The biggest obstacle in the path of machinima is the lack of expressiveness in 3D game engines. Of course, Malice@Doll’s characters were completely without expression, so maybe it’s not such a big barrier after all. Red Vs. Blue gets around the problem by using characters in powered armor. This works out just fine.
Burnie Burns, the director and creator, has enough of a handle on what he’s doing to pull off double-takes, both in the character animations and with the camera, which is more than I can say for some traditional directors. He’s got the chops to make machinima believable as cinema. He also knows how to protect his weaknesses: for example, shaky voice acting is fixed up by filtering everyone through radio static, which makes perfect sense in the powered armor context.
As a movie, Red Vs. Blue is ambitious. Much of the story is twenty-something gamer humor; the characters aren’t futuristic soldiers, they’re a bunch of geeks in powered armor behaving like you’d expect geeks in powered armor to behave. Albeit ones who’ve been through basic training. Burns goes for real emotion here and there, and sort of hits the target, but if this was a live action film it wouldn’t be worth more than a few chuckles.
Notwithstanding, it’s tremendously cool as a signpost and it succeeds on its own terms. It’s — ah. It’s not amateur, it’s proficient. It proves that the tools can do what they need to do in order to make a real movie. The remaining barrier is facial expressions, That’s a problem which game publishers want to solve, for many of the same reasons; it won’t surprise me if ten years from now machinima is as mainstream in the same way that print on demand publishing is mainstream today. Which is to say “marginally” but also “promising.”