease and mock the earnestness of these formats – as in the early Disney California Adventure.

trylon-perisphere-helicline

Trylon and Perisphere, with the helicline walkway. 1939.

But I think both presentational Tomorrowland and traditional Fantasyland have lived side by side from the very beginning. The two styles also represent something much older – the ‘ying and yang’ of the world fairs which had a light (inspirational, educational) side matched with a dark (exotic, disturbing) side. It seems fair to say the Trylon and Perisphere of the 1939 New York fair are ‘presentational’, as is the Eiffel Tower. Disney would never had allowed Salvador Dali’s Dream of Venus on site (although they did collaborate on a film) but the dark rides of Fantasyland are informed by those of the Amusement Zone.

elektrovintage

How much was Disney inspired by Elektro the Moto-man to create an improved robot of President Lincoln for the 1965 fair? Did he take notes at Frank Buck’s Jungleland? To what extent did the 1939 model ‘city of tomorrow’ presume the model ‘community of tomorrow’ 30 years later? Did the idea for a main street leading to a central hub already exist?

But was Disney involved at the ’39 fair at all?

vlcsnap-2019-01-05-15h33m28s740

Mickey cartoon for the Nabisco Pavilion 1939 World Fair

Yes, deeply at many levels. And when Disneyland was in financial trouble he first wrote to the companies who had been at the fair for the same kind of sponsorship. They turned him down, but responded when a financial man made serious deals – and Monsanto et al. were on-site, plugging their wares.

Disneyland is in many aspects a small copy of a world fair, mixed with copies of European pleasure parks. It did not spring solely from his imagination.

You can argue that Theme Parks have to start somewhere if you’re trying to keep a document under a page count, or that world fairs are not strictly theme parks. But I can’t base my understanding of the design without tracing the ancestry.

mattern-09-worlds-fair

What was Disney’s point of difference?

The main change he brought about was his desire that the dark, unpleasant aspects of the traditional fun fair be expunged so that children could be safe at his park from dirt of all kinds. Pinocchio illustrates his feelings on the matter.

Pleasure Island YANG

Pleasure Island, where unbridled libido is rampant.

The fun fair was a place for adults, where children would be corrupted – turned into jackasses. They were indeed messy and corrupting places filled with more adults than children. That’s the point. Parks are an opportunity for Bacchanalia – the ecstatic, the liberating, drunken and drugged outburst of enthusiasm required by society to keep strong urges in a contained context.

vlcsnap-2019-01-06-13h04m01s732

Still from “Speedy” c.1929 There children mixed in with the adults, but not as expected.

But in 1958 The Saturday Evening Post still counted four adults to one child in Disneyland. The ‘Orphic’ view (as in, that traditionally ascribed the legendary poet Orpheus) is that civilization requires balance with madness, Apollo and Bacchus – and the world fairs had this not by intent, but by demand of their audience. Disney was one man trying to impose his tidyness on the nature of things.

Cutting the dark side of the fun park from the light side wasn’t ever really possible, and lead only to an undeserved historical distaste for the earlier Bacchanalian ‘Luna’ parks. If you can’t climb up, then push down. A ride such as Snow White’s Scary Adventures is just a ghost train with IP attached.

2017-05-05-14h18m58

I argue all of this because I can’t see a logical reason my own city’s park to be cut out of design knowledge. More on that later.

Further lessons from magical kingdoms

In which we draw some technical conclusions.

Sanity Clause.

Before going deeper it’s worth a sanity check, in that the finances of our test subjects are beyond our reckoning. The rides described here cost around $100 million to create – and a whole land such as Universal’s Harry Potter is estimated at half a billion. What can we small makers learn from their construction?

Your short film is not going to be Star Wars – but the expensive failure of the latest Star Wars film Solo is lesson that resonates with any level of storytelling*. The successes and failures of giants still provide lessons for the rest of us.

3D video isn’t viable.

There’s a period from around 2010 to 2016 where Universal used 3D technology on rides such Transformers and the Simpsons – around the same time that cinema took on the format. The obvious Great Disappointment comes in 2016 when the Harry Potter ride was upgraded to remove 3D projection. Notably the more recent DreamWorks Theatre uses no 3D.

Meh

Meh… too dark

The reasons are familiar to any 3D cinema goer – I found the 3D glasses to be clumsy, dirty and to cut out light, making for a dark and distant experience. Instead Potter and DreamWorks use HD screens that wrap around your field of view, and frankly you don’t notice the missing depth.

http://www.leparcorama.com/2013/04/20/wizarding-world-of-harry-potter-and-the-forbidden-journey-universal-orlando-islands-of-adventure/harry-potter-and-the-forbidden-journey-fully-exposed-4/

Taken from http://www.leparcorama.com here is the Harry Potter ride, giant screens at the left and giant robot arm at right. Look at the curvature on that telly.

Seeing as we’re working on a smaller scale this brings up the question, which I think has moved from “is VR failing?” to “in what way is VR failing?” The parks are finding that glasses are not as effective as real world set building, and VR helmets are even less appealing. Notably Google is moving into something called “VR180” on the basis that almost no one actually looks behind them. It can be experienced on a helmet but will probably end up being a domestic ‘very wide screen’ projection system. This would represent an enormous retreat from the all-seeing 360 eye of VR.

And so they mix video and physical sets.

The latest rides use flat or curved video framed in built sets. No one believes that the video is actually part of the set, but so long as the two are designed to collaborate on story, the effect is accepted. Projection mapping is definitely a key skill as is set design.

Wall panels with video screens placed at the top. You can see at the top left a screen pretending to be one of the panels below.

But motion beats just about anything.

When you are being thrown around by large forces you’re immersed. In fact, some of the rides – Guardians of the Galaxy, The Mummy, and to a certain extent Space Mountain, rely on absence of visual cues. Motion simulators and motorised theatre seating is a proven and effective way to grab people, and no wonder some cinemas, even in Australia, are installing 4DX technology for feature films.

This is terrible news for the small designer, who’s unlikely to have access to this kind of effect. No matter how effective a VR headset may be, it can’t compete with motors. I can imagine some technology that would talk directly to your vestibular system, but not this year or the next.

Cheer Up: That we enjoy so many films without physical effects just comes back to the fundamentals – make us care and we’ll watch.

Except sound. Sound everywhere.

Sound is never neglected by the big players. The usual rig involves multiple speakers positioned on a ride car to provide a surround image for the riders. The sound stage for King Kong 3d uses a 22-channel mix, delivered on 16-speaker ‘clusters’ spaced along the stage. Disney places multiple speakers, as much as one per sound, so that they remain invisible to the audience.

Speaker arrays are beyond the reach of most small practitioners, but ambisonics has reached mainstream DAWs in 2018, and every sound designer now has the ability to produce a 3rd order image that can be subsequently mapped to speaker arrays if and when a specific project becomes available.

Haunted Houses.

Most of our vacation was spent being chased by scare actors in Halloween Horror Nights. Definitely something for a select audience, but something that could be expanded into a wider entertainment format.

Not so spooky in the daytime, but you can see the set building.

Not so spooky in the daytime, but you can better see the set building.

HHN includes a set of physical mazes, each about the same size as a small house, ground floor only. A queue of people goes in the front, weaving their way around in near darkness. Some parts of the house open up into wider rooms with set pieces – for example some sequential scenes from the old Poltergeist movie. The corridors are filled with hidden openings out of which pop scare actors, people in costume that pretend to stab or grab you as you go by. The noise level is intense – the Stranger Things house sounded like a plane taking off.

