A Moratorium On Cutscenes

By Jim Rossignol on November 29th, 2007 at 9:19 am.

So I was having a chat with one of RPS’ chums on MSN. We were talking about cutscenes in games. I was moaning, then:

Quinns says:
Once upon a time cutscenes were fabulous things. I ached for the CG because it was so beautiful seeing those sprites being brought to life as full 3D models.

And was that where the games industry got hooked on cutscenes? I think it was. And I also think something needs to change. [May contain mild spoilers]

I was moaning, specifically, because I had just played watch a non-gaming friend play a bunch of games that had delivered cutscene after cutscene into his unsuspecting lap. He had looked bemused, then frustrated. “When is it going to be my turn?” Finally, eventually, he played Bioshock. But we’ll come back to that in a moment.

“Cutscenes are crappy” is such an obvious rant, but I simply hadn’t realised how bad it had become: the games industry needs a moratorium on cutscenes.

Actually, I think it needs a design principle along the lines of: “Can the information in this non-interactive sequence be conveyed during an /interactive sequence/, via a voice-over, scripted scene, or text prompt? If the answer is yes, then the cutscene must be abandoned.” The answer is almost always “yes”.

A great example: is what happens with the mountain towards the end of Crysis. There isn’t a cutscene that highlights this incredible scene, you simply hear the rumbling and look up. It’s astonishingly dramatic – cinematic, even. And it’s done by you.

One of the most powerful things about Bioshock was that it only explained what it needed to explain. My gaming friend was pleased because he could get on with understanding what this weird game thing was about without either extraneous exposition, or pointless scene-setting, bogging him down. Kieron and I chuckled about this: the major cutscene in Bioshock actually turns about to be the absolute crux of the game, and the reason so many people held it up as a paragon of cleverness. But the truth is much harder than that: cutscenes are a waste of time and resources. Everyone Anyone on the side of Righteousness wants to skip them, and most people will grumble about not being able to just get on with playing. And yet still they come: laborious scene after scene. The very antithesis of a “game” somehow parastically embedded in our otherwise interactive medium.

And I should be clear about this: I don’t regard dialogue-tree sequences as ban-worthy, but simply those bookend cutscenes, the ones that take over from you and show you “story” or attempt to justify the motivations of the mushroom people. Even those sequences in which you’re deliberately trapped and controlled in first person – see Crysis and HL: Episode Two – are at fault.

There’s no reason why gaming shouldn’t try to abandon its cutscenes. We don’t need them, and I don’t believe that they’re still a “reward” for success. All the reward we need can be delivered in gaming victories, in scripted events, in clever, funny voice-overs and dialogue. The sooner game designers realise that, the better.

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101 Comments »

  1. Joe says:

    They cost a fuckload to develop as well.
    I for one would be more than happy to stop making them. It isn’t *that* easy to make games work well without them though.
    Having said that, I guess with this next-generation lark, there isn’t actually that much you can do in a cutscene itself that you can’t do in the game itself anyway.
    Yeah, let’s scrap em.

  2. Piratepete says:

    Personally I have no problem with a well used cutscene at an appropriate moment. The one you are referring to in Bioshock, for me, was particularly well implemented, with great flair and timing and really added to the story. Equally in the origianl tomb raider a cutscene was so sparse that it felt almost like a reward, where you could finally relax and enjoy. Implemented like that I think they are a worthy and useful thing.

    However, and I blame consoles for the rise of this, cutscene after cutscene of drivel that goes on for hours is annoying. Especially if the plot is not engaging in any way.

    My personal bugbear is a 20minute cutscene where you lose interest, go and make a tea then come back to find its dumped you straight back into the action and there is a Zombie chewing on your leg, you die then when you reload the cut scene starts again. gah.

    I can’t think of an example but I am sure there are more than one game that commits this cardinal sin

  3. Feet says:

    I don’t think cutscene is a real word. Is it not supposed to written “cut-scene”? I dunno. :P

    When is a cutscene not a cutscene though? How interactive does a cutscene need to be, to no longer be considered one. Alec really liked the CoD4 cutscene where you play the president of a Middle Eastern country. You can look around but essentially it’s still a long cutscene.

