I am working on a series of images that play around with identity. Next to the Fatherland and With A Pearl I made American Gothic 2015. It is Inspired by the famous painting by Grant Wood. It is not just a parody as it is meant to be more than a funny change of the original. It is meant to be explored.
The essence of the picture is the two avatars. They are both male avatars with male hair and such. The only female part is their skin and, of course, the way they dress and your thinking. For it is your mind that tags gender on them.
(This movie shows three key scenes.. if you do not like spoilers you should not watch after the first scene has ended. There is a red walking dead sign dividing the first and second scene.)
I was fortunate that I did not buy the video-game the walking dead. I was somewhat suspicious about it actually being a game, so I decided to find out what kind of game it before buying it. You see, the maker of the game, tell-tale games. made and makes click adventures. Click adventures are the kind of games where you have to click on objects in the game to combine them so they can be used to make the game proceed. It is not my kind of game. In fact ever since I played Zork way back I stopped playing those kind. I vaguely recall that I had to do something with a piece of string and a clay brick to open some kind of doorway. I think the piece of wire was meant to go into the clay, then the clay was made into a brick and the brick with string attached had to be put in a wall to open a secret door.
The walking dead game was exactly the kind of ‘game’ I expected it to be. So based on that conclusion it would not be very interesting for me. However I became fascinated by the game movies that one guy called the rad brad had made. I followed him playing this game from start to finish. And it was clearly not a game but rather an interactive movie. The whole story line did progress along the same path regardless of what options the player choose. Most of the options available were more to give the story a slightly different feel then make for a dramatic different game or create an complete different conclusion.
The game might be disappointing for people who want to play a game that gave them the option to make decisions that had important repercussions. However as a story it captured me even though it had it’s weak moments.
I was wondering what actually made the story work for me and after some pondering I figured that the most crucial thing in the game is the relation between the main character Lee and the little girl Clementine. Lee acts as Clementine’s replacement dad. It is therefore that I made a small movie showing two crucial moments in the game…the one where Lee and Clementine meet and the one were they part. In addition it also shows you how the game ends.. So that is three scenes.
In addition to the central relationship in the story I have to name the voice acting as a impressive. The fact that the game makers stick to a simple story line seems to work well and most of the characters are believable people that you can identify with, care about, understand, suffer or perhaps even hate. Unlike many characters is other movies and games where nobody really cares about them because they are not believable people. Lee, for instance, is the kind of guy I liked from the start as being a former teacher. Clementine is a kind of kid that you like.
Because I like pictures above typed text, let me go through some of the movie scenes and comment on a few scenes that makes this video game/movie stand out.
The walking dead opens with the skyline of Atlanta and it is a link between the television series, comic and the game. That way people will know the setting. In a later post I will comment further on the interaction of thoughts, feels and the use of language and imagery to invoke stories. Above the picture somehow I thought it read “A brand new day.” Note the beautiful blue sky and the sunny setting. Interestingly.. while this is the skyline of Atlanta we do no go to it.. the story takes us away from it. In this manner a possible conflict can be avoided. Bye bye Atlanta.
The conversation between Lee and the cop is done partly via the rear view mirror. This way we can follow their expressions. It also underscores the relation between the two and will aid in setting up the scene where they have the accident. Note that setting is still pleasant. There will be message on the radio and police cars driving towards Atlanta. We know what is going to happen.
After the police car hits a roaming zombie, it slips, crashes through this rail and ends up at the bottom of this slope. While this is a very unlikely occurrence (those rails can stop trucks) this makes for a very engaging shot from above. Note the corpse of the cop in the right top corner and the trails of blood that runs from the car to him. The shades and dark lights create for an ominous scene. The sunny happy mood has been replaced by gloom and creepy shadows. It is a cool way to make a picture. The look from above to below zooms out give an overview and also makes everything remote. Note that the darkness is on the edges. It creeps in from all sides.
Again the above shot is almost like a painting.. which perhaps it is. The low quality of the graphics is used to the advantage by changing it all into a more comic kind of style. I suspect it was a way how the makers had to deal with a technical limitation, yet kept the whole in style and interesting. Incidentally.. the original comic is done in black and white which is probably a way to save cost on having to color the pictures
After escaping from the zombies Lee finds himseft on the grounds of this suburban home. The shot is zoomed out which show us he is completely alone.. his shouting made me cringe. This will be used several times during the game. Someone shouting in an otherwise silent place. Did you notice the eerie yellow sky and gloom? In the distance it almost looks like there are yellow vapors rising from the ground.
When Lee enters the nearby house he moves from out of the light into the darkness. Again creating an eerie atmosphere. This is the home where he meets Clementine. As you can see this whole setup is deliberately. In the previous pictures it is dark as if the evening has fallen. Then the scene is changed to an eerie sick yellow color. Here the color outside is almost golden, while inside darkness is hiding unknown dangers.
The central working element in the game is the relation between Lee and Clementine. While the art could be better and is not that original as some people claim – it resembles that of other games and movies(Borderlands spring to mind) – the use of expressions and the voice acting coupled to the images make the story work. In fact it works better than many movies with real people.
Lilly is the leader who continuously struggles with her role. I am not sure how other people feel about her, but I think she was wrongly treated in the story line. She was obviously put in a role she felt uncomfortable with and she tried to do her best in a bad situation. Nobody, not even Lee, actually volunteers to take over her leadership role, yet she is keenly aware of unvoiced (imagined?) criticisms towards her own short comings. She has to make though decisions and at one moment during the game she makes Lee, who is the main potential challenge to her leadership, even if he does not want to, choose whom to feed. The makers of the game do something harsh towards her halfway into the series although it is not out of character. This act makes her flee the group and thus leave the story.. although there is possibility she might return in future episodes.
As a story element the above scene creates a placid scene. The sky is blue and it almost looks like they are sitting around a campfire as if on holiday. Not even someone on guard. Which might be a deliberate move. A guard would spoil this ideal camping picture. Note that nobody seems to change clothes throughout the game, except for Kenny, who switches t-shirts..
Another use of colors in the above two scenes. When the group enters the city of Savannah.. the scene is set as if it is a nice summers day.. when the zombies arrive.. the colors are turned to dark and threatening. It is one of the ways to underscore the mood…
Note the sky above this scene.. bad things are about to happen….
This scene is cast in an almost pleasant like forest view. In this case the dark threatening colors are no used.. because the sunray that shines into the clearing makes for a nice contrast with the next scene.. The light guides our view towards the center..
Zombies shamble towards the group…
The above scene with the dark clouds that seem threatening is the stage for this little drama.. you have to either see her killed by the zombies or you have kill her yourself. Watching this scene gives me a sad shocked feeling. I know what is going to happen.. You can see she must have been through a rough time with her being dirty… she almost looks like a zombie at this point, and you can see the desperation on her face. He looking as a zombie creates this feel that she has been in the pit.. tries to escape.. Lee and Kenny are near.. yet within sight of salvation they can not help her..and only kill her quickly to spare her an agonizing death…
This camera is set low.. so we are at eye level with the kid.. the two grown-ups loom over the dead kid.. It is a classic scene of a vulnerable kid being at the mercy of two strong grown-ups.. The gun illustrates this to a point.. If we did not know from the story-line this might be even interpreted in another way. This is one of the things about a story.. like a house it is made up out of smaller parts that give it context and meaning.. Context and meaning that could be changed by changing the constituent parts of the story.
The camera shot is marvelous: the one hand holding Ben, the zombies roaming below and climbing the stairs. The darkness creeps in from all sides.. again.
This last scenes are done in a stark dark color. We are in the pit of darkness…
This is the scene of Savannah just before the group enters the town..They travel towards the sun.. the bringer of light, warmth and hope.