So here we are, the third part of our series on machinima. I’ve been spending a few months writing this one up. In all honesty, it was a mixture of not knowing what was appropriate to bring up, and also because most evidence of what I want to talk about has either been lost over the years, or was never officially documented. Basically, we’re going back to a period before even YouTube was around, but the machinima scene was growing rapidly regardless, and other hosting sites and tools were used instead. So I got in touch with my old machinima buddies to reminisce about the old days.
Today, we’re going to glance over some of the communities that existed over years, as well as talk about what options you had for sharing your creations. YouTube didn’t exist until 2005, and it wasn’t bought by Google until late 2006, so it hadn’t yet built up the reputation or toolset that it has today – it was a very different place back then. As the name clearly stated, YouTube was all about You. By that I mean it was seen by the machinima community as a place where people would upload general home videos; it wasn’t the foundation for independent content creators that it is known for being today. In fact, the site was sort of a punching bag for jokes in the machinima circle, and you would opt for the other more popular choices of file/video hosting if you could.
There were many options to choose from back then. Early on in the internet’s days, a lot of people would use sites such as PutFile, FileFront, Mythica.org and the gametrailers.com user movie uploads section to host their machinima creations. These were places you could post your videos, and you were confident that the only people browsing would be gamer orientated. This meant that your audience mostly consisted of people who would be interested in your content to begin with, which meant more exposure and coverage. For comparison, putting your machinima on YouTube would place you in a pool that was a mixture of all kinds of content from all kinds of people, whether they were gamers or not. It was much better and worth far more of your time to upload to a site like mythica.org whose users would be mostly looking for machinima and gaming videos. Uploading to YouTube would mean you’d need to further promote the link yourself on other gaming community websites, whereas places like gametrailers.com already had a built-in gaming community, with no extra promotion needed from your part.
“[YouTube] wasn’t the foundation for independent content creators that it is known for being today. In fact, the site was sort of a punching bag for jokes in the machinima circle.”
If you were smart enough to host on a gaming website directly, you’d get some exposure there easily. Fewer people were content creators back then; the necessary technology was expensive and the knowledge required to produce something like machinima was far less widespread. As such, the turnover of new content was very slow compared to today. Basically, communities were hungry for new user-generated content, and because of its slow delivery, users were constantly refreshing the page and checking back to see if anything new had come up. Because it would stay in the “new uploads” section for a long period of time, it meant that people were far more likely to view your video. This meant views were much easier to gain in general, and you weren’t really competing for attention in a crowd.
So where could you go to share your videos, and rack up some extra views? It all depended on the game your machinima was based on – most community sites tended to commit to a single game rather than machinima in general. For example, Halo was clearly the most popular title to create machinima with in the early 2000s. When Halo 2 came in November 2004, the Xbox Live online functionality kicked the community into overdrive and websites were being created everywhere that focused on Halo 2 machinima. One of the earliest was halo.bungie.org. Videos uploaded here go back as far as the release of the original Halo. It’s a mixture of in-game hijinks, stunt videos and quirky glitches, mixed with early amateur attempts at machinima. Many of these videos are still available in the movies section, so if you want to see some early examples of what normal/average gamers were making for fun in the machinima circle, it’s a good place to start browsing.
There were also places like HollywoodHalo (also known as The Digital Set), forums on various websites like gametrailers and filefront, and also machinima.com itself when it was originally a complete community website with forums and user movie uploads. The challenge back then was knowing what website would host your file without a length or size restriction as well as knowing what website would be appropriate for sharing your creation with others.
At one point, the machinima community received a major boost in the form of wegame.com. Advertised as a YouTube clone built exclusively for gamers, there were forums and video hosting tools, as well as a very capable piece of software built in-house that enabled you to record footage in supported PC games. There was a year where wegame.com had really built up itself up to be a very popular gaming website, and with the likes of Oxhorn (a well-known World of Warcraft machinima creator) being an official employee at the company, there were machinima contests and weekly video shows that would help promote popular machinima uploaded that week. This had the same effect as gametrailers.com for Machinima creators wanting to host their content in a gamer-dominated community which saved time and effort in promotion for your project, but with the added bonus that wegame.com solely focused on video content so didn’t detract or deviate visitors’ attention onto other sections of the website. If you went to wegame.com, you went to watch gaming videos, with machinima being one of the more popular genres.
