Author Topic: GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"  (Read 11085 times)

DGMacphee

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GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« on: 13 Jan 2004, 17:19 »
In film theory, "mise en scene"  translates roughly from French to English as "scene arrangement".

That is the ability to design and arrange a frame (props, lighting, characters, etc) to create meaning.

On basic level, a framed image can demonstrate time, place, etc.

On a deeper level, it can also create mood and convey subtextual meanings of characters or plot.

Here are two example from Citizen Kane:

Scene 1:

This frame is from the first scene in Citizen Kane -- It already tells quite a lot about the story i.e. a large,  far-away mansion -- it looks very uninviting and even has signs (seen previously) upon its gate that say "KEEP OUT".

This sets up the story in part for the next scene, which is Kane on his deathbed -- We begin to wonder, "Who was that man who owned such a large house? Why does it look so uninviting?"

In other words, this scene becomes a reflection on Kane -- His house demonstrates how he shut himself off from the rest of the world.


Scene 2:

Notice how the smallest figure (Kane) seems to look the most powerful in this scene -- We get a clear sense of relationships in this scene i.e. Kane is the boss.


Such arrangement of scenes is particularly used in film noir, which bring me to adventure games.

Grim Fandango -- very film noirish game.

Certain framed scenes tell a lot about characters and story.

For example:

We learn a lot about Manny in this scene, such as the impression of the messy pile of books on his desk, and the dark decor and lighting.

I'm sure there are tons of other scenes from countless other adventure games, which is what this GTD is about.

Discuss your ideas on background construction and it's relevance to creating meaning in the game.

Think about questions like these:

* What does the foreground tell you? What about the background? How do both contrast?

* How is the scene lit? What kind of atmosphere does it give? How does this contribute to the game?

* What about certain motifs (reoccuring patterns or symbols)? i.e. the closets in Pleurghburg (as a symbol of Jake's fear)

* Does the frame offer some odd camera perspective? How does think create meaning?

* How does the background, characters and objects work together in a room?

These are just basic questions to get you started, but I'm sure people can expand upon this topic.

Here's an good article to give you some ideas too:
http://members.tripod.com/~aarrrggghhh/misnscn.html

Cheers!
« Last Edit: 13 Jan 2004, 17:20 by DGMacphee »
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Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #1 on: 13 Jan 2004, 20:29 »
Thanks for the article, DGMacphee! That was a great.

I have totally forgotten about thinking what I'm actually doing when creating a scene. Thanks for the reminder and additional information. Very, very useful!

Usually the first thing that I pay attention to in a movie is the color theme. I always hope it's all bright and happy colors. :) No matter what it is like though, it has the greatest impact on the atmosphere for me.

Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #2 on: 13 Jan 2004, 23:08 »
Personally, I think that one of the most overlooked of adventure games is that of point of view, what roughly translates to camerawork in cinematic terms. In movies, unusual shots often help form the atmosphere of a movie. For example, look at the following frame from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

The extreme zoom on Johny Depp's face causes it to look very much like a caricature. That, combined with his peculiar outfit, gives us an early first impression of the character as a lunatic and the first tone of the trippy atmosphere.
Another example:

These two trunkshots, one of the trademarks of Quentin Tarantino's works, take the viewer away from his passive position and put him at the heart of the action. Also, it has slight irony - a second ago, the viewer was watching the character, now it's the other way around.

The adventure game genre lacks the variety of the movies.

Most adventure games use the common 2D "sideline" view (as in the screenshot from Secret of Monkey Island above). Nothing is blocking the player's view, and he can clearly see all important elements of the screen. This enables a nice clean view of all objects, but offers hardly any depth or originality.

However, not all games stick to the formula. The recent addition of 3D enviroments to the possibilites of a game designer have opened the door to new and unusual camera positions. The creators of Grim Fandango, for example, put the conventional techniques aside and came up with some interesting ideas.

The above background is largely impractical, but gives the game a more cinematic feeling. It also helps Grim Fandango imitate the film noir greats it is based on.

