Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
July 23, 2014
arrowPress Releases
July 23, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


 
Patience is a virtue
by Joseph Cassano on 09/11/10 02:00:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

From my perspective, there seems to be a rising sentiment in the video game community that, as a general rule, cutscenes in story-heavy linear games should be lessened as we move forward in this medium. This claim is definitely not unfounded; gaming, by its very nature, is interactive, and the player should essentially be playing instead of watching. Too numerous are examples of action-heavy cutscenes that really should have been playable in-game moments. Too many times have players finished one cutscene only to take a few more steps and enter another. In the large amount of cases, cutscenes should be replaced with clever gameplay that tells the same tale. In most situations, the cutscene should rightfully be phased out -- the operative word being "most".

Despite what some heavy opponents of cutscenes may say, there are certainly situations where a cutscene is the best course of action in terms of storytelling. These situations are where interactivity in itself would actually ruin the moment. I will explain via examples from Metal Gear Solid 2, Final Fantasy VII, and Assassin's Creed 2. (Spoilers definitely lie ahead; you have been warned.)

The first example I wish to use is the scene in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty in which Emma Emmerich dies. This takes place in the latter portions of the game.

The player, Raiden, was escorting computer programmer Emma to a computer room in the game's environment -- an oil cleanup facility known as the Big Shell -- so that she could upload a virus of hers to interfere with the plans of terrorists who had overtaken Arsenal Gear -- a top-secret and immense battleship that was being covered up by the Big Shell. Along the way, she is stabbed by a boss character and is mortally wounded. Raiden witnesses this, but due to the nature of the scene, is too far away to help. His ally, Solid Snake, takes Emma the rest of the way to the computer room instead. Raiden soon makes his way there, and witnesses Hal "Otacon" Emmerich -- Emma's estranged step-brother and a close personal ally to Snake -- cradling the dying Emma in his arms. Snake tells Raiden that her wounds are too deep, but she's still managed to set everything up for the virus. Raiden, who had been carrying the actual disc containing said virus, begins the upload. It is soon realized that there's been sabotage afoot; the virus stops at 90%. Unable to fully realize their next course of action, all they can do is watch as Otacon has his final moments with his sister. It isn't long before "E.E." -- Otacon's childhood nickname for her -- passes away. Otacon then has a few monologues in relation to her passing and takes her pet parrot -- who was in a cage nearby -- before things move on.

Video of the scene in question (it is in 2 parts) (I warn that my above synopsis doesn't cover everything, so some confusion with plot events is to be expected):

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7jOuDbFE9o

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iroFnnBvezg

Now I have to admit up front that I am a huge admirer of Metal Gear Solid 2, so I am somewhat biased toward it, but I realize that the acting/writing/direction may seem poor to some. The game definitely has a multitude of problems. I think that this scene, however, illustrates quite well the fact that player interactivity would have detracted from the experience. The player in MGS2 is Raiden, but this scene is not expressly about him. Rather, it is primarily about his allies, and due to the circumstances, there is nothing that can be done presently. Even if the player was allowed the freedom of movement, there would be no place to go, and as such, no point to it. Additionally, any dialogue choices would be of poor taste; Emma is in her dying breaths. In a situation like this -- where it is not really the player character's place to interfere -- I think a cutscene is the best option.

My next example is similar to the above: Aeris's death in Final Fantasy VII.

Due to the infamy of the scene, I do not feel the need to summarize (especially since I haven't actually played FFVII up to that point), but I will provide video of it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qnyxd7Vq0Q

Unlike the above example, the player's character is directly attached to the events at hand; Cloud is the most wracked by Aeris's murder at the hands of Sephiroth. He is the one who cradles her body in his arms before letting her drift away in the water. And yet again I feel that interaction at this point would be detrimental. Even if the player was allowed to choose from a selection of parting words, I think it would make the scenario feel cheaper. This isn't a game where the player character is a blank slate; by this point, we know Cloud. At such a scene, he wouldn't react in a way unbecoming of him. In a situation like this -- where there really is only one outcome -- I think a cutscene is again the best option.

