The first time you take control of the character in a game it is already Act 2. Act 2 is confrontation. In most games what usually happens after you take control of the character for the first time? Enemies come after you, you are presented with obstacles, confrontation. According to my mega notes the purpose of Act 2 is:
-Confrontation: Monsters, zombies, killer robots come after you and you have to kill them or be killed. The enemies are obstacles that you must confront. There is lots of confrontation and action. In Resident Evil 4 you only have to take about 10 paces after your first take control of Leon before some crazed dude tries to split your head open.... yeh thats confrontation and he's an obstacle.
-Subplots blossom: In Resident Evil 4 we meet Antonio Depp who is a scientist who helped create the crazies...OOOH subplot! And he becomes our friend and we care about this guy and what happens to him. If you bring the subplots in during Act 1 you might cause confusion about who the protagonist is and what the story is really about. Thats why in RE 4 we don't meet Antonio Depp until we've been running around icinG Ganado's for awhile... we don't meet him until we've had enough time to figure who the protagonist is and what the story is about. Also we learn that the cult leader that kidnapped the Presidents daughter that we need to save is planning to let his mind control parasites loose in the U.S. which would be like the end of the world oh nO!
-Keep us caring about what happens: So now its the middle of our movie, why should we care what happens next? Well because we have successfully bonded with our protagonist as they have bonded with the story and are now trapped in a race against time to save the world or die trying. In Act 1 of RE4 we get to know Leon and he's a pretty good guy so we don't want to see him get decapitated.
-Set up the final battle: You gotta always keep the end in mind so you don't stray to far from it while your in Act 2.
My notes also say that these are some requirements of Act 2:
-Death! : there should be a threat of death of some type... If death lurks around every corner for your character then those deadly things would be obstacles the protagonist would have to confront, which is like textbook Act 2 stuff. Crazy villagers wielding chainsaws yeah... thats a threat of death.
Opposition: There must be opposition and the opposition needs a compelling reason to stop the protagonist. In RE 4 the crazy villagers are trying to kill Leon because they are protecting the secret that they're cult withholds.
Adhesive: there needs to be a strong reason for the lead to stick around. If your protagonist can simply walk away from the conflict in the middle of Act 2 then you're not doing your job right! So you need to have lots of adhesive, you need to set up the story so that your lead is entrapped.
So Act 2 is all about conflict and escalating conflict at that. Through the conflict the protagonist needs to have something at stake...pride, money, his life. Your protagonist takes risks, deals with obstacles and confronts the opposition. As Act 2 moves forward the stakes needs to be raised. So maybe in the beginning of Act 2 your protagonist is at risk for losing all his money and by the end of Act 2 he is at risk for losing his life or like the lives of everyone in the world! So your protagonist is interesting because he takes risks and these risks get more and more dangerous as Act 2 moves on.
Think of it like this...when your playing an action game at the end of each level you fight a boss, the boss is your opposition, an obstacle you most confront. Within the level there are a bunch of small obstacles (regular enemies) which you must overcome in order to confront the big obstacle (boss) Do you see the similarities? As the game goes on the bosses get harder, so the opposition gets stronger. This is how you should construct your Act 2. Each boss should get tougher as the game moves on, they should be tough enough to provide a challenge but not so hard that you cannot move on past them. The conflict must escalate and the stakes need to be raised so like in a good game if you lose to the boss in level you just die and fail your mission. If the game is structured well like most Resident Evil games are by the end of the game the whole world is at risk so if you lose to the final boss you not only die but like the whole world explodes and is doomed x9383938393. Do you see how the stakes were raised? If you do this correctly the protagonists goal becomes more and more important as the film goes on so that if he/she dies the whole world mega_explodes and everything BLAM!!!! So the stuff I'm babbling about is obviously geared more toward action movies than anything else, it might be hard to blow the world up if your coming of age emo lead doesn't get the girl in the end. Unless the girl was like some cyborg filled with explosives that were rigged to like explode if like some emo boy didn't make out with her or something. Here's a dialog ripped off from some book that shows this principle in action. The conflict in your act 2 should be like a bouncing Nikola Tesla super ball that spits in the face of the laws of thermodynamics. So yeh check this diagram and think about how the levels in your favorite games get more difficult as the game goes on and structure the conflict in your Act 2 just like this...
Try to set up the obstacles in Act 2 like this diagram, so that the further your protagonist goes the tougher it gets, the scarier it gets, and the more dangerous it gets. The steps are important, they are built just like stairs in real life, steps going up not down. If the steps were reversed your film would start out all exciting and get lamer as it goes on, don't do that. Escalate, ghost ride the escalator to the top f00!! DAmn!!!!
We want people to be excited and enthralled by the time they get to the end of the film, we don't want them to be comfortable knowing that they and the protagonist are now on flat ground after descending the stairs. We want them to climb the stairs not knowing what excitement or terror lies at the next level. Get it? Just now I was riding my bike up into a dark tunnel and I couldn't see what was inside until it was too late and I was already inside. There could have been killers, monsters, zombies?! I didn't know what was up in there, luckily there weren't any terrifying things inside just some homeless people sleeping on the floor. Its the mystery of what could lie on the other side that is exciting, so if you set up your act 2 so that your protagonist is climbing the stairs of mega conflict your film will remain interesting to the very end.
Have you ever felt ripped off at the end of a game because the last level and final boss were too easy? Thats what it will feel like for a viewer if the conflict doesn't climb these stairs....so like don't make your protagonist walk down stairs and don't give them an escalator either when they walk up either! Like a good game the key is to make it difficult but not so difficult so that the obstacles are impassable.
Here's an idea on how to construct your Act 2. Remember a really tough level in a game you've played where you have to fight enemies, dodge bullets, jump over holes, swing on vines all while running at top speed. You know those levels that are super intense and if you make one mistake your dead? Remember the first time you passed the level... you know it seemed like a miracle you killed the last enemy with your last bullet and you barely hung onto the vine with your fingernails. Now thats what it should be like for your protagonist in Act 2! It should be like a highlight reel, wherein everything is exciting.
Have you ever checked out time attack videos from games like Super Mario Bros 3? Time attack videos are game play video made by people trying to finish games as fast as they can. In these video the players are usually running through the entire game, making death defying manuevers to get through the levels. Now write your action in Act 2 like that! Again I realize that this article is kinda just focused on action movies but thats okay because I think a lot of you are interested in action movies anyway and if your not I'll just pretend you are before I run away and jump off that cliff while on fire only to land on that fast moving car thats on fire and jumping off before it explodes for no reason whatsoever! DAMN!!!! ACTION!!!
So as a result of defeating all these enemies and blowing all these things up the final confrontation is set up because all those dead enemies and things on fire belong to the big boss and d00d....he's pissed!!! Am I making any sense here? I hope so! So yeh the game play section of a game is Act 2. Act 3 is the cinematic at the end of the game that ties up all the loose ends and shows you that all your hard work paid off. So just remember Act 2 is action, confrontation, obstacles, be they zombies, monsters, a volcano, the MAN whatever....things that stand in the way of your protagonists goal. Remember to use lots of adhesive when constructing your Act 2 so that it becomes a sticky situation for your protagonist. Make it so sticky you have lots of reason why he can't just walk away because the obstacles are too scary.
Part 3 will be in the next posT.