Can you define cinematic???

One of my least favorite words is “cinematic” because it seems to mean practically anything — especially when it comes to videogames. How often have we heard something in a videogame called, “cinematic?” The problem, however, is that it is an undefined term! What does cinematic mean???

Sure, cinematic, at it’s simplest level means something “like or of cinema” or “having the qualities of cinema.” But no one ever talks about the unique qualities of cinema when they use the term when talking about other mediums. It seems to me that when many people use the term, they aren’t even talking about the unique qualities of cinema, but qualities of cinema that may be evident in other mediums.

So my question is, does anyone actually define what they mean by “cinematic?” While some of the medium specificity stuff from early film theory is useful, I’ve not been able to track down anyone who actually defines cinematic. Surely someone out there has bothered to define it, haven’t they? If anyone knows of a definition of cinematic, please leave a comment!

3 Comments Showing 50 most recent
  1. Nollind Whachell

    I don’t think I’ve seen a site yet that has “specifically” defined cinematic yet either. However, check out the Advent Rising’s Overview and then Features page for a hint of this definition.

    “Advent Rising is the first in an epic trilogy of action/adventure games, presented in a stunning cinematic format to deliver an unprecedented variety of game play experiences.”

    “An unprecedented single-player gameplay that allows gamers to play through the thrilling action sequences of a blockbuster movie or game, rather than just watch them”

    Therefore, I’m assuming most publishers want you to feel like you are the main hero in an action movie when playing a cinematic game. The sad part is that I think I’ve played games in the past that didn’t utilize the word “cinematics” in their marketing and yet they had more of “being in a movie” feel than games like Advent Rising do. No I didn’t buy Advent but primarily because I looked at the in-game movie gameplay and was thoroughly disappointed by what I saw.

    You see the movie trailer on the home page look thoroughly impressive and I though wow, this game is going to rock if it looks like that. Of course it looks nothing like that. If you watch the game trailer you’ll see what I mean. It actually reminded me a lot of arcade gameplay which doesn’t really exude an immersive movie cinematic feeling or experience.

    I think giving a cinematic look or feel to a game is pretty difficult primarily because most of this style is done with a variation of spliced scenes (i.e. one side profile, one whole scene shot, then a close up of the hero’s face, and so forth) which would be pretty difficult to do within a game since it would probably be disorientating to the gamer in terms of being aware of their surroundings. Also, as it is being mentioned more and more by gamers, cut scenes are becoming more and more distracting to gamers (even if visually impressive) since they don’t like the feeling of losing control of their character.

    Actually if the developers had specifically defined viewpoint angles for certain actions in the game then possibly this wouldnt’ be so disorientating to gamers, as they would exactly know which viewpoint the game would go into if they were going to perform a certain action.

  2. Paul Herzberg

    I’ve used this quote elsewhere, I’m not sure exactly how illuminationg it is, but I like it:

    In his book Something Like An Autobiography, Akira Kurosawa is asked “What is cinema?” and he tells the following story:

    “Long ago the Japanese novelist Shiga Noya presented an essay written by his grandchild as one of the most remarkable prose pieces of his time. He had it published in a literary magazine. It was entitled “My Dog” and ran as follows: “My dog resembles a bear; he also resembles a badger; he also resembles a fox….” It proceeded to enumerate the dog’s special characteristics, comparing each one to yet another animal, developing into a full list of the animal kingdom. However, the essay closed with, “But since he’s a dog, he most resembles a dog.” I remember bursting out laughing when I read this essay, but it makes a serious point. Cinema resembles so many other arts. If cinema has very literary characteristics, it also has theatrical qualities, a philosophical side, attributes of painting and sculpture and music elements. But cinema is, in the final analysis, cinema.”

    Change a couple of words and you could probably say almost exactly the same thing about computer games.

    I realise this isn’t quite what you’re after, but if film-makers can’t decide what cinema is, what chance do games makers have?

  3. Michael Ravetti

    Cinematic is used for other mediums for a few reasons:
    It doesn’t look cheesy of home-moviesh,
    This one is theory and it needs work. A consise presentable package. Complete in itself needing no other external “stuff” for it to “be”.
    Cinema is all the arts combined. Since you can see a painting on screen and you hear the music and you are emotionally moved by the acting or whatever. Video games these days are becoming move and more cinematic because of the insertion of story elements instead of just trying to win and the visuals are done at(do they use vector graphics) supurb levels. The technology just isn’t there to and their vision needs to go back to formula to make truly interactive video games at the fully cinematic level. Thats why it just looks that way. Would you bother playing halo on a movie theatre screen? Of coarse not, its a waste.
    I actually think World of Warcraft is the closest thing to it for its realtime, global, social atributes. And it looks great on a 20″ flat mac screen. It still needs work though. Like more character development to equal out the vast sea of human players.