But a couple of things stop these from being scary. Most of all you’re one of hundreds of people flowing through these mazes at fast pace. The constant flow of people means you’re never in a state of apprehension, as tension is rarely allowed to build. If there’s a girl that screams in front of you, every scare actor will go for them and hide again by the time you get there. Lack of room means that the actors can only make repeated motions, although some of the better mazes had enough space for variation (the Universal Monsters maze was best for this).

vlcsnap-2018-11-20-16h09m53s369

There are also scare zones in which the attacks are more free form and creative. They work better because the actors have creative freedom, but are harder to define and market. I think these are models for something new where a ‘swarm’ of characters gather you up into events, the way that massive online gaming works. And yes, I have no idea how you would do this. Yet.

* Don’t extend your population of characters so far that you need an encyclopedia. There’s only so much care to share.

Treasure Map 2

I am exhibiting a virtual world called Treasure Map 2 for Unsound Krakow. This is now in production and it’s time to go behind the scenes and see what’s coming your way late October.

Grab 20160821190314 w1900h1200 x-296y51z-493r180

Come on in!

The first Treasure Map was part of the Rhine album – it includes 5 video ‘beacons’, a world map and a set of lyrical clues. I’m not surprised that the meanings are still hidden – life was never meant to be easy. In creating the new Treasure Map I’ve made things much more immediate – it should take you a few minutes to find your first milk bottle and start dying.

Grab 20160821190002 w1900h1200 x-278y50z41r163

That was some party. A real killer.

If you played HH which came with Adelaide Festival 2013, you’d recall there was an underground bunker, and a back story about a ‘princess’ trapped in there, exploited in a dream like manufacturing process. You can get the whole back story here. TM2 is a riff on this story – a side show. Let’s say much much later people started to dig up these bunkers for the explosive energy they contained. Let’s say they piped out this ‘witches milk’, put it in silos, put it in bottles to power things. And of course there’s trouble when you do that sort of thing.They desperately tried to seal it up again, left signs and barriers and scarecrows.

Grab 20160821190121 w1900h1200 x-362y48z-99r53

A perfect place for a picnic.

But any place where there’s trouble, there’s treasure. People still come for the ‘milk bottles’, people like you who have no idea what they were once for. You can wander around the island as much as you like, see the sights. Eventually you’re going to find a milk bottle. Drink it, you may as well. Or you might find where the milk comes from. That’ll kill you too. Some things will heal you and if you’re careful you might get to drink all the milk.

It’s essentially a music album, fuelled by toxic ‘witches milk’. You drink to hear the music, then try heal yourself enough for the next batch.

Grab 20160821190029 w1900h1200 x-333y50z57r295

Maybe you could – but it would take you a long time to get there.

Two months out from launch the island is built, the wind blows and the water ripples. There are structures, warning signs, signs of previous visitors, who have left you some warning information. Milk vats and bottles are spread around the place, only a few have milk in them. I just scripted the effects of drinking one – impaired vision, music, a big drop in health. Once tested on a single bottle it gets copied to the rest. The healing places are not yet built. Underground corridors are in their early stages. The ‘witch house’ is made but needs much more detail, although you won’t live long enough to see much of it.

Grab 20160821190506 w1900h1200 x-6y83z-469r57

We use only natural wind power to pump our toxic sludge.

Very likely it’ll be a version 1.0 that gets out in October, with additions later on. For one person to get this going is hard work and there’ll be bugs. But anything that gets away from playing music from 30 years ago is worth all the late nights.

Strange Cameras for Strange Times

Too soon we have become blasé to the distortions of the current flock of optics. We pretend these are just sidesteps to the usual reality. Their peculiar qualities should be celebrated and their perversions articulated, and I am here to do just that.

The Lytro lllum. https://www.lytro.com/

original

Normally you point a camera, and light arrives at the lens in a wild range of angles. That forms a bright but blurry image. As you close the aperture the light is constrained to a smaller range of angles, and the image becomes coherent, while the exposure drops. The smaller the aperture the sharper the focus, and the more the camera has to work to expose the film. Hence the deep focus of Citizen Kane was a technical marvel. Now everyone is obsessed with shallow focus, because big lenses are expensive, and what better way to show you have money.

