Traversing the Void: A Conversation With Moshe Linke

Fugue in Void is the latest creation of game artist and designer Moshe Linke. A six-month long project, it builds off of his previous work, much of which he designates as “experimental” and “alternative”.

Fugue is foremost a powerful, sensory experience — something Moshe recommends you play using headphones and with the curtains drawn. Anything to intensify the trip. It’s also excellent world-building — a crafted journey that just wants you to wander through its environments and drown in its atmosphere.

NaissanceE

Moshe’s passion for building these kinds of exploration games can be traced back to NaissanceE, a first-person game where you delve into some kind of mysterious, impossible megastructure. Moshe’s development began when, inspired by NaissanceE’s “incredible world”, he attempted to follow it up with his own “fan-made sequel”, VoyageE.

There’s a clear aesthetic and ambient similarity between NaissanceE — also made by just a single person, Mavros Sedeño — and the games Moshe has gone on to make. The combination of “music, sound and light”, as well as the formative game’s “breathing architecture and art installations” inspired Moshe to start a succession of ambitious projects, culminating with Fugue in Void.

VoyageE

If there is a common element that runs through both NaissanceE and Fugue, it’s architecture. Moshe says that he has an “obsession” with Brutalism and its new, often imagined, forms. “It stands out in a city skyline by looking totally out of place. I love its blank, otherworldly vibe.” He’s also fond of the “big, dystopic buildings” in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner — structures with a visible influence on later sections of the game.

Moshe sees the commonality in Blade Runner’s twinkling megaliths and the raw concrete of Modernist architecture. “Brutalism marks a very interesting era in history. They were frequently built by socialist regimes, but you can still find them all around the world. Sometimes you find a Brutalist building where you wouldn’t expect it — that’s what makes them so interesting for me.”

I can see where Moshe is coming from. I live only a few miles away from Brunel University, whose Brutalist lecture theater was used as a set for another dystopian film: A Clockwork Orange.

For an exploration game Fugue in Void begins a little differently. I asked Moshe about the intro of his new game, referencing another classic sci-fi film, this time 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the protagonist is pulled through a stargate and audiences are bombarded by a flow of light, sound and colour. “It’s my personal story of creation. I wanted to take the player by the hand, hypnotize them and slowly bring them into my world. It was a way to have the player adjust to the pace of the experience, so I chose to make the sequence quite long and slow.”

When the player is finally given control and let loose in Moshe’s world, they’re immediately hit with a specific ambiance — an infinite ocean on either side gently laps against the concrete bridge you start your journey on. In front of the player lies the first of several Brutalist megastructures. All of this is in black and white.

“I’m a big fan of noir cinema. When you go monochrome you have to concentrate more on things like lighting, shadows and structure.” The shapes, forms and raw texture of that first concrete building are brought out against the black-void of the sky and ocean abyss. “Motion and framing are important elements too. I’ve forced myself to pay attention to these aspects, but I want the player to see them too. I try to cut out all of the unnecessary stuff and just show them the important space. Later on I add in more colour, the forms become less minimalistic and more detailed.” Moshe has also added a layer of film grain over these forms and structures, strengthening the tone and recalling his love of film noir.

Once inside the megastructure the player navigates a set of tunnels and passageways which open up into larger, even stranger spaces. “I built the interiors using simple level design rules. It’s about guiding the player through narrow areas, so that the bigger rooms look more impressive. I also love to use non-generic forms of architecture. It makes it more difficult for the player to build a mental map of things, so it adds to that otherworldly mood.”

Most of the structures Moshe builds are uncanny and alien. Impossible concrete spaces that haunt your imagination, the “non-generic architecture” seems to turn in on itself before opening up to an infinite depth. These spaces are, like the “Overlook Hotel” in The Shining, illogical. Moshe says these highly-abstracted, often chaotic places mirror his own mind — although they are also consciously surreal, Moshe having watched “a lot of David Lynch” during development.

He compares travelling through a later section of the game — the “thunder room” — to walking through his brain. A lot of the environmental forms, all of the fake doorways and hidden spaces, are improvised. “There are a lot of distracting and confusing parts because I don’t want to create a generic look. I don’t measure. I never plan my architecture, it just goes straight from my head into the game engine.”

As your journey progresses, a number of dark holes appear, each of which you travel through to get to the next area of the game. There’s a real sense of delving deeper into the huge complex and closing in on a center (of knowledge, understanding, or some other big secret). “The holes are the glue between the spaces. They function like wormholes, moving you through time and space and allowing me to take the player to otherwise unreachable places. They take you a step closer to the unknown.”

Although Fugue is an exploration game, it’s clear that Moshe also wanted to impart specific things to the player, whether through the intro sequence or funneling them down certain passageways. “There are parts where I wanted to guide the player more strictly, transforming the open experience into a more linear one.” As well as the dark holes you jump through, in certain segments of the game the player blacks-out before waking up somewhere new. “I wanted to give the player a short look into a scene and then fade-out. The player should remember that they’re not in control of the events. They have no other choice but to look around and absorb their surroundings.”

On top of all the irregular and implausible architecture there is a sense of something darker in Fugue in Void — just the title gestures towards the barren and obscure as well as the disruptions and breakdowns associated with a state of fugue. There are of course calm, reflective moments too, but as you root and burrow deeper into Fugue’s spaces there are more than a few nightmarish glimpses.

Despite the darkness which I perceived, Moshe was careful to create a digital trip that explored all kinds of emotions. “I wanted the experience to be fully subjective. I didn’t want to explain things, and so every player finds their own ideas. It’s incredible to see what people come up with on social media etc. All the different, contrasting thoughts and feelings. That was my real purpose, to inspire.”

There may be a number of interpretations of what takes place in the depths of the void, but it does seem as though Moshe was interested in crafting something more specific towards the end of his game. Although he didn’t want to give too much away — valuing the subjectivity his audience brings to his worlds — Moshe explained that “the ending was set-up to break the fourth wall. If you look closely you can find polaroids on the bed showing screenshots from older games of mine. This connects all of my games to a single universe. I may well go on to progress this idea!”

An isolating nightmare about a universe with no answers or a calm, solitary reflection on the human mind? You can explore the colossal monuments of Fugue in Void yourself by visiting its itch.io store page. Whichever ideas resonate with you, Moshe’s world is one worth exploring.

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