Hellgate: London

2010 March 6

Following on from my previous post, the first game up is Hellgate: London.

Ray Girvan sent me a link to this YouTube video, drawing my attention to the fantastic view of St. Paul’s, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Clock Tower at the end:

I’m unclear whether this is an official promotional video for the game or a fan effort. It looks official enough, but I can’t find a source for it online that confirms this impression. If it’s a fan machinima, it’s an interesting mashup1 of game footage and Finnish metal track (a German-language version of David Bowie’s Heroes).

The video is action-packed and it doesn’t look as though there’s much time for the thoughtful contemplation of the decline and fall of civilizations among the hail of bullets and mobs of demons from another dimension. The IGN review backs up this impression:

There is no shortage of combat in Hellgate: London, so from the instant you step into your first level, you’ll be fighting against a range of zombies, flying brains, gun-toting demons and pale ladies with electric tentacles. Every place you go is packed full of enemies who have nothing better to do that to sit around all day waiting for you to show up and kill them. In fact, you can barely walk twenty feet through London without being confronted with some sort of hellspawn that you can hone your skills on.

I’ll tactfully say nothing on the subject of footwear most appropriate for exploring ruins — much less performing acrobatics. And let’s stay of steer clear of discussions of the form-hugging properties of high-tech body armour. Still, it’s artfully constructed. It’s also utterly convincing as a metal promo video, for reasons that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s something as simple as putting the song title and performers’ names at the beginning and end of the video. I have to admit (rather guiltily) that it brings out my inner metalhead.

A quick search using a Famous Unnamed Search EngineTM turned up some other promotional footage for the game. Gametrailers.com hosts a large collection of trailers and fan videos. Here’s one trailer showing some ruins around Covent Garden:2

This time, there’s no narrative holding these scenes together and the aim of the video seems to be simply to showcase the game’s locations, characters, and monsters. Oddly enough, in its presentation of these locations and their inhabitants, I think it has more in common with the ways in which, historically, we have viewed ruins of contemporary cities. The lack of action leaves us more room to reflect on the changes in places that we might know (e.g. “Oh! That’s Covent Garden Market. And that’s Covent Garden tube station. I met a friend there, once”).

Unfortunately, many (if not all) of the locations are apparently randomly generated and populated so as to make replay more rewarding. For me, as both someone interested in imaginary ruined London and a former Londoner, this is disappointing. I can’t re-visit and explore the places that I’m acquainted with.

But is this really a problem? How geographically accurate does a representation have to be, in order to communicate a sense of place? And do we expect geographical accuracy in other media? Anyone who lives in a city that is the setting for a blockbuster movie might have a good idea of what I mean. For instance, one can have endless fun comparing a famous city’s places as they’re arranged in a film with how they’re actually laid out.3 Does strict geographical and architectural verisimilitude actually matter?

Definitely, something that I’ll have to ponder …


1 If using only one video and one music source can count as a mashup. I’m more vague on my terminology than I should be, here.
2 I’m linking to a YouTube version of the video, so that I can embed it in the blog post more easily.
3 For instance, San Francisco residents might remember the short time that Harry Callahan has to run from ‘phone booth to ‘phone booth in Dirty Harry — and the remarkable distance that he actually had to cover in that time, if one locates the various landmarks on a map.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. 2010 March 11

    It is a mashup as you say: one of the promotional videos for the game (considerably superior in visual quality to the game itself) with the fan-added Apocalyptica soundtrack. Despite the fetishy armour and the monster-slaying, I find this video very much in tune with the ruined London tradition (in part down to the rather reflective quality of the Apocalyptica cover of Bowie’s Heroes), especially the section with the gutted Tube trains and the final scene when they reach the surface. I was sad enough to try to work out the surface location with Google Earth; it vaguely matches the front of Lambeth Palace, but this is clearly one of those movie Londons where St Paul’s figures prominently in every vista.

  2. 2010 March 12
    David Platt permalink

    About to write you an email, this weekend! This would have been, in part, to draw your attention to the series of posts. It would also have been to apologize for the shocking delay in replying. (For others: Ray sent me the video in November. Yes, November. The whole post has been a dog to write, as my original decision to include two other games meant that it rapidly grew out of control. More on this in a meta-post, a few days from now.)

