El Hijo

El Hijo could be the spaghetti-western of your dreams

A man in black, little more than an extension of the flat shadow of the umbrella he carries, rides across an open desert. On his saddle sits a naked boy—a wide brimmed hat his only protection against the burning sun. The pair stop at a post, a marker, and the man places the boy on the sand. “You are seven today. You are a man now,” he tells his son. “Bury your first toy and the portrait of your mother.” This is how Alejandro’s Jodorowsky’s infamous surrealist western, El Topo (1970) begins. This moment of becoming prefaces a spiritual journey for both…


Knotting into Dishonored’s decaying city

Heterotopias is a series of visual investigations into virtual spaces performed by artist and writer Gareth Damian Martin. /// There is no such thing as a total vision of a city. Statistics, guidebooks, politicians, newspapers, tourists, maps, and surveys like to suggest otherwise, but theirs is a constricted world, an incomplete image. Those of us who live in cities know very well of their tendency to conceal and reveal themselves with unexpected rhythms, as if at random—surprising us with new configurations and revelations, shifting prism-like with the passing of time or the changing of the light. Perhaps that’s why the most…

Destiny Rise of Iron

Destiny: Rise of Iron has learned nothing

I was at E3 when Destiny was first shown to the world in 2013. I remember being shepherded into a theater, the outside marked with huge printed artwork, among a group of whispering journalists. In that theater, we would be taken through the opening to the game: the wall, the breach, the first areas of the Cosmodrome. The person demonstrating the game spawned at what I now know—after hundreds of hours in Destiny’s world—to be the hard edge of the map. But back then I had no idea where this sprawling landscape ended, where its invisible walls lay. So as…


Dear Esther: Landmark Edition is a delicate, embalmed object

Heterotopias is a series of visual investigations into virtual spaces performed by artist and writer Gareth Damian Martin. /// Videogames have always had something of a preference for islands. These closed spaces, limited by a shoreline, are the perfect conceit for creating an enclosed simulation—an isolated section of “reality” split off from the world. Despite this, thematically, games rarely have anything to say about their own predisposition towards landscapes of isolation, separation, and abandonment. For Dear Esther, these are central themes. It’s easy to imagine that Dan Pinchbeck’s choice of an island setting for the original 2008 Half-Life 2 mod, built…

Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor

Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is a treasure among the trash

There is a sense, in videogames particularly, that the greatest science fiction is that with the budget to match its ideas. Most sci-fi games seem engaged in a kind of arms race, a process of trying to out-tech and out-spectacle each other with increasing elaborate retellings of the “save the galaxy” narrative. Yet, in many ways this is the realm of the blockbuster, not of science fiction as a genre. The most impactful sci-fi of the past was not that which hammered the most fancy widgets onto a five-act quest structure, but that which abstracted, twisted, and expanded the struggles…

Hitman: Colorado

Hitman’s accent problem finally finds a solution (sorta)

Hitman, in most ways, has been going from strength to strength. The episodic murder simulator has seemingly found its form, with the space between each episode giving players plenty of time to experiment with its techniques and locations, finding increasingly outrageous kills and bizarre events. We’ve had “accidents” caused by launching a fire extinguisher at a Parisian balcony, setting up a totally improbable double kill with a trail of gunpowder in Sapienza, and in Bangkok the grim spectacle of smothering a man in his own birthday cake in front of his surprise party. I’ll understand if you don’t click that last…


The Psygnosis generator will remind you how great game box art can be

Videogame box art is in a pretty awful state. This isn’t really news to anyone; it’s been like that for a while. In fact, since the days of the second generation of the 3D era, box art has been on a steady decline. That’s a long time, so long that you might have even forgotten what good box art looks like. Perhaps you don’t mind DOOM’s painfully generic marine, or Call of Duty’s yearly scraping of the bottom of the barrel for new poses men can hold guns in. It’s not that every bit of modern box art is bad per…


One last tour of Destiny’s Cosmodrome

Heterotopias is a series of visual investigations into virtual spaces performed by writer and artist Gareth Damian Martin. /// There’s a set of stairs in my childhood house that I still climb like I was eight years old. It’s not something I do on purpose; it’s something ingrained, so that the moment I step on the first step my hands come instinctively down and I scramble up the carpeted ledges like a dog. It’s as if, through repetition, the space has ceased to be something true, objective, and has transformed into a series of emotional and psychological triggers, arranged in the precise configuration to…


My experience as a virtual war photographer in Battlefield 1

Heterotopias is a series of visual investigations into virtual spaces performed by writer and artist Gareth Damian Martin. /// What makes a battlefield different from any other place? Our towns, cities, fields, and parks are all potential battlefields, with lines of sight, choke-points, defensible terrain and no man’s land, all waiting to be activated. But how do you design a battlefield, balance the distribution of buildings, the flow of landscape, the arrangement of forms? It started as an investigation. I would trawl the lone map of Battlefield 1‘s open beta to try to catalog the space custom made for its warfare. Stripping the game of its HUD…