Title: Bound | Developer: Plastic Demo | Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Initial Release: 16th Aug 2016
At first glance, this 2016 PS4 title may seem like a fairly standard 3D platformer, but it doesn't take long to realise that this is an altogether different affair that offers a more graceful, elegant and emotional experience. From developers Plastic Demo, whose previous releases include the fascinating digital art experiment, Linger in Shadows, Bound sees you play as an unnamed Princess as she dances her way through metaphors of childhood fears. With cleverly reactive environments, a beautiful art style and character animation that moves with the motion captured performance of a professional dancer, it's hard not to be drawn into this balletic piece of art, especially with a well engineered photo mode ready and waiting to take advantage.
the capable tools make capturing beautiful images an inevitability
Key Photo Mode Features:
Virtually unlimited free camera
Manual and auto-focus with depth of field (DoF) control
Post rendering effects
Animation frame advance
Controls & Implementation:
Evidence of Bound's well thought out photo mode is immediately seen in the customisable shortcut access. Assigned to the DualShock 4's touch pad by default, this can be remapped to either L1 or R1, should you find them a more convenient way to activate the photo mode, or disabled completely to remove the distraction. Upon entering the photo mode, the game action is frozen to allow unlimited time to compose the shot but be aware that both reset and exit occur with a single button press and no confirmation box; I have lost several compositions before capturing by pressing the wrong button here. The controls and menu UI are otherwise straight forward to use and the very capable tools make capturing beautiful images an inevitability, just remember to let the "refining image" process reach 100% before you do as this enhances anti-aliasing and refines shading to give your shot some extra polish.
it stretches right to the edge of the rendered environment where any limitation becomes rather trivial
Camera movement is very precise on the whole and comfortably operated through a combination of the analog sticks and L1 / R1 shoulder buttons. The latter pairing take care of vertical craning while LS provides dolly movement on a horizontal plane, note that each of these planes are relative to camera rotation rather than the game environment. RS is used for pan / tilt control with full 360° rotation in each case and similarly free adjustment of camera roll is available by swiping left or right on the touch pad. It is worth mentioning that all rotational axes operate about a fixed point at the centre of the camera, meaning no awkward adjustments are needed to keep a subject in shot as you change the angle of rotation.
The free camera movement truly is free; although a camera bounding sphere technically is in place, it stretches right to the edge of the rendered environment where any limitation becomes rather trivial. With the possibility to move the camera over such large distances, the ability to accelerate its movement speed by holding X is a welcome one, a feature which also applies to menu adjustments in the UI. Movement is further uninhibited by the lack of camera collision mechanics meaning that environmental objects will not obstruct camera positioning. Not only that though, if the camera is actually moved into a wall or floor, that surface will automatically deconstruct itself right in front of you with pleasing crack formations to give an unobstructed view through to the Princess. This novel feature can be switched on and off in the photo mode UI and perhaps remains unique to Bound, adding its own layer of interest to shot composition.
The UI takes the form of a single list of variables covering a significant portion of the left of the screen while a control legend occupies more space on the right. Thankfully, the whole thing is easily hidden by pressing ☐ while both camera movement and settings can be operated at any time, whether the UI is visible or not. Navigation and setting adjustments are made using the D-pad, offering precise incremental changes with a single press or rapid, coarse adjustment by holding a button direction.
The available options here generally align with photographic terminology and are easily relatable although some of the nominal gradation units don't really match those from typical camera settings. Heading the list is exposure compensation, adjustable from -1.00 to +1.00 in surprisingly small 0.01 increments. This 200 point scale certainly enables fine tuning of the overall exposure level and the end-to-end effects are more than enough to under or over-expose a typical scene.
these broadly adjustable effects can combine to go beyond what is realistically possible with a real world camera lens
Next up is "bokeh size" which doesn't exactly fit the use of bokeh by photographers to describe the aesthetics of de-focused light in a particular lens, but is closer to the term's Japanese origin, boke, meaning blur. Indeed, "blur size" is a more accurate description of the feature as it creates an increasingly diffuse blur on all out of focus objects. Despite this fairly uniform application, some evidence of a hexagonal aperture shape can be seen on certain points of light, just don't expect much in the way of creative bokeh as may be used in real world photography. At a bokeh size setting of 0.00, the scene is effectively in sharp focus from zero to infinity and it must be increased to any positive value to enable further focus options and hence control of DoF effects.
Once activated, these options include a neat auto-focus feature which can be locked onto the Princess, set to track whatever object appears within a helpful viewfinder reticle at the centre of the screen, or switched off to allow manual control of the focus distance over a range of 0.0 - 300.0 m, a whopping 3,000 point scale! With an equally numerous adjustment, the focus width option ties these features together to provide effective DoF control. Put simply, focus distance sets the distance between the camera and the point that appears in sharpest focus, focus width determines the how wide the range of focus is either side of this point and bokeh size changes the amount of de-focus / blur applied to objects outside of this range. While these broadly adjustable effects can combine to go beyond what is realistically possible with a real world camera lens, in doing so they offer full scope for authentic and creative styles alike.
Beyond the strong array of compositional tools, Bound also offers abundant creative options from simulated lens effects to novel rendering modes. Vignette and film grain are well catered for with ranges again surpassing realistic limits but the lens flare option is very subdued and out of keeping with the highly adaptable range of other settings in this photo mode. In fact, the lens flare is so subtle that even at 100% with a bright light source in shot or nearby, the effect can be barely perceptible at times.
