Micro-Essay #2 – On Performance in Machinima – Geoffroy Gravel

In his article Real-Time Performance: Machinima and Game Studies, Henry Lowood examines the role of player performance in the production of machinima movies. Machinima movies consist of in-game footage captured and edited so as to create a film-like narrative foreign to the one intended by the game’s developers. Lowood defines machinima as “high-performance play” because it requires its creators to possess three types of performative skills. First, one needs to have an extensive technological knowledge to manipulate the systems of games in order to capture interesting and appropriate footage. A large proportion of machinima footage is captured in “mods” that have been elaborated by technically knowledgeable players . Secondly, machinima requires a player to have impressive gaming skills as much of the excitement surrounding these productions relies on the in-game exploits performed by the players. Finally, gamers who produce machinima movies have to perform in the more traditional sense of the word. Simply put, these players must be creative in their approach so as to genuinely entertain the audience of their projects.

The series This Spartan Life is an example of machinima pertinent to Lowood’s description of “high-performance play”. All three types of performances addressed in Lowood’s article are skillfully applied in this series that makes use of Halo games to construct its narrative. The technological skills used in This Spartan Life mostly consist of the mastery of a glitch that allows the creators to remove the weapons and arms of their characters from the screen. This allows them to capture footage that looks more cinematic and gives the impression that the series was not even filmed in a first-person perspective. The gamers that contribute to the production of This Spartan Life are experienced Halo players. They perform impressive actions that require timing, skill and probably much practice. These actions generate a part of the excitement that surrounds the series. Finally, the producers of This Spartan Life bring entertainment to their audiences in many different ways. Not only do they provide humoristic content such as hilarious dances from Halo characters or jokes of various kinds, they provide informative content that is relevant to the interests of their audiences. Episode 7 of the series, for instance, features an interview with Tiffiniy Cheng from the Fight for the Future organization which fights for freedom of content on the internet. Obviously, this issue is relevant to gamers who take part in online communities that could be silenced by overtly severe internet regulation.

Thankfully, This Spartan Life is actually encouraged by the corporate figures of Microsoft. The series is now featured on X-Box Live and some of its content was even included in a special edition of Halo. The production of machinima movies encourages the creation of gamer communities that can generate interesting, entertaining, creative and informative content for their peers. Video game companies should see such content as beneficial to the product that they brought to the market as it generates excitement for their games and allows for creative artistic productions to see the light of day.

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Film Modding in the Modern Game Industry

Modding has been a part of the game industry for the past three decades. It is the principle of modifying the original content of a game and making into something new while using the original assets and engine of the game. Some game developers see the as a misappropriation of the content they own and seek to gain control of who uses their assets.

When working in a game company, like many other industries, what you make or create during the time you work there, is now the property of the company and not of the individual who created it. Since they are the owners of the assets, they have the rights of who uses them and how as well as to have the rights to monetise it.

Modding is easier with digital content. It is quite rare to see mods of physical objects or printed media. With digital content, anyone who has access to the assets and who has knowledge of how to use them can create something with them.

In the case of machinima films, or the productions by “The Spartan Life” the creators are using a video game as the animation platform and using the in game characters to be controlled live by the animators. It is the same process as film animation, but instead of creating all the assets in a 3D animation software such as Autodesk Maya, they use the content in videogames in order to facilitate the process. Where the licenses for creation software allow for profit and user created content to turn a profit, the end user licence of games generally do not.

Some game developers allows users to use their assets for creative use. “Halo” is one of the games that can easily be used to make films as there is a built in cinema feature and users can record footage from a user controlled camera when the scene is being recorded. It is limited to the animation that are programmed to each character, but the animators make do and use various controls to give life to the game characters which are animated to the voice over of the film.

When the machinima channel is a host to many various artists and creators that use games as the host for their art. There is also a big portion of the success that relies on the story and user content of the animation. Since that is the most important part of the machinima world, it can be argued that the rights should go along with the creators of that content, over the owners of the assets that are used.

It comes down to a debate of who really owns the rights to the final product as each party has created something new. But the original creators of the assets might want to take in the profit. It is to the discretion of the content creator to use copyrighted material or to use material labeled under the creative commons.

