Video games aren’t films, it’s true. They have their own little techniques, and I would welcome anyone who wishes to examine them. But many have called some video games “cinematic” — and it just so happens most of BioWare works, particularly those post-Mass Effect, are one of those lot. Some even tote cinematic…ism as a goal. BioWare have cinematic designers, and they are well-renowned for their cutscenes.
But, if they were films, how successful would they be? Let’s look at the finale-beginning scene of Dragon Age II. I’ll be glossing over segments that change depending on choice, as well as some stretches of the scene.
I’ll admit, this is a curiosity on my part, and I may not analyse to the full possible extent — getting screenshots for this is almost work enough on its own. If you disagree with anything I’ve said, or notice something else, you’re welcome to comment in the, uh, comments. Free, independent thinking! In general, it’s probably good. Well, unless you’re in Oceania or Par Vollen.
Spoilers! As you’d expect.
Hawke rides in
“I removed the chance of compromise, because there is no compromise.”
As Anders stumbles in, the camera is constantly in motion. To put it simply, the motion pretty much signifies “something is going to happen”, creating an air of uncertainty. The canted angle is back, reinforced by the swaggering motion, doing what it did for Meredith to Anders (the tint begins just as he walks in, even), as well as reinforcing this uncertainty.
It bursts into full-boom, in what, if you ask me, is probably the most dramatic moment in the game. As the climatic boom booms and the rubble is cast across the city, the music suddenly quiets: the silence of death. Throughout this scene, the camera rumbles as Chantry explodes, adding to a sense of panic and of course demonstrating the rumbling ground (well yeah).
I’ll skip ahead to the Anders judgement scene now. You’ll want to note the camera angle here: Hawke is towering, imposing over Anders. His life in their hands. In terms of framing, Hawke of course occupies the space just above Anders, adding to this sense. Depending on your dialogue, you can get treated to an establishing shot showing the chaos and dead bodies surrounding, accompanied by “The world needs to see this.” The obvious use here is to hammer in the destruction and death this has caused. In addition, however, the sparsity (there are three corpses) of the scene further heighten Anders’ isolation.
If you decide to kill him, the actual execution will be done implicitly, with a close-up of Hawke’s hand holding the knife behind Anders back, then watching his face as it enters. This removes the focus from the execution itself to Anders, the character. As Hawke leaves, we get an extreme close-up of Anders dying as his life fades. This is reflected through the scene’s own fade-to-black.
And so the scene ends
Okay, that admittedly had more than I thought it would. Good job, BioWare’s cinematic designer people. Good work. Maybe tone down on some of those wacky Dutch angles.