Will There Be Too Many Halo Movies?

Prometheus writes in his blog that he believes that originality will be the quality that separates wortwhile Halo machinima from the rest, and will prevent the market from being flooded with so much low-quality work that no one will pay any attention to Halo machinima at all.

First of all, I'm not sure there ever really was such a risk. No matter how many crappy new works come out, people are always going to watch the ones they consider good-- like Red vs Blue-- as long as it entertains them. It doesn't matter how crowded the field gets; the market is theirs to lose.

The real risk is that the influx of new works of varying quality will prevent new works that are of good quality from getting noticed. I can say for myself that I'm already affected by this-- new series and films are being released every day; some are just musical montages, and others are full-fledged machinimas; but I don't have the time, bandwidth, or inclination to download them all, so I rely on personal reccommendations to weed out those that are worthwhile. If other viewers like a series enough to tell others about it, then it's probably good, and this word-of-mouth system brings certain movies to the attention of the community.

So will there eventually be so many different Halo movies that even this system cannot work? Certainly there are signs that the current system is strained. As a major touchstone for the community, HBO is where most fans first hear about new movies, but the volume of works seeking to be linked from that site seems to go up with each passing month, even if the quality of the works does not.

However, having said that, I don't really think that Halo, as a gaming community, is really in danger of being swamped by becoming a platform for mainstream machinima production. For one thing, despite the special features that prometheus mentions were put into Halo 2 to help moviemakers, (the gun-lowering feature, the blind skull, the PP-oddball glitch) the fact is that the Halo engine games are nowhere near as filmmaker-friendly as other engines. For one thing, as a console game, Halo 2 is nowhere near as modifiable as other games, which means you're pretty much stuck with the environments, models and textures the game gives you and the simple kinds of modifications you can make. Red vs Blue is a prime example here; they've only ever attempted very small changes to the game's appearance, and as a result, their plot, like that of other Halo machinimas like The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, revolve around characters, situations, and locations that can conceivably be placed within the Halo universe or in some plausible facsimile: a world populated by military personnel, vehicles and weapons and the various indoor and outdoor environments of Halo and Halo 2's multiplayer levels.

That's in stark contrast to what's done with other engines; going back as far as 1998, groups like The Ill Clan were using the far more flexible Quake engine on the PC to use custom skins and even entire levels. The openness of the Quake engine and its scripting API, QuakeC, gave filmmakers the flexibility to script actions and position the camera anywhere they like-- things that are still not possible today in Halo.

That gave filmmakers the flexibility to use the game as a toolset to tell any kind of story they liked-- one without guns, aliens, or cyborgs-- even if the game engine they used centered on those things. One of the watershed machinimas made with the Quake engine was Ill Clan's "Apartment Hunting", which is still available from one of the mirrors on their site, wherein two lumberjacks go looking for a new apartment. While the quality of the graphics is appalling by today's standards, the fact was that the ability to move the camera independent of any actor, to remove the HUD from the screen simply and easily, and to change textures and models without resorting to hardware hacks-- puts the Quake engine and its ilk miles ahead of Halo as a filmmaking tool.

In short, it isn't going to be the quality of voice acting or original plot writing that determines whether or not the Halo machinima scene reaches the "critical mass" of which he speaks-- what Louis Wu in his comment called "saturation"-- the point at which you can't find the good stuff because there's so much crap.

The limiting factor in this case, I think, are the tools. There are already more filmmakers with desire and inclination to make Halo machinima than those who have real talents or skills for doing so. If making films with Halo was as easy as with other engines, no doubt there'd be even more. Whether that would be a good thing or not is left as an exercise for the reader. However, it may be considered that while that barrier to entry is present-- the ease of use of the engine for making films-- then we may be safe from a deluge of even lower quality films, but the Halo machinima we get will be machinima made by Halo fans who happen to want to make movies, rather than budding filmmakers in search of good tools.

A professor I had in college had a quotation-- the citation for which I have long since lost-- on the wall in his classroom. It read, "when cameras are as cheap as pencils, then film will be art"-- the intimation being that unless almost anyone has access to the required tools, there will never be any assurance that a wide enough selection of the population to assure that those with the potential for creating really good works will have access to the tools required.

