For years, games have been a one-of-a-kind medium for storytelling, art, and innovation — a way to build brand-new worlds and provide deeper connections to the characters and the audiences who play. Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, is dedicated to celebrating such thoughtful stories, and we’re thrilled to announce that Tribeca Games will be an even bigger part of the Festival in 2021.

Over the years, Tribeca has showcased games including League of Legends, God of War, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Beyond Two Souls, Firewatch, and What Remains of Edith Finch. For our 20th anniversary festival taking place June 9-20, 2021 in New York City, Tribeca Games is expanding its programming.

For the first time ever, Tribeca is opening submissions for games to join the Festival as Official Selections. Those chosen will also be eligible for the inaugural Tribeca Games Award, which will honor upcoming games from the selections that demonstrate artistic excellence in storytelling. Plus, we’ve brought together an all-star advisory board to help guide Tribeca Games’ evolution. 

Submissions are open now through January 31, 2021, and they’re really looking forward to see what you’ve been working on. Get more info here.


An Inevitable Convergence

The value of computer games in presenting narratives has been long understood by gamers, but not historically by everyone else. As gaming technology improves, however, the line between games and other forms of visual entertainment becomes more and more blurry.

Computer games began to acquire strong narratives as early as the mid-90’s, when the top selling game in the world was Myst, published by Broderbund, and created by Robyn and Rand Miller via their company Cyan, Inc. It was the best selling game in the U.S. for 52 months, starting with its debut in 1993 all the way through April of 1999. It was considered the killer app with respect to driving sales of CD-ROM drives for computers. One of the things that separated it from the pack was its 40 minutes of music, arranged for orchestra, but performed on synthesizer. A fully orchestral recording did finally happen towards the end of its run.

The game had such a compelling story line that it was considered its sole sustaining feature, It didn’t have a scoring system, nor lives you could lose. In fact, you couldn’t actually “lose” the game. You could simply get stuck, and the sole player goal was to complete the story. This proved beyond doubt that computer games could be vehicles for visual storytelling. Both Wired and The New York Times used Myst as evidence that computer games could, in fact, evolve into an art form.

Other games would follow in its footsteps. As new features became available through personal computing technology, we began to see sweeping epics in gaming like Chris Roberts’ Wing Commander series, in which Mark Hamill played the lead character, and you got to see him and other big name stars performing scenes for a storyline that would change depending on how well you did after each mission, and how well you were doing in as an agent in advancing the storyline as a player.

A Level Playing Field

Game engines are no longer created from scratch for each game. Instead, they’re made using something the game industry calls “middleware”. It’s a general term for software that handles all the rendering, models, scenery, lighting, props and characters that appear in a computer game and how all that stuff looks, sounds, and behaves. These game engines level the playing field for game creators. If you’re a gamer yourself, you’ve probably heard of them – the top game engine used in more games than any other is the Unity engine, followed closely by the Unreal Engine. After that are a field of other competing systems, such as CryEngine, Godot, or Amazon’s Lumberyard. Even the 3d modeling and animation app called Blender has a game engine built into it. Most of these engines are enormous apps that you can download for free and use for whatever you like, only charging the developers a fee if and when they release something to the public (except for Blender, which is always free for any purpose).

Each of the engines allows you to create scenes and have them acted out and rendered in real time before your eyes, and the production pipeline for each of them is so similar to that of a full motion picture visual effects production pipeline that there’s scarcely any difference. The technology used is nearly identical, and many of the tools used to do it are the same ones used to make movies.

The latest versions of both the Unreal Engine and the Unity Engine are so good that they can render in real time, at such quality that it can be very hard to impossible to tell the difference between what they output and an actual motion picture.

The production for The Mandalorian uses the Unreal Engine in something called “Stagecraft”, which maps a virtual camera onto the motions of the real on-set one, so that the backgrounds move in sync with the camera to create the impression of a limitless background that matches the shot perspective perfectly.

Nor is the idea of using game technology to produce live action content new. The Star Trek fan film series Star Trek: The Hidden Frontier had the idea of using backgrounds from video games for their sets, shooting most of their action scenes in front of green screens. (Editor’s note: Executive Producer Susan Fox appears in the series as a Tellurite).

Shining Stars

It’s easy to understand why Tribeca has made this new invitation to game developers to submit their works for recognition. The narratives in such games as French video game developer Quantic Dream’s Detroit: Become Human, the story of human-shaped androids who are so close to human that they can pass for organically grown humans – and who become self-aware. The definition of what makes a human being is brought into focus, and the struggle of the androids to earn their rights as conscious individuals is showcased. The story is gripping, and cinematic.

Another remarkable example is Quantic’s Heavy Rain, a The game features four protagonists involved with the mystery of the Origami Killer, a serial murderer who uses extended periods of rainfall to drown his victims. The player interacts with the game by performing actions highlighted on screen related to motions on the controller, and in some cases, performing a series of quick time events. The player’s decisions and actions during the game affect the narrative, in effect making the player a co-author of the story.

This stuff is as engaging and thrilling as movies are, and if we’re honest, all the things that make movies good also apply to games, and with a few exceptions having to do with interaction from the viewer, vice versa.

The lines between movies and television are already blurring, and we’re already struggling with terminology. What do you call them when everything comes to you over the internet, or can be delivered to you via a variety of technologies, and you can see the exact same content in the theater, on your cable box, on your computer, or on your phone? The differences now come down to how the entertainment is structured, the size and format of the screen, the screen time of the production, and whether it’s a single presentation or a series of them. There have even been choose-your-own-path shows, like the alternate endings of the 1985 movie Clue or the Black Mirror film Bandersnatch from 2018, further blurring the line between interactive gaming and motion picture style entertainment. Virtual reality comes into it as well, with Tribeca already embracing VR as a visual storytelling medium that’s more immersive than anything that’s gone before. This year’s Tribeca festival includes the Virtual Arcade, featuring eighteen productions with some surprisingly high profile producers and actors involved.

Are motion pictures, television, streamers, gaming and virtual reality all sliding together into a big overlapping mass in the center of all of them? Apparently the Tribeca advisory board that games deserve a seat at the table. Now that the invitation is openly made to the game makers of the world, the entertainment world has shifted on its axis.


Gene Turnbow
Gene Turnbow

President of Krypton Media Group, Inc., radio personality and station manager of Part writer, part animator, part musician, part illustrator, part programmer, part entrepreneur – all geek.