As I write this, I’m sitting in my living room, watching my roommate HP play BioShock. For those who are not up on XBox 360 games: BioShock is sort of Ayn Rand meets Art Deco meets SeaLab meets magic powers. Essentially, you’re an unnamed character that ends up in the water when your plane crashes. You swim for what looks like a lighthouse, and end up going down to an enormous underwater city where scientists have split genes in ways that allow you to shoot electricity and fire (and much more), where the people living there have all begun going crazy (or have long since gone there), and where playing God has resulted in an undersea Hell (whose name in the game is Rapture).
The story of the game goes much deeper than that, but that’s the basic rundown. For fans of video games, it’s a must-play, at least once. For those who aren’t, it’s still an interestingÂ and well told story. Most of what you learn is through a man that talks to you through a two-way radio, and through diary tapes you pick up and listen to along the way. That in of itself makes the game worth watching, but then it goes a step further. Sure, they could have gone with Art Deco/Stem PunkÂ takes on standard game weapons (yes, they have elements of both, trust me), the tapes and radio, and the things like occasional cracks in different parts of the glass that encases Rapture and still gotten away with a good game. But the thing that really puts this game over the edge into “Fantastic” is the ambiance.
Fans of, well, anything creative can all agree in the necessity of ambiance. Hell, anyone that stops and thinks for a few minutes can agree on it. Candles and roses at a dinner for two? Dark and stormy nights for murder mysteries? Having a small fire in the fireplace while hot chocolate steams in mugs and fat snowflakes fall outside? Ambiance, all of it. If it helps, think of it as “setting the mood.” Little things go a long way, and BioShock is a great case study in it. The Art Deco, the leaks, the haunting cries of the psychotics that run loose through Rapture – there’s a slow build-up of nerves until you find yourslef jumping at every flicker of light, every footstep that could be around the next corner.
When writing, or taking pictures, or filming, or painting – or, hell, going on a date – keep ambiance in mind. Depending on your medium, you want to take careful stock of words, colors, smells, and visual cues you leave sitting around in the eye or imagination of your viewer. Don’t take it lightly, either, because the wrong combination leaves the wrong impression inÂ your viewer’s mind, and they won’t be properly prepared for what you’re trying to have them experience. The consequence of improper preperation is that they won’t have that experience as richly as they might have otherwise. So, in case of a movie, use some panning. In writing, hang around on descriptions for longer than you might normally (a perfect example of this is Raymond Chandler – that man knew how to write a room). In paintings and pictures, keep a close eye for what’s around your subject, as the subject, the surrourndings, and the interaction will give the viewer the hints they need to build a story for themselves.
Below, I’ve put two pictures I’ve taken, from two different sessions. They each have something in similar – the model is by herself (and it’s a different model each time). However, the ambiance – the setting, the posture, everything – makes it clear how very different a story each picture is.Â I hope they help!