FreePixel looks at video games as part of the moving image culture. Games are not movies. But games use moving image tradition in their presentation. That is why FreePixel offers a critical look at games and their expressive qualities that grow from the use of the moving image.
Running the Digital World and Image Group and member of the Experimental Game Lab at Georgia Tech. He is interested in game worlds and their forms of presentation.
Matteo Bittanti sent me a pointer to the work of Marco Mendeni, whom he interviewed for Gamescenes some time ago. One quote stuck with me:
I Am Niko Bellic, one of my first machinima, was the result of my wild, random meanderings in Liberty City. I would often stop and use the camera to rotate around the character, creating an almost hypnotic element, a loop of some sort. That allowed me to decontextualize the avatar from the game. It also forced me to look at him closely.
While it is fair to say that some of the more experimental video game art seems to live at times more in the gallery than in the living room, that statement reflects one reason why we need these approaches. Not that they need defending, I am sure Mendini, JoDI and related artists do just fine. But it highlights the different perspective that the critical artist’s eye brings to the game.
Now the trailer for Disney’s Infinity is out and promises the world (see Forbes for a short write up on the press event). Skylanders landed with a splash, so it probably was only a matter of time to see the next version of this. When John Lasseter sells the product the jump via the “toys” is how he explains why they chose to do the step from the individual franchise to the larger world. He oozes over the advances in games and “what we can do with it” but basically argues that the films left us with worlds that these characters live in and these worlds can be treated like game levels. In the past, I did criticize exactly that in movies such as Cars 2: it only had a world and no story – barely any characters anymore. Notably, players are promised access to these worlds and the set pieces turn more into malleable sandbox stages.
The model here is Little Big Planet. The problem with Little Big Planet machinima (at least for me) was always that the character is optimized for gameplay, not machimina. It has all the great features, including some puppeteering functions, great customization, camera controls but ultimately was meant to be a fun Sackdude. And that is done very very well.
Infinity offers the other approach: character-driven game worlds. The translation of such a character-based approach into the world is limited. For example, what to do about the characters’ voices?
Still, my first question was: what are they going to do about Machinima? The initial universe seems to offer a ton of interesting characters and sets (including Phineas and Ferb – the not-so-secret behemoth in there). Thus, the question is much less
“Who would win a sword fight between Jack Sparrow and Phineas Flynn? This is the promise and magic of Disney Infinity. It’s up to you to unlock the heart and soul of Disney Infinity.”
… as posed by Disney Interactive’s John Pleasant, but much more: how do they control the possible plethora of machinima series spin offs from within this platform?
Sure, there will be EULAs and rigorous legal hurdles but depending on what controls and tools will be given to the players, this could be huge and a direct attack on the sacred horse – namely Disney TV. Will they fight it? Or is there a snowball’s chance in hell that they will embrace it – for example in a style like Lionhead’s The Movies tried?
ETC just published a book about modding edited by Erik Champion and including a chapter by Friedrich on From Games to Movies. Meanwhile our own project here at Georgia Tech – which had Friedrich as one of the early researchers – has been underway and we have been hard at work to put together a tangible and hopefully fresh interface approach to machinima production:
It has also seen a number of publications – one at TEI in February and one at CHI – which is rather laudable. In case any machinima enthusiast is attending – let me know.
So pointing to a range of work that I failed to report earlier on might be just the excuse needed to return to some posting here.
Machinima is always a kind of performance. To make that point, I often refer back to great machinima performance examples such as Chris Burke’s This Spartan Life (which finally saw episode 7 released in April ).
His latest endeavor continues this approach on using game worlds as virtual stages at live events. But now the performance unfolds between player, musician, and game.
This time he collaborates with sound artist Tamara Yadao, forming the foci + loci “game art duo.” And game art it is – not in the sense of making art for games but making art with them. I have not seen their live performances but they sound exciting:
“We use video games to create performance spaces in-game and use these in live performance. Much of it is live sound art, a sort of virtual music concrete.”
In practice, they use Little Big Planet 2 like a programming environment, coding bots, behaviors, objects, and sounds for their live performances. Those performances evolve from the pre-programmed LBP landscapes and whatever they add to them (either as player or – it seems – live editor). Here is some recording from their “200 keyholes” piece:
It has a Second Life arty touch to it in that the attraction comes from some clever builds that consist of level architecture. But here, the world is much less social and more based on the game as a tool or machine. Only that this game happens to be a hugely creative playground. For example, Chris and Tamara programmed it so that the controls change depending on which scene element is currently in focus – in his words: “it’s something like Max-MSP” only with Little Big Planet.
They also just gave a workshop on “Performance Machines in Game Space” at the Museum of Arts and Design as part of the Babycastles Summit. I believe they are touring with their performances, so make sure to keep up to date with their schedule!
Using the game as a performing machine, almost a partner in crime, is a nice twist to machinima. One that underlies a lot of interesting work and seems to touch something at the heart of the format and practice of machinima. Curious to see how this work will evolve in future and good to see that they combine it with workshops to spread the idea.
By now, the exodus into the virtual has been in so many movies, one does not care to count. But this commercial by Toyota plays with the reversal of that idea. At the same time, it is a kind of a deja-vu.
