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In the Zone of Alienation: Tarkovsky as Video Game
May 1, 2012 10:19 AM   Subscribe

In the Zone of Alienation: Tarkovsky as Video Game
posted by Cloud King (41 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Rock Paper Shotgun on The Importance of S.T.A.L.K.E.R
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:21 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


This fraught, high-stakes quest consists mainly of the three men walking a couple hundred yards in a grassy, abandoned landscape and talking (with a break for a nap); the film ends after 163 minutes with no wishes apparently made or granted.

This is hardly a fair summary of a film which includes our protagonists fleeing from the military under a hail of bullets, one of the characters revealing a double-cross in which he plans to blow them all to hell with a bomb he's been smuggling, and a long terrifying walk through a tunnel which, we are told, has a tendency to kill people.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:29 AM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


huh, I totally love Tarkovsky's Solaris; I should track this one down, it seems...
posted by kaibutsu at 10:32 AM on May 1, 2012


I have been sitting with an unwatched DVD of Stalker from Netflix for 10 months. I believe my Netflix subscription has expired in that time ... S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was great, but it seems like forever ago.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:42 AM on May 1, 2012


S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is my favorite series, but I must say when reading Zona I didn't find myself thinking much about the games. Zona is like an extended liveblogging of the film and, as such, is focused on the film. The games and the movie and Roadside Picnic are all so different and interesting for their own reasons.

FTFA: the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, which have subpar graphics, horrid writing, abysmal voice-acting, tasteless menus, and tediously clichéd music.

Obviously the author played the vanilla version of the game. Unfortunately for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., no one should do this. IMO everyone should play the Stalker Complete 2009 mod their first time through. The graphics are stunningly good, audio is dramatically improved, and tons of glitches are fixed. The core story and gameplay are left unchanged, so I guess if you don't like those parts of it then you're still out of luck.

Also, tasteless menus? That's sort of an interesting complaint. I can't imagine what the author would think a tasteful Chernobyl FPS menu would look like.
posted by Edogy at 10:44 AM on May 1, 2012


kaibutsu-- Solaris was the first Tarkovsky I saw, and I loved it to pieces. When I found out that Tarkovsky considered it the least of his films, I was appalled: How could he be so wrong about such a great film? But then I saw more Tarkovsky, and it turns out that everything is in degrees, because as great as Solaris is, it can't touch The Mirror, Ivan's Childhood, Nostalghia, or-- especially-- Andrei Rublev and Stalker, two of the greatest films ever produced. (I haven't seen The Sacrifice or the harder-to-find early shorter films of his, so maybe they're terrible, I dunno.)
posted by shakespeherian at 10:44 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is hardly a fair summary of a film which includes our protagonists fleeing from the military under a hail of bullets, one of the characters revealing a double-cross in which he plans to blow them all to hell with a bomb he's been smuggling, and a long terrifying walk through a tunnel which, we are told, has a tendency to kill people.

Not to mention a leisurely-filmed scene in a sun-drenched meadow full of birdsong which also happens to be one of the most nerve-wracking, anxiety-inducing 5 minutes I've ever sat through.
posted by Chrischris at 10:48 AM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also true. For all its slow pace and quietness and seeming wandering around, the film is pants-shittingly tense most of the time.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:49 AM on May 1, 2012


A side note: a new and uncensored English translation of the Strugatskys' novel Roadside Picnic came out this year.

There's also a pen-and-paper Stalker RPG (sanctioned by Boris Strugatsky) that was just translated into English.
posted by Idler King at 10:51 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Up to now, I've just thought of STALKER as another FPS but both these articles put it in a very different, positive, light. I'm seriously thinking of buying in on Steam.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:57 AM on May 1, 2012


Previously!
posted by misteraitch at 11:01 AM on May 1, 2012


I'm wary of saying what games are "art", because I'm afraid it would devolve into a discussion of what art is... does it have to be emotionally powerful? thought provoking? or just good? The problem is that the real art in games is good game design, which is something most non-gamers don't even understand. They come looking for story or attractive art. Did the person(s) who designed chess make a work of art?

It takes time to understand the attraction of gameplay itself -- a game like nethack, for example. I could rattle off dozens of games that meet my criteria: Fallout, GTA3, Planescape, Star Control 2, Pirates, NOLF, System Shock 2, Civilization, etc.

On the other hand, Myst, for example, mentioned above as art, which I would argue is one of the *worst* best selling games ever, barely a game at all really.

I guess that's why "but is it art?" has always seemed like an annoying question to me, but here I am trying to answer it.
posted by malphigian at 3:35 PM on December 3, 2002 [+] [!]


Guys, I think we're stuck in a time loop.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:04 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Up to now, I've just thought of STALKER as another FPS but both these articles put it in a very different, positive, light. I'm seriously thinking of buying in on Steam.