Interactive Fiction and The Stanley Parable Demo

While his argument is mainly concerned with text-based computer games, Monfort’s commentary on interactive fiction as presented in Twisty Little Passages is also relevant to mainstream video games. Monfort deplores the fact that interactive fiction is still looked down upon by academics who dismiss works of these types as games rather than considering them as the valuable work of literature that they can sometimes be. The author wishes to legitimize interactive fiction as a form of literature by laying the groundwork for the analysis and understanding of this type of fiction. Monfort presents academic terms and basic theories that can explain some of the many attributes and capacities of interactive fiction. Doing so, he believes, will allow the form to evolve and develop out of intellectuals’ accreditation.

The Stanley Parable Demo is both an example of what interactive fiction can be and a critique of the format in itself. Much of the demo’s content addresses issues raised by Monfort. Among these are the peculiarities in the interaction between what Monfort call the operator and the computer programming. The narrator that guides the player through The Stanley Parable Demo suggests rules to the player that implicitly demand to be broken. For instance, the operator is at one point asked to stand entirely still for twenty minutes: a command that most sane players will break almost immediately. This gives the operator a false impression of control over the intended narrative of the game, yet the demo clearly demonstrates that this freedom is false and that the player is still strictly subjected to the intentions of the developers. The narrator even asks the player to reflect on how he might have acted in an inadequate fashion that might have caused the demo to go wrong when the player is clearly in the situation that the developers intended him to be in. Although the narrator insinuates that the player is actively and extensively affecting the narrative, a second play through of the demo will reveal to the operator that there is no other way (at least that I personally have found while playing it) to finish the demo. While the player can skip certain rooms that are not mandatory, there is only one main path to play through the demo. Even in instances where the player is given an illusion of choice, such as choosing a button to press amongst two or many, the result of his actions remain unchanged and the game is consciously poking fun at this fact.

While The Stanley Parable Demo is critical of interactive fiction, it is also a clever use of its capacities as it reverses video game conventions and conveys meaning to the operator in a way that only interactive fiction could have done. With its quirky humour and unconventional gameplay, The Stanley Parable Demo falls within the tradition of works that Monfort would have defended as a legitimate, beneficial and exemplar achievement of interactive fiction.

 

WORKS CITED

Montfort, Nick. “The Pleasure of the Text Adventure.” In Twisty Little Passages. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 1-36

 

Methods of distribution for Interactive Fiction

Whereas Howling Dogs can be viewed as unerringly faithful to the genre, The Stanley Parable requires a somewhat more liberal interpretation of what qualifies as interactive fiction. It is essentially a parody of the videogame in the style of a graphic fiction game, keeping the player entertained with a reactive narration whilst they move through a series of binary choice sets. It is not the degree to which either title adheres to the tenets of its genre, nor is it the exceptionally broad exposure one title has enjoyed over the other, or the difference in cost to the player that serves as the greatest contrast, but the means of distribution. The Stanley Parable began life as a modification of the Source engine and therefore, at least on Apple computers, required the player to own a copy of Half Life 2, which is owned by Valve Corporation. The standalone remake of the game, as well as its demo, is available only through the Steam digital distribution platform which requires the player to both install the Steam software and by doing so, support digital rights management (DRM).  While it should be noted that developing a game using the Source engine does not necessarily limit one to distribution on Steam, Dear Esther is, to my knowledge, the only example of a Source-based game available as a DRM-free download.  Generally speaking DRM is almost non-existent in interactive fiction when compared to video games.

This leads one to question; do games like The Stanley Parable signify a trend towards distributing interactive fiction through the same DRM-laden digital marketplaces as videogames? Perhaps not, as it is a unique piece of interactive fiction in that it looks like a videogame, it feels like a game, and it is concerned primarily with addressing how choice and consequence are approached in videogames. It is because of this that it is treated much the same as a traditional videogame, just more thinky than most.  By contrast Howling Dogs does not look like a videogame, it does not play like a videogame, it does not concern itself with videogames tropes.   In “Creation Under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution,” Porpentine constructs an appeal for developing interactive fiction using Twine. A game built on Twine can easily be distributed and requires little to no overhead cost. Most importantly however, it can be played by anyone. Twine provides an accessible means of producing interactive fiction without subjecting its audience to the same invasive policies that are now present in most other forms digital media. There is simply no foreseeable reason why a game built using Twine would necessitate distribution through steam or a similar platform and for anti-DRM players this makes a world of difference.

