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Vol. 2, Issue 3
November 23, 1999

Pixel Obscura:

Broken Earth

by Josh Vasquez



"earth must have got stuck,
one sunless day"
- samuel beckett


he idea of apocalypse and the turning of the millennium run hand in hand.

The two represent a kind of dark ideological evolution: "apocalypse" is scrawled on a door at the end of the millennial hallway. What seems inherent in the concept of apocalypse is a radical (read final) disruption of perception, a point from which nothing can be easily translated.

Following this definition, the artwork of M.C. Escher is apocalyptic, the starkly "biological" designs forcing a new revelation of seeing on the viewer. Escher's work, however, has the necessary disorientation but not the symbolic wiping away of the blood from ones eyes. Apocalypse is not mere annihilation, but rather a wounded awakening.

Artists throughout time have made much of an apocalypse's adumbrating "violence." Where "the composer" of the Epic of Gilgamesh saw a king running from the shadow of death, Pamela Smith and Arthur Waite saw a deck of Tarot cards, where Medieval painters saw skeletons cavorting at the hour of judgment, Alfred Hitchcock saw James Stewart standing on the edge of a bell tower staring down at the shattered body of the woman he loves in Vertigo. It's quite a varied experience...all coming down to the same thing: the revelation of the past laid waste and the future forever changed because of it. The time between the eye closing and the eye opening is the apocalyptic moment. The creators of Fallout, developed by Black Isle and published by Interplay, approach it with a surprising amount of grace.

The game is set in the year 2077, after a two hour war in which most of the planet has been destroyed. Life struggles to thrive on the surface, while deep below, buried in the womb of a mountain, massive Vaults house families spared the ravages of the nuclear aftermath. The player is asked to identify with one of these sheltered survivors, released back onto the broken earth for the first time.

Fallout's cinematics are divided into two sections, a rather lyrical (in its own way) evocation of the build-up to the disaster and a more narrative guided tour (a quick note: having already reviewed Fallout 2, I find myself in the awkward position of referring back to that game in comparison to the first one). The narrator is the requisitely gruff cataloguer of man's downfall, sounding like a cross between Clint Eastwood and Krusty the Clown. "War...War never changes," he stoically laments, almost whispering as grainy black and white snapshots fade in and out. Most post-apocalyptic films have this: the VOICE with the omniscient perspective of God and the cracked vocal cords of a survivor. The technique veers dangerously close to cliche but unlike in Fallout 2, it doesn't overstay its welcome.

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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.