Within the upcoming decade video games will no longer be referred to as games, but as interactive films. As resolution increases, soundtracks become more like movie scores, and storytelling becomes a focal point, games will become a respected art form just as film is. As a result, the video game and film industry will converge to have the same directors, screenwriters, and cinematographers working on blockbuster films and AAA game titles.
In 1980, the arcade hit PacMan introduced cut scenes to the video game world. In between levels a pre-made, non-interactive video would play, serving as comical entertainment set within the game world. By 1981, Donkey Kong had taken this concept and built on it, using cut scenes to further develop a narrative throughout the game. Two years later, full-motion video with voice acting would be introduced and regularly used between game stages as a means of storytelling.
These cuts scenes have developed into a core part of any story-driven game, sometimes coming close to feature-movie length. Director Steven Spielberg has said that cut scenes break the flow of game play and has acknowledged the difficulty developers face to include meaningful story in a game without the use of cut scenes. Some games today are blurring the lines between game play and FMV with interactive cut scenes. Games like Resident Evil 4 and God of War use this method, allowing the player to interact with their environment at pre-determined intervals during cut scenes.
In the end though, the story takes precedent over the method by which it is presented and modern games are slowly becoming more and more story-driven. In this way, screenplay writers, as well as directors, have the opportunity to work on video games, but approach them as films. Take for example Resident Evil: Degeneration, a feature-length animated movie (cut scene) based on the game series. The film was made in part by Capcom Studios with cooperation from Sony Pictures. Though obviously CG animation and non-interactive, the collaboration between game and film studio has paved the way for others. The opportunity for the two industries to work together has been around for years, but as video games become bigger in every sense of the word, developers will soon need to rely on the film industry to accomplish their goals and continue to improve.
Video games already have cinematic directors and sound designers, but these are game developers, not film directors or composers. As technology rapidly increases, the capabilities that video games have are becoming equal to that of film. Audio for games can be mixed not only for computer speakers and headphones, but for 5.1, 7.1, and 9.1 surround sound mixes. A game like Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has incredible sound design and mixing, but lacks any emotional story content which is where a film screenwriter and director could greatly enhance the final product.
Consumers watch movies and play games for most of the same reasons; to be entertained and to escape reality. Films though, rely much more on their story, and games on game play. When the spectacle of video games can match that of film and can be seamlessly combined, games can be marketed to a much wider audience and presented no longer as a childish, pointless endeavor, but rather as an interactive media that all consumers can appreciate.
As the two industries converge to work together, the price of viewing or playing an interactive film will be substantially lesser than that of currently purchasing a game or paying to see a movie at a theater. Currently a AAA video game’s budget may range from eighteen to thirty million dollars and a blockbuster film’s may easily exceed $150 million dollars. When these amounts of money get combined, not only will studios and developers share a larger budget, but the cost of producing will be less. In an interview with 1UP.com Capcom producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi for Resident Evil: Degeneration stated that, “With live action, you want to do some wild scenes. The thing is that when you do something in live action, it costs so much more. In doing similar things with CGI, we had a much lower budget.” In this way both producers and consumers will benefit. Producers will experience higher profit margins due to lower production costs and consumers will experience lower prices because the product can be sold at lower prices due to lower production costs, therefore increasing consumption.
These interactive films will still be sold Gamestop and Best Buy and will still be viewed at theaters, though they will become more of a social experience meant to be had with the company of others rather than on one’s own. Though some may enjoy watching a friend play through a full video game, most will find the experience boring, as there is not enough worthwhile story present in the game to keep their attention as they watch a friend hack and slash for hours. Once the story becomes a focal point, the game play simply becomes the action in a given film scene, and the person with a controller interacting becomes essentially invisible to all other viewers.
Soon after the introduction of truly interactive films, production companies will start to realize the potential the films have to be a huge hit within a group of people. Not only will they market the film as being a social experience, but they will incorporate the ability for all watching to be interacting, or playing at the same time. Essentially a story-driven multiplayer game, the possibilities would be nothing less than ground-breaking. Suppose we turned a James Bond film into an interactive multiplayer film. At the start of a film, each participant with a controller is randomly assigned a role or character. One may be Bond, attempting to track down and stop Ernest Blofeld, another player as Blofeld doing the opposite, and another playing as Q with a goal of finding the pieces necessary and then building a gadget required for Bond to complete said mission.
Making the game play equally enjoyable for the person playing Bond as for the person playing Q would be where the art of the game developers would be paramount. In the same way, making the story as exciting and engaging between all players would be the art of the filmmakers. Even at a level as rudimentary as this, the potential for a truly unique experience is there. Consumers will find themselves shelving out another five dollars to play again as the villain, hero, scientist, or news reporter.
The desire for games with better stories is clearly evident in the public’s reaction to games that do put emotional content into them. In the same way, films are becoming too heavily reliant on spectacle and will searching for a new interactive twist as soon as 3D dies out. The first game developers and filmmakers that work together to create an interactive film will be sitting on a gold mine and one that everyone else will soon want a piece of.