There are spaces that haunt us. Our childhood homes, the halls of educational institutions, the apartments of lost lovers. They sit in the memory, ready to be evoked by the correct arrangement of forms, the right quality of light, a significant configuration of walls. Some of these spaces aren’t even real.
Metroid Prime’s Tallon IV is one of those spaces. Even as I call it by its name, the name of a planet, a name that evokes something vast, unfamiliar, open, I feel like I’m failing to describe it. That’s because in reality, Metroid Prime’s “planet” is made up of a rabbit warren of interiors, joined by improbable and illogical elevators; a string of corridors and rooms that in the map-screen glow like the blueprint of some ornate factory, suspended in a lightless void.
In comparison to the planets that the likes of No Man’s Sky, Elite Dangerous, or Mass Effect: Andromeda now offer up for us to roam, 15 years later, Metroid Prime’s world is a work in miniature. It is science fiction as tunnelling into, not infinitely expanding, the landscape of our daily lives. Its rooms, marked by suggestive labels like “Gathering Hall” or “Central Dynamo,” which tend to split usage into ritual or industrial functions, are characterful to the extreme. They brim with detail that emerges on repeat visits, from ornate machinery ceiling-mounted out of view, to single water drips, falling into fetid puddles between worn paving slabs.
The images you see here are the result of me turning my camera to these spaces. Their light leaks, soft grain, and dreamlike haze come from my choice of camera, my Grandfather’s Fujica I was learning to use back in 2002, when the game was first released. Using a projector, tripod, and a stack of Ilford Black and White film, I was able to photograph Metroid Prime as if it was a real space, softening the boundary between game and reality. I have often found that the screenshots of remasters, or emulations of old games, lack the layers of memory, meaning, and reference that are accrued over time. Perhaps this is a way of representing that. What follows then is an attempt to capture not just Metroid Prime’s spaces, but their ghosts, their ambiguities, and ultimately the unsolvable secrets that haunt me still.
Heterotopias is a new digital zine about architecture and games. The latest issue, 002, which contains a comprehensive visual exploration of cult hit NaissanceE, the full version of this piece (and many more photographs of Metroid Prime), as well as features on Brutalism, WipEout, and Half Life 2, is available now.