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Walking Within Visions of Gothic and Cosmic Horror in ‘Bloodborne’

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From Software’s Bloodborne, a Souls series spin-off, is perhaps one of the most fully, aesthetically and atmospherically, realized games that I have had the pleasure to come across within my lifetime.

Personally, I consider Bloodborne to be the best adaptation of Lovecraft’s themes I have ever seen; instead of using Cthulhu memes to imply a superficial and easy-to-understand weirdness, there’s actual depth, and results of the horrors that can come forth from the human mind are built and available, with all their complexities, as a world to walk within.

Wandering through some of the landscapes in Bloodborne feels like stepping forth on the flesh of a madman’s brain, though slowly sinking in quicksand in the process.

The surface of this madness is tinged with Gothic horror– of sickly plagued men with burning torches, lycan beasts, blood-hungry vampiric humans, an old village of witches tucked away beyond a looming forest and other such, usually sanguinolent, things.

The complimentary nature of all elements is evident from the title screen to the end credits. Nothing is out of place. Upper Cathedral Ward (with its tremendous choir) and The Fishing Hamlet are strikingly different, but they obviously belong to the same world.

These kind of visual and thematic ideas gradually evolve into different incarnations as you progress from one area to another.

With all the beautiful intricacies of this world’s setting, simply pressing the SHARE button doesn’t do the game any justice, nor does it rightly represent my time in Yharnam.

As such, my method of capturing images in Bloodborne is more in line with the idea of witnessing events and places from the perspective of my player character. I want to capture the Yharnam my character walks within, beyond the overlaid menu and button prompts. Post-play, I can stitch together visuals of this world and appreciate every fine detail in a way not always possible when you’re actively playing and have to be aware of things that might suddenly attack you.

The good ol’ “hide HUD and use binoculars/monocular” trick that I’ve come to know in Souls game was what I utilized here to achieve this first-person perspective (though with the added step that requires you to use the “sit down” gesture).

In a way, it’s like using a very limited in-game camera. These limitations, however, are what also, at times, inspire focused outcomes.

Adapting Lovecraftian cosmic horror themes is nothing new in games, and dying worlds telling tales of the past is a common trait in the Souls series. But to utilize it in such a context where the dreamscape atmosphere of it all oozes, or rather bleeds, into the actual experience of playing the game is pretty unique.

Via visual storytelling, Bloodborne writes the perfect epitaph for the world in which you now hunt; a world that, unlike the worlds in Souls games, is not yet dead but is instead in the process of dying.

Throughout my, now countless, playthroughs, each time I enter Yharnam, it feels as if I have arrived at a location that may actually exist. Each area naturally (and then unnaturally) transitions into the next in a way that the reminds me of the first Dark Souls title, but in a more, at times, abstract and metaphysical level.

The Chalice Dungeons too, while a little more removed from the rest of the game’s setting, have an unsettling allure that isn’t misplaced.

These dungeons seem to not exist in the “real world” (or dream world?) of the rest of the game, but rather as endless tunnels representing the buried, secret history of Yharnam’s ancestors, the Pthumerians.

Whether it’s time travel or going through a dream-like recollection of the past, venturing into this underground dimension brings a different ambiance to the game while still feeling like a well-suited part of a whole. I remember the awe and wonder that came over me as I ventured into the deeper layers of these dungeons, especially in the Isz Chalice Dungeons, where fog, that looks like bursts of outer space, weaves through alien and plant-like infested ruins.

Others have accomplished insightful reads into the inspirations that, at least on a basic level, make Bloodborne what it is. I’m not a fan of over-analyzation of the alleged meanings of the game’s narratives, opting to enjoy the game as it is presented to me, and learn about the external influences that created this game that I hold in such high esteem.

The best I can do, in that regard, is take pictures that highlight the things I love the most about Bloodborne, which is just about everything really.

(All images featured in this article were taken by the author)

Full gallery of images:

 

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. mojack411

    September 20, 2017 at 9:54 am

    Very impressive photo work that truly highlight the atmosphere of the game. I’ve honestly never read any of Lovecraft’s works because I’m always scared that they’ll freak me out. After playing Bloodborne, though, I feel like I’ve come to understand even a little bit why he is so famous.

