Farewell: Moving On Up

Readers, visitors, skimmers, listeners, and everyone in between – it’s been fun.

Today, my Digitalchemy blog comes to a close. I started it back in 2007 during my Game Design studies at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and could never quite shake the habit. I’ve gotten so much out of it, some of which lead to getting published at reputable outlets including Engadget, Polygon, Venturebeat (formerly Gamesbeat) and Gamasutra. But it’s time to move on.

For years, I have been wanting to make my blog a wing of my official design portfolio website. So, I’ve taken the best from this one (including the new podcast) and started fresh.

The second episode of Screen Looking will be dropping tomorrow morning at the new location. If you’d like to stay tuned-in, please subscribe to the new blog’s RSS feed instead. If you subscribed to the podcast through iTunes or the Podcasts app, you should be automatically moved over to the new feed. In the event you don’t see the new episode tomorrow or this week, simply resubscribe to the show (unsubscribe, search for it again and then resubscribe) to switch over to the new feed.

The only reason I’m not closing this blog outright is because of the Photoshop tutorial I made a while back, which has by far been the most read post here. I still receive comments from real people every year, and – as of today – it’s received nearly a quarter-million views. Eventually, that one will come with me to the new spot as well. I’m glad at least something from here was useful to a lot of people out there, finding their way through some insane design task their boss is putting them through.

As I write this, I’m getting flashbacks to packing up my desk on my last day in art school, taking a break to hastily write a post to commemorate the occasion. If you’re out there, dear reader, I’ll leave you with this: if maintaining this blog has reinforced anything to me, it’s that we are always in a state of learning.

Happy gaming, and I’ll see you in the next warp room.

Enjoy your summer. Look out for zombies.

– Andrew Kuhar

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E.1 – Resident Evil 2 (Remake): First Impressions & Retrospective

Welcome to the inaugural episode of Screen Looking, a podcast where close friends take a closer look at their favorite video games.

We’ll be focusing on one game per episode from the perspective of its artwork, game design and storytelling, ranging from contemporary blockbusters to remakes and indies. Typically, we’ll be unpacking games we’ve already played through, but because this is the first episode we decided to discuss something special: the newly announced remake of Resident Evil 2 (RE2).

RE2 was originally released in 1998 to critical acclaim as a two-disc game for the Sony Playstation, shortly following its breakthrough predecessor. Twenty years later, it’s finally seeing the remake fans have been clamoring for since the original Resident Evil got its own in 2002 (and has seen multiple re-issues since). The pair of survival horror classics defined a new genre in gaming and terrified gamers in their formative years. My guest, Alex Koval, and I can attest to this, as it’s a series we grew up playing together, bonding over, and thinking about ever since.

Join us as we look at what gave RE2 the status it earned in 1998, our impressions of the remake fresh off of its E3 reveal, and what we look forward to seeing next.

Additional Credits & Notes

  • Music in this episode comes from the OST’s to both Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2
  • Audio clips from Resident Evil courtesy of “Resident Evil – Voice Acting Horror – 10 Minute Cut” by YouTube user gamegoonie

Engadget Feature: The (re)making of ‘Crash Bandicoot’

If you have ever thumbed through my blog here, it doesn’t take long to deduce that the original three Crash Bandicoot games were essential to my childhood.

With that in mind, I am very pleased to share my latest piece of professional video game writing: a full-length feature on the process behind remastering the Crash Bandicoot trilogy. The feature was published and laid out by Engadget in early July, featuring in-depth interviews with art & design leads on the team at Vicarious Visions (VV), in addition to exclusive process-artwork that outlines their creative workflow. Continue reading Engadget Feature: The (re)making of ‘Crash Bandicoot’

Polygon Opinion Piece: The Last Guardian

Recently, I wrote an opinion piece for a well-known video game website, Polygon.

The article recounts my experience with a long-awaited game, The Last Guardian, and the parallels I drew between it and our bond with animals during a trying time in my life. It’s an analysis of the game’s design as much as it is a personal essay and investigation into the ways we all encounter animals in need. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The Last Guardian doubles as an interactive metaphor for the discovery and rehabilitation of animals in situations of abuse or neglect. For being such a fantastical setting, it plays host to a cautionary tale that is grounded in reality. By offering us an extended glimpse into an abused animal’s perspective, The Last Guardian asks us to empathize: What does it mean to spend time in their environment? How are they a product of it, and how much can they change?

The full article can be found here, and I invite you to share your own story and/or takeaway from The Last Guardian.

