Video games are getting prettier and prettier. It’s good to see that some of them incorporate actual works of art, sometimes in very distinctive styles. Even some old, very old games have had great art direction.
Computer gaming is an old love. I had played multiple simple games on my MSX2 starting at age 8, also the start of my programming career. Yet one of the games that made a lasting impression was the one my parents gave me when I was 11. Or rather, I pointed out the game I’d seen at a friend’s a couple times and they bought it for me. The name of the game? ‘The Treasure of Uşas‘, by Konami.
'The Treasure of Usas' and images copyright Konami. Used with kind permission.
Konami was the great name for quality games on MSX in the late eighties, and Uşas was no exception. Besides that fact that it’s a great and hard 2D platformer–I only managed to beat it a full eight years later–the distinctive graphic style is magical and intriguing. Uşas takes place in five sets of ruins, all of a different style and colour setting. And all of these styles are decidedly Central Asian. Even with on a screen with just 256 by 212 pixels in sixteen colours, the Buddhas and Tibetan tapestries abound.
Years and years later, I played a game that’s actually set in Tibet for a great deal of the plot: Uncharted 2. Although the gap in technology is huge, and Uncharted is hardly a 2D platformer, the source material is similar. Uncharted’s designers, nay, artists have paid meticulous attention to the details in their environments. Cities, temples, forests are all amazing. And then you see the Asian architecture.
'Uncharted 2: Among Thieves' and images copyright Naughty Dog.
Especially a snowy temple some two-thirds into the game directly reminded me of Uşas’s style. Although new to me, that part of the game was full of nostalgia. Honestly, these screenshots cannot do justice to actually playing the game and experiencing this environment firsthand, walking and climbing through a frozen temple ruin.
It’s these two games that got me intrigued in Central Asian art and Tibetan motifs and patterns in particular. I hope to be able to post some doodles soon, inspired by the style.
And yes, I still play Uşas from time to time. And yes, sometimes it still makes me feel like that 11-year old boy. That’s what retrogaming does.