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Apr 12, 2004



Personally I believe that it comes down to an innate art of storytelling. Sure some insight into production, a little technical know-how of the medium used, and something to snare the interest of the viewer is requried, but in the end it always comes down to the skill and ability of the storytellers to capture the imagination of their audience.

Clive Thompson certainly should not have been surprised that bad video game-films (dubbed machinema in the WSJ that day) were the rule and not the exception. Because it's like that everywhere.... for every Lord of the Rings movie, there seems to be 1000 Ishtars, and for every Knights of the Old Republic, there seems to be 1000 Fill-in-the-Blank Tycoon. It's just a matter of being able to effectively tell a story.

Soon there will be someone who will look at all of the pieces out there and it will simply make sense to them, and by putting the pieces together in an interesting and gripping manner, they will be able to capture our imagination with their story.


And with luck, this person will get a contract and create a weekly TV show that will forever relegate the Nick and Jessica Variety Hour to eternal TV hell.




The burry brawl in Matrix: Revolution demonstrated the level of technical mastery the crafting approach can reach.

The SSX snowboarding video demonstrated the level of freeform artistry the simulation approach can reach.

We already have camera following our avatar's every move in online and single-player games. Someone with talent will edit their action into a new freeform of cinematic experience.



What sort of design would it take?

Simply put: I feel would-be directors/artists/actors are sandbox-gamers. Their motivation would be the meta-game. Simply providing them with the right tools would be enough to entice them to create their movies.

Adding a system whereby they could rate one another's creations, archive their creations, and allow for out-of-game feedback on their creation - that would likely be more than enough motivation. Particularly if we allow the machinima they create to be exported to a movie file they could post on the net, share with friends, use to pitch a concept, etc.

I'd think one would simply need a 'matching service' type world. Where 'productions' are explicitly formed - much like 'groups' in the traditional sense. 'Studio lots', where prepping, filming, etc take place, should be instanced allow the cast/crew total control over their environment possible distractions.

After that, it would simply be a matter of getting the machinima tools right.

Virtual cameras, a plethora of primitives, methods to allow artists to upload new objects and textures, virtual lighting, and 'scripts' that control cameras/lights/set pieces/extras over time. And a mechanism where the actors would have to be able to upload their performances: at least voice and emote. (in a perfect world - animation.)

That said - it sounds like Second Life has the majority of the tools as is. They have the primitives and the scripting, and would just need to add a 'camera' primitive to record object positions and 'dialogue' over time - and a mechanism to play back such a recording, or save it as a movie directly.
I don't think it would be too tricky - if there were demand.

... or was that question meant to be rhetorical...? ;)


I like the TV show "Portal" on G4.


It's a regular TV series with short live action clips and a lot of segments set in various game worlds: I've seen parts in the Sims, Second Life, Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, Star Wars, and Asheron's Call. Probably it's in even more games than that.


oh :( looking at Portal on G4 it looks like it's only on at bad times now? It was on all the time when my son was going through his G4 phase (now he just watches cartoon network).


and no new episodes. Well, maybe it was just ahead of its time. Has to have been the first regular TV series Machinima though? or was there one earlier?


I think that other forms of in-game-produced entertainment might break out first. A friend of mine has an in game talk show that she would like to broadcast on the web. Something like that seems like it could work. One would begin with a mix of real world celebrities (in avatars) and game celebs (e.g. guild leaders, which you would introduce to the audience. A political satire show is also a natural thought. Tons of possibilities.


I think movie making in virtual worlds has already begun. Several years ago, characters of UO were making simple flash-based movies, mostly humor, and posting to websites. Ed McManus was the guy's avatar, but I can't seem to find the pages right now. Funny stuff.

When There first launched, some fans made personal movies, basically like documentaries, cataloging what they have been doing in There. This is on a much smaller scale than your 'Lord of the Rings' suggestion, but you're right, it is mind boggling to think of it on that large of a scale.


Given that MP games and online VWs are already being used to make movies in some form, the quick answer to "what does it take?" is "about $40."

