Thursday, September 2, 2010

Commando Will Be A Cinematic RPG

I take issue with the way most people refer to the term "Cinematic" when talking about RPGs. The tendency is to call a game "Cinematic" because every other combat involves spinning helicopter kicks and gun kata-fu and people broad-jumping from the rooftop of one skyscraper to another, and other such monumentally over-the-top shenanigans.

I don't believe this is the correct use of the term, or at least, I don't feel it's being applied properly across the board. Using "the Internet", I dug around for a second or two and found what I think is a good definition of "Cinematic".

Definition of CINEMATIC

: of, relating to, suggestive of, or suitable for motion pictures or the filming of motion pictures (cinematic principles and techniques)
Now, this means something specific to me in terms of RPGs. I feel this suggests that "Cinematic" gaming means treating the tone, style, and overall flow of a game session, campaign, or adventure as you would the creation of a story as told through film.

Furthermore, I feel it means that the GM and players need to decide what sort of film genre, tone, and style to apply to their "movie", and act appropriately. Note that this doesn't mean an action/adventure RPG needs to automatically look like a John Woo movie; you could decide your game feels more like a Jason Bourne movie, or something Tarantino or Peckinpah might direct.

So in creating Commando, I decided that this game would be "Cinematic" in the same vein as all the classic war thrillers I'm using as inspirational material; Where Eagles Dare, The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen, as well as newer movies such as Black Book and Valkyrie. These movies don't have guys diving across a room with a blazing SMG in each hand while there's an explosion in the background; they are taunt, dramatic war movies with good action and a tight plot, and some of it might be a little bit over the top (because the nature of some of these missions is pretty incredible), but not so far as to make you annoyed in its unbelievability. For example, when Gregory Peck scales the cliff in The Guns of Navarone, it doesn't look like something out of Cliffhanger.

So I'm curious to see what other people think of the term "Cinematic", and whether they agree with my interpretation, or avoid the term altogether because of the stigma it has acquired.



Darkwing said...

I think your use of the term is fine--provided you define it that way so the reader knows what you mean.

Like so many others, the term "cinematic" has been corrupted from its original sense by pop-culture. The only way to reclaim its original definition is to start using it that way.

Robert Fisher said...

I think I first came across its use in regards RPGs in GURPS. So I associate it with the Stormtrooper Marksmanship rule (NPCs always miss their first shot) and the Chainmail Bikini rule (less clothing = better armor).

It is the term I use to describe my own Reverse Death Spiral rule. (As a PC takes damage they get bonuses to rolls.)

I suppose—in regards to RPGs—I see it as meaning simply “inspired by movies”. I think your use of the term is fine, and I’m fine with it being applied to wuxia style too.

As with almost anything, you probably need to give it context to be clearer when necessary. And when describing your intentions for a game to the group certainly qualifies.

Rob Lang said...

I'd warn against re-defining terms just because you don't think its used properly. Whether you think the term is used properly or not doesn't change that the perception of people reading 'Cinematic' thinking it is pulp or cartoonist. I would find another term that describes what you are aiming for or rather than using a single word simply say:

"Commando plays out like 40s and 50s war films, striking a balance between realism and heroism".

If Commando gets tagged with Cinematic, then most people reading it will assume it is something it is not. You will either disappoint those looking for a cinematic Commando game or - perhaps worse - put people off from reading it in the first place.

You don't need to use the term, its not core to your game so don't. Use another.

N. Wright said...

I agree about the misuse of the word Cinematic, but don't feel it's out of place. Most modern action movies, which is what people think of when they think of movies, after all, have explosions and dudes shooting rocket launchers off of motorcycles into helicopters and nobody blinks. Instead they declare it's badass, and keep watching the movie.

I don't think it's a term that'll be missed, honestly.