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April 21, 2007


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But the distinctions are not so clear cut... Music is strongly related to ballet, which has quite a few things in common with theater, from which movies evolved... games are a sort of "next step" in this chain.

Games can learn more from movies than the other way around, simply because games are younger and can learn more from, well, anything. What we should do is, learn from movies about the things (visual storytelling) that we want to do that movies already know, while we also keep working on the things (interaction) that are unique to us.

The commercial side of this "convergence" is a completely different thing. As an industry, movies are more established, and it's natural that they try to "use" us for their own goals. Hugely successful games like The Sims, WoW or Halo 2 are our best champions in that struggle.

I guess I'll have to disagree with you Jare. Ballet has some similarities to Theatre, in that they both use other art (music and narrative) as a 'map' for the performers. Both theatre and ballet are interpretations of another piece of art. There is only one Death of a Salesman or Nutcracker Suite, but there are infinite possible performances of either.

Movies only evolved from theatre in the sense that some not-so-creative people pointed cameras at plays to make the first narrative films.

To me it seems like you're pointing to an evolution of high level narrative, which I agree has evolved from ballet to theatre to film for example. I agree there are things we could learn about high level narrative from film (or from theatre, or novels or basically anywhere) because yeah, our high level narratives are often bad - but learning about dance didn't improve the first plays, and learning about staging plays didn't have much to do with improving film. Film needed a fundamentally different language than stage in order to become what it is today.

Games can LESS use the visual storytelling techniques of film than can plays... which basically means almost not at all. Visual storytelling in film has two main components, an authored camera and editing. Games have neither - or at very least, when they do have some element of one one or the other, they have nothing to do with filmic visual storytelling. Designer imposed constraints on camera are not about visual storytelling, but about the degree to which the games mechanics expose information about the playspace - camera designs are almost purely related to mathematic game theory. Editing - hmmm... I can't think of any game that uses editting... but probably one does exist.

"Editing - hmmm... I can't think of any game that uses editing... but probably one does exist."

How about Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, where your weapon can rewind time back 10 seconds of prior game-play? It's an Ubisoft title, is it not? ;)

I would consider that "editing" in a game.

Another method would be the "save point" of most games - which acts as a kind of system restore that a player can fall back to after making a bad decision.

I think the part that we could learn from Hollywood is some of their production techniques. They have, after all, spent 100 years now refining them. If I had a dollar for every time there was no script, no storyboards, no character or set designs when entering full production on a game...

...I would be a retired man.

The irony you probably accounted for was that your entire argument was something you learned from a movie. The irony that you might not have realized is that 300 is based off of a comic book. It's attention to the individual scene is not something it learned from film, but learned from graphic novels. Moreover games can learn alot from that particular type of story telling. God of War 2 is a good example of a game that has moments that have a similar impact as 300. Those moments that don't fully translate into words, but are remembered so vividly in your mind. One can attempt to describe scenes from 300 just as they can try to describe the last hour of Metal Gear Solid 2 but unless they experience the mind fuck of having colonol Campbell tell you to turn off the game you can't describe what it feels like to experience that at 3 am. That is also a fairly good example because on one hand, it couldn't really be accomplished in anything other than a game, but on the other it has the exact same affect as your train example.

I don't think anyone in their right mind is going to claim games and movies are interchangeable art-forms, but they do have overlapping elements which game makers can learn from.

Games with Editing are often closely tied to movies. I'm thinking of the first generation of CD-ROM games. Or Games like Dragon's Lair which are essentially a tree of possible editing choices.

Interesting post as always.

Best analysis of the film I've seen so far. I like the analogy of games and the 300 story, though I somewhat disagree with the assertions you make. I guess I see each of these mediums occupying an N-dimensional spectrum, and that these volumes they occupy can overlap to a degree. If 300 drifts toward the overlap with dance, then other films may drift further toward narrative. Can't think of a good example. Perhaps A Night ON Earth is a good example of something pretty far from a celebration of the human form.

