Beyond Machinima: Rudy Poat and John Gaeta on the Future of Interactive Cinema

There’s a strange article on Gamasutra called Beyond Machinima: Rudy Poat and John Gaeta on the Future of Interactive Cinema. It’s basically an interview with Rudy Poat, creative director at EA Vancouver, and John Gaeta, Academy Award winning special effects guy, most famous for the SFX in The Matrix.

The first three pages confused the hell out of me because they keep referring to a project that does something new, but without explaining what that project is. In fact, it occasionally sounds as if Mr. Poat is not sure what his project is yet. It is implied that this is a machinima-esque thing, but then the article shows a picture of a real set with real actors. I still don’t quite get it. It has a strong whiff of dodginess, and the references to interactive storytelling imply something that is definitely not what I am thinking of when I use that term. I had some strong flashbacks to the mid-nineties when there was a horde of passive entertainment barbarians at the gates. It’s weird, because you’d think a creative director at EA would get interactivity. But meh, maybe I am understanding it wrong.

Still, what I did find interesting is this glimpse at a different approach to moviemaking:

So, the shots are not only created and delivered in real time HD, they can also be loaded up at any time and you can move around in real time. These shots also run on a server, so on a network, a camera man could log in and film in real time. Another person could log in as a lighter and have him moving the lighting around while the camera man is taking pictures. You can have several people at a time logged in working on the film.

[…]

They could all be chatting with each other on a mic, at the same time, and the camera could be recording all of that data and streaming it straight to film.

This is not too dissimilar to the ‘sculpting’ or sketching approach George Lucas described in the interview from 1997 I linked to a couple of days ago. Technology reshaping the entire workflow of (some) movies. Examining your assumptions. The really interesting question for me is: If this can happen in movies, could it happen in games? Could we have radically different workflows? I hope to get back to this in some future post.

Ironically, Mr. Gaeta shows a much clearer understanding of movies ‘versus’ games:

Basically, to me, there are fundamental characteristics of cinema and interactive gaming that have developed over many years that are very reliable techniques to capture the imagination of the player or viewer. There are attributes and paths of entertainment that have a lot to do with the experience of not being able to control anything, the mystery laid out in front of you, the unpredictably, the singularity of a sculpted vision as a director and writer can lay out. That’s really the polar opposite of interactive gaming, and I’m not going to get into that whole discussion because that’s happening on the sidelines ad nauseum, in an interesting way. There’s a lot of debate and discussion of why interactivity needs to remain in the particular format that it’s in because it’s about the play and it’s about the experience. I feel that’s a completely rock solid theory that people put out there. Interactivity is definitely using a different part of one’s brain, and it’s a wholly different entertainment experience.

I have no interest at looking at gaming and suggesting that story lines can be improved, because that’s a completely case by case basis based on what the concept is and how it was executed.

Bravo!

The rest of what Mr. Gaeta says is very visionary, in that it extrapolates certain things quite far – he admits so himself (his awareness of how he might sound is refreshing). I don’t know if what he is proposing would ever become more than a niche, but it could become a very interesting niche, kind of cross-media, alternate-reality (in the sense of encouraging viewers to search for more meaning) storytelling.

The question is: how do we actually fuse the best qualities of game and film into a hybrid? I think that could be a phenomenal third place that not everyone has to pursue, but there’s a whole new order of entertainment experience that can come out of it.

Comments 4

  1. Autobot wrote:

    It won’t work.

    (Please, just once, I wish all these people would just back up to my door and dump all their money on my porch. Everyone would be happier.)

    Posted 21 Oct 2006 at 20:58
  2. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    Obviously that ‘hybrid’ has a high mid-nineties dodginess factor… I can imagine stuff that would work – I just don’t know if it’s what they’re imagining, and whether it’s worth the effort.

    Posted 21 Oct 2006 at 23:53
  3. Aubrey wrote:

    You know, I hate to use a Blair-ism, but I’ve got a feeling that for I.S. to work, we really have to go back to basics – stop chasing this dream of highly realized high fidelity stories/graphics, and just take the first babysteps at understanding how to create stories purely through systemic complexity and emergence.

    Up until now, most “interactive storytelling” (with a few exceptions) have been a series of hack jobs, trying to skip the systemic ground work to get immediate results. As the dude points out, it’s a different medium. For every medium, narrative is expressed in a different way. Why all this “filmic experience” obsession? WHY? I don’t know if you’re the same way, Jurie, but for me, I.S. is not about simply trying to out-HollyWood HollyWood. Video games have only really found their true voice in things like racing games and shmups, but so far, not in storytelling/making.

    So, for me at least, the answer is not to go for a “hybrid”, and end up with Choose Your Own Adventure + Pixel Shaders. It should be (in my opinion) getting so damn good at systemic design that eventually, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, percievable storylines emerge naturally. The problem is that that’s going to feel like a step backward for a lot of people – initial results won’t feel like stories at all. But if the laws of nature and evolution are anything to go by, we can still get relatively simple systems giving rise to complex, interesting stories. That’s my belief, at least.

    Posted 22 Oct 2006 at 12:48
  4. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    Obviously, this is a different kind of interactive storytelling than what we might have in mind. It’s more like the story of The Matrix being told in both movies and games, but taken to the next level. I can see it working for some properties, but it feels gimmicky. But what do I know. Like Mr. Gaeta said, not everyone has to pursue it.

    Posted 23 Oct 2006 at 11:37