A dying world gasps, echoing into the void. Eventually, a still nothingness, but prior, a harbinger skips across the fractured remains still clinging to this realm. A pocket full of starseeds provides company, food for the fish they’re incubating beneath the orb hanging atop The Garden. The hand extending from the wall, the Numen, beckons further coloured varieties of fish with the promise of a treasure to come. Anahel stands stoic outside, desperate to meet with the Numen but a curse restraining them from passing the threshold.
The scene is set in Iketsuki, a new title from Modus Interactive (@ModusPwnin) made for the Haunted PS1’s Horrifying Halloween gamejam. Merging elements from classics on the namesake console for the jam such as King’s Field and Jumping Flash!, Iketsuki presents a straightforward platforming challenge within a space absolutely oozing with atmosphere.
With minimal sound design and a subdued musical score, Modus inflicts a mood that permeates every ounce of the game. But where his talent really shines is within the art direction. Utilizing a retro-style shader that recreates the affine texture mapping of the PSX and its iconic dithering, Iketsuki furthers the feeling of being a PSX game by employing two simple enough tricks:
The first is sectioning off each major area through a faked render fog that obfuscates doorways. As the player passes through it, there’s a brief moment of darkness before it dissolves to reveal the next space. Along with the short-distance fog effects, it plays into the idea that this game needs to maintain its rendering in smaller chunks lest the framerate chug.
And on the topic of framerate, the second trick has animations for characters played using stopframes. Instead of tweening between keyframed positions, animations instead leap between those keyframes with no direct motion to those frames. It gives a somewhat choppy effect to the animations, almost like stop-motion animation. While many PSX games took advantage of smooth rotational effects or more bespoke animating techniques, the end result here works to cement the “retro” feel for the game.
Throughout the game, the imprecise rendering of the geometry from the affine texture mapping makes the world feel alive, breathing, but in its closing moments, Iketsuki pushes the effect in a direction I’ve not seen before, vertices leaping abruptly around and pulsating while the world dies. It’s incredibly trippy in action, and serves well to concisely tie together these PSX aesthetics with the crux of the game. Along with your field of view bobbing in and out, the death of the world becomes impactful, surreal, and somewhat nauseating, as any good apocalyptic event should be.
Beyond its tight gameplay and deftly crafted atmosphere, Iketsuki’s use of these effects for storytelling does more with its tools than most who usually end up using them as simple window dressing. It’s nothing short of impressive and well-worth exploring for those who crave meaningful art direction.
Iketsuki is currently available on itch.io.
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.