© Written by Rob Ager July 2014




Something I’ve never seen happen in the world of movies is for multiple versions of a film to be made, each with its own significant plot differences, and for those versions to be shown randomly to the public so that audiences never quite know what is going to happen, even if they’ve seen the film before. Instead what we get is movie releases in which the entire content is unrealistically  predefined so that later viewings are predictable. Watch the movie again and the content is exactly the same, so it’s just a question of what you’re able to notice that you missed first time around. This is unrealistic because in life we can very rarely know with absolute certainty what the outcome of a complex situation is likely to be.

One film that does play around with varying versions of the same events, albeit confined to an overall traditional movie structure, is Groundhog Day. The film has its main character endlessly waking up and re-experiencing the same day over and over as he tries to get a particular woman to sleep with him, but each day he benefits from the hindsight knowledge of all his failings on the previous days. So although the film shows multiple versions of the same scenario, which each differing based upon the varying actions of the main character, there is a definite linear progression in the traditional narrative sense. It would be interesting to have seen Groundhog Day broken up into twenty non-chronological short films, each with its own unique mood and outcomes.

Another variation on this idea of a film having multiple non-chronoloigcally ordered versions is made possible by modern computing technology. Imagine a movie which runs at ninety mins, but is randomly constructed upon each viewing from a much larger timeline of events running at say five hours. Certain key scenes might be present in every single viewing, while others might only appear once in every ten viewings. There could even be multiple versions of particular scenes, in which the exact same events occur, but are shot and edited differently. The rewatch value of such a format would be incredible ... or would it? How many viewers would complain that they just want to see the entire story all in one sitting? How many people would become addicted to rewatching the film dozens of times to gradually piece together the larger narrative? I've no idea because I've never seen or heard of this narrative approach being used.

Video games on the other hand are much more flexible. A recent facet is that some game engines can alter the course of the game based on input from the player. So when you’re playing Dishonored you might use a lot of stealth and hardly kill anyone, which results in alterations to the games later events. Go on a crazy kill rampage and those events will be quite different. Some games also have multiple endings. Another variation is when the player chooses, at the beginning of the game, from different characters to play as (each having its unique abilities and weaknesses). In Morrowind, the race of the character you set out as can drastically alter the game environment by changing the dynamics of which NPCs (non-player characters) will treat you frienship or hostility as well as affecting which factions you can join within the game world. These facets give a certain replay value.

However, there is still a limitation in these games in that no matter how you play there are bottlenecked plot points that you have to go through. This tends to involve pre-scripted, predefined mini-movie cut scenes – again unrealistic because those cut scenes are not responsive to the player and in those scenes the player can’t control their character’s action away from the pre-defined plot point. And one of the major reasons for this limitation is … artificial intelligence