Virtual Tourism in the ambient desert of Drifter

Consider some virtual tourism in the beautifully ruined ambient desert of Drifter by J Leyba – a fantastical Abstract Encounter with the video real, featuring glorious illusions of depth

Like “Hello Commander“, one feels it almost possible to explore such a place forever, far outside of time

We’d have to replay it all from end to end at home in a darkened room, rediscover the magic of the freeways and the distance and the ice-cold alcohol in the desert and the speed and live it all again on the video at home in real time, not simply for the pleasure of remembering but because the fascination of senseless repetition is already present in the abstraction of the journey. The unfolding of the desert is infinitely close to the timelessness of film
~ Theorist Jean Baudrillard, America (1986)

Deeply artistic experiences like these seem somehow truer expressions of the strange imaginative meanings of the worlds

Update Patch

Suggestions for tweaks in Drifter:

Virtual art experience: The Free Jazz Bardo

“The Free Jazz Bardo”

The Free Jazz Bardo
The Free Jazz Bardo

Recommended price for this concept as a Virtual Art Experience: £6M

£2M of this will provide help for Elephant charities in Sri Lanka & Thailand

Example Artistic Statement

Robert What: The Free Jazz Bardo: where Charlie Parker blows his LSD sax in the outer Beyond and the reverberating Hard Bop echoes form the joyous birth pangs of an intense new alien reality. The design is meant to evoke faded Tibetan paper hanging scrolls, or tales of faded magic prayer rugs, and reflect the mystical hyper-dimensional deities seen in ancient Tibetan Bonpo Shamanism

Cylne: a wet art dream for Games Critics

Consider Cylne a wet dream (game) for modern Ludonauts

A artful provocation by Theodore Miles / remix of another Killscreen self-parody


One need not be sceptical when told a videogame is “poetic.” Poetry and games often seem entirely compatible; hypertext poems and novels clearly show the avenues for poetic exploration possible in digital texts

While “poetic” can be as vague a buzzword as “cinematic” or “immersive,” more useful in cultivating an air of Ludonautic interest than offering insight into a particular state of play, this does not mean players should automatically dismiss genuine attempts to create an artistic experience digitally

However, after reading Cylne’s descriptions as “a symbolic game” and “a first person surreal exploration game, in the form of a visual poems collection,” many players are now even more convinced that the whole Cultural hype about “Games are Art” has gone on unchallenged long enough

Consider too the sense in which Games Critics seem so bent on justifying their own ontologically dubious existence as holders and beholders of the holy Games = Art torch, that when any old Crapolaware comes poncing along onto the electronic marketplace of vacuous virtual experience, their blind willingness to stick the Art label on it too often marks them out as shills of Culture and taste, sensitive aesthetes of lifeless digital voids

“Visual poems” is an apt descriptor for Cylne, partly because Cylne is a particularly easy game to describe: “Cylne makes the poetry of Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings look positively Vogonesque by comparison

It belongs to the all too prevalent, and (often necessarily) derisively named category of “walking simulator.” Whereas other artful tone-poems such as Gone Home, The Path, The Stanley Parable or Dear Esther ground their excessively limited interaction with shoehorned-in elements of ‘story’ or ‘purpose’, Cylne seems to have entirely bypassed any intangible pretence toward narrative or player impetus

Each of the five chapters offer little more than ‘surreal’ landscapes to mope around. Massive boulders decorated with glowing glyphs guard a bland expanse of desert flanked by two titanic chains. Twisting spires of bone or rock form makeshift bridges and ladders stretching to and from nowhere. Levitating door frames suggest portals to other, equally bland worlds

All these environments host equally enigmatic (read: largely inexpressive and depressingly minimalist) soundscapes, sparsely populated by the echoes of mournful guitars, clanging bells, crackling fires, the clank of metal of solid ground

“Progress” in Cylne occurs after walking to, or in some cases merely looking at certain objects. These entities either cause the environment to change, thereby opening up new avenues to explore, or they transport the player to a new area. *yawn*

Players would be mistaken to assume this is some zen-like reduction of gameplay to its most basic elements. What makes Cylne an alienating experience is not that it renders the most basic interesting concepts of interaction unfamiliar by dropping the player in a world with its own rules, with its own sense of twisted dream-logic

Rather, it has no rules to speak of, and its sense of ‘twisted dream-logic’ feels all but entirely senseless. Walking across an ashen wasteland, which turns into levitating high above the ground and then into swimming outside the world itself, all with little or no warning, does not an automatically deep experience make. Not unless you feel bizarrely passionate about Games As Art, and feel the questionable, burning desire to mindlessly extol their (apparently endless) virtues as Artful Experiences

Sure, as one plays, one might well suddenly think of Ben Marcus’ The Age of Wire and String, a novel/short story collection/encyclopedia about a world built from the detritus of structures both physical and social. Yet one does so, perhaps because there’s a desperate need to think of anything whatsoever that has more too it than Cylne

In fact, nearly anything one thinks about holds more potential interest and philosophical possibility than Cylne, an incredibly ugly game that harks back to random shovelware point n’ click Myst-likes from the 90s

The developer Marcus, much like Cylne, places his reader within an all too familiar world made from familiar parts, and only by ploughing past the wreckage of artful language of Games Critics can players make sense of the senseless world glimpsed on the screen

