If you are unfortunate enough to know me reasonably well, you know that I’ve been getting a little more intolerable than usual lately as I’ve turned back to my love of photography. It was interesting to see how much of what I love about photography – and how photography affects memory and nostalgia – is visible in Tunic.
Of course I don’t mean that cameras are involved like in Beyond Good & Evil or something. But seeing certain in-game features that are also present in so many of my favorite photos I’ve seen around the web was quite a harrowing experience.
First the water. The water in Tunic is such a gorgeous, vivid blue that it almost looks like flowing silk. It’s been apparent for a while that the most realistic waves in a video game are probably the ones you dance over in Sea of Thieves. However, I think this heavenly blue in tunic is how we sometimes recall idyllic lakes from vacations and day trips. Perhaps it’s the euphoric feelings of such memories that make the colors in our minds far more saturated than they actually were, for we can’t all visit the truly blue waters near the Canadian Rockies or Attabad Lake.
Another thing that struck me about Tunic from the start was the forest (an area you revisit early and later in the game) where you seem to be walking under huge trees. The shadows of the leaves refract all the sunlight that shines on this world. I don’t know if it’s the slight blur of everything that reminded me how good shadows look on film photos, but it’s something that’s incredibly difficult to do with the high-end smartphone cameras we use today replicating is a subject Kyle Chayka wrote about with the advances in computational photography.
Tunic recaptures a feeling that we might find difficult to replicate ourselves with today’s tools. It’s as if this intentional art style activates something in our minds that ties the game to nostalgia far more than its in-game manual or Zelda vibes, perhaps something a TikTok star would often refer to as “core memory.”
The last thing I want to mention are these long cuboid pillars and pipes that carry the dark purple magical energy throughout the game world. The sheen on them makes them look like the only inorganic matter in the entire game, as if they’re made out of some otherworldly mystical element. It’s like the monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey or the strange ships from the movie Arrival. This unusual skeuomorphic clue is enough to tell us that these whistles are unknown and different from other objects in the game.
Tunic is great at hiding things, sometimes out of sight like Fez, but so many of the things Tunic loves – the light, the textures, the nostalgic hints of things from our memories are all around us in the real world too , Past and present.