Overall, I think interesting points of view are very underused in adventure games, and it's a pity. The mostly static environmet is a much more hospitable host to such techniques than other genres. I believe that if these are used more commonly, adventure games in general will have more character, colour, originality and atmosphere.
« Last Edit: 14 Jan 2004, 11:30 by Barcik »
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DGMacphee

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Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #3 on: 14 Jan 2004, 03:00 »
Pessi: Oh yes, I forgot about colour -- Good point there!

I often wonder why certain characters/objects/backgrounds are painted with certain colours.

For example, Glottis -- He's a demon, but demons are normally red.

His orange complexion gives him a friendlier look to an angry red.

Barcik: You are right that games don't utilise composition as much as film does.

However, I do remember MI did challenge perspective in many ways.

For example, on Monkey Island there is a canyon containing a set of oars at the bottom -- the perspective looks from above down to below and we even see Guybrush from above.

Some adventures do utilise perspective in that way.

So, there's perspective, colour, composition, lighting, etc.

Can people see these techniques played with in adventure games?

What other "mise en scene" techniques can people see in adventures?
« Last Edit: 14 Jan 2004, 03:06 by DGMacphee »
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Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #4 on: 14 Jan 2004, 05:33 »
Just a couple more examples how old 2D games used "challenging" perspectives.

This one was very arty and quite necessary to pull off this amazing scene

pitty you couldn't take Patti in the shower

then there was this one



Interesting perspectives can be used to achieve certain effects in games, often to try and put you into the game so you feel the characters situation, or to break up the monotony of side on views, but other times it's just because the creator was a dirty old man.

Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #5 on: 14 Jan 2004, 12:50 »
Very interesting topic. I've been missing the game theory discussions.

I think the issue of perspective has much to do with technical limitations. Unless you're using 3D characters, you'll have to redraw them every time you want to change the vertical camera angle more than 30 or so degrees. And even depth planes are difficult unless your sprites are VERY big. The only non-3D game that did extreme depth really well was Cruise for a Corpse, which used vector graphics for the player character.

Also, I believe that most scenes where camera angles do change in games, it's done for maximum visibility (or in the case of LSL3 for the opposite :)). The top-down view of Guybrush and the oars in MI isn't very cinematic, but it allows the artist to show the oars at the bottom of the canyon in the same screen as Guybrush. But it doesn't evoke any emotion or even suggest the danger of going down there. Imagine a different view, from the bottom of the canyon, looking up at guybrush at the top of the cliff, the vultures circling above him in the sky, the oars in the very foreground. This, in my opinion, would be a MUCH more interesting scene. But technically more difficult. It's so rare that you are even allowed to interact with the foreground objects because they are too close to the camera.
Imagine the scene from Citizen Kane where Susan Alexander attempts suicide. The jar of pills are in the foreground, her body in the middle ground and in the distance the door to the room where Kane is trying to get in. There's just no way that you'd ever be able to pick up those pills. How would you get the character close enough to the camera? Unless you were using vectors you'd have to let the character walk off-screen and then a huge hand coming into the foreground, picking up the pills. It's possible, but much too difficult in a 2D environment.

For those reasons, I think foregrounds are best used for symbolic pieces of scenery. Players are not so aware about objects silhouetted in the foreground, so you can do a lot of on-the-nose stuff, that would probably be too much if it was more visible. An example: In my game Shadowplay you visit an aging movie star - think Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. - in her crumbling mansion. The house is in itself a symbol of her and her career, but I've added a number of other symbols in the foregrounds. A vase of withered flowers, symbols of her faded beauty. A decaying velvet curtain representing her acting career. Dozens of framed photos (more of them in the background as well) of the actress in her youth, showing her self-image and her denial of age.

Quote
* What about certain motifs (reoccuring patterns or symbols)? i.e. the closets in Pleurghburg (as a symbol of Jake's fear)

Oh yes, the gay subtext of Pleurghburg :) Seriously, I must say I never noticed while playing the game, but there does seem to be a mutilated corpse in every closet Jake opens. I wonder if Chrille intended this, if so, he's even more brilliant than I thought.
I think motifs could be used much more than they currently are. Possibly because a lot of amateur designers make things up as they go along. Ratracer even admitted that he added a lot of the graffiti and other references to the class struggle in The Uncertainty Machine at a much later stage. But even if you don't plan everything out in advance, motifs is a great way of tying things together in the end.

