Jens Peppler talked about the art of environmental storytelling and depiction of keywords through objects in his latest project Military Radio Station.
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Environmental storytelling is what makes a scene interesting and influences the emotions of the viewer. Something as simple as a table, an object of everyday use, tells through its wear and tear, what it has experienced in its lifetime before. That is already environmental storytelling but only scratches the surface. Telling a story is much more than just visually explaining why dirt is in one specific area.
The history of an object on its own is important. As an artist, you have to consider this, but also do not forget that some objects depend on each other to tell their story. Especially when people are involved. They have a huge impact on their environment, which means that you can visualize their characteristics and history without even showing the persons themselves.
Environmental storytelling is such a huge subject with a lot of sub-categories. This article will focus on one of these: How to tell stories with keywords?
About the Artist
My name is Jens Peppler and I’m a graduated environment artist from Frankfurt, Germany. In 2019, I graduated from SAE Institute Frankfurt with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Game Art and 3D Animation. This introduced me to a variety of game dev roles. Especially the technical components of the art discipline fascinated me, but my love and the reason to study game art was always to tell stories.
Already at University, I started to work for DB Schenker and produced two serious games in virtual reality. In addition to that, four friends and I founded our very own Indie Games Studio called “Wayward Studios”. Also since my graduation, I teach students at SAE Frankfurt, the very same school where I graduated. That is my career so far, of which I am very proud of.
But of course, you never stop learning as an artist. I like to pass on my knowledge and to improve my own skills. Consequently, I bought the “Military Radio Tutorial” by Simon Fuchs. I knew that many had tried the tutorial before me, but I wanted to give it my own touch. In addition to that, I got to know Simon Fuchs through my time as a student, which helped me to push my project even further, thanks to his feedback.
As a result, I wanted to share my approach to storytelling, using the example of the “Military Radio Station (Homemade)” that I have created.
The protagonist is obsessed with the idea that a higher being exists. He feels like he is not in charge of his faith anymore. He lost control against God and wants it back. Through this fixation, he neglects everything else. Consequently, he isolates himself and is preparing to face God. From the average man with a nine to five job, he developed into someone, who would risk his life and even his own family, just because of a vague idea.
“FEAR GOD” is probably the first thing that catches your eye. From that onwards, more and more things can be discovered that underline the simple but concise statement. But first, let’s start with the military radio station itself. After all, the scene is named after it.
Military equipment is not something that the average person can get their hands on. The odds are high the person currently works or has worked for an agency. However, contrary statements can be found in the scene. The station is constructed quite provisionally on a wallpaper table and therefore is not really reliable to carry that much weight. But hey, military equipment isn’t that expensive, right? One could argue that they are designed for outdoor use and can withstand quite a lot of stress, but that shouldn‘t be a reason to use military equipment as a coaster for his coffee. Additionally, if you check the documents with the graffiti “FEAR GOD” you might notice these are actually instructions on how to use the radio station. There is also a note on the table that describes the NATO alphabet. This indicates that the owner is not a professional but probably taught a lot himself.
Furthermore, some objects are not dedicated for military use rather than personal. For instance, there is a grocery list, which indicates that the wallpaper table is at his home and underlines the statement that he is self-taught.
Now let’s talk about his obsession. The protagonist states to fear God. It can be read very clearly on the military radio station and is even lit by a flashlight. All over the table, there are stickers, scribbles, and sticky notes that underline the message. Now two questions could arise. Why are there so many religious references found in this scene? And who does he address with the statement “FEAR GOD”, when the table is at his own home? If you look at the mounting bracket of the military radio you can see the words “Do not forget! Disappear from God’s radar”.
He is afraid that he could forget. Maybe he has a disease that causes memory problems, or maybe a higher being is able to manipulate memories. Who knows? But isn’t it interesting that the sentences are difficult to read and are almost gone? Maybe the statement has been there for quite a while now and slowly comes off, or maybe there is a reason why there are so many reminders to fear God, which is even written over the entire manual with a spray can.
That could answer the question to whom the statements are directed, but not the large number of religious references. You see it all over the place. For example the tablecloth, the church flyer, or the aluminum bottle.
The reason for this is to show how the protagonist intends to fight God. A declaration of war, which he shows with the broken cross. One could argue that it could be an accident, but the hammer right next to it makes it quite unlikely. According to the saying: “Fight fire with fire”, he wants to face him with celestial power and seeks a solution in the bible. This is shown by the stickers and sticky notes because they are not just statements to fear God, but actually bible quotes. An indication that he is very familiar with bible texts. Moreover to visualize “Fight fire with fire”, he pierced a cross-shaped letter opener in the bible.
In this way, it is possible to visualize complex stories. You break the individual story elements down to their core. It is like trying to sum up something. You look for keywords and describe the entire content with just a few words. In this case, the keywords are specific objects or interactions with one another. Also, simple connections can be described with it. How new is the grocery list? A pen is right next to it. So it is probably quite relevant. Where does the graffiti come from? There is a used spray can. So he probably did it himself recently. Every asset has a meaning. No asset should simply be placed just to fill the scene. There should be a reason for every asset to exist.
military radio station
paranoia & the demand for control
used spray can
tool for graffiti
“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
bible and letter opener
“Fight fire with fire”
investigation / truth behind obsession?
conspiracy theory - investigation cup
misfit / outcast
home / humanity
pen on the grocery list
declaration of war
hammer next to the cross
intention to break it - no mistake
extra battery (walkie talkie)
“Do not forget!” Warning
paranoia / a hint of memory manipulation or an indication of a disease
investigation / to remember to fear god
Finally, I would like to say a huge thank you to 80 Level for this opportunity and Simon Fuchs for his advice and feedback. We are an artistic industry where it is important to hold together. So I can only advise you to do the same. Pass on your knowledge and also don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
Thank you very much for reading.