KILL SCREEN 036 // Phase 2: Dylan Walker of FULL OF HELL Seeks the Humanity in Technology


Photo by A.J. Kinney

“You are here, and it’s beautiful, and escaping isn’t always something bad.” –Firewatch, 2016

In spite of our lengthy and incredibly thorough first half of our conversation with Full of Hell vocalist Dylan Walker—focusing on his past and present with video games—the co-nerds at Kill Screen found that there was still so much left to discuss in regards to the medium and, in particular, its future. Undeterred by previously talking about fears of waining interest, frustration with the industry’s bad habits and outright anger towards the community’s worst members, Walker expresses a blissful outlook for the art of gaming, both in its technology and creativity with the prospects for digital escapism virtually endless and a welcome retreat from a harsh reality. Looming responsibilities ultimately lead to the end of our time together, however, with everyone returning to their daily lives and waiting for the future to eventually unfold. Despite this being our longest interview to date—thank you for taking this journey with us as far as you have—we hope to consider this less a settled matter and more the start of an even longer correspondence over the years to come.

You mentioned in your recent Decibel story that, “there is no truth to life and that you have a lot of existential fears.” Do you seek games that explore those existential fears or do you typically look for games that are more of an escape from that feeling?
I think more often I want an escape from that feeling because I’ve always had trouble confronting that stuff unless I’m writing for a band or something, and then I just dive into it. But otherwise, I’ve always had this thing in my life where I’ve run from that stuff. Those always end up being my favorite films and favorite games, but that might have been one of the reasons why I was kind of hesitant to play The Last of Us to begin with. I just heard it was such an emotionally heavy thing. I’ve kind of come around to confronting that kind of stuff the last few years, so I have been trying more stuff that’s maybe a little bleaker. There’s just so much bleakness in my head day-to-day. I feel like I just didn’t have space in my brain for those kinds of stories all the time. That’s probably not that uncommon, but I would say more often than not I want an escape. But escape’s boring sometimes, I’ve learned.

I’m [Michael] of a similar disposition, towing that line between staring into the void with some of these stories. Silent Hill 2 is one of my favorite games of all time. You wanna talk about a bleak game, it doesn’t really get much more bleak than that.
Yeah, it feels good though to confront those things. I’ve come around on a lot of that stuff. I’ve been trying to push myself to watch the stuff I know I really like, even though it’s emotional labor at times. The Last of Us II, when it came out and I played it through three times in a row, it was too much. I didn’t even realize it because I liked it so much, but it was too much emotional labor to go through over and over again. It was funny. I was like, This game is depressing me, I think. [Laughs] I gotta take a break, play Zelda or something.

Silent Hill is a good example. Even the soundtrack is, to me, so icy cold. Pretty much all the Silent Hill games—at least, I don’t know what’s been made after [Silent Hill 4:] The Room—but those games’ soundtracks are bleak as fuck. Sometimes I feel like the choices of synthesizers occasionally remind me of some really bleak-ass dungeon synth or something, maybe? Those soundtracks are depressing. I think they just put me in a headspace. Like, every single time. Those are great games.

As somebody who uses a different soundscape than a lot of people, do you find that soundtracks catch you sometimes for their use of different instruments or tones?
Oh, definitely. As far as video games go, I think my big guy growing up was Nobuo Uematsu, the Final Fantasy guy. I listen to those orchestrated soundtracks all the time still. I guess it strikes me more in film when they do more experimental, weird textures and stuff—it can sound pretty terrifying if it’s used in the right way. But yes, sound design in video games is essential. I actually wasn’t playing a whole lot of video games with headphones, especially console stuff, until the last four years or so. If the game has really good sound design? It’s so next-level. Playing The Last of Us Part II with surround sound headphones on, it’s so much more intense. It’s sick.

Are there any that speak directly to your musical sensibilities or anything that you just find personally enjoyable?
I don’t really look at things [as], “This is influential because you can see a direct through line to the music that I make.” Like I was saying, those Uematsu soundtracks, specifically I through IX, those are so, so, so good. I still listen to the fully orchestrated versions and the original game versions. They’re just really memorable to me. They just stuck in my brain. That’s probably number one. Silent Hill soundtracks are awesome. The Secret of Mana soundtrack. I don’t even like that game that much, but the soundtrack’s amazing. Chrono Trigger soundtrack, obviously. So, so good. Chrono Cross soundtrack is crazy, too.

