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Movies and games are not the same

I had an interesting chat conversation with a friend who is a professor of film at well known university. He has been involved in many capacities on a number of films, including his own. He was moaning about how he really wanted a more "cinematic" experience in his games. He went on to say how he though every game designer should be required to take a film class to learn how to put such an experience together.

I countered with I also thought that film makers should be required to take an interactive/game design class so they could learn what it takes to put a truly interactive experience together. "Why?" he retorted. "I don't want to make games." "And I don't want to make movies," I said. He went on to tell me that movies had nothing to learn from games, as games are where movies were 70 years ago. Therefore we game developers should learn from them.

I strongly disagree.

Movies are not games. Games are not movies. There are similarities, yes. But they are not the same. There are a couple of reasons why the comparison just does not work.

1. Non-linear-ity
I believe one of the biggest differences between film and games is non-linear-ity (is that even a word?? :) ) When I said this, my friend insisted that there were non-linear movies. IF there are, I haven't seen them. I have seen non linear story lines, but never a non linear movie. Moves, by their very medium, require the viewers watch it from beginning to end.

As game developers we have to develop entertainment that holds together no matter how or in what order the player chooses to view it. In fact, if there ever is a "choke point" in a game.. that is a point where if the player doesn't "do" what the designer decreed s/he must do at that point, we consider that to be bad design. Until films are such that any viewer can, at any time, stop the film, skip ahead 20 min, then back to 3 min past the credits and then to the middle , then replay the beginning and then skip straight to the end, THEN movies will be non-linear!

My friend keeps talking about how game producers don't understand camera movement and editing and shot composition. What I failed to get through to him is, we should NOT have control over those things. We cannot lead our players by the nose, tell them where to stand, how to place their camera and force them into fixed point cinematics during game play. The more we take control away from the player the less they like it.

Probably the game that has done the best with "cinematics" at this point is World of Warcraft. There are numerous "scenes" the players can become involved with and observe. HOwever, the biggest complaint about them is they play over and over again... like a movie!.. and therefore don't seem 'real".

2. Technology
Until very recently, game developers had to write a new engine for every game they developed. While that's less so today, most engines still require extensive modifications and customizations to fit the requirements of the specific game they are developing. Also, the fact that off-the-shelf engines exist indicates that, by their very nature, they are out of date. Technology still continues to move so fast that the "latest greatest" games are produced using technology that is still "bleeding" as it is put into the box.

If films were made the same way, the film producers would have to invent a new camera and film technology every time they made a film. Today film technology is far more accessible and far more reasonably priced than game technology. LIkewise, if films were made like games today, the producers would have to pay a royalty to the company that made the camera.. and the film.. and the lights.. and the editing booth...

3. Length of production cycle
Production cycle on a movie is about 3-6 months. That does not include post production which may take up to as much as another 6 months. THat means form the time the movie production is begun to the time a producer is selling it is 6 months to a year.

In the game industry just the PRODUCTION is approximately 18 months - 2 years; much longer if you are building an MMO. And during that time you have to keep the full team on. Unlike a move where when the shooting is complete, you send the crew home, the game team only gets larger as production continues. By the time you are in "beta" you may have as many as 100 people on a game team. And most have been there from the beginning. This makes for a very different production experience.

Both film and games are very successful, exciting entertainment industries. They are just not the same. I suggest that we attempt to learn from each other with the understanding that we are both uniquely good entertainment mediums with things to share with each other. And, I promise not to tell film producers how to make movies if they promise not to tell me how to make games!


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 5th, 2009 05:07 am (UTC)
I don't think that linearity is an accurate label. Maybe that's what threw your friend off. By non-linear movies I suspect your friend might have meant movies where the scenes are shown out of chronological order without explicitly stating so, such as Memento or Pulp Fiction. You could arguably watch these movies back to front, scene by scene.

I think that what you meant is interactivity. Even in games where the ability for a player to make choices that change the outcome of a game is small (say, Snakes & Ladders), games still require the player to take action for the game to progress.

Movies are generally more passive. Movies, like music, can be an active experience (active vs passive listening), but games outright require the player to be active.

