Sunday, September 6, 2009

General RPGs' AMVs 1

Something I've not often really advertised about myself: I like AMVs. AMV, for all of those too caught up in not being losers to already know, stands for Anime Music Video. Basically, it's a fan taking a song, and making a music video for it using scenes from an anime (or several) to go along with the tune. Of course, the internet being what it is, the "Anime" part of AMV quickly became a less commanding suggestion than the local Speed Limit, or Mass Effect 1's Auto-Level option. Nowadays, you can make an AMV out of animes, cartoons, animated movies of any kind, and, of course, video games.

Now, when I say I like AMVs, I should clarify that I like them in the same capacity that I like any fan-made media (fanfiction, for example). That is to say, I actually hate most of the ones I come across, because they are garbage. This is because the people making these videos are:

1. Clueless
2. Idiots
3. Lacking Skills
4. Tasteless
5. Any Combination of 1, 2, 3, and 4
6. Not Convinced That Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 Shouldn't Have More Music Videos Than There are People on the Earth to Watch Them.

Still, there are some good ones out there. There are even some that I'd say are really great. And plenty of these good and great ones are RPG AMVs.

What, however, makes a good AMV? I mean, it's easy to tell when you've found a really good one; everything seems right. But what are the factors that really make the difference? Well, I've thought for a while on it, and I think I've pretty much got an idea of what makes an RPG AMV really work well. Before I get into them, though, here's an example of a very good RPG AMV. The game is Parasite Eve 1, and it does potentially spoil stuff, so be warned. Also be warned, if you haven't played the game but want to watch the AMV, that the game has some pretty fucked up stuff happen in it, and there's some pretty graphic, freaky shit going down in a lot of the game's FMVs (Full Motion Videos; cinemas, in other words).

Parasite Eve 1: Send Me an Angel: (Kept on my channel because Neko9's Youtube account has disappeared)

I'll be referring to this AMV as an example for almost each point of the list below, because it incorporates almost everything I think makes an AMV good. So here's the guide:

1. HAVE A POINT. Look, it's really no different than any other art form: an AMV should have a direction, something it wants to do or say. It can be a thoughtful, insightful comment on society or human nature. It can be a portrayal of great emotion and conflict. That's all great. But it doesn't have to be that big, either. It can be something basic, too--just summarizing the scope and feel of the game it shows, making the audience laugh, telling a story, emphasizing some aspects of the game's events, these are all fine. The PE1 AMV's not going for anything too extraordinary; it's just sort of summarizing the feel and action of the game, showing things that happen and matching it to a tune. That works fine. Just have SOME reason of substance for making an AMV. But if you're just doing it because you like the game and you like the song, or because you just think that the game's super-pretty bishounen main character is dreamy and HAS to have yet another music video dedicated to how awesome it is that he has good hair, then you're just going to end up with a rather pointless mess.

2. HAVE AN APPROPRIATE SONG. Look, we all have different tastes in music. I know that. But make sure your song actually coordinates with the game you're showing and what you want to say with the AMV. Don't play some screaming, raw alternative heavy rock metal whatever* to your AMV about the heartfelt love between Final Fantasy 10's Tidus and Yuna. If you're showing a montage of your most gruesome, horrifying, totally awesome kills in Fallout 3, don't put it to some longing, totally unintelligible J-Pop tune about feelings, butterflies, and eating sushi on trains or something. See how the PE1 AMV has a song that's fairly upbeat but with its moments of weird techno, with a general feeling of danger and need, all of which works pretty well with a modern-day semi-sci-fi adventure? The song works for what's being shown.

3. HAVE QUALITY VISUALS. Pretty simple: if it looks like crap, people don't wanna see it. I don't need Maximum Blow-Me-Out-Of-My-Chair HD x 10,000 graphic quality, but the video should be clean and clear. Seems obvious, but I've seen so many AMVs that are fuzzy, grainy, static-y, and just overall unappealing to watch. The PE1 video I showed is decent all the way through, as nice to watch to the music as it was to watch in the game.

4. SHOW SOME ARTISTRY. Any damn fool can just have some scenes run while music plays. Spice things up a bit. Cut to other scenes in an interesting way. Impose a translucent scene or picture over the video's action. There are all kinds of neat cinematography tricks that can make an AMV seem oodles cooler than it would have been. I mean, there's no need to go crazy with it--I've seen a couple AMVs that just had so much visual meddling going on that I had no idea what it was I was supposed to be watching--but a little dabbling can really make things more fun to watch. The PE1 AMV doesn't do much of this, but it does have a small example that's kind of neat--the scene change at 2:40 goes from the round altimeter, to the round moon, to the round view of DNA,** so it's like the same circle in each scene, just changing what's in it. It's a small thing, but it's neat.

