From Action Film to Game Experience
As a design exercise, I thought: What if I took a moment from an action film and re-adapted it into a game experience? What would that look like? So, I sat back and thought through the movies that had the most memorable action scenes and that which had the most profound emotional impact on me.
The clip above is from the film American Sniper. When translated into a game experience, the clip consists of a variety of cinematic cutscenes, stealth gameplay, close-quarter assault and long-range sniper combat. Here is the breakdown list, the Level Timeline of the gameplay beats and pacing (Fig 1.0) according to the narrative sequence from the original film (Fig 2.0):
- The scene starts off with a regular patrol duty through a neighbourhood in Afghanistan. Suddenly, the driver gets shot down by an unknown sniper, and the car crashes into a barricade up ahead.
- The soldiers, including the Player, roll out and seek shelter from the anonymous Sniper. As the player is hiding behind cover, his/her fellow comrades are mercilessly shot down. It is soon determined that the Sniper’s nest must be at the top of the nearby Tower.
- The Player and the remaining soldiers rush through the alleyways, staying out of the Sniper’s line of sight, and encounter a number of enemies with assault rifles.
- The soldiers reach the Tower, and fight their way through the building, reaching the top.
- Upon entering, a soldier is shot down by the Sniper, who have relocated to a nearby rooftop.
- The Player engages in a 1-on-1 sniper battle with the Sniper.
- The Player outsmarts the Sniper and shoots him down.
When I first saw this scene during the movie, I was shocked at the sudden ambush by the anonymous Sniper and its ruthless slaughtering of the American troopers. This moment had such a significant emotional impact on the main protagonist that after this point, he took to mercilessly killing the Resistance troops in the spirit of avenging his lost comrades. The weight of this impact was compounded by the fact that he was completely caught off-guard by the attack and felt helpless while his comrades were being shot down. As an audience, I could empathize with his rage and how it fueled his thirst for revenge, and felt empowered when he tracked down the Sniper and killed him in the subsequent pursuit that followed.
In terms of gameplay, I think this clip offers a good variety of scripted events, stealth, close quarter and long range combat. During the initial car crash, I would expect that the player would be surprised by the sudden change in situation and feel bewildered and vulnerable in light of an unknown enemy. Here, it is intended that the player struggle between his/her will to help the comrades and the concern for one’s own safety, all while trying to figure out where the attack is coming from. The second highlight is when one of the remaining teammates gets ambushed yet again by the Sniper when they reach the top of the Tower. This would be a scripted event inside a cinematic cutscene. After being familiarized with stealth gameplay, it is expected here that the player would strategize between taking cover, relocating to other stations to throw off the Sniper’s line of shot, and finally shooting him down with a sniper rifle.
The key game features required are: 1) core traversal + combat mechanics, 2) friendly + enemy AI systems, 3) level layout of the player’s critical path and blockout of the environment, and 4) scripted events for cinematic cutscenes. First, the player’s traversal mechanics – walking, running, jumping, and crouching – and combat mechanics – picking up weapons, shooting, reloading, scoping, and taking cover behind objects – need to be implemented to define the gameplay metrics like distances and heights. Then, the friendly and enemy AI systems – such as navigation and combat behaviours – need to be implemented to see how they interact with the Player’s actions, in-game events, and the environment. For example, the enemy Sniper’s internal logic of detecting the Player’s position and retaining it to anticipate lines of shot. Thirdly, there needs to be a level environment in which to test out these systems. The environment’s scale must adhere to the gameplay metrics set out by 1) and 2), while its shapes, compositions, and layout must focus on providing visual clarity to the Player for one to easily navigate around the level. For example, the enemy Sniper’s Tower must visually stand out above the rooflines for the Player to easily identify at any point within the level. Lastly, scripted events – such as the car crashing or the soldier ambushed by the Sniper – must set the groundwork for cutscenes.