Also, nice to see you blogging! I've read some of your articles and books and I look forward to more interesting discussions!
Mar. 5th, 2009 04:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Not-non-linear-ity
You know, I think you're right. Because he did insist there were non-linear movies.. and I do think he was talking about stories not shown in chronological order. And, you're right, while those could be edited together in any order and still be a cohesive story, when they are given to their audience, that editing has already been done. In other words, it isn't up to the viewer to decide in what order they can watch the scenes. So, I agree, it is the interactivity that makes it different..

BUT.. because there are "interactive" movies, I think it maybe it is... (are you ready?) Interactive Non-Linearity! :))

Edited at 2009-03-05 04:33 pm (UTC)
Mar. 5th, 2009 05:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Not-non-linear-ity
I've overlooked interactive movies/tv shows because I haven't seen a convincing implementation of them. Nuts, I'm not sure that even text-based interactive fiction has found it's place in the media world; it certainly hasn't been very commercially successful and typically hasn't garnered very much critical interest either.

Would you or your friend have any compelling examples of interactivity in a medium aside from games (including tabletop and board)?
Mar. 7th, 2009 12:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Not-non-linear-ity
Ya' know.. I'll ask him and see. I know it's been one of those "Holy Grail" things that TV and movies have been talking about for a while. Usually it involve the audience voting on which thing they want the character to do. Sort of like a "pick your own adventure" book.
Mar. 14th, 2009 12:17 am (UTC)
A little from column A, a little from column B
I agree with both of you to some extent. As far as production and technology there's really no basis for comparison between the two industries-- they are worlds apart. But while they are two very different medias, but all entertainment media has the capacity to be compelling, to tell a story, and to draw you in. It really comes down to the kind of game you're talking about. I think asking for cinematics in most games is kind of ridiculous, because plenty of games are wholly interactive and goal-oriented. They're compelling in the fact that they present puzzles and challenges that are fun.

But there's been a trend in AAA titles like the Gears of War and Halo series to turn games in "blockbusters". They strive for the cinematic elements. And if you're going to integrate story, plot, and cinematic elements into a game, it doesn't hurt to use lessons gleaned from film-- like use of a compelling screenplay, decent voice-acting, and a substantive and cohesive plot that makes the player want to see the end of the campaign. Yes, the games are designed to be fun, but a lot of the fun comes out of finding out what happens next. And that is very much the domain of film making and storytelling.

One thing I'm surprised you didn't note is the length of the product itself-- JRPGs with major cinematic elements on average require a solid 25-40 hour commitment playing straight through. That's a fair amount of game play and story that you're trying to spread over a LOT of time. Even your average shooter takes several hours to play through. Game designers are under a lot more pressure to add new elements while still ensuring that the game is cohesive.

Mar. 15th, 2009 01:42 pm (UTC)
When will they learn?
Sheri, great to see you blogging. As to your professor friend -

Wow, I've been through that whole "take it from us, we know all about entertainment" thing from the movie industry many times before, but not in recent years, I had hoped most people had gotten beyond that. But it still surprises me a bit to see the attitude you mention. Your points are all great, but I'd add an important one to non-linearity: choice. Games are all about interesting choices (ask Sid Meier!) and informing the player by the consequences of their own choices. Movies are all about informing the viewer about someone else's interesting choices. It's a profound difference, at least as much as in Mel Brooks' comment, "Tragedy is when I cut my finger, Comedy is when you fall down an open manhole and die."

In addition to the movie people assuming they understand our medium by virtue of knowing entertainment, there are also the software engineering people who believe they know everything by virtue of the fact that games are inherently software. Of course that group gets in trouble when they try to quantify the person-weeks necessary to engineer in the fun...

OK, enough ranting.

- Noah Falstein (I'll get an account and be officially non-anonymous soon, I promise!)
Mar. 17th, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)
Re: When will they learn?
LOVE the comment about choice, I think you hit it on the head! I'm gonna pass that back to the film prof and see what he says.

and thanks on the welcome to blogging.. figured it was time to come to this century ;)

LOoking forward to seeing you at GDC!

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )



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