My final example is actually a counter-example of sorts. It is a scene in Assassin's Creed 2 where, instead of a full-fledged cutscene, there is an element of interaction, and I think the scene greatly suffers for it. The scene in question is when the player, Ezio Auditore di Firenze, talks to his friend Leonardo da Vinci and finally learns what his sworn enemy, Rodrigo Borgia, has been truly after all along: a powerful artifact known as a Piece of Eden. The attainment of this artifact is the reason why Rodrigo had commited atrocities -- including the murder of Ezio's father and brothers -- and Ezio now has even more reason to stop him.

A video of the scene (I start at 2:30 and include a small cutscene just before the scene in question for the sake of context. The scene itself ends at 5:28):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp-ZOZujo-c#t=2m30s

In the scene, the conversation's audio is handled by the game, but the player has the freedom to walk around with Leonardo. As such, the player must actively maneuver through the crowds and is limited to the walking animations. This becomes especially troublesome when the realization stirs emotions in Ezio; the acting swells as you would expect it to in this situation, but the player's body is only capable of walking, and thus lessens the impact of Ezio's words. If the scene was entirely non-interactive, the character could have been animated in accordance to the voice acting, and thus deliver a more emotionally engaging moment. What could have been a memorable scene is instead a dull bout of exposition due to the interactivity. In a situation like this -- where it is a scene of pure dialogue and the game itself is not about interacting with said dialogue -- I once again think a cutscene would have been the best option.

So to conclude my long rant, while I agree with many that quite a few cutscenes in story-heavy linear games should be replaced with meaningful gameplay, I also think that not all cutscenes should be stricken from existence. As shown above, there are cases where player interaction is actually at odds with the quality of the scene itself. What would be gained by allowing player control in these situations? Like in life, there are some times where you just have to be on the sidelines due to the circumstances. I think that's a lesson that some gamers tend to forget.

(This post can also be found here on my multi-purpose blog, Mulling Over The Multiverse.)


Related Jobs

2K
2K — Novato, California, United States
[07.22.14]

Level Architect
Respawn Entertainment
Respawn Entertainment — San Fernando Valley, California, United States
[07.22.14]

Senior Systems Designer
Big Fish Games
Big Fish Games — Seattle, Washington, United States
[07.22.14]

Game Engineer
Treyarch / Activision
Treyarch / Activision — Santa Monica, California, United States
[07.22.14]

Associate Cinematic Animator (temporary) - Treyarch






Comments


Jonathan Jennings
profile image
I agree with oyu very much, I think the metal gear solid series is probably one of the few series that merges the two perspectives between full cutscenes and semi-interactive cutscenes.



potential spoilers lie ahead for MGS 1 *





I think one of the most touching scenes in the entire series to date has to be the scene where liquid snake is about to kill solid snake and the grey fox comes to snakes rescue. however if the player tries to shoot the rocket at liquid I think he would end up killing both grey fox and liquid snake. it's a very brief scene and the interactivity only goes as far as moving snakes head to shift his view. Regardless it creates a moment of panic as you get the perfect shot to kill your adversary but at the risk of killing your friend.





secondly we will always have the infamous torture scenes, I can say with certainty that those scenes would be far less emotion invoking if they were merely cutscenes.

end MGS1 spoilers*





the metal gear series has done an excellent job of both putting control of situations in players hands as well as knowing when it is best to just deliver a full on cutscene. when hideo kojima wants you to pay attention to what's being said or happening on screen he typically uses a cutscene, but if he wants you to experience the emotional aspects of a cutscene yourself he often puts control in your hand at the peak emotional moment.



think the best method to see which is best is to consider how you want the player to experience the moment.

