the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling
September 13, 2016 10:30 PM   Subscribe

Understanding the Sublime architecture of Bloodborne situates the setting of From Software's PS4 game in art history, drawing on everyone from Michelangelo to Michael Graves to the Mannerists.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (26 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Sooo, still haven't quite gotten through Dark Souls, after like 100+ hours, after rage quitting Demons Souls, and great.
I bought dark souls 2, but got nowhere with it, and dark souls 3 is apparently a return to the game that's a spiritual sequel to a game I didn't finish.

Can I play this game without a playstation?
posted by lkc at 10:58 PM on September 13, 2016

Nope, you need a Playstation 4 for this. Bloodborne was something crazy like $13 a few weeks ago, so I snagged it ... and just today ordered the PS4.
posted by destructive cactus at 11:26 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't normally encourage watching streams, but if you're a Lovecraft fan it's the best Lovecraft adaptation since... ever. That said, I bought a PS4 for this game, and still haven't finished it. It's much faster than Dark Souls.

If you're having trouble with DS2, I played a Miracle build and used lightning spears, which made the whole game too easy and a bit unfun, but I think they patched that out.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:38 PM on September 13, 2016

I admire these games greatly but I'll never play them because for me they're a perfect storm of the gamepkay design choices that annoy me most.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:04 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oooh yeah, I'll never play them either, but I really like watching the gameplay videos. The architecture and art direction of these games is so good, even though it's something I'll never play it's still great fun to watch others play though.
posted by drinkyclown at 12:11 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've struggled through DS1 and cursed my way through DS2 (which I liked a lot better). I am holding off of DS3 simply because I know it'll entail months of sleeping badly, and I can't afford that right now.

Is there any word on Bloodborne ever coming to PC? I'm eyeing the PS4, but I can't justify buying it just for Bloodborne and Uncharted 4. (Also because I want to use the money for a Rift or Vive).
posted by Captain Fetid at 12:38 AM on September 14, 2016

I wish I had the time to sink into exploring these worlds. The last games I really explored and poked around in were Zelda/Windwaker, Spyro #'s 1-3, and Goldeneye 007.

the graphics and maps have improved a lot since then, right?
posted by not_on_display at 12:50 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

bloodborne will never be released on anything but sony consoles because sony is the publisher (see demon's souls)
posted by p3on at 12:53 AM on September 14, 2016

For anyone annoyed at DS/Bloodborne's design, Tim Roger's essay 'You Are The Experience Points' (which was an FPP ages ago) lays out their brilliance. The short version: be patient.

Apparently Dark Souls 3 is easier. Hopefully not as easy as DS2.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:01 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was recently told by someone that they had bought a PS4, but weren't interested in Bloodborne because it was just more of the same old violence and bloodshed. I had a moment of cognitive dissonance, because of course on some level I recognized that it's one of the most gruesome games I've played in recent memory. But I never think of it in that way. I engage with it the same way this author does - as a piece of sublime, grotesque classical art about the supreme folly of man trying to understand and communicate with God for his own vain purposes.

I mean, seriously, I can't believe this isn't a toiled-over painting but rather a fully-realized space you can explore.
posted by naju at 1:19 AM on September 14, 2016 [10 favorites]

Wow, I just barely had time to skim this article this morning and it seems really meaty. Looking forward to giving it my undivided attention tonight.

People who played the game, what do you think about the article?
posted by sidereal at 2:52 AM on September 14, 2016

People who played the game, what do you think about the article?

It's very good. Usually this kind of think-piece about games is the author showing off by putting more thought into a game than the game's own designers ever did, but Bloodborne's environmental design is deep and deliberate and Barzan does a great job of teasing out its themes in a way that's probably not too far off what the designers were thinking at the time. And all that is just the first area of the game; there are several more, each with their own style (my favourite is the Nightmare Frontier. I love that place, so windswept and hauntingly beautiful).

