Friday, April 2, 2010

The Intersection of Filmmaking and Video Games: Part II

Back in January I posted a brief historical examination of the relationship between film and video game production. This post illustrated the film industry's early (unsuccessful) forays into the field. These attempts failed many because production companies underestimated the ontological differences between the two forms, such as narrative structure and interactivity; a good film concept, in other words, does not translate directly into a good game. Furthermore, film companies underestimated the intense amount of time and resources required to create a successful gaming experience.

So have film companies learned from their past experiences? Have major studios improved on their work? And, more importantly for our readers, is there a place within video game production for the indie filmmaker?

The Current State of Things
Hollywood seems to be wiser and more cautious this time around. Many of today's producers have grown up playing video games, and thus have a better understanding of the difference between film and video game structures. Producers who (like Jerry Bruckheimer) admit they don't know much about gaming have been wise enough to seek outside help. In an article in the Los Angeles Times last year, Gore Verbinski (director of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise) was wise enough to remark: "Hollywood made a mistake to think it can enter the video game space and somehow provide better storytelling. Not only is that arrogant, but it hasn't worked."

Despite this new understanding of video games, film-based video games can still strike out with fans. The 2005 theatrical release of Batman Begins was preempted by the release of a multi-platform video game. While the film was a blockbuster, the video game received generally poor reviews. The game's narrative was pulled directly from the film, and feature the voices and likenesses of the film's stars. Unfortunately, as a reviewer on noted, the games similarity to the film is laudable but :the gameplay feels too much like a mishmash of several other well-known gaming franchises and ends up overly simplistic." In other words, the game looked like the movie--but wasn't nearly as entertaining.

What About the Indies?
"The rise of the Web and digital downloads, both on PC and console, has unlocked a hive of creativity from independent game creators - leading to innovation in a multitude of game genres, the revitalization of classic game styles and the creation of entirely new blends of art and playability.", "The Indie Game Movement"
Today's indie video gamers represent the vanguard--experimenting with new and forgotten video game genres and styles. They are able to do this because "Over the last couple of years, the cost of developing games with lush graphics and soundtracks has plummeted—and since the major gaming consoles are all connected to the Internet, distribution and advertising expenses are nearly nonexistent." Indie games are the new visual frontier, and its cheaper than ever to break into it.

What About Support? hosts the Independent Games Festival, the "Sundance for independent game developers," which seeks to encourage gaming innovation through a series of panels, festival prizes, and exhibitions. The site is also a great resource for newbies to the field seeking knowledge on the history of indie gaming. For the latest news you can check out their weblog here. If you're looking to fund your own indie you should also check out this article featured on arstechnica.

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