Let’s Study Virginia

Ian here—

So, awhile back I promised further thoughts on Virginia. After mulling it over, I decided to put them in video form. The end result is a sort of let’s play/video essay hybrid, which I’m calling a “let’s study.” (This sounded less presumptuous than “let’s analyze,” which I didn’t want to use because this video isn’t particularly academic. At the same time, though, it sounded more sturdy than “let’s think about,” or some other wishy-washy formation.)

This video is slightly under an hour, and it’s only the first half of what I’m planning on making into a two-video sequence. I’ll update the embedded video above so that it plays the whole playlist rather than just the first video once I’ve finished the second one. [UPDATE 2017-02-28: I’ve updated the embedded video! If it doesn’t auto-play the entire sequence, it should at the very least recommend the second after you finish the first.]

Full transcript of the script below the fold, for those of you who prefer reading things.

Hello, and welcome to “Let’s Study Virginia.” In this video, I’ll be offering up a full playthrough of Virginia, spiced up with some commentary, and some b-roll to make some points and trace out certain lineages of influence. The end result will be something between a “let’s play,” a video review, and a video essay.

I’ve split this video in two. This first part is just under an hour, and the second part will likely be a little over an hour. So, that’s it for explanation: let’s begin!

I want to start just by talking about this main menu, before we even plunge in. Now, there are actually a couple of things I want to say about the menu. I’ll save one of them for later. Right now, I want to talk about Lyndon Holland’s music.

The music playing over this screen is a variation on music we hear later while playing the game, but it’s not the same orchestration. For whatever reason, it’s not a track that is included with the game’s original soundtrack. So it stands out a bit from the rest of the game’s score.

This is not the only thing that makes this track stand out. While the rest of the game’s score is performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, in a lush recording that rivals the live orchestral recordings of the scores of Halo or Journey, this track is primarily orchestrated on synthesized strings.

If you’re at all familiar with the game’s story, setting, and inspirations, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that there has been one major influence on the sound of this track: the composer Angelo Badalamenti. In his many collaborations with the director David Lynch, Badalamenti is well known for defaulting to the smoother, warblier, somewhat off-kilter sound of synthesized strings over the sound of full orchestration.

These eerie synthesized strings show up in Badalamenti’s score for Lost Highway …

… and for Mulholland Dr., which included a cameo by Badalamenti himself.

Lynch would later prove that he could imitate Badalamenti’s style quite well, in his self-composed score for Inland Empire, which, not to put to fine a point on it or anything, sounds like a rip-off of a Badalamenti score.

But prior to all of these, there was Badalamenti’s score for the television show Twin Peaks, co-created by Lynch and Mark Frost. It is primarily this connection that makes me think the echoes of Badalamenti are no accident. Virginia is the story of FBI agents descending upon a small town in the 1990s, and it passes up few opportunities to pay homage to 1990s-era popular culture concerned with FBI interlopers in small towns—particularly those with a dream-like, surrealist, or supernatural bent (which describes Twin Peaks very well).

There’s another bit of 90s-era pop culture that fits this bill. Humor me for a moment, and have a listen to one of the main motifs of Virginia’s score, present here in simplified piano form in the track “A Change of Heart.”

It’s an emotionally rich motif, one that will be repeated often as the game delves into the moral compromises of the player’s character. Transpose it a bit, however, and some interesting similarities come out:

Now, maybe I’ve done too much violence to Holland’s score here. Maybe the similarity of these themes is entirely unintended on Holland’s part. If it isn’t, though, I give Holland enormous credit. Virginia ultimately breaks from its roots in Twin Peaks and The X-Files and ends up in some completely unexpected places, placing some considerable emotional and moral burdens on its characters. I see this snippet of the score doing the exact same thing, in miniature: Holland opens with a few notes that operate as a callback to 90s pop culture, only to put his own twist on things, leaving behind the simple minor-key “spookiness” of Snow’s theme in favor of something more subtle, and emotionally rich.

Alright. I’ll come back to this menu later, but for now let’s finally start up the game.

It’s worth pointing out the similarity between the pre-credits text and the text that opens the pilot of The X-Files.

