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Machinima: Games Act Like Films

February 13th, 2007

By Brad King

Video-game developers have long tried to integrate the sights and sounds of cinema into their games, with mixed results. So an emerging group of directors has instead turned to making stand-alone films.

These directors won’t use cameras and sound studios, nor will they hire actors. Instead, they will use complex software applications designed to power video games, as well as computer-generated characters.

It’s called machinima, and if all goes well for the up-and-coming development studios, it will be coming to television next year.

Machinima happened because game developers could not figure out how to bring Hollywood to the computer. For instance, innovations like live-action scenes, during which a player might watch a two-minute clip that moved the plot of the game forward but didn’t allow the player to participate, brought game play to a screeching halt.

Despite the lukewarm success of the “cut scenes,” developers continued to push the boundaries of gaming technology. However, the advances couldn’t bridge the gap between interactive game play and passive movie viewing. But id Software’s first-person shooter games — Castle Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake — would give machinima filmmakers the tools they needed to create video-game movies.

These games, often graphically violent and highly popular, rely on a special game engine that defines the rules of environments where players will interact with each other. Engines handle everything from the artificial intelligence of computer-controlled characters to player movement and 3-D graphics.

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