There's a good chance that you'll recognise "SEASON: A letter to the future" whenever you see it, not because it is an unmistakable blockbuster or one of those perennial franchises that comes back year after year, but because it has such an individual charm that has made it so incredibly memorable right from the very first reveal.
The beautiful art style and fashionable character are undoubtably appealing, though these are not the only things that make the game really stand out. The prospect of being able to record and document the virtual world as you explore it offers a fascinating way to engage and interact with the art that Scavengers Studio has created.
It is of course a concept that is not unfamiliar to virtual photographers, this is often what in-game photography is about, so is this a worthwhile photography experience? Let's find out.
- SEASON // A LETTER TO THE FUTURE -
The story follows a young woman named Estelle who, after living her whole life in the remote mountain village of Caro, is about to become the first in a generation to venture out into the wider world. Her objective is simple, learn as much as she can about the way of the world before the current season (think historical period) comes to an end and everything changes.
Billed as a bicycle road trip, the atmospheric adventure is in no rush to get you through the 6 - 9 hour story and encourages you to take your time in experiencing the world, soaking up everything it has to offer. The clunk, click, whir of an analogue tape recorder brings a tactile feel to recording audio, and hearing the amplified sound from its sensitive microphone turns every water droplet and musical box into a much more intimate experience.
- SEASON // JOURNAL -
An in-game camera adds the visual element, and a fully customisable journal serves to catalogue everything that you learn and capture that builds into a beautiful record full of images, notes and sketches. The theme of discovering other cultures, hearing personal stories, and becoming immersed in the ecology of the environment is a compelling one, and it is easy to invest in the noble goal of preserving these memories for future generations.
Key Camera Features:
In-game instant camera
Manual focus & depth of field control
Selection of colour filters
- SEASON // PHOTOGRAPHY SET #1 -
So the first thing to note is that SEASON: A letter to the future does not include a traditional photo mode for full screen captures, and instead relies on a relatively simple camera as a usable in-game item. It puts a different take on video game photography by making it an actual gameplay mechanic and, although more limited than a complete photo mode, it is certainly not without its charms.
- SEASON // CAMERA UI -
The camera itself is a Polaroid-style instant camera that, much like the tape recorder, can be pulled out at any time to capture & record the world – as long as you get off the bike first that is. Looking through it brings up a delightful square viewfinder that is complete with a retro style and a central split-prism to aid with focusing. It unfortunately doesn't ever take full advantage of the available screen space though, so captured shots are confined to a pretty low resolution.
But that's not the point here . You do get the feeling of using an actual mechanical camera, and on PS5 that even extends to the shutter release button with a satisfyingly resistive click on each press of the R2 adaptive trigger. Photographs appear on a sheet of self-developing film for that classic instant camera look, and an extra press of the Create button is needed to save the shot outside of the game.
"It manages to make the act of using it as enjoyable as the end result..."
Manual camera controls include a 1.0 - 1.5x zoom operated with the L1 / R1 shoulder buttons, focus distance using D-Pad ↑↓, and depth of field adjustment with D-Pad ←→. It's a little coarse but is nonetheless quick and easy to pinpoint a subject and defocus the background while a handful of colour filters change the mood with options that include pastel, sepia and B&W.
Owing to the handheld nature of the camera, movement is limited to slowly walking and looking around with LS & RS respectively and, although there is understandably no crane elevation, you can at least crouch to get a little lower to the ground. It feels entirely natural, although the lack of camera roll does leaves you without the ability to ever create added interest by putting a jaunty angle on things.
- SEASON // PHOTOGRAPHY SET #2 -
Of course, at no point is SEASON claiming to be about advanced photography and this is a camera that is totally in keeping with the game. It serves a purpose but also manages to make the act of actually using it and engaging with the surroundings as enjoyable and important as the end result.
In a purely gameplay context, Estelle's camera is really a means to an end, a tool to help fill the pages of the journal and complete each area. Shots of certain things are necessary while others are entirely up to you and, even though there is never any judgement on quality, you will naturally find yourself putting in the effort to make the photo look good and be worthy of a place on the page filled with handwritten notes and illustrations.
- SEASON // JOURNAL -
It soon becomes a pleasurable way to spend time in the game – exploring and capturing elements of the art while also learning about the culture, history and personal stories in this world. There is a feeling that you are on a journey of discovery (obviously), but with an added sense of how the context and meaning of everything you capture and record might be altered when times change and things come to an end.
- SEASON // PHOTOGRAPHY SET #3 -
As perhaps the best symbol of that journey, the bike – available in three colours by the way – is well worth including in some shots to create a little narrative, though not being able to photograph Estelle herself is a real shame. I would have loved to give a more candid perspective on everything she encounters and to create shots that echo the fantastic style so often seen in the trailers, but this is more a case of being in her shoes than observing from afar.
As part of that, there comes a definite beauty in the simplicity of the handheld camera and how it encourages thought about the art of photography in a way that games and photo modes don't always manage. Without the distraction of high-fidelity portraits, over-the-top action, or complicated features, the process is stripped back to its fundamentals. The actual content of each frame becomes all-important, and using the camera is an engrossing exercise in composition.
- SEASON // PHOTOGRAPHY SET #4 -
With a few prompts from the story, this is all about picking out shots that use natural beauty, man-made marvels and even mundane relics of seasons-gone-by to tell an unseen story. The no-fuss approach brings a refreshing way to sharpen up your skills in spotting potential shots and creating narrative with a process that is memorable for its charm, simplicity and beautiful results.
Within the context of how precious and limited our time really is, the game leads you to create something that evokes and preserves memories, something that lasts, and that might inspire others to do the same. It is quite literally the objective of SEASON: A letter to the future, and it just so happens to be one of the fundamental aspects of great photography too.
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Full Feature Set:
Access & Control
Camera Access: ◻
Camera Movement: On Foot Horizontal Pan: 360° Vertical Tilt: ~160° Roll: 0°
Zoom: 1.0 - 1.5 x
Focus Distance: Non-numeric
Aperture / DoF: Non-numeric Colour Filter: None + 6 Presets