I’m going to abbreviate these opening credits with the magic of editing, but I did want to show a short bit of them, if only so that you could check out their design. There’s one particular element of their color scheme that I’ll be returning to in the future.

So our first post-credits shot is of a pair of hands locking a box. I’ll have more to say on that particular image later on.

And, after that bit, which was just a movie, we now open on our first interactive bit. We’re looking in a mirror, at ourself. We are Anne Tarver. We are a woman. And we are a woman of color. Other than that, we don’t know very much about ourselves.

Some critics praised the fact that the first actions you take as a player are to open Anne’s purse and prompt her to put on her lipstick. It is rare that our roleplay as a player-character begins with these steps … as familiar as they are to about half of the US population.

I want to talk a little bit about the cursor here. When you don’t see any reticle on the image, that means that the scene is non-interactive—I am watching a movie, something I’ve prompted by an earlier interaction. When you see a little dot pop up (there it is!), that means I can at least move the camera. Now, sometimes, all I can do is move the camera: I can’t actually move Anne around. There’s no clear visual indication of when you can and can’t move Anne around. You just kind of have to try, and see what happens.

You can’t enter any of these doors as you pass them. The game is funneling you down this hallway, any everything else is just for show. It’s a bit like the opening of Half-Life 2, or The Stanley Parable before you get to the first decision point.

As we join the line of people, slowly progressing, a sort of anxiety or dread sets in. It’s not immediately clear if this is real, or a dream sequence: the regimented and mechanical manner in which these men are stepping forward, being “processed,” as it were, isn’t entirely dissimilar from imagery one would find in something like Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Adding to this is the otherworldly red glow of the area we’re about to step into. This is actually really important, so remember it.

And now, a logical explanation for everything: it’s a procession line for a graduation ceremony. Anne is about to be handed her official FBI badge.

This man’s name is Cord McCarran, and he’s going to be important later.

And now—surprise!—it was a dream sequence. Or we could think of it as a memory, that lead into a dream. In any case, early on in the game, we’re being asked to adjust to the game’s unreliable narration. The events of the present will be regularly interrupted by memories and dreams … and, eventually, some other stuff, as well.

We can’t get off the stage using the conventional exits. The only way we can escape this part of the dream is to turn off the tape recorder, which turns out to be the source of the life support beeping we hear.

Here’s something I alluded to previously: I can only move Anne’s head in this shot, “pan” her view left and right. I’m constricted, and I can’t move her body around until I open the door.

And here we are, in Anne’s apartment for the first time. The environmental storytelling in Virginia is somewhat limited. Players looking for rich environmental interactions will no doubt be disappointed. This isn’t Gone Home, where we can pick up, inspect, and manipulate a large number of environmental objects. And it’s not Sunset, where we can zoom the view in, and get some captions for things. Virginia follows more of a “look, don’t touch,” aesthetic, with the exception being those objects you need to click on to progress to the next scene.

And, here we have such click point. Clicking on the sleeping figure reveals that it’s Anne herself: we’re still in a dream, having a sort of out-of-body experience.

An then we see … this.

Now Anne is about to wake up, but before she does I want to pause and take stock of some things.

First, that door. Second—and this was very hard to see, but it was in fact there—a broken key that Anne keeps on her nightstand. Third, the sound of the life support equipment. And fourth, that box.

These four things become visual or auditory motifs during the game, although it takes quite awhile until we find out their significance for Anne. I won’t spoil anything yet, but I do want to pull your attention to one thing in particular.

Both the door and the box are red. Now, you’ll have to take my word on this a bit, given the effects of the game’s color filter here, but just trust me: they’re red. And red is, in fact, an important color in Virginia. Part of the reason the game’s opening credits were so blindingly, eye-searingly red was to establish that color as having a role within the game’s system of visual motifs. And already, we’ve seen it at work—not just in the door and the box, but also in the exit-sign-lit backstage area before Anne got her badge.

In Virginiared is the color of secrets. It is the color of power that stems from controlling the flow of information. There’s actually a bit more to it than that … but I’ll leave it at that, for now. I don’t want to bunch the analytical bits of this video up too early.