The Illum is a light field camera. Light arrives from all angles and hits one or more of hundreds of little ‘buckets’ inside. The computer notes the direction at which the buckets are filled and calculates the angle at which the light arrived. The camera sees both the light and its direction and from this records a perfectly focused image with depth information.

Lytro_ILLUM

You can use that depth to set focus after taking the shot, to calculate a 3D image or slice the image over the Z plane. Probably more – there’s a SDK available for trying out ideas. But most of us will just animate the focus after the fact and think that very clever. For a while…

Sensible review.

Lytro has set small, reasonable aims for the camera and provided them. The Illum is a well built, well thought out device with a defined purpose. But that purpose is not in itself very inspiring for very long.

Pulling the focus back and forward is exciting for about an hour after which you’re putting the camera in the cupboard next to the C64. Mine came out of a discount bin, still wildly expensive compared to an equivalent DSLR (because of Australian distribution). The Illum is not a game changer, because the technology is more interesting than what you’re encouraged to do with it. So you should think about misuse.

lytro-5-1024x609

Lytro is now onto surround video capture with an impossibly large and sexy UFO thing that photographs with 6 degrees of freedom inside a virtual space (but can it photograph itself?) I’m disappointed that they have leaped so far, when just a single lens 3D video capture would be really tops. The Illum is not able to shoot video, it maxes out at about 3fps. It might be insanely great as a stop motion camera, but no moving pictures.

The software can output its unique RAW format as set of TIFFs with the depth as an 8 bit gray scale image. The TIFFs show the scene from a range of angles, so you’re already alert that the depth must be some compromise of all these. It has a ‘cauliflower’ texture, by which I mean it shows a lack of detail evidencing some kind of fractal or wavelet tactic.

lytro-illum-raw-sample-image-1-editable-depth-map

Being lossy and 8 bit you are not going to get a clean slice where an object is magically cut out from the background. Fair enough. Probably the SDK can get a cleaner image from the RAW – but I tend to think that the Illum operates at the extreme edge of the hardware. It has the brain of an advanced mobile phone – impressive – but having to compromise greatly to get acceptable results.

My intention is to grab a whole variety of still images which I’m going to then mash together on the Z plane with some dirty and distorted depth data. It won’t be clean or realistic. It will hopefully be disturbing. You might have a pig and car sharing the same 3D space. You might like it.

The Ricoh Theta S – https://theta360.com/en/about/theta/s.html

2016 is the year where 360 cameras infest every gadget retailer the way that sports cameras did a few years ago, and 3D TVs before that. They will eventually die in large numbers. Right now they’re just touching on reasonable performance at a reasonable price, so the average enthusiast may as well have a look. That’s me.

1445210344526

If you’re the sort of person that takes selfies, you’ll love the Theta. Here’s the pyramids… and me! The beach front… and me! My friends and me me me me again. There being no back and front to a spherical photo, you’re always there unless you hide in a garbage bin or wear it as a hat.

R0010005

Suspicious white object at 6 o’clock

Because it has no viewfinder (what use is a viewfinder in 360º?) you are encouraged to setup a wifi link between it and a mobile phone where you can preview the effect. It works, but mobiles aren’t really set up to be field monitors, as the glare is such that you can’t see what you’re doing. So you set up the camera on a tripod, run away some distance to hide, find some shade, look at the phone and only then find that the tripod has been knocked over by some passing brat.

When I got back to the camera, the lens cover was scratched, but there seems to be no effect on the photos, I guess the cover is out of the focus area. It is not a sports camera, but akin to a toddler – it can take a fall.

Sensible.

The quality of the earlier Thetas was horrible, and at 1080p the video on the improved S is still only a quarter of the needed resolution because it captures two circular areas inside that area. But the photo images are big enough for my purposes, which is to decorate some VR spaces I’m building in Unity with natural light and textures.