    • Maxwell N

      September 20, 2017 at 6:44 pm

      Thanks!

      They’re not scary in the modern gore and jump-scare sense, more like psychological concepts and aliens/gods etc. It might be hard to get into if you’re not used to it, but I would recommend researching what you do end up reading since there are a lot of edition with typos and errors.

      Also keep in mind that while Bloodborne lifts a lot of elements from Lovecraft, they’re mostly superficial in terms of their exploration. Bloodborne sort of takes general ideas but then makes it its own. So, if there is a creature in Bloodborne that is exactly like one from his works, it might just mean that the look and general idea served as inspirations, but the creature’s story itself beyond that isn’t related.

      Or it might be, but we can’t/shouldn’t assume that.

  2. Kyle Rogacion

    September 23, 2017 at 1:51 am

    Great writeup, Max! I love how you describe Yharnam as “a world that, unlike the worlds in Souls games, is not yet dead but is instead in the process of dying.” Very sensual piece in the literal definition of the word. You do an excellent job of conveying not only the mood and tone of the game, but how it affected you as the player.

    On a related note, this notion of eldritch, unseen horrors seeping into the mortal world and slowly taking root is a large reason of why I love the Warhammer franchise, both Fantasy and 40k. Grimdark, when done right, is a gloriously morbid aesthetic that perfectly plays on the innate human fear of the cold unfairness of the universe; this idea that everything we are and everything we do is insignificant.

    • Maxwell N

      September 23, 2017 at 10:05 pm

      I’ll admit I’m not that familiar with the Warhammer series beyond knowing the basics of the table-top games. But, from what I have seen, a lot of those kinds of games seem to do a good job in taking Lovecraftian elements and making them their own.

      See, I’m not sure if I would describe it as “grimdark”. The horror often comes from implication and what isn’t there (until it is). There’s this feeling of being out of the loop that makes it very fascinating.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Fortnite’

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Join us all month as our staff looks back at the most influential games of the past decade. This is not a list of our favourite games but rather a look back at the games that left the biggest impact in the last ten years on an artistic and cultural level. After careful consideration, we narrowed it down to ten games that have most defined, influenced and shaped the industry as we know it.

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You know, I never thought I’d be writing this article.

I thought Fortnite was going to be another one of those fads that came around quickly and left just as quickly, a fading blip of relevance like every other AAA game that releases and is buried under something better. Whether that be better looking, better playing, or just plain…better.

That never happened. Instead, what we got was a phenomenon.

There are only three other times in history where I feel like the world “phenomenon” really translates well: the original NES, PokéMania in the West, and the launch of World of Warcraft. However, Fortnite really captures the meaning of that word. It absorbed, and to a slightly lesser extent, continues to absorb large amounts of popular culture, integrating itself into the American ethos in a way that sent ripples throughout the larger, non-gamer market.

It’s hard to quantify the impact of a peak claim of nearly 250 million players. Most games don’t reach a fraction of that player base and those that do don’t often carry the clout that Fortnite accumulated for itself. Oftentimes, when a game is as mentioned and cited in the industry as Fortnite, it’s for unmitigated disasters or fads that quickly fade due to their failure to adapt.

Fortnite, on the other hand, has done nothing but adapt to changing player tastes, pumping out content on a hitherto unimaginable scale on an ever-expanding number of platforms. What started out confined to the typical trio of PC, PS4, and Xbox One soon expanded onto Android, iOS, MacOS, and Nintendo Switch quickly. Well-optimized ports and eventual cross-play enabled players to play with each other despite their own hardware choices. That two friends with an iPhone SE and a GTX 2080ti-equipped PC can play together is proof that Fortnite has done well to integrate players together from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.

If anything, Fortnite has proven right a premise that Nintendo has preached for years: that the more accessible a game is, the greater the success that it can be. Fortnite’s accessibility didn’t stop at its incredibly easy-to-run game engine or its easy-to-learn gameplay loop, but also continued in its actual presentation. For a game ostensibly about hunting down other players Hunger Games-style until only one player remains, it has strikingly bright and appealing visuals. Characters and skins are not only instantly recognizable, but easily marketable, ensuring that all fans–yes, even the middle-schoolers you overhear at your local games store–can purchase physical, in addition to digital, representations of their favorite characters.