The Donkey Kong stuff makes me laugh thinking about how much people love the music. I get it on the same way, but it’s Donkey Kong Country. It’s just really interesting. Because of the way they had to make soundtracks for those older gen systems where it wasn’t fully orchestrated—it was a lot of MIDI stuff and kind of lo-fi—it has its own aesthetic that people are always going to love. Mega Man soundtracks are awesome, too. Mega Man X soundtrack particularly. I played the older Mega Man games and stuff, but I really gave my best shot to Mega Man X. I couldn’t beat it, but I gave my best shot to it and those songs stick out to me. Video game music’s really cool. It adds a lot.

Would you ever be interested in trying your hand at making a game soundtrack? What would a Dylan Walker game soundtrack sound like?
I think it would be over my head, but me and [guitarist] Spencer [Hazard] always talk about wanting to do scores for something. I think we would have a good time if I did something. This dude Lustmord did a soundtrack for this movie called The Empty Man. People love that movie—I think it’s OK—but the soundtrack for it is fantastic. It’s super atmospheric and creepy. I think I would be coming from a place like that where it would be minimal. I don’t like when there’s music blasting the whole time. Generally, if it’s not like Mega Man or something, I hate guitars in in video game soundtracks. I don’t want to hear [mimics chugging gutiar] some kind of half-baked, 60 percent-heavy pseudo-metal bullshit. I just don’t want to hear it. I don’t care. I don’t like those ripping Japanese guitar solo type soundtracks necessarily, either. I get it, I understand—it’s just not my style. I like the really atmospheric, kind of drone-y or more ambient type stuff.

If I had any other talent in my bones, I would want to be able to make something like a Donkey Kong Country or Secret of Mana soundtrack where it’s just these beautiful, serene synth-y songs. I don’t know. They’re all earworms and it’s peaceful feeling to me. So, I think I would want to make something either minimalistic—like, drone-y—that would probably go well with a survival horror type game.

I don’t think they’re really making survival horror that I would like to see. Do you guys remember that Silent Hills P.T. demo? That’s pretty much the starting and ending point for me. I remember when that was out. I remember touring and all of us were like, “Yo, this is so fucking scary.” Everywhere we went, we were like, “Get the P.T. demo, we’ll show you the P.T. demo.” I think I would like working on a game like that that was really atmospheric and kind of surreal. And then the soundtrack would be some kind of minimalistic, drone-y, ambient type thing. But again, kind of over my head. Maybe someday we’ll get that opportunity, but generally speaking, that’s where I think I’d land.

Did you ever play Scorn?
Yeah, Scorn’s sick. I mean, not necessarily my thing, but design-wise, it’s horrifying looking. It’s pretty cool.

That’s also Lustmord.
Oh, I didn’t even know that. That’s fucking awesome. He’s amazing. He’s a perfect fit for that. I think just because I’m a fan of that that style, that approach to darker music, I think that would be where I’d want to go. It would probably end up being kind of derivative, though, to be honest. I can’t imagine. I feel like it takes a lot of effort and you want to sit with it. But yeah, score stuff’s cool. [Laughs]

Other than Shadow of the Erdtree, which literally everybody is canceling all of their plans for that to come out…
Yeah, I paid for that immediately. [Laughs]

Are there any other games that you’re looking forward to coming up?
I was talking to my friends about this the other day. I’m excited for whatever that dude that made Stardew Valley [Eric Barone/ConcernedApe] is making. I think it’s The Haunted Chocolatier . I can’t wait for that. Chucklefish is producing this little indie called Witchbrook. I don’t really care about playing a witch/wizard school game—that’s cool—but I will be anticipating that, definitely. Like I mentioned, that game Enshrouded is in early access. It’s not even out yet and they’ve already patched it after, like, a month with a ton. They’re actually listening to the player base on Reddit. They’re engaging with all of them and doing what they want, so I think that’s actually got some potential. They’re billing that as some weird hybrid cross between the Breath of the Wild style between Minecraft and Elder Scrolls. On paper, that’s my kind of game, so I’m pretty psyched about that. I’m psyched for more Valheim updates.

