Red vs. Blue brought machinima to the masses

This week's mail bequeathed upon me the fifth and final season DVD of the popular Web series Red vs. Blue, the comedic application of the video game Halo that introduced me (and much of the world) to machinima.

Machinima, in the words of the series' own Private Dexter Grif, is described simply as "taking [a] video game and puppeteering it to make a narrative story". In this case, the games are Halo and Halo 2, and the effect is produced by linking several Xbox consoles together, recording the video, then dubbing audio over it. In this way, pre-existing animation can be used cheaply and more easily than creating one's own art assets. The result is about 20 three-minute episodes per "season" detailing the ongoing battles of the Red Team and the Blue Team as they battle each other and, more often, themselves, in the Blood Gulch box canyon.

Machinima isn't limited to Halo; Rooster Teeth Productions, the group responsible for Red vs. Blue, has also produced machinima using the games Shadowrun, F.E.A.R., and The Sims 2. Almost anyone can use these and other media to produce custom films, with one of the best-known examples being the Warcraft episode of South Park.

But none of these shows is as significant as Red vs. Blue, which "has been credited with bringing new popularity to machinima, helping it to gain more mainstream exposure, and attracting more people to the art form" (Wikipedia). Graham Leggat, former director of communications for Lincoln Center's film society, described Red vs. Blue as "Part locker-room humor, part Beckett-like absurdist tragicomedy, part wicked vivisection of game culture and sci-fi action films and games; each episode features spot-on comic dialogue, sharp editing and inventive direction".

Rooster Teeth wrote phenomenal scripts and brought their helmeted heroes to life by giving them identifiable voices and verbal characteristics. Rather than make their fighting squadrons true heroes of Halo, they are instead pessimistic, antagonistic, realistic, and sometimes downright dumb - just like any real person would be in a war situation. The characters and their situations are so absurd that to hear them in various one-shot public service announcements, warning about the dangers of tattoos or this thing called "the Internet", drives home the unexpected juxtaposition. Though the RvB series itself often relies on profanities (and thus is recommended for neither the prudish nor the cubicle-dwelling), their PSAs tend to be a bit tamer, as in this example:

With Red vs. Blue having concluded with its hundredth episode, what's next for Rooster Teeth? The group's Geoff Ramsey recently gave a forward-looking interview on Xbox Live's Major Nelson podcast (time indices 17:25 - 34:06). Whatever their next project, their DVDs have earned a permanent place in my library, ready to be rewatched and showcased to friends who are still strangers to the magic of machinima.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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