Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Machinima: A New Type of Videogame

The last four online movie recommendations have all been machinima. Basically they are short movies made by recording video games as the players act out scenes in the game, and then editing them and adding voice actors. Two of the movies I linked to were made using the Halo first-person-shooter video games, and two were made using The Sims 2. Right now machinima is made with video games that were never designed to be used as movie making devices; creative hobbyists and artists have just taken games intended for a different purpose and used them to make movies.

I think there is a market for a “video game” that essentially is a machinima movie making kit. Most video games are just that, games. But historically there have been “games” sold for video game consoles that were really just a tool to let the game user create something. The old Atari 2600 had a game cartridge that allowed the user to write computer programs in the BASIC language*. Nintendo had a game cartridge called Mariopaint that let the user create drawings, music, and even animation. The first video featuring the popular web cartoon character Homestar Runner was created using Mariopaint. A machinima movie making kit would be a “game” in the tradition of these previous video game creative environments rather than a traditional game that you can win by scoring points or eliminating opponents. Think of it as a virtual version of the LEGO MovieMaker Set or a Fisher-Price “My First Movie Camera” PXL-2000.

I think a successful machinima movie making game for today’s video game consoles would combine features of first-person-shooters like Halo 2 (which give users very good real-time control of the virtual actors) with features of simulation games like The Sims 2 (which gives users very good control over what the game environment looks like). Users would be able to design virtual movie sets, props, and characters by creating and furnishing buildings, landscaping the outdoors, customizing vehicles, and designing & costuming virtual actors in the “The Sims 2” style of play with a set builder toolbox. Once the set, props, and characters are created a director’s toolbox would allow the user to plan various scenes and special effects similar to the way Rainbow Six allows players to plan military raids. Putting the game in “actor mode” would allow the users to act out the scenes by furiously manipulating their video game controls in an attempt to get the virtual actors to hit their marks and respond to each other, similar to the way that users control characters in first-person-shooters while trying to get them to shoot weapons and dodge enemies. Alternatively, some or all of the virtual actors could be put on automatic so that they move and emote to the director’s plan without any human intervention. A post-production toolbox would allow the user to edit the video he created and add voices (or other sounds). Lastly, a smart video game company would also have a website for users to upload their finished movies, review other people’s movies, compare notes on techniques, and trade custom created characters, sets, and props.

The key to such a game, I think, would be flexibility. Some users would just want to boot up a blank “Our Town” set, put it in “actor mode” and start improvising scenes with each other. Other users might want to create very elaborate scenes, environments, or effects in the director’s toolbox or set builder toolbox and not even try their hand at virtual acting at all. A well done machinima movie making game would accommodate them all.

* Which seems like any easy “game” for someone to remake for today’s gaming consoles, and it would let a whole new demographic of people develop a better understanding of how computers really function. I wonder how popular that would be. I also wonder if it would be worth some private organization producing such a game just for the educational benefits it would provide. If anyone really decides to make one of these, please don’t make it for PASCAL!


Update: Here is a link to the 2005 Machnima Awards, if you want to see some of the best examples of the hobby. Hattip: Through The Looking Glass. Also, there was a very primitive version of this in the early 1990's called Stunt Island but it focused just on making and filming stunts, not whole movies. There is also some of this functionality in the new game The Movies, which is a simulation of managing a movie studio. There, making movies is part of the larger game not an end in itself and the user has correspondingly much less powerful tools and less flexibility than in the "game" I propose here. They did think to make good use of their website as a user community, though.

Maybe not a trackback, but I added a link to your site in my machinima post :)
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