Cylne’s flaccid ideology is to ask its players: to willingly abandon assumed operational functions to embrace what it (somehow remotely) imagines are ‘alternate paths to meaning

Alternative paths? To ‘meaning’? What meaning? Do not be confused, player – there is no confusion available here, no ‘surrealism’. In fact the meaning is entirely transparent, and all too understandable – the only probable meaning of Cylne is that it has none whatsoever. None that is, outside the hollow words of those who mistakenly defend it as a Work Of Art

Only by sifting the wreckage of Ludonautic language can players make sense of the self enclosed world of Ludonauts

Like the surrealists (who Ludonauts laughably consider ‘inspired’ Cylne), their boneless attempts to unify the waking tangible world – here recognizable in the brainless simplicity of movement controls combined with the abstract, stilted movements of their own unconscious, their apparent dreamscapes and lifeless interactions – in a way feels a hunt for an ideal mode of expression (about how perfectly useless their are)

The canned surrealisms of Dalí rely heavily on juxtaposition of seemingly familiar objects presented in dull new ways – for instance, combining object and animal or confusing environment and perspective – not to reproduce the functional mysteries of thought, but to evoke the idea of them as functional mysteries. In fact however, thought and existence is all too understandable, all too easily knowable

Yet pseudo-critics of games like Cylne, wide-eyed with plastic wonderment, work with juxtaposition and constant misdirection as well, measuring misdirection against fake revelation, constantly asking the player to ‘come to their own conclusions’ about why its different worlds exist in their current states, as though there’s anything really there to see, play with, think or really care about

Cylne breaks into the more active aspects of this modern Ludonautic surrealism as well. In his Surrealist Manifesto, André Breton theorized that the best way surrealism could access the complexities of thought was through “pure psychic automatism,” a way to allow the cynical digital game artist to create from (or to simulate) randomness and error as possible manifestations of the dubious notion of the Unconscious

Symbollics, more like

Likewise, Cylne certainly has the appearance of randomness in that the environment changes in all too expected unexpected ways by responding to the player’s paltry nods toward interaction

The resulting dreamscapes seemingly create themselves as the player explores them, and the results only seem to reveal some ‘unexpected lucidity’ surrounding the rules that govern the world. But these are only the boring and often entirely arbitrary rules of the Ludonaut, which govern how players are meant ‘correctly’ read such automatic Games As Art works (that is, Culturally)

This minor revelation lies at the heart of Cylne’s pre-packaged surrealism and its lazily shrink-wrapped promises of accessing some sort of digital unconscious. The comparisons the game invites with other artists seem entirely plausible, given that it also strives to be ‘about so much more’ than the game itself

Surrealism, having splintered from the politically charged and far more exciting Dada movement, speaks as much about the culture of its day – the disillusionment after the first World War, the role of art in the age of machinery, the advances in science and shifting social structures – as it does as a largely failed formal experiment in artistic informality

Cylne however remains perfectly content to confine its exploration to soulless digital space, rarely attempting to use the text to say anything about the world, in or outside. (Like any other choices were even on offer)

Even these merge criticisms seem insignificant; the game’s distinct lack aesthetics make for some non-uniquely ugly environments as well as some un-insightful moments of clarity about the often bland nature of modern play. Even if that itself makes the game “poetic,” it might not matter all that much

If games have boring dreams about nothing in particular, players might be smart to wager they’d look something like Cylne – just not as much as the laughable £8.99 it requires for its dishwater mundane Artistic pabulum

In the future, all unannounced games will be Nature Trail Fly-throughs

In the future, all unannounced games will feature ‘nature trail’ style fly-throughs

The trees, foliage and realtime grass will be beautifully rendered, the skybox magnificent, the rivers deep, the mountains broad, the viewpoint majestic – and the whole warm and pleasant artistic statement a hyper-generic product of a phenomenal lack of Imagination, so utterly ubiquitous, one wonders if a parallel unknown race of sentient machines has started to churn out these Natural™ Setting trailers as some form of Gamified Performance Art competition

Note how such trailers, rather than actually informing anyone about the game to come, are far more simply machine-ego demonstrations of (allegedly) automatically-impressive Demonstrations Of Tech

If they inspire Playdevs to do anything, it is to run – or in this case, fly-through such comprehensively characterless and plain-vanilla, workaday-whitebread design in any opposing direction whatsoever at high speed

In strict comparison, check out the wildly artificial setting and play scenario of “Insane Door Factory” by Tiny Little Studios

The Witness: Japanese woodblock prints

Japanese Woodblock Prints based on screenshots from The Witness game by Jonathan Blow

Recommended price for this concept as a Virtual Art Experience: £4M – all of which to be shared with fellow Indie Video Game Developers

Example Artist Statement

Vertical screenshot banners from The Witness game’s official site were placed together and tweaked in Gimp for one hour:

The banners were first arranged horizontally in rough order of brightness, one each side, before being resized

Then their relative brightness was flattened out, and some of the brighter light sources in each banner inverted

Various film, anti-aliasing and chromatic aberration filters were then used

Finally, a Wikipedia reference to Japanese woodblock prints – 木版画 ‘moku hanga‘ – and a page about Polyptych paintings – were retro-fitted to their design to suggest a possible imaginative / aesthetic context