In many ways, Fortnite, and its publisher, Epic Games, remind me of NES-era Nintendo.

Did they operate calculating business with a keen eye for profit through manipulating kids’ access to the First Bank of Mom and Dad? Yes. Did they create playground, and message board, conversation starters that create narratives that continue exist long after irrelevance? Yes.

But, in the end, did they create games whose importance changed gaming forever?

Yes.

Ultimately, I think that is the biggest aspect of Fortnite‘s legacy: it is one of the few games that did not shackle its free-to-play players with unfair restrictions or give paying players unfair, buy-to-win advantages. For all that it offered: hours of fun with friends, inclusion in massive social events, and the ability to continue your play across nearly every console, it gave it all for free.

And that, I think, will endure long after all the V-bucks and Battle Buses have faded away.

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‘KartRider: Drift’ is Gorgeous But in Need of Fine-Tuning

KartRider: Drift is Microsoft’s new exclusive racer coming in 2020. Here are hands-on beta impressions from behind the wheel.

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kartrider drift

KartRider: Drift had the odds stacked against it from the outset. Though the KartRider series has been immensely popular in China and Korea for more than a decade, its brand recognition in the West has been largely nonexistent. Thus, when it was showcased at Microsoft’s XO19 event in November, many dismissed the game as a generic Mario Kart clone. In reality, not only is KartRider is one of the longest-running competitive racing games in the world, but its closed beta weekend proved that Nexon is taking the impending Western release very seriously.

Push to Start

Beta players were given access to three modes: online matchmaking, solo time trials, and the garage for character and kart customization. The online interface is simple and intuitive; with a press of the “X” button players can toggle between Solo, Duo, and Squad (four-player) races across Item Mode (featuring traditional kart racer items) and Speed Mode (no items). Switching between different configurations is a snap and, thanks to KartRacer already being such a massive game in the East, I rarely had to wait more than 20 seconds to get thrown into a match. Creating private parties and inviting friends to race is also an option.

Although maps took a while to load, performance was consistently smooth once races actually began. It’s here where Nexon’s investment in Unreal Engine 4 really shines; the tracks are simply a joy to look at. Each manage to pop with personality despite not being based on recognizable IP like Mario Kart or Crash Team Racing. Of the nine tracks available during the beta only two stuck out as being a bit samey. Each of the drivers also benefit from colorful, distinct designs and fully customizable win/loss animations. The only portion of the presentation that didn’t impress was the music, which was quite catchy at first, but looped endlessly irrespective of the track.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the actual course design, which is largely serviceable but also initially frustrating. For instance, a forest-themed track features logs that stick up from the ground and stop racers in their tracks. This wouldn’t be too egregious, but the logs are so large that only tiny spaces on either side remain. Nearly half of my races on this map were marred by traffic jams caused by a couple of these choke points. Another map features a jump that must be hit at just the right time to not collide with a building and cost players the entire race.

Even maps that don’t demand unreasonable precision from new players suffer from jarringly sharp edges that make it easy to get stuck on corners. This is only exacerbated by a finicky drift mechanic that takes hours of experimentation and countless losses to nail down. While growing more competent at cornering eventually felt rewarding and worthwhile, the high skill threshold here feels like it’s at odds with KartRider: Drift’s framing as an accessible, beginner-friendly experience. These aren’t necessarily design flaws, but they seem like missteps in a game that’s trying to appeal to as many newcomers as possible.

kartrider drift

Tantalizing Customization

While KartRider: Drift’s core mechanics might aggravate the casual players it’s trying to reach, its customization options are some of the most appealing I’ve seen in any kart racer. Players can choose from a range of skins, emotes, kart types, and wheels to fully deck out their characters. Be it the aggressively adorable Bunny Buggy or skins that turn characters into little baseball and football players, it’s tough not to fall in love with the clean, cutesy charm on display here.

One potential worry is that since the game will be completely free-to-play, it’ll follow the route of relying on premium skins and emotes to generate revenue. There was no store or lootbox-esque system implemented in the beta build, but it’s clear from the “Epic” and “Rare” tags on items that premium customization will surely be a major focus. Considering players gain experience and level up the more races they compete in, there’s hope that at least some items might be unlockables to encourage higher attachment rates.

