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Alien: Isolation. That immersive video game whose environment and blood-thirsty Big Chap continues to garner fans discovering it’s frightening appeal.
It’s an incredibly detailed world, offering a look at the universe in which the Nostromo, the settings that would be familiar to Dallas, Kane, Ripley, Ash, Lambert, Parker, and Brett.
I love everything about the game.
So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a trio of galleries at /alienisolation (a subreddit devoted to the game), posted by Dakophyntix.
These are not photos you typically see online. Imagine what kind of shots you might take if you had a camera — instead of a flamethrower — and the time to snap a few photos.
Read on, as Dako tells his story of how this came to be…
The Alien Isolation – Photo Collections
Gaming photography is a fledgling field in modern art that has been growing in the past few years with the development of almost photo-realistically looking games. Huge technological steps have allowed the developers to put an emphasis on stunning graphics which shake on the border to reality. That is the access point for individuals like me, who are interested in putting the fine details in the spotlight.
I have been coming a long way up to this point, starting with rather rough compilations in the Need For Speed series a decade ago, to action-packed shots in shooters like Star Wars Battlefront and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), and lately coming to Alien: Isolation with atmospheric cinematics and photos.
Back when I played Alien: Isolation for the first time in March 2019, I was stunned by the smooth experience and the ever-present feeling of a lurking Alien nearby. Looking closer into the game I was astonished by the little details that helped to create a dense and threatening atmosphere. The stomping and hissing Alien wandering around the map, actively searching for you. The motion tracker going crazy, making one fear that an enemy hears you. The unforgiving soundtrack that never lets go and pushes you to and beyond the limit. The force of powerful immersion and fear made the game one of the most enjoyable experiences that I had in the last few years.
My own way of expressing gratitude to the developers has always been to create visual stories, usually in the form of a compilation, montage, or an edit. To create a similar experience, one needs to find a way to capture the feeling of the game. The key lies in the usage of cinematic tools. These handy little applications are mostly unofficial, fan-made tools that allow one to dislodge the in-game camera and move it to any desired position. Many of them also have built-in tools to enhance the quality of the camera, like depth of field sliders, customizable effect panels or even camera tracking systems to create “rails” for the camera to move on.
Diving deep in the modding community of a game is also generally the right direction for anyone searching game-enhancing tools. After looking around on the internet I found the Nexus Mods website for Alien: Isolation, and with it a mod manager containing numerous sub-mods created by the community. Manoeuvring through the interfaces can be hazy and tedious at the beginning, though. It requires time and a lot of patience.
Patience is the keyword for everything involving visual creation. After tinkering around with the tools and test-driving through the options, I made a few screenshots in preparation for my video. They ended up looking better than I expected, so I put them on Reddit after realizing that barely anyone has spent much time in taking pictures of the game. The reception was very positive across the board, and I had a Reddit user commenting that he was searching for a gaming photographer who could provide in-game pictures to visually underline an audio project of his.
BeckysaurusIII immediately hooked me with his understanding and appreciation of the game and the franchise, so we partnered up to create a lasting experience for the community. While he mixed the soundtrack of the game, I was tasked to provide him with pictures fitting the themes of the music, with the overall goal being a chronological soundtrack suite of the game, which would be uploaded to YouTube. After getting a first impression of what he had in mind, I went to work by starting a new playthrough. The instructions he gave me highlighted specific details, but still allowed for a lot of creative freedom. My workflow was to start the modded game and roam the mission areas in search for as many angles as possible, especially focussing on places with spotty illumination and dynamic elements. My fascination with such spots lies in the vast opportunities for storytelling and interpretation.
As soon as I found an interestingly looking scenery, I froze the game using the cinematic tool, and then moved the camera around to find a good spot for the photo. Being able to freeze the game proved to be highly beneficial, because it allowed me to take photos of objects while they were moving. A running Alien is a menacing sight; but taking a picture while it is charging at you is rather difficult. Pinning the small animations also requires a good timing, and often a bit of luck, because many of them happen coincidentally or only due to certain circumstances or requirements. Therefore, freezing the game made the task a lot easier for me. Next, I would move to the mod menu and select a handful of mods to enhance the picture. “Cinematic DoF” by Frans “Otis_Inf” Bouma was used to create a fake depth of field effect. “Clarity” and “Luma Sharpen” (both unknown authors) were also part of the process by making the edges look less bloated and the colours more vibrant. All of them are very customizable, allowing me to adjust the settings for every shot. Considering that a natural depiction of the game was requested, I kept heavy effects out of the mix and did not post-process the pictures afterwards.
The length of each mission and the number of soundtracks used varied, but on average I shot about 20-50 pictures for each of the 19 missions. My priority was to provide as many angles as possible of the objects Beckysaurus wanted to have the focus on, and afterwards moving on to other areas of the map to give him more equally good options to choose from. While shooting the pictures itself and exploring the corners of the map is fascinating, it is very time consuming as well. The pace I had was to sit down on a Friday afternoon and go through 2-4 missions, spending 6 hours or more on taking photos and sorting them. Finally, I would upload them to Google Drive for Beckysaurus to access. This went on for a couple of weeks.
After seeing the result, though, I am convinced that all the hours I put in were worth the effort. My partner has done an excellent job at putting the pieces together and presenting them in a convincing way. I am proud to have been a part of the project, and I wanted to use the opportunity to thank him for the offer. Aside from that, I hope that I have inspired others to visit the game and take photos themselves, because such passionate projects keep a community alive and together.
Now that we’ve piqued your interest, here are the links to Dako’s galleries:
Editor’s note: Good things come in pairs! I had just discovered the chronological soundtrack of BeckysaurusIII (aka Order of Apollo) before coming across Dako’s galleries. What was a pleasant surprise to learn they’d worked together! Congratulations to both of them on the successful collaboration of the chronological soundtrack. A great example of what can happen when fans cooperate to produce something they can be proud of, and that we can all enjoy.
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