252: Better Than Film

Alice Bonasio

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Better Than Film

Film is often identified as the medium that videogames most wants to be like, in terms of cultural importance. Alice Bonasio argues that in order to shut up critics like Roger Ebert, the gaming industry needs to examine both its own history and that of its closest counterpart.

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Plinglebob

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While people related to the industry hope games will reach the success and reputation of movies, I doubt it. Computer games have become too firmly fixed in mind of the public as something to as a fun activity rather then as an artistic medium and while I'm pleased with Heay Rains success, the only thing it shows is that there are one million people who are willing to try something new. Sadly, this number is no-where near enough to encourage a large cultural shift.

I liked the comparison between between games and comics. I've always been a big fan of comics because they have everything you could want from an artistic medium. You have creators passionate about their work and the stories they create, you have a decent indie scene and you can switch between dark and serious to light and funny within the same series without it feeling out of place. I say let games copy the comic book industry if thats what it gives us.
 

Alice Bonasio

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While I don't think that gaming should follow film to the extent that it does, I don't think we need to leave behind childish things. Childish things are what makes gaming so much fun, and that's what we should stick with. Film itself is far from mature at times. Watch a Jason Statham film for that.

The thing that must be understood is that if we do leave the space marines and gratuitous gore behind, and make every game a pinnacle of storytelling like Heavy Rain, people like Roger Ebert still aren't going to consider it of artistic merit. They're biased. You can see it yourself in his article, he states that why should gamers want their hobby to be art? Surely, people like Michael Jordan don't care if their game is artistic?

This is indicative that he doesn't even consider gaming on the same spectrum as film. He considers it the same as a sport or a parlour game. I think he's wrong, but it's important to note that that is the mentality, and it's not going to change.

Basically, what I'm saying is, we shouldn't feel the need to leave behind anything just because they say so. Gaming is good as it is, and while there should most definitely be more Heavy Rain type games, there should also be just as many space marines and killing and all those fun things. Why change for our enemies? We don't need respect. We're having fun, who gives a fuck if anyone else thinks we're immature? Who says we need to please them?

I've played games that have made my cry, I've played games with great stories that have drawn me in, and I've played games that made my adrenaline pump and my pulse pound. These games all exist, right now. We're fine as we are.

I like the gaming as comics path myself.
 

ccesarano

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I really liked this article. It actually touched on a lot of ideas I wrote in a column on another site.

I don't think people realize the importance of story. Often enough I hear the mantra that gameplay comes first. However, I look at games like Brutal Legend, Chrono Trigger and EarthBound where the artistic story, narrative and other ideas fed the gameplay. They formed a symbiosis and worked together instead of one taking precedence over the other. I can only wonder why more games don't try for that since you'll inevitably think of more gameplay concepts than you would just saying "Ok, let's make a shooter in space...what features do we want?", which seems to be the average pattern.

I also feel the modern journalism industry is a complete cluster full of fanboys and people that are nothing more than marketers. Hopefully the editorial focus some publications like GamePro, Kill Screen Magazine and Escapist are trying to make will help appeal to the smarter and more mature audience.

In response to Plinglebob, I wouldn't be so sure about people's impressions being solidified. I've had friends from College watch me playing games going through the story and suddenly say "Wow, this is REALLY interesting!". In fact, the same has happened with my sister many times, particularly with Dead Space Extraction where she told me she wanted to see what happened next in the story. The reason people have the impression that they do is, well, what are on the commercials? I haven't seen a TV Spot for the new Splinter Cell mentioning anything about Sam Fisher's daughter, even though that is supposed to be central to the plot. The Bioshock commercials show nothing but violence.

If you want to catch people's interest they have to first know that there is meaning behind it. Iron Man wasn't such a successful movie because it had special effects or was based off a widely known comic (Iron Man is one of the lesser known Marvel properties in main stream media, or at least was). The story provided flawed characters that went through a development arc which resulted in a human interest. This is what games are lacking in comparison, or so it seems.

But really, when most people avoid magazines and websites focused on gaming, how are they going to find out there's more to it than lining up the crosshairs to someone's forehead? We need to tell them, and TV spots do a horrendous job of this.

Furburt said:
Basically, what I'm saying is, we shouldn't feel the need to leave behind anything just because they say so. Gaming is good as it is, and while there should most definitely be more Heavy Rain type games, there should also be just as many space marines and killing and all those fun things. Why change for our enemies? We don't need respect. We're having fun, who gives a fuck if anyone else thinks we're immature?
After checking your profile and seeing you're roughly 18, it explains why you would feel the way you do.