Alright, now let’s let Anne wake up.

Scratch that … let’s let her sleep in.

The direction the player needs to go in Virginia is often pretty obvious: when the game hands us back control after a lengthy non-interactive segment, we’re almost always pointed directly where we need to be. Just walk forward, and that’s that.

I won’t be doing much of that in this playthrough, though, because I’ll want to inspect the environment for more storytelling when possible. For instance, here we get a better view of that broken key.

Where the game wants us to go is the bathroom, which is where we were pointed when Anne got up. Bathrooms have long been a space for stretching the interactive possibilities of games. We can draw a line between the toilets flushing in Duke Nukem, to the dialogue flags that pop up when we enter the wrong bathroom in Deus Ex. In keeping with the generally limited interaction that Virginia allows, Anne’s toilet does not flush. In place of richness of interactionVirginia favors efficiency of visual storytelling. And so what the game takes this moment in the bathroom to show off is the way in which interaction can prompt ellipses, in satisfying ways that fit the game’s storytelling.

And so, when we click on this mirror, thinking we’ll … I don’t know, pick up a toothbrush or something … instead, we get this. The game has decided that Anne’s morning regimen isn’t important to the story it wants to tell, and so it cuts to her already having completed it.

We could consider this bathroom scene to be a sort of tutorial on the game’s cinematic editing. Later on, the game’s cuts will be far more associative, asking us to draw thematic connections between the images we’ve jumped to. Here, though, we have training wheels on: it’s pretty easy to understand that what we’re experiencing here is just an ellipses.

There are a few things we are asked to do, and by eliding certain elements of Anne’s morning, the game’s in a better position to tell us that these actions are important. First, we pick up our FBI badge, such a central part of Anne’s identity. Next, we pick up Anne’s lipstick, just as we did earlier … and we throw it away. Anne is going out in the field, now, and she’s going to have to make some decisions as to how to balance femininity with authority. The face that Anne puts on to the world, and the way in which that intersects with issues of gender, will be revealed as important themes by the end of the game.

Just a quick detail here: You’ll notice that the broken key is now missing from the nightstand. The game didn’t show us this, but Anne apparently picked it up when she got dressed.

Whenever we’re unsure as to which way to turn, following the red is always a good idea …

Welcome to Virginia.

To pause things really quickly: The developers of Virginia were influenced by Brendon Chung’s game Thirty Flights of Loving: so much, in fact, that the very first thing we see in the game’s closing credits is a thank-you to Chung.

Thirty Flights of Loving came out in 2012, and pioneered the importation of cinematic editing into the visual language of games. You’d be hard-pressed to imagine a game more tonally different from VirginiaThirty Flights is fast-paced and action-packed, with a color palette that recalls Wong Kar Wai, a soundtrack that recalls Quentin Tarantino, and an editing strategy that recalls Jean-Luc Godard.

The creators of Virginia made some necessary changes when adapting Thirty Flight‘s innovations in their game. Thirty Flights is a short experiment that takes about 12 minutes to play, whereas Virginia is around 2 hours long—not long by videogame standards, at all, but more “feature-length,” we could say. In adapting to this longer length, Virginia takes what was merely flashy in Thirty Flights, and deepens it into a visual strategy that can hold a longer, more thematically weighty game together.

A significant portion of the editing in Thirty Flights serves the purpose of condensing the action. It introduces ellipses, which help us get from point A to point B faster than we otherwise would. As we’ve seen, editing serves to condense in Virginia, as well. But there are two other strategies we’re going to see over the course of the game.

One of these is associative editing. This type of editing can also serve to introduce ellipses, and move the narrative forward faster. But there’s a deeper visual strategy to it. At the very least, you’ll see a match between two images, or two gestures: some sort of associative sinew that holds the cut together.

And, finally, the insert. This doesn’t help the action move faster at all. Instead, it calls our attention to something, dropping a quick image in to pull us to a narratively pertinent detail. Most of the insert shots in Virginia are in fact mini-flashbacks, of just a second or two in length.

There will be more to say about the editing later on. Let’s move on to Monday.

We begin with Anne eyeing the broken key. She apparently takes it with her everywhere she goes.