And I think color could be used as a very strong motif. If you tie different colors to different emotions or situations, you could - potentially - trigger subconscious reactions in the player. Think of the way that the color red is used in Don't Look Now, or in The Sixth Sense for that matter.
For Shadowplay I've been playing a lot with the contrast of monochrome and colors. Dinah, the main character, wears mostly blacks and grays, while her sidekick, Lucas, wears these bright and rather tasteless Hawaiian shirts (a new one every day). The contrast not only ties in with Dinah's love of old black and white films and Lucas' love of comics and trashy monster movies, but also with their different life styles. Thinking about it, there's a bit of the same thing going on in Grim Fandango with Manny and Glottis, at least in the beginning.

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Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #6 on: 14 Jan 2004, 15:00 »
Okay, DG's first post really freaked me out, because I'm taking a film class and yesterday we had a lecture about how subconsious inferences affect a movie.  For example, the use of mise en scene.  And guess what film we screened last night? Citizen Kane! Very weird.

Anyway, on with the GTD.  I think that interesting camera views can be used, but you might have to cut down on animation.  I did some experimenting, and if you rely on messages more than animations, you can get much different shots.  

For example, have a sketch:


I did this in maybe five minutes, so I hope everyone can tell what it is I drew.

The girl in the foreground is my main character.  There are a limited number of things you might see her do in this shot- she might pick up the stapler, turn on the monitor, put her hands on the keyboard, or get up and walk away.  However, those can be covered by messages and just showing the results.  The game becomes, instead of an interactive movie as many people call adventures, an interactive comic book.  

For this style, you wouldn't have your PC's visible on screen, or any NPC's.  Instead, you draw them in on the background and make them hotspots.  Any animations you want, you can make them seperatly- a moving arm, for example.  This sort of style was used in SQ5 for some scenes, like when Roger finds the can of Primordial soup, or in the cutscenes.

Using this style, I can put my "camera" wherever I want, and it does absolutly nothing to the character animations, because there aren't any.  I can get in closer on a scene than with a side on perspective, so you can see details like the photos on the wall behind the screen.
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Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #7 on: 14 Jan 2004, 23:44 »
A bit about lightning now, another overlooked feature.

Lightning can set the atmosphere, the tone and the situation the characters are at. Let's take the following examples from movies:


In "Traffic", all Mexico scenes are lit in a 'yellowish' light, showing us the dusty, wild and untidy land "south of the border". The US scenes are lit with a 'blueissh' light. This way, Steven Soderbergh creates the initial distinction between the two countries.


The Glass Menagerie has this red-based uneven lightning, because it is a "memory play" - it is a story narrated by Tom as he remembers it.

Such "overlay" lightning is another thing games can use for artistic reasons but rarely do. For example, imagine there was a difference in the lightning style between the ending of Monkey Island 2 and all the rest, to represent the distinction between imagination or reality (or whatever it means  :P ).
Also, lightning can used in puzzles. It can highlight certain objects, as a hint, or even be part of a puzzle (mirror tricks spring to mind).

So, I think lightning is another thing that should be used more artisticly in games. More from me soon.
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Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #8 on: 18 Jan 2004, 21:39 »
After giving more thought to the subject, I reached the conclusion that all artistic techniques of "mise en scene" under discussion are overlooked in games. This is so due to the core differences between the medium that spawned "scene arrangement" and video games. Movies are a passive form of entertainment. The person watching the movie merely "lurks". This way, the creators of a movie are able to put more focus on the setting, and give deeper meaning to this or that visual feature. In games, the focus is put primarly on interactivity, or "gameplay" - the difficulty of the game, the replay factor, constant variety of obstacles, etc. . Most game designers give artistic items hardly any attention, if at all.
The problem is that games are not widely regarded (not even by their creators) as an arty form of entertainment. Games are rated on the basis of interactivity, not depth and meaning. Personally, of all the games I have played, I regard only two as art - Planescape: Torment and Grim Fandango. As long as this situation lasts, I'm afraid that "mise en scene" will continue being ignored.
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Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #9 on: 18 Jan 2004, 22:35 »
I think Monkey Island 1 and 2 stretched the artistic barrier of the time as much as possible. There is plenty of color overlay in the second game especially, for instance in the Voodoo Ladies place, where her half is green and the other half is warmer brown, or in Guybrush's dream, red tinted. Or was it yellow? The colors used in MI1 and MI2 and the composition of the backgrounds presented a warm and appealing game in both instances, despite the technical restraints that existed back then.