Tiny Apocalypses: An Interview with Dan Pinchbeck, Creative Director of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Everybody may have vanished from the slumbering town of Yaughton, but not without a trace.

Across a blindingly bright English countryside, with radios left on, research abandoned, doors unshut and phone booths ringing, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture explores what life there was like as you piece together a hauntingly calm apocalypse in a most unfamiliar setting: home sweet home.

Previously known for their surreal Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is the latest game from studio The Chinese Room. In my curiosity to learn more about what fueled Rapture’s story, its big questions and the creative drive behind them, I discovered what inspires and compels the team that created it. Dan Pinchbeck, Creative Director at The Chinese Room, graciously took me through their process, the artistic decisions they made, his thoughts on science fiction and the potential for storytelling within video games today.

Below is an excerpt from our discussion, and you can read the full interview here.


rapture-yaughton-09Andrew Kuhar: What lead you to explore the English countryside as the right home for this take on the end of the world?

Dan Pinchbeck: The other major idea behind Rapture was the collision of the epic and the intimate, and we drew a lot of inspiration from the ‘cosy catastrophe’ science-fiction of authors like John Wyndham, Christopher Priest, J.G. Ballard and John Christopher. There’s a very definite Englishness about this work that felt just absolutely right for Rapture. The combination of a sleepy, idyllic English village with this apocalyptic tale just felt like it would get that sense so absolutely.

At the end of each character’s story, we get the rather harrowing opportunity to witness the emotional arc of their final moments. Yet, these set pieces are presented in one of the game’s most memorable aesthetics. How did these moments come together and what inspired them?

Often it’s not a lightbulb moment, but a gentle process of things. We really wanted to capture that magic and majesty of the stars in the skybox, to have that silent, beautiful sweep across the world. With Rapture, the emotional punch comes from that mix of big and small — we’ve talked a lot about the epic and the intimate — so we wanted to have a moment where those really small private moments of connection between people, or something as intimate and extraordinary as someone’s death, were played off against this huge sweeping cosmos and beauty of the drifting lights, to really set it in this magical context. I’m a huge Carl Sagan fan, and he often talked about how the more he understood just how extraordinary and vast the universe is, the most privileged he felt to be alive. We really wanted to make that statement in those moments.

Read the full interview »

Generation gone: Where Playstation mascot Crash Bandicoot is today

As a reflection on the Playstation 4’s launch, I wrote an article for GamesBeat about the relevance of the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy in 2013. In essence, it’s about how what worked for Crash in the late 90’s might also be what the series needs today, should it ever finally return.

GamesBeat has since promoted and republished the article, which I thought I’d forward and share an excerpt from here:


In some ways, Crash Bandicoot 2 shares a philosophy with the puzzle-platforming series Portal. You’re given what moves you absolutely need near the very beginning and nothing more for the rest of the adventure. From there, it’s up to the level design and the game mechanics to play off each other to keep things interesting. Jumping, spinning, belly-flopping, crouching, and sliding are all you have to get from point A to point B. Granted, there are a few exceptions (like transports of some manner), but Crash himself never fundamentally changes.

Instead, the levels subvert your expectations by presenting you with interesting challenges based on what you already know. Suddenly, there are more dangerous crates to break open, so how do you move around them in a 3D space? A few levels flip your sense of direction, either having you running toward the screen and away from an agitated bear or moving along it like a traditional side-scroller. When moving forward starts to feel boring, you find yourself riding atop an untamable polar bear cub at top speeds or following fireflies down dark paths, making the game feel like an endless runner or a relay race at night.

But at no point in any of the above scenarios are the game mechanics altered beyond recognition. At its most abstract and arguably its best, Crash Bandicoot is purely about playing with familiarities in the platforming genre.

Here’s a link to the full article on GamesBeat »

(Thanks to Stephanie Carmichael from GamesBeat for promoting and editing the article.)

The Mirrors of The Last of Us

tlou-ellie-mirrors

A couple weeks back, I finished Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us — they’ve sure come a long way since Crash Bandicoot (though, I still pine for the franchise to return to its rightful owner).

As the final act came to a close, what struck me the most was how reflective the game was of itself, and how far its characters had come since the opening scene. The critical reception to The Last of Us has ranged from brightly glowing to argumentative and divisive, but what can’t be mistaken is how much thoughtfulness Naughty Dog has put into it. I jotted down my own thoughts on a few “mirrors” between the very beginning and the very end of the game, which I wanted to share here.

Warning: there’s a significant amount of spoilers ahead!

Continue reading The Mirrors of The Last of Us