    Bioshock’s first descent into Rapture, again you can control what you see to a degree but essentially it’s a cutscene.

    The best parts of Mass Effect (360 game, sorry) is the talking parts which are essentially just lots of cutscenes where you can vaguely control what your character says. In reality it seems to makes little difference to the outcome of the conversation or story, as to which responses you choose.

    Was it Half-life that pioneered this type of “slightly interactive cutscene”?

    I guess so long as it engages the player and doesn’t breaking the fourth wall it’s not so bad.

  4. FaceOmeter says:

    I think they have their place. Without its SHOCKINGLY ABYSMALLY AWFUL SO BAD ITS GOOD cutscenes, guild wars would be a shadow of its current self. And imagine Far Cry without those “brilliant” FMVs!

    Although I suppose it can go too far. I saw Beowulf last night. It’s one looooong cutscene. From a game made about five years ago. Without being good even in a bad way.

  5. Alec Meer says:

    One situation they can be used in a more worthwhile way is if the cutscene’s documenting a flashback, i.e. events that have already happened and you wouldn’t be able to control, rather than seizing control of what you’re supposed to be doing at the moment.

    Recent example? Timeshift. They were pretty uninteresting cutscenes as they go, but each was less than ten seconds, and solely featured something you’d done in the past, so there wasn’t that awful insult of seeing your character do something the control set won’t allow you to do.

    Endless scope for that approach to backfire horribly of course, as by heading so far off from what you’re doing, it’s got even more potential to disrupt the flow of your fun.

  6. Noc says:

    I didn’t mind the ones in Episode 2.

    I mean I DID. I felt trapped and frustrated, and wanted more than anything to regain control of the character so I could DO something. But it occurred to me as I was reading this article that that’s exactly what I was supposed to be experiencing.

    They didn’t take control away for the reasons that, say Crysis did – to make you look at the right things at the right time, and make sure you’re standing still while someone delivers exposition. Instead, they only took control away when they wanted you to feel precisely as IF control was being taken away. When they wanted you to feel like a helpless observer. As previously mentioned, most cutscenes make you want to fast forward through so you can get on with shooting something – the Episode 2 ones capitalized on that fact to keep you sitting on the edge of your seat desperately clicking the mouse because you REALLY want to shoot the thing in front of you but can’t.

    They did something similar with the steel coffin in HL2 proper, but that didn’t have nearly the same effect. It might’ve been the five minutes of trundling leisurely through the Citadel, or it might’ve been the fact that you had to get in the thing yourself. I dunno. It felt contrived.

    But I feel like the Episode 2 ones nailed it pretty solidly.

  7. Flint says:

    So I guess I’m a tiny minority when I say that I like cutscenes? Just sitting back for a moment, enjoying a dialogue or exposition with different camera angles, etc. The best results can be downright cinematic and nothing that could be reproduced with a more interactive option.

    Though I do also like the more interactive option and they can create fantastic moments as well.

    Both good for me.

  8. Radiant says:

    Or cut scenes you can’t skip; where you just stand around listening to an npc’s gravitas masked gibberish for a full minute [with multiple camera angles!]; even though you have already sat through it FOUR TIMES.

    The best ‘cutscene’ in recent times is in Bioshock.
    Right at the start after the plane crashes and you’ve swum to the bathysphere building.

    Everyone I know who’s played the game said they turned and watched the plane sink under the water.

    Other games it would have been a movie cutscene with a hamfisted voice over.
    This one you didn’t even have to watch it but you did

  9. Pidesco says:

    I don’t think the cutscenes themselves are the problem. The problem is that story in 99 percent of games is used solely as the proverbial carrot on the end of the stick, and cutscenes are just a symptom of that.

    Gameplay should at least help convey the messages of the narrative and at best, should affect the way the narrative is developed.

    In most games narrative and gameplay are just two threads that run parallel to each other, and never really touch. And that’s a fucking waste of a good storytelling medium. Bioshock would be an excellent example of what not to do, where the awesome narrative just leaves behind gameplay progression.

  10. roryok says:

    I think someones been reading ‘Story’ again…

    “Can the information in this non-interactive sequence be conveyed during an /interactive sequence/, via a voice-over, scripted scene, or text prompt? If the answer is yes, then the cutscene must be abandoned.”

