Deathloop: stylistic research and iconographic influence in the work of Arkane Lyon

Deathloop: stylistic research and iconographic influence in the work of Arkane Lyon


Probably one of the real videogame revelations of the year, Deathloop has stood out since the first announcement for its strong stylistic identity. Set on a mysterious island literally frozen in time, in Deathloop we find a bare natural landscape, long overrun by late nineteenth-century buildings, wrapped, in spite of themselves, by the eccentric and luminous visual panorama that marked Western cultural iconography between the end. from the fifties and the first half of the seventies.

Let's go together in search of the sources of inspiration that allowed Arkane Lyon to create the particular and iconic game world of Deathloop.

From tradition to innovation

Deathloop: visual styles and trends collide in Arkane Lyon's game The previous immense work of study and conceptualization carried out to bring to light a project like the Dishonored "diptych" was not completely abandoned by the art department that worked on Deathloop. In fact, Blackreef still presents the features of the port settlement of the late nineteenth century, this time abandoned to itself, and therefore deprived of a coherent and gradual process of modernization.

The alleys that we find ourselves exploring in the role of Colt, albeit affected by the ideal arrival of the flamboyant recklessness of the Sixties, are set in time, so deeply rooted in the territory as to be an extension of the latter, inseparable from the context in which they were assembled and abandoned.

The arrival of "color" is only a veil that covers the monochrome and flat brick buildings, distant relatives only in time and space of those we have come to know in Dishonored's Dunwall. Removed the veil, we find not only the origins of Blackreef, but also those of Arkane as an artisan of narrative worlds.

The art of control

Deathloop: Blackreef is halfway between a territory of military experimentation and a place of endless recreation From a purely iconographic point of view, the cultural references refer to a whole artistic-popular tradition that conquered the world gaze between the end of the fifties and the beginning of the seventies. These were years of rebirth for most of the nation states, which had recently emerged from a devastating war not only on a socio-cultural level, but above all on an economic level. Between inflation, public debts and compensation, the two superpowers that emerged victorious from the conflict mainly benefited from the critical global situation: the United States and the Soviet Union. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the main (and most expensive, in economic terms) sources of distraction came from one or the other block. Both sides, without distinction of any kind, have created stylistic trends and iconographic sources that continue to influence our imagination.

It is not surprising that Arkane's art department, led by Sébastien Mitton, he let himself be inspired by the visual universe born from that period so full of seminal events for the cementification of the contemporary world as we know it today. After all, it seems more than legitimate to associate that melting pot of sensations and expressive liberation that was the 1960s with a concept of an infinite party, stuck in time.

Pop iconography

Deathloop: the style of the intermission scenes takes full advantage of the graphic research of some twentieth-century artists. models proposed by the posters and the opening credits of many 1960s films (especially thrillers or spy films). One of the major proponents of this technique (characterized by large monochromatic backgrounds punctuated by simple lines, which blend silhouettes with abstract compositions) was Saul Bass, the mastermind behind some of the most iconic posters in the history of cinema, from that of La donna che visse twice at work for The Shining.

Bass was also the one who gave new prominence to the opening credits, rarely considered as a cornerstone of the cinematic experience. For Otto Preminger he created the opening sequence of Anatomy of a Murder, a pivotal event for the stylistic and narrative centrality of the opening sequences in the films from there to the next thirty years.

Deathloop: detail of the iconic poster of Anatomy of a Murder, directed by Otto Preminger But, perhaps, the example that comes closest to our research is the promotional poster of The Man with the Golden Arm. Here we find those few and simple backgrounds of color on a monochromatic background that we can also find in the style used by Mitton and his department to identify their Deathloop iconographically.

Arkane's game, however, does not stop at mere re-proposition of the stylistic trends born from the work of Saul Bass: the team has given character to its title by proposing a mixture that "disturbs" even the seventies abstractionist chromatic researches (especially the work of Desmond Reyner comes to mind), period, moreover , of a new Afro-American protagonism within the Western cultural sphere, particularly relevant to the expressive power of the two main characters of the game, Colt and Julianna.

Deathloop: the poster of The Man with the Golden Arm is perhaps the one signed by Bass that most recalls the style adopted by Arkane In this cauldron full of ingredients, we must not forget the binder that holds them together with ssieme, or the ability of the artistic department (and not only) to give character and identity to the visual elements, making the player understand that what he is seeing is something rooted in time and in the cultural background of a large number of individuals, but , at the same time, offering him something extremely peculiar, difficult to approach directly with anything he has ever seen (you know that it is a familiar vision, but it is complex to focus on the origin of this cognitive association).

Mitton has taken the lines of artists such as Bass, which are already irregular, and dirtied them even more, in an operation that has the tactile value of the draft with charcoal, the figurative immediacy of the advertising graphics and the timely expressiveness of street art.

Architectural explorations

Deathloop: architecture also wants its part Deathloop is not, however, a game composed solely of two-dimensional, stylized images and with marked tonal contrasts. The strength of Arkane's work also lies in the creation of the environments that make up Blackreef, particularly influenced by an architectural history that has its roots in the first half of the twentieth century, but which sees a continuous development up to the present day.

If the island is primarily a late 19th-century shipwreck lost in glacial waters, it is also true that many of the points of interest we are exploring have a taste for the organic experience of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright. Pioneer of an architectural style that combines the presence of man with that of nature, the latter is the face behind structures such as Fallingwater or the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Deathloop: the ideological weight of a building how Fallingwater was crucial in the current conception of a "luxury villa" The architectural work, for Wright, had to enter into a close relationship with the surrounding environment, get lost in it and not overshadow the natural element. For this reason, the buildings had to have lines that harmonized seamlessly with the landscape, as well as being devoid of excessively eye-catching aesthetic and ornamental features and being mainly composed of steel and glass, in such a way as to provide continuity between internal and external spaces. . Also important is the development of a large part of the building underground, so as to separate the human worldliness from the natural milieu.

We find this architectural thought in many modern buildings of Deathloop (inspired by the most iconic criminal lairs of the history of twentieth-century visual arts which, in turn, refer to the research of organic architecture), but especially in the villa of Frank Spicer, the Visionary with an obsession for avant-garde security systems.

Deathloop: the similarities between the interiors of Frank Spicer's mansion in the game and Lloyd Wright's Johnson Wax Administration Building The multi-level structure merges with the cliff on which it finds refreshment. Similarly, the development of the interior spaces winks at other organic works by Lloyd Wright (note the similarities between the mushroom-like columns of the villa and those of the Johnson Wax Administration Building), but also shows the influence they have had the models of American interior architecture (converging mainly in figures from the Central European art scene, for the most part expatriated to American territory during the Second World War) and British 1960s, made iconic by the cinematic imagery, which drew on from the latter.

If we want to consider the ancient structures of Blackreef as a natural landscape in themselves, then we see how the weight of the twentieth-century artistic heritage begins to bind to them, like a protective shell that it returns to infuse the road ramifications that dig the urban interweaving of the old island village with renewed and luminous lifeblood; figurative exaltation of a still life.

Deathloop: the interior design is another crucial element of the iconographic expressiveness of the game We delved into the maze of the iconographic and cultural influences of Deathloop and we came out victorious, noting how, despite having drawn heavily from a collective cultural memory that is rooted in the history of the twentieth century, the Arkane Lyon team nevertheless managed to give the title a very distinct identity, bearer of the indistinguishable signature of a bold and anomalous within the contemporary gaming landscape.

Let us know in the comments what your experience with Deathloop was (if any). In view of The Game Awards, does it deserve the coveted Game of the Year title for you?

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