Friday, November 19, 2021

Launching the Sprite Country project: Travelling through virtual worlds

Oh yeah, did I mention that my Sprite Country project is now live? No, I did not. Because I am silly and because somehow think that writing a blog post is a lot of effort.


What is Sprite Country? Why, it's a deliberately-obtuse web gallery for videogame photography. A labyrinth of other worlds.

During lockdown, I started getting into some of the weirder titles in my library (including some I posted about at the start of the year), and wanted a way to share those experiences in the same way I'd share my travels in the real world. I don't want to just post "screenshots" in the project though - rather, I see the screenshot as the "negative", and then run through the same creative workflow as I do for any other photo I take.

That is, as photographers, we are always spinning our own version of the world we see. #nofilter is a lie - just choosing framing and composition, in itself, is a fundamental form of filtering. 

So videogame photography, for me, has become a process in which my own interests meet those of the gameworld designer. The more I do it, the more it reminds me of architecture photography more than, say, street photography. The majority of the time, videogame photography (especially in indie games) can feel "restrictive" in that the environment has been carefully constructed. 

(It's only when you get to generative, algorithmic worlds - or where interesting bugs crop up - that the notion of "capturing chaos" becomes more apparent.)

I attempt to pick my shots in the same way I would if I was wandering around a museum or gallery. I revel in exploring harder-to-reach areas, not (just) to explore the gameworld, but to get a better image. Sometimes that means moving my in-game character. Sometimes it comes down to moving the camera, or even the interface furniture. Each game and each engine has its own opinions about how much control a camera-operator has.

I don't tend to use photo modes for Sprite Country. Instead, shots get fed through the same workflow as my other photos - using Lightroom to crop, adjust brightness, apply monochrome, etc.

Each individual gallery on Sprite Country is a "trail" with a random trail's starting point shown on the load of the homepage. A name is (now) shown, but otherwise the site is deliberately minimalist - just tap or click the screen anywhere to advance through the trail, except sometimes icons will appear that let you jump "sideways" to similar themes within other trails.

I'm enjoying building up that intersecting maze in itself - the structure of the site feels like it should reflect the wandering sense of discovery and the unknown that many of these games weave into their own fabric. 

There are five game trails available right now, with more from the last few years I need to dig out and process. There's also a mailing list you can join which I'll send irregular updates to, as well as post some behind-the-scenes shots when I can.

I'm also taking suggestions for more 3D worlds to explore, feel free to get in touch with ideas, or let me know if you're making a game and would like me to see about a trail for it.

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