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Vol. 2, Issue 1
November 16, 1999

Pixel Obscura:

The Metropolis Haunted by Speed

by Josh Vasquez




“The multi-storey car parks - the top decks are empty in the evening”
-J.G. Ballard

he art of subtlety is one of dissection. It is the killing blow delivered when no one is watching, a strike under which the blood not only blossoms but runs in augural patterns. Like dissection, subtlety is a learning tool. You cut something up to watch “the gears” spinning, to observe what is otherwise an intensely private ritual made up of little movements that seem to hint at the secrets of an otherwise infinite universe. The subtle art is the alchemical one, an appreciation of hidden truths waiting to be revealed by the manipulation of oracular elements. Little mysteries are perhaps the greatest ones for they are forever pointing fingers down roads that only lead to other roads, a beautifully untranslatable text of intersections.

Sadly, subtlety is lacking in most traditional art forms, let alone in the hyperbolically grotesque melodramas of the vast majority of video game cinematics. It’s because of this lack, however, that deviations stand out with such vehemence. Often these singular pieces are paired with non-narrative games as if the demands of story and coherence along a linear trajectory cripple the delicate touch. A narrative has to be maintained some how, and the inherently limited nature of video game cinematics too often results in a colorful procession of stick figures endlessly tortured by cliché. The non-narrative game is liberated from any plot considerations, allowed to roam into more esoteric territory.

It could be that because there is no overarching “story” anything that these games do comes across as surreal and pleasantly free of an agenda (pure expression for its own sake) and while this may be true, the accomplishment is not diminished. Abstract art, though abstract, can still be judged, although admittedly by a different set of criteria. The same can be said for these non-narrative games. In some ways non-narrative subtlety, the ability to create a story where before there was none, is more impressive than working in the traditional forms of myth making. The cinematics of Wipeout 3, a new racing game from the people at Psygnosis, walk the fine line between the formal control of the coldly beautiful, detached image and the subtle exploration of a mysterious “narrative”...and they do so brilliantly.

The first image is that of a stylized “child,” a figure built of blue, red and white lines whose middle section revolves with a hospitalic regularity. Next a sign appears celebrating “the designers republic” followed by a metallic hued title: “Intro Sequence = Start”...and then the scene shifts.

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Credits: Illustration © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 1999 Josh Vasequez. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, you cartoonish villian, you.