A Starting Point for the Light Project

Before I start making and doing my Light project, I wanted to find some kind of starting point and figure out some kind of direction. I decided to start with the way that light is used in narrative. Light is very important to narrative so I thought I could do something interesting here. I started by looking at a game called Inside by Playdead.

First of all here’s a brief synopsis. You play as a young boy who has no name, you have no idea who this kid is or where he came from all you know is that you need to guide him across the screen. You follow the boy’s journey through various locations until you reach a facility where he gains the ability to control these puppet like people. After traversing deeper and deeper into this facility he find this big tank which he jumps into and morphs with a load of other bodies to become some weird limb creature which then escapes the lab and reaches a shore line where it presumably goes to sleep or passes away.

The thing that makes this game so special is that there are no cutscenes or dialogue. Everything is visual and gameplay orientated and light plays a very interesting role in this storytelling.

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An example of how light guides the player through this game.
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The scientists who are working on strange experiments on people.
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The strange creature that the boy becomes.
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An example of one of the many puzzles that the player faces.
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One of the first moments of the game where the boy must avoid getting caught. It is an example of how light can be perceived as the antagonist or threat.

The role that light plays in this game changes. At the start of the game, light is a malevolent thing that needs to be avoided by the player. However at some point light stops being a sinister force and becomes something that guides the player. The light becomes the only kind of contrast in a monochromatic world. Light is the thing that stands out the most in each scene. I might add that the light I’m talking about is almost always artificial light apart from a few exceptions. Often the characters in the game blend into the background colour palette making them easy to ignore, even the boy to some extent is subject to this. Often the only time I thought the boy had any major presence in the shot composition was when these strong lights were creating contrast in the environment, rather than standing out because he is designed to in his own right (think characters in action games and films, they don’t normally blend in because it would be too difficult for viewers to follow properly). Interestingly the only time that I found the boy had any kind of major screen presence or dominance is right at the end of the game. This is where the boy has turned into the creature and has tumbled onto a shore line right into a pool of light. Unlike the rest of the light we see in the game, this light is natural and gentle and it looks warm and comforting. The rest of the frame is darker and slightly colder and so the attention is really directed at the creature this boy has become for once.

Inside has a fascinating use of light that is used to drive the narrative. The narrative style of the game is very minimal, it relies on the player to draw conclusions and look for clues themselves which makes it a very meaningful experience.

The next example that I wanted to look at is a game called Journey by Thatgamecompany which is where you embark on, well, a journey that takes you across a desert, through an ocean and up an ice mountain. This is also a game that uses light and colour in very interesting and meaningful ways to deliver a story that is slightly more prescribed than Inside, but just as meaningful and still fairly minimal.

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The title card of Journey.
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The beginning of the game.

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Like Inside the primary use of light in Journey is mostly for guidance although in Journey this takes on a far more literal form, that is to say, you are literally following a light on the top of the mountain. The thing that I like about Journey is also the use of colour. The colour of the environment goes from warm to cold. The reason this is interesting because as the colours get colder and more bleak and sad, it almost feels like this makes the light on the top of the mountain that much brighter and closer. I also like how the character that the player controls goes from being relatively low contrast to the colours of the environment, i.e. a red character in a desert setting which is mostly shades of yellow to high contrast toward the end. This is where the surroundings turn harsh and blue and cold but your character is red and it feels as though you can do anything, the character seems to embody resilience and the strength to carry on because red can evoke those feelings and I think the contrasting colour palette at the end is very meaningful to the narrative that is being told which is about determination.

These are two examples of how a strong narrative doesn’t have to be complicated and embellished with lots of info dumping and it makes me wonder what the bare minimum is for storytelling and so my proposal for the light project is how I can use light and as little as anything else I can use to tell stories.

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