Animated Films Through an Interactive Lens

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By Fleischer-Bot

Fleischer-Bot is a student who loves animation, drawing, and writing,
and hopes to become a filmmaker

The Art of

Games as a cinematic storytelling medium have usually told their stories with a live-action aesthetic; what better way to get the audience to relate and put themselves in the shoes of characters than by having realistic ones, right? However, some games have taken the approach of mimicking animated films in the way the look, feel, storytelling, and, sometimes, pacing is approached and executed. Here’s a look at a game that used this particular way of game-making in order to tell their story from a unique perspective.

Oxenfree

Oxenfree, by Night School Studio, mainly takes place on an island and follows a group of teens as they become stuck in a time-looping nightmare. after one of them uses a radio and accidentally opens a portal to another dimension, unleashing ghosts into their reality. The look for this game was developed by artist Heather Gross, and the visual style she put forth in terms of background and foreground is that of expanse: the game’s world is, excluding close quarters, always zoomed out, and uses the simplistic yet incredibly detailed background and foreground imagery as a way to keep the player’s attention on the game’s story, characters and world.

The characters themselves are, for the most part, minimally designed, with more attention to their facial expressions and body language and movement, mainly in static illustrations revealed in the game and half-way regarding the non-static 3D models; in-game, these models are mostly shown from a zoomed-out perspective, putting more emphasis on the body movement and language. I believe this is done to showcase how small the characters truly are in the game’s world, in regards to how big the story gets.

The way the level art is displayed definitely reminds one of Disney films such as “Bambi” or “Snow White”, as the backgrounds and foregrounds always had exquisite detail combined with a pleasantly soft story-book quality. Oxenfree’s approach is no different, showcasing a similar fusion of realism and ethereal qualities; the art itself has a very painterly feel to it, which pushes the illusion of ink-on-celluloid that this game puts out.

What really makes the illusion work, however, are all the details put into the art; the grass on a hill, the rust and graffiti on the outside of a radio control tower, the inside of caves, the depths of an ocean: all of these are filled with extra dust, grime, spots, cracks, and all kinds of environmental or man-made debris and elements, but done so in a way that it seems to appear out of a classic-yet-modern fairy-tale illustration.

Oxenfree screenshot

The feel of the game is that of trauma and emotions hidden beneath the surface, yet constantly peeking out until such a point that it is revealed; this is executed by the color scheme and writing (the color scheme is always very warm for every object and person, even in daytime scenes; this color scheme represents the want to reveal the self, or show true colors), while the writing has optional choices that allow you to talk about your history in certain ways, which will either get full-on responses about it from other characters, or subtle to halfway-there responses. This allows the player to run the story their way, and therefore see the consequences of their actions, which in turn pushes the story forward in both the developers’ and audiences’ way.

Oxenfree screenshot

This comes to head with the pacing, which is exactly that of an animated film. The dialogue choices and responses, as well as interactive actions with the game’s world, push the story along at a film-like pace, with the background and foreground moving from player movement in a subtle, dreamlike manner, the dialogue choices and responses (even when you don’t say anything) happening and bouncing off each other in both a natural and “choice-and-effect” way, as they are also programmed responses.

Any messing around with interactive objects drives the events in the game forwards as well, such as using the radio to interact with mysterious objects or fixing a radio-control communication unit, which allows you to contact another member of your group and find where they are on the island at one point. The plot-driven nature of this game is literally encoded in its system, and said nature is showcased flawlessly.

Oxenfree screenshot

This kind of game, with its innovative approach to gameplay progression and interactive storytelling, should be used as an example for the industry for how to tell their stories in new, exciting, and truly cinematic ways.

Images are from Night School Studio.