Machinima (and beyond)
Starting as a nonsanctioned guerrilla movement, the miximal form known as machinima (a portmanteau word combining machine and cinema) was the amateur’s home version of creating film and video features based on video-game titles. The word machinima was popularized beginning in January 2000 when Hugh Hancock, the founder of Strange Company, launched a new website, Machinima.com, which was reportedly misspelled from the intended portmanteau of machinema (cinema rather than cinima).
Machinima is the practice of creating a movie or, typically, a video short by first writing a narrative script, recording it, and then—using various audio editing and sound mixing tools—creating a finished audio track. The artist then plays back the audio tract while acting out the storyline in real time using the characters, backdrops, and action capabilities of a chosen video game. The next step is to record or capture the video output from the game machine and marry the captured video with the audio track, ending up with an original lean-back animated video production that looks every bit as good as the most lavish Pixar movie.
Thousands of machinima clips from every type of game engine are available on YouTube so lets look at a few here to get the flavor. To promote the new console port of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, publisher Activision released a machinima video infomercial or, more accurately, a viral video about a product that promises to help to cure some common gamer ailments. The Projectile Dysfunction (PD) infomercial for a cure to PD stars Strogg characters from the game and recommends, “if you experience extra long flying projectiles for more than 4 hours, seek immediate technician assistance.”
One of most exciting trends in modern machinima is to marry the machinima footage to live action—machinimists are now extending the game-engine capabilities to transform the techniques born in machinima into full-fledged cinematic production tools. One example, Escape from City 17: Part One, by the Purchase Brothers, is one of the better examples of user-generated content that transcends the genre and stands on its own as a peer to larger, more established brands. More on the Purchase brothers later in this topic.
In this same order is The Hunger GameRs, a lavish technical spectacle described as "A gamer oriented version of The Hunger Games... Contestants with Classic & Iconic video game weapons are thrown into battle against mindless first-person shooter soldiers."
Games as raw materials.
The electronic paddle-ball game Pong now seems so quaint. In its time, it was the pinnacle of techno-hotness. I spent endless hours listening to “beep, beep, beep, beep,” which might explain my consuming fascination with trance music.
A recent popularization of Pong using live sheep dressed in LED overcoats was a feature of the Extreme Sheep video, an excellent example of branded entertainment (the practice of stealth advertising, in which a compelling video is created that acts as a Trojan horse for an advertisement by the sponsor). Extreme Sheep was created to promote the new Samsung LED television technology. Alex Leo of The Huffington Post explains, “a group of men [known as the BaaaStuds was] contracted by Samsung, took to the hills of Wales armed to the teeth with sheep, LEDs and a camera, to create a huge amazing LED display.” The most notable segment in the Extreme Sheep video was “Sheep Pong,” which utilized herding techniques to reproduce a simulation of the Pong game.
Pong has also been elevated to iconic stardom in many Hollywood movie scenes, from Russ Meyer’s Beneath the Valley of the SuperVixens to the Pixar animated film Wall-E. However, in the Pixar film, Wall-E is shown to get 2,000 points, but the actual video game had only two digits maxing out at 99 for each player’s scoreboard.
Beginning in the late 1990s, the BBC’s Red Button Service allowed British viewers to access extra audio, video, and text content on their TV using a set-top box with interactive capabilities.
The London division of MTV developed a Red Button application using a facsimile of the Pong game with the idea that it would retain the attention of the viewing audience during TV commercials by allowing viewers to play a superimposed Pong experience over top of the commercials. It was hailed by the interactive television technorati as a major breakthrough. Although incredibly successful at keeping the viewer’s eyes glued to the TV screen during a commercial, once outed, the advertisers reacted with all the power of a thermonuclear meltdown, and the offering was ripped out of the Red Button set-top box, never to see the light of day again. With the advent of the TiVo, DISH Hopper and other digital video recorders (DVRs) with ad-skipping functions, I wonder whether advertisers would think differently today. Not!
