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The Art of the Eye in Limitless

Title image for LIMITLESS, the TV Show.

Is anybody else geeking out about the visual direction in Limitless?

I mean, every show every movie has its own visual storytelling techniques. Ways and methods of manipulating viewer emotions, foreshadowing, context-setting etc. It’s a known part of the art of visual storytelling, and every production team has their own distinct style.

Of the shows that are currently on the air, however, Limitless has the clearest vocabulary. You can turn the sound off and read the show like you might read the pages of a comic book. You don’t need the words, the changes in luminosity, contrast, color saturation all of these serve the story at all times, and they tell the story so clearly sometimes that the actors don’t need to say a word.

You’ve noticed, I presume, that when our main character, Brian, takes the drug that allows him to be smarter than everybody else (NZT), The entire world gets slightly more saturated. In the occasional shot where they overdo it, Brian looks like a bit like he’s glowing.

They counter this with the rare occasions where Brian is not taking NZT. Everything looks like you would expect human saturation wise, but Brian has a penchant for oversize, ugly, comfortable sweaters and the occasional hoodie thrown in for good measure. Because the “every-man” always wears a hoodie these days.

On the super-negative side (also rare), rather than making the scene go gray, or dimming the lights, when Brian is having a bad emotional reaction, whether it be to his actions on the show or whether it be to negative side effects of NZT, they hype the contrast. Everything in the scene develops a hard edge because the difference between the darks and the lights has been heightened to an almost uncomfortable degree.  Couple this with some handheld camera work and you have scenes that are visually painful to watch.

Usually this type of lighting language is handled in a much more obvious fashion. Characters having a bad day, they have him sitting in the dark. If your characters having a good day, the sky is blue and there’s not a cloud to be seen. This is the first time I have seen them overtly manipulating things like saturation and contrast in the service of a small-screen story. Adjusting contrast, saturation or hue after-the-fact is a garden-variety post processing effect. Almost every show or movie out there does to some degree, but most of the time it’s done to correct issues that could not be worked around any other way, like having to film on a cloudy day or tweaking the lighting so that a scene shot in the sunset looks like it’s been shot at sunrise.

It’s delightful to see this kind of aggressive visual direction showing up on the small screen. It goes along way towards adding polish and sophistication to an already excellent cast and script.

Fallout was the Future

The thing about Fallout 4, for my generation this was the future that was dangled in front of us. We had movies like Mad Max that codified this post-apocalyptic world in such a way as to make it easier to deal with. It became less of a boogie man as our TV, movies, our books dug into the idea and familiarized us with the potential outcomes.

This game is riddled with touches, with background moments and still life’s that are like getting an ice pick in the ribs, emotionally. There are lots of things to shoot, there are lots of unreasonable enemies who never seem to fall their morale checks, but they’re all set against a visual backdrop of unspeakable tragedy.  By and large Fallout 4  is a slow game, it’s an exploration RPG at its heart and it gives you plenty of time to mull over the state of that game world in comparison to the state of the real world.

The artist in me goes so far as to note this is reflected even in the brightening of the color palette. We are given an option to play in the pre-apocalypse world, just for a time. This 1960s that might have been, were all the colors are bright and the sky is clear. That hopeful imagery, that feeling of immortality, those bright colors underlie all of the texture development, all of the environment development in the game. There are very few places so blasted and destroyed that you can’t help but be reminded of that Utopia that the game began in. Bright blue shelter in place pods are scattered throughout urban environments, few of them contain corpses, but all of them contain reminders of the people who sheltered there, protected and preserved until you open them to take a look.

And as a parent, because by now many of us Cold War Kids are, you can’t help but place your family in the scene. You can’t help but look at the well preserved, scattered toys inside of a shelter and think, that could have been my kid in there.

If you couple the emotional devastation of the world with the agency of being a player, it can double down.  The attraction of being a player in a world like this is that you can do something.  You can save the town, you can eliminate the Raiders, you can actively engage to make the world a little bit better. But at the same time you are constantly reminded of the tragedies you could not affect. It’s an implicit failure, one that underlies every action you take in the game. And when the adrenaline rush from mowing down super mutants is over, you are still left with the world that may never recover.

Unnecessary Apology

I think this may not be apology-worthy.  I mean, I can appreciate that the advertisers seem to have, essentially, shot themselves in the foot.  Sucking up bandwidth, chewing through the battery on mobile devices, ensuring that users are so darned sick of video ads that they are now willing to pay EXTRA for pop-up blockers, as opposed to having their browsing experience infringed upon.

Okay, yes, they may be apologizing to EACH OTHER, or maybe to new and upstart ad companies out there, but this overreach on their part is going to have broader ramifications.

More than a few science-fiction writers have given us a vision of the future in which branding and advertising pay for everything, where the primary currency becomes, in effect, the user’s attention-span.  Which has, ultimately, been the progression we have seen here on the internet (I happily pay of all kinds of things by letting ads play through).

But what this may herald is a shift in the way advertising handles things and that might mean that, in the future, our eyeballs might not be worth quite so much.


Veiled Alliances Release Day



A little bit of studio-pluggery here.  As you may or may not know, I am the CEO of Bushi-go, a mobile game startup.  For some time now, we’ve been plugging away on building a mobile app based around “Veiled Alliances”, Kevin J. Anderson’s prequel novella to his bestselling “Saga of the Seven Suns” novels.

This first release is a little more app than game right now for a couple of reasons.  Bestselling books don’t always translate into bestselling games.  Now, historically you’re looking at really big games.  Stuff like LOTR online was what everyone envisioned when you tried to make a book into a game.  They focused on the world-building, it focused on BIG BUDGETS and BIG GAMES.  We think we have a solution that will give the readers the kind of re-imaginings they will love.

But just because you like a book doesn’t mean you’re going to change your entertainment preferences and suddenly become a gamer.  If you loved “Wheel of Time”, no matter how much you loved it, you’re probably not going to go out and drop the cash on a new XBoxOne just so you can play in that world (heck, you could probably buy a full set of those books in a hardcover archival format for the same price).

So Bushi-go decided to try something different.  We went small.  Tight focus, stay close to the book, make the product truly accessible to almost every fan. When the game-play comes in later it’s going to be slower, more thinky, not completely twitchy and shooty (but there may be some of that too). We built this app using the leading edge magic of the Unreal Engine, then took that and modified it so that the app can run on almost every mobile device we could test it against, across all platforms.  If you have a mobile phone, you can enjoy our app.

Because we get it, if you’re a reader, that’s your thing.  You might watch a TV show based on your favorite books (Bones, Game of Thrones) but games require a bigger commitment, both time and money-wise.


The “Veiled Alliances” App drops tomorrow.  Head to and we’ll send you a direct email link when it’s live.  Tomorrow should be Android first (GooglePlay and Amazon) followed by Apple (phone and tablets) and WindowsPhone.

This first release is small, pretty and free.  Because we want to see how many of you like this format.  IF the download numbers look good, if we’ve chosen wisely, then we can move on to making the rest.

Sea Change – new science fiction


See, one of the coolest things about having my own blog is I can plug my own stuff here :)  For those of you who didn’t know, I’ve just had a short-story published in the September edition of “Galaxy’s Edge” magazine.  They leave the online version up for 60 days, after that you can only get it in print form (you can get a subscription through Amazon if you’re looking!)

You can find it at