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CGI landscapers creating a limitless psychogeography

Tabor Robak, Nic Hamilton and Iain Sinclair discuss what lies at the intersection of audio, gaming and fine art

Taken from the December issue of Dazed & Confused:

Tabor Robak’s Guide to Making an Immersive CGI World

“I bought Grand Theft Auto V last week and the first thing I did was steal a car,” says CGI artist Tabor Robak. “I’m living in New York and I’ve been craving a little nature so I went for a scenic drive. It was great.” Robak knows more about immersive worlds than most. Last year he created a multi-world game for Gatekeeper’s Exo album, and his solo exhibition Next-Gen Open Beta, which presents his artistic response to gaming, opens this month in New York. Here he shares his top five tips for keeping gamers happy.

“There’s this cheesy sentimentality about these things with no function in a medium that’s all about function and linearity” — Tabor Robak

Use ambient storytelling

“A video game is an interactive medium, so a lot of the time you’re doing your thing and then there’s a cut scene and all of sudden it’s storytime. For the gamer there’s a disconnection there, so the story is best told during the gameplay. For example, if the game is taking place in an oppressive society, like in BioShock Infinite, in the back alleyways you might find graffiti of the dissenting population. 

Create details to ignore

Rolling off that are details that are there for you to ignore or to notice accidentally. A great example of this is in Skyrim. The game is filled with hundreds of books, which you could read if you felt so inclined to. But they’re mostly there for you to open up and say, ‘Wow, I’m not going to read this.’ Being able to ignore these details is what I think makes it even more beautiful. It’s like that plastic bag in the wind in American Beauty. There’s this cheesy sentimentality about these things with no function in a medium that’s all about function and linearity. 

Illustrate the elements

Play up the atmosphere and the physicality of the world. As you’re moving through the worlds in Red Dead Redemption, there are little particles in the air that describe the space you’re moving through: you’re impacting the earth.

Use landmarks to tease the journey

So often in video games there are things in the background you never end up interacting with, like a castle tower. But in the Dark Souls series, it might take 12 hours to reach that tower, but when you’re there you can look back and reflect on how much you’ve been through in the game. 

Variety, variety, variety

The level of immersion or the realism of the game can be measured in the amount of variety that’s depicted. In Dark Souls, you spend the first five hours in a very drab medieval village and you feel like the game’s going to be this forever. Then later on you’re in a dirty swamp and it’s realised just as realistically, which communicates how rich this world is. Then it does it again and again. It’s very generous on the developer’s part. It’s like calorie-free ice-cream for the gamer.”

Text Ruth Saxelby

November 21–January 12, Next-Gen Open Beta, Team Gallery, New York.

Iain Sinclair vs Nic Hamilton

Iain Sinclair is a writer and a modern-day flâneur whose celebrated books trace his ramblings throughout London. Nic Hamilton is an Australian music-video producer who works with contemporary electronic artists such as Actress and L-Vis 1990. They may seem to have little in common, but share a deep interest in the concept of the city and film. Earlier this year, Hamilton collaborated with White Cube artist Eddie Peake and Actress on a “shared cultural memory” at the church of St-John-at-Hackney, a multidisciplinary event exploring the decomposition of faith and truth through sound, performance and images. Sinclair holds similar obsessions, demonstrated in his recent American Smoke and 2009’s Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire. We brought the pair together across an internet link between Tasmania and Hackney to hear their thoughts.

Iain Sinclair: So Nic, what’s your interest in urban landscape?

Nic Hamilton: My interest came about strangely. I’m a trained architect but I found it demoralising, so I started making experimental films about Tasmania. How did you start?

IS: I came to London to study film in the 1960s, and the city seemed to register my instinct for documentation and mythology.

NH: Yeah, the relationship between cities and memory interests me a lot. Tasmania itself is a big influence.

IS: The French anarchist filmmaker Jean Vigo influenced my early film work – that lyrical strangeness he evoked reminds me of William Blake. A poet’s battle is to sustain the nature of local places, really. But technology has changed so much that today it feels like we’re all filmmakers trawling through cyberspace, searching for images.

NH: Yeah, I feel like we’re on a trajectory towards mass montage. A lot of my work ends up on the internet, and sometimes I feel like it kind of feeds off of it too.

IS: What I like are those essay filmmakers who make works that don’t really exist for the screen but for a gallery context. Sometimes it feels like it’s not a question of us consuming images, but us being consumed by images.

NH: Very true, but how do you feel about the post-Olympic landscape of the area? I used to live in Hackney.

IS: Nobody’s really sure. That’s the next big question: what happens in a city when the show has left town? Hackney is now a very different place. It’s very fragmented. In a way I wrote my new book, American Smoke, out of a desire to escape it and because I’ve never been to the USA. After the Olympics, I just wanted to go as far away as I could, but writing it was also about re-engaging with some of my earliest influences in American literature, like Ginsberg and Charles Olson. 

NH: Would you be interested in Australia?

IS: I would, very much. There are lots of things that are very appealing about Australia, like the fact that much of it’s empty. I’d be keen to do a project – perhaps it’s something we could follow up.

NH: I’d love to.

Text Huw Nesbitt

Cover image by Tabor Robak