Zooms have long been the crux of dramatic filmmaking. Legendary director Alfred Hitchcock popularized the dizzying camera effect in his classic thriller Vertigo (to, obviously, envelop the viewer in a sense of vertigo). Afterwards, zooms became a trend among filmmakers seeking to add that extra depth of environmental distortion to a shot – sometimes even to comedic success. For videogames, the art of the cinematic zoom is harder to master. In most cases, the player has control over the camera, and cutscenes hardly ever implement such dramatic effects. In reaching, a game borne out of a recent Global Game Jam, the omnipresent camera zoom is instead the sole guide of the game, utilized to its fullest extent.
Developed by Peter Smyth and Thomas Newlands, with music and sound effects crafted by Luke van Oene, reaching follows an egg-headed person in its monochromatic home. First the player walks about its living room, then its kitchen, then the bedroom, before repeating itself over and over again, flowing seamlessly via camera zoom. Reaching is emblematic of everything excessive about the zoom. As the scene goes on, the camera zooms into a painting, computer screen, or tablet, quickening as time goes on to a highly disorienting speed. By the end of the experience, it’s hard to keep your eyes on the screen as the zoom speeds through the stationary frames, let alone try to walk around the room the character resides in.
Perhaps reaching is a lesson in why the zoom isn’t a trait often seen in videogames. For in games, we perceive the world as the character in the screen, not as an outside observer as we do in film. Since the usage of the zoom is typically controlled by the player, it’s one marred in unimportance, such as landing that Twitter-ready screenshot in a game’s glamorous Photo Mode. That is, rather than being maneuvered as a tool to increase story-driven drama. Reaching’s instead neither of these, it’s accommodating the zoom as the game’s guide, but it’s not doing so for any aesthetic or drama-driven reason. It’s exploring the mechanics of employing the art of the zoom in the first place. Perhaps, just as Hitchcock intended, as we peered down that windy staircase and felt vertigo that very first time.
Download reaching for free on itch.io, available for PC, Mac, or Linux.