SCoA 2: In the darkness

Okay, so I promised myself that I would wait until next week to write about this, but I’m in a writing mood. Take advantage of that.

Twas a dark and stormy night, last moon and I was awakened from my slumber. My eyes opened wide, my mind on the moon, the night as dark as umbra.

That moment I, rose up on my might and abscond my domain. In a fit of grief, the monster grew and weaved through the rain.

It was nary a moment later, that sense burst into my mind. The monster that ruled the shadowed halls was merely lights through the blinds.

So I returned to my chamber, thoughtful and ready for bed. That I would write, about the wonders of light for all the smart folk on the web.

HELLS YEAH.

I hope you enjoyed that comparatively to how long it took me to write it. Ten minutes should, at least, elicit and chuckle and a merry jig on your behalf.

Okay, poetic waxing aside, what I saw actually made me think about just how many games have made an exceptionally interesting use of light. I may be able to count a couple that have played with the concept, but this often hits a concrete barrier at the “flickery lights” stage in a horror game. What I’m talking about is the use of light as an advanced communicative device, in the same way that it can have a psychological effect on the human mind, rooted in the fear of the dark and the shapes lurking in the shadows.

To beat a pulp into a finer pulp, let me just preface this with Stalker. In this game, as you probably know by now, there are a number of underground sequences that have made me utter “Somebody put shit in my pants!!!!!” more than once. But the conclusion that I’ve arrived at is not that these sequences, or the game for that matter, was this atmospheric necessarily because of its themes (although they were a pretty hefty contributor) but because of its imaginative use of lighting.

The nights are a black as pitch, punctuated by the odd camp fire and a sudden foreboding crackle of lightning, casting the world into a horrific freeze fame. Silhouettes scamper across the pockmarked buildings, uncertainty of their origin or motives lingers like a brick in your stomach. Rotating hazard lights cast long, dull streaks down the dark, timeless hallways, picking up flickers of some ancient and terrible machinery in their wake.

This is pretty much what it is like to play Stalker.

The reason why so many games haven’t taken advantage of this truly brilliant, yet so natural asset is quite unbelievable. Light and shadow plays such an enormous role in real life, and create some of the most gripping psychological effects that a human can experience – lightning, darkness, a sunset.

To not even consider these elements would be foolish, I honestly think this is why so many games have really lost a lot of potential – they try to build an atmosphere, and it just feels uncanny. A bit like walking into a house that somebody has painted pink because they wanted it to feel upbeat.

Miles Newton – Gentleman Arbitrator

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