My original project began with the goal of producing an original, quality ‘machinima’ film that Jenna Ng (2013, p. xiv) defines as ‘films made by real-time three-dimensional computer graphics rendering engines’. The aim of this project was two-fold: First, I was displeased by the apparent semantic hijacking of the term ‘machinima’ which was once understood as the practice of using games as a medium for film making, but is now synonymous with the media outlet ‘Machinima, Inc’ known instead for creating news videos and commentated gameplay which resonates with Jenkins’ assertion that ‘our core myths now belong to corporations, rather than the folk’ (Jenkins, 2000, p. 69).
Having built their business on the backs of peoples machinima contributions, they’ve since branched out and left behind the machinima art form. This conceptual warping of ‘machinima’ inspired me to create a ‘proper’ machinima project. The second factor was the notable lack of these films based around Rainbow Six: Siege (2015). Using this game as the platform for the project sounded intriguing, as the game features a grounded human setting with which to effectively create suspense but also opportunity to exploit this grave context for some subversive, genre-bending jingoistic humour to avoid being taken too seriously.
With this idea in mind I started work on the script and began establishing a theme, loose plot and the means by which to perform and record my film. Unfortunately, I encountered numerous set-backs and issues which brought my project to a halt. It became clear this seemingly trivial task had become too problematic to continue and so I decided instead to write about the issues I encountered.
To achieve this, I’ll align my experience attempting to create a machinima film with practices and paradigms necessitated for machinima making as supported primarily by readings in Understanding Machinima (2013) and Leo Berkeley’s Situating Machinima in the New Mediascape (2006). As the inciting factor, Siege will be referred to as an indicator of machinima compatibility due to its obstinate incompatibility. With this analysis I will explore what makes a game machinima-able by outlining the technical, practical and communal necessities for creating a machinima film.
LaPensée & Lewis suggest that by the simple act of ‘adapting gameplay to the cinematic form’ we are subverting the expectations of the game’s makers, and no longer playing a game as much as with the structure of a game (2013, p. 196). Despite undermining the expectations of developers, games at least need to be amenable to film-making and facilitate it however possible. For example, Blizzard’s games usually include the ability to ‘control camera and [export] video to digital editing software’ (Barwell & Moore, 2013, p. 210), allowing the player greater control over shots and a smoother transition to the editing phase.
Siege features neither of these abilities, already severely limiting its filmic potential. Leo Berkeley, as a long time filmmaker but an outsider to the medium of video games, applauds the breadth of camera options available to machinima makers stating that ‘observing the action from a high angle has some advantages’ (2006, p. 72) which are possible but rarely used in traditional film production. This dexterity holds a marked advantage over ‘real’ filming, and games with this ability, such as World of Warcraft (2004), are immediately more suitable for generating machinima works. Danilovic (2013, p. 178) supports this notion, claiming that ‘unusual camera angles portray powerful emotional landscapes and make compelling aesthetic statements’ but this is harder to accomplish without basic control over camera movement and placement.
According to Jenkins ‘modding’ not only ‘extends the game’s commercial life’ (2001, p. 67) and helps foster a creative community, but it can completely eschew the intended purpose of a game by removing ‘restrictions on camera movements, lighting, and other production elements’ as argued by Barwell & Moore (2013, p. 221).
Depending on the genre of movie you’re making, the ability to, for example, remove HUD elements from the film-maker’s UI can be of paramount importance to the sense of immersion and tone. Second Life (2003) fully supports modding, and so the community has been permitted to produce add-ons like ‘The Eye’ (2016) which hides the user’s avatar and name-tag.
This is acknowledged by Barwell & Moore who applaud Second Life machinima in particular because of its ‘extensive amount of modification owing to the user-generated nature of the virtual world’ (2013, p. 197). Siege does not allow for user-generated content, complete disabling of HUD, or mods of any kind which greatly limits its thematic scope and community engagement to what’s already been established. There’s little opportunity for remediation; limited to cinematic action sequence as it’s only practical application caused by the regulating of options. Indeed, my multiple inquiries to Ubisoft and individual developers via Twitter regarding the broken ‘widescreen letterbox’ feature in Siege was met with silent indifference.