I used to love dumb entertainment just as much as I loved smart entertainment. The older I get the less I care about what used to impress me. As I read from intelligent writers in their 30's and 40's, they too start to have less taste for the shallow and flashy. It isn't just a matter of "impressing others", it is also a matter of providing something for ourselves. We are growing up, but the industry itself doesn't seem to comprehend that.

In this context, when people say "childish things" they mean the obsessions with "HOLY CRAP DID YOU SEE THAT HEAD SHOT?". Back to my Iron Man example, that has all the shallow stuff but they still managed to throw in deeper emotional material. That's why it's a huge mainstream success. You have humor, character development and bad ass action. It's not really that artistic or deep of a movie, but it's not shallow either.

Why can't we even have that, at least, be the more common attempt at making a game? It's not like we don't want space marines. We just want to have MORE than space marines because some of us are old enough to appreciate something more than "OORAH!" and charging into the maw of a monstrous centipede (my feelings go for hack and slash work as well. I can only give a ho hum when I see a 100foot tall monstrosity towering over me).
 

Jesus Phish

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In the same way I want both a movie that will pull me into it's world for the 2 hours or whatever it's on the screen, I also want the popcorn movie. That movie thats dumb but fun.

Making more games like Heavy Rain (and Alan Wake by the looks of it) will be good, but to suggest all games should leave their foundations and the "kids stuff" behind, I couldn't agree with. I would like to see more games that go the story route, but I also want to see my space marines blow stuff up from time to time for fun and relaxation.

I don't think story lines are particularly bad now days anyway. Dead Space, Heavy Rain, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Fallout. I even thought the MW2 story was good. It was ludacris, but I enjoyed it for what it was. I mean, it sure beats the story of a fat plumber who ends up in a magical realm trying to save a dumb princess.
 

bjj hero

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ccesarano said:
I haven't seen a TV Spot for the new Splinter Cell mentioning anything about Sam Fisher's daughter, even though that is supposed to be central to the plot. The Bioshock commercials show nothing but violence.
Reading this has really stuck with me. I know that story telling in videogames, even the celebrated ones, is mediocre at best. Even the best story driven games wouldn't compete with most films. Having said that all of the trailors for video games can be boiled down to "look at this, this kicks ass".

With the exception of a few film adverts, the hollywood special effects bonanza type, you get a taste for the plot, the feel, a look at the charecters in an Ad. I don't think I've seen this in a game trailer yet.

Example: Dragon Age: Origins. A heavily plot and dialogue driven game. You experience loss, betrayal, tragedy, sacrifice, love and friendship. The player make hard choices with far reaching effects. We got:


Marylin Manson, sex and gore...

Why are games not taken seriously again?
 

SamElliot'sMustache

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The obsession with making games like film is actually going to be more poisonous to the industry than most would think. For the last decade, the comics industry, for example, has tried to borrow heavily from film, and while that resulted in a select few series being good (DMZ and Ultimate Spider-Man, for example), most of what we got from that industry was long, drawn out, pretentious fluff, often consisting of one or two people talking for 22 pages, then a "To Be Continued" caption gets tacked on the end (for example, the entire body of work of Daniel Way...).

Likewise, "cinematic" gaming has only produced a handful of gems (with probably the best one being Metal Gear Solid, the first one, more than a decade ago! And Kojima took all the wrong lessons from his success in that game), and the rest being primarily mediocre imitations of film (the vastly-overrated Heavy Rain).

I'm not saying games shouldn't borrow ideas or techniques from other industries, what I'm saying is developers shouldn't be looking to copy wholesale in an effort to make their games 'Art' with a capital A, because that's not what artists do (that's the realm of hacks). Instead, developers, just like anyone in any creative field, should ask themselves "What lessons can we learn from other works, even in other fields?", "How can and can't we apply them here?" and, most importantly, "What can I add to the mix by making this?" If developers ask themselves those questions, and some already have, then the industry can and will "grow up," so to speak.
 

Tiut

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Heavy Rain IS a film, though. Why even give me the options if the story is just going to be so linear anyway?

Oh yeah, because QTE are really good for gameplay and emersion.

Also:
JAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASON
 

Velvo

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You know what game I think bridged the gap between film and games? Grand Theft Auto IV. I felt connected to the characters in a way I'd never before experienced. When rescuing Niko's cousin from the Russian mob, I couldn't help but choke up every time Niko screamed in rage at his cousin's captors. I cried when Kate, Niko's only link to a sane and loving world, was gunned down in front of him by those whom I had chosen not to kill.