I don’t know though, otherwise. I’ll just be sitting around waiting for Elder Scrolls VI and hoping that’s good. I really hope to god that’s good because I don’t even know if part VII comes out. The main dude Todd [Howard] is not going to be probably involved, not that it probably matters anymore. And who knows? I mean, I might be 50 when the next one comes out so, because I’ve gotten so much mileage out of Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim, I’m hoping it’s good. I like the shittiness of those games, for the record. I watch Oblivion NPC videos all the time and I’ve seen them all on YouTube. I’ll just put them on again. Or watching crazy, angry people on the street with the Oblivion encounter music on, that shit’s so funny to me. It’s almost more cultural, but I’ll still keep up with what Bethesda’s doing.

I’m open to new stuff. Like I said, I’m retrying that Final Fantasy VII Remake and not hating it, just taking it for face value. I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting. I’m excited for whatever FromSoft does next, too. There’s a few players out there right now that are developing that are just completely crazy. I honestly have a really strong feeling that whatever CD Projekt Red does next will be really great out of the gate because they got such a hard smack on the nose with the newspaper from the whole world. The feeling in a band when you put out something and people say it sucks or people are trashing you on the internet, that’s a universal experience. It’s hardly anybody, it’s such a small, little world that it’s not that big of a deal. I can’t imagine pouring years of my time into something that I love so much and it just gets bumbled so hard at the end and then the entire world—millions of people—are just shaming you. They removed the game from the store and everything. So, I think CD Projekt Red is going to put up whatever it is—the next Witcher game or whatever—it’s going to be pretty crazy. I’m confident.

I [James] imagine that being a tough situation, too, for people who worked on the game.
That’s my main thing beyond any specific game: I hope there’s a little bit of a shift in how they treat the human beings that are making these things. Maybe, hopefully, they’re not like, “Let’s just have A.I. make it.” I know they use A.I. already for texturizing and little shit like that—I don’t really think that’s a big deal—but I hope they put a little more value into the people that are actually pouring their juice into the game. It definitely seems like, for the most part, most companies are crunching really hard on people and it’s bad news. Because these are art projects and these people are pouring their souls into it. It’s a fucking travesty. There’s so much money involved that there’s no way they’re going to let people really do their thing. With stuff like Steam being such a robust community, at least indie devs and stuff can follow their hearts and make whatever weird game they want. Stardew Valley is made by one guy. It’s awesome. His identity is just all over it. I want more of that. More passion projects, you know?

Actually, we didn’t even touch on it, but I’m really, really fucking excited for VR. I have a pair of XREAL. They’re just augmented reality glasses, it’s not even the VR thing, but having that huge-ass screen projected and you’re just laying in bed playing Steam Deck is so sick to me. I love it and I think VR is really amazing, too. They have a haptic suit that hurts you. It has little pads all over it. I don’t want that, but it’s amazing.

Having a kid, looking at this kid and thinking, I was born in 1990 and look what video games looked like. It was so primitive and to imagine now—which, god willing I’ll be alive when she’s 30—I just can’t even imagine what it’s gonna look like because it’s just accelerating. I’m just really excited to see how things roll tech-wise. I think VR is gonna be completely crazy. It’s gonna be some Ready Player One shit. I don’t think that’s far-fetched at all. I don’t know if that plot line is gonna roll out in front of our eyes or anything, but I think there will be a NordicTrack situation where VR is gonna be pretty involved and it’s gonna be pretty exciting. So, I’m excited for it to streamline and get a little more affordable for a little while before I dive in completely. Half-Life: Alyx or whatever it was called? Crazy.

