NORCO: FARAWAY LIGHTS
a Cc interview and gallery with Yutsi
In this gallery and interview, we feature developer, geographer, and artist Yutsi. Yutsi's work reproduces geographies, conspiracies, folklore, and environmental histories of the American South, with an attention to the interstices of oil and water, ecology and industry. Along with Geography of Robots--pixelated renditions of the Gulf Coast--Yutsi develops the game Norco: Faraway Lights, an upcoming post-noir point-and-click game that explores the industrial swamplands of South Louisiana.
The images in this gallery are featured on Geography of Robots and are stills from Norco. In the interview that follows, Yutsi offers perspectives on ecology, addiction, landscapes, mediums, climate witness, and anthropocenic idiosyncrasies of South Louisiana
—Weldon Ryckman, Contributing Editor
Carbon Copy: Norco: Faraway Lights is slated for release this year. How long have you been working on this? How has the game’s development or trajectory changed in that time? What factors have been redirecting that vector?
Yutsi: I've been working on this project in some form for many years now. It's cohered into various mediums at different times. It was a zine for a minute, then a series of watercolor paintings. I started creating pixel art a few years ago and that slowly morphed into a game. The game itself has had a few permutations—it was a side scroller, then a text adventure. Now it's more of a point and click adventure. So yeah, it's always changing depending on what resources I have access to, what kind of time I have, etc. In a way, it feels more like a journal than anything else—messy, haphazard, deeply personal.
Cc: The theme of our current issue is Addiction. Often diagrammed in cycles—initial use, abuse, tolerance, dependence, addiction, relapse—how do addictions—environmental addictions, industrial addictions, geographic addictions—manifest in your artwork and narratives?
Y: This is a really interesting question. I can certainly see how this cycle applies to the way we consume natural resources, media, manufactured goods, etc. In the game, petroleum is given very little treatment for how large of an impact it has on the game's environments, characters, narrative, etc. It's a silent addiction, almost a given; so ubiquitous as to be granted no thought at all. Stretching the analogy, it resembles certain substances in this way—the way alcohol is so prevalent in South Louisiana that it almost disappears. So yeah, maybe addiction is everywhere in the work that I produce but goes unacknowledged, untreated.
Cc: The banal is reinforced through your artwork’s animations—subtle movements, repeated ad infinitum. What does this medium offer you? What restrictions does it impose?
Y: Pixel art specifically imposes a lot of stylistic restrictions, and you can enforce additional restrictions in terms of limiting your color palette or canvas size. But you can find limitless modes of expression even within the confines of the medium. It forces creativity. What I find most beautiful about it is that it's a truly digital-native method of painting. There's no analog outside of the virtual. Many of the techniques that make it so distinct and singular don't apply to oil or watercolor, for instance. Dithering, anti-aliasing, etc. They stand alone.
Cc: How long have you been critically engaging with this space? What were some of your early attempts? What other media do you work with?
Y: I did a lot of pen and ink and acrylic stuff leading up to this. Lots of experimental coding. Short films. Writing. In a way, I'm trying to access some kind of emotional truth, and I'll use whatever tools I have available to do that. Working across mediums gives me an ephemeral rush, a kind of messy disorientation. I like having those feelings.
Cc: Are there any new landscapes on your mind? How do they compare to south Louisiana?
Y: Appalachia has definitely been on my mind. The Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, the Alleghenies, West Virginia. I'm interested in the ways that nature is manufactured, simulated, and reified in those areas. In terms of Louisiana, there are similarities and contrasts. Elevation—the high and low ends of the south. Environmental preservation versus erosion. Hyperreality versus simulation. I've been speaking with some friends in Thou, the metal band from New Orleans. There's some talk of collaboration, and if it happens, these are the themes I'd like to explore. How does the Deep South relate to the upland South? What does that continuum look like, and in what ways is it disrupted? Etc.
Cc: Last year, the Bonnet Carre spillway was opened twice—first in February and again in May. Can you recall many times when the Spillway allowed two cycles of river flows through its gates?
Y: No! It's been getting opened a lot more lately. It used to feel like a rare event, but that's no longer the case.
Cc: Norco: Faraway Lights is the first in a trilogy. Are the next two installments planned?
Y: Not yet. A lot of it depends on if I can find a publisher. But given how long this first act is taking, this is starting to feel like a lifetime commitment.
Cc: How does this medium compare to other forms of climate witness?
Y: I've explored a lot of the same themes that the game explores through short documentary films and journalistic essays—refinery explosions, coastal erosion, intensifying natural disasters. I still use the same books, articles, and reference materials for the game. But the pixels/game allow for lots of creative liberty to explore the more cerebral, experiential elements of those things. That's still possible in academic and sociological writing, and people like Mike Davis or Zizek or whoever else use pop culture and sci-fi tropes analogically to enrich the reader's understanding of the material. With a game, that mode of thinking takes primacy. I mentioned accessing "emotional truth" through art. In a world that's as mediated as ours, where reality has become fragmented, we shape our truths through various kinds of imaginative fiction. Our interior worlds are blurring into the material world we inhabit. This is kind of disastrous. But it's a condition of our lives. It's something I want to understand, and weaving an elaborate mythos that's grounded in truth helps me kind of get at it.
Cc: There's a lot of empathy involved in creating games especially with respect to anticipating user experience. What can policy makers or other artists learn from game designers? About the "user experience" of environmentally compromised spaces and/or climate realities?
Y: This is a beautiful question, but I don't feel like I'm the right person to answer it. I came to the indie game scene from the outside and have no real understanding or experience with user interface design. My personal and naive thoughts are that the UI we use daily via social media platforms has gone through all sorts of AB testing and whatnot, and has been perfectly honed to keep us perpetually engaged. It's finely tuned to facilitate the flow of capital. I don't really consider that good. Maybe a little friction should be built into the design. Maybe flat HTML websites are fine. Maybe games should get boring after a couple hours, or otherwise encourage you to take a break. Stuff like that.
is a developer, geographer, and artist from Louisiana who creates video games, code experiments, and interactive fictions that explore the hidden geographies, conspiracies, folklore, and environmental histories of the Deep South. More at yutsi.com.