I’ve just started reading The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation (Disney Editions 1995) by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, and I’m amazed at the parallels between the animation industry and video gaming.
Animations earliest films focussed exclusively on “gags” to the detriment of the medium: “Most people felt that by 1923 just about everything had been done that was possible.” Ninety years later we find the gaming industry saturated with games that explore a narrow range of artistic emotions through repetitive gameplay—first person shooters, platformers, etc. There are many lessons we can learn from the animation industry (and countless other artistic disciplines), which found success through expressive character’s with which the audience could empathise.
“At first the cartoon medium was just a novelty, but it never really began to hit until we had more than tricks… until we developed personalities. We had to get beyond getting a laugh. They may roll in the aisles, but that doesn’t mean you have a great picture. You have to have pathos in the thing.” —Walt Disney
Coincidentally, I’ve just written an article for Gamasutra on the topic of dynamic composition and character development (to be published sometime in January), which reveals several ways in which we can infuse video game design with a greater sense of life.