《阿凡达》的故事、情节脉络和角色都不是原创。我最初听到该电影时，对它丝毫不感兴趣，因为其题材几乎是陈腔滥调。邪恶人类希望从纯洁而几近神圣的原住民那掠夺资源。战争随之而来，原住民在这场史诗般的战斗中输输赢赢，最后以险胜告终。其中有浪漫故事、有背叛、有十恶不赦的首领角色。其参考作品中少不了《Put Pocohontas》和《Fern Gully》。当我自己观看影片时，剧情完全在我的意料之中。故事丝毫没有悬念，画面一点儿也没让我瞠目（除影片音效和潘多拉星球），整部电影完全就在意料之中。
What Game Designers can learn from “Avatar”
by Brice Morrison
Avatar recently became the second highest grossing film of all time, bested only by James Cameron’s previous blockbuster, Titanic. I was skeptical at first when I saw the trailer, but the box office numbers pushed me over the edge and finally got me in the theater seats, and I was certainly not disappointed.
A film this successful accomplishes so much; whether you are a western anti-mainstream individualist or not, you must appreciate how difficult it is to make a single film that can touch the hearts of so many millions of viewers around the world. The special effects and artistry put into the world were of course breathtaking and the story…well, we’ll get to that in a minute.
Avatar offers some great lessons to game designers who are looking to reach a broad audience through an magnificent work of art. While there is much to learn from Cameron’s masterpiece, there are two main aspects that struck me as particularly timely to today’s game development landscape. Indie developers are especially encouraged to read on.
[Note that this post is full of spoilers. Proceed at your own risk if you haven't seen the film.]
You Don’t Have to Always Be Original
When I was younger and more foolish, I used to think that in order to create something great, to design a great game, to tell a great story, it had to be original. It had to be made up of things that no one had done before, all my own ideas. If everyone else was making first person shooters, I would make a 2D puzzle-adventure mash up. If the industry was telling stories about love, I would tell a story about existentialism. Go against the grain, as they say.
Avatar’s story, plot line, and characters are not very original. When I first heard about the film, I wasn’t interested in it at all, because it seemed so trite. Evil people want to steal resources from the pure and almost holy natives. War ensues, natives lose in the epic fight, then win, then lose, then barely win. Little romance story, betrayal, big bad boss character. Yay. Put Pocohontas and Fern Gully in the bibliography, please. And as I went to see the film, my expectations were matched. No plots twists blew my mind, no ideas made my head spin (other than the visual effects and realization of Pandora); the movie was entirely predictable.
However, and this is the difference, the movie was unoriginal but did it well. By hanging masterful directing on to popular themes, the film was able to reach into the hearts of millions of viewers, something that more niche or “original” themes would not have been able to do. The fact is that these archetypal themes are central to the human experience, which is why they show up so often in stories and in life. And it is because of these unoriginal, universal themes that the film was allowed to be so successful. In that sense, I prefer not say that it was unoriginal, but rather universal, a more positive connotation.
The moral: Let go of your ego. Stop being a slave to originality!
Needing to always be original is a poor strategy for two reasons. The first is that nothing is truly original; you can fight this idea but you will lose. Yes, there are ideas and concepts that you may have not heard of before or be familiar with, or ideas that the general public has forgotten, but everything is in some form based on something else. If it wasn’t, it would make no sense, because it would not be grounded in reality (which gets us into the ultra-original avante-garde). Themes and ideas that have come before you only add to your palette to design stories with.
Second, being original is an immature position. When people say they want to be original, what they’re saying is that they don’t want to do what everyone else is doing. They want to be different, the minority, eschew the majority’s lead. Ironically, demanding that you be original actually puts you in a position of control by the majority, albeit in an opposite sort of way. If everyone else zigs, then you need to zag. If the majority goes right, then you must go left. You have no free will or choice, you are still controlled.
Designers (or any artist, for that matter), do themselves a disservice by making themselves a slave to originality. Better to choose on a case by case basis whether your work should be original or universal than to do a disservice to your game’s Core Experience. Do you want your player to actually feel the turn of each doorknob as they walk through the building, thus implementing a heavy doorknob-turning Base Mechanic? Or should you just do what all other games do, and have them open the door automatically? Do you want the player to only have one chance to play your game, and after that it is over forever? This would be highly original, but it may also be frustrating or nerve racking. It might be better to implement a lives system, like many other games have done.
