• Mik

Title: Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Developer: Ember Lab | Publisher: Ember Lab | Initial Release: 2st September 2021


Well, that came out of nowhere! After a couple of vague mentions that they would hope to be able to include a photo mode in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, Ember Lab had been very quiet on the subject while work continuing on finalising the game over the last few months. With still no word right up until the day before launch, it was starting to seem most likely that the addition of a photo mode would be something to look forward to in a later update, that was until a quite spectacular reveal with a dedicated photo mode trailer.


In case you missed it, you can check out the full video here now:

- KENA: BRIDGE OF SPIRITS // PHOTO MODE -


Created by an independent studio making their debut in the video game world after having gained notoriety for their award winning CGI animation work and character-driven storytelling, Kena: Bridge of Spirits was always going to be a fascinating project. The prospect of talented animators and motivated storytellers turning their talents to video games is the sort of disciplinary cross-over that brings the potential to produce hugely immersive and engaging experiences, and ones that can surely be inspiring for players on a creative level.


Drawing on very evident influence from traditional Japanese culture, the game world centres on rich forests and mountain shrines that look like concept art come to life, while the wonderfully rendered characters, ominous wandering spirits and adorable companions are about as photogenic as it gets. It goes without saying then, that it is exciting to finally learn that the game includes its own bespoke camera tools, so here's a quick look at what was revealed and how the photo mode feels to use...


Kena: Bridge of Spirits Photo Mode:


The first thing evident in the trailer was a seamless transition from gameplay to a beautifully minimalist photo mode UI, revealing the always welcome presence of a shortcut button binding. Strangely, there is no way to fully hide that UI, minimal or otherwise, meaning that captures via the Create button will always include the button legend and necessitating the inclusion of R1 as a virtual shutter release, but the photo mode is indeed quick to access with a single press of up on the D-Pad. What's more, this shortcut can actually be remapped to any individual controller button for a little customisable convenience.


With similar user friendliness, controls are natural and intuitive as the camera moves around any frozen scene with uninhibited truck & dolly, vertical crane, and a full range of pan & tilt adjustments for compositional freedom. Camera roll is notably absent though, so full-resolution portrait shots and even a little Dutch angle on action shots are out of the question for the moment.

- KENA: BRIDGE OF SPIRITS // PHOTO MODE -


None of this is the big news here though, take the game out of the combat and Kena has something much more innovative in store. Being especially focused on the story and personality of their characters, Ember Lab seemingly wanted to really make that show in the photo mode and so have included the ability to unfreeze the scene and let the animation resume.


While this may sound similar to other concepts that we have seen before, the key difference here is that for the first time to my knowledge, the characters actually become aware of the virtual camera and switch their attention to it in a wonderfully natural way. Hit the "Cheese!" button and they will even smile and strike one of their various poses to make an experience that is more akin to photographing friends than virtual subjects.

It makes you wonder why it hasn't been done before...

OK, this is still within certain predetermined confines when it comes to the number of possible actions, but it is a brilliant innovation and one that seems perfectly suited to showcase the skills of the animators at Ember Lab while also giving glimpses into the "off-screen" personalities of the in-game characters. Simply put, it looks delightful and maybe even makes you wonder why it hasn't been done this way before.


Beyond the clever innovation, there are also a more traditional set of static character poses for Kena to be found in a photo mode that seems to have the fundamental aspects covered. A host of colour filters and optical effects such as vignette, film grain and chromatic aberration are included for post-process tweaking, while the optional square and portrait aspect ratios include an enhanced background defocus effect, maybe going some way to make up for the lack of 90° captures.


For more manual setup, the likes of exposure bias can be used to tweak the natural light, and either centred auto or fully manual focus is paired with f-stop aperture controls to ensure that it is always possible to create an authentic photographic or cinematic look.


Of course, it appears that the game will help a lot there with CGI cinema-quality character models and what looks like an abundance of personality (and cute hats) in a stunningly presented environment. Kena and the Rot are surely going to be posing for rather a lot of photographs, and I can't wait to see how the creative potential provided by Ember Lab manages to inspire the virtual photography community.

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