Birthplace of Ossian

Birthplace of Ossian explores the artificiality of videogame landscapes

The mountainous terrain in Connor Sherlock’s exploration game Birthplace of Ossian isn’t of this world. I don’t mean that rather than being real, it is virtual—its disconnection has many more layers than that. For starters, its colossal landscape is based on Glen Coe in Scotland, a place that Sherlock has never been but feels connected to through media like Highlander (1986)—he’s actually named after the main character, Connor MacLeod. Sherlock wanted his recreation of Glen Coe to reflect his physical distance from it. “I wanted the space to be as distant an echo of the real thing as I could make it, like…


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…

To West

To West explores the inherent slowness of vast landscapes

The power of the engine doesn’t matter—it is the landscape which dictates the speed of a train. Some journeys are staccato and breathless, clusters of urban interest barely spaced, laying down a beat over which the melodies of weather and light might play. Others are long drawn-out sighs, exhales as long as a country, made even slower by the occasional point of basic interest; a tree or ruin. Most waver between the two, playing out the time away from work, life, routine and rote in an almost mischievous way. Once you board a train, you leave your life behind, you…

Quiet as a Stone

Quiet as a Stone will evoke humanity’s architectural awakening

We remarked back in July last year that Richard Whitelock’s upcoming “simple stone throwing game” Quiet as a Stone turned nature into your own personal playground. But it seems a better metaphor would be comparing it to the Mesopotamian mud flats where it is thought humankind’s first buildings were erected. This is a game that ostensibly simulates that important architectural moment in our ancient history. This insight is born of Whitelock’s latest update on his progress with Quiet as a Stone, which includes how he first came up with the idea, and how it has changed over the months. To start,…


Generate tiny ominous landscapes with this procedural generation toy

Mirror Lake is a strange little thing. Made in a week for Procedural Generation Jam, it creates static black-and-white landscapes, nestled inside a giant patterned bowl and suspended in space. Sometimes the space is dark, dotted with stars and the occasional sun or moon or comet; sometimes it’s a vast white nothing, like a blank page. The tiny scenes inside the bowl change too, sprouting branchless trees and rolling mountains across wide meadows, shining grey lakes, and bright white salt flats. A few times, I didn’t even get a landscape at all. I’d click away from a particularly full terrarium…


Find peace by gardening the harmonious landscapes of Barmark

Sign up to receive each week’s Playlist e-mail here! Also check out our full, interactive Playlist section. Barmark (Android)  BY Stormhatt Studios The characters in Barmark are all damaged in some way. You can see this as they wander the rigidly-cut pastoral landscapes guided by your finger. They are searching for harmony (which is believed to have healing properties), and to find it, you need to help them shape the environment to a pleasing arrangement. To this end, you can plant trees and flowers, but the idea is to seek out hidden ancient machines that can enact dramatic changes on the quiet forests,…


Videogame generates worlds based on your webcam, horror ensues

We drive into the future using only our rearview mirror. — Marshall McLuhan Ian MacLarty’s Reflections inspired one of those “whoa the future is here” moments in me. I remember years ago, I felt like I was in the goddamn Jetsons the first time I ever Skyped with a person half way across the world. I mean webcams—next you’ll be telling me we can talk to people on our watches, too! But Reflections is less cartoon sci-fi fantasy future, and more nightmarish surrealism made possible by technology. Like a mirror image of our mutated digital souls, Reflections generates a 3D landscape based…


Quiet as a Stone turns nature into your own rural playground

For a game with the word “quiet” in the title, Quiet as a Stone is alive with sound, and some incredibly pleasing ones too. There’s the hum of wind and water, the noise of nature uninterrupted, then the clatter of rocks and clay pots shattering as the player interferes with the landscape, and finally a cartoony pop to mark the placement of stone, tree, pillar. So far, Quiet as a Stone looks decidedly different from creator Richard Whitelock’s other project, Into this Wylde Abyss, an upcoming game set in a harsh frozen landscape. Both are gorgeous takes on the majesty…


This strange virtual world is a peek inside its designer’s mind

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misrepresented MacLarty’s motivations. It has been revised following a discussion with him. Videogame designer Ian MacLarty recently took part in a game jam, as part of the Freeplay festival in Australia, that was themed upon diversity, multiplicity and culture. It was called, appropriately, the Multiplicity Jam. MacLarty was inspired by the speakers at the festival, who talked about their own cultural identity and the value of diversity, to reflect on his relationship with his connection to Australia, where he has lived for the past decade, as well as his upbringing in South Africa. The result…