This guy’s kinda checking us out. The way in which men treat Anne will be a frequent theme throughout Virginia.

To progress the plot, again all we need to do is walk forward, down this carpet. It’s not a red carpet the game’s put down for us, but it serve the same purpose. The temptation to explore this area, however, will probably be strong for most players. And, unfortunately, it will be unrewarded. There aren’t any documents or doodads here to pick up and inspect and collect, to maybe get a better feel for Anne’s world. This is just an elaborate backdrop along the side of the path we’re meant to take.

Frankly, I see this as a weakness of Virginia. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t have a problem with railroading in general. The Half-Life series is so overt about its railroading that it cheekily begins many of its games on an actual, literal rail. And I love the Half-Life games! But when balancing between linearity and openness, it’s important to remember the character your story is about, and the sort of role-play your player might want to engage in. Anne Tarver is an FBI agent. It’s not unreasonable, then, for players to want to do some snooping around as they play through her story. The fact that the game rewards this instinct so infrequently is, in my mind, a pretty serious mark against it. This admittedly might be a matter of taste. But I do think the dissonance here between the character’s skill set and the player’s actual interaction with the game is glaring.

That said, although the game largely eschews the ability to directly manipulate environmental objects, it doesn’t shy away from small and subtle bits of spatial storytelling. For instance, the one errant ball on the other side of the room from Cord McCarran’s golf clubs clues us into the fact that he is perhaps not quite as fastidious as his fancy office would suggest.

McCarran delivers Anne some intel, and he delivers the player with a crucial bit of exposition. The game’s opening text mentioned a missing person, but it didn’t reveal that Anne is an FBI internal affairs agent. She is taking the missing persons case as a pretext for her primary assignment, which will be to investigate her partner, Maria Halperin.

Exiting the elevator, we finally find something that Anne can interact with, and pick up: a pair of red glasses, well-hidden here on this red chair. The way that collectibles work in this game is strange, and I’ll be offering thoughts on how they work (or don’t work) mechanically throughout this video. First, I want to make a point about the relationship between collectables and cinematic editing in Virginia. But, before I do that, I’m going to have to wait for a cut.

And there it is! Alright. What we want to do here is turn around. There is a bird feather, the first of ten in the game, that was hidden behind us.

I have a couple things to say here.

In 2016, several different games I liked featured puzzles based around pushing their images beyond the usual limits of the frame. Both CALENDULA and OneShot, for instance, had moments in which the player had to consider the negative space of the off-screen as a place where crucial information might hide. And, if you think about it, Virginia is doing something similar in this moment where we have to backtrack to pick up the feather. It makes us ponder what happens within the cut. It asks us to account for the spatial traversal that is elided when moments of time are snipped out. It’s again about poking at the edges, but instead of poking at the spatial edges of a frame, it’s about poking at the spatio-temporal edges of a cut.

There’s no denying that this is clever. But I also think it’s a mistake to have this moment so early on. This is the very first feather that the player can collect in the game! And if, for whatever reason, the player succeeded in doing so—either they stumbled upon it by accident, or were just on the right wavelength—they they have been rewarded for doing something that’s going to break the visual style of the game. By setting up this reward so early, the developers have virtually guaranteed that the player is going to behave in a certain way from now on: each time the game cuts, they’re going to turn around and walk the other direction. And that’s not what you want the player to do, if you’re trying to visually design a stylish, cinematically edited game in the vein of Thirty Flights of Loving. What you should want is for players to get into the groove, and to stop questioning the style.

So this is a very clever baring of the device. But it also rewards a behavior that actively fights against the visual aesthetics of the game. Win some, lose some, I guess.

Anyway, back to Anne’s trip to the basement. I’m reminded of the pilot of The X-Files here, and the association is almost certainly not accidental. It’s worth remembering that Agent Scully was originally sent to spy on Agent Mulder, with the end goal of getting the X-Files shut down, and their relationship throughout the pilot is more adversarial than it would eventually become. The design of Maria Halperin’s office, too, echoes some details of Mulder’s office in The X-Files, right down to its basement location. We’ll learn later on in the game that Halperin, too, uses “unconventional methods,” and that, like Mulder, her family history leaves her especially prone to theorizing conspiracies.