I highly recommend it - the 'negatives' aren't nearly as awful as the article tries to make them sound, the play is first-person and shooty but feels distinctly different than an FPS, mostly due to the largely open gameworld.. 'running the hell away' is frequently a valid play choice. I think I'm going to hit it up again and try out the new version of that Complete mod, that looks pretty delicious..
posted by FatherDagon at 11:07 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


is art a game?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:13 AM on May 1, 2012


Maybe there are ways to assign deeper meaning into the games. Do the Faction Wars represent the inherent disunity in former Soviet bloc nations? Surely the corruption and brutality of the Military can be interpreted as commentary of the pre-Orange Revolution government.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:13 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


kaibutsu: “huh, I totally love Tarkovsky's Solaris; I should track this one down, it seems...”

I love them both, but Stalker is approximately ten billion times better than Solaris. Seriously, you should watch it.
posted by koeselitz at 11:19 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's a fair summary as long as you're the kind of person for whom "three men walking a couple hundred yards in a grassy, abandoned landscape" is more compelling than "action!," which I think Stalker's audience tends to be. A lot of the appeal of the film is similar to exploring an abandoned structure: the foreboding sense of loss mingled with the hope of new things inhabiting a lost place, apprehension and mystery and violence and peacefulness all mixed together.

Also, I've also always dismissed the games as not very interesting to me, but the article kind of makes me curious. I'd like to play in a make believe Zone, especially one that combines the various visions across media or just switches between them with no care for coherence.
posted by byanyothername at 11:23 AM on May 1, 2012


What is that Russian PC game that takes place in some weird polluted landscape near a slaughterhouse where the overworld map kinda resembles an animal carcass and there is some subdued narrative about the despoilment of the earth. I remember reading a review of it once that made it sound both terrifying and unfun, but never checked it out.
posted by Winnemac at 11:30 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure, but could you be talking about Pathologic?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:32 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, tasteless menus? That's sort of an interesting complaint. I can't imagine what the author would think a tasteful Chernobyl FPS menu would look like.

Maybe he's talking about that "Exit to Windows" part? Scary shit, there, man.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:33 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, you are correct. That was it.
posted by Winnemac at 11:35 AM on May 1, 2012


I think my tasteless the author meant lacking in style, not in bad taste
posted by Cloud King at 11:36 AM on May 1, 2012


*by
posted by Cloud King at 11:36 AM on May 1, 2012


S.T.A.L.K.E.R the game is interesting and amazing in a lot of ways, but also quite difficult and terrifying. I re-install it once in a while and play for a few hours before giving up again. I think that says a lot about its value.

Stalker the film is an amazing piece of work. It is very slow, probably one of the slowest narrative films I've ever watched, but it's just such an amazing piece of art. Very thought-provoking, very somber. The very very very last scene is kind of mind blowing both in its ambiguity and its extreme brevity (especially in contrast to the rest of the film).
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:08 PM on May 1, 2012


Tarkovsky is one of the best filmmakers this planet has produced.
posted by Relay at 12:23 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


For those interested in a Tarkovsky comparison, I've fallen asleep in both of my attempted viewings of Solaris, but only in one of my three watches of Stalker. Whether this reflects on their relative quality, or my susceptibility to a comfy sofa and bit of wine, is an open question.

As a further datapoint, I've still never made it through an uninterrupted viewing of Akira without nodding off. It's annoying because I like the film quite a bit, but apparently not enough to keep my eyes open for two hours.
posted by figurant at 12:35 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I used to have this problem but then I stopped watching movies at 3am.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:41 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The very very very last scene is kind of mind blowing both in its ambiguity and its extreme brevity (especially in contrast to the rest of the film).

Yeah. While it's not quite a Being There level game-changer, the last scene is still crucial--it has the power to change the audience's entire perception of what the movie is "about".
posted by Chrischris at 12:42 PM on May 1, 2012


By the way, I know that the title Stalker was taken from the original novel, Roadside Picnic, but I've always wondered, did Strugatsky brothers come up with that term or did they take it from somewhere? Maybe from Castaneda where stalking is one of the lines of sorcery?
posted by rainy at 12:49 PM on May 1, 2012


In the afterword to the new English translation, Boris Strugatsky says the term came from the "mischievous" and "streetwise" protagonist of the Rudyard Kipling book Stalky & Co., a favorite from the brothers' youth.

He also says it didn't occur to them that the word was pronounced like "stawky" instead of "stullky."
posted by Idler King at 12:59 PM on May 1, 2012


Thanks, that's great to know.. never heard of that Kipling book before. I have this simplified notion of him writing Mowgli, Riki Tiki Tavi and a White Man's Burden and spending the rest of his time hunting in a pith helmet.
posted by rainy at 1:08 PM on May 1, 2012


Reading that back, I think I've come across as way more dismissive of Tarkovsky then I intended to be. I can't really speak to Solaris, because I've never seen the back half of it, but I really love Stalker as a movie. It's beautifully shot, and it captures an amazing sense of danger out of little more than having a few actors walk around a field and a couple of abandoned buildings. It's also very, very placid for long stretches, and to my regret those sections can lull me to sleep if I'm not careful.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. struck me as being both quite unlike the movie in the details, and yet somehow perfectly capturing it. Especially the endings. Clear Sky is currently on my list of games that I keep putting off until I have a good span of time to devote to it, partly because it's not quite as good as the first one, but mostly because I know that once it's finished I'll only have Call of Pripyat left to enjoy.
posted by figurant at 1:15 PM on May 1, 2012


Also, I've also always dismissed the games as not very interesting to me, but the article kind of makes me curious. I'd like to play in a make believe Zone, especially one that combines the various visions across media or just switches between them with no care for coherence.

