e32: The Detective (It_7)
Story Beats & Character Portrait 06.11.20
Retrospective Progress Documentation
This week was the beginning of the final month of the project but it was also the week that the university Gnomon Workshop licenses abruptly and inexplicably expired, the week the UK went back into full scale pandemic lockdown, and the week I rediscovered Pokémon Go. All in all, a fair bit of chaos, and one which, unfortunately, all the Trello planning in the world couldn't save me from.
Stress set in and I had to take a break!
I still tried to work, mostly focussing on drawing the story beats that I already had pictured in my head, but I could barely focus on journaling or research at all. Due to this, a few more finalised decisions had to be made about the project outcome and the progress of the week (however scarce) needs to be documented.
Sadly, due to the month-long lockdown, a lot (if not all) of the shops that would allow me to buy the parts for a fully interactable Detective installation are now unavailable.
In the last session I had with the university, I was explicitly encouraged to keep as much of the desk installation concept as possible, because of its innovative potential, so I knew right off the bat that whatever I rescope it to must, at its core, represent the original inspiration. Considering the materials available to me, the AR Polaroid concept is my best bet as a stand-in for the Detective's desk, as the photographs were going to be the integral pieces of evidence in that situation anyway, and can still be converted into the original idea at a later date.
It's a bit of a shame to have to retire the installation concept yet again, immediately after having received such glowing encouragement for it, but I am a honestly a bit relieved to have more time to spend on honing my digital drawing skills in its place. I think I can always come back to the idea of a desk installation (to record in my own home and post on my portfolio) but now is not the right time for it, given the pandemic-related restrictions.
In my research into applying colour onto my drawings, my one-on-one discussions with Nigel and my research into Iain McCaig's methods resulted in me having conflicting accounts on how to proceed. The former suggested painting directly in colour, whereas the latter advised to paint in tones of black and white and then loosely wash the colour you want over the top.
Both methodologies have their own merit, and I am interested to try them out for different reasons. I think Mr. McCaig's method is more appropriate for me as it is within my well-established existing comfort zone of working in black and white but Nigel's approach is perfect for breaking my previous habits and propelling myself forward.
Ultimately, I think I should try both on at least one piece each, critically examine my favourite elements of either, and then proceed with a mid-point method to function as my own personalised methodology for the future. Bring it on!
(STORY BEAT) The Uncanny Hound:
In my introductory paragraph for this entry, I mentioned that I had started work on some story beats in the break I took this week. Though I'm not sure about these making it into the final cut, I wanted to include them to show my iterative progress in the long term.
The concept for these images would be a 3-panel story with quotations as a captions to contextualise the events...
(1) First beginning with an establishing shot of her in her chair, aiming a gun at something beyond the 'camera', with a lit cigarette in her hand and her eyes obscured by the shadow cast by her arm. The desk would be in the side of this shot, where a yellow lamp is acting as the main light source and casting a dramatic shadow:
(2) Second, a close up shot of her expression underneath her palm, tired and weary, with the cigarette ash long (dangerously close to snapping off and falling) and embers burning so close to her finger she might just burn herself. Her eyes are deep and sagging, much more of the white shown below the iris than her normal, stern expression. All of these are hints to show her hysteria and imply to the viewer the sheer amount of hours that she has been awake and in this position, observing with a raised guard whatever is unseen behind us, and building tension in the scene. The caption here reading 'Move, asshole...':
(3) An over-the-shoulder, wide-angle shot of the room (similar to third person gameplay), now revealing the object of her fixation, and expositing the reason behind the scene name 'The Uncanny Hound' - her dog, standing upright in the darkened room, with its mouth agape, as if yawning, and completely stock still. NOTE: this panel is interchangeable with any uncanny scene of her dog doing something unspeakably weird for hours to prompt her reaction. Here the caption reads 'I dare you...':
This whole 3-part sequence scene is supposed to bring the feeling of danger from outside in the woods to directly inside the cabin, violating the player and protagonist's sense of security at what will be at least the two-third-mark of the story's progression. At this point the sudden shift of the sense of security inside the house, will be extremely debilitating to the player, and is designed specifically to raise the stakes and make them anxious for the final act.
The character on the other hand is angry at the invasion of her safety, and has returned with hostility (pointing of the gun) which signals the beginning of her final spiral into the madness of this obsession. In this way, she tempts fate by almost inviting negative repercussions, provoking the unseen force both verbally and behaviourally. She responds with fight instead of flight, something that the average person is incredibly unlikely to do in a similar situation. This dissonance between player and protagonist is placed to start seeding animosity between the two. Here the player should begin to distance themselves from the actions of the Detective out of fear of the consequences, prompting them to condemn her for inviting more misfortune into the playable experience and subconsciously planting doubt in her as a character.
So long as her actions are the kind that are believable (conforming to the logic already established about the kind of person she is) this will not push the player enough to break the game's internal consistency but absolutely will push it to the very edge of acceptability and outrage the viewer. Easily, this will transcend into my previously-established goal of enticing the player into questioning her version of reality.
Finally, the nail in the coffin, is the framing of the Detective pointing the gun at the camera which not only keeps the tension high by hiding the focus of the case, but also further sews this metaphor into my imagery - representing the character turning on the player and visa versa.
To this effect, I realised that, as the story progresses, it should start with camera angles that support harmony between the two (first person perspectives or tightly framed shots that keep our view point close to hers), and slowly progress to those which show this dissonance (third person perspectives and more distanced shots that keep her as a secondary focus in the image instead, almost as if she is part of the 'uncanny cases' themselves).
Industry of Film
The above mentioned design elements I involved into my storytelling are a great example of some tips and tricks that I constantly see used in film and I believe should be better integrated into the subliminal messages in games. Obviously, cutscenes share a lot of these elements with scenes in movies, but I'm imagining it could be applied on a much broader scale with actual fixed-camera-games, always and exclusively filming from cinematic angles wherever possible (as seen periodically through Heavy Rain).
Here we see multiple static camera angles, jarringly changing as the character progresses through the environment, with the clear demarked objective from the designers being 'make Ethan look small'. The character is vulnerable and weakened after many trials before this one, as evidenced by the wide shot of this needlessly large, pristine white room juxtaposing with his small, muddied/darkened form. The table is low, to reveal as much of him as possible and make him look down when observing his next task - reminding the player that they have the power of choice (subliminally raising hope) but that the ability to walk away is starkly juxtaposed with the goal of the game (shattering the hope instantly). Finally, here are cameras everywhere not only to make him feel observed, but also to highlight the physical distance between the camera and the character and delineating the size of the room.
Hopelessness - captioned perfectly in camera-positioning choices.
As evidenced by my example, it's not that I believe these tricks do not used at all in gaming, but rather that I rarely see it considered as standard practice as it is considered to be in film, especially in indie games where the budgets are lower, or in AAA companies that don't prioritise inter-development consultations among the different creative teams. I think that our industry would benefit greatly from more emphasis being placed on these aspects, and particularly, I strive to integrate the difference I would like to see into my own work.
As always, I'm enjoying this project and its research trails immensely, and am excited to keep going after this short break.
- R Cipolletta