    Sounds a lot like McKee’s bit on cutting scenes if they don’t move the story along or provide exposition.

    =)

    Now that I think of it, isn’t it weird that we use the word cutscene, which in the film world implies a scene which has been left out of the final film?

  11. Dragon says:

    Noc – you’re right in that the scenes in Ep. 2 do give that feeling but I think that was also a way of making you watch what was happening. There’s a lot of exposition in Ep. 2 but most of it you can walk away from and not listen to and it doesn’t really matter. Two scenes in particular though (without giving too much away I hope) are linked. If you miss the first one, the second one makes absolutely no sense and would seem completely arbitrary when it’s not.

    Personally I mind them less because they do retain the first person POV and you can still look around – a bit like *that* sequence in Quake 4.

  12. Turin Turambar says:

    It’s not that videogames cutscenes are bad per-se. I can see the virtues of good cutscenes: direction, good voices, artistic and production values…

    It’s that cutscenes aren’t really “games”. They are non-game parts inside games. It’s like putting a poetry reading mini-event between the two parts of a soccer match. They aren’t really in the same medium.

    Developers, if you want to put something cool in your game, ok, put it IN THE GAME, not in a cutscene which is inserted in a point in the game. Dialogues, action scenes, backstory, whatever, they are always ways to put them in the game, with some sense of active interaction in hands of the player.

    And if you only want to tell a passive, traditional story without any participation or active involvement of the player, perhaps what you really want is to write a book or make a movie. Go ahead then, i also read books and watch movies.

  13. Ryan says:

    Warning, SPOILERS, skip this comment if you haven’t played Episode 2. Now that that’s out of the way:

    The G-Man sequence (from which the screenshot in the article is taken) is the only bit in Episode 2 that really felt like a contrived cutscene to me. Even then, the fact that the developers so rarely take the player outside of an immediate first-person view of Gordon’s immediate surroundings both made me a bit more forgiving of their brief lapse and more attentive- and there were quite a few details that couldn’t really have come across properly without being shown in this way, from the G-Man’s sudden location changes to the spooky audio. The other instance- being levitated then pinned to a wall by the awakened Combine Advisor- didn’t bother me a bit, especially since the player’s sudden immobility is used to scare him/her and show off just how formidable these big maggoty bastards are.

    (While I’m on the topic of restricting player movement, am I the only one bothered by the fact that Gordon Freeman can spin 360 degrees while driving a car?)

  14. Ryan says:

    Eww, strike one of those “immediate”s. That’ll teach me to stay up ’til 5 AM.

  15. CrashT says:

    I wish people would stop bemoaning cutscenes for not being interactive. What exactly is it about the lack of interactivity in a cutscene that makes it “not a game” when at the same time the copious quantities of text I have to sit through in something like Planescape: Torment is lauded. I spend much more time doing non-interactive things like reading in an RPG that I do watching cutscenes in any genre of game, but somehow one is fine and the other isn’t?

    Personally I’ve no problem with good cutscenes, well directed, acted and edited cutscenes are entertaining in the same way that watching a good scene in a film or TV show is entertaining. Regardless of the quality of Halo 3 as a whole the cutscenes themselves were some of the highest quality I’ve seen in a game and I never once felt the urge to skip them, furthermore the checkpoints were such that I was never once forced to watch them again. Ironically I wish there was a way to watch them again as some of them simply were that good. The same is true of Mass Effect, ignoring the conversations themselves there are also some explict cutscenes, of space battles and the like, that are some of the best examples of those kind of action scenes outside of something like Battlestar Galactica. In both games the cutscenes weren’t always providing information so much as they were contextualising my actions and the consequences of failure. That is something difficult to do in a straight text prompt or voice over.

    [I appreciate I'm using two examples of console titles, but I fully expect both to appear on the PC in due course.]

    The problem is that the current methods of “interactive” storytelling simply aren’t good enough to provide the same feeling that a high quality cutscene can. I want to play games that can evoke such emotional responses through interactive sequences alone, but such games don’t exist in anything more than an inchoate form right now. Until they do I’m willing to accept good cutscenes that do actually make me feeling something.

