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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

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The colours and shadows are the real source of Tunic's nostalgia

Core achievement.

If you’re unfortunate enough to know me reasonably well, you’ll know that I’ve become a little more insufferable than usual lately thanks to returning to my love of photography. It’s been interesting to see how much of what I love about photography - and the way photography affects memory and nostalgia - is visible in Tunic.

Of course, I don’t mean that there are cameras in the game as with Beyond Good & Evil or anything like that. But seeing certain features in the game that are also present in so many favourite photographs I’ve seen on the web was quite a jarring experience.

Firstly, the water. The water in Tunic is such a glorious, vivid blue that it almost looks like flowing silk. It’s been obvious for a while that the most realistic looking waves in a video game are probably those you dance across in Sea of Thieves. Yet I think this heavenly blue in Tunic is how we sometimes remember idyllic lakes from holidays and days out. Maybe it’s the euphoric feelings of such memories that make the colours in our minds much more saturated than they actually were, because we can’t all visit the true-blue water near the Canadian Rockies or Attabad Lake.

Another thing I noticed in Tunic was from the beginning in the forest (an area you revisit early on and then later in the game) where you seem to be walking under huge trees. The shadows of leaves break up whatever sunlight is beaming onto this world. I don’t know whether it’s the slight fuzziness of it all that reminded me of how good shadows look in film photographs, but it’s something that’s incredibly difficult to replicate with the high-end smartphone cameras we use today, a topic Kyle Chayka wrote about with the advancements of computational photography.

Tunic recaptures a feeling we ourselves might find difficult to replicate with today’s tools. It’s as if this intentional art style activates something in our minds that links the game to nostalgia much more than its in-game manual or Zelda vibes, perhaps something a TikTok star would call a “core memory” as they often do.

The last thing I want to mention are those long cuboid pillars and pipes that carry the dark purple, magical energy throughout the game’s world. The shine on them makes them look like the only inorganic matter in the entire game, as if they’re made of an other-worldly mystical element. It’s like the Monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey or the strange ships from the movie Arrival. This unusual skeuomorphic hint is enough to tell us that these pipes are unknown and unlike other objects in the game.

Tunic does an excellent job of hiding things, sometimes in plain sight like Fez, but so many of the things Tunic loves - the light, the textures, the nostalgic hints of things from our memories, are also all around us in the real world, past and present.

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