A DeconRecon Special Feature
Editor’s note: We know that this has been a hiatus and a half, but the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic and new normal have derailed lives — including that of our writer, C Nge. Coming up for air from her whirlpool of a teaching job that is transitioning online, she managed to squeeze in some time to try out Death Stranding’s recent update — the Photo Mode. Surprisingly, the seemingly-mundane feature transformed her gameplay experience in ways she did not expect.
Revisiting Death Stranding through a new lens
By: C Nge
Game chapters completed: 100% (Platinum Level)
I know exactly what I will be doing for my birthday this July: I will be eating cake and quaffing a few cans of Monster Energy in a private room in Capital Knot City. I will kick back to some hard-earned tunes on my music player and when I’m ready to venture out of my sleek underground abode, Mads Mikkelsen will serenade me with the Happy Birthday ditty. I know this because I have been waiting to celebrate my very first in-game, real-time birthday ever since reading about this novel feature in Death Stranding.
July is also a special month for a second reason: Hideo Kojima’s masterpiece will be released on PC for his diehard fans without a PS4.
These fans not only get to play the game, they will also get to experience DS‘s photo mode update from the get-go. First-generation DS players on the PS4 were given the update for free in late March this year but by then, most of us (myself included) had already completed the game and were not about to attempt a second play through just to take a couple of selfies. Or so I thought.
Daddy Diary Entry One: Getting the hang of this ‘wefie’ thing (BB is a natural though)
Photo mode turned out to be a literal game changer in more ways that I could have ever imagined. A light press on the left corner of the touchpad on my PS4 controller activated my new superpower in DS—I can freeze frames! I can rotate the camera, and zoom in and out WHILE freezing the frame! I can make Sam disappear or strike silly poses!
Not only that, there was a vast array of camera angles and filters, frame shapes and sizes, and tons of bells and whistles for photography enthusiasts and novice shutterbugs to experiment with to our hearts’ content. Hurray for the Mars effect filter and polaroid format!
Sure, these features may sound just like the photo mode in other video games. But a tool can look the same but take on different meanings in a different world. Or at least, it did for me. In addition to being a space for meditative travels, the environment of DS is designed to be a feast for the eyes. But apprehending it through the lens of the in-game camera? The vista—sumptuously cinematic as it is—becomes imbued with potent layers of artistic expression awaiting player creation.
And I do mean potent layers of artistic expression
DS zealot that I am, I dove full tilt into my second playthrough—on hard mode this time—with my right thumb perfectly poised to spam the pink square button as I breezed in and out of the photo menu. But I surprised myself by not breezing through photo mode at all. On the contrary, I stumbled onto a new journey and stayed.
I retraced paths I took on my first run and spent more time taking photos than making deliveries as Sam Porter. I kept stopping every few seconds to contemplate the views in order to compose creative shots. I went out of my way to locations that served no other purpose than as dramatic backdrops for my photos.
Probably getting one star for this delivery but anything for a baller pic!
I made Sam contort his face into a myriad of different expressions while holding ridiculous poses, and laughed so hard over them my sides ached. I also intentionally died many times just so I could capture cool shots of my encounters with enemies and of myself floating in the seam—Kojima’s version of purgatory.
In photo mode, I composed panoramic shots everywhere I looked because the sweeping vistas of DS lent themselves to widescreen aspect ratios and perfect establishing shots for the Icelandic vacations I will never have IRL. I love nature, sure, but as a concept to be revered and protected from human greed, not as a physical space to trudge through.
Full disclosure—I am not one to plan a vacation in the woods or a camping trip in the jungles of my own country, and taking pictures (even selfies) in reality is a chore I rarely bother with. Yet, the notion of being able to look back on gorgeous photos of my virtual nature hike through the wilds of DS when I am a decrepit gamer too old to manoeuvre fiddly controllers, soothed me.
Daddy Diary Entry Two: A wefie with a deadly BT. Nailed it.
My photos creatively archive this replication of a journey I once took, in a game world that changed my real life. Since my first playthrough did not have photo mode, I did not have the camera to distract me and could fully focus on what I had to do in the game. Nonetheless, playing the game a second time just so I could take photos was also a worthwhile endeavour, because here was my chance to document—with as much fidelity as I could approximate—my experiences for posterity.
When the game is (re)released on 14 July, PC gamers who will be playing DS already equipped with photo mode will not have to retrace their steps as I am doing now. They get to take photos as they go—although I do wonder if their experiences will be diluted as a result of this all-too-familiar distraction.
Whatever the case may be, I am at least happy about one thing: with the DS in-game camera, I am going to thoroughly enjoy taking heaps of ‘photos’ of my birthday for the FIRST time. Then for my birthday in 2021, I may just do it all over again.
End of Entry Five. More coming soon.
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Also published on Medium.