    That said I do have a problem with is games that require you to sit through a twenty minute cutscenes before you are even able to do anything, or ones where the cutscenes are just a sequence of talking heads (Metal Gear Solid I’m looking at you), in both instances the purpose of the cutscenes is to provide information or set the scene and that can usually be done with other, more explicitly interactive means.

  16. Mike says:

    Personally I mind them less because they do retain the first person POV and you can still look around – a bit like *that* sequence in Quake 4.

    I love the reverance with which you refer to Quake 4′s plot, Dragon. Mustn’t ruin it for those who’ve yet to experience its powerful and integral storyline. ;)

    Fair point though, like…

  17. Dragon says:

    Absolutely no reverance at all. Just no spoilers. I don’t actually think I got much further than that anyway.

    Also – there was a storyline?

  18. Robert Seddon says:

    Cutscenes per se aren’t annoying; the opening scenes of Valkyrie Profile (the first one) do stick in my mind as annoying because after the opening credits (and the optional prologue and intro FMV) Lenneth gets to walk a few steps to the left under player control before another lengthy cutscene begins. (Try to walk right and a dialogue box appears to scold you: even by console JRPG standards it stands out.) The mistake there was to put in some ‘gameplay’ which utterly failed to be an adequate break between expository scenes and would have been better removed. There is cutscene filler, but there’s also gameplay filler, and it’s all filler.

  19. Lu-Tze says:

    Assassin’s Creed may be guilty of many things, but one of it’s major offences is the cut scenes. Who thought it would be a good idea to let you walk around in an invisible box 3′ square while exposition is going on? It reinforces the fact you are being held in place whilst simultaneously destroying any effect of the scene because you are busy trying to make him spin on the spot and moonwalk. In some places it works “well” (such as where you are watching a scene unfold from a crowd) but any time it occurs between you and “the boss” it is just dire.

    “Interactive” cut scenes CAN be done well. In some cases, you don’t even realize you were ever part of one (see Portal), in others it’s simply a fantastic way to tell part of the story (see COD4). Even regular cinematics are fine, they are no worse than interactivity except that it’s more apparent that it’s completely out of your control. I think the important thing developers should remember is that they should be skippable, even if that’s only true on the second play through or by some combination (press a button and it pops up with “Press Start to Skip”).

  20. Simon says:

    The best reward a game can give is more gameplay. There is only a very short scene at the end of RE4, but then it gives you game+, new weapons to unlock, a side mission and of course the awesome mercenaries minigame.
    But if you have a game where you’re slogging through it just to work (not play) your way to be rewarded by a cutscene, is it really worth it to do busywork for your entertainment after already having spent money on it?

  21. Homunculus says:

    The most obnoxious cut-scene is the unskippable long one that immediately precedes a lengthy, tough boss fight that will require multiple attempts with the only allowed load point just prior to the beginning of the whole sequence and therefore you’re forced to re-watch said cut-scene until it is permanently etched into your retinas.

    Fuck you, Paper Mario. You were so good until that point.

  22. Muzman says:

    These opening words are the words of reviewers with deadlines and a squillion games under their belts. There are bad and over used cutscenes in interactive media but “everyone hates cutscenes and wants to skip them”? Everybody loves cutscenes! Getting to the next bit; seeing the ending or endings, scarfing up bits of story and character development along the way. This is part of what keep people playing, has been as long as I can remember. Sure a case can be made that interactive media should use interactivity yadda yadda. It’s true and perfecting that will be part of games growing up. Really though it’s like how they say you should never use voiceover in a movie, but so many of the great ones do.

  23. Kieron Gillen says:

    CrashT: You can always read the text quicker. Text, funnily enough, *is* an interactive medium, just because you can consume or ignore it at your own rate. Unskippable visual cutscenes, you are absolutely passive and there’s nothing you can do.

    (Games – mainly console games – which do that slow text across the screen offend on this rule too)

    KG

  24. mister k says:

    I have to agree with muzman here, I suspect that a lot of people enjoy cut scenes. I certainly do. While it’s nice to interact during these scenes, I’d actually prefer to have more to look at. Half life 2 and episodes provide excellent examples. During long dialogue you get control so if you’re a little bored you can go around and throw objects at the wall etc, but during short intense scenes like the g-man, you lose control.