Right now, Xbox Halo and Halo 2 aren't as cheap as pencils, but in terms of digital filmmaking, they're closer than just about any other set of tools except other game engines. The problem is, those other game engines are more flexible, more powerful, and even more easy to use than Halo-- for making movies.

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Miguel Chavez's picture
Miguel Chavez
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Joined: 10/12/2001
Is this a semantic argument?

Was there ever confusion that when folks talked about Halo and using it to make videos that folks were really confusing it with a full fledged free-form environment for video creation?

If I could offer some of my own conjecture, I believe folks create Halo videos because they like what the Halo game gives them. Both in terms of resources readily available (kick ass skins of futuristic marines and aliens, awesome physics and camera 'optics') and in what the lack of other resources (free form camera, skinnable characters, scripting, custom maps/textures) challenge them to make something good.

If someone wanted to use Halo to make a video about one of Sinbad's voyages, it would either be completely ironic or completely wrong. I don't think anyone would have expected otherwise.

Maybe you wrote all this to needle Bungie to open up their engine some more. If so, kudos and more power to you! Smiling

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narcogen
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Re: Is this a semantic argument?

Miguel Chavez wrote:
Was there ever confusion that when folks talked about Halo and using it to make videos that folks were really confusing it with a full fledged free-form environment for video creation?

No, I don't think anyone ever did. I think you can probably divide most Halo moviemaking into three categories:

  1. Fanmade promotional materials
  2. Gameplay montages
  3. Machinima

For the first two categories, the engine is pretty much fine the way it is; a filmmaker might wish to remove the HUD easily, or change camera angles, but as these aren't possible while actually playing (blind skull excepted) it's a minor point.

The last category could require far more flexibility than the Halo engine currently does, and I would argue that if those interested in making machinima are using Halo it is almost in spite of what the engine offers rather than because of it: they just happened to start using the game or just really like Halo as a game, or both.

Miguel Chavez wrote:
If I could offer some of my own conjecture, I believe folks create Halo videos because they like what the Halo game gives them. Both in terms of resources readily available (kick ass skins of futuristic marines and aliens, awesome physics and camera 'optics') and in what the lack of other resources (free form camera, skinnable characters, scripting, custom maps/textures) challenge them to make something good.

I agree-- more or less what I meant by saying that Halo films, no matter of what kind, are made by Halo players who like to make movies rather than moviemakers who like to play Halo.

Miguel Chavez wrote:
If someone wanted to use Halo to make a video about one of Sinbad's voyages, it would either be completely ironic or completely wrong. I don't think anyone would have expected otherwise.

Maybe you wrote all this to needle Bungie to open up their engine some more. If so, kudos and more power to you! Smiling

Well, once upon a time, those who cannot be named said things that cannot be repeated... and if they had come to pass, the Halo machinima scene would most likely be quite different.

I think the curmudgeon in me is trying to point out to those enthused by the Halo movie making scene as a whole that, while a great game, Halo is not really an ideal tool for filmmaking-- and that, in terms of flexibility, it's playing catch-up with games released before Halo was even announced.

Miguel Chavez's picture
Miguel Chavez
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Joined: 10/12/2001
Re: Is this a semantic argument?

narcogen wrote:

I think the curmudgeon in me is trying to point out to those enthused by the Halo movie making scene as a whole that, while a great game, Halo is not really an ideal tool for filmmaking-- and that, in terms of flexibility, it's playing catch-up with games released before Halo was even announced.

And I say to the curmudgeon: "duh!"

Smiling

narcogen's picture
narcogen
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Joined: 05/26/1999
Captain Obvious

Well, it's obvious to some, but not to everyone. I think there honestly are those who think the Halo movie scene is this nonstop juggernaut of a creative explosion... when really what it is a few talented fans using a screwdriver to bang home nails.

It's like the old dancing bear joke: it's not how well the bear dances, but the fact that he does it at all.

----
Rampant for over five years.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
How do you do the gun-lowerin

How do you do the gun-lowering feature?

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