retroyou R/C by joan leandre
RETROYOU R/C STORY : RETROYOU R/C [paradise] [FCK THE GRAVITY CODE] [FRAG] class For years, Toy-Volt has been producing toys and games for children all over the world.r on exactly what it was that made the toys so popular. Sure, they employed the best designers and marketers could put their fingetypes--the entire product line of RC cars from the fine folks at Toy-Volt has come out to play! [...]
[ go to project page ]
RETROYOU R/C STORY : RETROYOU R/C [paradise] [FCK THE GRAVITY CODE] [FRAG] class

1 - retroYou R/C
While Joan Leandre's work could be seen as belonging to a popular subgenre of software art, it still is unique in its field. Next to ASCII Art, code poetry and denial-of-service code, modifications of commercial computer games are one field of hacker culture and artisanship that has been adopted, and modified in this course, in the experimental digital arts of the past few years. Two well-known early pieces are "SOD" and "Untitled Game" by net.art pioneers jodi; they both reduce ID Soft's ego-shooters "Doom" and "Quake" to abstract visuals as if to explore the surrealism of formalism.
Although Leandre, the man behind the retroyou project, is a friend and close collaborator of jodi in Barcelona, his game hacks are quite different in that they literally take on other dimensions. Developed from 1999 to 2000, "retroYou R/C" is a gradual modification of a car racing game: The first, simple hack called "Fuck the Gravity Code" removes the gravity parameters of the cars so that they freely float in space; other hacks additionally remove the dimensions of Euclidian space and, finally, iconic semblance to the objects represented (such as cars, streets, buildings), replacing them with partly abstract, partly naive-iconic shapes such as spinning daisies. The result is a very poetical and philosophical reflection on how "world" and "reality" are constructed in the universe of a computer simulation game - and not only there -, and how their epistemological conditioning patterns can be deconstructed simply by tuning their parameters in clever and subversive ways. To play "retroYou R/C" and adapt to its universe thus will inevitably parallel the process of its creation, on which Leandre says:
"The deconstruction process of retroYou R/C is pretty unclean, I did some research and found in many fan sites of the original soft all the resources I needed to identify all the files, bugs, and tools... R/C requires full understanding of the software structure, several layers of modification were done in three steps: [a] surface such as bitmaps and audio files [b] 3d objects and the world [c] Behavior of the game. As a example, in retroYou R/C, the file that contains the path the cars should follow in the race is switched from one level to the other so that when playing the behavior of the cars is erratic. The program is collapsed because of the accumulation of very small changes." [E-Mail to the author from January 10, 2003]
There can be no such thing as a simple "users" of retroYou R/C, but only a player in a radical sense, since the software requires a considerable amount of mental reprogramming and a reconditioning of behavioral patterns on behalf of the player. It thus is "immersive interactive art" in a truly radical and therefore totally different way from what today runs under that label, all the while subverting the concept of immersion through its destruction of visual mimesis.
Asked whether through this destruction, retroYou R/C re-approaches painterly abstraction, or - on the contrary - realism (because it makes people more aware of the reality that they're playing with something artificial), or whether it creates a new reality of its own, Leandre replies that the software he modified still preserves its "essential integrity, the core of the program is still running as the original", yet:
"Its logical structure is collapsed. The narrative and the simulation is totally negated, what you see and experience is the program operating without end as there's no competition, no flight simulation, no representation... [...] Perhaps the whole thing is all about shutting down conventional representations of a world [our world] invaded by cloned software which massively bewilders and induces cloned rituals. By extracting standard mimesis from commercial software one may have a better understanding of the machine 'realities'". [E-Mail to the author from January 15, 2003]
Nevertheless, retroyou R/C is, as a performance piece made up from man/machine interaction, just as much about humans. Those who ever had the chance of seeing Joan Leandre play his work live will no longer be able to detach their impression from that of his person. The obsessive wrapped-upness into the original game which made Leandre understand and dissect it over the course of a year (and countless nights spent playing it) recurs in the stunning and dream-like way he is able to play an abstract, n-dimensional, zero-gravity racing game getting raw arcade fun from it, without crashing the cars - a performance resembling one which Thomas Pynchon tells in "The Crying of Lot 49" as an "anarchist miracle": a prom of deaf-mute people, with each couple dancing to its own rhythm, but not one collision occuring in the course.
Asked about this observation, Joan Leandre agrees that the code manipulation and the performance of the player make up two equal parts of the retroyou projects:
"So the performing is in fact a real time reading of the manipulated software... [...] After the alteration of the game, navigation becomes very intuitive, objectives are cancelled and so the only way of 'playing' is without the pressure of 'accomplishing a mission'. So the players profile should also change to someone with a stronger sense of humor who understands that there's nothing to do unless you adopt a flexible way of using the software." [E-Mail to the author from January 21, 2003]

2 - retroYou nostalG
Joan Leandre's newest project, called "retroYou nostalG [ nostalgia + G forces slavery ]", is a modification of a cross-platform software flight simulator. By using a piece of Free/Open Source software as his material and point of departure this time, the dis- and reassembling is no longer, quote, "unclean" as in retroYou R/C, but more systematic and analytical. As the project was not finished at the point of this writing, it is best described in Leandre's own words here:
"The first test presented in Read-me, Moscow, was an approach to reverse the original software's narratives and introduce the User to the navigation of a very extreme aircraft prototype. The changes were made in different layers:
- the aerodynamics and engine specs [ http://retroyou.org/retroyou_g_nosltalg/xp.htm ] upgrading to 300%+ forward and reverse throttle and 300%+ acceleration.
- the vertical and horizontal Artificial Stability System which normally keeps the aircraft steady and prevents from undesirable bankings or losses of height was forced to the extreme of negating it's functionality and making the airplane continuously turning-staling and becoming stable again in very short lapses of time.
- the point of view of the user is changed to almost vertical facing the ground.
- the navigation instruments became unoperational except for the artificial horizon which is in fact the only reference of the angle of flight.
- the elevation data of the world [ http://retroyou.org/retroyou_g_nosltalg/spxefere.htm ] was eliminated except for a black textured area of about the size of a city such as Berlin.
The second test presented in 8x8, Barcelona, uses the unfunctionality of the reversed Instrumental Navigation System as follows:
- World is 100% flat and uniform, no elevation data at all.
- The aircraft is flying in auto pilot, GPS is set to random coordinates so that navigation starting in a given A point and heading to a final B point may suddenly change to another RND destination point.
- The Point of View of the User is vertically facing the ground. Navigation Interface is manipulated so visually becomes inoperable. No recognizable visual references. Spatial disorientation. The landscape appears as 2d flat.
- The User is invited to figure out how to gain access to Manual Navigation Instruments.
- Once User gains access to the aircraft's Manual Navigation System is confronted to the extreme behavior of the flying machine aerodynamics an Artificial Stability System.
All changes are made via ingame parameter editors + reversing of code."
[E-Mail to the author from January 3, 2003]

by Florian Cramer, posted 06 Jun 2003


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