- Cindi Knapton
Immortality: Be Kind, Rewind!
I’m currently obsessed with and immersed in the game Immortality. I’ve beat it and still want more. I’ve watched play-throughs and reviews. I’ve read synopses -- that may or may not be accurate. I know there are more delicious tidbits that I want to discover and enjoy with my own eyes.
I encourage you to give the game a try before reading any further. The game is structured around mystery and spoilers, and… spoilers that create even more mystery. The fun is in finding the clues and putting together your own theories before someone like me ruins the surprise. And... FYI, the game does come with a strong content warning.
Why am I obsessed with this game? Because Immortality encompasses so many of my favorite themes and echoes many of my life experiences: film studies, film-set life, murder mystery, 70’s nostalgia, dance, symbolism, literary & biblical references, vampires, jump scares, philosophical conundrums, body swapping, historical fiction, film-within-a-film, puzzles, production design, the power of film to inspire, and ultimately the concept of what it means to be immortal.
Why am I obsessed with this game? Because Immortality encompasses so many of my favorite themes and echoes many of my life experiences.
In short, it's beautiful, smart, makes me think, and is fully accessible with my dexterity skills.
This blog theme is game mechanics + story events = emotional player experiences. But… with the structure of Immortality, I’ll shift to talking about how the game mechanics complement the premise of the game to create a compelling player experience.
“A starlet, vanished. Her films, unreleased. Investigate the lost works of the silver-screen hopeful to unlock the secrets behind her disappearance." Netflix Games
The starlet is Marissa Marcel. The game begins by showing you a clip from one of her three unreleased movies: Ambrosio a period drama of forbidden love set in monastery; Minsky a 70’s New York art scene murder mystery; or Two of Everything a 90’s Hollywood body double tale examining the price of fame.
Match Cuts – This is the first mechanic that I played with. I knew there was a mystery, and I knew that I needed to do some investigation to figure out what was going on. So, without knowing exactly where I was going, I threw myself into match-cuts.
“In film, a match cut is a cut from one shot to another where the composition of the two shots are matched by the action or subject and subject matter.” Wikipedia
On the iPad, match-cuts are accessed by pausing a clip and using two fingers to zoom in on something --almost anything. This is so tactile. I love my touch screen. Each time I zoom in, I feel I am diving closer to the subject of the mystery. It’s akin to digging through a box of video newspaper clippings, the detritus of someone’s life.
The easiest point for the first match-cut is to zoom in on the face of Marissa. This immediately “whooshes” you to another clip with her face in a similar pose. The clips the game sends you to seem to be random – although there may be a genius algorithm behind them. I found this out later when returning to key scenes. I zoomed on the same item in the same clip several times and got sent to a variety of different match-cut clips.
This is dizzying fun, like being scrambled on a carnival tilt-a-whirl.
Because there are biblical themes running through all three films, there are several clips that include apples and snakes. Because each film contains a murder mystery, there are several clips with knives and guns. And because I’m a design aficionado, I loved match-cutting between light fixtures, furniture, & art objects.
Each time you match-cut you can be sent from the film that you are watching to another one of the three films, or even to behind-the-scenes rehearsals and party footage. By arriving at the match point in the new clip, you probably won’t be at the top of the scene and will need to rewind to see everything.
This is dizzying fun, like being scrambled on a carnival tilt-a-whirl. As I followed the match-cuts, I felt like I was on the hunt, tracking the clues, being confused, making guesses about the connections, and eventually getting closer and closer to assembling a theoretical narrative in my head.
The match-cut tool was a highly successful entry mechanic aligned perfectly with the premise of investigating. It pulled me into the narrative puzzle while balancing the satisfaction of discovery with the challenge of disorientation.
Raw clips I want to make a note about how much narrative information is shared in each clip. These are raw footage showing everything from the final moments of on-set prep prior to the performance of the scripted scene, the clapboard with its written data, performance of the scripted scene, and finally actor/director or actor/actor feedback and interaction after a scene.
