Disappointing match-cutting system in Immortality

Eternity is a wonderful game. The latest FMV title from Half Mermaid and Sam Barlow, creator of her story and telling lies, is innovative, disturbing, and captivating. It’s a huge step forward from Barlow, who has vastly expanded the scope of his previous games, to include a sprawling cast that stars in three radically different films. It’s great, and you can read a lot more in my review. But, the one thing I was most excited about when I followed the pre-release of Immortality, was a little disappointing.

The trailer shown at this year’s Computer Game Show featured a screen that read “The Match Cuts Your Way into Obscurity” before showing some examples of the mechanic in action. The player clicks on a cross pendant, mounted right side up, and the camera zooms in, then zooms out to reveal a different cross, facing the same direction, assembled from Polaroids. The trailer does a similar job with its characters, zooming in on Marissa Marcel, turning right, and moving to another shot of her where she is also directed to the right.

The Gamer video today

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Basically, I find the use of the term “match pieces” and the examples chosen for the trailer a bit misleading. A match cut, in the movie, is the transition from one shot to another with a similar composition. As a famous example, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, a monkey throws a bone into the air, it spins in the sky, and as it begins to land, director Stanley Kubrick cuts a satellite into space. The satellite, like a bone, is placed in the central frame. It has a long, straight, bone-like shape. Kubrick specializes in the moment when the path of rotation of the bone reaches the same angle at which the satellite was placed. So while the two shots use different colors and different props, the objects in the shot are positioned so that the shots feel intrinsically connected.

This connection can be used to communicate a lot of ideas. It can tell us that no matter how far technology advances, from the primitive tools of our evolutionary ancestors to the height of human invention, it will always have the potential to be used for violence. It can tell that humans will always be vulnerable to barbarism, no matter how civilized we are. It can tell, by using the sky in both shots, that despite the enormous amount of time separating the two epochs, our existence is scant in the face of the natural world. This is the cutting power of the match. By repeating the composition, he can communicate much greater ideas than the two snapshots they connect alone reveal.

This is why the way Immortality uses the “match pieces” mechanic is so disappointing. Rather than transitions between shots that convey ideas, they often don’t convey anything, except that the object or character is in both shots. In one scene, the boom mic snooped at the top of the shot, so I clicked it. This took me to another scene, where a microphone was sitting on a table, near the bottom of the shot. This is not an identical cut, this is just the same general type of item in two shots. Given that, without spoiling too much, some of the characters aren’t what they seem at first, tapping an actor can be a lot more illuminating. But metamorphoses charged with that kind of meaning are outweighed by a slew of metamorphoses that don’t seem to mean much of anything.

Is it possible to make a game that transitions between actual match cuts? I think so, but who knows? Assembling such a game requires a lot of planning (and Eternity is indeed an unimaginably complex game). Additionally, it may only result in a lot of scenes that use similar combinations. It can be boring and repetitive, and Eternity may not be a better game if you already use match cuts. As it stands, the system in the game is a huge improvement over those in its story and telling of lies, because it forces players to engage with the images that make up the movie, not the words we have to cut back in order to speak it. But, I still hope Barlow and the team at Half Mermaid eventually make a game that does what they indicated Immortality would.

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