Other Places: An Interview with Andy Kelly

Every now and then, the general public notices the amount of artistic talent in and the sheer beauty of video games. Recently, it was a series of videos that highlighted the often breathtaking beauty and atmosphere of games like Skyrim, Alan Wake or Bioshock Infinite.
British games journalist Andy Kelly takes us to "Other Places", in short videos showcasing the beauty of modern computer games, set to their often sombre soundtracks. I have asked Andy a few questions on his very own brand of "videogame tourism", which is, unsurprisingly, also related to the work of the screenshot artists I feature on Screenshot Deluxe.
Andy, how would you describe your series "OTHER PLACES" yourself?

Other Places is a celebration of video game art. A way to appreciate the work of artists, designers, and coders, free of gameplay distractions.

Please tell me a bit about how you produce the videos - do you modify the footage? Do you use mods/tweaks in-game, and if so, which ones? What's the greatest - technical and aesthetic - challenge?
The method for producing the videos varies from game to game. The most important thing is accessing a free camera, which allows for bespoke angles and tracking shots. Some games have this built-in – Skyrim and Alan Wake, for example – while others require fan-made hacks or config file editing. For Dishonored, which has no freecam hack, I set the game's gravity to 0 and teleported into the air using the 'blink' power. Once I've recorded a lot of raw footage, I edit it together in Adobe Premiere and select a piece of music from the score that I think evokes the game's mood.
Do you see yourself as part of the machinima subculture at all? Are you influenced by it, and if so, by which artists?
I don't actually watch any machinima regularly. I don't consider myself part of that community.
Do you see your videos as related to Duncan Harris's Dead End Trills and his likening his work to that of a unit stills photographer on a movie set? Would you also primarily see your work as paying homage to the creators of these games?

I love Dead End Thrills, and I've worked with its creator a few times as part of my day job as a games writer. Other Places is definitely all about homage. The whole reason for doing them is to pay tribute to developers and artists.

I have previously argued that games might fulfill an ancient need for vagrancy and a nomadic lifestyle in these settled times; given that your videos celebrate these game spaces as tangible, explorable locations, do you agree? 
I think we are, to quote Chuck Palahniuk, the middle children of history. We were born too late to explore the planet, but born too early to explore space. So I definitely think video games appeal to some latent urge to explore buried in our DNA.
What, for you, sets apart the "Other Places" you have featured - Dunwall, Coumbia, Bright Falls - from other videogame spaces? What makes a game space special for you?
In a lot of video game worlds, you can almost see the joins. You can imagine a developer placing scenery and sticking buildings together. The games featured in Other Places are distinct in that these worlds, to me, feel real and lived-in.
When Bioshock Infinite was criticized for its violent gameplay, critics expressed their desire to just aimlessly explore this magnificent world without the need for combat, a concept made reality most prominently in last year's Indie hits Dear Esther and Journey. Do you think that there is maybe an unfulfilled need for this kind of "videogame tourism"?
Video game tourism is one of the reasons I love indie. Games like Dear Esther, Proteus, Journey, and Miasmata appeal to me because I enjoy exploring. But big budget titles like BioShock Infinite (which I love) need a hook for a more general audience, like combat, etc.
Open World Games like GTA are most in-game photographers' favourite picture spots, as they offer the most freedom in the hunt for snapshots. I can't help but notice that apart from Borderlands 2 and Skyrim, your "Other Places" are mostly set in traditional, non-open game spaces. Why is that? 
I have no bias towards open or non-open worlds. I have quite a few open worlds coming up in Other  Places. It's just by chance that I've avoided them so far.
Other, in my opinion less accomplished video artists like Polygon Fragments and countless other, less ambitious YouTube uploaders feature assets from games in their videos. Are you aware of any legal problems facing this scene? 
I'm not sure of the legal ramifications of using video game footage. I haven't monetised any of my videos (I'm just doing it for fun), but I know that most publishers are okay with it. Only Nintendo, who are notoriously controlling of their brand, have started issuing copyright notices to YouTube creators.
Is there any game you would love to feature but couldn't, eg for technical reasons? Put differently: What is your favourite "other place" of them all?
I've tried and tried, but I just can't find a way to hack a free camera into Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which is one of my favourite video game worlds of all time.

In an interview, media artist Kent Sheely told me that for him, games are the perfect art-making tools. What's your opinion? Do you see your work in the context of media art at all?

I would say Other Places is a form of art. I daren't say it has artistic *value*, but if it makes people feel anything, then I think it can be considered artistic. A few people have said the Columbia video made them cry, which I find very interesting.