An area certainly not lacking is the colour filters. With 30 to choose from, each with 0 - 100% variable intensity, there is an excellent overall range with varied colours from muted greys to vibrant yellow and candy pink. Inevitably there is some overlap amongst the colours but 3 graduated tint filters, found under frames, can be used in conjunction with them for even greater variation. The frames list also includes 2 basic black & white surrounds and a cinemascope view but the rest are based on logos...lots of logos. There are 72 variants to be exact, spread across several different layouts, colour combinations and even English, Japanese and Chinese characters. It's fair to say that if you enjoy adding the game logo to your images, Bound has got you covered.
an inspired feature that allows you to fine tune the moment
The rendering modes mentioned earlier are found under the post effect options and include 9 distinct visual styles, plus a few minor variations. Ranging from oil paint (pictured above) and pencil sketch to relief carving and solid black silhouettes, these modes can be used to great effect and often compliment Bound's highly artistic style. Nestled at the bottom of the list is an option to "force all effects" which toggles volumetric lighting effects and screen space reflections (thanks to the guys at Plastic Demo for confirmation on this one). Note that the presence of these effects is dependent on how many levels have been previously completed and hence, which fears the Princess has overcome, so you may not always see a change.
Rounding out the UI options are a number of toggles to show / hide characters or the Princess's ribbons and mood triangles should you want to declutter a shot, but also one of this photo modes most ingenious and unique features. "Next frame" allows the user to advance the game's animation frame-by-frame from the moment the action was frozen. With the amazing array of dance moves and poses acted out by the character, this is an inspired feature that allows you to fine tune the moment. Be aware though, that the animation can only be moved forwards so if you take it too far, there's no going back.
it is this non-reality that plays to the game's advantage
As a relatively short and stylistically concise game, Bound may not offer an expansive range of varied environments or intricately designed inhabitants to photograph but this does not mean that there is nothing worth pointing the photo mode camera at. The main playable components see you journey through various metaphors of an adult woman's childhood memories and it is this non-reality that plays to its advantage.
Without chasing realism, the game is afforded a much greater artistic license and this is evident everywhere from the tactile surroundings and vibrant colour palette to the paint-like appearance of the Princess's skin or the angular polygons of her dress. The levels themselves are abstract wonders and invoke a material feel; sitting upon a pulsating sea of blocks, the structures change and evolve as you move through them, cracking underfoot as though to reveal the very essence of their construction. The total freedom of the camera lets you fully explore these environments and there is huge opportunity for minimalist and abstract work here.
You could hardly ask for more opportunity to capture the elegance of human form
The main appeal for many will naturally be the Princess with her infinitely graceful movement and array of poses. Fully motion captured from the performance of Maria Udod and choreographed by Michał Adam Góral, every aspect of the character's animation is deliberate and beautiful, from each jump and roll to her idle stretches and the way she rises back to her feet after a fall. You could hardly ask for more opportunity to capture the elegance of human form and the streams of ribbons and triangles that develop as you dance to overcome dangers only further embellish this.
The believable animation and easily neutralised backgrounds also make Bound ideally suited to portraiture. Despite a faceless appearance and lack of customisation, the Princess conveys a real presence through body posture and her interesting outfit and headdress will evolve in colour across each level. It's also worth noticing that she will look towards the game camera while idle as it moves in front of her so be sure to use this to your advantage before even entering the photo mode.
Combine all of this with the excellent photo mode feature set and you have the compositional and creative freedom to produce beautiful shots ranging from intimate portraits and graceful silhouettes to abstract geometry and celebrations of colour. With the ability to frame advance each moment, you'll get it just right every time.
Bound is rightfully interesting as a game but all the more so as an artistic achievement and comes with a complete and innovative photo mode that pre-dates most of the established big-hitters while still holding novel features to this day. You can expect to capture some truly beautiful images in this game but the lack of many other meaningful characters or varied environments could feel limiting for some. Here we have a photo mode that may offer more variety and flexibility than the game itself and it deserves to be celebrated for it.
Full Feature Set:
Photo Mode Access: Touch pad (L1 / R1 optional)
Camera Movement: Free (unlimited)
Exposure Compensation: -1.00 to 1.00 (± 0.01)
Bokeh Size: 0.00 - 1.00 (± 0.01)
Focus Width: 0.0 - 300.0 m (± 0.1 m)
Autofocus: Princess / Centre / Off
Focus Distance: 0.0 - 300.0 m (± 0.1 m)
Lens Flare: 0 - 100%
Vignette: 0 - 100%
Film Grain: 0 - 100%
Film Grain Scale: 0 - 100%
Frame: 78 presets (3 graduated, 3 borders, 72 logo variants)
Colour Filter: Normal + 30 presets
Colour Filter Intensity: 0 - 100%
Post Effect: Normal + 4 presets
Post Effect Type: 3 - 5 presets per effect
Cracks: Off / Static / Dynamic
Hide Princess: On / Off
Hide NPCs: On / Off
Hide Ribbons: On / Off
Hide Mood Triangles: On / Off
Force All Effects: On / Off
Next Frame: Infinite (not available in speed run)
(via in-game options)
Permanent Picture: Apply photo mode filters to gameplay (available on New Game+)