The new powerful graphics mainframe supercomputers, like, say, the Xbox 360, are able to render huge geek-boner data sets in real time and deliver hyperrealistic virtual worlds in full interactive play. The LittleBigPlanet game/world for the Sony PlayStation 3 allows for easy, menu-driven customization of every aspect of the game—in fact, you can easily build your own game with complex physics, fire, and toys such as jet-packs and add your own pictures by using the optional “cam” attachment. You can upload your planet so others can play and even customize your game. Miximal gaming has arrived!
I am not a gamer, so my interest in machinima is centered primarily on the technical, narrative, or entertainment value or other aspects of general interest, so the cultural subtlety or celebration of certain game play experiences is, for the most part, lost on me. But just as the film industry has widely celebrated triumphant moments that stand out and define filmmaking milestones, so does machinima.
In the seventh installment of the Final Fantasy game, a popular female character named Aerith Gainsborough is surprisingly killed by the game’s villain, Sephiroth. Her death, which came in the middle of the game, was a complete shock to the player community, and many avid fans admit to spontaneously crying when they saw her die.
The death of Aerith became a point of major realization about the emotional capabilities of video games; it changed the course of the game from a battle of good versus evil into a campaign of revenge. In watching machinima recreations of this iconic moment that can easily be defined as a classic tribute, none crossed the line (for me, at least) to general interest, although these kinds of tributes are extremely popular with gamers and avid machinima fans everywhere.
Another famous game moment is found in Nintendo’s Metroid series, when, at the conclusion of the game, Samus Aran, the heavily armored bounty hunter takes off her helmet and reveals that she’s a woman, a revelation that sent shockwaves throughout the gaming community. Up until then, it was generally assumed that the soldiers in video games were all men. On September 11th 2010, the Los Angeles based club Devil's Playground presented The Ladies of Sci-Fi Burlesque show at The Bordello that featured a wild strip tease—going from full sci-fi battle gear, to pasties and a G-string—by a rather busty, sexy Samus.
The Devil's Playground video was uploaded to YouTube by DigitalDOOOM and one user comment from Rinweapon in particular jumped out at me "I'll probably get a lot of dislike's and all that crap for saying this, but I think this is wrong. It's just corrupting the image of Samus who was my hero as a kid, she's supposed to help you escape to a fantasy world, and there's no sex there! These people are tainting something pure and I think that's really sad." I guess my only reaction would be :-O didn't you see her guns? Cum on!
It's true, in many cases the subtlety and nuance, the themes and complexities of a personal experience adds or detracts from experiencing art. Watching a football game has a general audience appeal that is not dependent on the level of familiarity you might or might not have with the game’s logistics, endless stats or history, but, for hard-core football fans, each game yields a referential wonderland of player stats and tactics that add to the aficionado experience. In machinima, the same is true; however, there are many standout examples that transcend gameophile monoculture and stand on their own merits so everyone can certainly enjoy them. A strip tease from sci-fi robo battle-ware into glittering pasties holds an appeal for a general audience quite well, at least in my opinion.Speedruns.
Reportedly, the popular first-person shooter games Doom and Quake were the original inspiration for documenting game play using video recordings. Doom and Quake were outgrowths of what is referred to as the military entertainment complex, an ongoing collaboration of the Department of Defense, commercial designers, and the entertainment industry beginning with SIMNET, which created virtual theaters of war using crude 3D simulations.
Originally, these user video recordings were created to document speedruns (the competitive challenge of completing a game level as quickly as possible). The addition of storylines to these films created what at the time were called “Quake movies.”
On October 26, 1996, a group called the Rangers released Diary of a Camper, using characters from the game Quake and becoming the first machinima “film” to be widely viewed. It contained the action and bloodsport of Quake but did so in the context of a story.
Matt Mullen is the creator of Red Vs. Blue, a hugely popular series about soldiers from the game Halo. Graham Leggat, former director of communications for Lincoln Center’s film society, described Red vs. Blue to be “Truly as sophisticated as Samuel Beckett.” The completed series is also available on DVD, making Red vs. Blue one of the first commercially successful machinima products.
The Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences (AMAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting machinima and celebrating the excellence in productions through the “Mackie” award at its annual Machinima Film Festival.
Some noted Mackie winners include the feature film Stolen Life, produced by Peter Rasmussen and Jackie Turnure. The film follows the story of Pi, a robot sent to a mining facility to investigate a mysterious accident. This is an ambitious film with a complete storyline that more than stands on its own for general-interest audiences.
Another notable winner is the surrealistic production of Cirque du machinima: Cuckoo Clock by Tom Jantol, who asks, "Can Machinima authors profit (literally) from this upcoming trend and can Machinima compete [in] such big markets? Those are the two main questions and I took one year off from my day job to find answers." A question the industry has yet to adequately answer, but there are some examples to be found.
In the beginning, game platforms and game development companies threatened to sue machinimists over copyright infringement. Various threats and “take-down” notices were tossed about, but no actual lawsuits have ever been filed for the creation and exhibition of machinima works to date. There is still a vigorous debate within the machinima community as to how machinimists might profit from their hard work. The game copyright holders are ecstatic at the marketing lift machinimists have demonstrated, but they will likely stop any direct profits to artists unless the artists are part of a sanctioned game marketing effort.
Like Cuckoo Clock, not all machinima is based on death-march game action. In fact, the most popular machinimists employ narrative and context (and frequently humor) that abstracts the original game persona and meets the test of transformational ideas.
Just in case you're not familiar with some of the basic game areas, let me explain a few concepts before we continue.
Life simulation games have become a huge category of game play. A simulation game uses a simulation or reenactment of various activities or “real life” using game play to aid in training or analytical research. The military uses simulator training to reproduce key virtual experiences for educational purposes, but many other forms exist. Pet-raising simulation (sometimes called artificial pets) is a genre that simulates the practices of breeding, the care and feeding, and even the exhibition of simulated animals, including offerings from Final Fantasy VII (chocobo-raising minigame), Megami Tensei, Monster Rancher, Nintendogs, Purr Pals, Neopets, and others.
Second Life (SL), launched in 2003, is an entire online multiplayer virtual world developed by Linden Labs. A download program called Second Life Viewer enables users to interact with each other through avatars. The term was recently popularized by the movie of the same name but actually originated from the ancient Sanskrit word for “a form of self.” In computer terms, an avatar is a computer user’s personal representation of themselves, sometimes in the form of a three-dimensional model used in computer games, or as a two-dimensional icon (picture) used on Internet forums and social network sites, or, if you’re on planet Pandora, a ten-foot blue steroided-Smurf-like creature with yellow eyes.
Second Life is a massively multiplayer online game (also called MMOG), defined as a video game capable of supporting hundreds or thousands of players simultaneously. The terms' Wikipedia entry compares the MMOG to standard games thusly: “MMOGs create a persistent universe where the game continues playing regardless of whether or not anyone else is . . . as a result, players cannot ‘finish’ MMOGs in the typical sense of single-player games.”
Second Life describes the experience as one in which participants can explore, interact with others, socialize, partake in individual and group behaviors, and produce and exchange virtual services and hard goods with each other throughout the Second Life world known as the grid.
Social simulation games are a subgenre of life simulation games that enable a reasonable facsimile of cultural and social interactions between various artificial life forms. The most famous example from this genre is game creator Will Wright’s The Sims series of games that first appeared in 1989 and, in 2009, was the best-selling PC game in history.
The original Sims focuses entirely on the lives of “Sims” (humanoid characters) whereby the player is in control of the virtual people and their daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, reading, and bathing. Will Wright, the game’s designer, likes to describe it as a “digital dollhouse.” Although players are encouraged to make their own characters, certain premade characters, such as the Newbie and Goth family, have become very popular.
The game player can “direct” Sims by instructing them to interact with objects, such as a stove, a piece of furniture, or another Sim. Sims can even receive houseguests, which are actually based on Sims originating from other, sometimes external, game files.
