I do love a good photo mode. But over the last year, I've started to increasingly appreciate games that put the camera in your character's hands, rather than offer a free-flying omnipotent lens from which to snap the world. That's why I've fallen in love with Obscura, a work-in-progress photography sandbox that looks like a virtual camera-lover's dream come true.
While currently just developer Danny Bittman's personal project, Obscura is an Unreal Engine camera plugin that's spiralled into a full-on shutterbug sandbox.
As a filmmaker, taking pictures of the worlds I make is my favorite part of being a 3D artist. But most software can't emulate that sense of exploration I get with real cameras. So for the last few months I've been designing my own #UnrealEngine photography tool called Obscura 1/ pic.twitter.com/RCBvdut6AiFebruary 28, 2021
Last year, I fell in love with stylish photo romp Umurangi Generation, largely because of its wonderfully analogue handheld camera. Obscura takes those sliders and lenses and ramps them up to an extreme, seemingly letting you fiddle with everything from lens types, contrast and saturation down to world-adjusting tweaks for lighting and atmospherics.
But while Obscura might be missing a carefully curated world of scenes to snapshot, I'm fascinated by its promised ability to import entire new worlds to explore behind the lens of a camera. Many early screenshots show vibrant, lo-fi worlds, but Bittman also shows off some detailed photogrammetry-scanned environments. Ideally, this means you could download real-world locations from across the globe and have a go at shooting 'em up.
But then I realized that Obscura works even on textured scenes. I just about lost my mind when I imported some of @Azadux's photogrammetry models and realized I could use my existing color sliders to quickly test out different ambient lighting moods. 3/ pic.twitter.com/tKoITnKhOYFebruary 28, 2021
The ability to import and snapshot entirely new scenes might make some of the scenes a little less lively, but it's also appealing to the part of me that wanted to plug Umurangi's camera into every game under the sun. I'm hopeful that crafty photographers will find to import models and maps from other games, letting them take Obscura's cameras everywhere from City 17 to Cyrodiil.
Bittman doesn't yet know how Obscura will pan out, contemplating a full app available for both flatscreen and VR photography. But he's very much pitching it as a piece of software rather than a game, though—a nifty educational tool for teaching composition, lighting and colour. That's fine, really. I'm entirely here for a photo mode without a game.
Until then, resident shutterbug Rachel has put together a list of the best photography games on PC, whether you feel like snapping squirrels, the apocalypse, or sentient burgers.