Blog: Movies and Novels

Allow me to be philosophical for a moment (and yes, kids, you’re riding with me today! Patricia’s off doing important, Patricia-y things. It’s kind of like having your crazy ex-hippie uncle pick you up for the weekend, the one whose first question is, “Have any of you kids ever tried hashish? It’s magical!”).

I was thinking this morning about films, because a friend of mine was having a discussion with me through facebook, the medium of kings, about movies. Specifically, action movies and comedy movies. How no one cares about direction in those movies, and how the directors are often seen as “juvenile”.

And this, for some weird reason, got me to think about video game pacing.

If we divided video games into genre based on setting (as in film), most games would fall under the umbrella of “action”: fantasy action, mafia based action, military action. That’s 95% of non-sports games, right there, which don’t apply to this argument because they feature no narrative. Even more, most are action slash comedy, in the sense that there’s some funny bits, a lot of explosions, and stock problems like terrorists or nazis.

Video games want to be movies. The problem is, most of these games that emulate these movies are eight to ten hours long. The movies wear out their welcome after an hour and a half.

That’s why most video games suck! Because they’re emulating a medium and a specific set of genres which can barely keep interest for an hour or two, and stretching it to ten hours. Maybe I’m late to the party, but it perfectly explains why most games have so much trouble with pacing. They want to be movies, but they don’t have the stuff or the knowledge to pace a game like a looooong movie.

Thinking about it, my favorite games more emulate novels, or plays, or television shows, which is where games, I feel, are intelligently heading in terms of pacing. Old games were paced like television series, though they didn’t know it, I don’t think. You have an antagonist whose mucky hands are in every pie, but each “week” you come and you find a new castle, or new crystal, which you had to find and conquer. There’s a reason so many old Final Fantasy’s use a search for crystals: it’s the perfect pacing tool. It’s the freak of the week model, made into towns of the week. And it’s exposed in Final Fantasy XIII (our resident punching bag) because while the previous games all used elements of the freak of the week structure, XIII tried to go full fledged movie, and lost interest after 10 hours.

Other games, like Mass Effect 2, Mother 3 (structured like a play, actually), and Alan Wake, are realizing that games work best with a narrative structured like television or novels. Rather than a tense, always on dramatic show, they’re more willing to play with lulls and breaks in the action, and compartmentalizing their storytelling to fit more with the gameplay, which is better in short bursts. And this is, I think, a better structural choice.

It’s something to think about, at least, when looking at your favorite games and how their plots are broken up.