Like real life forms, Sims require care and maintenance, such as personal hygiene, eating, and sleeping or they will suffer consequences. For example, if they do not eat, they will starve to death. If they do not sleep, they will become disoriented and unable to function. If they are not allowed to use the toilet, they will pee themselves, and, like humans, if they are not allowed to enjoy occasional fun activities, they become depressed and unhappy.
Because The Sims has such a rich visual environment that simulates the real world, and because they are simulated people, The Sims was a natural for machinima storytelling.
In the mid-2000s, TS2 Studios released Mod the Sims, a Sims machinima production tool that adds new interactions and behavioral changes that are useful for filmmaking. The authors state, "Using any of these reactions/animations will NOT help or harm your Sim in any way. No motives or aspirations will change at all. They are simply animations to use for filming or storytelling, without having to resort to using cheats."
The release of Sims 2 allowed machinimists to record video directly within the game itself, and, in the following release of Sims 3, the developers included a mashup tool designed to allow users to not only record video clips but also export them to the official Sims website, where users can edit the clips together to make a movie.
Porter B. Hall, Sims amateur animator, suggests, "If you want [Sims] to look angry in your movie, you’ve got to make them angry before you roll cameras. You could use another Sim to provoke the response you want from your star. Before the camera rolls, turn off ‘free will’ in the game options menu. You wouldn’t want your actor jumping up in the middle of a scene to go to the bathroom."
The miximal genre of culture jamming is also found in video games. Jacque Servin, also known by his stage name Andy Bichlbaum, is one of the founding members of the Yes Men, who describe themselves as “a group of culture jamming activists who practice what they call ‘identity correction’ by pretending to be powerful people and spokespersons for prominent organizations.”
You might remember some of the Yes Men projects. On the twentieth anniversary of the Bhopal disaster which killed thousands in India, Andy Bichlbaum appeared on BBC World posing as a Dow Chemical spokesman. He announced that Dow planned to liquidate Union Carbide and use the resulting $12 billion to “pay for medical care, clean up the site, and fund research into the hazards of other Dow products.” After two hours of worldwide coverage, the story was picked up and syndicated on all the various news services.
Dow was finally forced to issue a press release denying the statement, which immediately exploded the controversy and generated even greater coverage of the phony news. By the time the original story was discredited, Dow’s stock had declined in value by $2 billion.
Before his fame as the Yes Man Andy, Jacque was a game designer working for Maxis Games. In 1996, another variant of the Sims franchise titled SimCopter was released and, as the name suggests, Copter extended the Sims offering into the realm of flight-simulator games with the game player in the role of a helicopter pilot.
Jacque secretly included what is called an Easter egg (an intentional hidden message, object, or behavior) into the release code for SimCopter. The modification revealed a surprise for gamers on every Friday the 13th, whereby the SimCopter inhabitants transformed themselves into Speedo-wearing “himbos” (male bimbos), musclemen Sim’sissies who hugged and kissed each other and surprisingly (through an unintentional emergent behavior of the actual game engine) were found to swarm like suicidal lemmings, running toward your helicopter and into the rotating copter blades—consequently being sliced into pieces. Using your copter for medical evacuation by transporting injured himbos to the hospital was awarded with extra scoring points. Once discovered, Jacque Servin was fired for adding unauthorized content (which delayed the release of the game and caused Maxis to miss the Christmas season). He cited his actions as a response to the intolerable working conditions he allegedly suffered while at Maxis.
Like The Sims, the game Uncharted 2 is another example of machinima-friendly video games that include additional film production tools, such as green-screen backdrops and an animation system intelligent enough to turn your computer’s microphone audio stream into lip syncing for the on-screen characters.
Stunt Island was a prehistoric (1992) video game designed by Adrian Stephens and Ronald J. Fortier and published by Disney Interactive. The object of the game was to design a filming environment to create an action movie, where the user places the props, camera and other elements in order to experience the biggest, action-pact movie experience possible. While it was innovative, the experience was lacking due to the early technology and basic graphics.