I agree completely that we have to carve out our own space. I just beleive that it will be just that. A space, and that some areas of that space will overlap with other media/artforms.

oh, and a comment:

>saying convergence between cooking and ballet would make ballet taste better and would make meals better express the beauty of the human form. Ridiculous.

Perhaps, but this might finally explain all those free buffets in the strip clubs up and down St Catherine street. :-)

Clint -- there are more definitions of "convergence" than you might think. Highly recommend checking out Henry Jenkins' book, "Convergence Culture".


I wonder, what do you think of the potential for convergence of games and theater (ie, drama)? Both are performative in realtime, both are "live".

Theater/drama is the low-level sequencing of...? Human communication, perhaps?

I've always found that video games, particularly in the realm of character and story, really have far more affinity to theater than cinema. One rarely hears that position taken.

"Games are about the low level interaction between player and system." I wonder, how does that assertion hold up for traditional multiplayer games (ie, 99% of games), like chess, poker, etc. involving two or more human players? There is a system of course - e.g. a chessboard, pieces, rules - but the player-to-player interaction is key there...


Games and theatre - well, you're the authority on that man, not me :), but off the top of my head I would suggest that game playing has some important things in common with acting and with improvisation (which even in a very rehearsed play is still a huge part of acting and theatre) so there are some useful things players (and by extension) designers could learn from participating in (especially) improv theatre.

It also seems to cut back toward what I talked about last year (in post GDC response to a question about my Intentionality presentation) when I differentiated between strategy and intentionality. We can interact with a game or with a system or with another actor in an intentional way - ie to achieve a specific desired response, reaction or outcome, but when the desired outcome is directed toward 'winning' a game or determining a beneficial outcome in a contest or conflict we more commonly refer to this intentionality as strategy.

But I'm honestly not sure how useful watching plays, or studying plays or studying the art of staging and directing plays would be for a designer. Plays are probably more of a compound medium than are films, music or games. You can have a film without a high level story, but a play without a high level story would be more properly considered either some kind of 'physical art' or just 'dance'.

Tough questions and good points.

As for the multiplayer question - I guess I always kind of looked at the other player as part of the system I am playing. Because I can't read the code behind Quake, everything behind the outputs is blackboxed, and so it is with a human player as part of the opposing system. A bit of a Turing problem I guess. If I'm playing chess against a human or against a modern chess program, I will never be able to see through the program and say whether it is a human I'm playing against or not. Is there a difference between playing chess against an expert or against Chessmaster 9000? Yes there is a human-to-human interaction, but that is not part of the domain of the game and so we're talking about games as 'context for human socialization' or games as 'meeting place' in a larger cultural landscape which adds a bunch of dimensions to the question that confuses it.

You used a lot of words (some big ones too.. "indefatigable".. sweet dude!) to oversimplify various concepts and even a couple of artforms. Well done. You've obviously spent time in college, too bad imagination can't be taught.

“Visual storytelling in film has two main components, an authored camera and editing. Games have neither - or at very least, when they do have some element of one one or the other, they have nothing to do with filmic visual storytelling.”

I’m not sure this is always true. Developers have used simpler film techniques in games for years in small ways, such as showing an enlarged picture of a character’s face next to a dialogue box to establish a personal connection… Though, in breaking most games down to their cores as you have, reading dialogue boxes is hardly relevant. The only example of a game featuring an authored camera during game play (that I can recall) is Too Human, but I have yet to discover for myself just how successful Silicon Knights will be in telling a story through the cinematic visual elements of Too Human. If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out some of the more recent videos of Too Human at IGN. Try to keep those fists relaxed, though… Denis Dyack loves to talk convergence :).

Also, what I said earlier about close-ups in dialogue boxes probably wasn’t originally a film technique… It’s more an expression of some basic principles of interpersonal communication (i.e. intimate distance, personal distance, social distance, and public distance).

