Monday, December 18, 2006

The Art of Machinima (...what?)

Besides working on the Global Citizenship stuff, I'm also slowly getting back to my master thesis. That research will concern itself with machinima. After having to explain several times to a lot of people what it is, how it's done and why people do it, I thought I might as well post a bit about it here, so you all know what I'm doing.

Machinima is linguistically made of the words: "MACHINe" and "anIMAtion" (some also think that cINema should be part of it) and machinima are basically films which are made inside video games. So not films ABOUT games, like Tomb Raider, Street Fighter, Doom, Mortal Kombat or other really bad B-films, but films made WITH games, or better: game engines. What machinima makers do, comes down to 2 options:

1. The maker rescripts the game to make it do what they want, they give actions to the in-game characters in a timed fashion, they make or use modified game levels and characters to give the whole a look that want and they can be the directors of their own movie all on their own. (several games which are used for this: Half Life 2, The Sims 2, Unreal Tournament)

2. A bunch of people go online in a certain game, they meet each other and play out a script just like one would with a real life film. One or more of the people in the game will function as cameraman. Their point of view of the game will be recorded by a piece of external software and that will render out actual video footage. (several games which are used for this: Halo, World of Warcraft, Battlefield)

Half Life 2 machinima shot.

After this stage of shooting, the process of editing, sound and after effects begins just like any other movie.

Machinima touch upon several interesting things about gaming, game culture, film and do-it-yourself culture. They use the original game to make something new out of it. In a sense they cut the 'game' part out of the game. They use the video and audiomaterial from inside the game, but loose the "play". Also, machinima makers can only use what is inside the game to make their movies. For instance: if you take a game like Battlefield with all its tanks, explosions, desert regions, planes, guns and soldiers, you will be making a war-movie. If you want to make a romantic comedy set in a city, Battlefield won't supply you with the possibilities to make it. That's because the video and audio inside a game are tailored to suit the 'play' part of the game. Only those things that are necessary for the play of the game are put into the video and audio engines.

So for different kinds of movies, machinima makers turn to different games and the visual styles of these games determine the look and feel of the resulting movie.

Bloodspell, made with Neverwinter Nights

Of course a lot of the machinima movies are made by geeks and nerds who think their favourite game rocks and think they are the bomb by making a movie with it. The resulting movies are of course extremely boring, but occassionaly precious little gems surface and they show real potential. Interesting plots and characters, good sets and camera work, generally enjoyable. I am very interested in where all this is going. With new games coming out every week, with every week more sophisticated graphics, better physics and better character moves, the possibilities for making convincing and interesting machinima will also increase. Also a lot of games are coming out with game-editing possibilities already build in to provide machinima makers and other people who would like to re-work the game with easier access and possibilities to do what they want to do!

So take a look at some of the movies I've listed down here to hopefully see what I find interesting about them!

The Days After - Mankind has been swept away by a deadly virus, the last survivors live the final days of their lives on the rooftops and mesmerize what has happened to the world around them. Made with Grand Theft Auto (moody music by Bloc Party)

The Internet is for Porn - A great classic, bit tacky, still funny though. Made with World of Warcraft

The Fixer - One of my favourites. Made inside the Sims 2, but nothing is 'suburbia' or 'domestic' about it. It's an action packed series with a pretty cold hearted lead role.

The Adventures of Bill and John: Danger Attacks at Dawn - The big winner at the 2006 Machinima Awards. ALMOST funny comedy about 2 air force lieutenants messing up big time in the high rising skies. Good cinematography, effects and voice-acting though (be it in French, English subs)

June - A story of love in shattered times made with Half-Life 2. No words, just beautiful music and emotional cinematography.


Kworb said...

Awesome stuff.. I especially liked June. As a WoW addict I'm very familiar with these types of movies, and it's nice to see the emphasis on the story for once (so that everyone can enjoy it) and not on some running gag that only the gamers themselves can understand. It's also boring when you get the distinct feeling that the movie was made only to advertise the game itself or the music that was used.

Personally I've only made a tv-show based music video (a cliché, I know) and a video of in-game WoW footage set to music.. maybe someday I'll give something like machinima a try, I'll have to buy a better computer first though. :)

Jago said...

How cool! I didn't know you were into these things. And by making your music video you already entered the realm of machinima! Don't be shy ;)

Kworb said...

Well it was basically just showing how something is done in the game, but with music and edited a bit to make it less boring :P

I doubt that falls under the definition of machinima, cause else things like speed run videos or even Starcraft game replays would be machinima, and I was under the impression that it's more a form of artistic expression and not just anything recorded from a video game.

Here's a youtube link if you want to see my vid, but it's probably very boring for people who don't play WoW :)

Jago said...

It's indeed something for WoW insiders. I never made the step to buy and play it, out of fear to become completely alienated from the rest of my life.

What you say about speed runs is true of course, but speed runs are the genesis of current machinima. By geeks like you ;) who "pwn" their games and wanna show off their skills to others by finding ways to record their actions, the so-called speed run was born. The whole do-it-yourself machinima movement took off from there.

And you definitely pwn WoW by all the comments your movie harvested! (but might I add that I highly disliked the song you used in it haha)

Kworb said...

Well "luckily" I was already alienated from the rest of the world before buying WoW, so it didn't have an adverse effect on my social life :P

Anyway, machinima is definitely an interesting subject, at first when I read your post it seemed a bit weird to research it for a master thesis, but now that I've given it some more thought, there are definitely a lot of aspects to it that you could explore. Make sure to post the thesis when you finish it. :)

And about the music, well I personally love the song, although it doesn't sound that good on youtube cause it's such low quality. But yeah besides happy pop and beautiful world music I also like some metal