Certainly games will continue to be filled with those explosions that we enjoy so much. I mean, the technology is often the only thing that allows the story to be told at all (the massive open world in the upcoming Red Dead Redemption, for instance). The trick is, for the moment, to sneak in a decent narrative for those who are looking for it. I feel that game companies like Rockstar and Valve are the producers pushing forward the medium as an art form more than any other.
 

Casual Shinji

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Comparing Heavy Rain to Citizen Kane is really pushing it, I'm afraid. And saying that Heavy Rain was a milestone in gaming? Uh, no! Don't get me wrong, I liked the game, but there was as much wrong with it as there was right.

This might be beating a dead horse, but if you want innovation in games look at Shadow of The Colossus: Riding your horse actually felt like riding a horse instead of, say, driving a car as it does in other games with horse riding gameplay. Interacting with skyscraper-tall beings that were beautifully animated, but most of all, it told a story through gameplay instead of cutscenes. Sure, there were cutscenes, but only at the beginning and the end of the game and their only purpose was to set up the game and to conclude the game. The actual emotion of bonding with your horse and coming to the grim realization of your actions, was achieved through gameplay. And that is something I have yet to see in another game, except maybe Ico.

I really liked the big blockbuster games of the last few years like Gears of War 2, Uncharted 2 and Mass Effect 2, but they seem to feel more like movie experiences rather then videogames. In the end, I want the bulk of my games to feel like videogames and not like movies.
 

Velvo

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bjj hero said:
With the exception of a few film adverts, the hollywood special effects bonanza type, you get a taste for the plot, the feel, a look at the charecters in an Ad. I don't think I've seen this in a game trailer yet.
Yeah, I thought all the GTA IV trailers were quite cinematic, as are the trailers for the new Red Dead Redemption. The difference with game trailers is that they are effectively Hollywood special effects bonanza movies that are interactive. That's where games are, for the most part, because that's what suits fun gameplay. I mean, you can play the Sims with all its social drama and such if you REALLY want to.

Anyway, here's a Red Dead Redemption trailer, cause I'm so excited for it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sU0PwzdMiY
 

craddoke

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Here's my thesis: Games will never advance beyond the pre-1930 "technological wonder" penny arcade without incredible leaps in artificial intelligence. Here's my argument: It's easy to program FPS A.I. - enemies run, shoot, and (sometimes) take cover. It's not even essential that they do these things well all the time unless they're a boss (who's actions can be scripted as necessary to avoid 'mistakes'). From the perspective of the gamer, FPS-type A.I. reacts dynamically to their choices (cover, chasing, shooting) and this creates the sense of interactivity and emergence that drives the gaming experience.

Now try to imagine a game in which the central mechanic is not combat and the A.I. must instead respond to social interaction in a way conducive to the gamer's sense of interactivity and emergence. Completely impossible with current technology - we can script a finite number of set responses to likely player actions, but that's not the same thing as dynamic response at all. Programmers don't script every shot, chase sequence, and shot-out with FPSs - they put in place some simple rules and let the interaction between those rules and the player's actions generate results. We can barely articulate the kinds of rules we would need to program "social" A.I. at this point in time.

Conclusion: I'm not holding my breath for the "Citizen Kane" of gaming to emerge, unless that means an FPS in which Charles Kane single-handedly starts AND FINISHES the Spanish American War through the liberal use of yellow journalism and head-shots (before you laugh, consider how unlikely Dante's Inferno sounded).
 

More Fun To Compute

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I wonder if Hecker has ever seriously considered the outlandish fourth possibility that games could be games as well as toys, comics (!) or movies.
 

PedroSteckecilo

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Leave behind exploding cars? LEAVE BEHIND EXPLODING CARS?!

I find the very idea that the game industry must leave behind action, adventure and excitement as forms of entertainment in order to move forward and grow up as an industry entirely preposterous. Especially given the fact that Steven Spielberg and Roger Ebert are referenced so prominently in this article and in the debate overall.

