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Art Style

Posted: December 30th, 2015, 4:27 pm
by Myrth
This is something that actually keeps me wondering ever since beta of Wasteland 2 (the first preview of the gameplay didn't truly show it). The general art style of the original Wasteland and the sequel. And in very specific context. It's late night, my English is as awful as always and I'm trying not to fall asleep during night shift, so this might turn long.

First the prelude. As a former Eastern Block kid, I was "rised" on video tapes. Since post-apocalypse was truly popular in the 80s, a lot of cheesy, B- and C-movies were created to profit on that craze. And in late 80s and early 90s it didn't really matter what kind of film you were watching, the important fact was that: a) it was on video tape b) it was something Western. This way I saw so much crap I probably won't ever scrub that away from my mind. But this meant I've saw at least few good post-apo films, each of them with their own spin on the "savage wasteland full of raiders". It was A boy and his dog, The Day After (a bit of change in the vibe), all the Mad Maxes (I've kept the tape with 2nd film and never pass it further, then started to demagnetise it thanks to excess rewatching), Steel Dawn, Blood of Heroes/Salute to the Jugger and Cyborg.

Now, with all those tropes, ideas and cliches in my head, I've stumbled upon Wasteland by... I think it was '96, but I'm not sure about that now, maybe '95. The game back then was just mind-blowing. Imagine not only playing Wasteland for the first time, but also being at the high point of craze about post-apocalypse fiction AND craze about everything pop-cultural that you've been depraved as a kid from poor slavland because of some idiotic politics and ideological war. Anyway, the sole cover of the manual was enough to keep you gazing at it for hours, imagining the story behind what it presented, while it was just a semi-quality xero. It was like the stuff from all those films, which for a teen me was just fantastic. Then came the actual gameplay and all those tiny images from the game - here some punk jerk, there some "heroic" guy leaning over the wall with pistol in his hand, then some guy in green jacket pointing his rifle at your face... Each of them was a material of completely new story and it didn't even mattered for me back then there was just a finite pool of those images for your enemies... hell, maybe they weren't even enemies? There were also all those locations and their colourful descriptions and further animations, like the one from Ranger HQ. And the story, with those marvelous paragraphs - probably first time in my life where I've realised how valuable my knowledge of English is (and all those hours spend with dictionary to be sure I get all this right)...
Not counting SMAC, I can't recall a single game that ever burned my imagination so bright first contact with Wasteland.

But all of those images followed more or less the same style and direction. Here we've got a post-apocalype world, as evisioned in the 80s, so a lot of punk elements, checked flannel shirts and plain t-shirts (definitely in some bright colour), haircuts and facial hair, the way robots were portayed... All of it was screaming late 80s, even if I myself didn't fully grasped it back then. It created a neat combination of all the elements present in films made in around the same period as the game. So instead of "classic" wasteland in style of Boy and his dog and Mad Maxes, there were also many vibes of re-purpoused ruins, suprisingly large amounts of green and foliage, some enclaves of true high-tech and a general mix of a bit "tired" and "dusted" setting combined with highly-polished elements. So Desert Rangers came out as if they were some kind of army, with uniforms, military gear, organisation and what not. Their HQ was a truly high-tech place. I've always imagined it as just some large facility with green grass over it, neatly trimmed, all of that just surrounded by regular wall with a moving gate upfront - exatly how the image presented it, just in "large scale". The buildings in different locations weren't just abstract, but represented actual houses, the same way as people remained in their homes in The Day After - sure, slightly dusted, maybe few windows broken, but life continues. There are forces like police, people wear actual clothers (80s clothers, but hey!) and there is a general semblance of being somewhat well-maintained all around. I wouldn't go as far as calling it now a cosy catastrophe, because that's not the point, but it was definitely a world that was on a straight path, where "Things are getting better", to quote the Postman. So fighting Finster and Cochise wasn't just about stopping them, but saving this rebuilding world and making it possible for it to keep going. It made the final purpose somewhat idealistic in nature, but still the overal tone of the game is very anti-heroic in nature.

Then comes the official inspiration which devs listed in 10th anniversary re-release. Most of it boiled down to Mad Max 2, since most of the films I've listed above weren't even made upon Wasteland release, but their tone and imagination for the world were pretty much in the same vibe. My personal connection comes mostly with Blood of Heroes and Cyborg, somewhat combined with the "optimistic" outcome from The Day After. Just go out and watch those three, you will get the picture instantly.

