for indie video Game, Norco has a completely unusual origin story. The point-and-click adventure was not intended as an entry into game jam, and its nascent form was not developed in the game design document. Norco, according to its pseudonymous lead developer Youts, began as a “mixed-media experiment” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Trying to figure out what the hell happened to his house, he and a friend, both in their teens, began taking pictures, interviewing people, painting, and even researching city politics. This combination of factual and artistic material will become the “fundamental architecture” NorcoYutz says. It was a work based on a “deep existential feeling” and a “sense of loss”.
You can feel the weight of this study and the emotion in Norco from the very first pixelated image: a night sky filled with bright halogen lights and the flashes of a towering oil refinery. From there, the game takes you to a Louisiana nighttime future where androids race down the highway, techno-mystic cultists squat in an abandoned mall, and rising water slowly displaces the land. Despite the cyberpunk trappings, the game is not a dystopia, Yuts explains, but a means of addressing specific material problems going on in southern Louisiana right now. Thus, Norcocompetence goes beyond Katrina. The game, in development since 2015, is not about a single catastrophe, but many overlapping catastrophes that permeate the land, atmosphere, and people of the region.
You play as 23-year-old Kay, who left home as a teenager to explore the increasingly turbulent United States. The youth recalls riding a freight train, sleeping in abandoned nuclear tunnels, and fighting alongside militias as the country burned around her. At the start of the game, she returns to the small town of Norco (from which the game takes its name) to attend to her recently deceased mother’s business, only to discover that her brother has gone missing. All set for what is ostensibly a detective game whose investigation story is told in a hybrid form of visual novel and point-and-click adventure. As a player, you explore a set of 2D pixelated scenes filled with objects and non-playable characters, many of whom speak delightful local slang and Creole. Elsewhere, the prose relies heavily on the novel’s sense of scene detail to convey what is outside of each frame.
As expected, Norco completely convinces as a place. Yuts grew up here. He went fishing in the nearby swamps, and he and his sister were so obsessed with the refinery that they climbed on the roof of their parents’ house to get a better view. Thus, the game manufacturer describes Norco as coming from a place of “worship”. His family has lived in the area for generations, and some of his favorite people still call it home. “It’s beautiful,” he says. “Unique.”
However, the lead developer is only too well aware of his problems. The instinct that drove him to create a holistic “multimedia experiment” after Katrina developed more formally during his master’s program in urban regional planning and later as a geographic information systems technician in the city of New Orleans. As his understanding of local infrastructure, ecosystems, and human geography grew, so did his sense of the earth “literally shifting” beneath him. Youts mentions the encroachment of salt water into the Mississippi Delta, the subsidence of water in the suburbs, and the looming threat of a burst gas pipe in this dynamic landscape.
“The best way to describe it,” he says, “is that you are waiting for the second shoe to fall. You’re waiting for the worst-case scenario to unfold.” AT Norco, Kay explores southern Louisiana during a period of perpetual twilight, the “endless evening” as the game refers to it. This, Yuts explains, is an attempt to feign one’s own anxiety. “This is what life in Louisiana looks like to me,” he says. “You’re stressed.”
This grim environmental reality is just one side Norco. It is also the place where people live and society, however precariously balanced, continues to function. Of course, since this is a community in the south, faith remains an integral part of everyday life. As the search for Kay’s brother expands, the focus shifts from the Shield refinery to a religious cult that lures teenagers through an app-based alternate reality game (an initiation whose breadcrumb of lore and conspiracy theory involving might remind you of QAnon). Actually this is one of Norco mini games; as a player, you must pull out your cell phone and scan bleak landscapes for AR symbols – a creepy digital overlay on an already bizarre world.
The members of this disgruntled cult are called the Garretts, teenage boys who dress in the same clothes – blue retail shirts and brown chinos – and obey a frustrated leader named Kenner John. The group’s ultimate goal is a kind of ascent to Heaven’s Gate, but instead of aiming for an idyllic metaphysical plain, their goal is Mars. Both sympathetic and derisive, these delinquents are close to Yuts’ heart. “A lot of what Garretts does is clearly about me and some other developers trying to craft our own shit,” he says. “We identify with these characters. It was like we were performing an exorcism.”
The Garrettes are also part of an effort to engage in what Youts calls an ongoing process of cultural “remystification”. The reckless ideology of QAnon, described by writers such as Eric Davies as “space far rightis part of that, but according to Youts, it happens on all sides of the political spectrum — “the right just got there early.” In spite of Norco“Marxist materialism”, generally leftist, structuralist, “Marxist materialism”, in the words of its creator, “can be a straitjacket for certain aspects of existence. It can really limit your worldview if you subscribe to it too dogmatically.” Youtz sees value in “going a little crazy online” just like the Garretts. “I think we are accessing aspects of consciousness that have been lost for a long time,” he says.
Your own sense of place Norco Witchcraft is as ambitious, rich and multifaceted as any of Rockstar’s games. open world creations. It is neither straightforward nor didactic, but filled with enticing features. Youts describes it as a way to “resolve the dissonances” of his house, to “sit through all of its contradictions and try not to pass judgment”. In this way, the game reminds me of what the late Southern writer Bell Hooks wrote in her 1990 book. Belonging: culture of the place: “We often cause ourselves suffering, wanting only to live in a world of valleys, in a world without struggle and difficulties, in a world that is flat, simple and consistent.” Norco, to his great credit, goes all-in with struggle, difficulty, and most importantly, difficulty. Despite the retro presentation, the game feels alive, in a way that very few photorealistic blockbusters do.
How many other video games present you with heartbreaking loss, palpable environmental angst, absurdist satire, and a nightclub buzzing with the wheezing vibes of New Orleans music? As Yuts explains,Norco does not pretend to be prescriptive. It’s not meant to be taught.” The game is his way of figuring out his relationship with his hometown and “the growing number of realities we face in the 21st century.”
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