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2, Issue 3
November 23, 1999
must have got stuck,
one sunless day"
- samuel beckett
idea of apocalypse and the turning of the millennium run hand
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
2, the role of the narrator was expanded to include recapping
the first game. As a result the voice, by having to drone on,
only served to drill into the viewer just how overused a tool
it was...Fallout needs no elongated introduction. The creators
limit the use of the narrator to add just the right amount of
atmosphere. Underneath the voice, photographic stills punctuate
the story, tortured black and white prints as silent evidence.
In one painting, a nationalistic poster, Uncle Sam stands, shirt
sleeves rolled up, huge American flag billowing out behind him
like a manmade cloud, in front of an armada of planes, all flying
in formation in the aesthetics of war.
cities and tunnels, burning ships and wrecked oil fields, antiquated
machines and massive structures. In these images scale becomes
a horrifying thing, like when looking at people standing next
to the base of a ship in dry dock fills you with an unexplainable
fear. There is a sense in these images of industrial projects
designed to negotiate a teetering earth, ghosts leaking out of
its bending axis. The images appear taken from the 1930's, and
perhaps it's appropriate considering that the third decade of
the 20th century was a time when the future seemed to reach back
and pierce the present. The Depression and Flash Gordon, pagan
rituals as politics and airships docking with the Empire State
building...2077 might as well be 1939 in these snapshots taken
just before an apocalyptic opening of our eyes.
seen things fall apart many times; in Fallout the world
ends to the tune of a 1920's pop song.
you'll think of me, when you are all alone," a melancholy
voice sings while, on a television screen, newsreel footage records
the coming end. Animated characters, straight out of Disney Studios,
make the idea of having to live in underground vaults more comforting
as soldiers shoot civilians in the head, laughing and waving to
the camera. The image slowly pulls back, revealing a burnt out
city in the distance. The television is playing to a dead world,
the very house it's in shattered to a ruined wooden iceberg. The
song, a lament for lost love, becomes a mass for a broken earth.
"Maybe you'll sit and sigh, wishing that I were near..."
but there's no one left
only hope that the team working on Fallout deliberately
crafted this opening to their game with full intention of leaving
the player with a slightly haunted feeling. Fallout 2 seems
proof of this as it continues the same basic structural ideas.
In both Fallout games, the creative team at Black Isle
has shown commitment to maintaining a sense of humor and style
in presenting a darkly graceful vision of the end.
Joshua Vasquez is the resident film critic here at loonygames.
He also writes for the Internet film site Matinee
note: the preceding is a revised version of an article that originally
ran in Volume 1. Josh requested this revision, as he felt the
piece to be one of his best. A brand new edition of Pixel Obscura
will run next week.)
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