Joseph Cassano
profile image
The one problem I had with that Grey Fox scene was that, if you pressed the fire button, Snake would say, "No, I can't do it". That by itself was alright, but you could press the button multiple times and he would say it every time. That broke the immersion for me. Maybe there wouldn't be a problem if they only let Snake say it once.

Jonathan Jennings
profile image
I think personally the best moment of the series occurred at the end of MGS 3 :snake eater





spoilers ***************************







when the player is forced to pull the trigger to kill the boss, the emotion in that scene was an all-time high so having to kill snakes mentor was tough.









/ spoilers end **************************

Joseph Cassano
profile image
That was powerful, yes. But I also think Snake's salute at the very end was very emotional.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
profile image
Hi Joseph,



FYI I'm a frequent critic of overused cutscenes. You have a point here but there is something to bear in mind. As you point out, there is something gained by using a cutscene that is lost when using a "playable scene". But conversely, there is something gained by using a playable scene that is lost when using a cutscene. The question then becomes one of either balancing the pros and cons, or actually adjusting the events to fit better into the game. That might involve reducing the number of dramatic plot moments that would benefit from cutscenes. Indeed, much of the criticism of cutscenes is related to creating the need for them in the first place.



Also, I think there are ways of limiting the ire that they can cause. Firstly, and most obviously, they should take up a lot less time than actually playing the game. Secondly, you should be able to skip them (with a second confirmatory button press), particularly if they are long and unessential. Thirdly, once you have made all of your cutscenes, carefully consider the ones that you don't need and simply throw them out or edit them down. It takes bravery to throw away work but it makes things better if done right. This is also related to trimming your plot to something manageable. Lastly, fit the appearance of cutscenes around player expectations. For example, you might have a reasonably long videos at the beginning of a game and the end of a game and then cutscenes between "stages", before bosses, before the introduction of a new mechanic etc. When cutscenes are expected and have more of a purpose, they feel less intrusive.



Finally, I would just say that it can be hard to defend cutscenes using examples of games that the cutscene-disliking person hasn't played, precisely because they dislike that kind of game. As cutscenes have increasingly pervaded gaming, I have increasingly avoided them (not even intentionally, I never thought about it until a year ago). It's not like I just play the cinematic cutscene-riddled games and then whine about them here to vent frustration. I simply don't buy such games. I don't have time to get confused about a 15-hour plot driven by bad voice acting (game voice acting peaked at Grim Fandango, I only need youtube to know that). I have naturally been drawn to games by Valve and Nintendo for example.



I mention all this to remind you that as I continue to play my games and you play yours these debates will increasingly be conducted across an widening experience divide, so it will be harder to use examples. You state that Assassin's Creed 2 lost it's drama in that one scene due to interactivity. But it may be that I wouldn't have found any drama in the non-interactive scenes. I wouldn't know until I play the game, which is a significant time/money investment for something I don't think I will enjoy. However, I'm thinking that one of these days I will play a game like Uncharted 2 or a future counterpart to double-check I'm not missing something.

Joseph Cassano
profile image
"Finally, I would just say that it can be hard to defend cutscenes using examples of games that the cutscene-disliking person hasn't played, precisely because they dislike that kind of game."



If I am to defend cutscenes, I have to use games that use cutscenes. I don't really see a way around this.

Pete Michaud
profile image
I'd like to take the contrarian view. Let's just assume that you're completely correct about those scenes being more appropriate than interactive sequences. You're assuming the choice is between a cut scene and interaction, and I think that's wrong. Sure maybe those scenes are better as movies, what if they never existed? What if the writers and designers scrapped them when they realized the scene couldn't be effectively produced as an interactive section. What if they went back to the drawing board to produce a scene that fits with the medium better?



Maybe it's true that "E.E." dying wasn't a good place for interactivity. That's not an excuse to make a movie, it's a reason to scrap the scene and come up with a new angle for the same plot elements... one that can be played interactively.

