Many contemporary video games include a “photo mode” to enable the player to pause the action, position a virtual camera and take a snapshot of a scene (and then, the designers surely hope, post the results online, enabling grassroots marketing). Few make photography the entire point of the enterprise, however. Nintendo’s recent Pokémon Snap asked us to capture images of its mythic animals doing noteworthy things on safari-style tours, before grading the results. Umurangi Generation, another rare example of the genre, is less interested in making value judgments about your virtual photography (“Art is subjective,” the game’s tutorial assures); instead, you are whisked to a series of highly stylised scenes and given 10 minutes to collect a set of specific shots to a tight brief: seven birds, two boomboxes, a mountain, and so on.
The world is rendered in jagged polygons straight out of a late-90s PlayStation game (early-era 3D has now replaced 80s pixel art as the throwback trend in games), lending each image produced a nu-vintage appeal. Framing and focusing shots is elegantly straightforward, as is switching between lenses. You can jump, crouch, rotate the frame and, using three sliders, adjust the colour, tint and exposure within seconds.
Umurangi Generation is as much a game of hide-and-seek as of photography: just as much time is spent exploring the warren-like scenes in order to locate the next item in the brief. Those with an eye for detail will notice there is more to this world than a series of chic sets: the game is infused with Māori influence (developer Naphtali Faulkner is a member of the Ngāi Te Rangi iwi, or people, in New Zealand), and tells the story of a militaristic occupation, in an ambient way. The result is a game as unexpected and compelling in its message as in its moment-to-moment challenge.