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The Tribeca Film Festival official press release called the presentation of the upcoming Beyond: Two Souls at
the festival "A groundbreaking example of the potential in the marriage
of gaming and cinema." The 35 minute screening of Quantic Dream's Beyond Two Souls was
received with rousing applause at its end and served as a terrific
introduction to the ten hour long story of the game. Professional actors
like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe brought the script to life which
should improve the sometimes stilted acting of Heavy Rain (Jason !).
The technology used to capture the actions of the actors and translate
them into the world of the game is remarkable. Aside from very minor
imperfections upon second glance, if I didn't know better, I would be
fooled by the visuals, cinematography, and acting into thinking that I
was watching a movie.
That is a problem for a video game. If Beyond is
a marriage between cinema and gaming, then Cinema was the controlling
partner who pushed Gaming to the sidelines and insisted on speaking on
both their behalf.
The game looked like it was on autopilot for the whole screening. Most
of the gameplay where players have control of the protagonist Jodie was
removed which made the presentation jump from scene to scene in order to
stitch together the narrative scenes and not waste time with player
exploration. That is understandable for a streamlined presentation but
what is inexcusable is the attempt to pass over every gameplay element.
The quick time events were sped through so the flow of the cinematic
experience would not be interrupted. Dialogue decisions were so quickly
chosen that there was no time for the audience to look at the other
choices available. All the action sequences were done perfectly every
During the Q&A segment after
the screening David Cage, the game's director and writer, insisted that
they “were not shooting a film, [they] were shooting a game.”
very different in essence, especially because you need to break down
every single scene and every single moment into different possibilities,
different branches, different possible action." He continued, "For me,
interacting is about making choices and seeing their consequences."
game’s screening showed off not one of those elements that make it a
game. What it did instead was take an interactive experience that is
impossible in any other medium and reduce it to a passive experience for
It is difficult to demonstrate such a
unique game to a casual audience. When showing off a first person
shooter, everyone understands the basic concept: you shoot, avoid
getting shot, and make it to the next level. When it comes to a game
like Beyond it looks like a movie to someone watching, but when
they hold the controller it becomes an engaging experience. The player
leads the characters’ actions on screen, not only through seemingly
mundane tasks like turning on a car, but by choosing dialogue that will
change the course and outcome of a conversation.
The player’s control over the world is best shown through action sequences. In Heavy Rain split-second
decisions and timing for actions during these sequences would
irreversibly alter the story, especially when it came to the fate of
characters. If a character died, the story could not be blamed, it was
the fault of the players who were too slow in reacting or made a bad
decision. When players succeeded in aiding the character to safety and
victory they felt even better because they knew that they had saved them
-- they were responsible for their success. The emotional ties players
make with characters is what deepens the consequences of their actions.
That strong characterization and emotional depth of the writing shone
throughout the screening, but there were none of the same choices and
consequences shown. No bad decisions in dialogue were chosen, no
missteps in combat. Every scene played out the way it was supposed to if
everything was done right. There were no bad decisions made, and no
consequences shown. A movie plays out perfectly, a player does not.
A way that the screening could have shown the consequences of choice
through players’ actions would have been to play the game imperfectly.
Perhaps instead of Jodie blowing off a man offering to pay her for some
action in the back alley, she could have reluctantly agreed out of
desperation and made some money, making for a gray moral choice. In
action scenes she could have slipped up a couple times and taken a few
hits to show she has moments of vulnerability. A balance between the
good and bad decisions and outcomes would have been a great way to show
how the game’s story is molded by players who will all experience the
story in different ways.
A game can have a cinematic
scope of narrative that blends with its gameplay, but when a game is
just touted and shown only as a sort of cinematic masterpiece, it
devolves into something you pay $10 or so to watch for a couple hours at
the local cinema rather than a $60 interactive experience. As
prestigious of an honor as it was for Beyond: Two Souls to be
chosen for screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, it was not the right
setting to be showing a game. A film festival is where people sit down
in dark rooms together and watch stories play out on screens and that is
fine because movies are great. What movies are not are experiences
where people engage directly with the action on screen and feel the
weight of their decisions unfold in front of them.
Showing Beyond: Two Souls at
Tribeca did the game and its medium a great disservice by stripping it
of what defines it as a game and presenting it as a film. However,
Quantic Dream does not want to just make a cinematic narrative, they
want a narrative that engages players and holds them accountable for how
their failures and successes while progressing through the narrative. Heavy Rain did this very well and Beyond also
might succeed at this, but you wouldn't know it from watching this
demo. Film festivals like Tribeca are the right places to show the next
great film experiences, not the next big gaming experiences.