    Yes, cut scenes can be lame, or simply too long- metal gear solid is definitely guilty of the latter. There are cut scenes in mgs1 that I never watched because I got so bored of having to sit through tiresome exposition with pictures of people doing things.

    Another advantage of cut scenes is it allows your character to be given personality. While one can go the way of bioware RPGs and allow you to mold what your character says, generally is makes sense for your character to act a certain way, and it’s nice to hear what they think occasionly.

    I suppose it’s possible that there is a better way to delivery cut scenes, but I love them as they are. The hilarious acting from red alert, the rewarding end cut scenes (and goddamn it, they often are rewarding!), they can be a good way to tell story.

    Yes, they are not part of a game, but actually video games are not just games, because games in their purest sense would lack story to my mind, but story for me is one of the main reasons I play video games.

    I was about to say that god games like civ can live without cut scenes, but hell, I love it when I get a little animation when I build a world wonder!

  25. Pidesco says:

    We shouldn’t forget that most cutscenes, by themselves are complete crap, and don’t add anything to the game, other some “cool” action scene. Final Fantasy games are littered with such cutscenes.

  26. Hypocee says:

    Of course, the flipside is that in-engine exposition cannot be skipped. ‘Hello, Dr. Frohman! It’s so nice to meet you for the sixth time in your life! Have you met my pet chalupa yet? Let’s take a look around the lab and pimp the love interest character a bit while the phase reversal emitters warm up…’ Openthedooropenthedooropenthedoor!

  27. Pesh says:

    I have to disagree. The Soul Reaver games had excellent cut scene sequences- and I wouldn’t call HL2: Episode 2′s one and only cut scene “at fault”.

    Final Fantasy, Warcraft 3, Starcraft, Diablo 2, Red Alert 2, Guild Wars, God of War, and almost all JRPGs use cinematic and cut scenes very effectively.

    To say, “Blagh! Cut scenes are bad! Player freedom, blargh!” is ridiculous. There is probably a point when cut scenes drive the story superfluously, true, but I don’t recall any great games having moments where I was truly frustrated with a cut scene.

    I expected more from RPS. :shakes head:

  28. Jim Rossignol says:

    Pesh: I think what you’re offering is a list of games in which the cutscenes are quite well done. That’s true, they’re all lovely, but none of them are “used effectively” in terms of conveying information in a way that couldn’t be done in-game. The argument against cutscenes is that they’re almost always crutches of some kind – they’re an easy way not to have to design a game in which they aren’t necessary.

    To say, “Blagh! Cut scenes are bad! Player freedom, blargh!” is ridiculous. There is probably a point when cut scenes drive the story superfluously, true, but I don’t recall any great games having moments where I was truly frustrated with a cut scene.

    The better the game, the less frustrating the cutscene, perhaps. I do have the dubious pleasure of playing a wide range of games which are not ‘great’ and use cutscenes badly. I’m not crying out for player freedom, either, I’m simply arguing that the game designer’s dependence on cutscenes for story-telling and reward is something we need to let go of if games are to use their most powerful features to their full potential. I mean, yes, God Of War’s cutscenes were masterfully delivered, but weren’t the scenes where you were killing/leaping/beheading-with-chains far superior?

    Ryan:

    (While I’m on the topic of restricting player movement, am I the only one bothered by the fact that Gordon Freeman can spin 360 degrees while driving a car?)

    Now that’s a real world skill we’d all enjoy.

  29. Pod says:

    Now that I think of it, isn’t it weird that we use the word cutscene, which in the film world implies a scene which has been left out of the final film?

    It’s a cut away scene. I believe Ron Gilbert invented the word. cf: http://grumpygamer.com/8139425 . Fifth picture down.

  30. Jim Rossignol says:

    CrashT:

    The problem is that the current methods of “interactive” storytelling simply aren’t good enough to provide the same feeling that a high quality cutscene can.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by this. I’ve always felt cutscenes to be secondary in quality to something I’ve experienced “myself”, and I think there are plenty of moments of high-quality story-telling within the games themselves.

  31. Pesh says:

    Cut scenes are crutches for story telling? When was the last time you wanted to watch an episode of House from the perspective of one character during all 50 some odd minutes of the show?