You seem quite excited about the XREAL glasses. It gives you the illusion of a huge screen in front of your eyes, right?
Yeah. You just plug it in—they look like a pair of Ray-Bans—and it just projects, like… I forget what the screen size is. I feel like it’s 120 inches and it’s 4 or 8K, super-high resolution screen that just kind of floats. I always got [what] I used to call Terraria arm. When I would crook my arms and play for too long and my hands would go numb. Not cool. I really like it because it is more immersive to see that big, bright screen in the dark and I can just have my arms down in a relaxed state playing. I think they’re pretty cool. It’s one of those things, though, where I feel like it’s half tech at this point. It’s not quite streamlined and as good as it can be, but I think pretty sick overall. It’s not compatible with everything, though, which is kind of lame. I thought I’d be able to use it on the Switch, but you have to buy all this shit to hook up to it. I guess the Switch’s operating system got updated and it doesn’t work at all anymore or something, so it’s not that great. But for the Steam Deck right now, I love it. It’s crazy. The only downside is that certain games that have to be scaled down to even run on the Steam Deck really show their wear when you’re looking at it on a super huge-ass, high res screen, which you would expect. The Last of Us looks pretty fucking terrible on that screen, whereas if you look at it on the little Steam Deck screen, it looks unbelievable. But yeah, I don’t know. Those glasses are pretty cool. I should probably get into VR. Like I said, I’m kind of waiting to see if it gets streamlined or maybe even adopted by more games. But that’s an inevitable for me because I’m just so excited by it.

Some of the VR stuff has caught my [James] eye. But like you said just in terms of cost on rollout, that’s a little beyond my price price range at the moment.

Yeah, and I feel like some of those headsets go up into $1,000, $1,500 or something like that maybe, which is normal. That new tech is always like that. I think I’m gonna get a PS5 because I was so disappointed with the Xbox, the first time I ever got a Microsoft system. I’m definitely gonna probably end up getting that weird portable thing that they made for it [PlayStation Portal]. It’s so cool. Like I said, I’m not gonna take my Steam Deck outside. I’m just gonna stay in my house, that’s where I like to play it. Getting something like that would be cool, but that’s pretty new tech and I feel like it’s pretty premium priced right now. As with everything, that will become more affordable hopefully with time. Same with the Steam Deck. That was pretty pricey. That was a splurge, but even that I was like, This is the most expensive console I’ve ever purchased. And it’s a PC. It’s pretty cheap for a gaming PC. Obviously it’s not top-bill power or anything, but for someone like me that was never a PC gamer that always looked at Steam with envy and felt like I was missing out on so much shit, it’s perfect.

I see this on the on the Reddit for Steam Deck all the time. It’s always new parents that are just like, “I thought I would never be able to play video games again”—which is ridiculous, but valid fear, I guess. But then they’re like, “The Steam Deck is how I make it happen.” I don’t really like playing games on my TV, even. I’ve been into portable systems from moment one. I didn’t have an OG Gameboy, but I thought they were amazing. I did, however, get a Gameboy Pocket. That was my first portable system I got and I honestly think I’ve owned, somehow, almost every iteration of a portable system. I had the Gameboy Color, I had the SP, I got the DS, I got the DS Light for some reason. I had the original PSP, I had that fucking sick little PSP Go that was just digital. I love that thing, it’s still insane. I still have that and I’m just like, Man, If I was smart, I would take this, because it’s smaller than my phone and it flips up. It’s so sick. I couldn’t even believe it’s no disc drive. I was like, That’s so sick.

I’m really excited about it. I don’t even play as much as probably a lot of my gaming friends play nearly as much, but I love it. I generally love the culture and I love seeing what’s coming. When they hit it right, it’s amazing. I never really felt like video games could reach the echelon of what you would get from a film or a book. I just didn’t think it mattered. It wasn’t even a disc. It’s a different medium. It’s interactive. It’s a totally different experience. I get why it’s not going to hit that point, but there’s been games now where I’m just like, This is almost better than any film I’ve ever seen. I just think that’s so exciting.

People take video games really fucking seriously nowadays. I mean, it’s a bigger industry than Hollywood. There’s more money in it. That’s a good thing for everybody. I mean, it’ll come with negatives, but it’s exciting because people are taking it really, really seriously. I’ve watched documentaries about video games when they were new in the ’80s or whatever, in the late ’70s or whatever, and it was totally a novelty. People loved it, but I don’t think people were looking at it like a legitimate art form for a while—and it is. Right now, it’s the same way with music. Different eras of technology and different aesthetics, it’s all happening now because it’s a particular aesthetic. There’s PS1 demakes. PS1 graphics are a desirable aesthetic now. For me, like I said, I love pre-rendered backgrounds and I love the little bright sprites from the Super Nintendo shit. There was like a recent RPG that came out on Steam, I forget what it’s called. I got it. I haven’t played it much but it’s modeled entirely after a Chrono Trigger type game.

