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The ’60s-Inspired Island in 'Deathloop' Is Worth a Closer Look

It’s another early morning on the Isle of Blackreef. After peeling yourself off Deathloop’s starter beach, you quickly realize the entire island is trapped in a Groundhog Day-style time loop. With only a single day split up into four segments, and four areas of the island to explore, doing so is no easy task. A mesmerizing mix of bleak, isolated landscapes and vivid midcentury modernism, with Deathloop, Arkane’s art team has created something uniquely vibrant.One of the first locations you’ll visit is the hideout of the game’s principal villain, Julianna Blake—one of eight Visionaries you must assassinate in order to break the time-loop cycle. The hideout is a modernist mansion that clings to one of the island’s many rugged cliffsides. One section of the building juts out over the ocean, held up by four huge columns reminiscent of those found within the Johnson Wax Headquarters building in Racine, Wisconsin, designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Deathloop is filled with these kinds of architectural allusions.“Frank Lloyd Wright created these beautiful interiors, office spaces that were so unique,” says Sébastien Mitton, art director and cocreative director on Deathloop. “The panels on the ceiling looked like the sky. This inspired us, because we’re really careful when lighting our games, and so those kinds of high spaces are really important.” As with most of Arkane’s games, in Deathloop you’ll spend a considerable amount of time skulking about the rooftops admiring the scenery before dipping into a building to rummage through the world more closely.

The Art of a Villain’s Lair

The interior of Julianna’s lair is just as extravagant as the outside. There are lavish green carpets, egg chairs, hypnotic wallpaper patterns, and plush conversation pits, all lit from above by immense circular light fixtures. Deathloop’s aesthetic is infused with these kinds of 1960s influences, from modernist architecture to classic James Bond films. Mitton says that the art team looked to things like the photos from the book “Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains” for inspiration.“There are interiors in there that we don’t really have in Europe. For example, the fire pits in the living room where you go down a level,” Mitton explains. “Of course, we also have to be careful not to follow clichés. We like to remake it in our own way, so it’s not just a caricature. Otherwise you end up with an Austin Powers movie where everything is amplified and grotesque.”As well as the striking influence of graphic designer Saul Bass on Deathloop’s cutscenes and in-game posters, the team also looked to the hand-painted illustrations of Robert McGinnis, who worked on many of the James Bond film posters in the ’60s. “When we were working on Deathloop’s script, and we had all this paranormal phenomena, we settled on the ’60s setting for two reasons,” explains Mitton. “There’s the mysterious aspect with James Bond, [the 60s’ TV show ] The Avengers, and all the gadgets and colorful characters.”

Courtesy of Arkane

The Lure of the ’60s

The design of the 1960s provides a sense of nostalgia and is continually referenced by today’s media, from TV shows like Madmen and Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit to recent sci-fi films like The Shape of Water. In Deathloop, this familiar setting helps reflect the larger theme of a time loop—of time somehow being out of joint. We also return to the ’60s again and again because it’s comfortable as well as close.“The other aspect was the light-heartedness of people living in the ’60s,” Mitton says. “I was born in ’74, and so these TV shows were on in my childhood. They’re my memories, so I feel I can translate them accurately, whereas I might not be able to with the 1910s. I feel like I can touch the ’60s … It’s also a time when things were less rigid. Women were becoming more important, more prominent, and that really nourishes the narrative and visuals. It’s really an opening of thought and possibilities. It also joined up with our script, with this idea of an eternal party that goes wrong.”