R0010015

Software wise Ricoh give you a desktop viewer (made in Adobe Air so banned from my work computer) which connects to their gallery (which only allows very short segments of video). The video can also go up on YouTube but ignore the instructions given on Ricoh’s site – it needs to be first run through a “Video Metadata Tool” before YouTube will see it. YouTube has a fixed viewpoint which only covers a small part of the video – so very nasty quality. I’m going to to try pre-processing the video in After Effects to make it big before encoding it.

What use is surround? Only as a means to capture an environment for more detailed images – that is, the same way you would use a stereo microphone pair to capture the sonic environment, followed by a shotgun mic for the detail. We have not previously had a crossed pair for video. The problem then is one of ‘handling noise’ – big distorted hands at the bottom of every shot. It’s as annoying as microphone handling noise.

The Theta is basically a Zoom recorder for light. For most people the Zoom recording is not the end of the creative act – only the beginning, and using the Theta as some kind of documentary device is not anywhere near to the real reason to own one.

Turn depression into anger.

pg6-NOW-1985

Depressed.

I spent most of today working on 1985. It felt stupid, because it is totally stupid – whatever achievements took place today were all derivative. Yeah sure I have a lot of vinyl reissues that need fixing up and mastering and packaging and then once they come out a whole bunch of people will say how happy they are that they can have something that has already popped out the other side of any risk. Have some money!

Of course that’s normal. Most successful artists do the same thing over and over again. Replicate the first work that got them notice. The same installation idea they had 20 years ago dragging its arse from gallery to gallery. How the hell do they ever reconcile this with their creative spirit? I’m not waving my finger here, I’m asking O great artists, tell me how you avoid feeling that dead, useless, depressing choke of stale air and limp will?

Money! And Applause! and invitations to the Red Queen’s ball! All the shit you don’t get when you’re trying to make real progress. I managed to play it right when getting the HH game up at Adelaide. Play old music, get new game. That was like burning wet leaves but hey, it was a solid attempt.

And-one-must-acknowledge-one’s-legacy-and-ensure-it-is-preserved-as-part-of-the-official-history.

(There are journalists at the virtual door! They want to talk about 1985. Do I still have my 1985 studio set up? Maybe I could dig up some dead band members to join in the chat?)

000039f9_medium

L-R: Deering, Knuckey, Racic, Jones, Bradbury, Ellard.

At my work we’re getting all fussed up about creative coding and giant dome shaped TVs – on one side that’s all just Pyramids for Pharaohs, but on the other side there’s still a lot to do in that realm to make an audience cry or smile. Not that I would ever be allowed to besmirch any of that tasty kit – unless of course it was something I did in 1985.

Got to clear my head. Get all this memento mori out the door and then get back to something risky. As far as the world is concerned that’ll be a return to failure but it is a sure thing that when no one cares you are forced to care enough for the whole world.

It’s in the game realm. That’s where the action is. I don’t know how and I don’t know where exactly, but that’s where the transgressions take place.

Imagineering H3H

img001

To a large extent the game HH was an obligation to twelve years spent talking about it and to the festival that provided a cathartic deadline. Not badly done, but a realisation of designs that came out of the mid 1990s – having said I would do this, I did this. Specifications met.

Was it a success? No, probably not. It’s disappointing that I spent more man hours in making this thing than seemed to come out of it. I’ve heard no report that anyone has understood the more subtle parts of it; no one has ever wondered what became of Sunday March or why she had that name, why there were coffins laid out near an underground replica of Denver airport and so on. I did write a few pages of explanation but eventually decided against it. Doesn’t matter.

Maybe it takes another 12 years before anyone wonders. After spending most of 2013 in a flurry of new work the only request I’ve had recently is to re-issue music from 30 years ago. Again. On vinyl. Still, creativity goes on because the birds demand it, and I’ve come to trust them far more than the indifference of people.

So having met the promise to people, now to meet the promise to birds.

I have two directions in mind. One is a prequel, H. It’s entirely words, based on a MUSH engine. Young people might wonder how that works – there are rooms described in words, they are formed into a map. I am the principal author of the rooms but eventually other players start to write their own rooms, and the map grows as multiple narratives start to develop like cancers. I ran a test MUSH back in 2007 for a literature class I was taking at UTS and it worked but I’m not ready to define the politics of how it would work in a wider audience. If done badly it becomes a series of GO NORTH and DRINK INK, done well and you would wonder if another player was writing you.

