Thursday, January 24, 2013

Games and Movies - The Faces of Evil

Last time I went to England I made sure to bring an issue of Edge, a video game magazine that I am sure many of you have heard of. I think it's quite good, but it's nigh on impossible to find in Sweden, and if you're lucky to find one of the few places that do sell them, it usually costs about three times as much. This particular issue had actress Ellen Page on the front, you know, the girl from such movies as Inception and Juno (the first movie I saw with her was Hard Candy though, which was just weird). Although she's probably quite popular in Hollywood right now, I was not expecting her to be on the front of a video game magazine. In fact, I was a bit annoyed. I usually want video game characters, or some cool screen shot from some of the latest games to be on the front of a video game magazine. When I opened up and read the article about her, it turns out this would actually fit the latter category, but somehow that only made me more annoyed. A video game with a Hollywod actress in it? Not sure I want that.

It's a pretty face though.

But maybe we should take a little step back here. Movie actors in video games are far from a new thing. Most movies and tv-series have some sort of licensed video game version starring the same main character from the movie/series- most are bad (can't help but mention E.T here of course), a few are good (hmm, how about... actually I can't think of one right now). And the video game industry have been trying to creep closer to the movie industry since forever, not just by releasing games based on the same stories and with the same characters, but also in concept, by making games that are less interactive and more movie like (like Dragon's Lair) or just contain a whole ton of FMV (like some Solid Snake games).

I can even remember the first time I played Dragon's Lair on a friends computer, literally thinking "how the heck is this a game?". It might've been cool when it was first released in 1983, but when I played it around mid 90's there were a lot more interesting things to spend your time on (and I bet there was 1983 as well). And the Solid Snake games are generally considered good games, but I know one big complaint often aimed at them are the overly extended cut-scenes. Hideo Kojima really wants to tell his story and build his characters, but many players don't agree that lengthy and often occuring cut-scenes are the right way to go about it in a video game - something people spend time with to actually be part of the action rather than just stare at the screen. And I totally agree. My patience with cut-scenes limits itself to either short or not often occuring. And even then I want them to have relevance, not just to show off some fancy effects. This can obviously be done in a good way, just look at the Walking Dead series (although if you ask my bf they are shit as well).

But other than stealing characters and concept from movies, some games have tried using real people - in some cases actors - to make their games seem more real and lifelike. One of the first examples I can think of is Mortal Kombat (and many MK clones) that sort of has the characters looking like moving pictures of actual people - frankly it looks like shit if you ask me. I find Street Fighter 2 way more eye-pleasing and fun to play although it's cartoony and therefor less realistic in a way. And then you have cut-scenes using real actors, like some Command & Conquer games. Maybe MK is a bad example, since part of the issue there is that the animations are so bad (or so I think). Today you can just model your characters around human motions, making them move more life-like and realistic rather than by just using CGI. Just look at what they did with Gollum for instance, that's pretty cool, right?

Even Sub-Zero doesn't look cool.
Sure, I find using actors to help you model realistic human (or human-like) motions is totally ok in both movies and games. I don't mind that at all. In fact, just imagining what it must be like trying to program and animate realistic facial expressions, when even acting them with your own face isn't particularly easy, makes it look like only good can come from using actors in games. We might forgive stiff and hilarious facial expressions on a face that only is comprised of twenty pixels, but now that we can actually animate really realistic faces, we might ask more of what they look like when they act in our cut-scenes. Soon reviewers might not just complain about bad voice-acting, but also bad actual acting in games (maybe that has already happened). Only good then, isn't it? No, I have one issue with it, a big one.

Eventhough I don't mind using an actor to base your animations off, I do mind using an actor as the actual character. Small difference you might think? Huge difference, really. Imagine if, if graphics had allowed obviously, Link had been played by Christian Bale or Lara Croft in the games really had been played by Angelina Jolie. It might sound awesome to some of you, I think it sounds horrible. A video game character is made special by the fact that it is itself. It is created and born if you like in the universe of the game and before that first game it didn't exist anywhere else. When we first pick up that game and play that character we normally don't have any attachments or predisposition towards that character. It might have backstory and personality, it might not. It doesn't matter, either way it will be something new for us to discover. If I pick up a game and play as Kirsten Stewart on the other hand (yeah, that got your attention, didn't it)... actually I probably wouldn't pick up a game where I played as Kirsten Stewart in the first place, but that's just pointing out yet another issue with using actual people in video games.

Real actors have real lives and personalities, and the more we know about them the more we will expect when seeing them. This is a good thing if I am playing a game based on a character that already exists. If I play a Terminator game I would love to play as Arnold Schwarzenegger. But every other time, I want the character to build itself and I want to have as few preconceptions of it as possible. I have this issue with movies as well, which is why I get annoyed everytime I see yet another Tim Burton movie with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter, when in fact most of the best movies he's done the last 20 years don't actually have any of their faces in main roles (Nightmare Before Christmas, Big Fish, Mars Attacks, Batman, ok that is 1992 but close)! When I see Johnny Depp in some weird ass roll I know exactly what I am going to get, no matter if he plays a pirate captain or a chocolate factory owner. Sometimes the role fits him, most of the time I wish I could see a new face already. I might have expectations on a new Final Fantasy game, but I definitely don't have expectations of the characters in it. And I definitely don't want my group to consist of Bruce Willis the knight, Jennifer Aniston the white mage and Nicolas Cage the red mage. Think I sound ridiculous? IT COULD SOON BE REAL!

No, but seriously. It will probably never go that far (I pray), but that is what I pictured in my head reading an article about a game that made one of its biggest points being that it used a real actor as the main character. One of the advertisements even said "Starring Ellen Page" in top. No no no, I am the star here! Me and the character together discover this adventure, but some Hollywood actor sure as heck isn't going to steal my glory. In a way, anyone playing that game (called Beyond btw) will actually be playing as Ellen Page. We will get to control her, but in any cut-scene and in most of the game I will probably think more of Inception and Juno and Hard Candy and less of what is happening in the story of the game. This isn't even a new thing, games like Onimusha has done it already. It might be a good game but I really don't like that concept. Real actors change, they age and they die. A video game character is eternal, it might be forgotten but it will always be what it is and therefor always true to its game.

Maybe this is just a problem I have with faces - I connect them to everything else I know them from. Usually that is a good thing with video game faces. Seeing Mario, Metroid, Sonic, Thrall... any video game character really I can connect them to the different games they come from and their very own personality (as shallow as it may be) from those games. When I see Thrall I see Thrall, and not The Rock playing Thrall. It does matter, to me at least. So please - don't put actors into video games any more than you need to.

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