Contrary to popular belief, machinima (pronounced muh-sheen-uh-muh) is not just the name of one of YouTube’s largest content publishing channels, it is also the name of a specific film genre.
Created by combining the words “machine” and “cinema,” machinima refers to movies or short films that are animated and recorded within a video game engine. While certainly unconventional, machinima films share many elements with traditional film making. Actors are used to manipulate in-game avatars while cameramen move and record the actions of the actors. Voice-over artists provide vocalization for the characters and animators create non-traditional animations for character models. Filming requires coordination and often involves using in-game glitches to achieve unique and compelling camera angles.
The idea that meaningful, independent narratives might be told using a video game might seem laughable to some people. However, creative filmmakers have been able to bring up important questions on topics as diverse as: disability, escapism, loneliness, the costs of war, vigilantism, fate, individuality, and more. While some of the machinima on this list make use of a more lighthearted tone and others have a darker emphasis, they are all well-made, engaging, and fun to watch, providing new perspectives on the games in which they were made. The genre, though certainly very niche, has much to offer those who can accept such a non-traditional storytelling method.
10. Ignis Solus
Two forts stand on either side of a body of water, a single bridge connects them. One Pyro wanders aimlessly between the two. He stops, looking at the sky, and sighs. Ignis Solus tells the story of a lonely Pyro in Team Fortress 2 who experiences loss. It is beautifully made and features an original song of the same name as the video. Ignis Solus was made by Lit Fuse Films, a talented studio that specializes in machinima filmmaking.
Be sure to check out more of Lit Fuse Films’ work over on their website.
As a Counter-Strike team prepares to go up through a manhole, one member begins to wonder if they’ve done this before. Created by Jon Griggs in 2006, Deviation deals with questions of fate and blindly following orders. The fact that the film is self-aware and riffs on the repetition inherent in online multiplayer shooters just makes it that much more enjoyable and pertinent, as such game mechanics are still used today.
To see more of Griggs’ work, head over to his website.
8. The Journey
What do you get when you combine an Orwellian dystopian future, stick-figures, Unreal Tournament, and poetry? I don’t really know, but I’d imagine it would be something very much like The Journey. Filmed in Unreal Tournament 2003, The Journey won the “Make Something Unreal Contest” put on by Epic Games. It very abstractly tells the story of a stick-figure person that breaks away from the norm and by doing so finds a unique voice, vision, and heart.
For more information, feel free to visit journey.machinimag.com.
7. Portal: A Day in the Life of a Turret
This short film focuses on the lives of two turrets in the game Portal. There isn’t much to say about this one, almost the entirety of the short is spent watching the stationary turrets talking with each other. They share jokes, insults, frustrations, discuss the meaning life, and then... well, you will just have to watch. A Day in the Life of a Turret is brought to you by the same people behind the well-known series The Leet World, a parody of The Real World that places the terrorists and counter-terrorists from Counter-Strike in a house together.
6. Mercy of the Sea
A high fantasy adventure filmed using World of Warcraft, J. Joshua Diltz’s Mercy of the Sea focuses on a mother’s quest to retrieve her child from the clutches of her former husband. The voice acting and action are top-notch and supplemented by a genuinely creepy atmosphere. Though there are a few terms used in the film that those unfamiliar with the lore and gameplay of World of Warcraft might find difficult to understand, but they aren’t terribly important to the narrative. Finally, the visuals are stunning. How the various shots and effects were made in-game, I will never understand, yet Mercy of the Sea pulls it off.
5. Better Life
Creator Rob Wright perfectly captures the power of escapism in this short film shot within Second Life. Better Life tells the story of a paraplegic stuck in a wheelchair who escapes into a virtual world free of his disability. The film is directly complemented by the song “Better Life” by the band Angry Man. I know people who play video games for this exact reason, people who have disabilities that physically prevent them from doing everything they want to accomplish. For them, video games (and MMOs in particular) allow them to feel free and not be defined by their physical limitations.
You can see more of Rob’s work over at his blog Digital Double.
4. 6 Days
J. Joshua Diltz makes this list for the second time for his collaborative work with artist Joseph DeLappe in the experimental documentary 6 Days. Recorded over six consecutive days within Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the film is a tribute to the military and civilian lives lost during the second battle of Fallujah. Though lacking a set narrative, this short, nine-minute video winds up packing a surprising emotional punch and raises questions about the costs and gamification of war. Three cameras show events unfolding simultaneously. One camera focuses on the action, another gives an overarching view of the battlefield, while the last rests on the rising death toll of the conflict.
3. Red vs. Blue
Easily the best known Machinima series around, Rooster Teeth’s groundbreaking show is what introduced many people to the genre. Fun, light-hearted, and accessible, Red Vs. Blue is a comedy series about two warring factions in the boxed canyon of Blood Gulch filmed within Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo: Reach, and most recently Halo 4. Though the series officially ended with its 100th episode in 2007, the Rooster Teeth team has continued releasing content and are currently gearing up for an 11th season. Just a heads up that the series does contain some strong language.
Check out the series on Rooster Teeth.
2. Maintenance Man
Ever wonder how members of the Overwatch act behind closed doors in Half-Life 2? Lit Fuse Films’ second movie to make this list, Maintenance Man answers that question with equal parts comedy and action. While Gordon Freeman and a group of rebels are attacking the Citadel, catastrophic damage is done to the facility’s energy core. Only one man can prevent a total disaster and that man is Hank... the janitor. There are plenty of references that will have you laughing and some well-executed slapstick humor as well as some really nicely done action sequences and character building.
As before, be sure to check out more of Lit Fuse Films’ work over on their website.
1. The Trashmaster
All of the other machinima films on this list have been short films, but The Trashmaster takes things to the next level with a full-blown feature film with an 88-minute running time. This would be impressive by itself, but the fact that The Trashmaster is well executed and compelling for the entirety of those 88-minutes is astounding. If anyone doubts that full-length movies can be made inside of a game, The Trashmaster will prove them wrong. Set in New York City, the film follows a garbage man who moonlights as a vigilante. The movie features some pretty intense violence, more than you would expect even within the GTA IV engine, and winds up nailing the gritty crime thriller vibe. Matthieu Weschler produced something really special with this project.
Any machinima projects that you feel deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments!