Machinima can be used to describe any sort of video that primarily uses game footage to make, or as part of, a video. By this definition such examples include " frag videos" (videos that document a player's favorite or best kills), game trailers, recorded in-game sessions, and speedruns.
However, this term is more commonly used to refer to plot-based fan films. These works may use basic to advanced film principles while also making use of the mechanics and limitations of the game engine. In recent years, some game companies and organizations have begun to acknowledge this demographic of filmmakers by publicizing their works, adding additional mechanics for their games, and sometimes commissioning them to make videos.
Origins and popularity
While commonly viewed as a newer medium, popular machinima has been around since the early days of first-person shooters, namely Quake. It was from a Quake Clan that first plot-based machinima, Diary of a Camper, was created. While crude by today's standards the film gave birth to the the concept of making movies from video games. During the Web 1.0 period of the Internet one of the most common kind of machinimas were recorded speedruns of then-present, and more dated, video games. There were also games that allowed the player to make savable in-games movies and scenes that predate familiar titles like The Movies.
In 2003, machinima became recognized by the mainstream thanks to the overnight success of the breakthrough series, Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles, based on the original Halo: Combat Evolved. Originally only meant to last a few episodes, the overwhelming success of these initial episodes influenced its creators to make more. There have since been several completed seasons in the Red vs. Blue franchise including various "PSAs" and promotional work for Bungie, Gamestop, and Microsoft.
Nowadays, machinima (or, at least, attempts of machinima) have become more commonplace. Along with the popularity of Red vs. Blue this may be because of a few things:
- Websites like YouTube, Machinima.com, and other user-generated-content video sites.
- Included video-editing software in most present-day operating systems along with easily available recording programs like Fraps.
- Games that allow ease of directing videos through open-source game engines, in-game developer consoles, sophisticated level editors (ex: Forge) and other things.
- Consoles that allow players to record and store gameplay footage. (ex: PS3)
- File sharing of ROMs or pirated editing software.
Also, while high quality productions are becoming more common, it is still even more so to find traditional examples (speedruns, frag videos, etc.) for the same reasons.
Machinima has become popular enough in recent years to be used in popular media. Episodes of CSI: NY and South Park, which had plots built around Second Life and World of Warcraft, respectively, utilized the game footage from each game.
While more games have been released that have been designed to benefit aspiring machinima directors, any game can be used. Rooster Teeth, the creators of the aforementioned Red vs. Blue, have used more unorthodox games like Shadowrun and Supreme Commander for promotional purposes.
While machinima can be made using any game, it is most common to find ones using footage from popular games like Halo 3, World of Warcraft, and Garry's Mod. This is because of the ease designers provide, intentional or not, to directors through included mechanics and features that can be utilized for the advantage of the creator. For example, machinimas shot in World of Warcraft may use character taunts and animations for motion which are then edited alongside recorded dialogue to make the end 'conversation' between characters seem more convincing.
Note: These examples are noted because they represent different styles, and variations, of machinima. For example, "Full Life Consequences" represents the common stop-motion, and usually silly, Garry's Mod video and is also immensely popular. This is not meant to be a list of every machinima ever made or as a means to advertise lesser known videos. To keep this list from becoming unnecessarily long, please refrain from posting more examples unless it is unique, popular, and noted by various websites and organizations. (See: KnowYourMeme, TVTropes, gaming press sites, etc.)
- Diary of a Camper - The first known machinima, shot back in 1996, about a group of soldiers that are come under fire by a camper. (Quake)
- Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles- The series that brought mass attention and interest in the genre. It follows two platoons of enemy soldiers who are fighting for control of an empty canyon. Recent episodes have also incorporated motion capture and additional computer animation to make more complex scenes. ( Halo franchise)
- Meet the Team: Promotional shorts for Team Fortress 2. The series focuses on the individual classes, giving depth to their character and showcasing their purpose in the game world. The videos were made using Source Filmmaker, a free animation program that runs on the Source engine. (Team Fortress 2)
- The Leet World- A reality show parody where four terrorists and four counter terrorists partake in a TV show in which they must live in a house together but compete against each other in challenges ( Counter-Strike: Source and Garry's Mod)
- Ignis Solus- A portrait of a lone Pyro on 2 Fort. ( Team Fortress 2)
- War of the Servers- A full-length motion picture that chronicles a war between players and " mingebags". (Garry's Mod)
- G-Man Squad- A sketch, improv-comedy focused around the antics of a group of players with G-Man character models. (Garry's Mod, Half-Life Deathmatch: Source)
- Freeman's Mind- A playthrough of the original Half-Life where a cynical version of the protagonist, Gordon Freeman, comments on the events that unfold around him, Black Mesa, and life in general. ( Half-Life, Half-Life: Source)
- "Make Love, Not Warcraft"- An episode of South Park. In this episode, the boys and Blizzard Entertainment try to hunt down and stop a rogue player who is ruining the in-game experience. (World of Warcraft)
- "Down the Rabbit Hole "- An episode of CSI: NY. The team investigates the murder of a woman who was found dead dressed as her Second Life avatar, which she was popular on. (Second Life)
- Arby n' the Chief- The humorous daily lives and adventures of Master Chief and the Arbiter. While the series is shot primarily in real-life with action figures, machinima is incorporated into most episodes and also parodied. (Halo 3)
- Full Life Consequences- Based on an intentionally bad Half-Life fan fiction the machinima uses nerd humor, memes, and equally ridiculous special effects & posing to tell the story of Gordon Freeman's 'brother', John Freeman. (Garry's Mod)
- Leeroy Jenkins- A guild's thought-out strategy for a raid (which was presumably the original intent of the video) is ruined by the impulsive actions of one of their own. The video has become an internet sensation and a meme. (World of Warcraft)
- Election Duel! Obama V. McCain - Who Gets Pwned?- Comedian Rich Kuras questions WoW players on their choices and opinions during the 2008 United States presidental election. (World of Warcraft)
- Unskippable - A series from Escapist Magazine focused on the "riffing" of video game cutscenes. Similar to the concept made popular by the cult television show Mystery Science Theater 3000. (various titles)
- Let's Play!- An internet concept started by users on SomethingAwful.com where players play through the entirety, or certain parts, of a game. (various titles)
- Haunted Majora's Mask- A series of unnerving gameplay videos that went with a "creepypasta" story about a college student's experience with a possessed copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask and an entity named "BEN". The videos, admitted by the author to be fake, used hacks and key binds to create the illusion with an emulator. (Majora's Mask)