The other end is the sequel H3H, which addresses my problem that you can’t build dreams from straight lines, and that’s all I can do in 3D.

DSC_0921

It became obvious a while back that photo manipulation is the royal road to the gaming uncanny. But photos are flat, sound is round. How do you spatialise sound on a flat photo? This leads to panoramic photography, which bends the image to suit the audible. I’ve been trying out different game engines that produce Myst style panoramic tours. Most venerable is Adventure Maker but it’s still a solo effort locked to PCs, no web support and with bugs that no one had time to solve with me. Paid the fee, moved on. Ended up with Kolor’s AutoTour which in itself isn’t interesting but that it writes XML that can be interpreted by krpano. That in turn is a complex, nuggety little player than can execute code in the XML to do things like hide and reveal hot spots, play sounds and so on – enough for what I’m planning: an online experience.

Instead of moving through a 3D space you’ll jump from vantage point to vantage point which is a step back in freedom but means I can make the game out of still photographs and complex non-real time 3D renders. Where HH was made out of straight lines and grids, H3H will be fuzzy and messy and more like being inside a painting. The way that the rabbits were painted – that kind of organic look is possible.

That’s appropriate for a story line where a ‘golem’ is harvested that can create contained realities – the ‘castles’ in HH. In that game the ‘princess’ had just started her rampage. What I want now is to show the scenery much later – with Sunday March’s ultimate fate made explicit. I can imagine what hundreds of years of omnipotent insanity could wreak – but I don’t think I can model it as 3d objects.

Problems right now are mostly that the sound is not actually spatial but panned. To make a mix means setting up arrays of speakers to form stereo pairs. In Flash you get a decent sound space, in HTML 5 you get nothing, because HTML 5 is a bad joke promoted by that idiot Steve Jobs a work in progress.

Deter Human Intrusion

Good reading for ancient bunker sound design

You start in the same control bunker as HH. But a considerable time has passed, in which the mayhem has had a long time to fester. The bunker is torn up and the only door that was previously locked is now open.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
If you have played HH you probably guessed that’s the food locker and where they put the bodies before evacuating. Well, this level is going to be called Walking In A Winter Wonderland or Once Company, Freezer Crowd.
END SPOILERS

If you’ve followed the meandering history of this project you may have noticed that this mix of great antiquity and an intrusion into confined madness is coming back to the plot of Aerodrom. I am slow, but by god I am very tenacious.

Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist

…and other mind fucks. Happily for me while compiling a list of weird games for a lecture, a discussion opened up on Something Awful on that very topic. Pleased to see that I had already nominated some of the finest, and also to learn of new wonders to behold.

First: this promo for Octodad is something I will forever treasure in my heart. Video art.

The game itself simulates an octopus in a suit attempting to convince people that it’s a completely normal dad; mind numbingly difficult, pathetic and wonderfully spiteful. I’m more into their using a messed up ’tilted cart’ version of  the game as the sales pitch –  it instantly holds an unreasonable position.

Randy Balma probably started just as a simulation of repeatedly driving a school bus into oncoming traffic high on mushrooms, but as the high highs higher it launches a rocket propelled Big Ben into collisions with space junk. Messhof (Mark Essen) has followed an Art Game path since graduation in 2008 – his latest Nidhogg won big in the 2011 Game Developers Conference. But to my mind he’s lost that intense distaste for all life that marked Randy Balma’s contribution to civilisation. Which I share.