I don't normally encourage watching streams, but if you're a Lovecraft fan it's the best Lovecraft adaptation since... ever. That said, I bought a PS4 for this game, and still haven't finished it. It's much faster than Dark Souls.

Heh. My PS4 is also a Bloodborne PS4 and it was totally worth it. Fortunately it runs other, lesser games as well.

Bloodborne is full of Lovecraft, but that's just the start; everything in it is made of multiple levels of symbols and metaphor, and not in the "look at me!! I'm making a _r_e_f_e_r_e_n_c_e_" way that most games do that kind of thing. For example, here's a reddit post (not too spoily, although the comments are) from someone who worked out that a large part of the game's story comes from some of D.H. Lawrence's more esoteric ramblings about the Moon and the struggle between sexual desire and the intellect.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:03 AM on September 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

I think my favorite area of Bloodborne is Castle Cainhurst. It's not technically part of Yharnam; it's a frozen ruin of a still-mighty castle, full of ghosts and vampires, and accessible only by a ghostly stagecoach that appears if you do certain things. Something in it speaks to me, despite normally hating cold spaces on games; I've spent a fair amount of time wandering its halls, being the worst monster in the entire place now that the boss is slain. Someday I may beat the final boss of the game and finally enter the New Game +. Someday. If I never do, I'll still feel like I got my money's worth. Because I got to be the Beast of Castle Cainhurst, wandering through its halls in a velvet dress that slowly turns red as I futilely attempt to cleanse it of its monstrous inhabitants once more. Nothing matters, nothing is ever achieved; there's only the place and the mood.

The tough combat and the tougher bosses of From's games, I feel, exist to make you have to savor these elaborate architectural spaces. Run through this corridor the fortieth time. Decide to pause and engage the fallen knight who endlessly patrols it in a duel, then just stare out at the moon hanging heavy in the sky, framed by an elaborate window. Notice a detail of the architecture you've never seen before. Consider the futility of your quest; partake of a moment of the endless toil of the immortal, running through a dream within a dream. Then resume the mad rush to throw yourself against the boss, dodging everything on your way. Because there's no need to bother with all the little enemies on the way once you know where you're going, no need to have a pocket full of blood omens for you to leave on the floor of the boss's arena in the likely event of you losing the battle again.

The gameplay is decent but it's the hypertrophied profusion of Gothic ornament in spaces it happens in that really makes Bloodborne a particular experience. So many buildings reaching for the sky and calling down the wrong things for the wrong reasons.
posted by egypturnash at 4:33 AM on September 14, 2016 [11 favorites]

Wow, was that article overwritten or what? Hard work. But perhaps it's of a piece with overblown gothic sensibilities. One wonders what Jonathan Meades would make of the subject matter. A little wit goes a very long way in leavening this sort of pudding.

Shame that it didn't explore the very deep links between the concept of the sublime and architecture itself,rather than just pooping out an 'I've read stuff' list of quotes. Here's a rather good Endless Knot video that covers the ground - one that answered the question I'd never quite asked but always knew was there, why does a word that starts with sub- have such heightened connotations?

As for the game's architecture, from what I can see of it it reminds me of Edinburgh's Old Town. No bad thing.

One of the aspects of gaming that hasn't really happened yet but that I wish would, is its use as a format of ideas for the built space, for landscape and for objects in space in general. If you take the parallel with science fiction as a literature of ideas, gaming could be home for playing with new architectural ideas. not just as backdrops, ambience or references. I know this article kinda makes the case for this game doing just that, but (again from what I can see - the current obsession with darkness is not good value for those with low-contrast vision. Game of Thrones, gah - its components are primarily amplifications of the decayhing-romantic stuff that the Victorians pretty much plundered to death already. Atmospheric, to be sure, but rewarding? Because you have to interact with the surroundings, gaming would seem to be uniquely placed to experiment here -far more so than films, for example.

I was reminded by the recent FPP on the Roger Dean video game cover generator that Dean also creates experimental buildings, one of which I explored at a Glastonbury Festival a few years back. Why did he never design in-game architecture?

