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The Art of Deathloop

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The Art of Deathloop

It's never only the miniskirt that sells you the sixties.

Arjan Terpstra

15 Sep 2013 ⋅ 4 min read

Deathloop may score with gamers because of its excellent and fun combat and puzzle loops, but it's the grounded art and world lore that takes the cake for us.

We said it before, and we'll say it again, but at Cook and Becker we think Arkane is one of the most adventurous game studios worldwide when it comes to video game art. If there's one studio capable of offering game worlds as exciting as they are beautiful, and as complete as they are aesthetically coherent, it's the Lyon (France) and Austin (US) based Bethesda studio.

And so it comes as no surprise to us the studio behind Dishonored and Prey delivers another aesthetic gem in Deathloop, a game described by Game Director Dinga Bakaba as "a murder puzzle where you play an assassin trapped in a timeloop."

Thunderbirds

"In the 1960s," he should have added, because your recurring day at the assassin's office is fixed firmly in the decade of televised Thunderbirds, The Beatles hits, Cold War scaremongering, and psychedelic drugs.
DL01
© Arkane
'Or Hitchcock movies,' you could add. 'Mao's Cultural Revolution.' 'Paris student uprisings,' 'First Man On The Moon'--the list of historical and cultural touchstones is endless. What we generally understand as 'the sixties' is a complex brew of socio-cultural, technological and political developments that sent shockwaves throughout the Western world, and beyond.

Miniskirts

This socio-historic complexity is why it is difficult to truly do justice to the era when it's the backdrop for a movie or video game. Everyone (well, not everyone) can dress up a game in miniskirts and Blue Note jazz tunes, but that would not communicate the historical excitement and deep cultural impact of events in technology and world politics.
DL02
© Arkane

A chair from the sixties. Or fifties. With seventies wallpaper, as design never keeps to strict datelines.

And yet this is exactly where Deathloop's art delivers. Pierre Cardin dresses galore, but they only have impact because of the grounded thematic context the game world offers: a massive tech experiment with you at the centre. The British island of Blackreef where the game takes place is dominated by a giant metal dish, bunkers, radar equipment and antennas, all instrumental to the time loop experiment you're part of.

Technology

At the same time, aesthetically, they are strong reminders of the era's powerful belief in technology and scientific progress in the years leading up to the 60s. The bunkers are from the 1930's, the radar equipment stems from the 40s--this island has had a life before it became the decor to your daily demise.
DL03
© Arkane

Still taken from a Deathloop gameplay trailer. The influence of both movie design and album art from the sixties is pretty obvious.

And so have the upholstery you find in interiors, the clothing on the NPC's you meet, or even the packaging of the ammo strewn across the island--every reference to the 60s is also indicative of the larger, older story Arkane is trying to tell. It's never only the miniskirt that sells you the era.

Aesthetic

Understanding the multi-layered design of Deathloop is key to understanding state-of-the-art design in video games. A game's aesthetic can speak volumes to the player in terms of world building and environmental storytelling, if done right. And to do this right, you have to invest months and months of research into an historical era, turn everything you find inside out, experiment with finding your own artistic takes on everything in concept art, and then-- only then--funnel it into the game itself.
DL04
© Arkane

Every gun on this wall is a fantasy, yet firmly tied to the sixties by borrowing things like shape language, colours, materials and so on.

If you don't, you end up with a 1960s lacking dimensionality, a bunch of borrowed shapes that add up to little. But if you do, you'll find the sum of your designs will end up being bigger than its parts, and grown into something that is not "60s design" as we think we know it, but something distinctly historical-looking that runs much deeper than its surface level. Something that can truly lift your murder puzzle to the next level.
DL05
© Arkane
Deathloop_sensor
© Arkane

Belief in the possibilities of high tech was near unlimited in the 1960s. This 'sensor' device, a gizmo designed by Arkane, would be much appreciated.