If you ask any film buff (Who enjoys Spielberg films, not all of them do) which of Spielberg's films they enjoy best, you'll probably end up with one of the following three films...
- Jaws
- Raiders of the Lost Arc
- Schindler's List

One of these is a drama, but two of them are balls to the wall, summer blockbuster, CAR EXPLODING entertainment. Look at Ebert's own review of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Four Stars, he calls it "An out-of-body experience, a movie of glorious imagination and breakneck speed that grabs you in the first shot, hurtles you through a series of incredible adventures, and deposits you back in reality two hours later -- breathless, dizzy, wrung-out, and with a silly grin on your face." Essentially a GREAT action film. For goodness sakes, he discusses the artfulness of the great Truck Chase late in the film. He LOVES this movie, for it's action and imagination, not it's ability to make you cry. It DOES evoke emotion however, glee, joy, excitement, fear just not that wanky sadness that we MUST feel for a story to be legitimate apparently.

If these elements of "storytelling", action, excitement, glee and raw entertainment are good enough for one of gaming's greatest detractors and being brought to us by the man who said ,"a game needs to make someone cry," why aren't they good enough for gaming anymore?

Essentially... what the heck is wrong with exploding cars?
 

MissAshley

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"Short films of car crashes" was meant in the context of "spectacle for the sake of technological demonstration." No one's saying "abandon action," only "more context, please."

Continuing with that phrase, though: There will always be an audience which has yet to experience those crashes. And as the box office receipts and game sales show, an even larger audience wants to experience nothing more than those crashes over and over again.
 

Virtual_Dom

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While I do agree that video games can advance as an art form, that does not mean we should leave behind cinematic momoents and mindless fun. Those are the driving points of most great games today. We need to combine fun and engaging gameplay with an artisitic narrative. We got those with games like Prince of Persia, Bioshock and Halflife 2.
 

AngryFrenchCanadian

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For the same reasons explained in the article, that there is always a focus on the new, the upcoming games, I am very frustrated that Media Molecule announced a Little Big Planet 2.

For me, Little Big Planet was THE game that I was going to keep for a very long time, the game that would force me not to sell my PlayStation 3 because it was so special. The game I was going to show to my kids, saying "At the time, this was a pretty unique game!" and then I would show them the first level I've ever created. But, I wouldn't see the point in keeping it now, since they're making a sequel.

The special thing about LBP was the truly near-endless amount of content you could create. I was fine buying DLC to have more songs, more stickers etc. But what could they possibly have more in the sequel? You only need the first game, but there are less and less people online, and when the sequels comes out, the number is going to plummet as everyone is going to move to LBP2.
 

Arctic Fox

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Apr 14, 2009
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I think that gaming has actually surpassed film in a couple of areas.

1. Aging - I remember watching many films on the big screen and thinking "this is awesome" only to come back to it a few years later and notice that it not as awesome as I remember it. Example: my favorite film Jurassic Park - Those dinosaurs looked so real when I was 10, but watching it on VHS several years later, they looked kinda fake. And yet Super Mario Bros. is still the same awesome experience it was when I was a kid. They can even resell the same game with huge praise from game critics by just updating the graphics. (New Super Mario Bros.)

2. Sequels - I can't say that all, or even most video game sequels are better that the originals, but I can count on one hand the number of film sequels that were better than the original. Gaming may be hinged on sequels and remakes now, but so is Hollywood. In my opinion, gaming does it better.

To wrap up, I would say that it is less about the storytelling with gaming, and more about the immersion. I would rather play a game that had no story but took me to a different world through game play, than a cinematic masterpiece.
 

ZippyDSMlee

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Film is trapped in cliches and redundancy galore...and sadly with gaming ignoring game mechanics to follow film...game is as if not worse due to crap game play..........
 

Alice Bonasio

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Games don't have to be Citizen Kane to be culturally relevant, and there's nothing wrong with FPSes just like there's nothing wrong with Shoot 'em ups--they're a great release from daily life or concerns. But I would say that most releases now are little more than mental masturbation: they offer a way to do something you enjoy repeatedly without any thought, and at some point you always achieve release. Aside from a small number that stand out because they ARE different than the vast majority, recent releases are cliched and formulaic; they put most or all of their effort in to visuals and sound effects, with stories and characters that are weak and two-dimensional. It's bang for the buck, and who cares what infantile crap is being sold as long as it's profitable.

An example: Mass Effect 2 is a shooter, less so an RPG; all well and good. My gripe is not that the ability to individualize one's character was removed from ME 1, it's that the makers treated their audience as juveniles in its portrayal of relationships as some sort of dating sim, and provided a linear storyline with zero suspense. This from the makers of Knights of the Old Republic? Dragon Age? How about something for the adults (i.e., meaning mature story and themes, not necessarily porn thankyouverymuch)

I'm glad there are still some developers who strive to create a product that makes people think, and perhaps even feel, even if they're not going to be at the top of the sales chart.