    Really, it’s all fine and dandy if you don’t like cut scenes for some benign reason, but disliking them on PRINCIPLE, a stupid principle, flabbergasts me.

    I don’t think cut-scenes will ever be completely replaced by in-game story telling, and I’m glad they won’t. To me, a cut scene or cinematic is a great way to portray a story that no voice actor or script of text could. I mean, it really sounds like you’re suggesting we read the novel while we play the game, or spend 50 hours looking for subtext clues and hints, a la Bioshock.

    Suggesting to eliminate all cut-scenes despite genre is stupid. Like everything else, moderation is a virtue.

  32. Kieron Gillen says:

    It’s the wrong comparison, mate.

    The right comparison would be when was the last time an Episode of House stopped you and made you read a few pages of a book so you could get a better look at the character’s internal narrative?

    KG

  33. Jim Rossignol says:

    Pesh: I’m disliking them in practice. Any principle I appeal to here is based on experience I’ve had with them. The excruciating flow-breaking waffle that sets up Assassin’s Creed, the *fifteen minutes* at the start of Okami, the pointless clutter in Lost Planet, the ham surrounding World In Conflict’s RTS game (although I actually enjoyed that in some ways). I end up thinking about all the ways stories have been delivered to me by games themselves, and how they have been far better than cutscenes. *That* is what I want more of in games: More of Half-Life’s scripted calamities, more tooth-and-nail randomised drama in Stalker, hell, even more cinematic death-button punches in God Of War… There’s loads more drama in escaping a botched kill in Hitman, or joy in winning an unlikely engagement in Eve, than in any cutscene.

    Also, I am being deliberately provocative. There are lots of cutscenes I’ve enjoyed over the years, but I’d still like to see their kind expunged. And I love a good argument, me.

  34. Dracko says:

    Pesh, I simply haven’t a clue what you’re on about. The principle is simple: This is a medium with a range of possibilities, even outside of the first person perspective. Why aren’t developers in the habit of using them instead of relying on something that you’re NOT playing?

    The only form of cut-scenes that work are the ones like Ron Gilbert mention: Those that cut away from your own actions, in order to show you another characters, a mission briefing maybe, or a flashback… But there is simply no excuse for removing a player’s control. In the previously mentioned examples, like BioShock, the very beginning of Half-Life 2 and in Episode Two, those do happen, but intentionally to comment on your status as a pawn of sorts Those were short, and most definitely sweet.

    Your animosity is utterly unwarranted. When gaming is making such giant strides into good story-telling (I haven’t played Crysis yet, but Call of Duty 4 amazes me in this regard), it may be judicious to experiment in avoiding them utterly. Valve has shown us its possible to the extreme.

  35. Pesh says:

    Judging the concept itself on bad cut-scene examples isn’t the right way to form a basis for opinion. There are good cut-scenes and there are bad cut-scenes, obviously, but that doesn’t mean we should get rid of them all! That would only make game developers who were already bad with cut-scenes even worse with in-game story telling.

    Without trying to sound too direct and sticking to the “commenting on the article” style, cut-scenes can be used very effectively. Put in all the intentional lighting, voice acting, and scripting you want- it works great (and probably far better than what cut-scenes could have done) for Half Life 2: Episodes and Bioshock- but I still want my high budget cinematics every now and then, if only to watch them later without having to play the game again all the way through.

  36. Quinns says:

    I’d agree that a majority of development studios would do well trying to eek out the drama inherent in their game mechanics rather than rationing out tiresome cutscenes like some kind of reward.

    But there are some devs out there who have the capacity to make their game infinitely more than the game mechanic. My favourite games of all time rely on weak game mechanics because, fuck, these guys are making a videogame and there has to be a game in there somewhere, right? But honestly they’re making something more, and frequently they’re doing that through cutscenes.

    Pathologic, Katamari Damacy, FF6, MGS or Killer 7 all use cutscenes to develop all this fascinating stuff bubbling under a thin skin of game mechanics. Cutscenes shouldn’t be banned, they’re just an option for developers, and as long as some developers do them brilliantly the last thing we should be thinking of doing is opposing them outright. We should just be hitting all the developers that /can’t/ do them and /keep/ doing them over and over again with bricks.

