What happened to Machinima?

In Features by Brandon Korth

Machinima has been around for quite some time now, with the obvious popularity originating from Rooster Teeth’s “Red vs Blue.” Their web series launched on their own website all the way back in April of 2003, two years before YouTube was created. However, this was not the first use of the media form of ‘machinima’; people were making machinimas in Quake III in 1999. With the success of these Quake films (dubbed “Quake Movies”) a website was founded in 2000 and named Machinima Inc.

What is machinima though? The word machinema is a portmanteau of machine and cinema, but was apparently spelled incorrectly (as machinima) in an email between the creators of Machinima Inc and stuck, creating the word commonly used and known today. A simple Google search can also tell you that a machinima is “the use of real-time computer graphics engines to create a cinematic production.” This is mainly coined by people who create movies with video games. Rooster Teeth started with Red vs Blue in Halo: Combat Evolved, but these movies can be made with any game. One can argue that a fully CGI movie, or any cutscene in a video game is a machinima as well.

Once YouTube became the hub for all online videos, Machinima Inc created their own channel and began uploading videos based around exactly what their name stated: machinimas. The company did not make these videos themselves, however. They contracted other directors and would pay them to create content for the channel. With this, Machinima was able to upload consistently, with quality content for everyone, and gained a massive following.

Machinima Inc owes all of its original success to one of its earliest directors: Jon Graham (who used to go by “Digital Ph33r”). This is the man behind Arby ‘n’ the Chief, a show about the two main characters of Halo 2 and Halo 3 as action figures who came to life and played video games. This began with “Master Chief sucks at Halo” and spun into the show, gaining millions of views per episode, and sky rocketing Machinima Inc to a household name for many gamers.

The YouTube channel had more than just the one series though. Others like Matchmaking, Pre Game Lobby, Phil, Hard Justice, The Forgotten Spartans, and many more held their own when it came to popularity of any kind. These series – as well as many other one-offs and classics — would inspire newer generations of machinima creators across the world to start making their own Halo 3 movies. Jon Graham uploaded several different parts on “Digital Ph33r’s Guide to Making Halo 3 Machinima” that many people like myself followed closely.

Creating a movie in a video game was a lot harder back in the early 2000s when video game systems didn’t include game capture applications, and capture cards were rare to find in stores. Back then, one would have to purchase a capture card (most commonly a Dazzle DVC), three Y-splitters for the two audio and one video component of the AVI ports in the capture card, and then a dual ended AVI cable to plug into the ports and the television while the Xbox 360 was plugged into the capture card as well. Then there was using an editing program after the clips were acted out, filmed in game, and then recorded with the capture card. That wasn’t even the end of it: then music was added, text for titles and credits, voice overs and potentially sound effects, and even visual effects like making the game appear to be night instead of day.

Machinimas took a lot of passion, energy and time to make. This was certainly shown early on when it took so much work to create them, especially when one used a game that did not have a spectator or theatre mode, but had to find alternative ways to record. In the original Star Wars Battlefront II, if you disable the HUD elements, use a cheat code to enable invulnerability, and constantly switch your weapons (by pressing the Right Bumper or the R2 button rapidly causing the weapons to switch so quickly that they do not show on screen) then you can record footage, but will have to cut out and manually replace all audio due to the weapon changing sound effects that would be obnoxious otherwise, and would need to be able to move the joystick around as well as constantly pressing buttons, and adding a letterbox effect afterwards to get rid of other on-screen elements that you could not remove in-game. Of course, the ability to use PC games to record machinimas made life easier for a lot of people who did not like to use consoles to make these movies, cutting out certain aspects of difficulty.

Sadly, after Machinima Inc grew so large, commentary and let’s plays started to arise. Easier and faster to produce than machinima, this became the staple of Machinima Inc who created a smaller channel dubbed Machinima Respawn purely for gameplay videos and live-action content. Though this second channel existed, Machinima Inc continued to upload non-machinima related content to its main channel, and slowly stopped releasing machinimas altogether. This had cut off the seemingly short-lived Directors Program where lesser-known machinima directors could submit their own content to get reviewed and potentially uploaded to Machinima’s channel.

With Machinima Inc no longer supporting new machinima content, the following of the art form mostly fell apart. Rooster Teeth was still creating Red vs Blue and other content on their personal channel and website, so people clung to that as the last of this video style. People were still making it; they just had no way to show it to a large audience. People didn’t search for machinima on YouTube for several reasons, but mainly because the search result was populated with pages of old Machinima Inc content or lesser-known content that was bad.

Some channels rose from the ashes and had fantastic original content created in the Halo games, with one director even continuing the story that Darknal told in his old series The Forgotten Spartans, who appeared in the new machinima as a character himself. Not every director was so lucky though. As more time passed, the art style died off as the Halo fan base died off, and machinimas were not sought after anymore. This sparked ideas of gathering the last machinima creators together on websites outside of YouTube to collaborate and help keep each other going.

 

These websites opened a lot of machinima creator’s eyes as they thought they were alone in what they did, and were the foundation of many friendships and hardships. With the right idea in mind, the “machinima community” came together to try and continue what their predecessors had started, but seemed to fail each time. Slowly but surely, these websites became ghost towns as creators turned to gameplay videos, changed the use of their free time, or ran out of motivation to create machinimas entirely.

 

Those that still create or watch machinima curate inspiration from the old videos on Machinima’s channel. Classics like “A Puppy in Halo 3” and “Bungie Police” inspire comedies to be made, while “The Forgotten Spartans” inspire action machinimas. Those videos are now completely removed from Machinima Inc.

Jon Graham – the creator of Arby ‘n’ the Chief — has poured many years of his life into the content on that channel, and it’s now gone. Machinima Inc has privatized or completely deleted all old machinimas from their channel. Graham became aware of this and spoke about Machinima Inc publicly on Twitter, and then live streamed everything so his fans could find out what was going on. His show has a large cult following who still enjoy watching, especially since he is still currently creating episodes for the eighth season on his own channel.

Once news of the video removals got out, Reddit fans of Graham’s show(s) erupted in anger and created a post dedicated to it, which amassed four thousand upvotes in a surprisingly short amount of time. The news spread far enough that Frank O’Connor of 343 Industries (who currently make the Halo games) has offered his assistance to Graham if need be. However, Graham isn’t calling for blood. He understands that the Machinima company is currently rebranding and combing through its old content. This does not excuse the company from what they’re doing and what they’ve done, but no one is calling for a war currently.

Many fans of Jon Graham’s work have all of his content archived away, and he just wants fans to be able to legally view it in some form. The problem can most likely be resolved for Graham, but that’s because he has a voice and is a prominent figure. The real problem is those classic machinimas that may never see the light of day again. These decade-old videos cannot be found on any channel, and are not archived away or spoken for by their original creators.

With any luck Graham can accomplish his campaign against Machinima Inc to bring his old videos back, and maybe this will push the company to release the others as well. Until then, other fans are working on archiving everything they can, like the aforementioned Puppy in Halo 3 and The Forgotten Spartans, but many of these series are completely gone. If you happen to have any of these old machinimas, please hold on to them — they may be the last copies available. We live in a world where people on the internet can cause enough of a stir in the television world to bring Brooklyn 9-9 from being cancelled by Fox to being picked up by NBC in 24 hours. Hopefully we can save the golden age and memory of machinima as well.

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Brandon Korth
Aspiring writer and YouTuber.

In love with writing, and every kind of video game. Looking to mix them up a little.

I used to work on and run websites dedicated to helping others make movies in video games.