Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Beautiful Lie

There have been a substantial amount of cinematic trailers lately, each drawing my attention toward a different game. The Elder Scrolls Online showcased a particularly acrobatic archer, throwing his sword in the air to disperse three soldiers before catching it to finish a fourth. Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm's introduction presented a brilliant battle as a swarm of Zerg decimate a last stand of Terran forces. These trailers are always entertaining, brilliantly polished, and serve as a testament of quality to a game. That is when I realized something:

The actual game will never capture the feel of that cinematic.

That is not to say the game will be terrible or fail to offer such opportunities as showcased, but even at the highest possible level of play I will not feel like the character in the trailer. The archer that swiftly decimates a group of solders, will most likely stand in place shuffling between a set number of animations. The Starcraft battle of Zerg and Terran will not be a heart driven last stand, but become a brief explosive meeting in which each unit vibrantly fades into nothing.

My biggest personal experience with this discouragement was with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Prior to the game's release, a teaser trailer showcased a Sith taking down an entire star destroyer using only the force. I had never seen anything like that in the franchise history and was genuinely excited to experience it in-game. I purchased my copy, reached that pivotal moment, and was met with utter disappointment. The sequence was frustrating, tie fighters continually broke your connection, and the second you let go the ship magically plopped back to its original orbit. I was not the powerful, intimidating figure that was painted for me in the cinematic trailer, but a fumbling Jedi incapable of multitasking.
My focus needs more focus!
I blame much of this lowered expectation on something you would never expect; movie trailers. When you see a trailer for a movie it discloses the characters, small snippits of the plot, and general high points of the film. It essentially takes an hour and fourty-five minutes of film and deludes it to a two minute snapshot meant to entice you to purchase a ticket. The big difference is that what you see in a movie trailer will likely appear on the big screen, while cinematic trailers in gaming rarely allow you the participate in the epic battles they display or perform the elegant movements illustrated. You may bump into a few recognizable characters or walk through the same location, but the sense of familiarity typically ends there.

Part of this is due to the way these cinematic trailers are created. Square Enix, for example, is known for their lavish cinematics for Final Fantasy, Deus Ex, and the more recent Tomb Raider. Their internal studio, Visual Works, is the team responsible for this - taking the ideas and direction from the development team and turning into a visual representation of the final product. It's a similar process for other studios as well (Diablo III, SwtoR). Different parts of a studio or third party entrants will come in, look at the game, take everything into consideration, and craft their vision. The video below gives you a more in-depth look at their process:

So aside from the unrealistic notion of a cinematic trailer becoming gameplay anytime soon, what have developers done that has alleviated this predicament for me?

That would be the most common gaming adaptation of them all; quicktime events. Overlaying button prompts has become a practical norm nowadays, and I have always envisioned them as interactive cinematic scenes. God of War was the first experience I had with this, and a memorable one at that. Vigorously tapping the circle button vaguely mimicked the effort my spartan was putting into reeling a Hydra head closer and closer before slamming it into the deck. Though still lacking the flair of the cinematic, it's as close as one can get to feeling a sense of control as your character performs feats normally inaccessible to your standard movement.
I will defeat you, Hydra. I'm tapping as hard as I can!

Cinematic trailers have become more impressive with each generation of consoles, and despite my inability to mimic their unique feeling in-game, it is hard to be too bitter about it. The sole purpose of a cinematic trailer is to reel the viewer in while giving an "idea" of what the game will offer, and stands as physical evidence of the hard work and dedication going into the development of the title on all fronts. Sure, I may not be able to recreate an archer quite as cool as the one in the trailer, but that is perfectly alright if the overall quality reflects what went into making him so awesome in the first place. For now, I will simply bask in the beauty and professionalism put into these amazing teasers of what is to come...even if they turn out to be a lie.

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