That said, Second Life’s popularity as a medium for machinima films can be attributed to a number of features. The lack of explicit goals makes this genre of simulation games cinematically malleable; they ‘present novel and unusual ways of looking at animated bodies, identities, stories, and worlds’ (Danilovic, p.184) by virtue of their contextual flexibility and accessibility.
Combined with a dynamic economy and situation within a real, albeit virtual, society, Berkeley states that this creates an invaluable ‘potential for uncertainty and unpredictability’ (2006 p.73) which can be a unique and envied quality of narrative storytelling. The narrative driving his machinima film Ending with Andre (2005) was a direct result of unscripted AI behaviour intruding the ‘actor’s life, depicting ‘an angry man dressed in black’ hounding the protagonist. Berkeley was able to use this random encounter to weave a plot that portrays an abusive ex confronting the character.
This scene was possible due to the game’s random nature, making it possible to ‘follow a script but also… improvise and adapt’ as LaPensée & Lewis propose (2013 p. 200), and despite the limited ‘expressive possibilities of animated game characters compared to human actors’ and inability to lip-sink that Berkeley faced during production, when edited and framed by narration it achieved surprisingly emotional moments (2006, p. 72).
Alternatively, Siege has somewhat limited room for chance events that only encompasses situational occurrences akin to a poor grenade toss resulting in the death of the thrower. There isn’t, as LaPensée & Lewis remark, much in the way of ‘unique combinations of opportunities for creative remediation’ (2013, p.188) owing to the predictable AI and fundamentally unavoidable first-person perspective and associated tropes.
Unfortunately, uncontrollable factors can also be a detriment. Barwell & Moore caution that choosing to film in an ‘MMO’ environment such as World of Warcraft ‘leaves open the possibility of interference from players not involved’ with the machinima process (2013, p. 217). This is a problem that’s largely dependent on both the genre of game, and any restrictions barring custom game sessions which could be used to minimise interference by other individuals. To its merit, while other games can suffer from this, Siege allows for custom servers that don’t require a minimum number of participants and can be accessed online, not just via the same network.
As machinima practitioners rely on ‘wide dissemination of their work across the Web’, an online connection to servers isn’t an unthinkable prerequisite (Danilovic, 2013, p. 184). However, the ability to access a game in the event there’s no internet connection so the ‘machinimator’ can continue recording is appreciated. Siege prevents prospective machinimists access to the entirety of its gameplay, including single-player campaign, should they not have the means to perform mandatory updates.
While it’s anticipated that ‘game manufacturers [will] regularly update the game world’, it should not unnecessarily ‘disrupt the machinima production process’ (Barwell & Moore, p.217). Despite this, Siege’s offline modes I just finished lauding are rendered inaccessible when the game’s own client repeatedly crashes and cannot complete the update. Therefore, a game like The Sims (series) with the ability to function offline should be considered as a potential candidate even if the performance is more akin to janky ‘virtual puppetry’ (Nitsche, 2005) than something more natural like the animations that could be captured with Siege.
Ultimately, the factors discussed to assist would-be machinima makers in choosing a game do minimise the ‘intense and meticulous labour… concentration, and organization’ (Ng & Barrett, 2013, p. 234) necessary while film-making, however one must recognize the external factors that can determine either the success or failure of a project. Danilovic makes sure to point out the ‘technical quirks of shooting with capture screen software’ that are distinct to working in a digital setting. These range from choosing compression formats or codecs and sorting out frame rate issues, to managing the ‘excessive’ storage requirements for raw video files (2013, p. 183).