British-based Lionhead Studios created the game titled The Movies, an Activision video game designed specifically to allow machinimists to create rich animation that employs control over specific body movements and facial expressions, as well as costumes, sets, and props. The Movies is a complete machinima-in-a-box application that delivered its first critical success with a film by Alex Chan titled The French Democracy, a thirteen-minute story about the 2005 civil unrest in France triggered by the accidental death of two teenagers in Clichy-sous-Bois, a working-class neighborhood in the eastern suburbs of Paris. The French Democracy was reviewed in The Washington Post by writer Mike Musgrove, who said, “The French Democracy is a rough bit of work that might not win over many film critics, [but] some folks are hailing it as a milestone for being the first politically motivated film in this newish and mostly obscure medium, called machinima.” Obscure in 2005 perhaps, but today machinima is everywhere, including the brain trust of big media.
Major Hollywood studios are all investing serious time and money to further the digital game/media potential. Digital Domain is a visual effects and animation company based in Venice, California, that has produced effects for more than sixty films, including Titanic, The Fifth Element, Armageddon, Transformers, and 2012, to name but a few. Olivier Ozoux was the visual effects supervisor/digital supervisor at Digital Domain working in the Games and Animation division with the directive to produce game engines and game technology but, more importantly, to use the game technology for animated feature-film production. He was one of several people in the traditional film industry working to implement real-time production workflows based on game engines allowing for both design and motion/visual capture in real time.
The crossover was inevitable. As much as Hollywood is running at the machinima market, machinimists are running to be the next big thing in Hollywood. In the summer of 2009, Machinima.com’s Terminator Salvation machinima series was released on iTunes and Amazon-on-Demand with the backing of Warner Brothers and was one of the first machinima films to feature professional Hollywood production values. Each episode is about twelve to fifteen minutes long and uses the Terminator Salvation video game as the engine to power the series.
One the best examples of crossover success stories are the Purchase brothers. The Toronto-born brothers David and Ian Purchase have earned an industry-wide reputation for producing Hollywood production-value films with little to no budget. Escape from City 17: Part One was their first widely acclaimed machinima/live-action production and was based on the Half Life game engine. The film was set in the Half Life universe and included live action of the brothers superimposed or composited into the various scenes. The reported budget for the film was under $500, which went mostly for props. The brothers have since been adopted by the Creative Arts Agency (CAA) in Los Angeles and slated for both film and commercial work, including an iPhone commercial and the Coke babies commercial that invokes the drama of the film Independence Day or “V” (the sci-fi TV series) in which we see giant space ships or, in this case, horny, pregnant Coke cans hovering over the city.
The future of machinima
Game engines are now more than capable of generating real-time action and realistic imagery, which opens up many new avenues of narrative storytelling. One of the best cutting-edge efforts to exploit this capability was born at the American Film Institute’s Digital Content Lab, a digital media think tank or innovation lab known to be one of the leading incubators of next-generation digital storytelling, as well as a showcase for technology and innovation.
In 2007, the lab’s director, Suzanne Stefanac, paired Kuma Games with a team of experts to create Leaving the Game, a real-time rendering engine designed to generate visual and audio narrative storytelling (movies) based only on dynamic instructions (like a written script) rather than requiring the audience to download or purchase a prerendered movie.
The team produced a prototype using a game engine (or, more precisely, a scripting engine tied to a game engine) to help “create dynamic storytelling, delivering a customized movie-like experience in real-time to your game console or PC,” according to Stefanac. The team collaborating on this machinima project included representatives from IBM, Cartoon Network, and Microsoft.
“Like the AFI Digital Content Lab, we are committed to driving entertainment innovation,” said Keith Halper, CEO of Kuma Games, in an article by David Radd for Game Daily.
Leaving the Game uses existing, widely disseminated technology to tell stories in a way which is simply impossible in the linear formats that dominate traditional and digital media today. We don’t expect real-time renders like Leaving the Game to replace traditional entertainment—rather, we’re here to demonstrate how entertainers should expand creative models, not just business models, as they embrace new technology.