Joseph Cassano
profile image
@ Prash Nelson-Smythe & Pete Michaud

Instead of replying to each of you directly, I'm making a separate comment because it's essentially going to be the same response.



I think scrapping or changing a scene just because it can't be interactive is a bit insulting to the player. Can we not sit still for a few minutes? Again, my argument is for cases where I believe interactivity will be shoehorned in (ala the Assassin's Creed 2 example). If the scene can be made interactively and properly without sacrificing the drama/narrative and without going against the game's nature (like putting dialogue choices in a game that is not about dialogue choices), then by all means do it. Also, my argument is for story-heavy games; it is assumed that part of the player's motivation for playing would be to know what happens next.



I suppose this stems from the idea that I don't think the player should necessarily be in control all of the time when it comes to narrative. Like in life, there are some scenarios where there's nothing that can be done. Why do we feel that this is a fact that should be avoided? What can't we make such scenes the best they can be? Sure there's terrible acting and such now; that doesn't mean that's how it will always be. It's somewhat akin to a story-break between segments; is the player expected to be all action all of the time? The player needs downtime every so often or else you can burn him or her out.

Germain Couët
profile image
I think half-life 2 has a good example of taking a bit of control away from the player without sacrificing interactivity. As you probably know, every cutscene in HL2 lets the player roam around and look in whatever direction he wants. This works exceptionally well in the mundane cutscenes where the most interesting aspects are the myriads of detail lying around the area. But take the scene where you are captured by Dr.Breen in the citadel, for example, it's supposed to be a dramatic scene so they take away the freedom of movement. But they let you look around wherever you want, so that you still have a bit of control. This shows a lot of dexterity from Valve's part, and I think they toroughly succeed at blending the best aspects of the two sides.



Secondly, (and I might be generalizing here, please forgive me) I think there is a big divide between Western and Eastern way of thinking regarding the matter of interactivity and cutscenes. The fact that you used exclusively japanese titles in your arguments does not help your side. I might be mistaken but western games like Valve's titles and Bioware's have shown, that with a little experimentation (and a couple failures too) these problems can be solved or worked around instead of relying on good ol' cutscene.

Joseph Cassano
profile image
Ah, but even Half-Life 2 has problems in this regard (as much as I love that game). To me, it's similar to the Assassin's Creed 2 problem. The characters talk and emote (aside from Gordon, of course), but the player has the freedom to move wherever they like. If there's nowhere to go, however (as is the case in most of the game's "cutscenes"), why allow the movement? This also means that the player could be hypothetically running circles around everyone and no one bats an eye. Try that in real life and you won't get off so easy. That, for me, breaks immersion.



This isn't to say I don't like how Half-Life 2 does its story: far from it. Most of the real meat is in the world itself, though. In Black Mesa East, for example, the newspaper clippings on the walls talk of Earth's takeover via the headlines. However, the player should be looking at those in-between cutscenes while exploring, not during them, in my opinion. All that being said, I don't mind the player being given the freedom to look where they please in a scene like this. I suppose this "problem" would be alleviated in my eyes if the NPCs reacted appropriately to any "odd behaviour" you try in these interactive cutscenes. The fact that they don't ruins it for me.



And I don't see how using only Eastern examples ruins my argument; my argument is about exactly the thing they are doing. They ARE my argument (in this case, not in the case of all cutscenes).

Jacob Pederson
profile image
I think several levels of social chastisement could go a LONG way here. For example, in Fallout 3, NPCs can hear you bumping into physics props, and will harangue you for your clumsiness, etc. In typical Bethesda fashion, the dialog lines are way overused; however, if they had been a little more subtle with it I think it would have done wonders.



