Machinima & Modding: When the player becomes the creator

Lyonel Zamora

27385986

April 18,2017

Since I’m terrible with time and it was too late to do anything creative, I decided to do a plain old hopefully not boring essay! yay! 🙂

     What is Machinima? Machinima is the idea of taking a video game and using it to make a movie. Early machinima relied on users modifying basic data of the demo-files of the game. “A demo file contained recordings of events and user-input happening during a game.” (ETC Press) Players controlled the characters in real time where as the camera work and the edits were made after in a process called “re-camming”, which just modifies the positions of the cameras. An important aspect of early machinima was that it had to be distributed and played back, meaning that anyone that wanted to watch it had to own the game and had to install any modifications made to the files of the game like new animations, modified textures, and modified character models. “Machinima was effectively presented as a form of game modification.” (ETC Press) id Software which is the company that released one of the most recognized first person shooters of all time: “Doom” decided to make the source code available a few years after launch for their game in order to allow players to experiment with it, this led to the growth of Modding and Machinima. These types of tools give the ability to use a game people know and love in order to create a movie, new story, new characters, sometimes even a new game; it opens up the creative possibilities by providing an outline.

     Quake II (Famous first person shooter developed by id Software) was released with a set of tools that were made to allow players to do modding and create their own content based on the original game. A well known first person shooter was created using these tools: “[T]wo former Microsoft programmers were investing their time and money in a new venture. They called it Valve Software, and without any prior industry experience, Mike Harrington and Gabe Newell were hoping to transform the state of games with a title that would become “Half-Life” (1998).” (Kücklich, Julian) Which then was modded and turned into “Counter Strike (1999)”, one of the most successful online games. Gaming companies started seeing how successful these “mods” were becoming and started to see the benefits of it from an economical perspective.

     A mod can extend the shelf life of the product over time. Even though games like Doom, Quake and Half-Life were released many years ago, there is still a very active community dedicated to modding these games. Combining that with the ability to share via the internet, people that have never heard of these games before, years later can discover them through these mods. Modding can also serve as an important source of innovation, modders can come up with new ideas that the original developers did not think of at the time. It also allows a sort of “Trial and error” model, where modders can experiment with different aspects of the game engine or the games code without any economical consequences unlike the original developers. For example, Counter Strike and the idea of team-based combat. After the success of this game, many products started implementing this same idea. An important point to notice is that all of this was done without the original publisher or developer making much effort in marketing, it was all done by the creators of the mod and the word of mouth through active players. “Once a brand is established, it becomes quite easy to sell a game – as evidenced by the industry’s growing reliance on film and other licenses.” (Kücklich, Julian) One great example for this would the company Nintendo, which after many years of making games with the same characters, they are still one of the leading companies in the game industry simply because they made such a difference in the history of video games with games like: “The Legend of Zelda”, “Donkey Kong”, and “Mario Bros” that any sequel or any game with some type of connection to one of these games tend to sell well. Because of the success of these earlier games, any major deviation can result in a negative impact to the companies economy/image. Modders are essentially allowed to do what they want with the game without having to worry about these economical consequences. Finally, it can also be used as a tool for recruitment and even training. “The modding community produces highly trained programmers, 3D-artists and animators without the industry having to spend money on training facilities and teachers. The employment of Counter-Strike’s creator, Minh Le, is a point in case.” (Kücklich, Julian)

     In the article by Julian Kücklich, he mentions two opinions on why people make mods, one reason being freedom and “not having any company telling you what to do” and the other one being getting recognition from the gaming companies. One recent example of the latter being a 19 year old highschool graduate. Alexander J. Velicky created Falskaar; one of the most famous Skyrim mods. It included a whole new area to be explored, 20+ hours of content, new spells, new dungeons, even voice acting. Alexanders end goal was to get the attention and to ultimately work at Bethesda (The company that created Skyrim). This mod was his way of reaching out to them, in a way serving as his curriculum. Even though his efforts were acknowledged by Bethesda unfortunately in the end he ended up getting a job at another game company (Bungie). This further proofs that mods can serve as a platform to start off with as an aspiring game programmer/designer. This opens up many doors for people that may not have a “formal” education but want to get their work out there. Alexander is not the only successful case, games like LittleBigPlanet have their own creative community where players share the levels they made using the tools provided by the game. The developer behind LittleBigPlanet 3, Sumo Digital “went as far as to hire entire sections of its development team for the title from the community that formed around the creative platformer series.”(develop-online)