Sea of Stars.
That’s the one. It’s really good. I’ve put in, like, two hours, but it’s beautiful and I just think it’s really exciting. There’s a community for every little style of game you can possibly imagine and there’s aesthetic merit. When you have a Valheim where it’s PS1 polygons with ray tracing light, that’s a style and that’s intentional and it’s so fucking sick. It’s the same thing with extreme music right now. Literally every style ever, there’s a scene for it. Production is one of the exciting parts about music for me, and I’m sure you guys, too. When I hear an Arthur Rizk-produced metal record, there’s so much intention there. Same with his noise records and everything he does, I’m just singling him out for some reason. But he understands production sounds so specific. It’s all intentional down to the way it’s mixed. That intention’s so cool. A lot of people would call it bedroom black metal, but some of the really raw, punky black metal where it’s one guy and he records it, people want it to sound pretty gnarly. The raw production is part of it. That’s so cool to me, I love that. I see that in video games, too. Just like music, the fact that all the tools are there for people now and stuff like Steam is roaring harder than ever, there’s never probably been a better time to get into it. No matter what people want, some dude’s out there making it probably. Someone’s out there dreaming it up and they have the ability. There’s no dickhead holding the keys, like with music 30, 40 years ago when you needed to have a major with the keys or whatever. You don’t need them anymore. It’s cool. You get a guy like that dude that made Stardew Valley and I’m just amazed because he’s just like, “I’m gonna post the big update everybody’s excited about when I wake up tomorrow after I have a cup of coffee,” and you’re just like, Fuck, this is one guy.

And games don’t need to be 100 hours, either. AAA, it’s the same way with radio rock or whatever to me. They’re so desperate for a formula that’s just gonna make their money. There are companies out there that are just gonna like try to check these boxes. The game’s not good because it takes you 200 hours to beat. I mean, I like a lot of long games, but there’s something to be said about a bite-size game like Carrion or, I remember this game Firewatch. You guys ever heard of that one? I remember that being one of the first bite-size indie games that I played through. I played through it in one sitting and I was just like, This is really cool. Or Night in the Woods was a cool one, too. More narrative driven, such a good story and it doesn’t need to be 100 hours. I don’t need to do this and that, it doesn’t need to check boxes. It’s this person’s vision. The small team, they made something really cool, play through it in a sitting. It’s sick. I fucking love it. I love video games right now so much. I buy games on Steam now all the time, every sale. I have just so many games that I haven’t even played, but I’m just picking them up because they look cool and I’ll get to them eventually, maybe. Yeah, it’s exciting. I feel the same way about music. Good times.

My [Michael] hot take, which I honestly don’t even think is that hot of a take: I think that video games are the pinnacle of human creativity to this point. Bar none.
Yeah, I think so, too.

It incorporates every facet of art and science into one medium that is digestible and the key to access is participation from the audience.
This is going to sound heady and pretty goofy, but this is just where my head goes when I think about this stuff too hard. I think you could even put it on a higher pedestal. These virtual worlds—I mean, it’s primitive at this point—but it’s like they’re creating life in a way. It’s the most resonant, high-purpose, godlike worship of existence that there could possibly be, these people creating these these worlds in their image or in the image that they desire to see. Can you even comprehend 100 years from now? Again, goofy thing to say, but I really think it probably could overtake every other visual medium, film in particular. I just think it could overtake it completely. Film would never go away, but I agree with you. It’s super important and where it’s going is even more exciting because it’s just getting so immersive and that’s really exciting. I hope I can just be plugged in and live forever. I’ll do that. Hopefully it would look better than like Second Life.

Coagulated Bliss is available now via Closed Casket Activities and can be ordered here.
Tickets to see Full of Hell on tour with Dying Fetus are available here.
Follow Full of Hell on Bandcamp, Instagram and Facebook.

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