Imagine a series of escalating dialog scripts that keep track of how many times you've "acted weird" in a social context with each npc. This would just be a series of simple triggers, like knocking over props, standing to close, staring at walls, or jumping up on tables. NPC reactions to your actions add SO MUCH to immersion of a scene. Something as dang blasted simple as Alex covering her eyes when you shine the flashlight at her, humanizes the character to a large degree. This simply wouldn't be possible at all in a traditional cut-scene.

Joseph Cassano
profile image
I like what you're saying. If "social chastisement", as you call it, was implemented effectively in games, then I might have no more reason to complain about Half-Life 2-style cutscenes.



Then again, it would work because Gordon is a direct analogue for the player. I wonder if such a system would still hold if the player character was its own character (like the protagonists in the Metal Gear Solid games, for example).

Brandon Battersby
profile image
"I suppose this stems from the idea that I don't think the player should necessarily be in control all of the time when it comes to narrative. Like in life, there are some scenarios where there's nothing that can be done. Why do we feel that this is a fact that should be avoided?"



This is very well said. I am a huge advocate for keeping story implementation as interactive as possible, but after reviewing your article and arguments, I can see that there are indeed scenarios that preserve a drama by taking control out of the players hands.



My biggest concern though, is making sure these types of cut scenes don't force a player down a certain path or innately change the way the player is behaving in the game. For example, if say the cut scene shows the player character rescuing a bunch of trapped people in a burning building, instead of pursuing the pyro who started it, this is bad. Some players would put the mission above the civilians while others would put the lives of innocents above stopping the bad guy...



I don't think a cinematic should play the role of choice. What I like about your example, is that the cut scenes reveals information not secluded to the PC's perspective. I think cut scenes are valid when they introduce new plot elements, information, and back story. Kind of how a script is constructed. The writer rarely writes out action sequences... I don't think cut scenes should be blockbuster, game play should be blockbuster.



Thanks for the insightful article.

Joseph Cassano
profile image
"My biggest concern though, is making sure these types of cut scenes don't force a player down a certain path or innately change the way the player is behaving in the game. For example, if say the cut scene shows the player character rescuing a bunch of trapped people in a burning building, instead of pursuing the pyro who started it, this is bad. Some players would put the mission above the civilians while others would put the lives of innocents above stopping the bad guy..."



Exactly my point: if the thing in the cutscene is something that should have been playable, then make it playable. Saving civilians or pursuing the pyro are actions the player should perform, so they should be depicted via good gameplay. My argument is strictly for scenarios where interaction would be detrimental to the story/drama. If the interaction fits, then go for it, definitely.



Thanks for reading.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Joseph Cassano
profile image
The story fiasco of Metroid: Other M was to be expected; Team Ninja was behind it. They make great gameplay, but terrible stories (Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 being shining examples). To be fair, I have yet to play Other M, but I doubt I will be pleasantly surprised story-wise.



Metroid Prime succeeds not just because the story elements were mainly optional; the acquisition methods of the story emphasize Samus's lonliness, a common theme of Metroid. In the case of the first Metroid Prime, there's no one around, so of course her only recourse is to learn through ancient logs and scans.



But I think your overall attitude is a tad too pessimistic. Just because a lot of game stories and storytelling methods are bad now doesn't mean they always will be. And there are quite a few games out now (aside from Mass Effect 2) that tell great stories well, but I suppose that's a matter of taste.



Also keep in mind that I am not asking all developers "to be all things". In the case of this article, I am specifically talking about games where story is a primary focus.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Joseph Cassano
profile image
In comparison to the other arts, 20 years is still nothing. We have a long way to go, and we've definitely made progress from 20 years ago.



You keep mentioning cases that aren't really known for their stories. Blizzard has always been more about gameplay (from where I sit), and aside from a great sense of atmosphere, Metroid hasn't really had any substantial story until the Prime series (which says more about Retro Studio's skills than Nintendo's). And I doubt Team Ninja didn't have any say at all in the story.



