Spiritual Successor

2021 - Browser Game - Benjamin Hall

Benjamin Hall is an artist, gamemaker, animator, filmmaker and writer based in Glasgow. He looks to facilitate the creation of immersive and accessible interactive worlds both independently and in supporting other artists, using open-source game development tools. This can mean offering his technical skillset to others in order to direct, curate and worldbuild collaborative environments. Or; creating personal works using the nonlinear, agential experience of playing games to affect and responsibilise players in folksy oblique narratives - both from the (suppressed) British legendarium and ones rooted in a contemporary understanding of the internet as a space caught between its capitalist architecture and people-powered folk artefacts/ knowledges.


‘Spiritual Successor CRPG: Prototype version’ 

Text by Johanna Saunderson

‘Prototype’ - a first or preliminary version of a device or vehicle from which other forms are developed.

I am a distant observer, gaze elevated looking down onto a landscape I will soon inhabit. Text scrolls across the corner of the page, a spirit reads out, “I remembered it differently”. Echoing this first line, the 3D rendered map is hazy, with soft borders and no clearly defined edges. Lacking in imagination and driven by self-interest, this entity’s usual mode of recall is nostalgic. Rose-tinted, comfortable, vampiric. This neoliberal regime has left us moving into the future, accumulating traces of the past, left alienated and unable to make new. Time out of joint.

Although still kept at a distance clicking through the monologue, there’s a shift, “is the enterprise misguided?” they ask, “perhaps, perhaps, perhaps”, they’re not sure.. Green flashes across the screen like it does sometimes when my computer plays up. Maybe something is loose, or a component is beginning to fail. Having cast a critical eye upon their old ways, I’m presented with a toolkit to use - a set of 4 abilities to process these memories.

Propelled forward, this shift is marked and I’m grounded firmly in the world. Landing on a crosswalk in between a road, the viewport rests just above an angel-like figure which I can toggle the camera to get even closer, on level with them if I like.

- CRPG (computer role-playing game) - video game genre where the player controls the actions of a character immersed in some well-defined world, usually involving some form of character development by way of recording statistics. -

Now an active participant, I use my keyboard to navigate this ethereal character around the space. They are translucent and have nine orbs circling around them each one represents a different memory to interact with. On first time playing I try to get a sense of the landscape, feeling my way around and choosing the first memory I encounter out of indecision. Now I say first because I have revisited Spiritual Successor multiple times. Sometimes pausing for a detour and coming back, ingesting it slowly. There are various paths to take,

The soundtrack running throughout is a version of ‘Title Theme’ from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I say version as the track has been run through a StyleGAN (Generative Adversarial Network). A speculative process where new data is created from by way of estimation. The generator learns to use its latent space to represent different instrument timbres.

Back to the nine memories. Each one is represented by an  icon  housed  within  their  own pocket on the map. They register an important event in a life and are part of a wider personal mythology. Sometimes the artefact is intertwined with lore, for example, a Tower on a Hill is linked to Avalon- legendary island featured in the Arthurian legend. “A dormant ancestry lies here and not just for you”, these memories go beyond the personal. Pressing ‘R’ to remember I am pulled closer, towards the avatar, towards the recollection. There is a turn towards perception, with the option to look, smell, sound or feel. Ben’s process of writing is expansive, growing into a branching narrative outlined in Yarn Spinner, an open-source tool for inserting dialogue into games. Details are provided generously and as I become invested I project my own experiences onto them too.

After gathering fragments of the past, I reach for the toolkit: my mnemonic abilities. Asset Flip, Softly Remake, Spiritually Succeed and Headcanon. All tactics utilised by online gaming/ content creation/ fandom communities, some for better and for worse. There is additional text categorising each using the Alignment System, a nod to the OG RPG Dungeons and Dragons. Usefulness and departure from previous canon are factors that determine the tools relative value and they are each assigned a colour corresponding with the main UK political parties.

Only able to engage with the memory once, the decision is final (unless I reload the page) and feel a sense of responsibility when making my selection.

The actions I take have a two-fold effect, on both my surroundings and on my character. With Asset Flip I can cause chaos, leaving broken objects dancing in my wake. Headcanon (community orientated project) is more of an additive process. Motifs appear that relate to the event to activate the text and a new understanding is reached, clearer insight is gained. No matter what the orbs around me record my decision and I am left holding on to it, left accountable for my choices. There is a causal relationship between how I engage, the world around me and the conclusion reached. How I process the memory -or don’t- will have influence.

You are a branch on this tree.

    Each gameplay felt different, like another shade. The tool or memory selected would influence the characters mood and I would pick up on different things, notice more.

Your experience will be unique to you of course, with so many variables. There’s no ending as such but the scene of a bike crash felt like a turning point. Making a conscious decision to heal, the entity breaks from the old script. A fork in the road.

Read Benjamin’s essay on Johanna Saunderson’s work HERE.