Friday, January 23, 2015

Glitching through the night.



I recommend trying the game out first before reading.

My Dad loves to drive. When we would vacation in other states, my Dad would drive us there. He loves freedom of the road and seeing the landscape change around him. There was another reason why my Dad would drive us: Mom and I were not from the US and when we moved up here, we didn't know anything about the US. So to get us to see various parts of the US, and get a better understanding of it, he would drive. I gainhope d my appreciation for driving because of this. I also gained my love for night driving too.

When my Dad would drive, he would pull all-nighters, and I would do my damnedest to stay up with him. As I stayed up, I would see the highway around us slowly depopulate until there were barely any cars. At times, it was just me, him and a dark, alien landscape surrounding us. There were times in which the night would just blanket the landscape around us and we couldn't see anything; although those nights were few and far, they had a primordial feel to them.

During these late hours, I would be at my most peaceful and reflective. At times, I would enter this region where everything became nebulous and dreamlike; I loved it when I entered this region. The first thing I did when I got my license at 18 was to drive around Cincinnati in the dead of night, hoping to enter that region again.

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I live in Sacramento now and I haven't nighted driven in almost four years. I don't know what stopped me. I've tried to find out, but I can't seem to find an answer. I miss going into that region, but when I get into the car, I freeze and go back inside my apartment.

One night while surfing itch.io for some games to play and I came across Glitchhickers. The terse descriptions on its page had intrigued me: a game that tried to capture those moments of night driving when reality slowly loosen its grips on you intrigued me.Their  trailer had a feeling of reality slowly unfolded in front of you. I secretly hoped this game would take me back to that region I haven't visited in a long time.

I downloaded the game and started it up

After the Unity screen faced, a lo-fi, droning guitar started playing with a slow-beating drumming in the background; it sounds like something you would hear in an early Shoegaze track. A glitching title screen pops-up, Glitchhikers. The title screen slowly fades away, as does the droning guitar and slow-beating drum.

I'm inside a car. The first thing that grabs me is the color palette: muted blues and purples mixed with grays, blacks, and whites. The colors give the landscape a feeling of being otherworldly; as if I'm no longer on Earth, but some far distant place that crudely resembles Earth. The low-polygon art style further enhances that feeling. Everything is low-key and underplayed; the only thing that stands out is the angular blood orange crescent moon that shows up a bit later. Even when the moon shows up, it oddly compliments the muted colors and low-polygon landscape.

A radio host comes in and out of my radio station. And it reminds me of the idiosyncratic local radio stations I came across during my drives through the US. It also brought up specific memory of this one station I came across while night driving around the country. The host was speaking in a monotone voice,  but there was a sense of what he's saying was urgent, as if he came across secret knowledge that the whole world needed to know.  As he continued, I heard things like ZOG, lizard people and other typical conspiracies "theories". I was instantly intrigued: I'm a sucker for such things. It slowly became a mashup of white supremacy ideas mixed with Cryptozoology, mysticism, and UFOs. I was enthralled at the many different ideas being thrown into the pot. Sadly, as quickly as he came on, he quickly faded like the radio host in the game.

I continue driving.

My character blinks and almost reflectively so do I: I realize I'm just as tired as my character, and that I, too, am entering that nebulous, dreamlike region my character has entered. I see the landscape around me slowly changing. I see myself in a daze, having an out-of-my-body experience. The game starts to get splotchy and glitchy, I'm taken back to this snowy night in Cincinnati. It was 2 am and I decide to drive around Cincinnati while it was snowing. As I drive, the falling snow starts to pick-up and I realize that I was going to be in a blizzard; I continue driving, though. I turn onto a road called Buffalo Ridge: a notoriously hilly, haunted road. A few minutes in, the snow falls more and more and my vision turns to sepia and is with filled with film grain. And I feel, no, I know, I slipped back into the past. I'm no longer in the present, but traveling through the past and Buffalo Ridge is the conduit. I continue driving through the past until the end of the road. I stop and see that I could turn left or do a U-turn and go back. I decided to do a U-turn and go back: everything is normal. I come back to the present, but not the present in my memory, but the present where I'm playing the game. I press E on my keyboard to turn my character's head to the right and I see someone is in the car with me.



I randomly pick-up a weird looking hitchhiker, and we talk about driving, life and the cruel things that happen during childhood. Just like the radio host in the game and in my memory: as quickly as she came, she quickly goes. And I feel terribly lonely. I know how it is to talk to yourself when you're night driving; to create characters out-of-nowhere so you don't feel as lonely. As I continue driving through the game, I continue to pick-up hitchhikers and have conversations about life, driving, existence, our universe, and spirituality. And just as we're about to get deeper into our conversation, they dissipate and I'm feeling terribly lonely again. 

But I continue driving and the landscape around me shifts even more: trees turn into ringed planets, the sky opens and stars fall and I see a bright-colored city in front of me. I'm given a choice: turn left to exit or stay on the right to continue driving.

I continue driving.

My character blinks again, and I think it's for the last time. And the screen turns black and I'm taken back into reality. I'm no longer in that nebulous, dreamlike region; my memories are no longer swirling around me. I'm back at my apartment. And I'm content: I got to visit that place I've missed for so long and I get an urge to go night driving.

I can see my car from my window. My keys are to the left of my keyboard. I let the credits roll. The game quits itself and I walk up to the window. I see my car and smile, but I don't go out. I walk to my couch, lay down and close my eyes and hope to get swept up again but I don't. So I just pick up a book and read.

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