Thursday, 13 May 2010

A Failiure before your eyes

Today technology has improved so much that you can see individual skin pigments eye lashes and other small details to character. So why are we still seeing games where characters are waving their violently just to shake someone’s hand? In many films Emotions are played out though the characters especially with body language rather than dialogue. One of the most influenced scene comes from Martin Scorsese’s 1990 hit “Goodfellas” where the character Tommy DeVito played by Joe Pesci confronts one of his friends by asking how he was a “Funny Guy” a unnerving scene as we know they are violent men but also how Joe Pesci played the character in a brilliant way as to establish his dominance within the group. So why is a scene like this not in a game there are many characters that take influence from Tommy Devito but there hasn’t been a scene which really makes you worried about their next move.
In many games story takes a backseat along with character performance to engage an emotion with the player. The most popular being fear as it is a primal emotion used as a defence mechanism. Other emotions such as love, trust sorrow take a long time as it requires a strong relationship to a character.
“Arousal is a very general physiological process, and, as argued by cognitive labelling theorists of human emotions, in order to create emotions out of arousal you need cognitively to specify, to contextualise the arousal, in order to elicit emotions.” (Media entertainment: the physiological of its appeal, By Dolf Zillmann, Peter Vorderer, 2000, p201) I believe this is an important notice to get down before I progress, the idea that we build media on our primal instincts Fear, Lust, Pity ect. Even if film are shorter in length and are yet able to get even the hardest emotion out of the viewer while a lot of gamers don’t even bat an eyelid.
In games it falls to the Level design to provide these emotions along with music but can this be the only way of creating emotions within the player. With games providing a new way to tell stories I feel many designers stick to knowledge gathered from cinema and not books or even theatre and this stops them from experimenting. There are two emotions I want to look at loneliness and being at a great event. The first has been used to great effect in games using the environment rather than characters with effects like sound and lighting. The second is rarely used in games but it is something that is also is about environment rather than characters.
I don’t just look at using characters to portray mood but also how to use that to effectively give a player an incentive to carry out a particular action without prompting and somebody else to tell you what to do (Mission Control). I feel this could have several benefits the main benefit is to give the player a greater sense of accomplishment when they complete said task. One other benefit I’d hope as a result of this would be the engagement of the player in the video game will be stronger and this would link to stronger emotions to the characters that inhabit the world.

Personal observations
In a Linear game such as Metro 2033(2010, THQ, 4A games) and Half-life 2(2004,EA, Valve) I noticed very little in the way of objectives even if a character told you to go to a certain place there is almost no more dialog for the rest of the level or several levels. But in a lot of these situations there are only hostiles to fight against and no support. When a player had a companion they were constantly telling the player to attack or to stand down.
There are some games especially online based games like “World of Warcraft”(2004, Actiision Blizzard) and the “Battlefied” series where you have several objectives at once and the player has to make a choice of whether to defend one location or attack another. There are several factors that make the player come to a decision one might be team work, another might be to improve their ranking and in turn allowing the player access to weapons or tools that will benefit them at a later time. It might even be the idea of being the hero some who goes against all the odds for fame and glory.
Can we use this in single player games? Even though AI is all around the player sent to locations by path nodes, animations and codes. In many cases they are so primitive they are an Obstacle to get from one place to another. Certainly wouldn’t feel dismay if one of these NPC were to be terminated. This to me is a problem, as game designers I don’t what these NPCs to be terminated I want them to die. The player should feel sorrow and change their playing style because they have lost someone they hold dear. But even in Multiplayer games this is a problem because a game can be restarted but films and books can be revisited so how come it isn’t a problem for them?