There are developers out there making good narrative tries. Quantic Dream, Rockstar, Bioware, Naughty Dog, and some of Kojima's works to name a few. Hell, even Modern Warfare 2's "No Russian" was a very bold test. And the indie space is quite full of more attempts. Give it time, man. Patience. Losing hope gets us nowhere.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
In my opinion, I think cut scenes should be a reward for the player and not a method to advance the story. In this way the player will receive a short video showing the results of the player's actions in the previous level(s).



Yet, most of the story should be conveyed during the gameplay. That is where the player spends most of their time and they should experience most of the game during these moments.



As for the discussion above about the poor writing in games, that is largely due to the games industry's continued refusal to take writing seriously. Most game studios do no hire writers and leave any writing up to the designer or whoever else has a few extra minutes a day. Those that do hire writers either hire good writers (Bioware) or poor writers (most every other company that actually hires writers)



Until the games industry starts treating writers more like those from other industries, our story elements will continue to suffer.

Joseph Cassano
profile image
Most of the story should be told via gameplay, yes. But in the cases where cutscenes are more appropriate, can't story advancement itself be a form of reward? It always has been for me. I imagine I'm not alone in this view.



And yes, we need to take writing seriously. Especially those who care about games as narrative (like myself).

E Zachary Knight
profile image
"But in the cases where cutscenes are more appropriate, can't story advancement itself be a form of reward"



True, but I would argue that such cut scenes should be no longer than a few minutes with the ability to skip for those players that don't want to watch.



I also feel that no required information should be in a cut scene, meaning that you should not be able to skip a cut scene just to come across a puzzle in the game that requires information from that cut scene.

Joseph Cassano
profile image
Cutscene length is debateable, in my opinion; I'll gladly watch a longer cutscene if it is well done. But they should always be skippable, yes. Ideally, pausable, and then once paused, skippable.



I agree that required information shouldn't only be in a cutscene. That type of information should always be in the playable game.

E Zachary Knight
profile image
"Cutscene length is debateable, in my opinion; I'll gladly watch a longer cutscene if it is well done."



On the length issue, I can agree that a cut scene can be longer if it is a reward style cut scene such as one found at the end of a level or "act". But for cut scenes found mid gameplay, those should never be very long.



Just for a little clarification of my point.

Joseph Cassano
profile image
That sounds reasonable. Agreed.

dana mcdonald
profile image
I think Pete is right on the money when he basically says that many stories don't fit well in video games. I think that much of the issue is that many people creating games wish they were doing movies instead, and so they are trying to shoehorn movies into games.



While I don't think that doing this is getting the most out or our medium, There is obviously a large market for games with cutscenes and lots of drama, and so there is no universal "all games should have X or Y" But I do think there would be a great amound of value for developers to go one way or the other and not waste so many resources making hybrids.



My personal opinion is that the best and most memorable game stories are told by the game players, and so instead of developers telling the story through cutscenes they should be giving players the tools to tell their own story. You may not get to tell your ultimate story as a developer that way, but if that is your goal then you should probably write a book or get into movies.

Joseph Cassano
profile image
To say that games aren't a place for authorial stories is to ignore the strides we've made already. Our RPGs (Eastern and Western), our open-world games, our first-person games, etc. Have we perfected making stories in games yet? Hell no. Have we made progress? Most definitely. That simple fact cannot be denied.



Don't write off our medium yet. To do so would be a grave disservice.

dana mcdonald
profile image
I may have not been clear in my statement. My point was that authorial storytelling is not the ideal way of using our medium. That does not mean that we cannot get better at it, and it does not mean that we can't make a fantastic game with a spectacular story. It also doesn't mean that there aren't millions of people who love that type of game.



I think we are writing off our medium by chasing a different medium's strength instead of focusing on our own.

Joseph Cassano
profile image
I think the result is only cumulative; if we get better at this, we get better at making games as a whole. I don't see it as mutually exclusive to our medium's inherent strengths. I suppose that is where we differ.


none
 
Comment: