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Author Topic: Video games and the change of autumn 1/2  (Read 94 times)
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« on: October 05, 2018, 03:08:34 PM »

Rain and wind, shorter days, and imminent dormancy; autumn often has a bad reputation. However, there is excitement, intrigue, and pleasure to be found in this season of change. Landscapes become sparser with each leaf that drops in the wind. The temperature oscillates between a gentle warmth and a sharp chill. Golden foliage changes the color of the land and alters the feel of the landscape.

Some games have wondrous, gorgeous autumn landscape that presents supreme autumnal palettes, narrative-mirroring landscape conditions and encapsulates the mysterious change that hangs in the air.

Autumn's transitional nature enables it to offer different aesthetics and atmospheres - perfectly encapsulating our often-mixed feelings about the season. This flux occurs in games, too: storyline changes; mysterious plotlines, character and atmosphere intricacies; constant environmental transformations; and a powerful sense of mystery, story-foretelling and landscape-opening are all harnessed to be used as game-changing devices.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter begins with a long tunnel that almost feels like a big-reveal set up and release is coming, but instead autumn-coloured ripples appear, revealing Red Creek Valley. The autumn mist floats through our vista and the low-angled autumn sun casts a mysterious light straight at Paul through landscape - this seems to highlight the land's features and plants, but also him and his place in it. Paul says this is his last case, so there's a direct link between his immersion in, and exploration of, an autumn landscape, in the autumn of his career.

Just before, and as the ripples present the landscape, Paul already seems to know the mystery and unsettled nature of Red Creek Valley and its darkness. He feels its darkness reaching and he already knows he has to "figure out what this place is trying to hide from me" - the mysteries of an autumn landscape, caught in transition and change. Continuing to anticipate and understand the autumn landscape early on, Paul attempts to get a hold on its curious, autumnal sense of place: "Red Creek Valley. Seemed like a quiet, ordinary place. But if there's one thing I've learned it's that no place is truly quiet, and nowhere is really ordinary."

Red Creek Valley's distinctly autumn landscape greets Paul as soon he exits the tunnel. The atmospheric
mist marking his path forward through the going-dormant landscape.

Autumn's effect on landscapes enhances and supports this approach - that of mystery, hiding, change and the obscurities of memory and imagination. Due to its transient nature between more-definite seasons, as its foliage slowly but surely covers the ground, but hangs to just about enough foliage to cover its bones, changing the palette of both the ground plane and higher. The autumn landscape feels like it has an openness: an emptiness - but not that of winter; but also, a strong element of life and endurance - but not that of summer. Slowly shedding tree limbs, and ever-barer soil adjacent to small flowering plants and tufty grasses highlight this tension between the two states and the caught-in-the-middle mystery of autumn that beautifully complements Ethan Carter's landscape.

A credible mix of plants creates a believable autumn soft scape, from trees to groundcover.

Paul's intermittent commentary often relates to the autumn landscape and acts as a successful and powerful connection between it and the plot. Towards the beginning of the story Paul passes the train stop and describes the land around him: "...Large pieces of this country were thrown away, doomed to become, and then remain, the worst versions of themselves. Beneath all that rot, dark things grow."

This is an evocative and literal description of the landscape: the land seems a bit thrown away and left to its own devices; the properties visible farther down the tracks are abandoned, tossed aside; even the huge man-made structure of the dam is encroached upon by atmospheric mist and is showing signs of being battered by autumn weather; and the overarching umbrella of autumn is turning the land dormant, turning its veneer into mulch, decaying plant life, and golden-leaved tree foliage. However, the description - enhanced by the landscape - seems to reflect Ethan's imagination being compromised, not entertained, and eroded by the cold shoulder he often receives from his family. Perhaps enough neglect and hardness can cause dark thoughts to grow inside of Ethan, much like Paul describes the landscape with "under all that rots, dark things grow".

A bright autumn sun bathes the land in gentle autumn warmth while the golden palette maintains
the theme of change and mystery that Paul experiences as he explores the valley.

