Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Mind Making, my humble opinion, #1

I have this to say about the Master Minds...they know what they are doing.  When it comes to the minds genre of machinima, it is easy to do, but very difficult to do well.  This is no joke.  There are people like me who just have a knack for certain kinds of improv work, shaping the scenario until it just plays out right.  I don't know how I do it, sometimes I just make it work.  I bet some of my harsher critics would say...sometimes I don't.  Hey, I'd appreciate some constructive criticism, as I mention in each description for each YouTube post.

Making a mind series isn't as easy as filming a game and running commentary.  Also, there's a lot of confusion between the "minds" genre and the "let's play" genre.  Let me lay it out simply:

  • Put the player/narrator in the shoes of the character.  This requires acting and a role, as well as knowing the setting in which the character exists.
  • Have a fourth wall.  Either there's some explanation for the game interface (in Kane's case, it's the implanted HUD system which every SMC Marine gets, with some cannibalized yet usable software), or it's ignored, or you have a hack to remove the extraneous items.  Glitches are, to cite Jared O'Brien in Out Of Our Minds 11, ignored or explored.
 The best example is taken from the best, so I show not my own work, but the first episode of Freeman's Mind, by Ross Scott.

 Let's Play:
Can have the player/narrator in and out of the shoes of the character.  Acting is intermittent, not essential, but not unwelcome.  You can figure out or re-write where the character is, and change up things on the fly.
No fourth wall.  You can act in a game or talk about the game.

A good example of this is rather tongue in cheek, taken from Little Kuriboh.

A big problem is when the two get confused.

Now, further, there are some fundamentals to doing this in Machinima and producing a good work.  I may have said this before, but...some people don't listen.
  1. Have the voice for it.  If you want to do this as a prepubescent kid (and I'm not being insulting, we all grow up, voices change) keep it private and use it as a practice stage.  Putting it up online will usually net you a lot of bad comments no matter how talented you are.
  2. Tribute vs. spinoff.  Tributes work very well (providing you have the voice and the skill for it).  Mark it as such, and know...that this ain't a road to fame.  It may give you some constructive criticism.
  3. Constructive criticism is not insult.  If they give you a reasonable idea or suggestion, it may behoove you to listen.  People who bother to give constructive criticism may think you have what it takes, and everyone can improve.  Even the best of the best.
  4. Appropriate tools.  Now you don't need to spend a earliest Kane's Mind were done with a $30 headset, an evaluation copy of a sound editing program, and windows media player.  You can make the best of what you got.  George Lucas and James Cameron made masterworks before CGI, and Cameron even did it with a minimum of work.  Even his prototypes were garbage bags and sticks before he okayed the money for the final work (I'm talking about Aliens, not T2 or Avatar here...).
  5. The first take is not often the best.  Yes, I improv.  But at times, I do repeated takes owing to mic thump, or thinking I could say that line better.  We do this for fun, not on a timeline.  Take a few more seconds to do it better.
  6. Mic skills.  This is important.  Don't just think that all that noise will be ignored.  There are a lot more critical people out there, and YouTube is full of crap.  Make your work more refined.  You need to watch out for clipping ("mic overload," or when your voice recording is too loud for the mic, or when your mixing is too loud that it distorts) or thump (when certain syllables like 'p' or 't' create a drumbeat sound through the microphone).  Now this is easy to correct, it took me some time to figure it out (I've been messing with this stuff since high school, don't feel bad about it, it took me a lot of time to work it out).  First, when you have your mic, have it set so you can keep a consistent position of your mic relative to your mouth.  That's why I like my headset, the mic stays put.  The mic should be near enough for adequate pickup, but not in your mouth...I find the best position for my mic is a little ahead and a little above my mouth.   Anatomically speaking, the upper jaw is fixed, the lower jaw moves.  You will have to find the best position for your mic.  Also, check your gain controls...gain is how much the mic "hears..." the higher the gain, the more sensitive the mic.  Try to keep the gain low enough to keep noise out.  If you find the right gain, you will have a clean signal.  Clean signals can be boosted later to eliminate distortion.  Signals with noise retain noise.  There is a promising abridger doing "Disgaea Abridged" that has vocal and scripting talent, but the mic noise is screwing things up.  Also, find a place where you can record and emote appropriately.
  7. Ripoffs are bad, but homages are okay.  A tip of the hat to other mindmakers here and there can be flattering and even lend a little depth if appropriately employed.  Be careful, though.  At least, it opens you up to snarky (and sometimes trollish) critics.  At worst, if you really screw up, it will be a ripoff.  Some homages have even become traditional for the minds series.  Do your homework.  And if in doubt, make sure you cite your inspiration in the credits.
  8. Time.  I found out the hard way that even if your YouTube account allows you to upload more than fifteen minutes, exceeding that limit too far will be aggravating to you in production and to your fans in watching.  I made the mistake in one episode.  Find that one and you'll find out what happened.
  9. New territory.  Even in old games.  There are plenty of games out there, if you are clever enough in hacking or editing.  I even found a mindmaker who made a minds game out of Halo that was actually fairly good, and I think he could turn it into a good series.  If you think you could do better with a game (like I did), using a previously unused game will let you put your money where your mouth is, so to speak.
  10. Have fun with the challenge!  This isn't something we do for money.  I do it because I have fun with it!  I am a big fan of "Whose Line is it Anyway" and "Mystery Science Theater 3000," and this just works out for me!
I'll see what I can do in the future about other tips and tricks.  I'm trying to see whether new mind makers are really up and coming out there.  I'd like to encourage good creativity.  There are cases, though, where it comes up on "Out Of Our Minds" and yeah, I participate.  And I can understand why...the ones that get ripped on in OOOM get ripped up because they really deserve it...that and what got produced can be made funny.  (So if you got featured on OOOM, I think you deserve thanks for feeding us some material for our comedy...but you should also take the lesson home and read between the could be possible for you to improve.  Everyone can.  I keep trying to improve myself.)

Just don't think what you did the first time is the best.  Compare it to the quality of something similar...and know you can do better.  It is possible.

When people don't figure it out, or don't take the hint, however...