The Broken Machinima.

Quick edit: I know the title doesn’t work, but it works for me.

Ahhh. Another failed effort, but never the last. I felt like typing a lot, and this video I made a few months ago is a good excuse. I wanted to make a machinima series (video series made within a game, usually recorded in real time; think how “Red vs Blue” used Halo.) The idea was to use the DMZ mode in Warzone 2. I hope context isn’t necessary for basic gags, but of course things always work better with context, which if you’re bored, you can read about below, along with my initial plans and why they’ll never happen.

The above video is basically four simple bits:
• I open with a bit about a guy deep in thought, asking “what makes you tick?”. But it’s to a bomb. It’s a simple gag a pal put on Mastodon and I asked for permission to steal and make a video of. It’s funny, but put into action it feels like a great attempt to display high emotional intelligence in someone with low general intelligence. I actually thought this was a great summation of a character I wanted to do, and a great way to introduce them. The idea was a misguided “warrior poet” who often chooses the exact wrong approach. (They poet when they should warrior and vice-versa.)

• Second, I regularly ran around in-game trying to interview people who could kill me at any moment. The vast majority of the time I was killed. But once I actually got someone to come completely out of their way into an in-game TV station and talk to me (well, to a friend posing as the interviewer,) on set. I actually have had several “successful” run-ins. I lost the best (a guy who instantly went into the character a perfect trust fund psychopath who chose to work as a merc for the thrill, and the ability to kill human beings with no recourse. He killed me when he decided the interview was over, even foreshadowing it properly, which was a very nice cherry on top.) Sadly, my recording software crashed and I didn’t realize as I had it running in the background.

• “The Backpack Joke” is a silly, basic joke. But the crazy part is those items (minus my adjusted descriptions) are actually items you can find, loot, and sell, in the game. Originally it was supposed to be a three-part gag about this guy finding backpacks with weirder and weirder objects that you actually find in-game (including the “game console” I’d call a PS6,) as he finally met up with his new commanding officer, then finding out the boss’s backpack was the worst. That would’ve taken time*.

• The Credits. I finally convinced my brother and cousin to act out The Backpack Joke, and when we went in, not intending to play seriously at all, we found a GPU, a valuable item at the time. My cousin didn’t want it to go to waste, so we gave it to someone else and spread the word that I was making a thing. Even at the time I was thinking “this is post-show material,” and then the kid came back and asked again, so, that was perfect.

What is DMZ?
In a battle royal like PUBG, Fortnite, or Warzone you (or your team) fight other players inside a shrinking play area, and being “outside” the area slowly kills you, until there is one winner/winning team. DMZ is more of an extraction shooter. Players run around on the same map, loot items, kill bots, do story quests, kill or befriend other players, and then try to escape out so you can bring your gear in again the next time.

What WERE my plans for DMZ_TV?
I wanted to create a cast of characters and have them eventually weave into the actual story that was being told by the missions in the DMZ game mode. Ideally the cast would’ve included:-The aforementioned warrior poet.
-“Rook”, the guy from the Backpack Joke, would become the main character.
-Two programmers who become unhinged when they realize the world around them has become a warzone, mixing Office-Space corporate speak with gamer lingo. (I imagined them chasing enemies, making up new back-ronyms for “TPS” in “TPS reports” and while killing people.)
-A self-professed sheriff chasing a moonshiner.
-A TV news anchor/reporter and photographer.
-Regular features of employees of an in-game burger chain.
-And a few guest appearances(/voice work) by some streamers I enjoyed, (a couple of whom had already agreed to voice something!)

So, what went right?
DMZ. People talk smack against Call of Duty, but like any group of people complaining about a large product, some of it is “big company bad”. For all the actual “bad” there is, and there certainly is some with both the game and the company behind it, let me also tell you: there’s a lot  of good here. Especially…

• The tools. I realized I could turn off enough of the UI elements that I was able to crop the few remaining ones out of the “camera” (the portion of the screen above my character’s weapon) easily and still get a decent resolution. Sure it would’ve been better if I had better hardware and was running 4K, but it is what it is. They certainly did their part. The only negative here is character animation. To keep people moving, when you’re up close the characters actually sway drastically, like they’re heaving after running for a long time. It really breaks down close-up shots. Given it’s an FPS game, you don’t really notice it until you look. And this is a minor thing when you can just use a still shot if need be.

• Location, location, location. These people have a lot of genuine artists working for them. The game’s maps are absolutely filled with phenomenal scenery, models, and textures. There are a few issues with table tops/desks being oddly low or high, which I assume is a result of a large group of people across the world working on one map/game… (And maybe not the same people who made the characters.) But they’re honestly not painfully common. And as scenery goes, this place is beautiful and widely varied. When a game says “features X different areas for combat” it reads as a shitty bullet point, but this offers the real deal. So. Much. Variety.

What went wrong?
•*Time. Well, and dedication. Doing this requires the time and effort of other people who just were not interested in helping me. Not my personally, but in general, I had no one as interested in the idea as I was. My brother was willing to humor me for one sketch (The Backpack Joke), and my cousin helped twice (that, and the “What Makes You Tick” gag.) A random guy I met in-game (Jason, who is great, it turns out,) was more than happy to run in with me a few times and interview random people. But I couldn’t find anyone willing to reliably waste a few hours with me to record things that no one will probably watch. Generally I believe in “fail early, fail often,” so I was absolutely ready to put in lots of time recording things. But I couldn’t find anyone else as eager.

I’m not blaming any other people in this, just recognizing what gave me problems. Nor am I particularly crying about it. It’s a lot to ask of others to say “help me do a thing I want to do that you have little/no interest in, and no one else might either”. Any blame is mine. And I find this to be a recurring element in many things I want to do. That’s not others failing me, just me repeating myself expecting a different outcome. But it’s tough to fight that. I want to do things and I want to work with other people who are excited to do them. It’s just tough finding my crowd. And that’s certainly something that’s wrong.

And this project probably won’t ever happen to the scale I want. I wrote most of this early Thursday, November 30th. Later that day Activision announced DMZ support is coming to an end. No new missions. No new content. They’re not shutting it off instantly; it’ll be up for an undetermined while. But without the new content I expect it to become solely about PVP, which is not what it was initially, but what it became anyway over the several seasons. And will make recording machinima in the game far more difficult. Also, it reintroduced a bug that made getting rid of some UI elements not possible, so, that sucks.

The big takeaway?
Do less. Not just “smaller” projects in terms of scope. That’s incidental. Smaller in terms of required manpower. I need to do something POSSIBLE to do by myself.
But the worst part? Writing this really made me want to make a short film in DMZ before it’s taken offline.