     I have personally experienced the joy of modifying a game to some extent. Many years ago, for Christmas my parents got me a gaming console, the Xbox 360. With the Xbox I received Halo 3 by Bungie, yet again another popular first person shooter. Halo 3 included a “Custom Games”, “Forge” and “Theater” modes. The Forge mode was essentially the place you went to in order to modify things in the game, you had the ability to choose any map of your liking and create essentially anything that you wanted within the limitations of the game. Most of the time this mode was used in order to create mini-games in which you then played on the Custom Games mode. This is where I spent most of my time in. My friends and I used to collaborate together in these mini projects whenever we came back from school. We made puzzle games, racing games, role-playing games and many more. One particular example I remember, was a game we called “Officers vs Prisoners”. The premise of the game was that a group of players represented the Prisoners which were trapped in a cell and the other group of players represented the Officers which were on duty keeping an eye on the prisoners. The prisoners then tried to escape using whatever means necessary except for killing the Officers since they had no weapons. This mini game was very common within the Halo community and there were various maps made for it that were already shared online. The inspiration for our own creation was drawn from all of the variations uploaded from the community. This really made me feel like I was part of a developer team, creating semi-original content by borrowing the models, textures and animations from the original game and then sharing with not only my personal friends but with the online community. The Theater mode gave you the ability to record gameplay, move the camera positions around and then share it online or just save it locally for personal use. This was the way people made movies and series with this game. Many gamers used this mode in order to get recognition from the community and even Bungie. A very common and popular thing was to record gameplay of someone doing an amazing feat. For example, getting a 10 kill streak on an online game of Team Deathmatch which was tedious and difficult to achieve. These videos were then shared online and sometimes even made it to Youtube on videos made by the channel “Machinima”. The videos were compilations of these rare and amazing things players did, this is one of the ways users became popular in the online community.

     These are some of the ways Machinima & Modding have made a mark in video game history. It allows opportunities to be available to many people as the example with LittleBigPlanet and the highschool graduate, Alexander. These tools help both aspiring game programmers/designers equally. Tools like the Forge mode in Halo 3 allow players to not worry about the programming part and just be creative with the space they have. Other tools like Dooms source code can help in the training and understanding of programming. New innovations started to exist and keep being created because of this, for example Half-Life or Counter-Strike which made their mark in history. This all motivates the player to stop being a spectator and start becoming the creator.

References

Birnbaum, Ian. “Behind Falskaar, a Massive New Skyrim Mod, and the 19-year-old Who Spent a Year Building It.” Pcgamer. PC Gamer, 16 July 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <http://www.pcgamer.com/behind-falskaar-a-massive-new-skyrim-mod-and-the-19-year-old-who-spent-a-year-building-it/&gt;.

“ETC Press.” From Games to Movies: Machinima and Modifications | ETC Press. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <http://press.etc.cmu.edu/content/games-movies-machinima-and-modifications&gt;.

“How Modding Can Land You a Career in Games.” How Modding Can Land You a Career in Games | Latest News from the Game Development Industry. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <http://www.develop-online.net/news/how-modding-can-land-you-a-career-in-games/0201739&gt;.

Kücklich, Julian. “FCJ-025 Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry.” The Fibreculture Journal 05 RSS. The Fibreculture Journal, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <http://five.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-025-precarious-playbour-modders-and-the-digital-games-industry/&gt;.

P.S – I honestly still don’t know how WordPress works haha.

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Machinima & Modding: When the player becomes the creator

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