Entertainment

Step Inside a Glitchy Alternate Universe Inspired by Dungeon Crawler Video Games

Using "infinite dungeon" video games as inspiration, Peter Burr offers an interactive 3D installation that probes the depths of modern social life.

by Benoit Palop
May 11 2015, 10:00pm

Screencaps courtesy the artist; all photos by Yasmin Santana

A large-scale video game-inspired installation immerses the viewer at the heart of a mesmerizing virtual universe that questions how we connect via modern communication systems and social networks in new media artist Peter Burr's CAVE EXITS. On view since last Wednesday, and offered for one week, the experience invites audiences to explore an experimental narrative developed during Burr's residency at 3LD Art & Technology Center in New York. Teaming up with a strong creative team and artists, including Porpentine, John Also Bennett, Mike Heavers, Brandon Blommaert, and Brenna Murphy, the New York-based artist offers a multimedia 4-channel video cube that uses digital tools, perspective changes, and video game concepts and engines to explore Burr's analyses—in a creative way—of modern behavior, offering a sort of interactive sociologic study in-sync with our present society.

Surrounding the audience and absorbing their entire field of vision, the interactive 3D environment revisits and re-conceptualizes the infinite repetition of the "infinite dungeon" video game, offering an unexpected and generative labyrinth which explores, highlights and criticizes everyday reality, a day-to-day routine resulting somehow in the degradation of the social life.

Eager to learn more about his brand new project, we asked Peter Burr a few questions to gain a deeper insight into the origins and development of CAVE EXITS:

The Creators Project: What is your relationship with video games and which one is your favorite ever?

Peter Burr: I love walkthroughs and fan edits of games where all the cutscenes have been strung together into a semi-coherent narrative. I appreciate the concept of grinding in video games, but I really hate having to actually go into those repetitive task loops myself, so these movie versions of games are great for that. 

Perhaps the most influential game I got into this past year is Dungeon Crawl, both the ASCII version and the Tiles version. It got me stoked on procedural death labyrinths as a form of expression for both player and designer.

Can you talk a bit about the genesis of this project? What were the starting points?

I got into the iconography of labyrinths around the time I was finishing my tour of SPECIAL EFFECT in late 2013. I was rediscovering video games after a 15-year hiatus and feeling excited about the intersections of experimental cinema and game narratives. 

I was also thinking a lot about invisible animation, or the type of animation that we see all the time in contemporary cinema but isn't meant to be read as animation. Digital effects and stuff that blend seamlessly into the real world when done right. 

It seems like CAVE EXITS is critical towards modern communication systems and social networks. Could you elaborate on this?

The piece features a single protagonist venturing into an abandoned arcology, so she never interacts with other humans directly. She has a surgical implant that regulates serotonin in her gut (Serotonin Tracking Orifice Management Application... or "STOMA" for short) that serves as her sole companion on this part of the journey. 

So we aren't really taking on her relationship to larger social networks, but rather her relationship to her own gut and looking at what happens when that is mediated by technological apparatuses. Her STOMA gives her lots of information about her environment that the audience sees as various User Interface animations. Eventually, in subsequent chapters of this story, her STOMA will begin to malfunction and force a reckoning with her feeling-sense of the external world.

Why did you choose the concept of the dungeon/labyrinth as a driving force? How did you apply it towards your creative process?

The idea of the labyrinth is really multifaceted, and I like that about it. It represents both a form and a feeling. It makes me think about the megastructures imagined by utopian architects of the sixties and seventies (Paolo Soleri, Peter Cook, Superstudio, etc.) as well as a way of understanding god. Dungeons, especially the self-generating kind found in games like Dungeon Crawl, complicate the form by adding loot and monsters and traps. 

As a way of understanding structure in life, my heart resonates with the generative dungeon.

How did you create CAVE EXITS, and what was the creative process like? 

CAVE EXITS is part of a larger project I'm working on with the game designer and writer Porpentine, so it's hard to talk explicitly about this installation without talking about the video game we are making and some single channel pieces in the pipeline. 

We are using Twine to work out all the text and branching narrative choices. The animation is made using lots of different software, often beginning in Cinema4D and ending up in Photoshop with Poser, After Effects, and bits of other software in between. The music is all composed by John Also Bennett using a combination of modular synths and digital tools.

Can you briefly explain a bit about the larger project?

We are making a story about a character (Aria End) who's job it is to clean up The Mess. The rules of this place have changed due to The Mess, and we learn these new terms in navigating an abandoned Arcology at the heart of The Mess. CAVE EXITS mostly touches upon her descent into the arcology from the outer wilderness.

Regarding the workflow, how was the teamwork? How did you chose the people you worked with, and who did what?

Before conceptualizing the video cube, I started working with Porpentine and Mike Heavers on a web game based on some drawings I had been making. 

A few weeks into this process, Images Festival in Toronto gave me the opportunity to expand the project into an installation for their festival so I asked Brandon Blommaert to create all [the] user interface design/animation and Brenna Murphy [to be] the labyrinth architect. John Also Bennett composed music for the final piece.

What kind of experience can be expected? Can you describe a bit what the viewers will be confronted with? 

You walk into a vacuous dark room and there's an enormous glowing cube. You approach the cube and see people inside seated on a mazelike stepped platform watching the glowing walls. Then you enter the cube to join them...

What's next for this project? Any other ongoing projects?

Right now Im working with Porpentine on the playable game. I'm also developing a 3-channel narrative installation stemming from this project for an upcoming installation this summer.

CAVE EXITS - preview from Peter Burr on Vimeo.

CAVE EXITS is open to the public through Tuesday, May 12th at 3LD Art & Technology Center. Click here to learn more.

Credits: 

An immersive video installation by Peter Burr

In collaboration with Porpentine (text and story), John Also Bennett (music and sound), Mike Heavers (software engineering), Brandon Blommaert (animation), Brenna Murphy (animation)

Co-presented by Mono No Aware

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