... and then comes the Wasteland 2. Suddenly everything is dull, gray, dusted, drab and... well, it's Arizona. Rangers, who in the original game felt like an army, now just look like a random bunch of people put together. Uniforms? What's that? Well-kept gear that is not jury-rigged and holds together on copper wires, duct tape and good will? Are you kidding? Suddenly former Ranger HQ turns out to be just some small prison that looks like a complete ruin and probably was in such condition all the time, not just when Rangers changed place of operation. Speaking of which, the Citadel is just an empty silo now. Most of the places inside of it cease to exist, or at least feel this way. Most of the places outside Arizona are now inaccessable, so it's hard to compare, but given the treatment Arizona was given, it's doubious they look any better. Every location is pretty much grotesque ruin full of dirt, rust and dust. Houses? A shack is a great thing, usually half-destroyed by time. Clothes? You mean other than rags? And the general feeling is of deep, deep decay, decline and just dying. Suddenly every positive element of the original is removed, all the semblance of civilisation disappears and it's just full blown scavenge, with no bright or even dull future ahead. And while the original had a plenty of 80s imaginary (gee, I wonder why), the new one just makes few references here and there, mostly in form of junk descriptions. It's like the game is set in completely new and alien world.

My question is probably impossible to answer, but I still need to ask it. How the original Wasteland was intended to be, setting-wise? Was it the empty, dying world straight from the Boy and his dog? Was it a decaying world more suited for Cyborg, where there are ruins, leather jerks, but also some organizations and semblances of civilization? Was it a mix of the late-80s imaginary combined with general hopelessness or rather optimistic vision that "somehow life continues in the Wasteland"?
And what happend to all that stuff present in original game? Is it simply how bad things are going in Arizona? Please don't tell me everything collapsed in past 15 years, while it remained alive for previous century. The sole fact Rangers are now more like a militia/posse instead of army-tier organisation feels really, really weird for me, especially given how punkish everything feels now.

Let's call this a lenghty rant, but the questions remain

Re: Art Style

Posted: January 1st, 2016, 12:27 pm
by Drool
I always viewed Wasteland as a world on the road to recovery. You had settlements and businesses; governments. There was running water and power. Quartz was a prime example of how things were progressing: they had electricity (working jukebox in Scot's Bar), they had working plumbing, they had surplus enough for a swimming pool, and the Stagecoach Inn was not only at about 80% capacity, but they had a chef and at least 2 maids in their employ.

This was a world brought to its knees, but that hadn't given up and was fighting tooth and claw to return to its former glory. And then the wheels fell off, roving gangs of radiation clouds moved in, and everything went to hell in a handbasket.

No, narratively, I don't know what the hell happened. I think they wanted the player to go from scrubs to heroes, and the easiest way to do that would be to effectively erase all the progress made from the first game. It most certainly is a bit of whiplash. The game itself is solid enough, and I like playing it, but I can't think about things too hard or I start frothing at the mouth. Especially with what they did to the Rail Nomads and Darwin.

Re: Art Style

Posted: January 1st, 2016, 12:53 pm
by Myrth
For me it's kind of the thing that happend with Tomb Raider over the years. Initially the idea was to rip-off Indiana Jones without being sued. After creating own identity and then suffering decline, the series pretty much created Uncharted, a game created to rip-off Tomb Raider without being sued. And few years later, Tomb Raider started to rip-off... Uncharted, a series originally created to rip-off Tomb Raider, which was originally created to rip-off Jones. Wasteland 2 feels the same - after so many years of each new post-apo game trying to rip-off the previous one and previous inspiration, the game almost feels like loosing own identity (at least setting-wise) and simply copying over elements from other games instead of sticking with own, self-created setting.

A massive lay-off for me, really, as it made the whole experience somewhat lacking when it comes to world. On the other hands, few of my friends, who never player original Wasteland, were amazed by Wasteland 2 setting and how it neatly covered so many elements, playing everything on the thin line between completely hopeless "loosing" and earning with lot of effort at least some semblance of progress and "good" future for the region. Meanwhile I was wondering why everything went to shit and why suddenly there are barely any people around, not to mention order or civilisation.
It's like reverse Fallout. In Fallout 1 the world is "waking up" from the nuclear war. By Fallout 2, 80 years later, it's already on a (somewhat) straight road to order and full reconstruction, with certain city-states and locations easily operating on pre-war standard, if not even higher. Meanwhile, Wasteland goes from "things are getting better" to "hopless struggle of decimated humanity" by second game, set 15 years later, without any explaination whatsoever.