Works Cited

Porpentine. “Creation Under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution.” Nightmare Mode. 25 November 2012. http://nightmaremode.thegamerstrust.com/2012/11/25/creation-under-capitalism/

Agency and the Cake are Lies

By Patricia Tatham

I found some interesting comparisons between Howling Dogs and The Stanley Parable. The Stanley Parable is a 3-dimensional game about an office worker walking through their building looking for missing colleges with a narrator telling him where to go. The player is free to not listen to the narrator, and can take many different paths throughout the game making for many different endings, but the “real” ending is always the same, the player starts back at the starting point, therefore no real ending, no conclusion other than what the player’s interpretation is. Howling Dogs is a text based game with the player making choices along the way of how to proceed to the next level. As with The Stanley Parable, the ending of Howling Dogs is always the same: a repeating quote where the only action that a player can take is to reset the game. No matter the decisions made in this story, the ending always comes out the same. Although both games are different in their appearances and gameplay, both do not have a conclusive ending and both take away the players agencies the more you play the game.

Both of these games are interactive fiction, the difference lying in their appearance and specific forms of interface. Nick Monfort states “the text adventure, however widespread it may be, is not the only type of interactive fiction possible” (6), and The Stanley Parable indeed shows the interactive fiction is quite possible without much use of text. In The Stanley Parable the narrator give directions for the player to follow. If the player chooses to ignore the orders given by the narrator, he can be very vocal towards Stanley and eventually will try to get Stanley back on track. Howling Dogs, the player has a list of things they are able to interact with in their room and they have no choice but to eat and drink before they can enter the activity room. In The Stanley Parable if the player does not follow instructions the narrator will blame Stanley for breaking the narrative, walls become broken, windows go missing, the texture of the game changes, then the narrator will bring Stanley back to the beginning to start again as a way of fixing what was broken. Howling Dogs does something similar in the sense that as the player goes along, the shower will stop working, they can no longer dispose the trash, and their views of the photograph and that from the sanity room change. In both games things break down or no longer work as the player goes along and tests the boundaries of the game, showing how similar to the text adventure styles games of the past, “the puzzles in a work of fiction function to control the revelation of the narrative” (Monfort 3).

Both The Stanley Parable and Howling Dogs give the illusion that the player can freely make their own choices and take their own path, creating an ending that results from their own choices. In reality both games do not give the player that much agency at all, with every possible course of action pre-planned for. They try to encourage the player to think that she has agency, but the agency granted is just as false as the cake provided to Chell at the end of Portal.


Works Cited

Galactic Cafe. The Stanley Parable. 2013. PC.

Monfort, Nick. “The Pleasure of the Text Adventure.” Twisty Little Passages. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 1-36.

Porpentine. Howling Dogs. 2012. PC.

Valve Corporation. Portal. Valve Corporation. 2007. PC.

