It feels dirty to mention “movies” and “games” together. Since I just did, I’ll cleanse myself by proposing the core “design goal” the two have in common.
I just don’t feel clean yet. Let me spit out this congealed chicken fat and scrub these rusted flakes off my arms.
Back in the early 90’s, a horrifying experiment was performed. Think Frankenstein, but uglier and less refined. The movie industry, and those longing to be in the movie industry, for the first time had the means to merge full motion video and games. Horribly-acted movie clips would be triggered by in-game events. You’d ostensibly be “playing” a game when the screen would freeze and chug as the CD-ROM loaded a huge chunk o’ video, in all it’s jarring, jerky ridiculousness.
Luckily the trend of mating movies and games mostly died off with, fittingly, Rob Schneider in A Fork in the Tale. Watch it, I dare you. (Grabs head, forces eyes open with Clockwork Orange contraption) I SAID WATCH IT!!!!!!
Achievement Unlocked – CLEANZED
If games and movies mate and create such abominations, is there anything we can learn aside from keeping the two as far apart as possible?
What do good movies have in common? Suspension of disbelief. You feel as though the action is actually taking place- that you are observing something ‘real’ for lack of a better word. You are also immersed- you’re not an ethereal drooling zombie, but rather your mind is still active and “locked in” to the story. You may choose to analyze what you see, but it’s usually in the context of what is being shown and less as an outside observer.
What do good retro action games have in common? You are locked in and engaged. While it doesn’t map 1 to 1 with movies, in both cases you are sucked-in and accepting of the context, and your mind is completely active yet “living” in the game. You aren’t thinking “I’m playing this fun game,” you’re thinking about and reacting to the world itself. You’re in there!
Here’s where (thank goodness) games and movies diverge. Leaving “story” out of the equation, movies rely on editing and framing to help keep you locked in. How the movie is cut has as much importance on quality as the set pieces and subjects. Good editing artfully cuts, zooms and rides along the subjects in such a complimentary way as to enforce the reality of the setting. Even though the experience is linear and non-interactive, the locked-in viewer feels that anything can happen and that the world breathes. It’s trying hard to impress on the viewer that things aren’t preordained.
Since games are interactive, they can’t get away with showing heavily edited scenes. The player would immediately realize they’re holding a controller which has no bearing on what they see. The illusion of a “potentially changing, alive” world such that movies aspire to already exists by virtue of a game’s interactivity. But, since a game’s visually fidelity isn’t as high as a movie’s, games seek an alternative way to get the “locked-in” feeling. Again, leaving story out of the equation, the best way to produce a locked-in feeling is to make the player forget they are holding a controller.
How do you make the player forget they are holding a controller? It’s not as easy as something like Kinect: I’m being figurative here. To make the player forget about the controller is to develop a consistent visual language of the camera framing, and is to present responsive controls that feel like an extension of one’s will.
In Mecromage, we stay away from “floaty” cameras as much as possible. The player dictates the camera’s position such that the player “forgets” about the camera. When you move, the camera similarly moves. Old school games get this right! A buffered, floaty camera is only used where gameplay elements require it, and even then we make the camera movement as subtle as possible. Just as movies shot from a single camera perspective would be boring, we spice things up with fades and pans, but this has more to do with pacing and the language of introducing new settings.
As for our controls, we run the game and sample the controls at 60hz, and show immediate same-frame feedback when you perform an action. I’m surprised at how many games don’t do this. We’ve iterated a lot on our control scheme- you can perform a lot of actions and want to present them intuitively.
See you next time!