"It had never occurred to me that a fan could just up and make a video," Mike "Spiff" Booth makes machinima videos of Jonathan Coulton songs (the guy who wrote "Still Alive" from Portal) using World of Warcraft. ILL Clan's "Code Monkey" was "the spark that got me going." After that, Booth became a machinima ... machine, making a video almost every month for a year and a half.
"Over the next couple of days," he says, "little ideas for shots would pop into my head while driving to work or doing the dishes for how I could possibly do "Re: Your Brains" in World of Warcraft. At some point, enough ideas had piled up that I thought I could make a good video out of it, and I sat down to do it. It was so much fun and the response was so positive to it that I decided to make another, and then another, etc."
Machinima, a combination of "machine" and "animation," are videos made using clips of game animation recorded by players, rather than created with professional animation software. Some machinima feature music or comedy, while others focus on an ongoing narrative. They're wide spread enough to merit their own YouTube channel, as well as the inevitable Machinima for Dummies book. They range from sublimely funny to heart-wrenching, amateurish home-movies of gameplay to complex, sophisticated productions. They appropriate game content to new, unexpected purposes and intriguing narratives capable of commenting on the nature of the virtual world.
They didn't start very complicated. In the early 1990s, Doom allowed users to record their play sessions. At first players swapped clips to compare and study matches and speed runs, and when Quake followed with more advanced recording tools, player clans began to do it wholesale.
The Quake community produced the first widely viewed machinima in 1996, the Rangers' clan's "Diary of a Camper," which took a normal piece of recorded gameplay and attached a narrative to it. Other pieces quickly followed, including the first feature-length machinima, Devil's Covenant by Clan Phantasm. The videos were known as "Quake movies" at first, and it would be a few years until machinima earned its proper name.
As the form became more popular, more and more production tools appeared, such as KeyGrip and Little Movie Processing Centre (LMPC). And as more developers began to understand the medium's potential, as well as the demand for it, more and more games began to include built-in ways for players to record their content.
In 2000, Machinima.com appeared, featuring tutorials, examples of machinima, interviews and articles about the form. It also hosted the first film created with Quake III Arena, Quad God. As its profile increased, machinima attained mainstream notice. Roger Ebert hailed it as a promising new art form, and "Hardly Workin'" won several awards at the Showtime Network's Alternative Media Festival in 2001.
In 2002, machinima makers Anthony Bailey, Hugh Hancock, Katherine Anna Kang, Paul Marino and Matthew Ross formed the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences, which produced the first official definition of machinima: "animated film-making within a real-time virtual 3-D environment." The first Machinima Film Festival was held at QuakeCon that year, and in its second year produced the first machinima music video to air on MTV, "In the Waiting Line" by Tommy Pallotta, created using Quake 3. The Academy sponsors the Festival each year, presenting awards informally known as "Mackies" in 10 different categories.