I hadn’t heard of The Adventures of D. Duck before. Apart from appearing to be designed by a traumatised 6 year old it’s a reasonably standard point and click adventure starring grossly deformed animals.

river

But if you are going to truly Adventure, then go straight to the obsessive compulsive side of the field – the outsider Role Playing Games. Queen of the pack is Dream Diary, hatched by ‘Kikiyama’ in 2005. Like nearly all such outsider RPGs it’s built on RPG Maker, a Japanese authoring kit for depressingly similar landscapes of castles and armed dwarves. Dream Diary, or Yume Nikki probably first gained praise for eschewing all dwarves – which grew wildly when players realised that the AUTHOR IS PROFOUNDLY DISTURBED. Maybe.

YumeNikki4

Definitely.

For a game where you spend most of your time lost in an 8 bit pixelated nightmare it’s created a rabid community of fans who are obsessed with every aspect of the hero girl Windowed (‘is she a transexual?’), her tiny apartment that she can only leave when asleep (‘post traumatic stress’) and the vaguely threatening wildlife that live in her dreams. Like the ‘Bird People’:

yume_3_by_cronacupcake-d6js1z1

All of whom look like Julia Gillard, but are said by fans to represent childhood tormentors. They’re harmless unless you stab them in which case they’ll confine you to dreams where the only escape is to wake up. The subject of most fan obsession is a cross eyed piano player who looks a little like Michael Jackson meets Ryuichi Sakamoto who crash lands a space ship on Mars so …

Hell, it’s too complicated. Just watch this small bit.

I don’t particularly like RPGs (not into dwarves) but I’m currently working through a French one called OFF. This one has more traditional heroes and battles, but your main character is a baseball batter, aided by angelic hoops and guided by a pretentious cat judge. I managed to get through a city made of meat fountains and fought against a giant bird which lives inside another cat. I’m told it’ll all make sense if I can get to the end of it. It’s that promise of hidden knowledge that drives me on (and probably why people become Scientologists). I’m just a bit tired of fighting whales in the shopping centre.

Normally I choose peaceful stories, like The Woodcutter.

Should have sent a poet.

Then there are the Art Games. LSD Dream Simulator is a Playstation title allegedly based on 10 years of dreams had by a lady called Hiroko Nishikawa. If so, the poor thing dreamed in very blocky low resolution graphics. Walk around blocky streets finding blocky animals floating in the sky, or blocky corpses on the ground. Touch something and another dream starts. They get more dour and morose over the 365 days of game time. Sometimes a bad thing may happen. That’s about it.

lsd-03

Since the days of LSD the graphics have got better but the attention whoring and lack of genuine engagement remains the sure sign of an Art Game. There’s a common texture to Yume Nikki and LSD but the differences are most helpful. Whether it’s a prank like Randy Balma or a warped world like Yume Nikki, it’s the insularity of the game that makes it appealing, the complete disregard for audience. They’re a personality you have to engage as the Other, as you do with real people you first meet.  Art Games want to be agreeable – LSD even comes as a coffee table book. That’s too comforting and controlled, like small talk with a celebrity*.

The phrase Inscrutable Energy popped into my mind today (the birds** are busy at the moment.) I think it requires that the appeal of a work is a bipolar force – the positive is represented the sweet, brightly coloured game like Angry Birds. The negative is much harder to create and to define but it’s equally powerful in inspiring playfulness.

I’ve a couple of projects looming for 2013 in which I’m being asked to justify a theme appropriate for the art of this moment – a hard thing (deservedly hard) for anyone as old and cynical as me. The New Aesthetic is not it. I really think it’s The Inscrutable. Only the inscrutable can withstand the forces that would apply metrics to art and devolve it into recipes and academies. The only power that can defeat Research is The Inscrutable. That should be our goal.

* For reasons I won’t go into I shook hands with Kevin Rudd today. He spoke to me like The Queen addressing a Commoner. I bet it was as tedious for him as was for me.

** It’s hard to answer when somebody asks about sudden inspiration. I tend to say that ‘the birds put it there’ because that’s how it seems to come, and the image is (hopefully) less offensive than claiming to be inspired. Sometimes the birds get too busy – right now a month or so of depression has lifted and the manic chattering of birds is driving me a bit nuts. It’ll end with a bang in about a week from now.