Shank Rants: The “Cinematic” Problem

Games are NOT film.

This is another topic i’ve wished to talk about for some time now, so let’s tackle this head on. Sure, some action games can take their cues from film for creating set pieces (look at Call of Duty or Uncharted) – but games are fundamentally NOT films. They are inherently interactive and this makes them innately personal. You’re not some agent viewing someone else’s creation – you are shaping your own creation. This leads to what i call “the ‘cinematic’ problem”.

The word “cinematic” is constantly used by the “AAA” industry to falsely justify a subpar 30fps framerate, or a stupid letterbox aspect ratio – as if a deliberately worse experience somehow makes the game better.

I’d like to think consumers (and journalists) are now finally wising up to this farce spewed by the so-called “AAA” industry and seeing it for what it is – an excuse to falsely justify an inferior gaming experience created by very real hardware constraints.

When I play a game, I don’t want a “cinematic” experience – I want a “video game” experience. Why? Because I’m playing a game!

Now, you don’t need a subpar framerate in order for a game to be “cinematic”. And you can have cutscenes in a game which take their inspiration from film.

First, let’s look at Ryse.

There’s a very filmic aesthetic to the whole game thanks to the unrelenting power of cryengine. This filmic aesthetic is achieved by use of film grain, epic wide shots, 3d lens flares, and a slew of other fantastic post processing techniques.

In addition to those, the game features in-game cutscenes which are framed purposefully, crafted solely to convey a mood and draw the player in.

Cutscenes and aesthetics aside, the gameplay itself is quite filmic in its presentation. The game mechanics feature extremely stylistic slow-mo moments during executions, and the absolutely fantastic DoF really helps sell this stylistic choice.

What about framerate? as we discussed earlier, the so-called ‘AAA” industry uses a subpar 30fps framerate to falsely justify this “cinematic” feel. However, playing Ryse on PC at 60fps still makes me feel like i’m spartacus kicking ass.

If anything, this higher framerate actually enhances the filmic feel to the game simply because it’s more responsive and i feel like i’m actually there. Higher framerate enhancing gameplay? what a concept!

Now lets look at a very different example and talk about GTA 5

Every mission, every job, every heist feels like i’m directing a Scorsese film The music kicks in at the exact right time, and the track playing is the absolute perfect track for that scenario.

The pacing of each mission is a slow build, heightening that sense of imminent chaos that film portrays so well. And upon completion of said mission, you feel a real sense of accomplishment and joy – something film simply cannot provide.

And perhaps the best thing about gta is that it manages to retain this filmic, epic cinematic presentation on even the most minor of ad hoc adventures with friends. The genius of that execution simply cannot be overstated.

So here we have it – two examples featuring two completely different games with both games clearly taking inspiration from film.

However, despite the filmic influences pervasive in both of these games, Ryse and GTA 5 remain what they are both meant to be: a game.

They are both highly immersive experiences that still engage with the player, providing him the tools necessary to feel like a huge badass.

In other words, the filmic elements in these two games do not get in the way of actual game elements. The filmic elements exist only to enhance the game elements, not replace it.

And this is what is so crucial about this whole “cinematic issue”. Too often, the so-called “AAA” industry is so hell bent on spinning its marketing, spinning its PR, and is forced to work within constraints of weak consoles that they fundamentally forget what they’re trying to create in the first place: a game.

So let me repeat what i said in the beginning. Games are not film. and they’re all the better for it.