… that is if you still remember Ethan Vogt’s Volvo 50 machinima Game On.
Linked from cary ng on Vimeo.
Curious thing to see how our perception changes. Now, that we encounter new car models in video games, clearly all design for these machines is highly digitized, and even our driving experience in them is full of digital toys, maybe it only makes sense to also start the commercial in the virtual world.
Fun thing to track this via machinima, though.
Being the old fashioned person that I am (meaning: still unclear what I should use Facebook for apart from personal yellow press behavior) – I posted a question to some friends on the status of the Machinima blogosphere.
The starting point was that Machinima.com in all honesty barely qualifies as a “machinima” blog these days. So who does?
There is still the Machinifeed and AviewTV is really impressive and active all around. Likewise, The Machinima Artist Guild rolls along.
But completely independent from that, it was some time ago that I looked at the bookmarks of an old browser setting and stumbled over the list of (almost completely) silent classics. Those are some of the past prophets of machinima and early pioneers. So I thought it might be useful to start digging here. Instead of looking for current blogs I wanted to find the “lost ones.”
For starters: Thinking Machinima – Paul Marino’s former world Myndflame – if you have ever seen Illegal Danish, you know who that is Phil Overman Rice – without whom we would never know about the restroom etiquette Machiniplex – Ricky Grove/ Ingrid Moon/ Phil Rice/ Damian Valentine’s ambitious project; and still a treasure trove of machinima history
I am sure, there are countless more as there were quite a lot of exciting folks pushing the machinima world. But one has to start somewhere with such a blogostory. Any additions for past sources of wisdom are only welcome.
Pooky recently pointed me to her latest creation: a public announcement machinima to deal with environmental issues in California. Here it is:
It has always baffled me why there are not more “functional” machinima films. Like technical “how to’s” and the like. The precision and fast production methods of machinima seemed to be poised to deliver exactly that. I, for one, would be very grateful if there would be a link to a 3D demo recording on how to assemble a piece of IKEA furniture in their manuals. It could even look like their basic drawings and copy a kind of Echochrome style as long as I can explore the damn instructions in more detail.
Fair enough, it probably does not push a young filmmakers wildest dreams of epic narrative and deep characterization, but it sure would be useful.
Pooky’s film was for the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito Vector Control District and – as you can see above – deals much more with real world neighborhood situations. Not sure why that had to be done in Second Life, but it does add some new spice to an otherwise traditional educational task. They even have their own YouTube channel about all things mosquito. So it fits right into their approach, it seems.
It is not really machinima but the use of cinematic means in video games has been a rather close cousin to machinima at large and one of my marvelous MS students, Nick Porier, has just finished his final project on the use of dynamic camera systems in 3D platformer games.The main idea was that camera perspectives to 3D environments are an integral part of the gameplay experience. Cameras can make a simple level difficult and a hard level legible. But different players might have their own visual preferences. So how to decide on the best possible viewpoint to a certain in-game situation?
To investigate this, he had to build a 3D platformer to start with and then experiment with various camera views.
The system is dividing each level into segments – or sequences – where a certain camera is chosen. Depending on how players have performed over time in this section, the game tracks overall performance in a database. This database is populated by multiple play throughs. During each play through the players have the opportunity to select a camera and their performance under the selected camera is always tracked. This way, the system learns over time which of the provided camera angles suited the player best for a certain in-game situation. Once it has learned this condition, it can automatically adjust to the most appropriate view.
There is a bit more information on the project’s web site and here is a short write up of the project.
And now Nick is off to work for a game company on the West Coast – well deserved.
My old alma mater is staging a roundtable on Machinima and I really regret that I cannot go. Given that there is also Moviestorm nearby, it might be a stimulating event. Here is their round up:
Jenna Ng (facilitator), Newton Trust/Leverhulme Early Career, CRASSH ) University of Cambridge
William Brown, Lecturer in Film at the University of Roehampton, London
Sarah Higley, Professor of English at the University of Rochester, NY
Lev Manovich, Professor in the Visual Arts Department, University of California – San Diego (via Skype).
The organizer, Jenna Ng, is working on her Understanding Machinima book, where Ali Mazalek, Paul Clifton, and myself have a chapter on digital puppetry. In addition, one of the speakers, Lev Manovich, has a chapter in Henry’s and mine book. There you go: the academic circles are rotating around the topic.
Meanwhile and outside the ivory tower: SLActions will have a machinima section and rumors have it that Google wants to invest in machinima.
Via Puppetvision (which has it from the Muppet blog Tough Pigs which ultimately links to the TED talk). It is Scooter himself “I’m talking puppets vs CG.”
He makes his point pretty clear: “puppets are the pioneers who made CG possible.” But it feels a bit like a missed opportunity to just deliver a rant against the computer-based side of things. Even the Muppets need a pinch of CG theses days. And if there is going to be a Dark Crystal 2 (and I plainly refuse to accept that is has been shelved forever) then it can be safely assumed that there will be render farms involved. Given that the Creature Shop’s own reel is heavily CG infused.
So while one can certainly root for felt puppets, feathers, and fedoras around Ms Piggy’s voluptuous neck, Scooter somehow missed the point in the long run. It would have been more interesting to hear something about the way that CG and live puppeteering could be combined.