Back Down the Rabbithole: TS4 Machinima

in #gaming2 years ago

Vances Thumbnail Episode One.jpg

Ten years. It’s been nearly ten years since I left the machinima community. Almost everything has changed since then, and to be honest, I was stunned to find that my old blog on the subject is even still live. But since it is, right now seems like a good time to add some new content.

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I stopped creating machinima during a time when the tools we use to make it were changing and becoming more sophisticated, and as a result the hardware required to run it also became more complex… and more expensive. I’d walked away from Sims 2 machinima in search of a broader audience, one that didn’t depend on one game or a particular community. I experimented with 3D animation platforms like iClone and Daz, and I learned a great deal. But I could no longer keep up with the equipment needed for such intense renders, so after my gaming laptop drew its last breath, my interest in the hobby died with it.

In the intervening decade, I published three novels, ran a 501c3 animal rescue, and eventually moved from the U.S. to Costa Rica, where I now live. So I can’t say my time has been idle. This past year I ran into a person online who happened to be an avid Simmer and machinima creator, and it wasn’t difficult for her to lure me back to the game. From there, it was a pretty short leap back into storytelling, since that was always my favorite aspect of The Sims. Whatever gaps the gaming algorithms leave, a vivid imagination can easily fill. Add to this my familiarity with meshes, textures, and rigging, stir in a very powerful little program called The Sims 4 Studio, and voila—my interest was reborn.

No matter how keen my own interest in this might be, however, the question remains of whether or not I can create anything of interest to other people. What’s the point of machinima, anyway? Machinimas are silly little short films recorded inside the game engine of choice, in this case a simulated world of humans and humanoids that loosely parallels reality. They rarely appeal to viewers who aren’t also gamers, and to even further narrow the audience, rarely appeal to gamers who aren’t fans of the particular game used to make them. So why make them at all? Isn’t it a colossal waste of time to create something that so few people are ever going to watch?

I would tend to think yes, it’s definitely a waste of time—except when I trolled back through my old machinimas, uploaded a decade ago, I saw that some of them have racked up several thousand views. Well, well… someone somewhere has certainly seemed to enjoy my old creations. And indeed, my videos with the most views are the ones with a timeless theme. Topics that relate to bullying and the consequences of drunk driving have aged well. Serious subjects, tackled with animation, a sideways approach rather than direct confrontation… hmm. Maybe this old hobby of mine has some value after all.

These days, it's not my intention to make any kind of political or social commentary on the state of humanity with my machinimas. We live in a time when people are staggering under the weight of the world. So instead, why not make something that gives people a reason to smile? Something a little silly, a throwback to the days when we didn’t live under the shadow of pandemics and wars and rampant violence… those times really did exist only a short time ago. I’m no longer concerned about reaching a “broader audience.” The people who enjoy this kind of lighthearted fare will find it, just like they found my machinimas from ten years ago.

I made different decisions this time, though, regarding production. In the past, I tried to divert the viewer’s focus as best I could from the game itself, using the characters as virtual actors in a simulated “real world” setting. In so many ways, that didn’t work as intended. My approach now is to fully embrace the game, even leaving some gaming elements intact for the characters to both talk about and interact with. I’ve even left some original “Simlish” in the machinimas, the made-up language that’s near and dear to all veteran Simmers. Yet I’m also incorporating fresh content, like a museum experience inspired by the Wieliczka Salt Mine tour I enjoyed in Krakow during my trip there for St**mfest in 2018. It’s highly stylized, of course, and my version is complete fiction. But it’s still fun, and it’s something that hasn’t been seen in The Sims franchise at all, ever before.

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My comeback project is a series about vanlifers, a concept that is technically possible but not exactly intuitive in the TS4 gaming experience. It requires some clever creative content and loads of “movie magic,” but I’m working on Episode Three now and so far, so good. The characters have some really fun backstory that I’ve enjoyed exploring in side projects like Playerstate’s “Villain or Hero” machinima challenge and a more recent SimLit challenge that I haven’t finished yet. I’ll post my entry on my Dolittlesaymuch blog once I have it ready. You can see the trailer for my vanlife series on YouTube at the link below. It's short, so give it a watch!