“The AFI Digital Content Lab has great hopes for the future of the Leaving the Game Machinima prototype,” said Suzanne Stefanac. "All of the collaborators on this project brought remarkable talent and vision to the table, but it would have remained little more than a good idea without Kuma’s dedication and ability to build to both the broadband and game console platforms. We couldn’t be more pleased."
But what does this scripting-engine technology foreshadow? Imagine real-time information, such as content feeds, like news and even sports (from close-caption text?), or written movie and television scripts that are fed to game consoles via the web, in which the audience can choose the game engine with the characters and settings of their choice for acting out the information in real time. CNN news could be presented by the Halo characters, or Lara Croft could stand in for Katie Couric. Because the experience is real time, personalization and targeted advertising customized for the individual audience member are possible and indeed were part of the prototype shown to the public at the AFI Digifest event in November 2007. One outcome of this technology could be a new take on Max Headroom.
Hacking Network 23.
Max Headroom was a television series created by George Stone, Annabel Jankel, and Rocky Morton that starred a fictional British artificial TV persona portrayed by actor Matt Frewer.
The plot of the Max Headroom television show was set in a postapocalyptic future in which evil television corporations controlled every aspect of the world and the revolutionary freedom fighters broadcast guerrilla messages by “zipping” their pirate signal into live television feeds.
A fascinating story is the Max Headroom pirating incident, the successful hijacking on Sunday, November 22, 1987, of two television signals in the Chicago, Illinois, area. This feat was accomplished by a person wearing a Max Headroom mask who was able to override the station signals with an illegal broadcast. Television broadcasts from WTTW and WGN were interrupted by the masked hijacker during the WGN 9:00 p.m. sports segment of the news, and the second occurrence took place at 11:15 p.m. during WTTW’s airing of an episode of Doctor Who. The hijacker was never caught.
Max Headroom was a free-thinking artificially intelligent creation capable of his own stream of conscience. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a reality today, and combining or mashing up technologies, such as AI and machinima, using scripting engines, such as Leaving the Game, are, as the Headroom series’ tag line suggests, “only 20 minutes into the future.” I can report firsthand: The future is here thanks to the military.
The military entertainment complex.
Clearly the next step in immersive audience experience is virtual reality and augmented reality. I recently toured a facility pioneered by Albert “Skip” Rizzo, Ph.D., as part of a group of digital media specialists and neurobiologists invited to walk through the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)/virtual reality (VR) facility in Culver City, California.
According to a report titled The Military-Entertainment Complex by Tim Lenoir and Henry Lowood of Stanford University, the National Academy of Sciences hosted a workshop on “modeling and simulation” aimed at exploring mutual collaboration between entertainment companies and U.S. government defense agencies. The outcome was summarized by Michael Zyda, a computer scientist specializing in AI at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and Zyda’s report was the basis for the Army to give $45 million to the University of Southern California to create a research center tasked with developing advanced military simulations.
According to the report, in opening the new ICT, Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera said, “We could never hope to get the expertise of a Steven Spielberg or some of the other film industry people working just on Army projects.” But the new institute, Caldera said, will be “a win-win for everyone.”
I toured the facilities’ VR capture system borrowed by James Cameron for creating the digital characters appearing in his movie blockbuster Avatar. The Stage 6 system looks like a huge geodesic dome covered in LEDs, as well as cameras and other sensors. The human actors inside the apparatus are filmed in high resolution, and the movements are captured. The “facial performance synthesis using deformation-driven polynomial displacement maps” uses synthetic high-resolution geometry and surface detail from sparse motion-capture markers positioned on the actor’s face to acquire the deformation and dynamic motion of facial expressions, and then uses deformation-driven polynomial displacement maps to produce dynamic facial performances (synthetic facial expressions for digital actors). Together with motion capture, facial and body movements are then translated into 3D motion in simulated digital objects.
