Microsoft and developer 343 Industries recently released Halo 4, the latest installment in the company’s most successful gaming franchise, and reportedly one of the most expensive games ever produced. It made $220 million dollars in one day.
Not long after, Activision and developer Treyarch released Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, the ninth game in Activision’s insanely successful Call of Duty franchise. Black Ops 2 features a script by “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” scribe David S Goyer and a score by Trent Reznor, the man behind Nine Inch Nails, How To Destroy Angels. and the Academy Award-winning soundtrack for The Social Network. It made $500 million dollars in 24 hours, making it the biggest entertainment launch of all time, besting 2011’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
It’s been said before, but in 2012 the gaming industry looks an awful lot like the replacement for a declining film industry. Whether that statement makes you cringe or run to the gaming subreddit to lose your damn mind creating memes, it can’t really be denied.
So how did this happen? Well, this coup, like any other one, is due to a huge number of factors, from rising theater ticket prices to the advancement of home theaters and massive game design budgets that have unleashed the power of current consoles with engrossing cinematic sagas. But one of the often overlooked reasons is the rise of slick, film-inspired videogame trailers. Take for example the aforementioned games:
Black Ops 2
Now that game companies have finally figured out how to produce scripts that don’t sound like they were written by over-caffeinated fifteen year olds, gaming can often feel like watching a particularly gripping film. Hell, even the ones with scripts designed to get you from one “shoot a shitload of bad guys” scene to the next are at the very least well-studied students of the action genre, and are often quick-witted and well-paced. For the record, yes, I’m talking about Rockstar Games’ Max Payne 3, which I am currently playing.
Max Payne 3
Speaking of Rockstar Games, they have seemingly always been at the forefront of well crafted cinematic trailers, despite the limitations of earlier game engines, going way back to the days of Grand Theft Auto 3, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. In fact, if you sit down and watch Rockstar’s output for the past decade or so you’ll treat yourself to a study in the evolution of video game trailers.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Red Dead Revolver
Grand Theft Auto 4
Red Dead Redemption
This all brings us to Grand Theft Auto V, whose first trailer caused quite a stir on the internet, with almost 28 million hits and counting on YouTube, and whose newest trailer dropped like an atom bomb last week, easily netting 7 million views in a matter of 2 days and setting many hearts a flutter over at r/gaming.
Rockstar has learned to employ several trailer tropes throughout the years, such as the aggressive use of fades, use of recognizable pop songs and beat editing, and strong pull quotes, but only recently have they started to use emotional beats like those seen in movie trailers. This has a lot to do with the fact that designers can now create realistic facial expressions, and thus can now highlight an actor’s performance, even if they’re a video game character. Hell, the second trailer for GTA V ends on a comedic line and reaction shot that would seem at home in a quirky crime movie like Killing Them Softly.
Despite all of that, I still don’t think gaming has usurped film, and I still don’t think game trailers are as exciting as film ones. While I have been a gamer for most of my life, one who essentially grew up in the arcades of the early 1990s where plot was absolutely secondary to everything, I still feel that there is still something the gaming industry will never be able to capture from film.
Great films are imbued with a deep meaning and purpose that sticks with you long after the credits. They may, in rare cases, consciously or unconsciously shape your life after you leave the theater. I am a firm believer in that idea, and it is one of the main reasons I respect the art so profoundly.
The simple fact is I have never played a video game that has stuck with me beyond the ending. When I recently saw Cloud Atlas (a divisive film to be sure), I sat with a friend of mine and discussed it for hours, a discussion that stretched into days. When I finished playing Arkham City, which was an amazingly well-made and satisfying game, I thought about ordering a pizza.
Games will never be like movies because a game, no matter how good the story is, has to give you something to play. The gameplay is what limits the experience; You can never truly lose yourself in it the way you do in a movie because you have to take time out from the story to do stuff. Until gaming can figure out how to transcend the basic fact that their stories exist solely to drive the gameplay experience forward, they can never truly replace the sublime joy of watching a film. Maybe I’m alone on this one, but I can’t help but feel like a well-written video game still has to make compromises.
Let’s get one thing straight here though, gaming community: I’m not pulling a Roger Ebert. I believe video games have been an art form since their inception, I just don’t believe the two art forms exist on the same playing field. That’s not to say they both don’t have a lot of positive things to learn from each other. I have just one request, for the love of all living creatures on this Earth: No more first person shooter shots in movies, okay? That Spider-man sequence is the absolute worst.
Watch This Trailer is an ongoing series looking at how movies (and games) are sold to us. Check out previous entries here.
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