  37. Adam says:

    Hello, my name is Adam, and I like cut scenes.

    FMV, in-engine, whatever, I love ‘em. I looked forwarded to the next one I’d come across in HL2:Episode 2. Take for example the “car ride” at the beginning of Ep 1. That was a great cut-scene, and I even enjoyed the exposition cut scenes before it. It makes me feel like I’m in a movie, and it helps me to feel more involved with the characters.

    Eh, to each his own.

  38. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    Re: that Bioshock moment – do you think sequences such as that would be better if the HUD stayed up during them? Do you think a simple addition like that would help maintain the continuity of experience? After all, your movement IS meant to be out of your control during that little scene, so we can’t complain on that front.

  39. Xander says:

    Weird example, but I’m currently really enjoying the cutscenes in Jeanne D’Arc for the PSP.

    They’re short, well-written, and they only ever advance the story or reveal character (usually in interesting and surprising ways). There’s also no real way they could be rendered in-game, as the only real gameplay you do is on a special combat grid — there’s no running around and talking to people.

    Anyway, the cutscenes are so good that I’ve found myself playing to get to the next one. Which is, you know, not normal.

  40. CrashT says:

    Kieron, you’re House example is interesting but shouldn’t you also ask when was the last time an episode of House was shot entirely from House’s POV? How much of the storytelling or emotional range of an episode would be lost?

    Every example of “interactive cutscenes” mentioned makes me roll my eyes. There isn’t a single one of them that hasn’t either explicitly (In the case of the limited movement allowed by CoD) or implicitly (In the case of being required to look in the right direction to witness a particular even ala Half Life) required me to limit the range of my possibility interactivity to those options that are dramatically appropriate.

    All we are doing is trading a designer positioned camera for a player poisition camera with set limitations.

    The techniques used by film makers to stage scenes and compose shots are ones that have been honed over decades and they work. They are one tool available to game developers and given the choice I’m willing to accept a non-interactive sequence where I know the camera is going to be looking in the right direction and the shots are going to be composed in the best way possible to provide the context and provoke the required emotional reaction.

    A single shot of two characters can often tell me more about their relationship that an entire page of text. If my control needs to be taken away briefly so I can understand that relationship then I’ll accept that.

    I don’t understand the mentality I’m sensing of “The player must be interacting at all times” I’m much more inclined to feel that “The player must be engaged at all times” and good cutscenes are engaging, and are able to provoke emotional responses that straight gameplay can’t. No necessarily better responses but different ones.

    If we want games that can provoke the range of emotional responses, then we need to use the range of techniques available to provoke those emotional responses and cutscenes are but one technique.

    Though the straight “info-dump” cutscene is something I’ll happily get rid of.

  41. Kieron Gillen says:

    Yeah, but a PoV in a game isn’t the same thing as a PoV in a TV show. The comparison is completely spurious. It’s like saying you can’t use a book to tell a story if you can’t turn the pages. Like, obviously, but we *can* turn the pages. A PoV in a game is an infinitely slicker storytelling device than a PoV in a show, because of the *control*.

    KG

  42. Dan Pryor says:

    The original C&C used cut scenes as a reward as well as a scene setting for the next mission. In real time strategy is nearly impossible to give you a holistic view of the war without the additional information provided by the cut scene.

    It was also impossible (back then) to convey the gravitas of each unit in 8 pixel-o-vision so cut scenes did that for them. The flame tank FMV was extra special.

    They also add some character to what is essentially a characterless genre. Kane and Seth are some of the most memorable characters from a video game ever and neither one of them appear in the “game” itself.

    Maybe in our current more advanced world character can be conveyed in an RTS without the cutscenes (although Warcraft 3 is the best example I can come up with shockingly) but the reward aspect still remains…

  43. CrashT says:

    Control which is still inherently limited if we actually want to witness anything of worth. Listen to the Commentaries of the Half Life games and hear the number of times they mention how they needed to do something specific to get the player to look in a particular direction. When you consider that doesn’t it make you wonder what benefit being able to control the camera brings in those situations, all it seems to do is allow us to miss something we probably wanted to see.

