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Engaging Audiences: Denis Dyack Deconstructs The Industry
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Engaging Audiences: Denis Dyack Deconstructs The Industry

September 27, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

There's a lot of interesting stuff with the fact that maybe we're just about getting out of it, but we're still in that first era of filmmaking. The first films ever screened were of a train pulling into a station, and people ran screaming from the theaters because they thought it was a real train, even though it wasn't real. After that, it was like, "What was the most shocking thing you can do?" like electrocuting an elephant or something like that. And we're still in there. It's in the graphics and the spectacle, and it's got to be big and loud.

DD: I totally agree. I think we're starting to get out of there. Cinema used to be called the cinema of attraction. People would go into movies, and there wasn't even a beginning and an end -- it would just sit there and play, and people would just go in. There's early films of firefighters rescuing people from burning buildings. I think we're getting to the point now where... I was talking to someone earlier today, and they were talking about reviewing video games. I think he was in the press, and he was like, "I love this game. It was fantastic."

We were talking about the new Resident Evil -- Resident Evil 4. He was like, "The story sucked, and I just thought I had to take a point away because the story was bad. I got hammered for it, and everybody was like, 'This game is awesome, blah blah blah,'" Take engagement theory -- one foundation, that would be a great way to rate games. How's the content? Is the story good? Give that a number. How's the art? Is that good? How's the gameplay? Is that good? How's the technology? How's the audio? You take all those things and rate things, because when you start getting...

Well, that's what they do, but it's almost kind of a false thing, because it's arbitrary and subjective. It's like, "Compared to what? Compared to whose feelings?" It's pretty rough.

DD: But very few people take story and content and look at it, right?

It's true, but speaking of "the media is the message." Resident Evil 4 is my favorite game since 2000.

DD: Well, I guess that's last-generation now. That was a great game. The story wasn't very strong.

Capcom's Resident Evil 4 -- short on story?

The story wasn't very strong at all, but I didn't care. And I love story. I'm a writer, and it's a thing that I care very deeply about, but...

DD: I think that illustrates the point of the medium being the message, and the medium overpowered the message or the story, or they didn't focus on it. Maybe their messages are in the way that the game played.

It's true, but how much better could it have been with a strong story?

DD: Oh, can you imagine that with a strong story? And that's why I still really like engagement theory, because I haven't found anything that really throws it out and says, "That breaks it." Resident Evil was able to overpower it. Can you imagine how much better that game would be? Say that the pinky was the story -- that one thing, if they had made an awesome story on top of the graphics and the gameplay, it just would've been fantastic.

I think that's always the aim. I think people are always trying to do it, but they just can't.

DD: Trying to make an awesome story, you mean?

Well, no, trying to make every element of their game as good as can be, but they just can't do it, because they don't have the skill or the knowledge. I think right now as an industry -- to make a film analogy -- we're at the D.W. Griffith phase, where we're learning editing -- rudimentary editing -- but we're not dealing with subjects in the best ways that we could.

DD: I agree. I think we're trying, and I think that the camera system that I talked about and doing these basic things... the interesting thing is, they've developed this whole language of film that we can use now, but we have to learn to adopt it in non-linear ways. It's very interesting to see. And then we've got everyone coming at other things like psychological experiments on flOw. The breakdown of flOw that I saw today wasn't the one I would've chosen, but it was certainly interesting. You've got all these information things coming in, and I think the difference between the film industry and our industry is that the change is going to be much more rapid. When we hit something, it's going to go "Boom!"

Experimental indie game fl0w

We're having a hard time ramping up right now, though. One of the reasons is because we don't have someone like Thomas Edison to break all the other projectors so that we can just have one unified format.

Perhaps in 2007, the artistic implements or the techniques are crude, but we also have the same sort of focus grouping and audience-intent marketing stuff Hollywood has. At the same time, they're sort of at odds. What I'm saying is that the marketing people at Publisher X want to target the 18 to 34-year-old male...

DD: I don't know if that's true anymore. I have never met a publisher now that doesn't want to hit every person possible. I know developers who want to create true games to the art, and they don't care what rating they get, but I know publishers out there who... pretty much if it's not mainstream, nobody wants to do it anymore.

But look at a game like -- and this is totally a random example -- Turok. The new one. You're a marine and you're shooting dinosaurs. That doesn't hit everyone. It doesn't even come close. It's an adolescent power fantasy.

DD: I think people who look at a Spielberg movie -- all the Jurassic Parks -- would argue, "That's a Jurassic Park movie." They don't look at... if they feel that the game is going to have broad appeal, they'll do it. I'm not disagreeing that everyone's going to like a dinosaur shooting game, but certainly dinosaurs are pretty appealing.

Oh yeah, but Turok is all about gory finishing moves spraying blood everywhere.

DD: That's a creative decision, though.

But that limits the audience, too.

DD: Oh, for sure. There's no question. Manhunt's a great example.

Yeah, that was the one I was going for with the D.W. Griffith thing. We've got the tools there, but what are we using it for? Birth of a Nation was groundbreaking in terms of filmmaking, but in terms of the subjects it dealt with, it was very racially ignorant. With Manhunt, it's pretty amazing that you can garrote people with the Wiimote and stuff, but it's not a very socially responsible kind of thing.

DD: And people need to think about that stuff more, I think.

Certainly. I was wondering with the interactive camera stuff, have you played the Silent Hill games much?

DD: Mmhmm.

I think the way they do it -- where they have these fixed cameras that they want you to see, but if it becomes extremely difficult to see the action around you, you can set the camera behind you -- the angles they create are so compelling that you kind of want to leave them there, because it draws you in.

DD: In Eternal Darkness, we had that theory, and with a system in Too Human's dynamic. You can adjust it, and you can look around, and there is a free look in Too Human. But really, the whole goal is freeing you up, so you don't have to worry about the camera, and it does show the best angles possible in each case.

We have played all the Silent Hills, and they were really good games. I think God of War, Prince of Persia, Eternal Darkness... once we started doing the stuff awhile back, people really started to see the power there. Being able to do this stuff, I was just so happy that we weren't looking at Lara Croft's butt all the time. I just felt that was so uninspiring.

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