In Response To Daxel

(in response to, and honoring the high-falutin’ style of: Dead Fresco)

To rebut and debunk, to deface the music, or to, in other words, generally agree with a lot of ands and buts (butts!). Where I come from we avoided eye contact with the truck-driving, Future Farmers Of America types in ballcaps; we talked from beneath greasy foreheads or from under natty blonde dredds with the leaves of brussels sprouts between our teeth, cooked by someone else because we mostly didn’t know how to cook – or rise before 9am if not dragged forcibly; and goddammit we played adventure games.

People like me have been thinking about this for a really long time.

Let us not think, fore and firstmost, that Michaelangelo led the Renaissance like he might lead the line at Acme Video, checking out a copy of Goya’s Ghosts starring Javier Bardem and wondering who the fuck Goya is because Goya hadn’t been born yet (Bardem being immortal, natch).

The lineage of art is not unidirectional.

And to say that Schafer “led” the adventure gaming Renaissance of the mid-90’s is misleading, as is saying Schafer worked on Curse of Monkey Island.

Oh, I see you corrected that. YOU’RE WELCOME.

Because progress, in art, in games, in left-handed spearfishing – being on the bleeding end of the cutting edge – is no line. In our quartzlike, cubic zirconium life, being on the outermost edge is being on one of a small infinity of faces, in one of a small infinity of directions. Tim Schafer can’t be Sid Meier; which one leads the pack? Neither; Civ II and Grim Fandango only equate in that they both got Editor’s Choice at PC Gamer.

To paint lying on your back on a scaffold, brush above your nose, reds and blues goobing down the handle of your brush, to have a canvas the size of of a fucking chapel, is to paint in a way that isn’t simply arcane today – it no longer exists. It lent something to the art, and we can only conjecture as to what. We can never re-experience it – it’s gone. But, according to record, he never said, “I wish they’d fucking invent Photoshop.”

Nor did he know he’d be played by Rex Harrison in the film.

When I talk to painters, with their splattered white T-shirts and their torn jeans, their blonde beards and their bleary eyes, I know they’re indulging me. I know they’re waiting for the conversation to end so they can beam back to Planet Color. And I know I will never make with my mouse and Wacom tablet what they make in their studios. And vicy versy. I could copy them, but I won’t see what they see, and I won’t see it first, because we see by different processes.

Monkey Island could have used a text parser. It could have had a real-time engine. Bit by bit, if could have been a flight sim. Or Parcheesi. Or a chrome duckie. They couldn’t exceed 16 colors, but they could dither. Even when you are constrained, you choose your constraints.

For what is design but the careful and constant application of constraints? Every chip to a block of marble removes an infinitude of sculptural possibilities until none but the David remain. To tell the professional pixel artists of 1991 that we have Maya now, so we can throw out all your art, just like you always wanted – to tell the players of 1991 that the voice they’ve heard in their heads for 20 years can finally be, praise God, Dominic Armato – is to spread cheek and shit on the very process that made a game worth remaking 20 years on.

If there had been Maya and Dominic Armato in 1991, Monkey Island would have been a different game. It would have had different design, because it would have come from a different sensibility. A ratio is changed, between how much you project into the game, and how much it projects into you.

I love Dominic Armato. But he will never be Guybrush Threepwood, because Guybrush’s voice is in your head. Even if that’s not what the developers wanted, that’s what he is.

We still make pixel art. We make it with an image fidelity that was impossible on an old monitor or TV screen. We make it with unlimited colors, at higher framerates. We draw it in Photoshop and make it dance in Flash (or by shooting at it’s feet). We know more about composition and color balance. We have taken it beyond what was possible when pixel art was an un-self-imposed constraint. We don’t make it out of nostalgia – we make it because we find it beautiful. And because it has more still to teach us.

The one-reel silent film still exists. With color, CGI, recorded music, sound effects, HD cameras. Pixar makes one about every year.

Progress is the keeping of what works and the shedding of what does not. Dumbassery is the shedding of what works because it is old, or because you cannot see it’s value.

To say that a modern audience would not put up with a verb list is quite possibly true. To say that abandoning the verb list costs us nothing of value is otherwise.

The problem with indie adventure games is they never knew what to keep and what to shed. They just kept it all.


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