Kena’s Tribeca nod represents more than just an award

Tribeca's announcement last month of that first-ever slate of video game finalists for its movie-specific award represents a seismic shift in gaming, one that acknowledges that the cinematics in video games have become, well, more cinematic. The game's developers were ecstatic.

The video game category at Tribeca Film Festival represents a shift in the perception of art in games, as one of the world’s foremost movie festivals acknowledges that the line between cinema and cinematics continues to blur.

It is a milestone that has been in the making since Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire earned an official selection at the independent movie festival in 2011.

But 2021 will mark the first time video games will have its own category, as Tribeca announced finalists for the award last month.

“I think more and more people are recognizing the art and passion that is involved in both film and video games,” said Josh Grier, chief operating officer at Ember Labs, which plans to release its game Kena: Bridge of Spirits, in an email. “Both are art forms that include visual imagery, sound/music, and storytelling.”

Kena: Bridge of Spirits landed on the finalist list alongside seven others, which ranged in both studio size and genre.

Tribeca officials essentially confirmed the shift toward more, well, cinematic cinematics in video games in a press release announcing the finalists.

“For over a decade, our mission has been to be a catalyst for placing games and their creators at the forefront of mainstream and artistic culture alongside film, TV and VR/AR,” Tribeca Enterprises and Tribeca Festival Co-Founder and CEO Jane Rosenthal said in the release. “We continue to embrace the cross pollination and intersection of these storytellers with this year’s Tribeca Games Official Selections. And this is just the beginning.”

The thought that gamers are now essentially playing movies is not new.

As far back as the 1980s, video games had a way of telling a story that resembled movies.

In 1988, Tecmo used cinematic cutscenes to tell the story of the ninja Ryu Hayabasa trying to avenge his father in Ninja Gaiden.

Further back, arcade classics like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man embedded short sequences in between levels that immersed players as they dumped quarters into a machine.

However, today, the power within home-gaming consoles like Xbox, Switch and PlayStation has given developers access to more advanced tools.

“There is no doubt that there have been great technological advancements and an increased access to game development tools,” Grier said. “With more people in the world making games, we can expect more creativity, artistry and immersion to come.”

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is an action-adventure game that follows Kena, a spirit guide with magic abilities who helps deceased people move from the physical to the spirt world.

The game is set for an Aug. 24 release on PC and PlayStation 4 and 5.

Game Informer did a fantastic deep dive on how the game’s creators came up with the look for the game, which appears to be a mix of beautiful, bright vistas alongside sinister, brooding battle sequences.

Grier said the team was surprised when the game landed on Tribeca’s finalist list.

However, as more clips and gameplay trailers come out, the game has received a ton of positive comments on social media from fans.

“Seeing the game on screen in a more polished form evokes a lot of emotion,” he said. “There is so much that goes in to the game and the team has poured their heart into the project. We are so appreciative of the community’s support of our game.”


20 questions about Kena

Designing Kena: Bridge of Spirits’ Fierce And Compassionate Protagonist

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