Wretched Light Industry features 33 unique environments created in game development software
Created in response to the lack of opportunities facing new graduates, this digital map of environments unites emerging artists from all over the world.
- 29 January 2021
- Jyni Ong
Benjamin Villagehall and Jay Darlington met while studying at The Glasgow School Art. They were meant to be painting and taking photos respectively, but what they were really doing, involved making 3D renders. By the time their four years were up, the effects of the pandemic had swept the world meaning no degree show and not even, in Benjamin's words, “a rescheduling or satisfactory alternative.” Instead, the pair thought to use their skills to their advantage, assembling a small group of fellow graduating students to create “the show that would have been”.
Designed in the game development software Unity Engine, the alternative degree show shines a light on 136 graduating students effected by the pandemic, offering the well earned chance to showcase their work to the wider world. Free to download, the project titled DS2020 also raised over £500 for Glaswegian food banks, and marked the start of a fruitful creative collaboration for Benjamin and Jay. They both have their individual interests – Jay for example, is currently exploring the pairing of procedural 3D software with game design to create non-linear world and stories. Whereas Benjamin, on the other hand, is more interested in “the confusion between predictability and chaos under digitised capitalism and the search for spiritual and extra rational forms of knowledge in Zoomers.” He also recently created Brasskocker, 1979, an exploration game adapting real-life cryptozoological sightings in his native Somerset and set in the 80s.
Despite their differing niches within game engine software, the pair decided to collaborate once again when a new opportunity caught their attentions. Once graduated, Jay and Benjamin (along with much of the creative industry) witnessed a plethora of online exhibitions take hold of the digital spheres we were forced to increasingly occupy during lockdown. “The more we saw the more we observed people complaining about them,” Jay tells us, “and with good reason! Too often these online arts presentations fail to really embrace the possibility of virtual programming and don’t allow or support their contributing artists to really explore their work in unique ways and dream in digital spaces.”
Tired of viewing the same old “flaccid webpages” which “merely aped white cube spaces,” Benjamin and Jay decided to create the revitalised digital viewing experience that was sorely missing. In turn, they reached out to friends and strangers, all members of the emerging digital arts community to participate in a collective virtual world building exercise. That project became Wretched Light Industry, a map comprising of 33 environments by creatives all over the globe. Uniting digital artists, magicians, jammers, worlders and dreamers in this one virtual space, impressively, users can explore the map and wander through environments from mazes, offices, temples, forests, sheep, dragons and more.
The 33 creatives were invited to build their immersive environments from the ground up in the format of an open-world game. It provided many of the individuals with a chance to flex their post-graduation creative muscles, a rare opportunity given the lack of events due to the pandemic. As Benjamin puts it: “We saw it as a celebration of each other, of the immersive power of games and the potential accessibility of the medium.” Anyone with access to the internet and an inkling for the work can take part, and it was this sense of community that the creators had in mind when developing Wretched Light Industry. Hosted by Serving the People, an initiative designed to do exactly that by means of a virtual community, the platform offers up a variety of free events and supported Jay and Benjamin to achieve their vision too.
In turn, Jay and Benjamin similarly helped each and every contributing artist to realise their game space environments to be as “open, enchanting and fun,” as possible. The end result came about largely through conversations with each of the 33 participants. Using their initial plans, Benjamin and Jay then designed, modelled and decorated the open-world map which they named Eileann Fogg; a fictional Hebridean island where submitter’s could create their own digital scapes. The experience is accompanied by two pieces composed by the fellow Glasgow-based musician Ben Boswell-Jones which was when it “really came alive.”
Funded by Creative Scotland, Wretched Light Industry features seven different language options, a compass for navigation, not to mention an optimised version designed to run smoothly on old or less powerful computers. They took inspiration from other online worlds like Dungeons & Dragons, an invaluable experience which allowed Benjamin and Jay to achieve a similarly realistic environment. Benjamin recalls how they would spend hours wandering the empty island, listening to Ben’s mesmerising music while watching the foliage sway in the digital breeze. Spending so much time in their creation allowed them, with time, to create an environment which felt like the right size and density to accommodate a myriad of different peoples’ intentions.
The majority of the project was completed from Glasgow’s Southside – from the duo’s shared studio, on top of a cupboard in Benjamin's bedroom or in parks where Benjamin and Jay would converse endlessly about the work “in an attempt to make an island somewhat sunnier than Tory Britain.” There was even a flag of the map printed to accommodate trips to the park, an object once given a glowing praise by a small boy in a Minecraft t-shirt passing by. Once the heavy undertaking of creating the map was underway, the eclectic environments started to flood Eileann Fogg. Salvi De Sena implemented a meditative space that explores notions of geological and queer temporalities. Here, the player can listen to wisps of voices and sounds seamlessly slipping in and out of earshot while a variety of objects decompose and interact with one another. Conceived from Salvi’s half-finished or forgotten projects, the environment consists of various .FBX, .WORD and .WAV files found on his hard drive; an amalgamation of influences visualised into one event.
Elsewhere on Eileann Fogg, we can see the result of a Tokyo-based collaboration nonemu.lab created by Aubrie Karenina, Yurike Chandra and Ana Nguyen Le Hong. Titled Shinkokyu, meaning due north of spawn, on the coast, the environment can be accessed through a whirlwind portal from the main map. A seductive space which utilises its own specific control scheme and set of unique mechanics, Shinkokyu inspires players to realise the innate power of breathing. “The act of continuous breathing translates to gliding through a tornado, a metaphorical expression of overcoming struggling in life,” explains BenBenjaminon the unique expression of immersion and player agency.
In another mindful environment, Joe Chapman’s fantastical Soft Sanctuary of Mine (which can be found on the island’s north western tip) is a soft and safe habitat where the player floats through the otherworldly atmosphere alongside docile beasts and rejuvenating flora. Having watched a lot of Studio Ghibli lately, Joe’s environment enacts the signature Miyazaki sense of peace and tranquility. Contrary to the popular belief that digital art is mostly sterile and unfeeling, Joe attempts to do the opposite with his work. His soft-natured beasts appear alongside a 24 minute long soundscape composed by Luke Thompson, two elemental aspects of the relaxing environment where the player can sit back, relax and have an “aimless mooch around pondering ridiculous thoughts with some alien friends.”
“We think the world is best experienced as it was made,” Benjamin finally goes on to say, “all together.” With collaboration at the heart of Wretched Light Industry, a project encapsulating a number of talented imaginations, this digital map is just the first step in what hopes to be an exciting long term project. The creators are in the process of acquiring an Oculus Rift headset to transport the project into VR as well as further the community-aspect of space – becoming a platform for emerging digital artists all over the world to congregate, share ideas and support one another. “Maybe Wretched Light Industries can be a collaborative artist-led world building and game design collective for 2021?” the pair ponder, “We’ll have to see.”
GalleryWretched Light Industry: Benjamin Villagehall and Jay Darlington (Copyright © Wretched Light Industry, 2020)
Wretched Light Industry: Benjamin Villagehall and Jay Darlington (Copyright © Wretched Light Industry, 2020)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.