I met an AI avatar in the form of a life-size “person” named Sergeant Star, a U.S. military construct capable of natural language recognition and response presented in a life-size high-resolution projection of a person. The technology uses speech recognition tied to a statistical classifier program to understand what is being said, and then, using a data–to–audible speech conversion program, “he” is able to answer questions or converse with a human participant in a real-time conversation that includes facial expression, emotion, and body movements. Kind of like Siri's smarter brother, but live, in full color and standing in front of you.
A statistical classifier program is the core to automated language translation. Back in the 1980s, an infamous example of machine translation from English to Russian and back to English was widely circulated as the example of how difficult the process really is. The example used Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:41: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The statistical classifier program returned, “The whisky is good but the beef has gone bad.” Even Siri is smarter than that today.
The ICT visitors drove a simulated Humvee through a firefight in Iraq using a VR helmet with full haptic feedback (a tactile feedback technology that interfaces with a user’s sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, and motions), as well as capabilities for generating smells, such as smoke and cordite.
Technologies like this begin to convert the idea of virtual reality into “alternate reality” experiences.
These artificial life forms that appear lifelike (whether or not in humanoid form), moving, reacting, and riffing with their own personal stylings, could soon be a part of your daily media consumption, or standing in as a digital assistant, teacher, or friend. Let’s just hope that the promise of these artificial life forms is dramatically different than the annoying Microsoft paperclip “Looks like you’re trying to write a letter.” The Office Assistant, or “Clippy,” as it was known, was a Microsoft Office feature to assist users by way of an interactive animated character. In the Family Guy episode Lois Kills Stewie, Stewie sneaks into CIA headquarters and uses one of the computers and is outraged when Clippy appears on the screen and says, “Looks like you’re trying to take over the world. Can I help?”
Miximalism has extended its influence across the entire landscape of the digital media experience, including the act of game hacking. What started out as a knowledgebase of game play “cheats” or exploits that were discovered and shared by the various online gamer communities was eventually broadened to include actual file hacking and other ways of changing or modifying (MODs) the operational files, or content libraries of a game. Initially, this trend was focused on the PC versions of games rather than dedicated game consoles, due to the easy access of the PC game’s operational file structures found on the PC’s DVD or hard drive but has since expanded across all the game platforms.
WADs (acronym for “where’s all the data?”) are content folders associated with the operational files behind the Doom video game that contain sprites (a two-dimensional/three-dimensional image or animation), levels, and game data. Doom attracted a sizable legion of players who created their own WAD mods (modifications) for Doom that eventually spawned the mod-making culture that is now commonplace across a wide variety of first-person shooter games.
Thousands of WADs have been produced for Doom, varying from single custom hacks to complete imaginative games; most of these can be copied for free on the Internet. Several WAD mods have also been sold commercially, and, for talented innovators, the WAD-making hobby eventually became a professional career as a game level designer.
Unsanctioned mods have also been a popular form of game mashups. A famous mod that successfully transformed the mega shooter game Doom was an illegal patch known as Simpsons Doom created by “Spooky” Steve Blauwkamp and Chuck Fuoco. This mod swapped out the sounds, characters, and backdrops of Doom with familiar characters and elements of The Simpsons.
The original Simpsons mod was somewhat crude, but its enormous popularity soon inspired an updated version by Myk Friedman and Walter Stabosz, that featured you (the user) as Homer, Moe the bartender as Doom's Zombieman, Krusty the Clown as Lost Soul, and Bart as Revenant. A great example of a Simpsons Doom machinima is the YouTube clip Simpsons Doom—All Enemies, which makes great use of iconic audio samples from all the Simpsons characters, including Moe threatening "I'm going to shove a sausage down your throat and stick starving dogs in your butt."
One outstanding digital millennial artist is American artist Cory Arcangel, known for his Nintendo game cartridge hacks including, I Shot Andy Warhol, in which he replaced the characters from the Nintendo game Hogan’s Alley with cartoon characters of Andy Warhol and the object is to shoot Warhol while avoiding hitting the Pope, Colonel Sanders, and Flavor Flav. I have much more to share on Cory in my blog MIXimalism.