5. GET THE TIMING RIGHT. As I said, any damn fool can just have some scenes run while music plays. But what really makes an AMV's visual and audio parts tie together into something fun to watch is timing the scenes to the music. Is there a crash, an impact of some sort in the song? Show something appropriate at that moment in the AMV. Is there an emphasized word or phrase in the song at certain points? Show something related at those moments. Is there a scene in your AMV about Final Fantasy 7's Cloud and Sephiroth's enmity where their blades meet? Play it right as the music hits a strong and lingering note. And let the AMV's scenes change as the music's tone and directions do. This detail is what separates an AMV from a random video with music playing to it. The PE1 AMV I directed you to has a lot of great examples of this--the scenes change well with the tune's change, the singing lady's voice is accompanied by scenes of Eve singing, the sudden, loud pause in the song at 1:41 has Eve slam her hands down, the chorus of "Send me an Angel" is always accompanied by an appropriate moment of Eve rising into the air or one of the good guys flying through it (and the scenes' order is good, too, with the most important, final "Send me an Angel" line getting the main character Aya to emphasize it), another beating pause at 2:10 accompanies a scene of a cop suddenly stopping a car...the timing in this video is nigh perfect from start to finish, and that really makes it cool to watch and worth noting.

6. MATCH THE SONG TO THE VIDEO. This one is kind of a combination of 3 and 5--have the videos tying in to the song's lyrics as they play, or working alongside the tone of the song's tune. Either's fine, as long as you're doing something to tie the package together. A lot of people just take a song they like and play it while showing the opening video of an RPG, claiming that it's an AMV. But doing that means that, save for extraordinary luck, a lot, most, or all of the video won't really seem to match up with the song being played at all. Hell, pretty much all RPG opening videos already HAVE music playing to them, which they were designed to match. Match the mood, match the words, just do something to make it work together. For our PE1 example, the scenes shift from urgent to slower and building as the song does quite well.

7. DON'T BE AFRAID OF NON-FMV VIDEO. Here's the deal: most RPGs have fairly limited FMVs to choose from. FMVs are expensive and take up a lot of space, even today, so game makers pretty much always use them sparingly. So if you're making an AMV for a game, you're probably going to be using all the same videos that anyone else who's made an AMV for the same game has used. But y'know, in reasonable doses, actual game footage CAN be useful. I have yet to find a great RPG AMV that's tried using in-game footage, but I've found some good ones that did and suffered no lesser quality because of it. Sometimes, powerful scenes don't have an accompanying FMV to go with them, but work so well with the song and theme that they just should be shown. Sparingly-used, they can add a lot, and most people don't really think to try it out. Now, the PE1 video I use as an example doesn't have any of this, unfortunately. As a stand-in, I recall once viewing a decent Tales of the Abyss AMV which was set to an extremely fast-paced, loud song. The AMV was pretty much dedicated to fast-pitched, tough battle, and used quite a lot of in-game footage of the different special attacks (which, like the song, were mostly fast-paced and flashy). It worked quite well, and was a good AMV for what it was going for.

8. DON'T BE AFRAID OF IN-GAME SOUND EFFECTS. In general, people don't have quite the appreciation for sound effects that they should. Sound effects are the audio details that help us orient ourselves within the game's world, arguably as responsible for drawing us into a game's mood and events as the music and voice acting are. So if the sound effects in an RPG's FMV are meant to make the scene more real to the viewer...why get rid of them? I'm not saying that an AMV-maker shouldn't pick and choose which scenes' sound effects are distracting and unnecessary, but look at the FE1 AMV--the roar of the jets, the shaking of fossils in the museum, these sound effects that played in the game's scenes do the same job of making the video feel real to the watcher now as they did then, without interfering with the music. And it's not like the AMV maker just didn't bother to take anything out--they kept what was helpful, but they got rid of sounds that would have been distracting, too. When Eve slams her hand on the piano at 1:41, the sound of the piano being hit is removed, because the music's impact at that moment was more important. This keeping of useful sound effects is, unfortunately, not something that most makers of AMVs think to do, but can help make it seem more smooth and immersing.

So that's my guide on what I think makes a great RPG AMV. Dunno whether anyone in the world who plans to make one will ever see it, but, eh, I like talking anyways, so what the hey. It's there.

Now, something else I haven't really advertised: I've made over 100 rants. The 100th rant, in fact, was the last one I put up. Now, Queelez suggested that I do something special for the 100th rant, but I decided not to. I mean, 100, big deal. Just a number. Who cares.

BUT, this is Rant 101. That's like 100, only bigger, AND a palindrome! Totally worth doing something special over. So, I've decided that from here on out, I'll have the occasional rant on really great RPG AMVs I've found, showing them to you all and noting why I think they're awesome and worth watching. As I mentioned, I really like a great, well-crafted AMV, and I'm hoping you all do, too. And for those who don't, which could very well be all of you, well...if it helps, I've actually so far only found 4 RPG AMVs that I really think are great, not counting Parasite Eve 1: Send Me an Angel, which I thought was on the border between good and great anyway. So you won't have that many AMV rants to slog through/ignore.

Oh, and hey, everyone, incidentally: thanks a lot for reading, commenting, suggesting, everything. I'm okay with only entertaining myself with huge walls of text, but it's really cool to know that there are some folks out there actually willing to wade through my endless babble over and over again. It means a whole hell of a lot, seriously. Here's to the next 101.***

* Yeah, I don't actually know much about music genres. I just know what I like and don't.
** To be honest, the change from the altimeter to the moon MIGHT have already been in the game's FMV cinema. I don't remember. But I'm pretty sure that the change to the DNA was the AMV's maker's doing.
*** Uh, imagine that I just lifted my Orange Julius to toast you guys. The action's kinda lost in text.

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