Do any games get produced in conjunction with actual architects? I'd love to see one with building/city design courtesy of some of the big practices, who could use it as a showcase for new ideas - seems like a win/win to me.

I don't much like gaming, but I'm gagging for an excuse to fall in love with it - I feel that ti's got the potential to become a new medium for genuine cultural exploration, but it ain't happening yet (pace Gamergate, which is definitely part of the wa the culture's changing, but I prefer optimisim).
posted by Devonian at 6:26 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do any games get produced in conjunction with actual architects?

All the time, actually. The Witness, for example, was produced in collaboration with two architecture firms. I'm pretty sure I saw an architecture firm credited in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided as well, although I'm having trouble finding that information on the internet. Going way back to 2001, Bungie's Oni had buildings designed by architects (this was a big selling point with the implication that the environments were so realistic they couldn't be made by mere level designers).
posted by Pyry at 6:51 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

As you might imagine, Ubisoft employs architectural consultants for the Assassin's Creed games. Here's an interview with one concerning the Ezio-era games.

I have no way of assessing the historical accuracy of these games, but the level of fine detail and the way buildings and other spaces are stiched together in AC: Syndicate seems like it would be utterly impossible without real-world expertise or a LOT of real-world modeling.
posted by selfnoise at 7:13 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hm. The Witness has been the only game I've looked at in any depth this year, because it seemed so promising as an immersive experience, but all I really got from it was the same sort of vibe as from an upmarket designer Southern California landscaped park. Didn't know Oni. but looking at the gameplay on Youtube, all I can say is - really? Using architects to replicate the mundane - sure, who else will do the job, but my god I'm hungry for a sense of wonder.

I mean, in a few words I can build an orbiting cathedral that is a faithful replica of St Basil's, but sixfold, each replica on one side of an enormous cube, the whole ensemble itself surrounded by a yet-more-enormous crystal polyhedra of thousands of coloured translucent facets held in place by slender marble and gold columns, creating a deep-space reliquary, or a magnificent glittering single-cell animal. Or why not have a town built on a wooded mountainside but reaching out into the air, like a Venice of the sky, half-embedded, half suspended, canals of air. the houses looking rather like seashells, a medley of curved geometries in whites and pastels. These are places that you can imagine visiting or living in, clearly built for humans and with some familiar themes, and boy would they be lovely to explore - and what architect wouldn't love to be unbound from some of the rules of mundane construction to play with light, space and plane? Games should be that playground.
posted by Devonian at 7:20 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you liked that article, you'll probably like Darran Anderson's recent "Imaginary Cities".
posted by mhoye at 7:32 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I love these games. I also think they are endlessly over analyzed. Miyazaki has outright stated that the original Demon's/Dark Souls is inspired by his love of english fantasy novels he read growing up. Except his english wasn't really that great, so much was lost in translation and he filled in the gaps with his imagination. All good, IMO!

That said, I think much of what we experience with these games is a sort of Rorschach ink-blot. It's European gothic horror/fantasy/middle ages translated intentionally only sparsely to Japanese, then back to me, an American.

There's insane, rambling YT videos "explaining" the smoke and hanging corpses along Charnel House Lane, for instance. I can only watch a little of that without intense eye rolling.

But hey, it's all in good fun!
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:35 AM on September 14, 2016

I like what you are saying, Devonian, but you are asking for something that's really quite difficult. Anyone building a level or space in a game wants to make it look amazing, but it also has to be a space that the player and the AI can traverse and manipulate effectively. For the player, in particular, the space needs to be able to quickly and efficiently communicate itself to the player so that he/she can begin to interact with it.