KartRacer: Drift is an unusual Microsoft exclusive, and yet it’s clear that Nexon has poured a tremendous amount of care and resources into it over the years. Having crossplay with PC this early on was crucial and ensures a built-in online community of millions from the get-go. It remains to be seen if the team makes any track design tweaks or alters the hyper-touchy drift, but what’s already here is at least worth giving a whirl when it releases for free sometime in 2020.

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The Best Reveals of Indie World December 2019

From long-awaited sequels to unexpected crossovers to some surprising shadow drops, there was something for everyone in the latest Indie World showcase.

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Indie World

It’s been a banner year for independent games, and Nintendo has closed it out with a new Indie World presentation. From long awaited sequels to unexpected crossovers to some surprising shadow drops, there was something for everyone in this showcase. We’ve rounded up a few of the very best reveals below.

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The show started off strong with the reveal of Sports Story, a sequel to 2017’s much loved, golf-obsessed RPG Golf Story. Whereas the first game focused solely on the noble sport of golf, the sequel has a much broader scope, integrating a variety of new sports like tennis, baseball, and soccer, to name only a few. On top of that, the gameplay is expanding with plenty of new elements, including dungeons to explore, espionage missions to sneak through, and numerous memorable characters to interact with. Just like its predecessor, Sports Story will be a Switch exclusive when it launches in mid-2020.

Some of the best indies can be immensely stylish experiences, and such games were well represented throughout this showcase. The first one shown was Gleamlight, a 2D action game created by developers who worked on the recent Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. It puts players in control of a sentient sword, tasked with exploring a mysterious world made of stained glass. It leaves players to their own devices, with no UI or dialogue to tell its somber story. Like so many other games in this presentation, it will release in early 2020.

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Another eye-catching title was Liberated, which describes itself as “a playable graphic novel.” Literally taking place across the panels and pages of a cyberpunk comic book, Liberated features a mixture of stealth-based gunplay and action platforming, along with a dystopian story told from numerous perspectives. It will be a timed Switch console exclusive when it launches next year.

Indie World

Not all games were so serious or artistic – some were decidedly sillier. One such game was SkateBIRD, which, as the title implies, is all about controlling cute little birds on skateboards. This intrepid athletes will spend their time “grinding on bendy straws, kickflipping over staplers or carving lines through a park held together by sticky tape,” and if that doesn’t sound like a good time, I don’t know what does. These little birdies won’t take flight until late 2020.

Indie World

To get even sillier, imagine the bizarre bird-based dating simulator Hatoful Boyfriend set to an Ace Attorney soundtrack. As bizarre as that sounds, that’s exactly what Murder by the Numbers is. This murder mystery visual novel blends detective work with pixelated puzzling, featuring characters designed by Hatoful Boyfriend creator Hato Moa and music by Ace Attorney composer Masakazu Sugimori. Releasing early next year, this unusual mashup will be a timed Switch exclusive at launch.

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Procedural generation can feel like a tired trope in indie games. However, SuperMash, which describes itself as “the game that makes games,” looks like it should be a unique take on that style with its inventive genre-mashing style. Players will be able to mash distinct genres together – such as JRPG and platformer – to randomly created entirely new gameplay styles. It has plenty of unique mashing potential, releasing in May next year on Switch.

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It’s seemingly impossible for Nintendo to hold a presentation without a shadow drop or two, and that holds true with this Indie World showcase. The free-to-play multiplayer hit Dauntless was revealed to include exclusive weapons and armor in the Switch version, which also features full cross-play support. Likewise, the deluxe version of the philosophical puzzler The Talos Principle was announced for Nintendo’s hybrid wonder, featuring all the immersive mind teasers and world design that made the game such a hit when it launched years ago. Unlike most other titles in this showcase, you won’t need to wait until next year to play these – instead, they’re both available for download now.

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The presentation opened with a sequel to a fan-favorite indie, and fittingly enough, that’s also how it closed, with the announcement of Axiom Verge 2. Details are currently scarce, but this new title will return to the sci-fi universe of the original 2015 Metroidvania hit, including “completely new characters, abilities, and gameplay.” We’re sure to learn more about this mysterious new sequel ahead of its release in Fall 2020.

These are only a few of the most exciting reveals from Indie World. For everything announced, you can see the full presentation below.

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