East by West by W/A/S/D (Part One)

| March 13, 2017 | 2 Comments

As video game worlds grew more open, more diverse, and more intricately woven throughout the years, my Level 1 tiny child self grew increasingly wistful to see his hometown represented in a game one day. It’s always so fascinating to see how developers do it. Which street corners do they bend, and which landmarks make the cut? Can I climb it? Can I climb it and jump off it? Can I climb it and jump off it and then try the whole thing again but without a parachute?

photo credit: Nata Luna [2] losing via photopin (license)

The answer to all of these questions was… no. |
photo credit: Nata Luna [2] losing via photopin (license)

But Dhaka, Bangladesh isn’t exactly a top priority choice for the next Assassin’s Creed title, and nor, quite frankly, should it be (at least just yet). But then I came to college, upwards of Level 18 with arguably improved exploration abilities. I found myself in Boston, a city that has popped up in gaming a fair number of times, and I found myself scouring those maps again and venturing out on the MBTA, trying to match the city I’d played to the city that I would soon call home. I wanted to know what gaming had had to say about Boston, and what Boston had to say about gaming.

(1)  The Last of Us (2013)

Developers: Naughty Dog, Directed by Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley

The Last of Us (2013) photo credit: naughty_dog The Last of Us - cutscene screenshot via photopin (license)

The Last of Us (2013)
photo credit: naughty_dog The Last of Us – cutscene screenshot via photopin (license)

The Last of Us remains my personal Game of the Year 2013 for a variety of reasons. Protagonists Joel and Ellie’s grueling journey through a post-apocalyptic America is a hauntingly beautiful one, and still feels like one of the most honest representations of character and growth I have ever seen in media. And so, while it hosts the smallest portion of Boston out of the three games I’ll be covering, it was also the one I looked most forward to recreating.

The financial district, a ruined wasteland in the game with a criminal-infested port, was far more mellow in real life (thank God). But a lot of its features were also heavily underrepresented: the real thing has more than its fair share of interesting buildings, with curious curios put up on display. Interestingly, while these shops are closed down or nowhere to be seen in-game, Joel can find more than his fair share of odd knickknacks lying around the financial district.

Next comes the city’s Federal Reserve building, which is mocked both in-game and out for being a pretty ugly thing. It’s pretty much built to scale in-game and looks just as huge and overpowering, but plot twist: it’s full of zombies!

Actually, maybe not a plot twist. I can’t imagine that’s all that different from what actually goes on in there.

We finish with the Massachusetts State House, one of Boston’s most iconic landmarks and a major turning point in the game’s story. The game’s recreation matches original architect Charles Bulfinch’s work to an alarming degree.

Fun fact: In-game, the Charles River (contrary to popular belief, not architected by Bulfinch) has flooded the front steps leading up to the main entrance. And washed away on the steps are several of Boston’s own iconic swan boats!

From the State House, Joel and Ellie run from a group of hunters straight down to a flooded, closed down Park Street station. Yup, that Park Street Station. We’ve all gone down there at some point, and while its layout is vastly differently in the game, Naughty Dog nailed down the designs of the walls, the floors, and general atmosphere pat. Bonus points for that one, you naughty… er. Dogs.

Now see here Ellie, this is what the average BU dormitory looks like. photo credit: naughty_dog The Last of Us - Clogged hallway via photopin (license)

Now see here Ellie, this is what the average BU dormitory looks like. |
photo credit: naughty_dog The Last of Us – Clogged hallway via photopin (license)

To be continued in Part Two.

Featured photo credit: Aaraf Afzal/Sifana Sohail.

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Category: Art and Literature, Boston, East by West by T, featured, Food and Travel, Science and Technology

Aaraf Afzal

About the Author ()

Aaraf Afzal is many things, but he's not particularly good at being any of them. He continues to work towards this goal, among others, studying Film & TV and Economics at Boston University. An avid subscriber to the belief that all forms of media have their own sense of artistic beauty, he is particularly invested in writing fiction and recently released his first novel "Re: Revolution" in Bangladesh. Alongside his pursuits at Culture Shock, he's currently at work writing an online series called "The Chosen Zeroes." Fandoms and inspirations include Neil Gaiman, Kingdom Hearts, Ratchet and Clank, Marvel Comics, and Culture Shock. Giggity.

Comments (2)

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  1. Mike C. Mike C. says:

    The Last of Us also showcased some secluded parts of Massachussettes (namely Lincoln, MA) that’s much farther west from Downtown Boston. Interestingly enough, this latter area was shown to be much more peaceful and organized than what you’ve described above. I guess even in a post-apocatlyptic world the cultrual divide between cities and suburbs are still prevelant!

    • Aaraf Afzal Aaraf Afzal says:

      Ahh, I didn’t realize! Thanks for the update, Mike!

      Curious though: is it Frank’s town, or the ruins Joel and Tess go to at the start? I haven’t been to Lincoln but definitely interested in taking a look now. :) Super cool that they divvied them up culturally!

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