Grim Fandango was just awesome. Also, Psychonauts makes my mouth water. In case I forgot to mention it 100,000 other times.
« Last Edit: 18 Jan 2004, 22:40 by Lili »

DGMacphee

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Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #10 on: 19 Jan 2004, 00:05 »
One of the most interesting uses of lighting overlays was in Sam and Max.

There was a part where you had to flick different switches to create different colours in the Vortex building.

However, this was moreso used as a puzzle (the diferent coloured doors) rather than a cinematic/background effect.

The result was very effective, though -- it made a very interesting puzzle.

Perhaps there could be a greater bond than we realise in the relationship between puzzles, background, and meaning in games?
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Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #11 on: 19 Jan 2004, 14:18 »
Perhaps, but they do conflict in some ways. First and foremost, the game must be practical. You can't throw twenty different objects in a room to give it character, depth and meaning, because the puzzles might prove to be too hard this way. Or, what I pointed out about perspective and the others added - it won't be much good if the player has difficulty controlling the character.
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DGMacphee

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Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #12 on: 19 Jan 2004, 15:13 »
It sounds difficult but not impossible.

I think what we're describling here is a fully intergrated adventure -- where all elements and meaning work on a high level.
« Last Edit: 19 Jan 2004, 15:14 by DGMacphee »
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Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #13 on: 20 Jan 2004, 11:11 »
Perhaps there could be a greater bond than we realise in the relationship between puzzles, background, and meaning in games?

Ain't that the truth?

One of the best things in a game is when you realise the purpose of the places you're visiting. I'm a myst lover, and in playing the games just by observing the backgrounds, If you look carefully enough, you can work out so much of the story (and solve one of the puzzles in Riven).

One of the worst things is an out of place puzzle or obstacle, I mean how many ancient temples and bank vaults are locked with slide-picture-puzzles?


Edit: Oh and, I don't think Barcik's shot of Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro is an extreme zoom. The distorted perspective comes from having the camera very close to the subject. If it were an extreme zoom, then Toro's head would be about the same size as Depp's and would be further out of focus.

See, I can be both boring and irrelevant.
« Last Edit: 20 Jan 2004, 11:18 by Ali »

Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #14 on: 27 Jan 2004, 21:35 »
Scene 2:

Notice how the smallest figure (Kane) seems to look the most powerful in this scene -- We get a clear sense of relationships in this scene i.e. Kane is the boss.

Such arrangement of scenes is particularly used in film noir, which bring me to adventure games.

Here's a bit by Ebert on this scene.
Quote
There is a master image in ``Citizen Kane'' you might easily miss. The tycoon has overextended himself and is losing control of his empire. After he signs the papers of his surrender, he turns and walks into the back of the shot. Deep focus allows Welles to play a trick of perspective. Behind Kane on the wall is a window that seems to be of average size. But as he walks toward it, we see it is further away and much higher than we thought. Eventually he stands beneath its lower sill, shrunken and diminished. Then as he walks toward us, his stature grows again. A man always seems the same size to himself, because he does not stand where we stand to look at him.

By the way, I've seen Citizen Kane yesterday for the first time. Bloody amazing.


Anyway.... DG, care if I kick off a new GTD?
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DGMacphee

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Re:GTD: Backgrounds and "mise en scene"
« Reply #15 on: 28 Jan 2004, 01:33 »
Go for it, my man.
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