Cinematic Gaming [evolved]

Ever since the dawn of video games, the thing that kept gamers playing was a story. Whether the story be in nothing but an instruction booklet or told through very rough text. Back in the old days, the story in a lot of games was to go from point A to point B and save somebody, or find a certain treasure. Well, much has happened since then, and cinematic gameplay has evolved into something that ten years ago, would of never even been thought possible.

Games were made to really expand a persons imagination. Take them to fictitious worlds they would never be able to visit in the realm of reality, and to just forget about daily troubles while playing a game. Since the evolution of stories in games, this has become easier over the years. To be totally honest, you really don’t have to stretch your imagination to far with the realism of video games these days. It has come along way from pixels that were supposed characters, and “bleeps” and “bloops” that made up the soundtrack of a game.

back in the NES days, this was cinematic

In the early days of gaming, this was considered cinematic…

Cut-scenes (movie-like footage in a game that helps to progress the story forward) have been around a long time in the world of gaming. It is nothing new, but cut-scenes now are far different than what a lot of us remember seeing ten years ago. If you were to pop in an NES game, such as Ninja Gaiden, you would notice some animated scene, with text boxes…that was a cinematic experience back then. Believe it or not, NG was ahead of its time, and actually pushed the envelope on the NES as far as cinematic gameplay is concerned. People were happy with it back then, but as gamers matured, so did the way we viewed a story.

With the release of the SNES came a lot of animation, still no voice, but at least now we could see action happening on-screen. It seems like with the new tools, developers were starting to take advantage of what they could do to tell a story. Games like Mega Man X, were using little scenes happen in between action where characters would explain what was going on very briefly. Starfox used radio transmissions from your squad members and enemies to explain the story of the Lylat System. After years of great games though, gaming was ready for another step forward, and this came with the new consoles like the Nintendo 64 and the Playstation.

The first game I remember really feeling in awe about the story was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64). It was an amazing experience, with great cut-scenes, a brilliant musical score, and really interesting characters. Thats when I think the whole cinematic gameplay thing took off, with these systems that could finally make a gamer “feel” for the characters on-screen. As technology advanced, the complexity of characters advanced as well. It is pretty neat seeing characters from the days of the NES potrayed on the Next-Gen systems(Ninja Gaiden and Metal Gear come to mind)…that my friends is true evolution.

Now, to talk about the couple of games that really made me think of this topic. The first one that pops into my head is Uncharted: Drakes Fortune. Anybody who played this game on their Playstation 3, knows what I am talking about. It is pretty much an interactive movie, and as you play you sometimes forget you are playing a game. I do not mean that in a bad way, it just begs the question…”Am I playing a game or am I playing a movie?”

Drakes Fortune box art

Think Indiana Jones meets Tomb Raider…but with more humor and a hint of bad ass.

This “interactive movie” feel is not only told through really well thought out cutscenes (motion cap and voice overs were done with real theater actors, so they turned out amazing). The way the guys over at Naughty Dog handled the camerawork was one of the biggest selling points. As you climbed over ledges, the camera would position itself to show what peril you were in if you fell, or during chase scenes, you would get some really intense action shots. This was the first game I have played in a long time, that had made me feel the way I did when I first played Ocarina, it was this feeling of awe.

With the release of Metal Gear Solid 4 hitting the PS3 as well, it is yet another step forward in cinematic gameplay. This game has some cutscenes that clock in at over an hour, which can seem pretty lengthy to most people, but with the style and finesse that Hideo Kojima puts into his game, they are something you can really lose yourself in. I know of a few gamers that feel that these long cut-scenes are way too lengthy. I beg to differ with those gamers, seeing as games like MGS4 are so large and have many unanswered questions for long-time Metal Gear fans, that many of these questions need to be answered in the game.

With next-gen systems came this whole new level of interactivity for gamers, which I for one am very excited to see where it will go from here. If you are like me, and have been gaming since a young age, seeing these advancements in the industry is something you really take pride in, and you are happy to be apart of some of these big adventures. I left out a few of my favorite games because I would be going on and on for ages, especially if I brought up Bioshock and Mass Effect and how cinematic they felt. Both were cinematic in their own way, with Bioshock really sucking you in to the atmosphere with lighting and sounds, and Mass Effect making you feel like the hero, by sort of “choosing your own adventure”; both can be found on the Xbox 360 and PC.

Another great cinematic experience is found in Heavenly Sword for the PS3. The game really had some great cut-scenes, with Andy Serkis (played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and also played King Kong in the 2005 remake) doing the mocap (motion-catpure), and voicing the main antagonist. I highly recommend all three titles if you are looking for some good examples of how far cinematic gaming has come.

The evolution of cinematic gaming has even lent itself pretty well to the big screen. With the announcement of video game movies throught the year (not all are put into production, but I know I am excited about the Gears of War adaption, that just got a director, and can’t wait for more news on the Bioshock film), it is easy to see that gaming has quite an impact on the big wigs over in Hollywood. Now, there used to be gaming and movies…two seperate entities, but over the past years there seems to have been this “gray-area”, a common medium, if you will. This medium, is something that can appeal to anyone who enjoys good story-telling, which means not only good news for a publishers sales, but even better news for gamers, as we are treated to some of the best stories every told.