How Season on PS5 is bringing in-game photography back to the future

How can a camera change the way you see the world? This is the fundamental question of photography, but also of a growing number of photo-centric games, including the highly anticipated season of adventures on PS5 and PC.

Season is part of a recent wave of games that are making photography their cornerstone, rather than an added bonus mode. Some, like Generation Umurangi, present the pastime as a form of urban art, a tool for reclaiming space through documentation. Others, like the classic Japanese horror game Fatal frame, use the camera as a weapon, able to dispel demonic presences.

But as members of the season the dev team told us in an exclusive interview, their game is different. It’s a calmer, more contemplative title that rewards careful observation. And its virtual camera, anchored in the meditative charms of film photography, is designed to foster intimacy between the player and the environment.

An analog approach

In the season unveil the trailer, we see a young protagonist riding his bike in a beautiful Studio Ghibli world. “Our grandparents lived a thousand years and our parents had a century of their own,” she says wistfully. “But we have a season.”

The world, as she knows it, is on the verge of collapsing, and to make the most of her last days, she sets off on a bicycle in order to immortalize its beauty. We spot a sketchbook filled with drawings of a ruined monument, a tape recorder capturing the delicate sound of a dragonfly’s wings, and, most importantly, a camera aimed at a bright-eyed primate.

“Everything in the game is about what photography is,” says Kevin Sullivan, Creative Director and Writer of Season. “What it means to take a photo, what it says about the photographer, the fact that we can freeze time in images, those incomplete glimpses of the past. It fits so much with the themes that we are trying to show the player, ”he adds.

Season, developed by Montreal studio Scavengers, has been working in one way or another since 2016, when it was just Sullivan’s idea inspired by his travels in Southeast Asia. Before anything was even scheduled, he created video trials for the team, and even a working board game to show how it might work in practice.

Now that production of the game is in full swing, its form is a bit clearer. There’s a world to explore filled with people to talk to, and of course, a bike to get around. At various times you can pull out your camera to document your surroundings – animals, yes, and scenic views, but the architecture and graffiti, all of which give the place something special before the “mysterious cataclysm.” takes it all “.

A camera and a tape recorder in a bag

(Image credit: Scavengers Studio)

Everything in the game is about photography. What it means to take a photo, what it says about the photographer, the fact that we can freeze time in images, those incomplete glimpses of the past.

Kevin Sullivan, Scavengers Studio

In fact, the photography in Season has changed a lot since its initial 2020 trailer. Camera enthusiasts may spot a machine that looks like a retro Bolex-style video camera (above), but it turned into a simpler camera, says Stephen Tucker, main artist in VFX.

What has not changed, he explains, is the emphasis on “old forms” of documentation. An avid photographer, he mentions his own Polaroid camera, the pleasant artefacts that emerge from using vintage film with an analog camera, and the relative “lack of control” it offers. “You won’t have a zoom range of 10mm to 300mm or something like that,” he continues. “You’re going to have to stand roughly where you need to stand to take the shot you want.” The ultimate goal, he says, is to create a device that feels “textural”.

Depth of field

Tucker isn’t the only photography enthusiast on the season’s development team. Sullivan’s father was an aerial photographer, which meant his family’s basement was essentially a gigantic dark room. Then, in college, he began to take an interest in analog film processing while working on Friends’ Super 16mm and 35mm film projects.

There’s also Irwin Chiu Hau, 3D programmer on Season, who previously worked as a professional photographer at weddings. He has his own collection of DSLRs and now takes landscape and macro photography for fun. The latter, mostly extreme close-up photography, feeds directly into Season. “There are a lot of little things in the world to spin,” Chiu Hau said enticingly.

A camera focusing on a raccoon

(Image credit: Scavengers Studio)

But outside of real-world devices, earlier video games have helped shape the season.‘s camera in the game.

Tucker refers to the 1980s disposable camera used in the 2016 first-person drama Fire watch. In this game, you can photograph the beautiful forest and mountains of Wyoming, covered in various places with a bright orange sun. Another is the first person adventure of 2017 What remains of Edith Finch?, which gives players an old-fashioned camera for the duration of a rainy hunting trip. “I like the feel of the cameras in both of these games,” Tucker says.

Firewatch and what’s left of Edith Finch? happened before video game photography as a game mechanic became very popular. More recently, Sludge life and the award-winning Umurangi generation have chosen gamers as photographers with distinct cyberpunk futures. And just a few months ago, the cult classic Pokémon Snap made its long-awaited return for gamers thrilled to pap their favorite makeup critters.

Two hands holding a camera in the game Martha is Dead

The upcoming Martha Is Dead game sees you load up a dual lens SLR camera with film and even develop it in a virtual darkroom. (Image credit: Wired Productions)

There are also two titles on the horizon that promise to add their own twist to the burgeoning micro-genre. Toem is a cute adventure featuring anthropomorphic characters, while Marthe is dead (above) takes the camera into altogether scarier territory with its 1940s Italian horror story.

Photography as a mechanic is seemingly in poor health, but none of these games offer the soulful, soulful beauty of Season – the feeling that the present is slipping through our fingers and needs to be commemorated in some way. other.

A change of direction

Yet regardless of tone and mood, what each of these games offers is a way of interacting with the world that doesn’t involve blowing it up or its inhabitants.

The camera can be a useful way of structuring the gaze, giving the simple act of looking a mechanical dimension for players who are concerned about always doing something.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s an intuitive action for most people thanks to the extent to which smartphones have popularized the hobby. Everyone knows what to do, in other words. “The moment you take out a camera, you start to compose,” says Chiu Hau, “you start to frame the subject.”

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A boy walking through a town square in the game Season

In-game screenshots of the game’s season (PS5 and PC) (Image credit: Scavengers Studio)
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A boy walking through a field in the games season

(Image credit: Scavengers Studio)
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A boy walking towards an ancient sculpture in the season of the game

(Image credit: Scavengers Studio)

While photography is increasingly integrated into the gameplay of indie titles, for many blockbusters it exists as “photo mode‘, separate from the game itself. All the player has to do is pause the action at a particularly gripping point and start composing their shot.

In popular, eye-catching action titles like Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, and The Last of Us Part II, there’s almost an entire post-production sequel folded into their photo modes, lighting, setting in focus to the field of view. Often times, there are options to change the environment including the time of day, weather, and even the actual shooting props.

While these tools are newly flexible, they are part of a tradition almost as old as the game itself – that of “screenshot”, the ancestor of modern video game photography.

Virtual tourism

Throughout the pandemic, Tucker says he’s taken to blockbuster video games as a proxy for travel, photographing his way through their stories and worlds as if he’s on one of his own vacations. ‘adventure.

The lush vegetation and striking ruinous environments of The Last of Us Part II offered a worthy subject, so much so that he started printing in-game photos using the Instax Mini Link.

A microphone stands next to a dragonfly

(Image credit: Scavengers Studio)

For Sullivan, season itself has manifested itself in the real world during the last eighteen difficult months. “I cycled around Montreal and took pictures to try to find out more,” he says. “I feel like there’s a strange back and forth between the things we do to influence the game and the feeling of being influenced by the game itself – just in certain activities and lending Warning. The season feels like it’s bled in my real life more than I anticipated when I started.

Sullivan’s own experiences are precisely what appeals to Season and his in-game photography. Gamers looking for all the features of “photo modes” may be disappointed, as may those hoping for all the controls of a modern DSLR. .

But those who wish to experience the emotional essence of photography – in particular, the simplicity and immediacy of an analog camera format – should be well served. By giving players a tool from the past, Season can bring about a whole new perspective on the world.

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