It’s in this room that it really hits us: Virginia is a story told without dialogue. It’s a story told largely through visual language—whether that takes the form of environmental storytelling, or gestures and facial expressions that stand in for dialogue. I have to say that, although I realize the utility of exaggeration for conveying meaning, I do frequently find Halperin’s facial expressions to be a bit too hyperbolic. Sometimes, she’ll look actively angry, when it would perhaps make more sense for her to just look annoyed or mildly frustrated. While I understand that the developers wanted to be sure to convey the necessary dynamic between these women, sometimes Halperin’s facial animations do run the risk of confusing players because they seem overly harsh, and thus out-of-place.

During this drive, you get a glimpse of how collectables work in this game: if you pick something up, it will change something in the mise-en-scène further on down the road. So, for instance, here, since I picked up those sunglasses in Halperin’s office, she now wears them when she’s driving.

And here we are in Kingdom, Virginia, population 4,275. (That’s considerably less than Twin Peaks’ population of 51,201.)

Picking up the sugar packet here has an effect later on, which I’ll get into.

The way Agent Halperin leaves us with the check is, I think, supposed to comment on her coldness and her reticence toward having a partner. I’m not sure if it really works, though … the way she leaves without a word isn’t that strange, considering that no one speaks in this game. And, if you think about it, we’ve both probably getting per diem reimbursements for meals, anyway.

Here we’re going to see a more associative cut, between Anne holding the check, and Anne holding the missing persons flyer.

The missing boy’s name, again, is Lucas Fairfax. His father, Jared Fairfax, is a priest … I’m not sure what denomination would have its priests dress like that, but still be allowed to marry.

In this scene, Halperin is interviewing the parents, which leaves us free to visually investigate the house. It’s nice to finally be in a space that will allow us to do some adventure-game-style poking around, and this is one area where the game will actually reward us for it.

The sheriff’s name is H. Taft, which recalls William H. Taft, which in turn recalls the Sheriff’s name from Twin Peaks: “Sheriff Harry S. Truman … shouldn’t be too hard to remember that.”

In the parents’ bedroom, we can poke around in the trash can, and find a discarded application that Lucas’ mother, Edith Fairfax, filled out for a community college computer science program. It’s a great environmental detail: the paper itself tells us about Edith’s ambitions, and its location in the trash bin tells us how her attitudes toward the future has been disrupted in the wake of Lucas’ disappearance. There’s a payoff later on, too. I really do consider it a shame that there isn’t more of this type of detail in the game.

But, again, that’s not the type of environmental storytelling Virginia usually traffics in. It prefers simpler visual cues. The Fairfax’s two twin beds here tells us something about their married life, for instance.

The great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov once said: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” “Chekhov’s gun,” as the dictum is known, is all about controlling foreshadowing and modulating audience expectation.

In the videogame medium, we often find a particular variation on this, which I like to call “Chekhov’s locked door.”

When we encounter a locked door in a game, our curiosity is piqued, and we have a hope that we’ll return and unlock it later. Virginia knows this well, and includes two prominent locked doors as a way of directing our attention.

Now, to the door that isn’t locked: Lucas’ room.

Again, some passive environmental storytelling: Lucas is a photographer. Other than that, there isn’t much we can gather from the décor in this room. The game here is railroading us to notice the one interactive object here: the door to Lucas’ closet.

And, once we open it, the cursor further prompts us to move his clothes, which gives us a pretty good idea of what we should be interested in.

A darkroom. Bathed, of course, in red, for reasons both practical and thematic.

This chance encounter with a bison provides later material for Anne’s dreams.

When we pull into this gas station, the game doesn’t give us any choice about looking in Halperin’s driver’s-side visor. Anne does this completely of her own accord, without the player’s input. Right … here you’re going to see the cursor go away.

This invites the player to do their own poking around. We might be interacting with things because we’re bored and fidgety, and trying to figure out how to prompt the next scene. But there’s a reason for Anne to be doing this. As an internal affairs agent, she’s required to look through Halperin’s belongings.

