Dead End Thrills is a website celebrating the passion and talent behind the world’s most exciting videogames. Its mission, if you can call it that, is to strip away the distractions of gameplay and provide lovingly captured snapshots of these virtual worlds and their inhabitants. I’ve compared it previously to the work of a unit stills photographer on a movie set: its job is to flatter and translate without any pretence of ownership. To provide a visual document that isn’t diminished by technology.
One thing it is not is an attempt to further the wearisome ‘games as art’ debate. Its interest is in the art that exists within what is, and always should be, an entertainment medium. It is not some bid to validate games or win approval from a mythical jury of art critics. Inspired primarily by Cinefex, its choice of games is non-discriminatory; even the worst, most rushed or underfunded games can dazzle and inspire.
The site has gone through many changes over the years, but has come to settle on its purest format to date. Images can be downloaded at high resolutions and are available upon request at extreme resolutions suitable for print, but this is not a ‘wallpaper resource’. None of these shots has been taken with that use in mind, nor should they be.
Dead End Thrills is not a ‘videogame tourism’ site, either. It sees little point in ogling videogame landmarks with a virtual Instamatic – that, after all, is the job of the game itself. Every shot has to work to some degree in isolation, and the site and its contributors discard hundreds more shots than they post. That is the challenge, the hobby, and the fun that keeps it going.
It’s also why games only tend to feature here if they allow a certain freedom of control over camera and game events. There is no Photoshopping beyond subtle tweaks to gamma common to online publishing. Games are modded where appropriate because it is gaming, not just games, that we enjoy. Downsampling (rendering at hi-res and then shrinking to improve image quality) is an essential part of the process. For all intents and purposes, though, what you see here is realtime all the time.
In many cases, capturing these games is only possible thanks to the generosity and understanding of developers who provide unlocked or early builds of their games. Failing that, if the retail version doesn’t allow shots that are worthwhile, the game doesn’t feature. Credit should also go to the hackers and modders who enjoy opening retail games up so that anyone can explore them, unlocking the full value of this expensive pastime. Dead End Thrills is dedicated to them as much as anyone.
Special mention goes to the hardware companies whose job it is to promote and further the technology of games. Seeing in this site a win-win scenario for gamers and themselves, they’ve provided equipment we couldn’t otherwise afford to crash and literally burn on a regular basis. This site is therefore powered by the alarming smells of Intel, Corsair and Nvidia. Images are hosted by the MaxCDN content delivery network.
How does the site work?
The worlds visited by Dead End Thrills are explored gradually and repeatedly to find the best possible quality, the most appropriate formats, and the most exciting and evocative moments. Each game has its own gallery which can be found via the Index. The front page of the site displays a fixed number of the most recent images, the number depending upon platform. Image count, thumbnail quality and loading ‘chunks’ vary as follows:
- Tablets (iPad, Android, etc.): 40 images, 20 per chunk, 75 per cent quality
- Phones (all models): 20 images, 10 per chunk, 60 per cent quality
- Desktops (all systems): 100 images, 100 per chunk, 100 per cent quality, optional infinite scroll
Individual game galleries load all available images on all platforms, but at the adaptive quality levels shown above. Desktop users have the additional, experimental option of Dead End Thrills Forever, an infinite scrolling version of the site that can load its entire image collection in a single page. Good luck with that.
Tapping or clicking on an image summons a lightbox to display it as large as your browser window will allow. Hover or tap on an image to display information about game and shot, together with icons for sharing on social networks like Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. There’s also an icon for downloading the full resolution version of an image, though at the moment the resolutions are somewhat lower than the original 4K. This will be upgraded shortly.
The Dead End Thrills Community
The Dead End Thrills Community is a family of Flickr groups that are home to some of the most dedicated and exciting videogame screenshooters, and are free to join for any Flickr user. This site then uses the Flickr API to provide a lean and consistent way to browse and share.
The main Community page displays the most recent images added to the group. Clicking or tapping an image opens it in the lightbox, and a further click or tap displays whatever meta information the user has provided. At the bottom of the page is a submenu that links to different branches of the Community, covering special cases like The Elder Scrolls and Fallout games.
Furthermore, every* member of the group has their own Dead End Thrills subdomain they can find and share using the following URL syntax:
* – for obvious reasons, this is unavailable to users with spaces and certain types of punctuation in their display names
Ratios and resolutions
Motion pictures might see their worlds through 16:9 and anamorphic windows, games included, but stills must be more focused. Which is why for every epic landscape on Dead End Thrills you’ll find a person or a place that’s begging for a close-up – or something thereabouts. 3:4 portrait, 4:3, 16:9 and the wider 2:1 are all used where appropriate. These aren’t just cropped in Photoshop, either, but rendered at those proportions using custom resolutions. Why? To take all the guesswork out of grabbing them with a mind to cropping them later, and benefit from FOV settings unique to each AR.
The lowest resolutions tolerated for rendering these games are, depending on aspect ratio, 2160px vertical or 3840px horizontal. In rare cases they can be rendered at up to 8K or 12K, though this seldom yields the best results due to glitches in so-called tiledshotting. Probably best you don’t ask.
Work for hire
Dead End Thrills has produced marketing and production assets for companies such as Bethesda Game Studios, Arkane Studios and Crytek under contract. It’s worked in a voluntary capacity under NDA with companies such as Epic Games, Remedy Entertainment, Avalanche Studios, Crystal Dynamics, Rocksteady Studios and Funcom. Professional work is tailored to the unique requirements of the branding and PR teams, and uses years of experience in wrangling game engines, liaising with developers and, of course, playing games to overcome the many hurdles of working with early code.
If you wish to enquire about rates and availability then please use the site’s contact form.