Monday, July 5, 2010

More thoughts...

I have three more thoughts to share related to my previous A Boy and His Blob post.

1. This weekend I watched one of my favorite shows, Sunday Morning. One segment discussed Steven Spielberg and George Lucas' love of Norman Rockwell. Two men who have successfully brought stories to life in a way that made their viewer's emotionally connect to their characters both admired Norman Rockwell, and rightfully so. Last year, the Orlando Museum of Art hosted an exhibition of Norman Rockwell's art. I worked as a docent for the exhibition and also came to appreciate Norman Rockwell's art. I discussed in my post, and some of you referenced in your comments, the difficult job game designers have of telling an interesting story while creating game play that integrates into the story that is somehow the perfect difficulty level - not too difficult, not too easy. I agree. That's not easy. After watching that segment on Sunday Morning about Norman Rockwell, though, I remembered talking about his artwork with kids. I remember how there were an almost infinite number of significant details in all of his paintings that helped tell a story. He had just one magazine cover, one page, in order to tell a story and encourage people to purchase the Saturday Evening Post. He had one week to come up with a concept and paint his cover and these were large oil paintings! Each painting tells a story. Every character has a vibrant and sometimes complicated personality. These characters don't move. People don't have to benefit of playing as these characters or hearing these characters speak. But if you look at one of Norman Rockwell's paintings, these characters are REAL and his stories are heartwarming, dramatic, funny, and engaging. If he can manage to tell a poignant story in one picture, a video game ought to be able to tell a poignant story in its 50 hours.

2. Ben's Dad borrowed a copy of Up and I thought again about the experience of watching that movie and I thought about Pixar and just how incredible those artists and writers are. There are many computer animated movies out there, but what separates Pixar movies from the rest is not the beauty or technical mastery of their animation, but the characters they create and the way they tell their stories. Their movies have arguably the best writing being done in Hollywood today and Up has moved me more than any other movie I've ever watched in my life. Pixar realized the importance of quality storytelling and it has paid off. Animated "kid stuff" can be more emotionally engaging - simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting -and Up is proof. If I were going to make a video game adaptation of Up, I would be able to play as any of the characters and they would complete missions that were true to them or that helped retell the story. Fill in the blanks of the original - have my old man character blow up the balloons and tie them to the house. Let me fly the house. Give me flashbacks to the amusememnt park where I used to work as a balloon salesman and let me show Ellie around the amusement park. Let me become these characters and feel what they feel and do what they do. Put as much artistry and detail and sensitivity into the game as Pixar does in their movies.

3. Hot Tub Time Machine - Ben's July 4th plan was to sit around watching Hot Tub Time Machine and then light some sparklers in the backyard. My 4th of July plan was to create a culinary tour of America with party decorations and a nighttime fireworks spectacular with a picnic and dessert afterwards. So we did all of it (except Ben was spared the fireworks spectacular because of rain). I fell asleep halfway through Hot Tub Time Machine, after the part where four dumb, unfunny characters ended up in a dodgy ski resort's hot tub, all of them drunk, one of them threw up and they end up transported back to the 80's when they were young and having a lot of sex. I mention this movie to acknowledge the fact that there are movies with worse writing than most video games.

I'm certainly not saying I could write/design video games better. You don't see me trying to do it myself. But the industry as a whole, I think, could do with better writing and storytelling and maybe more creativity. Shooty-shoot and jumpy-jump games make sense in a Gallaga and Qbert world. Now that we're into film adaptations and 50 hour games, maybe it's time to adapt and invent completely new game play to suit those sorts of games?


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  2. I think what you say here basically boils down to:

    a) Certain artists have reached mastery in other mediums.
    b) Artists in the video game industry should reach mastery also.

    I don't know that it's fair to compare Norman Rockwell and Up to A Boy and His Blob.

    But it might be fair to compare them to, I dunno, Portal.

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  4. Actually, following up on my Portal comment... Portal actually has details similar to what you were saying about the Norman Rockwell paintings. It has tons of minute details that tell a really interesting story all over the game.

    Hell, the first 10 seconds tell a story, and the next 50 seconds expand on that story dramatically; at the 1:01 mark you want to explore, which it then lets you do for several hours of engaging play with subtleties throughout.

    But it still might be too hard. :-(

    (Why doesn't WordPress let me edit my comments? Boo.)

  5. Maybe Portal will be my piece de resistance assignment. :-)