The Interactive Montage

Reid Kimball covers the idea of an interactive montage, adapted from the western film montage technique to include gameplay interactivity.

I recently wrote about why games might be better narrative and gameplay wise if they used less action. If implemented, one problem is that you miss out on opportunities to convey meaningful character growth or change over time. I believe an interactive montage can be a great solution for this, especially when large chunks of repetitive action sequences need to be cut.

From, “A montage sequence is a technique in film editing in which a series of short shots is edited into a sequence to condense space, time, and information. It is usually used to suggest the passage of time, rather than to create symbolic meaning…”

As cheesy as this is, it shows Rocky and his opponent training for an upcoming boxing match. There’s a lot conveyed quickly in a few minutes of time, which is the point of the western film montage.

Yet, in all my years of gaming (since the late 80’s), it seems videogames seldom use the montage either in cinematic or interactive form. Since I’m a game designer and not a film director, I’m proposing games use interactive montages to further the narrative and gameplay experience.

If I remember correctly, in Fable II, a large chunk of time passes between when you are a young child to a young adult, about to embark on a journey to becoming a hero. It is implied that the training started at a young age. A mysterious woman (Theresa) took you in after your sibling was killed. She helped prepare you for the day you were free to choose your own path, which is where the main course of the game begins.

What happened during all that time? Couldn’t that be conveyed in an interactive montage, offering a better interactive transition from childhood to adulthood?

Remember the mini-games of blacksmithing and wood chopping? Why not make those a bit more interesting by setting them to quick music and intercutting between the two (plus other scenes). This can work well because they use the same gameplay mechanic of pressing a button when the swing meter hits the right spot.

Imagine seeing the camera focus on you as a young boy, the swing meter slowly arcs back and forth and matches your animation of struggling to wield the axe. When you hit the sweet spot you chop the wood piece successfully. Do this several times and then cut to a close up of the wood piece. The music tempo increases, the swing meter speed quickens and you find yourself in flow. Then it cuts to a shot of your arms, no longer scrawny but now bigger, with toned muscles. Chop some more. Cut to a new scene inside the blacksmith shop. Same tempo, same swing meter mechanic. After a few successful swats of the hot metal the game cuts to a new shot of happy customers admiring your work. And so on… you get the idea.

I think the biggest challenge for interactive montages is keeping the gameplay consistent and fluid while showing varied and dynamic scenes of high interest. There’s a risk of having the same problem that quick-time event “interactive cinematics” have, in that players are so focused on the UI and not the narrative aspects.

Anyway, it’s an idea I’d like to see tried in games. I’d love to hear from others if they disagree or agree and have thoughts for improvement.

Also posted at my personal blog Reiding...

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