It doesn't care much for coherence. Really, it cherry-picks from both the movie and the book (mainly the book), transplants the Zone into modern-day Chernobyl, and builds its own mythology from there.

The most fascinating part of the game, to me, is the beginning, where you have no clue about which dangers the Zone might hold and how to avoid them. Learning how to avoid dangerous anomalies, assorted mutants, and how to deal with the bandits when all you've been issued is a shitty Soviet handgun -- the transformative experience of becoming a Stalker yourself, making yourself one with the Zone.

Now I feel the Zone calling me, and in my current saved game I was just about to brave the Red Forest and the Brain Scorcher, and night is falling oh God oh God don't make me go back there...
posted by neckro23 at 1:22 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


One interesting thing about Stalker is how evocative it is of the experience of growing up in the Soviet Union, dotted with half-abandoned, unguarded, unmaintained building zones, something known as dolgostroi, literally "long build". In the west, construction work on buildings often takes a few months, in late Soviet Union it could take 3-5 years or longer, providing dangerous but fascinating playground for the neighborhood kids.
posted by rainy at 1:43 PM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


STALKER is a great game, since you can attach a sniper scope to an AK.
posted by hellojed at 1:55 PM on May 1, 2012


It's really kind of great that the PC gaming market - and specifically the clunky, inventory-managing, slow-bleeding, apply-bandages kind of PC gaming - has survived in the former Soviet Union, and is bleeding back into Western games culture through games like Metro 2033, Pathologic, Cryostasis, Stalker and now The Witcher...
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:59 PM on May 1, 2012


I'll put forward another positive mention for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., it's basically everything contemporary Western FPSs are not, and is great if you like open-world games that combine FPS and RPG elements. And it is also frankly terrifying at times, and when not being outright terrifying it is as a baseline kind of spooky and unsettling.

Thanks for the link to the mod up thread, will have to check it out, and I really need to get around to the other games in the series.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 3:10 PM on May 1, 2012


Roadside Picnic is one of my favourite sci-fi universes. I never quite managed to sit all the way through Stalker the first and only time I watched it, but feel I will be giving it another go in the future. As for the games - I love them to bits and, yes, you must play them with the makeover mods in place. The graphics stand up very well today and those draw distances are really quite remarkable, and it's never the same game twice. Completely unforgiving and immersive and addictive.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:33 PM on May 1, 2012


I have been sitting with an unwatched DVD of Stalker from Netflix for 10 months. I believe my Netflix subscription has expired in that time ...

Well, that explains the "Long Wait" ...
posted by Amanojaku at 3:39 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (with the complete mods, which very carefully do nothing to hurt the creators' vision and polish the games to a pretty high standard) is honestly among the most atmospheric, memorable, truly immersive game worlds I've ever been lost in. The bleak swampy moors by the scientists' bunker. The desperate little enclave by the bar. Killing a bandit and realising all he owned in the world was a filthy coat, half-broken gun and a sausage. Irradiating yourself to venture into some boarded-up old building, only to hear those awful hissing sounds and realise the creatures the Zone made of the old soldiers and guards are still hanging around. Just the sense of total desperation that would lead so many people to sneak into this huge, bleak, decaying killing field. It's perfect.

The first game is by far the best, by my (admittedly very into narrative in video games) standards - it's a lot more focused on its story and has a much stronger tale to tell than the other two, although you're fairly free to just wander and survive as well. Like far too many games, the very very end sort of lets it down, but it is one fucking incredible ride up to that point. Certainly Call of Pripyat is less janky, much wider and has some amazing things to see and places to go, but without the sense of awe and horror at certain things that happen in Shadow of Chernobyl, it didn't make quite the same impression. It's a fantastic side-story and freeform opportunity to wander some new parts of the Zone, but I'm glad it wasn't my first experience with the series. Also the Zone-wide blowouts from Pripyat - and the desperate scramble for safety - are almost worth the price of entry alone.

What is that Russian PC game that takes place in some weird polluted landscape near a slaughterhouse where the overworld map kinda resembles an animal carcass and there is some subdued narrative about the despoilment of the earth.

Oh man, Pathologic. It's the total opposite of fun and both dream-like and nightmarish, and whether or not that's a good thing is up to you. I fucking adore it, and this has reminded me I need to start The Void again and try not to get myself into an unwinnable situation.
posted by emmtee at 4:21 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pathologic was what the inside of a depressed psychopath's head looks like. Jarring stuff, and almost "anti-game" in how unforgiving it is.

Those who enjoy STALKER may also enjoy Metro 2033.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:01 PM on May 1, 2012


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