Like a spooky haunted Guggenheim Museum, the immersive art-y game world looking back on Radiohead’s Kid A and Amnesiac is coming to your PC or Mac. And you can get it free now via the Epic Games Store.
All of this is possible because Radiohead were into art to begin with – Thom Yorke collaborating since 1994 with artist Stanley Donwood (aka Dan Rickwood). You’ll recognize that art style even if you were only a casual fan, as it graced all the record releases.
But if the Internet has waned as a delivery mechanism for rich media – supplanted by lo-fi NFTs that are more finance object than actual media, and continuously watered-down short-attention-span social media apps – gaming has run the other way. Mark Zuckerberg’s aesthetically bereft vision of the metaverse aside, gaming itself looks better than ever.
The devs aren’t just putting up some slide shows of album art, either – they actually recommend Apple’s new M1 as a minimum on the Mac side (I’ll try it on the basic Mac mini), and NVIDIA RTX for PC. (Seems you should be able to get away with a late model MacBook Pro, too.)
The good news is, if you act quickly, you can try all of this for free as part of Epic Games’ ongoing series of giveaways:
The studio behind this has more credits in the event and music worlds than gaming – they built this with Wwise audio engine and Unreal (interestingly not the built-in audio features of Unreal I keep touting):
What you get is a creepy, surrealist world to explore that feels like Tim Burton got invited to collaborate with The Residents at MOMA. And if you believe Yorke and Donwood, they originally planned this as a physical exhibition. I kind of think this is a mostly fictional account – that or else they are serious, and it’s maybe not really COVID that was their biggest obstacle – but regardless, it makes for a great backstory.
As they tell the PlayStation blog:
It was going to be a huge red construction made by welding shipping containers together, constructed so that it looked as if a brutalist spacecraft had crash-landed into the classical architecture of the Victoria & Albert Museum in Kensington.
This astounding steel carapace would be inserted into the urban fabric of London like an ice pick into Trotsky. Jutting up into the grey English sky. And then – being constructed from shipping containers – we could ship it around the world… New York, Tokyo, Paris…
But then we couldn’t fit it at the Victoria & Albert without parts of the museum building collapsing.
So we changed location – now it would look as if it had crashed into the side of the Royal Albert Hall.
But Westminster council didn’t like the idea one little bit.
And then Covid delivered the final annihilation.
But this doesn’t take me back to 2000 nearly as much as it does the early 90s and the multimedia CD-ROM era.
The advent of the multimedia CD-ROM and equivalent PC and Mac specs capable of playing back media opened up artists to using the computer as immersive distribution medium. The Internet was too slow to use for much rich media, so you stuck the stuff on discs. That’s a story for another day, but it was aided in no small part by some creative thinking done by teams like the early QuickTime devs and Macromedia (née Macromind) and – no, not Flash, but Director.
It was more circus in aesthetic, but The Residents’ 1994 Freak Show helped pave the way for what you’re seeing from Radiohead this month:
Maybe even more fitting is the ingenious Puppet Motel by Laurie Anderson. (I played through every last corner of this one.) It was perfectly matched to Anderson’s nonlinear, surrealistic storytelling on the album of the same name – honestly, listening back on the album I realize how much deeper the sense of that material was on the CD-ROM then it was just played as a series of songs. The project was a collab with Taiwanese media artist Hsin-Chien Huang.
Of course, I talked about this before:
But it’s nice to see how this concept could get a second chance. Many of us have been waiting since the mid-90s for this to finally break through in a way that doesn’t just break the artists trying to make the stuff in the process. It seems 2020s tech may have finally caught up, because the truth is, you don’t have to be at Radiohead’s level to dabble in this kind of media.
Probably streaming gaming and more platform consolidation will make it impossible to sell immersive AV stuff the same way it is music and people will make lo-fi NFT GIFs or something instead but… oh well, if you think we live in a modern world where everything is clean and swell, take a walk on the b-side of town… (I think Laurie’s lyrics may be more prescient than either Snow Crash or Neuromancer.)
Anyway, if your technology is more early 2000s than 2021 state of the art and you’re curious about KID A MNESIA EXHIBITION, don’t worry – the YouTubers already have walkthroughs up so you don’t have to entirely miss out. You can even eat some really sticky food or something since it’s a more passive way of playing.
I, meanwhile, need some time to play around with all this epic stuff I got free from Epic. But have at it.