Next time someone asks me how to do a driving, exciting character-centric narrative in a video game, I am going to go totally old-media on their ass. Specifically I am going to tell them to go and see Sunshine, the forthcoming film directed by Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) from a script by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), starring Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later). Which is, you might have gathered, not a computer game at all.
I have two points to make about Sunshine. Firstly, it’s better than 28 Days Later. It’s not flawless, but it’s the best science-fiction movie since The Matrix. (Oh better than Serenity, geek-child.) Hard SF, human drama, suspense and horror all in one package. It draws heavily from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien but since those are two of the three best SF movies ever made, it’s a good draw. And yet it feels fresh and original, with a dynamic all its own, and… look, take my word for it, it UTTERLY ROCKS. I mean, HOLY DUDE. MAN. YEAH.
Also it’s got Benedict Wong in it, a fantastic and hugely underrated actor who stole Code 46 despite having, I think, five lines and every time I see him on screen my filmgoing heart lifts; plus a magnificent soundtrack by Underworld.
Wong plays Trey, who is…. This is my second point: I have no idea who Trey is. I don’t know his position on the Icarus II crew: something mathematical but that’s all we learn. I don’t know what family he has, where he’s from, his training, his motivations, his hobbies or interests, I don’t even know his second name. All I know about Trey, I learn from his actions through the film, and that’s enough for me to invest my emotions in him, the peril he faces, and the inner turmoils he goes through.
This is also about as much as I know about any of the principals (I lie: I know that Cillian Murphy’s and Chris Evans’s characters have family on Earth. That’s it.) I don’t care that I don’t know it. It’s not relevant to my enjoyment of the film which, as you may have gathered, IstillÂ enjoyed ONE HUGE MOTHER OF A LOT. Take a lesson from the existentialists: action is what defines character, nothing else.
And there’s more, or rather less.Â We discover nothing about what made the Sun go out (the hook for the entire movie, the Icarus II being on its way to light the thing back up again) and, like Alien and 2001, there are no shots of what future-Earth is like. Well, okay, there’s one and frankly I thought it was a mistake. We do not need to know any of those things. The film’s setting feels no less credible or deep for their lack, and it gains immeasurably in tightness and focus.
Admittedly Sunshine runs 108 minutes while most computer games and interactive narratives, even web-based ones, will run multiple times that but still: you don’t have to establish character with an opening paragraph of “I’m Jake, I run this crazy crew since my family was gunned down…” or a walk-through of their house with information on places, family and history that is neither interesting nor relevant. That’s not a rounded character, that’s flabby writing. Get over it. Stop trying so hard.
Plus if anyone’s thinking of doing a game based on Sunshine, I have some cracking ideas.
Categorised as: narrative