One of the funny side effects of this is that games that are not set in a version of "reality" often rely on somewhat simpler geometry. You can get away with a huge, bustling street with tall buildings and trains and carriages and smoke because people's brains already know how to navigate that kind of space without being told. When you are creating a fantasy space, there's an increased risk of disorientation, and disorientation is only pleasant when it doesn't affect interacting with the game in the way that the game has taught you. It's amazing how quickly a game space can become an absolute brick wall of a maze if the player doesn't have some sense of its shape. And the easiest way to communicate that is through objects and spaces that a player already understands. The fraught transition from the Black Mesa to Xen areas in the original Half Life is an excellent example of this.

Another example I always think of (although it's unfortunately a bit obscure) is the Hanging Waters level from Ecco: DOTF. This is a level that's essentially an huge series of water tubes held together in the sky by some kind of force field, all connecting complex "islands" composed of enormous bubbles of water. From a world design perspective this is really neat, as it explores what kind of structure very technologically advanced dolphins might live in. On the other hand, it's notorious for being an incredibly difficult and confusing level because the space is just not one that a controller-operated camera (which is what a player ultimately is in a 3D game) can come to grips with.

Games are always playing a tug of war between atmosphere and interactivity. Even games like Dark Souls that are designed sometimes to confuse the player are very rigorous about audio design and other forms of shorthand to communicate ideas to the player. One of the big difference between the amazing Overwatch and the disastrous Battleborn (both very colorful, fast action games released this year) is that the former is pathologically insistent on only ever using visual and audio cues to communicate actionable information to a player, whilst the latter overwhelms the screen with visuals that might be attractive to watch, but which overwhelm someone trying to actually play.
posted by selfnoise at 8:09 AM on September 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

I probably have a longer comment in me somewhere on the proper topic of the thread because oh, man, do I love Bloodborne's design on (almost) every level. But first:

I have no way of assessing the historical accuracy of these games

A guy named Geop over on youtube has a couple Let's Plays that go through Assassin's Creed 1 and 2 with a focus on the history those games toy around with. He plays through the actual game as well, so it's not as concise as an article or something would be, but you get to see all the places he's talking about as they exist in game and learn some stuff as he wanders around doing his murder chores.

He's not a "real" historian or anything as far as I know, but did his homework and what stuff I did know about before watching wasn't misrepresented or anything. It's been a while since I've watched either of those two LPs but I'm pretty sure he got corrected by people when he slipped up and would mention that in subsequent videos.
posted by sparkletone at 12:17 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wow, was that article overwritten or what? Hard work. But perhaps it's of a piece with overblown gothic sensibilities. One wonders what Jonathan Meades would make of the subject matter. A little wit goes a very long way in leavening this sort of pudding.

If you require humor in your analysis, try the Bonfireside Chat podcast.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:31 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hm. The Witness has been the only game I've looked at in any depth this year, because it seemed so promising as an immersive experience, but all I really got from it was the same sort of vibe as from an upmarket designer Southern California landscaped park.

Yeah, but there's a very good reason for that which we should definitely not talk about here because it's such a great thing for people to discover for themselves.
posted by straight at 4:46 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Dammit you guys have got me watching playthroughs of Bloodborne now
posted by Existential Dread at 9:24 PM on September 14, 2016

I found an article about architecture and Prototype in my Pocket too.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 12:40 AM on September 15, 2016

When it comes to presenting interesting architecture, I don't think any game series over time has tried so hard, yet failed so miserably, as Final Fantasy.

FF clearly wants to present amazing looking things to the player, but seems allergic to the idea of letting the player really explore, or having the architecture matter in any way. You wander around screens that slice through tiny subsets of the spaces in very linear ways. You're always getting hemmed in and denied. It's not architecture at all, it's giant rococo baubles.

Bloodborn's map is... okay. Ultimately I felt like it was too much of the same kind of stuff. There's lots of beautiful things in it, but it doesn't have the expressive range of Dark Souls. For a game that takes place partially inside dreams, possibly inhuman dreams, things stay pretty staid. The pinnacle of this is the place where you go to fight Rom the Vacuous Spider, inside the reflection of the moon... which is about as exciting as a loading screen, as it turns out.
posted by fleacircus at 6:36 PM on September 15, 2016

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