However, there are more tangible and clear autumn characteristics to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter's landscape. There are physical elements and features of the landscape that display the season without ambiguity and appeal to our attraction and affiliation with autumn through obviously autumnal manners. Specifically, in this landscape the most prominent physical element is the trees, particularly the deciduous ones: they are obviously autumnal, with their golden tones and their falling foliage. More generally, there is a believable and pleasing mix of both deciduous and evergreen trees from birches to pines, but it is the golden, broad-leaved trees that are the most prevalent and also the most autumnal. These are Acers or maple trees. Given the temperate USA setting, the most common autumn deciduous tree in the landscape is probably Acer rubrum (the red maple). This is usually the first to show that autumn is just around the corner with its own habit of changing color: one or two branches turn yellow or orange-red, then another branch follows, and then another. This trait, of branches showing their autumn finery a few at a time while the rest of the tree stays green, is a relatively unusual one. It constantly marks this tree out from its companions - who usually don their autumn coats all at once, in one swift movement - making it a very attractive, instantly-autumnal specimen. Another reason why it is so prevalent across Ethan Carter's landscape is that it can also tolerate varying light levels, giving it a huge advantage in forest settings such as parts of Red Creek Valley. It is very much the autumn tree - using a broad brush.

Creating an immediately identifiable autumn picture, the maple trees are essential to the landscape and
to accentuating the season's effect on the land and its ability to be a successful backdrop to Ethan Carter's story.

Symbolically the tree finds itself at home in Ethan Carter, too. Like many trees, the maple has its own various meanings, background and cultural significance, spread across time and geography. In centuries gone by across English-speaking countries the maple tree was believed to repel demons and evil spirits. Elsewhere, it was seen as a tree of practical magic and tolerance; the former very much vividly represented in Ethan's imagination and the latter rather contrasting the lack of tolerance Ethan feels from his family.

Aside from the maple trees themselves and the role they can be seen to play specifically, the general aesthetic of Ethan Carter's autumn woodland is redolent of a northern hemisphere, temperate landscape undergoing autumn's change. The mix of plant life and tree types is excellent and creates an accurate color palette as well as landscape texture. From the pine trees providing year-round structure to the golden deciduous maples, to the low growing brushier grasses and the small pops of color on herbaceous all set off by a landscape worn down over time, showing the effects of yet another autumn through exposed rocks, bare patches of earth and debris. This kind of deeply autumn landscape is thick with atmosphere, but even the small things, like Paul's footsteps on the land - which can almost be 'felt' and heard as soft, but not soggy, patterns on the autumnal land - crunching and padding his way through leaves, needles, mosses and debris, make for an immediately relatable sound and feel to the journey.

On a broader level, the autumn landscape is a tremendously pretty one and provides an appropriate and
complementary aesthetic. One can imagine padding up the slightly muddy tracks, feeling the chill on the
air and listening to the rustle of plants.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter's autumn setting is incredibly effective and elevates the sense of escapism, imagination and mystery that permeate throughout the story and Paul's experience. The change autumn brings creates a Red Creek Valley thick with atmosphere and sense of place, with a strong sense of mystery hanging over it, enhancing its themes. But, simply put, it is also a perfect setting as it is beautiful: a quiet, gorgeous landscape in which there is no need to rush. It can be enjoyed at a walking pace and absorbed as it provides a neat and appropriate backdrop to the game's narrative.

Much like the impact of the other seasons in The Last of Us, autumn is no different. However, it works two-fold in the game as we see two very different 'ends' of the season, leaving very different marks on the landscapes journeyed through by Joel and Ellie.

An early autumn setting with doggedly-persistent rain but with an almost-tangible mildness in the landscape's air greets the pair at the start of autumn's chapter. As with spring, autumn is known for its changeable whether - sandwiched between those more 'defined' and predictable seasons of winter and summer - and so this mix seems to make sense. Its effect on the landscape is fitting too: mild and wet weather is perfect for plants and can extend the growing season. So, despite the steady rain, there is lush foliage: a dense carpet and background of green ferns, pine, larch or spruce-looking trees yet to show any sign of autumn's really cold snaps - the downward bow in some of the branches is redolent of some spruces which stay green right through winter; the brushy grasses (not fading or bleached at all indicating early autumn); and low-growing, bushy and woody shrubs occasionally interrupted by colorful woodland plants. The damp, grey, but peaceful autumn landscape feels like an environmental sigh of relief after the drama of the suburbs and a nice, albeit, a brief suspension of the frantic story and events. This autumn landscape is an interesting juxtaposition of the gorgeous surroundings with a usual but relentless weather type: the lush landscape providing positivity and beauty; the persistent rain raising awareness for the future.

An early and evergreen autumn aesthetic makes for a pleasant and soft surrounding at the beginning
of the autumn chapter.

« Last Edit: October 05, 2018, 03:11:43 PM by javajolt » Logged

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