The Holes and Patches in Machine Cinema

I would like to start by apologizing for the lateness of this blog post. I did not realize until far into the night that there was a blog post due this week. I understood that the status quo suggests that there would be one, but the chaos of the week threw me off. When I looked on Thursday morning for the assignment and the blog post was not assigned, I figured that it was because of recent events and the effort that we need to put into our Machinima. Speaking of which…

Machinima is a very odd type of entertainment. Its entire existence is a creative misuse of video games that were made for purposes unrelated to making stories. The great thing about this is that almost any game can be utilized to make a machinima. There isn’t one go to type of game that screams “make a movie out of me”. Of course some lend themselves to the task better than others but it isn’t taboo to use a new type of game to make a machinima. This gives machinima a huge affordance as a method for storytelling. Not only does it give you graphical elements for relatively little effort, but its stock of graphical content is nearly endless.

Of course, with affordances come constraints. Machinima in particular seems to scream out its constraints to the top of the world. The main constraint that I have found with machinima is the difficulty to make a smooth and seamless visual within most games. This constraint is obviously due to the fact that machinima is creative misuse and that the games were not designed to facilitate movie making. Because of its fundamental nature to the medium, the challenge of pacing can be seen in almost any machinima. For example, in Rooster Teeth’s Red vs Blue, the lack of freedom in the subtle actions of the characters made the show jarring to watch at first glance. The characters would bob their heads to indicate speech and do exaggerated actions to indicate emotion but Rooster Teeth tried their best to make it as naturally flowing as possible. However, the end result was that the audience just had to get used to the style and accept the limitations of the show. This broke some immersion but it really was the hardest thing to get over to start enjoying the show. Eventually, Rooster Teeth started animating certain scenes to give more options to a characters actions. However, these animations were sparse and only done when they were fairly necessary. This supplement allowed them to do bigger and better things for the show and in a way shows the potential for machinima without breaking out of the medium entirely.

Another major constraint of Machinima is being confined to the theme of the game that one chooses. There is of course the option to use many games, but this is jarring and can potentially hurt more than it helps. With these two major constraints in mind, our team decided that we should find a game with a desirable theme that could facilitate movie making (various camera angles, freedom of movement, etc.). We ended settling on a game that fulfills these criteria but also limits our storytelling options. I hope that we can make pull off a decent machinima with this game. (No, I am not telling you what that game is yet….)



2 thoughts on “The Holes and Patches in Machine Cinema

  1. Hey Jack,

    I’m diggin the post. Can’t wait to see what groundbreaking piece of machinima our group comes up with… 🙂

    I had a couple of thoughts in response to your analysis while I was reading through it. The first is a bit of a tangent sparked by your assertion that “machinima is creative misuse and that the games were not designed to facilitate movie making”. You’re describing here what Lowood terms an “objet trouvé”. The moviemaking capabilities of games, at least initially, were created neither for nor by the artist/moviemaker, but rather were recontextualized by him or her. While this is, of course, a constraint – initially all of a game’s features were designed with gameplay in mind, not machinima – it provided machinima with a niche in which to grow. I echoed Lowood’s assertion during class that if a game designer were to actively focus on incorporating cinematic elements into a game, the result at best could not compete with software specifically designed for moviemaking, and at worst could negatively affect gameplay. That being said, more recent games have permitted much more camera control. This affordance, while making a created world more immersive, also greatly enhances machinima.

    Secondly, I wanted to comment on your discussion of the jarring nature of Rooster Teeth’s “Red vs Blue”. I agree with you, the unnatural movements of the characters made the video itself slightly abrasive. But it occurred to me that the movements performed by the characters – namely, head bobbing and flailing gestures – were the same actions that Halo players are accustomed to seeing those characters perform during gameplay. This may seem like an obvious assertion to make, but it made me think back to the idea of insider and outsider perspectives. Those inside the Halo community were rewarded by this video in everything from the setting to the plot references to the characters’ tendencies. Those outside the community, while still able to understand the primary narrative, miss out on the sense of familiarity that might make the video valuable to the Halo community in the first place.

    That being said, great post, and stay tuned for a machinima masterpiece!


  2. Anna,
    I like your observation about insiders and outsiders. In any narrative we have elements that some folks get and others don’t. Think about any movie based on the book and you’ll probably notice little “nods” to the book that the director throws in that only those who have read the book will get. I think you’re right about the same thing happening with a game used for machinima. Many of the idiosyncratic elements that may bother outsiders (those who haven’t played the game) may be the things that make insiders (those who have played the game) enjoy the film the most. By way of example, we can think of the “emotes” in South Park’s “Make Love not Warcraft” machinima. Players of the game may enjoy them for their familiarity, while others may wonder at the awkwardness.

    I like your argument about the game itself being a determining factor in what stories can be told using it. This, of course, only opens itself up to ironic abuse, which, not for nothing, is exactly what you did with Overlord!


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