By Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez
The mechanics of movement.
he quality of animation: the mechanics of movement, the creation of landscapes and the elements of style i.e. use of color, character design etc, can make or break the cinematics of a videogame. While this may seem like an obvious point to make, it's surprising how many times these crucial factors seem to slip through the fingers of the creative teams. Of course the style of the animation of any game's cinematics is usually based on the overall themes and feel of the game's subject matter. Yet even within this scheme there are judgements to be made.
One can understand the grand design of a game's cinematic intentions without accepting every concept the creators choose to pursue as "honestly" depicting their vision. For example, in last weeks game Klingon Honor Guard, one can see why the creators chose to depend on portrait like depictions of the characters in the narrative, but one can also make the judgement, without attacking the overall "myth" structure, that the illustrations do not live up to the creators intentions. I suppose in this case it may seem to some that the "outsider" is assuming greater responsibility for the creator's vision. One can, however, look at it as a kind of loyalty to the idea and not the particulars. A new game which does a wonderful job of fleshing out the pieces is Namco's Ridge Racer 4.
There is a kind of magical purity, like taking a deep breath of cold air, that comes when realizing that the fragments of a piece of art each quietly articulate, with precise control, the "language" of the entire work. The most stunning aspect of Ridge Racer 4ís cinematics is it's animation which transcends mere surface appearance to demonstrate the beauty with which form and content may be unified.
To refer to an artwork as "dream-like" is to perhaps provide the most complimentary and yet most cliched of assessments. It's cliched because everyone and their crippled grandmother refers to pieces of art as "dream-like" as regularly as a conveyor belt might glide along to the sound of Raymond Scott's tune "Powerhouse," and complimentary because this aesthetic impression also implies a profound sense of intimacy. While nobody would debate the fact that dreams are quite subjective little adventures, there is also a general human notion of what it means for something to be "dream-like," namely the feeling that one has that no matter how disparate the images or subjects of a dream there is an underlying connection between everything the sleeper encounters. Dreams are personal and yet oddly distancing experiences. While not trying to take the cinematics of the game too seriously, one can begin an appreciation of Ridge Racer 4 at this point.
The opening section, like many dreams, has no explicitly clear narrative, and being a racing game this is not surprising, yet there is an odd sense of cohesiveness to the images. The viewer follows two intercutting streams of "narrative" information, which run parallel to one another before crossing at a key point. The scene cuts back and forth between images of a woman in bed and walking through the city and "shots" of cars battling it out on the highways. The animation is gorgeous. The woman is wonderfully rendered. She looks about as real as a computer animated figure can be.
The creators take the time to add little character touches that help solidify "her" presence. In one charming moment, after breaking the heel on one of her shoes and wandering out of a tunnel, clearly lost she blows out a plume of air in frustration, lifting up her bangs and rolling her eyes. There's also a clever little gag about movement and transportation. Right after the woman breaks the heel on her shoe we cut to the cars racing around the track, a cute comment which almost seems to be saying "hey jerk forget walking;" cars are indeed the way to go. The more fundamental elements of the animation are also striking. The colors are limited to a palate of blues, silvers and blacks, a perfect color-scape to build the background to a game about cold, clear bursts of speed. The city itself is a silent giant, empty highways and sleeping skyscrapers. All that exists are the woman and the cars, moving through the crystal morning on a predestined course. Finally the "narrative" reaches some sort of closure: the woman is picked up by a pacing race car and swept away.
Ridge Racer 4 is a truly beautiful videogame cinematic achievement. It is a stunning example of the skill with which form and content can be married together, a dream of subtle strength.
- Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez is a regular contributor to loonygames.
Credits: Pixel Obscura logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 1998 Josh Vasquez. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited...we know where you live.