Machinima has always been a medium of entertainment that has intrigued and enticed me, from the second I discovered what it was. When I first found online gaming I was struck by a lot of possibilities that I couldn’t have hoped for. Halo 2 was the first game I had ever played online, and with my original thoughts not progressing past shooting some random person in some random country, I soon found that communities of fans flooded the games I wanted to play. Halo 2 is a huge deal to a lot of gamers, and for good reason. After finding like-minded players who enjoyed just hanging around on our favourite maps, we spent ages trying to figure out new and cool things to do within the game.
I soon discovered people who were into making films on Halo 2, and many of them had quite large fan bases. Red Vs Blue is the most renowned Machinima, defining an entire genre and setting the bar for anybody aspiring to follow in their footsteps. But maybe they set the bar too high. Machinima is still a very rare thing, even with games that allow us to live out Hollywood-styled action sequences. With games becoming more and more lifelike with every generation, you would think that Machinima makers would be much more widespread. That being said, there is a large amount of film makers who stretch their wings all the way out to the video game medium, and many short (or even feature length) Machinimas have been born from the minds and inspirations of great creative individuals or groups. Here is my top 5 Machinimas that aren’t RvB:
5. Monsters – Hollywood Halo (Halo 2)
Machinima offers a certain amount of freedom, but also has its restrictions. For example, you never have to worry about rain affecting equipment, or changing appearances of your actors, but you also may never be able to drop that gun, or make your characters lips sync to the lines they must say. These are objects that you must consider carefully when planning out a Machinima. Not every idea you have will be feasible in a game engine, hence why music videos are often a great idea, as well as war-based films. In this Machinima, Hollywood Halo focused on both. Though not the most exciting in terms of story, the cinematography in Monsters shows just how good you can make a Machinima title look. Though dated and low quality, the attention to positioning of both actors and camera really helps draw in the audience.
4. Civil Protection – Ross Scott (Half Life 2 engine)
Civil Protection is a series that revolves around an already well-established character, or rather group of characters, the Combine. Half Life 2 is a game that packs in all kinds of emotions, whether it’s the feeling of being a rocking mute scientist or the fear of being chased by running zombies, not to mention the incredible storyline that brings all these components together to give Half Life a very strong impression. The combine being your main enemy, at least the main enemy that wasn’t some sort of mutated freak barnacle, meant that your interactions with them were always… Not pleasant. The established nastiness of the Combine made Civil Protection all the more entertaining. Revolving around Combine units who may not have passed their oppression compatibility test, you see a very different side to the dystopia-loving antagonists we are used to shooting. The Half Life 2 engine has long been regarded as a great place to make Machinima titles. Using Hammer, the map making tools that come with the game, means that you can script out entire sequences to then polish afterwards in post-production. In fact, the strength behind Half Life 2 based Machinima, is that you program the actions rather than get friends to act them out. Though this takes more effort and a considerably larger amount of time, it offers you a lot more freedom and control than most other games would.
3. The Bad Assassin – Horseless Productions (GTA IV)
GTA has always stuck out in my mind as the perfect game for Machinima. The open world environment offers you a huge array of locations, and the choice of activities and the general gameplay offers a lot of interesting features that could be implemented into a film. The Bad Assassin utilises the extra film making functions that were available in the GTA IV PC version, as well as the help of some simple mods to aid the realism of the series. Not only is this Machinima series a testament to the originality of the creator, but it also boasts the power and freedom of GTA IV’s Liberty City.
2. Shelf Life – Pixel Eyes Productions (Half Life 2 engine)
It is my personal opinion, that Machinima is a medium that doesn’t often suit drama, or serious storylines. The thought of watching video game characters being forced into situations that may not match what we already know of them can be hard to take seriously, and the medium, with its limitations, can also take away from the sense of realism you would expect in a drama. However the tools mentioned above, that are used in a lot of older Half Life Machinima, really open up a lot more options, especially when it comes to facial expression, and lip syncing. These features make our connection to Machinima characters much easier to recognise. While Shelf Life obviously isn’t the only serious Machinima that deserves merit, it definitely deserves a mention. Using the already well-established themes of a dystopian setting, Shelf Life used the Half Life 2 locations to its advantage, making a new story out of a recognisable environment.
1. War Of The Servers – Lit Fuse Films (Half Life 2 engine)
Using the same tools as the above mentioned Half Life 2 films, War Of The Servers takes Machinima making to the next level. Lasting an hour and forty minutes, War Of The Servers is a parody of H.G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds, set in the game lobbies of Gmod, a Source Engine mod. The amount of effort that went into making this film must have been huge, with a mixture of acting out scenes and the above mentioned method of programming sequences, the end product is one that astounded me the first time I saw it. As a fan of both Gmod and War of the Worlds, I found myself trying to tell everyone to watch this film. It takes advantage of the original story and very cleverly converts it to work in a comical way that Gmod gamers would love.
Even though a large amount of people enjoy making Machinima, it seems that the video game film ideal has taken the route of lets plays instead. Game engines keep advancing, and every time I see new game features, I tend to look at them from a movie making point of view. Structured game films have their place, but I just wish that place was a little bigger.
Though I may have made it seem like there aren’t many Machinima makers out there, I have to point out that this just isn’t true. The fact is that Machinima films are still a growing concept and while many great pieces have already been made, it’s a style of film making that I feel will continue to expand with the games that they are based upon. In fact the tools are very easily accessible these days with Source Film Maker now being available to anyone. Offering the freedom to show expression, the concept of serious Machinima may not be such a hard one to follow through on, however, I still feel Machinima is still more likely to be viewed if it is comical.