Contextual Poetry and Narrative Tradition by Devin Mens

The form of a story is a key factor in the total expression of its narrative without resorting to the explicitness that is typically expected as the means through which this is done. As it pertains to video-games and other related mediums, these explicit forms of progression are typically expressed via dialogue, cut-scenes or set-pieces (Polansky).  Current video-games, such as Max Payne 3 or the Metal Gear Solid series best represent the use of cut-scenes and primary dialogue, while games such as those found in the Call of Duty franchise place a large emphasis on heavily scripted set-piece scenarios that at their most basic level can be reduced to somewhat interactive cut-scenes that does not provide much or any latitude in how the player may alter the outcome of the current chapter of the story(Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2). However, as with most other forms of narrative, it is those aspects that surround these focal points that provide a true sense of the plot. As defined in Mrs.Polansky’s article, it is these “environmental” queues that allows for most games to progress beyond the complexity found in a game of “Clue” (Polansky). This is best explained with a scene from a movie, in this case the 6th episode of the “Star Wars” series, “The Return of the Jedi.” This movie contains a scene in which the main protagonist, Luke Skywalker, is engaged in a duel with one of the primary antagonists, Darth Vader. Taken as a simple cut-scene, in that there is no interaction with the viewers, this scene does not advance the plot in any significant manner. However, when we add in the context surrounding this scene, the scene becomes a fight for the redemption of a man’s father. However it should be noted though that these “secondary” narrative elements can at times be applied in a pseudo-primary manner, with the various “* Souls” games, which include on a minimum of explicit narration or exposition apart from a smattering of cut-scenes at key milestones such as the beginning and end points of the game(Demon’s Souls). However, the vast majority of the plot and lore behind the encompassing world and the various key figures is only encountered via text and dialogue lines that most people would consider quasi-secrets (Demon’s Souls). This reaches the point that the player’s grasp of the narrative without these hidden contextual pieces approaches the lack of detail that is described above regarding the Star Wars scene if it occurred in a vacuum. Without these elements that define the “designed space” that surrounds the game, the overall experience is found severely lacking. The entirety of human experience is predicated upon context and the intuition that it provides a person to allow to properly navigate a world that exists somewhere between strict black and white definitions. To exist without the use of intuition shuts a person off from the greater world and is typically associated with people suffering from diagnoses along the autism spectrum. Artistic works requires the use of their designed space to allow for these intuitive leaps, without them the audience would flounder in a grey sea of meaninglessness and would experience the piece as merely a sequence of procedural tasks with no intrinsic meaning or value.


References

Polansky, Lana. “The Poetry of Created Space | Bit Creature.” The Poetry of Created Space | Bit Creature. 3 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://www.bitcreature.com/criticism/the-poetry-of-created-space/&gt;.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.Kojima Productions.2008. Video Game

Demon’s Souls. From Software.2009.Video Game

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.Infinity Ward.2009.Video Game

Procedural Rhetoric and September 12th

Procedural rhetoric is a combination of two completely different processes. Procedural development and rhetoric. Mixing both of these together in a video game gives the player a unique experience each time he/she enters the game. Each choice made weighs in on different variables that run the whole equation in the backbone of the game. In the game September 12th the use of procedural rhetoric as the main driver for the game.

Procedural programming has been used in almost every game. It is the main driver in monster spawns as well as the layout of procedural maps. The definition of procedural gaming is a random algorithm that is guided by a structure. In monster spawns, the constructor is time between spawns and the amount, type and location of these monsters. Another angle would be procedural map layouts where all the tiles have standardised corners. The algorithm runs the events according to the parameters that are given to it. The events that use procedural programming are not scripted and it is almost impossible to get identical outcomes.

Rhetoric is not directly related to programming. Its definition relates to the art of public speaking for legal or civic speech. It is mainly used to convince and move the way of public opinion. Concerning games, this method is used to characterise the variations of input from the user into quantifiable data. This data is then used to feed the algorithm that feeds and guides the procedural coding. The use of rhetoric of this manner allows the game to interpret the user and to adapt the conditions of the game differently with how the user interacts in the game.

The combination is defined by: “Procedural rhetoric, then, is a practice of using processes persuasively. More specifically, procedural rhetoric is the practice of persuading through processes in general and computational processes in particular” (Persuasive Games, The MIT Press). There are two ways to see rhetoric in this game. The view projected by the game and its subject and the view the user projects into the game.

For the view projected, September 12th illustrates the use of violence and missiles on terrorist forces and how the people of the affected villages will react when facing oppression. Each action reflects a change in how the village lives its life and acts as a message towards those who use such methods in the real world.

In the game September 12th procedural rhetoric is the main driver.  The game is about a village with certain terrorists. The user uses a sight in order to shoot at and eliminate a terrorist. However the “gun” shoots missiles and causes collateral damage which affects civilians. The procedural aspect of the game is the population of the village. The initial amount of terrorists to villagers is the starting point. The rhetorical aspect is the launch of the missiles onto the population of the village. More missiles that get launched, the more there are casualties which results in more terrorists. Do the opposite and less terrorists will appear.

Procedural rhetoric is essential to games as it brings a more natural feel to the game as it reacts with how the user interacts with it. The algorithm of the game and its environment will adapt depending on the choices and actions of the user creating a new experience each time the game is played.


Sources:

Bogost, Ian. “Persuasive Games, The Expression Power of Videogames”. The MIT Press.