These community websites (especially HollywoodHalo if you were using Halo 2) were perfect breeding grounds for applicants wanting to act in other people’s machinima, and also for recruiting people to your project. If you could wade your way through dense forests of posts from people who swear their idea is the next Red Vs Blue but somehow can’t make it themselves, then you had a genuine community who were happy to take part in creating machinima projects, whether it be pitching in with acting, capturing footage or editing. If you were lucky, you’d find a unicorn amongst the community who claimed they would film, edit and add special effects to your production, along with professional voice acting. If you saw one of these posts, you’d jump on it as quickly as possible and compete with others to try and pitch your idea, because the frequency of these white knights was incredibly low. If you had 3D animations/models in your machinima like Red Vs Blue did, you were a hotshot back then!
“As long as you weren’t charging astronomical rates for projects, lots of machinima creators were happy to pay out a little to ensure their ideas were handled by people who knew what they were doing.”
Of course, most of this was done for free. Talented youngsters of the time found a sort of freelancing opportunity here, where their basic web design skills or technical know-how with regards to filming or editing could bag them a bit of cash for a hobby project. People would be willing to pay someone £50 for an invisionfree forum skin, or pay them a bit of money to edit their project together. Because machinima was a new and developing medium, and because most of the people with enough free time to devote to the medium were teenagers or students, it meant that a lot of people could afford to spend 10 hours editing a Machinima for someone, and only ask for £20 in return. Due to the lack of responsibilities and amount of free time the community had, this sort of semi-professional circle began developing. As long as you weren’t charging astronomical rates for projects, lots of machinima creators were happy to pay out a little to ensure their ideas were handled by people who knew what they were doing.
I actually managed to recruit around 10 people within an hour at one point, and within three hours the team were online and filming. That was the popularity of machinima at the time; there were always droves of people wanting to join projects. Things were quite easy and convenient if you knew the right people, the right websites, and had online friends in your game to fill in the gaps. As a kid, it was not uncommon to be home from school at 4 p.m., recruit by 6 p.m., start filming at 7, and have the whole thing edited by the time you went to bed at 11. Of course, as a young amateur, the time you invested in a finished product was so brief you couldn’t expect to finish something serious or high quality. It was more of a case of everyone being excited to see how the film came out, so you’d rush it online at the pressure of everyone’s excitement.
That’s not to say that some people didn’t take it seriously, however. There were individuals at the time who would spend days filming, and even longer editing. As the years went on, tools got easier to use, people gained more knowledge with the software and hardware involved, and some people began to turn their hobbies into a potential career as they practiced their craft. We began to see high-quality, professional machinima; as the graphics of games got better and the introduction of HD came around, creators were starting to take their movies more seriously. It was around the time of Gears of War coming out that we started to see game graphics really take shape (thank you Unreal Engine 3!), inspiring machinima creators to create more realistic and credible films.
Around this time, I started to spend much longer on my machinima projects, and things got more serious. It was no longer a case of messing around friends, trying to make funny or entertaining shorts; we were trying to create consistent narratives over a series, with actual, coherent scripts that weren’t ad-libbed on the spot. By now, YouTube had become important and we wanted to be big, making our own personal websites to promote our projects. There was a huge shift as a community towards trying to create serious pieces of work; instead of the Red Vs Blue love-letter amateur projects, people wanted to create their own masterpieces.
That’s where I’ll end things on this part of my overview of machinima. In our next (and final) part, we’ll look at some notable examples from over the years, and observe the subtle shift from machinima’s early beginnings to the more professional and credible modern day format. I’ll examine Red Vs Blue‘s influence, having everyone making their own amateur imitations with Halo 2, and how it turned into a revolution where everyone began using different games, tackling all manner of genres beyond comedy. I’ll also look at how the Xbox 360 opened the floodgates for more realistic and engaging machinima to be attainable for the masses both in terms of creation and consumption.
Look out for the final part coming soon.