By Phil Harris
Rab Florence has been curating the videogames content for the Glasgow Film Festival for a few years and, whilst covering a vast array of topics relating to games, they have never spoken about the direct links of how games have been influenced by film. We're not talking about the often terrible film spin offs that trot out to the surprisingly unsuspecting public, who you would have thought had learned their lesson, but was a discussion about the difficulties of capturing the mood of a film within a videogame. In discussing the subject it was almost impossible not to criticize the games they were talking about in order to emphasise the points they were trying to raise, and throughout Rab was ably assisted by Chris Scullion.
The Last of Us was the first game to receive attention, the developers stating that some elements had been influenced by the film Children of Men, the pair discussing how certain aspects of the game broke the immersion of the player in the context of what they were experiencing. So pushing boxes and erecting ladders to access areas required to continue were seen as significant breaks from the story, even when the supporting characters were telling you facts that were relevant to the story, in fact they seemed to be saying that the dichotomy of the two enhanced the problem.
Moving on to Telltale Games' Walking Dead series the story and direction was again complimented but the question of, "Is it a game", reared its ugly and often quite disruptive head. Avoiding that debate, which is more philosophical and contextual rather than meaningful, they talked about the fact the game merely moved the player from one scene to another, being a set of story choices rather than significant involved gameplay. Chris likened it to the choose your own adventure books, made popular by the Fighting Fantasy series – although Tunnels and Trolls has done the same at a much earlier date – and this moved the discussion on to set pieces and being forced into a path.
Considering if the director and design team were at odds with each other the latest version of Tomb Raider was raised, the discussion about Lara's development as a character and the differences presented by the story and what the player actually experiences. Lara's story written to show the loss of innocence as she is forced to kill to survive but also the fact that half an hour later she has killed a number more people, Rab noting that the writers have little say and are often directed to tell these deep emotional "coming of age" stories to then be told, "she has to kill ten guys here", in order to add gameplay.
To counterpoint this they started to discuss Alien: Isolation, a game where the story enhanced the design elements and where the choice was not dictated by the game but by the players actions, how they reacted to the alien, considering how the Artificial Intelligence evolved throughout play and how story was included to enhance the experience, not to manage it. However Rab noted that the Alien franchise is well established and, like Star Wars, is an easy environment to create videogames of this type because the player is likely to know the background and engage with it well.
Which brought us on to Nintendo and the types of games they release, pointing out that that company has never mimicked films in Nintendo studio led titles. Link has never spoken in the games and they are open free roaming adventures which allow the player to decide where they will go next and Splatoon was mentioned, a game potentially harking back to the more action driven games of the past rather than the story driven ones of today – a good thing considering how many children were swarming round the arcade cabinets at the Games Masters Exhibition.
Chris and Rab ensured the talk was brimmed full of chat, discussing the limited action of The Order 1886, the open freedom of Dragon Age: Inquisition and if Bloodborne is going to follow in the footsteps of Demon Souls or whether it will become more restricted player experience to ensure its story is told. They talked about Night Trap, an interactive movie game from the early 90's, and how Metal Gear Solid had its own directorial style, before taking questions from the audience.
Children of Film: Videogames was excellent, if too short, with a receptive audience who clearly agreed with the speakers and asked interesting and informed questions. As with anything of this nature trying to capture the whole talk here would be impossible but Rab's work to integrate games into the Glasgow Film Festival is of definite value as we see a narrowing of the boundaries between the silver screen and consoles.
Phil Harris (@PhilipGHarris) is a games developer and writer currently working with One Thumb Mobile on their MMORPG Celtic Heroes. He also created Zentorii, helped design Nevistech's Pet Roulette for Android devices and is the story writer for Blazing Griffin's new space strategy game Distant Star: Revenant Fleet. To read more about Phil check out his profile on Indie Teamup.