In 2005, sexually oriented scenes were found in the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, via a mod called Hot Coffee for the PS2 and PC version of the San Andreas game. After installation, the mod allowed users to play a bonus sex minigame that was not part of the original game release by its creator Rockstar Games, as was originally reported.
While the brouhaha blew up to the halls of Congress in the form of game ratings, the Hot Coffee scenes were just the media-frenzy tip of an adult-oriented video game iceberg.
There are many dozens of games based on sexual situations and the act of sex itself, ranging from Sierra Entertainment’s Leisure Suit Larry to Playboy’s The Mansion by Cyberlore, as well as downloadable mods by third parties to provide new behaviors and (un)clothe the virtual characters in the Sims game. New adult MMOGs are popping up everywhere (if you are tempted to explore this, be aware of spyware or Trojan computer viruses often bundled with the game player mod application downloads).
There is also a considerable amount of adult content, even sexual content in the MMOG Second Life (though considerably less than often assumed): Users can participate together in real-time adult interactions, and there is definitely a lot of Second Life machinima on the web. So one might ask, where’s all the machinima porn? Or worse?
Worse, perhaps, but worthy of a mention is a racy kissing scene starring tongue wagging ponies born of a Gary's Mod hack using elements from the game My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic a mobile video game based on the Hasbro® animated television show, developed by Gameloft for iOS and Android devices. Enter the fandom known as brony (plural bronies), a portmanteau of "bro" and "pony" which emerged as a large unlikely audience of Internet users in late 2010 and early 2011. These technology-savvy older fans, typically males from 18 to 35, have created numerous works in writing, music, art, and video as part of a New Sincerity trend.
This sexy and admittedly creepy clip is Students of Friendship (kissing ponies, omg) a rather disturbing love scene credited as an animation using SFM (Source Filmmaker video capture that works from inside the Source game engine) by Twily404, and the music score You Are My High by Demon and uploaded to YouTube by user Shattertry who writes "If you're disgusted because you're afraid of having a sudden boner [broner?] and feeling like a zoophile, don't worry. Sexual affinities are not infectious diseases. You boner or you no boner. That's it. No need to find explanations. Now, go away and immerse your soul in love." Apparently the clip is a tribute piece to the original human-based clip You Are My High.
With the advent of real-time animation that uses advanced realism, texture mapping (such as wrapping a photograph of a real human face or other photorealistic skins onto the animated character) digital performers, such as Beowulf, in the 2007 movie of the same name, exhibited a surprising realism. A nude sexual scene between Beowulf and a texture-mapped likeness of Angelina Jolie was a breakthrough in digital simulation and, frankly, pretty hot for a glorified cartoon.
Basic survival instincts.
There is, however, a phenomenon known as the uncanny valley, a term coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Genshō in 1970, which has been linked to at least two prior sources: Ernst Jentsch’s notion of “the uncanny” recognized in his 1906 essay, On the Psychology of the Uncanny, which was later popularized in a 1919 Sigmund Freud essay titled The Uncanny. The uncanny valley is a hypothesis concerning the field of robotics, which is also generally applied to computer-generated humans, such as those found in games or VR environments.
The notion is that, when robots and other types of facsimiles aimed at reproducing human actions and appearances are observed by real humans, they frequently create a feeling of repulsion. The “valley” refers to a negative emotional response in graphed human reactions to anthropomorphic objects, such as stuffed animals and other simulated life forms. Specifically, the graph dip between “almost human” and “human” is the uncanny valley. An adorable big-eyed furby robot is cute, but a humanoid robot that is 99-percent human will seem creepy and weird compared to an actual living human and consequently will fail to obtain the proper empathic reaction. This is likely based on deeply evolved survival mechanisms for mate selection, pathogen avoidance, and other primal responses to odd or uncanny appearances.
So the future of (meaningful) machinima-inspired porn might be further away than you would think—however, given enough time and experimentation, adult programming will eventually employ the same types of tools and techniques found in machinima and exploit the perfect market tie-in to the young male online demographic and ultimately realize the notion of “first-person shooter.”