For their part, Barwell & Moore recognize machinima as a ‘translocation of various forms of filmmaking skills’ (2013, p.217) and the required skillset necessitates the ability to navigate any technical pitfalls. If the creation of machinima is the ‘employment of wit, subversion, and mischief’ as Ng & Barrett suggest (2013, p. 232), the post-production and composition can be exercises in tedium, restraint, and compromise. LaPensée & Lewis, however, remark on the relative flexibility machinima possesses throughout the entirety of the production process compared to film or television however (2013, p. 200).
Lastly, machinima produced with footage from a commercial video-game, or what Jenna Ng dubs as ‘first wave machinima’ (2013, p. xvi) while detractors might write-off as ‘low culture’ film (DeLappe, 2013, p. 164), is contingent on the state of a game’s community. If the developer has continually supported the game and empowered users, as is the case with Linden Lab’s Second Life, then there likely exists both encouragement to produce fan material and a passionate community interested in consuming it. Unfortunately, while Siege has a somewhat active player following, publisher Ubisoft does little to encourage fan work based on the game or promote existing examples.
Evidently, there’s a multitude of factors that contribute to the machinability of a video-game. Some are embedded in the core design decisions of the game like being able to willingly change cosmetic details and remove the HUD, while other hurdles can sometimes be surmounted via the approval of modding to add functionality that assists production i.e., making both the user and their name invisible or completely overhaul the visual theme.
Similarly, the goalless nature of simulations in particular can lead to unscripted and unrepeatable situations that are a distinctive characteristic of video-games as a platform. As a completely digital medium, the need for updates is inevitable yet can be an unexpected hindrance should you choose to film with a game that requires an internet connection. To further complicate matters is the post-production and finalising the film with technical considerations like frame-rates and codecs which require a basic familiarity with the editing software and production pipeline.
Rainbow Six: Siege fails to comply with all of these outlined concerns and is ultimately unfit for adaption to the machinima art form, with the coup de grâce being the apathetic community and lack of promotion or encouragement by Ubisoft.
UPDATE 30/9/17: With the renewed interest in Siege from the average gamer, the Source Filmmaker suite has kick-started a number of machinima films such as this. The accessibility of this tool-set doesn’t require the base game to make films, so restrictions in the original game’s environment can be by-passed.
Berkeley, Leo (2006), ‘Situating Machinima in the New Mediascape’, International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society, Vol 4. no. 2, pp.65-80.
Barwell, G. and Moore C. 2013, ‘World of Chaucer: Machinima and Adaptation’, in Understanding Machinima: Essays on Filmmaking in Virtual Worlds, edited by Jenna Ng, Continuum: London.
Jenna, M. and Barrett J. 2013, ‘Introduction’ & ‘A pedagogy of craft: Teaching Culture Analysis with machinima’, in Understanding Machinima: Essays on Filmmaking in Virtual Worlds, edited by Jenna Ng, Continuum: London.
LaPensée, E. and Lewis JS. 2013, ‘Call it a vision quest: Machinima in a First Nations context’, in Understanding Machinima: Essays on Filmmaking in Virtual Worlds, edited by Jenna Ng, Continuum: London.
Danilovic, S. 2013, ‘Virtual lens of exposure: Aesthetics, theory, and ethics of documentary filmmaking in Second Life’, in Understanding Machinima: Essays on Filmmaking in Virtual Worlds, edited by Jenna Ng, Continuum: London.
DeLappe, J. 2013, ‘Playing Politics – Machinima as live performance and document’, in Understanding Machinima: Essays on Filmmaking in Virtual Worlds, edited by Jenna Ng, Continuum: London.
Jenkins, H. (2001) ‘Convergence? I Diverge’, Technology Review, vol. 104, no. 5, p.93.
Nitsche, M 2005, ‘Film Live: An Excursion into Machinima’, Developing Interactive Narrative Content, vol. 103, no. 2, p. 103, viewed 29/5/16,
Jenkins, H. (2000) ‘Digital Land Grab: Intellectual Property in Cyberspace’ Technology Review, vol. 103, no. 2, p.103.
Magic Emerald 2016, [ The Eye ] Invisibility HUD Hide Avatar & NameTag, Second Life Marketplace, viewed 29/5/16,