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Turning a Linear Story into a Game: The Missing Link between Fiction and Interactive Entertainment
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Turning a Linear Story into a Game: The Missing Link between Fiction and Interactive Entertainment

June 15, 2001 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

The quest for more cinematic games is turning into a huge commercial prospect. To continue its development, the game industry needs to broaden its audience to include new segments, like casual gamers and women who are not generally attracted to current videogame offerings. Luring them requires gameplay that takes its cues from what they already know: cinema and literature.

Many people believe that games will never be able to tell a story the way a movie or a novel does, largely because interactivity limits the control a scriptwriter has over the story. This article argues that the games are very close to recreating the experience of watching a movie and offers a few tips for designing games that capture the look and feel of the cinema.

Creating a Cinematic Experience

The defining traits of fiction —theme, characters, script and production— are well known. These traits are common to any fiction, whether a novel, a play, or a motion picture. The idea of production might be most closely related to the worlds of cinema and theater, but is also appropriate when speaking of a book. A writer employs techniques such as the choice of words, the styling of phrases and the structure of the narrative to unfold a story. The same techniques employed by directors and screenwriters to captivate the audience are perfectly adaptable to video games.

How can games replicate the ambiance, the tension and the sustained pace of a good piece of fiction? What's the missing link? It's production, coupled with an appropriate game design.

Game developers can borrow the film director's know-how to improve the choice of cameras, the editing and in the end the overall credibility of the game's universe. There are elements of game design that allow a fusion between gameplay and movie-like content. Finally, game designers need to understand the defining traits of fiction and how they can be adapted to a game.

Luring players in requires gameplay that takes its cues from what they already know: cinema and literature.

The Choice of Shots
Shots are at the heart of producing any visual work. The choice of shots is a way of bringing out what is important in the unfolding story. An encompassing wide shot provides a good understanding of the environment —or illustrates a character's isolation. On the other hand, a close-up reinforces the viewer's connection with the character and highlights a character's emotions. A close-up also builds anxiety, as the viewer is unable to observe surrounding developments. Some shots have specialized functions, such as using zooms or traveling shots to portray motion.

Some shots are not always suitable for gameplay. The challenge lies in reconciling the player's comfort with movie-style cameras. There are three approaches that can help reconcile shot control with player control:

  1. The player briefly loses control of his character while the "director" brings up a movie-like shot unsuitable for gameplay. For instance, if a camera used to portray a section of the décor obstructs the player from controlling the character, the software takes over and moves the character automatically. The player is deprived of control for a very short time, but enjoys superb camera position.
  2. Instead of guiding the character, gameplay consists of issuing orders that the character carries out on its own. The "how-to-win" technique only requires correct tactical decisions. This approach has been successfully tried in Shenmue. This way a game may employ movie techniques never before used in games because actual control of the character is not an issue.
  3. Where the character's nimbleness is not a priority, the game may employ cameras that would otherwise be impractical for gameplay. This technique is used in Silent Hill. In the footpaths that open the game, the player does nothing but advance the character. The cameras deployed along the path provide a particularly permeating environment.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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