Category Archives: halo

mckenzie wark interview in halo

This interview with McKenzie Wark was conducted inside an online version of the Halo 2 video game as part of the upcoming fourth episode of This Spartan Life, “a talk show in gamespace.” Many thanks to Chris Burke and the TSL team for doing such a fantastic job. Click the image to play (it’s a little under 14 minutes):

From the interview, here’s McKenzie on collaborating with readers inside his book:

“It sort of brings out what writing always is anyway, which is that, in a sense, you’re always the DJ of other people’s thoughts and ideas, and this just makes that manifest.”

Also see this interesting thread in the GAM3R 7H30RY forum from a while back — a discussion between McKenzie and Chris about “glitching” and other forms of trifling or hacking within the game (the bread and butter of machinima filmmakers), and whether this can lead to real freedom. There’s a moment later on in the video where the debate gets wonderfully concretized in the physical landscape of the game world.
We “shot” the footage back in August at Chris’s studio in Brooklyn. I managed to snap a couple of hazy pictures with my camera phone:
spartan_life_studio_small.jpg kens_cave_small.jpg
On the left you see the room where Chris and the two camera operators have their consoles. On the right is McKenzie in his own little cave. Everything is recorded through video feeds running out of the Xboxes. Ken and Chris talk over headsets and move around the game environment while the two “cameras” follow behind (the cameras are just the perspectives of the other two gamers). The chaos during Ken’s reading at the end is the work of other online gamers from around the country — TSL groupies who like helping out with shoots and generally raising hell. Seeing Chris try to coordinate this rambunctious crew long distance was highly entertaining.
(If you haven’t seen it, also check out This Spartan Life’s interview with Bob from their first episode. A real treat.)

machinima agitprop elucidates net neutrality

spartan net neutral.jpg
This Spartan Life, our favorite talk show in Halo space, just posted a hilarious video blog entry making the case for network neutrality. In some ways, this is the perfect medium for illustrating a threat to virtual spaces, conveying more in a couple of minutes than several weeks worth of op-eds. Enjoy it now before the party’s over.
(In case you missed it, here’s TSL’s interview with Bob.)

machinima’s new wave

“The French Democracy” (also here) is a short film about the Paris riots made entirely inside of a computer game. The game, developed by Peter Molyneux‘s Lionhead Productions and called simply “The Movies,” throws players into the shark pool of Hollywood where they get to manage a studio, tangle with investors, hire and fire actors, and of course, produce and distribute movies. The interesting thing is that the movie-making element has taken on a life of its own as films produced inside the game have circulated through the web as free-standing works, generating their own little communities and fan bases.
This is a fascinating development in the brief history of Machinima, or “machine cinema,” a genre of films created inside the engines of popular video game like Halo and The Sims. Basically, you record your game play through a video out feed, edit the footage, and add music and voiceovers, ending up with a totally independent film, often in funny or surreal opposition to the nature of the original game. Bob, for instance, appeared in a Machinima talk show called This Spartan Life, where they talk about art, design and philosophy in the bizarre, apocalyptic landscapes of the Halo game series.
The difference here is that while Machinima is typically made by “hacking” the game engine, “The Movies” provides a dedicated tool kit for making video game-derived films. At the moment, it’s fairly primitive, and “The French Democracy” is not as smooth as other Machinima films that have painstakingly fitted voice and sound to create a seamless riff on the game world. The filmmaker is trying to do a lot with a very restricted set of motifs, unable to add his/her own soundtrack and voices, and having only the basic menu of locales, characters, and audio. The final product can feel rather disjointed, a grab bag of film clichés unevenly stitched together into a story. The dialogue comes only in subtitles that move a little too rapidly, Paris looks suspiciously like Manhattan, and the suburbs, with their split-level houses, are unmistakably American.
But the creative effort here is still quite astonishing. You feel you are seeing something in embryo that will eventually come into its own as a full-fledged art form. Already, “The Movies” online community is developing plug-ins for new props, characters, environments and sound. We can assume that the suite of tools, in this game and elsewhere, will only continue to improve until budding auteurs really do have a full virtual film studio at their disposal.
It’s important to note that, according to the game’s end-user license agreement, all movies made in “The Movies” are effectively owned by Activision, the game’s publisher. Filmmakers, then, can aspire to nothing more than pro-bono promotional work for the parent game. So for a truly independent form to emerge, there needs to be some sort of open-source machinima studio where raw game world material is submitted by a community for the express purpose of remixing. You get all the fantastic puppetry of the genre but with no strings attached.