|At last, an era I have game screenshots from!|
One of the more important changes in this era was that video games started to become a major industry. To clarify "major," all I need to do is bring up Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom from 1996. Taking full advantage of the technology available at the time, the game had hours of Full Motion Video, to the point that it's also branded as an "interactive movie" (heck, it's even listed on IMDB). It came on six CDs, and had a budget of twelve million dollars. While this is certainly an exception as opposed to a rule (well, I don't know about any more, but it certainly was at the time), projects like this simply couldn't happen in a world where video games were developed by college students and professors in their free time.
The big art form change that took place in the 90's, however, was that games started being able to tell their stories, the operative word being "tell." The 90's was the decade of text, dialogue boxes and voice acting. Now, this is not to say that these things didn't exist at all before. It's simply that they hadn't been used to nearly as great an extent up to that point in time. Games started to be able to tell stories not in the "gaming" sense, with a cutscene in the beginning with the princess being kidnapped and nothing else 'till the boss, but in an artistic sense. Actually, this was also the decade of increased sound quality, vast innovation in graphics, and 3D environments as well. Cinematic cutscenes, serving as an example of this new approach, are freely able to use most if not all of the tools cinema and movies have (true to their name). Be it shot angles, lighting, shadows, whatever, games can do it (heck, just look at Warcraft 3). What this all boils down to is that in the 90's, especially halfway through them, video games gained the ability to tell their stories through means beyond interactivity.
An excellent example of this is, of course, Starcraft, released in 1999. Rather than clumsily try to give you an idea with words, let me show you a video first.
So, these aren't exactly the most impressive graphics around (though at the time...), but I think you get the idea. You could really feel the tension, fear, and excitement in this cutscene. It's just like a movie! (It's worth mentioning that this particular scene is a
Why did this matter so much? Well, it mattered because it opened doors to totally new and previously unheard of games. Games were not limited to just interactivity anymore; now the sky was the limit, and anything you could create matching game mechanics for could become a story. A great example is Planescape: Torment (Wing Commander would have worked too, really, but I wanted to use a different game). Planescape: Torment has over 5000 pages worth of dialogue, and tells with almost excruciating detail a fantasy epic involving travels to whole other dimensions. You simply couldn't make such an ambitious project happen before the 90's. I know I rather cryptically said in the previous entry of the series that this could be viewed as an unfortunate change, and that's because when presented with these vast opportunities, a lot of developers seem to have forgotten about interactivity, which I think is a shame. That said, it's impossible to deny the advantages that text, cinematics, and voice acting brought to games.
There are some things I should mention. First, traditional means and interactive means are not mutually exclusive. Games that take advantage of interactive elements have existed up to and through the 1990's and 2000's, and often also tell stories with text and cinematics. Second, telling stories was a process that merely began in the 90's. It wasn't until the mid 2000's or so (roughly) that it became regular practice, and that only using interactivity became something associated with indie studios (and even those...). And lastly, I should mention now that I'm leaving out the past 5 years or so, because the major artistic push of the last decade has been immersion, especially through hardware, which I feel does not significantly add to or detract from the concepts discussed here.
All right, that's it for now. Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll read the fourth and final post in the series, talking about what all this means for games as an art form.