  44. Alec Meer says:

    Semi-interactive POV jobbies, as in COD4 & HL2:2, I’m OK with if they’re done well, because it doesn’t suck you out of the character’s head and suddenly have them be pupeteered by someone else. You’re still you, not whatever the cutscene’s camera has suddenly decided is you, but your actions are limited. COD4 specifically is very careful to only use it in situations where, narratively, there’s a genuine reason for you to not act all Cap’n McShooty.

    I would argue that a fun cutscene can work in RTSes, because they show you something else of a world you’ve only otherwise seen from a bird’s eye scale. You’re never controlling just a single character’s actions, so it doesn’t rankle so much to go watch a bunch of other folks talking. They actually give context to your actions in a way the game’s camera and mechanics wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Needless to say, C&C’s a good example – and, hey, there’s a House link again, what with her-with-the-constant-dead-eyed-expression being in C&C3. By contrast, the in-engine cutscenes in Age of Empires III are hilariously awful. The animations aren’t there, the facial expressions aren’t there… Each missions has five minutes of tiny wooden puppets spinning on the spot before you’re allowed to go build some spearmen.

  45. Pesh says:

    A PoV in a game is an infinitely slicker storytelling device than a PoV in a show, because of the *control*.

    I’ve never played a game in which the player’s actions throughout the game have shaped a unique story based solely on those actions. You can have multiple endings or multiple story paths, but you simply cannot go outside of whatever’s been pre-written for the game.

    There are gaming moments that are amazingly memorable- DOG attacking a strider in Episode 2 comes to mind. But it’s not to say one way of story telling is better than another- they’re just different techniques to convey the same thing. One is never *always* going to be better than the other. It just comes with the job when making a game.

    Call of Duty (the original) has always been one of the most cinematic and enthralling games for me. It is simply a game play driven narrative. Grab the Bazooka and blow holes through the Panzer tank! Rush to the Red Square, cowards will be shot in the back! It’s brilliant. There are no cut scenes- all experiences are viewed straight through the eyes of our main character the entire game. It’s a wonderful experience.

    Interactive story telling has its place, but it’s not for every game.

    Yeah, but a PoV in a game isn’t the same thing as a PoV in a TV show.

    I don’t really see how they’re different- you seem to treat games on a different level than you would treat a novel or movie.

    I will agree that having a cut scene control MY character is, usually, extremely frustrating. Guild Wars comes to mind.

    Psychonaughts is another great example of cut-scene driven story telling. Crash Bandicoot. Resident Evil. Dino Crisis. Silent Hill. Dawn of War. All the Zelda games. I could go through my collection of games (admittedly I have very few “bad” games) and find a dozen more.

    There are, probably, three times as many games with dire cut-scenes. But that’s no excuse for this cut-scene witch hunt.

  46. Nallen says:

    So you find Metal Gear Solid a little irksome them..?

  47. The_B says:

    I may be re-iterating points here, but my thoughts:

    The C&C cutscenes, with real people addressing you and filled with cheese, I really really enjoy, in an RTS setting they work fairly well, as you are supposed to be a general in command of their troops, and thus you can get away with the “something your character isn’t able to do” thing. And I think there are other examples of cut scenes done well. Hidden & Dangerous and the far suprior Giants: Citizen Kabuto had cutscenes that were a joy to watch, the former going so far as to make the rest of the game not quite as enjoyable to compensate… *ahem*

    Like Alec, I like CoD4′s and the HL2 series’ interactive-but-not-really cutscenes – they are examples of them being done really really well, and used really well. I mean, really good example other than the president at the start? The last level of the US part of the game. In fact, the very last section of the entire game before the credits was really a moresointeractive cutscene. And when you’re travelling to Breen’s office in HL2 in the pod, can you really say more “story” wasn’t told in those two minutes than in the whole last fifth of the game?

  48. Radiant says:

    The best example is POV porn.
    That doesn’t cut away to show a gurning fool talk about the room he is in.

    But then again a COD4esque pov porn cutscene would have you taken away in a car and jizzed on.

    Sorry for the spoiler.

  49. Alec Meer says:

    The_B: I’ll be posting about that last US level in COD4 at some point. It’s a jawdropper. Have to give it a while for for OMG SPOILZORS! stuff to die down, though.

  50. Jim Rossignol says:

    That’s an interesting definition of ‘spoiler’.