Umurangi Generation is a first person photography game in the shitty future. Set in Tauranga Aotearoa off the back of an impending crisis you are a courier for the Tauranga Express. Along the way you take photos to make ends meet. Throughout the game you will unlock a variety of lenses and equipment.
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Is the act of being a gamefied contract worker really the only possibility for these types of games? Does it really also need a ticking timer in the corner to stress me out on top of that?
And I can understand the feel for the existence of the former, but only because we are trained to expect some kind of tangible objective to follow as gamers and game designers. Umurangi Generation to my suprise actually found a way to elevate this game design obligation. (I get into that a bit further down) "If there are no conditions to be met how else could you call it a game, how else would the game know you did the thing!" could be argued. My problem with this notion is that every photography game I have played inevitably turns the inherent creativity of that artform into something different instead of searching for a way to fully embrace it.
The timer, which in my playthrough continued in red numbers upwards to infinity (it should just disappear after you failed or only be unlocked after your first completed run of a level) for no apparent reason other than to tease me with exactly how much time I have been wasting in this game, was not encouraging a different mindset.
There were two levels after which I gave up on trying to loose myself in "making art" and just tried to speedrun the act of pointing at the right thing with the right thing in the right way, but failed each time to get the bonus and dreaded to complete tasks in which I was asked to count a bunch of things again. If I had known this game was more about counting shit, finding specific stuff or the semi-puzzle of detecting an angle(often a single intended one, for the most egregious of the bounties to my delight illuminated by a neon green circle, which presumably also earns the player some extra cash to stand in and take their photo from but Idk) to combine multiple of the intended sub- or objects in one frame, all with, and I'll say it again, A TIMER STARING AND JUDGING YOUR EFFICIENCY, I probably wouldn't have bought it on a whim and engaged in a little more thinking feller behaviour before that. I should just stop going into games completly blind and adjust my expectations with a bit of research beyond looking at some screen shots or looking at a high number next a promising ramping curve on a Backlogged entry, smh.
Those very specific things you need to photograph lead the player to examine the Mise en scene,(unless of course they just unpluck their thinking box and only scan the enviourment for the crucial thing) so while the gameplay could feel like contract worker's fetch quest to me, the lists are admittedly kinda genius in getting the player to focus on each individual polygon, it's meaning and as a result in it's enviourmental story telling and exposition. A part of this trick Umurangi pulls, which shifted my initial annoyance about it into appreciation once I got what it was doing, were the at first glance decivingly simple descriptions which lead me to inspect every render in some of the comfortably small levels to rule each one of them out. When a prompt asks to photograph a specific word for instance, I would in tandem, even if just accidentally, read most of the sentences on a poster, graffity, the small print on a random box, the food item label, or beyond just the headline of a magazine a NPC might hold in their hands.
This got me to properly inspect the green fireflies while searching for a butterfly which lead to some cool isolated close ups of one, or aware if the large amount of cigarettes, knifes and medkits in the UN millitary camp while searching for those objectives(some of the first clues hinting that there is something more sinister going on than the rooftop photo-session like in the intro level before that), or to fully inspect the unravelling apocalypse outside a moving train while joining the flashing of a red light.
How the entire Walled City is looking for solace inside VR gaming headsets, while I was taking shots of a the word "gamers" a bunch of times. Crazy how a prompt like "photograph the word gamers 7 times" can lead to such a hard hitting declaration by the game I myself was currently escaping into. Seeing a fully armed and ready Military OP right next to a twitching dude with a VR headset tucked to his face is pretty jarring imagery. Or how your first sight in that level are a bunch of joyful folks dancing in the streets, I in an instant felt obligated to capture with my shutter, just to turn that camera lense and understand what the name "Walled City" truly encompasses.
A part of me believes that all of these observations I just attributed to the games design would have still taken place without it's reliance on checklists, but the existence of one itself gives context. Who am I taking these for? Who even pays me for it? The ominous implication of getting a fine for photographing the blue shells, which needs a bit of time to fully settle in, comes to mind. That this at first deceptively simple mechanic to get the player to be more careful with the framing and not just mindlessly waste a filmroll has genuine meaning in the story was brilliantly executed.
Maybe that's why I'd rather listen to, or play music than attempting to find the right ones for something that maybe can't be reduced to them and my RYM is as empty as my ball sack after listening to this OST. Anyways.
Bouncy, atmospheric synth- and drum-sample-heavy EDM, Breakbeat and Hip Hop transcends the atmosphere even further and goes hard from the moment you are greeted by the flapping vapor-waves of the penguin at the starting screen. There might be a few duds here and there, but the sheer volume and consistency in the catalogue for such a short game is impressive on it's own.
(Pretty irrelevant, but why did that MF choose the surename Adolf in his music?? Or did his parents do that to him? I couldn't find it out)
Street photography in general seems impossible to replicate inside of a Video Game. You try to capture the slipt of a second in time, in an endless stream of movement. No looped animation circle could achieve that. Street photography specificially(hell, realistically war photography even more so, but probably for different more legitimate reasons) even if harmless can be an adrenaline rush. "Everything you've ever wanted is on the other side of fear" You'll need to be friendly, confident, subtle and bold in the same breath and not afraid of some verbal confrontation. It is kinda therapeutic to me and genuinely helps me with my, during covid developed, agrophobia and social anxiety. If they catch me while snapping it I just smile and tell them what I am doing, most of the time they don't even care. I only take pictures in touristy spots and mostly groups of old people and their dogs, but I still sometimes catch myself not wanting to disturb anyone and once I only take one picture in a span of twenty+ minutes that's when I am done for the day. I just do it for myself, to get better at it and photography.
It also lets you view the world through a different lense (bad pun intended). You start noticing and appreciating lines, shapes and people you were previously blind towards and develope an eye for when a real or interesting moment is about to unfold out of the nessecity to capture it. "All the the technique in the world doesn't compensate for the inability to notice"
There is no way a glorified screenshot in a Video Game could ever come close to that specific experience. That game would need to be a money-eating, ambitious risk and for a very niche audience. And probably the only, I hate say this next string of words, open-world-game I would get giddy for. Shit I'll just go outside and do my thing there.
I actually would recommend the latter to eveyone here, in all of the ways you choose to interpretate it. Aight, imma grab my film rolls and head out.