Each clip contains IRL actors playing characters who are playing roles in a movie. For someone like me who has an insatiable appetite for visual details, there are layers and layers that are so much fun to unpeel… Even before the game gets weird.
Sound – Time to get weird. Once I tuned into the three film narrative arcs and the personal dynamics of the cast & crew characters, I had a rough framework of what was happening. As that solidified in my mind, I was able to pay attention to the sound design. That’s the way my mind works, picture first, sound second.
If you’re intrigued by game sound design, I recommend the A Sound Effect interview with Immortality’s sound designer Priscilla Snow and sound designer/re-recording mixer Kevin Senzaki. They discuss the techniques used to process sound with many film speeds & film stock. And they reveal how some of the most intriguing sounds were created.
As I watched each scene, I noticed that some low-stakes scenes had an incongruous ominous sound cue. With other scenes I heard a subtle heartbeat. And sometimes I thought I heard a subtler version of the ominous sound.
Spotting specific sounds cues is the mechanic that leads the player deeper into the mystery. It told me where to stop and start playing around with…. Rewinding the clip at different speeds.
Rewinding -- When I heard the ominous sound, I paused the clip and started slowly, carefully, manually rewinding. A film reel icon appeared. I spun this wheel with my finger to control the speed and direction of scrubbing.
While playing with this tool, scrubbing back and forth hoping to reveal a hidden clip, I had a flashback. The image at the top of this blog is the hand-crank Super 8 editor that I used to make short films in high school. I remember scrubbing frame-by-frame to find the perfect cut point for maximum dramatic impact. This action is tediously hypnotic.
When I hear the ominous sound, I pause the clip and start slowly, carefully, manually rewinding.
Scrubbing the Immortality film reel icon takes patience and confidence. I heard the ominous sound cue while watching Marissa being interrogated for the murder in Minsky. That told me that something was there, and whatever it was, was going to be worth the trial-and-error scrubbing. I went back and forth, and back and forth.
Finally, I started to see something appear. I saw an overlay of Marissa Marcel’s inner immortal being “The One." She was wearing the same clothes in the same pose as Marissa.
I continued scrubbing back and forth until I heard a "snap" as the hidden scene became opaque and the original scene was gone.
I rewound the hidden scene and The One began talking about the ways that she has been interrogated and killed over her many lifetimes – including drowning, crucifixion, and beheading!
And now the game is on. Truly satisfying! I want more.
When I hear the ominous sound cue, like Pavlov’s dog, I want to scrub and find the hidden story.
This tool is perfectly aligned with the premise of discovering secrets.
I’m still chasing that high. I’ve beaten the game and gotten the credit sequence, but I want to see every single weird scene with “The One” and her counterpart “The Other” immortal being. Many of the hidden scenes are exquisitely shot in black and white and debate the nature of human life.
Analysis of the immortal beings' meaning, symbolism, and character dynamic has been written about in detail. It is a rich source of material. I expect Immortality will be written about for years.
For now, I will just mention one more mechanic that helps my continued enjoyment of the game.
Organizing Icons – At the left side of the game screen is an array of icons that assist a player’s search by organizing the clips that have been found in a variety of ways:
A calendar icon puts the clips in shooting order. The date the clip was shot is inscribed at the bottom of the frame.
A clapboard icon puts the clips scene order. The order that they would have been assembled in the film. The scene number is also inscribed at the bottom of the frame.
A landscape photo icon creates close-up for each clip. The close-up has the name of the character or prop and the film it is from inscribed at the bottom of the frame.
Clips that the player has marked as favorites. I favorited the clips that contained hidden scenes.
This mechanic gave me a sense of organization. It’s definitely more soothing to the eye and brain than random clip placement. However, now my interest is finding the missing pieces of the hidden story. That means that I am using intuition, guess work, and patience to achieve a sense of completion.
I don’t think that there could or should be a tool to show me where the missing pieces are hiding.
I’m still enjoying the hunt!