“Designer imposed constraints on camera are not about visual storytelling, but about the degree to which the games mechanics expose information about the playspace - camera designs are almost purely related to mathematic game theory."

With this, I’ll point to Too Human once again; though their camera system may serve to agree with this point as much as contest its universality.

“Music is about the low level sequencing of tones. Cooking is about the low level blending flavors. Film is about the low level sequencing of images. Games are about the low level interaction between player and system.”

Jared MacLean's point regarding 300’s status as an adaptation of a graphic novel makes it hard for me to want to simplify these art forms… Yet a graphic novel is at its core, I suppose, the low level sequencing of images, which could be interpreted as a storyboard for a film. It comes as no surprise then that Robert Rodriguez literally used the Sin City graphic novel as a storyboard for the cinematic adaptation, which was also the general case with 300.

“...the best a game can ever do to emotionally engage a broad and general audience is to emulate the techniques of filmmaking.”

People often enough speak of a potential “Citizen Kane” of gaming. I’m not sure that will ever happen. I feel that games are more diverse than films and can communicate through a broader range of methods, so I’m not sure we will ever see a single game that sets as large a set of standards for game-making as Citizen Kane did for filmmaking. However, I do believe that a set of techniques could be created to communicate information through game play in more profound ways than we’ve implemented as of yet… I just can’t imagine a single game having enough of an impact to shift nearly all of gaming into a future of artistic acceptance from a “broad and general audience.”

I'm curious as to what the desired result of film-game convergence is meant to resemble. A work that does much of its storytelling via cutscene, such as a lot of Square-Enix games -- where you've simplified the design problem and can create a rich, linear narrative, but have an unsightly collage of game/FMV/game/FMV/game -- or something that bleeds the dialogue and authored camera work into the gameplay, such as Level 5's White Knight Story -- or perhaps this simply involves prioritizing visual exposition over interaction? I must confess that I am one of those who is ignorant to the exact vision being argued, but due to the diversity allowed within interactive narrative that Bunderant mentioned, it seems like there might be some merit in this approach, just as there is merit in avoiding it altogether. I agree wholeheartedly that the industry must resist all following in this direction, but simply because there are no panaceas.

As for this question of theatre and improvisation as directions to consider that might be more applicable to IF... it seems like one of the primary differences might be framing everything within a single take and a limited setting, which does seem to suit the identity relationship between player and protagonist and might allow the shift of focus during development away from level design to something like human interaction, all approaches used in Mr. Stern and Dr. Mateas's Facade, but it would be quite the uphill battle as such things might initially come across as rather claustrophobic for the conventional games player, and mapping challenge into a dialogue based system requires a solution that would take quite a bit more ingenuity than do current gameplay styles. Computational improvisation would have to far exceed that of actors using a script, who need only return a derailed pause back to the linear story, or react in character to a different delivery of the same lines. Experimental improv, on the other hand, shatters when a single actor denies the reality of the scene, and suspension of disbelief in an approach based on it would be at the mercy of the user.

First off, I applaud the beauty and skill with which you've written this article. I am extremely impressed.
Secondly, what you're saying implies that 'convergence' go to the deepest core meanings of the medium. It doesn't. What it means is to borrow the result of decades of sweat and tears. It means to take the lessons filmmakers have learned in their processes and apply it to the medium. These are principles like how to make a viewer (player) identify more with a character, or the best angle to show a war-machine from, or even how to add drama to a moment. Some of the most artful, innovative, and expressive games in the last ten years (Shadow of the Collossus, Okami, Final Fantasy X) have achieved the level of sophistication they attain by borrowing traditions from film-making.
So yes, while the core aspects of moviemaking and gaming may not be congruent, I think a problem here is that you're overanalyzing. It's the nature of art to borrow aspects and lessons of various mediums to better express the human condition, even if, at their cores, these two mediums don't seem congruent. Take painting and gaming, and tell me no painter has ever been inspired by a game, nor a game designer by a painting.

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