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LGF Panel: Looking beyond movies for inspiration

Gamemakers need to learn from movies but ultimately find their own way, say EA's Will Byles and Wayne Stables.


LONDON--According to Will Byles, an art director at Electronic Arts who previously ran his own film company, games need to evolve away from film and develop their own language. Byles copresented the session titled "Harry Potter: Film Meets Game" with EA colleague Wayne Stables at the Game Developers Conference London yesterday. The two discussed how a video game's "language" still borrows heavily from films, and why it's time to move past those conventions.

"Film has developed its own language, and it's really complex. We understand it fluently, but we don't know that we understand. The first films they did, they didn't have any language for this new medium, so they used an old language. They used text. They thought the audience wouldn't understand unless they wrote it down for them."

Byles went on to point out that when films first became popular, they borrowed heavily from theatre, using such conventions as a curtain falling to denote the end of a scene. At the time, this was easily understandable to a theatre-savvy audience, who would be used to seeing it happen when stagehands moved furniture and set the next scene. But there are other, more complex ideas that have evolved since then and established themselves firmly in cinematic tradition.

"There are things like the 180-degree rule, which is also called 'crossing the line'. When you're filming two people talking to each other, you need to film them from side to side, because if you break the rule and film from the other side then it looks like they're on the opposite side of each other. You might not know about this rule, but you'd definitely know if you saw it broken."

In turn, games are beginning to evolve a language of their own, which Byles specified. "What happens when you shoot a red barrel in a video game? Right, it explodes. Every gamer knows that. That's game language."

Byles believes that in much the same way as events no longer have to be explained in text to the viewer of a movie, games can now move away from using rules taken from film. "We can start steering away from some of the trappings of other media and start marching to our own tune."

He also discussed the power of emotions in games, and how games can and should make use of a much wider range of emotions than those that people feel when reading or watching media. "Emotion in games is kind of this thing we're chasing. Recently I went to a talk by Will Wright, and he said that films have passive emotion but in games you have firsthand emotion. That made me think, 'What does he mean by that?'"

"When I played Grand Theft Auto for the first time, I saw a red light and I stopped. Then I realised I didn't have to do that, so I didn't, but I felt guilty! There are a whole bunch of emotions you can use in games that you can't use in film. Like guilt. You can't make someone feel guilty in a film. Also things like trepidation. I remember playing a game and hearing a noise behind a door and thinking 'I don't want to go through the door!' You've got a much stronger pallet in games."

Wayne Stables, who was lighting lead on EA's Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire and previously worked on the The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy while at WETA Digital, told the audience that there were several common misconceptions about games versus movies that people should overturn. "One of the things I found when coming to the games industry [from film] was there's this misconception that things are much more complex in games."

He also talked about some of the contrasting elements between movies and games. "One of the differences is that there is a bigger budget. It costs more money to make movies. It also takes an incredibly long time to get anything done. There are more people--in fact there's a point where it just gets overly saturated. Film obviously doesn't work in real time--it takes eight hours per frame."

Byles and Stables both bring moviemaking experience to the video game industry, and their message that games can both use the lessons of film as well as build on their unique strengths was listened to by a wide range of industry representatives at GDC London today.

GDC London, which is part of the London Games Festival, continues until October 4.

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