As you can see, enslaving yourself to originality can do a disservice to your game. Be brighter than that; choose the appropriate track: original or universal.
A Master Storyteller’s Take on Emotion
There are some incredibly emotional scenes in Avatar that pull at your heart strings. From the defiance of the researchers who sided with the natives to the wreckage on the face of Neytiri she realizes the Jake had ulterior motive for befriending her tribe, the characters on Pandora run the gamut of emotion. Love, hate, romance, fear, shock, horror. and joy.
How are these scenes made meaningful? Many game designers attempt to put in characters and scenes in their games that will pull at our heart strings in a similar way. These are elements of common storytelling, and Avatar in its 162 minute marathon hits all the highlights. So what are the keys?
First, the characters are developed. We learn their backgrounds and histories, their hopes and dreams. We spend time with them. This is incredibly important for a viewer of a movie or a player of a game to have time to form an emotional bond with a character. This doesn’t happen immediately. It takes time. Seemingly meaningless scenes are purposefully crafted to lure the viewer into the personalities of the characters, all for the ability to tug at your soul later on.
What happens when this basic rule of character development is ignored?
In the 2005 video game, Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit outside North America), at one point the player is asked to make a supposedly life-or-death choice. In summary, the player can save a young child from slipping and drowning in a frozen lake, exposing himself to enemies, or he can get away clean, letting the boy die. When I reached this point, I instantly ran away, choosing to let the boy drown while steering clear of the main character’s foes.
Was I callous in this choice? Perhaps, but I would guarantee that most players made the same choice. Why? Because of the way it was presented. The boy came out of nowhere; he was a stranger not only to the main character, but also to me the player. My character, Lucas Kane, however, had been thoroughly explored and developed. I had already spent several hours playing as him, learning his story, and growing attached to him. This uneven emotional scale made the choice a no brainer. Save an unknown stranger, or save the character that the game had taught me to love? My behavior was funneled towards only one option, whether the developers intended it or not.
In Avatar, we learn about the characters, their feelings and their emotions. We see them strive and fight and live. These foundational scenes are the building blocks of the later emotional triumphs and crises. And those building blocks pull the film up to heights of art and depth of feeling.
The moral: Don’t hand players some characters and ask them to cry. Develop a relationship that matters!
The second main lesson of the film’s raw passion is in the realism of the Na ‘vi. I, as were many other moviegoers, were struck by how the indigenous people of Pandora looked so believable, even though we knew they could not possibly be real. Usually attempts like this fail at the uncanny valley, a phrase for attempts at human realism that fail because of subtlety. Imitating human facial expression is a tricky business; even getting it 99% right is not enough and will cause revulsion in viewers.
James Cameron said that he had to wait for many years until the technology became available for him to achieve his vision for Avatar. And he certainly waited until the right time. The look in the eyes of the Na ‘vi as they watched their home tree fall to the ground was heart breaking. If they hadn’t looked so real, it would have had the emotional pull of a bad Disney movie.
While retro big pixels and cartoony art styles certainly have their place in game development, unfortunately developers will have a hard time getting players to relate to the characters as they relate to other humans. This is one of the reasons why players easily attach themselves to their family in The Sims but not to their creatures in Spore. Humans are designed to relate to other humans; everything else is a distant approximation. If your scenes are not lifelike enough, then the natural human gears and inner workings of emotions will not kick in.
This effect exists not just for character development, but for many types of engagement in general. Capcom understood this well when they launched the first Resident Evil game, one of the only titles at the time to recreate actual real-world scenes instead of a jagged polygonal approximation that was allowed at the time. By taking a clever route through painted, 2D scenes instead of half-witted 3D baby food of the 90′s, they were able to evoke real fear in players, who felt as they they really were walking down an alley, through a museum, and to their doom.
You would not have related to the Na’ vi if their faces looked like cartoons. You would not have cared when their trees were destroyed and their loved ones fell. It would have been sad, yes, but only on an intellectual level. To evoke the primal emotional in viewers and players, a degree of realism and human attachment is necessary.
How much realism is needed in a game to feel like a real human? That’s up to the developer to figure out. Facial cues, voice acting, or gestures are all a start, although perhaps out of the realm of possibility for indie developers. Realism is costly, as evidenced by Avatar’s $300+ million budget or the size of teams like Valve’s Half Life 2 team. But the results of a face or a shape that people can relate to can be astounding.
The moral: People don’t cry for cartoons. They cry for people. Give them real people as much as possible.（Source：thegameprodigy）