The better answer distinguishes "movies" from storytelling in general. Filming a quality movie in a VW, currently, is like trying to film "Titanic" in Times Square with camcorders strapped to the heads of mobile manequins.

The machinima folks will tell you that this is a new art form. Well, it'd better be, because filmic standards can't fairly be applied. If, on the other hand, we recognize that VWs are already great for putting on the equivalent of a high-tech puppet show, then you can focus on some good storytelling and call it a success.

The technical issues to bumping up the emotive quality of "machinima" to the level of "movies" are still pretty high, not that this will stop dedicated people from trying. Take just one example: facial animation. It takes a Pixar-level animator a week or more to perfect a single character in a single scene. Lets assume we can somehow distill all that skill into consumer software. You still have the control problem: an "actor" uses a mouse and keyboard to navigate through a hundred expressions, a million combinations, all in real-time. More likely, it'll take much better AI and UI than most games will want or need, but it is possible in the longer term if there's a market for this. Other technical issues are easier to solve. Cameras, for example, are trivial to create as separate from player's pov's. Movie sets require content tools, which are being addressed in some form, though not too many VWs are at all suited for creating "closed" sets (I suppose SL could hang a dedicated simulator off in space somewhere...)

Anyway, I'm eager to see "The Movies" game and how in-depth the movie-making really is. If it's a hit, then this area could get very interesting very quickly.


There's another article about this very topic in today's (April 14) Wall St Journal in the front page of the Marketplace section called "Videogames Get Real". Subscription is req'd so I can't post a link but it's well worth checking out.

Nothing reveloutionary that hasn't been discussed here, but it's a well written article that the average non-technical soul can read and understand.

It's quite interesting to see the massive convergence of media, technology, and entertainment. Scary and bizarre sometimes sure but always interesting.


I've thought that one variant of in-VW filming that might be the "camel's nose under the tent" would be "observer mode", err, "reality-tv" films. Put a group of player's on stage and vicariously live their experiences.

I, like Ted, resent the fact that I've never had an EQ character high-level enough (made it to 31 and gave up) to fight Vox or go to the Planes. Rather than buying an ebay character (not my style): watch films of someone else's exploits?


Nathan> Rather than buying an ebay character (not my style): watch films of someone else's exploits?

Would you pay to watch?


Would you pay to watch?

If it were a film with drama and presented in a real story (versus unedited play action over 10's of hours)... I might. The better the film, the more engaging the story, the more likely.


Videos of game play are and have been popular with fans of the particular game (Schroet Commando's Counterstrike, I know numerous from DAoC, Tyfud's might be some of the best). But it's different when you're talking about appealing to "outsiders", folks that don't play that game, or especially, any game. The machinima movement is trying to move the state of the art beyond choreographed bits that are essentially music videos to real storytelling. Using the video game engine, not just filming the video game.

To adopt Sturgeon's Law: Sure, 90% of video game movies are crud. That's because 90% of everything is crud.


[Disclaimer, I was involved in a game project that included game-action based footage as part of the gameplay, so I might be biased, here.]

This whole discussion echoes of yesteryear's buzz about "videogames as spectator sports", "cyberathletes" hype and such.
Going the path of vicarious experience, a la Bruce Sterling's "Artificial Kid" could indeed work, provided the properly recorded (and edited) experience is entertaining to watch, which is unlikely under today's MMORPGs and VWs standards.
Maybe envisioning a whole VW as a faked-reality show, a reversed multiplayer "Truman Show" of sorts, could help with this:

- Some players could gain in (or out of) game rewards, based on the entertainment value of their interactions with others and RP, thus formalizing an economy already at work in many MUDs, where RP is mostly attention-whoring aimed at pleasing GMs.

- Some players could become in-game reporters, tracking and recording good 'live' action and turning it over to footage brokers and editors, gaining fame and rewards in the process.