Tubman street. The game likes to throw details into the mise-en-scène that remind us that we are playing as a Black woman.

This name change, perhaps stemming from marriage, is something that impacts Anne’s investigation later, but only in the most minor of ways.

Resident hooligans …

Here’s one of those moments when Halperin looks way more incensed than she should …

Tuesday begins in the early hours of the morning, in Anne’s apartment. Again, notice the broken key, her constant companion.

The drawing of a UFO recalls The X-Files, and reminds us that there’s a high-security Air Force base in Kingdom. It also provides a visual vocabulary that will direct some of Anne’s later fantasies.

Another out-of-body experience, leading us into a dream … here we can see the feathers that Anne has collected. That collection will build up over the course of the game.

Following dream logic, doors lead us to places that they shouldn’t. The diner waitress takes orders at the Fairfax residence.

We also get a better view of the town’s three teens. You can see the strong Twin Peaks influence here, as they all fall broadly into Twin-Peaks-ish types. Leonard Kalberman is the town’s  Bobby Briggs-style hothead. Harry Brandon is like Bobby’s friend Mike Nelson. Beyond her physical resemblance to Donna Hayward, Barbara Peikoff’s overall demeanor is closer to Audrey Horne.

Different expressions of grief here on the part of Lucas’ parents … but our attention is of course turned to Chekhov’s locked door, now ajar, with the area behind beaconing us with its red glow.

The red glow of the room turns into the red glow of the sunrise. Should we be wary of where Cord McCarran is leading us? Yes, we should.

Just to keep score: This has been the second appearance now of the red door with the slat construction. Both times, it has appeared as the climactic image of one of Anne’s dreams. Anne’s dreams are becoming regular punctuation in the story now, a place where the game’s visual imagery begins to take on thematic weight. And, in this way, it shares some similarities with Twin Peaks, in which Agent Cooper’s dreams are a key part of his investigative process.

What Cooper didn’t enjoy, though, that Anne Tarver does, is the presence of an animal  dream guide, which the bison she and Halperin encountered on the road has now become. This inches Anne away from the mold of Cooper, and toward a character like Sarah Palmer, who in Twin Peaks occasionally  experienced visions of a white horse.

The man we’re about to see introduced is named Col. Emenegger. You might have noticed that I’m using the Steam Trading Cards as a paratextual source when it comes to things like character’s names.

What we’re supposed to be doing here is entering Halperin’s office, but first I’m going to collect another feather that was again “hidden in the space of the cut.”

Once we get in Halperin’s office, there’s only one thing to interact with: a locket that she’s left on the desk. This becomes very important in our relationship with her, later on.

This is one of the few moments that I find her facial expressions to actually be appropriately animated!

So here we are at Quail Trail, and the abandoned mine that overlooks the Air Force Base. This is the area that Lucas drew in his notebook, so we have arrived to check it out.

And upon our arrival in this sunny field, we are confronted with the appearance of a new collectable: the flower. Like the feathers, there are ten of them in the game, and the first three are all located in this field.

I’m going to go through and pick these very quickly because I remember where there are. If I didn’t remember where they were, and if I took a few minutes exploring and finding them hidden in the grass, then the music would run out before I even enter the main mouth of the mine. It is difficult to balance exploration—which, in this particular moment, the game rewards—with maintaining the pace that the game’s music obviously wants you to keep.

Now, I’m going to pop out to the menu for a moment here. There’s something I want to say about it, that I alluded to way back at the beginning of this video.

The image we see on this menu is a map of the town of Kingdom, Virginia. It shows us the layout of the town, including many locations we’ll make it to over the course of the game. But this menu image functions very differently from the map screen we would find in other games. Let’s take, as an example, the map screen of Deadly Premonition, another game explicitly inspired by Twin Peaks. In Deadly Premonition, you open up the map screen to see where you are. There’s a little “you are here” dot. There are other dots, representing where the other townspeople are. In certain sections of the game, you have free reign to track them down, to see what they’re doing, to investigate any suspicious activity. Deadly Premonition is an open-world mystery adventure game.

