“What is bravery, without a dash of recklessness?”
Heyo NPC’s, this is the Evergreen Sage Mage and today I’m here to talk with you about machinima, the art-form. It’s cool stuff, so fasten your seatbelts, git gud and don’t forget to iron your pineapples.
No, I won’t be talking about the YouTube media organization that later took on the moniker of this art-form, but real, actual machinima, a bit on its history and about why it’s so rad. Some of you may be familiar with it, and some may not. Although I’ve seen works of machinima myself, I was just introduced to the term recently through a gem of a book I’m reading called Rise of the Video Game Zinester by Anna Anthropy (2012). It’s a fun, well-written book about taking your first steps to making your own video game, and it’s already one of my faves.
If you are mostly artsy inclined and want to make a game, this one is a great start!
Anna Anthropy gives a pretty simple and easy to use definition of machinima in her book, so I’ll put it here. Machinima “uses the resources and infrastructure of commercial games as the basis for creating animated movies.” (81-82) The word machinima itself is a portmanteau, a combination of ‘machine’ and ‘cinema’. Much like the word smog is the combination of ‘smoke’ and ‘fog’. Like how the ‘chicken’ and ‘맥주’ (mek-ju, i.e. beer) dinner-combo is called Chi-mek, in Korean. How the term puggle, like my dearest friend Scrappy, is the combination ‘pug’ and ‘beagle’.
Scrappy: the combination of ‘awww’ and ‘best friend’
According to the book, machinima got its start when people were hacking into Quake in the mid-90’s to utilize its game engine (assets like characters, its 3-D environment, tilesets, etc) to create their own animated shorts. Why reinvent the wheel when you can borrow someone else’s wheels and go wherever it is you want to go? In many ways, it shares a similar spirit to zines themselves, as zines were often times amateur works by people who wanted to get their message out, without having to create their own publishing companies. Take that, the man! In the case of machinima creators, they were able to create their animated works without having to build everything from scratch.
Another example Anthropy presents as kindred spirit to machinima is the use of sampling in hip-hop. Many hip-hop artists sampled and used Other People’s Property in their songs to produce their own creative work. Some artists have taken this sampling to an extreme, my favorite example being Girl Talk, whose work is almost all sampled material, but is a completely different experience than listening to the originals. Of course there are tons of more examples that might also might be of similar skip-the-middle-man DIY spirit, like fanfic, citizen journalism and of course, blogs, that you might draw comparisons with too!
This stuff just tickles my soul. A Deeelite, Nirvana and Salt n Peppa mashup? Yes, please!
The example the book gives of machinima based from the Quake engine is Anna (2003), a short animation created by Katherine Anna Kang, wife of John Carmack. It follows the life of a flower and is actually quite a lovely little short, if I do say so myself.
Really though, Quake isn’t my thing. Nor is Halo Reach, where ‘Red vs Blue’ another example of machinima, was made from.
Let it now be known, far and wide, that I’m a huge Dark Souls fan. But, don’t worry, this isn’t a post about why Dark Souls is the best game for all eternity (that post you can find here), so all you non-Soulsian readers can stop hovering your cursor around the back button. Right! Where was I? Being such a fan of the game means that I’ve consumed tons of media surrounding the Souls series, including watching streams, ‘let’s plays’, YouTube videos, as well as joining in on Dark Souls community forums and reading books about it. I’ve even dabbled in making my own video content.
It wasn’t until the Italian mad genius(es?) known as ThePruld came along, that I decided to take a real interest in what I now know as machinima. It was the video “We are the Souls” that totally blew my mind. It’s more like a music video, actually. Full disclosure, when Iron Tarkus is summoned in the video, my face got wet, and I’ve never cried from anything game related. Ever. When Solaire gets summoned and falls to his knees with the Sunlight maggot helm on, my face got even wetter. Black magic f–kery is what I thought this was, and I absolutely loved it.
Watch the dang video! Its only five minutes of your time!
Unless you have played the game, felt the vulnerability it puts you into, experienced the desperation destroying camaraderie of jolly cooperation, witnessed the most grossly incandescent of game characters lose their minds in the isolation of the game’s despairing world, and were still somehow able to beat back the horrors throughout it all, you probably won’t cry. What you can do is appreciate the cinematography of it all, how well the music and the video fit together. How the lighting plays such a dramatic effect during the climactic moments of the song. In other words, it really shouldn’t be too hard to see that it’s some pretty good quality sh-t.
What I haven’t mentioned yet, until, well now, is the somewhat rebellious and sometimes anti-corporate nature of all of these media forms mentioned. Creators are taking something that is copyrighted and owned by a person (or often times a corporation), and are re-purposing them in ways in which the original creators might or might not like so much. Girl Talk, creator of the album of which the song I posted above, was in multiple lawsuits simultaneously for using copyrighted material, for example. Some of these imaginative and courageous creators might even be making money off of these creations that OP might be pretty salty about, such as streamers on Justin.tv (just checking if any of us still remember) before it became Twitch, Twitch, YouTube and others. The video above isn’t even hosted on ThePruld’s YouTube channel, as their upload has been muted due to its use of copyrighted music.
Now I can understand commercial creations are owned and controlled by their creators/publishers, but on the other hand, commercial media, if they are actually pretty cool, depending on their level of ubiquity, often times serve as communal works that large groups of people identify with. This organic socio-psychological digestive process of the decommercialization of commercial works is called “Issaminenow” (to be read in Mario voice). These works become part of the folklore and myths that make up many modern identities. For some its Star Wars that they issaminenow, others perhaps, the worlds of Final Fantasy, or their favorite comic book or fiction series, like Harry Potter.
For me, don’t you dare take away my Adventure Time crossovers!
Alright, so if you actually made it this far, I’m pretty sure you know what machinima is now, but just to reiterate, its new and unique animation made from assets of commercial games. The modding community has plenty of tools to use if you are interested in making some yourself. Google it. Valve Corporation actually encourages people to make them fo their own games and has released a machinima creation tool called Source Filmmaker that they provide for free on Steam. There’s tons of asset packages for you to use too, so what’s stopping you?! All the cool kids are doing it. Even ThePruld uses Source Filmmaker to make their videos, and so should you!
What’s your take on machinima? Have you heard of it before reading this? Made anything of your own? Have any favorites of yours you want to share? Are machinima content creators crossing the line by re-purposing commercial game assets to do something new with them? Are there any other examples you have seen that use content from commercial games in new ways?
One more video for the road!
The Evergreen Sage Mage is whispered among the forested glades by his other name, Wakalapi, and he’s a veritable cheesypuff of ludology, a teacher, instructor, and all-around excellent and personable fellow. If he can get his time-machine to function properly, his caffeinated work will stand the test of time at wakalapi.wordpress.com.
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