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Old 11-18-2011, 01:38 PM   #4
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Re: please rate this op-ed piece: “Cinematic” is not a good thing for games...

Thanks for the replies. Cracka, we've established elsewhere that you and I have some radically different views on cinema, and since that's a great deal of the grist of this piece, I think it'd be better to respectfully pass on responding to your points, than to get into a back and forth that won't go anywhere.

Odo, thanks for your response.. you are correct that this reads as a blog post, and I was attempting more of a meandering Andy Rooney commentary than a well backed article. I honestly don't know if I want to edit or expand this, but I would like to try to take on some of your criticisms.

I think that new technology is a tool, yes, but those tools can be critical to telling a story by enabling different ways to communicate. Deep-focus in Citizen Kane (contrasting the symbol of Kane playing with his sled with his life being signed away) or color in The Wizard of Oz (showing that something is different about this place), or bullet-time in The Matrix (conveying to the audience how Neo perceives things). So I cannot agree that “all the stylistic tools film has gained as the result of great technological pushes in the last 20 years, this has had no effect whatsoever on storytelling.” If you have no appropriate or useful way to effectively communicate a particular idea, then you can’t tell the story! And certainly if you can't master your tools, then you are not going to craft a good product, regardless of the story.

Here I meant more core narrative. Bullet-time describes aspects of Neo's actions, but it deosn't flesh out his character, anymore than the inclusion of new effects in the Star Wars films had any impact on the story or characters. It only makes things seem more immediate, or technically modern. Yes, I give- in the strictest sense, characters are defined by their actions. This is paramount in videogames, but I think it's secondary in film. How you feel about characters in a film is the primary, and has the greatest effect on how you interpret the actions they do. James Bond shooting a gun at someone is a different experience than Indiana Jones or Travis Bickle shooting a gun at someone because of how we're introduced to their characters. To get back to the Matrix, we are introduced to Neo and it's quickly obvious he's a lost and passive person.. the bullet time scene doesnt alter that impression, though it does describe the action..

I can name a few counter-examples off of the top of my head of games that offer interesting, meaningful “story and cinematic” choice involving things like character development. Dragon Age: Origins, Heavy Rain, or Façade spring to mind. I would argue that the reason we don’t see more of these types of games is because they are hard to make – it’s far easier to simulate space and physics than it is to simulate a character’s personality. Dragon Age and Heavy Rain essentially use the branching path story line structure, but they are so interwoven that it’s difficult if not impossible for two players to experience the exact same story bits. Façade has a more focused and procedurally generated story that I think is just the tip of the iceberg. The “game” part was simply talking to two people – not the traditional physical space oriented game, but definitely a game nonetheless. When we start to get some more procedurally generated characters processing voice input from the player, then we’ll start to see the medium’s true potential.

I played Heavy Rain and enjoyed it for it's compelling immediacy, yet once I saw past the smoke and mirrors of the gameplay, and how the choices did little to impact the storyline, I had little to no further interest in it. Compare that to watching say, the Godfather, which I have seen countless times and it remains fresh and involving. Is it just because it's from my childhood? Or maybe it's easier to forgive because of the limitations of the medium? Or does knowing the path of the story help me relish each piece of the story more? Maybe you just can't do that when detail is randomized.... like Dragon's Lair, the freedom of choice these games so far remains, to me, a novelty, a gimmick. Something you try once and walk away from.

I don’t disagree, but what kind of proof or support can you offer that gamers do <em>not</em> want “cinematic experiences”? Are there polls taken? Are they buying something else?

This was pure opinion. Though I'll comment I haven't heard anyone raving about a cutscene in a long time. I've heard people say they enjoy the action of Uncharted, but not the actual gameplay. To be fair, I'm talking about games that employ cinematic elements in a crappy way. Like doing the QTE killing blow on the AT-AT in Force Unleashed, or assassination scenes in GTA IV... mechanics that take you OUT of the game, that disconnect you from who you're playing.... I guess for me 'cinematic' refers to suspending disbelief over a state of peril, which I think Chi And Mike argued pretty heavily on in the last podcast. If the stakes don't feel raised by the gameplay, then using film techniques on top of that is just going to be a lampoon of gameplay. I can't see any gamer wanting that. I think they crave involvement.

But if you’re just contrasting games with the real world, I would say playing a game is a voluntary action - by playing I voluntarily accept the limits of the game world. That doesn’t mean it’s not “real” freedom. It <em>is</em> real because I chose it - I chose to live within the game world limits in the hopes that playing will let me experience things I otherwise would not and possibly tell me truths about the game world that make me re-evaluate the real world.

Good point- I got nuthin!

Moreover, I don’t think some of your examples support the idea that “business” wants more cinematic games (by business I am assuming you mean the desire for profit). More spectacle and bigger art departments and bigger budgets means higher cost to make a game which means more risk and less profit.

I disagree with you here because I think you're assuming business models make sense. Look at the Development of LA Noire. 8 years of suffering. Look at films like Terrence Malik's Heavens Gate or Coppola's Rumble Fish. There's no guarantees, except for doing low budget, and videogames dont seem to be coming in on the side of frugality lately. Its A list or it's indie. The developers do what they can, but I think there's an overriding pressure from the top to mimic action films and vice-versa. Probably due to much creative direction these days coming from guys who grew up on videogames and action movies. I dont think that's a conspiratorial assertion.

Anyway, that's all I've got right now. Thanks for your points, Odo

Last edited by RandomRob; 11-18-2011 at 01:40 PM.
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