Machinima! Sims2 - wait, now it's Sims4 - you were in the midst of retelling The Nibelungenlied with Sims2 gaming tools, last I remember, and it was GREAT STUFF. Those heads on the fence posts. The ice queen. The men who died trying to win her in hand-to-hand combat. I hope you get back to that one someday, though you have plenty of original material of your own to work from. Hmmm, a lot of people re-tell Shakespeare in contemporary times (West Side Story, e.g.), though "Clueless" didn't even vaguely resemble "Emma," to me. Margaret Atwood did something awesome and fabulous in "Hagseed," a retelling of The Tempest. Talking to Luke could be a series of machinima shorts -- hmmm, the way Kindle created the mini-stories with Vellum, you could launch a whole new series of machinima shorts. Just. Gotta. Find. Time. I'd love to see you do it. Your machinima storytelling skills were way ahead of your time.

"Your machinima storytelling skills were way ahead of your time..." well, I'm glad you think so. Sadly there has been another Little Match Girl incident. It almost seemed like a deliberate slight. Oh well. I'll keep making the series anyway, hoping you are not alone in your appreciation of my stuff.

No, no, no, not another incident like the rigged contest that awarded a terrible entry (friends, cronyism) - I wish I were a real "Influencer" whose social media shares brought more eyes to your work! I do try, but somehow, I haven't captured the attention of the masses. YOU should have their attention!

Your old blog link took me to a new video (at least, one I hadn't seen before). Love it:

Tyler told me specifically that we could not get a dog right now because we don’t have room in the van. I mean, he’s my husband, not the boss of me. But… there’s a certain level of mutual respect that I have plowed right past. He will have every right to be angry with me. I just hope he doesn’t stay that way for long.
Truly, your own life has so much to pillage, there's no need to retell Shakespeare or the German Illiad.

Your creative problem-solving skills blow me away.
For those who've never tried to create machinima videos, it may not be possible to comprehend the staggering feats you accomplished. I wouldn't know which animation is harder to do than another (walking, jumping, opening a car door, twirling a hat on a fingertip). But this blows me away:

.....when I tried to animate the twirling hat, I could not, for the life of me, get the correct physics response from a logical sequence of cause and effect. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the short version is that I finally just engineered the thing in reverse. Instead of making the hat respond to the rotation of the hand, I made the hand follow the rotation of the hat. I did this by animating a cylinder, which is invisible in the rendered scene. I put the cylinder into a constant state of rotation using keyframes, then I used it as the kinematic “engine” that drives the hat. I assigned the hat a dynamic physics state and played with pivot points and axis locks until I got the right effect. Then I attached the hand to the hat, and while I had to get extremely creative with dummy props to prevent the wrist from making unnatural 360 degree rotations, I did manage to come up with a fairly convincing animation.

Love the comments you got on the Left on Stonehaven machinima. E.g.

PlaythenWork | 10 years ago
"Mouth wide open..." I'm in awe. Dolittle, this is PERFECT. I tip my hat and raise my glass to you. You have officially raised the machinima bar and I am immensely proud of you. There is so much to love about what you've done here - the custom animations, the custom content you made, so, so much. I was literally left with my mouth wide open. Congratulations!!!

MetaMorph | 10 years ago

A stunning visual masterpiece of cinematography! Original and clever animation movements (which I need to interview you about, btw), and very mysterious storyline. :D

Sad to say, the landmark house that inspired the Gothic house in "Stonehaven" is at risk of being torn down due to widening the road to a four-lane.


Carol, I hope you're able to get plenty of photos of that old house before it's gone. So sad, to think about such a beautiful old home just destroyed like that.

I have not gotten photos - I don't even know how to get close to it, due to the road work blocking it off. Too sad.

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