No matter how many polygons get crammed onto a screen, or how expressive and realistic faces become, games simply can’t match films in terms of cinematic expressiveness. The fundamental repertoire simply isn’t available. Developers should instead concentrate on what games can uniquely bring to the table, and build emotional experiences through the player’s interaction with the system.
Every game designer in the world needs to read this paragraph and have it permanently nailed to their heads. Video games are not films. Period. They will never be movies.
Video games and film both have their weaknesses and their strengths in regards to their medium. Video games can do things that movies cannot. It has the advantage of the player experiencing a story instead of being told one. Yet game developers are constantly taking away player control more and more in their games in order to make them more “cinematic.” Or at least what game developers think what “cinematic” is.
Check out Shamus Young’s Let’s Play of Modern Warfare 3 for a great discussion on this.
Not only is there a misunderstanding of video games and their potential as a cultural medium on the part of developers, but it also shows that developers have absolutely no understanding of what cinema is or what makes something “cinematic.” Micheal Bay explosions are not cinematic. It’s noise and nonsense on the screen. Let’s take a look at one of the most brilliant scenes in cinema, the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West.
Shot selection, framing, use of foreground and background to convey depth or the lack there of. What this sequence does is allow us to view the world in which the story takes place, the details of the environment and of the characters who inhabit it, all without dialogue to convey what is happening. The viewer is watching what is happening. Already, you can see the problem with taking these concepts and gluing them onto video games. It just doesn’t fit.
Compare it to when you first get off the train in Red Dead Redemption. Once the opening cut scene is over and you are free to move your character about. The environment itself is filled with details, such as the man with news papers, the drunk stumbling out of the saloon. These are not carefully selected shots to convey an idea or emotion. They are details to make the world the player is being asked to inhabit feel more alive. There is a good chance that the player will ignore all that attention to detail and just start shooting people. That’s the player’s choice.
Video games should create worlds for the player to inhabit and discover, not drag him through a series of set pieces over which he/she has no control over whatsoever. Games can build amazing worlds filled with thousands of stories instead of just one. Why limit yourself with trying to play dress up as a movie director?