Back to basics
I don’t want to look at writing for games because I believe that we need to leave this childish action hero style of acting and aim for a serious look at acting and body language. After all that is how films had started. I think we have been spoilt in the way of technology so that the games industry has become the spoilt son of Film who wants to so much like it piers but tries too hard.
In the first generation of films there was no sound and the film quality was so poor as the equipment was had operated they look like black and white show reels. So directors used pantomime actors and comedians for their films in order to get a message across even when text was introduced directors preferred to use these types of actors.
Fast forward a few years and the introduction of sound soon saw the end for a lot of these actors’ careers. In 1926, Jack Warner, then head of Warner Bros studio, declared that talking films would never be a commercial success. Silent films, he argued, had an international appeal, a visual language that transcended the spoken word. They allowed the audience to invest their own meanings, imagine their own dialogue. This obviously was not the case and sound was a revolution in how films would now be made.
Later on new techniques were being used like camera angles and height, Transitions and later colour. This allowed directors for more dramatic scenes without the need for actors to over perform. By tilting a camera up or down you could make a character as menacing as a bear or as vulnerable as a kitten.
Theatrical types
There are different types of theatrical types each posing an importance to a story. Though I want to focus on two of them Pantomime and Realism.
Many people think that this is just something that comes around during Christmas but it is a lot deeper than that. Pantomime started in ancient Greece where the performer world perform using music (normally Flute) and wouldn’t speak letting their bodies tell the story with over the top expressions. It proved to be extremely popular.
When the English adopted Pantomime in the Early 18th Century it was first used as shorts between Operatic pieces. It later grew into pantomime we know today.
As the name suggests Realism theatre is all about creating a believable performance for the audience. Realism theatre was born in Russia during the 19th Century and was helped by the father of modern acting Constantin Stanislavski.
Stanislavski created methods for actors who were to embrace this new form of theatre and is the definitive method to realism acting. The system is based on an actor being "in the moment" but always staying one step away from complete belief. He felt that it is important that, whilst the actor should experience and show the emotions of the character, it is very important the actor still stay detached.

What I want to know is what we need to do to get the best experience out of characters whether they be highly detailed or simple humanoid shapes using only their body language and how that will impact on the player. Understandably in the early years of games we’ve had problems due to graphics limiting us to basic moves with ridged joints. Now with the use of more sophisticated CGI software which is more accessible to animators and Motion Capture.
For a long time the CGI first animations were not created by animators but by scientist who had numerous PHD’s in sciences. It wasn’t long though until 1979 when George Lucas set up a Computer Hardware company named Pixar. They employed their first animator John Lasseter and their first short film “The Adventures of AndrĂ© and Wally B” (Pixar, 1984).
During the process new techniques were being created by the technology and John Lasseter would think of new ways of using that technology. “Art Challenges technology, the technology inspires the art” (John Lasetor, The Pixar story, 2009). This rings true to me and certainly a lot of game designers has formed to this one being Hideo Kojima
With his unconventional and experimental approaches to storytelling in games including interactive scenes that have often tried to break the “4th Wall” many of them failed but they are still memorable as they have created a stronger connection the game world. The problem with Hideo Kojima though is that the stories are very exclusive only lending to those who wish to peruse it making it richer.
A newer game “Heavy Rain” created by the French studio Quantic dream. Has an extremely strong focuses on story and have tried to implement it with controls that correlate with the actions on screen. The game has had mixed reviews even during its production as nothing before has been done to this level.
There is still a lot of experimenting needed to be done as this is still a very young medium. Something that requires participation, you are required to complete a task to receive the next part of a story, scenes where the player can move around in a scene, a player can also break a game completely removing themselves from the games work (Shooting support character on purpose, falling through scenery or even being at the wrong place at the right time).
What will I need to look at though? I firstly need to see what moods I can create by using the environment. For that I want to look at two games “S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat” (2010, GSC World) and “Burnout Paradise” (2008, EA Games, Criterion Games). One is a solitude game set in the Russian wastelands of Chernobyl the other is set is a bustling city of the USA full of people racing cars like psychos.
I want to see the reactions of player when put into these worlds how have their playing styles change and what they feel playing these games. I want to then use that information and create a specific scenario which a player can participate and then I can gage their reactions on where they are in that scene. I also want to see how the level of communication between the player and NPCs affect their play styles.
To do this I will create a sort of “Crime scene” environment set around a riot on a street. Set during three different times before, during and after then from different points one from the rioters another from the police and another as an outsider (Reporter, resident or helicopter pilot)
I not only hope that this will help Directors but also actors and screen writers. We are still holding close to films but we need to be adventurous and if needed create a whole new way of delivering stories in games.

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