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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 Previous Page 2 of 3 Next


Editing is the least understood aspect of a director's know-how. Still, editing may be the most important ingredient for bringing personality to a movie.

A number of editing techniques can be adapted to game creation while preserving true gameplay.

  1. Frequent use of cut scenes throughout the game. These brief scenes are inserted in the fabric of the movie or game; they introduce a character, present an important object or action, etc. These landmark moments set the pace as they generate new turns and feed new information to the viewer. A good editor will insert enough sequences to sustain viewers' attention. In a game, cut scenes make a perfect addition to a high-paced game level. The trick is to design the both cut scene sequences and the gameplay in parallel with the script.
  2. Changes of camera shots essentially allow a visual diversity and thus stimulate the audience's attention. Framing can also highlight a location, a character, an object or event. Different shots can help lead to solutions that reconcile gameplay and the use of movie-like scenes.
  3. The use of shortcuts avoids tedious movements that break up the pace and bring nothing to the gameplay. These shortcuts may be part of the script or left to the player's discretion. Metal Gear Solid proved the validity of this approach by allowing characters to jump to a distant location by sliding into crates.
  4. Context-linked music themes or special sound effects. Indeed, editing involves not only the image but the sound dimension too. Never underestimate the descriptive power of sound. Sound design is one aspect of videogame design that is likely to undergo the most serious development in the years to come.

Metal Gear Solid made use of shortcuts to avoid tedious movements that break up the pace and bring nothing to the gameplay.

A Credible Universe

It is essential to build a believable environment. Can you expect the viewer to become immersed in a story if characters and décor "aren't right"? There are several key aspects of a videogame that require particular attention if a designer wants to make the universe credible:

  1. Character animations must be consistent with the environment. A character that is directed into a wall shouldn't uselessly stomp on the spot. It would make much more sense if the character would simply halt. When an obstacle gets in the way, the character should understand that it needs to jump over or go around, as characters do in Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The player controls the character, but the character should have enough intelligence to adapt its movements to the environment. In Metal Gear Solid 2, a pursued Snake jumps down flights of stairs in order to escape more quickly.

    The character must understand that it needs to jump over or go around, as characters do in Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

  2. Décor must be credible and detailed. In visual terms, credible décor must include all the little details that make things feel "real." In Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare, we stuffed in all the objects and decorative elements the player expects to see: gardening tools next to the greenhouse, clothes inside the house, etc. And if we really need our décors to look real, why not use existing, real-world locations?
  3. Nature hates uniformity. Another way to create a more credible universe is to avoid repetition and uniformity. Take a look through your window and you'll notice that buildings come in different styles. That's because they were not built at the same time. People in the street don't look the same either. They wear all manner of clothes and come different sizes and shapes. They don't walk at the same pace, either. This is real life.
  4. Think "sound" first. Before ever viewing a location, we perceive it through sound. In a game, the sound is very often mixed in as an added ingredient, even though it is often what gives the environment most of its flavor. When the character advances along a road, for example, the player shouldn't hear the same sound over and over. It is the random nature of sounds that delivers a lively universe.
  5. Backgrounds peppered with oddities. Nothing gives more personality to a room or a building then a detail that you have not seen before. It could be as simple as an ashtray with a smoking cigar butt, a piece of equipment you expect to find in the type of room you visit, music coming out of a radio, etc.
  6. A universe in movement. Simple things can be animated to give an amazing sense of life to a background. Think of the powerful effect of the flying curtains in Clive Barker's Undying or the dead leaves blown away by the wind in Hexen. In a street, a few cars zooming by, fans slowly rotating in a wharehouse, a flock of birds flying in the distance, etc.
  7. The behavior of villains or computer-controlled characters characters should be as realistic as possible. Rather than relying on flawless AI, the script must provide a proper introduction and strong behavior rules for these characters. Enemies in Soldier of Fortune move around, take shelter and engage in combat in a life-like fashion. Guards in Metal Gear Solid are animated in a way that gives them extraordinary presence: they stretch out, stop to look around, and generally behave in a realistic fashion. Guards in Thief: The Dark Project talk to each other and change tones when they spot suspicious activity. All these behavioral details encourage us to believe in characters encountered during the game. Features like these can make enemies seem deadlier and allies friendlier.
  8. Subjective view should be avoided as much as possible. Subjective views can damage a game's cinematic dimension, but such technique can be required at certain points during the game. A rifle scope or a TV monitor are good ways to integrate such a point of view in a movie-like video game. In this regard, controlling the sniper in Hitman is reasonably true to life: the cross-hairs move in step with the character's breathing and we can see the impact of bullets as they strike a target.
  9. Blows taken by characters must be credible. It is preferable to make the enemy very weak rather than enabling our hero to take an absurd number of hits.

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