Virginia is not. It doesn’t work that way. And the fact that this map is one of the very first things we see when we boot the game up perhaps sets up some misleading expectations. Virginia is a very constrained experience, and we’re not going to get to traverse Kingdom’s geography in the same way we traverse the geography of Greenvale in Deadly Premonition.

In fact, despite any associations we might draw between the menu map of Virginia and other videogame maps, in truth it’s closer to something like the menu screens of the original DVD release of Twin Peaks, Season Two. The idea here is to take the fictional town in question and give it a sense of imagined continuous geography, an idea of how the various locales seen relate to each other—something we don’t otherwise get in the audiovisual experience of watching the show.

The menu screen of Virginia does the same thing. It grants us a sense of geography that would otherwise be missing in the game’s construction.

Because Virginia denies us traditional videogame exploration. Virginia is a tightly-controlled corridor. It doesn’t follow the spatial logic of a game like Deadly Premonition. Instead, it follows the temporal logic of music. A large part of the story of Virginia is told through music. Lyndon Holland’s score is basically a piece of program music: an attempt to tell a story, musically. Playing Virginia is, in some sense, just a form of “going along for the ride”: a ride down a path that’s already been fully set up by the music.

Anyway, moving on.

Down here, we’re going to have, once again, a set of inert objects that, despite their inertness, serve the purpose of spatial storytelling. The alcohol, cigarette butts, turntable and rigged-up lights tell us that this is a hang-out spot for the town’s teens.

Now, normally the bird associated with being in mines is a canary. This, however, is a cardinal. The cardinal is the state bird of Virginia. It’s also the state bird of West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Now if we look at the years in which it was adopted as the state bird in each of those states, and then at the years those states were founded, we find something interesting. So taking the difference between those years, and then averaging them …

No, that’s nonsense. The cardinal is red. That’s what’s important. Duh.

Oh, dear.

Now, one might have gripes about how tightly constrained player interaction is in Virginia, but at least its visual style gives us moments like this one. The context of this transition leads us to assume that Halperin has died, and that this local police officer is consoling us. And that sets up this beautiful staging gag, where the officer moves, our framing of the scene shifts, and our expectations are subverted.

Here comes Col. Emenegger and his son.

Not sure why he’s shaking with his left hand here.

Down in the morgue to see a bird. But, first, there’s a feather to collect.

We learn who this belongs to, and what exactly it is, later in the game.

And there you have it: our second unexpected resurrection in as many minutes.

No flowers along Quail Trail as we return to question the teens.

This Air Force base seems pretty legit.

Right here, hot-headded Bobby-Briggs-type is gonna do what hot-headded Bobby Briggs-types tend to do.

The glint around Halperin’s neck provides a visual reminder of her locket, just before it’s ripped off and thrown. Redundancy is important in visual storytelling.

As we book Leonard here, it’s worth noting that, over the course of Tuesday, the game has become quite fond of cross dissolves. These are trickier to pull off than simple cuts. The game freezes the final frame of one scene, and dissolves it over the first second or so of the next scene. In Rock, Paper, Shotgun interview the developers said this workaround was designed to prevent the confusion of having the players controlling motion in two spaces simultaneously, which runs the risk of being horrifically disorienting.

We click to prompt Anne’s actions, but we don’t always know what they’ll be, or what her motivations are for doing them. Here, for reasons that are entirely her own, Anne pulls off a tab of the acid before depositing the rest of it in the evidence bin. She keeps it in an envelope—red again.

Upon returning to Anne’s apartment, we find that it’s not quite the inert space that we might have earlier assumed it to be. Our collectables are paying off, in the form of gradual environmental storytelling. The flowers are placed around the apartment … our taking of the sugar packet has turned Anne into a sugar kleptomaniac … the Tubman St. pizzaria has delivered … and there’s actually an advertisement we can pick up right here, that will pay off later in another addition to the décor. Another flower. Another flower, and our feather collection is expanding.

Visual redundancy at work again: Anne putting down her apartment key pulls our attention yet again to her mysterious broken key, which now is joined by the envelope of acid.

Exhausted, Anne retires for the night … and I’m going to retire for this video. I will see you in part two!


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