- ... [come up with other ideas, 'twas just from the top of my head]

Obviously is reminds (reeks ?) of reality TV.
Early generation Reality Shows recipes wouldn't translate very well imo, at least from a commercial perspective, since most of their appeal comes from the fact that flesh and bones 'real' people are involved at a very direct level.
Would one want to watch a transcript of "Survivor" played by e-muppets ?
I don't think anyone would go through even one entire episode.
Wait... grownups watch teletubbies.
OK, so maybe with some bundling of LSD. But I digress...

From the incredible amount of recordable 'live' interaction that takes place in a VW, of course some gems must emerge. Even usenet manages to byproduct some fantastic (if scattered) read out of its 99% crud.
Rewarding the actors/reporters/editors of such content could improve the entertaining signal to noise ratio, and land enough valuable footage for weekly or daily episodes, and maybe movielength features that could appeal to more than the protagonists and their guildmates/relatives.

That entails some dedication from actors/players, and can easily be part of a VW/game defining elements (I'm started now, but will spare you the details).

We can see such an evolution happening in second-and-up generations of Reality Shows, where participants are no longer totally candid about the behind-the-scenes and mechanics of the shows, and actually metagame more and more cleverly, adding depth to the viewers experience in the process, who now witness better-prepared lab rats, playing a game of wits with the people in white coats, effectively turning reality shows into higher order self-mockery.

So, that might happen in VW-based shows, too: where the - as pointed earlier - cinematic experience isn't that great, the content (story and mostly dialogs) are welcome to take over and are the way to bring value in.
Who ever watched Southpark for the quality of the anime experience ?
Now, please do your species a favor and go kill yourself, now (and yes, take Kenny along for the ride).

Taking seriously the cardboard-cut universes and stories of today's VWs and MMORPGs requires a good (insane ?) amount of involvment and repeated leaps of faith, the kind uncommited viewers are less-than-likely to devote to a TV show until they are hooked for good (en even so).
Most likely, the comedic way, and specifically the self-parodic way offers an outlet for VW-bourne content to reach a beyond-the-tiny-niche audience, provided enough quality comedic content is available.

There are many ways for gamemakers to facilitate the emergence of such byproducts, but if the handling of ebaying by VWs companies is of any informative value, it is unlikely they catch this train before they're forced to.

That leaves the ball in the player's corner, and would mean a shift of 'play' away from 'game' and towards 'stage' for the involved players, and furthermore towards some level of authorship.

This shift would require a fraction of players to make the evolution leap from self-centered Skinner rodents to improv' actors with an agenda.
...and for sanity's sake, this is by no means an invitation extended to pointy-eared RP'ers, here, don't bend my words' meaning. ;)

Call me crazy, but I'm optimistic about it.


On a sidenote:
I was channel surfing cable TV a moment ago, and stumbled on a couple of anime/cartoon programs, recent ones at that, that were so far down on the cheap side of CG animation and story/acting that some recent MMOGs half-decently selected footage wouldn't have to blush in embarassment if pitted against such crap.

Maybe the relatively low visual quality (as compared to movie standards) of VWs is not that big an issue, after all...


"Maybe the relatively low visual quality (as compared to movie standards) of VWs is not that big an issue, after all..."

You would think untrained eyes would be a lot more critical, but my personal experience shows lots of quality issues just go by undetected. One clear example I have is compression artifacts on (mostly cable) TV - especially cartoons. When watching something like a cartoon/anime where images are not 'continuous tone' images, to which motion compression algorithms are tuned to, I see compression artifacts everywhere. You can even spot some pixellation and artifacts on regular TV shows and movies, and it annoys me to no end. Yet when I bring it up, I seem to be the only one noticing or caring. Any similar experiences out there?


You people need to check out what a small group of "Virtual Movie Makers" are doing. They take a WW2 Flight Simulator called "IL2:Sturmovik" and make these interesting movies with stories that leave you in awe. Yes, there are many that don't deserve to be called "movie" but there are a few gems out there that provoke an emotional response from the viewer!

Some URLS to check out:



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