About Daniel Podgorski

Daniel Podgorski is a Californian author, essayist, researcher, and web developer. On The Gemsbok, he provides art reviews (on books, games, and movies) and philosophy articles. His areas of expertise are literature and philosophy, with most of his academic research (as well as most of his informal research) focusing on intersections between the two. He has had poetry, short stories, and articles published in various academic and literary journals. His short fiction has placed first (and as a finalist) in both competition and conference settings.

[Game: prog.1, Vector Arcade, 2016]
Pithy Platforming:

On the Strong Visual Design, Strong Thematic Gameplay, and Light Content of prog.1

 

prog.1 screenshot with late-game level - Vector Arcade

Introduction:

Today I am writing about a somewhat unique take on a common indie gaming design trope: casting the player in the role of a computer program. It worked for A Virus Named Tom and it worked for Thomas Was Alone; but does it work for Vector Arcade’s new platformer prog.1?

I played through all 48 of prog.1‘s levels three times prior to writing this review (my reasons for doing so are available below as well), and I am ready to provide my assessment. The general form of my experience with the game is that I am mostly pleased with it. I enjoyed the gameplay, loved the visual design, and found the story energetic. But I also found the game light on content and had a number of minor nitpicks.

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[Game: prog.1, Vector Arcade, 2016]
Pithy Platforming:

On the Strong Visual Design, Strong Thematic Gameplay, and Light Content of prog.1

was last modified: June 25th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Solaris, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972]
Humanism and Pessimism in Space:

How Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris Turns an Unnerving Premise into an Intimate Film

 

Introduction:

Andrei Tarkovsky Sketch by M.R.P. - Solaris - technology, emotion

Sketch by M.R.P.

Back in January, I wrote an article for this series advocating the watching of movies in languages besides English, taking up Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In as a prime example of value that would be lost by limiting your viewing via language. This is a topic I would like to revisit today, with my endorsement of a film that really needs no endorsing: the classic Russian science-fiction film Solaris, co-written and directed by auteur Andrei Tarkovsky.

Just four years after American science-fiction cinema was forever altered by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Andrei Tarkovsky also released a methodically paced, over-two-hours, thoughtful movie concerning technology, space travel, extraterrestrial life, and the limits of human understanding. But where Kubrick made a film that foregrounded topics and questions related to technological and intellectual development beyond earth, Tarkovsky instead imbued Solaris with a primary focus on human grief, guilt, and connection beyond earth.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Solaris, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already seen the film.

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[Film: Solaris, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972]
Humanism and Pessimism in Space:

How Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris Turns an Unnerving Premise into an Intimate Film

was last modified: August 24th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Portal, Valve, 2007]
Thinking, with Portals:

Why Portal‘s Campaign is Superior to Portal 2‘s Campaign (in Tone and Design)

 

Introduction:

I think it’s fairly trivial to say that Portal is a significant and influential franchise, and that both titles in the series are excellent experiences well worth the time of any player. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the original Portal is such a cohesive and nearly flawless gaming experience that it should be remembered alongside such other towering encapsulations of solid game design and execution as Shadow of the Colossus, the original Half-Life, and (with an asterisk for its incomplete sections) the first entry of the Dark Souls trilogy.

But my praise for Portal 2, while still extensive and enthusiastic, is simply nowhere near as unmitigated or unending as my praise for Portal. In terms of its narrative, Portal 2 opted for a lighter tone, with a heavy emphasis on blatant comedy which marred the established atmosphere of Portal and the established character of GLaDOS. Meanwhile, in terms of gameplay, Portal 2‘s single-player campaign opted for easier puzzles overflowing with a large number of lightly utilized new mechanics.

Portal screenshot with companion cube incinerator - Why Portal is better than Portal 2 - Valve Continue reading

[Game: Portal, Valve, 2007]
Thinking, with Portals:

Why Portal‘s Campaign is Superior to Portal 2‘s Campaign (in Tone and Design)

was last modified: May 13th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Men and Women, Robert Browning, 1855]
A Soliloquy of Browning’s:

Art, Time, and Commodity in Robert Browning’s “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”

 

Introduction:

Portrait of Robert Browning by Thomas B. Read - A Toccata of Galuppi's - art, time, death, commodity

Portrait of Robert Browning by Thomas Buchanan Read

Before returning to a consideration of a novel next week, I would like to once more (as I did in the last article’s analysis of two-centuries-old anti-slavery poetry) carefully examine a classic poem. In this case, it will be the poem “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” from (originally) the 1855 collection Men and Women by Robert Browning, who is known for pieces of poetry with a distinct narrative voice (such that his poems can be read as dramatic monologues). “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” is about art and death and beautiful music, and the analysis below is considerably lengthy, but I hope you will grant me the time.

An attention to artifice suffuses the act of invention whereby Robert Browning’s poems proceed from deeply characterized speakers. This attention to artifice necessarily involves a consideration of the relation between that which is artificial and that which is actual—a relation that can be understood as the more general form of which the relation between art and life is a particular form.

In his poem, “A Toccata of Galuppi’s,” the relationship between art and life becomes a subject of direct address for both the speaker of the poem and the performance represented by the poem itself. The poem expresses a view of art as a permanent representation of impermanent life. For those who consume the art, it becomes a reminder of the ephemerality of pleasure and life even as it discourses on a particular subject or aspect of life, and even as it operates in a tone far afield from melancholy.

Further, the act of consuming art, Browning’s speaker contends, is an economic act wherein time is traded for participation, contributing to life’s aforementioned brevity. Browning’s poem seamlessly blends a dramatic consideration of art as an inadequate-because-eternal approximation of human life with an evaluation of the grim commodification of art as a temporal purchase. Through this combination, “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” reflects on the inadequacy of art to quell anxieties about mortality.

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[Work: Men and Women, Robert Browning, 1855]
A Soliloquy of Browning’s:

Art, Time, and Commodity in Robert Browning’s “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”

was last modified: June 15th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder, 1950]
Conflated Requiems:

The Flawless, Eery Use of the Protagonist Narrator in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard

 

Gloria Swanson Sketch by M.R.P. - Sunest Boulevard - Billy Wilder - narrator

Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

This article is essentially a recommendation (without qualifying remarks) of a film that really needs no introduction: Sunset BoulevardSunset Boulevard - Billy Wilder - narrator. But because I’m in the business of writing things that might interest or entertain you, I am going to approach this recommendation from the following angle: Sunset Boulevard represents one of the best uses of a protagonist narrator in the past hundred years of film.

Using the protagonist as a narrator is a tactic that is abundantly present in the noir genre from which Sunset Boulevard derives many of its tropes. But this technique has varying degrees of success. Most people can name at least one use of the protagonist narrator that probably did not turn out quite like the director envisioned it (a reasonably modern example is Harrison Ford’s narration in Blade Runner, which was entirely removed from the director’s cut and final cut of the film).

When its exposition is not overbearing and obvious, the narrator’s voice can be an inoffensive tool to transition from scene to scene. What sets Sunset Boulevard so far ahead, however, is its use of the narrator (Joe Gillis, portrayed by William Holden) to support the thematic content of the film.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Sunset Boulevard, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already seen the film.

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[Film: Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder, 1950]
Conflated Requiems:

The Flawless, Eery Use of the Protagonist Narrator in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard

was last modified: May 12th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski