Resurrection: Samorost 2
Floating through space…
Resurrection: Samorost 2
Resurrection is a regular trip of nostalgia right here at Resolution Magazine. This week, Lee Bradley drifts off into the world of SAMOROST 2.
INDULGE ME a couple of paragraphs about art history.
The effect of the rise of photography on art was profound. Suddenly, the painters of the 19th Century could not compete in an area where “realism” was the standard of excellence. Slowly, the medium splintered into a thousand different strands.
Rather than strive to objectively recreate reality, new forms of expression emerged. From Impressionism to Expressionism, Cubism and beyond – these methods attempted to reveal the truth, while simultaneously rejecting objective representation. Put simply, there was no point in attempting to compete with the realism of photography, so more symbolic, subjective and surreal techniques flourished.
Videogames have taken the opposite route. Early on, the technology simply didn’t exist to design a precise, mirror-image vision of the world, so surreal and/or expressionistic representations were the standard. Mushroom kingdoms populated by lizard men, haunted corridors roamed by giant mouths, bizarre alien lifeforms – all were created with just a few chunky pixels. Where realism was impossible, suggestion took its place.
But as technology has improved, so has the fidelity of the images. Millions of pounds are now thrown at motion-capturing body movement, faces are scanned and mapped, hair offered its own physics. Environments are extensively scouted, the tiniest details recorded and processed. At the broad tip of the industry, faithful re-creation is the goal.
Yet indie developers have taken a different route still. Either through financial constraint or creative choice – and often both – many independent games have rejected this aesthetic aim. From the abstract neon rush of Leave Home, to the Gaudi-inspired organic environs of Zeno Clash, an altogether more subjective view of the world (and the worlds beyond it) has been preferred.
There are examples that undermine this argument, of course. Flower – a resolutely independent creation – is just about as photorealistic a game as you’ll encounter, while many mainstream titles have gone the expressionist anime or straight-up cartoony route. But the core of the discussion holds true: mainstream, studio-developed AAA titles are obsessed with graphical realism.
Rust and moss
And so we come to Samorost 2, Czech-born designer Jakub Dvorsky’s follow-up to the art school thesis project he released in 2003. Like its predecessor, Samorost 2 flirts with photo-realism in its environments, but does so via the use of digital, photomontage-esque techniques. Visually, it exists outside the approach of anything that has come before, within or without the mainstream. It’s beautifully crafted, utterly unique and strikingly gorgeous. It is art, in the truest sense of the world.
Like all photomontage, the universe of Samorost 2 is one of juxtaposition. Dvorsky’s creation is almost entirely made from wood, rock and metal, eaten away by rust and moss. It melts the binaries of nature and culture as floating islands of gnarled wood drift through space, bound by chunky metal bolts. It’s simultaneously sparse and dead, but also alive, organic. No surprises then that Dvorsky lists Adolf Lachman among his contemporaries.
Meanwhile, the characters of Samorost 2 are hand-drawn and animated in a charming cartoon fashion, their slightest movements wonderfully expressive. The gnome protagonist in particular is utterly loveable, the long nose of his nightcap flopping around carelessly behind him as he skips wide-eyed through the hazardous terrain, filled with a cheerful innocence completely at odds with the danger he faces.
In this deathly, decaying world, little more than insects, invertebrates and robots survive. There is scant vegetation; only moss, hazardous tendrils and dry, petrified, knotted wood. But among the desolation, our little gnome’s fertile pear orchard kickstarts an entire adventure.
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