    A number of points that I’m not sure how to string together eloquently in a comment box:

    Thanks for the clarification on the source. Do you know how much editing of the original video was required to make it work with the soundtrack? As I’m sure you’re aware, the use of high quality “cut scenes” rather than actual game play footage to promote video games has been a source of some heated debate for years now.

    Thanks also for working out that it’s set near Lambeth Palace. Certainly an interesting venue for a dramatic fight against demonic forces.

    I hope it’s clear that I did actually enjoy it very much (I nearly said “rather” but I realize that the internet might not be the best place for English understatement). Any archness of tone stems from my familiarity with and fondness for the genres represented, believe it or not.

  3. 2010 March 12
    David Platt permalink

    Also, I clearly need to listen to more work by Apocalyptica.

  4. 2010 March 13

    Lot of food for thought here, and appetisingly garnished. I’m completely uncultured games-wise, but one thing that strikes me is how much reference to and coincidence with films of imaginary ruins there is in the two vids. Is Quatemass and the Pit the first to make use of the Underground for horror effects? Interestingly, in that film, imminent future ruin is linked to a strong archaeological vein, a plot laid millennia ago in Hobb’s End station. I can’t help thinking that’s present in the British Museum shot figuring in the Promo vid for Hellgate. This in turn suggests another genre: in Morris’ visit to the British Museum in News from Nowhere, the future ruin again repeats the past. As you suggest in another comment, David, this links the topos to the whole Empire question – our own artefacts – who knows, perhaps our tube trains – exhibits of the future. A last point with ref. to film: Richard Loncraine’s fantastic version of Richard III uses various settings(some the same as those in the mash up) and similarly rearranges them to produce counter-factual contiguities. I can’t help wondering if this geographical mash up – a cinematic version of Debord’s Naked City – isn’t inherently linked to the ruin topos: first take tectonic scissors to the cityscape, then realign and simply paste together.

  5. 2010 March 14

    Do you know how much editing of the original video was required to make it work with the soundtrack?

    Timewise, none that I can see (here‘s the original), which makes it a rather inspired (English understatement) juxtaposition. They have slightly brightened the video.

    Is Quatermass and the Pit the first to make use of the Underground for horror effects?

    As far as I can find (Death Line was 1972). The Hellgate London scenario also reminds me a lot of Reign of Fire, where London was ruined by the waking of a dragon.

  6. 2010 March 15
    David Platt permalink

    Thanks for the link, Ray!

    I’d forgotten all about Hobb’s End. I briefly wondered about Doctor Who as a contender for first “London Underground Horror”, but all the relevant stories were late 1960s/ early 1970s and therefore waaaaay too late. As you’ll both be aware, the Quatermass and the Pit serial was broadcast in the late 1950s. (For some reason, I nearly always initially think of Quatermass as a 1960s phenomenon — no doubt, a result of the fact that I’ve only ever seen the Hammer film versions all the way through.) I can think of two other Nigel Kneale scripts which feature weird archaeology prominently: The Stone Tape (a personal favourite) and … ummm … Halloween III (less so).

    Yes, I see the Reign of Fire resemblance. Oddly, when I saw the second trailer I include, the costumes worn by those standing around the underground stations reminded me every so slightly of BBC TV’s production of Neverwhere.

    On the subject of the British Museum in science fiction/ scientific romance, I obviously need to read News from Nowhere or, at the very least, the chapter featuring the BM. But this gives me the opportunity to mention good article by Robert Crossley, “In the Palace of Green Porcelain: Artifacts from the Museums of Science Fiction,” in Tom Shippey, ed., Fictional Space: Essays on Contemporary Science Fiction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991). Been a while since I read it, but I dimly remember a couple of nice points about the way in which Victorian museums jumbled up space and time.

    I need to go away and think about Guy Debord. I’ve just checked a couple of online library databases. It looks as though Naked City is now spectacularly difficult to get hold of …

  7. 2010 April 4

    I know Naked City as the map alone – that’s all you ever see, and I believe that’s all there is. I’m sure it would be hard to get copies nowadays without paying enormous prices, although you occasionally see it reproduced – e.g. in books on maps of Paris through the ages. However, you’ll find copies by Google images searches, e.g. on this page: http://www.hprtxttmln.co.cc/
    Debord did write something that might almost be considered a manual for that text available here: http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/urbgeog.htm

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